56. Superman vs. the Elite
“What’s so funny about Truth, Justice & The American Way?” was a very popular issue of Action Comics back in 2001 (it was issue #775), written by Joe Kelly with art by two awesome artists, Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo.
The issue was a bit allegory for the great popularity of the Authority at the time, who I believe were actually out-selling Superman’s comics back then. The Authority were representative of the “modern” superhero, one willing to do whatever it takes to save the day, even if that meant killing.
In this issue, Joe Kelly introduces an Authority send-off called The Elite, led by Manchester Black (a take-off of Authority leader Jenny Sparks).
The Elite were superheroes who, in many ways, were just as bad as the villains they were after, using methods that bordered on sadistic, with little regard to civilians and friendly fire. However, the public were loving them - and Superman, in return, was being treated as though he was no longer cool, because he WOULDN’T kill.
Finally, Superman challenges the Elite to a fight, which is globally televised. At first, it appears as though the Elite have defeated Superman, but Superman then reveals that he has used his powers in sneaky manners to defeat them all, and seemingly kill most of the group.
Superman then uses this opportunity to opine about how easy it is to use great power to kill, but it is more heroic not to, to use great responsibility with said great power.
He then reveals that he actually did not kill (or even really hurt) any of the Elite, but rather that he used his powers to make it look like he did.
The issue was extremely popular at the time, even getting a second printing (very rare for a comic not tied into any crossover), and Manchester Black later returned to have another fight over Superman’s ideals (Superman won that one, too), and the rest of the Elite were later redeemed, of sorts, by Kelly and Mahnke in Justice League Elite.