Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Ric Estrada, Joe Orlando, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Bob Smith & Vince Colletta (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4757-7

Once upon a time comics were primarily created with kids in mind and, whilst I’d never advocate exclusively going back to those days, the modern industry is greatly lacking for not properly addressing the needs and tastes of younger fans these days.

A superb case in point of all-ages comics done right can be seen in Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1 which gathers the licensed comicbook tales which spun off from a popular Saturday Morning TV Cartoon show: one that, thanks to the canny craftsmanship and loving invention of lead scripter E. Nelson Bridwell, became an integral and unmissable component of the greater DC Universe.

It was also one of the most universally thrilling and satisfying superhero titles of the period for older fans: featuring the kind of smart and witty, straightforward adventures people my age grew up with, produced during a period when the entire industry was increasingly losing itself in colossal continued storylines and angsty, soap opera melodrama.

Sometimes all you really want is a smart plot well illustrated; sinister villains well-smacked, a solid resolution and early bed…

The TV show Super Friends ran (under various iterations) from 1973 to 1986; starring Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and a brace of studio-originated kids as student crimebusters, supplemented by occasional guest stars from the DCU on a case by case basis.

The series then made the transition to print as part of the publisher’s 1976 foray into “boutiqued” comics which saw titles with a television connection cross-marketed as “DC TV Comics”.

Child-friendly Golden Age comicbook revival Shazam!- the Original Captain Marvel had been adapted into a successful live action television series and its Saturday Morning silver screen stablemate The Secrets of Isis consequently reversed the process by becoming a comicbook.

With the additions of hit comedy show Welcome Back Kotter and animated blockbuster Super Friends into four-colour format, DC had a neat little outreach imprimatur tailor-made to draw viewers into the magic word of funnybooks.

At least that was the plan: with the exception of Super Friends none of the titles lasted more than ten issues beyond their launch…

This bombastic black-&-white extravaganza collects Super Friends #1-24 (spanning November 1976 to September 1979) and opens with a crafty two-part caper by Bridwell, Ric Estrada, Vince Colletta & Joe Orlando.

‘The Fury of the Super Foes’ found heroes-in-training Wendy and Marvin – and their incredible astute mutt Wonderdog – studying at the palatial Hall of Justice, even as elsewhere a confederation of villains prove that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery if not outright intellectual theft…

The Penguin, Cheetah, Flying Fish, Poison Ivy and Toyman, having auditioned a host of young criminals, are creating a squad of sidekicks and protégés to follow in their felonious footsteps and Chick, Kitten, Sardine, Honeysuckle and Toyboy are all ready and willing to carry out their first caper.

When the giant “Troubalert” screen informs the heroes of a three-pronged attack on S.T.A.R. Labs’ latest inventions, the champions split up to tackle the crises but are thoroughly trounced until Wendy and Marvin break curfew to help them.

As a result of the clash, Chick and Kitten are brought back to the Hall of Justice, but their talk of repentance is a rascally ruse and they secretly sabotage vital equipment…

Unluckily for them Wonderdog has seen everything and quickly finds a way to inform the still-oblivious good guys in issue #2 but too late to prevent the Super Friends being briefly ‘Trapped by the Super Foes’

The incomparable Ramona Fradon – aided and abetted by inker Bob Smith – took over the pencilling with #3 as ‘The Cosmic Hit Man?’ saw fifty intergalactic super-villains murdered by infernal Dr. Ihdrom, who then combined their harvested essences to create an apparently unbeatable hyper-horror who utterly overwhelmed Earth’s heroic defenders. However he soon fell victim to his own arrogance and Wendy and Marvin’s logical deductions…

‘Riddles and Rockets!’ found the Super Friends overmatched by new ne’er-do-well Skyrocket whilst simultaneously trying to cope with a rash of crimes contrived by King of Conundra The Riddler.

It wasn’t too long before a pattern emerged and a criminal connection was confirmed…

Author Bridwell was justly famed as DC’s keeper of the continuity, possessing an astoundingly encyclopaedic knowledge of DC’s publishing minutiae. ‘Telethon Treachery!’ gave him plenty of scope to display it with a host of near-forgotten guest-stars joining our heroes as they hosted a televised charity event whilst money-mad menace Greenback lurked in the wings, awaiting the perfect moment to grab the loot and kidnap the wealthiest donators…

The Atom played a crucial role in stopping the dastardly depredations of an animal trainer who used beasts as bandits in ‘The Menace of the Menagerie Man!’ before a huge cast change was unveiled in #7 (October 1977) with ‘The Warning of the Wondertwins’

TV is very different from comics. When the new season of Super Friends aired, Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were gone, replaced without warning or explanation by alien shapeshifters Zan and Jayna and their elastic-tailed space monkey Gleek.

With more room – and consideration for the fans – Bridwell turned the sudden cast change into a bombastic battle to save Earth from total annihilation whilst properly introducing the adult heroes’ newest students in memorable style…

At the Hall of Justice Wendy and Marvin spot a spaceship hurtling to Earth on the Troubalert monitor and dash off to intercept it. Aboard are two siblings from distant planet Exor: a girl who can change into animals and a boy who can become any form of water from steam to ice. They have come with an urgent warning…

Superman’s alien enemy Grax has determined to eradicate humanity and devised a dozen different super-bombs and attendant weird-science traps to ensure his victory. The weapons are scattered all over Earth and even the entire Justice League cannot stretch its resources to cover every angle and threat…

To Wendy and Marvin the answer is obvious: call upon the help and knowledge of hyper-powered local heroes…

Soon Superman and Israel’s champion The Seraph are dismantling a black hole bomb whilst Elongated Man and titan-tressed Godiva are performing similar duties on a life-eradicator in England and Flash and mighty-leaping Impala are dismantling uncatchable ordnance in South Africa…

Hawkman and Hawkwoman then join Native American avenger Owlwoman to crush darkness-breeding monsters in Oklahoma whilst from the Hall of Justice Wendy, Marvin and the Wondertwins monitor the crisis with a modicum of mounting hope…

The cataclysmic epic continues in #8 with ‘The Mind Killers!’ as Atom and Rising Son tackle a deadly device designed to decimate Japan even as in Ireland Green Lantern and Jack O’Lantern battle multi-hued monstrosities before switching off their target of technological terror.

In New Zealand time-scanning Tuatara tips off Red Tornado to the position of a bomb cached in the distant past and Venezuela’s doom is diverted through a team-up between Batman and Robin and reptile-themed champion Bushmaster whilst Taiwan benefits from a melding of sonic superpowers possessed by Black Canary and the astounding Thunderlord

The saga soars to a classic climax with ‘Three Ways to Kill a World!’ in which the final phases of Grax’s scheme finally fail thanks to Green Arrow and Tasmanian Devil in Australia, Aquaman and Little Mermaid in the seas off Denmark and Wonder Woman and The Olympian in Greece.

Or at least they would have if the Hellenic heroes had found the right foe. Sadly their triumph against Wrong-Place, Right-Time terrorist Colonel Conquest almost upset everything. Thankfully the quick thinking students send an army of defenders to Antarctica where Norwegian novice Icemaiden dismantles the final booby-trap bomb.

However, whilst the adult champions are thus engaged, Grax invades the Hall of Justice seeking revenge on the pesky whistleblowing Exorian kids, but is completely unprepared for and overwhelmed by Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog who categorically prove they are ready to graduate to the big leagues…

With Zan and Jayna enrolled as the latest heroes-in-training, Super Friends #10 details their adoption by Batman’s old associate – and eccentric time travel theoretician – Professor Carter Nichols just before a legion of alien horrors arrives on Earth to teach the kids that appearances can be lethally deceiving in ‘The Monster Menace!’ after which Kingslayer’ pits the heroes against criminal mastermind Overlord who has contracted the world’s greatest hitman to murder more than one hundred leaders at one sitting…

Another deep dive into DC’s past then resurrected Golden Age titans T.N.T and Dan, the Dyna-Mite in ‘The Atomic Twosome!’

The 1940s mystery men had been under government wraps ever since their radioactive powers began to melt down, but when an underground catastrophe ruptured their individual lead-lined vaults, the Super Friends were called in to prevent a potential nuclear nightmare…

The subterranean reason for the near tragedy was tracked to a monstrous mole creature, and led to the introduction of eternal mystic Doctor Mist who revealed the secret history of civilisation and begged help to halt ‘The Mindless Immortal!’ before its random burrowing shattered mankind’s cities…

Super Friends #14 opened with ‘Elementary!’; introducing four ordinary mortals forever changed when they were possessed by ancient sprits and tasked with plundering the world by Overlord. When the heroes scotched the scheme, Undine, Salamander, Sylph and Gnome retained their powers and determined to become a crime-fighting team dubbed The Elementals

The issue also contained a short back-up tale illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger & Bob Smith. ‘The Origin of the Wondertwins’ at last revealed how the Exorian genetic throwbacks – despised outcasts on their own world – fled from a circus of freaks and uncovered Grax’s plot before taking that fateful rocketship to Earth…

Big surprises were in store in ‘The Overlord Goes Under!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the Elementals began their battle against evil by joining the Super Friends in crushing the crimelord. All the heroes were blithely unaware that they were merely clearing the way for a far more cunningly subtle mastermind to take Overlord’s place…

‘The People Who Stole the Sky!’ in #16 was a grand, old fashioned alien invasion yarn, perfectly foiled by the team and the increasingly adept Wondertwins whilst ‘Trapped in Two Times!’ found Zan and Jayna used by the insidious Time Trapper (nee Time Master) to lure the adult heroes into deadly peril on Krypton in the days before it detonated and future water world Neryla in the hours before it was swallowed by its critically expanding red sun.

After rescuing the kids – thanks in no small part to Superman’s legendary lost love Lyla Ler-rol – the Super Friends used Tuatara’s chronal insight and Professor Nichol’s obscure methodologies to go after the Trapper in the riotous yet educational ‘Manhunt in Time!’ (illustrated by Schaffenberger & Smith), by way of Atlantis before it sank, medieval Spain and Michigan in 1860AD, to thwart a triple-strength scheme to derail history and end Earth civilisation…

Issue #19 saw the return of Menagerie Man in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Monkey!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the beast-breaker boosted Gleek, intent on turning his elastic-tailed talents into the perfect pickpocketing tool, after which Denny O’Neil – writing as Sergius O’Shaugnessy – teamed with Schaffenberger & Smith for a more jocular turn.

Chaos and comedy ensued when the team tackled vegetable monsters unleashed when self-obsessed shlock-movie director Frownin’ Fritz Frazzle got hold of Merlin’s actually magical Magic Lantern and tried to make a masterpiece on the cheap in ‘Revenge of the Leafy Monsters!’

Bridwell, Fradon & Smith were back in #21 where ‘Battle Against the Super Fiends!’ found the heroes travelling to Exor to combat a brace of super-criminals who could duplicate all their power-sets, after which ‘It’s Never Too Late!’ (#22, O’Neil, Fradon & Smith) revealed how temporal bandit Chronos subjected the Super Friends to a time-delay treatment which made them perennially too late to stop him – until Batman and the Wondertwins out-thought him…

The Mirror Master divided and banished teachers and students in #23 but was unable to prevent an ‘SOS from Nowhere!’ (Bridwell, Fradon & Smith) to the fleet-footed Flash. This episode also spent some time fleshing out the Wondertwin’s earthly secret identities as Gotham Central highschoolers John and Joanna Fleming

This splendid selection of super thrills then concludes with ‘Past, Present and Danger!’ by O’Neil, Fradon & Smith wherein Zan and Jayna’s faces are found engraved on a recently unearthed Egyptian pyramid. Upon investigation inside the edifice, the heroes awaken two ancient exiles who resemble the kids, but are in fact criminals who have been fleeing Exorian justice for thousands of years.

How lucky then that the kids are perfect doubles the crooks can send back with the robot cops surrounding the pyramid – once they’ve got rid of the Earthling heroes…

Brilliantly entertaining, masterfully crafted and always utterly engaging, these stories are comics gold that will delight children and adults in equal proportion. Truly generational in appeal, they are probably the closest thing to an American answer to the magic of Tintin or Asterix and no family home should be without this tome.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2014 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns


By Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley (DC Comics)
Item ISBN: 0-930289-15-3,               current ISBN: 978-1-56389-342-1

I always feel a bit daft reviewing stuff that everyone already knows about, but I’m constantly being reminded that even though somebody talks about the classics of our art-form it doesn’t mean they actually have read them.

Moreover, the great thing about comics is that they’re meant to be re-experienced, over and over and over…

So here’s a quick look at Frank Miller’s most celebrated epic: a canny mix of iconoclastic bravura and contemporary dystopian angst blending urban anxiety with bleak wish-fulfilment power-fantasies and making all us whiny liberals love it anyway…

There had been many “Last Batman” stories over the decades since his creation in 1939 but none had the telling impact of the 4-issue “Prestige Format” miniseries which ran from February to June 1986, during a period when DC were creatively on fire and could do no wrong commercially…

The subsequent collection into a complete edition did much to kick off the still tentative graphic novel market, offering a plethora of different versions at the time: hardcover, paperback, bookstore editions, foreign language editions – and an Absolute Dark Knight edition, in 2008 – all proving how a single story could be successfully monetised to the benefit of all, except the poor bewildered fans who clung tenaciously to the cruelly punishing collectors’ credo “gotta have ‘em all”…

(There are a number of editions available to this day, but I’m concentrating here on my first edition hardback from 1986. Therefore, some of the ancillary features and articles might be omitted, augmented or replaced in later releases…)

The epic transformed the character as much as the industry, with writers adapting facets of the chaos and carnage-resisting, end-of-days Caped Crusader to subsequent in-continuity tales whilst the readership spent years looking for clues in the regular comics that the story would eventually become canonical…

After Alan Moore’s Introduction ‘The Mark of the Batman’ the challenge to a civilisation in crisis begins with ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ as Gotham swelters under a crippling heat wave and ubiquitous TV pundits jabber on incessantly, disseminating what the government allows to pass for news.

Aging playboy Bruce Wayne (55 and no longer counting) has narrowly escaped blazing death during a car race, street gang The Mutants have perpetrated another ghastly atrocity and long-past-it Police Commissioner James Gordon has challenged them to a showdown before his enforced retirement in four weeks.

It’s also the tenth anniversary of the last sighting of the fabled masked vigilante the Batman

Later that night Wayne and Gordon talk over old times but the billionaire’s journey home is interrupted by a pack of Mutants…

On the nightly News homicidal maniac Harvey Dent is paraded by arrogant surgeons and therapists as a shining example of their restorative and curative regimes. Two-Face is now a fully rehabilitated citizen ready to reclaim his place in the world…

Back at the Manor, as the TV disgorges a litany of tragedy and travesty, a grumbling urge that has been boiling in Wayne’s gut for a decade finally breaks loose and decrepit manservant Alfred realises with dismay and disgust that Bruce’s other self is coming back…

Whilst a storm breaks over Gotham the night is filled with the screams and the cracking of bones as a horde of violent thieves and thugs are brutalised. Wayward 13-year old Carrie Kelley is saved from a pack of Mutant chickenhawks by a merciless shadow and the News is filled with reports of gangsters reduced to cripples by a maniac “dressed like Dracula”…

When the savage shadow foils a bank raid, one of the hoodlums has a coin with the heads-side scarred and defaced.

…And in Arkham Asylum’s quiet-ward an old, mute cripple with fading green hair watches the News, smiling and laughing for the first time in a decade…

That night the public gets its first full view of the unfolding situation as Two-Face holds Gotham’s Twin Towers hostage and Batman spectacularly ends his campaign of explosive extortion…

‘The Dark Knight Triumphant’ opens to public and media uproar as the Batman’s latest exploits galvanise the Man in the Street, the cops and especially psychotic monsters like the leader of the Mutants – who offers a terrifying challenge to the citizens and their returned hero.

Carrie Kelley rises to that challenge, buying a Robin outfit and jumping over rooftops looking to help clean up the city. Batman doesn’t have time for nonsense and hot air. He’s an old man with a dodgy heart who knows his days are already numbered.

All he wants is to get through another night and punish the Mutants who kidnapped a little boy…

Government – Federal and local – remains stonily silent on the issue of Batman (the first masked hero to break ranks since the government outlawed them years ago) and tension and unrest only escalates when a subway commuter is blown up by the Mutants…

At long last the Mayor acts, appointing Captain Ellen Yindel as his new Commissioner of Police. Her first act is to issue an arrest warrant for The Batman on assault and sundry other charges.

The subject of the manhunt doesn’t care: he’s engaged in a savage battle with the Mutant Army, his bat-tank and gadgets decimating the feral thugs at the City Dump.

His big mistake is to engage their leader in hand-to-hand combat. The steroid and rage fuelled gangbanger is a hate-propelled mass of muscle and speed, half his age and utterly immune to the Dark Knight’s every fighting trick and stratagem.

He is moments from beating the old fool to death when Robin introduces herself to her hero by causing an explosive distraction and stealing the battered body. Guided back to the Batcave, she can only watch as Alfred stitches the broken sack of meat and bone back together for the millionth time…

In the White House the American President takes extreme action, sanctioning the colourful assistance of the Nation’s Kryptonian Secret Weapon whilst in Arkham Dr. Bartholomew Wolper – the man who “cured” Two-Face – continues his treatment of the newly reinvigorated inmate once known as The Joker, whilst in the streets a growing number of Batman imitators take the law into their own increasingly bloody hands.

Although not fully recovered, Batman and Robin are forced to strike again when the Mutant Leader murders the Mayor with his teeth. The old campaigner orchestrates a showdown in front of the entire Mutant nation who watch in astonishment as their unbeatable ruler is methodically taken apart and left a crippled wreck by the resurgent, unholy Warrior Bat…

The beginning of the End starts with ‘Hunt the Dark Knight’ as Gotham is beset by more urban violence as the Mutants splinter into smaller fringe gangs. More worrisome is the huge uptick in citizen violence as the ordinary, decent folk of Gotham get out their legally purchased guns and start shooting at anyone who threatens, frightens, annoys or disgusts them.

The strangest result of the leader’s fall is the declaration by a hard core of former Mutants who publicly convert to “Sons of the Bat”, dedicated to carrying on the Dark Knight’s work: channelling their need for violence into excessive force applied to all malefactors from murderers to jaywalkers…

The Government is far more concerned with the deteriorating international crisis and The Batman is otherwise occupied. As well as cleaning up street scum whilst avoiding the police trying to catch him, there is fresh hell unleashed when the Joker hijacks Gordon’s televised retirement party and incoming Commissioner Yindel’s moment of glory with an explosively gory statement of his own…

With Armageddon clearly coming, clandestine Federal operative Clark Kent takes time out from a very busy schedule of secretly thwarting Soviet military strikes across the world to give old comrade Bruce Wayne a very clear cease-and-desist-or-else message from the White House. Naturally he is utterly ignored…

When the Joker is interviewed on a hugely popular talk show, Yindel’s squads are ready for Batman’s inevitable intervention but not the appalling atrocity the Clown Prince has engineered. In the bloodbath that follows, the openly suicidal Harlequin of Hate pushes himself to even greater excesses after abducting High Society Madam Selina Kyle and instigating another murder spree…

With the gung-ho cops dogging Batman’s heels the bloody trail leads to Gotham County Fair and a horrific, breathtaking final confrontation…

The final chapter then opens with Batman as Public Enemy Number One and a desperate fugitive. The warrants now read “murder”…

Elsewhere Superman prevents nuclear devastation by diverting a Soviet mega-warhead but the explosion radically weakens him. Despite this the Good Soldier obeys his Commander-in-Chief’s next order… stop Batman…

The world is in total chaos as fallout and electromagnetic disturbances bring about a nuclear winter and fry most electrical systems. The Caped Crusader, however, has always been a planner and has an arsenal of weapons and a small core of converts ready for the world that survives.

He also has a hidden ally. Radical firebrand Oliver Queen used to be the heroic Green Arrow…until Superman maimed the intransigent rabble-rouser who refused to toe the Government line once too often…

All that’s left is the final apocalyptic duel between two old, broken and dying heroes defending to the death their respective visions of justice. Despite a phenomenal showing, at last ‘The Dark Knight Falls’, but there’s still one last surprise in store…

Peppered with barbed and biting cultural commentary courtesy of the perpetual vox-pop of talking heads incessantly interviewed by the caustically lampooned and satirised news media, bombarding the reader with key narrative information in subtly layered levels and periodically enhanced throughout by stunningly iconic and powerful full-page tableaux, The Dark Knight Returns ushered in a new style of storytelling and made comics something adults outside the comics industry simply had to acknowledge.

Mythic, challenging and staggeringly visceral, this is rightly the Batman book everyone has heard of. Why not read it at last and see why?
© 1986 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman Chronicles volume 11


By Bob Kane, Don Cameron, Bill Finger, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene, Mort Weisinger, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics) ISBN: 978-1-4012-3739-4

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry. Having established the parameters of the metahuman in their Man of Tomorrow, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly human-scaled adventures starring the Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crimebusters were judged.

This eleventh volume of chronological Batman yarns from the dawn of his career covers Batman #20-21, Detective Comics #82-85 and World’s Finest Comics #12, and again features their exploits from the height of World War II – specifically December 1943 to March 1944.

These Golden Age greats are some of the finest tales in Batman’s decades-long canon, as lead writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron, supplemented by Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene and Mort Weisinger pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang slowly superseded Bob Kane and Jack Burnley: making the feature uniquely his own and keeping the Dynamic Duo at the forefront of the vast army of superhero successes.

War always stimulates creativity and advancement and these sublime adventures of Batman and Robin more than prove that axiom as the growing band of creators responsible for producing the bi-monthly adventures of the Dark Knight hit an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel were able to equal or even approach.

Moreover with the conflict finally turning in the Good Guys’ favour the escapades became upbeat and more wide-ranging. The Home Front seemed a lot brighter as can be seen in Batman #20 which opened with the Joker in ‘The Centuries of Crime!’ (Cameron & the Jack and Ray Burnley) with Mountebank of Mirth claiming to have discovered a nefariously profitable method of time-travelling, whilst ‘The Trial of Titus Keyes!’ (Finger, Kane & Jerry Robinson) offered a masterful courtroom drama of injustice amended, focussing on the inefficacy of witness statements…

‘The Lawmen of the Sea!’ by Finger & the Burnley boys found the Dynamic Duo again working with a lesser known Police Division as they joined The Harbor Patrol in their daily duties and uncovered a modern day piracy ring, before the issue concluded on a dramatic high with ‘Bruce Wayne Loses Guardianship of Dick Grayson!’ wherein a couple of fraudsters claiming to be the boy’s last remaining relatives petition to adopt him. A melodramatic triumph by Finger, Kane & Robinson, there’s still plenty of action, especially after the grifters try to sell Dick back to Bruce Wayne…

In Detective Comics #82 Cameron, Kane & George Roussos explored the dark side of American Football through the rise and explosive downfall of the ‘Quarterback of Crime!’ after which premiere anthology World’s Finest Comics #12 revealed how ‘Alfred Gets His Man!’ (Finger & Sprang), as Batman’s faithful new retainer revived his own boyhood dreams of being a successful detective with hilarious and action-packed results…

Portly butler Alfred’s diet regime thereafter led the Gotham Guardians to a murderous mesmerising medic and criminal insurance scam in ‘Accidentally on Purpose!’, courtesy of Cameron, Kane & Roussos (Detective #83), after which Batman #21 catered an all-Sprang art extravaganza.

The drama opened with slick Schiff-scripted tale ‘The Streamlined Rustlers’ following the Gotham Gangbusters way out west to solve a devilish mystery and crush a gang of beef-stealing black market black hats, after which Cameron described the antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who conned a military historian into planning his capers and briefly stymied Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’

Alvin Schwartz penned the delightfully convoluted romp ‘His Lordship’s Double’ which saw newly dapper, slimline manservant Alfred asked to impersonate a purportedly crowd-shy aristocratic inventor… only to become the victim in a nasty scheme to secure the true toff’s latest invention…

It all culminates with ‘The Three Eccentrics’ by Joe Greene, which detailed the wily Penguin’s schemes to empty the coffers of a trio of Gotham’s wealthiest misfits…

Over in Detective Comics #84, Mort Weisinger & Sprang (with layouts by Ed Kressy)

pitted the Partners in Peril against an incredible Underworld University churning out ‘Artists in Villainy’ before Detective #85 – written by Bill Finger – closes this compilation highlighting Sprang’s first brush with the Clown Prince of Crime. In one of the most madcap moments in the entire annals of adventure, Batman and his arch-foe almost united to hunt for the daring desperado who stole the Harlequin of Hate’s shtick and glory as ‘The Joker’s Double’

This sublime selection of classic comicbook clashes comes in the bold primary palettes of the original release and on authentically textured white newsprint: a true multi-sensorial joy to hold and to read whilst showcasing creators and characters at their absolute peak.

If only other companies with an extensive Golden Age back-catalogue like Marvel and Archie would follow suit…

© 1943, 1944, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Chronicles volume 9


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, John Sikela, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka & Fred Ray (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3122-4

I sometimes think – like many others I know – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when they were whole-heartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvel men.

All the most evocatively visceral moments of the genre seem to come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and I hope you’ll please forgive the offensive contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Nazis”.  However, even in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats and gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

This ninth astounding Superman compendium – collecting #16-17 of his solo title, his adventures from flagship anthology Action Comics #48-52 and an episode from World’s Finest Comics #6 (encompassing May to September 1942) – sees the World’s Premier Superhero predominant at the height of those war years: an indomitable Man of Tomorrow who was always a thrilling, vibrant, vital role-model and whose sensational exploits spawned a host of imitators, a genre and an industry.

Behind the stunning covers by Fred Ray – depicting Superman trouncing scurrilous Axis War-mongers and reminding readers what we were all fighting for – scripter Jerry Siegel was producing some of the best stories of his career, showing the Action Ace in all his morale-boosting glory; thrashing thugs, spies and masters of bad science whilst America kicked the Axis fascists in the pants…

Co-creator Joe Shuster, although plagued by punishing deadlines for the Superman newspaper strip and his rapidly failing eyesight, was still fully involved in the process, overseeing the stories and drawing character faces whenever possible, but as the months passed the talent pool of the “Superman Studio” increasingly took the lead in the comicbooks as the demands of the media superstar grew and grew.

Thus most of the stories in this volume were drawn by John Sikela with occasional support from others…

The magic begins with ‘The Merchant of Murder!’ from Action Comics #48 which saw the hero toppling an insidious gang of killers led by The Top who used wartime restrictions to sell used cars with deadly faults and defects until reporter Lois Lane – and her titanic leg-man – got involved…

Sikela also flew solo on all of Superman #16, beginning with ‘The World’s Meanest Man’ as the Caped Kryptonian crushed a mobster attempting to plunder a social program to give deprived slum-kids a holiday in the countryside, before moving on to battle an astrologer prepared to murder his clients to prove his predictions in ‘Terror from the Stars’.

‘The Case of the Runaway Skyscrapers’ pitted the Metropolis Marvel against Mister Sinister, a trans-dimensional tyrant who could make buildings vanish, after which the power-packed perilous periodical concluded with a deeply satisfying and classic campaign against organised crime as Superman crushed the ‘Racket on Delivery’.

Action Comics #49 then introduced The Puzzler;a despicable, deadly and obsessive criminal maniac who was hated losing and never played fair in ‘The Wizard of Chance’ (inked by Ed Dobrotka).

The debut of Superman had propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and in 1939 the company collaborated with the organisers of the New York World’s Fair: producing a commemorative comicbook celebrating the opening. The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics beside such four-colour stars as Zatara, Gingersnap and The Sandman.

He starred again a year later in the second issue with the newly launched Batman and Robin team in another epochal mass-market premium – Worlds Fair 1940. The spectacular card-cover 96 page anthologies were a huge hit and convinced National’s owner and editors that such an over-sized package of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition.

The bountiful format was retained for a wholly company-owned quarterly which retailed for the then-hefty price of 15¢. Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 (Spring 1941), the book transformed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45 year run which only ended as part of the massive decluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

From issue #6 (Summer 1942) ‘The Man of Steel vs. the Man of Metal’ by Siegel, Leo Nowak & Sikela pits our hero and newsboy Jimmy Olsen against Metalo, a mad scientist whose discoveries made him every inch Superman’s physical match…

Back in Action Comics #50, Clark Kent and Lois were despatched to Florida to scope out sporting skulduggery in ‘Play Ball!’ a light-hearted baseball tale illustrated by Nowak & Ed Dobrotka.

Superman #17 asked ‘Man or Superman?’ (illustrated by Shuster & Sikela), wherein Loisfirst began to put snippets of evidence together, at last sensing that klutzy Clark Kent might be hiding a Super-secret even as the subject of her researches tangled with sinister saboteur The Talon. Following that, ‘The Human Bomb’ (art by Nowak) saw a criminal hypnotist turn innocent citizens into walking landmines until the tireless Action Ace scotched his wicked racket.

Sikela handled the last two tales in the issue beginning with ‘Muscles for Sale!’ in which Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and Trophy Room debuted and the Man of Steel battled another mad mesmerist who turned ordinary men into dangerously overconfident louts, bullies and thieves, whilst ‘When Titans Clash!’ offered a frantic and spectacular duel of wits and incredible super-strength when Luthor regained the mystic Power Stone and became Superman’s physical – but never intellectual – master …

Action Comics #51 then introduced the canny faux-madness of practical-joking homicidal bandit The Prankster in the rollercoaster romp ‘The Case of the Crimeless Crimes’ and this cavalcade of comics creativity and glorious indulgence concludes with the ‘The Emperor of America!’ from Action Comics #52, wherein an invading army were welcomed with open arms by all Americans except the indignantly suspicious Man of Steel who single-handedly liberated the nation in a blistering, rousing call-to-arms classic…

As the war progressed the raw passion and sly wit of Siegel’s stories and the rip-roaring energy of Shuster and his team were galvanised by the parlous state of the planet and Superman simply became better and more flamboyant to deal with it all.

His startling abilities and take-charge, can-do attitude won the hearts of the public at home and he was embraced as a patriotic tonic for the troops across the war-torn world.

The rise was meteoric, inexorable and unprecedented. He was the indisputable star of Action, World’s Finest Comics and his own dedicated title whilst a daily newspaper strip (begun on 16th January 1939, with a separate Sunday strip following from 5th November of that year) garnered millions of new fans.

A thrice-weekly radio serial had been running since February 12th 1940 and, with a movie cartoon series, games, toys, apparel and a growing international media presence, Superman was swiftly becoming the entire Earth’s hero…

Although the gaudy burlesque of evil aliens, marauding monsters and slick super-villains still lay years ahead of our hero, these captivating tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster are just as engrossing and speak powerfully of the tenor of the times, and are all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion.

No “To Be Continueds” here!

As fresh, thrilling and compelling now as they ever were, these endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly presented in these glorious paperback collections where the graphic magic defined what being a Super Hero means and concocted the basic iconography of the genre for all others to follow.

Such Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at an absurdly affordable price and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
© 1942, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman Chronicles volume 10


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Joseph Greene, Joe Samachson, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson, Norman Fallon, George Roussos, Fred Ray & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2895-8

Debuting twelve months after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (joined within a year by Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry. Having established the scope and parameters of the metahuman in their Man of Tomorrow, the magnificently mortal physical perfection and dashing derring-do of strictly human-scaled adventures starring the Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all four-colour crimebusters were judged.

This tenth volume of chronologically re-presented Batman yarns from the dawn of his incredible career covers Batman #18-19, Detective Comics #78-81 and World’s Finest Comics #11 (spanning August to November 1943), once again featuring adventures produced during the scary days of World War II.

It’s certainly no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon, as lead writer Bill Finger was increasingly supplemented by the talents of Don Cameron, Joe Samachson, Joe Green and others, whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang was slowly growing into his role as major creative force for the feature: transforming the Dynamic Duo into another hugely successful franchise.

The war seemed to stimulate a peak of creativity and production, with everybody on the Home Front keen to do their bit – even if that was simply making kids of all ages forget their troubles for a brief while – and these tales were created just as the dark tide was turning and an odour of hopeful optimism was creeping into the escapist, crime-busting yarns and especially the stunning covers: seen here in the work of Jack Burnley, Sprang & Stan Kaye, Jerry Robinson and Kane…

The compelling dramas open with ‘The Bond Wagon’ (by Greene, Burnley & George Roussos from Detective Comics #78) which pushed the patriotic agenda when Robin’s efforts to raise war funds through a parade of historical look-alikes is targeted by Nazi spies and sympathisers, after which Batman #18 opens with a spectacular and visually stunning crime-caper wherein the Gotham Gangbusters clash again with rascally rotund rogues Tweedledum and Tweedledee whilst solving ‘The Secret of Hunter’s Inn!’ by Samachson & Robinson.

Then ‘Robin Studies his Lessons!’ (Samachson, Kane & Robinson) sees the Boy Wonder grounded from all crime-busting duties until his school work improved – even if it means Batman dying for want of his astounding assistance!

Bill Finger and Burnley brothers Jack and Ray crafted ‘The Good Samaritan Cops’: another brilliant and absorbing human interest drama focused on the tense but unglamorous work of the Police Emergency Squad before the action temporarily ends with a shocking and powerful final engagement for manic physician and felonious mastermind Matthew Thorne: ‘The Crime Surgeon!’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson), who tries his deft and devilish hand at masterminding other crooks’ capers…

Over in Detective Comics #79 ‘Destiny’s Auction’, by Cameron & Robinson, offers another sterling human interest melodrama as a fortune teller’s prognostications lead to fame, fortune and deadly danger for a failed actress, has-been actor and superstitious gangster…

The creation of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and in 1939 the company was licensed to produce a commemorative comicbook celebrating the start of the New York World’s Fair, with the Man of Tomorrow prominently featured among the four-colour stars of the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics.

A year later, following the birth of Batman and Robin, National combined Dark Knight, Boy Wonder and Action Ace on the cover of the follow-up New York World’s Fair 1940.The spectacular 96-page anthology was a tremendous success and the oversized bonanza format was established, becoming Spring 1941’s World’s Best Comics #1, before finally settling on the now-legendary title World’s Finest Comics from the second issue, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive clear-out and de-cluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Until 1954 and the swingeing axe-blows of rising print costs, the only place Superman and Batman ever met was on the stunning covers by the likes of Burnley, Fred Ray and others. Between those sturdy card covers, the heroes maintained a strict non-collaboration policy and #11’s (Fall 1943) Batman episode revealed ‘A Thief in Time!’ (Finger & Robinson inked by Fred Ray) which pitted the Gotham Gangbusters against future-felon Rob Callender, who fell through a time-warp and thought he’d found the perfect way to get rich.

Detective #80 saw the turbulent tragedy of deranged, double-edged threat Harvey Kent finally resolved after a typically terrific tussle with ‘The End of Two-Face!’ by Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos, after which Batman #19 unleashes another quartet of compelling crime-busting cases.

There’s no mistaking the magnificent artwork of rising star Dick Sprang who pencilled every tale in this astounding issue, beginning with Cameron’s ‘Batman Makes a Deadline!’ wherein the Dark Knight investigated skulduggery and attempted murder at the City’s biggest newspaper. He also scripted the breathtaking fantasy masterpiece ‘Atlantis Goes to War!’ with the Dynamic Duo rescuing that fabled submerged city from overwhelming Nazi assault.

The Joker reared his garish head again in the anonymously penned thriller ‘The Case of the Timid Lion!’ (perhaps William Woolfolk or Jack Schiff?) with the Clown Prince of Crime enraged and lethal whilst tracking down an impostor committing crazy capers in his name before Samachson, Sprang and inker Norman Fallon unmasked the ‘Collector of Millionaires’ with Dick Grayson covertly investigating his wealthy mentor’s bewildering abduction and subsequent replacement by a cunning doppelganger…

This fabulous foray into timeless wonder concludes with ‘The Cavalier of Crime!’ (Detective #81, by Cameron, Kane & Roussos) which introduced another bizarre and baroque costumed crazy who pitted his rapacious wits and sharp edged weapons against the Dynamic Duo – naturally and ultimately to no avail…

This stuff set the standard for comic superheroes. Whatever you like now, you owe it to these tales. Superman gave us the idea, and writers like Finger and Cameron refined and defined the meta-structure of the costumed crime-fighter. Where the Man of Steel was as much social force and wish fulfilment as hero, Batman and Robin did what we ordinary mortals wanted to do.

They taught bad people the lesson they deserved.

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s twin icons: Superman and Batman.

It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks to deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions.

However, to my mind, such tales of elemental power and joyful exuberance, brimming with deep mood and addictive action are best enjoyed in these pulp-textured, four-colour facsimiles – as close to the originals in feel and tone as we can get these days.

Comic book heroics simply don’t come any better.
© 1943, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Chronicles volume 8


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Leo Nowak, Paul Cassidy, Ed Dobrotka, John Sikela & Fred Ray (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2647-3

The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all today – would be an utterly unrecognisable thing without Superman. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation gave birth to an entire genre if not an actual art form.

The ebullient, effervescent, spectacular Man of Tomorrow spawned an inconceivable army of imitators and, within three years of his 1938 debut, his intoxicating blend of action and social wish-fulfilment had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East finally involved America, patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters, all dedicated to profit through exuberant excess and explosively dashing derring-do.

Re-presented in this eighth pulp-revering Superman Chronicles edition, collecting the breathtaking yarns from Action Comics #44-47 and Superman #14-15 (January-April 1942) in chronological publishing order – and in as near-as-dammit recapturing the texture, smell and colour of the original newsprint – are the crude, rough, cathartically exuberant exploits of a righteous and superior man dealing out summary justice equally to social malcontents, exploitative capitalists, thugs and ne’er-do-wells that initially won the imagination of a generation.

Superman’s rise was meteoric and inexorable. He was the indisputable star of Action, World’s Finest Comics and his own dedicated title whilst a daily newspaper strip had begun on 16th January 1939, with a separate Sunday strip following from November 5th that year, which garnered millions of new fans.

A thrice-weekly radio serial launched on February 12th 1940 and, with a movie cartoon series, games, toys, apparel and a growing international media presence, Superman was swiftly becoming everybody’s hero…

Although the gaudy burlesque of monsters and super-villains still lay years ahead of our hero, these captivating tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster are just as engrossing and speak powerfully of the tenor of the times. The perilous parade of rip-roaring action, hoods, masterminds, plagues, disasters, lost kids and distressed damsels are all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion.

No “to be continueds” here!

This epochal run of raw, unpolished but viscerally vibrant stories by Jerry Siegel and the burgeoning Superman Studio (Joe Shuster spending most of his time and declining eyesight on the newspaper strip) continued to set the funnybook world on fire, and are accompanied throughout by the eye-popping covers of Fred Ray, whose creative genius was responsible for some of the most unforgettable iconic images and patriotic graphics on the genre…

As most of these early tales were untitled, for everyone’s convenience – especially your reviewer’s – the tales here have been given descriptive appellations by the editors and we begin here with ‘The Caveman Criminal’ from Action #44, illustrated by Leo Nowak & Ed Dobrotka, wherein crooks capitalised on a frozen “Dawn Man” who thawed out and went wild in the crime-ridden Metropolis, after which Superman #14 (January/February 1942 and again primarily a Nowak art affair) opened with ‘Concerts of Doom!’

Here a master pianist discovered just how mesmerising his recitals were and joined forces with unpatriotic thieves and dastardly saboteurs, after which the tireless Man of Tomorrow was hard-pressed to cope with the reign of diabolical destruction caused by ‘The Invention Thief’.

John Sikela inked Nowak’s pencils in a frantic high fantasy romp resulting from the Man of Steel’s discovery of a friendly mermaid and malevolent fishmen living in ‘The Undersea City’ before more high-tension and catastrophic graphic destruction signalled Superman’s epic clash with sinister electrical savant ‘The Lightning Master’.

Action Comics #45 by Nowak & Ed Dobrotka saw ‘Superman’s Ark’ girdle the globe to repopulate a decrepit and nigh-derelict city zoo, whilst Action #46 featured ‘The Devil’s Playground’ (credited here to Paul Cassidy) wherein masked murderer The Domino stalked an amusement park wreaking havoc and instilling terror.

In the bimonthly Superman #15 ‘The Cop Who was Ruined’ (Nowak) found the Metropolis Marvel clearing the name of framed detective Bob Branigan – a man who even believed himself guilty – whilst scurvy Orientals menaced the nation’s Pacific fleet in ‘Saboteurs from Napkan’ with Sikela again lending his pens and brushes to Nowak’s pencil art.

Thinly veiled fascist oppression and expansion was spectacularly nipped in the bud in ‘Superman in Oxnalia’ – an all-Sikela art job, but Nowak was back on pencils for a concluding science fiction thriller ‘The Evolution King’ wherein a malignant mastermind artificially aged his wealthy, prominent victims until the invulnerable Man of Steel stormed in…

This splendid compilation concludes with a blockbusting, no-holds-barred battle which was only the opening skirmish in a bigger campaign. Action #47 (Sikela) revealed how Lex Luthor gained incredible abilities after acquiring the incredible ‘Powerstone’, making the mad scientist temporarily Superman’s physical equal – if not mental – match…

As fresh and thrilling now as they ever were, the endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly housed in these glorious paperback collections where the savage intensity and sly wit still shine through in Siegel’s stories – which literally defined what being a Super Hero means – whilst Shuster’s shadows continued to create the basic iconography of superhero comics for all others to follow.

Such Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at an absurdly affordable price and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?

As well as cheap price and no-nonsense design and presentation, and notwithstanding the historical significance of the material presented within, the most important bonus for any one who hasn’t read some or all of these tales before is that they are all astonishingly well-told and engrossing mini-epics that cannot fail to grip the reader.

Once read you’ll understand why today’s creators keep returning to this material every time they need to revamp the big guy. They are simply timeless, enthralling, and great.
© 1942, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Phantom Zone


By Steve Gerber, Gene Colan, Rick Veitch, Tony DeZuniga & Bob Smith (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4051-6

For fans and comics creators alike continuity can be a harsh mistress. These days, when maintaining a faux-historical cloak of rational integrity for the made-up worlds we inhabit is paramount, the greatest casualty of the semi-regular sweeping changes, rationalisations and reboots is the terrific tales which suddenly “never happened”.

The most painful example of this – for me at least – was the wholesale binning of the entire charm-drenched mythology that had evolved around Superman’s birthworld in the wonder years between 1948 and 1986.

Thankfully DC is not as slavishly wedded to continuity as its readership and understands that a good story is worth cherishing. This slim, trim spectral selection gathers the superb 4-issue miniseries The Phantom Zone from January-April 1982 and the very last pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Zone yarn from DC Comics Presents #97 (September 1986), whilst simultaneously celebrating the stylish and enthralling scripting of unique comics voice Steve Gerber.

The riotous recapitulation of all that lost Man of Tomorrow mythology begins in ‘The Haunting of Charlie Kweskill!’ when the eponymous Daily Planet paste-up artist collapses at work. The solitary little dweeb has been sleeping badly, plagued by nightmares of a life on the long-gone world of Krypton.

His dreams reveal how brilliant scientist Jor-El devised a non-lethal way to deal with Krypton’s most incorrigible criminals: human monsters such as Jax-Ur, Professor Va-Kox, Dr. Xadu, sadistic psycho-killer Faora Hu-Ul, potential dictator General Dru-Zod and even Jor’s own crazy cousin Kru-El

Many lesser menaces such as psionic aberrants Az-Rel and Nadira were also banished to the twilight realm, as well as stranger outcasts like callous biological experimenter Nam-Ek, but the one who most catches Charlie’s attention is convicted fraudster Quex-Ul; a Kryptonian who was Charlie’s doppelganger…

The dreams are all true, telepathic broadcasts beamed at Charlie by the Zone inmates from within the plane of timeless intangibility. Quex-Ul had been one of them, surviving long after Krypton died, but was innocent of his crimes. He had been framed and mind-controlled by a mastermind who had deservedly perished when the Red Sun world detonated.

After Superman corrected the injustice and released the poor dupe, Qwex-Ul had saved the Man of Steel from a Gold Kryptonite trap, losing all his inherent Kryptonian abilities and memory in the process. The grateful, heartsick Action Ace had found the amnesiac a job at the Planet and almost forgot his alien origins in the years since. Charlie’s former fellows had not…

Their telepathic onslaught has turned Kweskill into a somnambulistic slave, unknowingly spending his nights breaking into labs and stealing high-tech components. Superman, slowly putting the puzzle pieces together, is just too late to thwart the stealthy scheme and as he bursts into Charlie’s apartment a hastily cobbled together Phantom Zone device hurls him and the hapless mind-slave into the ghostly region, whilst simultaneously freeing a legion of the cruellest criminals in existence…

The saga continues with ‘Earth Under Siege!’ as Superman and Charlie helplessly watch Zod, Jax-Ur, Va-Kox, Faora and Kru-El immediately take off to undertake the next stage of their plan, leaving passively nihilistic Az-Rel and Nadira to negligently torture monstrous Nam-Ek with their psychic talents and mock the ranting liturgies of religious zealot Jer-Em, whose manic bigotry and fundamentalist isolationism caused the death of every person in Argo City

Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El had been born on the city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet detonated. Eventually Argo turned to Green Kryptonite like most of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished.

On Earth, the teenager met the Man of Steel who created for her the identities of Linda Lee and Supergirl, concealing her from the world whilst she learned about her new home and how to use her astounding new abilities in secrecy and safety.

As the emotionally disconnected, disaffected and doubly alienated youths laconically saunter through Metropolis; casually slaughtering cops and citizens, Zod’s far more motivated cronies have reached Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and destroyed the only means of returning them to their extra-dimensional dungeon.

The next move is to attack the Justice League satellite, hurling it and occupants Flash, Zatanna, Red Tornado, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Firestorm and Aquaman on a non-stop trajectory out of the Solar System. When the rampant Kryptonians destroy all Earth’s communications satellites and trigger a mass launch of nuclear missiles, Wonder Woman and Supergirl narrowly avert atomic Armageddon whilst the frantic Man of Tomorrow can only watch in horror…

Not every Zone inhabitant is a criminal. For instance the Daxamite Mon-El was exposed to common lead in ‘Superboy’s Big Brother’ (by Robert Bernstein & Papp from Superboy #89, June 1961) and his lingering, inexorable death was only forestalled by depositing the dying alien in the Zone until a cure could be found…

Now, as Green Lantern confronts the Zod Squad on Earth only to be soundly beaten and have his Power Battery stolen, Mon-El informs Charlie and Superman of a possible back way out of the realm of hellish nullity…

On Earth, as Wonder Woman subdues Nam-Ek, Supergirl checks in with Batman, desperately trying to ascertain where her cousin Superman has gone. As the Dark Knight heads to Metropolis to investigate, Kara returns to the Fortress only to be ambushed by the Kryptonian escapees and beaten near to death…

With no other choice, Charlie and Superman reluctantly pass through a dimensional portal even the obsessed villains were too scared to risk and encounter surreal madness in ‘The Terror Beyond Twilight!’

Back in the physical world of touch and time, Supergirl saves herself from ghastly atomic disintegration as Charlie and Superman pass through stormy turbulence and a tedious waiting-room-realm before arriving on a peculiar plane where they are confronted by luscious sirens with impossible riddles and exploding heads.

Their narrow escape from the Priestesses of the Crimson Sun only leads them to Kryptonian wizard Thul-Kar who magicked himself into the Zone in ages past and now slavishly serves an erratic and malevolent sentient universe named Aethyr.

It wants to consume Charlie and Superman but only by passing through it can they reach the physical world again…

On Earth, chaos reigns. Batman is utterly unable to pacify the extremist Jer-Em, who deems the planet impure, unclean and unholy. He would rather die than soil his Kryptonian purity here.

…And high above the planet, the other freed villains have their own plan to fix the situation: a gigantic Phantom Zone Cannon which will inexorably and eternally banish Earth into the twilight dimension in the course of one full rotation…

The drama comes to a tragic conclusion in ‘The Phantom Planet!’ as Az-Rel and Nadira, having found kindred spirits amongst Metropolis’ disenfranchised Punk Rock counter culture – and killed them – encounter Jer-Em in martyr mode. The now suicidal cleric is quite keen on taking the rest of the apostate Kryptonians with him…

As the world turns into intangibility, in France Faora has briefly resumed her passion for murdering males – before they’re all gone – whilst in Aethyr’s universe an appalling sacrifice enables Superman to return to physicality in time to lead a last desperate charge, saving the day and putting  the villains back where they belong… those still alive, that is…

The remainder of the fantastic chronicle recounts the tying up of all those intriguing concepts and loose ends in a spectacular sidebar to the end of DC’s original universe.

In 1986 the company celebrated its fiftieth year with the groundbreaking Crisis on Infinite Earths: radically overhauling its convoluted multiversal continuity and starting afresh. All the Superman titles were cancelled or suspended pending this back-to-basics reboot courtesy of John Byrne, allowing the opportunity for a number of very special farewells to the old mythology.

One of the most intriguing and challenging came in the last issue of DC Comics Presents(#97) wherein ‘Phantom Zone: the Final Chapter’ by Gerber, Rick Veitch & Bob Smith offered a creepy adieu to a number of Superman’s greatest foes…

Tracing Jor-El’s discovery of the Phantom Zone through to the imminent end of the multiverse, this dark yarn built on Gerber’s landmark miniseries and revealed that the dread region of nothingness was in fact the sentient echo of a dead universe which had always regarded the creatures deposited within it as irritants and agonising intruders.

Now as cosmic carnage reigned Aethyr, still served by Kryptonian mage Thul-Kar, caused the destruction of the Bizarro World and the deification and corruption of Fifth Dimensional pest Mr. Mxyzptlk as well as the subsequent crashing of Argo City on Metropolis.

As a result Zod and his fellow immaterial inmates were freed to wreak havoc upon Earth – but only until the now-crystalline pocket dimension merged with and absorbed the felons before implausibly abandoning Superman to face his uncertain future as the very Last Son of Krypton…

Superman has proven to be all things to all fans over his decades of existence and these timeless tales of charm, joy and wholesome wit are more necessary than ever: not just as a reminder of great tales of the past but as an all-ages primer of the wonders still to come…
© 1982, 1986, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman – Streets of Gotham volume 2: Leviathan


By Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2906-1

With all the furore and hype surrounding the death and inevitable resurrection of Batman cunningly orchestrated by Grant Morrison, everybody seemed so concerned with what was going to happen next that they apparently ignored what was actually occurring in the monthly comicbooks in their hands.

Now with the dust long settled let’s take a look at one of the better satellite-series to come out of the braided Batman R.I.P./Final Crisis/Last Rites/Batman Reborn/Return of Bruce Wayne publishing events…

In the aftermath of the epochal loss of the Gotham Guardian, a sustained and epic Battle for the Cowl ensued amongst the fallen hero’s closest allies. Eventually Dick Grayson succeeded his lost mentor, carrying on the tradition if not the methodology of the Dark Knight, with Bruce Wayne’s League of Assassins-trained son Damian continuing as the headstrong and potentially lethal latest iteration of Robin, the Boy Wonder

This sterling submission, illustrated throughout by Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs, collects the contents of the monthly Batman: Streets of Gotham # 5-11 (October 2009-April 2010) and offers grim glances at the hellish everyday lives of citizens in the worst city on Earth, beginning with the 2-part ‘Leviathan’ – scripted by Chris Yost – wherein the life of a young, hope-filled Gotham priest is examined and tested over painful years before a calamitous crisis of conscience bloodily erupts…

As his faith falters, the unpredictable Huntress frantically stalks Man-Bat Kirk Langstrom, convinced the self-mutated manhunter has finally slipped into carnivorous madness. Ignoring orders from Birds of Prey leader Barbara “Oracle” Gordon to merely subdue her quarry, the ruthless vigilante is determined to end forever the leather-winged horror’s attacks on Gotham’s citizens before eventually their ferocious extended struggle sends them smashing through the skylight of St. Aloysius’ to land at the feet of troubled Father Mark.

…And that’s when the poor padre hears the voice in his ear telling him to kill both “The Beast” and “The Harlot”…

As Batman and Robin track new esoteric stealth weaponry being sold to premier gang boss Black Mask, in the church’s vault Father Mark struggles to carry out the Word of God. The order keeps coming, somehow further infuriating the already rabid Man-Bat, and Huntress at last realises that rather than going rogue Langstrom has been reacting to a threat only his bat-like super-senses can detect.

As the invisible killer forgoes cunning enticement for heavy ordinances the Dark Knight crashes in to save the day, but it’s Father Mark who actually executes a benison of salvation and finds redemption…

Scripted by the superb Paul Dini, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ then offers a dark Seasonal treat as Batman and Robin track demented tinkerer and part-time Santa Humpty Dumpty to his lair and discover a dormitory full of dead children.

However, as monstrous vigilante Abuse has already found, the tragic felon isn’t a killer, but instead is simply trying to “fix” the broken creatures he keeps finding floating in the river…

The discovery deeply affects the usually cocksure Boy Wonder, who is as determined as orphan Colin Wilkes, who escapes the nuns’ scrutiny every night to hunt adults who hurt children as the hulking, mutated Abuse…

And further upriver, psychopathic serial killer Mr. Zsasz puts his latest acquisitions to work, duelling to the death for the appreciative viewers and bettors of his underground juvenile gladiatorial bouts…

The case goes onto the backburner in the 2-part ‘Hardcore Nights’ (written by Mike Benson) when Jim Gordon alerts Batman to a spate of savage killings. Every victim is a career criminal and the Commissioner’s thoughts naturally tend to another vigilante in town, but the Gotham Gangbuster uncovers a link to a certain sex club worker and a darkly devious web of deceit, jealousy and murder…

Dini returns to script the last two tales in this compilation as ‘Heroes’ reveals how frail Colin gained his strange powers and abiding passion to punish abusers after the fear-mongering Scarecrow used the boy as a guinea pig for the madman’s terror-toxins and doses of super-steroid Venom.

Origin over, the tale returns to the present day as the lad uses himself as bait for whoever is snatching kids and runs into the scarily intense Damian trying the same stratagem…

Soon shanghaied by Zsasz, the over-confident boys are soon fighting for their lives in the mass-murderer’s ghastly arena, but by the time Batman arrives for the ‘Final Cut’ they have already demolished the foul fight club and one of them had to talk the other out of taking vengeance Old Testament style…

Bleak, ominously poignant and powerfully downbeat, Streets of Gotham is a visceral, imaginative and deliciously off-balance stage for the varied bat-cast to display their efficacy in frantic psycho-thrillers and moody crime capers set on the darkest avenues in all of comics…
© 2009, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman vs. Zod


By Robert Bernstein, Cary Bates, Steve Gerber, Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, George Papp, Curt Swan, Alex Saviuk, Rick Veitch, Rags Morales & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3849-0

Superman is comics’ champion crusader: the hero who effectively started a whole genre and, in the decades since his spectacular launch in June 1938, one who has survived every kind of menace imaginable. With this in mind it’s tempting and very rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his prodigious back-catalogue and re-present them in specifically-themed collections, such as this fun but far from comprehensive chronicling of his Kryptonian antithesis: a monstrous militaristic madman with the same abilities but far more sinister values and motivations.

For fans and comics creators alike continuity can be a harsh mistress. These days, when maintaining a faux-historical cloak of rational integrity for the made-up worlds we inhabit is paramount, the greatest casualty of the semi-regular sweeping changes, rationalisations and reboots is the terrific tales which suddenly “never happened”.

The most painful example of this – for me at least – was the wholesale loss of the entire charm-drenched mythology that had evolved around Superman’s birthworld in the wonder years between 1948 and 1986.

We Silver Age readers buying Superman, Action Comics, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, World’s Finest Comics and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (not forgetting Superboy and Adventure Comics)would delight every time some fascinating snippet of information leaked out. We spent our rainy days filling in the incredible blanks about the lost world through the delightful and thrilling tales from those halcyon publications.

Thankfully DC is not as slavishly wedded to continuity as its readership and understands that a good story is worth cherishing. This captivating compilation (gathering material from Adventure Comics #283, Action Comics #473, 548-549, DC Comics Presents #97 and Action Comics Annual #10; spanning 1961-2007) re-presents appearances both landmark and rare, current and notionally non-canonical featuring Kryptonian warlord and arch-nemesis General Dru-Zod, crafted by the many brilliant writers and artists who have contributed to the mythology of the Man of Tomorrow over the years.

Naturally this terrific tome begins with the first appearance – brief and incidental though it was – of the warrior who tried to conquer Krypton with an army of Bizarro-like clonal “inorganisms” in ‘The Phantom Superboy’ by Robert Bernstein & George Papp.

The lead feature in Adventure Comics #283 (April, 1961) described how a mysterious alien vault smashes to Earth and the Smallville Sensation finds sealed within three incredible super-weapons built by his long-dead dad Jor-El.

There’s a disintegrator gun, a monster-making de-evolutioniser and a strange projector that opens a window into an eerie, timelessly dolorous dimension of stultifying intangibility.

However as Superboy reads the history of the projector – used to incarcerate Krypton’s criminals such as Dr. Xadu and the traitorous General – a terrible accident traps him inside the Phantom Zone and only by the greatest exercise of his mighty intellect does he narrowly escape…

Although there were plenty more appearances of the Red Sun Rebel, we jump here to ‘The Great Phantom Peril’ from Action Comics #473 (July 1977, by Cary Bates, Curt Swan & Tex Blaisdell) for the concluding chapter in a three part tale introducing sadistic psycho-killer Faora Hu-Ul.

In this instalment the male-hating escapee engineers the freedom of all her ghostly companions, leaving the criminal Kryptonians to run riot on Earth. Thankfully the foresighted Superman had contrived to place all humanity in the Phantom Zone even as the prisoners explosively exited it…

Again no more than a bit-player, Zod was left to shout empty threats and wreck property until the ingenious Man of Steel turned the tables on his foes and banished them all back behind intangible bars once again…

He played a far more important role in the next epic. ‘Escape from the Phantom Zone!’ (Action Comics #548 October 1983) was the first part of a two-issue yarn by Bates, Alex Saviuk, Vince Colletta & Pablo Marcos: an engaging if improbable saga of cosmic vengeance as a race of primordial plunderers discovered the dead remains of Argo City and realised that there was at least one Kryptonian left in the cosmos…

Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris and her dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished.

On Earth, the teenager met the Man of Steel who created for her the identities of Linda Lee and Supergirl, concealing her from the world whilst she learned about her new home and how to use her astounding new abilities in secrecy and safety.

The alien marauders were Vrangs – savage slavers who had conquered Krypton in eons past – and brutally using the primitive populace to mine minerals too toxic for the aliens to handle. The planet’s greatest hero was Val-Lor who died instigating the rebellion which drove the Vrangs from Krypton and prompted the rise of the super-scientific civilisation.

All Kryptonians developed an inbred hatred of the Vrangs, and when Phantom Zone prisoners Jax-Ur, Professor Va-Kox, Faora and General Dru-Zod observed their ancestral oppressors from the stark and silent realm of nullity that had been their drearily, unchanging, timeless jail since before Krypton perished, they swore to destroy them.

If their holy mission also allowed the Kryptonian outcasts to kill the hated son of the discoverer of the eerie dimension of stultifying intangibility, then so much the better…

Using the psycho-active properties of Jewel Kryptonite – a post-cataclysm isotope of the very element poisonous to Vrangs – a quartet of Zoners break-out and head to Earth for vengeance… but upon whom?

Soon after, Clark Kent, still blithely unaware of his peril, investigates a citizens’ defence group that has sprung up in Metropolis in response to a city-wide rash of petty crimes.

In ‘Superman Meets the Zod Squad’ (Action Comics #549) as Zod, Faora, Tyb-Ol and Murkk infiltrate human society and bide their time, the Man of Steel and Lois Lane are most concerned with how the White Wildcats can afford to police neighbourhoods with jet-packs and martial arts skills unknown on Earth…

Uncovering militarist maniac Zod behind the scheme, Superman is astounded when the Kryptonians surrender, offering a truce until their ancient mutual enemies are defeated.

…And that’s when the Vrangs teleport the Man of Steel into their ship, exultant that they now possess the mightiest slave in existence.

Moreover, there are four more potentially priceless victims hurtling up to attack them, utterly unaware in their blind rage and hatred that the Vrangs have a weapon even Kryptonians cannot survive…

This clever, compulsive thriller of cross, double- and even triple-cross is a fabulously intoxicating, tension-drenched treat blending human foibles with notions of honour, and shows that even the most reprehensible villains may understand the value of sacrifice and the principle of something worth dying for…

In 1986 DC celebrated its fiftieth year with the groundbreaking, Earth-shattering Crisis on Infinite Earths by radically overhauling its convoluted multiversal continuity and starting afresh. All the Superman titles were cancelled or suspended pending this back-to-basics reboot courtesy of John Byrne, allowing the opportunity for a number of very special farewells to the old mythology.

One of the most intriguing and challenging came in the last issue of team-up title DC Comics Presents:specifically#97 (September 1986) wherein ‘Phantom Zone: the Final Chapter’ by Steve Gerber, Rick Veitch & Bob Smith offered a creepy adieu to a number of Superman’s greatest foes and concepts…

Tracing Jor-El’s discovery of the Phantom Zone through to the impending end of the multiverse, this tale revealed that the dread region of nullity was in fact sentient and always regarded the creatures deposited within as intruders.

Now as cosmic chaos ensued Aethyr, served by Kryptonian mage Thul-Kar, caused the destruction of the Bizarro World and the deification and corruption of Fifth Dimensional pest Mr. Mxyzptlk as well as the subsequent crashing of green-glowing Argo City on Metropolis.

As a result Zod and his fellow immaterial inmates were freed to wreak havoc upon Earth until the now-crystalline pocket dimension merged with and absorbed the felons before implausibly abandoning Superman to face his uncertain future as the very Last Son of Krypton…

This compilation concludes with a thoroughly modern reinterpretation of General Zod

by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Rags Morales & Mark Farmer from Action Comics Annual #10 in 2007.

Blending elements of the 1978 filmic Superman franchise (and starring Zod, Ursa and Non as seen in Superman: the Movie and Superman II) ‘The Criminals of Krypton’ reveals that Krypton was no paradise in its final days and how the Science Council silenced Jor-El’s mentor Non by operating on his brain to keep word of the impending planetary explosion quiet.

Although pacifistic Jor-El chose to argue his position from within the strictures of the Council, his impatient converts Zod and Ursa tried to seize control of the government to save the unwary citizens, forcing the head of the House of El to exile (or perhaps save?) them from the cataclysm to come…

Superman has proven to be all things to all fans over his decades of existence, and with the character again undergoing another radical overhaul, these timeless tales of charm and joy and wholesome wit (accompanied by the classic covers by Papp, Swan, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Veitch & Smith) are more necessary than ever: not just as a reminder of great tales of the past but as an all-ages primer of the wonders still to come…
© 1961, 1977, 1983, 1986, 2007, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents Superman Team-up volume 2


By Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Martin Pasko, Roy Thomas, Paul Levitz, Jim Starlin, Curt Swan, José Luis García-López, Rick Buckler, Irv Novick, Kurt Schaffenberger, Joe Staton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4048-6

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero the only thing he/she wants is to see how the new gaudy gladiator stacks up against the first. From the earliest days of the funnybook industry (and, according to DC Comics Presents editor Julie Schwartz, it was the same with the pulps and dime novels that preceded it) we’ve wanted our entertainment idols to meet, associate, battle together – and, if you follow the Timely/Marvel model, that means against each other – far more than we want to see them trounce their archenemies together…

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or fighting (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was far from new when DC awarded their then biggest gun (it was the publicity-drenched weeks before the release of Superman: the Movie, and Tim Burton’s Batman was over a decade away) a regular arena to have adventures with other stars of their firmament, just as Batman had been doing since the middle of the 1960s in The Brave and the Bold.

Actually the Man of Steel had already embraced the regular sharing experience at the beginning of the decade when World’s Finest Comics briefly ejected the Caped Crusader and Superman battled beside a coterie of heroes including Flash, Robin, Martian Manhunter, Teen Titans, Dr. Fate and others (WF #198-214, November 1970 to October/November 1972) before the immortal status quo was re-established.

This second stout and superbly economical monochrome collection re-presents DC Comics Presents #27-50 and the first Annual (spanning November 1980 to October 1982) of the star-studded monthly, and opens the show with a trilogy of interlinked thrillers.

Unlike The Brave and the Bold, which boasted a regular artist for most of its Batman-starring team-up run, a veritable merry-go-round of creative talent contributed to DCCP and #27 proved the value of such tactics when Len Wein, Jim Starlin, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin collaboratively changed the shape of Superman mythology by introducing alien marauder Mongul in ‘The Key that Unlocked Chaos!’

The deposed despot of a far away planet kidnapped Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Steve Lombard to force Superman to attack former JLA member J’onn J’onzz. This was because the Martian Manhunter had successfully driven off the rapacious fiend when he attacked New Mars in search of an artefact that would grant the possessor control of the universe’s most terrible weapon…

Now Mongul wanted the Man of Steel to get it for him and, although the resulting planet-shaking clash between old allies did result in the salvation of his friends, Superman subsequently failed to keep the crystal key out of the villain’s gigantic hands…

The tale continued in #28 as Supergirl joined her Kryptonian cousin in scouring the cosmos for the vanished tyrant and ancient doom weapon ‘Warworld!’ (Wein, Starlin & Romeo Tanghal).

Unfortunately, once they found it, Mongul unleashed all its resources to destroy his annoying adversaries and in the resultant cataclysm the mobile gun-planet was demolished. The resultant detonation blasted Kara Zor-El out of existence…

The triptych concluded a month later as The Spectre intervened to stop the heartsick Man of Tomorrow following his cousin ‘Where No Superman Has Gone Before!’ Happily after the customary clash of egos and flexing of muscles the nigh-omnipotent Ghostly Guardian set things right and restored the lost girl to the land of the living…

Courtesy of Gerry Conway, Curt Swan & Vince Colletta, DC Comics Presents #30 saw Black Canary plagued by nightmares starring her deceased husband, but upon closer investigation Superman showed that the diabolical Dr. Destiny was behind ‘A Dream of Demons!’, whilst in ‘The Deadliest Show on Earth!’ (Conway, José Luis García-López & Giordano) Man of Steel and original Robin, the Teen Wonder Dick Grayson conclusively crushed a perfidious psychic vampire predating the performers at the troubled Sterling Circus…

Wonder Woman spurned amorous godling Eros in #32’s ‘The Super-Prisoners of Love’ (Conway, Kurt Schaffenberger & Colletta) leading to the frustrated brat using his arrows to make her and Superman fall passionately in lust. It took the intervention of goddess Aphrodite and a quest into the realms of myth to set their head and hearts aright again…

Conway, Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler & Giordano then began a 2-part epic in DCCP #33 as ‘Man and Supermarvel!’ found the Action Ace and Captain Marvel helplessly swapping powers, costumes and Earths, thanks to the mirthless machinations of Fifth dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk and malevolent alien worm Mr. Mind.

Despite the intervention of Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Junior in the next issue the villains’ sinister manipulations allowed antediluvian revenant King Kull to become ‘The Beast-Man that Shouted “Hate” at the Heart of the U.N.!’ (Thomas, Buckler & Giordano). The consequent battle across myriad dimensions only went the heroes’ way after they stumbled upon the garish homeworld of Lepine Avenger Hoppy the Captain Marvel Bunny

Some semblance of sanity returned in #35 as Superman and Man-Bat hunted for ‘The Metamorphosis Machine!’ (Martin Pasko, Swan & Colletta) which might save Chiropterist Kirk Langstrom’s baby daughter from death. All they had to do was beat murderous maniac Atomic Skull and his minions to the device…

Paul Levitz & Starlin then revealed ‘Whatever Happened to Starman?’ as Mongul turned his nefarious attention to Gavyn, ruler of a distant alien empire and a stellar powered crusader. After snatching the monarch’s beloved Merria, Mongul tried to take over the masked hero’s interplanetary empire but was thwarted again by the timely arrival of the Man of Steel and the vengeful fury of the Starman…

Hawkgirl got a rare chance at some solo action in #37 as ‘The Stars Like Moths…’ (Thomas & Starlin) saw the Thanagarian cop-turned-archaeologist uncover an ancient Kryptonian vault, solve a baffling mystery that had vexed the House of El for generations and save its last son from the dimensional doom which killed Superman’s great-grandfather…

DC Comics Presents #38 united the Man of Steel and The Flash as an extra-dimensional tyrant attempted to foment a high velocity war between Earth’s fastest heroes in ‘Stop the World – I Want to Get Off Go Home!’ (Pasko & Don Heck), after which #39 catapulted Superman into the weirdest case of his career as he and Plastic Man trailed ‘The Thing That Goes Woof in the Night!’ (Pasko, Joe Staton & Bob Smith) to a Toymakers Convention where third-rate super-villains Fliptop and Dollface were trying to rob freshly reformed, barely recovering maniac Toyman

In DCCP #40 Metamorpho the Element Man seemed to be the logical culprit for uncanny disasters occurring on ‘The Day the Elements Went Wild!’ (Conway, Irv Novick & McLaughlin), but when Superman tried to bring him in the real menace proved to be the least likely person possible…

In #41, ‘The Terrible Tinseltown Treasure-Trap Treachery!’ (Pasko, García-López & McLaughlin) proved that the Man of Tomorrow’s powers were no match for the lethal Hollywood hi-jinks perpetrated by The Joker and Prankster as they callously duelled for the props and effects of a dead comedy legend…

Immortal espionage ace and unsung war hero The Unknown Soldier haunted the shadows of issue #42, subtly guiding Superman towards saving Earth from imminent nuclear Armageddon in ‘The Specter of War!’ by Levitz, Novick & McLaughlin, whilst The Legion of Super-Heroes joined the Metropolis Marvel ‘In Final Battle’ against remorseless Mongul and his captive Sun-Eater in an all-action exploit by Levitz, Swan & Dave Hunt from DCCP #43.

Bob Rozakis, E. Nelson Bridwell, Novick & McLaughlin added to the ongoing mystery of New England town Fairfax, when Clark Kent was assigned to discover why so many heroes, villains and monsters appeared there. What Superman found was teenagers Chris King and Vicki Grant (who used mysterious artefacts to Dial “H” for Hero and transform into most of the Fairfax freak and champion community) under attack by ‘The Man Who Created Villains!’

Firestorm the Nuclear Man stole the show in #45 as Conway, Buckler & Smith teamed him and the Man of Steel against terrorist Kriss-Kross who took over the nation’s electronic military defences to implement ‘The Chaos Network’, after which international heroes united as The Global Guardians at the command of enigmatic Doctor Mist to defeat a coalition of magic foes and prevent the resurrection of ‘The Wizard Who Wouldn’t Stay Dead!’ (Bridwell, Alex Saviuk & Pablo Marcos).

A franchising bonanza occurred in DC Comics Presents #47 as Superman met the toy/cartoon sensations of Masters of the Universe: travelling to another dimension and aiding He-Man and his comrades against wicked Skeletor in the exceedingly kid-friendly yarn ‘From Eternia – with Death!’ by Paul Kupperberg, Swan & Mike DeCarlo.

Aquaman resurfaced in #48 seeking the Man of Tomorrow’s aid against a mysterious plague of sub-sea mutations, only to discover an alien wielding ‘Eight Arms of Conquest!’ (Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Novick & McLaughlin), after which ‘Superman and Shazam!’ (Thomas, Kupperberg, Buckler & John Calnan) saw the immortal wizard enlist the Action Ace’s assistance to create a Captain Marvel for Earth -1.

When it didn’t work out the original had to step in from his own world to stop the depredations of devil-hearted Black Adam

DC Comics Presents Annual #1 then reintroduced the world where good and evil are transposed as ‘Crisis on Three Earths!’ by Marv Wolfman, Buckler & Hunt saw the Supermen of Earth-1 and Earth-2 again thrash their respective nemeses Lex and/or Alexei Luthor only to have the villains flee to another universe…

In Case You Were Wondering: soon after the Silver Age brought back an army of costumed heroes, ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961) introduced alternate Earths to the continuity which resulted in the multiversal structure of the DCU, Crisis on Infinite Earths and all succeeding cosmos-shaking crossover sagas since.

During a benefit gig Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slipped into another dimension where he discovered the 1940s comicbook hero upon whom he’d based his own superhero identity actually existed.

Every adventure he’d avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his mystery-men comrades on the controversially named Earth-2. Locating his idol, Barry convinced the elder to come out of retirement just as three vintage villains Shade, Thinker and the Fiddler made their own wicked comeback…

The story generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so after a few more trans-dimensional test runs the ultimate team-up was delivered to slavering fans. ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ (Justice League of America #21, August 1963) and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (in #22) became one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most important tales in American comics.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple heroes to the public, pressure had begun almost instantly to bring back the actual heroes of the “Golden Age”. Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, though, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet put readers off. If they could see us now…

Most importantly there was no reason to stop at two Earths.

Justice League of America #29-30 featured Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ which reprised the team-up of Justice League and Justice Society of America, when the super-beings of yet another alternate Earth discovered the secret of multiversal travel.

Unfortunately Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring were super-criminals on a world without heroes and they saw the costumed champions of the JLA and JSA as living practise dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon.

With this cracking two-part thriller the annual summer team-up became solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been…

Back at the DCCP annual, the vanished Luthors reappeared on Earth-3 and began trans-dimensional attacks on their arch enemies: even tentatively affiliating with Ultraman of the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, whilst treacherously planning to destroy all three Earths…

This potential cosmic catastrophe prompted the brilliant and noble Alex Luthor of Earth-3 to abandon his laboratory, turn himself into his world’s very first superhero and join the hard-pressed Supermen in saving humanity three times over…

This power-packed black and white compilation concludes with the anniversary DC Comics Presents Annual #50 wherein ‘When You Wish Upon a Planetoid!’ (Mishkin, Cohn, Swan & Schaffenberger) saw a cosmic calamity split Superman and Clark Kent into separate entities…

Designed as introductions to lesser known DC stars, these tales are wonderfully accessible to newcomers and readers unfamiliar with the minutia of burdensome continuity and provide an ideal jumping on point for anybody who just wants a few moments of easy comicbook fun and thrills.

These short, pithy adventures are a perfect shop window for DC’s fascinating catalogue of characters and creators; delivering a breadth and variety of self-contained, exciting and satisfying entertainments ranging from the merely excellent all the way to utterly indispensable, making this book the perfect introduction to the DC Universe for every kid of any age and another delightful slice of ideal Costumed Dramas from simpler, more inviting times…
© 1980, 1981, 1982, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.