Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 6


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, George Pérez, Don Heck, Adrian Gonzalez, Jerry Ordway & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3822-3

In my most instinctual moments I am at heart a child of the Silver Age. The material I read as a kid shaped me and I cannot honestly declare myself a completely impartial critic on comics of the time. The same probably applies to the brave and bold continuances that stretched all the way to the 1980s reinventions of Marvel, DC and the rest of America’s costumed champions.

That’s especially true of the Julie Schwartz-edited Justice League of America and its annual summer tradition of teaming up with its progenitor organisation, the Justice Society of America. If that sounds a tad confusing there are many places to look for clarifying details – including, of course, past posts of this blog. If you’re interested in superheroes and their histories you’ll even enjoy the search. But this is not the place for that.

Ultra-Editor Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his landmark Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the invention of the JLA – which in turn inspired the Fantastic Four and Marvel’s entire empire – changing forever the way comics were made and read…

Whereas the 1940s were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausibly rationalistic concepts which quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of the baby-boomer generation.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds…

Once DC’s Silver Age heroes began meeting their Golden Age predecessors from “Earth-2”, that aforementioned annual tradition commenced: every summer the JLA would team-up with the JSA to combat a trans-dimensional Crisis…

This volume reprints a magnificent mass-gathering from issues #195-197 (October-December 1981, and edited by Len Wein), plus a sprawling team-up and chronal crossover encompassing Justice League of America #207-209 and the WWII set All-Star Squadron #14-15 (October-December 1982): epics which set new standards even while proving that the escalating efforts of constantly topping the previous year’s Big Thing was starting to tax the creators’ imaginative resources…

The action and intrigue opens in ‘Targets on Two Worlds’ by scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez & John Beatty, wherein Earth-2 mad scientist and serial body-snatcher the Ultra-Humanite gathers a coterie of villains from his own world and Earth-1 into a new incarnation of the Secret Society of Super-Villains.

The wily super-genius has divined that by removing five specific Leaguers and JSA-ers from their worlds he can achieve an alteration of the Cosmic Alignment and create a world utterly devoid of all superheroes. Selling the plan to his suspicious pawns Monocle, Psycho Pirate, Brain Wave, Rag Doll, the Mist, Cheetah, Signalman, Killer Frost and Floronic Man is relatively easy. They can see the advantages and have no idea that the duplicitous savant is playing them all for his own ultimate advantage…

Inked by Romeo Tanghal, the plan seems to successfully conclude in ‘Countdown to Crisis!’ as Earth-1’s Batman, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Firestorm and Atom are individually ambushed with their other-world guests Flash, Hourman, Hawkman, Superman and Johnny Thunder and despatched to an inter-dimensional void, but after the longed-for Realignment results in a hero-free planet the miscreants fall out. Similarly banished, Earth-1’s villains spitefully retaliate by freeing the lost champions from a ‘Crisis in Limbo!’ (art by Keith Pollard, Pérez & Tanghal) and join them in crushing the Ultra-Humanite to restore the previous status quo…

One year later, the annual scenario expanded into a multi-title extravaganza.

Spanning alternate universes and divergent histories, the drama commenced in Justice League #207 as ‘Crisis Times Three!’ (Conway, Don Heck & Tanghal) finds members of the JSA diverted from a trans-dimensional exchange and rendezvous with the JLA.

They are deposited on a terrifying post-apocalyptic alternate Earth where the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had resulted in atomic war, whilst the JLA are smashed by the unexpected arrival of their evil counterparts the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3…

As the lost JSAers explore the nuclear nightmare the story unfolds and an old enemy is exposed. This Earth was devastated due to the intervention of malign time meddler Per Degaton

Having barely survived the attack of the Syndicators, a team of Justice Leaguers – Superman, Zatanna, Firestorm, Hawkman and Aquaman – crosses dimensions to Earth-2 and discovers a fascistic society which has been ruled by Degaton since the 1940s. Barely escaping, they then plunge back down that timeline to January 1942 to solve the mystery and stumble upon the JSA’s wartime branch: the All-Star Squadron

After the creation of Superman and the very concept of Super-Heroes, arguably the next most groundbreaking idea for comicbooks was to stick a whole bunch of individual stars into a team. Thus when anthology title All Star Comics #3 revealed its previously solo line-up interacting as a comradely group, the very nature of the genre took a huge leap in evolution.

The Justice Society of America inspired innumerable similar iterations over the decades but for many of us tragically nostalgia-paralysed fans, the original and genuine pioneers have always been Simply the Best.

Possibly their greatest living fan, advocate and perpetuator is writer, editor and historian Roy Thomas who has long championed – when not actually steering – their revivals and continued crusades against crime, tyranny and injustice.

When he moved from Marvel to DC in the early 1980s, Thomas created Arak, Son of Thunder and Captain Carrot, wrote Batman and Wonder Woman and inevitably revived the world’s original Super-Team. Moreover, he somehow convinced DC’s powers-that-be to put them back where they truly belonged – battling for freedom and democracy in the white-hot crucible of World War II.

The All-Star Squadron was comprised of minor characters owed by DC/National and All American Comics, retroactively devised as an adjunct to the main team and indulging in “untold tales” of the War period…

The action resumes in All-Star Squadron #14, courtesy of writer Thomas and illustrators Adrian Gonzales & Jerry Ordway. In ‘The Mystery Men of October!’ they are an unknown quantity to the recently arrived Leaguers who have come in search of Degaton. Their arrival coincides with the rogue recovering his erased memories, stealing his boss’s time machine (long story: buy the book for more details) and heading into the time stream where he encounters and liberates Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring from the energy-prison the JLA and JSA had created for the defeated Crime Syndicate…

Joining forces, the murderous monsters then foray forward and across the realities until they arrive in a 1962 and steal all the nuclear missiles Russia had stockpiled in Cuba, precipitating a clash of wills between President John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev that ended in atomic Armageddon…

Sadly, none of this is known to the JLA or All-Stars in 1942 who see costumed strangers and instantly attack…

That battle ends in JLA #208 after Degaton makes his ultimatum known: America and the world’s total surrender or the successive detonation of dozens of atomic super explosives in many nations…

Happily the heroes of two eras are ready to stifle ‘The Bomb-Blast Heard ‘Round the World’ (Conway, Heck & Sal Trapani) and deploy accordingly. They are soon joined by their JSA comrades from 1982 who have escaped their dystopian prison dimension and headed back forty years for the beginning of the end in A-SS #15’s all-action clash of titans ‘Masters of Worlds and Time!’ (Thomas, Gonzales & Ordway).

The senses-shattering conclusion comes in JLA #209 with Conway & Heck detailing the cautious restoration of all consensus realities in ‘Should Old Acquaintances Be Forgot…’

This a blistering wave of nostalgic delight for those who love costumed heroes, crave carefully constructed modern mythologies and crave an indulgent dose of fantastic adventure, great causes and momentous victories.

These are instantly accessible yarns: captivating Costumed Dramas no lover of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and frolics could possibly resist. And besides, surely everyone fancies finding their Inner Kid again?
© 1981, 1982, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Sunday Classics Strips 1-183 – 1939-1943


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster & others (DC/Kitchen Sink Press: Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.)
ISBN: 9781402737862(Sterling)                    978-1563894725(DC/KS)

It’s indisputable that the American comicbook industry – if it existed at all – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without Superman. Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s unprecedented invention was rapturously adopted by a desperate and joy-starved generation, quite literally giving birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Spawning an impossible army of imitators and variations within three years of his 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of breakneck, breathtaking action and wish-fulfilment which epitomised the early Man of Tomorrow grew to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East affected America, patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters, all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms Superman was master of the world. Moreover, whilst transforming the shape of the fledgling funnybook industry, the Metropolis Marvel relentlessly expanded into all areas of the entertainment media. Although we all think of the Cleveland boys’ iconic invention as the epitome and acme of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his debut in Action Comics #1, the Man of Steel became a fictional multimedia monolith in the same league as Popeye, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse.

We parochial and possessive comics fans too often regard our purest and most powerful icons in purely graphic narrative terms, but the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, The Avengers and their hyperkinetic kind long ago outgrew their four-colour origins and are now fully mythologized modern media creatures instantly familiar in mass markets, across all platforms and age ranges…

Far more people have seen or heard an actor as Superman than have ever read his comicbooks. The globally syndicated newspaper strips alone reached untold millions, and by the time his 20th anniversary rolled around at the very start of what we know as the Silver Age of Comics, Superman had become a thrice-weekly radio serial regular and starred in a series of astounding animated cartoons, two films, a TV series and a landmark novel by George Lowther.

He was a perennial sure-fire success for toy, game, puzzle and apparel manufacturers and had just ended that first smash live-action television presence. In his future were three more shows (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville), a stage musical, a string of blockbuster movie franchises and an almost seamless succession of games, bubblegum cards and TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since. Even his superdog Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

Although pretty much a spent force these days, for the majority of the last century the newspaper comic strip was the Holy Grail that all American cartoonists and graphic narrative storytellers hungered for. Syndicated across the country – and often the planet – it was seen by millions, if not billions, of readers and generally accepted as a more mature and sophisticated form of literature than comic-books. It also paid better.

And rightly so: some of the most enduring and entertaining characters and concepts of all time were created to lure readers from one particular paper to another and many of them grew to be part of a global culture.

Mutt and Jeff, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Charlie Brown and so many more escaped their humble tawdry newsprint origins to become meta-real: existing in the minds of earthlings from Albuquerque to Zanzibar.

Most of them still do…

However it was considered something of a risky double-edged sword when a comicbook character became so popular that it swam against the tide (after all weren’t the funny-books invented just to reprint the strips in cheap accessible form?) to became a genuinely mass-entertainment syndicated serial strip.

Superman was the first comicbook star to make that leap – about six months after as he exploded out of Action Comics – with only a few ever successfully following. Wonder Woman, Batman (eventually) and groundbreaking teen icon Archie Andrews made the jump in the 1940s and only a handful like Spider-Man, Howard the Duck and Conan the Barbarian have done so since.

The daily Superman newspaper comic strip launched on 16th January 1939, supplemented by a full-colour Sunday page from November 5th of that year. Originally crafted by Siegel & Shuster – whose primary focus switched immediately from comicbooks to the more prestigious tabloid iteration –  and their hand-picked studio (Paul Cassidy, Leo Nowak, Dennis Neville, John Sikela, Ed Dobrotka, Paul J. Lauretta & Wayne Boring), the mammoth daily grind soon required the additional talents of Jack Burnley and writers like Whitney Ellsworth, Jack Schiff & Alvin Schwartz.

This superb collection – doubly out-of-print despite its superb quality and sublime content – opens with an Introduction by occasional contemporary Super-Scribe Roger Stern, recapping the sensation and his creators, before stupendously re-presenting the first 19 complete tales of the primal powerhouse in stunning full colour.

Whether in pamphlet or local periodical, these tales of a modern Hercules exploded into the consciousness of the world. No one had ever seen a fictionalised hero throw all the rules of physics away and burst into unstoppable, improbable action on every page. In fact, editors and publishers’ greatest concern was that the implausible antics would turn off audiences. Clearly, they could not have been more wrong…

Thus most of the early episodes are about establishing the set-up of an Alien Wonder masquerading as an extremely puny human at a “great Metropolitan newspaper” whilst crushing evil as his flamboyant alter-ego. These stories are all about constant action and escalating spectacle, displaying the incredible power of the bombastic hero and man of the people…

On the first Sunday in November 1939 the parade of marvels commenced with a single introductory page describing Superman’s origins in ‘The Man of Tomorrow’ followed seven day later by initial adventure ‘Twenty-Four Hours to Ruin’ which found the Action Ace in a non-stop rush of blood and thunder whilst saving a logging concern from sabotage and hostile takeover by gangsters.

Crime segued into scientific fantasy as Superman encountered and saved ‘The Mindless Slaves of Dr. Grout’ from forced labour as the villain fomented a coup against America…

The inklings of true comicbook themes and more complex storylines arrived as Clark Kent and Lois Lane were despatched to investigate the ‘Giants of Doom Valley’: discovering a race of hostile subterranean invaders for Superman to discourage…

‘Assassins and Spies’ then took them into the most pressing concern of the era when agents of a foreign power began spreading sedition and terror on America’s shores to bolster a European war.

A mysterious mastermind used super-science, coercion, abduction and giant insects to ensure ‘The Chosen’ carried out his plans of global financial dominance before a more bucolic tale saw Superman helping Lois escape fatal consequences as ‘The Dangerous Inheritance’ left her with 5,000 acres of seemingly worthless scrubland…

Woe in the wilderness gives way to big city bombast as ‘The Bandit Robots of Metropolis’ cause carnage in search of cash, pushing the Man of Steel to his physical and intellectual limits and priming him for a landmark clash against ‘Luthor, Master of Evil’ who turns the weather into a weapon in his ongoing war against mankind.

A cunning murderer attempts to frame a professional automobile driver in ‘Death Race’ whilst a high-tech propaganda campaign seeks to destabilise the city when ‘The Committee for a New Order’ begins pirating the airwaves. As Superman crushes their campaign of terror he is embroiled in a blistering battle against vile enemy agents who know Lois is his Achilles Heel…

Another corporate assault on trade is exposed when freight drivers are poisoned by crooks whose orders are to ‘Destroy All Trucks’ of a businessman’s rivals, before a mirage-making super-villain pillages Metropolis until her galvanic guardian see through ‘The Image’

When Clark’s ‘Arson Evidence’ convicts an innocent man, his other self moves heaven and earth to exonerate the jailbird and ferret out the true fire-fiend after which – it being almost three years since his debut – Superman spent two weeks reminding old readers and informing new ones why and how he was ‘The Champion of Democracy’.

To a large extent mention of World War II was kept to a minimum on the Action Ace’s funny pages, but now ‘The Superman Truck’ – detailing how a formidable prototype military transport was relentlessly targeted by saboteurs – jumped right in with a subplot about a reluctant taxi driver enlisting in Army Transport Corps.

Tracing his induction and training, this yarn was a cunningly-conceived weekly ad and plea for appropriately patriotic readers to enlist…

Military motifs continued as a ship full of diplomats and war correspondents is set afire by an incendiary madman allied to in-over-their-heads Fifth Columnists. It’s not long before ‘The Blaze’ is in critical timberland, acting on his own deranged impulses and leaving Superman a huge job to save America’s war effort…

Showbiz raised its glamorous head when Clark and Lois were sent to cover the morale-boosting ‘Hollywood Victory Caravan’ tour, only to stumble into backbiting, sabotage, intrigue and murder at the hands of Nazi infiltrators.

Wrapping up the vintage spills and thrills is another fervent comics call to arms as Superman and Clark take a well-intentioned but lazy and perpetually backsliding wastrel in hand, shepherding him through aviator ‘Cadet Training’ to a useful existence as a warrior of Democracy…

Supplementing the gloriously rip-roaring, pell-mell adventure are spellbinding extra features including ‘How Superman Would End World War II’ (first seen in the February 27th 1940 issue of mainstream icon Look magazine), ads and a 1942 ‘Superman Pinup’.

This specific Sterling Publishing volume is a reissue of the 1999 DC/ Kitchen Sink co-production, but either edition offers timeless wonders and mesmerising excitement for lovers of action and fantasy. If you love the era or just crave simpler stories from less angst-wracked times these yarns are perfect comics reading, so this a book you simply must have…
Superman and all related names, characters and elements are ™ DC Comics © 2006. All rights reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 2


By Grant Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell with Christopher Priest, Val Semeiks, Arnie Jorgensen, Yanick Paquette, Gary Frank, Greg Land & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3518-5

Solid gold comics-concepts such as the Justice League of America generally wax and wane with terrifying regularity over the decades: constantly being reinvented for fresh generations before tailing off until the next big idea.

After numerous reboots came and went, in 1997 Grant Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell, took their shot: offering a back-to-basics line-up of heroes battling in cutting-edge conceptual chillers and thrillers.

The result was a gleaming paradigm of comicbook perfection which yet again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently, we’re a really shallow, jaded bunch, us comics fans…

These stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see on every page all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be.

This second Deluxe Edition (still readily available in hardback, paperback and eBook form) offers issues #10-17 of the resurgent revival plus material from JLA Secret Files #2, tie-in one-shot Prometheus (Villains) and JLA/WildC.A.T.s #1, collectively spanning September 1997 to April 1998: re-presenting an astounding epic of cosmic wonder that still packs a punch nearly two decades later as old-world goodies-vs.-baddies met contemporary fringe science chic for a rollercoaster ride of boggled minds which only served to set up even bigger conceptual clashes further down the line. That’s the magic of foreshadowing, folks…

Stellar saga ‘Rock of Ages’ starts as the League faces the opening sally from a newly-assembled, corporately-inspired Injustice Gang.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman are the legends targeted by a coalition of arch-enemies comprising Chairman-of-the-Board Lex Luthor, the Joker, Circe, Mirror Master, Ocean Master and Doctor Light in the prologue ‘Genesis and Revelations’ wherein ghastly doppelgangers of the World’s Greatest Heroes go on a campaign of destruction all over the globe.

Even with new members Aztek and Connor Hawke (a second generation Green Arrow) on board, the enemy are running the heroes ragged, but the stakes change radically when telepath J’onn J’onzz detects an extinction-level entity heading to Earth from deep space…

The action and tension intensify with ‘Hostile Takeover’ as the cabal of killers press their advantage whilst New God Metron materialises, warning the JLA that the end of everything is approaching.

As Circe tries to head-hunt Aztek, Arrow and Plastic Man, Green Lantern and Flash are treated to a mind-crushing and distressing view of the Universes beyond our own reality, after they are dispatched to recover the fabled Philosopher’s Stone in a last-ditch effort to save the worlds.

In ‘Wonderworld’ the fabled last defenders of Cosmic Reality proffer the realm-lost superheroes a grim warning of Mageddon, the Anti-Sun, ender of all things, before, shell-shocked and despondent, they are rescued by Hourman, an artificial time-controlling intelligence who more-or-less returns them to our limited plane of existence.

Tragically, it is fifteen years too late and Earth has been conquered by evil New God Darkseid

‘Wasteland’ is a bleak, chaotic foretaste of the Final Crisis, with humanity all but dead, and its surviving champions fighting their last battle against the horrors of Apokolips-on-Earth, leading to a perfect Deus-ex-Machina moment of triumph in ‘Twilight of the Gods’ as this wicked universe is un-made and “our” reality triumphantly reinstated.

Unfortunately – if you’ve been keeping up – that was the continuity where the Injustice Gang were beating the stuffings out of the good guys…

‘Stone of Destiny’ brings the saga to a neat and immensely satisfying conclusion as the villains go down fighting and an approximation of order is restored in a cataclysmic clash-of-combat climax.

With Gary Frank, Greg Land, John Dell & Bob McLeod lending artistic assistance to the spectacular proceedings, Morrison & Porter splendidly resolve the epic and close with a perfect example of the maxim “always leave them wanting more” – a shocking twist to make the reader hungry for the next instalment…

Extracts from JLA Secret Files #2 follow, kicking off in full-attack mode with ‘Heroes’ (by Christopher Priest, Yanick Paquette & Mark Lipka) wherein the world’s costumed champions – plus a few obnoxious and/or hilarious hangers-on – gather to officially relaunch the JLA following its formal dissolution…

Then villainous wannabe Prometheus debuts in a chilling origin tale from the Villains Month event. ‘There Was a Crooked Man’ by Morrison, Arnie Jorgensen & David Meikis details how a child born to wicked criminal parents was spurred by their deaths at the hands of lawmen to turn himself into the ultimate enemy of all heroes…

His life’s work culminates in his first public attack. ‘Camelot’ (JLA #16 by Morrison, Porter & John Dell) sees the entire new team – including recent recruits Huntress, Plastic Man, Steel, fallen angel Zauriel and covert information resource Oracle – invite the world’s press to their lunar base. This unwise courtesy inadvertently allows the insidious and seemingly unstoppable mastermind to infiltrate and almost destroy them in their own Watchtower.

Concluding with ‘Prometheus Unbound’ (assistant-inked by Mark Pennington) the heroes strike back, aided by an unlikely surprise guest-star and the last-minute appearance of New Gods Orion and Big Barda proffering yet more hints of the greater threat to come…

Wrapping up this second foray into fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tight fiction is trans-company crossover JLA/WildC.A.T.s by Morrison, Val Semeiks, Kevin Conrad & Ray Kryssing: a frankly less enticing, but still vitally visual fiesta for fans of phantasmagorical fight phenomena.

Here veteran JLA antagonist the Lord of Time begins to rewrite history, causing dimensional rifts and forcing an uncomfortable alliance with parallel-Earth champions the WildC.A.T.s.

The tale is stuffed with guest cameos as all those heroes chase the increasingly ascendant villain through the ages, but – as usually the case with these unwieldy team-ups – far too much time is spent with the heroes hitting each other (presumably because all any comic fan could ever desire is to discover which hero is strongest/fastest/most buff or buxom…) before they finally unite to tackle the bad-guy – who defeats himself when they cannot…

This yarn is a poor example of Morrison’s exceptional talent, but Semeiks, Conrad & Kryssing do a great job keeping everything looking shiny, pretty and scary as necessary.

Compelling, challenging and never afraid of nostalgia or laughing at itself, JLA was an all-out effort to be Smart and Fun. For that brief moment in the team’s long, chequered career these were definitely the “World’s Greatest Superheroes”, in increasingly ambitious epics reminding everybody of the fact. This is the kind of thrill nobody ever outgrows repackaged in graphic novels to be read and re-read forever…
© 1997, 1998, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 2


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6515-1

The advent of the Justice League of America marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America – and the world – Comics means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his key moment came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The League was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks; even spreading to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Spanning February 1962 to May 1963, this latest full-colour paperback collection of timeless classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #9-19 of the epochal first series of Justice League of America with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

Although Superman and Batman were included in the membership their participation had been strictly limited as editorial policy at the start was to avoid possible reader ennui and saturation from over-exposure. That ended with the stories gathered here as they joined the regulars Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars and late inductee Green Arrow. There were also contributions from “typical teenager” Snapper Carr: a hip and plucky mascot who proved a focus of ferocious fan debate for decades thereafter…

Justice League of America #9 opens proceedings here: a legendary and oft-recounted tale and the start of a spectacular run of nigh-perfect super-hero adventures. ‘The Origin of the Justice League’ recounts the circumstances of the team’s birth: an alien invasion saga of mighty space warriors seeking to use Earth as a gladiatorial arena in which to decide the future ruler of their distant world Appellax.

It’s followed by the series’ first continued story. ‘The Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust’ finds the World’s Greatest Superheroes already battling a marauder from the future when they’re spellbound by a vile sorcerer. Faust has awoken three antediluvian demons and sold them the world in exchange for 100 years of unlimited power. Although the heroes eventually outwit and defeat Faust they have no idea that the demons are loose…

In ‘One Hour to Doomsday’ the JLA pursue and capture their initial target The Lord of Time, but are then trapped a century from their home-era by the awakened, re-empowered demons. This level of plot complexity hadn’t been seen in comics since the closure of EC Comics, and never before in a superhero tale. It was a profound acknowledgement by the creators that the readership was no longer simply little kids – if indeed it ever had been…

Arch-villain Doctor Light debuted in #12, attempting a pre-emptive strike on the team by transporting them to carefully selected sidereal worlds where their abilities would be useless, but ‘The Last Case of the Justice League’ proved to be anything but, and in the next issue the heroes saved our entire reality by solving ‘The Riddle of the Robot Justice League’ created to stop the champions from halting the theft of our life-energy by agents of another cosmic realm.

‘The Menace of the “Atom” Bomb’ in issue #14 was a neat way of introducing latest member The Atom whilst showing a fresh side to an old villain masquerading as new nemesis Mister Memory whilst issue #15’s ‘Challenge of the Untouchable Aliens’ added some fresh texture to the formulaic plot of extra-dimensional invaders out for our destruction.

‘The Cavern of Deadly Spheres’ was a deceptive change-of-pace tale with a narrative technique that just couldn’t be used on today’s oh-so-sophisticated audience, but still has the power to grip a reader, after which ‘Triumph of the Tornado Tyrant’ saw a sentient cyclone that had once battled the indomitable Adam Strange (in Mystery in Space #61- or Adam Strange Archives volume 1) set up housekeeping on an desolate world and ponder the very nature of Good and Evil.

It soon realised that it needed the help of the Justice League to reach a survivable conclusion.

Teaser Alert: As well being a cracking yarn, this story is pivotal in the development of the android hero Red Tornado

In #18 the heroes were forcibly summoned to a subatomic world by three planetary champions whose continued existence threatened to destroy the very world they were designed to protect. ‘Journey to the Micro-World’ found the JLA compelled to defeat opponents who were literally unbeatable and discovering yet again that Batman’s brains were a super power no force could thwart…

A final perplexing puzzle was posed in ‘The Super-Exiles of Earth’ after unstoppable duplicates of the heroes went on a crime-spree, forcing the world’s governments to banish the League into space. Battling undercover, the team proved too much for the mystery mastermind behind the plot and returned to public acclaim in a stellar wrap-up to another fabulous feast of four-colour fun.

With iconic covers by Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern fans who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1962, 1963, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Deluxe Edition volume 1


By Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Howard Porter, Oscar Jimenez, Don Hillsman, John Dell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-18430 (HC)                      978-1-4012-3314-3 (PB)

After the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, wasting death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival of the Justice League of America, tapping Big Ideas wünderkind Grant Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

That was back in 1997 and the result was a gleaming paradigm of comicbook perfection which again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently we’re a really fickle and shallow bunch, us comics fans…

And the idea that clicked? Put everybody’s favourite Big Name superheroes back in the team.

Of course it worked, but that’s only because as well as name recognition and star quantity there was a huge input of creative quality. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be on every page.

This Deluxe Edition (still readily available in hardback, paperback and eBook form) collects the first nine issues of the revival plus material from JLA Secret Files #1, spanning January to September 1997 and re-presenting a wave of epic adventures and one-off, stand-alone yarns that altered the continuity landscape of the DC Universe and re-established the Old Guard (even if a couple of them were Young Turk “legacy heroes”)…

The drama begins in ‘Them!’ by Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell – with colours from Pat Garrahy – as a family of alien super-beings called the Hyperclan dramatically land on Earth and declare that they’re going to usher in a new Golden Age – at least by their standards.

Almost simultaneously the current iteration of the Justice League is attacked in their orbital satellite and only narrowly escape utter destruction. Tragically, one of their number does not survive…

Hyperclan’s very public promises to make Earth a paradise and attendant charm offensive does not impress veteran heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman or even the latest incarnations of Flash and Green Lantern.

These legends see their methods and careers questioned and are not impressed by seeming miracles or summary executions of super-criminals in the streets. They know there’s something not right about the overbearing sanctimonious newcomers…

Confirmation comes on ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ as the aliens reveal mind control stations in key Earth locations. Pitched battle erupts but humanity’s defenders appear utterly overmatched.

However the aliens have stupidly underestimated the prowess and ingenuity of Batman who conducts his own ‘War of the Worlds’ in the Hyperclan’s ship…

Uncovering not only the shocking secret of their might but a horrific truth harking back to the earliest days of life on Earth, the Dark Knight leads an unstoppable counterstrike, defeating the exposed, shell-shocked ‘Invaders from Mars’ and their hidden hordes in a splendid old-fashioned goodies ‘n’ baddies showdown…

Despite getting off to an incredibly impressive start, the superb quality storytelling actually improved as Morrison & Porter began laying the groundwork for their first major story-arc. In ‘Woman of Tomorrow’ veteran villains Professor Ivo and T. O. Morrow construct the perfect super-heroine to infiltrate the JLA as the heroes audition additions to the team. Typically, they build too well and are betrayed by their appealing handmade hero…

This is followed by ‘Fire in the Sky’ and ‘Heaven on Earth’ (with Ken Branch joining Dell to ink Porter’s hyper-dynamic pencils) as the Angel Zauriel heads to mundane realms: risking everything to warn the heroes of a second rebellion in Heaven and enlisting the League to strive against an invasion by God’s own armies….

This spectacular mini-saga occurs during company mega-crossover ‘Underworld Unleashed’ wherein ancient lord of Hell Neron offers heroes and villains whatever they desire – generally manifested as a boost in powers and a new costume – in return for their souls. Neron tempts old foes and arch-demons Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast to expunge the JLA even as the forces of Asmodel’s Pax Dei ravage humanity.

The saga was intended to introduce a new Hawkman to the DCU, but somewhere, somehow, wiser heads prevailed and the original was eventually retooled and reintroduced with Zauriel winning his own place in the company’s pantheon after helping the heroes repel the hordes of Heaven and set the world to rights once more…

Oscar Jimenez & Chip Wallace stepped in to render ‘Imaginary Stories’ as mind-bending villain The Key attempts to conquer the universe by trapping individual Leaguers in perfect dreams, and the art team was augmented by Anibal Rodriguez for the tense conclusion ‘Elseworlds’ which saw Zen warrior Green Arrow (son of the original, irascible ultra-liberal bowman) join the team in classic “saves the day” style…

Wrapping up this rousing Fights ‘n’ Tights romp is a selection of short tales from JLA Secret Files #1 beginning with ‘Star Seed’ by Morrison, Mark Millar, Porter & Dell. Set just prior to the advent of the Hyperclan it reveals how new Flash Wally West is suborned by alien monster Starro the Conqueror in its latest attempt to mind-control and subjugate humanity. When other heroes assemble to tackle the giant starfish they are stopped by the Spectre who prophesies that their efforts will inevitably lead to Starro gaining a super-powered army that will dominate all universal life.

The heroes’ brilliant solution and appalling sacrifice is utterly unexpected and cheats even divine odds…

Don Hillsman limns the last two mini-tales here as ‘The Lost Pages’ reveal how Superman – having been transformed into a being of living energy – insists on being properly auditioned beside all the potential recruits to the team whilst ‘A Day in the Life’ discloses the secrets of (some of) the Martian Manhunter’s many alternate identities as he hides amidst the teeming masses of Earth…

Savvy, compelling, dauntingly High-Concept but never afraid of nostalgia or laughing at itself, the new JLA was an all-out effort to be Smart, Fun and Unmissable. These characters are now and forever the “World’s Greatest Superheroes” and these ambitious epics remind everybody of the fact. This is the kind of thrill that nobody ever outgrows.
© 1997, 2008, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman volume 1


By Gail Simone, Gilbert Hernandez, Rob Williams, Ethan Van Scriver, Marcus To, Dean Haspiel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5344-8

The Princess of Paradise Island originally debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter, in a calculated attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model and, on forward thinking Editor M.C. Gaines’ part, sell more funnybooks.

She catapulted into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later.

An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon won her own eponymous supplemental title a few months later, cover-dated summer 1942…

Once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young, impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearful of her besotted child’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyte revealed the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition they forever isolate themselves from the mortal world and devote their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However with the planet in crisis, goddesses Athena and Aphrodite instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty. Although forbidden to compete, closeted, cosseted Diana clandestinely overcame all other candidates to become their emissary: Wonder Woman.

On arriving in the Land of the Free she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, which elegantly allowed the unregistered immigrant to stay close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick care-worker to join her own fiancé in South America.

The new Diana soon gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, further ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although the painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for the mousy but supremely competent Lieutenant Prince…

That set up enabled the Star Spangled Siren to weather the vicissitudes of the notoriously transient comicbook marketplace and survive the end of the Golden Age of costumed heroes beside Superman, Batman and a few lucky hangers-on who inhabited the backs of their titles.

She soldiered on well into the Silver Age revival under the canny auspices of Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, but by 1968 superhero comics were in decline again and publishers sought new ways to keep audiences interested as tastes – and American society – changed.

Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales and if you weren’t popular, you died.

Editor Jack Miller & Mike Sekowsky stepped up with a radical proposal and made comicbook history with the only female superhero to still have her own title in that marketplace. Eventually merely mortal troubleshooter gave way to a reinvigorated Amazing Amazon who battled declining sales until DC’s groundbreaking Crisis on Infinite Earths after which she was radically rebooted.

There were minor tweaks in her continuity to accommodate different creators’ tenures, until 2011 when DC rebooted their entire comics line again and Wonder Woman once more underwent a drastic, fan-infuriating root-and-branch re-imagining.

Perhaps to mitigate the fallout DC created a number of fall-back options such as this intriguing package…

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman began as “digital first” series appearing online before (months later) collecting three chapters into every issue of a new standard comicbook. Crafted by a fluctuating roster of artists and writers, the contents highlighted every previous era and incarnation of the character – and even a few wildly innovative alternative visions – offering a wide variety of thrilling, engaging and sincerely fun-filled moments to remember.

The comicbook iteration was enough of a success to warrant its own series of trade paperback compilations which – in the fullness of time and nature of circularity – gained their own digital avatars as eBooks too.

This first full-colour paperback collection collects Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman 1-5 (October 2014-February 2015) and displays a wealth of talent and cornucopia of different visions, beginning with Gail Simone & Ethan Van Scriver’s ‘Gothamazon’ which details how the mythologically militaristic Wonder Woman uncompromisingly and permanently cleans up Batman’s benighted home when the Gotham Guardians are taken out of play…

Amanda Deibert & Cat Staggs’ ‘Defender of Truth’ pits the Amazon against man-hating sorceress Circe to deliver a lesson that never gets old before ‘Brace Yourself’ from James Bischoff & David A. Williams reveals how little Princess Diana spent her formative years testing her growing abilities and the Queen’s patience and love…

In ‘Taketh Away’ Ivan Cohen & Marcus To tackle an interesting issue by addressing the religious implications of a pagan-worshipping hero in Judaeo-Christian America whilst delivering an action-packed mystery and super duel with old enemies Cheetah and Doctor Psycho whilst Sean Williams & Marguerite Sauvage explore her media profile as crime-buster, female role model and singer/lead guitarist with global rock sensation ‘Bullets and Bracelets’

‘Morning Coffee’ by Ollie Masters & Amy Mebberson offers a quirky, manga-inspired duel of wits and ideologies with infallible thief Catwoman after which Gilbert Hernandez and colourist John Rauch go incontrovertibly retro for a blockbusting Silver-Age celebration of maidenly might as Wonder Woman, Mary Marvel and Supergirl smash robots, aliens, super-villains and each other in a cathartically cataclysmic clash entitled ‘No Chains Can Hold Her!’

An alternate Earth mash-up by Rob Williams & Tom Lyle sees the classic Justice League and Thanagarian shapeshifter Byth face the ‘Attack of the 500-Foot Wonder Woman’ whilst ‘Ghosts and Gods’ (Neil Kleid & Dean Haspiel) finds the Golden Age Amazon and her trusty aide Etta Candy united with restless spirit Deadman to foil the schemes of immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul.

The comic cavalcade concludes on a far more sombre and sinister note as ‘Dig for Fire’ by Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman discloses how Diana invades Apokolips to rescue two of her Amazon sisters only to discover amidst the horror and degradation that true evil is not the sole preserve of depraved new god Darkseid

Augmented by a spectacular covers-&-variants gallery from Van Scriver & Brian Miller, Phil Jimenez & Romula Farjardo Jr., Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Carrie Strachan, Adam Hughes & Lawrence Reynolds, this is a fascinating snapshot of the sheer breadth and variety of visions Wonder Woman has inspired in her decades of existence, and one to delight fans old and new alike.
© 2014, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 1


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Whitney Ellsworth, Sheldon Moldoff, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6333-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Vintage Comicbook Perfection… 10/10

For anyone who’s read more than a few of these posts, my tastes should be fairly apparent, but in case you’re in any doubt, here’s a flat-out confession: I’m that shabby, possibly crazy old geezer muttering at the checkout about how things were better before, and all new things are crap and not the same and…

You get the picture. Now, ignore all that. It’s true but it’s not relevant here.

Batman: The Golden Age is the latest paperback-format (there’s also a weightier, pricier but more capacious hardback Omnibus available) re-presentation of the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Set in original chronological order, it forgoes glossy, high-definition paper and reproduction techniques in favour of a newsprint-adjacent feel and the same flat, bright-yet-muted colour palette which graced the originals.

There’s no fuss, fiddle or Foreword, and the book steams straight into the meat of the matter with the accumulated first year and a half of material masked mystery-man plus all those stunning covers spanning Detective Comics #27-45; Batman #1-3 and the Dynamic Duo’s story from New York World’s Fair Comics 1940; cumulatively covering all the groundbreaking escapades from May 1939-November 1940.

As Eny Fule Kno, Detective #27 spotlighted the Gotham Guardian’s debut in the ‘Case of the Chemical Syndicate!’ by Bob Kane and close collaborator/co-originator Bill Finger.

This spartan, understated yarn introduced dilettante playboy criminologist Bruce Wayne, drawn into a straightforward crime-caper wherein a cabal of industrialists were successively murdered. The killings stopped when an eerie figure dubbed “The Bat-Man” intruded on Police Commissioner Gordon’s stalled investigation and ruthlessly exposed and dealt with the hidden killer.

The next issue saw the fugitive vigilante return to crush ‘Frenchy Blake’s Jewel Gang’ before encountering his very first psychopathic killer and returning villain in Detective #29. Gardner Fox scripted the next few adventures beginning with ‘The Batman Meets Doctor Death’, featuring a deadly duel of wits with deranged, greedy general practitioner Karl Hellfern and his assorted instruments of murder: the most destructive and diabolical of which was sinister Asiatic manservant Jabah

Confident of their new villain’s potential, Kane, Fox and inker Sheldon Mayer encored the mad medic for the next instalment in ‘The Return of Doctor Death’, before Fox and Finger co-scripted a 2-part shocker which introduced the first bat-plane, Bruce’s girlfriend Julie Madison and undead horror The Monk in an expansive, globe-girdling spooky saga. ‘Batman Versus the Vampire’ concluded in an epic chase across Eastern Europe and a spectacular climax in a monster-filled castle in issue #32.

Detective Comics #33 featured Fox & Kane’s ‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’: a blockbusting disaster thriller which just casually slipped in the secret origin of the Gotham Guardian, as mere prelude to intoxicating air-pirate action, after which Euro-trash dastard Duc D’Orterre found his uncanny science and unsavoury appetites no match for the mighty Batman in ‘Peril in Paris’.

Bill Finger returned as lead scripter in issue #35, pitting the Cowled Crusader against crazed cultists murdering everyone who had seen their sacred jewel in ‘The Case of the Ruby Idol’ – although the many deaths were actually caused by a far more prosaic villain, after which grotesque criminal genius ‘Professor Hugo Strange’ (inked by new kid Jerry Robinson) debuted with his murderous man-made fog and lightning machine in #36, and all-pervasive enemy agents ‘The Spies’ ultimately proved no match for the vengeful masked Manhunter in #37.

Detective Comics #38 (April 1940) changed the landscape of comicbooks forever with the introduction of ‘Robin, The Boy Wonder’: child trapeze artist Dick Grayson whose parents were murdered before his eyes and who thereafter joined Batman in a lifelong quest for justice, by bringing to justice mobster mad dog Boss Zucco

After the Flying Grayson’s killers were captured, Batman #1 (Spring 1940) opened proceedings with a recycled origin culled from portions of Detective Comics #33 and 34. ‘The Legend of the Batman – Who He Is and How He Came to Be!’ by Fox, Kane & Moldoff offered in two perfect pages what is still the best ever origin of the character, after which ‘The Joker’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson – who produced all the remaining tales in this astonishing premiere issue) introduced the greatest villain in DC’s criminal pantheon via a stunning tale of extortion and wilful wanton murder.

‘Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters’ follows as the old adversary returns with laboratory-grown hyperthyroid horrors to rampage through the terrified city and ‘The Cat’ – who later added the suffix ‘Woman’ to her name to avoid any possible doubt or confusion – plied her felonious trade of jewel theft aboard the wrong cruise-liner and fell foul for the first time of the dashing Dynamic Duo.

The initial issue ends with the ‘The Joker Returns’ as the sinister clown breaks jail to resume his terrifying campaign of murder for fun and profit before “dying” in mortal combat with the Gotham Guardian.

Following a superb pin-up (originally the back cover of the premier issue) of the Dynamic Duo by Kane, the tense suspense and all-out action continues with Detective #39 and ‘The Horde of the Green Dragon’ – oriental Tong killers in Chinatown – by Finger, Kane & Robinson, after which ‘Beware of Clayface!’ finds the Dynamic Duo solving a string of murders on a film set which almost sees Julie Madison the latest victim of a monstrous movie maniac…

Batman and Robin solved the baffling mystery of a kidnapped boy in Detective #41’s ‘A Master Murderer’ before enjoying their second solo outing in four comics classics from Batman #2 (Summer 1940).

It begins with ‘Joker Meets Cat-Woman’ (Finger, Kane, Robinson & new find George Roussos) wherein svelte thief, homicidal jester and a crime syndicate all tussle for the same treasure with the Caped Crusaders caught in the middle.

‘Wolf, the Crime Master’ offers a fascinating take on the classic Jekyll & Hyde tragedy after which an insidious and ingenious murder-mystery ensues in ‘The Case of the Clubfoot Murderers’ before Batman and Robin confront uncanny savages and ruthless showbiz promoters in poignant monster story ‘The Case of the Missing Link’.

‘Batman and Robin Visit the New York World’s Fair’ comes from the second New York World’s Fair Comics. Finger, Kane & Roussos followed the vacationing Dynamic Duo as they track down a maniac mastermind with a metal-dissolving ray, after which Detective Comics #42 again finds our heroes ending another murder maniac’s rampage in ‘The Case of the Prophetic Pictures!’ before clashing with a corrupt mayor in #43’s ‘The Case of the City of Terror!’

An unparallelled hit, Batman stories never rested on their laurels. The creators always sought to expand their parameters as with Detective #44 and a nightmarish fantasy of giants and goblins in ‘The Land Behind the Light!’, after which Batman #3 (Fall 1940) has Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos rise to even greater heights, beginning with ‘The Strange Case of the Diabolical Puppet Master’: an eerie episode of uncanny mesmerism and infamous espionage…

Then a grisly scheme ensues as innocent citizens are mysteriously transformed into specimens of horror and artworks destroyed by the spiteful commands of ‘The Ugliest Man in the World’ before ‘The Crime School for Boys!!’ sees Robin infiltrate a gang who have a cruel and cunning recruitment plan for dead-end kids…

‘The Batman vs. the Cat-Woman’ then reveals the larcenous lady in well over her head when she steals for – and from – the wrong people…

The issue also offered a worthy Special Feature as ‘The Batman Says’ presented an illustrated prose Law & Order pep-talk crafted by Whitney Ellsworth and illustrated by Robinson…

The all-out action concludes here with a magnificent and horrific Joker jape from Detective Comics #45 as ‘The Case of the Laughing Death’ displays the Harlequin of Hate undertaking a campaign of macabre murder against everyone who has ever defied or offended him…

Including full Creator biographies and with Batman covers by Kane, Robinson & Roussos and all the other general action ones by Fred Guardineer & Creig Flessel, this is a stunning monument to exuberance and raw talent. Kane, Robinson and their compatriots created an iconography which carried the Batman feature well beyond its allotted life-span until later creators could re-invigorate it. They added a new dimension to children’s reading… and their work is still captivatingly accessible.

Moreover, these early stories set the standard for comic superheroes. Whatever you like now, you owe it to these stories. Superman gave us the idea, but writers like Finger and Fox 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 lessons they deserved…

These are tales of elemental power and joyful exuberance, brimming with deep mood and addictive action. Comicbook heroics simply don’t come any better.

One final thing: I’m still that guy in paragraph one, right? I’ve read these stories many, many times, in every format imaginable, and I’d like to thank whoever decided that they should also be available in as close a facsimile to the originals as we can get these days.

More than anything else, this serves to perfectly recapture the mood and impact of that revolutionary masked avenger and, of course, delights my heavily concealed inner child no end.
© 1939, 1940, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Lantern: The Silver Age volume 1


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky & various (DE Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6348-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Wholesome Entertainment… 9/10

After their hugely successful revival and reworking of The Flash, DC (or National Comics as they were) were keen to build on the resurgent superhero trend. Showcase #22 hit the stands at the same time as the fourth issue of the new Flash comicbook – #108 – and once again the guiding lights were Editor Julie Schwartz and writer John Broome. Assigned as illustrator was action ace Gil Kane, generally inked by Joe Giella

This fabulous paperback compilation gathers Showcase #22-24 (September/October 1959 to January/February 1960) and Green Lantern #1-9 (July/August 1960-November 1961) and reveals how a Space Age reconfiguration of the Golden-Age superhero with a magic ring replaced mysticism with super-science.

Hal Jordan was a young test pilot in California when an alien policeman crashed his spaceship on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commanded his ring – a device which could materialise thoughts – to seek out a replacement officer, honest and without fear. Scanning the planet it selected Jordan and brought him to the crash-site. The dying alien bequeathed his ring, the lantern-shaped Battery of Power and his profession to the astonished Earthman.

In six pages ‘S.O.S Green Lantern’ established characters, scenario and narrative thrust of a series that would increasingly become the spine of DC continuity, leaving room for another two adventures in that premiere issue. ‘Secret of the Flaming Spear!’ and ‘Menace of the Runaway Missile!’ were both contemporary thrillers set against the backdrop of the aviation industry at a time when the Cold War was at its height.

Unlike the debut of The Flash, the editors were now confident of their ground. The next two issues of Showcase carried the new hero into even greater exploits. ‘Summons from Space’ sent Green Lantern to another world: saving an emerging race from a deadly threat at the behest of the as-yet-unnamed leaders of the Green Lantern Corps, whilst ‘The Invisible Destroyer’ pitted the neophyte Emerald Gladiator against the earthbound but eerie menace of a psychic marauder that lived on atomic radiation.

Showcase #24 (January/February 1960) featured another spy-ring in ‘The Secret of the Black Museum!’ but Jordan’s complex social life took centre-stage in ‘The Creature That Couldn’t Die!’ when the threat of an unstoppable monster paled before the insufferable stress of being his own rival. Hal’s boss Carol Ferris, controversially left in charge of her father’s aviation company (a radical concept in 1960 when most women were still considered faint-fodder fluff) won’t date an employee, but is deliriously happy for him to set her up with the glamorous, mysterious Green Lantern.

Six months later Green Lantern #1 was released. All previous tales had been dynamically drawn by Kane & Giella, in a visually arresting and exciting manner, but the lead tale here, ‘Planet of Doomed Men’ was inked by the uniquely gifted Murphy Anderson, and his fine line-work elevated the tale (more emergent humans in need of rescue from another monster) to the status of a minor classic. Giella returned for the second tale, ‘Menace of the Giant Puppet!’, in which GL fought his first – albeit rather lame – super-villain, the Puppet Master.

The next issue originated a concept that would be pivotal to the future of DC continuity. ‘The Secret of the Golden Thunderbolts!’ featured an Antimatter Universe and the diabolical Weaponers of Qward, a twisted race who worshipped Evil, and whose “criminals” (i.e. people who wouldn’t lie, cheat, steal or kill) wanted asylum on Earth. Also inked by Anderson, this is an early highpoint of tragic melodrama from an era where emotionalism was actively downplayed in comics.

The second story ‘Riddle of the Frozen Ghost Town!’ is a crime thriller highlighting the developing relationship between the hero and his Inuit (then “Eskimo”) mechanic Tom ‘Pieface’ Kalmaku.

The Qwardians returned in the all-Giella-inked  #3, leading with ‘The Amazing Theft of the Power Lamp!’ and Jordan’s love-life again spun out of control in ‘The Leap Year Menace!’, whilst GL #4 saw the hero trapped in the antimatter universe in ‘The Diabolical Missile from Qward!’ (Anderson inks) nicely balanced by the light-and-frothy mistaken-identity caper ‘Secret of Green Lantern’s Mask!’ This last apparently crafted by a veritable raft of pencillers including Kane, Giella, Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowsky and Ross Andru…

Issue #5 was a full-length thriller which introduced Hector Hammond, GL’s second official super-villain in ‘The Power Ring that Vanished!’: a saga of romantic intrigue, mistaken identity and evolution gone wild.

This was followed by another, pure science fiction puzzler ‘The World of Living Phantoms!’ (Kane & Giella) which introduced avian Green Lantern Tomar Re and opened up the entire universe to avid readers…

Having shown us other GLs, Broome immediately trumped himself with the next episode. ‘The Day 100,000 People Vanished!’ brought the Guardians of the Universe into the open to warn of their greatest error: a renegade Green Lantern named Sinestro who, in league with the Qwardians, had become a threat to the entire universe. This tense shocker introduced one of the most charismatic and intriguing villains in the DCU and the issue still had room for a dryly amusing, whimsical drama that introduced Tom Kalmaku’s fiancée Terga in ‘Wings of Destiny’.

In the early 1960s DC production wizard Jack Adler created a process to add enhancing tone to cover illustrations. The finished result was eye-catching and mind-blowing, but examples, such as the cover of #8, really don’t work with the glossy pages and digitised colour-tints of modern reproduction.

Never mind, though, since the contents of that issue, ‘The Challenge from 5700AD!’ comprise a fantasy tour de force: the Emerald Gladiator is shanghaied through time to save the future from a invasion of mutant lizards…

Sinestro returned in the next issue – the last in this astounding cosmic collection – with his own super-weapon in ‘The Battle of the Power Rings!’ (with Anderson once more substituting for Giella) but the real gold is ‘Green Lantern’s Brother Act’ which introduces Hal’s two brothers and a snoopy girl reporter convinced young Jim Jordan is the ring-slinging superhero. This wry poke at DC’s house plot-device shows just how sophisticated Schwartz and Broome believed their audiences to be.

In those long ago days costumed villains were always third choice in a writer’s armoury: clever bad-guys and aliens always seemed more believable to creators back then. If you were doing something naughty would you want to call attention to yourself? Nowadays the visual impact of buff men in tights dictates the type of foe more than the crimes committed, which is why these glorious adventures of simpler yet somehow better days are such an unalloyed delight.

These Fights ‘n’ Tights romps are in themselves a great read for most ages, but when also considered as the building blocks of all DC continuity they become vital fare for any fan keen to make sense of the modern superhero experience. Judged solely on their own merit, these are snappy, awe-inspiring, beautifully illustrated captivatingly clever thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old devotees. This lovely collection is a must-read item for anybody in love with our art-form and especially for anyone just now encountering the hero for the first time through his movie incarnations.
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Flash: The Silver Age volume 1


By John Broome, Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino & various (DE Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6110-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Wholesome Entertainment… 9/10

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age of the American comic book began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. MLJ’s The Shield beat Captain America to the news-stands by over a year yet the former is all but forgotten today.

America’s comicbook industry had never really stopped trying to revive the superhero genre when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956. The newsstands had already been blessed – but were left generally unruffled – by such tentative precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955), Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955), a revival of Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and the aforementioned Captain America (December 1953-October 1955). Both DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the end of the 1960’s and almost the end of superheroes again!) had come and made little mark. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to serious try superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner, fellow editor and Golden-Age Flash scripter Robert Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age: aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert, who had also worked on the previous incarnation.

The new Flash was Barry Allen, a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in exploding chemicals from his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry took his superhero identity from a comicbook featuring his predecessor (a scientist named Jay Garrick who was exposed to the mutagenic fumes of “Hard Water”). Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative peak), Barry Allen became point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and an entire industry.

This splendidly economical full colour paperback compilation superbly compliments Infantino’s talents and the tone of the times. These stories have been gathered many times but here the package – matt-white, dense paper stock – offers punch, clarity and the ineffably comforting texture of the original newsprint pulp pamphlets.

This is what a big book of comics ought to feel like in your eager, sweaty hands…

Collecting all four Showcase tryout issues – #4, 8, 13 and 14 – and the first full dozen issues of his own title (The Flash volume 1 #105-116, October 1956 to November 1960) the high-speed thrills begin with the epochal debut tales from Showcase #4.

‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ (scripted by Kanigher) sees Barry endure his electrical metamorphosis and promptly goes on to subdue bizarre criminal mastermind Turtle Man after which ‘The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier!’ – written by the brilliant John Broome – finds the newly-minted Scarlet Speedster batting a criminal from the future before returning criminal exile Mazdan to his own century, proving the new Flash was a protagonist of keen insight and sharp wits as well as overwhelming power. These are slickly polished, coolly sophisticated short stories introducing the comfortingly suburbanite new superhero and firmly establishing the broad parameters of his universe.

Showcase #8 (June 1957) led with another Kanigher tale. ‘The Secret of the Empty Box’, a perplexing if pedestrian mystery, saw veteran Frank Giacoia return as inker, but the real landmark was the Broome thriller ‘The Coldest Man on Earth’.

With this yarn the author confirmed and consolidated the new costumed character phenomenon by introducing the first of a Rogues Gallery of outlandish super-villains. Unlike the Golden Age, these new super-heroes would face predominantly costumed foes rather than thugs and spies. Bad guys would henceforth be as memorable as the champions of justice. Captain Cold would return time and again. Broome would go on to create every single member of Flash’s pantheon of classic super-foes.

Joe Giella inked the two adventures in Showcase #13 (April 1958). ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ was written by Kanigher and displayed Flash’s versatility as he tackled atomic terrorists, battled Arabian bandits, counteracted an avalanche on Mount Everest and scuttled submarine pirates in the specified time slot.

Broome’s ‘Master of the Elements’ then premiered the outlandish Mr. Element, who utilised the periodic table as his arsenal.

Showcase #14 (June 1958) opened with Kanigher’s eerie ‘Giants of the Time-World!’: a masterful fantasy thriller and a worthy effort to bow out on as Flash and girlfriend Iris West encounter extra-dimensional invaders with the strangest life-cycle imaginable.

The issue closed with a return engagement for Mr. Element sporting a new M.O. and identity – Doctor Alchemy. ‘The Man Who Changed the Earth!’ is a classic crime-caper with serious psychological underpinnings, as Flash struggles to overcome the villain’s latest weapon: mystic transmutational talisman the Philosopher’s Stone…

When the Scarlet Speedster graduated to his own title John Broome was the lead writer, supplemented eventually by Gardner Fox. Kanigher would return briefly in the mid-1960s and would later write a number of tales during DC’s ‘Relevancy’ period.

Taking its own sweet time, The Flash #105 launched with a February-March 1959 cover-date (so it was out for Christmas 1958) and opened with Broome, Infantino and Giella’s sci-fi chiller ‘Conqueror From 8 Million B.C.!’ before introducing yet another money-mad super-villain in ‘The Master of Mirrors!’

Issue #106 introduced one of the most charismatic and memorable baddies in comics history. Gorilla Grodd and his hidden race of telepathic super-simians instantly captured the fan’s attentions in ‘Menace of the Super-Gorilla!’ and even after Flash thrashed the hairy hooligan Grodd promptly returned in the next two issues.

Presumably this early confidence was fuelled by DC’s inexplicable but commercially sound pro-Gorilla editorial stance (for some reason any comic with a substantial simian in it spectacularly outsold those that didn’t in those far-ago days) but these tales are also packed with tension, action and engagingly challenging fantasy concepts.

Offering an encore here is ‘The Pied Piper of Peril!’: a mesmerising musical criminal mastermind, stealing for fun and attention rather than profit…

Issue #107 led with the ‘Return of the Super-Gorilla!’ by regular team Broome, Infantino and Giella, a multi-layered fantasy thriller that took our hero from the African (invisible) city of the Super-Gorillas to the subterranean citadel of antediluvian Ornitho-Men, and closed with ‘The Amazing Race Against Time’ which featured an amnesiac who could outrun the Fastest Man Alive in a desperate dash to save all of creation from obliteration. With every issue the stakes got higher whilst the dramatic quality and narrative ingenuity got better!

Frank Giacoia inked #108’s high-tech death-trap thriller ‘The Speed of Doom!’ featuring trans-dimensional raiders stealing fulgurites (look it up, if you want) but Giella was back for ‘The Super-Gorilla’s Secret Identity!’ wherein Grodd devises a scheme to outwit evolution itself by turning himself into a human…

The next issue saw ‘The Return of the Mirror-Master’ with the first in a series of bizarre physical transformations that would increasingly become a signature device for Flash stories, whilst the contemporary Space Race provided an evocative maguffin for a fantastic undersea adventure in the ‘Secret of the Sunken Satellite’. Here Flash encountered an unsuspected sub-sea race on the edge of extinction whilst enquiring after the impossible survival of an astronaut trapped at the bottom of the sea.

The Flash #110 was a major landmark, not so much for the debut of another worthy addition to the burgeoning Rogues Gallery in ‘The Challenge of the Weather Wizard’ (inked by Schwartz’s artistic top-gun Murphy Anderson) but rather for the introduction of Wally West, who in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Vizier of Velocity became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive.

Inked by Giella, ‘Meet Kid Flash!’ introduced the first teenaged sidekick of the Silver Age (cover dated December 1959-January 1960 and just pipping Aqualad who premiered in Adventure Comics #269 which had a February off-sale date).

Not only would Kid Flash begin his own series of back-up tales from the very next issue (a sure sign of the confidence the creators had in the character) but he would eventually inherit the mantle of the Flash himself – one of the few occasions in comics where the torch-passing actually stuck.

Anderson also inked ‘The Invasion of the Cloud Creatures’ in # 111, which successfully overcomes its frankly daft premise to deliver a taut, tense sci-fi thriller which nicely counterpoints the first solo outing for Kid Flash in ‘The Challenge of the Crimson Crows!’

This folksy parable has small-town kid Wally use his new powers to rescue a bunch of kids on the slippery slope to juvenile delinquency. Perhaps a tad paternalistic and heavy-handed by today’s standards, in the opening months of 1960 this was a strip about a boy heroically dealing with a kid’s real dilemmas, and the occasional series would remain concerned with human-scaled problems, leaving super-menaces and world saving for team-ups with his mentor.

In Flash #112 ‘The Mystery of the Elongated Man’ introduced an intriguing super stretchable newcomer to the DC universe – who might have been hero or villain – in a beguiling tantaliser whilst Kid Flash tackled juvenile Go-Carters and corrupt school-contractors in the surprisingly gripping ‘Danger on Wheels!’

Mercurial mania The Trickster launched his crime career in #113’s lead tale ‘Danger in the Air!’ and the second-generation speedster took a break so that his senior partner could defeat ‘The Man Who Claimed the Earth!’: a full-on cosmic epic wherein the ancient alien Po-Siden attempts to bring the lost colony of Earth back into the galaxy-spanning Empire of Zus.

Captain Cold and Murphy Anderson returned for ‘The Big Freeze’, where the smitten villain turns Central City into a glacier just to impress Barry’s girlfriend Iris. Meanwhile her nephew Wally saves a boy unjustly accused of cheating from a life of crime when he falls under the influence of the ‘King of the Beatniks!’

Then Flash #115 offered another bizarre transformation, courtesy of Gorilla Grodd in ‘The Day Flash Weighed 1000 Pounds!’, and when aliens attempt to conquer Earth the slimmed down champion needs ‘The Elongated Man’s Secret Weapon’ as well as the guest-star himself to save the day. Once again Murphy Anderson’s inking gave the over-taxed Joe Giella a breather whilst taking art-lovers’ breath away in this beautiful, fast-paced thriller.

This gloriously rewarding volume concludes with Flash #116 as ‘The Man Who Stole Central City’ sees a seemingly fool-proof way of killing the valiant hero, which took both time-tinkering and serious outwitting to avoid whilst Kid Flash returned in ‘The Race to Thunder Hill’; a father-son tale of rally driving, but with car-stealing bandits and a young love interest for Wally to complicate the proceedings.

These earliest tales were historically vital to the development of our industry but, quite frankly, so what? The first exploits of The Flash should be judged solely on their merit, and on those terms they are punchy, awe-inspiring, beautifully illustrated and captivating thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old devotees. This lovely collection is a must-read item for anybody in love with our art-form and especially for anyone just now encountering the hero for the first time through his TV incarnation.
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman the Silver Age Dailies volume 3: 1963-1966


By Jerry Siegel & Wayne Boring (IDW Publishing Library of American Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-6134-0179-4

It’s indisputable that the American comicbook industry – if it existed at all – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without Superman. Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s unprecedented invention was fervidly adopted by a desperate and joy-starved generation and quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Spawning an impossible army of imitators and variations within three years of his 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of breakneck, breathtaking action and wish-fulfilment which epitomised the early Man of Steel grew to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East affected America, patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters, all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms Superman was master of the world. Moreover, whilst transforming the shape of the fledgling funnybook industry, the Man of Tomorrow relentlessly expanded into all areas of the entertainment media. Although we all think of the Cleveland boys’ iconic invention as the epitome and acme of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his debut in Action Comics #1, the Man of Steel became a fictional multimedia monolith in the same league as Popeye, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse.

We parochial and possessive comics fans too often regard our purest and most powerful icons in purely graphic narrative terms, but the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers and their hyperkinetic kind long ago outgrew their four-colour origins and are now fully mythologized modern media creatures instantly familiar in mass markets, across all platforms and age ranges…

Far more people have seen or heard an actor as Superman than have ever read his comicbooks. The globally syndicated newspaper strips alone reached untold millions, and by the time his 20th anniversary rolled around at the very start of what we know as the Silver Age of Comics, Superman had been a thrice-weekly radio serial regular and starred in a series of astounding animated cartoons, two films, a TV series and a novel by George Lowther.

He was a perennial sure-fire success for toy, game, puzzle and apparel manufacturers and had just ended that first smash live-action television presence. In his future were three more shows (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville), a stage musical, a blockbuster movie franchise and an almost seamless succession of games, bubblegum cards and TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since. Even his superdog Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

Although pretty much a spent force these days, for the majority of the last century the newspaper comic strip was the Holy Grail that all American cartoonists and graphic narrative storytellers hungered for. Syndicated across the country – and often the planet – it was seen by millions, if not billions, of readers and generally accepted as a more mature and sophisticated form of literature than comic-books. It also paid better.

And rightly so: some of the most enduring and entertaining characters and concepts of all time were created to lure readers from one particular paper to another and many of them grew to be part of a global culture.

Mutt and Jeff, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Charlie Brown and so many more escaped their humble tawdry newsprint origins to become meta-real: existing in the minds of earthlings from Albuquerque to Zanzibar.

Most of them still do…

So it was always something of a risky double-edged sword when a comicbook character became so popular that it swam against the tide (after all weren’t the funny-books invented just to reprint the strips in cheap accessible form?) to became a genuinely mass-entertainment syndicated serial strip.

Superman was the first original comicbook character to make that leap – about six months after as he exploded out of Action Comics – but only a few have ever successfully followed. Wonder Woman, Batman (eventually) and groundbreaking teen icon Archie Andrews made the jump in the 1940s and only a handful like Spider-Man, Howard the Duck and Conan the Barbarian have done so since.

The daily Superman newspaper comic strip launched on 16th January 1939, supplemented by a full-colour Sunday page from November 5th of that year. Originally crafted by such luminaries as Siegel & Shuster and their studio (Paul Cassidy, Leo Nowak, Dennis Neville, John Sikela, Ed Dobrotka, Paul J. Lauretta & Wayne Boring) the mammoth task soon required the additional talents of Jack Burnley and writers like Whitney Ellsworth, Jack Schiff & Alvin Schwartz.

As seen in this volume, the McClure Syndicate daily feature ran continuously until April 1966, appearing at its peak in more than 300 daily and 90 Sunday newspapers, boasting a combined readership of more than 20 million. Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s artists Win Mortimer and Curt Swan had occasionally substituted for the unflagging Boring & Stan Kaye, whilst Siegel provided the lion’s share of stories, telling serial tales largely separate and divorced from comicbook continuity throughout years when superheroes were scarcely seen.

Then in 1956 Julie Schwartz kicked off the Silver Age with a new Flash in Showcase #4 and before long costumed crusaders began returning en masse to thrill a new generation. As the trend grew, many publishers began to cautiously dabble with the mystery man tradition and Superman’s newspaper strip began to slowly adapt: drawing closer to the revolution on the comicbook pages.

As Jet-Age gave way to Space-Age, the Last Son of Krypton was a comfortably familiar icon of domestic modern America: particularly in the constantly evolving, ever-more dramatic and imaginative comicbook stories which had received such a terrific creative boost when superheroes began to proliferate once more. The franchise had actually been cautiously expanding since 1954, and in 1961 the Caped Kryptonian could be seen not only in Golden Age survivors Action Comics, Superman, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest Comics and Superboy but also in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane and Justice League of America.

Such increased attention naturally filtered through to the far more widely-read newspaper strip and resulted in a rather strange and commercially sound evolution…

This third and final expansive hardback collection (spanning November 25th 1963 to its end on April 9th 1966) opens with a detailed Introduction from Sidney Friedfertig, disclosing the provenance of the strips; how and why Jerry Siegel was tasked with repurposing recently used and soon to be published scripts from the comicbooks; making them into daily 3-and-4 panel black-&-white continuities for the apparently more sophisticated and discerning newspaper audiences.

It also offers a much-needed appreciation of the author’s unique gifts and contributions…

If you’re a veteran comicbook fan, don’t be fooled: the tales “retold” here at first might seem familiar but they are not rehashes: they’re variations and deviations on an idea for audiences seen as completely separate from the kids who bought comicbooks. Even if you are familiar with the traditional source material, the adventures collected here will read as brand new, especially as they are gloriously illustrated by Wayne Boring at the peak of his illustrative powers.

After a few years away from the feature, Boring had returned to replace his replacement Curt Swan at the end of 1961, regaining the position of premiere Superman illustrator to see the series to its demise. Moreover, as the strip drew to a close many strip adaptations began appearing prior to the “debut” appearances in the comics…

As an added bonus, the covers of the issues these adapted stories came from have been included as a full, nostalgia-inducing colour gallery…

Siegel & Boring’s astounding everyday entertainments commence with Episode #145 ‘The Great Baroni’ (from November 25th to September 14th 1963), revealing how the Caped Kryptonian helped an aging stage conjuror regain his confidence and prowess: based on a yarn by Siegel & Al Plastino from Superboy #107 (which had a September 1963 cover-date).

‘The Man Who Stole Superman’s Secret Life’ (December 16th 1963 to 1st February 1964 and first seen in Superman #169, May 1964, by Siegel & Plastino) was a popularly demanded sequel to a tale where the Man of Tomorrow lost his memory and powers but fell in love.

When his Kryptonian abilities returned he returned to his regular life, unaware that he had left heartbroken Sally Selwyn behind. She thought her adored Jim White had died…

Now as Clark investigated a crook who was a perfect double for Superman he stumbled into Sally and a potentially devastating problem…

Episode #147 – running from February 3rd to March 9th – saw the impossible come true as ‘Lex Luthor, Daily Planet Editor’ (by Leo Dorfman, Swan & George Klein from Superman #168 April 1964) reveals how the criminal genius fled to 1906 and landed the job of running a prestigious San Francisco newspaper… until a certain Man of Tomorrow tracks him down…

March 9th saw Clark, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane begin ‘The Death March’ (originally an Edmond Hamilton & Plastino tale from Jimmy Olsen #76, April 1964): a historical recreation which turned agonisingly real after boss Perry White seemingly had a breakdown. Of course, all was not as it seemed…

‘The Superman of 800 Years Ago’ has a lengthy pedigree. It ran in newspapers from April 6th to May 18th but was adapted from the unattributed, George Papp illustrated story ‘The Superboy of 800 Years Ago’ as seen in Superboy #113 (June 1964) which was in turn based upon an earlier story limned by Swan & Creig Flessel from Superboy #17 at the end of 1951.

Here a robotic Superman double is unearthed at a castle in Ruritanian kingdom Vulcania, and our inquisitive hero time-travelled back to the source to find oppressed people and a very familiar inventor. Suitably scotching the plans of a usurping scoundrel, he left a clockwork champion to defend democracy in the postage stamp feudal fiefdom…

‘Superman’s Sacrifice’ was the 150th daily strip, running from May 18th to June 20th (adapted from a Dorfman & Plastino thriller first seen in Superman #171, August 1964). Here the Man of Steel is blackmailed by advanced alien gambling addicts Rokk and Sorban. They want to wager on whether Superman will kill an innocent. If he doesn’t they will obliterate Earth. The callous extraterrestrials seem to have all the bases covered and, even when the Metropolis Marvel thinks he’s outsmarted them, Rokk and Sorban have an ace in the hole…

It was followed by another tale from the same issue wherein Hamilton & Plastino first described ‘The Nightmare Ordeal of Superman’ (June 22nd to July 25th) wherein the Man of Tomorrow voyages to another solar system just as its power-bestowing yellow sun novas into red. Deprived of his mighty powers our hero must survive a primitive world, light-years from home, battling cavemen and monsters until rescue comes in a most unlikely fashion…

The author of ‘Lois Lane’s Love Trap’ was unattributed but the tale was drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger when seen in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane # 52 (October 1964). As reinterpreted here by Siegel& Boring from July 27th to August 22nd however, it tells how Lois and Clark travel to the rural backwoods to play doctor and cupid for diffident lovers, after which August 24th to October 10th offered ‘Clark Kent’s Incredible Delusions’ (seen in comicbooks in Superman #174, January 1965 by Hamilton, Swan, Plastino & Klein).

Incredible incidents begin after a visitor to the Daily Planet casually reveals he is secretly Superman. Not only does he have the powers and costume, but Clark cannot summon his own abilities to challenge the newcomer. Can Kent have been hallucinating for years? The real answer is far more complex and confusing…

A tip of the hat to a popular TV show follows as a deranged actor trapped in a gangster role kidnaps Lois and her journalistic rival, determined to prove her companion is a mobster and ‘The “Untouchable” Clark Kent’ (October 12th November 7th): a smart caper transformed by Siegel from a yarn by Dorfman, Swan & Klein from Superman #173 November 1964.

‘The Coward of Steel’ (Siegel & Plastino, Action Comics #322, March 1965) ran from November 9th – December 19th, revealing how Superman’s pipsqueak act became all-consuming actuality after aliens ambushed the hero with a fear ray.

The year changed as Lois went undercover to catch a killer in ‘The Fingergirl of Death’ (Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane # 55 by Otto Binder & Schaffenberger; February 1965), reinterpreted here by Siegel& Boring from December 21st 1964 to January 23rd.

‘Clark Kent in the Big House’ – January 25th – March 6th – was seen in Action #323 April 1965 by Binder & Plastino and found Clark in a similar situation: covertly infiltrating a prison to get the goods on an inmate. Sadly once he’s there the warden has an accident and nobody seems to recognise that Kent is anything other than a crook getting his just deserts…

There was more of the same in ‘The Goofy Superman’ which ran March 8th to April 12th, taken from Robert Bernstein & Plastino’s tale from Superman #163; August 1963. This time though, Red Kryptonite briefly made Clark certifiably insane. After he was committed and got better, he stuck around to clear up a few malpractices and injustices at the asylum before heading home…

A different K meteor caused extremely selective amnesia and ‘When Superman Lost His Memory’ from April 14th to May 22nd (originally by Dorfman, Swan & Klein from Superman #178 July 1965) the mystified Man of Steel had to track down his own forgotten alter ego…

‘Superman’s Hands of Doom’ was the 160th strip saga, running from May 24th through June 26th, adapted from a Dorfman & Plastino thriller in Action #328 (September 1965). It detailed the cruelly convoluted plans of big-shot crook Mr. Gimmick who tried to turn Superman into an atomic booby trap primed to obliterate Metropolis, after which a scheming new reporter started using dirty tricks to make her mark at the Planet, landing ‘The Super Scoops of Morna Vine’ (June 28th – August 21st) through duplicity, spying, cheating and worse in a sobering tear-jerker first conceived and executed by Dorfman, Swan & Klein from Superman #181, November 1965.

The comicbook version of ‘The New Lives of Superman’ – by Siegel, Swan & Klein – didn’t appear until Superman #182 in January 1966, but the Boring version (such an unfair name for this brilliant artist!) ran in papers from August 23rd – October 16th 1965: detailing how Clark Kent had an accident which would leave any other man permanently blind.

Not being ordinary, Superman had to find another secret identity and hilariously tried out being a butler and disc jockey before finding a way for Clark to return to reporting…

Something like the truly bizarre ‘Lois Lane’s Anti-Superman Campaign’ was seen in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane # 55 (Dorfman & Schaffenberger, January 1966). However, as reinterpreted by Siegel & Boring for an adult readership from October 18th to December 18th, the stunts produced for the Senatorial race between her and Superman are wild and whacky (and could never happen in real American politics No Sirree Bob!), even if 5th Dimensional pest Mr. Mxyzptlk is behind it all…

Running from December 20th 1965 through January 8th 1966, as adapted from a Dorfman & Pete Costanza thriller in Superman #185 (which eventually saw full-colour print in April 1966), ‘Superman’s Achilles Heel’ offered a slick conundrum as the Man of Might began wearing a steel box on his hand after losing his invulnerability in one small area of his Kryptonian frame.

The entire underworld tried to get past that shield but nobody really thought the problem through…

The end of the hallowed strip series was fast approaching but it was business as usual for Siegel & Boring who exposed over January 10th to February 26th ‘The Two Ghosts of Superman’ (Binder & Plastino from Superman #186, May 1966) as the hero went after crafty criminal charlatan Mr. Seer. Fanatical fans might be keen to see the cameo here from up and coming TV superstar Batman before the curtain closes…

The era ended with another mystery. ‘From Riches to Rags’ (Dorfman & Plastino from Action Comics #337, May 1966) has Superman compulsively acting out a number of embarrassing roles – from rich man to poor man to beggar-man and so forth.

Spanning February 28th to April 9th, it depicted a hero at a complete loss until his super-memory kicked in and recalled a moment long ago when a toddler looked up into the night sky…

Superman: – The Silver Age Dailies 1963-1966 is the last of three huge (305 x 236 mm), lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Man of Steel and a welcome addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many of the abovementioned cartoon icons.

If you love the era or just crave simpler stories from less angst-wracked times these yarns are great comics reading, and this a book you simply must have…
Superman™ and © 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.