Showcase Presents the Trial of the Flash


By Cary Bates, Carmine Infantino, Frank McLaughlin, Dennis Jensen & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3182-8

Barry Allen was the second comicbook comet to carry the name of Flash, and his debut was the Big Bang which finally triggered the Silver Age of American comicbooks after a series of abortive remnant revivals (Stuntman in 1954 and Marvel’s “Big Three”, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America from 1953 to 1955). There were also a few all-original attempts such as Captain Flash, The Avenger and Strongman from 1954-1955.

Although none of those – or other less high-profile efforts – had restored or renewed the popularity of masked mystery-men, they had presumably piqued readers’ consciousness, even at conservative National/DC. Thus the revived human rocket wasn’t quite the innovation he seemed: after all, alien crusader Martian Manhunter had already cracked open the company floodgates with his low-key launch in Detective Comics #225, November 1955.

However in terms of creative quality, originality and sheer style The Flash was an irresistible spark and after his landmark first appearance in Showcase #4 (October 1956) the series – eventually – became a benchmark by which every successive launch or reboot across the industry was measured.

Police Scientist – we’d call him a CSI today – Allen was transformed by a simultaneous lightning strike and chemical bath into a human thunderbolt of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity. Yet with characteristic indolence the new Fastest Man Alive took three more try-out issues and almost as many years to win his own title. However when he finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959), he never looked back…

The comics business back then was a faddy, slavishly trend-beset affair, however, and following a manic boom for superhero tales prompted by the Batman TV show the fickle global consciousness moved on to a fixation with supernatural themes and merely mortal tales, triggering a huge revival of spooky films, shows, books and periodicals. With horror on the rise again, many superhero titles faced cancellation and even the most revered and popular were threatened. It was time to adapt or die: a process repeated every few years until the mid-1980s when DC’s powers-that-be decided to rationalise and downsize the sprawling multi-dimensional multiverse the Flash had innocently sparked into existence decades previously…

Barry had been through the wringer before: in 1979 (Flash #275 to be precise) his beloved wife Iris was brutally murdered and thereafter the Scarlet Speedster became a darker, grittier, truly careworn hero. Gradually over four years the lonely bachelor recovered and even found love again but a harshly evolving comics industry, changing fashions and jaded fan tastes were about to end his long run at the top…

The Vizier of Velocity was still a favoured, undisputed icon of the apparently unstoppable Superhero meme and a mighty pillar of the costumed establishment, but in times of precarious sales and with very little in the way of presence in other media like films, TV or merchandise, that just made him a bright red target for a company desperate to attract a larger readership.

It soon became an open secret that he was to be one of the major casualties of the reality-rending Crisis on Infinite Earths. The epic maxi-series was conceived as an attention-grabbing spectacle on every level and to truly succeed it needed a few sacrifices which would make the public really sit up and take notice…

With such knowledge commonplace, long-time scripter Cary Bates went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the Crimson Comet and the comic title which inspired a super-heroic revolution went out in a totally absorbing blaze of glory…

This momentously massive stand-alone monochrome collection gathers the pertinent chapters of an astonishingly extended and supremely gripping serial which charted the triumphs and tragedies of the Monarch of Motion’s last months and savoured the final moments of the paramount hero and symbol of the Silver Age.

Contained herein are Flash #323-327, 329-336 and 340-350, spanning July 1983 to October 1985, written throughout by Bates and pencilled by originating artist Carmine Infantino, opening on the day Barry is supposed to marry his new sweetheart Fiona Webb.

As the nervous groom dresses for the ceremony, however, an Oan Guardian of the Universe appears with appalling news. Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash has escaped from the timeless hell the vengeful Vizier of Velocity banished him to for murdering Iris…

Inked by Rodin Rodriguez, ‘Run Flash – Run for your Wife!’ sees the distraught hero pursuing and battling his ultimate enemy on the run all over he world as the clock ticks down, culminating in #324’s ‘The Slayer and the Slain’ (Dennis Jensen inks) with the police issuing a missing persons alert for the vanished Barry Allen.

Crushed Fiona finally gives up on her man and is leaving the church just as Zoom dashes in with Flash hard on his winged heels. The maniac has boasted that he will repeat himself by slaughtering his archenemy’s second love, but with femto-seconds to spare Barry goes into overdrive and grabs his foe by the neck…

When the dust settles the wedding guests see Flash trying to comfort the bride-to-be but Police Captain Darryl Frye and Detective Frank Curtis are distracted by something the speedster has not noticed: Zoom’s lifeless corpse…

The media circus begins in #325 as ‘Dead Reckoning’ sees the guilt-racked speedster go into heroic overdrive all around the world but somehow never quite outrunning the Press or his own remorse.

As friends and allies wonder where they stand, the vile miscreants of The Flash Rogues’ Gallery come together to steal Zoom’s cadaver. Captains Cold and Boomerang, Pied Piper, Weather Wizard and The Trickster actually despised the Reverse-Flash and need to desecrate his corpse for the utter embarrassment he has brought upon their association: letting himself get killed by the scarlet Boy Scout…

Their heartbroken foe meanwhile has stopped running, and Barry visits Fiona where she lies in hospital. The shock of Barry’s abandonment has traumatised and perhaps even deranged her, but worse is in store. After leaving her room in his Flash persona, the hero is reluctantly arrested by Captain Frye on a charge of Manslaughter…

‘Shame in Scarlet’ (inked by Gary Martin) opens on the arrest and arraignment but the madhouse of raving pressmen and downhearted cops is just what the recently captured Weather Wizard needs to mask a bold getaway scheme.

Ever dutiful, Flash eludes custody long enough to stop the rogue before surrendering himself again…

Fiona’s doctors refuse to believe the still-missing Barry Allen came to see her and diagnose a delusional breakdown, whilst out on the streets Frank Curtis is further distracted by teenaged Angelo Torres; a kid barely surviving in a tough gang-controlled area of Central City

Released on his own recognizance, Flash sneaks into his own apartment but as the realisation of his destroyed life finally sinks in, he loses control and trashes the place in an explosive outburst. By the time his terrified neighbours break in he has gone and the suspicion that someone has targeted the missing Police Scientist seems confirmed…

Roaming the streets the Crimson Comet sees Angelo fleeing from a mugging but is appalled to realise he has tackled the wrong guy. Torres was chasing the real thief…

Still reeling at how far he has fallen, the shell-shocked speedster is barely aware that he is bleeding badly (from self-inflicted wounds incurred when destroying his home), and allows a cop to take him to hospital. The good deed does not go unpunished. When he arrives, Fiona is there and suddenly flares into a state of total hysteria…

The horrors pile on in ‘Burnout’ (#327, inked by Jensen) as Flash reconciles with Angelo, unaware that the kid has been targeted by the malign Super-Gorilla Grodd as part of a convoluted vengeance scheme.

Flash is too preoccupied by his next personal crisis as the Justice League of America holds a special session to judge his actions and conduct. A nail-bitingly close vote of his crestfallen best friends will determine whether he can remain a member of the august group…

Flash #328 is a partial reprint exploring the Flash/Professor Zoom vendetta and not included here, so the saga resumes with ‘What is the Sinister Secret of Simian and Son?’ (#329, with new regular inker Frank McLaughlin picking up the pens the brushes). Grodd uses Angelo and other kids to perpetrate series of bold raids even as, in front of the maddened media cameras, unscrupulous, publicity-hungry celebrity criminal defense attorney Nicholas D. Redik attempts to insert himself into the “Case of the Century”, claiming to be Flash’s lawyer and only chance of acquittal…

The oblivious, troubled human thunderbolt has other ideas. He has already contacted “Barry’s” old friend Peter Farley to act on his behalf, blithely unaware that back home Grodd has taken over Angelo and Fiona has succumbed to a total mental breakdown…

The final confrontation with the über-ape begins in ‘Beware the Land of Grodd!’ (scripted by Joey Cavalieri over Bates’ plot) as Redik manipulates the media to force Flash to switch lawyers and Captain Frye pushes the ongoing search for the missing Barry to new heights. With all these distractions the Vizier of Velocity is easily ambushed by Grodd before Angelo, at the moment of truth in #331’s ‘Dead Heat!’, has a change of heart and mind. With a supreme effort of will the remorseful lad breaks the super-ape’s conditioning, allowing the speedster to triumph.

Returning the renegade to futuristic Gorilla City, Flash leaves the mental monster in the custody of his old comrade Solovar, returning to America just in time to hear Farley being murdered during a phone conference…

Bates rejoins Infantino & McLaughlin as ‘Defend the Flash… and Die?’ sees the Scarlet Speedster hurtle across the country to save his lawyer from a colossal explosion, but even he is not fast enough to prevent the victim incurring massive injuries.

As speculation runs riot in the media that someone is targeting Flash’s defenders, old enemy Rainbow Raider take advantage of the chaos to instigate a string of robberies, but even at his lowest ebb the hero is too much for the multicoloured malefactor…

Redik is now publicly offering to take the case for free, but Farley’s absentee business partner has already taken up her ailing associate’s celebrity caseload…

In issue #333, as inexplicably hostile attorney Cecile Horton confers with her newly inherited client, ‘Down with the Flash!’ reveals how certain elements of Central City have seemingly turned on their former champion. Fiona too is still drawing trouble, as a petty thug and his crazy brother break into the asylum treating her, looking for a little one-stop emergency therapy. Sadly for them the Monarch of Motion is still keeping an eye on his tragic fiancée…

N.D. Redik then attempts to bribe and/or bully Horton off the case, but despite clearly despising her crimson client, Cecile is determined to honour Peter’s wishes and save the speedster.

The mastermind stirring up anti-Flash sentiment is revealed in ‘Flash-Freak-Out!’ Just as the pre-trial manoeuvrings begin, the formerly supportive Mayor suddenly becomes the disgraced hero’s biggest detractor.

Pied Piper’s mind-altering influence even manages to make the hero apparently go berserk on live TV in ‘How to Trash a Flash!’, leaving even his most devoted fans wondering if their beloved champion has in fact gone crazy…

…And whilst Flash is trying to save the Mayor, at her secluded retreat Cecile Horton is caught in an explosive blast like the one that took out her partner…

‘Murder on the Rocks’ in #336 finds Flash arriving too late for once, but the ecstatic speedster is astounded to discover his lawyer has saved herself through sheer quick thinking – although another woman has been killed. The tabloid reporter had been bugging the supposed “safe house” and accidentally fallen foul of a couple of killers-for-hire…

The trail of death leads the forensically trained Flash inexorably to a man whose arrogant determination to be a star in the tragedy costs him everything…

Rather annoyingly the next three chapters are absent here. They would have shown how Flash finally finished the Piper and incurred the wrath of the Rogues who subsequently turned a hulking simpleton into a programmed super killer dubbed Big Sir before unleashing him on the Scarlet Speedster…

We rejoin the story with Flash #340 to ‘Reach Out and Waste Someone!’ as the hurtling hero turns the tables on Cold, Boomerang, Weather Wizard, Trickster and Mirror Master by befriending Big Sir. The danger averted, the Flash then surrenders himself to the courts.

After many months #341 sees proceedings finally open in ‘Trial and Tribulation!’ only for the weary defendant to discover that go-getting District Attorney Anton Slater has dropped the charges. The wily attention-seeker has abandoned his manslaughter case in favour of a charge of Second Degree Murder…

With the still at-large Rogues rampaging through the city, the opening arguments quickly start to make the stunned Flash appear like a cunning killer and, whilst he reels in court, Captain Cold and Co again brainwash the now docile Big Sir. When the shattered speedster leaves after his first bruising day the Brobdingnagian brute ambushes him, wrecking his face with a massive mace…

Maimed, dazed and reeling Flash flees in unconscious panic leaving Sir to assault the gathered media in ‘Smash-Up!’ Barely thinking, the wounded warrior heads for Gorilla City where the super simians’ miraculous medical technology saves his life. Recovered and ready to return, Flash is certain he has made the right decision by asking Solovar to use their advanced science to enact a certain alteration for him…

Upon his return the Vizier of Velocity again deprograms Big Sir and the odd couple make sure the Rogues can’t hurt anyone any more…

Flash #343 kicks the drama into even higher gear in ‘Revenge and Revelations!’ as the secret of why Cecile hates her crimson-clad client is exposed and merciless mobster monster Goldface attacks, even as in the far future another Flash foe escapes an unbeatable prison and heads for the present, intent on adding to the doomed hero’s historic woes…

‘Betrayal!’ in #344 is a partial reprint (by Bates & John Broome, Infantino, McLaughlin & Joe Giella) which combines the first appearance and an early exploit of Kid Flash with that devoted protégé’s devastating expert testimony under oath on the witness stand.

The reluctant lad’s damaging evidence is then compounded when Cecile makes an explosive mistake which exposes ‘The Secret Face of the Flash!’ to the courtroom and the world…

Confusion reigns in #346 as the shocking revelation is upstaged by reports that the actual victim might not be dead. A merciless yellow-and-red blur has been spotted all over Central City attacking civilians and destroying police records in ‘Dead Man’s Bluff!’

The Reverse-Flash has escaped certain death many times before but as he mercilessly attacks the other Rogues – with even the Jurors narrowly escaping certain doom – there is a sure and certain feeling that something is not right…

The trial concludes in #347’s ‘Back from the Dead!’ but even with the thoroughly thrashed Rogues and Police Captain Fry attesting the victim is still alive, more than one malign presence in the courtroom is affecting the jurors and ‘The Final Verdict!’ comes back “guilty”…

However the story is not over and #349 unleashes a cascade of staggering revelations revealing clandestine agents acting both for and against the harried Human Hurricane in ‘…And the Truth Shall Set him Free!’ before the extended extravaganza of #350 begins by declaring ‘Flash Flees’ and thereafter shows the Scarlet Speedster defeating his ultimate nemesis, clearing his name and even living happily ever after… until that fore-destined final moment in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Staggering in scope, gripping in execution and astoundingly suspenseful, these last days of a legend make for stunning reading: a perfect example of the kind of plot-driven Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction we just don’t see enough of these days.

If you feel a need for a traditionally thrilling kind of speed reading, this is a chronicle you must not miss.

© 1983, 1984, 1985, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Shazam! Archives volume 4


By William Woolfolk, C.C. Beck, Mac Raboy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0160-1

One of the most venerated and beloved characters of America’s Golden Age of comics, Captain Marvel was created in 1940 as part of a wave of opportunistic creativity which followed the stunning success of Superman in 1938.

Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett champion quickly moved squarely into the area of light entertainment and even straight comedy, whilst as the years passed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action, drama and suspense.

Homeless orphan and good kid Billy Batson was selected by an ancient wizard to be given the powers of six gods and heroes to battle injustice. He transforms from scrawny precocious kid to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel by speaking aloud the wizard’s acronymic name – invoking the powers of legendary patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

Publishing house Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received light entertainment magazine for WWI veterans named Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and can-do demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both the art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

Captain Marvel was the brainchild of writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant young illustrator Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled most of the art on the series throughout its stellar run. Before eventually evolving his own affable personality the full-grown hero was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse whilst junior alter ego Billy was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, bold, self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds through gumption, grit and sheer determination…

After homeless orphan newsboy Billy was granted access to the power of legendary gods and heroes he won a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting and first defeated the demonic Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, setting a pattern that would captivate readers for the next 14 years…

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel was published twice-monthly and outsold Superman, but as the Furious Forties closed tastes changed, sales slowed and Fawcett saw the way the wind was blowing. They finally settled an infamous, long-running copyright infringement suit begun by National Comics in 1940 and the Big Red Cheese vanished – as did so many superheroes – becoming little more than a fond memory for older fans…

Fawcett in full bloom, however, was a true publishing innovator and marketing powerhouse – and regarded as the inventor of many established comicbook sales tactics we all take for granted today. In this fourth magnificent deluxe full-colour hardback compendium we can see one of their best manoeuvres at play as the company responsible for creating crossover-events invented a truly unforgettable villain, set him simultaneously loose on a range of costumed champions and used his (temporary) defeat to introduce a new hero to their colourful pantheon.

Spanning the fraught yet productive period October 31st 1941 to May 13th 1942 and collecting in their entirety Captain Marvel Adventures #4-5, exploits from Master Comics #21-22, an adventure from fortnightly Whiz Comics #25 and another from anthology America’s Greatest Comics #2 – plus all the stunning covers by Beck and Raboy – this splendid compendium kicks off with an erudite and incisive Foreword by P.C. Hammerlinck (artist, editor, historian and former student of C.C. Beck) who reveals many secrets of the original comics’ production before the cartoon classic commences.

Although there was increasing talk of inevitable war amongst the American public at the time, most of these tales were created before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, making the role of Adolf Hitler as a recurring villain and the creation of Captain Nazi in those by-no-means certain days acts of prophetic calculation…

However, as the thinly-veiled saboteur and spy sagas which previously permeated the genre until official Hostilities were finally established gave way to certainty, the Axis became the overarching threat of many comicbook heroes and this tome re-presents some of the very best clashes between exactingly defined polar opposites.

Of more interest perhaps is that at this period the stories – many of them still sadly uncredited – largely portray Marvel as a grimly heroic figure not averse to slaughtering the truly irredeemable villain and losing no sleep over it…

In those formative years, as the World’s Mightiest Mortal catapulted to the first rank of superhero superstars, there was actually a scramble to fill pages and, just as CMA #1 had been farmed out to up-and-coming whiz-kids Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, these first two solo issues were rapidly compiled by anonymous scripters under the guiding hand of veteran Jack Binder (whose brother Otto would soon become the assorted Marvels’ definitive scripter), another rising star who drew the issues in a hurry, working from Beck and Parker’s style guides.

The first of those uncredited issues is Captain Marvel Adventures #4 (October 31st 1941) with possible authors including Parker, Rod Reed, Joe Millard, Manly Wade Wellman, Otto Binder and William Woolfolk, whilst the Jack Binder Studio consisted of the man himself plus neophyte artists and recent graduates from Pratt Institute including young Bob Butts and Bill Ward.

‘Sivana’s Revenge’ kicks things off with a return engagement for the Three Lieutenant Marvels (a trio of other kids named Billy Batson who somehow shared the magic of Shazam’s gift). Fat Billy, Tall Billy and Hill Billy were visiting their namesake when the Devil Doctor repeatedly attempted to murder the radio reporter before seemingly losing his life in the detonation of a trap consisting of one million tons of dynamite…

The next tale introduced Hitler as the German-accented “warlord” of an aggressor nation which used slave labour from conquered European countries to dig ‘The Tunnel of Invasion’ right into the heart of Florida. Upon discovering the plot Marvel helped complete the project… but only so that he could trap the entire Nazi army at the bottom of the Atlantic.

‘The Secret Submarine Base’ found Billy investigating a murder and wrecking a scheme by sinister Mr. Fog to hide ambushing U-Boats in South America before calling in his adult alter ego to smash the site. Thereafter he teamed up with crusading DA Shaw to destroy the criminal empire of mobster Giggy Golton and his band of merciless assassins ‘The Lawless Legion’

Captain Marvel Adventures #5 (December 12th) was communally illustrated by Beck’s “Fawcett Captain Marvel Art Staff” – which generally comprised Costanza, Marc Swayze, Pete Riss and Kurt Schaffenberger amongst others – opening with a stunning recap ‘Frontispiece’ before Sivana again rears his gleaming evil-stuffed head to perpetrate ‘Captain Marvel’s Double Trouble’ wherein a refugee princess is kidnapped by a boxer the wily genius has transformed through surgery. He’s still no match for the real deal though…

Nor is the volcano-making ‘King of the Crater’ who attempts to turn America into a bubbling ring of fire until Billy and the Captain spectacularly upset his engineering applecart, after which a reclamation project is saved from sabotage by a cunning mastermind and an aquatic monster when ‘Captain Marvel Solves the Swamp Mystery’

The issue ends with another bout of weird science as ‘Sivana’s Strange Chemical Potion’ transforms people into completely different… people!

When Billy is replaced by a new kid with no memory of the power of Shazam, it takes fate in the form of a bunch of kids playing Captain Marvel to release the hero and unleash justice…

Bulletman – ably assisted by his companion Bulletgirl – was undoubtedly Fawcett’s second – if lesser – leading light, with his own solo comicbook and the star spot in monthly Master Comics. However, that all changed with issue #21 (December 1941) and ‘The Coming of Captain Nazi’ by William Woolfolk & Mac Raboy. In the rousing tale Hitler and his staff despatch their newest weapon – a literal Übermensch – to spread terror and destruction in America and kill all its superheroes.

The murdering braggart gets right to work in New York City and soon Bulletman meets Captain Marvel as they both strive to stop the Fascist Fiend from wrecking the town and slaughtering innocents. The astounding battle – gracefully and immaculately rendered by Alex Raymond-inspired Raboy – only results in driving off the monster…

The saga picks up in Whiz Comics #25 (December 12th) with ‘The Origin of Captain Marvel Jr.’ (Woolfolk, Beck & Raboy) as the Nazi nemesis attempts to destroy a monumental hydroelectric dam before once again being foiled and fleeing…

When the monster tries to smash a new fighter plane prototype Captain Marvel stops him, but whilst pursuing the maniac is not quick enough to prevent him murdering an old man and brutally crushing a young boy.

Freddy Freeman seems destined to follow his grandfather into eternity, but remorseful Billy takes the dying lad to Shazam’s mystic citadel where the old wizard saves the boy’s life by giving him access to the power of the ancient gods and heroes. Now he will live – albeit with a permanently maimed leg – and whenever he pronounces the phrase “Captain Marvel” he will become a super-powered invulnerable version of himself…

With the stage set the lad then rockets over to Master Comics #22 (January 1942) to join Bulletman and Bulletgirl in stopping a string of Captain Nazi-sponsored assassinations in ‘Dr. Eternity’s Wax Death’ (by Woolfolk & Raboy), victoriously ending with a bold announcement that from the very next issue (not included here, curses!) the mighty boy will be starring in his own solo adventures…

The merits of the ongoing court-case notwithstanding, Fawcett undeniably took some of their publishing cues from the examples of Superman and Batman. Following on from a brace of Premium editions celebrating the New York World’s Fair, National Comics had released World’s Finest Comics; a huge, quarterly card-cover anthology featuring a host of their comicbook mainstays in new adventures, and early in 1941, Fawcett produced a 100-page bumper comic dedicated to their own dashing new hero and the other mystery-men in their stable: Spy Smasher, Bulletman, Minute Man and Mr. Scarlet & Pinky and more.

This startling slice of World War II Wonderment concludes with a Captain Marvel yarn from America’s Greatest Comics #2 (February 11th – May 13th 1942).

‘The Park Robberies’, anonymously scripted but illustrated by Beck, Berg and the Fawcett Captain Marvel Art Staff, features Billy’s battle to stop and redeem a gang of underage muggers headed for prison or worse, with Captain Marvel going undercover as an ordinary beat cop, but is most noteworthy today for introducing comedy sidekick – and by today’s standards, appalling minority stereotype – Steamboat Bill, who saved the day when real hardboiled thugs took over the scam…

After a rash of complaints, Steamboat was dropped and didn’t resurface when DC acquired the Fawcett properties and characters in 1973. The revived series brought the Captain and his genial crew to a new generation in a savvy experiment to see if his unique charm would work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns.

Re-titled Shazam! – due to the incontestable power of lawyers and copyright convention – the revived heroic ideal enjoyed mixed success and a live action TV series in his own unique world before being subsumed into the company’s vast stable of characters…

Notwithstanding, Captain Marvel is a true milestone of American comic history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. These magical tales again show why “The Big Red Cheese” was such an icon of the industry and proves that such timeless, sublime comic masterpieces are an ideal introduction to the world of superhero fiction: tales that cannot help but appeal to readers of every age and temperament…

© 1941, 1942, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Going Sane


By J.M. DeMatteis, Eddie Campbell, Darren White, Joe Staton, Bart Sears & Steve Mitchell (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1821-8

An old adage says that you can judge a person by the calibre of their enemies, and that’s never been more ably demonstrated than in the case of the Batman. Moreover for most of his decades-long existence, and most especially since the 1970s, the position of paramount antagonist has been indisputably filled by the Harlequin of Hate known only as The Joker.

The epic battles between these so similar yet utterly antithetical icons have filled many pages and this slim, shocking tome (collecting stories from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #66-68 and #200 from November 1994 to February 1995 and April 2006) again proves how that unending war of wills always results in top quality Fights ‘n’ Tights entertainment.

LoDK began in the frenzied atmosphere following the 1989 Batman movie. With the planet completely Bat-crazy for the second time in 25 years, DC wisely supplemented the Gotham Guardian’s regular stable of comicbooks with a new title specifically designed to focus on and redefine his early days and cases through succession of retuned, retold classic stories.

Three years earlier the publisher had boldly begun retconning their entire ponderous continuity via the landmark maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths; rejecting the concept of a vast multiverse and re-knitting time so that there had only ever been one Earth.

For new readers, this solitary DC world provided a perfect place to jump on at a notional starting point: a planet literally festooned with iconic heroes and villains draped in a clear and cogent backstory that was now fresh and newly unfolding.

Many of their greatest properties were graced with a reboot, all enjoying the tacit conceit that the characters had been around for years and the readership were simply tuning in on just another working day.

Batman’s popularity was at an intoxicating peak and, as DC was still in the throes of re-jigging narrative continuity, his latest title presented multi-part epics reconfiguring established villains and classic stories: infilling the new history of the re-imagined, post-Crisis hero and his entourage. The icing on the cake was a fluctuating cast of first-rank and up-and-coming creators each getting “their shot” at arguably the most paradigmatic figure of the industry.

Most of the early story-arcs were then quickly collected as trade paperbacks, helping to jump-start the graphic novel sector of the comics industry, whilst the careful re-imagining of the hero’s early days gave fans a wholly modern insight into the highly malleable core-concept.

With that in mind, 4-part psychological study ‘Going Sane’ by J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Staton & Steve Mitchell takes us back to a time when Batman was still fresh to the game and had only crossed swords with the Clown Prince of Crime twice before…

The tale starts with a murderously macabre circus-themed killing-spree in the idyllic neighbourhood of Park Ridge, exacerbated by the abduction of honest, crusading Gotham Councilwoman Elizabeth Kenner. The twin travesties weigh heavily on a far-too-emotionally involved Batman as he furiously plays catch-up, leading to a one-sided battle in front of GCPD’s Bat signal and a frantic pursuit into the dark woods beyond the city.

Driven to a pinnacle of outrage, the neophyte manhunter falls into the Joker’s devilishly prepared trap…

Caught in a horrific explosion, the Dark Knight’s shattered body is then dumped ‘Into the Rushing River’ by an unbelieving killer clown reeling in shock at his utterly unexpected ultimate triumph…

‘Swimming Lessons’ opens with Batman missing and Police Captain James Gordon taking flak from all sides for not finding The Joker or the savage mystery assailant who had murdered an infamous underworld plastic surgeon…

Under Wayne Manor faithful manservant Alfred fears the very worst whilst in a cheap part of town thoroughly decent nonentity Joseph Kerr suffers terrifying nightmares of murder and madness.

His solitary days end when he bumps into mousy spinster Rebecca Brown. Over passing days the two lonely loners find love in their mutual isolation and a shared affection for classic slapstick comedy. The only shadows blighting this unlikely romance are poor Joe’s continual nightmares and occasional outbursts of barely suppressed rage…

As days turn to weeks and then months, Alfred sorrowfully accepts the situation and prepares to close the Batcave forever. As he descends, however, he is astounded to see the Dark Knight has returned…

The mystery of Batman’s disappearance is revealed in ‘Breaking the Surface!’ as the Gotham Gangbuster slowly gets back into the swing of things, laboriously connecting the dots linking the plastic surgeon’s death and the Joker’s wherebouts.

When his broken body was carried out to the sleepy hamlet of Accord the shattered hero was ministered to by Doctor Lynn Eagles, an ex-Gothamite doubly brutalised during her time in the city. A strange relationship grew between her and the troubled man she called “Lazarus”, but his clear yearning for the loving serenity the town offered couldn’t match his inner fire and unshakable sense of duty…

The inevitable, tragic finale arrives with the ‘The Deluge!’ as Joe Kerr – fictive product of a deranged mind which simply couldn’t face life without Batman – pops like a soap bubble when confronted by his somehow-resurrected resolute nemesis.

The World’s Greatest Detective has relentlessly tracked his polar opposite to his new life, without ever knowing the Clown is no longer a threat and, with both unflinching enemies restored, their apocalyptic clash is terrible but never final…

This emotive examination of twinned lives equally deprived of peace and contentment by their own intransigent natures is followed by a more traditional but intensely gripping thriller written by Eddie Campbell and Daren White with art by Bart Sears.

‘Gotham Emergency’ opens with the Dark Knight carrying a dying Joker into the Wayne Foundation Public Hospital ER. The mass-murdering Maniac of Mirth has poisoned himself with his own laughing toxin – “Smilex” – but Batman is ferociously insistent that Doctor Natalie Koslowski desert all her other critical patients to treat the conscienceless killer.

The reason becomes apparent after a Joker-created virus attacks the hospital’s records database as well as all other civic computer systems. It’s part of a sustained assault on Gotham by the Harlequin of Hate and follows two catastrophic detonations already triggered by the dying lunatic.

The first catastrophically went off in a crowded and unsuspecting newspaper office but the second, at the Gotham Knights Stadium, quickly brought Batman and in the ensuing chaos of their combat Joker took a face-full of his own poison.

Now the already-stretched medics must struggle to save him – and his gang of suitably trounced thugs – because the caped crimebuster is convinced that somewhere in Gotham a third bomb is ticking down, hidden in another area packed with innocents: a transport hub, or school or even a hospital…

And no one is prepared for what happens after the dedicated doctors bring the homicidal Harlequin out of his near-death coma…

Perfectly portrayed at his most devious and devilish, this duel between two decidedly different shades of darkness conclusively captures the conniving essence of the Joker making this smart, rocket-paced and chillingly suspenseful extra-length epic another unmissable example the eternal struggle between two of comics’ most potent characters.

Wonderful stories, appealing art, immortal characters, satisfaction guaranteed…
© 1994, 1995, 2006, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: ‘Til Death Do Us Part


By Jeph Loeb, Mark Schultz, Joe Kelly, J.M. DeMatteis, Stuart Immonen, Ed McGuinness, Doug Mahnke, Pablo Raimondi, Kano, Yanick Paquette, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-862-4

Superman has been altered and adjusted continually over his many decades of fictive life since Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic inspiration first appeared in Action Comics #1. Moreover, every refit and reboot has resulted in appalled fans and new devotees in pretty much equal proportion, so perhaps the Metropolis Marvel’s greatest ability is the power to survive change…

Although largely out of favour these days as the myriad strands of accrued mythology are being carefully reintegrated into an overarching, all-inclusive multi-media dominant, film-favoured continuity, the grittily stripped-down, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Man of Steel (as re-imagined by John Byrne and superbly built upon by a succession of immensely talented comics craftsmen) resulted in some stunning high points.

Actually, no sooner had the Byrne restart demolished much of the accrued iconography which had grown up around the “Strange Visitor from Another World” over fifty glorious years than successive creators began expending a great deal of time and ingenuity putting much of it back, albeit in terms more accessible to a cynical and well-informed audience far more sophisticated than their grandparents ever were.

Even so, by the mid-1990’s Byrne’s baby was beginning to look a little tired and the sales kick generated by the Death of and Return of Superman was fading, so the decision was made to give the big guy a bit of a tweak for the fast-approaching new millennium: bringing in new writers and artists and gradually moving the stories into more bombastic, hyper-powered territory.

The fresh tone was augmented by a new sequence and style of trade paperback editions and this third collection gathers material from Superman #155-157, The Adventures of Superman #577-578, Superman: Man of Steel # 99-100 and Action Comics #764-765 covering April to June 2000 as the world slowly recovers from the terrifying attack of future fiend Brainiac-13, an assault which left Metropolis transformed into a literal “city of Tomorrow”…

The never-ending story resumes with ‘The Private Life of Clark Kent’ by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Cam Smith from Superman #155 wherein the exhausted hero heads to Kansas for a quiet break with his parents and finds unwelcome interloper Superboy already in residence.

The Man of Steel has always been uncomfortable around his obnoxious, eternally juvenile clone but the gentle wisdom of Ma Kent soon smoothes the troubled waters. It’s a pity she’s not around when he gets back to the big city and increasingly irritable new wife Lois lays into bewildered Clark…

Retreating back to Smallville in ‘A Tales of Two Cities’ (Adventures of Superman #577 by Stuart Immonen, Jay Faeber, Yanick Paquette, Rich Faber& José Marzan Jr.), Clark debunks a case of eco-terrorism: clearing innocent kids and catching the real big business culprits even as in Metropolis Lex Luthor makes a play for economic supremacy.

The wily villain sacrificed his baby daughter to Brainiac in return for the patents to B-13, and his stranglehold on the future tech is being inexorably parlayed into a commercial – and soon political – monopoly…

Out of sorts and still avoiding Lois in ‘All That Dwell in Dark Waters’ (Mark Shultz, Pablo Raimondi & Sean Parsons from Superman: Man of Steel #99), Clark then rescues childhood sweetheart Lana Lang and her husband Pete Ross from an aquatic spirit and receives a much-needed pep talk on responsibility whilst in Metropolis semi-retired hero Steel and his niece Natasha tackle a cult of electronic packrats dubbed Cybermoths from plundering future tech ‘In the Belly of the Beast’ (Shultz, Doug Mahnke & Sean Parsons).

The resultant struggle happily leads to a brand new extra-dimensional opportunity for the astounded and late-arriving Caped Kryptonian…

Still avoiding his irrationally irascible wife in Action Comics #764, ‘Quiet after the Storm’ (Joe Kelly, Kano & Joe Rubinstein) finds Clark talking over his marriage problems with his dad whilst saving a lonely old lady from death by despondency in Smallville. However when visiting the Martian Manhunter the invulnerable hero finally acknowledges that not all his problems are emotional after collapsing in a choking fit…

Superman #156 opens ‘The Tender Trap’ (Loeb, McGuinness & Smith) as Lois and Clark’s relationship deteriorates even further, a situation exacerbated when Daily Planet Editor Perry White hires Lana…

Shaken, bewildered and increasingly wracked by coughing fits, Superman barely survives an ambush by energy – and now memory – leech The Parasite.

Thankfully Wonder Woman is on hand to drive the monster away, but the Amazon’s appearance only reignites Lois’ feelings of neglect, jealousy and overriding suspicion.

So angry is the enraged reporter that she takes up Luthor on a long-standing offer…

Desperate to repair his relationship with Lois, Clark organises a substitute hero team to watch Metropolis whilst he takes her for a vacation to a paradise planet in ‘Getting Away from it All’ (Adventures of Superman #578 by J.M. DeMatteis, Pablo Raimondi & José Marzan Jr.). Once again fate and duty conspire to ruin everything…

In ‘Creation Story’ by Shultz, Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen (Superman: Man of Steel #100), the pocket dimension discovered by Steel is spectacularly filled and repurposed with the last Kryptonian remnants of the original Fortress of Solitude. Sadly the astounding architectural feat draws the rapacious Cybermoths and their anarchic queen Luna into action again, but neither Superman nor his engineering associate are aware that a horrifying old enemy is behind her repeated attempts to seize this new “Phantom Zone”…

A bizarre change of pace features in Action Comics #765 as ‘A Clown Comes to Metropolis’ (Kelly, Kano & Marlo Alquiza). Tragically the Joker’s idea of good times include humiliating Luthor and wanton mass slaughter, whilst all Harley Quinn can think about is beating his lethally effective bodyguard Mercy to death…

With chaos and carnage running rampant it’s the worst possible time for Superman to be sick, but even after sending the homicidal humorists (barely) packing, worse is in store for the Man of Steel…

Concluding instalment Superman #157 opens with Clark reeling at the news that his wife is leaving him. Before that can sink in he then finds himself in super-powered combat with his spouse in ‘Superman’s Enemy Lois Lane’ (Loeb, McGuinness & Smith); a blockbuster battle that threatens to decimate the city.

Aware too late that his wife has been replaced by an impostor, the hero valiantly overcomes his illness and reluctance to hit the “woman” he loves, but his eventually victory is a purely pyrrhic one.

When the dust settles Superman is the only survivor and suddenly realises he has no idea where the real Lois is, or even if she still lives…

To Be Continued…

With a cover gallery by McGuinness & Smith, Immonen, Terry Dodson, Manke, John Dell and Yvel Guichet this captivating conundrum of a compilation pits the World’s Greatest Hero against insurmountable problems whilst examining the mere man beneath the steel hard skin.

Lovers of the Fights ‘n’ Tights genre cannot help but respond to the sheer scale, spectacle and compelling soap opera melodrama of these tales which remain a high point of the canon and a sheer delight for all fans of pure untrammelled Action fiction.

© 2000, 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Annual 2015


By Joshua Hale, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Rob Williams, Todd Seavey, Joelle Jones, Wes Craig, Chris Weston, Chris Jones, Craig Yeung, Al Nickerson & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-190-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: What Every Kid Deserves… 8/10

The first British Superman Annual was for 1951, a power packed mono-colour monolith that introduced a legion of kids to the decidedly different American style of comic strips. It opened the floodgates to a tidal wave of other DC characters ranging from Tommy Tomorrow to Detective Chimp.

By the end of the 1970s the Superman (and Batman) Christmas editions were a slim and slight shadow of their former bumper selves, even though during the mid-1980s a new crop of editors and designers found a way to invigorate and add value to the tired tomes.

The perennial favourites’ fortunes waxed and waned as different companies attempted to reinvent the tradition but sadly the “World’s Finest” superheroes disappeared completely from British stockings for most of the 21st century.

Thankfully the Cape & Cowl tradition was revived by Titan Books last year and the current crop are ready to liven up a few more Christmas mornings…

This book is the 37th annual for the Action Ace (not counting a series of five combination Superman and Batman tomes for 1975-1978) and the publishers have again wisely catered to the characters’ small and larger screen presence throughout.

The majority of tales collected here come from the continuity-neutral original webcomic Adventures of Superman (#2 and 4, August and October 2013) with material and features from Superman: Secret Files and Origins plus a cool bonus story starring the World’s Greatest Superheroes from the TV spin-off Justice League Adventures #5.

The “Never-ending Battles” begin with ‘Slow News Day’ by Joshua Hale & Joelle Jones wherein a friendly “scoop” contest between rival reporters Lois and Clark inexplicably draws the Man of Tomorrow into the most hectic and annoying day of his life, after which a fulsome fact feature by James Robinson, Sterling Gates & Pete Woods provides everything you need to know about the vast and fascinating city of ‘Metropolis’.

Next Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wes Craig & Craig Yeung reveal ‘A Day in the Life’, offering a sneaky peek inside the disturbed mind of Lex Luthor as the bonkers billionaire daydreams ways to kill his greatest foe, before another tranche of fact-files (by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul) delivers the lowdown on both Luthor and space scourge Brainiac.

‘Saviour’ (Rob Williams & Chris Weston from Adventures of Superman #4) contrasts the frantic infallible Man of Steel’s battle against a bevy of super freaks with the loving homeboy who likes to visit with his mum in Kansas, before ‘The Daily Planet’ staff come under the fact-file spotlight courtesy of Gates, Jamal Igle & Jon Sibal, and Johns & Manapul provide the same information overload for superdog ‘Krypto’.

Wrapping up the story portion of this thrilling tome is ‘The Star-Conqueror’ (Todd Seavey, Chris Jones & Al Nickerson from Justice League Adventures #5, May 2002) wherein Superman, Green Lantern John Stewart, Hawkgirl, Flash and Wonder Woman voyage to a distant planet to liberate the population from the mental domination of stellar horror Starro…

With a final fact file on ‘Supergirl’ by Gates & Igle and big, bold cover/pin-ups by John Delaney, Rob Leigh & Bruce Timm, this stunningly seductive and engaging oversized (292 x 227mm) hardback bonanza is a perfect treat for comicbook buffs that will delight and dazzle young and old alike.

Superman and all other characters featured in this book and the distinctive likenesses thereof are ™ DC Comics, Inc. Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster. By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family. Used with permission all rights reserved. © 2002, 2009, 2013, 2014 DC Comics, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. All rights reserved.

Batman Annual 2015


By Ivan Cohen, Jim Zubkavich, Matthew Manning, Luciano Vecchio, Neil Googe, Dario Brizuela & various (Titan Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-78276-189-1

A staple of Christmas mornings since the early 1950s, Seasonal annuals featuring DC superstars (generally Superman and Batman plus a few other less enduring icons) slowly became a shadow of themselves as the 20th century concluded.

By the end of the 1970s the Superman and Batman Christmas books were a slim and slight shadow of their former bumper selves, even though during the mid-1980s a new crop of editors and designers found a way to invigorate and add value to the tired tomes.

The perennial favourites’ fortunes waxed and waned as different companies attempted to reinvent the tradition but sadly the “World’s Finest” superheroes disappeared completely from British stockings for most of the 21st century.

Thankfully they were revived by British sequential arts bastion Titan Books last year and the current crop are ready and waiting to liven up a few more Christmas mornings…

The first Batman annual was dated 1960, with two separate publishers releasing Holiday collections during the heydays of “Batmania”, and this current one is the thirty-fifth (not counting a series of five combination Superman and Batman tomes for 1975-1978) and the publishers have again wisely played up the characters’ small and larger screen presence throughout.

Most of the stories and features are taken from the US comicbook tie-in to the tragically controversial CGI television series Beware the Batman; specifically #2-5 from January to April 2014, with a particularly tasty “in-continuity” comics bonus from Legends of the Dark Knight 100-page Super Spectacular #1, (December 2013).

The power-packed peril kicks off with ‘Son of Man-Bat’ by Ivan Cohen & Luciano Vecchio wherein the still barely qualified Caped Crusader, two-fisted butler Alfred and junior assistant Katana become embroiled in a comedy of errors when monstrous mutate Man-Bat begins another midnight rampage of terror and destruction.

However, thanks to the timely assistance of Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara (who moonlights as clandestine information analyst Oracle), it soon becomes clear that the leathery-winged horror terrorising the city is not Kirk Langstrom but a little kid who was in the wrong place when the afflicted scientist was testing out the latest cure for his mutation…

Soon the Batman and his eerie counterpart are hunting together and the desperate Langstrom is forced to choose between using his one shot at redemption on himself or a stupid, innocent child…

Next up is quirky psychological thriller ‘Diagnosis’ (by Jim Zubkavich & Neil Googe, originally seen in Legends of the Dark Knight 100-page Super Spectacular #1) which sees the Gotham Gangbuster in a tense standoff with former psychologist Harleen Quinzel. As Harley Quinn the demented Joker-groupie has Batman in a bad situation that he can only escape by allowing her to psychoanalyse him, but the daffy death-dealer has completely underestimated the hero’s determination and ingenuity…

Being a British Christmas book there’s a sheaf of extra features and the DC Nation Secret File lowdown on Catwoman nicely clears the emotional palate for the final comics clash as ‘Rule of Three’ (by Matthew Manning & Dario Brizuela from Beware the Batman #2) offers the origins of Batman, Alfred and Katana as backdrop to the shocking tale of a family visiting Gotham who are incomprehensibly targeted by psychotic eco-maniac Professor Pyg.

The porcine plunderer has no idea of the storm he has provoked by trying to deprive a small boy of his parents…

The mayhem and magic then wraps up with a DC Nation Secret File on Gotham gang boss Black Mask

This fabulously engaging oversized (292 x 227mm) hardback bonanza, stuffed with additional big, bold pin-ups and portraits, is an impressive tome that will be of much interest to aging chronic nostalgists like me, but will also delight and enthral the younger members of your clan – the ones you can’t quiet down with a shot of hooch and a Great Escape DVD…
© 2013, 2014 DC Comics, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. All rights reserved.

Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

New Revised Review

By Jeph Loeb, Carlos Pacheco, Ivan Reis & Jesus Merino (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0447-1 (hardcover):         978-1-4012-0714-4 (trade paperback)

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were best friends and the pairing made perfect financial sense as National/DC’s most popular heroes could cross-sell their combined readerships.

When the characters were redefined for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths 1980s and 1990s, they were remade as cautious (but respectful) co-workers who did the same job whilst deploring each other’s methods.

They preferred to avoid contact whenever possible – except when they were in the Justice League… but then, the character continuity of team titles has always been largely at odds with heroes at home in their own titles…

However, after a few years of this new status quo the irresistible lure of Cape & Cowl Capers inexorably brought the pair together again with modern emotional intensity derived from their incontestably differing methods and characters in a series of epic adventures packed with high-value guest-stars.

This visually intoxicating tour of alternate times and places, collecting issues #14-18 of Superman/Batman (January-April 2005 and scripted by Jeph Loeb with art by Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino), again revisits and resets the original team-up concept, seeing the most important heroes in the universe uniquely co-opted by a trio of menaces from a very familiar tomorrow…

It all begins in ‘I Pledge Allegiance…’ wherein a rocketship crash in a Kansas cornfield and a murder in Gotham City back alley take a turn into the unknown thanks to a trio of time travellers. Decades pass and Kal-El of Krypton and 10-year old murder witness Bruce Wayne are reared by the cunning chrononauts to become the heroes they were destined to be, but with decidedly different ethics and motives.

The manipulators are far from idle over those years, intercepting other key events and ensuring Barry Allen, Arthur Curry, Hal Jordan and alien J’onn J’onzz all die before becoming Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern and the Manhunter from Mars.

However destiny is hard to thwart and other champions will always arise to try and restore the way reality should be…

Even as global rulers Superman and Batman are eradicating annoying gadfly Green Arrow and celebrating their anniversary of dominance with fond foster parents Lightning Lord, Cosmic King and Saturn Queen of the 31st century Legion of Super Villains, in a dank subway under America’s former capital a determined Amazon invader is using her Lasso of Truth…

Galvanised by her Grecian gods, Diana of Themyscira has tracked down the mystical embodiment of the Human Spirit and restored his memory.

Now Uncle Sam is ready to set the world right once again…

Wearing the power ring intended for Hal Jordan and liberating his original team of Freedom Fighters (Phantom Lady, Dollman, The Ray and Human Bomb) from their time-overwritten new lives, he leads them and Diana in a bold counterattack against the Cape & Cowl oppressors’ HQ in ‘What Price Freedom…?’

Their targets meanwhile, have just survived their closest call yet, destroying the mystic city of Nanda Parbat but almost falling before the possession powers of Deadman Boston Brand

By the time Superman and Batman return, Uncle Sam’s team have already defeated a team of thralls from the erstwhile Legion of Super-Heroes and, with no quarter asked, Diana kills Batman before herself being slain by his vengeance-crazed foster brother. The Freedom fighters press on to capture their target – the future felons’ time machine – but when Kal detonates the Human Bomb with his lethal heat vision the co-mixing of alien energies disrupts the time bubble and rends the very fabric of space-time.

And in a place beyond all universes, an unlikely assemblage of reluctant allies consider how best to remedy the situation they have instigated…

Superman and the somehow restored Batman awaken in a strange Earth where animals talk and act like men, and after a violent confrontation with Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth, abruptly find themselves phased into another impossibly confused iteration of their home.

Here western gunfighters El Diablo, Bat Lash, Tomahawk, Scalphunter, Jonah Hex (packing bullets made from a glowing green meteor) and other cowboy crusaders hunt them down on behalf of President Lex Luthor and execute them both…

Alive again in that non-dimensional other-place, Man of Steel and Darkest Knight are confronted by Darkseid, knowledge god Metron, Etrigan the Demon and an older wiser Superman, who apprise them of the stakes in play ‘When Time Goes Asunder…’ before instructing the notional heroes how only they can repair reality.

Of course the Master of Apokolips does nothing for free…

Sent through time to mend their own origin tales, the saving of Jonathan and Martha Kent goes perfectly but when faced with allowing his parents to be killed again Bruce Wayne baulks and kills their assailant before the thief can pull the trigger.

As the Caped Crimebuster vanishes from reality, Superman is catapulted forward in time to ‘A World without Batman…’, or indeed any superheroes. Attacked by Sgt Rock’s Easy Company and the Haunted Tank, the Action Ace fights back valiantly before discovering that immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul is the undisputed dictator of Earth and he has destroyed every metahuman the world ever knew…

Retrenching Clark Kent then seeks out the Waynes and their playboy son Bruce in an attempt to restore some semblance of the only man ever to defeat “The Demon’s Head”…

Despite his many failings, Bruce is still a strategic genius and soon devises a horrific way to bolster the hard-pressed heroes’ forces before their final, doomed assault on Al Ghul. Tragically the World’s Finest warriors have not realised that their foe has allied himself with the time-tampering Villains’ Legion, nor that their former foster parents have plundered the future for murderous metahuman reinforcements…

The chronal carnage concludes with a spectacular confrontation in ‘Thy Will be Done’ (with additional pencilling by Ivan Reis) as Superman on the edge of utter defeat turns his enemies’ time-bending tactics to his own advantage and finds allies of his own from another furious future…

Although a superbly engaging piece of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction, this temporal tempest of a tale suffers from the most common ailment to afflict such time-warping sagas – the reader already knows it will come OK in the end.

The art however is astoundingly beautiful and, subtly augmented by Laura Martin’s colouring, is one of the prettiest cascades of chronal Armageddons you will ever see…

Although an aging fan-boy’s dream and featuring a vast amount of fondly familiar razzle-dazzle from scripter Loeb, Absolute Power is probably a yarn best enjoyed by dedicated fans equipped with the memories to keep it all straight.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Gotham Central book 1: In the Line of Duty


By Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka & Michael Lark & Stephen Gaudiano (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1923-9 (HC)        : 978-1-4012-2037-2 (SC)

One of the great joys of long-lasting, legendary comics characters is their potential for innovation and reinterpretation. There always seems to be another facet or corner to develop. Such a case was Gotham Central, wherein modern television sensibilities cannily combined with the deadly drudgery of the long-suffering boys in blue of the world’s most famous four-colour city.

Owing as much to shows such as Hill Street Blues, Homicide: Life on the Streets and Law & Order as it did to the baroque continuity of Batman, the series mixed gritty, authentic police action with a soft-underbelly peek at what the merely mortal guardians and peacekeepers had to put up with in a world of psychotic clowns, flying aliens and scumbag hairballs who just won’t stay dead.

This compilation – collecting Gotham Central #1-10 (February – October 2003, by writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka and sublimely illustrated by Michael Lark) – revisits those much-missed stories in either standard paperback or lavish hardcover format and starts off with an erudite and informative Introduction on ‘The Mean Streets of Gotham’ by celebrated crime author Lawrence Block.

Brubaker and Rucka co-wrote the eponymous two-part premier tale ‘In the Line of Duty’ wherein a desperate child-kidnap investigation by detectives Marcus Driver and Charlie Fields of ex-Commissioner Gordon’s hand-picked Major Crimes Unit leads them all unawares to the temporary hideout of murderous superfreak Mr Freeze.

The cold killer horrifically destroys Charlie and sadistically leaves Driver injured but alive as an object lesson.

The GCPD have a strange relationship with the Dark Knight. They all know he’s out there, but the official line is that he’s an urban myth and the Administration refuses to acknowledge his existence. Thus a civilian is employed to turn on the bat-signal on the roof when crises occur and the public are told the eerie light is simply used to keep the cowardly, superstitious underworld cowed…

In such circumstances all real cops are loath to ask for The Bat’s help so Driver and his grieving, angry colleagues pull out all the stops to find and capture Freeze before the masked vigilante insultingly finishes their job for them.

However, as night falls and the frozen bodycount rises, Marcus deduces what Freeze is planning and has no choice but to ask new Police Commissioner Akins to suspend his embargo and call in the whacko expert before hundreds more die…

From an era when comicbook noir was enjoying a superb renaissance, this classic take on the theme of the hunt for a cop-killer is a masterpiece of edgy and fast-paced tension whilst simultaneously perfectly introducing a large cast of splendidly realised new and very individual players…

Brubaker scripts the second story solo as ‘Motive’ finds the again fit-for-duty Driver and his temporary partner Romy Chandler using solid police work to solve the outstanding kidnap case, all the while under the gun as arson villain The Firebug dances on the horizon burning down the city one building at a time.

Fourteen year old babysitter Bonnie Lewis vanished while walking home from her yuppie client’s house and a subsequent ransom demand later proved to be a fake. Now, after her body is found, Driver and Chandler carefully re-examine the facts and discover that almost everybody involved has been lying…

As they methodically sift evidence, alibis and possible motives, they begin to realise that even this tragically normal crime has its roots in both common greed and the gaudy madness of Gotham’s metahuman menaces…

The gripping procedural drama then segues back to the city’s aristocracy of maniacs as Greg Rucka scripts ‘Half a Life’ with focus switching to Renee Montoya: a solid cop with too many secrets.

After her former partner Harvey Bullock was fired with extreme prejudice, tongues started wagging, but now an old case threatens to destroy her career and end her life…

When arresting rapist Marty Lipari, he tried to stab her, and she subdued him. Now her morning is ruined when the skel sues her for ten million dollars in damages.

It only gets worse when she and partner Crispus Allen get a bogus case dumped on them by the corrupt, lazy meatheads in Robbery Division, but the capper is dinner with her traditional, devout Catholic parents who still want her to settle down and have kids…

Her life begins to truly unravel when a photo of her kissing another woman does the round of colleagues, friends and family. Not all her fellow cops are homophobic bigots: but just enough that’s she kept her life private for years. Now, apparently outed by Lipari’s hired gumshoe Brian Selker, she is targeted by Internal Affairs when first the PI and then Lipari himself are shot to death.

With her lover Darla threatened, her gun identified as the murder weapon and a huge amount of illicit drugs found in her apartment, Renee is soon on her way to jail – another bad egg just like Bullock.

Nobody in MCU thinks she’s guilty but the evidence is overwhelming, and the crisis comes when en route she’s busted out by masked men and taken to the hidden citadel of one of Batman’s most nightmarish nemeses…

Utterly alone, in the unfriendliest job in the world, in the nastiest town on Earth, Montoya has to deal alone with a crazed maniac who’s destroyed her life just so he can be with her forever.

As a Major Crimes Detective she’s seen how bad The Bat’s enemies can get, but this time she’s the target, not the hunter or witness, and it’s not just her life at stake…

This engrossing drama never steps outside of human bounds irrespective of the nature of evil in Gotham, and the original comic presentation (from issues #6-10) won Eisner, Harvey, Eagle and Prism awards for Best Story in 2003.

Sadly not included in this volume are the two earlier tales from Renee’s past (Batman Chronicles #16 – Two Down, by Rucka & Jason Pearson & Cam Smith, and Detective Comics #747 – Happy Birthday Two You, by Rucka, William Rosado & Steve Mitchell) which explained that oblique connection to her obsessive suitor – although you can find then in the original 2005 trade paperback Gotham Central: Half a Life.

The appropriate quota of human drama, tension, stress and machismo all play well under Michael Lark’s deftly understated illustrations, adding a grimy patina of pseudo-reality to good old fashioned cops ‘n’ robbers stories, played out in what can only be described as the urban city of the damned.

The procedural cop thriller on the edge of hell is a stunning study in genre-crossing storytelling, and this edition includes a full cover gallery by Lark as well as a fulsome section of designs and character sketches in ‘Staffing the GCPD’.

Dark, suspenseful and so very addictive, this is a book no batfreak or crime buff can afford to miss.
© 2004, 2005, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Monsters


By James Robinson, Warren Ellis, Alan Grant, John Watkiss, John McCrea, Quique Alcatena & various(DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2494-3

In 1989, when DC found the world had gone completely Bat-crazy for the second time in twenty-five years, they quickly supplemented the Gotham Guardian’s regular stable of comicbooks with a new title designed to redefine the early days and cases of a revamped and revitalised Caped Crusader.

Three years earlier the publisher had boldly begun to retcon their entire ponderous continuity via the landmark maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths; rejecting the concept of a vast multiverse and re-knitting time so that there had only ever been one Earth.

For new readers, this solitary DC world provided a perfect place to jump on at the start: a planet literally festooned with iconic heroes and villains draped in a clear and cogent backstory that was now fresh and newly unfolding.

Many of their greatest properties were graced with a reboot, all employing the tacit conceit that the characters had been around for years and the readership were simply tuning in on just another working day.

Batman’s popularity was at an intoxicating peak and, as DC was still in the throes of re-jigging the entire narrative continuity, his latest title presented multi-part epics rewriting established villains and classic stories: infilling the new history of the re-imagined, post-Crisis hero and his entourage. The added fillip was a fluid cast of premiere and up-and-coming creators each getting “their shot” at one of the most iconic figures of the industry

Most of the early story-arcs were collected as trade paperbacks, and helped jump-start the graphic novel sector of the comics industry, whilst the careful re-imagining of the hero’s early days gave fans a wholly modern insight into the highly malleable core-concept.

Later collections took a more selective approach, such as this one gathering Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #71-73, 83-83 and 89-90: mini-epics which could be comfortably grouped together under the theme of Monsters

After two seemingly unconnected murders in Gotham, ‘Werewolf’ (by James Robinson & John Watkiss from B:LDK #71-73, May to July 1995) finds the Dark Detective prowling the streets of London…

The killings are completely dissimilar: one a cool, precise hit by a professional and the other a savage, brutal attack by something strong and probably inhuman. The victims are only linked by their relationship to the Wayne Foundation.

The assassinated Fitzroy was investigating money-laundering in the London office whilst mauled and mutilated Dr. Hugh Downs had, at the behest of great friend Alfred Pennyworth, recently taken up a position with the company in America.

The latter death is further complicated by an eyewitness who swears the attacker was a werewolf…

Linking Downs’ murder to two similar killings overseas, soon hero and valet are stalking foggy London streets and moody rooftops in search of answers. As the hitman who most likely killed Fitzroy also hails from the Seat of Empire, Batman wastes no time in rousting the local underworld in search of ruthless mercenary Captain Carruthers and discovers the ex-Foreign Legionnaire used to be called Le Loup – “the Wolf”…

Unlike Gotham where the unwelcome vigilante is barely tolerated by the police, in London Batman is eagerly welcomed by Inspector Colman Nash, who first meets the masked avenger at an abattoir where the grisly remains of the two Wayne Foundation executives Fitzroy had been investigating are found hanging on meathooks.

With his butchered former employees’ guilt apparently confirmed, the Dark Knight then focuses on the werewolf’s English kills. That trail leads to a confrontation with psychotic East End gang lord Tommy Twist whose even crazier brother Danny was the second victim of the lethal lycanthrope…

Danny was a loan shark who died after putting the squeeze on defaulting maverick inventor Charles Blake, who has since gone missing. Possibilities start to gel when Batman – in cunning disguise – interviews the widow of the first mauled corpse and discovers that her first husband was the odd duck and person of interest Charles Blake…

With the more outré case seemingly solved but for an arrest, Batman turns his attention to finding Curruthers but is soon distracted by New Age celebrity Raven Maguire who claims the Werewolf is a primal god-beast that she and her acolytes have a right and duty to worship…

Days pass and the two cases remain frustratingly stalled until Batman tracks Curruthers to Docklands. However, after a blistering battle the hero only manages to hold onto the killer’s blood-money as the ferociously competent soldier-of-fortune spectacularly escapes to wreak more mayhem and vengeance…

When Batman returns to Scotland Yard, Nash has a lead on two more prospective victims Blake has targeted, but as the Dark Knight rushes to Belgravia, in a wave of roiling fog the Werewolf jumps him…

Smart, moody and action-packed, this yarn is actually a savvy classical detective thriller, brimming with notable characters, intricate chains of clues, devious plot twists and beguiling red herrings which all lead inexorably to a surprise shock ending that will delight fans of the genre.

Moreover, as magnificently rendered in the eerie illustration style of artistic Renaissance Man John Watkiss, the tale unfolds with a quintessentially British tone and timbre…

A far more visceral and cynical shocker comes in the two-part ‘Infected’ by Warren Ellis & John McCrea (Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #83-83, from May and June 1996) which begins when a pair of biologically altered solders escape their (perhaps) rogue military doctors and begin slaughtering indigents and low level thugs in the dingy backstreets of Gotham.

The ghastly slaughter escalates when Chief Branden of Gotham SWAT takes over. A holdover from the city’s recent corrupt political regime, the barely rational gun-nut is as happy blasting away at the despised caped vigilante as at the clear and present danger…

For Batman, mere months into his obsessive war on crime, this first brush with rampant, unbridled super-nature goes badly wrong. When he tracks one of the beasts it shoots him with bone bullets manufactured from the harvested corpses of previous victims before escaping…

Despite his wounds the Dark Knight perseveres and doses the kill-crazy beast with a lethal nerve agent before retreating.

Back in the Batcave, as Alfred tends to his wounds, the battered champion’s formidable computer resources examine the bone bullet and uncover a doomsday project harking back to the Cold War paranoia of the 1970s which sought to create warriors who could fight on even after America had succumbed to atomic, bacterial and chemical Armageddon.

Now somebody has revived and completed the research and the results of this programmable cancer are loose in his city…

When word comes in that one of the creatures is dead, his first thought is that his weapon was responsible. However the truth soon comes out. The mutant killed itself, forcing Batman to consider that they too might be victims.

Further research then reveals a chilling codicil: the creatures are designed to work in pairs and if one dies the other immediately goes into reproductive mode. Somewhere in Gotham the other killer is already growing spore sacs. Soon they will explode, dispersing an airborne wave of instantly infectious transformative mutative contagion to reinforce the nightmare army…

Bleak, chilling and gut-wrenching, this ferociously manic countdown to catastrophe shows the Gotham Guardian at his most brutal and uncompromising…

This quirky compilation closes with a canny reworking of a silver age super-villain into a truly modern monster in Clay’ by Alan Grant & Quique Alcatena from B:LDK #89-90 (December 1996-January 1997).

Having been the Batman for less than a month, the neophyte crimefighter’s attempts to rescue a hostage girl from the goons of mobster Boss Xylas are brutally thwarted by a hulking mass of mud who casually tosses him aside before killing the captors and making off with the girl itself.

Although his body swiftly heals thanks to Alfred’s ministrations, Batman’s psyche and morale are crippled…

Elsewhere, Lisa is shocked to discover that the merciless mass of mud that saved her is actually her new boyfriend Matthew Hagen. Still besotted with him, the ingenuous lass fails to realise that he was also responsible for her plight, leaving her to carry the can when Xylas found him appropriating a haul of diamonds the gang had stolen.

In his desperate flight, ratbag Matt had stumbled into a submerged cave and a strange chemical pool which transformed him into this monstrous state. Horrified, Lisa swears to stand by him, determined to bring out the sweet, decent, honourable side the petty thug just doesn’t have…

In trying to calm the increasingly unstable “Clayface”, she accidentally seals her own fate by helping Hagen learn how to hone his powers and perfect the ability to mimic or duplicate anything he can visualise…

As Clayface goes on a robbing rampage, he discovers that there is a time-limit to his abilities, whilst under Wayne Manor the still-debilitated Dark Knight potters in his lab, creating an arsenal of weapons to fill his utility belt and augment his mere human prowess. He also begins devising tactics and strategies to make his crusade more efficient and all-consuming…

With the monster running wild in the streets and Xylas’ murderous goons hunting Hagen, eventually the psychologically-impaired Batman is compelled to leave his cave and return to action, but for all his preparation he is unable to handle Clayface… until he sees what the killer has done to Lisa.

In that ghastly moment the true agent of vengeance is born…

Oppressive, action-packed and deviously compelling, this frantic caper is a breathtaking Fights ‘n’ Tights fiesta for fans and casual readers alike, further redefining the Caped Crusader’s previously shiny, innocuous Gotham as a truly scary world of urban decay, corrupt authority, all-pervasive criminal violence and nightmarish insanity.

Taken in total this is another superb Batman extravaganza: dark, intense, cunning and superbly engaging. What more do you need to know?
© 1995, 1996, 1997, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Superman Family volume 4


By Otto Binder, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Al Plastino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3837-7

When the groundbreaking Man of Steel debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) he was instantly the centre of attention, but even then the need for a solid supporting cast was apparent and cleverly catered for. Glamorous daredevil girl reporter Lois Lane premiered right beside Clark Kent and was a constant companion and foil from the outset.

Although unnamed, a plucky red-headed, be-freckled kid started working alongside Lois and Clark from issue #6 (November 1938) onwards.

His first name was disclosed in Superman #13 (November-December 1941) having already been revealed as Jimmy Olsen to radio listeners as when he had become a major player in The Adventures of Superman show from its debut on April 15th 1940. As somebody the same age as the target audience, on hand for the hero to explain stuff to (all for the listener’s benefit) he was the closest thing to a sidekick the Action Ace ever needed…

When the similarly titled television show launched in the autumn of 1952 it was again an overnight sensation and National Periodicals began cautiously expanding their revitalised franchise with new characters and titles.

First to get a promotion to solo-star status was the Daily Planet’s impetuously capable if naïve “cub reporter”. His gloriously charming, light-hearted, semi-solo escapades began in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 (September-October 1954), the first spin-off star in the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage.

It took three years for the cautious Editors to tentatively extend the franchise again. In 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting underway, try-out title Showcase – which had already launched The Flash (#4) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6) -followed up with a pair of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane (#9-10) before swiftly awarding the “plucky News-hen” a series of her own. Technically it was her second, since for a brief while in the mid-1940s she had held a regular solo-spot in Superman.

In previous reviews I’ve banged on at length about the strange, patronising, parochial – and to at least some of us potentially offensive – portrayals of kids and most especially women during this period, and although at least fairer and more affirmative instances were beginning to appear, the warnings still bear repeating.

At that timeLois Lane was one of precious few titles with a female lead, and, in the context of today, one that gives many 21st century fans a few uncontrollable qualms of conscience. Within the confines of her series the valiant, capable working woman careered crazily from man-hungry, unscrupulous bitch through ditzy simpleton to indomitable and brilliant heroine – often all in the same issue. The comic was clearly intended to appeal to the family demographic that made I Love Lucy a national phenomenon, and many stories were played for laughs in that same patriarchal, parochial manner; a “gosh, aren’t women funny?” tone that appals me today – but not as much as the fact that I still love them to bits.

It helps that they’re mostly sublimely illustrated by the wonderfully whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger.

For the Superman family and cast the tone of the times dictated a highly strictured code of conduct and parameters: Daily Planet Editor Perry White was a stern, shouty elder statesman with a heart of gold, Cub Reporter Jimmy Olsen was a brave and impulsive unseasoned fool – with a heart of gold – and plucky News-hen Lois Lane was brash, nosy, impetuous and unscrupulous in her obsession to marry Superman although she too was – deep down – another possessor of an Auric aorta.

Yet somehow even with these mandates in place the talented writers and artists assigned to detail their wholesomely uncanny exploits managed to craft tales both beguiling and breathtakingly memorable and usually as funny as they were exciting.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen wasn’t quite as contentious, but still far too often stories meant to amuse portrayed the bright, plucky kid in a variety of socially demeaning – if not downright cruel – situations and humiliating physical transformations. Even so the winning blend of slapstick adventure, action, fantasy and science fiction (in the gentle but insidiously charming manner scripter Otto Binder had perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent Captain Marvel) made the series one of the most popular of the era.

Again, originally most yarns were played for laughs in a father-knows-best manner and tone which can again appal me today, even though I still count them amongst some of my very favourite comics.

Confusing, ain’t it?

This fourth intriguingly intermingled, chronologically complete compendium collects the affable, all-ages tales from Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #17-26, (May 1960-July 1961) and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #45-53 (June 1960-June 1961): a period of infinite wackiness and outrageous absurdity, but one which also saw the inevitable dawning of a far more serious milieu for the Man of Tomorrow and his human family.

This particular black-&-white ethical conundrum commences with the Man of Steel’s perpetual lady-in-waiting as Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #17 (May 1960) introduced ‘The Girl that Almost Married Clark Kent’ – by Robert Bernstein & Schaffenberger – revealing how Lois covertly helped heiress Doris Drake win her reporter partner’s affections, unaware that the conniving rich girl had proof of the Caped Kryptonian’s secret identity…

‘Lana Lang, Superwoman’ (Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan & Stan Kaye) then saw jealousy run wild as Superman gave first one then the other girl in his life superpowers in a secret scheme to foil Brainiac – with no thought as to how either woman would feel once the crisis was over…

The issue ended with ‘How Lois Lane Got Her Job’ by Binder & Schaffenberger, which disclosed how, even before she had even met him, Superman was inadvertently helping the neophyte journalist score scoops…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #45, (June 1960 and illustrated throughout by Swan & John Forte) kicked off with ‘Tom Baker, Power Lad’ by Binder; a clever tale in which an apparently ordinary boy temporarily gained super powers – although the shocking truth involved then-top secret weapon Supergirl and the Bottle City of Kandor

Meddling with resident crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter’s experimental time machine hurled Jimmy back to the Wild West where he became accidental killer ‘The Gunsmoke Kid’ (by a sadly uncredited scripter) whilst in ‘The Animal Master of Metropolis’ (by Bernstein) Jimmy became a local hero and target of crooked gamblers after he started playing with a magic wand that gave him absolute mastery of the world’s fauna.

From July 1960, Lois Lane #18 opened with ‘The Star Reporter of Metropolis’ (possibly Binder & definitely Schaffenberger) wherein a mousy protégé stole Lois’s thunder for the best possible reasons, whilst ‘The Sleeping Doom’ (Bernstein & Schaffenberger) offered a superb thriller as aliens invaded Earth by taking over people after they fell asleep. The valiant lass staved off slumber for days until Superman could return to send the invaders packing, after which ‘Lois Lane Weds Astounding Man’ by Binder & Al Plastino, found the flabbergasted journalist wooed by an alien wonder warrior with a very strange secret…

That same month in Jimmy Olsen #46 – another all-Swan & Forte art-extravaganza – Siegel’s ‘Jimmy Olsen, Orphan’ revealed how an accident gave the cub reporter amnesia and he ended up in the same institution where Linda Lee was hiding whilst learning how to be a Supergirl, after which ‘The Irresistible Jimmy Olsen’ (Bernstein) hilariously lampooned Hollywood as a succession of starlets tried to romance the baffled but willing lad.

Of course the eager actresses were all operating on the mistaken assumption that our boy was Tinseltown’s latest genius Movie Producer…

The issue then concluded with another outing for Jimmy’s occasional alter ego in ‘Elastic Lad’s Greatest Feats’ with scripter Binder perfectly blending drama and comedy to deliver a punishing moral to the ever-impulsive kid…

Lois Lane #19 (August 1960 and fully illustrated by Schaffenberger) opened with ‘The Day Lois Lane Forgot Superman’ (Bernstein) with devoted sister Lucy convincing her perennially heartbroken elder sibling to try hypnosis to get over her destructive obsession.

Of course once it worked, it gave Lois time to pester Clark Kent so much he had no time to save the world…

When an accident seemingly catapulted Lois into the past she quickly became enamoured of Samson, a hero with a secret identity and ‘The Superman of the Past’ in a quirky yarn by scripter Binder, after which Jerry Siegel debuted a new occasional series.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent!’ was the first tale of a poignant comedy feature depicting the laughter and tears that might result if Lois secretly married the Man of Steel. Although seemingly having achieved her heart’s desire, she is officially only married to dull, safe Clark and must keep her relationship with the Man of Tomorrow quiet. She can’t brag or show pride and has to swallow the rage she feels whenever another woman throws herself at the still eligible bachelor Superman…

For an artefact of an era uncomfortably dismissive of women, there’s actually a lot of genuine heart and understanding in this tale and a minimum of snide sniping about “silly, empty-headed girls”…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #47, (September 1960) found Jimmy in over his head as he impersonated an escaped convict and was trapped as gangland big shot Winky McCoy,‘The King of Crime’ in a cracking suspense tale by Bernstein, after which the impatiently under-age lad was transformed into a husky thirty-something by another Prof. Potter potion in ‘Jimmy Grows Up!’

Once Binder sagely proved that maturity isn’t everything, Siegelwrapped up the issue with a thrilling romp as the alien producers of horror movies starring Superman and Jimmy returned seeking sequels. Their robot cub reporter didn’t like the prospect of being junked at shooting’s end, however, and tried to replace the flesh and blood original in ‘The Monsters from Earth!’

Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #20 (October 1960) opened with the whimsical ‘Superman’s Flight from Lois Lane’ (Siegel & Schaffenberger), wherein the Man of Tomorrow fled into his own past to see if a different life-path would have resulted in a civilian existence unencumbered by a nosy snooping female.

Disc Jockey Clark soon realised his inquisitive assistant Liza Landis made Miss Lane look positively disinterested and happily ended the experiment, after which ‘The Luckiest Girl in Metropolis’ (Bernstein & Plastino) saw Lois targeted by a Machiavellian mobster seeking to destroy her credibility as a witness before ‘Lois Lane’s Super-Daughter’ by Siegel & Schaffenberger returned to the Imaginary Mr. & Mrs. scenario where their attempts to adopt Linda (Supergirl) Lee led to heartbreak and disaster…

Over in Jimmy Olsen #48 that same month, anonymously scripted ‘The Story of Camp Superman!’ presented a heart-warming mystery as the cub worked as counsellor to a bunch of youngsters – one of whom knew entirely too much about Superman – before ‘The Disguises of Danger’ again saw undercover Jimmy use his acting abilities to get close to a cunning crook. ‘The Mystery of the Tiny Supermen’ (by Binder) then saw the diminutive Superman Emergency Squad from Kandor repeatedly harass Jimmy in a clandestine scheme to stop the lad accidentally exposing the Man of Steel’s civilian identity…

The all-Schaffenberger November 1960 Lois Lane (#21) featured a double-length epic by author unknown (perhaps Edmond Hamilton?) which saw the Anti-Superman Gang utilise explosive toys to endanger the news-hen in ‘The Lois Lane Doll’: an act which forced the Action Ace to hide her in his Fortress of Solitude.

When even that proved insufficient she found refuge – and unlikely romance – whilst ‘Trapped in Kandor!’ Siegel then scripted a classic comic yarn as sworn rivals gained incredible abilities from a magic lake and decided to duke it out like men in ‘The Battle Between Super-Lois and Super-Lana!’

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #49, December 1960 opened with ‘Jimmy’s Gorilla Identity!’ wherein the luckless lad met DC stalwart Congo Bill and got his personality trapped in the hunter’s occasional alter ego, the giant golden ape dubbed Congorilla, whilst Professor Potter was blamed for, but entirely innocent of, turning the cub reporter into ‘The Fat Boy of Metropolis!’ in a daft but clever crime caper and Siegel played with contemporary trends as Jimmy impersonated a rock ‘n’ roll star to impress Lucy Lane in ‘Alias, Chip O’Doole!’

Another all-Schaffenberger affair, Lois Lane #22 (January 1961), began with a Red Kryptonite experiment that afflicted the Man of Steel with a compulsion to repeatedly pop the question to an increasingly dubious and suspicious Lois on ‘The Day When Superman Proposed!’ (Binder & Schaffenberger), after which ‘Lois Lane’s X-Ray Vision!’ (Bernstein) saw a pair of irradiated sunglasses create a tidal wave of problems for the Metropolis Marvel, whilst in ‘Sweetheart of Robin Hood!’ another time-shift dream found Lois courted by a very familiar-seeming Defender of Truth, Justice and the Nottinghamshire Way…

Over in Jimmy Olsen #50, ‘The Lord of Olsen Castle’ by Siegel, Swan & Sheldon Moldoff saw Jimmy as the potential heir of a Swedish castle and title. All he had to do was accomplish a slew of fantastic feats and defeat an ogre, utterly unaware that Superman and a host of other Kryptonians were secretly pitching in…

‘The Weirdest Asteroid in Space’ by Binder, Swan & Moldoff offered a spectacular monster mystery before a Potter experiment transferred all the Man of Steel’s might into his teenage pal resulting in ‘The Super-Life of Jimmy Olsen!’ by an unknown author and artist Al Plastino.

Lois Lane#23 (February 1961) opened with Binder & Schaffenberger’s riotous romp ‘The 10 Feats of Elastic Lass!’ as the impetuous reporter borrowed some of Jimmy’s stretching serum to track down mad bomber The Wrecker, whilst ‘The Curse of Lena Thorul!’ (Siegel) exposed a bewitching beauty’s incredible connection to Lex Luthor before another Imaginary visit to a possible future found ‘The Wife of Superman!’ (Siegel again) worn to a frazzle by two super-toddlers and yearning for her old job at the Daily Planet…

Jimmy Olsen #51, March 1961 revealed ‘Jimmy Olsen’s 1000th Scoop!’ by Bernstein, Swan & Forte, with the prospective milestone repeatedly delayed by Superman for the best possible reasons, after which a sultry alien took a very unlikely shine to the lad. Sadly ‘The Girl with Green Hair’ (Binder, Swan & Forte), was the result of a scheme by a well-meaning third party to get Lucy to be nicer to Jimmy and it all went painfully, horribly wrong…

The issue ended with ‘The Dream Detective!’ (Swan & Stan Kaye) as the cub reporter inexplicably developed psychometric abilities and unravelled mysteries in his sleep, whilst in Lois Lane #24 (April 1961) anonymously scripted ‘The Super-Surprise!’ saw Lois undercover as a platinum blonde scuppering a deadly plot against the Man of Tomorrow, superbly illustrated by Schaffenberger, as was Bernstein’s ‘The Perfect Husband’ wherein a TV dating show led Lois into a doomed affair with a he-man hunk who was almost the spitting image of Clark Kent.

…Almost…

The issue ended on ‘Lois Lane… Traitor!’ by Bernstein & John Forte, with Lois in the frame for the murder of the King of Pahla until the incredible, unbelievable true culprit came forward…

Also available that April, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #52 featured ‘The Specter of the Haunted House’ by Leo Dorfman, Swan & Kaye wherein a gang of cunning thieves used supernatural sceptic Olsen as a patsy for a bold robbery scheme, whilst ‘The Perils of Jimmy Olsen!’ – illustrated by Swan & Forte – saw the laid-up cub reporter use a robot double to perform feats of escalating daring and stupidity before ‘Jimmy Olsen, Wolfman!’ (Siegel, Swan & Kaye) offered a welcome sequel to the original hit tale wherein Superman’s Pal was again afflicted by lycanthropy thanks to the pranks of other-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk

In Lois Lane#25 (May 1961) the Imaginary series reached an impressively bittersweet high point in ‘Lois Lane and Superman, Newlyweds!’ (Siegel & Schaffenberger) as she convinced hubby to announce their relationship to the world and had to live with the shocking consequences…

The brilliant reporter side was then highlighted in Bernstein’s diabolical thriller ‘Lois Lane’s Darkest Secret!’ with the daring reporter risking her life to draw out and capture a mesmeric master criminal before ‘The Three Lives of Lois Lane!’ (possibly Dorfman with Forte illustrating) found the journalist surviving a car crash only to be subsumed into the personalities of dead historical figures Florence Nightingale, Betsy Ross and Queen Isabella of Spain whilst Superman could only stay near and try to limit the damage…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #53, June 1961 opened with ‘The Boy in the Bottle!’ (Siegel, Swan & Kaye) as the cub suffered future shock whilst trapped in Kandor, after which sheer medical mischance resulted in the now-legendary saga of ‘The Giant Turtle Man!’ and an oddly casualty-free rampage (courtesy of Siegel, Swan & Forte) before ‘The Black Magician!’ (unknown writer, Swan & Forte) had Jimmy banished to the court of King Arthur by spiteful Mr. Mxyzptlk

The contents of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane#26 (July 1961) closes this time-sensitive titanic tome, with three more Schaffenberger classics, beginning with Siegel’s ‘The Day Superman Married Lana Lang!’

In this imaginary tragedy the Action Ace finally made his decision and settled down with his childhood sweetheart but lived to regret it, whilst ‘Lois Lane’s Childhood!’ (Siegel) revealed how the lives of Kal-El on doomed Krypton and baby Lois on Earth were intertwined by fate and providence before Bernstein’s ‘The Mad Woman of Metropolis’ concludes the comics cavalcade on a stunning high as Lois foiled a diabolical plot by criminals to murder Clark and drive her insane.

As well as containing some of the most delightful episodes of the pre angst-drenched, cosmically catastrophic DC, these fun, thrilling, deeply peculiar and, yes, sometimes offensive tales perfectly capture the changing tone and tastes which reshaped comics from the smug, safe 1950s to the seditious, rebellious 1970s, all the while keeping to the prime directive of the industry – “keep them entertained and keep them wanting more”.

Despite all the well-intentioned quibbles from my high horse here in the 21st century, I think these stories still have a huge amount to offer funnybook fun-seekers and I strongly urge you to check them out for yourselves. You won’t be sorry…

© 1960, 1961, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.