Superman volume 1: No Limits!


By Jeph Loeb, Mark Schultz, Joe Kelly, Stuart Immonen, Mark Millar, Mike McKone, Dough Mahnke, German Garcia, Joe Phillips, Marlo Alquiza, Tom Nguyen, Joe Rubinstein, Rich Farber & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-699-0

The Man of Tomorrow has proven to be all things to most people over more than three quarters of a century of drama and adventure, with Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic Superman now practically unrecognisable to most fans after the latest radical shake-up. Nevertheless, every refit and reboot has resulted in appalled fans and new devotees in pretty much equal proportion, so perhaps the Action Ace’s greatest ability is the power to survive change…

Although largely out of favour these days as all the myriad decades of accrued mythology are inexorably re-assimilated 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.

As soon as the Byrne restart had demolished much of the mythology and iconography which had grown up around the “Strange Visitor from Another World” over fifty glorious years, successive creators began spending 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 fast, 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 initial (not strictly chronological) collection gathers material from Superman #151-153, Superman: Man of Steel # 95-97, Action Comics #760-761 and The Adventures of Superman #574, covering December 1999-March 2000.

It spectacularly opens with ‘We’re Back!’ by Jeph Loeb, Mike McKone & Marlo Alquiza from Superman #151, which sees the Daily Planet restored, rebuilt and returned to glory after a dark period under the ownership of Lex Luthor, allowing Lois Lane-Kent plenty of opportunities for reflection, remembrance and handy recapping before the sinister son of alien marauder Mongul explosively crashes to earth…

Mark Schultz, Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen then reveal that ‘Krypton Lives’ (Superman: Man of Steel # 95) as a Superman robot malfunctions in the Antarctic allowing humans to enter the Fortress of Solitude, triggering the escape of a bizarre string of ancient yet impossibly alive Kryptonian artefacts and creatures.

Forced to destroy the last vestiges of his alien heritage, Kal-El returns to Lois thinking that a precious chapter of his life is over, but he couldn’t be more wrong…

‘Deadline U.S.A.’ (Superman #152, Loeb, McKone & Alquiza) resumes the interrupted battle with Mongul Jr., but all conflict ceases when the mammoth monster finally gets the Man of Steel to stop hitting and listen…

The beast has come to warn of a vast, universe-ending threat and, in conjunction with Luthor, is offering to train Superman to beat it…

There are more pedestrian but no less distracting problems in store. During his sparring with Mongul, Jimmy Olsen took a photo of Superman’s hand sporting a wedding ring. Now the picture has leaked, driving the media into a frenzy…

‘Something Borrowed, Something Blue’ (by Stuart Immonen, Mark Millar, Joe Phillips & Rich Faber from Adventures of Superman #574) follows that strand as old foe and potential bunny-boiler Obsession resurfaces in a Superwoman outfit, claiming to be the much-sought Mrs. Superman. However her deranged tantrum leads to nothing but tragedy and disaster…

Action Comics #760 by Joe Kelly, German Garcia & Joe Rubinstein then focuses on ‘…Never-Ending Battle…’ as a small army of minor menaces and misfits lead the Man of Tomorrow to Latina sorceress La Encantadora who makes magic and sells slivers of Kryptonite to thugs trying to lay our hero low.

Even when the elusive enchantress is finally corralled, she delivers one last surprise which will make much mischief for the Last Son of Krypton…

Returning ‘Home’ (Schultz, Mahnke & Nguyen; Superman: Man of Steel # 96) Clark Kent finds his Metropolis apartment has been transformed into a terrifying outpost of his destroyed birthworld, courtesy of renegade miracle machine The Eradicator. In the resultant clash Superman looks doomed to destruction until Lois takes decisive action…

Her valiant nature is truly tested in Action Comics #761 as Kelly, Garcia & Rubinstein show Lois abandoned when Wonder Woman asks the Man of Tomorrow to join her in a battle beside gods against devils.

For the feisty journalist it’s mere days until Clark returns, but she’s blissfully unaware that her husband and the perfect warrior woman have been comrades – and more – ‘For a Thousand Years…’

The last Christmas of the 20th century ends as ‘Say Goodbye’ (Superman #153, Loeb, McKone & Alquiza) at last sees the Action Ace head for space with Mongul to battle Imperiex, Destroyer of Galaxies who has targeted the Milky Way for destruction…

When the pair implausibly triumph, Mongul instantly betrays his erstwhile pupil and only a violent intervention by bounty hunter Lobo prevents a travesty…

What nobody knows is that the Imperiex so recently exploded is nothing more than a fractional drone of the real cosmic obliterator and the real deal is now really ticked off…

This initial chronicle then closes with Schultz, Mahnke & Nguyen’s ‘Bridge the Past and Future’ (Superman: Man of Steel # 97) wherein John Henry Irons – AKA Steel – and his niece Natasha, hi-tech armourers to the City’s police force, join Superman in battling the possessed personification of the Eradicator, still hell-bent on making Earth an outpost of lost Krypton but now afflicted by an all-too human consciousness …

With covers by Phil Jimenez, Dwayne Turner & Danny Miki, Ian Churchill & Norm Rapmund, Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary, this blistering collection features less of a re-imagination and more of a reorientation for the greatest of all superheroes, but the scale, spectacle and human drama of these tales will still delight all fans of pure untrammelled Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction.
© 1999, 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

All Star Comics Archives volume 0


By Gardner Fox, Jerry Siegel, Ken Fitch, Bill Finger, John B. Wentworth, Sheldon Moldoff, Sheldon Mayer, Albert & Joseph Sulman, Creig Flessel, Jon L. Blummer, Martin Nodell, E.E. Hibbard, Chad Grothkopf, Stan Aschmeier, Bernard Baily, Howard Purcell, William Smith & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0791-X

I will never stop saying it: the creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding comicbook industry. However before that team of All-Stars could unite they had to become popular enough to qualify, and this slim yet superb hardcover sampler gathers a selection of individual exploits featuring many of the soon-to-be beloved champions who would populate the original big team and guarantee their immortality long after the Golden Age of American Comics ended.

Following the runaway successes of Superman and Batman, both National Comics and its wholly separate-but-equal publishing partner All-American Comics were looking for the next big thing in funnybooks whilst frantically concentrating on getting anthology packages into the hands of the hungry readership. Thus All Star Comics: conceived as a joint venture to give the characters already in their stables an extra push towards winning an elusive but lucrative solo title.

As scrupulously detailed in Roy Thomas’s history-packed Foreword, characters from Flash Comics, Adventure Comics, More Fun Comics and All-American Comics were bundled into the new quarterly and ‘A Message from the Editors’ asked readers to vote on the most popular, even offering copies of forthcoming issues as prizes/bribes for participating…

The merits of the project would never be proved: rather than a runaway favourite graduating to their own starring vehicle, something different evolved. With the third issue, prolific scripter Gardner Fox apparently had the smart idea of linking the solo stories through a framing sequence as the heroes got together for dinner and a chat about their most recent cases.

With the simple idea that Mystery Men hung around together, history was made and from #4 the heroes would regularly unite to battle a shared foe…

This slim sublime hardcover tome collects the stories from the first two All Star Comics (cover-dated Summer and Fall 1940) and opens with a tale of a fantastic winged warrior…

Although perhaps one of DC’s most resilient and certainly their most visually iconic character, iterations of Hawkman have always struggled to find enough of an audience to sustain a solo title.

From his beginnings as one of the B-features in Flash Comics, Carter Hall has shone through assorted engaging, exciting but always short-lived reconfigurations. Over decades from ancient hero to re-imagined alien space-cop and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths freedom fighter, or the seemingly desperate but highly readable mashing together of all previous iterations into the reincarnating immortal berserker-warrior of today, the Pinioned Paladin has performed exemplary service without ever really making it to the big time.

Created by Gardner Fox & Dennis Neville, he premiered in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) and stayed there, growing in quality and prestige until the title died, with the most celebrated artists to have drawn the Winged Wonder being Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Kubert, whilst a young Robert Kanigher was justly proud of his later run as writer.

Together with his partner Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman, the gladiatorial mystery-man countered uncanny and fantastic arcane threats, battled modern crime and opposed tyranny with weapons of the past for over a decade before vanishing with the bulk of costumed heroes as the 1950s began.

His last appearance was in All Star Comics #57 (1951) as leader of the Justice Society of America, before the husband-and-wife hellions were revived and re-imagined nine years later as Katar Hol and Shayera Thal of planet Thanagar by Julie Schwartz’s crack creative team Gardner Fox, Joe Kubert & Murphy Anderson…

Their long career, numerous revamps and perpetual retcons ended during the 1994 Zero Hour crisis, but they’ve reincarnated and returned a couple of times since then too…

Here Fox & Sheldon Moldoff offered the eldritch saga of ‘Sorcerer Trygg’ wherein the still-bachelor hero travelled to the mountains of Wales to crush a callous capitalist making zombies to work the mines he had stolen from his nephew and niece…

The Sandman premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on which distribution records you choose to believe. He was originated by and illustrated by multi-talented all-rounder Bert Christman – with the assistance of young scripting star Gardner Fox.

Head utterly obscured by a gas-mask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the radio drama/pulp fiction mystery-man mould that had made The Shadow, Green Hornet, Black Bat and so many more household names and monster hits of early mass-entertainment and periodical publication.

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night to hunt killers, crooks and spies, he was eventually joined and accompanied by plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing the readers’ interest.

His fortunes were revitalised when Joe Simon & Jack Kirby took over the feature, but here in his salad days Fox & Chad Grothkopf spectacularly pitted him against ‘The Twin Thieves’ baffling and bamboozling the hapless cops with their murderous jewel capers…

Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man premiered in All-American Comics #8 November 1939, the son of a 20th century scientist who had awoken from a suspended animation sleep in 2174AD with incredible physical abilities.

His son inherited his attributes and became the guardian of a troubled future and official “High Moderator of the United States of North America”.

Created by Jon L. Blummer – working as “Don Shelby” – the Buck Rogers-inspired serial ran until issue #19 and is represented here with the then-topical treat ‘The European War of 2240’ wherein a conflict orchestrated in a foreign zone allowed a scurrilous third party nation to attempt seizing control of neutral America’s Uranium mines. Naturally the bombastic Ultra-Man quickly scotched the scheme and restored peace and prosperity to the world…

Devised, created and written by Gardner Fox and first drawn by Harry Lampert, Jay Garrick debuted as the very first Monarch of Motion in Flash Comics #1 and quickly – how else? – became a veritable sensation. He was the first AA character to win a solo title, mere months after All-Star Comics #3 hit the newsstands.

The Fastest Man Alive wowed readers in anthologies Flash Comics, Comics Cavalcade and All Star as well as All-Flash Quarterly for just over a decade before changing tastes benched him and most other Mystery Man heroes in the early1950s.

His invention as a strictly single-power superhero created a new trend in the burgeoning action-adventure funnybook marketplace, and his particular riff was replicated many times at various companies where myriad Fast Furies sprang up.

Then after over half a decade of mostly interchangeable cops, cowboys and cosmic invaders, the concept of human rockets and superheroes in general was spectacularly revived in 1956 by Julie Schwartz in Showcase #4 when police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept. It’s been non-stop ever since …

Here Garrick speedily solves ‘The Murder of Widow Jones’ (by Fox and signature illustrator Everett E. Hibbard) in the time it took the cops to simply report that a crime has been committed…

The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast stable of characters, created by Jerry Siegel & Bernard Baily in 1940 and debuting with a 2-part origin epic in More Fun Comics #52-53.

For a few years the Ghostly Guardian reigned supreme in the title with flamboyant and eerily eccentric supernatural thrillers, but gradually he slipped from popularity as firstly Dr. Fate and successively Johnny Quick, Aquaman, Green Arrow and finally Superboy turned up to steal the show. By the time of his last appearance the Spectre had been reduced to a foil for his own comedic sidekick Percival Popp, the Super-Cop

The Ghostly Guardian was Jim Corrigan, a hard-bitten police detective who was about to marry rich heiress Clarice Winston when they were abducted by mobster Gat Benson. Stuffed into a barrel of cement and pitched off a pier, Corrigan died and went to his eternal reward. Almost…

Rather than finding Paradise and peace, Corrigan’s spirit was accosted by a glowing light and disembodied voice which, over his strident protests, ordered him to return to Earth to fight crime and evil until all vestiges of them were gone…

Just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, the Dark Man suffered from a basic design flaw: he was just too darn powerful. Unlike the vigorously vital and earthy early Superman, however, the arcane agent of justice was already dead, so he couldn’t be logically or dramatically be imperilled.

Of course in those far-off early days that wasn’t nearly as important as sheer spectacle: grabbing the reader’s utter attention and keeping it stoked to a fantastic fever pitch. This the Grim Ghost could do with ease and always-increasing intensity.

In ‘The Tenement Fires’ Siegel & Baily pulled out all the stops for a sinister struggle against merciless arsonists and the Ethereal Avenger recruited the recently murdered victims to help dispense final judgement…

Although we think of the Golden Age as a superhero wonderland, the true guiding principle was variety. Almost every comicbook alsooffered a range of genre features from slapstick comedy to prose thrillers to he-man adventure on its four-colour pages, and More Fun Comics had its fair share of straight adventurers like freelance troubleshooter Biff Bronson, who debuted in #43 (May 1939) with sidekick Dan Druff for a near 30-issue run thrashing thugs, crushing crooks and exposing espionage. He last appeared in #67.

Here the special agent exposes scurvy spy ‘The Great Remembo’ in a smart thriller deftly detailed by brothers Albert & Joseph Sulman.

At this time all comicbooks also featured a prose story, and in All Star #1 Publisher Max Gaines’ niece Evelyn contributed a fanciful science fiction romp entitled ‘Exile to Jupiter’ that wasn’t up to much but was graced with illustrations by the wonderful Sheldon Mayer.

The comics sagas resumed with The Hour-Man stepping in to combat ‘The Forest Fires’ in a moody drama by Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily. He had started strongly in Adventure Comics #48 (March 1940) but slowly ran down until he faded away in #83, February 1943.

Tick-Tock Tyler, the Hour-Man” began by offering his unique services through classified ads to any person in need. Chemist Rex Tyler had invented a drug he called Miraclo which super-energised him for 60 minutes at a time and here he helped beleaguered loggers enduring sabotage and murder…

The first issue closed with long-lived and much loved light-hearted military strip Red, White and Blue by Jerry Siegel & William Smith.

Marine Sergeant Red Dugan, Whitey Smith of the US Army and naval Rating Blooey Blue were good friends who frequently worked for military intelligence service G-2 whilst saving trouble magnet Doris West from her own dangerously inquisitive nature…

The series began with All-American Comics #1 April 1939 and ran there and in sundry other titles such as World’s Finest Comics until 1946, with the trio turning up all over the world solving the USA’s problems.

Here they found themselves despatched to Alaska to find a missing G-2 agent, only to discover Doris already there exposing a slow infiltration by sneaky Asiatics of an ostensibly neutral nation in ‘The Volcano Invasion’

All Star Comics #2 immediately follows with Hawkman (by Fox & Moldoff) fighting an Aztec cult in America and the jungles of Mexico, desperately seeking to rescue the latest kidnapped ‘Sacrifice for Yum-Chac’

Green Lantern then debuted in ‘The Robot Men’ by Bill Finger & Martin Nodell. Technically the Emerald Gladiator was first seen All-American Comics #16 (July 1940 and practically simultaneously with this All Star appearance), devised by up-and-coming cartoonist Nodell and fully fleshed out by Finger in the same way he had contributed to the success of Batman.

Green Lantern was a sensation, becoming AA’s second smash hit six months after The Flash and preceding by 18 months the unprecedented success of the Amazing Amazon Wonder Woman.

Engineer Alan Scott survived the sabotage and destruction of a passenger-packed train due only to the intervention of a battered old railway lantern. Bathed in its eerie verdant glow, he was regaled by a mysterious green voice with the legend of how a meteor fell in ancient China and spoke to the people: predicting Death, Life and Power.

Instructing Scott to fashion a ring from its metal and draw a charge of power from the lantern every 24 hours, the ancient artefact urged the engineer to use his formidable willpower to end all evil – a mission Scott eagerly embraced…

The ring made him immune to all minerals and metals, and enabled him to fly and pass through solid matter amongst many other miracles, but was powerless against certain organic materials such as wood or rubber which could penetrate his jade defences and cause him mortal harm…

He won his own solo-starring title within a year of his premiere and feature-starred in many anthologies such as Comics Cavalcade for just over a decade, before he too faded away in the early1950s, having first suffered the humiliating fate of being edged out of his own comicbook by his pet, Streak the Wonder Dog

In this issue however he was at his mightiest and most impressive, battling a nationwide invasion of men turned into shambling monster slaves by an enemy spy…

Siegel & Baily then exposed The Spectre to ‘The Curse of Kulak’ wherein an antediluvian sorcerer returned to punish mankind for desecrating his tomb by inundating the world with a plague of murderous hatred…

The Sandman’s second stint featured a spooky science thriller by Fox & Creig Flessel as the Man of Mystery tracked down a killer using a deadly radioactive weapon – ‘The Glowing Globe’ – to terrorise and rob.

Siegel & William Smith’s ‘Invisible Ink Gas’ pitted Red, White and Blue against spies with a diabolical scheme for stealing Army documents whilst Johnny Thunderbolt’s All Star debut added even more light-hearted shenanigans to the mix when the imbecilic genie wielder became guardian of ‘The Darling Apartment’ (by John B. Wentworth & Stan Aschmeier).

Johnny Thunder – as he eventually became – was an honest, well-meaning, courageous soul who was also a grade “A” idiot. However, what he lacked in smarts he made up for with sheer luck, unfailing pluck and unconscious control of an irresistible magic force. The feature was always played for action-packed laughs but there was no getting away from it: Johnny was a simpleton in control of an ultimate weapon…

Decades before, the infant seventh son of a seventh son was abducted by priests from the mystic island of Badhnisia to be raised as the long-foretold controller of a fantastic magical weapon, all by voicing the eldritch command “Cei-U” – which sounds to western ears awfully like “say, you”…

Each month Johnny would look for gainful employment, stumble into a crime or crisis and his voluble temperament would result in an inexplicable unnatural phenomenon that would solve the problem but leave him no better off. It was a winning theme that lasted until 1947 – by which time the Force had resolved into a wisecracking thunderbolt-shaped genie – and Johnny was slowly ousted from his own strip by sultry new crimebuster Black Canary

For now though, back in America and seeking his fortune, he spent lots of time trying to impress his girlfriend Daisy Darling’s dad. In this exploit the irate property magnate was experiencing difficulties with a new building he was erecting and Johnny decided to tackle head on the mobsters holding up production…

After another Evelyn Gaines text vignette, ‘The Invisible Star’, Hour-Man battled murderous charlatan ‘Dr. Morte, Spiritualist’ by Fitch & Baily before the inimitable Flash closed out the stunning show in fine form by foiling thugs who had kidnapped an entire publishing company, becoming in the process ‘The One-Man Newspaper’ in a fast, furious and funny thriller from Fox & Hibbard.

Wit the entire Justice Society canon collected in eleven dedicated Archive Editions, this particularly impressive afterthought completes the resurrection of the rare and eccentric material which revolutionised comicbooks.

These early adventures might not be to every modern fan’s taste but they certainly stand as an impressive and joyous introduction to the fantastic worlds and exploits of the World’s First Superheroes.

If you have a love of the way things were and a hankering for simpler times remarkable for less complicated adventures, this is another glorious collection you’ll cherish forever…

© 1940, 2006 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

JSA All Star Archives volume 1


By John Wentworth, Ken Fitch, Bill O’Connor, Sheldon Mayer, Charles Reizenstein, Bill Finger, Stan Aschmeier, Bernard Baily, Ben Flinton & Leonard Sansone, Howard Purcell, Hal Sharp and Irwin Hasen (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1472-2

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – indisputably the Action Comics debut of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s history was the combination of individual sales-points into a group.

Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: consumers couldn’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men and combining a multitude of characters inevitably increases readership. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one…or one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick involved…

It cannot be understated: the creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding industry. However before that team of all-stars could unite they had to become popular enough to qualify and this superb hardcover sampler gathers the debut adventures of a septet of beloved champions who never quite made it into the first rank but nonetheless scored enough to join the big team and maintain their own solo spots for much of the Golden Age of American Comics.

Whilst the most favoured of the 1940s stalwarts have all won their own DC Archive collections in the past, this particular tome bundles a bunch of lesser lights – or at least those who never found as much favour with modern fans and revivalists – and features the first five appearances of seven of the JSA’s secondary mystery men: all solid supporting acts in their own anthology homes who were potentially so much more…

Gathered here are short, sharp and stirring tales from Flash Comics #1-5, Adventure Comics #48-52, All-American Comics #19-29 and Sensation Comics #1-5 collectively spanning January 1940 to May 1942 and all preceded by Golden Age aficionado and advocate Roy Thomas’ sparkling, informative and appreciative Foreword.

The vintage vim and vigour begins with a character equally adored and reviled in modern times. Johnny Thunderbolt as he was originally dubbed was an honest, well-meaning, courageous soul who was also a grade “A” idiot. However, what he lacked in smarts he made up for with sheer luck, unfailing pluck and the unconscious (at least at first) control of an irresistible magic force.

The series was played for action-packed laughs but there was no getting away from it: Johnny was quite frankly, a simpleton in control of an ultimate weapon – an electric genie…

John Wentworth & Stan Aschmeier introduced the happy sap in ‘The Kidnapping of Johnny Thunder’ from the first monthly Flash Comics (#1, January 1940) in a fantastic origin which detailed how decades before, the infant seventh son of a seventh son was abducted by priests from the mystic island of Badhnisia to be raised as the long-foretold controller of a fantastic magical weapon, all by voicing the eldritch command “Cei-U” – which sounds to western ears awfully like “say, you”…

Ancient enemies on the neighbouring isle of Agolea started a war before the ceremonies and indoctrination could be completed however and at age seven the lad, through that incomprehensible luck, was returned to his parents to be raised in the relative normality of the Bronx.

Everything was fine until Johnny’s 17th birthday when the ancient rite finally came to fruition and amid bizarre weather conditions the Badhnisians intensified their search for their living weapon…

By the time they tracked him down he was working in a department store and had recently picked up the habit of expleting the phrase “say you” which generally resulted in something very strange happening. One example being a bunch of strange Asiatics attacking him and being blown away by a mysterious pink tornado…

The pattern was set. Each month Johnny would look for gainful employment, stumble into a crime or crisis and his voluble temperament would result in an inexplicable unnatural phenomenon that would solve the problem but leave him no better off. It was a winning theme that lasted until 1947 – by which time the Force had resolved into a wisecracking thunderbolt-shaped genie – and Johnny was slowly ousted from his own strip by sexy new crimebuster Black Canary

Flash Comics #2 featured ‘Johnny Becomes a Boxer’. After stepping in to save a girl from bullies, Daisy Darling became his girlfriend and he became the Heavyweight Champion, leading to his implausibly winning the fixed contest ‘Johnny versus Gunpowder Glantz’ in #3. Only now Daisy refused to marry a brute who lived by hitting others…

The solution came in ‘Johnny Law’ when kidnappers tried to abduct Daisy’s dad. Following his sound thrashing of the thugs Johnny then joined the FBI at his babe’s urging…

This tantalising taste of times past concludes with ‘G-Man Johnny’ (#5 May 1940) as the kid’s first case involves him in a bank raid which resulted in his own father being taken hostage…

Although he eventually joined the JSA, and despite the affable, good-hearted bumbling which carried him through the war, the peace-time changing fashions found no room for a hapless hero anymore and when he encountered a sultry masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. Nevertheless the fortuitously imbecilic Johnny Thunder is fondly regarded by many modern fans and still has lots to say and a decidedly different way of saying it…

Hourman by Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily was a far more serious proposition and actually had his shot at stardom, beginning by supplanting The Sandman as cover feature on Adventure Comics #48 (March 1940). Here his exploits run through issue #52 (July) establishing the unique and gripping methodology which made him such a favourite of later, more sophisticated fans…

In an era where origins were never as important as action, mood and spectacle, ‘Presenting Tick-Tock Tyler, the Hour-Man’ begins with a strange classified ad offering aid and assistance to any person in need. Chemist Rex Tyler had invented “Miraclo” a drug which super-energised him for 60 minutes at a time and his first case saw him help a wife whose man was being dragged back into criminal endeavours by poverty and bad friends…

‘The Disappearance of Dr. Drew’ found him locating a missing scientist kidnapped by thugs whilst ‘The Dark Horse’ saw the Man of the Hour crush a crooked and murderous bookie who had swiped both horse and owner before a key race.

Mad science and a crazy doctor employing ‘The Wax-Double Killers’ then added a spooky component of scary thrills and super-villain cachet for the timely hero to handle, whilst ‘The Counterfeit Hour-Man’ – which concludes the offerings here – saw our hero again battling Dr. Snegg in a scurrilous scheme to frame the hooded hero.

Hourman always looked great and his adventures developed into a tight and compulsive feature, but he never really caught on and faded out at the beginning of 1943 (#83). Perhaps all the current the buzz over the forthcoming TV series can revive his fortunes and finally make him a star in his own right…

Our next second string star is Calvin College student Al Pratt, a diminutive but determined lad who got fed up with being bullied by jocks and became a pint-sized, two-fisted mystery man ready for anything.

The Mighty Atom was created by writer Bill O’Connor and rendered by Ben Flinton & Leonard Sansone, beginning in All-American Comics #19. He was one of the longest lasting of the Golden Age greats, transferring from All-American to Flash Comics in February 1947 and sporadically appearing until the last issue (Flash #104, February 1949). He was last seen in the final JSA tale in All Star Comics#57 in 1951.

The tales here span #19-23 (October 1940-February 1941) and begin by ‘Introducing the Mighty Atom’ as the bullied scholar hooks up with down-and-out trainer Joe Morgan whose radical methods soon have the kid in the very peak of physical condition and well able to take care of himself.

However, when Al’s intended girlfriend Mary is kidnapped the lad eschews fame and potential sporting fortune to bust her loose and decides on a new extra-curricular activity…

He fashioned a costume for his second exploit, going into ‘Action at the College Ball’ to foil a hold-up and then tackled ‘The Monsters from the Mine’ who were enslaved by a scientific mania intent on conquest. The college environment offered many plot opportunities and in ‘Truckers War’ the Atom crushed a gang of hijackers who had bankrupted a fellow student and football star’s father. This snippet of atomic episodes concludes here with ‘Joe’s Appointment’ as the trainer was framed for spying by enemy agents and need a little atomic aid…

Although we think of the Golden Age as a superhero wonderland, the true watchword was variety and flagship anthology All-American Comics offered everything from slapstick comedy to aviation adventure on its four-colour pages.

One of the very best humour strips featured the semi-autobiographical exploits of Scribbly Jibbet, a boy who wanted to draw. Created by genuine comics wonder boy Sheldon Mayer, Scribbly: Midget Cartoonist debuted in the first issue (April 1939) and soon built a sterling rep for himself beside star reprint features like Mutt and Jeff and all-new adventure serial Hop Harrigan, Ace of the Airways.

However the fashions of the time soon demanded a humorous look at mystery men and in #20 (November 1940) Mayer’s long-term comedy feature evolved into a delicious spoof of the trend as Scribbly’s formidable landlady Ma Hunkel decided to do something about crime in her neighbourhood by dressing up as a husky male hero.

‘The Coming of the Red Tornado’ saw her don cape, woollen long-johns and a saucepan for a mask/helmet to crush gangster/kidnapper Tubb Torponi. The mobster had made the mistake of snatching her terrible nipper Sisty and Scribbly’s little brother Dinky (they would later become her masked sidekicks) and Ma was determined to see justice done…

An ongoing serial rather than specific episodes, the dramedy concluded in ‘The Red Tornado to the Rescue’ with the irate, inept cops then deciding to pursue the mysterious new vigilante but the ‘Search for the Red Tornado’ only made them look more stupid.

With the scene set for outrageous parody ‘The Red Tornado Goes Ape’ pitted the parochial masked manhunter against a zoo full of critters before this superb selection ends with ‘Neither Man nor Mouse’ (All-American Comics #24) as the hero apparently retires and crime returns… until Dinky and Sisty become the Cyclone Kids

A far more serious and sustainable contender debuted in the next issue, joining a growing host of grim masked avengers.

‘Dr. Mid-Nite: How He Began’ by Charles Reizenstein & Aschmeier (All-American Comics #25, April 1941) revealed how surgeon Charles McNider was blinded by criminals but subsequently discovered he could see perfectly in the dark. The maimed physician became an outspoken criminologist but also devised blackout bombs and other night paraphernalia to wage secret war on gangsters from the darkness, aided only by his new pet owl Hooty

After catching his own assailant he then smashed river pirates protected by corrupt politicians in ‘The Waterfront Mystery’ and then rescued innocent men blackmailed into serving criminals’ sentences in jail in ‘Prisoners by Choice’ (#27 and guest illustrated by Howard Purcell).

With Aschmeier’s return Mid-Nite crushed aerial wreckers using ‘The Mysterious Beacon’ to down bullion planes and then smashed ‘The Menace of King Cobra’, a secret society leader lording it over copper mine workers…

The Master of Darkness also lasted until the end of the era and appeared in that last JSA story and, since his Sixties return has been one of the most resilient characters in DC’s pantheon of Golden Age revivals, but the next nearly-star was an almost forgotten man for decades…

When Sensation Comics launched in January 1942 all eyes were rightly glued to the uniquely eye-catching Wonder Woman who hogged all the covers and unleashed a wealth of unconventional adventures every month. However like all anthologies of the time her exploits were carefully balanced by a selection of other features.

Sensation #1-5 (January to May 1942) also featured a pugnacious fighter who was the quintessence of manly prowess and a quiet, sedate fellow problem solver who was literally a master of all trades.

Crafted by Charles Reizenstein & Hal Sharp ‘Who is Mr. Terrific?’ introduced Terry Sloane, a physical and mental prodigy who so excelled at everything he touched that by the time of the opening tale he was so bored that he was planning his own suicide.

Happily, on the bridge he found Wanda Wilson, a girl with the same idea and by saving her found a purpose: crushing the kinds of criminals who had driven her to such despair…

Actively seeking out villainy of every sort he performed ‘The One-Man Benefit Show’ after thugs sabotaged all the performers, travelled to the republic of Santa Flora to expose ‘The Phony Presidente’ and helped a rookie cop pinch an “untouchable” gang boss in ‘Dapper Joe’s Comeuppance’.

His final appearance here finds him at his very best carefully rooting out political corruption and exposing ‘The Two Faces of Caspar Crunch’

Closing out this stunning hardback extravaganza is another quintet from Sensation Comics #1-5, this time by Bill Finger & Irwin Hasen: already established stars for their work on Batman and Green Lantern.

‘This is the Story of Wildcat’ is the debut appearance of one the era’s most impressive “lost treasures” and a genuine comicbook classic: a classy tale of boxer Ted Grant who was framed for the murder of his best friend the Champ and, inspired by a kid’s worship for Green Lantern, clears his name by donning a feline mask and costume and ferociously stalking the real killers.

Finger & Hasen captured everything which made for perfect rollercoaster adventure in their explosive sports-informed yarns. The mystery and drama continued unabated in the sequel ‘Who is Wildcat?’ as Ted retired his masked identity to contest for the vacant boxing title, but could not let innocents suffer as crime and corruption increased in the city…

In ‘The Case of the Phantom Killers’ Wildcat tracks down mobsters seemingly striking from beyond the grave, and his adventures altered forever with the introduction of hard-hitting hillbilly hayseed ‘Stretch Skinner, Dee-teca-tif!’ who came to the big city to be a private eye and instead became Ted Grant’s foil, manager and crime-busting partner…

The comic craziness concludes here with a rousing case of mistaken identity and old-fashioned framing as Wildcat has to save his tall new pal from a killer gambler in ‘Chips Carder’s Big Fix’

These eccentric early adventures might not be to every modern fan’s taste but they certainly stand as an impressive and joyous introduction to the fantastic worlds and exploits of the World’s (not so) Greatest Superheroes. If you have an interest in the way things were and a hankering for simpler times marked by less complicated or angsty adventure this may well be a book you’ll cherish forever…
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 2007 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: – The Silver Age Dailies 1959-1961


By Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan, Wayne Boring &Stan Kaye with Otto Binder, Robert Bernstein & Jerry Coleman (IDW Publishing Library of American Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-6137-7666-7

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

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

In comicbook terms Superman was master of the world. Moreover, whilst transforming the shape of the fledgling funnybook industry, the Man of tomorrow relentlessly expanded into all areas of the entertainment media.

Although we all think of Cleveland boys’ iconic creation as the epitome and acme of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his debut in Action Comics #1 Superman became a fictional multimedia monolith in the same league as Popeye, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse.

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

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

He was a perennial success for toy, game, puzzle and apparel manufacturers and had just ended his first smash live-action television serial. In his future were three more shows (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville), a stage musical, a franchise of blockbuster movies and an almost seamless succession of games, bubblegum cards and TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since.

Even superdog Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

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

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

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

Most still do…

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

Superman was the first original comicbook character to make that leap – almost as soon as he was created – but only a few have ever successfully followed. Wonder Woman, Batman (eventually) and groundbreaking teen icon Archie made the jump in the 1940s and only a handful like Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian have done so since.

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

The McClure Syndicate feature ran continuously until May 1966, appearing at its peak in more than 300 daily and 90 Sunday newspapers, boasting a combined readership of more than 20 million. Eventually artists Win Mortimer and Curt Swan joined the unfailing Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye whilst Bill Finger and Seigel provided the stories, telling serial tales largely separate and divorced from comicbook continuity throughout years when superheroes were scarcely seen.

In 1956 Julie Schwartz opened the Silver Age with a new Flash in Showcase #4. Soon cosumed crusaders began returning en masse to thrill a new generation. As the trend grew, many companies began to experiment with the mystery man tradition and the Superman newspaper strip began to slowly adapt: drawing closer to the revolution on the comicbook pages.

As the Jet age gave way to the Space-Age, the Last Son of Krypton was a vibrant yet comfortably familiar icon of domestic modern America: particularly in the constantly evolving, ever-more dramatic and imaginative comicbook stories which had received such a terrific creative boost as super heroes gradually began to proliferate once more. Since 1954 the franchise had been cautiously expanding and in 1959 the Caped Kryptonian could be seen not only in Golden Age survivors Action Comics, Superman, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest Comics and Superboy but now also in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane and soon Justice League of America.

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

After author and educator Tom De Haven’s impassioned Foreword, Sidney Friedfertig’s Introduction explains how and why Jerry Siegel was tasked with turning recently published comicbook tales into daily 3-and-4 panel continuities for the apparently more sophisticated and discerning newspaper audiences. This meant major rewrites, frequently plot and tone changes and, in some cases, merging two stories into one.

If you’re a fan, don’t be fooled: these stories are not mere rehashes, but variations on an idea for an audience perceived as completely separate from kids’ funnybooks.

Even if you are familiar with the comicbook source material, the adventures gathered here will read as brand new, especially as they are gloriously illustrated by Curt Swan and latterly Wayne Boring at the very peak of their artistic powers.

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

The astounding everyday entertainment commences with Episode #107 from April 6th to July 11th 1959.

‘Earth’s Super-Idiot!’ by Siegel, Swan & Stan Kaye is a mostly original story which borrows heavily from the author’s own ‘The Trio of Steel’ (Superman #135, February 1960, where it was drawn by Al Plastino) detailing the tricks of an unscrupulous super-scientific telepathic alien producer of “Realies” who blackmailed Superman into making a fool and villain of himself for extraterrestrial viewers.

If the hero didn’t comply – acting the goat, performing spectacular stunts and torturing his friends – Earth would suffer the consequences….

After eventually getting the better of the UFO sleaze-bag, our hero returned to Earth with a bump and encountered ‘The Ugly Superman’ (July 13th-September 5th, first seen in Lois Lane #8 April 1959, written by Robert Bernstein and illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger).

Here, the eternally on-the-shelf Lois agreed to marry a brutish wrestler, and the Man of Tomorrow, for the most spurious of reasons, acted to foil her plans…

Episode #109 ran from September 7th to October 28th 1959 and saw Superman reluctantly agree to try and make a dying billionaire laugh in return for the miserable misanthrope signing over his entire fortune to charity.

Some of the apparently odd timing discrepancies in publication dates can be explained by the fact that submitted comicbook stories often appeared months after they were completed, so the comicbook version of Siegel’s ‘The Super-Clown of Metropolis’ didn’t get published until Superman #136 (April 1960) where Al Plastino took the art in completely different directions…

‘Captive of the Amazons’ – October 29th 1959 to February 6th 1960 – combined two funnybook adventures both originally limned by Boring & Kaye. The eponymous equivalent from Action #266 (Jul 1960) was augmented by Bernstein’s tale ‘When Superman Lost His Powers’ (Action Comics #262) detailing how super-powered alien queen Jena came to Earth intent on making Superman her husband. When he refused she removed his Kryptonian abilities, subsequently trapping now merely mortal Clark with other Daily Planet staff in a lost valley of monsters where Lois’ suspicions were again aroused…

Episode #111 ran from 8th February – 6th April. ‘The Superman of the Future’ originated in Action #256 (September 1959, by Otto Binder, Swan & Kaye) and both versions seemingly saw Superman swap places with a hyper-evolved descendent intent on preventing four catastrophic historical disasters, but the incredible events were actually part of a devious hoax…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #10 (July 1959 by Siegel & Schaffenberger) offered up a comedy interlude as ‘The Cry-Baby of Metropolis’ (April 7th to May 28th) found Lois – terrified of losing her looks – exposing herself to a youth ray and rapidly regenerating into an infant, much to the amusement of arch-rival Lana Lang and Superman…

Episode #113 May 30th – July 2nd featured ‘The Super-Servant of Crime’ (by Bernstein, from Superman #130, July 1959) which saw the hero outsmarting a petty crook who had bamboozled the Action Ace into granting him five wishes, after which ‘The Super-Sword’ (4th July to August 13th and originally by Jerry Coleman & Plastino for Superman #124, September 1958) pitted the Kryptonian Crimebuster against a ancient knight with a magic blade which could penetrate his invulnerable skin. Once more, however, all was not as it seemed…

Siegel, Boring & Kaye’s epic ‘Superman’s Return to Krypton’ from Superman #141, November 1960) was first seen in daily instalments from August 15th to November 12th 1960, telling a subtly different tale of epic love lost as an accident marooned the adoptive Earth hero in the past on his doomed home-world. Reconciled to dying there with his people, Kal-El befriended his own parents and found love with his ideal soul-mate Lyla Lerrol, only to be torn from her side and returned to Earth against his will in a cruel twist of fate.

The strip version here is one of Swan’s most beautiful art jobs ever and, although the bold comicbook saga was a fan favourite for decades thereafter, the restoration of this more mature interpretation might have some rethinking their decision…

Wayne Boring once more became the premiere Superman strip illustrator with Episode #116 (November 14th – December 31st), reprising his and Siegel’s work on ‘The Lady and the Lion’ from Action #243 August 1958, wherein the Man of Steel was transformed into an inhuman  beast by a Kryptonian émigré the ancients knew as Circe

Siegel then adapted Bernstein’s ‘The Great Superman Hoax’ and Boring & Kaye redrew their artwork for the Episode (January 2nd – February 4th 1961) which appeared in Superman #143, February 1961, and saw a cunning criminal try to convince Lois and Clark that he was actually the Man of Might, blissfully unaware of who he was failing to fool.

Then February 6th to March 4th had Superman using brains as well as brawn to thwart an alien invasion in ‘The Duel for Earth’ which originally appeared as a Superboy story in Adventure Comics #277 (October 1960) by Siegel & George Papp.

Superman #114 (July 1957) and scripter Otto Binder provided Siegel with the raw material for a deliciously wry and topical tax-time tale ‘Superman’s Billion-Dollar Debt’ – March 6th to April 8th – wherein an ambitious IRS agent presented the Man of Steel with an bill for unpaid back-taxes, whilst Episode #120 (April 10th – May 13th) introduced ‘The Great Mento’ (from Bernstein & Plastino’s yarn in Superman #147, August 1961): a tawdry showbiz masked mind-reader who blackmailed the hero by threatening to expose his precious secret identity…  

The final two stories in this premiere collection both come from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane - issues #24, April and #26, July respectively – and both were originally crafted by Bernstein & Schaffenberger.

In ‘The Perfect Husband’ (15th May to July 1st), begun and ended by Boring but with Swan pinch-hitting for 2 weeks in the middle, Lois’ sister Lucy tricks the journalist into going on a TV dating show where she meets her ideal man, a millionaire sportsman and war hero who looks just like Clark Kent.

Then ‘The Mad Woman of Metropolis’ finds Lois driven to the edge of sanity by a vengeance-hungry killer, a rare chance to see the girl-reporter and shameless butt of so many male gags show her true mettle by solving the case without the Man of Tomorrow’s avuncular, often patronising assistance…

Superman: – The Silver Age Dailies 1959-1961 is the first in a series of huge (305 x 236mm), lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Man of Steel and a welcome addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Little Orphan Annie, Terry and the Pirates, Bringing Up Father, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many of the abovementioned cartoon icons.

If you love the era, these stories are great comics reading, and this is a book you simply must have.
Superman ™ and © 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Teen Titans: Ravager – Fresh Hell


By Sean McKeever, David Hine, Yildiray Cinar, Georges Jeanty & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2919-1

Deathstroke the Terminator is a flamboyant cover identity for mercenary/assassin Slade Wilson who was treated with an experimental serum whilst serving as an American Special Forces soldier. He was invalided out but later developed fantastic physical abilities that augmented his military capabilities.

He debuted in the second issue of the New Teen Titans in 1980, assuming a contract that had been forfeited when neophyte costumed assassin The Ravager died trying to destroy the kid heroes. The deceased would-be killer was actually Grant Wilson, a very troubled young man desperately trying to impress his dad.

Slade’s other children would also be the cause of much heartache and bloodshed over the years…

After years he tracked down his illegitimate daughter Rose Wilson Worth. The child already had severe daddy-issues but after abducting, brainwashing and torturing her with the serum that created him he turned her into something even he couldn’t predict.

Doped and delirious, she gained physical abilities ands regenerative power like his but, in a moment of madness, cut out her left eye in a manic attempt to become just like dear old dad.

She was saved by Dick Grayson in his Nightwing persona and began a long, not entirely successful, attempt to throw off Wilson’s dire influence and sadistic parenting. After the events of Infinite Crisis she joined the Teen Titans, but found them an extremely poor fit…

This exceeding dark chronicle details Rose’s mounting struggle to come to terms with her killer instincts and conflicting determination to be nothing like her sire, gathering the one-shot Faces of Evil: Deathstroke #1 from March 2009, Teen Titans volume 3, #71 and the short back-up serial from #72-76 and #79-82 (July 2009-June 2010), beginning with ‘The Beginning’ from the aforementioned Deathstroke special, courtesy of writer David Hine and illustrators Georges Jeanty & Mark McKenna.

Following a rare defeat and well-deserved, life-threatening beating, Slade Wilson is somehow failing to recuperate in super-penitentiary Belle Reve. In his traumatic delirium he triggers a security lockdown and the harassed authorities call in Rose to save hostages and tackle her dad, the deadliest man alive…

Typically, their savage rehashing of old times ultimately frustrates the heartsick and agonised Ravager and only allows Deathstroke a chance to spectacularly escape…

With readers by now fully clued in to Rose’s ghastly past, the main event opens as ‘Fresh Hell’ (Sean McKeever, Yildiray Cinar & Julio Ferreira) opens with ‘Homecoming’ and Ravager’s return to Titans, concealing her growing addiction to adrenaline substitute Epinephrine – which gives her a kind of combat precognition – and growing dissatisfaction with the judgemental attitudes of child-heroes who have never experienced episodes of genuine “kill-or-be-killed”…

When a misunderstanding leads to bloody battle with atomic ace Bombshell, a meeting is called to discuss Rose’s future but the action junkie decides to jump before she’s pushed…

The Terminator’s daughter has finally shaken off her father’s malign influence and joined the forces of good, but almost nobody seems to believe her so she gets on her bike and heads north and away…

Some time later, the hallucination-wracked rider is robbing a pharmacy for more Epinephrine, plagued by a conscience which manifests as her preachiest ex-partners (such as Wonder Girl and Miss Martian) and desperately outracing pursuing cops. Even with the drugs her clairvoyance is diminishing and now she’s also suffering from rather inconvenient blackouts…

She snaps awake in a frozen wilderness, having crashed. Trekking over uncounted icy miles, she eventually reaches a small town filled with the unfriendliest men she’s ever met and has to break a few heads and limbs just to get a meal. However at the height of the battle she just keels over…

Slowly regaining consciousness, she’s informed by the local medic of Angelsport, Northwest Territories that his examinations have uncovered a cruel fact: all the adrenaline she’s been snorting has wrecked her heart and other organs to the point where not even her serum-based regenerative capabilities will fix them if she doesn’t stop.

Will the barman is slightly friendlier than the rest of the town, but even he is hiding something. So when she beds down in the cabin he’s provided, Rose is waiting for a next move.

It comes in a massed attack of gunmen using rocket-propelled grenades…

Despite explosively escaping and despatching many assailants, Rose is forced to run: chased by the surviving ambushers who send her to a watery grave in the frozen ocean…

They’ve grievously underestimated the Ravager, and when she follows Rose discovers the reason for the town’s hostility. The entire place is a smuggling port and former spy Will is a ruthless entrepreneur using contacts in Russia and a submarine to provide highly profitable, illicit merchandise: weapons, drugs, underage girls…

Rose is utterly determined to end him and his business and rescue the stolen children but she’s never faced a foe like Will, and before her mission is over she will have to decide if she’s a shining champion and protector or just a bloody, red-handed avenger…

With covers by Cinar, Ladrönn, Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson & Guy Major, Fresh Hell is a nasty, violent and extremely dark blend of superhero drama and real world criminal depravity that will satisfy Fights ‘n’ Tights fans with a penchant for the raw underbelly of action/adventure.
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors


By Martin Pasko, Elliot S. Maggin, Cary Bates, Len Wein, Curt Swan, John Rosenberger, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Jose Delbo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3494-2

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

She catapulted into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon won her own eponymous supplemental title a few months later, cover-dated Summer 1942.

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

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

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

On arriving in the Land of the Free she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, which elegantly allowed the Amazing Amazon to stay close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick care-worker to join her own fiancé in South America. Diana soon gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, further ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although the painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for the mousy but supremely competent Lieutenant Prince…

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

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

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

Editor Jack Miller and Mike Sekowsky stepped up with a radical proposal and made a little bit of comic book history with the only female superhero to still have her own title that marketplace.

The superbly eccentric art of Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for nearly two decades, and he had also scored big with fans at Gold Key with Man from Uncle and at Tower Comics in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and on war title Fight The Enemy!

His unique take on the Justice League of America had cemented its overwhelming success, and now in 1968 he began stretching himself further with a number of experimental, young-adult oriented projects.

Tapping into the teen zeitgeist with Easy Rider style drama Jason’s Quest proved ultimately unsuccessful, but with the Metal Men and the hopelessly moribund Wonder Woman he had much greater impact. He would subsequently work the same magic with Supergirl.

The big change came when the Amazons were forced to leave our dimension, taking with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her weapons. Now no more or less than human, she opted to stay on Earth permanently, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, dedicated to fighting injustice as a mortal, very much in the manner of Emma Peel and Modesty Blaise.

Blind Buddhist monk I Ching trained her as a martial artist, and she quickly became embroiled in the schemes of would-be world-conqueror Doctor Cyber. Most shockingly her beloved Steve was branded a traitor and murdered…

Sekowsky’s root and branch overhaul offered a whole new kind of Wonder Woman (and can be seen in the magical quartet of full-colour collections entitled Diana Prince: Wonder Woman) but as I’ve already said fashion ruled and in a few years, without any fanfare or warning, everything that had happened since Wonder Woman lost her powers was unwritten.

Her mythical origins were revised and re-established as she returned to a world of immortals, gods, mythical monster and super-villains with a new nemesis, an African (Greek?) American half-sister named Nubia

Such an abrupt reversal had tongues wagging and heads spinning in fan circles. Had the series offended some shady “higher-ups” who didn’t want controversy or a shake-up of the status quo?

Probably not.

Sales were never great even on the Sekowsky run and the most logical reason is probably Television.

The Amazon had been optioned as a series since the days of the Batman TV show in 1967, and by this time (1973) production work had begun on the original 1974 pilot featuring Cathy Lee Crosby. An abrupt return to the character most viewers would be familiar with from their own childhoods seems perfectly logical to me… By the time Linda Carter made the concept live in 1975 Wonder Woman was once again “Stronger than Hercules, swifter than Mercury and more beautiful than Aphrodite”…

But as Diana returned to mainstream DC continuity the fans expected her to fully reintegrate, leading to this early and impressive example of a comics miniseries which ran in Wonder Woman #212 to 222 (cover-dated July 1974 – March 1976) and detailed how the Amazing Amazon rejoined the JLA.

Scripter Len Wein and artists Curt Swan & Tex Blaisdell got the ball rolling with ‘The Man Who Mastered Women!’ as the Hellenic Heroine thwarted a terrorist attack at New York’s United Nations building where Diana Prince worked as a translator. In the aftermath she surprisingly met old friend Clark Kent.

Over the course of the conversation she realised her memories had been tampered with and suddenly understood why her JLA colleagues hadn’t called her to any meetings… she had resigned years ago…

Although her former comrades begged her to re-enlist, she declined, fearing that her memory lapses might endanger the team and the world. After much insistent pleading she relented enough to suggest that the League should covertly monitor her next dozen major cases – in the manner of Hercules’ twelve legendary tests – as she proved herself competent and worthy, for her own peace of mind if not the JLA’s…

Once they grudgingly agreed she left and Superman began the surveillance, observing her flying to Paradise Island in her Invisible Plane. Correctly deducing that she had been subject to Amazonian selective memory manipulation, she confronted her mother and learned of her time as a mere mortal and of Steve’s death.

Although the past had been removed by her well-meaning Amazon sisters, Diana now demanded that every recollection excised be returned…

Back in Man’s World a crisis was already brewing as costumed crazy The Cavalier began exerting his uncanny influence over women to controlling female Heads of State, but his powers proved ultimately ineffectual over Wonder Woman…

As a result of that case Diana Prince changed jobs, going to work as a troubleshooter for dashing Morgan Tracy at the UN Crisis Bureau, and her first mission wasn’t long in coming…

Wonder Woman #213 was crafted by Cary Bates, Irv Novick & Blaisdell as an alien robot landed and removed all aggression from humanity in one stroke. As the Flash helplessly observed however ‘The War-No-More Machine!’ also quashed all bravery, determination, confidence and capability and the species faced imminent – if long and drawn out – extinction.

Happily Diana, a teenaged girl and a murderous criminal were all somehow immune to the invader’s influence…

Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa then disclosed Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s undercover observations after a lost Amazon gem in unwitting, unscrupulous hands almost started World War III and the Princess of Power had to avert a nuclear holocaust triggered by a ‘Wish Upon a Star!’

The superb and vastly undervalued John Rosenberger pencilled Cary Bates’ tale of the ‘Amazon Attack Against Atlantis’ (inked by Vince Colletta) as Aquaman watched Wonder Woman unravel a baroque and barbaric plot by Mars, God of War to set Earth’s two most advanced nations at each throats, after which #216 found Black Canary uncovering the Amazon Sisterhood’s greatest secret in ‘Paradise in Peril!’ by Maggin, Rosenberger & Colletta.

The tale concerned an obsessed multi-millionaire risking everything – including possibly the collapse of civilisation – to uncover exactly what would happen if a man set foot upon the hidden Island of the Amazons…

One of Wonder Woman’s oldest foes resurfaced in ‘The Day Time Broke Loose!’ (by Maggin, Dick Dillin & Colletta) and Green Arrow was caught in the crossfire as the Duke of Deception attacked the UN with temporally torturous images and hallucinations designed to create madness and death on a global scale.

Issue #218 was produced by Martin Pasko & Kurt Schaffenberger and offered two short complete tales. Firstly Red Tornado reported on the ‘Revolt of the Wonder Weapons’ as an influential astrologer used mind-control techniques to gain power and accidentally undermined Diana’s arsenal, after which The Phantom Stranger stealthily observed her foiling a mystic plot by sorcerer Felix Faust which animated and enraged the Statue of Liberty in ‘Give Her Liberty – and Give Her Death!’

This was a time when feminism was finally making inroads into American culture and Pasko, Swan & Colletta slyly tipped their hats to the burgeoning movement in a wry and fanciful sci-fi thriller.

Thus issue  #219 found Diana preventing a vile incursion by the dominating males of Xro, a ‘World of Enslaved Women!’ with stretchable sleuth Elongated Man secretly traversing the parallel dimensions in Wonder Woman’s wake.

With the epic endeavour almost ended, regular scripter Pasko added a patina of mystery to the affair as the Atom watched Diana tackle ‘The Man Who Wiped Out Time!’ Illustrated by Dick Giordano, Wonder Woman #220 found temporal obsessive Chronos eradicating New York’s ability to discern time and time pieces: a plot foiled with style and brilliance by the on-form, in-time Power Princess.

The only problem was that during that entire exacting episode Hawkman had been watching Diana tackling another potential disaster hundreds of miles away…

The Feathered Fury’s report detailed how Crisis Bureau operative Diana Prince had been targeted by Dr. Cyber and Professor Moon – old enemies from her powerless period – who combined a hunger for vengeance with a plan to steal a UN-controlled chemical weapon in ‘The Fiend with the Face of Glass’ (illustrated by Swan & Colletta).

How she could be in two places simultaneously was revealed by Batman, who wrapped up the twelve trials in ‘Will the Real Wonder Woman Please… Stand Up Drop Dead!’ (art by Jose Delbo & Blaisdell), detailing how a beloved children’s entertainment icon had been subverted into a monster feeding off people and replacing them with perfect duplicates…

With covers by Bob Oksner, Nick Cardy, Mike Grell, Dick Giordano & Ernie Chan, this is a spectacular slice of pure, uncomplicated, all ages superhero action/adventure starring one of comics’ true all stars.

Stuffed with stunning art and witty, beguiling stories, this is Wonder Woman at her most welcoming in a timeless, pivotal classic of the medium: one that still provides astounding amounts of fun and thrills for anyone interested in a grand old time.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Bruce Wayne – The Road Home


By Fabian Nicieza, Mike W. Barr, Bryan Q. Miller, Derek Fridolfs, Adam Beechen, Marc Andreyko & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3081-4

At the climax of a harrowing and sustained campaign of terror by insidious cabal The Black Hand and following an all-out invasion by the New Gods of Apokolips, the original Batman was apparently killed.

The world at large was unaware of the loss, leaving the superhero community to mourn in secret whilst a small, dedicated army of assistants, protégés and allies – trained over years by the contingency-obsessed Dark Knight – formed the Network to police Gotham City in the days which followed: marking time until a successor could be found or the original restored…

Most of the Bat-schooled battalion refused to believe their inspirational mentor dead. On the understanding that he was merely lost, they eventually accepted Dick Grayson (the first Robin and latterly Nightwing) as a stand-in until Bruce Wayne could find his way back to them…

This companion volume to Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne features eight one-shot specials depicting how after the original Dark Knight (marooned in the corridors of history by Darkseid) got back, he created a new identity to scrutinise just how his absence had affected the friends and deputies who soldiered on without him in the urban hell-pit he called home.

Collecting the outrageously tongue-twisting octet Batman: Bruce Wayne: Batman & Robin #1, Batman: Bruce Wayne: Red Robin #1, Batman: Bruce Wayne: Outsiders #1, Batman: Bruce Wayne: Batgirl #1, Batman: Bruce Wayne: Catwoman #1, Batman: Bruce Wayne: Commissioner Gordon #1, Batman: Bruce Wayne: Oracle #1 and Batman: Bruce Wayne: Ra’s Al Ghul #1 from December 2010, the drama begins with ‘Outside Looking In’ by Fabian Nicieza & Cliff Richards and a covert scrutiny of Bruce’s son Damien Wayne and Grayson – the triumphantly innovative new Batman & Robin…

As these Partners in Peril are foiling an attack on Mayor Hady by super-assassins the Hangmen, former star reporter Vicki Vale is nailing down the story of her life.

She has spent months assiduously gathering snippets of information, following hunches and piecing vague suspicions together and is now convinced that she has identified the secret identities of all Gotham’s Bat guardians – and that her old boyfriend Bruce is Batman.

All she needs is proof, and when she finds a bat-bug placed on her by Dick, she has it…

As the Dynamic Duo follow the last Hangman, they are unaware that they are in turn being tracked by an enigmatic armoured figure whose all-encompassing bodysuit mimics the many powers of the Justice League

Elsewhere caretaker patriarch Alfred Pennyworth enacts a desperate plan to deceive Vicki, blackmailing Tommy Elliot – the villain Hush, who had turned himself into a perfect duplicate of Bruce – into again impersonating the missing playboy, but the canny journalist is not fooled…

Elsewhere the enigmatic Insider rendezvous with Tim Drake AKA Red Robin.

The third Boy Wonder already knows who is inside the super-suit and tentatively acknowledges the necessity of keeping the return a secret, but comes bearing critical new information. He has discovered the abortive scheme to murder Hady was only part of a concerted international effort by cadres of assassins to eradicate city leaders across the globe…

With a live case going global Bruce is forced to adapt his reconnaissance assessment mission on the fly…

The saga continues in Batman: Bruce Wayne: Red Robin #1, where ‘The Insider’ (Nicieza Ramon Bachs & John Lucas) sees Tim head for Amsterdam and a confrontation with killer cabal The Council of Spiders. The battle leads to a reunion with unpredictable erstwhile companion Prudence, a former member of the League of Assassins and devout follower of immortal conqueror Ra’s Al Ghul.

She claims to serve Tim now but the lad has his doubts…

Even together they are barely a match for the arachnoid assassins, but then the Insider appears…

In Gotham Alfred plays his final card and tells Vicki everything she’s compiled and deduced is true. While she’s reeling he then swipes her only piece of evidence…

Back in Holland Insider, having infiltrated the Spiders, uses their initiation assignment to test Tim’s combat skills in a no-holds barred rooftop battle, having discovered the planet-wide contract on city leaders is part of a mystery manipulator’s vast, inexplicable Tournament of Death…

When Batman’s methods clashed with the JLA’s scruples, the Dark Knight formed his own superteam. Eventually he dumped them, only occasionally reuniting with Geo-Force, Halo, Looker, Katana and the rest.

Now in Batman: Bruce Wayne: Outsiders #1, (‘Inside Interference’ by Mike W. Barr, Javier Saltares, Rebecca Buchman & Walden Wong) the returned crusader travels to European kingdom Markovia to find his former followers in the midst of civil unrest with their current leader targeted for death…

Having sorted that crisis with a little inside help, Bruce confronts his forth sidekick Stephanie Brown

Daughter of C-list bad-guy Cluemaster, she began her costumed crime-busting career as the Spoiler, secretly scotching Daddy Dearest’s schemes before graduating to a more general campaign against the city’s underworld.

Eventually, she undertook a disastrous stint as the fourth Robin: a tenure which provoked a brutal gang war which devastated Gotham and ostensibly caused her own demise under torture at the red hands of psychopathic mob boss Black Mask.

When Stephanie returned to Gotham after months in self-imposed exile, she overcame incredible obstacles – the greatest of which was the Bat-family’s deep mistrust – and inherited the role of Batgirl from Cassandra Cain, a former assassin who had revived the role after her own predecessor was crippled and forced to retire…

Batman: Bruce Wayne: Batgirl #1, ‘Batgirl’ by Bryan Q. Miller & Pere Perez sees the Insider directly assault the flamboyant, cocky teen tornado, simultaneously testing her fighting skills and deductive abilities even as elsewhere the undaunted Vicki Vale attempts to push original Batgirl Barbara Gordon into an unguarded admission…

Selina Kyle had taken Bruce’s death hard, aligning herself with known felons Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. In Batman: Bruce Wayne: Catwoman #1, ‘Lifting the Vale’ by Derek Fridolfs, Peter Nguyen & Ryan Winn, the former thief and her new gal-pals save Vicki from disaster when she invades an underworld auction. It’s all a scam however as the feline fury only wants to copy all the journalist’s findings for Bruce…

The most impressive chapter here is the stark and shocking ‘Gotham’s Finest’ (Adam Beechen & Szymon Kudranski) from Batman: Bruce Wayne: Commissioner Gordon #1. In it the Tournament of Death takes a personal turn when Vicki becomes the target of The Penguin’s metahuman mercenaries and Gotham’s top cop has to fight his way out of his own HQ with her, whilst every bent officer on the force tries to kill them.

With the Insider almost too late Jim Gordon proves just why he’s the man Batman respects and trusts the most…

Police Commissioner’s daughter Barbara became computer crusader Oracle after her career as Batgirl ended when the Joker blew out her spine during one of his manic kill sprees. Although trapped in a wheelchair, she still hungered for justice and found new ways to make a difference in a very bad world.

Reinventing herself as a cyber-world information gatherer for Batman, she became an invaluable resource for the entire superhero community, before putting together her own fluctuating squad of crimefighters – the Birds of Prey.

With the grudging acceptance of stand-in Dark Knight Dick Grayson, she mentored Stephanie as the troublesome teen attempted to combine undergraduate studies with her compulsive mission to save lives and help the helpless…

In ‘Oracle’ by Mark Andreyko & Agustin Padilla (Batman: Bruce Wayne: Oracle #1) Babs makes the missing connections and works out who’s behind the massed assassin squads around the world… and how it impacts the entire Bat Network.

However with the legendary Seven Men of Death moving to silence Vicki – now revealed as the ultimate target – Oracle sets the Insider to guard the journalist while she activates all her available Birds (Man-Bat, Hawk & Dove, Ragman, Manhunter and Batgirl), but even their massed might is insufficient to prevent the reporter being abducted by Batman’s hidden foe: a man who will let nothing sully the pristine reputation and myth of the only person on Earth worthy of his respect…

With a cover gallery by Shane Davis & Barbara Ciardo, the sprawling, explosively absorbing saga concludes with the inevitable confrontation between the resurgent Bruce and his polar opposite as Batman: Bruce Wayne: Ra’s Al Ghul #1, (by Nicieza, Scott McDaniel & Andy Owens) details the final fate of Vicki in ‘A Life Worth Saving’

Fast, furious, complex and enticing, this is a spectacular and accessible yarn that stands on its own merits, so even the freshest newcomers and the very antithesis of Batmaniacs can enjoy the helter-skelter thrill-ride in perfect confidence of a great read.
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: the Man of Steel volume 7


By John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Karl Kesel, John Beatty, Keith Williams & Leonard Starr (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012- 3820-9

Although largely out of favour these days as the myriad decades of Superman mythology are relentlessly assimilated into one overarching, all-inclusive multi-media DC franchise, the stripped-down, gritty, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Action Ace as re-imagined by John Byrne and marvellously built upon by a stunning succession of gifted comics craftsmen produced some genuine comics classics.

Controversial at the start, Byrne’s reboot of the world’s first superhero was rapidly acknowledged as a solid hit and the collaborative teams who complemented and followed him maintained the high quality, ensuring continued success.

That vast, interlocking saga has been collected – far too slowly – over recent years in a more-or-less chronologically combined format as the fabulously economical trade paperback series Superman: The Man of Steel and this seventh volume (revisiting Superman #13-15, Action Comics #596-597 and Adventures of Superman #436-438 from January – March 1988) features the Kryptonian corner of DC’s third annual inter-company mega-crossover event.

After Crisis on Infinite Earths and Legends came Millennium, which saw writer Steve Englehart expand on an iconic tale from his  Justice League of America run (#140-141) as well as his tenure on the Green Lantern Corps.

Billions of years ago the robotic peacekeepers known as Manhunters had rebelled against their creators. The Guardians of the Universe were immortal and desired a rational, emotionless cosmos – a view not shared by their own women. The Zamarons abandoned the Guardians on Oa at the inception of their grand scheme but recently, after billions of years, the two factions had reconciled and left our Reality together.

Now they had returned with a plan to midwife a new race of immortals on Earth, but the Manhunters – who had since infiltrated all aspects of every society throughout the universe – were determined to thwart the plan, whether by seduction, connivance or just plain brute force.

The heroes of Earth were summoned by the reunited immortals and subsequently gathered to see the project to completion but were continually confronted by Manhunters in their own private lives… and their own comics.

DC Comics third braided mega-series was a bold effort intended to touch all corners of their universe, introduce new characters, tie-in many titles and moreover to do so on a weekly, not monthly, schedule. In addition to the 8 weekly issues of the miniseries itself, Millennium spread across 21 titles for two months – another 37 issues – for a grand total of 44 comicbooks, and those Superman-related episodes make up the majority of this titanic tome.

The crossover craziness begins here with ‘Toys in the Attic!’ from Superman #13, courtesy of Byrne & Karl Kesel, wherein elderly British craftsman Winslow Percival Schott opens a campaign of murder and wanton destruction targeting billionaire Lex Luthor, the Yank who ruined his little company and forced him to become the murderous Toyman.

No sooner had the Man of Tomorrow intervened in that fracas than he was drawn back to sleepy hometown Smallville in ‘Junk’ (Adventures of Superman #436, scripted by Byrne, illustrated by Jerry Ordway & John Beatty) to discover trusted confidant Lana Lang was an agent of the Manhunters.

In truth the insidious mechanoids had been watching the Last Son of Krypton since before that world had died, but botched capturing the baby when he first arrived on Earth. As a back-up plan, the Manhunters then replaced local practitioner Doc Whitney who subsequently turned every child born since into a mind-controlled sleeper agent.

Now with ClarkKent a key factor in the Millennium, Whitney rallied his forces to capture Superman but utterly underestimated the power and resourcefulness of the Man of Steel…

Although victorious, Superman’s triumph was tainted by tragedy. In defeat all Whitney’s unwitting agents – two generations of Smallville’s young folk – keeled over dead…

The story continued in ‘Hell is Where the Heart Is…’ (Byrne & Keith Williams from Action Comics #596) as Ghostly Guardian The Spectre is drawn to the catastrophe and facilitates Superman’s odyssey to the Spiritual Realms to rescue all the recently deceased…

Superman #14 features an action-packed team-up with Green Lantern Hal Jordan wherein Emerald Gladiator and Man of Tomorrow chase colossal super-Manhunter Highmaster through uncanny dimensions as the mechanical maniac seeks to attack the sequestered and enervated Guardians and Zamarons in ‘Last Stand!’ by Byrne & Kesel, after which events take a far more moody turn in Adventures of Superman #437, a twinned tale by Byrne, Ordway & Beatty.

‘Point of View’ simultaneously reveals how Luthor attempts to seduce one of the Millennium candidates to his evil side even as Lois Lane helplessly watches the brutally crippling struggle of merely mortal vigilante JoseGangbusterDelgado against Lex’s hyper-augmented cyborg warrior Combattor

The repercussions of that clash are examined in ‘Visitor’Action Comics #597- wherein Byrne, Leonard Starr & Williams impishly referenced the Silver Age catfights between Lois Lane and Lana Lang, whilst the story itself established the false premise that Superman had been raised as Clark’s adopted brother to throw off Lois’ growing suspicions…

With the Millennium complete, Superman #15 returned to regular wonderment and Superman was asked to find Metropolis Police Captain Maggie Sawyer’s missing daughter Jamie just as the city was hit with a rash of flying bandit children. ‘Wings’ (by Byrne & Kesel) introduced repulsive monster Skyhook – a horrific bat-winged Fagin who beguiled and mutated runaways whilst concealing even greater ghastly secrets…

This stunning selection of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun concludes with Adventures of Superman #438 and Byrne, Ordway & Beatty’s re-imagination of ‘…The Amazing Brainiac’.

A trip to the circus disastrously coincides with drunken mentalist Milton Fine developing uncanny psionic abilities and going wild. Despite the mental assaults being particularly effective against the Man of Steel, Superman eventually overcomes the furiously frantic performer, but was the beaten man simply deranged by his own latent abilities, or are his ravings about being possessed by an alien named Vril Dox of Colu somehow impossibly true…?

The back-to-basics approach lured many readers to – and crucially back to – the Superman franchise at a time when interest in the character had slumped to perilous levels, but it was the sheer quality of the stories and art which convinced them to stay.

Such cracking superhero tales are a high point in the Man of Tomorrow’s nearly eight decades of existence and these astoundingly readable collections are certainly the easiest way to enjoy a stand-out reinvention of the ultimate comic-book icon.
© 1988, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne


By Grant Morrison, Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette, Georges Jeanty, Ryan Sook, Lee Garbett & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3382-2

At the climax of a harrowing and sustained campaign of terror by insidious cabal The Black Hand, immediately followed by an all-out invasion of Earth by the hordes of Apokolips, the Batman was apparently killed – slain by Darkseid’s lethal, time-rending Omega beams.

Although the larger world was unaware of the tragedy, the superhero community secretly mourned and a small, dedicated army of assistants, protégés and allies – trained over years by the contingency-obsessed Dark Knight – formed a “Network” to police GothamCity in the days which followed: marking time until a successor could be found or the original returned…

Most of the Bat-schooled battalion refused to believe their inspirational mentor dead. On the understanding that he was merely lost, they eventually accepted Dick Grayson – the first Robin and latterly Nightwing – as a stand-in until Bruce Wayne could find his way back to them…

That fantastic voyage was detailed in the 6-issue miniseries Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne (July-December 2010), scripted by Grant Morrison and following the indeed alive Wayne as he leaped through the eons, gradually getting closer and closer to his home, each chapter a different era illustrated by all-star creators…

It begins with ‘Shadow on Stone’ (limned by Chris Sprouse & Karl Story) as a hunting party of the Deer tribe discover a gleaming fallen “sky-cart”. The object is in fact a time capsule from our time and nearby Bruce Wayne is slowly adapting to being marooned in Palaeolithic times. His gradual acceptance by the awestruck cavemen is interrupted by the attack of marauders from the Blood tribe, led by the immortal killer the future calls Vandal Savage.

Despite valiant resistance the Deer warriors die, until only the bat-draped stranger and a lone cave boy remain. Badly wounded and taken for sacrifice, Batman is later rescued by the lad who brings trinkets from the time capsule and the time-lost hero’s utility belt. As an eclipse covers the sun, Man of Bats routs the Blood Mob and defeats Savage, before plunging into a pool and vanishing…

Only the boy remains and he is met by gods. Superman, Green Lantern, Booster Gold and Rip Hunter are tracking Batman through time and arrive just as he vanishes. They are determined to stop him returning to the 21st century at all costs…

Even as the amazed boy begins to record the stories of the mysterious Bat warrior, Wayne resurfaces in Puritan New England, saving a woman from a hideous tentacled demon…

Illustrated by Frazer Irving ‘Until the End of Time’ relates how, even with his memory failing, Wayne impersonates a witch-hunter and befriends shunned spinster Goodwife Annie Tyler in the failing colony of Gotham. As Brother Mordecai he is a most unconventional witch finder, ignoring obvious signs of Satan and solving a murder with unseemly observational tricks…

Vanishing Point is a fortress-university at the End of Time and here, as Reality counts down its final minutes, a quartet of costumed time-travellers quiz the Biorganic Archivist AI, hoping to track Batman’s erratic course through the time-stream. They’re all painfully aware that cruel, subtle Darkseid has turned their friend into a weapon to destroy Earth if the Dark Knight ever reaches his home time…

Superman meets and almost stops him at Vanishing Point, but Wayne has already slipped back into the time-stream, having instituted his own ingenious survival plan…

Tragically the paranoia of 16th century Gotham and Mordecai’s waning influence won’t spare Annie, especially as the time-monster Batman initially drove off is still haunting the woods around the settlement and chief inquisitor Nathaniel Wayne is sworn to eradicate all vestiges of the unholy.

The pious Puritan earns Annie’s dying curse for his entire line as he hangs her, but his roving descendent cannot hear. He has fallen centuries ahead and – more memories eradicated – landed at the feet of legendary reiver Blackbeard Thatch

‘The Bones of Bristol Bay’ (art by Yanick Paquette & Michel Lacombe) finds the amnesiac mistaken for heroic third-generation buccaneer the Black Pirate and forced to lead the murdering corsair Thatch through the winding, yet strangely familiar cave system beneath Gotham County.

In search of buried gold the murderers encounter instead the deadly traps of the unspeakably ancient Miagani: troglodytic native tribesmen known as the Bat-People

In the 21st century, the Justice League hold a war council, heatedly debating how to stop their indomitable comrade from returning and setting off Darkseid’s ultimate booby trap. Tim Drake has searched old records and interpreted 40,000 years of myths and legends following his mentor’s trail through history, but Red Robin is only there as an advisor and cannot make the adults listen to him…

With Blackbeard beaten, the memory-challenged wanderer examines the sacred relics of the Bat People – a battered cape, trinkets, a fragile yellow belt of many pockets – and something stirs in his clouded mind…

Georges Jeanty & Walden Wong then illustrate a violent stopover in 1870s Gotham as ‘Dark Knight, Dark Rider’ initially shifts focus to the hereditary guardians of the records and artefacts left by grateful folk who have encountered the Bat over unceasing centuries.

One such family is slaughtered by outlaws working for undying but cancer-ridden Monsieur Sauvage, and their surviving daughter taken to explain the secret of the box with a bat-shaped lock…

Katie’s abductors have been remorselessly stalked by a bat-garbed stranger who doesn’t carry a gun. The silent avenger has tracked them back to boomtown Gotham, mercilessly depleting their numbers, but the immortal Frenchman is confidant that his tame medicine man Midnight Horse and debased Barbatos-worshipping doctor Thomas Wayne can make the girl talk before the hunter finds them.

Even if he does, his newly hired gunfighter Jonah Hex should even the odds…

The stranger rescues the girl and foils the villains but not before the bounty hunter gut shoots him…

He wakes in a Gotham of recent vintage, a place of glitz and glamour but one morally broken and irredeemably corrupt.  ‘Masquerade’ – with art by Ryan Sook, Pere Perez & Mick Gray – sees the memory-wiped hero hired from a hospital bed by Martha Wayne’s best friend to prove that the tragic socialite was murdered by her husband Thomas, who faked his own death and abandoned their young son Bruce…

Illustrated by Lee Garbett, Perez, Alejandro Sicat & Wong, the intricate machinations of Darkseid grow closer to fruition as the hero, stripped of everything but innate deductive instinct, uncovers a sinister, bloodthirsty plot by new criminal organisation the Black Hand. His instinctive struggle against the schemers won, the time-nomad makes the final short hop to the now where his arrival will instantly trigger ‘The All-Over’

Batman, of course, is the most brilliant escape artist of all time and even whilst being struck down by the New God of Evil had devised an impossibly complex and grandly far-reaching scheme to beat the devil and save the world…

With a covers-&-variants gallery by Adam Kubert, Sprouse, Irving, Paquette, Cameron Stewart, Sook, Garbett & Bill Sienkiewicz, this grandiose, gripping and astonishingly complex epic odyssey is a devious delight that will delight modern fans and casual visitors alike and this sterling compilation also includes the revelatory 15-page art feature ‘Back in Time: The Return of Bruce Wayne Sketchbook’ by Morrison, Kubert, Sprouse, Irving, Paquette & Sook.
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues – a Brightest Day tie-in volume


By Geoff Johns, Francis Manapul, Scott Kolins & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3195-8

In the aftermath of the intergalactic Zombie Apocalypse known as Blackest Night, a number of heroes and villains were mysteriously resurrected. Just prior to that, Barry Allen, the second Flash and scarlet herald of the Silver Age of American comicbooks, also returned from the dead to play a pivotal part in the long-prophesied Crisis.

Once back, however, his life became increasingly complicated…

This first volume of his post-revival exploits collects The Flash volume 3 #1-7 (June-December 2010) and portions of The Flash Secret Files and Origins 2010, revealing how the hero’s desire to return to a normal life proves a forlorn hope in a world still reeling from a swift succession of cosmic upheavals…

The high-octane rush begins in the six-part ‘Case One: The Dastardly Deaths of the Rogues’ by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul, as Barry returns to his old job as a CSI at Central City’s Crime Lab.

His old friend Captain Darryl Frye is happy he’s back and believes the returnee’s claim that he’s been in Witness Protection, but is far too busy to chat. Recently the City’s been swamped with nuisance crimes committed by the costumed crazies of Flash’s Rogues Gallery as well as lesser, more pedestrian felons …

Barry knows all about it: his trip to the office has already been interrupted stopping a bank job by the new Trickster

Before he has a chance to settle in, and already missing his old lab partner Patty Spivot, Barry is then dispatched to examine a body in East Park. Apparently somebody has murdered the Mirror Master

As his wife Iris joins the Press-pack behind the police tape, Barry makes a disturbing discovery: the ravaged corpse is neither of the two criminals to have operated as the Reflective Rogue but a mysterious unknown third…

This cadaver apparently appeared in a blaze of light and, when a second flare occurs, the Scarlet Speedster suits up and races across town to be greeted by five more strangers tricked out as his greatest foes…

The second issue finds Flash reeling at an incredible accusation. The costumed newcomers – Commander Cold, Weather Warlock, Top, Heatstroke and Trixster – are from the 25th century; a special law-keeping unit dubbed The Renegades come back in time to apprehend him for the murder of Mirror Monarch – an act he will commit in eighty-four days hence…

The team have been trained to tackle their own era’s greatest menace – Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash – and have no qualms about testing their tactics on his 21st century inspiration. Moreover, reasoned debate and the fact that he is still innocent of any crime are wasted on the future cops. The ensuing cataclysmic clash sees the Vizier of Velocity drive off his attackers, but only at the cost of an entire apartment building…

After diligently rebuilding the dwelling, Barry talks things over with Iris and decides to check on Zoom, currently incarcerated in the forbidding Iron Heights super-penitentiary, where at that very moment Digger Harkness – one of the dozen dead metahumans resurrected in the aftermath of the Blackest Night – is being confronted by the true Rogues.

Captain Cold and Co. have decided not to free their old ally, preferring to see if Captain Boomerang still has the necessary grit and class to be one of them…

At the harassed, stressed and over-worked Crime Lab, Barry has just annoyed his boss by reopening a cold case nobody has time for, when DNA evidence comes back that irrefutably proves that he is the murderer of the anachronistically expired Mirror Monarch…

Pressure mounts in the third chapter as Barry is understandably accused of contaminating a crime scene. His worry however, is that perhaps he is – or will be – the actual killer…

When Boomerang discovers he has returned to life with a new and deadly super power he murderously busts out of prison, arriving back in Central City just as the Renegades attack Barry and Iris.

Whether out of mistaken identity or sheer bloody-mindedness, Harkness joins the blockbusting battle, targeting the tomorrow cops and leaving Flash to frantically save the endangered bystanders…

Despite the bad odds and mounting chaos, Barry is subduing the riotous Rogue and Renegades when Top delivers a chilling warning and ultimatum. Unless Flash surrenders, Iris will die and the rest of the Rogues will unleash a horrific menace from the Mirror Dimensions

Afetr Top apparently switches sides, the speedster is propelled into an all-out attack on Captain Cold’s crew. The battle is soon wildly out of control but is interrupted when Boomerang is contacted by the White Entity responsible for bringing back the Dead Dozen…

His response ends the street war in an unpredictable manner which allows Flash to divine the true nature and target of all the time shenanigans – and stop the real architect of all his present woes.

…At least he would have, if the Renegades hadn’t used that moment to shanghai him into the future to face trial for murder…

The epic encounter concludes with the resurgent Scarlet Speedster deducing the reason for all the temporal turmoil, foiling his secret foe and heading home to Iris, utterly unaware that a mystery rider from the unknown is heading for him bearing a warning of a coming splintering time stream and an oncoming “Flashpoint”…

The Flash #7 shifts focus to Captain Boomerang as ‘What Goes Around, Comes Around’ (with art by Scott Kolins) reveals the origins and offers career highlights of the Ozzie outlaw, culminating in portentous meeting with the incalculably dangerous Zoom and an ominous confrontation with Captain Cold’s Rogues…

Perhaps narratively parked in the wrong place, ‘Running to the Past’ – also illustrated by Scott Kolins – then offers insights into Barry Allen’s troubled past as the hero dreams again of his mother’s murder and rededicates himself to one day closing that particularly painful cold case, before being welcomed back to the fold of his Speed Force Family, whilst across town the Rogues find the final legacy of Sam Scudder, the original Mirror Master…

Also included are a 2-page preview teaser for upcoming publishing event Flashpoint (inked by Paul Neary), a selection of wry and pithy Flash Facts (‘How Does a Boomerang Work?’, ‘How Do Captain Boomerang’s Boomerangs Work?’, ‘How Does a Mirror Work?’ and ‘How Do Mirror Master’s Mirrors Work?’) plus a mesmerising covers-&-variants gallery by Manapul & Brian Buccellato, Tony Harris, Ryan Sook, Greg Horn, Kolins & Michael Atiyeh, Fernando Pasarin, Joel Gomez, Randy Mayor & Carrie Strachan, Alé Garcia, Sandra Hope & Alex Sinclair and Darwyn Cooke.

The Flash has always been the epitome and paradigm of Fights ‘n’ Tights comics adventure and this blistering – if short-lived – iteration offers so much more than the requisite dose of thrills, chills and spills to satisfy the craving of every tension tripper, suspense junkie and (super) speed freak. Catch it if you can!
© 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.