Superman Chronicles volume 9


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No “To Be Continueds” here!

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

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

Batman Chronicles volume 10


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They taught bad people the lesson they deserved.

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

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

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

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

Superman Chronicles volume 8


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No “to be continueds” here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman: Phantom Zone


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman – Streets of Gotham volume 2: Leviathan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman vs. Zod


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This compilation concludes with a thoroughly modern reinterpretation of General Zod

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents Superman Team-up volume 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.