Showcase Presents Superman Family volume 4


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confusing, ain’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Almost…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman volume 2: Endgame


By Jeph Loeb, Mark Schultz, Joe Kelly, Mark Millar, Stuart Immonen, Butch Guice, Ed McGuiness, Doug Mahnke, German Garcia, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-701-6

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 second (not strictly chronological) collection gathers material from Superman Y2K, Superman #154, Superman: Man of Steel # 98, Action Comics #763 and The Adventures of Superman #576, covering December 1999-March 2000.

The tension-wracked doom days begin with the Superman Y2K one-shot special, crafted by scripter Joe Casey and artists Butch Guice, Kevin Conrad, Mark Prompst & Richard Bonk.

‘The End’ traces the history of the Luthor family in Metropolis from the first settlers in America to the present day when Last Son Lex practically owns the entire place as a counterpoint to the ongoing action…

With the end of the Holidays fast approaching, staunch traditionalist Clark Kent is facing a shocking crisis: new wife Lois and his own mother want to elbow the sacrosanct seasonal tradition of a quiet New Year’s on the Smallville farm for a (non-catering) vacation in the Big City…

Bowing to the inevitable, the Husband of Steel ferries the family to a Metropolis gripped with terror that all the computers in the world will imminently expire prompting the end of civilisation as the millennium closes (kids – this was genuine abiding fear at the time: for more information check here)…

When the countdown concludes everybody’s fears are completely justified as an alien entity overwhelms the world’s computer systems, triggering a wave of destruction affecting every electronic device on Earth…

Alien digital dictator Brainac 2.5 has upgraded himself since his last attack but his hatred for Lex Luthor remains unchanged. Whilst every hero on Earth battles panic, riots and failing technologies, Superman and Green Lantern are busy trying to catch all the nuclear missiles launched during the terrifying induced glitch, the computer dictator is trying his hardest to murder Lex and his baby daughter Lena.

As part of his scheme Brainiac 2.5 has also enslaved Earth’s many robotic and android entities such as Red Tornado, Hourman and the Metal Men, but the AI invader is blithely unaware that he too is being used…

With the world – and especially Metropolis – crashing into ruin the secret invader makes its move: from the far distant future the merciless Brainac 13 program has been attempting to overwrite its ancient ancestor and take over Earth centuries before it was even devised…

The tension intensifies in ‘Whatever Happened to the City of Tomorrow?’ by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuiness & Cam Smith (Superman volume 2 #154, March 2000) as the colossal chronologically-displaced construct begins reformatting the world; converting matter into materials and designs analogous to its own time. Unfortunately that’s very bad news for the billions of human beings inside buildings, vehicles and vessels undergoing those transformations…

Even Luthor is helpless, locked out of his own corporate tower as “his” city falls apart and the Man of Steel is occupied battling Brainiac 13 and upgraded cyborg assassin Metallo. Assistance arrives in most unwelcome form as little Lena begins offering technical advice. The toddler has been possessed by presumed-destroyed Brainiac 2.5: simultaneously becoming hostage and bolt-hole for the outmoded and nigh-obsolete alien menace…

With the aid of the Metal Men Superman finally defeats Metallo and confers with Lois and Jimmy Olsen. The games-mad lad theorises that the transforming city is starting to resemble a gigantic motherboard…

As elsewhere Jonathan and Martha Kent are trapped aboard a subway train programmed to deliver organic units to a slave-indoctrination station, the Man of Tomorrow attempts to dislodge the computerising city’s main power cable. When Brainiac 13 tries to digitise and absorb the annoying Kryptonian it accidentally reverts the hero to a previous incarnation: the electrical form of Superman Blue

The hostile planetary hacking continues in ‘AnarchY2Knowledge’ (by Mark Millar, Stuart Immonen & José Marzan, Jr. from The Adventures of Superman #576) wherein the Man of Energy hopelessly tackles Brainiac 13 and tries to quell the rising body count of helpless humans, whilst far below Luthor and Lena 2.5 battle through the overwritten bowels of the LexCorp Tower past marauding B13 creations to a stolen secret weapon…

The possessed tot shares a direct link with all Brainiacs’ core programming and has discovered a possible backdoor that could enable them to destroy the all-pervasive program from the future.

Their progress is greatly facilitated after Luthor’s lethally devoted bodyguards Hope and Mercy finally locate them. As their preparations proceed the villains opt to rescue Superman, incidentally restoring the Action Ace to his flesh and blood state. To save Metropolis for his family, the evil billionaire will even work with his most hated enemy…

Superman: Man of Steel # 98 continued the epic in ‘Thirty Minutes to Oblivion’ by Mark Schultz, Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen as the senior Kents face conversion into B13 drones but enjoy a last moment rescue by the Man of Steel and his sometime foe The Eradicator.

After a lengthy period of self-impose banishment in deep space (for which see Superman: Exile) the Man of Tomorrow returned to Earth carrying an incredibly powerful Kryptonian artefact which had survived the destruction of the planet. The Eradicator could reshape matter and was programmed to preserve, or indeed, resurrect and restore the heritage and influence of the lost civilisation at all costs.

After a number of close calls Superman realised the device was too dangerous to leave loose so he buried it in an Antarctic crevasse and foolishly assumed that ended the affair.

Such was not the case and the miracle machine returned many times, always attempting to remake Earth into a New Krypton.

When Superman died it created a new body and sought to carry on Kal-El’s legacy… Eventually it failed once more and fell into the hands of dying scientist David Connor who merged with the manufactured body to produce a phenomenally powerful – if morally and emotionally conflicted – new hero…

Superman’s understandable anxiety is soon assuaged as Eradicator assures him he is there to help and proves it by pointing out a weakness in the B13 tech assimilation. The transmode programs have as yet been unable to infect Kryptonian systems such as those in the hero’s Fortress of Solitude, but the base has now become the invader’s primary target.

If the program masters Kryptonian systems it will be utterly unstoppable…

After finishing off Metallo and the Metal Men, Eradicator and Superman head to the Fortress whilst in his factory inventor John Henry Irons (AKA Steel, part-time hero and hi-tech armourer to the City police force) and his niece Natasha find their own temporary answer to the threat of the constantly encroaching and bloodthirsty B13 drones…

Deep below LexCorp, Luthor and Lena 2.5 are working towards similar goals with the same insights whilst planning to betray each other later.

Admitting that the Brainiac core systems can’t even see Kryptonian tech, the baby bodysnatcher advises Lex to modify the robotic warsuit stolen from Superman and use it against the apparently omnipotent digital invader.

In the Antarctic however events have moved to a crisis point as the Fortress – transformed by echoes of the original Eradicator – has reconstructed itself into a colossal warrior and attempts to co-opt the predatory B13 programs to facilitate its own primary mission of recreating Krypton.

To counter this threat David Connor pays an intolerable price…

The epic comes to a startling conclusion in‘Sacrifice for Tomorrow’ (Joe Kelly, German Garcia, Kano & Marlo Alquiza from Action Comics #763) as Superman heads back to Metropolis armed with the knowledge of B13’s Achilles heel and his swiftly repurposed Kryptonian butler Kelex

Attacking the monstrous computer tyrant with a wave of robotic heroes, the Man of Tomorrow is again repulsed and goes looking for Luthor’s aid. However, despite Lex’s resolve to work with the Man of Steel to defeat Brainiac, the billionaire cannot resist turning the warsuit on its previous owner – a character flaw Superman was counting on – creating an opportunity to hijack the Kryptonian armour’s systems to power a forced crash in Brainiac 13…

The blockbuster battle ends as the world is rapidly reconverted to its original state, but for some inexplicable reason the remission halts outside Metropolis. The city remains an incomprehensible artefact of a far future with Luthor in control, frantically patenting thousands of incredible technological advances.

There is no sign of baby Lena and the master of Metropolis refuses to hear her name mentioned…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Guice, McGuiness & Cam Smith, Immonen & Marzan, Mahnke & John Dell, German Garcia & Jaime Mendoza, this staggering compilation introduced a whole new world – and a wealth of fresh problems – for the venerable, wide-ranging cast to cope with and further built upon the scintillating re-casting of the greatest of all superheroes. Lovers of the genre cannot help but respond to sheer scale, spectacle and compelling soap opera melodrama of these tales which will still delight all fans of pure untrammelled Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction.
© 2000, 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman Chronicles volume 11


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman Chronicles volume 9


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No “To Be Continueds” here!

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

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

Batman Chronicles volume 10


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They taught bad people the lesson they deserved.

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

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

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

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

Superman Chronicles volume 8


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No “to be continueds” here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman: Phantom Zone


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman – Streets of Gotham volume 2: Leviathan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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