Doom Patrol volume 1: Crawling from the Wreckage


By Grant Morrison, Richard Case, Doug Braithwaite, Scott Hanna & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-034-5

In 1986, mega-monster continuity reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths led to DC overwriting fifty years of continuity and revamping or reinventing their major properties. The massive spring cleaning exercise led to a swathe of bold, innovative titles and a fresh look at how comicbooks could be done.

A revival that began quite conventionally almost overnight became the one of company’s most radical enterprises. Despite having solid roots back in the Silver Age, Doom Patrol was a series that really dared to be different…

In 1963 DC/National Comics – without no prior warning – converted venerable anthology-mystery title My Greatest Adventure into a (remarkably fringe) superhero team-book with the 80th issue.

The debut tale introduced a startling squad of arguably disabled champions with their thematic roots still firmly planted in the B-movie monster films of the era which had for so long informed the tone and timbre of the parent title.

That aesthetic subtly shaped the progression of the strip – which took total control of the comic within months, prompting a title change to The Doom Patrol with issue #86 – and throughout its 6-year run, made the series one of the most eerily innovative and happily hip reads of that generation.

No traditional team of masked adventurers, the cast comprised a robot, a mummy and a pliable 50-foot woman in a mini-skirt, who joined forces with and were guided by a brusque, domineering, paraplegic mad scientist; each and all equally determined to validate themselves by fighting injustice their way…

Those damaged champions comprised competitive car racer Cliff Steele, but only after he had “died” in a horrific pile up, with his undamaged brain transplanted into a fantastic mechanical body… without his knowledge or permission…

Test pilot Larry Trainor had been trapped in an experimental stratospheric plane and become permanently and lethally radioactive, with the dubious benefit of gaining a semi-sentient energy avatar which could escape his body to perform incredible stunts for up to a minute at a time. To pass safely amongst men Trainor had to constantly wrap himself in specially-devised radiation-proof bandages.

Former movie star Rita Farr had been exposed to mysterious swamp gases which gave her the unpredictable and, at first, uncontrolled ability to shrink or grow to incredible sizes.

These outcasts were brought together by brilliant but enigmatic Renaissance Man Niles Caulder who, as The Chief, sought to mould marginalised misfits into a force for good. The wheelchair-bound savant directed the trio of solitary strangers in many terrifying missions as they slowly grew into a uniquely bonded family…

Even the way the series ended was radical for its time. Final issue Doom Patrol #121 (September/October 1968) saw three quarters of the team sacrifice their lives to save a village of inconsequential nobodies.

Over succeeding years clever backwriting revived them all, but to us readers at the time, that issue was shocking and incomprehensible.

In 1987, supplemented by new team-mates, the Doom Patrol – now based in Kansas City – returned to muddle along for 18 issues (and a few one-shots and specials), before again being devastated by death and living up to their perhaps ill-considered name. Following an invasion by an alliance of alien races, a “gene bomb” was detonated in Earth’s atmosphere which warped, erased or triggered the powers of many metahumans.

In the resulting fallout, the team suffered appalling losses…

Thus here, as neophyte Scottish import and unknown quantity Grant Morrison began his American writing career, Negative Man has been separated from his human host, Cliff Steele has suffered a psychological collapse, energy-caster Tempest has ceased using his abilities and teenaged trainee Lodestone lies in a coma…

This collection gathers Doom Patrol volume 2 #19-25 (the monthly issues from February-August 1989, as first collected in one of DC’s earliest trade paperbacks in 1992), wherein traditional team super-heroics were abruptly and ignominiously jettisoned in favour of Big Concept science, “sophisticated suspense” and macabre creeping terror.

A less celebrated but equally crucial component of the revolutionary change was penciller Richard Case, whose stylish, low-key interpretation of some of the (at that time) strangest scripts, situations and characters ever seen in mainstream comics imbued the wildest conceptions with plausible veracity. The illustrator was usually aided and abetted by the steady assured assistance of unflappable inker Scott Hanna.

Here, however, the opening chapter is inked by Carlos Garzón as an eerie, eponymous adventure begins with ‘Crawling from the Wreckage’ with a nightmare-wracked Cliff Steele receiving a visitor in the sanatorium where he voluntarily languishes.

Robotics wunderkind Dr Will Magnus – who created the Metal Men and had rebuilt and reconstructed Cliff from the scraps which survived the explosion which ended the first Doom Patrol – has come calling, eager to fix his former patient and repair this latest glitch…

As intense, obsessive Niles Caulder browbeats burned out Josh Clay (AKA Tempest) into staying with the team in a “non-combat” capacity, over at the Alamance Memorial Hospital Larry Trainor is recovering from major injuries and revelling in the fact that he is no longer a radioactive freak hosting a bizarre energy parasite.

The only down side is the cost: the death of his partners and protégés and the persistent comatose state of youthful new team-mate Rhea Jones, the magnetically-empowered Lodestone.

Larry’s complacency is shattered when he starts seeing the Negative force again, howling to be let back in…

As Magnus struggles to counsel Cliff, the energy apparition moves again on Larry, possessing both him and his attending doctor Eleanor Poole coldly remoulding them all into an eerie three-part, multiple-gendered amalgamated being calling itself Rebis

Magnus meanwhile plays his last card: with Robotman locked in self-pity and self-loathing, the master engineer switches tactics by appealing to Cliff’s heroic humanity and abiding compassion. He introduces the man of metal to fellow-patient Kay Challis: a young woman known to all as Crazy Jane.

Afflicted with multiple personality disorder, she manifests as (at least) 64 very different people, and since the gene bomb detonation, each one has manifested a different super power…

And elsewhere, a hideously burned crash victim who takes far too long to die drops a very strange black book and stops muttering the phrase “the Scissormen”. Federal agents on the scene resignedly realise this case needs the unique attention of Niles Caulder and his band of freaks…

Strange phenomena begin to proliferate globally in ‘Cautionary Tales’ (inked by Hanna) culminating in reports of many disappearances. Each vanished victim is marked by the silhouetted hole he or she leaves in reality…

As Caulder is cautiously recruiting hyper-intelligent, emotionally distant Rebis, across town Magnus cannot believe the change in Cliff. With Jane now his inseparable companion, Steele has regained much of his previous poise and lucidity: so much so, that Magnus offers to rebuild him a new body with sensors and feedback systems which will restore or approximate all the physical senses lost since becoming a brain trapped inside an ambulatory metal jail cell…

Apparently also back is Robotman’s gift for attracting trouble, as his evening walk with Jane is interrupted by a plummeting body screaming about “Scissormen”. With arcane abductions and cross-dimensional incursions mounting, the sanatorium becomes ground zero for packs of terrifying, gibberish-spouting, blade-handed invaders who attack staff and inmates, with only Jane’s arsenal of new abilities keeping her and Cliff out of the scything clutches and apparent extra-dimensional excisions…

All over the world bizarre phenomena and uncanny events mount…

More information – if not understanding – accrues with ‘Worlds in Collision’ as Kansas City begins to merge with a ghastly otherplace metropolis. Cliff and Alice battle macabre and unnatural foes all the way to the Doom Patrol’s new HQ in the Rhode Island mountain that was the original sanctuary of the Justice League of America.

Here, Caulder deduces their enemy is actualised metafiction stemming from a philosophical thought experiment that escaped its own boundaries to invade consensual reality but before he can formulate a response an army of Scissormen converge on their location and cut Josh out of existence. With no other choice and fed up with running, Cliff leads Rebis and Alice on a counterstrike into the heart of ‘The Ossuary’ to demolish the predatory city of Orqwith from within using brute force and pedantic logic…

With a semblance of normality restored just in time, the Doom Patrol settle in and welcome hirsute simian pre-teen Dorothy Spinner into the fold. Her uncontrolled ability to manifest monsters from her memory and imagination is only the most minor of annoyances, however, compared to the incursion of an ancient extradimensional hunter who abducts Lodestone’s comatose body from the hospital.

Thankfully, Crazy Jane has just the personality and powerset to follow ‘The Butterfly Collector’

Divining his many names and history of slaughtering women throughout history, she leads the team’s break in to ‘The House that Jack Built’ where the red-handed butcher’s many outrageous claims and sadistic acts prove ultimately no proof against the Patrol and a suddenly awake if not aware Lodestone…

This initial trade paperback (and digital) compilation concludes with a smaller-scaled but still potentially lethal tale of ‘Imaginary Friends’. Illustrated by Doug Braithwaite & Hanna it focuses on shy, meek little Dorothy Spinner and her growing relationship with Josh Clay. A key point in her life is almost derailed and turned to bloodbath when her burgeoning biology catastrophically interacts with her thought-materialisation power and a leftover (but-still-active) trophy from the JLA’s past…

Including a context-building Introduction from Tom Peyer and ‘A Word from the Author’ first seen in DP #20, this collection of strange brews were – and remain- a magnificent mission statement for the revitalised DC Universe, offering gritty, witty fancifully cohesive and contemporary stories that appealed not just to Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatics but also lovers of wild concepts, beguiling metafiction and thrilling supercrime capers. As such they are still perfect fodder for today’s so-sophisticated, informed and ultimately sensation-hungry readers.
© 1987, 2005, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Son of Superman


By Howard Chaykin, David Tischman, J.H. Williams III & Mick Gray (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-595-1 (HB)                    :978-1-56389-596-8 (TPB)

Dads are difficult: it’s their main role in life. They’re designed to protect and sustain but with so few lions and tigers and bears to fend off, they just hang around and become less understandable and more embarrassing – or if you’re a daughter, increasingly suspicious of and hostile to your friends with every month you age.

They are absolute hell to find gifts for on made-up occasions intended to fill corporate coffers.

Too late now, but why not try a nice book next year…

Originally released as a spiffy hardback in February 2000 (and rushed out in paperback four months later), Son of Superman saw Howard Chaykin and his writing partner David Tischman exploring modern themes of self-image and abandonment through a timeless lens of teenage rebellion writ large…

Set in the then far-future of 2017 AD. and an overwhelmingly conservative and corporate America, it posits that Superman has been missing since 2000. The Justice League has become an oppressive arm of Federal Government, and the biggest threat to homeland security is the terrorist organisation The Supermen.

This revolutionary cell is led by the vanished hero’s oldest friends Pete Ross and Lana Lang and the menace of humanity is ruthless, unscrupulous Lex Luthor who now claims ownership of most of the planet.

Jon Kent is a brash, smart-mouthed high school kid and his mother Lois is a Hollywood screenwriter. Their lives are pretty normal (for rich Americans) …until the worst solar storm in history abruptly triggers her boy’s unsuspected and dormant superpowers. Now mom has to reveal that his long-dead dad was in fact the world’s greatest hero.

From having to deal with girls, grades and puberty the turbulent teen suddenly finds himself the focus of all manner of unpleasant and unwelcome attention; heroes and villains, the Feds and his own budding conscience…

How this new and exceedingly reluctant hero saves the world, busts the bad guys, and solves the mystery of his missing father makes for a good old-fashioned “never trust anyone over the age of 30” romp: full of thrills and spills thanks to the snarkily superior scripting skills of arch-nonconformists Chaykin and Tischman, sublimely enhanced by spectacular artwork from J.H. Williams III (Starman, Promethea, Rex Mundi, Batwoman) and Mick Gray.

This surprisingly enjoyable, if unchallenging, alternative tale of the Man of Steel comes courtesy of the much missed Elseworlds imprint, which was designed by DC as a classy vehicle for what used to be called “Imaginary Stories” – for which read using branded characters in stories that refute, contradict or ignore established monthly continuities. Although often a guaranteed recipe for disaster, every so often the magic of unbridled creativity brought forth gems. This is one of the latter and should be re-released ASAP.

Then you could nick it from your dad…
© 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3331-5 (HB)

One of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history occurred in 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to stop the Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in their universe has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket paid off big-time; even when all Marvel’s all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man were absent, it merely allowed the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars regularly featured due to a rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included one of any reader’s favourites. The increasingly bold and impressively ambitious stories and artwork were no hindrance either.

This sturdy hardcover and eBook compilation gathers the astounding contents of Avengers issues #89-100 collectively spanning June 1971 – June 1972: a riot of cosmic calamity which confirmed scripter Roy Thomas as a major creative force in comics whilst simultaneously demonstrating the potential the “debased” medium could aspire to.

At the time Thomas’ bold experiment was rightly considered the most ambitious saga in Marvel’s brief history: astounding sagas of tremendous scope which dumped Earth into a cosmic war the likes of which comics fans had never before seen. The Kree/Skrull War set the template for all multi-part crossovers and publishing events ever since and it was followed by another astounding epic proving that more and better was to come…

Following Thomas’s lengthy discourse on how it all happened in his Introduction, the drama begins relatively quietly as marooned Kree warrior Captain Marvel is finally freed from virtual imprisonment in a ghastly antimatter universe.

Mar-Vell was originally sent as a spy to Earth but he quickly went native and became a protector of humanity. After an intergalactic mission to save his former masters he was flying back to Earth when he was suddenly sucked into the anti-matter hell of the Negative Zone

The trapped warrior found a loophole through long-dormant Kree artefacts and Nega-bands. Inextricably bonding to professional human side-kick Rick Jones, he could switch places whenever danger loomed, but would be drawn back into the dread domain after three hours.

Following interminable, agonising months when Rick refused to trade atoms with his alien alter ego, ‘The Only Good Alien…’ (art by Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger) sees the bonded brothers finally separated just as, in the distant Kree Empire, the ruling Supreme Intelligence is overthrown by his enforcer Ronan the Accuser

On Earth, the rebellion results in the activation of a long-dormant robotic Kree Sentry which attacks Mar-Vell and the Avengers before enacting a deep-programmed protocol to devolve humanity to the level of cavemen in concluding chapter ‘Judgment Day’ (drawn and inked by Sal B)…

Even with Ronan taking personal charge of a compromised polar base, the scheme to eradicate humanity is narrowly defeated in ‘Take One Giant Step… Backward!’, but the cat is let out of the bag about the panic-inspiring notion that extraterrestrials lurk among us. Moreover, public opinion turns against the heroes for concealing the threat of repeated alien incursions…

In a powerful allegory of the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s, the epic expands in issue #92 (Sal B & George Roussos) as ‘All Things Must End!’ sees riots in American streets and a political demagogue capitalising on the crisis. Subpoenaed by the authorities, castigated by friends and public, the current team – The Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver – is ordered to disband by founding fathers Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

Or are they…?

The plot thickens as Neal Adams & Tom Palmer assume the chores with double-sized Avengers #93 and ‘This Beachhead Earth’. Here the Vision is nigh-fatally attacked and those same founding fathers evince no knowledge of having benched the regular team.

With original Ant-Man Henry Pym undertaking ‘A Journey to the Center of the Android!’ to save the Vision’s artificial life, the Avengers become aware of not one, but two hostile alien presences on Earth: bellicose Kree and sinister, seditious shape-shifting Skrulls. The revelation triggers a ‘War of the Weirds!’ on our fragile globe.

Acting too late, the human heroes are unable to prevent mutant siblings Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as well as their protector Mar-Vell from being abducted by the Super-Skrull

With more stunning Adams art, ‘More than Inhuman!’ in issue #94 entangles the long-hidden race of advanced beings called Inhumans in the mix, disclosing that their advanced science and super-powers are the result of genetic meddling by the Kree in the depths of prehistory. Now, with Inhuman king Black Bolt missing and his mad, malign brother Maximus in charge, the Kree are calling in their ancient markers…

Second chapter ‘1971: A Space Odyssey’ (pencilled by John Buscema) focuses on Mar-Vell as he is increasingly pressured to reveal military secrets to his shape-shifting captors. The Skrulls are ready to launch a final devastating all-out attack on their eons-old rivals, even as on Earth ‘Behold the Mandroids!’ exposes the American authorities attempting to arrest all costumed heroes…

In Avengers #95 ‘Something Inhuman This Way Comes…!’ coalesces the disparate story strands as aquatic Inhuman Triton helps defeat the US government robotic Mandroids before beseeching the beleaguered heroes to find his missing monarch and rescue his people from the pressganging Kree.

After so doing, and with a solid victory under their belts at last, the Avengers head into space to liberate their kidnapped comrades and save Earth from becoming collateral damage in the impending cosmos-shaking clash between Kree and Skrulls…

‘The Andromeda Swarm!’ (with additional inking from Adams and Al Weiss) is perhaps the Avengers’ finest hour, as a small, brave band of valiant heroes hold off an immense armada of star-ships, losing one of their own in the conflict. Meanwhile the Supreme Intelligence is revealed to have been pursuing its own clandestine agenda all along, after having bewildered sidekick Rick Jones abducted to further its terrifyingly ambitious plans….

The astounding final episode ‘Godhood’s End!’ brings the uncanny epic to a climactic close with a literal Deus ex Machina as the Supremor’s master-plan is finally revealed. However, the war is actually ended by the most unlikely of saviours and an avalanche of costumed heroes: an action overload extravaganza which has never been surpassed in the annals of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction…

Even after saving the world, life goes on and seemingly gets more dangerous every day. ‘Let Slip the Dogs of War’ (Avengers #98, by Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith & Sal Buscema) sees harried heroes Captain America, Iron Man, Vision, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Thor debating the loss of their comrade Goliath, missing in action since he explosively stopped an alien warship from nuking Earth…

As the Thunderer heads for Asgard and its magic scrying mirrors, the fruitless debate is curtailed as war-mongering demagogue Mr. Tallon incites riot in the streets of New York. The gathered crowds attack the Avengers when they tried to quell the unrest and it is soon evident that the war-hawk has supernatural assistance.

…And in the dimensional void the Thunder God discovers all access to the Immortal Realms has been cut off…

By the time Thor returns to Earth his comrades are bewitched too. Joining with the seemingly immune Vision in a last-ditch, hopeless battle, the Storm Lord fights his best friends until the tide is turned by a perfectly aimed arrow, heralding the return of Goliath to his original Hawkeye identity…

Moreover, he has with him another Avenger: an amnesiac Hercules, Prince of Power, whose only certain knowledge is that Earth and Asgard are doomed…

Inked by Tom Sutton ‘…They First Make Mad!’ expands the epic as the Avengers call on all their resources to cure Hercules and decipher his cryptic warning whilst the World’s leaders seem determined to catapult the planet into atomic Armageddon.

As Hawkeye explains his miraculous escape from death in space and how he found Hercules the call goes out, summoning every hero who has ever been an Avenger. Suddenly two Grecian Titans materialise to trounce the team, dragging the terrified Prince of Power back to Olympus…

The epic ends in the staggeringly beautiful anniversary 100th issue ‘Whatever Gods There Be!’ (inked by Smith, Joe Sinnott & Syd Shores) as thirteen Avengers – including even the scurrilous Swordsman and blockbusting Hulk – indomitably invade the home of the Hellenic Gods to discover old enemy Enchantress and war god Ares are behind the entire malignant plot…

This titanic tome is packed with extra treats, including the cover of all-reprint Avengers Annual #5 plus the covers and new bridging material created by Alan Zelenetz, Walt Simonson & Palmer for the 1983 Kree-Skrull War starring the Avengers reprint miniseries. Also on show is Neal Adams’ take on the creation of the tale in ‘Three Cows Shot me Down’, supplemented by his cover for the 2000 and 2008 trade paperbacks. Upping the ante are original art pages and a selection of his un-inked pencil pages to delight every fan of fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy action…

Roy Thomas and his artistic collaborators were always at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of creators: brilliantly building on and consolidating Lee, Kirby and Ditko’s initial burst of comics creativity whilst spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder- machine of places and events that so many others could add to.

These terrific tales are ideal examples of superheroes done exactly right and also act as pivotal points as the underdog company evolved into a corporate entertainment colossus. There are also some of the best superhero stories you’ll ever read…
© 1971, 1972, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-803-1 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-615-0 (PB)

By the time Georges Remi began Tintin’s fourth serialised adventure – in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme from December 1932 to February 1934 and gathered in a collected volume by Casterman in 1934 – he was well on the way to mastery of his art but was still growing as a writer.

Although the periodical format meant that a certain degree of slapstick and seemingly directionless action was necessary to keep the attention of the reader, Remi (known the world over as Hergé) was evolving by leaps and bounds, mastering the ability to integrate these set-piece elements into the building of a complete narrative.

Cigars of the Pharaoh is stylistically much more of a fully-realised and craftily-designed thriller, with a solid plot underpinning all the episodic hi-jinks.

Following directly on from Tintin in America, here the valiant boy reporter is returning from Chicago on an oceangoing liner headed to Egypt. Here he and Snowy meet Sophocles Sarcophagus – the first in a string of absent-minded professors which would ultimately culminate in the outlandishly irascible yet lovable Cuthbert Calculus.

Dithering archaeologist Sarcophagus has divined an ancient mystery that is somehow connected to a ring of ruthless drug smugglers. Tintin memorably encounters bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson at this juncture, when narcotics are planted in his cabin, and a complex drama riotously unfolds as the lad and Sarcophagus discover a lost pyramid is not only the smuggler’s base but the foundation for a much darker game – the overthrow of nations!

Hergé introduced many other recurring and supporting characters in this tale. As well as the shambling policemen, there is the villainous seaman Captain Allan, globe-girdling small-trader Oliveira da Figueira and oily movie mogul Roberto Rastapopoulos, who would all figure strongly in later stories.

The author was gearing up for the long creative haul, and thus began inserting plot-seeds that would only flower in future projects…

When Tintin’s relentless investigations take him to India, where the villains are attempting to topple a Maharajah trying to destroy the Opium poppy industry, the plucky lad befriends the potentate and thwarts the plan of a crazed Fakir. This villain frequently employs a drug called Rajaijah, which permanently drives men mad, and is also somehow connected to the Egyptian gang.

The contemporary version of this tale was revised by Hergé in 1955, and sharp-eyed fans will spot a few apparent anachronisms, but the more open-minded will be able to unashamedly wallow in a timeless comedy-thriller of exotic intrigue and breakneck action.

Although the mystery of the Cigars of the Pharaoh ends satisfactorily with a climactic duel in the rugged and picturesque hill-country, the threat and relevance of Rajaijah would not be resolved until Hergé’s next tale, and his first masterpiece…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, this lush series of hardback collections is a very satisfying way of rectifying that sorry situation. So why haven’t you..?
The Cigars of the Pharaoh: artwork © 1955, 1983 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1971 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

All Star Superman


By Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely with Jamie Grant (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3205-4

Happy Anniversary, Man of Tomorrow… and here’s to many more.

When dwindling sales and economic realities forced comics down certain editorial paths, the US mainstream went for darker tales and grittier heroes. Meeting a certain degree of success, a policy of following trends became mandatory.

Ninjas, cyborgs, younger incarnations – all the old heroes put on new clothes as fashion dictated, abandoning their own mythologies whenever it seemed most expedient. The saddest thing is that sales in the long run kept falling anyway, and by recanting all the appurtenances of a long-lived character, they removed points of reference for any older readers who might contemplate a return.

So bravo to those companies that have repackaged their notionally “unfashionable” classics for the nostalgia market, and especially for those editors that have resisted slavish continuity as the only option and opened up key characters to broader interpretation.

When I was a nipper, Superman had outlandish adventures and was still a decent bloke.

His head might occasionally be replaced by a lion’s or an ant’s and he loved playing jokes on his friends a bit too much, but he was still one of us. His exploits were routinely mind-boggling, but he kept a quiet, down-to-Earth dignity about him. He only shouted to shatter concrete, and not to bully villains. He was okay and he was quintessentially cool.

…And in All-Star Superman he was again. Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (aided and abetted by the digital wizardry of inker/colourist Jamie Grant) crafted a delightful evocation of those simpler, gentler times with a carefully stage-managed guided tour of the past, redolent with classic mile-markers.

Superman was the world’s boy scout, Lois Lane spent her days trying to prove Clark Kent is the Man of Steel, Jimmy Olsen was a competent young reporter dating Lois’ sister Lucy and all of time and space knew they could always rely on the Metropolis Marvel.

A 12-part miniseries running from January 2006 to October 2008, All-Star Superman celebrated those good old days in a most subversive manner beginning with ‘…Faster…’ as the Man of Steel saves a solar astronaut but only at an incredible, fatal cost to himself.

As a result, the Action Ace has to make some major changes in his life, beginning by satisfying Lois’ greatest desire…

In #2 and 3 (February and May 2006), ‘Superman’s Forbidden Room’ and ‘Sweet Dreams, Superwoman’, Lois takes centre stage as a devilish plot to kill Superman forces the hero to acknowledge his feelings for her. The result is an astonishing trip to his Fortress of Solitude and a hyper-empowering birthday gift she will never forget…

The hero’s best pal hits the headlines next as ‘The Superman/Olsen War’ finds the plucky cub-reporter undergoing the most shocking – and potentially lethal – transformation of his strange career, after which ‘The Gospel According to Lex Luthor’ (A-SS #5, September 2006) finds unrepentant Lex Luthor on Death Row and granting Clark Kent the interview of his career and scoop of a lifetime…

Superman is dying. Clandestinely poisoned by Lex and the Tyrant Sun Solaris, the Man of Tomorrow must make bold preparations and rush desperately to finish a shopping list of impossible tasks before his inevitable end. The gallant defender is aware that the precious Earth and his greatest friends must be kept safe and happy, even after his demise…

The quest kicks into high gear after a time-bending and portentously eventful ‘Funeral in Smallville’ (#6, March 2007); leading to a brutal clash with his imperfect duplicate in ‘Being Bizarro’ (#7, June) and one last visit to the square planet htraE in ‘Us Do Opposite’ (#8, August)…

The end is fast-approaching in All-Star Superman #9 (December 2007) as ‘Curse of the Replacement Supermen’ finds the Man of Steel facing two Kryptonian emigres attempting to turn Earth into a facsimile of their lost world. ‘Neverending’ (#10, May 2008) rapidly follows our rapidly declining hero on a nonstop junket to save lives before his own concludes…

The tension ramps up for penultimate episode ‘Red Sun Day’ (July) as Luthor, having turned his execution to his own advantage, attacks with all his carefully-gathered allies, before the conclusion ‘Superman in Excelsis’ reveals the perished Man of Steel’s greatest moment and most poignant triumph…

Completing the experience are commentary, character analysis, sketches and designs by Morrison & Quitely plus a full cover gallery from Quitely and a variant cover by Neal Adams.

Don’t believe this is just a pastiche of past glories. Kids of all ages are better informed than we were, and there’s a strong narrative thread and sharp, witty dialogue, backed up by the best 21st century technobabble to keep our attention and ensure that even the worldliest young cynic feels a rush of mind-expanding, goose-bump awe…

Although a plot to kill Superman carries this tale along there is human drama and tension aplenty to season the wonderment. Revisiting such unforgettable Silver Age motifs as the Planet of the Bizarros, being replaced by (even) more competent Kryptonians, liberating the citizens of the Bottle City of Kandor and all those cataclysmic battles with Luthor, not to mention curing cancer and the last Will and Testament of Superman, these gently thrilling glimpses of finer, gentler worlds shine with charm and Sense-of-Wonder, leavened with dark, knowing humour and subtle wistfulness.

…And action. Lots and lots of spectacular, mind-boggling action…

Older readers of the Man of Steel look back on an age of weirdness, mystery, hope and – above all – unparalleled imagination. Morrison and the uniquely stylish Quitely obviously remember them too and must miss them as much as we do.

All-Star Superman: One of the very few superhero collections that literally anybody can – and should – enjoy…
© 2006-2008, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The War Years 1938-1945


By Roy Thomas, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster with Don Cameron, Mort Weisinger, Fred Ray, Jack Burnley, Wayne Boring, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka, John Sikela, Sam Citron, Ira Yarbrough, George Roussos, Stan Kaye & various (Chartwell Books)
ISBN: 978-0-7858-3282-9

The creation of Superman and his unprecedented adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form. Within three years of his debut in the summer of 1938, the intoxicating mix of eye-popping action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early exploits of the Man of Tomorrow had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy and even whimsical comedy: all deep and abiding issues for the American public at that time.

However, once the war in Europe and the East snared America’s consciousness, combat themes and patriotic imagery dominated most comicbook covers if not interiors and the Man of Steel was again in the vanguard.

In comicbook terms Superman was master of the world and had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry. There was a popular newspaper strip, a thrice-weekly radio serial, games, toys, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio’s astounding animated cartoons.

Thankfully, the quality of the source material was increasing with every four-colour release and the energy and enthusiasm of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster informed and infected the burgeoning studio that grew around them to cope with the relentless demand.

Superman was definitely every kid’s hero, and the raw, untutored yet captivating episodes reprinted here were also been completely embraced by the wider public, as comicbooks became a vital tonic for the troops and all the ones they had left behind…

I sometimes think – like many others of my era and inclinations – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when 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 appropriated (but now offensive) contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Nazis”.

This superb hardcover archive has been curated by comicbook pioneer Roy Thomas, exclusively honing in on the euphoric output of the war years, even though 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…

A past master of WWII era material, Thomas opens this tome with a scene-setting Introduction and prefaces each chapter division with an essay offering tone and context before the four-colour glories commence with Part 1: The Road to War

Following the cover to Action Comics #1, the first Superman story begins.

Most of the early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have in later years been given descriptive appellations by the editors. Thus, after describing the foundling’s escape from exploding Planet Krypton and explaining his astonishing powers in nine panels, with absolutely no preamble the wonderment begins in ‘Superman, Champion of the Oppressed’ and ‘War in San Monte’ from Action Comics #1 and 2 (June and July 1938 by Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster) as the costumed crusader – masquerading by day as reporter Clark Kent – began averting numerous tragedies.

As well as saving an innocent woman from the electric chair and delivering rough justice to a wife-beater, the tireless crusader works over racketeer Butch Matson – consequently saving suave and feisty colleague Lois Lane from abduction and worse, since she was attempting to vamp the thug at the time!

The mysterious Man of Steel made a big impression on her by then outing a lobbyist for the armaments industry who was bribing Senators on behalf of greedy munitions interests fomenting war in Europe…

The next breathtaking instalment ‘Revolution in San Monte’ sees the mercurial mystery-man travelling to the actual war-zone and spectacularly shutting down the hostilities already in progress…

Maintaining the combat theme, the cover of Action Comics #10 (March 1939) follows and the cover and first two pages of Superman #1 (Summer 1939): and expanded 2-page origin describing the alien foundling’s escape from Krypton, his childhood with unnamed Earthling foster parents and eventual journey to the big city.

A back-cover ad for the Superman of American club and the October 1939 Action Comics #17 cover precedes Fall 1939’s Superman #2 cover and rousing yarn ‘Superman Champions Universal Peace!’, depicting the dynamic wonder man once more thwarting unscrupulous munitions manufacturers by crushing a gang who had stolen the world’s deadliest poison gas weapon…

After another concise history lesson Part 2: War Comes to Europe re-presents a stunning outreach article. Look Magazine commissioned a legendary special feature by the original creators for their 27th February 1943 issue. ‘How Superman Would End the War’ is a glorious piece of wish-fulfilment which still delights, as the Man of Tomorrow arrested and dragged budding belligerents Hitler and Stalin to a League of Nations court in Geneva.

Accompanied by the March 1940 cover, Action Comics #22 and #23 then declared ‘Europe at War’: a tense and thinly disguised call to arms for the still neutral USA, and a continued story – almost unheard of in those early days of funny-book publishing. Here Lois and Clark’s fact-finding mission (by Siegel, Shuster and inker Paul Cassidy) spectacularly escalated, and after astounding carnage revealed a scientist named Luthor to be behind the international conflict…

The anti-aircraft cover for Superman #7 (November/December 1940) and an ad for the Superman Radio Program precede Siegal, & Wayne Boring & Don Komisarow’s ‘The Sinister Sagdorf’ (Superman #8 January/February 1941). This topical thriller spotlights enemy agents infiltrating American infrastructure whilst ‘The Dukalia Spy Ring’ (Superman #10 May/June 1941) references the 1936 Olympics and sees the Action Ace trounce thinly-veiled Nazis at an international sports festival and expose vicious foreign propaganda: themes regarded as fanciful suspense and paranoia as America was still at this time still officially neutral in the “European War.”

Behind Fred Ray’s Armed services cover for Superman #12 (September/October 1941, ‘Peril on Pogo Island’ (Siegel, Shuster & Leo Nowak) finds Lois and Clark at the mercy of rampaging tribesmen, although spies from a certain foreign power are at the back of it all after which a Fred Ray gallery of covers – Action Comics #43 (December 1941), Superman #13 (November/December 1941), Action Comics #44 (January 1942) and Superman #14 (January/February 1942) – closes the chapter.

All of these were prepared long before December 7th changed the face and nature of the conflict…

After Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor everything changed and Part 3: America Goes to War reflects the move to a war footing, beginning with the infamous Siegel & Boring ‘Superman Daily Strips’ from January/February 1942, wherein an overeager Clark Kent tries too hard to enlist and only succeeds in getting himself declared 4F (unfit to fight)…

Timeless Ray patriotic masterpieces from Superman #17 (July/August 1942) and Superman #18 (September/October 1942) precede a stirring yarn from the latter. ‘The Conquest of a City’ (Siegel & John Sikela) sees Nazi agents use a civil defence drill to infiltrate the National Guard and conquer Metropolis in the Fuehrer’s name… until Superman spearheads the counter-attack…

The other great patriotic cover master was Hardin “Jack” Burnley and a quartet of his very best follow – Action Comics #54 (November 1942), Action Comics #55 (December 1942), World’s Finest Comics #8 (Winter 1942 and with Batman and Robin thrown in for good measure) and Superman #20 (January/February 1943).

That last also provides ‘Destroyers from the Depths’ wherein Hitler himself orders dastardly Herr Fange to unleash an armada of marine monstrosities on Allied shipping and coastal towns. Of course, they prove no match for the mighty Man of Steel,

After Burnley’s Action Comics #58 cover (March 1943), Siegel, Ed Dobrotka & Sikela detail the saga of ‘X-Alloy’ from Superman #21 (March/April 1943) as a secret army of Nazi infiltrators and fifth columnists steal American industrial secrets and would have conquered the nation from within if not for the ever-vigilant Man of Steel…

Sikela’s cover Action Comics #59 (April 1943) concludes this section as Part 4: In for the Duration discusses the long, hard struggle to crush the Axis. By the time of the tales here the intense apprehension of the early war years had been replaced with eager anticipation as tyranny’s forces were being rolled back on every Front….

Following Burnley’s May 1943 Action Comics #60 cover, Superman #22 May/June 1943 provides Siegel & Sam Citron’s ‘Meet the Squiffles’: a light-hearted yet barbed flight of whimsy wherein Adolf Hitler is approached by the king of a scurrilous band of pixies who offer to sabotage all of America’s mighty weapons. Neither nefarious rogue had factored Superman – or patriotic US gremlins – into their schemes though…

Action Comics #62 (July 1943) and Superman #22 (July/August 1943) are two of Burnley’s very best covers, with the latter fronting an astounding masterpiece of graphic polemic. Don Cameron scripts and Citron illustrates ‘America’s Secret Weapon!’: a rousing paean to American military might as Clark and Lois report on cadet manoeuvres and the Man of Steel becomes an inspiration to the demoralised troops in training…

Covers by Burnley for Action Comics #63 (August 1943) and Superman #24 (September/October 1943) – which latter provides ‘Suicide Voyage’ – follow. This exuberant yarn by Cameron, Dobrotka & George Roussos finds Clark (and pesky stowaway Lois) visiting the Arctic as part of a mission to rescue downed American aviators. Of course, nobody is expecting a secret invasion by combined Nazi and Japanese forces, but Superman and a patriotic polar bear are grateful for the resultant bracing exercise…

‘The Man Superman Refused to Help’ comes from Superman #25 (November/December 1943) and follows Burnley and Stan Kaye’s cover for Action Comics #66 (November 1943). It is a far more considered and thoughtful tale from Siegel, Ira Yarbrough & Roussos exposing the American Nazi Party – dubbed the “101% Americanism Society” – whilst offering a rousing tale of social injustice as an American war hero is wrongly implicated in the fascists’ scheme… until the Man of Steel investigates.

Next up and from the same issue is much reprinted and deservedly lauded patriotic classic.

‘I Sustain the Wings!’ by Mort Weisinger & Fred Ray was created in conjunction with the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command under Major General Walter R. Weaver and designed to boost enlistment in the maintenance services of the military.

In this stirring tale Clark Kent attends a Technical Training Command school as part of the Daily Planet’s attempt to address a shortfall in vital services recruitment – a genuine problem at this time in our real world – but the creators still find and space for our hero to delightfully play cupid to a love-struck kid who really wants to be a hot shot pilot and not a mere “grease monkey”…

Wayne Boring & Roussos’ cover for Superman #26 (January/February 1944) precedes Boring’s ‘Superman Sunday Strips #220-227’ for January – March 1944 with the Metropolis Marvel heading to multiple theatres of War to deliver letters from loved ones on the Home Front after which Roussos’ ‘Public Service Announcement’ (from Superman #28, May 1944) urges everybody to donate waste paper.

July/August 1944’s Wayne Boring cover for Superman #29 find’s Lois greeting the USA’s real Supermen – servicemen all – before Action Comics #76 (September 1944 and Kaye over Boring leads to anonymously-scripted ‘The Rubber Band’ from World’s Finest Comics #15 (Fall 1944).

Illustrated by Sikela & Nowak and concentrating on domestic problems, it details the exploits of a gang of black market tyre thieves who are given a patriotic “heads-up” after Superman dumps their boss on the Pacific front line where US soldiers are fighting and dying for all Americans…

Drawn by Boring, ‘Superman Sunday Strips #280-282’ from March 1945 then rubbish and belittle the last vestiges of the Third Reich as Hitler and his inner circle desperately try to convince the Action Ace to defect to the side that is comprised of Supermen like them…

In Superman #34 (May/June 1945) Cameron, Citron & Roussos attempt to repeat the magic formula of ‘I Sustain the Wings’ with ‘The United States Navy!’ as Clark is despatched to follow three college football heroes whilst they progress – in different maritime specialisations – through the hellish war in the Pacific…

This enthralling sally through Superman’s martial endeavours conclude with one final Thomas-authored article as Part 5: Atoms for Peace? Reveals who the fruits of the top-secret Manhattan Project changed everything…

As fresh and thrilling now as they ever were, these endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly situated in these gloriously luxurious Archive Editions; a worthy, long-lasting vehicle for the greatest and most influential comics stories the art form has ever produced. These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at absurdly affordable prices and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
™ & © 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Adventures volume 1


By Paul Dini, Scott McCloud, Rick Burchett, Bret Blevins, Mike Manley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5867-2

A decade after John Byrne galvanised, reinvigorated and reinvented the look and feel of the Man of Steel animator Bruce Timm returned to comicbook country to meld modern sensibility and classic mythology with Superman: The Animated Series.

With Paul Dini he had designed and overseen Batman: The Animated Series: a 1993 TV show that captivated young and old alike and breathed vibrant new life into an old concept. In 1996 lightning struck a second time. The show was another masterpiece and led to a tranche of sequels and spin-off including The New Batman/Superman Adventures, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

Although the Superman cartoon show (which originally aired in the USA from September 6th 1996 to February 12th 2000) never got the airplay it deserved in Britain, it remains a highpoint in the character’s long, long animation history, second only to the astounding and groundbreaking seventeen shorts produced by the Max Fleischer Studio in the 1940s.

These stylish modern visualisations became the norm, extending to the Teen Titans, Legion of Super Heroes, Young Justice and Brave and the Bold animation series that so successfully followed.

The broad stylisation – described as “Ocean Liner Art Deco” – also worked magnificently in static two dimensions for the spin-off comicbook produced by DC as seen in this first of four (so far) trade paperback and eBook compilations, gathering Superman Adventures #1-10 from November 1996 through August 1997.

With no further ado the all-ages action opens with ‘Men of Steel’ by show writer Paul Dini and illustrated with dash and verve by Rick Burchett & Terry Austin. Because they know their audience, the editors wisely treated the animated episodes and comicbook releases as equally canonical and here shady mega-billionaire Lex Luthor is a public hero even whilst clandestinely organising clandestine criminal deals, international coups and a secret war against the Man of Tomorrow.

The devil’s brew of dark deeds culminates here in the oligarch’s creation of a new secret weapon: a hyper-powerful robot-duplicate of Superman, which he uses to initially discredit and ultimately battle against the Caped Kryptonian. If it manages to kill him, Lex will mass-produce them and sell them to warlords around the world…

Comics grand master Scott McCloud comes aboard as regular scripter with the second issue as ‘Be Careful What You Wish For…’ sees the return of Kryptonite-powered cyborg Metallo. The mechanical maniac – like the rest of Metropolis – erroneously believes lonely, attention-seeking Kelly to be Superman’s girlfriend, but his sadistic revenge scheme hasn’t factored in how Lois Lane might react to the claim…

Computerised Kryptonian relic Brainiac resurfaces in ‘Distant Thunder’, having placed its malign consciousness into Earth artefacts (such as robot cats!) before building a new body to facilitate a new attack on the Metropolis Marvel. As ever, Brainiac’s end goal is assimilating data, but Superman quickly realises how to turn that programmed compulsion into a weapon ensuring the computer tyrant’s defeat…

Apprentice photo-journalist Jimmy Olsen’s dreams of success and stardom get a big boost in issue #4’s ‘Eye to Eye’. After Luthor orchestrates a deadly attack on Superman with an enhanced gravity-weapon, the cub reporter learns it’s as much about grit and guts as it is being in the right place at the right time…

Bret Blevins pencils fifth exploit ‘Balance of Power’ as electrical villain Livewire awakes from a coma and sets about equalizing gender inequality by taking over the world’s broadcast airwaves. With all male presences edited out thanks to her galvanic power, the sparky ideologue then returns to her original agenda and attempts to eradicate too-powerful men like Superman and Luthor

McCloud, Burchett & Austin reunite for the astoundingly gripping ‘Seonimod’ wherein Superman utterly fails to save Metropolis from complete annihilation. All is not lost however, as Fifth Dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk has trapped the Man of Steel in a backwards-spiralling time-loop, allowing the hero one last chance to track a concatenation of disasters back to the inconsequential event that triggered the string of accidents which wiped out everything the hero cherishes…

‘All Creatures Great and Small part 1’ opens a titanic two-part tale which sees Kryptonian Phantom Zone villains General Zod and Mala escape the miniaturised prison Superman had incarcerated them in. In the process they also shrink our hero to a few centimetres in height, but the endgame is far more devilish that that.

When scientific savant Professor Hamilton and top cop Dan “Terrible” Turpin join Lois in using a growth ray to restore Superman, Zod intercepts them and transforms himself into a towering colossus of chaos and carnage. Utterly overmatched and without options, the miniscule Man of Tomorrow is forced into the most disgusting and risky manoeuvre of his career to bring the gigantic General low in the concluding ‘All Creatures Great and Small part 2’

Mike Manley pencils Superman Adventures #9 as ‘Return of the Hero’ focuses on an idealistic boy whose two heroes are Superman and Lex Luthor. However, as a series of arson attacks plagues his neighbourhood, Francisco Torres learns some unpleasant truths about the billionaire that shatter his worldview and almost destroy his family. Happily, the Caped Kryptonian proves to be a far more dependable role model…

Wrapping up this first cartoon collection is a classic clash between indomitable hero and deadly maniac as twisted techno-terrorist Toyman returns, peddling Superman action figures designed to plunder and rob their owners’ parents. ‘Don’t Try This at Home!’ by McCloud, Burchett & Austin once again proves that no amount of devious deviltry can long deter the champion of Truth, Justice and the American Way…

Breathtakingly written and spectacularly illustrated, these stripped-down, hyper-charged rollercoaster-romps are pure, irresistible examples of the most primal kind of comics storytelling, capturing the idealised essence of what every superman story should be. This is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1996, 1997, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Many Worlds of Krypton


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Cary Bates, Marv Wolfman, Elliot S. Maggin, Paul Kupperberg, John Byrne, Murphy Anderson, Dick Giordano, Gray Morrow, Michael Kaluta, Dave Cockrum, Dick Dillin, Marshall Rogers, Howard Chaykin, Paul Kupperberg, Mike Mignola, Rick Bryant, Carlos Garzon & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7889-2

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 worst casualty of the semi-regular sweeping changes, rationalisations and reboots is great stories that suddenly “never happened”.

The most painful example of this – for me at least – was the wholesale loss of the entire charm-drenched mythology that had evolved around Superman’s birthworld in the wonder years between 1948 and 1985.

Silver Age readers avidly consuming Superman, Action Comics, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, World’s Finest Comics and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (not forgetting Superboy and Adventure Comics) would delight every time some fascinating snippet of information leaked out.

We spent our rainy days filling in the incredible blanks about the lost world through the tantalising and thrilling tales from those halcyon publications. The Fabulous World of Krypton was a long-running back-up feature in Superman during the 1970s, revealing intriguing glimpses from the history of that lost world.

Throughout the decade and into the 1980s – and an issue of giant-sized anthology Superman Family – the feature delivered 27 “Untold Tales of Superman’s Native Planet” (and long overdue for a complete archival collection) by a host of the industry’s greatest talents which further explored that defunct wonderland.

A far-too-small selection of those are re-presented in this beguiling trade paperback and eBook commemoration, taken from Superman #233, 236, 238, 240, 248, 257, 266 and Superman Family #182, to augment a brace of miniseries World of Krypton #1-3 and World of Krypton volume 2 #1-4 (December 1987-March 1988).

These collectively span 1971-1988 and, following scene-setting introduction ‘The World (of Krypton) According to Paul (Kupperberg)’, kick off Chapter 1: Fabulous World of Krypton with E. Nelson Bridwell (who was always the go-to guy for any detail of fact or trivia concerning the company’s vast comics output) & Murphy Anderson’s trendsetting and groundbreaking yarn ‘Jor-El’s Golden Folly’.

Follow-up tales would alternate between glimpses of historical or mythological moments in the development of the Kryptonians and tales of the House of El, such as this astoundingly concise and drama-packed yarn which in seven pages introduces Superman’s father, traces his scholastic graduation and early triumphs in anti-gravity physics and rocketry and reveals how he met his bride-to-be, trainee astronaut Lara Lor-Van.

The story goes on to reveal how she stows away on a test rocket, crashes on the (luckily) habitable moon Wegthor and survives until her infatuated suitor finds a way to rescue her.

This a superb adventure yarn in its own right and, set against what we fans already knew about the doomed planet, augured well what was to follow…

The remaining tales in this section concentrate on non-Jor-El episodes – presumably in lieu of what follows – so the next fable comes from Superman #236 with Green Arrow and Black Canary hearing their Justice League recount the story of ‘The Doomsayer’ (by Denny O’Neil & Dick Giordano). This eco-terror tale reveals how scientist Mo-De detected the mounting tectonic pressures at the planet’s core but was silenced by modern day lotus eaters who didn’t want to hear any unpleasant truths…

In the guise of a Kryptonian kindergarten class story-time, Cary Bates & Gray Morrow devised a hard science creation myth for Superman #238 as ‘A Name is Born’ details how two marooned – and initially mutually antagonistic – aliens crashed on the primeval planet and joined to birth a new race together…

Bates & Michael Kaluta teamed in #240 for a cunning, irony-drenched murder mystery as ‘The Man Who Cheated Time’ details the unexpected consequences of an ambitious scientist who stole from and slaughtered his rivals only to pay for his crimes in a most unexpected manner.

Kryptonian archaeologists unearth a lost moment in planetary history as ‘All in the Mind’ (by Marv Wolfman & Dave Cockrum from #248) discloses how the ancient war between the city states of Erkol and Xan resulted in a generation of mutants. Apparently, if the parents had been more understanding and less intolerant, those super-kids might have saved their forebears from extinction…

Superman #257 (October 1972) offered a timeless instant classic wherein Elliot S. Maggin and illustrators Dick Dillin & Giordano celebrated ‘The Greatest Green Lantern of All’. Here avian GL Tomar-Re reports his tragic failure in preventing Krypton’s detonation, unaware that the Guardians of the Universe had a plan to preserve and use that world’s greatest bloodline – or at least its last son…

Maggin, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella then emphasised a long-hidden connection between Earth and Krypton in #266 as ‘The Face on the Falling Star’ reveals how in eons past two Kryptonian children are saved from doom by a strange device fallen from the sky: a machine sent from a lost civilisation on pre-historic Terra…

Wrapping up this section is ‘The Stranger’ by Paul Kupperberg, Marshall Rogers & Frank Springer and first seen in Superman Family #182: an analogue Christmas fable explaining how four millennia past a holy man named Jo-Mon sacrificed his life to liberate the people and end the depredations of the tyrannical Al-Nei

The second section here is Chapter 2: The Life of Jor-El and reprints a pioneering miniseries that referenced many of those 27 vignettes as well as the key Krypton-focussed yarns of the Superman franchise.

In 1979 – when the Superman movie had made the hero a global sensation once more – scripter Paul Kupperberg and artist Howard Chaykin (assisted and ghost-pencilled by Alan Kupperberg) and inkers Murphy Anderson & Frank Chiaramonte synthesised the scattered back-story details into DC’s first limited series World of Krypton.

Although never collected into a graphic novel, this glorious indulgence was resized into a monochrome pocket paperback book in 1982, supervised by and with an introduction from the much-missed, multi-talented official DC memory E. Nelson Bridwell. That magical celebration of life on the best of all fictional worlds is a grand old slice of comics fun and forms the spine of this new composite compilation.

The story opens on ‘The Jor-El Story’ with Superman reviewing a tape-diary found on Earth’s moon: a record from his long-deceased father which details the scientist’s life, career and struggle with the nay-saying political authorities whose inaction doomed the Kryptonian race to near-extinction.

As the Man of Steel listens, he hears how Jor-El wooed and won his mother Lara Lor-Van despite all the sinister and aberrant efforts of the planetary marriage computer to frustrate them, how his sire discovered anti-gravity and invented the Phantom Zone ray, uncovered the lost technology of a dead race which provided the clues to Kal-El’s escape rocket, and learns his father’s take on Superman’s many time-twisting trips to Krypton…

In ‘This Planet is Doomed’ the troubled orphan feels his father’s pain when android marauder Brainiac steals the city of Kandor, reels as rogue scientist Jax-Ur blows up the inhabited moon of Wegthor, and is revolted as civil war almost crushes civilisation thanks to the deranged militarist General Zod and when his own cousin Kru-El forever disgraces the noble House of El…

The countdown to disaster continues until ‘The Last Days of Krypton’ as political intrigue and exhaustion overwhelm the distraught scientist and, all avenues closed to him, Jor-El takes drastic action…

Heavily referencing immortal classics such as ‘Superman’s Return to Krypton’ (Superman volume 1 #141, November 1960), Fabulous World of Krypton mini-epics ‘Jor-El’s Golden Folly’, ‘Moon-Crossed Love’, ‘Marriage, Kryptonian Style’ and a host of others, this epochal saga from simpler and more wondrous times is a sheer delight for any fan tired of unremitting angst and non-stop crises…

The final section – Chapter 3: The World of Krypton – is a dark reworking by John Byrne, Mike Mignola, Rick Bryant & Carlos Garzon depicting a radically different planet.

In 1985 when DC Comics decided to rationalise, reconstruct and reinvigorate their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to simultaneously regenerate their key properties at the same time. The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was not before time.

The big guy was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch retooling be anything but a pathetic marketing ploy that would alienate the real fans for a few fly-by-night Johnny-come-latelies who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced?

This new Superman repurposed the hero into a harsher, more uncompromising hero who might be alien in physicality but completely human in terms of feelings and attitudes. As seen in Man of Steel #1 (not included here), ‘From Out of the Green Dawn’ traced the child’s voyage in a self-propelled birthing matrix to a primitive but vital and vibrant world.

He had escaped from a cold, sterile, soulless and emotionally barren planet barely glimpsed before it was gone in a cosmic flash…

As the hero’s new adventures became a sensational success, his creators felt compelled to revisit the hero’s bleakly dystopian birthworld. It was however, now conceived of as a far darker and more forbidding place and 1987’s 4-issue miniseries opted to reveal how that transformation came about.

Scripted by Byrne, it all begins in ‘Pieces’ (art by Mignola & Rick Bryant) as an indolent hedonistic scientific paradise comes crashing into ruin after the age’s greatest moral dilemma boils over into global civil war.

For 10 thousand generations Kryptonians have enjoyed virtual immortality thanks to the constant cultivation of clones to use for medical spare parts. The rights of the clones had been debated for centuries but has recently resulted in sporadic violence. The situation changes after ultra-privileged Nyra is exposed as having stolen one of her supposedly brain-dead clones for an act of social abomination. Exposure leads to murder, suicide and a rapidly escalating collapse of social cohesion…

Centuries ‘After the Fall’, Van-L wanders a planet shattered by devastating war technologies, surviving only because of the nurturing war suit. The grand planetary society is gone, replaced by constantly warring pockets of humanity, but Van is in need of allies, even if they were once lovers or despised foes. He has learned that the original instigator of the collapse still lives and plans to assuage his shame and guilt by blowing up the planet…

For the third issue the scene shifts to millennia later as young scholar Jor-El immerses himself in a traumatic ‘History Lesson’.

The distant descendant of Van-L obsessively probes the last days of the conflict and the nuclear annihilation scheme of terrorist cell Black Zero, but his compulsion causes him to almost miss a crucial social obligation: meeting his father and the grandparent of Lara, selected by The Masters of the Gestation Chamber as his ideal DNA co-contributor to the first Kryptonian allowed to be born in centuries…

Carlos Garzon steps in to finish Mignola’s pencils for concluding chapter ‘Family History’ as, in contemporary times, Superman agrees to an interview with Daily Plant reporter Lois Lane. The subject is how Krypton died, and why…

Precising the intervening millennia of history and stagnation, the Last Son of Krypton reveals how his own birth-father uncovered a shocking secret, rebelled against his moribund, repressed culture and found brief comfort with perhaps the last kindred spirit on his world. Kal-El then tells of how they ensured his survival at the cost of their own…

Celebrating the many and varied Worlds of Krypton, this is a magnificent tribute to the imagination of man creators and the power of a modern mythology: the ever-changing evolution of a world we all wanted to live on back in the heady days of yore…
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1987, 2008, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Atomic Age Sundays volume 1: 1949-1953


By Alvin Schwartz, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye (IDW/DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-262-3

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

He was also shamelessly copied and adapted by many inspired writers and artists for numerous publishers, spawning an incomprehensible army of imitators and variations within three years of his summer 1938 debut.

The intoxicating blend of breakneck, breathtaking action and triumphal wish-fulfilment which epitomised the early Man of Steel soon grew to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East also engulfed America, patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters, all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

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

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

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

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

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

However, during his formative years the small screen was simply an expensive novelty so the Action Ace achieved true mass market fame through a different medium: one not that far removed from his print origins.

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

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

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

Some still do…

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

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

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

The McClure Syndicate feature ran continuously from 1939 until May 1966, appearing at its peak in more than 300 daily and 90 Sunday newspapers; boasting a combined readership of more than 20 million. For most of the post war years Boring & Stan Kaye illustrated the spectacular Sundays (eventually supplemented by artists Win Mortimer and Curt Swan). The majority of the strips – from 1944 to 1958 – were written by still largely unsung scribe Alvin Schwartz.

Born in 1916, Schwartz was an early maestro of comicbooks, writing for Batman, Superman, Captain Marvel and many other titles and companies. Whilst handling the Superman strip he also freelanced on Wonder Woman and other superheroes as well as genre titles such as Tomahawk, Buzzy, A Date with Judy and House of Mystery.

After numerous clashes with new superman Editor Mort Weisinger, Schwartz quit comics for commercial writing, selling novels and essays, and latterly, documentaries and docudramas for the National Film Board of Canada. He also worked miracles in advertising and market research, developing selling techniques such as psychographics and typological identification and was a member of the advisory committee to the American Association of Advertising Agencies. He died in 2011.

After too many years wallowing in obscurity most of Superman’s newspaper strip exploits are at last available to aficionados and the curious newcomer in tomes such as this compiled under the auspices of the Library of American Comics.

Showcasing Schwartz and artist Wayne Boring in their purest prime, these Sundays (numbered as pages #521 to #698 and collectively spanning October 23rd 1949 to March 15th 1953) feature a nigh-omnipotent Man of Steel in domestically-framed and curated tales of emotional dilemmas and pedestrian criminality rather than a parade of muscle-flexing bombast, with humour, wit and satire comfortably replacing non-stop angst and bludgeoning action.

Following an affable appreciation of the creators and the times in ‘An Introduction’ by Mark Waid, ‘A Wayne Boring Gallery’ provides a tantalising selection of Superman and Action Comics covers from the period before the weekly wonderment commences in all its vibrant glory.

Sadly, the serials are untitled, so you’ll just have to manage with my meagre synopses of the individual yarns…

Kicking things off is a charming fantasy as the Metropolis Marvel is temporarily stranded in Arthurian Britain after a US government time travel experiment goes awry. Whilst living in the past he befriends and helps out court magician Merlin: an old duffer whose conjuring tricks aren’t fooling anyone anymore…

The first new story of 1950 begins on February 12th and details how swindler Joseph Porter cons the Man of Steel into taking his place and clearing up his problems with the cops and the numerous gulled victims. This includes a hilarious spoofing sequence as Superman plays un-matchmaker to a scandalously-affianced hillbilly ingenue that will delight fans of Li’l Abner

The extended tale opening on May 28th offers another timeless human-interest drama given a super-powered spin as two aging robber barons recall their regulation-free heydays before embarking on a ruthless wager to see who will get “anything they wish for” first.

The only limitations imposed are their imaginations and financial resources and before long Superman is hard-pressed to keep collateral casualties to a minimum…

One of the few antagonists to transfer from the funnybooks to the Funnies pages was fifth dimensional prankster Mr. Mxyztplk who popped back to our third dimension and took instant umbrage to an arrogant Earth educator. Dr. Flipendale had the temerity to declare the imp a mass delusion and refused to believe or even acknowledge the escalating chaos his pronouncements triggered…

Strip #573 (October 22nd) offers a different take on the classic secret identity crisis when Clark is exposed as an invulnerable man to all of Metropolis. Although gangsters are convinced, Lois Lane is not, claiming the underworld is perpetrating a frame-up…

That yarn takes us to the end of the year and 1951 opens on January 7th with a tale of suspicion and injustice as Clark heads back to childhood hometown Smallville to celebrate Superboy Week and encounters a young man nursing an ancient grudge.

When a poison pen and rumour campaign looks set to spoil the festivities, the hero’s investigations uncover a betrayed child, a framed, murdered father and nefarious clandestine misdeeds carried out by corporate rogues in the Boy of Steel’s name…

Another identity crisis bedevils Clark beginning on April 1st 1951. Here a killer’s case of mistaken identity seemingly exposes the reporter as super-strong and bulletproof. Surely, he must be the indomitable Man of Steel in disguise?

Not according to Professor Pinberry who believes the hapless scribe has been accidentally exposed to his new superpower ray machine, Clark is happy to grasp at the fortuitous alibi but trouble mounts after the public demands to see the machine in action again and the city’s biggest mobster goes after the gadget to make himself Superman’s equal…

Strip #609 starts the next quirky exploit on July 1st as old duffer Salem Cooley comes to Metropolis and enjoys the most miraculous winning streak in history. Even Superman’s astounding powers can’t keep up with the string of happy circumstances, fortuitously profitable accidents and close shaves. Everybody wants to be the old coot’s pal, so who then is behind the constant assassination attempts on superstitious Salem and what reward could possibly tempt anyone to challenge the luckiest man alive?

A new serial opens on September 9th as Superman agrees to write Daily Planet articles about some of his previous exploits to benefit crime prevention charities. However, when the capers he cites are restaged by mysterious malefactors the city soon turns against the Man of Tomorrow and it takes all his super-wits to uncover the mastermind behind it all and stop one of the boldest crimes in the city’s history…

To lure a crime boss out, Superman agrees to be absent from Metropolis for a few weeks in the next adventure (running from November 18th 1951 to January 13th 1952). However, when a poverty-struck boy succumbs to disease and depression, the Man of Might decides to return and act undercover, inspiring the kid’s recovery by granting wishes made on a “magic wand”.

That task becomes increasingly difficult after crooks get hold of the stick and the invisible hero has to play along to sustain little Teddy’s recuperation…

From January 20th Superman plays guardian angel to former wastrel and drunken playboy Reggie de Peyster who swears he’s a reformed character. Nobody but Superman realises the trust fund brat is sincere and all the appalling and shameful scandals he’s currently implicated in are being manufactured to cut the heir out of a vast inheritance…

Lois Lane takes centre stage in the tale opening on April 6th as, after months of being sidelined, the daring reporter quits her job to find a career offering some real excitement. She’s soon the assistant to private detective Mike Crain, catching crooks and bodyguarding glamourous stars, but the work seems dull and pedestrian. Of course, Lois is utterly oblivious to the fact that Superman is secretly intervening in his patriarchal efforts to get her back where she belongs. Ah, different times, eh?

When maverick Hollywood producer/director Hans Bower arrives in Metropolis, (June 29th he promptly declares Clark Kent to be his latest mega-sensational super-star. A force of nature unable to take “no” for an answer, he soon has the bewildered reporter helming his next box office blockbuster but as shooting progresses Superman uncovers a covert agenda and shocking secret behind the mogul’s extraordinary actions.

Uncanny crime is the order of the day from September 21st when bizarre illusions plague Metropolis and scientist Dr. Wagonrod accuses Superman of perpetrating hoaxes and staging crises due to an undiagnosed split personality. The truth is far more devious than that, though…

Concluding this first Atomic Age collection, from November 30th 1952 to March 15th 1953, readers were avidly watching the skies as an alien capsule fell to Earth and disgorged a succession of alien bio-weapons to test humanity. The Man of Steel was hard-pressed to defeat the army of bizarre beasts but did have one immeasurable advantage: the sage advice and input of life-long science fiction fan Sedgwick Ripple

The Atomic Age Superman: – Sunday Pages 1949-1953! is the first of three huge (312 x 245 mm), lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Man of Steel and a welcome addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many of the abovementioned cartoon icons.

It’s an unimaginable joy to see these “lost” Superman stories again, offering a far more measured, domesticated and comforting side of one of America’s most unique contributions to world culture. It’s also a pure delight to see some of the most engaging yesterdays of the Man of Tomorrow. Join me and see for yourself…
© 2015 DC Comics. All rights reserved. SUPERMAN and all related characters and elements are trademarks of DC Comics.

Superman’s First Flight


By Michael Jan Friedman & Dean Motter (Scholastic)
ISBN: 978-0-43909-550-1

Congratulations on your Anniversary, Man of Tomorrow!

We parochial and possessive comics fans too often regard our purest and most powerful icons in purely sequential narrative terms, but characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman long ago outgrew their four-colour origins and are now fully mythologized modern media creatures instantly familiar in mass markets, platforms and age ranges.

One particularly captivating case in point is this enthralling retelling of the Man of Steel’s formative journey to self-discovery, retold for youngsters as part of the Hello Reader early-learning program devised by children’s publisher Scholastic.

Categorised as US Level 3 (school years 1 and 2), with Level 2 being kindergarten and 1 as pre-schoolers, the smartly recapitulated story spans that crucial divide wherein kids still want their parents to read to and with them, but as the little tykes are also beginning that wonderful, magical journey into literacy as solo voyagers…

This clever, sensitive and age-appropriate retelling by Michael Jan Friedman encapsulates and addresses every maturing child’s growing feelings of potential alienation, sense of growth, self-discovery and independence by focussing on High School student Clark Kent on the day that the solitary teen discovered exactly why he has always felt somehow different from his classmates.

When Clark suddenly, impossibly, hears and sees a car crash occurring miles away, without thinking he is running and jumping over buildings. Arriving on the scene he tears the metal doors off burning cars and outraces an explosion to save a trapped driver…

Terrified that he is some kind of monster he confides in his parents, who promptly share a secret they have been harbouring all Clark’s life.

In the barn they show the awe-struck lad a tiny one-man spaceship which had crashed to Earth years ago. Its cargo was an alien baby…

As Clark approaches the relic a hologram activates and he witnesses his birth-parents Jor-El and Lara who explain why he can perform feats no one else can…

Shocked and distraught, Clark runs away as fast as he can and before he even notices it is flying high above the world. The glorious shock at last makes him realise that different doesn’t mean bad…

Before long the world is daily improved and even saved by a visitor from afar known as Superman

This captivating adventure is a cleverly weighed introduction into the Action Ace’s canonical comicbook history, subtly addressing issues of adoption and belonging as well as more modern ideological issues such as the plight of refugees and immigrants. Remember, for a very long time distressed and needy strangers were welcomed with open arms in civilised countries…

Magnificently complemented by 31 painted illustrations by design guru and illustrator Dean Motter, this is an epic retold that will amaze kids and astound even their jaded, seen-it-all-before elders.

No Supermaniac could consider their collection complete without a copy of this wonderful little gem. Superman’s First Flight is the ideal introduction for youngsters to their – surely – life-long love affair with the Last Son of Krypton and reading in general…
© 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. All Rights Reserved.