Lex Luthor: A Celebration of 75 Years

By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Bill Finger, Edmund Hamilton, Len Wein, Cary Bates, Elliot S. Maggin, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Brian Azzarello, Paul Cornell, Geoff Johns, John Sikela, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Jackson Guice, Howard Porter, Matthew Clark, Lee Bermejo, Frank Quitely, Pete Woods, Doug Mahnke & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6207-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Sound Reason to Keep up with Science Classes as well as Reading… 9/10

Closely paralleling the evolution of the groundbreaking Man of Steel, the exploits of the mercurial Lex Luthor are a vital aspect of comics’ very fabric. In whatever era you choose, the ultimate mad scientist epitomises the eternal feud between Brains and Brawn and over those decades has become the Man of Steel’s true antithesis and nemesis as well as an ideal perfect indicator of what different generations deem evil.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of venerable DC icons – is available in hardback Trade Paperback and digital formats and offers a sequence of snapshots detailing how Luthor has evolved in his never-ending battle with Superman.

The groundbreaking appearances selected are preceded here by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in the villain’s development, beginning with ‘Part I: 1940-1969 The Making of a Mastermind’. After history and deconstruction comes sinister adventure as the grim genius debuted in ‘Europe at War Part 2’ (by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster from Action Comics #23, April 1940).

Although not included here Action #22 had loudly declared ‘Europe at War’ – a tense and thinly-disguised call to arms for the still neutral USA – and as the Man of Tomorrow tried to stem the bloodshed the tale became a continued story (almost unheard of in those early days of funny-book publishing).

Spectacularly concluding in #23, Clark Kent’s European investigations revealed a red-headed fiend employing outlandish science to foment war for profit and intent on conquering the survivors as a modern-day Genghis Khan. Of course, the Man of Steel strenuously objected…

Next comes ‘The Challenge of Luthor’ from Superman #4 (Spring/March1940) and created at almost the same time: a landmark clash with the rogue scientist who, back then, was still a roguish red-headed menace with a bald and pudgy henchman. Somehow in the heat of burgeoning deadlines, master got confused with servant in later adventures and the public perception of the villain irrevocably crystalized as the sinister slap-headed super-threat we know today…

This story – by Siegel & Shuster – involves an earthquake machine and ends with Luthor exhausting his entire arsenal of death-dealing devices in attempts to destroy his enemy with no negligible effect…

From Superman #17 (July 1942), ‘When Titans Clash’, by Siegel & John Sikela, depicts how the burly bald bandit uses a mystic powerstone to survive his justly deserved execution and steals Superman’s abilities. However, the Action Ace stills maintains his wily intellect and outsmarts his titanically-empowered foe…

Jumping ahead ten years, ‘Superman’s Super Hold-Up’ World’s Finest Comics #59 (July 1952, by Bill Finger, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye) is a supremely typical duel of wits in which the Einstein of Crime renders the Metropolis Marvel helpless with the application of a devilish height- and pressure-sensitive mega explosive device – but only for a little while…

World’s Finest Comics #88 (June 1957) provides ‘Superman and Batman’s Greatest Foes!’ (by Edmond Hamilton, Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye) which finds “reformed” master criminals Lex and the Joker ostensibly setting up in the commercial robot business – which nobody really believed – and as it happens quite correctly…

As the mythology grew and Luthor became a crucial component of Superman’s story, the bad boy was retroactively introduced into the hero’s childhood. ‘How Luthor Met Superboy!’ (from Adventure Comics #271, April 1960 by Siegel & Al Plastino) details how Superboy and the budding genius were pals until a lab accident burned off the human’s hair and in his prideful fury Lex blamed the Kryptonian and swore revenge…

In ‘The Conquest of Superman’ (Action Comics #277, June 1961 by Bill Finger, Curt Swan & John Forte) the authorities paroled Lex to help with an imminent crisis only to have the double-dealer escape as soon as the problem was fixed. By the time Superman returned to Earth, Luthor was ready for him…

Superman #164, October 1963, featured ‘The Showdown between Luthor and Superman’ (by Hamilton, Swan & George Klein): the ultimate Silver Age confrontation between the Caped Kryptonian and his greatest foe, pitting the lifelong foes in an unforgettable confrontation on the post-apocalyptic planet Lexor – a lost world of forgotten science and fantastic beasts – which resulted in ‘The Super-Duel!’ and displayed a whole new side to Superman’s previously two-dimensional arch-enemy.

Part II: 1970-1986 Luthor Unleashed previews how a more sophisticated readership demanded greater depth in their reading matter and creators responded by adding a human dimension to the avaricious mad scientist, as seen in ‘The Man Who Murdered the Earth’ from Superman #248 (February 1972 by Len Wein, Swan & Murphy Anderson).

Here Luthor dictates his final testament after creating a Galactic Golem to destroy his sworn enemy, and ponders how his obsession caused the destruction of Earth…

For the 45th anniversary of Action Comics Superman’s two greatest enemies – the other being Brainiac – were radically re-imagined for an increasingly harder, harsher world. ‘Luthor Unleashed’ in issue #544 (June 1983, by Cary Bates Swan & Murphy Anderson) saw the eternal duel between Lex and Superman lead to the destruction of Lexor and death of Luthor’s new family after the techno-terror once again chose vengeance over love. Crushed by guilt and hatred, the maniacal genius reinvents himself as an implacable human engine of terror and destruction…

Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Al Williamson then offer a glimpse into the other motivating force in Luthor’s life by exposing ‘The Einstein Connection’ (Superman #416, February 1986) wherein a trawl through the outlaw’s life reveals a hidden link to the greatest physicist in history…

The Silver Age of comicbooks had utterly revolutionised a flagging medium, bringing a modicum of sophistication to the returning sub-genre of masked mystery men. However, after decades of cosy wonderment, Crisis on Infinite Earths transformed the entire DC Universe and led to the creation of a harder, tougher Superman. John Byrne’s radical re-imagining was most potently manifested in Luthor, who morphed from brilliant, obsessed bandit to ruthless billionaire capitalist… as seen in the introduction to Part III: 1986-2000 Captain of Industry

The tension begins with ‘The Secret Revealed’ (Superman #2, February 1987 by John Byrne, Terry Austin & Keith Williams) when the relentless tycoon kidnaps everyone Superman loves to learn his secret and after collating all the data obtained by torture and other means jumps to the most mistaken conclusion of his misbegotten life…

‘Metropolis – 900 Miles’ (Superman volume 2 #9, September1987 by Byrne, & Karl Kesel) then explores the sordid cruelty of the oligarch as he cruelly torments a pretty waitress with a loathsome offer and promises of a new life…

‘Talking Heads’ appeared in Action Comics #678 (June 1992, by Roger Stern, Jackson Guice & Ande Parks) set after Luthor – riddled with cancer from constantly wearing a green Kryptonite ring to keep Superman at arms’ length – has secretly returned to Metropolis as his own son in a hastily cloned new young and handsome body. Acting as a philanthropist and with Supergirl as his girlfriend/arm candy, young Luthor has everybody fooled, Sadly, everything looks like falling apart when rogue geneticist Dabney Donovan is arrested and threatens to tell an incredible secret he knows about the richest man in town…

‘Hostile Takeover’ comes from JLA #11 1997) wherein Grant Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell opened interstellar saga ‘Rock of Ages’ with the Justice League facing a newly-assembled, corporately-inspired Injustice Gang organised by Lex and run on his ruthlessly efficient commercial business model.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman are targeted by a coalition of arch-enemies comprising Chairman-of-the-Board Lex, the Joker, Circe, Mirror Master, Ocean Master and Doctor Light with ghastly doppelgangers of the World’s Greatest Heroes raining destruction down all over the globe.

Even with new members Aztek and second generation Green Arrow Connor Hawke on board, the enemy are running the heroes ragged, but the stakes change radically when telepath J’onn J’onzz detects an extinction-level entity heading to Earth from deep space…

The action and tension intensify when the cabal press their advantage whilst New God Metron materialises, warning the JLA that the end of everything is approaching.

As ever, these snippets of a greater saga are more frustrating than fulfilling, so be prepared to hunt down the complete saga. You won’t regret it…

A true Teflon businessman, Lex ended the millennium running for President and Part IV: 2000-Present 21st Century Man follow a prose appraisal with ‘The Why’ from President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1 (2000, by Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark & Ray Snyder). Here the blueprint to power and road to the White House is deconstructed, picturing the daily frustrations and provocations which inspired the nefarious oligarch to throw his hat into the political ring…

The next (frustratingly incomplete) snippet comes from a miniseries where the antagonist was the star. ‘Lex Luthor Man of Steel Part 3’ by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo offers a dark and brooding look into the heart and soul of Superman’s ultimate and eternal foe: adding gravitas to villainy by explaining Lex’s actions in terms of his belief that the heroic Kryptonian is a real and permanent danger to the spirit of humanity.

Luthor – still believed by the world at large to be nothing more than a sharp and philanthropic industrial mogul – allows us a peek into his psyche: viewing the business and social (not to say criminal) machinations undertaken to get a monolithic skyscraper built in Metropolis. The necessary depths sunk to whilst achieving this ambition, and Lex’s manipulating Superman into clashing with Batman, are powerful metaphors, but the semi-philosophical mutterings – so very reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead – although flavoursome, don’t really add anything to Luthor’s character and even serve to dilute much of the pure evil force of his character.

Flawed characters truly make more believable reading, especially in today’s cynical and sophisticated world, but such renovations shouldn’t be undertaken at the expense of the character’s heart. At the end Luthor is again defeated: diminished without travail and nothing has been risked, won or lost. The order restored is of an unsatisfactory and unstable kind, and our look into the villain’s soul has made him smaller, not more understandable.

Lee Bermejo’s art, however, is astoundingly lovely and fans of drawing should consider buying this simply to stare in wonder at the pages of beauty and power that he’s produced here. Or read the entire story in its own collected edition…

Rather more comprehensive and satisfying is ‘The Gospel According to Lex Luthor’ as first seen in All-Star Superman #5. Crafted by Morrison, Frank Quitely & Jamie Grant from September 2006, here an unrepentant Luthor on Death Row grants Clark Kent the interview of his career and scoop of a lifetime, after which ‘The Black Ring Part 5’ (Action Comics #894, December 2010 by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods) confirms the genius’ personal world view as Death of the Endless stops the universe just so she can have a little chat with Lex and see what he’s really like…

This epic trawl through the villain’s published life concludes with a startling tale from Justice League volume 2, #31 (August 2014) as the post-Flashpoint, re-rebooted New 52 DCU again remade Lex into a villain for the latest generation: brilliant, super-rich, conflicted and hungry for public acclaim and approval. In ‘Injustice League Part 2: Power Players’ by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Keith Champagne & Christian Alamy, bad-guy Luthor has helped save the world from extradimensional invaders and now wants to be a hero. His solution is to make the real superheroes invite him to join the Justice League, and that can be accomplished by ferreting out Batman’s secret identity and blackmailing the Dark Knight into championing his admission…

Lex Luthor is arguably the most recognizable villain in comics and can justifiably claim that title in whatever era you choose to concentrate on; goggle-eyed Golden Age, sanitised Silver Age or malignant modern and Post-Modern milieus. This book captures just a fraction of all those superb stories and offers a delicious peek into the dark, unhealthy side of rivalry and competition…

This monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a good bad-guy is a true delight for fans of all ages and vintage.
© 1940, 1942, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1972, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman vs. Mongul

By Len Wein, Paul Levitz, Alan Moore, Jim Starlin, Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4256-5

Almost 80 years ago Superman jump-started the entire modern era of fantasy heroes: indomitable, infallible, unconquerable, outlandish and flamboyant. He also saved a foundering proto-industry by personifying an entirely new narrative construct – the Super Hero.

Since June 1938 The Man of Tomorrow has grown into a mighty presence in all aspects of the arts, culture and commerce, even as his natal comicbook universe organically grew and expanded to today’s heady heights.

Superman is comics’ outstanding icon: the hero who effectively started a whole genre and, in the decades since his nativity, one who has survived every kind of menace imaginable. With this in mind, it’s tempting – and usually very rewarding – to gather up whole swathes of his prodigious back-catalogue and re-present them in specifically-themed collections, such as this fun frolic chronicling the genesis of an awesome antagonist designed to be the hero’s modern antithesis: a monstrous militaristic madman with greater power, better resources and far more sinister values and motivations…

As initially envisioned, Mongul the Merciless was an alien tyrant and extinction-level threat in the manner of Jack Kirby’s Darkseid and Jim Starlin’s own Thanos: an unrepentantly evil intelligent monster beyond the scope of everyday costumed crusaders. He debuted in DC Comics Presents #27 (November 1980). The title was one wherein the Man of Steel would star beside a different company character (mostly heroes but not always…) and the other champion involved here was J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars.

Unlike companion team-up vehicle The Brave and the Bold – which boasted a regular artist for most of its Batman co-starring run – a veritable merry-go-round of creative talent contributed to DCCP. Issue #27 proved the value of such tactics when Len Wein, Jim Starlin, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin (as inking collective “Quickdraw”) collaboratively changed the shape of Superman mythology by introducing seemingly unstoppable marauder Mongul in ‘The Key that Unlocked Chaos!’

The overwhelmingly powerful deposed despot of a far-away planet kidnapped Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Daily Planet gadfly Steve Lombard to force Superman to attack his former JLA comrade. This was because the Martian had already successfully driven off the rapacious fiend when Mongul attacked New Mars in search of an artefact granting its possessor control of the universe’s most terrible weapon…

The Yellow Devil wanted the Metropolis Marvel to get it for him and, although the resulting planet-shaking clash between old allies did result in the salvation of his friends, Superman subsequently failed to keep the coveted crystal key out of the villain’s gigantic hands…

The story continued in #28 (December 1980) as Supergirl united with her Kryptonian cousin to scour the cosmos for the Sallow Supremacist and the ancient doom-weapon ‘Warworld!’ (Wein, Starlin & Romeo Tanghal) that he now controlled.

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

(Although not included in this tome, that triptych concluded a month later as Ghostly Guardian The Spectre helped retrieve his cousin from Where No Superman Has Gone Before! At least now you won’t wonder or worry…)

Back here and now the cosmic clashes continue with ‘A Universe Torn Asunder!’ (also known as ‘Whatever Happened to Starman?’) by Paul Levitz & Starlin: another system-shaking saga first seen in DC Comics Presents #36 (August 1981).

Here the Great Dictator resurfaces, having turned his nefarious attention to Prince Gavyn, ruler of a distant sidereal empire as well as a covert stellar powered crusader, rather confusingly employing the title Starman for his secret superhero shenanigans.

After snatching the monarch’s beloved fiancé Merria, Mongul tries to take over the masked hero’s interplanetary empire but is thwarted once more by the timely arrival of the Man of Steel and the vengeful fury of the cosmic crusader he has challenged…

You can’t keep a good citrine psychopath down, however, and the brutal beast resurfaced in DCCP #43 (March 1982) to challenge both Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes ‘In Final Battle’ (Levitz, Curt Swan & Dave Hunt). Hungry for revenge, Mongul again steals a universal ultimate weapon – this time a Sun-Eater (the clue is in the name) – and points it in the direction of Sol. He never expected the cavalry to arrive from the 30th century though… The all-out, all-action exploits then conclude with a modern masterpiece by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons who produced one of the last truly memorable Superman stories before the cosmic upheaval and reboot triggered by the Crisis on Infinite Earths publishing event.

‘For the Man Who Has Everything’ (Superman Annual #11) sees despicable deceptive Mongul cunningly invade the Fortress of Solitude to ambush the Action Ace with the most insidious of weapons on his birthday.

A valiant last-minute intervention by Batman, second Robin Jason Todd and Wonder Woman are barely enough to turn the tide…

Moreover, when the Man of Steel recognises the culprit for the emotional hell he has barely survived his furious response is terrifying to behold…

Essentially a blockbusting battle royale, this tale carries plenty of intellectual weight too, showing a dystopian Krypton for the first time: a view that the fabulous lost world might not have been a utopian super-scientific paradise after all and one that has become a given for most later interpretations…

Also including an illustrated fact-file of Mongul (from Who’s Who #16, June 1986) and a cover gallery by Starlin, Brian Bolland & Gibbons, this is an incomprehensibly enthralling collection of Fights ‘n’ Tights feasts: a pure package of superhero magnificence: fun-filled, action-packed, absolutely addictive and utterly irresistible.
© 1980, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1986, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 1

By Otto Binder, Al Plastino, Jerry Seigel, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7292-0

Superhero comics seldom do sweet or charming anymore. Modern narrative focus concentrates on turmoil, angst and spectacle and although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour.

Such was not always the case as this superb trade paperback compendium – spanning Action Comics #252-284 (May 1959 to January 1962) and also available in eBook editions – of the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City joyously proves.

Also included and kicking off proceedings is the delightful DC House Ad advertising the imminent arrival of a new Girl of Steel. Sadly missing, however, is the try-out story The Three Magic Wishes’ – written by Otto Binder and illustrated by Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye from Superman #123, August 1958 – which told how a mystic totem briefly conjured up a young girl with super powers as one of three wishes made by Jimmy Olsen. Such was the reaction to the plucky heroine that within a year a new version was introduced to the Superman Family…

Here, then, the drama commences with ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’, the third story from Action Comics #252 introducing Superman’s cousin Kara, who had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was somehow hurled intact into space when the planet exploded.

Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the giant world’s debris, and Kara’s dying parents, having observed Earth through their scanners and scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished.

Landing on Earth, she meets Superman who creates the cover-identity of Linda Lee whilst hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale allowing her to learn about her new world and powers in secrecy and safety. This groundbreaking tale was also written by Binder and drawn by the hugely talented Al Plastino.

Once the formula was established Supergirl became a regular feature in Action Comics (starting with #253), a residency that lasted until 1969 when she graduated to the lead spot in Adventure Comics. In ‘The Secret of the Super-Orphan!’, at her new orphanage home she makes the acquaintance of fellow orphan Dick Wilson (eventually Malverne) who would become her personal gadfly (much as the early Lois Lane was to Superman), a recurring romantic entanglement who suspects she has a secret. As a young girl in far less egalitarian times, romance featured heavily in our neophyte star’s thoughts and she frequently met other potential boyfriends: including alien heroes and even a Merboy from Atlantis.

Many of the early tales also involved keeping her presence concealed, even when performing super-feats. Jim Mooney was selected as regular artist and Binder remained as chief scripter for most of the early run.

In Action #254’s ‘Supergirl’s Foster-Parents!’, sees an unscrupulous couple of con-artists easily foiled, after which Linda meets a mystery DC hero when ‘Supergirl Visits the 21st Century!’ in #255. Her secret is almost exposed in ‘The Great Supergirl Mirage!’ before she grants ‘The Three Magic Wishes!’ to despondent youngsters and teaches a mean bully a much-needed lesson.

The Man of Steel often came off rather poorly when dealing with women in those less enlightened days, always under the guise of “teaching a much-needed lesson” or “testing” someone. When she plays with Krypto, ignoring his secrecy decree, cousin Kal-El banishes the lonely young heroine to an asteroid in ‘Supergirl’s Farewell to Earth!’ but of course there’s paternalistic method in the madness…

‘The Cave-Girl of Steel!’ then sees her voyage to the ancient past and become a legend of the Stone Age before Action #260 finds her transformed by the mystical Fountain of Youth into ‘The Girl Superbaby!’

The next tale introduced feline fan-favourite Streaky the Super-Cat in ‘Supergirl’s Super Pet!’ after which ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Victory!’ delivers a salutary lesson in humility to the Girl of Steel. Binder moved on after scripting ‘Supergirl’s Darkest Day!’ in which the Maid of Might rescues an alien prince, after which Jerry Siegel took over the storytelling as ‘Supergirl Gets Adopted!’: a traumatic and sentimental tale which only ends with the lonely lass back at Midvale orphanage.

I’ve restrained myself so please do the same when I say that the next adventure isn’t what you think. ‘When Supergirl Revealed Herself! (Siegel & Mooney from Action#265) is another story about nearly finding a family, after which Streaky playfully returns in ‘The World’s Mightiest Cat!’

Supergirl encounters fantastic fellow super-kids in Action #267’s ‘The Three Super-Heroes!’ but narrowly fails to qualify for the Legion of Super Heroes through the cruellest quirk of fate. Picking herself up she then exposes ‘The Mystery Supergirl!’ before Siegel & Mooney introduce Mer-boy Jerro who becomes ‘Supergirl’s First Romance!’

‘Supergirl’s Busiest Day!’ is packed with cameos from Batman and Robin, Krypto and Lori Lemaris all celebrating a very special occasion, after which Streaky makes another bombastic appearance as the wonder girl builds ‘Supergirl’s Fortress of Solitude!’.

Otto Binder wrote ‘The Second Supergirl!’, an alternate world tale that was too big for one issue. A sequel, ‘The Supergirl of Two Worlds!’ appeared in Action #273 – as did a novel piece of market research. ‘Pick a New Hairstyle for Linda (Supergirl) Lee!’ involved eager readers in the actual physical appearance of their heroine and gave editors some valuable input into who was actually reading the series…

Siegel & Mooney then soundly demonstrate the DC dictum that history cannot be changed in ‘Supergirl’s Three Time Trips!’ before ‘Ma and Pa Kent Adopt Supergirl!’ offers a truly nightmarish scenario, rapidly followed by a return visit to the Legion of Super Heroes in ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends!’, whilst Action #277 featured an animal epic in ‘The Battle of the Super-Pets!’

The next five tales in this volume form an extended saga taking the Girl of Steel in totally new directions. On the eve of Superman announcing her existence to the world, Supergirl loses her powers and – resigned to a normal life – is adopted by the childless Fred and Edna Danvers. Tragically it’s all a deadly plot by wicked Lesla-Lar, Kara’s identical double from the Bottle City of Kandor. This evil genius plans to replace Supergirl and conquer the Earth. This mini-epic – ‘The Unknown Supergirl!’, ‘Supergirl’s Secret Enemy!’, ‘Trapped in Kandor!’, ‘The Secret of the Time-Barrier!’ and (following the results of the Hair Style competition) ‘The Supergirl of Tomorrow!’ ran in Action #278-282 and solidly repositioned the character for a more positive, effective and fully public role in the DC universe. The epic also hinted of a more dramatic and less paternalistic, parochial and even sexist future for the most powerful girl in the world, over the months to come…

The young heroine still in very much a student-in-training, her very existence kept secret from the general public and living with adoptive parents who are completely unaware that the orphan they have recently adopted is a Kryptonian super-being.

The accent on these stories generally revolves around problem-solving, identity-saving and loneliness, with both good taste and the Comics Code ensuring readers weren’t traumatised by unsavoury or excessively violent tales. Plots akin to situation comedies often pertained, as in ‘The Six Red “K” Perils of Supergirl!’

Peculiar transformations were a mainstay of 1960s comics, and although a post-modern interpretation might discern some metaphor for puberty or girls “becoming” women, I rather suspect the true answer can be found in author Seigel’s love of comedy and an editorial belief that fighting was simply unladylike.

Red Kryptonite, a cosmically-altered isotope of the radioactive element left when Krypton exploded, caused temporary physical and sometimes mental mutations in the survivors of that doomed world and was a godsend to writers in need of a challenging visual element when writing characters with the power to drop-kick planets…

Here the wonder-stuff generates a circus of horrors, transforming Supergirl into a werewolf, shrinking her to microscopic size and making her fat (I’m not going to say a single bloody word…).

The drama continues and concludes – like this initial Silver Age compilation – with the next instalment ‘The Strange Bodies of Supergirl!’ wherein Linda Lee Danvers’ travails escalate after she grows a second head, gains death-ray vision (ostensibly!) and morphs into a mermaid. This daffy holdover to simpler times presaged a big change in the Maid of Might’s status but that’s a volume for another day…

Throughout her formative years Kara of Krypton underwent more changes than most of her confreres had in twenty years, as editors sought to find a niche the buying public could resonate with, but for all that, these stories remain exciting, ingenious and utterly bemusing.

Possibly the very last time a female super-character’s sexual allure wasn’t equated to sales potential and freely and gratuitously exploited, these tales are a link and window to a far less crass time and display one of the few truly strong and resilient female characters parents can still happily share with even their youngest children.
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Golden Age volume 3

By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Wayne Boring, Jack Burnley, Paul Cassidy, Ed Dobrotka, Don Komisarow, Leo Nowak, Fred Ray, John Sikela & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7089-6

As his latest record-breaking anniversary rapidly approaches, the popularity of Superman is on the climb again. The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all by now – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without The Man of Steel. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation gave birth to an entire genre if not an actual art form.

Moreover, with moviegoers anticipating fresh cinematic revelations in the upcoming Justice League blockbuster, expect a wealth of book releases celebrating the serried past of the heroic universe’s ultimate immigrant.

Imitation is the most honest compliment and can be profitable too. Superman triggered an inconceivable army of imitators and variations and, within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Action Ace 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, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms at least, Superman was master of the world. He had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry by the time of these tales. There was a successful newspaper strip, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio was producing some of the most expensive – and best – animated cartoons ever conceived.

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

This latest addition to the splendid Golden Age/Silver Age strand of DC reprint compendia presents more of an epochal run of raw, unpolished but viscerally vibrant stories by Siegel, Shuster and the sterling crew of their ever-expanding “Superman Studio” who were setting the funnybook world on fire: crude, rough, uncontrollable wish-fulfilling, 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 captured the imagination of a generation.

This third remastered paperback collection (also available digitally) of the Man of Tomorrow’s earliest exploits – reprinted in the order they first appeared – covers the still largely innocent, carefree period between January and September 1941: encompassing Action Comics #32-40, Superman #8-11 and solo-adventures from World’s Best Comics #1 and World’s Finest Comics #2 (an oversized anthology title where he shared cover-stardom with Batman and Robin). As always, every comic appearance is preceded by the original cover illustration, another fine bunch of graphic masterpieces from Paul Cassidy, Wayne Boring and Fred Ray.

Although Siegel & Shuster had very much settled into the character by now, the latter was increasingly involved with the Superman newspaper strip. Even so, the buzz of success still fired them both and innovation still sparkled amidst the exuberance.

Written entirely by Seigel this incredible panorama of torrid tales opens with ‘The Gambling Rackets of Metropolis’ from Action Comics #32.

Like many stories of the time there was no original title and it’s been designated as such simply to make my job a little easier, as Superman crushes an illicit High Society gambling operation that has wormed its nefarious ay into the loftiest echelons of Government, a typical Jerry Siegel social drama magnificently illustrated by the great Jack Burnley.

Superman #8 (January/February 1941) was another spectacular and varied compendium containing four big adventures ranging from fantastic fantasy in ‘The Giants of Professor Zee’ (illustrated by Paul Cassidy); topical suspense in spotlighting ‘The Fifth Column’ (Wayne Boring & Don Komisarow); common criminality in ‘The Carnival Crooks’ (Cassidy) and concluding with an increasingly rare comic-book outing for Joe Shuster – inked by Boring – in the cover-featured ‘Perrone and the Drug Gang’, wherein the Metropolis Marvel battled doped-up thugs and the corrupt lawyers who controlled them.

Action Comics#33 and 34 are both Burnley extravaganzas wherein Superman goes north to discover ‘Something Amiss at the Lumber Camp’, before heading to coal country to save ‘The Beautiful Young Heiress’; both superbly enticing character-plays with plenty of scope for super-stunts to thrill the gasping fans.

Superman #9 (March/April 1941) was another four-star thriller with all the art credited to Cassidy. ‘The Phony Pacifists’ is an espionage thriller capitalising on increasing US tensions over “the European War”, ‘Joe Gatson, Racketeer’ recounts the sorry end of a hot-shot blackmailer and kidnapper, ‘Mystery in Swasey Swamp’ combines eerie rural events with ruthless spies whilst the self-explanatory ‘Jackson’s Murder Ring’ pits the Caped Kryptonian against an ingenious gang of commercial assassins.

The success of the annual World’s Fair premium comic-books had convinced National/DC editors that an over-sized anthology of their characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition even at the exorbitant price of 15¢ (most 64-page titles retailed for 10¢ and would do so until the 1960s).

At 96 pages, World’s Best Comics #1 debuted with a Spring 1941 cover-date, before transforming into the venerable World’s Finest Comics from issue #2 onwards. From that landmark one-and-only edition comes gripping disaster thriller ‘Superman vs. the Rainmaker’, illustrated by Cassidy, after which Action Comics#35 headlines a human-interest tale with startling repercussions in ‘The Guybart Gold Mine’, and Superman is mightily stretched to cope with the awesome threat of ‘The Enemy Invasion’: a canny and foreboding taste of things to come if – or rather, when – America entered World War II.

Superman #10 (May/June 1941) opens with ‘The Invisible Luthor’ (illustrated by Leo Nowak), ‘The Talent Agency Fraud’ (ditto), ‘The Spy Ring of Righab Bey’ and ‘The Dukalia Spy Ring’ (both by Boring & Shuster), topical and exotic themes of suspense as America was still at this time still officially neutral in the “European War.”

Action Comics #37 (June 1941) returned to tales of graft, crime and social injustice in ‘Commissioner Kent’ (Cassidy art) as the Man of Steel’s timid alter-ego is forced to run for the job of top cop in Metropolis, before World’s Finest Comics #2 (Summer 1941) unleashes Nowak & Cassidy’s ‘The Unknown X’; a fast-paced mystery of sinister murder-masterminds, whilst Action #38 provides a spectacular battle against a sinister hypnotist committing crimes through ‘Radio Control’ (Nowak & Ed Dobrotka)…

Superman #11 (July/August 1941) was an all Nowak affair, beginning with ‘Zimba’s Gold Badge Terrorists’, wherein thinly disguised Nazis “Blitzkrieg” America, after which “giant animals” go on a rampage in ‘The Corinthville Caper’. Seeking a cure for ‘The Yellow Plague’ takes Superman to the ends of the Earth whilst ‘The Plot of Count Bergac’ takes him back home to crush a band of High Society gangsters.

Horrific mad science creates ‘The Radioactive Man’ (Action #39, by Nowak & Shuster) whilst the concluding episode here from issue #40 featured ‘The Billionaire’s Daughter’ (John Sikela) wherein the mighty Man of Tomorrow needs all his wits to set straight a spoiled debutante…

Stories of corruption and social injustice gradually gave way to more spectacular fare, and with war in the news and clearly on the horizon, the tone and content of Superman’s adventures changed too: the scale and scope of the stunts became more important than the motive. The raw passion and sly wit still shone through in Siegel’s stories but as the world grew more dangerous the Man of Tomorrow simply had to become stronger and more flamboyant to deal with it all, with Shuster and his team consequently stretching and expanding the iconography for all imitators and successors to follow.

These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at an absurdly affordable price. How can you possibly resist them?
© 1941, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Superman volume 2

By J.T. Krul, David Lapham, Tim Seeley, Marc Guggenheim, Christos Gage, Derek Fridolfs, Josh Elder, Marcus To, Mike Norton, Joe Bennett, Belardino Brabo, Eduardo Francisco, Sean Galloway, Victor Ibáñez, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5036-2

Almost 80 years ago Superman jump-started the entire modern era of fantasy heroes: indomitable, infallible, unconquerable, outlandish and flamboyant. He also saved a foundering proto-industry by personifying an entirely new genre of storytelling – the Super Hero.

Since June 1938 he has grown into a mighty presence in all aspects of art, culture and commerce, even as his natal comicbook universe organically grew and expanded. Moreover, as befits such an evergreen icon, periodically the Man of Tomorrow has been radically rebooted, such as in the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earth in 1985-86.

There have been subsequent minor tweaks in that continuity to accommodate different creators’ tenures until 2011 when DC drastically and emphatically re-imagined their entire comics line once more. Superman and his universe underwent a radical, fan-infuriating all-encompassing revivification.

Probably to mitigate the fallout, DC latterly triggered a number of fall-back options such as this intriguing package…

Adventures of Superman began as a “digital first” series appearing online before later gathering chapters into issues of a new standard comicbook. As conceived and concocted by a fluctuating roster of artists and writers, the contents featured previous eras and incarnations of the Man of Steel’s stellar career – plus some wildly innovative alternative visions – offering a wide variety of thrilling, engaging and sincerely fun-filled moments for both old-timers and neophytes to treasure.

The comicbook iteration was enough of a success to warrant its own series of trade paperback compilations which – in the fullness of time and nature of circularity – gained their own digital avatars as eBooks too.

This second full-colour paperback collection contains Adventures of Superman 6-10 (December 2013-April 2014) and opens with ‘Like Father, Like Son’ by J.T. Krul & Marcus To, wherein an AI recording of expired Kryptonian sire Jor-El seeks to convince Earth’s greatest champion that he is demeaning himself and his heritage by acting as a defender of primitives.

The moral dilemma takes a dark turn when Phantom Zone convict General Zod adds his own sinister spin to the debate just as all-conquering alien marauder Mongul attacks Earth, but as always, sound and sensible Earthly foster-father Jonathan Kent has the last word and best advice…

Multi-talented David Lapham weaves a different ethical quandary in ‘Saved!’ as, after defeating crafty cyborg Metallo, Superman must convince a growing army of disturbed humans that he is not a personal interventionist god ever-ready to preserve their lives from every mistake or suicide attempt…

In ‘Space, Actually’ (by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton) the Man of Tomorrow defers a battle with fellow superheroes J’onn J’onzz and Wonder Woman against Darkseid to salve the woes of a little Russian orphan before ‘Tears for Krypton’ (Marc Guggenheim, Joe Bennett & Belardino Brabo) takes the mighty Action Ace to his impossibly still-thriving birthworld and reunion with his bereaved father Jor-El. Tragically, the bittersweet return is only a trap laid by Superman’s greatest enemy…

Daniel Keyes’ seminal 1958 science fiction tearjerker potently informs Christos Gage & Eduardo Francisco’s ‘Flowers for Bizarro’ as the monstrous misunderstood Superman doppelganger undergoes a scientific process that corrects his skewed, backwards-working brain processes. Soon the menace is a hero, but then the procedure starts to misfire…

After dealing with aggravating arch-enemies such as Lex Luthor and Brainiac, Superman faces a true horror after meeting a bullied boy dying of an incurable ailment in Derek Fridolfs & Sean “Cheeks” Galloway’s ‘In Care of’ before Josh Elder & Victor Ibáñez wrap things up with a fierce battles and more sentimental moral challenges as ‘Dear Superman’ brings the Man of Steel to a children’s cancer ward…

Augmented by a spectacular cover gallery from Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Bennett, Brabo & Jason Wright, Dan Panosian and Galloway, this is a spectacular celebration of Superman’s indisputably infinite variety which has resulted in decades of sheer delight for adventure addicts and promises even more to come for future generations.
© 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes

By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1819-5 (HC)                    978-1-4012-1904-8 (TPB)

Almost 79 years ago Superman started the whole modern era of fantasy heroes: outlandish, flamboyant indomitable, infallible, unconquerable.

He also saved a foundering industry and created an entirely new genre of storytelling – the Super Hero. Since June 1938 he has grown into a mighty presence in all aspects of art, culture and commerce even as his natal comicbook universe organically grew and expanded.

Long ago and far away a scientifically advanced civilisation perished, but not before its greatest genius sent his baby son to safety is a star-spanning ship. It landed in Kansas and the interplanetary orphan was reared by decent folk as one of us…

Once upon a time, in the far future, a band of super-powered kids from dozens of alien civilisations took inspiration from the greatest legend of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day these Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited that legend to join them…

And thus began the vast and epic saga of Superman and tangentially the Legion of Super-Heroes: as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino in the landmark Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958). Since that time, the fortunes and popularity of the Legion have perpetually waxed and waned, with their future history tweaked and rebooted, retconned and unwritten over and again to comply with editorial diktat and popular whim.

One popular trend is to re-embrace the innocent, silly, joyous, stirring and utterly compelling pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths tales but to shade them with contemporary sensibilities and with this in mind Geoff Johns gradually reinstituted the Lore of the Legion in a number of his assignments during the early part of this century.

Beginning most notably with Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga and culminating in the epic New Krypton and War against Brainiac sagas the Legion were back and once more carving out a splendid niche in the DC Universe.

Along the way came this superb, nostalgia-laced cracker of a tale which re-established direct contact between the futuristic paladins and the Man of Tomorrow…

Compiling Action Comics #858-863 (spanning December 2007 through May 2008), this collected chronicle – also sporting an Introduction from veteran LSH creator Keith Giffen – finds the Legion back in the 21st century, summoning Superman to save Tomorrow’s World once more. Long ago the Legion had regularly visited: spiriting the young Kryptonian to a place and time where he didn’t have to hide his true nature. However, once he began his public career, the visits ceased and his memories were suppressed to safeguard the integrity of history and the inviolability of the time-line.

Now a desperate squad of Legionnaires must reawaken those memories since the Man of Steel is the last hope for a world on the edge of destruction. In the millennium since his debut Superman has become a beacon of justice and tolerance throughout the Utopian Universe, but a radical, xenophobic anti-alien movement has swept Earth, marginalising, interning and even executing all non-Terrans.

Moreover, a super-powered team of Legion rejects has formed a Justice League of Earth to lead a crusade against all extraterrestrial immigrants, claiming Superman was actually a true-born Earthling, and declaring him their spiritual leader…

Of course, Kal-El of Krypton must travel to the future and not only save the day but scour the racist stain from his name – a task made infinitely more difficult because Earth-Man, psychotic xenophobic leader of the Earth-First faction, has turned our yellow sun a power-sapping red…

Bold, thrilling and absolutely enthralling, the last-ditch struggle of a few brave aliens against a racist, fascistic and completely ruthless totalitarian tomorrow is the stuff of pure comic-book dreams. Superman strives to unravel a poisonous future where all his hopes and aspirations have been twisted, with only his truest childhood friends to aid him with the incredibly intense and hyper-realistic art of Gary Frank & Jon Sibal making it all seem not only plausible but inevitable…

Sweetening the deal is a stunning covers and variants gallery by Gary Frank, Adam Kubert, Steve Lightle, Mike Grell and Al Milgrom plus pages of notes, roughs and designs from Frank’s preparatory work before embarking on the epic adventure.

Total Fights ‘n’ Tights future shock in the best way possible
© 2007, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 1

By Neal Adams with Bob Haney, Leo Dorfman, Cary Bates & various (DDC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0041-1 (HC):                   978-1-4012-3537-6 (PB)

As the 1960s began Neal Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. Whilst pursuing a career in advertising and “real art” he did a few comics pages for Archie Comics and subsequently became one of the youngest artists to co-create and illustrate a major licensed newspaper strip – Ben Casey (based on a popular TV medical drama series).

That comics fascination never faded however, and Adams drifted back to National/DC doing a few covers as inker of penciller and eventually found himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling…

He made such a mark that DC chose to reprint every piece of work Adams ever did for them into a series of commemorative collections. Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams is the first of three superb tomes (available in  variety of formats) featuring the “Darknight Detective” – as he was dubbed back then – and featuring every cover, story and issue in original publication order.

‘From Me to You: An Introduction’ gives you the history of his early achievements in his own words, after which the covers of Detective Comics #370 (December 1967, inking Carmine Infantino) and the all-Adams Brave and the Bold #75 (January 1968), Detective #372 (February), B&B #76 (February/March), Batman #200 and World’s Finest Comics #174 (both March) all serve as a timely taster for the artist’s first full-length narrative…

The iconoclastic penciller first started truly turning heads and making waves with a couple of enthralling Cape & Cowl capers beginning with World’s Finest Comics #175 (April 1968) and ‘The Superman-Batman Revenge Squads!’

Scripted by Leo Dorfman and inked by Dick Giordano, the story detailed how an annual – and friendly – battle of wits between the crime-busters is infiltrated by alien and Earthly criminal groups intent on killing their foes whilst they are off-guard…

WFC #176 (June) then featured a beguiling enigma in ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ – written by fellow newcomer Cary Bates. Ostensibly just another alien mystery yarn, this twisty little gem has a surprise ending for all and guest stars Robin, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Batgirl, with Adams’ hyper-dynamic realism lending an aura of solid credibility to even the most fanciful situations.

It also ushered in an era of gritty veracity to replace previously anodyne and frequently frivolous Costumed Dramas…

More Dynamite Covers follow: Batman #203 (July/August) leads to Brave & Bold #79 (August/September) and heralded Adams’ assumption of the interior art chores for a groundbreaking run that rewrote the rulebook for strip illustration…

‘The Track of the Hook’ – written by Bob Haney and inked Giordano – paired the Gotham Guardian with justice-obsessed ghost Deadman: formerly trapeze artist Boston Brand who was hunting his own killer, and whose earthy, human tragedy elevated the series’ costume theatrics into deeper, more mature realms of drama and action.

The stories aged ten years overnight and instantly became every discerning fan’s favourite read.

Covers for World’s Finest Comics #178-180 (spanning September through November) segue sweetly into Brave and the Bold #80 (October/November 1968) with ‘And Hellgrammite is his Name’ finding Batman and the Creeper clashing with an infallible, insect-themed super-hitman again courtesy of Haney, Adams & Giordano.

B&B #81 saw the Flash aid the Caped Crusader against an unbeatable thug in ‘But Bork Can Hurt You!’ (inked by Giordano & Vince Colletta) after which Aquaman became ‘The Sleepwalker from the Sea’ in an eerie tale of mind-control and sibling rivalry.

Interwoven through those thrillers are the covers for World’s Finest #182 (February 1969, inking Curt Swan’s pencils), #183 (March, inking over Infantino), Batman #210 and Detective #385 (both March and all Adams).

B&B # 83 took a radical turn (and is the only story herein without a cover since that one was limned by Irv Novick) as the Teen Titans try to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’ (Haney & Giordano as ever on board) but the next team-up was one that got many fans in a real tizzy in 1969.

Before that though you can enjoy the fabulous frontage for World’s Finest #185 (June 1969) after which ‘The Angel, the Rock and the Cowl’ recounts a World War II exploit where Batman and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company hunt Nazi gold together, only closing the case 25 years later.

Try to ignore the kvetching about relative ages and which Earth we’re on: you should really focus on the fact that this is a startlingly gripping tale of great intensity, beautifully realised, and one which has been criminally discounted for decades as “non-canonical”.

Detective Comics #389 (July), World’s Finest #186 (August and pencilled by Infantino) precede Brave and the Bold #85. Behind a stunning cover is arguably the best of an incredible run of action adventures…

‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ reunites Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, with Bruce Wayne being appointed as a stand-in for a law-maker whilst the Emerald Archer receives a radical make-over that turned him into the fiery liberal gadfly champion of the relevancy generation and still informs his character today, both in funnybooks and on TV screens…

Wrapping up this initial artistic extravaganza are the covers for Detective Comics #391 and 392, (September and October 1969) completing a delirious run of comics masterpieces no ardent art lover or fanatical Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionado can do without.
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman & Superman in World’s Finest Comics: The Silver Age volume 1

By Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger, Alvin Schwartz, Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Stan Kaye, John Fischetti, Charles Paris, Ray Burnley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6833-6   Some things were just meant to be: Bacon & Eggs, Rhubarb & Custard, Chalk & Cheese…

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were friends as well as colleagues and the pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes (in effect the company’s only costumed stars) could cross-pollinate and, more importantly, cross-sell their combined readerships.

This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whereas in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

Of course, they had shared the covers of World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. For us pictorial continuity buffs, the climactic real first time was in the pages of Superman’s own bi-monthly comic (issue #76, May/June 1952).

That yarn kicks off this stunning paperback compendium of Silver Age solid gold, accompanied here by the leads story from World’s Finest Comics #71-94, spanning July/August 1954 to May/June 1958.

Science fiction author Edmond Hamilton was tasked with revealing how Man of Steel and Caped Crusader first met – and accidentally uncovered each other’s identities – whilst sharing a cabin on an over-booked cruise liner. Although an average crime-stopper yarn, it was the start of a phenomenon. The art for ‘The Mightiest Team in the World’ was by the superb Curt Swan and inkers John Fischetti & Stan Kaye.

With dwindling page counts, rising costs but a proven readership and years of co-starring but never mingling, World’s Finest Comics #71 presented the Man of Tomorrow and the Gotham Gangbuster in the first of their official shared cases as the Caped Crusader became ‘Batman – Double for Superman!’ (by Alvin Schwartz with Swan & Kaye providing the pictures) as the merely mortal hero traded identities to preserve his comrade’s alter ego and latterly his life…

‘Fort Crime!’ (Schwartz, Swan & Kaye) saw them unite to crush a highly-organised mob with a seemingly impregnable hideout, after which Hamilton returned for ‘Superman and Batman, Swamis Inc’, a clever sting-operation that almost went tragically awry. Next, an alien invader prompted an insane rivalry which resulted in ‘The Contest of Heroes’ (Bill Finger, Swan & Kaye, from WFC #74.

The same creative team produced ‘Superman and Robin!’ wherein a disabled Batman could only fret and fume as his erstwhile assistant seemingly dumped him for a better man, whilst ‘When Gotham City Challenged Metropolis’ (Hamilton, Swan & Charles Paris) saw the champions at odds as their hometowns over-aggressively vied for a multi-million dollar electronics convention.

A landmark tale by Hamilton, Swan & Kaye invented a new sub-genre when a mad scientist’s accident temporarily removed the Caped Kryptonian’s powers and created ‘The Super Bat-Man!’ in #77. The theme would be revisited for decades to come…

Arguably Batman’s greatest artist joined the creative crew ‘When Superman’s Identity is Exposed!’ (Hamilton, Dick Sprang & Kaye) as a mysterious source kept revealing the Man of Steel’s greatest secret, only to be revealed as a well-intentioned disinformation stunt, before the accent switched to high adventure when the trio became ‘The Three Musicians of Bagdad’ – a stunning time-travel romp from Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye.

When the Gotham Gazette faced closure days before a spectacular crime-expose, Clark Kent and Lois Lane joined dilettante Bruce Wayne as pinch-hitting reporters on ‘The Super-Newspaper of Gotham City’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Charles Paris) after which ‘The True History of Superman and Batman’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye, #81) saw a future historian blackmail the heroes into restaging their greatest exploits so his erroneous treatise on them would be accurate…

Hamilton also produced a magnificent and classy costumed drama when ‘The Three Super-Musketeers!’ visited 17th century France to solve the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask whilst Bill Finger wrote a brilliant and delightful caper-without-a-crime in ‘The Case of the Mother Goose Mystery!’ after which Hamilton provided insight on a much earlier meeting of the World’s Finest Team with ‘The Super-Mystery of Metropolis!’ in #84, all for Sprang & Kaye to enticingly illustrate.

Hamilton, Swan, Sprang & Kaye demonstrated how a comely Ruritanian Princess inadvertently turned the level-headed heroes into ‘The Super-Rivals’ (or did she?), before monolithic charity-event ‘The Super-Show of Gotham City’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) was almost turned into a mammoth pay-day for unscrupulous con-men.

‘The Reversed Heroes’(Finger, Sprang & Ray Burnley) once again saw the costumed champions swap roles when Batman and Robin gained powers thanks to Kryptonian pep-pills found by criminal Elton Craig, just as Superman’s powers faded…

World’s Finest #87 presented ‘Superman and Batman’s Greatest Foes!’ (Hamilton, Sprang, Kaye) which found “reformed” villains Lex Luthor and the Joker ostensibly setting up in the commercial robot business – which nobody really believed – after which seminal sequel ‘The Club of Heroes’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) reprised a meeting of Batmen from many nations (as debuted in Detective Comics #215, January 1955 and a key plank of Grant Morrison’s epic Batman: the Black Glove serial) but added the intriguing sub-plot of an amnesiac Superman and a brand-new costumed champion…

That evergreen power-swap plot was revived in #90’s ‘The Super-Batwoman’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) when the headstrong heroine defied Batman by restarting her costumed career and was quickly compelled to swallow Elton Craig’s last Krypton pill to prevent criminals getting it…

A stirring time-busting saga of ‘The Three Super-Sleepers’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) saw our heroes fall into a trap which caused them to slumber for 1000 years and awaken in a fantastic world they could never escape, but of course they could and, once back where they belonged, ‘The Boy from Outer Space!’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) detailed how a super-powered amnesiac lad crashed to Earth and briefly became Superman’s junior partner Skyboy, whilst ‘The Boss of Superman and Batman’(author unknown, but impeccably illustrated as always by Sprang & Kaye) revealed how a brain-amplifying machine turned Robin into a super-genius more than qualified to lead the trio in their battle against insidious rogue scientist Victor Danning

Wrapping up this initial compendium with comfortable circularity, the Man of Tomorrow replaced the Caped Crusader with a new partner and provoked a review of ‘The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team’ by Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye, ending these supremely enticing Fights ‘n’ Tights on an epic high.

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose dazzling style has returned to inform if not dictate the form for much of DC’s modern television animation – especially the fabulous Batman: The Brave and the Bold series – and the contents of this titanic tome are a veritable feast of witty, charming thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have.
© 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Golden Age volume 2

By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Wayne Boring, Jack Burnley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6530-4

It’s incontrovertible: The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all – would have been 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.

Superman spawned an inconceivable army of imitators and variations, and within three years of his 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of eye-popping action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Man of Steel 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, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

Now with moviegoers again anticipating a new cinematic interpretation of the ultimate immigrant tale, here’s my chance to once more highlight perhaps the most authentic of the many delightful versions of his oft-reprinted early tales.

Re-presenting the epochal run of raw, unpolished but viscerally vibrant stories by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster which set the funnybook world on fire, here – in as near-as-dammit the texture, smell and colour of the original newsprint – are the crude, rough, uncontrollable wish-fulfilling, 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 captured the imagination of a generation.

This second revamped and remastered collection of the Man of Steel’s earliest exploits, reprinted in the order they first appeared, spans the still largely innocent and carefree year of 1940 in a spiffy package that covers all his appearances from Action Comics #20-31, Superman #4-7 and his last starring role in New York World’s Fair #2 (and that only because the title would convert to initially World’s Best before and eventually settling as the much more reserved World’s Finest Comics).

Although Siegel & Shuster had very much settled into the character by now the buzz of success still fired them and innovation still sparkled amidst the exuberance. This incredible panorama of torrid tales opens with ‘Superman and the Screen Siren’ from Action#20 (January 1940) as beautiful actress Delores Winters is revealed not as another sinister super-scientific megalomaniac but the latest tragic victim and organic ambulatory hideout of aged mad scientist Ultra-Humanite who had perfected his greatest horror… brain transplant surgery!

This is followed with an immediate sequel as “Delores” attempts to steal another scientist’s breakthrough and utilise ‘The Atomic Disintegrator’ to demolish the Man of Steel whilst Action #22 loudly declares ‘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 which spectacularly concluded in #23.

Superman #4, cover-dated Spring, featured four big adventures that began with a succession of futuristic assassination attempts in ‘The Challenge of Luthor’. After an educational cartoon vignette on ‘Attaining Super-Strength’, the original Man of Might battles dinosaurs and bandits in ‘Luthor’s Undersea City’, before saving the world from financial and literal carnage by ferreting out ‘The Economic Enemy’ – a prophetic spy story about commercial sabotage by an unspecified foreign power…

The issue then ends with a tale of gangsters intimidating Teamsters called ‘Terror in the Trucker’s Union’.

In Action Comics #24 ‘Carnahan’s Heir’ becomes Superman’s latest social reclamation project as the Metropolis Marvel promises to turn a wastrel into a useful citizen, whilst the next told the tale of the ‘Amnesiac Robbers’ compelled to crime by an evil hypnotist.

Superman #5 is a superb combination of human drama, crime and wickedly warped science with our hero crushing ‘The Slot Machine Racket’ and foiling a rival paper’s ‘Campaign Against the Planet’. The insidious threat of ‘Luthor’s Incense Machine’ is similarly scuttled before finally Big Business chicanery is exposed and punished in ‘The Wonder Drug’. These are augmented by a flurry of gag cartoons by Siegel & Schuster promoting health and exercise…

Next comes a tale of gangsters attempting to plunder jewels from exhibits at the New York World’s Fair as seen in New York World’s Fair #2 credited to Siegel and Schuster but looking to my tired old eyes to be the wonderful Jack Burnley (Anyone got any comments or information they care to share here?)…

Siegel & Shuster had created a true phenomenon and were struggling to cope with it. As well as the monthly and bimonthly comics a new quarterly publication, World’s Finest Comics – springing from the success of the publisher’s New York World’s Fair comic-book tie-ins – would soon debut and their indefatigable hero was to feature prominently in it. Also, the Superman daily newspaper strip, which began on 16th January 1939, with its separate Sunday strip following from November 5th of that year, was garnering millions of new fans. The need for new material and creators was constant and oppressive.

From Action Comics#26 (July 1940) came ‘Professor Cobalt’s Clinic’ wherein Clark Kent and Lois Lane expose a murderous sham Health Facility with a little Kryptonian help, whilst the next month dealt a similar blow to the corrupt orphanage ‘Brentwood Home for Wayward Youth’. The September issue found Superman at the circus, solving the mystery of ‘The Strongarm Assaults’, a fast-paced thriller beautifully illustrated by the astonishingly talented Jack Burnley.

Whilst thrilling to that, kids of the time could also have picked up the sixth issue of Superman (September/October 1940). Produced by Siegel and the Superman Studio, with Shuster increasingly only overseeing and drawing key figures and faces, this contained four more lengthy adventures.

‘Lois Lane, Murderer’, ‘Racketeer Terror in Gateston’, ‘Terror Stalks San Caluma’ and ‘The Construction Scam’ had the Man of Action saving his plucky co-worker from a dastardly frame up, rescuing a small town from a mob invasion, foiling a blackmailer who’s discovered his secret identity and spectacularly fixing a corrupt company’s shoddy, death-trap buildings.

Action Comics #29 (October 1940) again features Burnley art in a gripping tale of murder for profit. Human drama in ‘The Life Insurance Con’ was replaced by deadly super-science as the mastermind Zolar created ‘A Midsummer Snowstorm’, allowing Burnley a rare opportunity to display his fantastic imagination as well as his representational acumen and dexterity.

Superman# 7 (November/December1940) marked a creative sea-change as Wayne Boring became Schuster’s regular inker and saw the Man of Steel embroiled in local politics when he confronted ‘Metropolis’ Most Savage Racketeers’, quelled man-made disasters in ‘The Exploding Citizens’, stamped out City Hall corruption in ‘Superman’s Clean-Up Campaign’ (illustrated fully by Wayne Boring) and put villainous high society bandits ‘The Black Gang’ where they belonged – behind iron bars.

This volume ends with another all-star inclusion from Action Comics – # 31 in fact – with Burnley drawing another high-tech crime caper as crooks put an entire city to sleep and only Clark Kent isn’t ‘In the Grip of Morpheus’

My admiration for the stripped-down purity and power of these Golden Age tales is boundless. Nothing has ever come near them for joyous, child-like perfection. You really should make them part of your life.
© 1940, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Golden Age volume 1

By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9109-2

Nearly 79 years ago Superman started the whole modern era of fantasy heroes: outlandish, flamboyant indomitable, infallible, unconquerable.

He also saved a foundering industry and created an entirely new genre of storytelling – the Super Hero.

Since June 1938 he has grown into a mighty presence in all aspects of art, culture and commerce even as his natal comicbook universe organically grew and expanded.

Within three years of his Summer debut, 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 crime-busting, reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy and even whimsical comedy, but once the war in Europe and the East snared America’s consciousness, combat themes and patriotic imagery dominated most comicbook covers if not interiors.

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

Moreover, the quality of the source material was increasing with every four-colour release and the energy and enthusiasm of originators Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster went on to inform and infect the burgeoning studio which grew around them to cope with the relentless demand.

This new compilation of the original stories – re-presented in chronological publishing order – covers June 1938 to December 1939 and features the groundbreaking yarns from Action Comics #1-19, Superman #1-3 and his pivotal appearance from New York’s World Fair No. 1 and although most of the early tales were untitled, here, for everyone’s convenience, they have been given descriptive appellations by the editors.

Thus, after describing the foundling’s escape from exploding Planet Krypton and offering a scientific rationale for his incredible abilities explaining his astonishing powers in nine panels, with absolutely no preamble the wonderment begins with Action #1’s primal thriller ‘Superman: Champion of the Oppressed!’ as the costumed crusader – masquerading by day as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent – began averting numerous tragedies.

As well as saving an innocent woman from the Electric Chair and roughing up a wife beater, the tireless crusader worked over racketeer Butch Matson – consequently saving feisty colleague Lois Lane from abduction and worse – and outed a lobbyist for the armaments industry who was bribing Senators on behalf of greedy munitions interests fomenting war in Europe…

The next breathtaking instalment in Action #2 (July 1938) saw the mercurial mystery-man travelling to the war-zone to spectacularly dampen down the hostilities already in progress in ‘Revolution in San Monte Part 2’ before ‘The Blakely Mine Disaster’ found the Man of Steel responding to a coal-mine cave-in to expose corrupt corporate practises and afterwards cleaning up gamblers who ruthlessly fixed games and players in #4’s ‘Superman Plays Football’.

The Action Ace’s untapped physical potential was highlighted in the next issue as ‘Superman and the Dam’ pitted the human dynamo against the power of a devastating natural disaster, after which in #6 canny chiseller Nick Williams attempted to monetise the hero – without asking first. ‘Superman’s Phony Manager’ even attempted to replace the real thing with a cheap knock-off but quickly learned a very painful and memorable lesson in ethics…

Although Superman starred on the first cover, the staid and cautious editors were initially dubious about the alien strongman’s popular appeal and fell back upon more traditional genre scenes for the following issues (all by Leo E. O’Mealia and all included here).

Superman – and Joe Shuster’s – second cover appeared on Action Comics #7 (December 1938) and prompted a big jump in sales even as a riotous romp inside revealed why ‘Superman Joins the Circus’ with the caped crusader crushing racketeers taking over the Big Top.

Fred Guardineer then produced genre covers for #8 and 9 whilst the interiors saw ‘Superman in the Slums’ working to save young delinquents from a future life of crime and depravity and latterly featured the city cops’ disastrous decision to stop the costumed vigilante’s unsanctioned interference in ‘Wanted: Superman’.

That manhunt ended in an uncomfortable stalemate…

Action Comics #7 had been one of the highest-selling issues ever, so #10 again sported a stunning Shuster shot whilst Siegel’s smart story of ‘Superman Goes to Prison’ struck another telling blow against institutionalised injustice with the Man of Tomorrow infiltrating a prison to expose the brutal horrors of the State Chain Gangs.

Action #11 featured a maritime cover by Guardineer whilst inside heartless conmen were driving investors to penury and suicide before the Metropolis Marvel interceded in ‘Superman and the “Black Gold” Swindle’.

Guardineer’s cover of magician hero Zatara for issue #12 incorporated another landmark as the Man of Steel was given a cameo badge declaring he was inside each and every issue. Between those covers, ‘Superman Declares War on Reckless Drivers’ provided a hard-hitting tale of casual joy-riders, cost-cutting automobile manufacturers, corrupt lawmakers and dodgy car salesmen who all felt the wrath of the hero after a friend of Clark Kent was killed in a hit-&-run incident.

By now the editors had realised that the debut of Superman had propelled National Comics to the forefront of the fledgling industry, and in 1939 the company was licensed to produce a commemorative comicbook celebrating the opening of the New York World’s Fair, with the Man of Tomorrow topping the bill on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics among such early DC four-colour stars as Zatara, Butch the Pup, Gingersnap and gas-masked mystery avenger The Sandman.

Following an inspirational cover by Sheldon Mayer, Siegel & Shuster’s ‘Superman at the World’s Fair’ described how Lois and Clark are dispatched to cover the gala event, giving the hero an opportunity to contribute his own exhibit and bag a bunch of brutal bandits to boot…

Back in Action Comics #13 (June 1939 and another Shuster cover) the road-rage theme of the previous issue continued as ‘Superman vs. the Cab Protective League’ pitted the tireless foe of felons against a murderous gang trying to take over the city’s taxi companies. The tale also introduced – in almost invisibly low key – The Man of Steel’s first great nemesis – The Ultra-Humanite

Next follows a truncated version of Superman #1. This was because the industry’s first solo-starring comicbook reprinted the earliest tales from Action, supplemented with new and recovered material – and that alone is featured here.

Behind the iconic Shuster cover the first episode was at last printed in full, describing the alien foundling’s escape from exploding Planet Krypton, his childhood with unnamed Earthling foster parents and journey to the big city as ‘Origin of Superman’.

Also included in those six pages (cut from Action #1, restored for solo vehicle and designated ‘Prelude to “Superman, Champion of the Oppressed”’) was the Man of Steel’s routing of a lynch mob and capture of the real killer which preceded his spectacular saving of the accused murderess that started the legend…

Rounding off the unseen treasures is the solo page ‘A Scientific Explanation of Superman’s Amazing Strength!’, a 2-page prose adventure of the Caped Crime-crusher, a biographical feature on Siegel & Shuster and a glorious Shuster pin-up from the premier issue’s back cover.

Sporting a Guardineer Zatara cover, Action#14 saw the return of the manic money-mad scientist in ‘Superman Meets the Ultra-Humanite’ wherein the mercenary malcontent switches his incredible intellect from incessant graft, corruption and murder to an obsessive campaign to destroy the Man of Tomorrow.

Whilst Shuster concentrated on the interior epic ‘Superman on the High Seas’ – wherein the heroic hurricane tackled sub-sea pirates and dry land gangsters – Guardineer illustrated an aquatic Superman cover for #15, as well as the Foreign Legion cover on #16 wherein ‘Superman and the Numbers Racket’ has the hero save an embezzler from suicide and subsequently wreck another wicked gambling cabal.

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

A thrice-weekly radio serial was in the offing and would launch on February 12th 1940. With games, toys, and a growing international media presence, Superman was swiftly becoming everybody’s favourite hero…

The second issue of the Man of Tomorrow’s own title opened with ‘The Comeback of Larry Trent’ – a stirring human drama wherein the Action Ace cleared the name of the broken heavyweight boxer, coincidentally cleaning the scum out of the fight game, and is followed by ‘Superman’s Tips for Super-Health’ before ‘Superman Champions Universal Peace!’ depicts the hero once more going up against unscrupulous munitions manufacturers by crushing a gang who had stolen the world’s deadliest poison gas weapon.

‘Superman and the Skyscrapers’ finds newshound Kent investigating suspicious deaths in the construction industry, leading his alter ego into confrontation with mindless thugs and their fat-cat corporate boss, after which a contemporary ad and a Superman text tale bring the issue to a close.

Action Comics #17 featured ‘The Return of the Ultra-Humanite’ in a viciously homicidal caper involving extortion and the wanton sinking of US ships and featured a classic Shuster Super-cover as the Man of Steel was awarded all the odd-numbered issues for his attention-grabbing playground.

That didn’t last long: after Guardineer’s last adventure cover – an aerial dog fight – on #18 and which led into ‘Superman’s Super-Campaign’ with both Kent and the Caped Kryptonian determinedly crushing a merciless blackmailer, Superman just monopolised all the covers from #19 onwards. That issue disclosed the peril of ‘Superman and the Purple Plague’ as the city reeled in the grip of a deadly epidemic created by the Ultra-Humanite.

Closing this frenetic fun and thrill-filled compendium is the truncated contents of Superman #3, reprinting only the first and last strips contained therein, since the other two were reprints of Action Comics #5 and 6.

‘Superman and the Runaway’, however, is a gripping, shockingly uncompromising expose of corrupt orphanages, after which – following a brief lesson on ‘Attaining Super-Health: a Few Hints from Superman!’ – Lois finally goes out on a date with hapless Clark simply because she needs to get closer to a gang of murderous smugglers. Happily, his hidden alter ego is on hand to rescue her in the bombastic gang-busting ‘Superman and the Jewel Smugglers’

Although the gaudy burlesque of monsters and super-villains still lay years ahead of our hero, these primitive and raw, completely captivating tales of corruption, disaster and social injustice are just as engrossing and speak as 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 direct and enthralling manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion.

No continued stories here!

As fresh and compelling now as they ever were, these endlessly re-readable epics perfectly display the savage intensity and sly wit of Siegel’s stories – which literally defined what being a Super Hero means – whilst Shuster created the basic iconography for all others to follow.

Such Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
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