Legends – The 30th Anniversary Edition

By John Ostrander, Len Wein, John Byrne, Karl Kesel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6316-4

With the success of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel’s Secret Wars in the middle of the 1980s, comicbook publishers had grand dreams of regular and spectacular sales boosts, but a section of the cantankerous buying public muttered about gimmicks to make them spend more and voiced concerns about keeping the quality high.

At DC fan-interest was still fresh and keen as so many of their major properties – and indeed the entire continuity – was open for radical change, innovation and renewal. So, how best to follow the previous year’s cosmic catastrophe? Why not a much smaller and more personal Great Disaster, spotlighting those strangers wearing familiar costumes and a bunch of beginnings rather than the deaths and endings of Crisis?

Possibly the best and certainly the most cohesive of the numerous company-wide braided mega-series, Legends was a 6-issue miniseries cover-dated November 1986 through April 1987. Like its predecessor the major narrative thread spread out into other DC series, but unlike Crisis on Infinite Earths each tie-in was consecutively numbered and every pertinent cover was suitably badged. If you got ’em all you couldn’t help but read them in the right order!

The event crossed into 22 other comics and miniseries and premiered three new series, Justice League, Flash and the superb Suicide Squad. It even led to another new treatment for Billy Batson in a follow-up Shazam! miniseries whilst offering a tantalising sneak peek at the newly re-minted Wonder Woman

The drama opens in ‘Once Upon a Time…!’ as Evil New God Darkseid of Apokolips decides to attack humanity’s spirit by destroying the very concept of heroism and individuality. To this end he sends hyper-charismatic thrall Glorious Godfrey to America to lead a common man’s crusade against extraordinary heroes, whilst initiating individual plans intended to demoralize and destroy key champions of Earth. His first scalp is naïve, youthful Captain Marvel, who is deceived into believing his powers have accidentally killed an enemy after explosively confronting monstrous menace Macro-Man

As Darkseid’s flaming minion Brimstone ravages the nation – despite the best efforts of Firestorm, time-displaced Legionnaire Cosmic Boy and Justice League Detroit – the US government activates its own covert and illegal solution to the crisis.

Conceived and devised by civil servant Amanda Waller, a new Task Force X is brought into being: comprising volunteers such as Colonel Rick Flag and martial artist Bronze Tiger riding roughshod over convicted super-criminals all offered a pardon in return for secret services rendered…

As Godfrey’s influence spreads across America, inciting riots that hospitalise Boy Wonder Robin and drive Batman, Blue Beetle and Green Lantern Guy Gardner into hiding, ‘Breach of Faith!’ sees President Ronald Reagan respond to the rampant civil unrest by outlawing costumed crime-busters…

With heroes searching their consciences, unsure whether to comply or rebel, world-wide chaos ensues and Darkseid amps up the pressure. Sentient mountain of super-heated plasma Brimstone attempts to reduce national monument Mount Rushmore into molten slag only to be destroyed by America’s latest dirty secret in ‘Send for… the Suicide Squad!’

Meanwhile heartbroken Billy Batson – the juvenile alter ego of Captain Marvel – meets hero-worshipping Lisa. When her family take him in, he gains valuable insight and perspective on the ongoing calamity…

Things go from bad to worse in ‘Cry Havoc…!’ as the embargo emboldens numerous super-villains to go wild. This prompts many costumed heroes to ignore the Presidential Edict and go after them. As the Phantom Stranger faces Darkseid on Apokolips, immortal mystic Doctor Fate begins gathering select champions for the approaching final confrontation he foresees even as on Earth Godfrey makes a power grab using human-fuelled Apokoliptian Warhounds in ‘Let Slip the Dogs of War!’

All the disparate strands weave together in ‘Finale!’ as Fate’s new Justice League – aided by an enigmatic new hero calling herself Wonder Woman – stand fast against the destructive forces of anarchy: coming together to prevent the conquest of Mankind and erasure of its most vital beliefs…

The enthralling tale re-presented here can comfortably be read without the assorted spin-offs, crossovers and tie-ins, and it still feels like a magnificent mission statement for that new DC Universe: gritty, witty, cohesive and contemporary.

John Ostrander was new to DC, lured from Chicago’s First Comics with editor Mike Gold where their work on Starslayer, Munden’s Bar and especially Grimjack had made those independent minnows some of the most readable series of the decade.

Paired with veteran scripter Len Wein, whose familiarity with the DC stable ensured the scripts would have the right company flavour, they concocted a bold and controversial tale for super-star Superman re-creator John Byrne to draw and the immensely talented Karl Kesel to ink.

This 30th Anniversary edition (available in Trade paperback and eBook editions) comes with an informative Afterword from Mike Gold and full cover-gallery – including the original trade paperback collection cover – but regrettably neglects to retain the cover reproductions of each out-rider instalment of the greater story, as seen in the first edition. Should you feel like tracking down those missing components you’ll need to play comics detective on fan sites…

Who knows, maybe for the 40th Anniversary, DC will release a humongous, all-inclusive Absolute Omnibus Edition? Until then, why not simply kick back and enjoy an awesome slice of fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and fury?
© 1986, 1987, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Adventures of Superman

By George Lowther, illustrated by Joe Shuster (Applewood Books)
ISBN: 978-1-55709-228-1

Without doubt the creation of Superman and his unprecedented reception by a desperate and joy-starved generation quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form. Within months of his June 1938 launch in Action Comics #1, the Man of Tomorrow had his won his own supplementary solo comicbook and a newspaper strip; secured overseas licensing deals, became a star of radio show and animated movie series, and generated loads and loads of merchandising deals.

In 1942 he even made the dynamic leap into “proper” prose fiction, resulting in still more historic “firsts”…

George F. Lowther (1913-1975) was a Renaissance man of radio in the days when sound not vision dominated home entertainment. He scripted episodes of such airwave strip adaptations as Dick Tracy and Terry and the Pirates as well as the Mutual Radio Network’s legendary Adventures of Superman show.

Lowther also wrote episodes for Roy Rogers, Tom Mix and a host of other series and serials. In 1945 he moved into television with equal success as writer, producer, director and even performer, adding a string of novels for kids to his CV along the way.

With the stunning success of the Superman radio broadcasts, a spin-off book was a sure-fire seller and in 1942 Random House released a glorious, rocket-paced rollercoaster ride: a tome outlining the Man of Steel’s still undisclosed history, fleshing out the character’s background (almost a decade before such detail became part of the comics canon).

The novel described the hero’s rise to fame and even found room for a thrilling pulp-fuelled contemporary adventure in a handsome hardback lavishly illustrated by co-creator Joe Shuster. The novel was the first Superman tale not scripted by Jerry Siegel and the world’s first novelisation of a comicbook character.

That first edition book will set you back silly sums today but in 1995, Applewood Press (a firm specialising in high-quality reproductions of important and historic American books) recreated all the early magic in its stunning entirety with a terrific hardback facsimile tome which included a copious and informative introduction from contemporary Superman writer Roger Stern as well as the original 1940s Foreword by National/DC’s then-Staff Advisor for Children’s literacy, Josette Frank.

The art inserts and panels are Joe Shuster at the peak of his creative powers: including the dust-jacket and 4 full-colour painted plates (all reproduced from the original artwork); a half-dozen full-page black-&-white illustrations and 34 vibrant and vital pen-and-ink spot sketches of the Caped Kryptonian in spectacular non-stop action, gracing a fast and furious yarn that opens with the destruction of Krypton and decision of scientist Jor-El in ‘Warning of Doom’ and ‘The Space Ship’.

The saga continues with the discovery of an incredible baby in a rocket-ship by farmer Eben Kent and his wife Sarah in ‘Young Clark Kent’ and encompasses the unique foundling’s early days and first meeting with Perry White in ‘The Contest’.

Following ‘The Death of Eben’ the young alien refugee moves to the big city and assumes the role of ‘Clark Kent, Reporter’ after which we switch to then present-day for the main event.

Now investigative reporter and blockbusting champion of justice combine to crush a sinister plot involving spies, saboteurs, submarines and supernatural shenanigans in the classy conundrum of ‘The Skeleton Ship’ and ‘The Vanishing Captain’ before being resolved in the epic ‘Fire at Sea’, ‘Mystery of the Old Man’, ‘Attempted Murder’, ‘Enter Lois Lane’ and ‘Return of the Skeleton Ship’

This culminates in ‘The Unmasking’, the revelation of a ‘Special Investigator’ and an enthralling ‘Underwater Battle’ before at last the wonderment ends with ‘The Mystery Solved’.

This magical book perfectly recaptures all the frantic fervour and breathless mind-boggling excitement of the early days of action adventure storytelling and is a pulp fiction treasure as well capturing a pivotal moment in the creation of the world’s premier superhero.

No serious fan of the medium or art-form should miss it and hopefully with another landmark Superman anniversary on the horizon another facsimile edition is on the cards. If not, at least this volume is still readily available…
© 1942 DC Comics. Introduction © 1995 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Escape from Bizarro World

By Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Eric Powell, Otto Binder, E. Nelson Bridwell, John Byrne, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1794-5 (HB)                                : 978-1-4012-2033-4 (TPB)

One of the most consistent motifs in fiction is the “Dark Opposite” or “player on the other side”: a complete yet closely identical antithesis of the protagonist. Rock yourself to sleep at night if you wish, by listing deadly doppelgangers from Professor Moriarty to Sabretooth to Gladstone Gander

Sometimes though the word is not “dark” but “daft”…

Bizarro debuted in comics during ‘The Battle with Bizarro!’ Crafted by Otto Binder & George Papp, he was a tragic, misunderstood freak and unwilling monster in a captivating 3-part novel in Superboy #68, (October 1958).

Now celebrating sixty years of quirky comicbook un-life, the imperfect Superman duplicate has evolved into a potent symbol in the Man of Tomorrow’s mythology and humanity, with his childlike simplicity and complex, often-baffling reverse reasoning (“Us Bizarros Do Everything Backwards!”) perplexing and delighting generations of readers…

The shambling simpleton’s odd yet enduring appeal even brought lauded film director Richard Donner back to the characters he had transformed into global sensations in Superman: The Movie and Superman II. This volume collects Action Comics #855-857 from October – December 2007, plus earlier appearances from Superman #140, DC Comics Presents #71 and The Man of Steel #5.

Following Brian K. Vaughn’s Introduction ‘This Am Not One of the Best Bizarro Tales Ever Told!’, the lead saga eerily commences: co-written by Donner’s old assistant and super-scripter Geoff Johns, with macabre and stylish illustration from Eric Powell and colourist Dave Stewart.

One night in Smallville, the Kent home is broken into. By the time Superman arrives his mother Martha has recovered her wits and tells how Bizarro blasted in, snatching up Jonathan Kent.

It called him “father” as it bundled him into a rocket and soared away…

Consulting his Fortress of Solitude computers, Kal-El take precautions against his deduced destination’s blue sun before taking ship in hot pursuit…

On arrival, Superman is astounded to see square world Htrae, but even more so on landing when he is brutally attacked by a mob of zombie-like Bizarro creatures led by imperfect duplicates of Clark Kent and Lois Lane

Superman clashes with the Kent clone, accidentally exposing it as his imperfect double. The other creatures immediately switch their murderous attentions to Bizarro, declaring him “World’s Worst Enemy” and the Kryptonian interloper a “Bizarro Bizarro”. The enraged doppelganger’s response is to obliterate the marauding mob with flame breath…

The super-struggle rampages across the countryside, ending with the Man of Tomorrow’s defeat. The triumphant terror resumes his original task: quizzing Pa Kent on how to destroy Bizarro World…

‘Escape from Bizarro World Part II’ resumes the grim tale with glimpses of Bizarro’s well-meaning but disastrous time on Earth, why he left and how the incredible square planet was created. The power of the blue sun is also revealed to have given the flawed duplicate the gift of creating companions to populate this strange new world…

Those semi-sentient souls are currently debating how best to be rid of Bizarro and his smooth pink-skinned Perfect Duplicate as a leader rises amongst them. Bizarro Luthor conceives a cunning plan and a “Sekrit Wepin” he readily unleashes…

The unstoppable Bizarro Doomsday tracks his targets to the Fourtriss uv Bizarro and tears through an army of analogues mirroring Superman’s friends and foes. Taking advantage of the distraction, Kal-El frees his father, only to be faced with the faux Luthor and his zombie-mob. Suddenly, Bizarro is beside him, ready to help defend Pa, as the seemingly unstoppable Doomsday double launches itself at them…

Lunacy and Deus ex Machina moments abound as the conclusion commences with a satellite full of Bizarro Justice Leaguers landing on the dire killer resulting in an all-out brawl. With insanity mounting, Jonathan, Superman & Bizarro brainstorm a devious ploy to save the day and restore what passes for order to the cubic planet…

A glorious fun-filled, action-packed tribute to the anodyne insanity of the Silver Age, Escape from Bizarro World is a delightful Halloween commemoration of simpler times which you can then sample first-hand as the rest of this splendid compilation (available in hardback, trade paperback and eBook editions) provides a trio of vintage yarns starring the Imperfect Icon.

Bracketed with fond and informative commentary from Geoff Johns, ‘Bizarro Through the Years’ first re-presents Superman #140 (October 1960). Although later played for laughs in his own series, most of the earlier appearances of the warped double were generally moving or menacing light-tragedies, such as Binder, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye’s ‘The Son of Bizarro!’

Here the fractured facsimile and his wife Bizarro-Lois produced a perfect human baby. The fast-growing, bonny-looking tyke had a full set of super-powers but was naturally shunned by the populace of the world of freaks he was born on.

Thus, his simple-minded, heartbroken father had no choice but to exile his son in space where chance brought the lad crashing to Earth as ‘The Orphan Bizarro!’. Placed in the same institution where Supergirl secretly resided, “Baby Buster” soon became a constant headache for the Girl of Steel until an unlikely accident seemingly mutated the nipper just as his distraught father came looking for him at the head of an angry army of enraged Superman duplicates.

A devastating battle was narrowly avoided and a happy ending only materialised with the introduction of ‘The Bizarro Supergirl!’

DC Comics Presents was a Superman team-up vehicle with #71 (July 1984) featuring a truly outrageous escapade by E. Nelson Bridwell, Curt Swan & Dave Hunt. ‘The Mark of Bizarro!’ saw Bizarro – bored with his lack of awesome adventures alongside the Bizarro Justice League – create a really challenging menace in the malformed shape of Bizarro Amazo.

Whereas the original copied super-powers for his own gain, the new nasty steals them with the intention of donating them to somebody without extra abilities. Finding no one qualifying on Htrae, Bizarro Amazo heads for Earth, forcing Superman to ally with his own befuddled duplicate to curtail complete chaos…

The final rerun comes from The Man of Steel #5, cover-dated December 1986.

When DC Comics rationalised and reconstructed their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to regenerate their key properties. The biggest shake-up was Superman and it’s hard to argue that change was unnecessary. The old soldier was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch overhaul be anything but a marketing ploy that would alienate real fans for a few fly-by-night chancers who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced?

Superman’s titles were cancelled/suspended for three months, and boy, did that make the media sit-up and take notice – for the first time since Donner’s Christopher Reeve movies.

However, there was method in this corporate madness…

The Man of Steel, written and drawn by Byrne and inked by Dick Giordano, stripped away vast amounts of accumulated baggage and returned the hero to the far-from-omnipotent, edgy yet good-hearted reformer Siegel and Shuster had first envisioned.

It was a huge and instant success, becoming the industry’s premiere break-out hit and from that overwhelming start Superman returned to his suspended comicbook homes with the addition of a third monthly title premiering in the same month.

The miniseries presented six complete stories from key points in Superman’s newly retrofitted career and continuity: reconstructed in the wake of the aforementioned Crisis. By the fifth issue Lex Luthor was his greatest foe and this episode deals with the creation of Bizarro – cloned by the brilliant villain from illegally acquired Superman cells.

The creature was intended to give the richest man in Metropolis a super-slave of his own, but the flawed process resulted in a rapidly-degenerating freak whose uncontrolled depredations terrorised the city more than imperilling the true Action Ace.

Moreover – and echoing the very first Bizarro tale – the beast sacrificed itself in a generous act, using its own essence to restore the sight of Lois Lane’s blind sister Lucy

With covers by Powell & Stewart, Swan & Stan Kaye, Eduardo Barreto and Byrne, this comic capsule of crazed counterfeit costumed crusader capers offers fun and fearsome frenzy in equal amounts: a deliciously offbeat outing for the World’s Finest Hero, and proves yet again that imitation is the sincerest and most effective form of flattery.
© 2007, 1960, 1984, 1986, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Lightning volume 1

By Tony Isabella, Denny O’Neil, Trevor Von Eeden, Mike Netzer, Frank Springer, Vince Colletta & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6071-2

As a pale, sickly kid growing up in a uniformly and unrelentingly white area of the Home Counties in the 1960s, I got almost all my early experience of black people from television and films (for which I’m most profoundly sorry) – and, of course, comics – for which I’m not.

Almost completely unaware of the struggle for racial equality in my formative years, the incredible consciousness-raising explosion of Black Power after the 1968 Olympic Games somewhat politicised me and gripped my unassailable sense of fairness.

However, in my village and school, even though some comics companies had by this time made tentative efforts to address what were national and socio-political iniquities, issues of race and ethnicity took a long time to filter through to the still-impressionable young minds avidly absorbing knowledge and attitudes via four colour pages that couldn’t even approximate the skin tones of African-Americans.

As the struggle progressed, on television and in comics breakthroughs were small, incremental and too often reduced to a cold-war of daringly liberal “firsts.”

Excluding a few returning characters in Jungle-themed comicbooks of the 1940s and 1950s, War comics truly opened the door in the early 1960s, with Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert creating negro boxer Jackie Johnson as a stalwart member of Sgt. Rock’s easy company in Our Army at War #113 (December 1961).

Marvel followed suit with a black member of Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos team (Gabe Jones who debuted in #1, May 1963, but was accidentally re-coloured Caucasian at the printers: hard-working artisans who clearly didn’t realise his ethnicity), but pulled ahead in the diversity stakes after introducing Americas’ first negro superheroes Black Panther (Fantastic Four #52, July 1966) and the Falcon (Captain America #117, September 1969).

The honour of being the country’s first black hero to carry in his own title came via a little-remembered (or regarded) title from Dell Comics.

Created by artist Tony Tallarico & scripter D.J. Arneson, Lobo was a gunslinger and vigilante in the wild west who sought out injustice just like any cowboy hero would. He first appeared in December 1965 with his second and final issue cover-dated October 1966…

Arguably a greater breakthrough was Marvel’s Joe Robertson; City Editor of the Daily Bugle and a smart, brave, competent and magnificently ordinary mortal distinguished by his sterling character, not a costume or skin tone. He debuted in Amazing Spider-Man # 51 (August 1967), proving in every panel that the world wouldn’t end if black folk and white folk worked and ate together…

This big change slowly grew out of raised social awareness during a terrible time in American history – although Britain had nothing to be smug about either. Race riots had started early in the Sixties and left simmering scars that only comedians and openly racist politicians dared to talk about.

Shows such Till Death Us Do Part and Love Thy Neighbour made subtly telling headway but still raise a shudder whenever I see clips today…

Slowly, more positive ethnic characters appeared, with DC finally getting a black-skinned hero in John Stewart (Green Lantern #87, December 1971/January 1972), although his designation as a “replacement” Green Lantern might be construed as more conciliatory and insulting than revolutionary.

Jack Kirby had introduced teen New God Vykin the Black in Forever People #1 (March 1971) and created ghetto kid Shilo Norman as the hero’s apprentice (and eventual successor) in Mister Miracle ##15 (August, 1973) but DC’s first superhero to have his own solo title was Black Lightning, who didn’t debut until 1977…

Now with the urban avenger the star of his own television series, those early groundbreaking adventures have been gathered into an astoundingly accessible, no-nonsense trade paperback and eBook collection (comprising Black Lightning #1-11, plus material from Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #1 and World’s Finest Comics #260, cumulatively spanning April 1977 to January 1980) that dashes into action following a forthright and informative Introduction by series and character originator Tony Isabella.

It all begins as ‘Black Lightning’ (illustrated by neophyte penciller Trevor Von Eeden & veteran inker Frank Springer) sees former Olympic decathlete Jefferson Pierce return to the streets of Suicide Slum, Metropolis to teach at inner city Garfield High School.

Pierce is determined to make a difference to the troubled kids he used to be numbered amongst, but when the educator interrupts a drug buy on school grounds and sends the dealer packing, the door is opened to vengeance and tragedy.

When the mob – an organised syndicate dubbed The 100 – come seeking retaliation, one of Pierce’s students pays the ultimate price and the teacher realises he needs the shield of anonymity if he is to win justice and safety for his beleaguered home and charges…

Happily, tailor Peter Gambi – who took Jefferson and his mother in after the elder Pierce was murdered – has some useful ideas and inexplicable access to some pretty far-out technology…

Soon, equipped with a strength-&-speed enhancing forcefield belt and costume, with mask and wig that completely change his appearance, a fierce new vigilante stalks the streets of Metropolis…

The local chapter of The 100 is run by a monstrous and cunning freak called Tobias Whale and once Black Lightning’s harrying of his soldiers starts to bite into profits and give the downtrodden populace a glimmer of hope, the sinister strategist starts laying traps, culminating in hiring a lethal super-assassin who previously battled Green Arrow and the Justice League of America.

When the killer pounces, Pierce is forced into an uneasy alliance with mystery woman Talia Al Ghul, but their alliance ends as soon as the bodies start piling up all over the school gym in ‘Merlyn Means Murder’

As Vince Colletta assumes the inker’s role, Black Lightning’s continued war against The 100 forces “the Whale” to fight smart, and Metro Police – led by doughty Inspector William Henderson – begin pursuing the mysterious vigilante as vigorously aa any gangster or felon. Taking seedy stoolie Two Bits Tanner into his confidence, Pierce savagely works his way up the criminal chain of command. He eventually confronts Tobias in his inner sanctum only to find ‘Every Hand Against Him’ as someone the police pounce. Has someone he trusts betrayed him?

A more palatable answer seems apparent in #4 as suspicion falls on Tanner’s source, Daily Planet journalist Jimmy Olsen. When the outraged Pierce tries to force a confession from the baffled cub reporter, they are attacked by the 100’s latest super heavy in ‘Beware the Cyclotronic Man’.

Although they combine to fight off the atomic villain Jimmy is hurt and Black Lightning is suddenly confronted by the kid’s enraged and late-arriving best pal, who jumps to the wrong conclusion and quickly proves ‘Nobody Beats a Superman!’

In fact, had Cyclotron not switched attention to the true target the Whale wanted him to kill, everybody might have died, but the heroes’ misunderstandings are all forgotten when Lightning saves the Man of Tomorrow from a nuclear meltdown, beats the bad guys and uncovers a mole in the police force…

His patience exhausted and under pressure from his own bosses, the Whale declares open season and offers an astounding bounty on Black Lightning. When deeply conflicted manhunter Syonide (and his hilarious Marvel-baiting in-joke kung fu assistants) stalk the Saviour of Suicide Slum, their first move is to shadow and learn everything about their quarry.

Before long Gambi is abducted and Jefferson’s secret finally exposed in ‘One Man’s Poison’

Afflicted with a bizarre sense of honour, Syonide hands over a helpless Black Lightning to the Whale in #7: ‘The Conscience of the Killer’ compelling him to shelter the captive tailor from the 100’s vengeance and voluntarily pay the ultimate price when ordered to kill the seemingly-helpless masked hero.

Tragically, even as Black Lightning undergoes a miraculous transformation and takes out the gathered crooks and villains, he loses another innocent to the new violent life he has embraced…

With the power of the 100 apparently broken and Tobias Whale in custody, the fight seems over until the gigantic gangster breaks free and takes hostages from Police HQ. Determined to end the vendetta Black Lightning tracks him down for one last duel and in the ‘Deadly Aftermath’ finds purpose to carry on his alternate lifestyle…

Now considering himself more hero than avengers, Pierce experiences ‘Fear and Loathing at Garfield High’ when the school is invaded by a maniac terrorist operating an army of robotic killers after which a circus trip exposes ‘The Other Black Lightning’. Unfortunately, although the well-meaning admirer is a mostly-harmless copycat, a gang of jewel thieves and former Flash foe The Trickster provide plenty of genuine danger and menace before the big top sawdust settles…

Comicbooks were experiencing another general sales downturn at this time just as Denny O’Neil took over the scripting, Black Lightning was cancelled with the 11th (October 1978) issue.

‘All They Will Call You Will Be… Deportee!’ offered promise of a new direction as the urban avenger exposed an insidious people trafficking ring luring South American refugees into slave jobs at a fast food chain, but for most readers that was the last sight of the hero for some time.

So abrupt was the cancellation, that for legal reasons and to secure copyrights, DC had to put out a black-&-white ashcan anthology entitled Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, printing completed but unpublished stories of Claw the Unconquered, The Deserter, the Green Team, Madame Xanadu, Firestorm and others, including Black Lightning #12.

The wider world got to see that last adventure – ‘Lure of the Magnetic Menace’ by O’Neil, Mike Nasser (nee Netzer) & Colletta – a year later when the January 1980 cover-dated World’s Finest Comics #260 ran the story as a prelude to a series of new BL back-up adventures.

This edgy yarn details how the electrifying hero is attacked by costumed crazy Doctor Polaris after Jefferson Pierce investigates a possible case of child neglect and abuse involving one of his more troubled students…

Wrapping up this initial outing is a copious selection of working drawings from the ‘Black Lightning Sketchbook’ by Von Eeden and Mike Netzer’s unfinished cover for never-seen issue #13.

Although closely interlinked to then-current DC continuity, these fast-paced Fights ‘n’ Tights thrillers are so skilfully constructed that even the freshest neophyte will be able to settle in for the ride without any confusion and enjoy a self-contained rollicking rollercoaster of terrifically traditional superhero shenanigans.

So, go do that then…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years

By Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster, Don Cameron, William Woolfolk, Whitney Ellsworth, Jerry Coleman, Robert Kanigher, Cary Bates, John Byrne, Jeph Loeb, Phil Jimenez, Katheryn Immonen, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, Ed Dobrotka, Sam Citron, Al Plastino, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ed McGuiness, Matthew Clark, Renato Guedes, Frank Quitely & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4703-4 (HB)

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

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of venerable DC icons – is available in hardback and digital formats, offering a sequence of snapshots detailing how the original “plucky news-hen” has evolved right beside Superman in that “never-ending battle”…

The groundbreaking appearances selected are preceded here by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in Lois’ development, beginning with

Part I 1938-1956: Girl Reporter

Most of the early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have 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 roughing up a wife-beater, the tireless crusader worked over racketeer Butch Matson – consequently saving suave and feisty colleague Lois 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 sees the mercurial mystery-man travelling to the actual war-zone and spectacularly dampen down the hostilities already in progress, after which in #6 canny chiseller Nick Williams attempts to monetise the hero – without asking first. ‘The Man Who Sold Superman’ (Action Comics #6 1938, Seigel & Shuster) had Superman’s phony Manager even attempting to replace the real thing with a cheap, musclebound knock-off before quickly learning a very painful lesson in business ethics…

In those turbulent times the interpretation of the dogged journalist was far less derogatory than the post-war sneaky minx of the 1950s and 1960s. Lois might have been ambitious and life-threateningly precipitate, but it was always to advance her own career, help underdogs and put bad guys away, not trap a man into marriage. At his time, she was much more Nellie Bly than Zsa Zsa Gabor.

After proving a worthy rival and foil to Clark Kent and his alter ego, Lois won her own occasional solo feature beginning in Superman #28 (May/June 1944). Examples included here begin with ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Bakery Counterfeiters’ (Superman #29, July/August 1944, by Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & George Roussos) which finds the peerless newshound turning her demotion to the women’s cookery pages into another blockbusting scoop by uncovering a crafty money scam at the local patisserie…

In Superman #33 (March 1945) Whitney Ellsworth & Ed Dobrotka detail how a typically cruel prank by male colleagues and cops turns into another front-page scoop as Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Purloined Piggy Bank’ sees her help a little kid and unmask big time jewel thieves after which ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Foiled Frame Up’ (Superman #34 May 1945 by Ellsworth, Sam Citron & Roussos) has her expose political corruption by exposing grafters seeking to discredit Daily Planet Editor Perry White

Originally seen in Superman #58 (May-June 1949) ‘Lois Lane Loves Clark Kent’ is by William Woolfolk, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye: a beguiling teaser finding our “Girl Friday” (that’s a movie reference: look it up) consulting a psychiatrist because of her romantic obsession with the Man of Steel.

The quack tells her to switch her affections to her bewildered, harassed workmate!

Part II 1957-1985: Superman’s Girl Friend

When Lois Lane – arguably the oldest supporting character/star in the Superman mythology if not the DC universe – finally received her own shot at a solo title, it was very much on the terms of the times.

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

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

It took three years for the cautious Editors to tentatively push the boat out again. In 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting going try-out title Showcase – which had launched The Flash (#4) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6) – followed up with a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane.

Soon after they swiftly awarding the “plucky News-hen” a series of her own. Technically it was her second, following her brief mid-1940s solo back-ups in Superman.

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

At that time Lois Lane was one of precious few titles with a female lead, and, in the context of today, one that gives many 21st century fans a few uncontrollable qualms of conscience. Within the confines of her series the valiant, capable working woman careened crazily from man-hungry, unscrupulous bitch, through ditzy simpleton, to indomitable and brilliant heroine – often all in the same issue.

The comic was clearly intended to appeal to the family demographic that made I Love Lucy a national phenomenon and Doris Day a saccharine saint, with many stories played for laughs in that same patriarchal, parochial manner; a “gosh, aren’t women funny?” tone that appals me today – but not as much as the fact that I still love them to bits.

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

During the 1950s and early 1960s in America, being different was a bad thing. Conformity was sacrosanct, even in comicbooks, and everybody and thing was meant to keep to its assigned and intended role. For the Superman family and cast the tone of the times dictated a highly-strictured code of conduct and parameters: Daily Planet Editor Perry White was a stern, shouty elder statesman with a heart of gold, Cub Reporter Jimmy Olsen was a bravely impulsive unseasoned fool – with a heart of gold – and Plucky News-Hen (what does that even mean?) Lois Lane was brash, nosy, impetuous, unscrupulous and relentless in her obsession to marry Superman, although she too was – deep down – another owner of an Auric aorta.

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

I must shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright, breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, (notionally) adult liberal of the 21st century I’m simultaneously shocked nowadays at the jolly, patronising, patriarchally misogynistic attitudes underpinning too many of the stories.

Yes, I’m fully aware that the series was intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” and matronly icons played to the popular American gestalt stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but to ask kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is just plain crazy and tantamount to child abuse.

I’m just saying…

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane and opened with the seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ (by Jerry Coleman & Al Plastino) wherein Lois first met red-headed hussy Lana Lang: childhood sweetheart of Superboy and a pushy conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at any and all costs. Naturally Miss Lane invited Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry was off and running…

Then ‘The New Lois Lane’ (Otto Binder, Ruben Moreira & Plastino) aggravatingly sees Lois turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #1 (March/April #1958) then confirms all stereotypes in Binder & Schaffenberger’s ’The Fattest Girl in Metropolis’: wherein a plant growth ray accidentally super-sizes our vain but valiant reporter. Imagine her reaction when she finds out that Superman had deliberately expanded her dimensions… for good and solid reasons, of course…

In ‘The Kryptonite Girl’ (Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #16, April 1960), Siegel & Schaffenberger were responsible for another cruel lesson as Superman tries to cure Lois’ nosy impulses by tricking his own girlfriend into believing she has a radioactive death-stare. (Of course, as all married couples know, such a power develops naturally not long after the honeymoon…) I love these stories, but sometime words just fail me…

As contrived by Leo Dorfman & Schaffenberger, a personality-altering head blow then causes Lois to try tricking her Man of Steel into matrimony in ‘The Romance of Superbaby and Baby Lois’ (#42, July 1963). Sadly, whilst conniving she employs a stolen rejuvenation chemical which cause them to de-age below the age of legal consent…

Happily, the late 1960s, Feminism and the general raising of female consciousness rescued Lois from demented domesticity, and by the time of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106 (November 1970) she was a competent, combative, totally capable go-getting journalist every inch the better of her male rivals. It’s a shame more of those stories aren’t included in this collection.

However, ‘I Am Curious (Black)!’ by Robert Kanigher, Werner Roth & Vince Colletta showed the lengths she would go to get her story. Unable to truly grasp the nature of being African American, she borrows Kryptonian tech to become black for 24 hours and realises how friends, acquaintances and fellow liberals responds to different skins. She even asks Superman if he would marry her in her altered state…

Big changes and modifications were set in place for Part III 1986-1999: Lois and Clark.

When DC Comics decided to rationalise and reconstruct their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to regenerate their key properties. The biggest shake-up was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was unnecessary. The old soldier was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch overhaul be anything but a marketing ploy that would alienate real fans for a few fly-by-night chancers who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced?

Superman’s titles were cancelled/suspended for three months, and boy, did that make the media sit-up and take notice – for the first time since the debut Christopher Reeve movie. But there was method in this corporate madness…

Man of Steel – written and drawn by John Byrne and inked by Dick Giordano – stripped away vast amounts of accumulated baggage and returned the hero to the far from omnipotent, edgy but good-hearted reformer Siegel and Shuster had first envisioned. It was a huge and instant success, becoming the industry’s premiere ‘break-out’ hit and from that overwhelming start Superman re-inhabited his suspended comicbook homes with the addition of a third monthly title premiering the same month.

The miniseries presented six complete stories from key points in Superman’s career, reconstructed in the wake of the aforementioned Crisis. ‘From Out of the Green Dawn…’ (Man of Steel #1, June 1986) revealed a startling new Krypton in its final moments then followed the Last Son in his escape, through his years in Smallville to his first recorded exploit and initial encounter with Lois Lane.

Byrne was a controversial choice at the time, but he magnificently rekindled the exciting, visually compelling, contemporary and even socially aware slices of sheer exuberant, four-colour fantasy that was the original Superman, making it possible and fashionable to be a fan again, no matter your age or prejudice. Superman had always been great, but Byrne had once again made him thrilling and unmissable.

Included here though, is ‘The Story of the Century’ from The Man of Steel #2 (October 1986) wherein feisty top Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane puts all her efforts into getting the landmark exclusive first interview with Metropolis’ mystery superhero, only to be ultimately scooped by a nerdy, hick new hire named Clark Kent…

We then skip to anniversary issue Action Comics #600 (May 1988) for an untitled segment courtesy of Byrne, Roger Stern, Schaffenberger, Jerry Ordway of a mammoth ensemble piece. Codified for easy access as “Lois Lane” the tale depicts the jaded journalist – fresh from beating up and arresting a gang of thugs – rendezvous with rival Kent to discuss Superman’s possible romance with Wonder Woman

As the years passed Lois and Clark grew beyond professionalism into a work romance but the hero kept his other identity from her. That all changed after the Man of Tomorrow narrowly defeated mystic predator Silver Banshee and decided there would no more ‘Secrets in the Night’ between him and his beloved (Action Comics #662, February 1991, by Stern & Bob McLeod).

Having finally married her man (in 1996) Lois and Clark settled down into a life of hectic wedded bliss, but trouble was never far from the happy couple.

Created as part of the Girlfrenzy publishing event, ‘Lois Lane’ from one-shot Superman: Lois Lane #1 (June 1998 by Barbara Kesel, Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti sees the relentless reporter heading to Canada to singlehandedly bust a child-snatch ring and illicit genetics-mutation lab…

In Part IV 2000-Present: Twenty-First Century Lois, the era of domesticity was marred by many external problems, such as Lex Luthor finagling himself into America’s presidency. ‘With This Ring’ (Superman #168, May 2001 from Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuiness & Cam Smith) details how Lois and Batman infiltrate the White House to steal the gimmick Bad PotUS has been using to keep the Man of Steel at bay, after which ‘She’s a Wonder’ (Wonder Woman #170 (July 2001, by Phil Jimenez, Joe Kelly & Andy Lanning) offers a pretty but relatively slow day-in-the-life tale.

Here Lois interviews the impossibly perfect Amazon cultural ambassador to Mans’s World – and potential romantic rival – providing readers with valuable insights into both.

Greg Rucka, Mathew Clark, & Renato Guedes & Nelson then craft ‘Battery: Part Five’ (Adventures of Superman #631 (October 2004) as Lois’s devil-may-care luck finally runs out and the Caped Kryptonian arrives seconds too late after she becomes a sniper’s target.

Slipping back into comedy, ‘Patience-Centred Care’ comes from Superman 80-Page Giant 2010, where Katheryn Immonen & Tonci Zonjic show how even the Action Ace can’t cope with a bed-ridden wife who won’t let flu stop her nailing a story…

Part V 1957-1985: Imaginary Tales then takes a step sideways to highlight the many memorable out-of-continuity stories the Superman-Lois relationship has generated.

‘The Wife of Superman’ was part of an occasional series running in early issues of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane. Probably scripted by Seigel and definitely drawn by Schaffenberger) this third outing (from #23, February 1961), revisits a possible future wherein Lois is worn to a frazzle by two unmanageable super-toddlers and yearns for her old job at the Daily Planet…

From a period where Golden Age stories where assumed to have occurred on parallel world Earth-Two, ‘Superman Takes a Wife’ comes from 40th Anniversary issue Action Comics #484 (June 1978). Here Cary Bates, Curt Swan & Joe Giella detail how the original Man of Tomorrow became editor of the Metropolis Daily Star in the 1950s and married Lois. Thanks to villainous rogues Colonel Future and the Wizard who had discovered a way to make Superman forget his own existence, only she knew that her husband was once Earth’s greatest hero…

When I was a nipper, Superman had outlandish adventures and was a decent regular guy. His head could be replaced by a lion’s or an ant’s and he loved playing jokes on his friends. His exploits were routinely mind-boggling and he kept a quiet dignity about him. He only shouted to shatter concrete, and not to bully villains. He was quietly cool.

And in All Star Superman he was again. Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely produced a delightful evocation of those simpler, gentler times with a guided tour of the past redolent with classic mile-markers. Superman was the world’s boy scout, Lois was spending her days trying to prove Clark is the Man of Steel, Jimmy Olsen was a competent young reporter dating Lucy Lane and all of time and space knew they could always rely on the Man of Tomorrow.

As seen in All-Star Superman #2 and 3 (February and May 2006), ‘Superman’s Forbidden Room’ and ‘Sweet Dreams, Superwoman’ sees Lois takes centre stage as a 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… Wrapping up the recollections is an astounding Cover Gallery to accompany the works already seen in conjunction with the stories cited above with covers by Shuster, Swan & Stan Kaye, Schaffenberger, Murphy Anderson, Byrne, Kerry Gammill & Brett Breeding, Leonard Kirk & Karl Story, Ed McGuiness & Cam Smith, Adam Hughes, Gene Ha, José Luis García-López, Quitely & Jamie Grant.

These extras comprise Superman #51 (March/April 1948) and Action Comics #137 (October 1949) both by Boring & Kaye; Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #1 (April 1958) by Swan & Kaye; issue #25 (May 1961) by Schaffenberger; #80 (January 1967) by Swan & Neal Adams and #111 (July 1971) by Giordano.

Later classics covers include Superman volume 2 #59 (September 1991) by Dan Jurgens & Brett Breeding; Superman: The Wedding Album and Beyond (1995) by Jurgens & Ordway; Superman volume 2 #157 (June 2000) by McGuiness & Smith; Superman Returns Prequel #4 (August 2006) by Hughes; Superman Confidential #2 (February 2007) by Tim Sale and Superman Unchained #1 (2013 variant cover) by José Luis García-López.

This monolithic testament to the most enduring love affair in comics is a guaranteed delight for fans of all ages and a perfect introductory time capsule for all readers of fantastic fiction.
© 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.

DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories

By Otto Binder, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, John Broome, Leo Dorfman, Edmond Hamilton, Jim Shooter, C.C. Beck, Dick Sprang, Kurt Schaffenberger, Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Bob Kane & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0534-8

Alan Moore’s infamous epigram notwithstanding, not all comics tales are “Imaginary Stories.”

When DC Editor Mort Weisinger was expanding the Superman continuity and building the legend, he realised that each new tale was an event that added to a nigh-sacred canon: that what was written and drawn mattered to the readers. But as a big concept guy he wasn’t going to let that aggregated “history” stifle a good idea, nor would he allow his eager yet sophisticated audience to endure clichéd deus ex machina cop-outs to mar the sheer enjoyment of a captivating concept.

The mantra known to every baby-boomer fan was “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not a Robot!” boldly emblazoned on covers depicting scenes that couldn’t possibly be true… even if it was only a comicbook.

Imaginary Stories were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios devised at a time when editors believed entertainment trumped consistency and knew that every comic read was somebody’s first …or potentially last.

This jolly little compilation celebrates that period when whimsy and imagination were king and stretches the point by leading with a fanciful tale of the World’s Mightiest Mortal as ‘Captain Marvel and the Atomic War’ (Captain Marvel Adventures #66, October 1946) actually hoaxes the public with a demonstration of how the world could end in the new era of Nuclear Proliferation, courtesy of Otto Binder & CC Beck.

‘The Second Life of Batman’ (Batman #127 October 1959) by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang & Charles Paris doesn’t really fit the strict definition either, but the tale of a device that predicts how Bruce Wayne’s life would have run if his parents had not been killed is superb and engaging all the same.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent!’ by Binder and the brilliant Kurt Schaffenberger, was the first tale of an occasional series that began in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #9 (August 1960); depicting the laughter and tears that might result if the plucky news-hen secretly married the Man of Steel. From an era uncomfortably parochial and patronizing to women, there’s actually plenty of genuine heart and understanding in this tale and a minimum of snide sniping about “silly, empty-headed girls”…

Eventually the concepts became so bold that Imaginary Stories could command book-length status. ‘Lex Luthor, Hero!’ (Superman #149, November 1961) by Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff details the mad scientist’s greatest master-plan and ultimate victory in a tale as powerful now as it ever was. In many ways this is what the whole concept was made for…

No prizes for guessing what ‘Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl!’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, #57, December 1961) is about, but the story is truly a charming delight, beautifully realized by Siegel, Swan & Stan Kaye.

Once more stretching the point ‘The Origin of Flash’s Masked Identity!’ (The Flash# 128, May 1962) by John Broome, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, although highly entertaining, is more an enthusiastic day-dream than alternate reality, and, I suspect, added to bring variety to the mix – as is the intriguing ‘Batman’s New Secret Identity’ (Batman #151, November 1961, by Finger, Bob Kane & Paris).

‘The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue!’ (Superman #162, July 1963) is possibly the most influential tale of this entire sub-genre. Written by Leo Dorfman, with art from Swan & George Klein, this startling utopian classic was so well-received that decades later it influenced and flavoured the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman continuity for years. The plot involves the Action Ace being divided into two equal wonder men who promptly solve all universal problems and even the love rivalry between Lois Lane and Lana Lang!

The writer of ‘The Three Wives of Superman!’ is currently unknown to us but the ever-excellent Schaffenberger can at least be congratulated for this enchanting tragedy of missed chances that originally saw print in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #51, from August 1964.

‘The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons’ (Superman #166, November 1964) by Edmond Hamilton, Swan & Klein is a solid thriller built on a tragic premise (what if only one of Superman’s children inherited his powers?), and this bright and breezy book closes with the stirring and hard-hitting ‘Superman and Batman… Brothers!’, wherein orphaned Bruce Wayne is adopted by the Kents, but cannot escape a destiny of tragedy and darkness.

Written by Jim Shooter, with art from Swan & Klein for World’s Finest Comics # 172 (cover-dated December 1967) this moody thriller in many ways signalled the end of the carefree days and the beginning of a grittier, more cohesive DC universe for a less whimsical, fan-based audience.

This collection is a glorious slice of fancy, augmented by an informative introduction from columnist Craig Shutt, and bolstered with mini-cover reproductions of many tales that tragically never made it into the collection, but I do have one minor quibble: No other type of tale was more dependent on an eye-catching, conceptually intriguing cover, so why couldn’t those belonging to these collected classics have been included here, too?

Surely, it’s time for a re-issue in either print or eBook format with all those arresting covers included. Yes, it is… and don’t call me Shirley…
© 1946, 1959-1964, 1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Past and Future

By Jerry Seigel, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, Leo Dorfman, Jim Shooter, Elliot Maggin, Cary Bates, George Papp, John Sikela, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Keith Pollard & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1934-5                  978-1-84856-074-1 (Titan Books UK Edition)

In the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths and its reconstructed DC Universe, time travel – at last for a while – became a Really Big Deal. So, when the Metropolis Marvel did eventually break the fourth dimension, as in the superb Superman: Time and Time Again, the gimmick became as important as the plot and immensely difficult to achieve. But there was an era when all of history and so many implausible futures were just a short and simple spin away…

Superman is the comicbook crusader who started the whole comicbook genre of indomitable costumed champions and, in the eight decades since his debut in June 1938, has probably undertaken every kind of adventure imaginable. With this in mind it’s tempting and very rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his inventory and periodically re-present them in specific themed collections, such as this compelling confection of chronal escapades from a host of superb writers and artists who have contributed to his canon over the years.

The fun begins with a tale from Superboy #85 (December 1960) which reiterated an iron-clad cosmic law of the Silver Age: “History Cannot Be Changed”,

Nevertheless, the Smallville Sensation tragically undertook ‘The Impossible Mission!’ (by Jerry Siegel & George Papp) when he travelled to 1865 to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but fate constantly conspired to make events unfold along a predestined course…

A different theory was in play back in September 1947 when the adult Action Ace broke the time barrier for the first time to collect famous signatures for an ailing boy in ‘Autograph, Please!’ (Superman #48, by Siegel & John Sikela), whilst in ‘Rip Van Superman’ (Superman #107, August 1956 by Bill Finger, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye) an accident placed the hero in a coma, trapping him in a future where he was redundant…

The 1960s were the pinnacle of temporal travel tales with the Man of Tomorrow and his friends nipping forward and back the way you or I (well me, anyway) would pop to the pub. In the brilliantly ingenious ‘Superman Under the Red Sun!’ (Action Comics #300, May 1963 by Edmond Hamilton & Al Plastino) our hero is dispatched to the far, far future where the sun has cooled, and undergoes incredible hardship before brilliantly figuring out a way home.

In ‘Jimmy’s D-Day Adventure!’, the courageous cub reporter ranged back to World War II in search of a bizarre mystery only to end up a trusted member of Hitler’s inner circle, (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #86 (July 1965, Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan & George Klein) before his Daily Planet colleague almost ripped apart the fabric of reality by nearly becoming Superman’s mum when ‘Lois Lane’s Romance with Jor-El!’ (Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #59; August 1965, by Hamilton & Kurt Schaffenberger) resulted from an ill-considered jaunt to pre-cataclysm Krypton…

One of the boldest experiments of the decade occurred when Hamilton, Swan & Klein introduced us to ‘The Superman of 2965!’ (Superman #181, November 1965) for the first of a series of adventures starring the Man of Steel’s distant descendent. A two-part sequel appeared the following summer in Action Comics #338-339, (June and July 1966) ‘Muto… Monarch of Menace!’ and ‘Muto Versus the Man of Tomorrow!’ and a postscript tale appeared in World’s Finest Comics #166 entitled ‘The Danger of the Deadly Duo!’ teaming that era’s Batman and Superman against Muto and the latest in a long line of Jokers (May 1967 by Jim Shooter, Swan & Klein).

For Superman #295, Elliot Maggin, Curt Swan & Bob Oksner produced ‘Costume, Costume – Who’s got the Costume?’ (January 1976): a neat piece of cross-continuity clean-up that featured a few DC parallel worlds including those of Kamandi (Last Boy on Earth) and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

From June of that same year ‘Superman, 2001!’ – by Maggin, Cary Bates, Swan & Oksner – was an Imaginary Story (a tale removed from regular continuity) featured in the anniversary issue Superman #300, which posited what would have happened if baby Kal-El’s rocket had landed in the Cold War era of 1976 – an intriguing premise then which looks uncomfortably like the TV series Smallville to my jaded 21st century eyes…

This fascinating collection concludes with ‘The Last Secret Identity’ (from 1983’s DC Comics Presents Annual #2, by Maggin, Keith Pollard, Mike DeCarlo and Tod Smith), which introduced the first incarnation of Superwoman, with a time-travelling historian landing in Metropolis only to become the subject of her own research…

These tales are clever, plot-driven romps far removed from today’s angst-heavy psycho-dramas and unrelentingly oppressive epics. If you’re after some clean-cut, wittily gentle adventure there’s no better place to go – or time…
© 1947, 1956, 1960, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1976, 1983, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Vs. Brainiac

By Otto Binder, Jerry Seigel, Edmund Hamilton, Cary Bates, Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Joe Kelly, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Gil Kane, George Pérez, Kerry Gammill, German Garcia, Kano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1940-6

Superman is the comicbook crusader who started the whole masked marvel genre and, in the decades since his debut in 1938, has probably undertaken every species of adventure imaginable. With this in mind it’s inevitable and constantly rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his inventory and periodically re-present them in specific themed collections, such as this calculated confection of cosmic clashes with alien arch-foe Brainiac.

Since his first appearance in Action Comics #242, the alien marauder has been a perennial favourite foe of the Man of Steel, and has remained so even after being subsequently upgraded and retooled many times. Brilliant and relentless, he has been continually refitted over the decades until he now stands as the ultimate artificial nemesis, a chilling remorseless thing of cogs, clockwork and undying computer code.

This superb collection represents appearances both landmark and rare from the many brilliant writers and artists who have contributed to the Kryptonian canon over the years, and with faultless logic opens with that aforementioned and extremely impressive introductory saga.

‘The Super-Duel in Space’ was crafted by Otto Binder & Al Plastino (Action #242, July, 1958) and details how an evil alien scientist attempts to add Metropolis to his collection of miniaturised cities in bottles.

As well as a titanic tussle in its own right, this tale utterly altered the mythology of the Man of Steel by introducing Kandor, an entire city full of Kryptonians who had escaped the planet’s destruction when Brainiac captured and bottled them as part of his vivarium of cultures and civilisations.

Although Superman rescued his fellow survivors, the villain escaped to strike again, and it would be years before the hero could restore his fellow Kryptonian survivors to their true size.

Next is a delicious sharp yarn from Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane#17 (May 1960), scripted by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by the sublime art team of Curt Swan & George Klein. ‘Lana Lang, Superwoman’ has the Man of Tomorrow temporarily imbue both Lana and Lois with superpowers to foil a blackmail/murder plot by the viridian villain, after which novel-length saga ‘The Team of Luthor and Brainiac’ (by Edmund Hamilton, Swan & Klein from Superman #167, February 1964) not only teams the hero’s greatest foes in an uneasy alliance but also reveals for the first time that the alien interloper is actually a malevolent mechanism in humanoid form, designed by the fearsome Computer-Tyrants of planet Colu to infiltrate and all destroy organic races across the universe.

Then there’s a big jump to the end of the 1970s for the next story, an epic 3-part clash which originally appeared in Action Comics #489-491 (November 1978-January 1979), scripted by the hugely undervalued Cary Bates and illustrated by Swan & Frank Chiaramonte.

‘Krypton Dies Again’ finds Superman once more battling Brainiac when the light from the decades-gone explosion of his homeworld finally reaches Earth. The resultant flash supercharges his Kryptonian cells leaving the Man of Steel helpless. ‘No Tomorrow for Superman!’ then sees an increasingly berserk hero unable to cope until joined by Hawkman to finally resolve ‘A Matter of Light and Death!’

In Action Comics #544 (June 1983) both Lex Luthor and Brainiac were given radical makeovers to transform them more apposite menaces for the World’s Greatest Superhero. Marv Wolfman & Gil Kane amped up the computer conqueror’s threat-level with ‘Rebirth!’ as uncanny cosmic forces reshape the humanoid horror into a mechanistic angel of death…

When DC Comics decided to rationalise and reconstruct their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985 they also used the event to 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 new, back-to-basics Man of Steel was a sensation and members of his decades-old rogues’ gallery were suitably reimagined to match the new, grittier sensibility.

In this continuity ‘The Amazing Brainiac’ (Adventures of Superman #438, March 1988, written by John Byrne & Jerry Ordway, illustrated by Ordway & John Beatty) was Vril Dox: a monolithic disembodied intellect from the planet Colu who slowly inhabits and transmogrifies the body of showbiz mentalist Milton Moses Fine. Eventually, it grows beyond human physical limits in ‘Man and Machine’ (Action Comics #649, January 1990, by Roger Stern, George Pérez, Kerry Gammill & Brett Breeding) to eventually become a time-travelling ball of malignant computer code, reconstructing or co-opting ever-more formidable physical forms in its self-appointed mission to eradicate Superman…

By the time of ‘Sacrifice for Tomorrow’ (Action Comics #763; March 2000, and realised by Joe Kelly, German Garcia, Kano & Mario Alquiza), the fiend has transformed into its 13th iteration and converted Metropolis into an automated City of the Future.

The malware warlord has also learned how to possess human infants – including Lana Lang’s newborn son and Luthor’s daughter Lena

With a pin-up page of Brainiac 13 by Scott Beatty, Steve Kim & Tommy Yune (culled from Superman: Metropolis Secret Files #1, March 2000) this comprehensive collection of cyber-chillers offers the merest a taste of the monstrous horror Brainiac is capable of but remains a compelling introduction and overview of the undying enemy alien and a superb treat for fans of every vintage.
© 1958, 1960, 1964, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1988, 1990, 2000, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: 3-2-1 Action!

By Kurt Busiek, Mark Evanier, Rick Leonardi, Brad Walker, Steve Rude & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1680-1

There are a number of big cartoon and comics anniversaries this year and probably none bigger than Seigel and Shuster’s magnificent Man of Tomorrow! Here then is a splendid sample of sheer excellence and bucket of fun for Fights ‘n’ Tights fans that spun out of DC’s epic Countdown publishing event. Although nominally another collection of the Action Ace’s adventures, the actual star of the book is Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen with the main body of the volume reprinting Action Comics #852-854 (September-October 2007), which examines the cub reporter’s trials and travails as the effects of the Reality-rending Countdown reach Metropolis.

Without wanting to give too much away (Countdown is collected, readily available and should be read and enjoyed on its own merits) a massive Crisis is affecting all 52 Earths of the newly-reminted DC multiverse.

One inexplicable side-effect of the cosmic kerfuffle is the “fight-or flight” super-power that suddenly afflicts James Bartholomew Olsen, reporter-at-large.

Whenever his life is endangered, sudden inexplicable transformations wrack the kid’s body (and older fans will no doubt be delighted to see the not-so-subtle tributes to such classics of the silver Age as Turtle Boy Olsen, Jimmy the Werewolf, Elastic Lad and The Human Porcupine). This engaging sidebar to Countdown’s Main Event – crafted by scripter Kurt Busiek, penciller Brad Walker and inker John Livesay – also features yet another new take on Titano the Super-Ape, and the return of both superdog Krypto and the Kryptonite Man.

This is preceded by a marvellous updating of Olsen’s “origin” by Busiek, Rick Leonardi & Ande Parks, originally published in Superman #665 (September 2007).

‘Jimmy’ is a charming and adventure-drenched character piece which updates the lad for the millennial generation, whilst still keeping the vitality, verve and pluckiness that carried the boy reporter through seven decades and hundreds of his own adventures within the DCU.

Without doubt though, the absolute prize and gem of this collection comes from the fabulous and much-missed Legends of the DC Universe comicbook of the late 1990s.

Issue #14 to be precise; 55 glorious pages of wonderment from Marv Evanier, Steve Rude & Bill Reinhold from March 1999, presenting a new story crafted from an unused plot Jack Kirby worked up during his tempestuous tenure as Writer-Artist on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen in the early 1970s.

This story features the hordes of Apokolips, The Evil Factory, The Golden Guardian and enough fun and thrills to take decades off the most jaded fan as investigative journalist Olsen uncovers an Apokolyptian scheme to de-evolve the inhabitants of Metropolis and takes action to thwart the impending catastrophe…

In 1970 Kirby’s run on what had become DC’s most moribund title utterly revolutionised the entire DC universe, introducing Darkseid, the Fourth World, Intergang, The Project (later known as Cadmus) and so much more. Nothing on Earth can induce me to reveal any details of this lost epic (sadly only still available in paperback, and not as an eBook yet) but if you can’t have prime, fresh Kirby, this loving and beautiful addendum to his work is the Very Next Best Thing.

I’m going to be recommending a whole lot of Superman stuff this year and this relatively modern collection is right at the top of that list. Track it down now and learn why you really must…!
© 1999, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Annual 1969 with Batman and Superboy

By Jerry Seigel, Leo Dorfman, E. Nelson Bridwell, Edmond Hamilton, Jerry Coleman, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Wayne Boring, George Papp, Jim Mooney, Bob Brown & various (Top Sellers, Ltd by arrangement with the K. G. Murray Publishing Co.)
No ISBN – ASIN: B00389XM8C

Before DC and other American publishers began exporting comicbooks directly into the UK in 1959, our exposure to their unique brand of fantasy fun came from licensed reprints. British publishers/printers like Len Miller, Alan Class and Top Sellers bought material from the USA – and occasionally Canada – to fill 68-page monochrome anthologies – many of which recycled the same stories for decades.

Less common were strangely coloured pamphlets produced by Australian outfit K. G. Murray: exported to the UK in a rather sporadic manner. The company also produced sturdy Annuals which had a huge impact on my earliest years (I suspect my abiding adulation of monochrome artwork stems from seeing supreme stylists like Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson strut their stuff uncluttered by flat colour…).

In Britain we began seeing hardcover Superman Annuals in 1950 and Batman Annuals in 1960. Since then a number of publishers have carried on the tradition. This particular tome emerged at the close of the Batman TV phenomenon which briefly turned the entire planet Camp-Crazed and Bat-Manic; offering a delightfully eclectic mix of material designed to cater to young eyes and broad tastes.

This collection – proudly proclaiming second billing for Batman and Superboy – is printed in a quirky mix of monochrome, dual-hued and full-colour pages which made Christmas books such bizarrely beloved treats and opens with ‘Clark Kent’s Great Superman Hunt’ by Leo Dorfman & Al Plastino and originally a back-up in Superman #180 (October 1965).

Here, to the disgust of his friends, the Daily Planet star reporter seemingly exhorts the public to come forward with information to unmask the Man of Steel. Of course, there’s a deeper scheme in play here…

‘Prison for Heroes’ and ‘The Revenge of Superman’ come from World’s Finest Comics #145 (November 1964): an enthralling and dramatic thriller where Batman is hypnotically pressganged to an alien internment citadel: not as a cell-mate for Superman and other interplanetary champions, but as their sadistic jailer…

Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan & George Klein shine in this potent yarn, delivering a superb team-up tale to excite fans of all ages.

Switching from full-colour to black-&-magenta, ‘You Too can be a Super Artist’ (Superman #211, November 1968) sees Frank Robbins, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito offer advice and starter tips on depicting the Action Ace, after which ‘Batman Kwizzlers’ test your general knowledge and short strip ‘The Superboy Legend: Superboy’s Secret Hideaways’ (by E. Nelson Bridwell, Bob Brown & Wally Wood from Superboy # 161, December 1969) reveals the secret treasures stored in the Boy of Steel’s Smallville home.

Drastically modified and abridged from Superboy # 147 (May-June 1968 and illustrated by George Papp), ‘The Origin and Powers of the Legion of Super Heroes’ offers a pictorial checklist of the Future’s greatest champions, supplemented by Bridwell’s prose history lesson ‘The Lore of the Legion’.

Next comes some participation events beginning with ‘Superman’s Christmas Quiz: Christmas in Many Lands’ (most likely written by Jack Schiff and definitely illustrated by Ruben Moreira from many different contemporary venues) and ‘Superman… and his Space Zoo!’ puzzles.

Then, again truncated and culled from many separate tales, ‘The Origin of the Bizarro World’ takes clips drawn by Wayne Boring and John Forte to precis the whacky backwards super-clowns; ‘Metropolis Mailbag’ answers readers’ questions about all things Kryptonian and the activity section closes with brain-busting conundrums in ‘The Batman Whirly-Word Game’.

Full colour comics action resumes with ‘The Spell of the Shandu Clock’ (Superman #126, January 1959: by Jerry Coleman, Boring & Stan Kaye) providing spooky chills, supposedly supernatural chills and devious ploys to outwit a malevolent criminal mastermind.

From Superboy #109 (December 1963) Jerry Seigel & Papp revealed how a timid Earth orphan is transported to another world to become planetary champion ‘The Super-Youth of Brozz’ after which ‘The Sweetheart Superman Forgot’ by Seigel & Plastino (Superman #165, November 1963) aspires to the heady heights of pure melodrama as the Man of Tomorrow loses his powers, memories, and the use of his legs before loving and losing a girl who only wants him for himself.

In a most poignant moment, the hero recovers his lost gifts and faculties and returns to his old life with no notion of what he’s lost and who waits for him forever alone…

Romance is also on the cards in Dorfman & Mooney’s ‘Zigi and Zagi’s Trap for Superman!’ (Action Comics #316. September 1964) wherein juvenile alien delinquents lure the hero to their homeworld and set him up romantically with their spinster aunt Zyra

With their eclectic selection of tales, Annuals like this one introduced generations of kids to the wild wonderment of the American comics experience and to readers of a certain age remain a captivating, irresistible lure to more halcyon times and climes.
© National Periodical Publications Inc. New York.