Superman: Emperor Joker

Superman: Emperor Joker 

By various

(DC Comics)  ISBN 1-84576-433-1

The night is broken with hideous screams. Every night. A black-clad superhuman smashes out of Arkham only to be subdued by the warped Superman clone called Bizarro before daybreak. Every night. A diminutive pixie of a man dashes to an appointment only to be hit by a train, or a giant weight or… In a sky that rains custard pies hangs a moon that has the Joker’s face. What is going on and when will it all end?

Although not a new plot, and despite being the product of more than two dozen creators, this tale of a time when the Joker steals the power of the Fifth dimensional Mr. Mxyzptlk and literally remakes creation in his own image just so he can torture the heroes who have so often thwarted him, actually works. Keeping up a breakneck pace and peppering the action with in-jokes and sly asides, the narrative of Superman under terminal pressure to save the universe is gripping and the eventual denouement actually works in context. This is a marvellous piece of comic eye-candy.

Although taken from a particularly grim and humourless period in recent Superman history, this thinly disguised tribute to the zany genius of Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and those wacky Warner Brothers cartoons reads like a breath of fresh air when gathered together in one collection.

Originally published in Superman #160-161, Adventures of Superman #582-583, Superman: The Man of Steel #104-105, Action Comics #769-770 and Emperor Joker #1. Written by Jeph Loeb, J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Schultz and Joe Kelly, with art by Ed McGuinness, Can Smith, Mike Miller, José Marzan Jr., Doug Mahnke, Tom Nguyen, John McCrea, Kano, Marlo Alquiza, Duncan Rouleau, Todd Nauck, Carlo Barberi, Scott McDaniel, Jaime Mendoza, Richard Bonk, and Armando Durruthy

© 2000, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Vol Two

Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Vol Two 

By various

(DC Comics)  ISBN 1-84576-391-2

Here’s another collection of tales tracing the Man of Steel’s history and development, this time seemingly concentrating on character rather than physical achievement. First off is the much-reprinted, but always glorious, The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk (which was later Anglicised to Mxyzptlk, presumably to make it easier to spell) from Superman #30 (1944). Jerry Siegel and artist Ira Yarbrough created a cornerstone of the Superman myth with this screwball other-dimensional pixie, against whom all Superman’s strength and power are useless. From then on brains were going to be as important as brawn as they introduced frustration as the Big Guy’s first real weakness.

By the mid-1950s Superman had settled into an ordered existence. Nothing could really hurt him, nothing would ever change, and thrills seemed in short supply. With the TV show cementing the action, writers increasingly concentrated on supplying wonder instead. Superman’s Other Life by Otto Binder, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye (Superman #132, 1959) shows what might have happened if Superman had grown up on an unexploded Krypton, courtesy of Batman and the projections of a super-computer.

Superman’s Return to Krypton (Superman #141, 1960) by Siegel, Boring and Kaye shoots successfully for Grand Tragedy as Kal-El is trapped in the past on his doomed home-world. Reconciled to dying there, he finds love with his ideal soul-mate, only to be torn from her side and returned to Earth against his will. This tale was a fan favourite for decades thereafter, and it’s truly deserving of a place in this volume, as is The Team of Luthor and Brainiac (Superman #167, 1964), a kid’s dream of an adventure by Edmond Hamilton (from a Cary Bates plot), Curt Swan and George Klein – possibly the most effective art team ever to work on the Man of Steel.

When Julie Schwartz took over the editorial duties, he decided to shake things up — with spectacular results. Superman Breaks Loose (Superman #233, 1971) by Denny O’Neil, Swan and Murphy Anderson, revitalised the Man of Tomorrow and began a period of superb stories that made him a ‘must-buy’ character all over again.

The Legend from Earth-Prime (Superman #400, 1984) is a clever little pastiche by Elliot S. Maggin and Frank Miller, and The Secret Revealed by John Byrne and Terry Austin comes from the second issue of the remodelled, Post-Crisis, Superman (1987), and reveals just how differently the new Luthor thinks and works. Following that is Life after Death (Adventures of Superman #500, 1993), by Jerry Ordway, Tom Grummett and Doug Hazlewood, the concluding episode of the infamous Death of Superman story-arc.

After a pin-up by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens the volume concludes, symmetrically, with a recent, and absolutely hilarious, Mxyzptlk tale from Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark and Andy Lanning (Adventures of Superman #638, 2005).

Every generation has its own favourite Superman. This selection has the potential to make a fan reconsider just which one that might be. It’s probably wiser to just love them all.

© 1944, 1959, 1960, 1964, 1971, 1984, 1987, 1993, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Chronicles Volume 2

Superman Chronicles Volume 2 

By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-435-8

Here’s another welcome cheap-and-cheerful soft-cover collection of the earliest stories of the Man of Steel who quite literally spawned a genre, if not an actual art form. The rough, uncontrollable, wish-fulfilling exuberance is still present throughout, although Siegel and Shuster are swiftly polishing their craft with each story. These tales of the righteous, empowered man dealing out summary justice to wife-beaters, reckless drivers and exploitative capitalists as well as thugs and ne’er-do-wells captured the imagination of a generation, and are presented in totality and chronological order from Action Comics #14 (July 1939) through #20 (January 1940), and issues #2 and 3 of his own solo title.

To be strictly accurate, only the first and last strips from issue 3 appear in this volume, but they’re still great and I’m sure the remainder of the issue will appear in the next volume.

In this volume you’ll meet the first ever returning foe (us lags call ‘em “arch-enemies”), The Ultra Humanite – twice!, plus a rip-roaring mix of hoods, masterminds, plagues, disasters, lost kids and distressed damsels – all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion. No continued stories here!

Read these yarns and you’ll understand why today’s creators keep returning to this material every time they need to revamp the big guy. They are simply timeless, enthralling, and great.

© 1939, 1940, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Returns: The Prequels

Superman Returns: The Prequels

By various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-379-3

DC capitalised on the movie release by producing four comics, each of which focused on one of the supporting cast long associated with the Man of Steel, and each set immediately before the beginning of the film itself.

Krypton to Earth scripted by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey, with art by Ariel Olivetti, powerfully explores the character of Jor-El as he prepares to launch his son into the void with Krypton crashing down around him. Ma Kent by Marc Andreyko and Karl Kerschl, follows a ruminative Martha Kent as she reminisces about rearing that very special foundling from space.

Palmiotti and Grey return for Lex Luthor. With art from Rick Leonardi and Nelson, this story examines the mind and motivations of the most dangerous man alive as he prepares to leave the prison he’s been incarcerated in since the last film. Finally, Wellington Dias and Doug Hazlewood illustrate Andreyko’s Lois Lane, the only character who has seemingly moved on since Superman disappeared, but even she isn’t so sure how much…

The worlds of comic and film continuity seldom mesh with fans but these character vignettes are sure and sharp, enhancing the movie without overwhelming it, yet remain wonderfully consistent to the spirit of the comics that inspired them. This slim tome is well worth the effort and time.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Man of Steel Vol 5

Superman: The Man of Steel Vol 5

By various

(DC Comics)  ISBN 1-84576-390-4

This volume reprints Superman #9-11, Action Comics #592-593 and Adventures of Superman #432-435 from 1987 when the post-Crisis revamp was in full swing and a fine team of comics creators was going all-out to prove a dubious public wrong in their belief that nothing could make the Caped Kryptonian exciting again.

John Byrne and Marv Wolfman were responsible for writing these tales and the former was also half the drawing team. In To Laugh and Die in Metropolis Superman meets the Joker for the first time in a murderous battle of wits, before moving on to tackle a Gangwar, courtesy of Wolfman and artists Jerry Ordway and P. Craig Russell.

Byrne, with inks by Keith Williams, then teams the Man of Steel with Big Barda and Mr. Miracle in A Walk on the Darkside and The Suicide Snare and has him battle Luthor again in The Super Menace of Metropolis, aided by the inking of Karl Kesel. Bob Smith joins Ordway on art duties for A Tragedy in Five Acts the second part of Gangwar, and Byrne and Kesel reintroduce the fifth dimensional prankster Mr. Mxyzptlk in The Name Game.

Wolfman, Ordway and José Marzan complete this edition with Shambles and The Circle Turns, two slower tales that build on the strong continuity and character interactions that typified this incarnation of the Man of Tomorrow. Seeing these stories collected in this way illustrates just how much planning went into the three Superman titles. These volumes read much more like books than collections and with the quality of writing and art improving from “chapter” to “chapter” this is a series you should seriously consider seeking out.

© 1987 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Returns: The Movie and Other Tales

Superman Returns: The Movie and Other Tales 

By various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-282-7

This movie tie-in volume reprints the comic adaptation of Superman Returns and pads out with an eclectic collection of tales from the more recent portion of the Man of Steel’s nigh seven decades of fun and thrills.

The Origin of Superman comes courtesy of The Amazing World of Superman Treasury Edition from 1973. The much-told tale gets another outing via E. Nelson Bridwell, Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, whilst the Luthor, Lois, Superman dynamic is re-examined by Stuart Immonen, Mark Millar and Yanick Paquette in A Night at the Opera originally seen in Adventures of Superman #575 (2000).

Geoff Johns, Brent Anderson and Ray Snyder show a lighter side in The Second Landing from Superman #185 (2002), Action Comics #810 (2004) provides a Christmas and New year’s fable by Joe Kelly and a fistful of guest artists, and the book ends with the delightful tale of Lois Lane’s fight to break the story of that brand new hero Superman, in Lois and the Big One from Superman Secret Files and Origins (2005) by Jami Bernard, Renato Guedes and Nick J. Napolitano.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder

Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder

By Judd Winick & Joshua Middleton

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-296-7

Good, old fashioned comic book romp as the Man of Steel meets up with neophyte superhero Captain Marvel, who is in fact a little boy with a tremendous gift. Full of big fights, dastardly villains, giant monsters and robots, all rendered in a painterly style very reminiscent of the old Fleischer Studio Superman cartoons.

This is a great read for all ages and serves as a solid introduction for anyone unfamiliar with some of the major players of the Infinite Crisis volumes.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman-Batman: Vengeance

By Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-4012-0921-1

Here’s another triumph of style over substance as our heroes are targeted by a strangely familiar – not to say almost dangerously copyright-infringing – team of super heroes from another reality – another? again? – bent on obtaining vengeance for the murder of a team-mate at the hands of – surely not? – Superman and Batman!

This further interdimensional foofaraw follows on from Superman-Batman: Absolute Power with a graphically astounding package of rollercoaster twaddle with lots of branded guest-stars but very little sense. Ooh, Shiny!

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

By Jeph Loeb, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino

(DC Comics)

Hardcover ISBN 1-4012-0447-3 Paperback ISBN 1-84576-144-8

This most reductionist, iconic version of the World’s Finest team returns in a bewildering romp that is an aging fan-boy’s dream, as the time-travelling Legion of Super Villains co-opt history by raising Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne to be the conquerors of Earth, thus provoking universal doom and a plethora of DC guest stars from all histories and genres dying heroically before our consensus of reality is restored.

Although there is a vast amount of razzle-dazzle from Jeph Loeb and spectacular art from Pacheco and Merino, it still fails to really satisfy, and even the most desperate of continuity freaks know that everything’s going to come out right eventually.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Superman: Infinite City

Superman: Infinite City

By Mike Kennedy & Carlos Meglia

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-176-6

This original graphic novel is a sadly lightweight piece of fluff that sees investigative reporters Mr and Mrs Kent tracking down the source of a devastating super-gun, only to be sucked into a strange time-warped dimension. There they become embroiled in a civil war between greedy, slimy, power hungry industrialist Jesden Tyme (yes – oh, ha ha – indeed) and the robotic Mayor, who just happens to be a download of the consciousness of Superman’s father, Jor-El.

Lavishly illustrated in the manner of an animated feature film, the stylizations of Carlos Meglia may not be to everyone’s taste. The plot from Mike Kennedy (Lone Wolf 2100, Star Wars: Underworld and the sadly under-appreciated Ghost/Batgirl, among others) lacks any punch or originality of its own, relying on the clichéd and oft-rehashed. However, as is often the case in these days of sound-bite culture, the dialogue is sharp and effective, and some of the interplay between Lois and Clark is delightful. Perhaps the comic book powers-that-be have returned to an old philosophy, feeling that readers aren’t consumers for life but only read funny-books for a brief time before graduating to DVDs and computer games or regressing to those old fashioned book thingies.

Still, a new graphic novel is a rare enough investment in these days of translated Manga and album editions of almost anything that reaches 6 issues in its own monthly comic, so perhaps we should just shut up and support the gesture.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.