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.

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.