Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents Superman Team-Ups volume 1

By Martin Pasko, Dave Michelinie, Len Wein, Paul Levitz, Cary Bates, Steve Englehart, Denny O’Neil, Gerry Conway, Mike W. Barr, Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman, José Luis García-López, Murphy Anderson, Curt Swan, Dick Dillin, Joe Staton, Rich Buckler & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2535-3

As I’ve been inundating you with Superman stuff in this Anniversary year and celebrating the graphic literary device of team-ups this week, how could I let this superb collection go unremarked, especially as so much of the material remans inaccessible in more modern, full-colour compilations? Comics fans are all completists at heart, and until new editions or digital equivalents are released this is as good at it gets…

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero the only thing he/she wants is to see how the new gaudy gladiator stacks up against the first. From the earliest days of the comics industry (and according to DC Comics Presents editor Julie Schwartz it was the same with the pulps and dime novels that preceded it) we’ve wanted our idols to meet, associate, battle together – and if you follow the Timely/Marvel model, that means against each other – far more than we want to see them trounce their archenemies in a united front…

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was far from new when DC awarded their then-biggest gun (it was the publicity-drenched weeks before the release of Superman: The Movie and Tim Burton’s Batman was over a decade away) a regular arena to have adventures with other stars of their firmament, just as Batman had been doing since the middle of the 1960s in The Brave and the Bold.

In truth, the Action Ace had already enjoyed the serial sharing experience once before, when World’s Finest Comics briefly ejected the Caped Crusader and Superman battled beside a coterie of heroes including Flash, Robin, Teen Titans, Vigilante, Dr. Fate and others (issues #198-214; November 1970 to October/November 1972) before the proper status quo was re-established.

This superbly economical monochrome collection re-presents the first 26 issues of the star-studded monthly and opens the show with a two-part thriller featuring Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash who had also been Superman’s first co-star in that aforementioned World’s Finest Comics run.

‘Chase to the End of Time!’ and ‘Race to the End of Time!’ featured in DC Comics Presents #1 and 2 (July-August and September-October 1978), as scripter Marty Pasko and the utterly astounding José Luis García-López (inked by Dan Adkins) rather reprised that WF tale. Here warring alien races trick both heroes into speeding relentlessly through the time-stream to prevent Earth’s history from being corrupted and destroyed.

As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, nobody could predict the deadly intervention of the Scarlet Speedster’s most dangerous foe, Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash

David Michelinie wrote a tantalising pastiche of classic Adam Strange Mystery in Space thrillers for García-López to draw and ink in ‘The Riddle of Little Earth Lost’ wherein the Man of Two Worlds and Man of Tomorrow foil the diabolical cosmic catastrophe scheme of a deranged genius to transpose, subjugate and/or destroy Earth and light-years distant planet Rann.

Len Wein came aboard to script the superb ‘Sun-Stroke!’ wherein the Man of Steel and the madly-malleable Metal Men join forces to thwart solar-fuelled genius I.Q. and toxic elemental menace Chemo after an ill-considered plan to enhance Earth’s solar radiation exposure provokes a cataclysmic solar-flare.

Sea King Aquaman is embroiled in ‘The War of the Undersea Cities’ (by Wein, Paul Levitz & Murphy Anderson) when his subjects re-open ancient hostilities with the mer-folk of undersea neighbour Tritonis, home of Superman’s old college girlfriend Lori Lemaris. Fortunately, cooler heads prevail when the deadly Ocean Master is revealed to be meddling in their sub-sea politics, after which ‘The Fantastic Fall of Green Lantern’ (Levitz, Curt Swan & Francisco Chiaramonte) sees the Man of Steel inherit the awesome power ring after Hal Jordan falls in battle against Star Sapphire.

Although triumphant against his female foe, Superman is subsequently ambushed by anti-matter warriors from Qward leading to ‘The Paralyzed Planet Peril!’ (#7, Levitz, Dick Dillin & Chiaramonte) wherein those aliens try to colonise Earth until the robotic Red Tornado swirls in to the rescue.

‘The Sixty Deaths of Solomon Grundy’ by Steve Englehart & Murphy Anderson co-stars Swamp Thing (at a time when the bog-beast still believed he was a transformed human and not an enhanced plant) searching the sewers of Metropolis for a cure to his condition, only to stumble onto a battle between the Man of Steel and the mystic zombie who was “born on a Monday”…

Marty Pasko returns to script the Joe Staton & Jack Abel illustrated ‘Invasion of the Ice People!’ wherein Wonder Woman assists in repelling an attack by malign disembodied intellects before another 2-part tale commences with ‘The Miracle Man of Easy Company’ (Cary Bates, Staton & Abel)…

Here a super-bomb blasts Superman back to World War II and a momentous meeting with indomitable everyman soldier Sgt. Rock, before the Caped Kryptonian returns home to battle a brainwashed and power-amplified Hawkman in ‘Murder by Starlight!’ (Bates, Staton & Chiaramonte).

DCCP #12 offered a duel between the Action Ace and New God Mister Miracle in ‘Winner Take Metropolis’ by Englehart, Richard Buckler & Dick Giordano before Levitz scripts an ambitious continued epic that begins with ‘To Live in Peace… Nevermore!’ (art from Dillin & Giordano), wherein the Legion of Super-Heroes prevent Superman saving a little boy from alien abduction to preserve the integrity of the time-line. It didn’t help that the lad was Jon Ross, son of Clark Kent’s oldest friend and most trusted confidante…

Driven mad by loss, Pete Ross risks the destruction of reality itself by enlisting the aid of Superboy to battle his older self in ‘Judge, Jury… and No Justice!’ (Levitz, Dillin & Giordano), after which the Man of Steel helps scientist-hero Ray Palmer regain his size-changing powers in ‘The Plight of the Giant Atom!’ (Bates, Staton & Chiaramonte).

Issue #16 finds Superman and Black Lightning battling a heartsick alien trapped on Earth foe millennia in ‘The De-volver!’ (Denny O’Neil, Staton & Chiaramonte) after which Gerry Conway, García-López & Steve Mitchell herald the return of Firestorm in ‘The Ice Slaves of Killer Frost!’: a bombastic, saves-the-day epic which brought the Nuclear Man back into the active DC pantheon after a long hiatus.

Zatanna co-stars in the Conway, Dillin & Chiaramonte rollercoaster ride ‘The Night it Rained Magic!’; Batgirl helps solve the eerie mystery ‘Who Haunts This House?’ (O’Neil, Staton & Chiaramonte) and Green Arrow steals the show as always in the gripping, big-business-busting eco-thriller ‘Inferno from the Sky!’ by O’Neil, García-López & Joe Giella.

DCCP #21 depicts the eclectic and eccentric detective Elongated Man as patient zero in ‘The Alien Epidemic’: a tense medical mystery by Conway, Staton & Chiaramonte, after which Mike W. Barr provides an effective science fiction doom-tale co-starring Captain Comet as the future-man endures ‘The Plight of the Human Comet!’ (art by Dillin & Frank McLaughlin).

‘The Curse Out of Time!’ (#23, O’Neil, Staton & Vince Colletta) affects two separate Earths, compelling Superman and Doctor Fate to defeat imps and ghosts before normality can be restored and the supernatural theme continues in a magnificent team-up with Deadman in #24 wherein Wein & García-López revealed the tragic and chilling story of ‘The Man Who Was the World!’

The long unresolved fate of Jon Ross is happily concluded in the cunning and redemptive ‘Judgement Night’ with the enigmatic Phantom Stranger finagling and overcoming an insoluble, intolerable situation with Superman, courtesy of Levitz, Dillin & McLaughlin.

This stellar collection concludes with a spectacular return engagement for Green Lantern as Emerald Crusader and Man of Tomorrow battle each other and a trans-dimensional shape-shifter in ‘Between Friend and Foe!’; plotted and pencilled by Jim Starlin, scripted by Marv Wolfman and inked by Steve Mitchell.

These short, pithy adventures act as a perfect shop window for DC’s fascinating catalogue of characters and creators; delivering a breadth and variety of self-contained, exciting and satisfying entertainments ranging from the merely excellent all the way to utterly unmissable. This book is the perfect introduction to the DC Universe for every kid of any age and a delightful slice of the ideal Costumed Dramas of a simpler, more inviting time…
© 1978, 1979, 1980, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons

By Bob Haney & Dick Dillin, Dennis O’Neil, John Calnan, Ernie Chan, Rich Buckler, Kieron Dwyer & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6968-5

Are you old enough to yearn for simpler times?

The brilliant expediency of the 52 Parallel Earths concept lends the daftest tale from DC’s back catalogue credibility and contemporary resonance since there’s now a chance that even the hippest and most happening of the modern pantheon can visit/interact with the most outrageous world or concept in DC’s long history. It doesn’t hurt either that following DC’s Rebirth reboot the actual sons of the Dark Knight and Man of Tomorrow are now part of the established – and “real” – DC Universe.

Thus, this collection (available in trade paperback and eBook editions) of well-told “imaginary” tales from the 1970s (January 1972-December 1976), supplemented by a few episodes from more self-conscious times, can be re-released with a clear continuity-conscience without even the most strident fan complaining.

Written by Bob Haney and drawn by Dick Dillin, the Super-Sons appeared with no preamble fanfare in World’s Finest Comics #215, 1972; a bad time for superhero comics, but a great era for teen rebels. Those free-wheeling, easy-rider, end of the flower-power days saw a huge focus on “teen consciousness” and the “Generation Gap” was a phrase on many lips.

The editors clearly saw a way to make arch-establishment characters instantly pertinent and relevant and – being mercifully oblivious to the constraints of continuity (and some would say logic) – simply generated tales of the maverick sons of the World’s Finest heroes out of whole cloth.

And well-constructed, well told tales they are. In debut outing ‘Saga of the Super Sons!’ (inked by Henry Scarpelli) the young warriors run away from home – on the inevitable motorcycle, natch! – and encounter a scurrilous gang-lord.

But worry not, the paternalistic parents are keeping a wary eye on the lads! Speaking as someone who was the target market for this experiment, I can admit that the parental overview grated then and still does, but as there were so many sequels somebody must have liked it.

‘Little Town with a Big Secret!’ appeared in the very next issue: another low key human interest tale, but with a science-fiction twist and the superb inking of Murphy Anderson complimenting Haney & Dillin’s murder-mystery yarn.

Crafted by the same team, WF # 221 featured ‘Cry Not for My Forsaken Son!’ which showed a troubled runaway boy the difference between merit and worth, and the value of a father as opposed to a biological parent, whilst in #222 ‘Evil in Paradise’ (inked by Vince Colletta) the young heroes voyaged to an undiscovered Eden to resolve the ancient question of whether Man is intrinsically Good or Evil.

‘The Shocking Switch of the Super-Sons’ (WF #224, and also inked by Colletta) carried teen rebellion to its most logical conclusion as a psychologist convinces the boys to temporarily trade fathers whereas ‘Crown for a New Batman!’ provides a radical change of pace as Bruce Wayne Jr. inherits the Mantle and the Mission after his father is murdered!

Never fear, all is not as it seems, fans! This thriller – guest starring Robin – first appeared in WF #228, and was inked by Tex Blaisdell, who then inked Curt Swan, on the more traditional Lost Civilisation yarn ‘The Girl Whom Time Forgot’ in WF#230.

The Relevancy Era was well over by the time Haney, Dillin & Blaisdell crafted ‘Hero is a Dirty Name’ (WF #231), wherein the Sons are forced to question the motivation for heroism, in a thriller also featuring Green Arrow and The Flash.

In #233’s ‘World Without Men ‘(inked by John Calnan) the ever-questioning rambling Super-Sons tackle sexual equality issues and unravel a crazy plot to supplant human males, after which ‘The Angel with a Dirty Name’ (by the same team in WF #238) offers a super-villains ‘n’ monsters slug-fest indistinguishable from any other super tale, before the original series ends with WF #242’s ‘Town of the Timeless Killers’ – illustrated by Ernie Chua (nee Chan) & Calnan – wherein the kids are trapped in a haunted ghost town and stalked by immortal gunslingers; an ignominious close to a bold experiment.

Four years later the boys popped back for a momentary revival in ‘Final Secret of the Super-Sons’ (Denny O’Neil, Rich Buckler & Dick Giordano in WF #263, 1980) where it was shockingly revealed that they were no more than a simulation running on Superman’s giant Computer. In a grim indication of how much of a chokehold shared continuity had grown into, they then escaped into “reality” anyway to wreak havoc in a manner the Matrix movies would be proud of…

The collection concludes with a short tale by Haney & Kieron Dwyer that appeared in Elseworlds 80-Page Giant in 1999. ‘Superman Jr. is No More!’ is a charming and fitting conclusion to this odd, charming and idiosyncratic mini-saga, embracing the original conceit as it posits what wold happen if the Man of Steel died and his boy was forced to take over too soon…

Supplemented with a full cover gallery by Nick Cardy, Chan, Calnan, Dick Giordano, Ross Andru & Ty Templeton, these classic adventures are packed with potency and wit. If you’ve an open mind and refined sense of fun, why not take a look at a few gems (and one or two duds) from an era where everybody read comics and nobody took them too seriously?
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1999, 2017 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Superman in the Forties

By Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster & the Superman studio (DC Comics/Little, Brown & Co)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0457-0

Part of a series of trade paperbacks intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades (the other being Batman, of course), these much-missed books always delivered a superb wallop of comicbook magic and a tantalising whiff of other, perhaps better, times.

Divided into sections partitioned by cover galleries, this box of delights opens with the untitled initial episodes from Action Comics #1 and 2 (even though they’re technically ineligible, coming from June and July 1938) as written and drawn by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

With boundless enthusiasm the Man of Tomorrow explodes into action, saving an innocent condemned to the electric chair, teaching a wife-beater a salutary lesson, terrorising mobsters and teaching war profiteers to think again. It’s raw, unpolished and absolutely captivating stuff.

Swiftly following from Superman #58 (May/June 1949) is a beguiling teaser written by William Woolfolk and illustrated by Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye. ‘Lois Lane Loves Clark Kent!’ finds the intrepid pioneering lady reporter seeing a psychiatrist because of her romantic obsession with the Man of Steel. His solution?

The quack tells her to switch her affections to her bewildered, harassed workmate with resultant hilarity and chaos ensuing! A rare treat follows as the seldom seen Superman prose story from Superman #1 (Summer 1939 and of course written by Siegel with accompanying art by Shuster) reappears for the first time in decades.

In 1948 the editors finally declassified the full and original ‘Origin of Superman’ written by Bill Finger with art from Boring and Kaye (Superman #53, cover-dated July/August). It was sequelled a year later and is directly followed in this volume by ‘Superman Returns to Krypton’ (Finger and Al Plastino) wherein the Man of Tomorrow breaks the time barrier to observe his lost homeworld at first hand.

This little gem (from Superman #61, November/December, 1949) provided the comic-book explanation for Kryptonite – which was originally introduced on the radio show in 1943 then promptly forgotten – and opened the door for a magical expansion of the character’s universe that still resonates with us today.

During the late 1940s Siegel & Shuster retrofitted their creation by creating Superboy (“the adventures of Superman when he was a boy”) for More Fun Comics #101 (January/February 1945). An instant hit, the youthful incarnation soon took the lead spot in Adventure Comics and won his own solo title in 1949.

From Superboy #5 (November/December, 1949) comes the charming tale of a runaway princess ironically entitled ‘Superboy Meets Supergirl’ by Woolfolk and the hugely talented John Sikela.

The second section is dedicated to the Man of Steel’s opponents, starting with ‘Superman Meets the Ultra-Humanite’ (Action Comics #14; (July 1939) by Siegel, Shuster and Paul Cassidy. They also devised a much more memorable criminal scientist in Lex Luthor who debuted in an untitled tale from Action #23 (April 1940). This larcenous landmark is followed by ‘The Terrible Toyman’ (Action #64, September 1943) by Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & George Roussos.

In such socially conscious times one of Superman’s most persistent foes was a heartless swindler called Wilbur Wolfingham. ‘Journey into Ruin’ by Cameron, Ira Yarbrough & Stan Kaye (Action #107; November #107) is a fine example of this type of tale and the hero’s unique response to it.

A different kind of whimsy is in play when Lois’s niece – a liar who could shame Baron Munchausen – returns with a new pal who can make her fantasies reality in ‘The Mxyztplk-Susie Alliance’ (from Superman #40; May/June 1946), charmingly crafted by Cameron, Yarbrough & Kaye.

The American Way section begins with a genuine war-time classic. ‘America’s Secret Weapon’ is from Superman #23 (July/August 1943, by Cameron, Sam Citron and Sikela): a masterpiece of patriotic triumphalism, as is the excerpt from the Superman newspaper strip which reveals how the over-eager Man of Tomorrow accidentally fluffs his own army physical. These strips by Siegel, Shuster & Jack Burnley originally ran from 16th – 19th February 1942,

Look Magazine commissioned a legendary special feature by the original creators for their 27th February 1943 issue. ‘How Superman Would End the War’ is a glorious piece of wish-fulfilment which still delights, and it’s followed by a less famous but equally affecting human interest yarn ‘The Superman Story’.

Taken from World’s Finest Comics #37 (1947, by Finger, Boring & Kaye), it pictures a pack of reporters trailing Superman to see how the world views him…

The book ends with ‘Christmas Around the World’ as Superman becomes the modern Spirit of the Season in a magical Yule yarn by Cameron, Yarbrough & Kaye from Action #93 (February 1946).

With a selection of cover galleries, special features and extensive creator profiles this is a magnificent Primer to the greatest hero of a bygone Golden Age, but one that can still deliver laughter and tears, thrills and spills and sheer raw excitement. No real fan can ignore these tales…
© 1940-1939, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Tales from the Phantom Zone

By Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Otto Binder, Curt Swan & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2258-1

Superman is comics’ champion crusader: the hero who effectively started a whole genre and, in the decades since his spectacular launch in June 1938, one who has survived every kind of menace imaginable. With this in mind it’s tempting and very rewarding to gather up whole tranches of his prodigious back-catalogue and re-present them in specifically-themed collections, such as this sinister set of sorties into the stark and silent realm of nullity designated the Phantom Zone: a time-proof timeless prison for the worst villains of lost planet Krypton.

This captivating trade paperback collection (gathering material from Adventure Comics #283, 300, Action Comics #336, Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #33, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #62, Superman #157, 205, Superboy #89, 104 and Who’s Who in the DC Universe volume 18) represents appearances both landmark and rare, crafted by the many brilliant writers and artists who have contributed to the Kryptonian canon over the years.

Naturally, this terrific tome begins with the very first appearance of the dolorous dimension in ‘The Phantom Superboy’ by Robert Bernstein & George Papp (from Adventure Comics #283 April, 1961).

Here, a mysterious alien vault smashes to Earth and the Smallville Sensation finds sealed within three incredible super-weapons built by his long-dead dad Jor-El. There’s a disintegrator gun, a monster-making de-evolutioniser and a strange projector that opens a window into an eerie, timeless dimension of stultifying intangibility.

However, as Superboy reads the history of the projector – used to incarcerate Krypton’s criminals – a terrible accident traps him inside the Phantom Zone and only by the greatest exercise of his mighty intellect does he narrowly escape…

Next is pivotal 2-part tale ‘Superboy’s Big Brother’ (by Robert Bernstein & Papp from Superboy #89, June 1961) in which an amnesiac, super-powered space traveller crashes in Smallville. Slightly older than Superboy, the befuddled visitor speaks Kryptonese and carries star-maps written by the long-dead Jor-El…

Jubilant, baffled and suspicious in equal amounts, the Boy of Steel eventually, tragically discovers ‘The Secret of Mon-El’ by accidentally exposing the stranger to a fatal, inexorable death before desperately providing critical life-support by depositing the dying alien in the Phantom Zone until a cure can be found…

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #33 (May 1962), by a sadly unknown writer but illustrated by the always exceptional art team of Curt Swan & George Klein, further explored the dramatic potential of the Zone in ‘The Phantom Lois Lane!’ wherein a temporarily deranged Lana Lang dispatches all her romantic rivals for the Man of Tomorrow’s affections to the extra-dimensional dungeon.

From one month later, ‘Superman’s Phantom Pal!’ (Leo Dorfman, Swan & Klein as seen in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #62) Jimmy Olsen in his Elastic Lad role is drawn through a miniscule rip in the fabric of reality and joins Mon-El in the Zone where the plucky cub reporter faces down the worst of Krypton’s villains and resists their ultimate temptation…

Adventure Comics #300 (September 1962) saw the launch of the Legion of Super-Heroes in their own series by Jerry Siegel, John Forte & Al Plastino. That premier yarn, ‘The Face Behind the Lead Mask!’, pits Superboy and the 30th century champions against an unbeatable foe until Mon-El intervenes, briefly freed from a millennium of confinement to save the day…

‘The Super-Revenge of the Phantom Zone Prisoner!’ by Edmond Hamilton, Swan & Klein (Superman#157, November 1962) saw the introduction of power-stealing Gold Kryptonite and Superman’s Zone-o-phone – which allows him to communicate with the incarcerated inhabitants – in a stirring tale of injustice and redemption. Convicted felon Quex-Ul uses the device to petition Superman for release since his sentence has been served, and despite reservations the fair-minded hero can only agree.

However further investigation reveals Quex-Ul has been framed and is wholly innocent of any crime, but before Superman can explain or apologise, he has to avoid the deadly trap the embittered and partially mind-controlled parolee has laid for the son of the Zone’s discoverer…

Superboy #104 (April 1963) contained an epic two-part saga ‘The Untold Story of the Phantom Zone’ and ‘The Crimes of Krypton’s Master Villains’. Crafted by Hamilton & Papp it describes Jor-El’s discovery of the Zone, his defeat of ambitious political criminal Gra-Mo and the reasons the vault of super-weapons was ultimately dispatched into space, after which ‘The Kid who Knocked Out Superboy!’ (illustrated by Swan & Klein) sees Gra-Mo return to take vengeance on the son of his nemesis.

‘The Man from the Phantom Zone!’ (Hamilton, Swan & Klein from Action Comics #336, April 1966) finds Superman releasing another convict whose time was served, leading to a captivating crime mystery in the Bottle City of Kandor as 50-year old juvenile delinquent Ak-Var discovers life in a solid and very judgemental world a most mixed blessing…

By April 1968, times and tone were changing, as seen in ‘The Man Who Destroyed Krypton!’ (Superman #205, Otto Binder & Plastino) as alien terrorist Black Zero comes to Earth, determined to blow it up just as he had planet Krypton decades ago!

Overmatched and stunned by the truth of his world’s doom, the Man of Steel is convinced that releasing Jax-Ur, the Zone’s wickedest inhabitant, is the only way to save his adopted homeworld… an absorbing, enthralling, and surprisingly gritty tale of vengeance acting as the perfect way to end this eclectic collection.

With a comprehensive informational extract from the 1986 Who’s Who in the DC Universe entry from the Zone and its most notorious inmates, illustrated by Rick Veitch, this compelling collection is an intriguing introduction to the aliens hidden amongst us and a superb treat for fans of every vintage.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1986, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Smashes the Secret of the Mad Director

By George S. Elrick and anonymous (Whitman)

It’s Superman’s Birthday! Sadly, more people know the Man of Steel as a screen star than a paragon of print.

I bang on a lot about comics as an art form and (justifiably, I think) decry the fact – despite the current vogue for superhero movies – that printed comics have never been given the mainstream recognition other forms of popular creative expression enjoy. I also encourage all and sundry to read more graphic narrative (I’m blurring my own terms here by including any product where text and image work co-operatively to tell a story, rather than simply a sequence of pictures with words attached), and I’m judicious and even selective (really and truly – there’s stuff I’m never going to share and recommend because, by most critical criteria, it’s better off ignored and forgotten).

However sometimes I’m caught in a bind: I tend to minimise the impact of nostalgia on my beloved world of “funnybooks”, but so often that irresistible siren call from the Golden Years will utterly trump any hi-falutin’ aesthetic ideal and proselytising zeal for acceptance and recognition.

Good luck finding this one; it’s well worth the search.

Superman Smashes the Secret of the Mad Director is such a product from a simpler time when it could be truly said that everybody had seen some sort of comic in their lives (not so easy to claim these days, I fear): a standard paperback most probably released to capitalise on the groundbreaking Saturday morning cartoon series The New Adventures of Superman (first hit for the fledgling Filmation Studios) than on the periodical delights of the “World’s Best Selling Comics Magazine!”

The half-hour cartoon show was a huge success, running three seasons; initially piggybacked with Superboy in its first year (beginning September 10th 1966), expanding into The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure in 1967 and finally The Superman/Batman Hour in 1968. It was cancelled in September 1969 due to pressure from the censorious Action For Children’s Television who agitated against it for its unacceptably violent content!

As was the often the case in those times Big Little Books were produced under license by Whitman Publishing (the print giant that owned Dell and Gold Key Comics) in a mutually advantageous system that got books for younger readers featuring popular characters and cartoon brands (Man From U.N.C.L.E., the Monkees, Shazzan!, Flintstones, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Batman, even the Fantastic Four amongst literally hundreds of others) into huge general store chains such as Woolworth’s, thus expanding recognition, product longevity – and hopefully sales.

Don Markstein’s superb Toonopedia site defines Big Little Books as: a small, square book, usually measuring about 3″x3″, with text on the left-hand pages and a single full-page illustration on the right. Big Little Books were originally created in the 1930s, to make use of small pieces of paper that had formerly gone to waste when magazines were trimmed after printing. By running a separate publication on paper that would otherwise go in the trash, the printer was able to create a salable product almost for free.

Big Little Books were an ideal way to merchandise comic strip characters, as the drawings could simply be taken directly from the strips themselves. Big Little Books flourished during the days of pulp magazine publishing, which mostly came to an end after World War II. The form was revived in the 1960s, partly as a nostalgia item, and has been used sporadically ever since. These latter-day Big Little Books are generally printed on better paper, and some, at least, have color illustrations.

This novel for children, written by BLB mainstay George S. Elrick, is slightly different, having no colour illustrations on its 166 interior pages and reformatted like a bookstore paperback of the sort that proliferated during the 1960s “Camp Superhero Craze” (check out our archived review for High Camp Super-Heroes for a handy example), and tells a rather good action/mystery yarn about a demented movie maker whose search for ultimate realism draws investigative reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane into a pretty pickle…

To be frank the illustrations are pretty poor, originals not clipped pictures, but ineptly traced from reference material provided by comics drawn by the great Kurt Schaffenberger. Still, the wholesome naivety, rapid pace and gentle enthusiasm of the package surprised and engrossed me – even after the more than forty years since I last read it.

It’s a crying shame that the world still won’t take comics seriously nor appreciate the medium’s place and role in global society and the pantheon of Arts. Still, as long as graphic narrative has the power to transport such as me to faraway, better places I’m not going to lose too much sleep over it…

© 1966 National Periodical Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s A Bird…

By Steven T. Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0109-8 (HB)                    :987-1-4012-7288-3 (TPB)

Since his debut in June 1938 Superman has proven to be many things to billions of people, to the point of even changing their lives and shaping their actions.

It’s a Bird… was originally released in 2004 (and recently re-released in a new edition): offering something of a departure from typical Superman graphic novel fare with author Steven T. Seagle working through his understandable angst about writing the ongoing adventures of the Man of Steel without simply rehashing what has gone before.

Seagle (whose other comics work includes Uncanny X-MenSandman Mystery Theatre and Big Hero 6, and is part of TV cartoon creation collective Man of Action) actually scripted Superman #190-200 – published between April 2003 and February 2004.

The intriguing, demi-therapeutic exercise revealed in this slim and beguiling pictorial introspection deals with the author’s misgivings about contributing to the canon of an eternally unfolding legend.

However, underpinning what might so easily become a self-gratifying ego-stroke is a subtle undercurrent of savvy verity which strikes a chord with many creative professionals and insightful consumers as the professional writer finally finds the themes he needs to explore to be satisfied with his commission.

Let’s be honest here, every comic fan, indeed every twitcher and hobbyist, looks for a way to present and explain their particular passion to the “real” world and not feel like an imbecile in the process…

“Steve” is a writer working through some emotional baggage. He is still coming to terms with his family’s gradual disintegration – mental, physical and spiritual – from hereditary genetic disease Huntington’s Disease (Chorea, as was).

In everyday life, his father has gone missing, his mom and partner are making the “let’s have kids” noises whilst Steve’s waiting for the hammer to fall regarding his own potential prognosis with a condition that cannot be beaten…

He never wanted to write comics – even though he’s successful at it – and now his editor wants him to write Superman. He’s never had any feeling for the character or the medium and his damned editor just keeps on and on and on about… You get the picture?

It’s a Bird… is slow and lyrical in its deconstructive self-absorption as Steve makes his choices, and Teddy Kristiansen’s range of enticing drawing styles is a marvel and won him the 2005 Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (Interior).

If you feel the urge to go beyond the panel borders of your private obsession, this one is well worth a look.
© 2004, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen

By Otto Binder, Alvin Schwartz, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, Leo Dorfman, E. Nelson Bridwell, Cary Bates, Curt Swan, John Forte, Pete Costanza, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ray Burnley, Creig Flessel, Stan Kaye, George Klein & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1369-5

Over eight decades, Superman has provided excitement, imagination and fun in more or less equal amounts. This compilation relies heavily on the last two categories and offers the kind of reading experience we just don’t get enough of these days…

Although unnamed, a red-headed, be-freckled plucky kid worked alongside Clark Kent and Lois Lane from Action Comics #6 (November 1938). He was called by his first name from Superman #13 (November-December 1941) onwards. That lad was Jimmy Olsen and he was a major player in The Adventures of Superman radio show from its debut on April 15th 1940; somebody for the hero to explain stuff to for the listener’s benefit and the closest thing to a sidekick the Man of Tomorrow ever needed…

When the similarly titled television show launched in the autumn of 1952 it became a monolithic hit and National Periodicals began cautiously expanding their valuable and precious franchise with new characters and titles. First up were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of a rash, capable but naïve photographer and “cub reporter” from the Daily Planet: titular star of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, which launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date.

The comic was popular for more than two decades, blending action, adventure, broad, wacky comedy, fantasy and science fiction in the gentle manner scripter Otto Binder had perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent Captain Marvel. As the feature progressed, one of the most popular plot-themes (and most fondly remembered and referenced today by most Baby-Boomer fans) was the unlucky lad’s appalling talent for being warped, mutated and physically manipulated by fate, aliens and even his friends…

The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen delightfully collects some of the very best and most iconic tales from the series; all of which originally appeared in issues #22, 28, 31-33, 41-42, 44, 49, 53, 59, 65, 72, 77, 80, 85 and 105 of the comicbook, plus the lead story from giant-size anthology Superman Family #173, into which SPJO evolved.

The spellbinding wonderment begins with a selection of beautifully reconfigured covers (from issues 22, 44, 59 and 105) which act as contents and credit pages after which the story segments open with ‘The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen’ by Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley, wherein resident crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter evolves the boy into a man from 1,000,000AD. The apparently benevolent being seems to have a hidden agenda, however, and is able to bend Superman to his towering will…

The same creative team produced ‘The Human Skyscraper’ with another Potter production enlarging Jimmy to monumental size, whilst in ‘The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad’ Superman is ultimately responsible for the reporter gaining stretching powers after leaving a chest of alien artefacts with the nosy, accident-prone kid.

‘The Jimmy Olsen from Jupiter’ by Alvin Schwartz, Swan & Burnley sees aliens mutate him into one of their scaly selves, complete with mind reading powers, whilst Binder’s ‘The Human Flame-Thrower!’ reveals how Potter’s latest experiment causes the worst case of high-octane halitosis in history, after which Robert Bernstein, Swan & John Forte display the lad’s negligent idiocy when Jimmy eats alien fruit and becomes ‘The Human Octopus!’

Creig Flessel inked the hilariously ingenious ‘Jimmy the Genie!’ in which boy and magical sprite exchange roles after which ‘The Wolf-Man of Metropolis!’, by Binder, Swan, Stan Kaye, blended horror, mystery and heart-warming charm in a mini-classic of the genre.

Professor Potter is blamed for, but entirely innocent of, turning Jimmy into ‘The Fat Boy of Metropolis!’ – a daft but clever crime caper from Swan & Forte – whilst sheer mischance results in the now-legendary saga of ‘The Giant Turtle Man!’ and his oddly casualty-free rampage (courtesy of scripter Jerry Siegel) before Leo Dorfman, Swan & George Klein collaborated to produce the sparkling tale of alien love gone amiss, which resulted in our boy temporarily becoming ‘Jimmy Olsen, Freak!’

When Jimmy spurns the amorous attentions of supernatural Fifth Dimensional hottie Miss Gzptlsnz, she quite understandably turns him into ‘The Human Porcupine’ by Siegel, Swan & Klein, who also crafted the intriguing enigma of ‘The World of Doomed Olsens!’ wherein Jimmy is aggressively confronted by materialisations of his most memorable metamorphoses…

‘The Colossus of Metropolis!’ sees Jimmy deliberately and daringly grow into a giant to tackle rampaging Super-Ape Titano, whilst Siegel, Forte & Klein’s ‘Jimmy Olsen, the Bizarro Boy!’ is a merry comedy of errors with Potter’s cure for the backwards-living artificial beings going painfully awry, resulting in the poor lad being ‘Exiled on the Bizarro World!’

The immensely popular Legion of Super-Heroes guest-star in many of these tales and play a pivotal part in ‘The Adventures of Chameleon-Head Olsen!’, a madcap mirth spree as only Siegel, Forte & Klein could make ‘em, whilst the far more menacing tale of ‘The World of 1,000 Olsens!’ (by Binder, E. Nelson Bridwell & Pete Costanza) was a product of changing times and darker tastes; with an actual arch-enemy trapping Jimmy on a murderous planet where everybody looks like but hates the cub reporter…

This fabulously strange brew concludes with a smart thriller set in the Bottled City of Kandor where Jimmy resumes his occasional costumed-hero identity of Flamebird beside Superman (AKA Nightwing) to save the last Kryptonians from the ‘Menace of the Micro-Monster!’ …a sharp terrorism-tinged shocker by Cary Bates & Kurt Schaffenberger which satisfyingly closes this magically engaging tome.

As well as relating some of the most delightful episodes of the pre-angst-drenched, cosmically catastrophic DC, these stories also perfectly depict the changing mores and tastes which reshaped comics from the safe 1950s to the seditious, rebellious 1970s, all the while keeping to the prime directive of the industry – “keep them entertained and keep them wanting more”.

I know I certainly do…
© 1957-1965, 1967, 1975, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legion of Super-Heroes: Archive Edition volume 1

By Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, John Forte, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-020-8

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

And thus began the vast and epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino in early 1958, just as the revived comicbook genre of superheroes was gathering an inexorable head of steam. Since that time the popularity of the Legion has perpetually waxed and waned, with their complex continuity continually tweaked and rebooted, retconned and overwritten again and again to comply with editorial diktat and popular whim.

We Silver Age Legion fans are indubitably the most persistent, passionate, finicky and snitty of all – and editors crossed us at their peril – so when DC announced that it would be gathering all the titanic team’s appearances in a chronological series of deluxe hardcover Archive Editions we were overjoyed (actually most of us thought it was about time and long overdue…) and eager.

Sadly, even in this anniversary year those stories are no longer all in print, but at least old editions like this one from 1997 can still be found if you look hard enough. You’d think in the advanced world of the 21st century a popular series about the future would be available digitally, but you’d be wrong…

Spanning 1958-1963, this glorious full-colour compendium assembles the numerous and far-ranging preliminary appearances of these valiant Tomorrow People and their inevitable progress towards and attainment of their own feature; specifically, all pertinent material from Adventure Comics #247, 267, 282, 290, 293, and 300-305; Action Comics #267, 276, 287 and 289; Superboy #86, 89, 98 and Superman #147.

Also included are an introduction by editor, publisher and devotee Mike Gold, creator biographies and a Curt Swan cover gallery (all inked by either Stan Kaye or George Klein) featuring all the burgeoning band of brothers’ pole positions from those comics.

The multi-hued mob of universe-savers first manifested in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) in a Superboy tale wherein three mysterious kids – Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy – invited the bemused Boy of Steel to visit the 30th century and join their team of metahuman champions: all originally inspired by his historic career.

Created by Otto Binder & Al Plastino, the throwaway concept inflamed public imagination and after a slew of further appearances throughout Superman Family titles, the LSH eventually took over Superboy’s lead spot in Adventure for their own far-flung, quirky escapades, with the Caped Kid Kryptonian reduced to simply a face in the in-crowd…

Here, however, the excitement was still gradually building when the kids returned more than 18 months later in Adventure #267 (December 1959) for Jerry Siegel & George Papp to play with.

In ‘Prisoner of the Super-Heroes!’ the teen wonders reappear to attack and incarcerate the Boy of Steel because of a misunderstood ancient historical record…

The following summer Supergirl met the Legion in Action Comics #267 (August 1960, by Siegel & Jim Mooney) as Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy secretly voyage to modern day America to similarly invite the Maid of Might to join, in a repetition of their offer to Superboy 15 years previously (in nit-picking fact, they claimed to be the children of the original team – a fact glossed over and forgotten these days: don’t time-travel stories make your head hurt…?).

Due to a dubious technicality, young and eager Kara Zor-El fails her initiation at the hands of ‘The Three Super-Heroes’ and was regretfully required to reapply later – but at least we got to meet a few more Legionnaires, including Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid and Colossal Boy

With the editors still cautiously testing the waters, it was January 1961 and Superboy #86 before the ‘The Army of Living Kryptonite Men!’ (by Siegel & Papp) turn the LSH into a last-minute Deus ex Machina to save the Smallville Sentinel from juvenile delinquent Lex Luthor’s most insidious assault.

Two months later in Adventure #282, Binder & Papp introduce Star Boy as a romantic rival for the Last Son of Krypton in ‘Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes!’

Action #276 (May 1961) then debuted ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends’ (Siegel & Mooney, which finally sees her crack the plasti-glass ceiling and successfully enlist, sponsored by Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl.

We also meet for the first time Bouncing Boy, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy and potential bad-boy love-interest Brainiac 5 (well at least his distant ancestor Brainiac was a very bad boy…)

Next comes pivotal two-part tale ‘Superboy’s Big Brother’ (by Robert Bernstein & Papp from Superboy #89; June 1961) in which an amnesiac, super-powered space traveller crashes in Smallville, speaking Kryptonese and carrying star-maps written by the Boy of Steel’s long-dead father…

Jubilant, baffled and suspicious in equal amounts Superboy eventually, tragically discovers ‘The Secret of Mon-El’ by accidentally exposing the stranger to a lingering, inexorable death, before desperately providing critical life-support by depositing the dying alien in the Phantom Zone until a cure can be found…

With an August 1961 cover-date, Superman #147 unleashed ‘The Legion of Super-Villains’ (by Siegel, Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff): a stand-out thriller featuring Lex Luthor and the adult adversary Legion coming far too close to destroying the Action Ace until the temporal cavalry arrive…

Adventure #290 (November 1961, Bernstein & Papp) seemingly gave Sun Boy a starring role in ‘The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero!’ – a clever tale of redemption and second chances, followed in #293 (February 1962) by a gripping thriller from Siegel, Swan & George Klein: ‘The Legion of Super-Traitors!’

Here the future heroes are turned evil, prompting Saturn Girl to recruit a Legion of Super-Pets including Krypto, Streaky the Super Cat, Beppo, the monkey from Krypton and Comet the magical Super-horse to save the world – and yes, I typed all that with a (reasonably) straight face…

Siegel & Mooney’s ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge!’ (Action #287, April 1962) has her visit the Legion (quibblers be warned: it is mistakenly described as the 21st century in this story) to save future Earth from invasion. She also meets a telepathic descendent of her cat Streaky. His perhaps ill-considered name was Whizzy

Action #289 featured ‘Superman’s Super-Courtship!’ wherein the Girl of Steel scours the universe for an ideal mate for her cousin. One highly likely candidate is the adult Saturn Woman, but her husband Lightning Man objects…

Perhaps charming at the time, but modern sensibilities might quail at the conclusion that Superman’s perfect match is a total doppelganger of Supergirl herself, albeit thankfully a few years older…

By the release of Superboy #98 (July 1962), the decision had been made. The buying public wanted more Legion stories and once ‘The Boy with Ultra-Powers’ by Siegel, Swan & Klein introduced a mysterious lad with greater powers than the Boy of Steel, the focus shifted to Adventure Comics #300 (cover dated September 1962) wherein the futuristic super-squad finally begin their own series; even occasionally stealing the odd cover-spot from the still top-featured Superboy.

Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes opened its stellar run with Siegel, John Forte & Plastino’s ‘The Face Behind the Lead Mask!’; a fast-paced premier pitting Superboy and the 30th century champions against an impossibly unbeatable foe. All looks bleak until Mon-El – long-trapped in the Phantom Zone – briefly escapes a millennium of confinement to save the day…

In those halcyon days humour was as important as action, imagination and drama, so many early escapades were light-hearted and overtly moralistic. Issue #301 offered hope to fat kids everywhere with ‘The Secret Origin of Bouncing Boy!’ – by regular creative team Siegel & Forte – wherein the process of open auditions is instigated (providing devoted fans with loads of truly bizarre and memorable applicants over the years) whilst allowing the rebounding human rotunda to give a salutary pep talk and inspirational recount of heroism persevering over adversity.

Adventure #302 highlighted ‘Sun Boy’s Lost Power!’ as the golden boy is forced to resign until fortune and boldness restore his abilities after which ‘The Fantastic Spy!’ in #303 provides a tense tale of espionage and possible betrayal by new member Matter-Eater Lad.

The happy readership was stunned by the events of #304 when Saturn Girl engineered ‘The Stolen Super-Powers!’ to make herself a one-woman Legion. Of course, it was for the best possible reasons, but still didn’t prevent the shocking murder of Lightning Lad…

With comfortable complacency utterly destroyed, #305 further shook everything up with ‘The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire!’ – who turned out to be the long-suffering Mon-El, finally cured of terminal lead poisoning and freed from his Phantom Zone prison.

The Legion is undoubtedly one of the most beloved and bewildering creations in American comicbook history and largely responsible for the growth of the groundswell movement that became Comics Fandom. Moreover, these sparkling, simplistic and astoundingly addictive stories, as much as the innovations of Julie Schwartz’s Justice League, fired up the interest and imaginations of a generation of young readers and built the industry we all know today.

Naive, silly, joyous, stirring and utterly compelling yarns are precious and fun beyond any ability to explain, and if you love comics and haven’t read this stuff, you are the poorer for it and need to enrich your future life as soon as possible…
© 1958-1964, 1991, 1997 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Man of Steel

By John Byrne & Dick Giordano (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-93028-928-7

In 1985 when DC Comics decided to rationalise, reconstruct and reinvigorate their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths they used the event to simultaneously regenerate their key properties at the same time.

The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was not before time.

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

He didn’t.

The public furore began with all DC’s Superman titles being “cancelled” (actually suspended) for three months, and yes, that did make the real-world media sit-up and take notice of the character everybody thought they knew for the first time in decades. However, there was method in this seeming corporate madness.

The missing mainstays were replaced by a 6-part miniseries running from October to December 1986. Entitled Man of Steel it was written and drawn by Marvel’s mainstream superstar John Byrne and inked by venerated veteran Dick Giordano.

The bold manoeuvre was a huge and instant success. So much so that when it was first collected as a stand-alone compilation album in the 1980s (currently redesigned and available in trade paperback and digital editions as volume 1 of an ongoing series of far too occasional reprint editions), it became one of comics’ premiere ‘break-out’ hits in a new format that would eventually become the industry standard for reaching mass readerships. Nowadays very few people buy the periodical pamphlets but almost everybody has read a graphic novel…

From that overwhelming start the Action Ace seamlessly returned to his suspended comicbook homes with the addition of a third monthly title premiering that same month.

Superman, Adventures of Superman, and Action Comics (which acted as a fan-pleasing team-up book guest-starring other favourites of the DC Universe, in the manner of the cancelled DC Comics Presents) were instant best-sellers.

So successful was the relaunch that by the early 1990’s Superman would be carrying four monthly titles as well as Specials, Annuals, guest shots and his regular appearances in titles such as Justice League.

Quite a turnaround from the earlier heydays of the Man of Steel when editors were frantic about never overexposing their meal-ticket.

In Superman’s 80th year of more-or-less consecutive and continuous publication, this collection offers six self-contained stories from key points in Superman’s career, newly readjusted for contemporary consumption in the wake of that aforementioned worlds-shattering Crisis.

Starting with a startling new and bleakly dystopian view of Krypton, ‘From Out of the Green Dawn’ follows the child’s voyage in a self-propelled birthing matrix to a primitive world.

Discovered by childless couple Jonathan and Martha Kent, the alien foundling spends his years growing secretly in Smallville, indistinguishable from other earthlings until strange abilities begin to gradually manifest.

Eighteen years after his arrival the boy learns of his extraterrestrial origins and leaves home to wander the world. Clark Kent eventually settles in Metropolis and we get a rapid re-education of what is and isn’t canonical as he performs his first public super-exploit, meets with Lois Lane, joins the Daily Planet and gets an identity-obscuring costume…

Lois takes centre-stage for the second issue, scheming and manipulating to secure the first in-depth interview with the new hero before losing out to neophyte colleague Kent whose first big scoop becomes ‘The Story of the Century!’

The third chapter recounts the Metropolis Marvel’s first meeting with Batman as ‘One Night in Gotham City’ reveals a fractious and reluctant team-up to capture murdering thief Magpie. The unsatisfactory encounter sees the heroes part warily, not knowing if they will become friends or foes…

‘Enemy Mine…’ in MoS #4 expands and redefines the new Lex Luthor: a genius, multi-billionaire industrialist who was the most powerful man in Metropolis until the Caped Crime-buster appears. When the tycoon overreaches himself in trying to suborn the hero, he is publicly humiliated and swears vengeance and eternal enmity…

By ‘The Mirror, Crack’d’ in issue #5 Luthor is Superman’s greatest foe – albeit one who scrupulously maintains a veneer of respectability and plausible deniability. Here, Luthor’s clandestine attempt to clone his own Man of Tomorrow results in a monstrous flawed duplicate dubbed Bizarro and introduces Lois’ sister Lucy to play hapless victim in a moving tale of triumph and tragedy.

The reimagination concludes with ‘The Haunting’ as a troubled Clark/Superman returns to Smallville. Reuniting with childhood sweetheart Lana Lang (who shares his secrets and knows as much as he of his alien origins), the strange visitor finally learns of his Kryptonian origins when the birthing matrix projects a recorded message from his long-dead parents and their hopes and plans for him…

The shock and reaction of his foster family only affirms his dedication and connection to humanity…

John Byrne was a controversial choice at the time, but he magnificently recaptured the exuberant excitement and visually compelling, socially aware innovation which informed and galvanised Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster’s inspired creation. Man of Steel granted a new generation the same kind of intoxicating four-colour fantasy that was the original Superman, and made it possible to be a fan again, no matter your age or prejudice. Superman had always been great, but Byrne had once again made him thrilling. Rivetingly so.

A saga well worth your time and your money and a genuine Must-Have for any serious collector and reader.
© 1987, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Secret Origin

By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Jon Sibal & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2697-8(HC)                     978-1-4012-3299-3(TPB)

One of the perennial dangers of comicbook longevity is the incessant – and, as you get older, apparently hyper-accelerated – revisionism afflicting origin stories. Characters with any measure of success or staying power are continually reinvented to appeal to new readers and generally appal or gradually disaffect veteran aficionados.

Moreover, nowadays it seems to happen sooner and sooner into a rebooted hero’s run.

Batman and Superman in particular seem accursed by this situation, as much because of their broad mass-media appeal as their perfectly simple bedrock concepts. In recent years DC has been sedulously and assiduously editing, in-filling and cross-fertilising its icons until – whether through movies, animated cartoons, TV shows, video games or the comics themselves – followers of the World’s Finest Heroes can be assured that the ephemera and backstory always remain consistent and reliably reconcilable.

The upside of this is that as long as we fanboys can sufficiently stifle our chagrin and curb our umbrage, every so often we can enjoy a fresh but not condescending, vivacious but not fatuous, re-imagining of our best-beloved childhood touchstones…

Through 2009 and 2010 Geoff Johns & Gary Frank remastered the Man of Tomorrow with 6-issue miniseries Superman: Secret Origin which, whilst reinstating many formerly-erased elements of the classic Silver Age mythology and incorporating much of John Byrne’s groundbreaking 1986 reboot (as collected in the Man of Steel), created a new version in tune with Mark Waid, Lenil Francis Yu & Gerry Alanguilan’s 2003 (Smallville TV-show inspired) Superman: Birthright.

Moreover, the resultant story similarly legitimised and fully absorbed the Christopher Reeve Superman movies into the canon, with Frank’s supremely authentic renditions making the actor’s appearance and demeanour – as both Action Ace and klutzy Clark Kent – the definitive comicbook look for the Action Ace.

This particularly well-known folk-tale-retold (available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions) opens with an Introduction by screenwriter, producer and occasional comics scribe David S. Goyer before the drama commences with ‘The Boy of Steel’, honing in on Clark Kent’s formative years with the Kansas farmboy beginning to realise just how truly different he is from his friends and classmates…

Traumatised when he accidentally breaks the arm of best pal Pete Ross while playing football, Clark’s only confidante is Lana Lang – who has long known about his incredible strength and durability – but even she can offer no solace. The strange boy’s abilities are growing every day and his father is increasingly advising him to distance himself from ordinary kids.

When Lana kisses Clark, his eyes blast forth heat rays which nearly set the school on fire, prompting Jonathan and Martha Kent to reveal an incredible truth to their troubled son. Buried under the barn is a small spaceship, and when Clark touches it, a recorded hologram message from his birth-parents Jor-El and Lara shockingly discloses the orphan’s incredible origins as Kal-El; Last Son of the dead planet Krypton…

As the stunned and traumatised youth flees into the night, in another part of Smallville an equally unique youngster discovers a glowing green meteor fragment…

In the confused days that follow, Clark, weighed down by a new sense of responsibility and isolation, begins the life-long masquerade that will forever deflect attention from the being he really is. In the meantime, Martha uses materials from the fallen star-ship to make her son an outfit based on the garments she saw in the alien’s message. They bear the proud family crest of the House of El

On the day of the County Fair, Clark meets Lex Luthor and feels sick for the first time in his life when the arrogantly abrasive boy-genius shows him a green rock he had found in the fields. At that moment a tornado strikes the little town and Lana is swept to her doom in the skies until, incredibly, Clark chases after her and flies her to safety…

Issue #2 features ‘Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes’: disclosing how Smallville is seemingly protected by an invisible guardian angel who mysteriously saves people and property. Clark is lonelier than ever and, with only Lana and his folks to talk to, tries to strike up a friendship with Lex, but the aggressively disdainful and disparaging prodigy can only dream of escaping the revoltingly provincial backwater and moving to the big city of Metropolis

Everything changes when the scion of Krypton encounters a trio of super-powered strangers from the future. Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy have travelled back to meet the youth who inspired a thousand years of heroism and show it by taking the Boy of Steel on a breathtaking vacation into the fabulous future.

…And when he eventually returns home, there’s one more glorious surprise after Superboy intercepts an extraterrestrial projectile and is reunited with his long-lost Kryptonian pet…

Things are looking up for Luthor too. His despised but fully-insured father having just conveniently died, the brilliant boy and his little sister are now on their way to bigger and better things…

‘Mild-Mannered Reporter’ begins as, after years of travelling, bumbling, mild-mannered and meek Clark Kent begins work at the Metropolis Daily Planet; a once-great newspaper on the verge of bankruptcy in a once-great city. The venerable rag is slowly dying; suffering and expiring by degrees for the crucial mistake of trying to expose the billionaire plutocrat who currently owns most of the vast conurbation: swaggering self-styled philanthropist Lex Luthor.

Even so, Editor Perry White, intern and aspiring photo-journalist Jimmy Olsen and especially lead reporter Lois Lane are determined to go down fighting…

Every day Luthor appears on the balcony of his corporate HQ: deigning to grant the tawdry request of one of the fawning, desperate rabble gathered beneath him, but his gloating is spoiled when Lane and her new stooge Kent break through security and disrupt the demonstration of a new high-tech fighting-suit. In the melee, Lois and a helicopter are knocked off the skyscraper roof and somehow saved by a flying blue and red Adonis…

Fully revealed to the world, the mysterious Superman captures humanity’s imagination. Soon exclusive reports and Olsen’s photos in the Planet turn the paper’s fortunes around. Luthor instinctively knows he has a rival for Metropolis’ attention and approbation and savagely dedicates all his vast resources to destroying his foe…

An early opportunity comes when destitute, grasping janitor Rudy Jones accepts Luthor’s daily benison and is accidentally mutated by exposure to Green Rock waste into a life-absorbing energy-leeching monster.

‘Parasites’ sees the Man of Tomorrow’s spectacular victory thrown in his face by Luthor who publicly brands the hero an alien spy and vanguard of invasion…

Tension escalates in ‘Strange Visitor’ when Lois’s estranged father General Sam Lane collaborates with Luthor to capture Superman; using the military man’s pet psycho Sgt. John Corben. The elder Lane personally selected and groomed him to marry Lois and “set her straight” and his frustration at her furious response drives the creepy stalker into calamitously piloting an armoured war-suit powered by the mysterious Green Rock.

When the naïve Kryptonian hero agrees to be interviewed by the army he is ambushed by crack attack units and Corben. Valiantly fighting his way free, the Caped Crimebuster critically injures the war-suit wearer in the process and, sensing a unique opportunity, Luthor then rebuilds the broken soldier, inserting Green Rock into his heart to create a relentless, anti-Superman cyborg weapon: Metallo

The voyage of rediscovery concludes in ‘Man of Steel’ wherein the desperate hero, hunted by Lane’s troops through the city, faces the berserk Cyborg in the streets and wins over the fickle public with his overarching nobility, instilling in the venal masses who were once Luthor’s cowering creatures a renewed spirit of hope, optimism and individuality…

The Adventure Begins… Again…

Inspiring and grandly mythic, this epic retelling (containing also a baker’s dozen of covers, variants and an unused extra) combines modern insights and innovations with unchanging Lore: paying lip service to TV’s Smallville and venerating the movies whilst still managing to hew closely to many of the fan-favourite idiosyncrasies that keep old duffers like me coming back for more.

This sterling reinvigoration and visually intoxicating reworking is one that shouldn’t offend the faithful whilst providing an efficient jump-on guide for any newcomers and potential converts.
© 2009, 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.