Superman Archives volume 4

By Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Fred Ray John Sikela & Leo Nowak (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-107-7

By the middle of 1942 fresh and vibrant young superstar Superman had been thoroughly embraced by the panting public, rapidly evolving into a patriotic tonic for the troops and the ones they had left behind. This fourth classic hardcover compendium (collecting Superman #13-16 November-December 1941 to May/June 1942) shows the Man of Steel in all his morale-boosting glory as America shifted onto a war-footing and crooks and master-criminals were slowly superseded by sinister spies and vicious invaders… at least on all the rousing, iconic covers by master artist Fred Ray.

Following a Foreword by film critic Leonard Maltin the action begins with a stunning Nazi-busting example up front on #13 after which artist Leo Nowak illustrated three captivating yarns beginning with ‘The Light’ wherein an implacable old foe tried in a new super-scientific guise and gimmick, whilst ‘The Archer’ pitted the Metropolis Marvel against his first true costumed villain, a psychopathic killer with a self-evident murderous modus operandi…

Scripter Jerry Siegel was on top form throughout this period and ‘Baby on the Doorstep’ offered him  a rare opportunity for foolish fun and the feel-good factor as Clark Kent became a temporary and unwilling parent in a tale involving stolen military battle plans before ‘The City Beneath the Earth’ (illustrated by John Sikela) returned to the serious business of blockbuster adventure and sheer spectacle as the Action Ace discovered a subterranean kingdom hidden since the hoary height of the Ice Age.

Superman #14 (January/February 1942) was again primarily a Nowak art affair beginning with ‘Concerts of Doom’ wherein a master pianist discovered just how mesmerising his recitals were and joined forces with unpatriotic thieves and dastardly  saboteurs, after which the tireless Man of Tomorrow was hard-pressed to cope with the reign of destruction caused by ‘The Invention Thief’.

John Sikela inked Nowak’s pencils in the frantic high fantasy romp when the Man of Steel discovered a friendly mermaid and malevolent fishmen living in ‘The Undersea City’ before more high tension and catastrophic graphic destruction signalled Superman’s epic clash with sinister electrical savant ‘The Lightning Master’.

Issue #15 ‘The Cop who was Ruined’ (illustrated by Nowak) found the Metropolis Marvel clearing the name of framed detective Bob Branigan – a man who believed himself guilty – whilst scurvy Orientals menaced the nation’s Pacific fleet in ‘Saboteurs from Napkan’ with Sikela again lending his pens and brushes to Nowak’s pencil art. Thinly veiled fascist oppression and expansion was spectacularly nipped in the bud in ‘Superman in Oxnalia’ – an all-Sikela art job, but Nowak was back on pencils for a concluding science fiction thriller ‘The Evolution King’ with a malignant mastermind artificially aging his wealthy, prominent victims until the invulnerable Action Ace stepped in…

Sikela flew solo on all of Superman #16, beginning with ‘The World’s Meanest Man’ as a mobster attempted to fleece a scheme to give deprived slum-kids a holiday in the countryside, then moved on to depict the Man of Tomorrow’s battle with an astrologer happy to murder his clients to prove his predictions in ‘Terror from the Stars’, after which ‘The Case of the Runaway Skyscrapers’ pitted the Caped Kryptonian against Mister Sinister, a trans-dimensional tyrant who could make buildings vanish.

The power-packed perilous periodical then concluded with a deeply satisfying and classic war on organised crime as Superman crushed the ‘Racket on Delivery’.

Endlessly re-readable, these epic hardback DC Archive Editions fabulously frame some of the greatest and most influential comics stories ever created, and taken in unison form a perfect permanent record of breathtaking wonder and groundbreaking excitement, which no dedicated fan could afford to do without
© 1942, 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.