By John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Karl Kesel, John Beatty, Keith Williams & Leonard Starr (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012- 3820-9
Although largely out of favour these days as the myriad decades of Superman mythology are relentlessly assimilated into one overarching, all-inclusive multi-media DC franchise, the stripped-down, gritty, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Action Ace as re-imagined by John Byrne and marvellously built upon by a stunning succession of gifted comics craftsmen produced some genuine comics classics.
Controversial at the start, Byrne’s reboot of the world’s first superhero was rapidly acknowledged as a solid hit and the collaborative teams who complemented and followed him maintained the high quality, ensuring continued success.
That vast, interlocking saga has been collected – far too slowly – over recent years in a more-or-less chronologically combined format as the fabulously economical trade paperback series Superman: The Man of Steel and this seventh volume (revisiting Superman #13-15, Action Comics #596-597 and Adventures of Superman #436-438 from January – March 1988) features the Kryptonian corner of DC’s third annual inter-company mega-crossover event.
After Crisis on Infinite Earths and Legends came Millennium, which saw writer Steve Englehart expand on an iconic tale from his Justice League of America run (#140-141) as well as his tenure on the Green Lantern Corps.
Billions of years ago the robotic peacekeepers known as Manhunters had rebelled against their creators. The Guardians of the Universe were immortal and desired a rational, emotionless cosmos – a view not shared by their own women. The Zamarons abandoned the Guardians on Oa at the inception of their grand scheme but recently, after billions of years, the two factions had reconciled and left our Reality together.
Now they had returned with a plan to midwife a new race of immortals on Earth, but the Manhunters – who had since infiltrated all aspects of every society throughout the universe – were determined to thwart the plan, whether by seduction, connivance or just plain brute force.
The heroes of Earth were summoned by the reunited immortals and subsequently gathered to see the project to completion but were continually confronted by Manhunters in their own private lives… and their own comics.
DC Comics third braided mega-series was a bold effort intended to touch all corners of their universe, introduce new characters, tie-in many titles and moreover to do so on a weekly, not monthly, schedule. In addition to the 8 weekly issues of the miniseries itself, Millennium spread across 21 titles for two months – another 37 issues – for a grand total of 44 comicbooks, and those Superman-related episodes make up the majority of this titanic tome.
The crossover craziness begins here with ‘Toys in the Attic!’ from Superman #13, courtesy of Byrne & Karl Kesel, wherein elderly British craftsman Winslow Percival Schott opens a campaign of murder and wanton destruction targeting billionaire Lex Luthor, the Yank who ruined his little company and forced him to become the murderous Toyman.
No sooner had the Man of Tomorrow intervened in that fracas than he was drawn back to sleepy hometown Smallville in ‘Junk’ (Adventures of Superman #436, scripted by Byrne, illustrated by Jerry Ordway & John Beatty) to discover trusted confidant Lana Lang was an agent of the Manhunters.
In truth the insidious mechanoids had been watching the Last Son of Krypton since before that world had died, but botched capturing the baby when he first arrived on Earth. As a back-up plan, the Manhunters then replaced local practitioner Doc Whitney who subsequently turned every child born since into a mind-controlled sleeper agent.
Now with ClarkKent a key factor in the Millennium, Whitney rallied his forces to capture Superman but utterly underestimated the power and resourcefulness of the Man of Steel…
Although victorious, Superman’s triumph was tainted by tragedy. In defeat all Whitney’s unwitting agents – two generations of Smallville’s young folk – keeled over dead…
The story continued in ‘Hell is Where the Heart Is…’ (Byrne & Keith Williams from Action Comics #596) as Ghostly Guardian The Spectre is drawn to the catastrophe and facilitates Superman’s odyssey to the Spiritual Realms to rescue all the recently deceased…
Superman #14 features an action-packed team-up with Green Lantern Hal Jordan wherein Emerald Gladiator and Man of Tomorrow chase colossal super-Manhunter Highmaster through uncanny dimensions as the mechanical maniac seeks to attack the sequestered and enervated Guardians and Zamarons in ‘Last Stand!’ by Byrne & Kesel, after which events take a far more moody turn in Adventures of Superman #437, a twinned tale by Byrne, Ordway & Beatty.
‘Point of View’ simultaneously reveals how Luthor attempts to seduce one of the Millennium candidates to his evil side even as Lois Lane helplessly watches the brutally crippling struggle of merely mortal vigilante Jose “Gangbuster” Delgado against Lex’s hyper-augmented cyborg warrior Combattor…
The repercussions of that clash are examined in ‘Visitor’ – Action Comics #597- wherein Byrne, Leonard Starr & Williams impishly referenced the Silver Age catfights between Lois Lane and Lana Lang, whilst the story itself established the false premise that Superman had been raised as Clark’s adopted brother to throw off Lois’ growing suspicions…
With the Millennium complete, Superman #15 returned to regular wonderment and Superman was asked to find Metropolis Police Captain Maggie Sawyer’s missing daughter Jamie just as the city was hit with a rash of flying bandit children. ‘Wings’ (by Byrne & Kesel) introduced repulsive monster Skyhook – a horrific bat-winged Fagin who beguiled and mutated runaways whilst concealing even greater ghastly secrets…
This stunning selection of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun concludes with Adventures of Superman #438 and Byrne, Ordway & Beatty’s re-imagination of ‘…The Amazing Brainiac’.
A trip to the circus disastrously coincides with drunken mentalist Milton Fine developing uncanny psionic abilities and going wild. Despite the mental assaults being particularly effective against the Man of Steel, Superman eventually overcomes the furiously frantic performer, but was the beaten man simply deranged by his own latent abilities, or are his ravings about being possessed by an alien named Vril Dox of Colu somehow impossibly true…?
The back-to-basics approach lured many readers to – and crucially back to – the Superman franchise at a time when interest in the character had slumped to perilous levels, but it was the sheer quality of the stories and art which convinced them to stay.
Such cracking superhero tales are a high point in the Man of Tomorrow’s nearly eight decades of existence and these astoundingly readable collections are certainly the easiest way to enjoy a stand-out reinvention of the ultimate comic-book icon.
© 1988, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.