By John Byrne & Dick Giordano (DC Comics)
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…
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.