By Paul Dini, Scott McCloud, Rick Burchett, Bret Blevins, Mike Manley & various (DC Comics)
A decade after John Byrne galvanised, reinvigorated and reinvented the look and feel of the Man of Steel animator Bruce Timm returned to comicbook country to meld modern sensibility and classic mythology with Superman: The Animated Series.
With Paul Dini he had designed and overseen Batman: The Animated Series: a 1993 TV show that captivated young and old alike and breathed vibrant new life into an old concept. In 1996 lightning struck a second time. The show was another masterpiece and led to a tranche of sequels and spin-off including The New Batman/Superman Adventures, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.
Although the Superman cartoon show (which originally aired in the USA from September 6th 1996 to February 12th 2000) never got the airplay it deserved in Britain, it remains a highpoint in the characterâ€™s long, long animation history, second only to the astounding and groundbreaking seventeen shorts produced by the Max Fleischer Studio in the 1940s.
These stylish modern visualisations became the norm, extending to the Teen Titans, Legion of Super Heroes, Young Justice and Brave and the Bold animation series that so successfully followed.
The broad stylisation – described as â€œOcean Liner Art Decoâ€ – also worked magnificently in static two dimensions for the spin-off comicbook produced by DC as seen in this first of four (so far) trade paperback and eBook compilations, gathering Superman Adventures #1-10 from November 1996 through August 1997.
With no further ado the all-ages action opens with â€˜Men of Steelâ€™ by show writer Paul Dini and illustrated with dash and verve by Rick Burchett & Terry Austin. Because they know their audience, the editors wisely treated the animated episodes and comicbook releases as equally canonical and here shady mega-billionaire Lex Luthor is a public hero even whilst clandestinely organising clandestine criminal deals, international coups and a secret war against the Man of Tomorrow.
The devilâ€™s brew of dark deeds culminates here in the oligarchâ€™s creation of a new secret weapon: a hyper-powerful robot-duplicate of Superman, which he uses to initially discredit and ultimately battle against the Caped Kryptonian. If it manages to kill him, Lex will mass-produce them and sell them to warlords around the worldâ€¦
Comics grand master Scott McCloud comes aboard as regular scripter with the second issue as â€˜Be Careful What You Wish Forâ€¦â€™ sees the return of Kryptonite-powered cyborg Metallo. The mechanical maniac – like the rest of Metropolis – erroneously believes lonely, attention-seeking Kelly to be Supermanâ€™s girlfriend, but his sadistic revenge scheme hasnâ€™t factored in how Lois Lane might react to the claimâ€¦
Computerised Kryptonian relic Brainiac resurfaces in â€˜Distant Thunderâ€™, having placed its malign consciousness into Earth artefacts (such as robot cats!) before building a new body to facilitate a new attack on the Metropolis Marvel. As ever, Brainiacâ€™s end goal is assimilating data, but Superman quickly realises how to turn that programmed compulsion into a weapon ensuring the computer tyrantâ€™s defeatâ€¦
Apprentice photo-journalist Jimmy Olsenâ€™s dreams of success and stardom get a big boost in issue #4â€™s â€˜Eye to Eyeâ€™. After Luthor orchestrates a deadly attack on Superman with an enhanced gravity-weapon, the cub reporter learns itâ€™s as much about grit and guts as it is being in the right place at the right timeâ€¦
Bret Blevins pencils fifth exploit â€˜Balance of Powerâ€™ as electrical villain Livewire awakes from a coma and sets about equalizing gender inequality by taking over the worldâ€™s broadcast airwaves. With all male presences edited out thanks to her galvanic power, the sparky ideologue then returns to her original agenda and attempts to eradicate too-powerful men like Superman and Luthor
McCloud, Burchett & Austin reunite for the astoundingly gripping â€˜Seonimodâ€™ wherein Superman utterly fails to save Metropolis from complete annihilation. All is not lost however, as Fifth Dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk has trapped the Man of Steel in a backwards-spiralling time-loop, allowing the hero one last chance to track a concatenation of disasters back to the inconsequential event that triggered the string of accidents which wiped out everything the hero cherishesâ€¦
â€˜All Creatures Great and Small part 1â€™ opens a titanic two-part tale which sees Kryptonian Phantom Zone villains General Zod and Mala escape the miniaturised prison Superman had incarcerated them in. In the process they also shrink our hero to a few centimetres in height, but the endgame is far more devilish that that.
When scientific savant Professor Hamilton and top cop Dan â€œTerribleâ€ Turpin join Lois in using a growth ray to restore Superman, Zod intercepts them and transforms himself into a towering colossus of chaos and carnage. Utterly overmatched and without options, the miniscule Man of Tomorrow is forced into the most disgusting and risky manoeuvre of his career to bring the gigantic General low in the concluding â€˜All Creatures Great and Small part 2â€™â€¦
Mike Manley pencils Superman Adventures #9 as â€˜Return of the Heroâ€™ focuses on an idealistic boy whose two heroes are Superman and Lex Luthor. However, as a series of arson attacks plagues his neighbourhood, Francisco Torres learns some unpleasant truths about the billionaire that shatter his worldview and almost destroy his family. Happily, the Caped Kryptonian proves to be a far more dependable role modelâ€¦
Wrapping up this first cartoon collection is a classic clash between indomitable hero and deadly maniac as twisted techno-terrorist Toyman returns, peddling Superman action figures designed to plunder and rob their ownersâ€™ parents. â€˜Donâ€™t Try This at Home!â€™ by McCloud, Burchett & Austin once again proves that no amount of devious deviltry can long deter the champion of Truth, Justice and the American Wayâ€¦
Breathtakingly written and spectacularly illustrated, these stripped-down, hyper-charged rollercoaster-romps are pure, irresistible examples of the most primal kind of comics storytelling, capturing the idealised essence of what every superman story should be. This is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
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