By John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, Jerry Ordway & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0246-0 (TPB)
In 1985, when DC Comics decided to rationalise and reconstruct their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to regenerate their key properties at the same time. The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that change came none too soon.
The big guy was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a major makeover be anything but a pathetic marketing ploy that would alienate the real fans for a few Johnny-come-latelies who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced? The popular wisdom amongst fans was that this new Superman was going to suck.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Superman titles were cancelled or suspended for three months, and yes, that did make the real-world media sit-up and take notice of the character for the first time in decades. But there was method in the corporate madness.
Beginning with 6-part miniseries Man of Steel – written and drawn by mainstream superstar John Byrne and inked by venerated veteran Dick Giordano – the experiment was a huge and instant success. So much so, that when it was first collected as a stand-alone graphic novel in the 1980s, it became one of the industry’s premiere break-out hits. From his overwhelming re-inception the character 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 became a fan-pleasing team-up book guest-starring other heroes of the DC Universe) were instant best-sellers. So successful was the relaunch that by the early 1990’s Superman would be able to sustain four monthly titles as well as Specials, Annuals, guest shots and his semi-regular appearances in titles such as Justice League.
It was quite a turnaround from the earlier heydays of the Man of Steel when editors were frantic about not over-exposing their biggest gun.
With Byrne’s controversial reboot now a solid hit, the collaborative teams tasked with ensuring his continued success really hit their stride with the tales collected in this third volume.
From April to June 1987 and re-presenting Superman #4-6, Action #587-589 and Adventures of Superman #427-429 in paperback and digital formats, the wonderment is preceded by an Introduction from writer/artist Jerry Ordway before the drama kicks off with an all-out battle against deranged gunman ‘Bloodsport!’ courtesy of Byrne and inker Karl Kesel. The merciless shooter is more than just crazy, however: some hidden genius has given him the ability to manifest wonder weapons from nothing and he never runs out of ammo… Marv Wolfman & Jerry Ordway concentrated on longer, more suspenseful tales. Adventures of Superman #427-428) take the Man of Tomorrow on a punishing visit to the rogue state of Qurac and an encounter with a hidden race of alien telepaths called the Circle, in a visceral and beautiful tale of un-realpolitik. ‘Mind Games’ and ‘Personal Best’ combine a much more relevant, realistic slant with lots of character sub-plots featuring assorted staff and family staff of the Daily Planet after which Byrne in Action Comics manufactures spectacle, thrills and instant gratification reader appeal.
‘Cityscape!’, in #587, teams the Metropolis Marvel with Jack Kirby’s Etrigan the Demon as sorceress Morgaine Le Fay attempts to gain immortality by warping time itself…
‘The Mummy Strikes’ and ‘The Last Five Hundred’ (Byrne & Kesel, Superman #5-6) then introduce the first hint of potential romance between the Man of Steel and Wonder Woman, before Lois Lane and Clark Kent are embroiled in an extraterrestrial invasion drama that started half a million years ago and feature rogue robots and antediluvian bodysnatchers.
In ‘Old Ties’ (Superman #6) Wolfman & Ordway reveal the catastrophic results of the Circle transferring their expansionist attentions to Metropolis, before this collection concludes with a cosmic saga from Action Comics #588-589 wherein Byrne & Giordano team the Caped Kryptonian with Hawkman and Hawkwoman in ‘All Wars Must End’, an epic battle against malign Thanagarian invaders, permitting Arisia , Salaak, Kilowog, Katma Tui and other luminaries of the Green Lantern Corps to meet and rescue the star-lost Superman in ‘Green on Green’ before uniting to eliminate an unstoppable planet-eating beast.
The back-to-basics approach lured many readers to – and back to – the Superman franchise, but the sheer quality of the stories and art are what convinced them to stay. Such cracking, clear-cut superhero exploits are a high point in the Action Ace’s decades-long career, and these chronological-release collections are certainly the easiest way to enjoy one of the most impressive reinventions of the ultimate comic-book icon.
© 1987, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.