Batman: The Golden Age volume 4

By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Joseph Greene, Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Bob Kane, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7130-5

The history of the American comicbook industry in most ways stems from the raw, vital and still compelling tales of two iconic creations published by DC/National Comics: Superman and Batman. It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in relatively cheap, and gloriously cheerful, compilations.

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) confirmed DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Steel, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly-human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crime-busters were judged.

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there’s also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Presented in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the icon who would inspire so many and develop the resilience needed to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes that coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #66-74, Batman #12-15 and pertinent stories from World’s Finest Comics #7-9, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from August 1942 to April 1943: as the Dynamic Duo continually develop and storm ahead of all competition.

As the heroes’ influence expanded, new talent joined the stable of creators. Jerry Robinson had already worked with writer Bill Finger and penciller Bob Kane, and during this period more scripters joined the ever-expanding team to detail adventures during the darkest days of World War II.

I’m certain it’s no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon. With chief writer Bill Finger at a peak of creativity and production, everybody on the Home Front was keen to do their bit – even if that was simply making kids of all ages forget their troubles for a brief while…

This volume starts in grand style with the debut of a true classic villain as Finger, Kane & Robinson expose ‘The Crimes of Two-Face’ (Detective Comics #66): a classical tragedy in crime-caper form as Gotham DA Harvey Kent (whose name was later changed by editorial diktat to Dent) is disfigured in court and goes mad – becoming the conflicted thief and killer who remains one of the Caped Crusader’s greatest foes.

Batman #12 (August/September 1942) follows with another four classics. ‘Brothers in Crime’ – by Don Cameron & Robinson – reveals the tragic fates of a criminal family after which the Joker returns in ‘The Wizard of Words’ by Finger, Kane, Robinson and George Roussos.

Jack Burnley illustrated the spectacular daredevil drama ‘They Thrill to Conquer’ before ‘Around the Clock with Batman’ recounts a typical “day in the life” of the Dynamic Duo, complete with blazing guns, giant statues and skyscraper near-death experiences…

Then, from World’s Finest Comics #7 (Fall 1942), comes an imaginative thriller of chilly thrills and spills in ‘The North Pole Crimes!’ whilst Detective #67 features the Penguin as ‘Crime’s Early Bird!’, before Two-Face’s personal horror-story continues in ‘The Man Who Led a Double Life’ from #68.

Batman #13 (October/November 1942) tugged heartstrings when ‘The Batman Plays a Lone Hand’ but returned to more traditional ground after the Joker organized a ‘Comedy of Tears’ (by Jack Schiff, Kane, Robinson & Roussos). Although ‘The Story of the Seventeen Stones!’ (drawn by Burnley) then offered a deliciously experimental murder-mystery, the heroes slipped into comfortable Agatha Christie – or perhaps Hitchcock territory – as they tackled a portmanteau of crimes on a train in Cameron, Kane, Robinson and Roussos’ ‘Destination: Unknown!’ to close the issue.

Joseph Greene scripted the Joker’s next escapade in the astounding case of ‘The Harlequin’s Hoax!’ (Detective #68 before our heroes endure the decidedly different threat of ‘The Man Who Could Read Minds!’: another off-beat thriller from Cameron that premiered in Detective #70.

Cameron also wrote all four stories in Batman #14 (December 1942/January 1943). ‘The Case Batman Failed to Solve’ (illustrated by Jerry Robinson) is a superb example of the sheer decency of the Caped Crusader as he fudges a mystery for the best possible reason; ‘Prescription for Happiness’ (art by Bob Kane & Robinson) is a masterful example of the human-interest drama that used to typify Batman tales as a poor doctor discovers his own true worth, and ‘Swastika Over the White House!’ (Jack & Ray Burnley art) is typical of the spy-busting action yarns readers were gratuitously lapping up at the time.

The final story ‘Bargains in Banditry!’ – also from the Burnley boys – is another canny crime caper featuring fowl felon the Penguin.

Detective Comics #71 (January 1943, Finger, Kane & Robinson) featured ‘A Crime a Day!’ – one of the most memorable and thrilling Joker escapades of the period – whilst ‘Brothers in Law’ (by Schiff and the Burnleys from the Winter 1942 World’s Finest Comics #8) pits Batman and Robin against a Napoleon of Crime and feuding siblings who had radically differing definitions of justice…

Samachson, Kane & Robinson crafted Detective #72 which saw found our heroes crushing murderous con-men in ‘License for Larceny’ before Batman #15 (February/March 1943) lead with Schiff, Kane & Robinson’s Catwoman romp ‘Your Face is your Fortune!’ whilst Cameron and those Burnleys introduced plucky homeless boy Bobby Deen as ‘The Boy Who Wanted to be Robin!’

The same team concocted powerful propaganda tale ‘The Two Futures’, which examined an America under Nazi subjugation after which ‘The Loneliest Men in the World’ (Cameron, Kane & Robinson) was – and remains – one of the very best Christmas Batman tales ever created; full of pathos, drama, fellow-feeling and action…

Cameron, Kane & Robinson went back to spooky basics in Detective Comics#73 (March 1943) when ‘The Scarecrow Returns’, a moody chiller followed by the introduction of comical corpulent criminal psychopaths ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee!’ in #74, before this gripping volume concludes with the Batman portion of World’s Finest #9 (Spring 1943) as Finger, Robinson & Roussos recount the saga of a criminal mastermind who invented a sure-fire ‘Crime of the Month!’ scheme…

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin and brought welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
© 1942, 1943, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Metamorpho, the Element Man

By Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, Ramona Fradon, Joe Orlando, Sal Trapani, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0762-5

By the time Metamorpho, the Element Man was introduced to the costumed hero-obsessed world the first vestiges of a certifiable boom were just becoming apparent. As such the light-hearted, almost absurdist take struck a Right-time, Right-place chord, blending far out adventure with tongue-in-cheek comedy.

The bold, brash Man of a Thousand Elements debuted in The Brave and the Bold #57 (December 1964/January 1965) and, after a follow-up try-out in the next issue, catapulted right into his own title for an eclectic and oddly engaging 17-issue run. Sadly, this canny monochrome compendium – collecting all those eccentric adventures plus team-up tales from B&B #66 and 68 and Justice League of America #42) – is currently the only archival collection available. Until someone rectifies that situation, at least you can revel in some truly enchanting black-&-white illustration…

Unlike most of these splendid Showcase editions, the team-up stories here are not re-presented in original publication order but closeted together at the back, so if stringent continuity is important to you, the always informative old-school credit-pages will enable you to navigate the wonderment in the correct sequence…

Sans dreary preamble the action commences with ‘The Origin of Metamorpho’ written by Bob Haney (who created the character and wrote everything here except the JLA story). The captivating art is by Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris and introduces glamorous he-man Soldier of Fortune Rex Mason, currently working as a globe-trotting artefact procurer and agent for ruthlessly acquisitive scientific genius/business tycoon Simon Stagg.

Mason is obnoxious and insolent but his biggest fault as far as his boss is concerned is that the mercenary dares to love and be loved by the millionaire’s only daughter Sapphire

Determined to rid himself of the impudent Mason, Stagg dispatches his potential son-in-law to retrieve a fantastic artefact dubbed the Orb of Ra from the lost pyramid of Ahk-Ton in Egypt. The tomb raider is accompanied only by Java, a previously fossilised Neanderthal corpse Rex had discovered in a swamp and which (whom?) Stagg had subsequently restored to full life. Mason plans to take his final fabulous fee and whisk Sapphire away from her controlling father forever, but fate and his companion have other ideas…

Utterly faithful to the scientific wizard who was his saviour, Java sabotages the mission and leaves Mason to die in the tomb, victim of an ancient, glowing meteor. The man-brute rushes back to his master, carrying the Orb and fully expecting Stagg to honour his promise and give him Sapphire in marriage…

Trapped, knowing his time has come; Mason swallows a suicide pill as the scorching rays of the star-stone burn through him…

Instead of death relieving his torment Rex is mutated into a ghastly chemical freak capable of shape-shifting and transforming into any of the elements or compounds that comprised the human body: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, calcium, iron, cobalt and so many others…

Hungry for vengeance, Mason follows and confronts his betrayers only to be overcome by the alien energies of the Orb of Ra. An uneasy détente is declared as Mason accepts Stagg’s desperate offer to cure him …“if possible”.

The plutocrat is further horrified when Rex reveals his condition to Sapphire and finds she still loves him. Totally unaware of Stagg’s true depths of duplicity, Mason starts working for the tycoon as metahuman problem-solver Metamorpho, the Element Man.

Brave and the Bold #58 (February-March 1965) reveals more of Stagg’s closeted skeletons when old partner Maxwell Tremayne kidnaps the Element Man and later abducts Sapphire to his ‘The Junkyard of Doom!’ Apparently, the deranged armaments manufacturer was once intimately acquainted with the girl’s mother and never quite got over it…

The try-out comics were an unqualified success and Metamorpho promptly debuted in his own title, cover-dated July-August 1965, just as the wildly tongue-in-cheek “High Camp” craze was catching on in all areas of popular culture; blending ironic vaudevillian kitsch with classic movie premises as theatrical mad scientists and scurrilous spies began to appear everywhere.

‘Attack of the Atomic Avenger’ sees nuclear nut-job Kurt Vornak trying to crush Stagg Industries, only to be turned into a deadly, planet-busting radioactive super-atom, after which ‘Terror from the Telstar’ pits the charismatic cast against Nicholas Balkan, a ruthless criminal boss set on sabotaging America’s Space Program.

Mad multi-millionaire T.T. Trumbull then uses his own daughter Zelda to get to Simon Stagg through his heart, accidentally proving to everyone who knew him that the old goat actually has one. This was part of the maniac’s attempt to seize control of America in ‘Who Stole the U.S.A.?’, but the ambitious would-be despot backed up the scheme with an incredible robot specifically designed to destroy Metamorpho.

Happily, Rex Mason’s guts and ingenuity proved more effective than the Element Man’s astonishing powers…

America saved, the dysfunctional family head South of the Border, becoming embroiled in ‘The Awesome Escapades of the Abominable Playboy’ as Stagg tries to marry Sapphire off to Latino Lothario Cha Cha Chavez. The wilful girl is simply trying to make Mason jealous and had no idea of her dad’s true plans; Stagg senior has no conception of Chavez’s real intentions or connections to the local tin-pot dictator…

With this issue the gloriously stylish Ramona Fradon left the series, to be replaced by two artists who strove to emulate her unique, gently madcap manner of drawing with varying degrees of success. Luckily veteran inker Charles Paris stayed on to smooth out the rough edges…

First up was E.C. veteran Joe Orlando whose 2-issue tenure began with outrageous doppelganger drama ‘Will the Real Metamorpho Please Stand Up?’ wherein eccentric architect Edifice K. Bulwark tries to convince Mason to lend his abilities to his chemical skyscraper project. When Metamorpho declines Bulwark and Stagg attempt to create their own Element Man… with predictably disastrous consequences.

‘Never Bet Against an Element Man!’ (#6 May-June 1966) took the team to the French Riviera as gambling grandee Achille Le Heele snookers Stagg and wins “ownership” of Metamorpho. The Creepy Conchon’s ultimate goal necessitated stealing the world’s seven greatest wonders (such as the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower) and, somehow, only the Element Man can make that happen…

Sal Trapani took over pencilling with #7’s ‘Terror from Fahrenheit 5,000!’ as the acronymic super-spy fad hits hard. Metamorpho is enlisted by the C.I.A. to stop suicidal maniac Otto Von Stuttgart destroying the entire planet by dropping a nuke into the Earth’s core, before costumed villain Doc Dread is countered by an undercover Metamorpho becoming ‘Element Man, Public Enemy!’ in a diabolical caper of doom and double-cross…

Metamorpho #9 shifted into the realm of classic fantasy when suave and sinister despot El Mantanzas maroons the cast in ‘The Valley That Time Forgot!’: battling cavemen and antediluvian alien automatons, after which a new catalysing element is added in ‘The Sinister Snares of Stingaree!’

This yarn introduces Urania Blackwell – a secret agent somehow transformed into an Element Girl and sharing all Metamorpho’s incredible abilities. Not only is she dedicated to eradicating evil such as criminal cabal Cyclops, but Urania is also the perfect paramour for Rex Mason…

He even cancels his wedding to Sapphire to go gang-busting with her…

With a new frisson of sexual chemistry sizzling beneath the surface, ‘They Came from Beyond?’ finds the conflicted Element Man confronting an apparent alien invasion whilst ‘The Trap of the Test-Tube Terrors!’ provides another attempt to cure Rex of his unwanted powers. This allows mad scientist Franz Zorb access to Stagg Industry labs long enough to build an army of chemical horrors…

The plot thickens with Zorb’s theft of a Nucleonic Moleculizer, prompting a continuation in #14 wherein Urania is abducted only to triumphantly experience ‘The Return from Limbo’

Events and stories grew increasingly outlandish and outrageous as the TV superhero craze intensified and ‘Enter the Thunderer!’ (#14, September/October 1967) depicted Rex pulled between Sapphire and Urania as marauding extraterrestrial Neutrog terrorises the planet in preparation for the awesome arrival of his mighty mutant master.

The next instalment heralded an ‘Hour of Armageddon!’ as the uniquely menacing Thunderer takes control of Earth until boy genius Billy Barton assists the Elemental defenders in defeating the mutant horror.

Trapani inked himself for Metamorpho #16; an homage to H. Rider Haggard’s She novels wherein ‘Jezeba, Queen of Fury!’ changes the Element Man’s life forever.

When Sapphire marries playboy Wally Bannister, the heartbroken Element Man undertakes a mission to find the lost city of Ma-Phoor. Here he encounters an undying beauty who wants to conquer the world and just happens to be Sapphire’s exact double.

Moreover, the immortal empress of a lost civilisation had once loved an Element Man of her own: a Roman soldier named Algon transformed into a chemical warrior two millennia previously.

Believing herself reunited with her lost love, Jezeba finally launches her long-delayed attack on the outside world with disastrous, tragic consequences…

The strangely appetising series came to a shuddering and unsatisfactory halt with the next issue as the superhero bubble burst and costumed comic characters suffered their second recession in fifteen years. Metamorpho was one of the first casualties, cancelled just as (or perhaps because) the series was emerging from its quirky comedic shell with the March-April 1968 issue.

Illustrated by Jack Sparling, ‘Last Mile for an Element Man!’ sees Mason tried and executed for the murder of Wally Bannister, resurrected by Urania Blackwell and set on the trail of true killer Algon. Along the way, Mason and Element Girl uncover a vast, incredible conspiracy and rededicate themselves to defending humanity at all costs.

The tale ends on a never-resolved cliffhanger: when Metamorpho was revived a few years later no mention was ever made of these last game-changing issues…

The elemental entertainment doesn’t end here though as this tome somewhat expiates the frustrating denouement with three terrific team-up tales beginning with The Brave and the Bold #66 (June/July 1966) and ‘Wreck the Renegade Robots’ where a mad scientist usurps control of the Metal Men just as their creator Will Magnus is preoccupied turning Metamorpho back into an ordinary mortal…

Two issues later (B& B #68 October/November 1966) the still Chemically Active Crime-buster battles Bat-Baddies Penguin, Joker and Riddler as well as a fearsomely mutated Caped Crusader in the thoroughly bizarre ‘Alias the Bat-Hulk!’ – both tales coming courtesy of Haney, Mike Sekowsky & Mike Esposito.

Sekowsky also drew the last story in this volume. Justice League of America #42 (February 1966) sees the hero joyfully join the World’s Greatest Superheroes to defeat a cosmic menace deemed The Unimaginable. The grateful champions instantly offer him membership but are astounded when – and why – ‘Metamorpho Says… No!’: a classic adventure written by Gardner Fox and inked by Bernard Sachs.

The wonderment finally concludes with a sterling pin-up of the Element Man and his core cast by Fradon & Paris.

Individually enticing, always exciting but oddly frustrating in total, this book will delight readers who aren’t too wedded to cloying continuity but simply seek a few moments of casual, fantastic escapism.
© 1965-1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Lightning volume two

By Dennis O’Neil, Gerry Conway, J.M. DeMatteis, Martin Pasko, Paul Kupperberg, Dick Dillin, George Tuska, Rick Buckler, Marshall Rogers, Mike Netzer/Nasser, Romeo Tanghal, Joe Staton, Pat Broderick, Dick Giordano, Gerald Forton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7546-4

Black Lightning was DC’s first African American superhero to star in his own solo title, which launched in 1977…

When former Olympic decathlete Jefferson Pierce returned to the streets of Suicide Slum, Metropolis to teach at inner city Garfield High School, he was determined to make a real difference to the disadvantaged and often troubled kids he used to be numbered amongst. However, when he interrupted a drug buy on school grounds and sent the dealer packing, he opened everyone around him to mob vengeance and personal tragedy…

When the ruling racketeers – an organised syndicate dubbed The 100 – came seeking retaliation, one of Pierce’s students paid the ultimate price. The traumatised teacher realised he needed the shield of anonymity if he was to win justice and safety for his beleaguered home and charges…

Happily, tailor Peter Gambi – who had raised Jefferson and taken care of his mother after the elder Pierce was murdered – had a few useful ideas and inexplicable access to some pretty far-out technology…

Soon, equipped with a strength-&-speed-enhancing forcefield belt and costume, plus a mask and wig that completely changed his appearance, a fierce new vigilante stalked the streets of Metropolis…

Now with the urban avenger the star of his own television series, those early groundbreaking adventures have been gathered into a series of astoundingly accessible, no-nonsense trade paperback and eBook collections.

This second outing gathers a flurry of back-up and guest appearances from May 1979 to October 1980, gathered from various titles where the urban avenger prowled after his solo title folded. They cumulatively comprise World’s Finest Comics #256-259 and #261, DC Comics Presents #16, Justice League of America #173-174, Detective Comics #490-491 and #495-495 and The Brave and the Bold #163 plus pertinent material from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #3 (1985) and Who’s Who in the DC Universe #16 (1992).

Following an informative Introduction by character originator Tony Isabella reprising Black Lightning: The In-Between Years, the (relatively) down-to-earth superhero antics commence with ‘Encounter with a Dark Avenger!’ (by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Frank Chiaramonte, taken from World’s Finest Comics #256).

Here the electric warrior is manipulated into a potentially fatal confrontation with equally fervent urban vigilante Green Arrow. As the heroes clash neither is aware that the 100’s ousted boss Tobias Whale is behind their mutual woes…

That short yarn saw Black Lightning as GA’s guest star and served as a prelude to ‘Death Ransom!’ in WF #257, the beginning of Pierce’s second (strictly backup) series. Crafted by O’Neil, George Tuska & Bob Smith, it sees a fateful, brutal clash with The Whale and results in a wary ceasefire for the archenemies as they unite to destroy the swiftly rebuilding 100 cartel…

Of course, a scorpion’s gotta sting and the alliance only lasts one issue before Whale betrays Lightning’s trust and another innocent dies in ‘The Blood of the Lamb!’ (O’Neil, Rich Buckler & Romeo Tanghal, World’s Finest #258)…

World’s Finest #259 provides a labyrinthine conundrum as the hero and a horde of gunman act on a deathbed tip-off and converge on a seedy welfare hotel that might be ‘The Last Hideout’ (O’Neil, Marshall Rogers, Michael Nasser/Netzer & Vince Colletta) of a legendary criminal and his ill-gotten gains. Sadly, only the masked hero cared about collateral casualties…

‘Return of the River Rat!’ (O’Neil, Tanghal & Colletta, World’s Finest #261) ended this back-up run on a mediocre note as school chaperone Jefferson Pierce is fortuitously on hand during a river cruise party just when an exiled mobster tries to sneak back into the USA by submarine…

A co-starring role in DC Comics Presents #16 (December 1979) then finds the street-smart urban avenger and Superman confronting a heartsick and violently despondent alien trapped on Earth for millennia in ‘The De-volver!’ (courtesy of O’Neil, Joe Staton & Frank Chiaramonte) after which the lone avenger gets a nod of approval from the Big Guns of Superheroing…

Justice League of America #173-174 (December 1979 and January 1980) offered a smart two-parter with a twist ending as the League try to induct the mysterious, unvetted vigilante.

After much fervent debate, they decide to set their still-unsuspecting candidate a little problem to prove his worth.

However, as a vermin-controlling maniac unleashes terror upon Metropolis, the ‘Testing of a Hero’ and ‘A Plague of Monsters’ (Gerry Conway, Dillin & Frank McLaughlin) takes the old recruitment drive into a very fresh direction and leads to disappointment all around…

Still Not Quite Popular Enough, the hero was found tenure in the more moody and grounded Detective Comics beginning with #490 (May 1980). Here Martin Pasko, Pat Broderick & McLaughlin reveal how ‘Lightning Strikes Twice Out!’ as a protracted clash with a ruthless Haitian gang led by Mama Mambu leads to his kidnap and the loss of his powers and gimmicks in concluding chapter ‘Short-Circuit’ (Detective #491).

A corrupt Senator stealing oil shipments to finance a private army and attempted takeover of America is brought down by separate-but-convergent investigations conducted by Black Lightning and Batman in ‘Oil, Oil… Nowhere’ (Paul Kupperberg & Dick Giordano; The Brave and The Bold #163, June 1980) after which J.M. DeMatteis & Gerald Forton assume creative control of the Lightning’s path in Detective Comics #494 Detective Comics #494.

‘Explosion of the Soul’ (September 1980) sees the streets haunted by a murderous junkie-killing vigilante, and all Pierce’s investigations seem to lead inexorably back to one of his students…

Ending on a dark note of tragedy, ‘Animals’ (DeMatteis & Forton, Detective #494) then sees the Suicide Slum School Olympics turned into a charnel house when a juvenile street gang seizes the girls’ hockey team and demands safe passage and new lives in Switzerland. When Black Lightning intercedes, not everybody gets out alive…

Supplemented with a cover gallery by Ross Andru, Giordano, Jim Aparo, Neal Adams & Dillin, and including fact-packed background and data pages about ‘Black Lightning’ from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #3 (1985) and an updated entry from Who’s Who in the DC Universe #16 (1992) this potent package of fast-paced Fights ‘n’ Tights thrillers are so skilfully constructed that even the freshest neophyte will be able to settle in for the ride without any confusion and enjoy a self-contained rollicking rollercoaster of terrifically traditional superhero shenanigans.

So, what are you waiting for?
© 1979, 1980, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman in The Brave and the Bold: The Bronze Age volume one

By Bob Haney, Mike Sekowsky, Marv Wolfman, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Neal Adams, Bob Brown, Nick Cardy, Irv Novick & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7517-4 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold began in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format that mirrored the contemporary movie fascination with historical dramas.

Written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Golden Gladiator, the Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. From #5 the Gladiator was increasingly alternated with Robin Hood, but such manly, mainly mainstream romps carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like sister publication Showcase.

Issue #25 (August-September 1959) featured the debut of Task Force X: Suicide Squad, followed by Justice League of America (#28), Cave Carson (#31) and Hawkman (#34). Since only the JLA hit the first time out, there were return engagements for the Squad, Carson and Hawkman. Something truly different appeared in #45-49 with the science fictional Strange Sports Stories before Brave and the Bold #50 provided a new concept that once again truly caught the reader’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, as did succeeding issues: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII combatants Sgt Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie and the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom and Flash in #53. The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – evolved rapidly into the Teen Titans. After Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter new hero Metamorpho, the Element Man debuted in #57-58.

Then it was back to superhero pairings with #59, and although no one realised it at the time this particular conjunction (Batman with Green Lantern) would be particularly significant.

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans in #60, the next two issues highlighted Earth-2 champions Starman and Black Canary, whilst Wonder Woman met Supergirl in #63.

Then, in an indication of things to come, and in anticipation of the TV-induced mania mere months away, Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64. Within two issues, following Flash/Doom Patrol (#65) and Metamorpho/Metal Men (#66), Brave and the Bold #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the exception of #72-73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth to be a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

For the sake of brevity and clarity and according to the wise ones who dictate such arbitrary demarcations, it’s also the point at which Comics’ Silver Age transitioned into the Bronze Age…

This first collection of unalloyed Batman pairings with other luminaries of the DC universe reprints B&B #74-91 (spanning October/November 1967 to August/September 1970) featuring the last vestiges of a continuity-reduced DC where individual story needs were seldom submerged into a cohesive overarching scenario, and where lead writer Bob Haney crafted stories that were meant to be read in isolation, drawn by a profusion of artists with only one goal: entertainment.

The Caped Crime-crusher took full possession of Brave and the Bold with #74’s fast-paced and dryly funny ‘Rampant Run the Robots’ as the Metal Men confront human prejudice and perfidious inventors whilst in #75 The Spectre joins the Dark Knight to free Gotham City’s Chinatown from an ancient wizard and ‘The Grasp of Shahn-Zi!’; both tales drawn by the new semi-regular art team of Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

Illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Jack Abel, Plastic Man helped solve the mystery of plastic-obsessed maniac The Molder in #76’s ‘Doom, What Is Thy Shape?’ after which Andru & Esposito return to limn the Atom’s participation in foiling a criminal circus performer in ‘So Thunders the Cannoneer!’

The vastly underrated Bob Brown stepped in to draw ‘In the Coils of the Copperhead’ wherein Wonder Woman found herself vying with the newly-minted Batgirl for Batman’s affections. Of course, it was all a cunning plan… or was it?

Neal Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. With #75 he had become a cover artist for B&B and with #79 (August-September 1968) he took over the interior art for a game-changing groundbreaking run that rewrote the rulebook for strip illustration.

‘The Track of the Hook’ paired the Dark Knight Detective with a justice-obsessed ghost. Deadman was murdered trapeze artist Boston Brand who perpetually hunted his own killer, and whose earthy, human tragedy elevated the series’ campy costumed theatrics into deeper, more mature realms of drama and action. The stories matured ten years overnight and instantly became every discerning fan’s favourite read.

‘And Hellgrammite is his Name’ then finds Batman and the Creeper defying a bug-themed super-hitman, and the Flash aids the Caped Crusader in defeating an unbeatable thug in ‘But Bork Can Hurt You!’ (both inked by Dick Giordano) before Aquaman becomes ‘The Sleepwalker from the Sea’ in an eerie tale of mind-control and sibling rivalry.

Issue # 83 took a radical turn as the Teen Titans try to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’ but the next team-up was one that got many fans in a real tizzy in 1969.

‘The Angel, the Rock and the Cowl’ recounted a World War II exploit where Batman and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company hunt Nazi gold and a war criminal together, only closing the case twenty-five years later. Ignoring the kvetching about relative ages and which Earth we’re on, which raised a storm in an eggcup back then, you should focus on the fact that this is a startlingly gripping tale of great intensity and beautifully realised: one which was criminally discounted for decades as “non-canonical”.

Brave and the Bold #85 is arguably the best of an incredible run. ‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ reunited Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, wherein Bruce Wayne stands in for a law-maker and the Emerald Archer receives a radical make-over that turned him into the fiery liberal gadfly champion of the relevancy generation…

Boston Brand returned in #86, as Batman found ‘You Can’t Hide from a ‘Deadman!’: a captivating epic of death, redemption and resurrection that became a cornerstone of Bat-mythology forever after.

What follows is a decidedly different adventure written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky and starring the venerable comics icon he had made fresh and exciting all over again.

Inked by Giordano and entitled ‘The Widow-Maker’, it tells of the son of one of Batman’s old foes who attempts to add to his tally of motoring murders by luring the Caped Crusader into a rigged high-performance car race. That’s when recently de-powered Diana Prince, once and future Wonder Woman, steps in…

Following Adams’ iconoclastic and influential run was always going to be a tough act, but veteran Irv Novick – who would also unfairly tread in Adams’ mighty shadow on Batman for years to come – did sterling work here on a gritty tale of boxing and Cold War mind-games as the Caped Crusader meets golden age troubleshooter Wildcat in ‘Count Ten… and Die!’ (B&B #88, February-March 1970).

Esposito inked that tale before reuniting with long-time collaborator Ross Andru for a brief return engagement that began with a spooky suspense-thriller pitting Batman against the mystery sensation Phantom Stranger (and his rationalist rival Dr. Terry Thirteen) in #89’s ‘Arise Ye Ghosts of Gotham!’

The team then switch pace and genre for a time-bending science fiction thriller ‘You Only Die Twice!’ guest-starring interstellar champion Adam Strange and threatening to record the fall from grace and death of the Gotham Guardian.

The comics content concludes here with issue #91, as ‘A Cold Corpse for the Collector’ provides a true gem of love and death. Haney was always at his best with terse, human scale dramas, especially “straight” crime thrillers, and his pairing of the Batman with Black Canary (transplanted from Earth-2 to replace Wonder Woman in the Justice League) saw the recently-widowed heroine searching for the Earth-1 counterpart of her dead husband…

What she got was self-delusion, heartbreak and imminent death in a masterpiece of ironic melodrama. It also signalled the advent of the superb Nick Cardy as illustrator: a short run of beautifully drawn and boldly experimental assignments that are still startling to see nearly five decades later.

These are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring, action-packed life by some of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How could anybody resist? Seriously: can you…?
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Super Powers by Jack Kirby

By Jack Kirby with Joey Cavalieri, Paul Kupperberg, Adrian Gonzalez, Pablo Marcos, Alan Kupperberg, Greg Theakston & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7140-4

Famed for his larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was an astute, imaginative, spiritual man who lived through poverty and gangsterism, the Great Depression, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures. He was open-minded and utterly wedded to the making of comics stories on every imaginable subject. He also always believed that sequential narrative was worthy of being published as real books right beside mankind’s other literary art forms.

Looks like he was right, and – as usual – just ahead of the times, doesn’t it?

Thanks to his recent centenary there’s a magnificent abundance of Kirby commemorative collections around these days (though still not all of it, so I remain a partially disgruntled dedicated fan). This particular trade paperback and eBook compendium re-presents The King’s last complete conceptual outing for DC and one that has been neglected by fans for far too long.

During the 1980s costumed heroes stopped being an exclusively print cash cow as big toy companies licensed Fights ‘n’ Tights titans and reaped the benefits of ready-made comicbook spin-offs. DC’s most recognizable characters became a best-selling line of action figures and were inevitably hived off into a brisk and breezy, fight-frenzied miniseries.

Super Powers launched in July 1984 as a 5-issue miniseries with Kirby covers and his signature Fourth World characters prominently represented. Jack also plotted the stellar saga with scripter Joey Cavalieri providing dialogue, as Adrian Gonzales & Pablo Marcos illustrated a heady cosmic quest comprising numerous inconclusive battles between agents of Good and Evil.

Eschewing any preamble, we hurtle straight into action with ‘Power Beyond Price!’, as ultimate cosmic nemesis Darkseid despatches four Emissaries of Doom to destroy Earth’s superheroes. Sponsoring and empowering Lex Luthor, The Penguin, Brainiac and The Joker, the Dark God’s emissaries and their stooges jointly target Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Hawkman

The combat escalates in #2’s ‘Clash Against Chaos’ with the Man of Steel and Scarlet Speedster tackling Luthor, whilst Aquaman and Green Lantern scupper the Penguin. Meanwhile Dark Knight and Winged Wonder confront an astoundingly-enhanced Harlequin of Hate…

With Alan Kupperberg inking #3, an inconclusive outcome leads to a regrouping of evil and an attack by Brainiac on Paradise Island, as in ‘Amazons at War’ the Justice League rally until Superman is devolved into a brutal beast who attacks his former allies.

All-out battle ensues in ‘Earth’s Last Stand’ before King Kirby steps up to write and illustrate the fateful finale: a cosmos-shaking conclusion designated ‘Spaceship Earth – We’re All on It!’ (November 1984, with Greg Theakston suppling inks)…

A bombastic Super Powers Promotional Poster then leads into the second Super Powers miniseries, spanning September 1985 to February 1986.

Scripted by Paul Kupperberg, the Kirby/Theakston saga ‘Seeds of Doom!’ recounts how deadly Darkseid despatches techno-organic bombs to destroy Earth, a diabolical deed requiring practically every DC hero to unite to counter the threat.

With teams of Super Powers travelling to England, Rome, New York, Easter Island and Arizona the danger is magnified ‘When Past and Present Meet!’ as the seeds warp time and send Aquaman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz back to days of King Arthur

Super Powers #3 (November 1985) finds Red Tornado, Hawkman and Green Arrow plunged back 75 million years in ‘Time Upon Time Upon Time!’ even as Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman are trapped in 1087 AD, battling stony-faced giant aliens on Easter Island.

Superman and Firestorm discover ‘There’s No Place Like Rome!’ as they battle Darkseid’s agent Steppenwolf in the first century whilst Batman, Robin and Flash visit a far-flung future where Earth is the new Apokolips in #5’s ‘Once Upon Tomorrow’.

Eventually Earth’s scattered but indomitable champions converge on Luna to spectacularly squash the schemes-within-schemes of ‘Darkseid of the Moon!’

Jack Kirby was and remains unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures comprise an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover can possibly resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s life’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene – and indeed the entire comics planet – affecting the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour for generations. Most tellingly, he is still winning new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

He is the King and there will never be another.
© 1984, 1985, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman & Superman in World’s Finest Comics: The Silver Age volume 2

By Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Stan Kaye, Sheldon Moldoff, Charles Paris, Ray Burnley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7780-2

For decades Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were friends as well as colleagues and the pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could cross-pollinate and, more importantly, cross-sell their combined readerships.

This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whereas in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the brightly-hued hubbub…

Of course, they had shared the covers of World’s Finest Comics from the outset, although never crossing paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. For us pictorial continuity buffs, the climactic real first time was in the pages of Superman’s own bi-monthly comic (issue #76, May/June 1952, as seen in the previous volume of this splendid compilation series). However once that Rubicon was crossed, thanks to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts the industry never looked back…

This second stunning trade paperback (and eBook) compendium of Silver Age solid gold re-presents the lead stories from World’s Finest Comics #95-116, spanning July/August 1958 to March 1961: another astounding archive of adventure that opens with an Edmond Hamilton, Dick Sprang & Ray Burnley yarn pitting the temporarily equally multi-powered and alien-entranced champions against each other in ‘The Battle of the Super-Heroes’.

A magical succession of magnificent and light-heartedly whacky classics began in #96 with Hamilton’s ‘The Super-Foes from Planet X’ wherein indolent and effete aliens dispatch fantastic monsters to battle the titanic trio for the best possible reasons…

Bill Finger took over scripting with #97, incomprehensibly turning the Man of Steel on his greatest friends in ‘The Day Superman Betrayed Batman’, after which ‘The Menace of the Moonman!’ pits the heroes against a deranged hyper-powered astronaut, ‘Batman’s Super-Spending Spree!’ baffles all his close friends and Lex Luthor devilishly traps Superman in the newly-recovered Bottle City of Kandor to become ‘The Dictator of Krypton City’ – all breathtaking epics beautifully limned by Sprang & Kaye.

Sprang inked himself in the rocket-paced super-crime thriller ‘The Menace of the Atom-Master’ whereas it took Curt Swan, Burnley, Sprang & Sheldon Moldoff to properly unveil the titanic tragedy of ‘The Caveman from Krypton’ in #102.

‘The Secret of the Sorcerer’s Treasure’ (Sprang & Moldoff) then reveals a couple of treasure hunters driven mad by the tempting power of freshly unearthed magical artefacts whilst Luthor quickly regrets using a hostage Batwoman to facilitate ‘The Plot to Destroy Superman’.

After the metamorphosis which turned Clark Kent into ‘The Alien Superman’ proves not at all what it seems to be, ‘The Duplicate Man’ in WF #106 sees the ultimate downfall of a villain who develops an almost unbeatable crime tool.

Next up ‘The Secret of the Time-Creature’ encompassed centuries and resulted in one of Finger’s very best detective thrillers to baffle but never stump the Cape & Cowl Crusaders, after which Jerry Coleman assumes the writer’s role with ‘The Star Creatures’ (art by Sprang & Stan Kaye), the tale of an extraterrestrial moviemaker whose deadly props were stolen by Earth crooks.

Stellar cover artist Curt Swan (with Stan Kaye inking) finally makes the move to interior illustrator for ‘The Bewitched Batman’, detailing a tense race against time to save the Gotham Guardian from an ancient curse, before ‘The Alien who Doomed Robin’ (Sprang & Moldoff) sees a symbiotic link between monster marauder and Boy Wonder leave the senior heroes apparently helpless… at least for a little while…

‘Superman’s Secret Kingdom’ (Finger, Sprang & Moldoff from #111, August 1960) is a compelling lost world yarn wherein a cataclysmic holocaust deprives the Man of Steel of his memory and Batman and Robin must find and cure him at all costs…

The next issue – by Coleman, Sprang & Moldoff – delivered a unique and tragic warning in ‘The Menace of Superman’s Pet’ as a phenomenally cute teddy bear from space proves to be an unbelievably dangerous menace and unforgettable true friend. Bring tissues, you big baby…

In an era when disturbing or terrifying menaces were frowned upon, many tales featured intellectual dilemmas and unavoidably irritating pests to torment our heroes. Both Gotham Guardian and Man of Steel had their own magical 5th dimensional gadflies and it was therefore only a matter of time until ‘Bat-Mite Meets Mr. Mxyzptlk’: a madcap duel to determine whose hero was best… with America caught in the metamorphic middle.

WF #114 reveals Superman, Batman and Robin shanghaied to the distant world of Zoron as ‘Captives of the Space Globes’ where their abilities are reversed. Nevertheless, justice is still served in the end, after which ‘The Curse that Doomed Superman’ sees the Metropolis Marvel consistently outfoxed by a scurrilous Swami with the Darknight Detective helpless to assist him…

Swan & Kaye at last return for #116’s thrilling monster mash ‘The Creature from Beyond’ to wrap up this volume with a criminal alien out-powering Superman whilst concealing an incredible secret…

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose dazzling style has returned to inform if not dictate the form for much of DC’s modern television animation – especially the fabulous Batman: The Brave and the Bold series – and the contents of this titanic tome offer a veritable feast of witty, charming thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have.
© 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Team-Ups of the Brave and the Bold

By J. Michael Straczynski, Jesús Saíz, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Cliff Chiang & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2793-7 (HB)                :978-1-4012-2809-5 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955; an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes and a format mirroring and cashing in on that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Devised and written by Robert Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was replaced by National Periodicals/DC Comic’s iteration of Robin Hood, but the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like the astounding successful Showcase.

Used to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title then evolved to create a whole sub-genre – although barely anybody noticed at the time…

That was Superhero Team-Ups.

For almost a decade DC had enjoyed great success pairing Superman with Batman and Robin in World’s Finest Comics and in 1963 sought to create another top-selling combo from their growing pantheon of masked mystery men. It didn’t hurt that the timing also allowed extra exposure for characters imminently graduating to their own starring vehicles after years as back-up features…

This was during a period when almost no costumed heroes acknowledged the jurisdiction or (usually) existence of other costumed champions. When B&B offered this succession of team-ups, they were laying the foundations for DC’s future close-knit comics continuity. Now there’s something wrong with any superstar who doesn’t regularly join every other cape or mask on-planet every five minutes or so…

That short-lived experiment eventually calcified as “Batman and…” but for a while readers were treated to some truly inspired pairings such as Metal Men and Metamorpho, Flash and The Spectre or Supergirl and Wonder Woman.

The editors even achieved their aim after Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad remained together after their initial foray and expanded into the Teen Titans

That theme of heroes united together for a specific time and purpose was revived in 2007 for the third volume of The Brave and the Bold, resulting in many exceedingly fine modern Fights ‘n’ Tights classics, and this compilation – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – collects issues #27-33 (November 2009 – June 2010): the first seven issues scripted by TV and comics star scribe J. Michael Straczynski.

The run of easily accessible, stand-alone tales delved into some of the strangest nooks and crannies of the DCU and opens here with ‘Death of a Hero’, illustrated by Jesús Saíz wherein teenager Robby Reed visits Gotham City and soon decides to help out a Batman sorely pressed by the machinations of The Joker

The child prodigy had his own series in the 1960s as a kid who found a strange rotary device dotted with alien hieroglyphics that could temporarily transform him into a veritable army of super-beings when he dialled the English equivalents of H, E, R and O…

Here, however, after the lad dials up futuristic clairvoyant Mental Man, the visions he experiences force him to quit immediately and take to his bed…

He even forgets the Dial when he leaves, but it is soon picked up by down-&-out Travers Milton who also falls under its influence and is soon saving lives and battling beside the Dark Knight as The Star

What follows is a meteoric and tragic tale of a rise and fall…

Again limned by Saíz, B&B #28 takes us a wild trip to the ‘Firing Line’ as the Flash (Barry Allen) falls foul of a scientific experiment and winds up stranded in the middle of World War II. Injured and unable to properly use his powers, the diminished speedster is taken under the wing of legendary paramilitary aviator squadron The Blackhawks, but finds himself torn when his scruples against taking life crash into the hellish cauldron of the Battle of Bastogne and his martial love for his new comrades in arms…

Brother Power, The Geek was short-lived experimental title developed by the legendary Joe Simon at the height of the hippy-dippy 1960s (of just last week if you’re a baby booming duffer like me). He was a tailor’s mannequin mysteriously brought to life through extraordinary circumstances, just seeking his place in the world: a bizarre commentator and ultimate outsider philosophising on a world he could not understand.

That cerebral angst is tapped in ‘Lost Stories of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’ as the elemental outcast crawls out of wreckage in Gotham City and clashes with Batman as they both strive to save homeless people from authoritarian brutality and greedy arsonists. Like the times it references, this story is one you have to experience rather than read about…

Straczynski & Saíz then play fast and loose with time travel in ‘The Green and the Gold’ as mystic Lord of Order Doctor Fate is helped through an emotional rough patch by Green Lantern Hal Jordan. As a result of that unnecessary kindness the mage gets to return the favour long after his own demise at the moment the Emerald Warrior most needs a helping hand…

Illustrated by Chad Hardin & Walden Wong and Justiniano, The Brave and the Bold #31 describes the ‘Small Problems’ encountered by The Atom after Ray Palmer is asked to shrink into the synapse-disrupted brain of The Joker and perform life-saving surgery. Despite his better judgement the physicist eventually agrees, but nobody could have predicted that he would be assimilated into the maniac’s memories and be forced to relive the Killer Clown’s life…

Straczynski & Saíz reunite as sea king Aquaman and hellish warrior Etrigan the Demon combine forces in a long-standing pact to thwart a revolting Cthonic invasion of ‘Night Gods’ from a hole in bottom of the ocean before this mesmerising tome concludes with a bittersweet ‘Ladies Night’ from times recently passed, illustrated by Cliff Chiang.

When sorceress Zatanna experiences a shocking dream, she contacts Wonder Woman and Batgirl Barbara Gordon, and insists that they should join her on an evening of hedonistic excess and sisterly sharing. Only Babs is left out of one moment of revelation: what Zatanna foresaw would inescapably occur to her the next day at the hands of the Joker…

Smart, moving and potently engaging, these heroic alliances are a true treat for fans of more sophisticated costumed capers, and skilfully prepared in such a way that no great knowledge of backstory is required. Team-ups are all about finding new readers and this terrific tome is a splendid example of the trick done right…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons

By Bob Haney & Dick Dillin, Dennis O’Neil, John Calnan, Ernie Chan, Rich Buckler, Kieron Dwyer & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6968-5

Are you old enough to yearn for simpler times?

The brilliant expediency of the 52 Parallel Earths concept lends the daftest tale from DC’s back catalogue credibility and contemporary resonance since there’s now a chance that even the hippest and most happening of the modern pantheon can visit/interact with the most outrageous world or concept in DC’s long history. It doesn’t hurt either that following DC’s Rebirth reboot the actual sons of the Dark Knight and Man of Tomorrow are now part of the established – and “real” – DC Universe.

Thus, this collection (available in trade paperback and eBook editions) of well-told “imaginary” tales from the 1970s (January 1972-December 1976), supplemented by a few episodes from more self-conscious times, can be re-released with a clear continuity-conscience without even the most strident fan complaining.

Written by Bob Haney and drawn by Dick Dillin, the Super-Sons appeared with no preamble fanfare in World’s Finest Comics #215, 1972; a bad time for superhero comics, but a great era for teen rebels. Those free-wheeling, easy-rider, end of the flower-power days saw a huge focus on “teen consciousness” and the “Generation Gap” was a phrase on many lips.

The editors clearly saw a way to make arch-establishment characters instantly pertinent and relevant and – being mercifully oblivious to the constraints of continuity (and some would say logic) – simply generated tales of the maverick sons of the World’s Finest heroes out of whole cloth.

And well-constructed, well told tales they are. In debut outing ‘Saga of the Super Sons!’ (inked by Henry Scarpelli) the young warriors run away from home – on the inevitable motorcycle, natch! – and encounter a scurrilous gang-lord.

But worry not, the paternalistic parents are keeping a wary eye on the lads! Speaking as someone who was the target market for this experiment, I can admit that the parental overview grated then and still does, but as there were so many sequels somebody must have liked it.

‘Little Town with a Big Secret!’ appeared in the very next issue: another low key human interest tale, but with a science-fiction twist and the superb inking of Murphy Anderson complimenting Haney & Dillin’s murder-mystery yarn.

Crafted by the same team, WF # 221 featured ‘Cry Not for My Forsaken Son!’ which showed a troubled runaway boy the difference between merit and worth, and the value of a father as opposed to a biological parent, whilst in #222 ‘Evil in Paradise’ (inked by Vince Colletta) the young heroes voyaged to an undiscovered Eden to resolve the ancient question of whether Man is intrinsically Good or Evil.

‘The Shocking Switch of the Super-Sons’ (WF #224, and also inked by Colletta) carried teen rebellion to its most logical conclusion as a psychologist convinces the boys to temporarily trade fathers whereas ‘Crown for a New Batman!’ provides a radical change of pace as Bruce Wayne Jr. inherits the Mantle and the Mission after his father is murdered!

Never fear, all is not as it seems, fans! This thriller – guest starring Robin – first appeared in WF #228, and was inked by Tex Blaisdell, who then inked Curt Swan, on the more traditional Lost Civilisation yarn ‘The Girl Whom Time Forgot’ in WF#230.

The Relevancy Era was well over by the time Haney, Dillin & Blaisdell crafted ‘Hero is a Dirty Name’ (WF #231), wherein the Sons are forced to question the motivation for heroism, in a thriller also featuring Green Arrow and The Flash.

In #233’s ‘World Without Men ‘(inked by John Calnan) the ever-questioning rambling Super-Sons tackle sexual equality issues and unravel a crazy plot to supplant human males, after which ‘The Angel with a Dirty Name’ (by the same team in WF #238) offers a super-villains ‘n’ monsters slug-fest indistinguishable from any other super tale, before the original series ends with WF #242’s ‘Town of the Timeless Killers’ – illustrated by Ernie Chua (nee Chan) & Calnan – wherein the kids are trapped in a haunted ghost town and stalked by immortal gunslingers; an ignominious close to a bold experiment.

Four years later the boys popped back for a momentary revival in ‘Final Secret of the Super-Sons’ (Denny O’Neil, Rich Buckler & Dick Giordano in WF #263, 1980) where it was shockingly revealed that they were no more than a simulation running on Superman’s giant Computer. In a grim indication of how much of a chokehold shared continuity had grown into, they then escaped into “reality” anyway to wreak havoc in a manner the Matrix movies would be proud of…

The collection concludes with a short tale by Haney & Kieron Dwyer that appeared in Elseworlds 80-Page Giant in 1999. ‘Superman Jr. is No More!’ is a charming and fitting conclusion to this odd, charming and idiosyncratic mini-saga, embracing the original conceit as it posits what wold happen if the Man of Steel died and his boy was forced to take over too soon…

Supplemented with a full cover gallery by Nick Cardy, Chan, Calnan, Dick Giordano, Ross Andru & Ty Templeton, these classic adventures are packed with potency and wit. If you’ve an open mind and refined sense of fun, why not take a look at a few gems (and one or two duds) from an era where everybody read comics and nobody took them too seriously?
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1999, 2017 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Superman: The Man of Steel

By John Byrne & Dick Giordano (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-93028-928-7

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…

He didn’t.

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.

Legends – The 30th Anniversary Edition

By John Ostrander, Len Wein, John Byrne, Karl Kesel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6316-4

With the success of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel’s Secret Wars in the middle of the 1980s, comicbook publishers had grand dreams of regular and spectacular sales boosts, but a section of the cantankerous buying public muttered about gimmicks to make them spend more and voiced concerns about keeping the quality high.

At DC fan-interest was still fresh and keen as so many of their major properties – and indeed the entire continuity – was open for radical change, innovation and renewal. So, how best to follow the previous year’s cosmic catastrophe? Why not a much smaller and more personal Great Disaster, spotlighting those strangers wearing familiar costumes and a bunch of beginnings rather than the deaths and endings of Crisis?

Possibly the best and certainly the most cohesive of the numerous company-wide braided mega-series, Legends was a 6-issue miniseries cover-dated November 1986 through April 1987. Like its predecessor the major narrative thread spread out into other DC series, but unlike Crisis on Infinite Earths each tie-in was consecutively numbered and every pertinent cover was suitably badged. If you got ’em all you couldn’t help but read them in the right order!

The event crossed into 22 other comics and miniseries and premiered three new series, Justice League, Flash and the superb Suicide Squad. It even led to another new treatment for Billy Batson in a follow-up Shazam! miniseries whilst offering a tantalising sneak peek at the newly re-minted Wonder Woman

The drama opens in ‘Once Upon a Time…!’ as Evil New God Darkseid of Apokolips decides to attack humanity’s spirit by destroying the very concept of heroism and individuality. To this end he sends hyper-charismatic thrall Glorious Godfrey to America to lead a common man’s crusade against extraordinary heroes, whilst initiating individual plans intended to demoralize and destroy key champions of Earth. His first scalp is naïve, youthful Captain Marvel, who is deceived into believing his powers have accidentally killed an enemy after explosively confronting monstrous menace Macro-Man

As Darkseid’s flaming minion Brimstone ravages the nation – despite the best efforts of Firestorm, time-displaced Legionnaire Cosmic Boy and Justice League Detroit – the US government activates its own covert and illegal solution to the crisis.

Conceived and devised by civil servant Amanda Waller, a new Task Force X is brought into being: comprising volunteers such as Colonel Rick Flag and martial artist Bronze Tiger riding roughshod over convicted super-criminals all offered a pardon in return for secret services rendered…

As Godfrey’s influence spreads across America, inciting riots that hospitalise Boy Wonder Robin and drive Batman, Blue Beetle and Green Lantern Guy Gardner into hiding, ‘Breach of Faith!’ sees President Ronald Reagan respond to the rampant civil unrest by outlawing costumed crime-busters…

With heroes searching their consciences, unsure whether to comply or rebel, world-wide chaos ensues and Darkseid amps up the pressure. Sentient mountain of super-heated plasma Brimstone attempts to reduce national monument Mount Rushmore into molten slag only to be destroyed by America’s latest dirty secret in ‘Send for… the Suicide Squad!’

Meanwhile heartbroken Billy Batson – the juvenile alter ego of Captain Marvel – meets hero-worshipping Lisa. When her family take him in, he gains valuable insight and perspective on the ongoing calamity…

Things go from bad to worse in ‘Cry Havoc…!’ as the embargo emboldens numerous super-villains to go wild. This prompts many costumed heroes to ignore the Presidential Edict and go after them. As the Phantom Stranger faces Darkseid on Apokolips, immortal mystic Doctor Fate begins gathering select champions for the approaching final confrontation he foresees even as on Earth Godfrey makes a power grab using human-fuelled Apokoliptian Warhounds in ‘Let Slip the Dogs of War!’

All the disparate strands weave together in ‘Finale!’ as Fate’s new Justice League – aided by an enigmatic new hero calling herself Wonder Woman – stand fast against the destructive forces of anarchy: coming together to prevent the conquest of Mankind and erasure of its most vital beliefs…

The enthralling tale re-presented here can comfortably be read without the assorted spin-offs, crossovers and tie-ins, and it still feels like a magnificent mission statement for that new DC Universe: gritty, witty, cohesive and contemporary.

John Ostrander was new to DC, lured from Chicago’s First Comics with editor Mike Gold where their work on Starslayer, Munden’s Bar and especially Grimjack had made those independent minnows some of the most readable series of the decade.

Paired with veteran scripter Len Wein, whose familiarity with the DC stable ensured the scripts would have the right company flavour, they concocted a bold and controversial tale for super-star Superman re-creator John Byrne to draw and the immensely talented Karl Kesel to ink.

This 30th Anniversary edition (available in Trade paperback and eBook editions) comes with an informative Afterword from Mike Gold and full cover-gallery – including the original trade paperback collection cover – but regrettably neglects to retain the cover reproductions of each out-rider instalment of the greater story, as seen in the first edition. Should you feel like tracking down those missing components you’ll need to play comics detective on fan sites…

Who knows, maybe for the 40th Anniversary, DC will release a humongous, all-inclusive Absolute Omnibus Edition? Until then, why not simply kick back and enjoy an awesome slice of fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and fury?
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