Superman in the Fifties


By Robert Bernstein, Otto Binder, Jerry Coleman, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, William Woolfolk, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Win Mortimer, Kurt Schaffenberger, Stan Kaye, Ray Burnley, Sy Barry & various (DDC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0758-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

In the early years of this century, DC launched a series of graphic archives intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades: delivering magnificent past comic book magic from the Forties to the Seventies via a tantalisingly nostalgic blast of other – arguably better, but certainly different – times. The collections carried the cream of the creative crop, divided into subsections, partitioned by cover galleries, and supplemented by short commentaries; a thoroughly enjoyable introductory reading experience. I prayed for more but was frustrated… until now…

First in a trilogy of trade paperbacks – the others being Batman and Wonder Woman (thus far, but hopefully Aquaman, Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter are in contention too, as they have become such big shot screen stars these days) – the experiment is being re-run, including even more inviting wonders from the company’s amazing, family-friendly canon.

Gathered here is an expanded menu of delights adding to that of the 2002 edition, and even rerunning Mark Waid’s original context-stuffed Introduction.

The stories originated in Action Comics #151, 162, 223, 232, 234, 236, 239, 242, 247, 249, 252, 254-255; Adventure Comics #210; Showcase #9; Superman #65, 79-80, 96-97, 118, 125, 127, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #8; Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #13, 19 and World’s Finest Comics #68, 74, 75 which span the entire decade as the Adventures of Superman TV show propelled the Man of Tomorrow to even greater heights of popularity.

Supported by the first of a series of factual briefings, the collection leads with Part One: Classic Tales, opening on ‘Three Supermen from Krypton!’ Written by William Woolfolk and illustrated by Al Plastino (one of a talented triumvirate who absolutely defined the hero during this decade), it originated in Superman #65, (July/August 1950): a classy clash revealing unknown facts about Superman’s vanished homeworld. It also provided the increasingly untouchable champion with a much needed physical challenge after a capsule containing three comatose Kryptonian lawbreakers crashes on Earth and the inmates suddenly discover they have incredible powers…

Woolfolk and paramount art team Wayne Boring (peak of that triumvirate) & inker Stan Kaye probed outer space to provide another daunting threat in ‘The Menace from the Stars!’ (World’s Finest Comics #68, January/February 1954). However, all was not as it seemed in this quirky mystery, as a brush with a Green Kryptonite-infused asteroid gave the Man of Steel amnesia. Happily, before he could inadvertently expose his secret identity, another sudden impact set things aright…

Bill Finger, Boring & Kaye crafted ‘The Girl Who Didn’t Believe in Superman!’: a fanciful yet evocative human interest tale typical of the era and sorely missed in modern, adrenaline-drenched times. Cover-dated March 1955, the tearjerker from Superman #96 shared the tribulations of a blind child losing hope and is followed by a previously unseen entry.

‘It!’ debuted in Action Comics #162 (November 1951 by Finger, Boring & Kaye): an early alien-menace-with-a-moral yarn depicting a destructive rainbow-hued enigma terrorising Metropolis until the Man of Steel deduces the thing’s incredible secret.

Superman #97 (May 1955) carried Jerry Coleman, Boring & Kaye’s canonical landmark ‘Superboy’s Last Day in Smallville!’, revealing the previously unseen rite of passage by way of exposing a crook’s decades-delayed masterplan, after which Action Comics #239 exposes ‘Superman’s New Face’ (April 1958) – courtesy of famed pulp writer Edmond Hamilton, Boring & Kaye. When an atomic lab accident deforms Superman to the point that he must wear a full-face lead mask, there is – of course – method in his seeming madness…

The  first section closes with a tale from one of the many spin-off titles of the period – and one that gives many 21st century readers a few uncontrollable qualms of conscience. Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane was one of precious few comics with a female lead, but her character ranged erratically from man-hungry, unscrupulous schemer through ditzy simpleton to indomitable and brilliant heroine – often all in the same issue.

Most stories were played for laughs in a patriarchal, parochial manner; a “gosh, aren’t women funny?” tone that appals me today – but not as much as the fact that I still love them to bits. It helps that they’re all so beautifully illustrated by sublimely whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger. ‘The Ugly Superman!’ comes from #8 (April 1959), revealing how a costumed wrestler falls for Lois, giving the Caped Kryptonian another chance for some pretty unpleasant Super-teasing. It was written by the veteran Robert Bernstein, who – unlike me – can cite the tenor of the times as his excuse.

As the franchise expanded, so did the character roster and internal history. Part Two: The Superman Family is dedicated to our hero’s ever-extending supporting cast, leading with ‘Superman’s Big Brother!’ (Superman #80, January/February 1953). Scripted by Hamilton and limned by Plastino, it sees a wandering super-powered alien mistaken for a sibling, before an incredible truth comes out. It’s followed here by previously unreprinted tale ‘The First Superman of Krypton’ (Hamilton, Boring & Kaye, Action Comics #223, December 1956) with Superman finding video records from his birthworld and learning how – and why – his father Jor-El briefly enjoyed powers under a red sun…

Next comes the introduction of a genuine new family member. After the Man of Tomorrow made his mark as Earth’s premier champion, his originators took a long look and reasoned that a different perspective could provide a fresh look. What would it be like for a fun-loving lad who could do literally anything?

Answers came as Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – following years agitating their publisher – unleashed Superboy: inventing and/or fleshing out doomed Krypton, Kal-El’s early years, foster parents and a childhood full of fun and incident. The experiment was a huge hit and the lad swiftly bounced into the lead spot of Adventure Comics and – in 1949 – his own title: living a life forever set 20 years behind his adult counterpart.

Encountering crooks, monsters, aliens, other super kids, school woes and the suspicions of girl-next-door Lana Lang, the Boy of Steel enjoyed an eventful, wonderful life which only got better in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955), as Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Sy Barry introduced a wayward, mischievous and dangerously playful canine companion who had survived Krypton’s doom due to a freak accident in ‘The Super-Dog from Krypton!’.

Krypto had been baby Kal-El’s pet on Krypton before being used by desperate Jor-El as a test animal for the space rocket he was building. The dog’s miraculous arrival on Earth more than a decade later heralded a wave of survivors from the dead world over the latter part of the decade: all making Superboy less lonely and unique. Every kid needs a dog…

Fresh additions follow, beginning with ‘The Story of Superman, Junior’ (Action Comics #232, September 1959, by Coleman, Boring & Kaye) which sees the Man of Tomorrow adopt a super-powered lad whose space capsule crashes outside the city. However, Johnny Kirk is human, vanished from Earth years previously and his strangely familiar origin and eager inexperience poses an existential threat after the hero adopts him…

Cover-dated December 1958, Action Comics #247 details how an insidious criminal scheme to expose the hero’s secret identity prompts an extreme face-saving solution in Binder & Plastino’s ‘Superman’s Lost Parents!’ before we reach the landmark which, more than any other, moved Superman from his timeless Golden Age holdover status to become a vibrant part of the DC Silver Age revival. It came in in Action Comics #252 (May 1959) as ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’ introduced cousin Kara Zor-El, born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was somehow hurled intact into space when the planet exploded.

There had been a few intriguing test-runs before the future star of the ever-expanding Superman universe finally took off, but now the stage was set.

Eventually, Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents – observing Earth through their scopes – sent their daughter to safety as they perished. Landing on Earth, she met Kal-El, who created her cover-identity of Linda Lee: hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale so she could learn about her new world and master her new powers in secrecy and safety. This time the concept struck home and the teenaged refugee began her lengthy career as a solo-star from the very next issue.

This section ends with another popular animal guest-star who was also one of the most memorable recurring super-foes of the period. ‘Titano the Super-Ape!’ debuted in Superman #127 (February 1959): a chimpanzee mutated into a Kryptonite-empowered King Kong analogue after being launched into space by rocket scientists. The chimp’s devotion to Lois and big hatred for the Man of Steel were unchanged in the aftermath, and as a skyscraper-sized giant ape with kryptonite vision, he became too dangerous to live. Thankfully, the Action Ace found another way in this beloved masterpiece by Binder, Boring & Kaye combining action, pathos and drama to superb effect.

Part Three: The Villains highlights our hero’s greatest enemies, leading with a team-up of The Prankster, Lex Luthor and extra-dimensional sprite Mr. Mxyztplk in a tale more mirthful mystery than moment of menace and mayhem. Devised by Hamilton, Boring & Kaye from Action Comics #151, December, 1950) ‘Superman’s Super-Magic Show!’ is followed by ‘The Creature of 1,000 Disguises!’ (Action Comics #234, November 1957) by the same team, with the hero plagued by a shapeshifting alien whose idea of fun is juvenile, frustrating and potentially catastrophic.

Superman #118 (January 1958) sees an uncredited writer & Plastino detail ‘The Death of Superman!’  as a fake Man of Steel tricks Lois in an attempt to secure damaging evidence after which Binder, Boring & Kaye reveal ‘Superman’s New Uniform!’ (Action Comics #236, January 1958) as a deadly plot by Luthor to destroy his arch enemy.

Binder & Plastino introduced both the greatest new villain and most expansive character concept the series had yet seen in Action Comics #242, (July 1958) as ‘The Super-Duel in Space’ saw evil alien scientist Brainiac attempt to add Metropolis to his menagerie of miniaturised cities in bottles.

As well as a titanic tussle in its own right, this tale completely changed the mythology of the Man of Steel: introducing Kandor, a city full of Kryptonians who had escaped the planet’s destruction when Brainiac captured them. Although Superman rescued his fellow survivors, the new villain escaped to strike again and again. It would be years before the hero restored the Kandorians to their original size.

Action Comics #249, (February 1959) sees Luthor deliberately irradiate himself with Green K to avoid capture in Binder & Plastino’s ‘The Kryptonite Man!’, but his evil genius proves no match for our hero’s sharp wits, used with equal aplomb in ‘The Battle with Bizarro!’ (Action #254, July 1959) by the same creative team. This story actually re-introduced the imperfect duplicate, who had initially appeared in a well-received story in Superboy #68, from 1958. Even way back then, sales trumped death…

The Frankensteinian doppelganger was resurrected thanks to Luthor’s malfunctioning duplicator ray and Bizarro’s well-intentioned search for a place in the world caused chaos, exacerbated when the lonely monster used the device to make more of his kind. The saga was continued over two issues – an almost unheard of luxury back then – concluding with outrageous empathy in ‘The Bride of Bizarro!’ (#255, August 1959).

Final section Part Four: Superman’s Pals stems largely from that epochal television show, which made most of the supporting cast into household names., but begins with an early exploit of the “World’s Finest Team” from World’s Finest Comics #74, January/February 1955. The great friends’ solidarity is upset after a shapeshifting alien orchestrates a manic rivalry but ‘The Contest of Heroes’ (Finger, Swan & Kaye) is not what it seems…

Superman #79 (November/December 1952) has Hamilton & Plastino depict how a corrupt publisher seeks ‘The End of the Planet!’ but is outfoxed by the dedication of the reporters he made jobless whilst ‘Superman and Robin!’ is a classic bait-and-switch teaser from WFC #75 (March/April 1955), wherein a disabled Batman can only fret and fume as his erstwhile assistant seemingly dumps him for a better man. I’m sure Finger, Swan & Kaye knew that no-one would believe that they had really broken-up the Batman/Boy Wonder team, but the reason for the ploy is a killer….

The Adventures of Superman television show launched in the autumn of 1952, adopting its name from the long-running radio serial that preceded it. It was a monolithic hit of the still young medium and National Periodicals began tentatively expanding their increasingly valuable franchise with new characters and titles. First up were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of that rash, capable but naïve photographer and “cub reporter” from the Daily Planet. The solo-career of the first spin-off star from the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage began with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, which launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date. Here, ‘The Stolen Superman Signal’ (#13, June 1956, by Binder, Swan & Ray Burnley) perfectly displays the lad’s pluck and aura of light-hearted whimsy that distinguished the early stories when  criminals target the cub reporter’s secret weapon: a wristwatch emitting a hypersonic sound only the Action Ace an hear…

The Planet’s top female reporter also got her own comic book thanks to TV exposure, but it took another three years for the cautious Editors to tentatively push that boat out again. In 1957, just as the Silver Age was getting going, try-out title Showcase – which had launched The Flash  in #4 & 8) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6 & 7) – followed up with a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. Soon after they awarded the “plucky News-hen” a series of her own. Technically it was her second, following a brief mid-1940s string of solo tales in Superman.

From Showcase #9 (June/July 1957) ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past!’ is by Coleman & Plastino, introducing an adult Lana Lang as a rival for superman’s affections and beginning decades of sparring that led to many a comic-book catfight…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #19 (March 1957, by Binder, Swan & Burnley) contributed comedy classic ‘Superman’s Kid Brother’ as major head trauma convinces the cub reporter that he is also superpowered and cruel circumstance keeps that misapprehension alive long past the point where his life is endangered…

The last tale in this section – and the volume – is ‘Superman’s New Power!’ by Coleman, Boring & Kaye from Superman #125 (November 1958). Here an uncanny accident grants the Man of Steel new and incomprehensible abilities with catastrophic consequences…

Also including an extensive cover gallery by Plastino, Boring, Swan, Win Mortimer, Kaye & Burnley, and extensive creator Biographies, this is a wonderful slice of comics history, refreshing, comforting and compelling. Any fan or newcomer will delight in this primer into the ultimate icon of Truth Justice and The American Way.
© 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman’s Greatest Team-Ups


By Mike W. Barr, Cary Bates, E. Nelson Bridwell, Gary Cohn, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Paul Levitz, Dan Mishkin, Denny O’Neil, Martin Pasko, Len Wein, Murphy Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dick Dillin, Don Heck, Alex Saviuk, Jim Starlin, Joe Staton, Curt Swan, Rick Veitch & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0486-9 (HB/Digital edition)

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero, the only thing they wants is to see how the new gaudy gladiator stacks up against the first one. From the earliest days of the comics industry (and according to DC Comics Presents editor Julie Schwartz it was the same with the pulps and dime novels that preceded it) we’ve wanted our idols to meet, associate, battle together – and if you follow the Timely/Marvel model, that means against each other – far more than we want to see them trounce their archenemies in a united front…

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was far from new when DC awarded their then-biggest gun. DCCP was launched in the publicity-drenched weeks preceding the release of Superman: The Movie: a regular arena to have adventures with other stars of their firmament, just as the Gotham Guardian had been doing since the mid-1960s in The Brave and the Bold.

In truth, the Action Ace had already enjoyed the serial sharing experience once before, when World’s Finest Comics briefly ejected the Caped Crusader and Superman battled beside a coterie of heroes including Flash, Robin, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Dr. Fate and others (issues #198-214; November 1970 to October/November 1972) before the original status quo was re-established.

This is something of a companion volume to the previously published Adventures of Superman: José Luis García-López volume 1, in that it also publishes team-ups from DC Comics Presents, but these are stories he didn’t illustrate. Instead. a host of talented individuals devised fun, thrilling and even amusing adventures represented here by material from DCCP #5, 9-10, 12, 14, 19, 28, 30, 35, 38-39, 45, 50, 58, 63, 67, 71 and 97, spanning January 1979 to September 1986. The stories are augmented by covers by Ross Andru, Dick Giordano, Dick Dillin, Jim Starlin, Rich Buckler, Steve Mitchell, George Pérez, Frank Giacoia, Gil Kane, Ernie Colón, José Luis García-López, Eduardo Barreto, Rick Veitch & Bob Smith.

We begin with Sea King Aquaman who is embroiled in ‘The War of the Undersea Cities’ (by Len Wein, Paul Levitz & Murphy Anderson) when his subjects re-open ancient hostilities with the mer-folk of undersea neighbour Tritonis, home of Superman’s old college girlfriend Lori Lemaris. Fortunately, cooler heads prevail when Ocean Master is revealed to be meddling in their sub-sea politics…

Next, Marty Pasko, Joe Staton & Jack Abel expose the ‘Invasion of the Ice People!’ (#9, May 1979) wherein Wonder Woman assists in repelling an attack by malign disembodied intellects before a 2-part tale commences with ‘The Miracle Man of Easy Company’ (Cary Bates, Staton & Abel, #10, June)…

When a super-bomb blasts Superman back to World War II it results in a momentous meeting with indomitable everyman soldier Sgt. Rock and a battle that changes the course of the war.

Cover-dated August 1979, DCCP #12 offered a duel between the Action Ace and New God Mister Miracle in ‘Winner Take Metropolis’ – by Steve Englehart, Buckler & Giordano before Levitz finishes a time-travel epic not actually included here. That ambitious continued epic saw the Legion of Super-Heroes stop Superman saving a little boy from alien abduction to preserve the integrity of the time-line. It didn’t help that the lad was Jon Ross, son of Clark Kent’s oldest friend and most trusted confidante…

Deranged by loss, Pete Ross here risks the destruction of all reality by enlisting the aid of Superboy to battle his older self in ‘Judge, Jury… and No Justice!’ (Levitz, Dillin & Giordano from October 1979 cover-dated DCCP #14, whilst March 1980 saw Batgirl help solve eerie mystery ‘Who Haunts This House?’ (by Dennis O’Neil, Staton & Frank Chiaramonte) before we catapult to #28 and the concluding chapter of a cosmic epic which involved Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz, and the debut of intergalactic brute Mongul.

Here the aftermath of the affair sees Supergirl join her Kryptonian cousin in scouring the cosmos for the vanished tyrant and ancient doom weapon ‘Warworld!’ (Wein, Jim Starlin & Romeo Tanghal). Unfortunately, once they found it, Mongul unleashed all its resources to destroy his annoying adversaries and in the resultant cataclysm the mobile gun-planet was demolished. The resultant detonation blasted Kara Zor-El literally out of existence…

Issue #30 (February 1981) saw Black Canary plagued by nightmares starring her deceased husband, but upon closer investigation Superman proved that diabolical Dr. Destiny was behind ‘A Dream of Demons!’, whilst some semblance of sanity returned in #35 (July) as Superman and Man-Bat hunted for ‘The Metamorphosis Machine!’ (Pasko, Swan & Vince Colletta) which might save chiropterist Kirk Langstrom’s baby daughter from death. All they had to do was beat murderous maniac Atomic Skull and his minions to the device…

DC Comics Presents #38 (October) united Man of Steel and Fastest Man Alive as an extra-dimensional tyrant attempted to foment a high velocity war between Earth’s fastest heroes in ‘Stop the World – I Want to Get Off Go Home!’ (Pasko & Don Heck), after which #39 catapulted Superman into the weirdest case of his career as he and Plastic Man trailed ‘The Thing That Goes Woof in the Night!’ (Pasko, Staton & Smith) to a Toymakers Convention where third-rate super-villains Fliptop and Dollface were trying to rob freshly reformed, barely recovering maniac Toyman…

Firestorm the Nuclear Man stole the show in #45 (May 1982) as Gerry Conway, Buckler & Smith teamed him and Superman against terrorist Kriss-Kross – who took over the nation’s electronic military defences to implement ‘The Chaos Network’.

The anniversary DC Comics Presents #50 (October) features ‘When You Wish Upon a Planetoid!’ by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Swan & Kurt Schaffenberger, which saw a cosmic calamity split Superman and Clark Kent into separate entities…

Courtesy of Mike W. Barr, Swan & Dave Hunt, Robin and Elongated Man joined the Action Ace in #58 (June 1983) to foil devious tech-savvy bandits employing ‘The Deadly Touch of the Intangibles’ after which overnight sensation Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld and the Man of Steel battled debase extradimensional tyrant Black Opal in #63 (November 1983).

Scripted by Mishkin & Cohn, ‘Worlds to Conquer!’ was illustrated by Alex Saviuk, Colón, Smith & Gary Martin, capitalising on the contemporary fad for fantasy, with an Earth-raised magical alien princess helping save humanity from roaming space-warps, super-criminals and her personal pantheon of mystic miscreants…

Cover-dated March 1984, DCCP #67 proffered traditional seasonal fare from Wein, E. Nelson Bridwell and veteran Superman dream team Swan & Anderson. ‘Twas the Fright Before Christmas!’ finds maniacal original Toyman Winslow Schott seeking to sabotage festivities and a debilitated Man of Tomorrow teaming with a hairy bearded guy in a red suit…

Hunt substituted for Anderson in #71’s ‘The Mark of Bizarro!’ (July 1984) as Superman joins his zany doppelganger to save square planet Htrae and embattled Earth from a bizarro version of power-parasite Amazo. Ultimately, it comes down to Bizarro employing his wits to win!…

We close with the final story in DC Comics Presents’ run.

In 1986 DC celebrated its 50th year with the groundbreaking Crisis on Infinite Earths: radically overhauling its convoluted multiversal continuity and starting afresh. In the aftermath of making many planes into one singular universe, all Superman titles were cancelled or suspended pending a back-to-basics reboot courtesy of John Byrne. The process allowed opportunity for a number of very special farewells to the old mythology…

One of the most intriguing and challenging came in the last issue (#97, September 1986) wherein Steve Gerber, Rick Veitch & Smith offered a creepy adieu to many of Superman’s greatest foes in ‘Phantom Zone: the Final Chapter’…

Tracing Jor-El’s discovery of the Phantom Zone through to the imminent end of the multiverse, this dark yarn built on Gerber’s potent miniseries The Phantom Zone, revealing the dread region of nothingness was in fact the sentient echo of a dead universe which had always regarded the creatures deposited within it as irritants and agonising intruders.

Now, as cosmic carnage reigned, Aethyr, served by Kryptonian mage Thul-Kar, caused the destruction of Bizarro World Htrae and deification/corruption of Fifth Dimensional pest Mr. Mxyzptlk, as well as the subsequent crashing of Krypton’s Argo City on Metropolis.

As a result, General Zod and his fellow immaterial inmates were liberated to wreak havoc upon Earth – but only until the now-crystalline pocket dimension merged with and absorbed the felons before implausibly abandoning Superman to face his uncertain future as the very Last Son of Krypton…

Designed as introductions to lesser-known DC stars, these tales are wonderfully accessible to newcomers and readers unfamiliar with burdensome continuity. They provide an ideal jumping on point for anybody who just wants a few moments of easy comic book fun and thrills.

These short, pithy adventures were and remain a perfect shop window for DC’s fascinating catalogue of characters and creators. DC Comics Presents delivered a breadth and variety of self-contained and satisfying entertainments ranging from the merely excellent to utterly indispensable. This book is a perfect introduction to the DC Universe for every kid of any age and another delightful slice of captivating Costumed Dramas from simpler, more inviting times…
© 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tails of the Super-Pets


By Jerry Siegel, Robert Bernstein, Otto Binder, Leo Dorfman, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, William Moulton Marston, Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney, Pete Costanza, John Forte, Ramona Fradon, Sheldon Moldoff, George Papp, Harry G. Peter, Sy Barry, Stan Kaye, George Klein, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1779513397 (TPB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time, comics embraced whimsy as much as angst, spectacle, sex and violence – so much so, that superheroes had pets for partners. Now there’s a movie about super-pets. You don’t have to like the notion, but plenty of us do.

Once upon another time, in the far future, a band of super-powered kids from dozens of alien civilisations took inspiration from the legend of the greatest champion of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day, those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited that legend to join them…

That’s how the tomorrow teen superstars started, courtesy of writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino in early 1958. The monumental assemblage’s popularity waxed and waned over decades and they were regularly reimagined and rebooted, but that core dream of empowered children was evergreen and proliferated. As their fame grew, the squad diversified, adding a Legion Espionage Squad, an evil Legion of Super-Villains, a Legion of Substitute Heroes ad infinitum…

DC had long exploited the attractions of bestial stars of fang and claw. Many Golden Age heroes had animal assistants and allies (like Dr. Mid-Nite’s owl Hooty, Airwave’s parrot Static and canine champions Elmo (Doll Man), and Thor (the Dan Richards Manhunter) among too many to mention. Streak the Wonder Dog actually ousted the original Green Lantern from his own comic book.

In the 1950s, Rex the Wonder Dog had his own long-running, astonishingly daft but beautifully illustrated title, with the majority of issues also featuring beloved hairy gumshoe Detective Chimp. Moreover, every newly-popular western star (and a few war heroes) who took the place of the declining superhero population had weaponised dogs, birds and especially horses to aid and augment their crusades for justice.

However, not all mystery men and women faded away. Wonder Woman and Batman and Robin weathered the hostile environment, and the Superman franchise grew exponentially -thanks to a hit movie, landmark TV series and continued radio and newspaper presence.

…And one day someone at National/DC said, “you what else kids like? Animals…”

That led to a slow trickle of empowered animals popping up across the Kryptonian end of DC’s landscape, and a few other incidental animal antics in the lives of many superheroes who survived on the coattails of the “Trinity” – particularly Aquaman (who’s cruelly underrepresented here, since his whole schtick was underwater “stupid pet tricks”…)

If you are a purist, there’s a lot you won’t like here – not the stories: those are still immaculately conceived and delivered, but the running order (not chronological, leading to some jarring moments, especially for Supergirl who seemingly goes from orphan to adopted back to the institution), and possibly the fact that – technically – many of the critters romping here were not in the actual Legion of Super-Pets (or in fact the forthcoming movie, which remakes the brilliant beasts into a “League”). I guess that just means we can look forward to a 75-year Celebration archival edition just for Krypto in 2025….

Here Endeth the Lesson: let’s talk about fun now.

What we do have on offer today is a joyously bright and bold compendium of charming adventure and repercussion-free thrills comprising mad moments from Action Comics #261, 266, 277, 292, 293, Adventure Comics #210, 256, 293, 322, 364, Batman #125, Superboy #76, Superman #176 and Wonder Woman #23, spanning 1947-1968 and adorned where applicable with covers by Curt, Swan with Stan Kaye & George Klein and H.G. Peter.

I’ve rambled on and indulged myself because there’s no introduction or context-delivering text so you can start well-briefed with the truly delightful Supergirl short from Action Comics #277 (June 1961) Crafted by Jerry Siegel & Jim Mooney, ‘The Battle of the Super-Pets!’ finds her cat Streaky typically envious of attention the teenager pays to sneaky ingratiating mutt Krypto. When Superman suggests they compete for her attentions to prove who’s best (no, really!), they choose the most unlucky locale for their arena…

That’s followed by Siegel & Mooney’s debut tail (sorry, not sorry) from Action Comics #261 (February 1960) which introduces the homeless earth stray, revealing how Streaky becomes, at irregular intervals ‘Supergirl’s Super-Pet!’…

The next tale is where we should have started as Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955) introduces ‘The Super-Dog from Krypton!’

After the Man of Tomorrow had made his mark as Earth’s premier champion, his originators took a long look and reasoned that a very different tone could offer a fresh look. What would it be like for a fun-loving lad who could do literally anything?

The answer came as Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – after years of agitating the publisher – unleashed the concept of Superboy: fleshing out doomed Krypton, Kal-El’s early years, foster parents and a childhood full of fun and incident. The experiment was a huge hit and the lad swiftly bounced into the lead slot of Adventure Comics and – in 1949 – his own title: living a life forever set 20 years behind his adult counterpart.

Encountering crooks, monsters, aliens, other super kids, school woes and the suspicions of girl-next-door Lana Lang, Superboy enjoyed an eventful, wonderful life which only got better in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955), as Otto Binder, Swan & Sy Barry introduced a waywardly mischievous and dangerously playful canine companion who had survived Krypton’s doom due to a freak accident. Krypto had been Kal-El’s pet on Krypton and used by Jor-El in desperation as a test animal for the space rocket he was building.

The dog’s miraculous arrival on Earth after years heralded a wave of survivors from the dead world over the latter part of the decade: all making Superboy feel less lonely and unique. Every boy needs a dog…

One of those latter additions debuted in Superboy #76, (December 1958) wherein by Binder & George Papp introduced ‘The Super Monkey from Krypton!’: one of Jor-El’s lab animals who had escaped and hidden in the baby’s spaceship. Hey, the world was ending: who had time to police lab specimens?

Dubbed “Beppo”, the super-monkey spent months in Earth’s jungles before accidentally finding Smallville and making life uncomfortable for toddler Clark Kent…

Set after she had been adopted and become a public hero rather than clandestine secret weapon, Action Comics #292 and 293 (September & October 1963) saw Supergirl acquire a mysterious new animal accomplice in the first two chapters of a trilogy by Leo Dorfman & Mooney. The extended storyline began when the typical (albeit invulnerable) teen got a new “pet”. ‘The Super-Steed of Steel!’ was a beautiful white horse who helped her stave off an alien invasion, but the creature had a bizarre and mysterious past, revealed in ‘The Secret Origin of Supergirl’s Super-Horse!’ as his being a magically transformed centaur from ancient Greece. Sadly, the resolution of this this tryptic (‘The Mutiny of Super-Horse’) is not included here…

Briefly digressing, what follows is a short saga of a non-powered animal marvel as Batman #125 (August 1959) details ‘The Secret Life of Bat-Hound!’ by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris. For no reason I could possibly speculate upon, Ace the Bat-Hound debuted in Batman #92 (June 1955), by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris: a distinctive German shepherd temporally adopted by Bruce Wayne when John Wilker (Ace’s owner) was abducted. A skilled tracker with distinctive facial markings, the pooch inserted himself into the case repeatedly, forcing the Dynamic Duo to mask him up whilst they sought his abducted master and foiled a criminal plot. Like Krypto, Ace reappeared intermittently until Wayne stopped borrowing him and just adopted the amazing mutt.

Here, the original creative team have Ace narrate how that adoption happened in ‘The Secret Life of Bat-Hound’ (Batman #125, August 1959), and include his crucial part in capturing the nefarious gold-obsessed Midas Gang…

William Moulton Marston & Harry G. Peter convey us to Princess Diana’s childhood as Wonder Woman #23 (June 1947) reveals – via home movies of her seventh birthday – how mighty space-hopping marsupials migrated to Paradise Island and changed Amazon battle tactics forever in ‘Wonder Woman and the Coming of the Kangas!’ after which Adventure Comics #256 (January 1959) details  ‘The Ordeal of Aquaman’ as he is trapped in a desert and saved from dehydrating doom by his faithful octopus Topo in a smartly inventive yarn from Robert Bernstein & Ramona Fradon.

The Supergirl tale in Action Comics #266 (July 1960, by Siegel, & Mooney) sees ‘The World’s Mightiest Cat!’ Streaky inadvertently contribute to the isolation of an orphan boy with a reputation for tall tales before Krypto and the Maid of Might make everything right whilst Adventure Comics #293 (February 1962) delivers a gripping landmark thriller from Siegel, Swan & George Klein.

‘The Legion of Super-Traitors’ posits human Legionnaires abruptly turning evil, prompting Saturn Girl to recruit a Legion of Super-Pets comprising Krypto, Streaky, Beppo and Comet to save the world from mind-controlling alien brains in floating glass jars – and yes, I typed all that with a reasonably straight face…

After the human Legion won their own regular series, the animal brigade were ratified and rewarded with their own branch, and Adventure Comics #322 (July 1964, by Edmond Hamilton, John Forte & Moldoff) saw them expand their roster in ‘The Super-Tests of the Super-Pets!’: a sheer bonkers slice of fun-filled futurism wherein the animal companions were left to guard Earth as the biped players pursued the elusive Time Trapper.

When Chameleon Boy’s shapeshifting (and fully sapient) pet Proty II applied to join the bestial bunch, they gave him a series of extremely difficult qualification tasks …which they breezed through…

A long-neglected tale follows as ‘The Revenge of the Super-Pets!’ (Superman #176, April 1965 by Dorfman, Swan & Klein) sees the a beast brood join the Human of Steel in a time travel jaunt that solves a legal mystery and explains how the growth of modern animal rights began!

Wrapping up with a more dramatic romp from Adventure Comics #364 (January 1968), ‘The Revolt of the Super-Pets!’ is by Jim Shooter & Pete Costanza: a gripping two-parter that depicts how the crafty rulers of planet Thanl attempted to seduce animal adventurers Krypto, Streaky, Beppo, Comet and amorphous telepathic blob Proty II from their rightful – subordinate – positions with sweet words and palatial new homes.

Of course, the aliens had a cunning scheme in play, but failed to realise these were not dumb animals…

Brilliantly reviving the beguiling innocence of the Silver Age for new, fun-seeking generations, this article of animalistic arcana is an unadulterated frolic to stir the elderly like me and enchant the newest DC disciples. Fetch!
© 1947, 1955, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1968, 2022 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Infinite Earths


By Marv Wolfman & George Pérez, with Jerry Ordway, Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo & various (DC Comics) 
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5841-2 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-56389-750-4 (TPB) 

Once more I’m compelled to dash out another swiftly modified reprinted review to mark the passing of one of our industry and art form’s most prolific and irreplaceable master creators. George Pérez died on May 6th from the complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 67 years old.  

His triumphs as penciller, writer and an always in-demand inker made him a force to be reckoned with and earned a vast number of awards in a career spanning almost fifty years. Pérez worked for dozens of publishers large and small; self-published his own creations, redeemed and restored many moribund characters and features (like the (New) Teen Titans), Nightwing and Wonder Woman) and co-created many breakthrough characters such as The White Tiger (first Puerto Rican superhero), The Maestro, Deathstroke the Terminator, Terra, The Monitor and Anti-Monitor.  

He will be most warmly remembered for his incredible facility in portraying big teams and cataclysmic events. Pérez probably drew every DC and Marvel superhero of his era, with major runs on The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes and numerous iterations of Teen Titans as well as stints on The Inhumans, X-Men, JSA, All-Star Squadron, Thunderbolts and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. He will be immortalised for the comic book series covered below. A fuller appreciation will follow as soon as I can sort it… 

In 1985 the Editorial Powers-That-Be at DC Comics were about to celebrate fifty years of publishing, and enjoying a creative upswing that had been a long time coming. A crucial part of the festivities, and purported attempt to simplify five decades of often conflicting stories, was a truly epic year-long saga that would impact every single DC title and reconstruct the entire landscape and history of the DC Universe, with an appearance – however brief – by every character the company had ever published. Easy-peasy, Huh? 

Additionally, this new start would seek to end an apparent confusion of multiple Earths with similarly named and themed heroes. This – it had been decided – was deterring (sic) new readers. Happily, since then (primarily thanks to movie rom-coms like Sliding Doors) we’ve all become well aware of string theory and parallel universes and can revel in the most basic TV show or kids cartoon proffering the concept of multiples incidences of me and you… 

Way back then, the result of those good intentions was a groundbreaking 12-part miniseries that spearheaded a vast crossover event: eventually culminating in a hefty graphic novel collection (plus latterly three companion volumes reprinting all the crossovers). 

The experiment was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and enabled the company to reinvigorate many of their most cherished properties: many of which had been in dire need or some regeneration and renewal. Many fans would argue that DC have been trying to change it back ever since… 

Plotted long in advance of launch, threads and portents appeared for months in DC’s regular titles, mostly regarding a mysterious arms-and-information broker known as The Monitor. With his beautiful assistant Lyla Michaels/Harbinger he had been gauging each and every being on Earths beyond counting with a view to saving all of Reality. At this juncture, that consisted of uncountable variations of universes existing “side-by-side”, each exhibiting differences varying from minor to monumental.  

Building on long-established continuity collaborators Marv Wolfman and George Pérez – aided and abetted by Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo and Jerry Ordway – began by tweaking things fans knew before taking them on a journey nobody anticipated… It transpired that at the very beginning of time an influence from the future caused Reality to fracture. Rogue Guardian of the Universe Krona obsessively sought to unravel the secret of creation and his probing cause a perfect singular universe to shatter into innumerable self-perpetuating cracked reflections of itself… 

Now, a wave of antimatter scythes through the Cosmic All, eradicating these separate universes. Before each Armageddon, a tormented immortal named Pariah materialises on an inhabited but doomed world of each Existence. As the story opens, he arrives on an Earth, as its closest dimensional neighbours are experiencing monumental geo-physical disruptions. It’s the end of the World, but The Monitor has a plan. It involves death on a mammoth scale, sacrifice beyond measure, a gathering of the best and worst beings of the surviving Earths and the remaking of time itself to deflect cosmic catastrophe and defeat the being that caused it… 

Action is tinged with tragedy as many major heroic figures – from the nondescript and forgotten to high, mighty and grand – perish valiantly, falling in apparently futile struggle to preserve some measure of life from the doomed multiverse. 

Full of plot twists and intrigue, this cosmic comicbook spectacle set the benchmark for all future crossover events, not just DC’s, and is still a qualitative high point seldom reached and never yet surpassed. As well as being a superb blockbuster in its own right and accessible to even the greenest neophyte reader, it is the foundation of all DC’s in-continuity stories since 1985, the basis of a TV phenomenon and absolutely vital reading.  

More than any other work in a truly stellar career, Crisis on Infinite Earths is the magnum opus George Pérez will be remembered for: It might not be fair, but it’s inescapably true… 
© 1985, 1986, 2001, 2008, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. 

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade


By Landry Q. Walker, Eric Jones & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0670-2 (

As a rule, superhero comics don’t generally do whimsically thrilling anymore. They especially don’t do short or self-contained. The modern narrative drive concentrates on extended spectacle, major devastation and relentless terror and trauma. It also helps if you’ve come back from the dead once or twice and wear combat thongs and thigh boots…

Although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that – other than the inappropriateness of striving to fix wedgies during life-or-death struggles – sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour.

Once such continued cosmic cataclysm was the exception, not the rule, and this enchanting re-issue from 2009 – available on paperback and digital formats – harks back to simpler days of complex plots, solid characterisation and suspenseful fun by way of an alternative take on Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, late of Argo City and Earth’s newest alien invader…

After a few intriguing test-runs, Supergirl began as a future star of the expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually, Argo turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and Kara’s dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes, sent their daughter to safety even as they perished.

Landing on Earth, she met the Action Ace, who subsequently created the cover-identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage in bucolic Midvale whilst she learned of her new world and mastered her powers in secrecy and safety.

In 2009 much of that treasured back-history was joyously reinstated for a superb miniseries for younger readers with Saturday morning animation sensibilities. As reimagined by Landry Walker (Clash of Kings, Red Lanterns, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Eric Jones (Scary Larry, Little Gloomy, Batman: The Brave and the Bold), here Kara Zor-El is recast as a plucky 12-year-old whose world is suddenly turned upside down: a decidedly ordinary kid forced to adapt to and cope with impossible changes at the craziest time of her life…

It all begins as Superman and Lex Luthor indulge in another life-and-death duel. The battle ends suddenly as the evil genius’ war machine is wrecked by a gleaming rocket, from which emerges a dazed girl in a knock-off Man of Steel outfit. Panicked by the press pack that converges on her, the waif jumps back and suddenly catapults into the air.

Soon, however, Superman catches and calms the careering child and explanations ensue. She’s his cousin Kara from Argo City, which escaped the destruction of Krypton by a fantastic fluke: being hurled by the blast unharmed and entire into another dimension…

The Argoans thrive in their pocket reality and watch baby Kal-El become a mighty hero. In fact, it’s a message-probe aimed at him that Kara sneaked onto before being accidentally sent to Earth and a horrific shock to learn Superman has no idea how to get her back to them…

Marooned on a weird, primitive planet with powers she doesn’t understand and cannot control is bad enough, but discovering her cousin has no time or space to look after her is the worst. Soon, wearing a pair of awful glasses, orphan “Linda Lee” begins a new life at Stanhope Boarding School…

The lessons are dull or baffling; nobody likes her, Principal Pycklemyer is a snide, snarky ass and worst of all, Kara’s powers keep turning off and on without any rhyme or reason. The first week is sheer hell, but ends on an up note as, after another fruitless attempt to get home, Linda heads back to the girls’ dormitory and finds a present waiting: a super-phone which can reach her mum and dad…

The Pre-Teen Powerhouse is still screwing up in class and her troubles multiply in detention when an odd green mineral interacts with a light projector in the science lab and creates an evil doppelgang.

Smug, arrogant Superiorgirl calls herself Belinda Zee and is instantly more popular with everybody. She also determined to make Linda’s life an unending succession of petty aggravations and annoyances…

However, Belinda’s greatest scheme to humiliate Linda is foiled by a new transfer student. High-maintenance misfit Lena Thorul is a scary genius who takes an instant liking to fellow outcast Linda and saves the day with a mind-control helmet she whipped up. Soon the weird pair are dorm-mates, even though Lena is a bit clingy and rather aggressive. She might even be preventing other students befriending Linda…

Life is never quiet and when Supergirl intercepts a glowing red meteor in space the fallout scatters scarlet debris all over Stanhope. The effect is amazing, as almost everybody develops superpowers…

Naturally Linda can’t reveal her own hidden abilities, so she and a few pitiful others are quickly relegated to a remedial class for the “super-heroically challenged”. When her powers suddenly fade, Supergirl is kept busy saving students from their own youthful follies and is astonished to later discover the power drain was caused by Lena…

And that’s when things get truly complicated, as her solution to the on-going problem gives Supergirl the ability to time-travel and the notion that she can warn her earlier self to respond differently to the crisis…

Another day, and another disaster dawns as Linda’s experiments with Green Kryptonite – in hopes of finding a cure – instead grant an alley cat superpowers. As Streaky stalks the halls of Stanhope, Lena reveals her true nature and Superiorgirl is forced to choose sides…

The adventure concludes on ‘Graduation Day’. Chaos reigns and the real reason for all the incredible events Linda has endured are finally revealed. Luthor escapes jail, Streaky returns, Belinda becomes queen of Bizarro Zombies, Fifth Dimensional Sprites attack and Supergirl meets Supragirl before ending with a new trusty companion – Comet the Superhorse. Sadly, he’s not enough to aid Linda as she strives to prevent the destruction all there is…

With Reality unravelling, Supergirl needs a little help, and it comes from the last person she expects…

Joyous, thrilling, warm-hearted and supremely entertaining, this festival of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun is a delightful romp for youngsters and a fabulous tribute to DC’s Silver Age, and fans can also enjoy bonus features including sketch sections on ‘Redesigning Supergirl’, lovely pencil roughs and a full cover gallery.

Also included is a tantalising preview taste of Diana: Princess of the Amazons by Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by Victoria Ying: a similarly intentioned reinvention for the smaller set focusing on the school days of the peerless Princess of Power…

Some characters are clearly capable of surviving seemingly infinite reinvention and the Girl of Steel is certainly one of those. Here in this charming, engaging, inspiring yarn you can enjoy a pure and primal romp: simultaneously action-packed and funny as it perfectly demonstrates how determination, smarts and courage trump superpowers and cosmic omnipotence every time.

© 2009, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo volume 3


By Jim Aparo with Bob Haney, Mike W. Barr, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Denny O’Neil, Cary Burkett, Bill Kelly, Paul Kupperberg, Martin Pasko, Michael Fleisher, Alan Brennert, John Byrne & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7161-9 (HB)

After periods as a historical adventure and try-out vehicle, The Brave and the Bold proceeded to win critical as well as commercial acclaim through team-ups. Pairing regular writer Bob Haney with the best artists available, a succession of DC stars joined forces before the comicbook hit its winning formula.

The winning format – featuring mass-media superstar Batman with other rotating, luminaries of the DC universe in complete stand-alone stories – paid big dividends, especially after the feature finally found a permanent artist to follow a variety of illustrators including Ramona Fradon, Neal Adams, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Irv Novick, Nick Cardy, Bob Brown and others…

At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers and the slickly versatile Jim Aparo was a perfect match for a drawing brief that could encompass the entire DC pantheon and all of time, space and relative dimensions in any single season…

James N. Aparo (August 24, 1932 – July 19, 2005) was a true quiet giant of comicbooks. Self-taught, he grew up in New Britain Connecticut, and after failing to join EC Comics whilst in his 20s, slipped easily into advertising, newspaper and fashion illustration. Even after finally becoming a comics artist he assiduously maintained his links with his first career.

For most of his career Aparo was a triple-threat, pencilling, inking and lettering his pages. In 1963 he began drawing Ralph Kanna’s newspaper strip Stern Wheeler, and three years later began working on a wide range of features for go-getting visionary editor Dick Giordano at Charlton Comics. Aparo especially shone on the minor company’s licensed big gun The Phantom…

When Giordano was lured away to National/DC in 1968 he brought his top stars (primarily Steve Ditko, Steve Skeates and Aparo) with him. Aparo began his lengthy, life-long association with DC illustrating and reinvigorating moribund title Aquaman – although he continued with The Phantom until his duties increased with the addition of numerous short stories for the monolith’s burgeoning horror anthologies and revived 1950s supernatural hero The Phantom Stranger…

Aparo went on to become an award-winning mainstay of DC’s artistic arsenal, with stellar runs on The Spectre, The Outsiders and Green Arrow but his star was always linked to Batman’s…

A broadening of Aparo’s brief is celebrated in this third sturdy hardback and/or eBook compilation, which gathers the prestigious lead stories from Detective Comics #444-446, 448, 468-470, 480, 492-499, 501, 502, 508, 509, Batman Family #17, The Brave and the Bold #152, 154-178, 180-182 and Untold Legend of the Batman #1-3 including all pertinent covers – cumulatively spanning January 1975 through January 1982. This fabulous celebration opens sans preamble with the first three chapters of an extended saga from Detective Comics. Written by Len Wein, the ‘Bat-Murderer!’ serial launched in #444, with the “World’s Greatest Detective” perfectly framed for the killing of his occasional lover Talia Al Ghul. Hunted in his own city, Batman’s dilemma worsens in #445 as a ‘Break-in at the Big House!’ draws him deeper into the deadly conspiracy, after incarcerated Ra’s Al Ghul apparently kills himself to further bury the Dark Knight…

Although a desperate fugitive, the Gotham Guardian finds time to solve actual murders and capture another obsessive crazy in #446’s ‘Slaughter in Silver!’ featuring the debut of certified whacko Sterling Silversmith…

The Bat-Murderer epic was completed by other artists and is therefore not included here (you can see it in other collections such as Tales of the Batman: Len Wein) but Aparo did limn the last cover – #448 – as well as Detective’s 468, 469 and 470, before his next interior drama surfaced in Batman Family #17 (April/May 1978). Written by Gerry Conway, ‘Scars!’ pits Batman and Robin against a deranged monster literally de-facing beautiful women, before the cover for Detective #480 and B&B #152 refocus attention on Aparo’s team-up triumphs.

Aparo and scripter Bob Haney resumed their epic run of enticing costumed with The Brave and the Bold #152 (July 1979) wherein ‘Death Has a Golden Grab!’ found the Atom helping the Caped Crimecrusher stop a deadly bullion theft. The cover of B&B #153 and 154 follow, as does the contents of the latter, with Element Man Metamorpho treading ‘The Pathway of Doom…’ to save old girlfriend Sapphire Stagg and help Batman disconnect a middle eastern smuggling pipeline…

Mike W. Barr joins Haney in scripting #155’s ‘Fugitive from Two Worlds!’ as Green Lantern clashes with the Dark knight over jurisdiction rights regarding an earth-shaking alien criminal as well as (after the cover to #156) 157’s ‘Time – My Dark Destiny!’ with alternate futurian Kamandi lost in present day Earth and under the sway of ruthless criminals…

Gerry Conway steps in to script a brief reunion with Wonder Woman in #158’s ‘Yesterday Never Dies!’ as memory-warping foe Déjà vu attacks international diplomats whilst Denny O’Neil teams Batman with arch enemy Ra’s Al Ghul to prevent environmental disaster in #159’s ‘The Crystal Armageddon’ Denny O’Neil and Cary Burkett makes ‘The Brimstone Connection’ in #160, working with Supergirl to free kidnap victims and thwart a scheme by devious Colonel Sulphur to steal experimental rocket fuel…

The contents for the next two The Brave and the Bold’s (plus covers for #161-164) depict Conway’s ‘A Tale of Two Heroes!’ – as Batman and star-faring Adam Strange trade locales and murder mysteries and Bill Kelley’s ‘Operation: Time Bomb!’ (with Earth-2’s Batman joining Sgt. Rock to battle Nazi advances and crazed soldier the Iron Major in war-torn France) before a landmark miniseries took up Aparo’s full attention.

Researched and scripted by Len Wein, Untold Legend of the Batman #1-3 originally ran from July-September 1980 and ambitiously rationalised the hero’s entire career into one seamless whole. Interspersed with the covers to Detective #492-494 and B&B #165-167, it begins with ‘In the Beginning’ pencilled by John Byrne with Aparo inking before ‘With Friends Like These…’ and ‘The Man Behind the Mask!’ – with Aparo on full art duties – solves a bizarre mystery that had the Caped Crusader frantically re-examining his past…

Cary Burkett returns in Brave and the Bold #168 (November 1980) to liberate ‘Shackles of the Mind!’ as Green Arrow and Batman unite to save a reformed criminal and skilled escapologist from a maniac’s mind control.

The cover of Detective #496 precedes B&B #169‘Angel of Mercy, Angel of Death!’ (by Barr and cover-dated December 1980) wherein sorceress Zatanna seeks the Dark Knight’s aid for a faith healer who is not what she seems and is followed by the cover for Detective #497 the thrilling cover/contents of B&B #170 wherein Burkett concludes his exceptional thriller series Nemesis with Batman helping the face-shifting superspy to determine ‘If Justice is Blind!’…

Covers for Detective #498-499, 501-502 and B&B #171-173 bracket April 1981’s Brave and the Bold #173 and 174 as Conway explains ‘One of Us is not One of Us’ when the almighty Guardians of the Universe recruit Earth’s Dark-knight Detective to determine who is the impostor in their august midst before calling in trusted GL Hal Jordan ‘To Trap an Immortal’…

For B&B #175 Paul Kupperberg ‘teams ace reporter Lois Lane with Batman to battle killer cyborg Metallo and determine what drives The Heart of the Monster’, before Martin Pasko steps in for #176, reuniting the Gotham Gangbuster with the terrifying Swamp Thing in convoluted tale of murder and frame-ups ‘The Delta Connection!’

For #177, Barr returns to pose a complex and twisted mystery involving Batman and Elongated Man in ‘The Hangman Club Murders!’, after which rising star Alan Brennert comes aboard for #178. ‘Paperchase’ finds Batman and eerie avenger The Creeper tracking a monstrous shapeshifting killer fuelled by rage and indignation and driving the city into madness.

Michael Fleischer arrived for #180 (November 1980) and took the series into unknown realms as ‘The Scepter of the Dragon God!’ sees Chinese wizard Wa’an-Zen steal enough mystic artefacts to conquer Earth and destroy The Spectre. Foolishly, the mystic has gravely underestimated the skill and bravery of merely mortal Batman…

Bracketed by covers for Detective #508 and 509, B&B #181 features Brennert & Aparo paying tribute to the societally-convulsive Sixties as ‘Time, See What’s Become of Me…’ revisits teen trouble-shooters Hawk and the Dove who have gotten older but no wiser in their passionate defence of the philosophies of robust interventionist action and devout pacifism. When increasingly unstable Hawk accidentally causes the death of a drug-dealers’ son, it triggers an intervention by Batman and a painful reconciliation between the long-divided brothers…

This volume concludes with another moving Brennert bonanza as B&B #182’s ‘Interlude on Earth-2’ finds “our” Batman inexplicably drawn to that parallel world in the aftermath of the death of its own Dark Knight. Confronted by and greatly discomforting grieving Dick GraysonRobin of Earth-2 – and original Batwoman Kathy Kane, the Batman must nevertheless help them defeat resurgent maniac foe Hugo Strange before he can return to his rightful place and time…

These tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and premises are just as immediate now as then and Jim Aparo’s magnificent art is still as compelling and engrossing as it always was. This is a Bat-book literally everybody can enjoy.

Here 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 one 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 can anybody resist? More importantly: why should you…?
© 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batgirl volume 1


By Gardner Fox, Cary Bates, Mike Friedrich, Robert Kanigher, Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil, Elliot S. Maggin,Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Frank Springer, Mike Sekowsky, Bob Brown, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Win Mortimer, Irv Novick, Don Heck & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1367-1 (TPB)

Today comics readers are pretty used to the vast battalion of Bat-shaped champions infesting Gotham City and its troubled environs, but for the longest time it was just Bruce, Dick, Alfred – and occasionally their borrowed dog Ace – keeping crime on the run. However, in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956 and three months before the debut of the Flashofficially ushered in the Silver Age of American comicbooks) the editorial powers-that-be introduced heiress Kathy Kane, who sporadically suited-up in chiropteran red-&-yellow for the next eight years.

In Batman #139 (April 1961) her niece Betty started dressing up and acting out as her assistant Batgirl, but when Editor Julie Schwartz took over the Bat-titles in 1964 both ladies unceremoniously disappeared in his root-and-branch overhaul.

In 1966 the Batman TV series took over the planet, but its second season was far less popular and the producers soon saw the commercial sense of adding a glamorous female fighter in the fresh, new tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., especially when clad in a cute cape, shiny skin-tight body-stocking and go-go boots…

Of course, she had to join the comics cast too, and this Showcase edition re-presents her varied appearances as both guest-star and headliner in her own series, beginning with her four-colour premiere. Hopefully, with the Batwoman TV show now inspiring a new generation of screen-based fans, it won’t be long before the material in this tantalising monochrome tome will be rereleased in in new – full-colour – print and digital editions…

In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics #359, January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and art team supreme o Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene introduced young Barbara Gordon, mousy librarian and daughter of the Police Commissioner, so by the time the third season began on September 14, 1967, she was well-established.

In her small screen premiere she pummelled the Penguin, but Batgirl’s comic book origin featured the no-less-ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever, fast-paced yarn involving blackmail and murder that still stands up today and which opens in fine style this massive compilation of the early years of one of the most successful distaff spin-offs in the business.

Her appearances came thick and fast after that initial tale: ‘The True-False Face of Batman’ (Detective #363, by Fox, Infantino & Greene) was a full co-starring vehicle as she was challenged to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down enigmatic criminal genius Mr. Brains. Next, BG teamed-up with the Girl of Steel in World’s Finest Comics #169 (September 1967) wherein the independent lasses seemingly worked to replace Batman and Superman in ‘The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot’: a whimsical fantasy feast from Cary Bates, Curt Swan & George Klein.

Detective #369 (Infantino and Greene) somewhat reinforced boyhood prejudices about icky girls in classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo’ which segued directly into a classic confrontation in Batman #197 as ‘Catwoman sets Her Claws for Batman!’ (Fox, Frank Springer & Greene). This frankly daft tale is most fondly remembered for a classic cover of Batgirl and whip-wielding Catwoman squaring off over Batman’s prone body – proving that comic fans have a psychopathology uniquely their very own…

Gil Kane made his debut on the Dominoed Daredoll (did they really call her that? – yes they did, from page 2 onwards!) in Detective #371’s ‘Batgirl’s Costumed Cut-ups’: a masterpiece of comic-art dynamism that inker Sid Greene could be proud of, but which proffered some rather uncomfortable assertions about female vanity that Gardner Fox probably preferred to forget – and just check out the cover of this book if you think I’m kidding.

Batgirl next surfaced in Justice League of America #60 (February 1968), wherein the team barely survive a return match with alien invader Queen Bee and are temporarily transformed into ‘Winged Warriors of the Immortal Queen!’ (Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Greene), after which in the June-July The Brave and the Bold (#78) Bob Brown stepped in to draw her for Bob Haney’s eccentric crime-thriller ‘In the Coils of the Copperhead’ wherein Wonder Woman vied with the fresh young thing for Batman’s affections. Of course, it was all a cunning plan… at first…

That same month another team-up with Supergirl heralded a sea-change in DC’s tone, style and content as the girls were dragged into ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ (World’s Finest Comics #176) with Bates providing a far darker mystery for the girls and boys (including Robin and Jimmy Olsen) to solve. With this yarn artists Neal Adams & Dick Giordano began revolutionising how comics looked with their moody, exciting hyper-realistic renderings…

Although Barbara Gordon continued to crop up in the background of occasional Batman adventures, that was the last time the masked heroine was seen until Detective Comics #384, (February 1969) when Batgirl was finally awarded her own solo feature. Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by the phenomenal team of Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson, ‘Tall, Dark. Handsome …and Missing!’ began an engaging run of human-scaled crime dramas with what all the (male) scripters clearly believed was a strong female slant, as seen in this yarn wherein librarian Babs develops a crush on a frequent borrower just before he inexplicably vanishes.

Batgirl investigates and runs into a pack of brutal thugs before solving the mystery in the second chapter ‘Hunt for the Helpless Hostage!’ (Detective #385), after which the lead story from that issue rather inexplicably follows here.

‘Die Small… Die Big!’ by Robert Kanigher, Bob Brown & Joe Giella is one of the best Batman adventures of the period, with a nameless nonentity sacrificing everything for a man he’s never met, but Babs is only in three panels and never as Batgirl…

Adventure Comics #381 (June 1969) made far better use of her as she goes undercover and is largely at odds with the Maid of Steel whilst exposing ‘The Supergirl Gang’ in a tense thriller by Bates & Win Mortimer. Batgirl shared alternating adventures in Detective back-up slot with Robin, so she next appeared in#388 which also welcomed newspaper strip star Frank Robbins to script ‘Surprise! This’ll Kill You!’: a sophisticated bait-and-switch caper which sees Batgirl impersonate herself and almost pay with her life for another girl’s crimes. Spectacularly illustrated by Kane & Anderson, the strip expanded from eight to ten pages, but that still wasn’t enough and the breathtaking thrills spill over into a dramatic conclusion in ‘Batgirl’s Bag of Tricks!

Although tone and times were changing, there was still potential to be daft and parochial too, as seen in ‘Batman’s Marriage Trap!’ (Batman #214, by Robbins, Irv Novick & Giella) wherein a wicked Femme Fatale sets the unfulfilled spinsters of America on the trail of Gotham’s Most Eligible Bat-chelor (see what I did there? I’ve done it before too and you can’t stop me…).

Not even a singular guest-shot by positive role-model Batgirl can redeem this peculiar throwback – although the art rather does…

From Detective #392, October 1969 and by Robbins, Kane & Anderson, ‘A Clue… Seven-Foot Tall!’ is another savvy contemporary crime-saga which introduces a new Bat cast-member in the form of disabled Vietnam veteran and neophyte private eye Jason Bard (who would eventually inherit Batgirl’s spot in Detective Comics). Here and in the concluding ‘Downfall of a Goliath’ Babs and Bard spar before joining forces to solve a brutal murder in the world of professional basketball.

Issues #396 & 397 (February and March 1970) see Batgirl face the very modern menace of what we’d now call a psychosexual serial killer in chilling, enthralling mystery ‘The Orchid-Crusher’ and ‘The Hollow Man’: a clear proof of the second-string character’s true and still untapped potential…

The anniversary Detective #400 (June 1970) finally teamed her with Robin in ‘A Burial For Batgirl!’(Denny O’Neil, Kane & Vince Colletta) a college-based murder mystery referencing political and social unrest then plaguing US campuses, but which still finds space to be smart and action-packed as well as topical before its chillingly satisfactory conclusion ‘Midnight is the Dying Hour!’ (Detective #401).

With issue #404, Babs became the sole back-up star as Robbins, Kane & Frank Giacoia sampled the underground movie scene with ‘Midnight Doom-Boy’, mischievously spoofing Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory studio in another intriguing murder-plot, diverting to and culminating in another branch of Pop Art as Batgirl nearly becomes ‘The Living Statue!’

In ‘The Explosive Circle!’ (#406, with Colletta inking) the topic du jour is gentrification, as property speculation rips Gotham apart, but not as much as a gang of radical bombers, leading to the cry ‘One of Our Landmarks is Missing!’ The next issue (#408) saw the vastly underrated Don Heck take over as artist, inked here by Dick Giordano on ‘The Phantom Bullfighter!’ wherein a work-trip to Madrid embroils Batgirl in a contentious dispute between matadors old and new, leading to a murderous ‘Night of the Sharp Horns!’

Inevitably, fashion reared its stylish head in a strip with a female lead, but Robbins’ wickedly clever ‘Battle of the Three “M’s”’ (that’s Mini, Midi and Maxi to you) proved to be one of the most compelling and clever tales of the entire run as a trendsetting celebrity finds herself targeted by an unscrupulous designer, leading to a murderous deathtrap for Babs in ‘Cut… and Run!’

Clearly inspired, Robbins stayed with girlish things for ‘The Head-Splitters!’ (Detective #412) and Heck, now inking himself, rose to the occasion for a truly creepy saga about hairdressing that features one of the nastiest scams and murder methods I’ve ever seen, ending in a climactic ‘Squeeze-Play!’…

Babs reunites with Jason Bard for an anniversary date only to stumble onto an ‘Invitation to Murder!’ (another celebrity homage; this time to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) – a classy fair-play mystery resolved in ‘Death Shares the Spotlight!’

When a cop-killing tears apart the city, Babs’ father Commissioner Jim Gordon takes it badly in ‘The Deadly Go-Between!’, but militant radicals aren’t the only threat as seen in concluding episode ‘A Bullet For Gordon!’: heralding a far greater role for the once-anodyne authority figure and leading to his integral role in today’s Bat-universe.

Robbins & Heck also revealed a shocking secret about the Commissioner that would build through the remaining Batgirl adventures, beginning with ‘The Kingpin is Dead!’, concerning a “motiveless” hit on an old gang-boss all cleared up in spectacular fashion with ‘Long Live the Kingpin!’ in #419.

‘Target for Mañana!’ has Babs and her dad travel to Mexico on a narcotics fact-finding mission only to fall foul of a sinister plot in ‘Up Against Three Walls!’, before the series took a landmark turn in ‘The Unmasking of Batgirl’ as a charmer breaks her heart and Babs decides to chuck it all in and run for Congress in ‘Candidate For Danger!’

Detective Comics #424 (June 1972) features ‘Batgirl’s Last Case’ as “Battlin’ Babs” overturns a corrupt political machine and shuffles off to DC, leaving Jason to manage on his own…

That wasn’t quite the end of her first run of adventures. Superman #268 (October 1973) found her battling spies in the Capitol beside the Man of Steel in ‘Wild Week-End in Washington!’, courtesy of Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Bob Oksner before repeating the experience a year later in ‘Menace of the Energy-Blackmailers!’ (Superman #279, by Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa.

This eclectic but highly entertaining compendium concludes with one last Supergirl team-up, this time by Maggin Swan & Colletta from Superman Family #171 (June/July 1975), wherein a distant descendent of the Empress of the Nile uses magic to become ‘Cleopatra, Queen of America’, overwhelming even Superman and the Justice League before our Cape and Cowl champs finally lower the boom…

Batgirl’s early exploits come from and indeed partially shaped an era where women in popular fiction were finally emerging from the marriage-obsessed, ankle-twisting, deferential, fainting hostage-fodder mode that had been their ignoble lot in all media for untold decades. Feminism wasn’t a dirty word or a joke then for the generation of girls who at last got some independent and effective role-models with (metaphorically, at least) balls.

Complex yet uncomplicated, the adventures of Batgirl grew beyond their crassly commercial origins to make a real difference. However, these tales are not only significant but drenched in charm and wit; drawn with a gloriously captivating style and panache that still delights and enthrals. This is no girly comic but a full-on thrill ride you can’t afford to ignore and which deserves to be revived with all the bells, whistles and respect the characters and stories rightfully command…
© 1967-1975, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 2


By Leo Dorfman, Jerry Seigel, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8131-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Girls Are Super Heroes Too… 8/10

After decades as the distaff cousin of a Truly Big Gun, Supergirl is now a certified multimedia solo star of screen and page.

Such was not always the case, as this engaging trade paperback compendium (also available ins eBook formats) joyously attests. The gathered back-up tales from Action Comics #285-307 – and spanning February 1962 to December 1963 – trace the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City as she moves from hidden secret to star turn and minor player to public celebrity. From the back of the book to the front of the house is always a reason to celebrate, right?

Her story began as August 1958 try-out story ‘The Three Magic Wishes’ by Otto Binder, Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye in Superman #123 which told how a mystic totem briefly conjured up a young girl with super-powers as one of three wishes made by Jimmy Olsen. Such was the reaction to the plucky heroine that within a year a new version was introduced to the Superman Family…

After a few intriguing test-runs Supergirl began as a future star of the expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished. Landing on Earth, she met Superman. He created the identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage in small town Midvale whilst she mastered her new powers in secrecy and safety.

This second collection sees her very existence kept secret from the general public whilst she lives with adoptive parents Fred and Edna Danvers. They are completely unaware that the orphan they have recently adopted is a Kryptonian super-being. That is all about to change as the Maid of Might finally graduates from superhero training…

The accent on these stories generally revolves around problem-solving, identity-preserving and loneliness, with both good taste and the Comics Code ensuring that readers weren’t traumatised by unsavoury or excessively violent tales. Such plots were akin to situation comedies, and might occasion a shudder now and then from modern readers, but believe me compared to the times they were and remain light years ahead of the curve…

Peculiar transformations were a mainstay of 1960s comics, and although a post-modern interpretation might discern some metaphor for puberty or girls “becoming” women, I rather suspect the true answer can be found in the authors’ love of comedy and an editorial belief that fighting was unladylike.

Red Kryptonite – a cosmically-altered isotope of the radioactive element left when Krypton exploded – regularly caused temporary physical and sometimes mental mutations in the survivors of that doomed world: a godsend to writers in need of a challenging visual element when writing characters with the power to shrug off nukes and drop-kick planets…

You have been warned…

Hogging the cover (by Super-stalwarts Curt Swan & George Klein) the simpler times ended as a big change in the Maid of Might’s status occurred. When her parents learn of their new daughter’s true origins, Superman allows his cousin to announce her existence to the world in 2-part saga ‘The World’s Greatest Heroine!’ (#285) and ‘The Infinite Monster!’ (#286). Here Jerry Siegel & regular artist Jim Mooney detail how Supergirl becomes the darling of the universe: openly saving planet Earth and finally getting all the credit for it.

Action Comics #286 pits her against her cousin’s greatest foe in ‘The Death of Luthor!’, whilst ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge!’ sees her visiting the Legion of Super-Heroes (quibblers be warned: initially their far-future era was the 21st century. It was quietly retrofitted to a thousand years from “now” after the tales in this volume) to save the Earth from invasion.

She also meets the telepathic descendent of her cat Streaky. His name was Whizzy (I could have left that out but chose not to – once more for smug, comedic effect…).

‘The Man who Made Supergirl Cry!’ signalled the beginning of Leo Dorfman’s contributions as scripter. Little is known about this prolific writer, other than he also worked under the name Geoff Brown and David George, producing quality material continuously from the Golden Age until his death in 1974, mostly for DC and Gold Key Comics.

In this tight little thriller Phantom Zone villains take control of Supergirl’s new dad in a plot to escape their ethereal dungeon dimension…

Siegel returned for Action #289’s ‘Superman’s Super-Courtship!’: something of a classic, as the Girl of Steel scours the universe for an ideal mate for her cousin. Charming at the time, modern sensibilities might quail at the conclusion that his perfect mate was just like Supergirl herself, but older…

‘Supergirl’s Super Boy-Friends!’ finds both human Dick Malverne and Atlantean mer-boy Jerro catch super-powers after kissing her (I’m again saying nothing here except Red K!) whilst she doesn’t actually become ‘The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk!’ when the fifth-dimensional prankster transfers his unwanted attentions to her in Action #291.

An extended storyline by Dorfman began in the next issue when the typical (albeit invulnerable) teen got a new “pet”. ‘The Super-Steed of Steel!’ is a beautiful white horse who helps her stave off an alien invasion, but the creature has a bizarre and mysterious past, revealed in ‘The Secret Origin of Supergirl’s Super-Horse!’, before a resolution of sorts is reached in ‘The Mutiny of Super-Horse’.

A new cast member joined the series in ‘The Girl with the X-Ray Mind!’: a psychic with a shocking connection to the Superman Family, and her secrets were further revealed in ‘The Girl who was Supergirl’s Double!’

It was the beginning of an extraordinarily tense and epic continued storyline featuring Phantom Zone villains, Luthor, Supergirl’s arch enemy Lesla Lar, the destruction of Atlantis and genuine thrills and excitement. Earth was threatened by ‘The Forbidden Weapons of Krypton!’ and it took ‘The Super-Powers of Lex Luthor!’ to finally save the day.

Action #299 returned to whimsical normality with ‘The Fantastic Secret of Superbaby II!’, and the anniversary 300th issue featured ‘The Return of Super-Horse!’: another multi-part tale that revealed ‘The Secret Identity of Super-Horse!’ in #301, only to suffer ‘The Day Super-Horse went Wild!’ in the next episode.

By this time Supergirl featured on alternate Action Comics covers, and was regularly breaking into the lead Superman story. Sadly, those covers, by art dream-team Swan & Klein are not included nor is their Dorfman-scripted Man of Steel tale ‘The Monster from Krypton!’ from #303, with Supergirl having to battle her Red K transformed cousin. We can enjoy the back-up though: the moving tragedy of ‘Supergirl’s Big Brother!’ whose misspent life is not totally wasted in the end…

Supergirl got a new arch-enemy in ‘The Maid of Menace!’ but Black Flame is not as problematic as ‘The Girl Who Hated Supergirl!’ (with art solely credited to Mooney. but I’m pretty sure it’s at least part-inked by John Forte).

Action #306 was a pure mystery thriller as Girl of Steel became ‘The Maid of Doom!’ after which the dramas pause after ‘Supergirl’s Wedding Day!’ which almost proves that no girl can resist a manly man… but only almost!

Throughout this period Kara of Krypton underwent more changes than most of her confreres had in twenty years, as the editors sought to find a niche the buying public could resonate with, but for all that these stories remain exciting, ingenious and utterly bemusing.

Possibly the last time a female super-character’s sexual allure and sales potential wasn’t freely and gratuitously exploited, these tales are a link and window to a far less crass time and display one of the few strong female characters that parents can still happily share with their youngest girl children. I’m certainly not embarrassed to let any women see this volume, unlike any “Bad-Girl” book – or male public figure – you could possibly name.
© 1962, 1963, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Batman volume 1 (New edition)


By Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines, Pat Lee & Dreamwave Productions, Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald & various (DC Comics)ISBN: 978-1-4012-4818-5 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Comics Cavortings… 8/10

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were best friends and the pairing made perfect financial sense as National/DC’s most popular heroes could cross-sell their combined readerships.

When the characters were redefined for the post-Crisis 1980s, they were remade as suspiciously respectful co-workers who did the same job but deplored each other’s methods and preferred to avoid contact whenever possible – except when they were in the Justice League (but for the sake of your sanity don’t fret that right now!).

After a few years of this new status quo the irresistible lure of Cape & Cowl Capers inexorably brought them together again with modern emotional intensity derived from their incontestably differing methods and characters.

In this rocket-paced, post-modern take on the relationship, they have reformed as firm friends for the style-over-content 21st century, and this is the story of their first outing together. Outlawed and hunted by their fellow heroes, Superman finds himself accused of directing a continent-sized chunk of Kryptonite to crash into Earth, with Batman accused of aiding and abetting…

To save Superman, the world and their own reputations they are forced to attempt the overthrow of the United States President himself. Of course, said President is the unspeakably evil Lex Luthor. Back in 2003 he was considered the least likely leader America could ever elect…

I deeply disliked this tale when I first read it: Plot is reduced to an absolute minimum in favour of showy set-pieces, previously established characterisation often hostage to whatever seems the easiest way to short-cut to action (mortal foes Captain Atom and Major Force work together to capture our heroes because President Luthor tells them to?) but after all these years it’s worthy of another look and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve changed my opinion somewhat…

This paperback (and eBook) compilation collects issues #1-13 of the hip turn of the century reboot Superman/Batman (and includes a vignette from Superman/Batman Secret Files 2003) collectively spanning October 2003 to October 2004)

The action – written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Ed McGuiness & Dexter Vines – opens with ‘World’s Finest’ as the Dark and Light Knights follow telling leads in separate cases back to shape-shifting cyborg John (Metallo) Corben, discovering evidence to suggest that the ruthless cyborg might have been the at-large-for-decades shooter in the still unsolved double murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne…

Even that bombshell seems inconsequential after the mechanoid monster shoots Superman in the chest with a kryptonite bullet before burying the stunned duo under tons of Earth in a Gotham graveyard…

Meanwhile at the Pentagon, President Lex is informed that a toxically radioactive lump of Krypton the size of Australia is on a collision course with Earth. Implausibly adopting (and foreshadowing) the “Fake News” disinformational line that Superman has summoned it, the Federal Government issues an arrest warrant for the Man of Steel and convenes a metahuman taskforce to bring him in…

Escaping certain doom thanks to Batman’s skill and unflappable nerve, the blithely unaware heroes reach medical help in the Batcave in ‘Early Warning’, only to be attacked by an older version of Superman, determined to prevent them making a mistake that will end life on Earth…

After a massive nuclear strike (somehow augmented by embargoed Boom Tube technology from hell-world Apokolips), Luthor overrules Captain Atom’s qualms about the mission and orders his anti-Superman squad to apprehend their target wherever he might be hiding.

The President then goes on television to blame the alien for the impending meteor strike and announces a billion-dollar Federal bounty on the Action Ace…

Man of Tomorrow and Man of Darknight Detective respond by direct assault in ‘Running Wild’, hurtling towards Washington DC only to be ambushed en route by a greed-crazed army of super-villains and mind-controlled heroes before Atom’s group – Green Lantern John Stewart, Black Lightning, Katana, Starfire, Power Girl and certified quantum psychopath Major Force – join the attack…

As the combatants ‘Battle On’, in the Oval Office even fanatical civil servant Amanda Waller – commander of covert Penal Battalion the Suicide Squad – begins to realise something is wrong with the President.

For a start, his behaviour is increasingly erratic, but the real clue is that he is juicing himself with a kryptonite-modified version of super-steroid venom…

The blistering battle between the outlawed heroes and Atom’s unit extends as far as Japan, (where the Cape & Cowl Crusaders are secretly organising a last-ditch solution to the imminent Kryptonite continent crash) before Major Force begins to smell a rat and realises some of his team are actually working with Superman and Batman.

Military martinet Captain Atom is not one of them, but eventually even he is made to see reason – only moments before the deranged Major goes ballistic and nearly turns Tokyo to ashes…

Using his energy-absorbing powers, Atom prevents the holocaust, but the monumental radiation release triggers his “temporal safety-valve” and the silver-skinned soldier materialises in a future where Earth is a barren cinder and only an aged, tragic, broken Superman resides…

Meanwhile in the present, the Presidential Pandemonium has prompted the venerable Justice Society of America to step in; despatching Captain Marvel and Hawkman to apprehend the fugitive Superman and Batman.

Apparently successful, the operation triggers a back-up team (Supergirl, Nightwing, Steel, Superboy, Natasha Irons, Robin, Huntress, Batgirl and even Krypto) who invade the White House only to be defeated by Luthor himself, high on K-Venom and utilising Apokolyptian technology in ‘State of Siege’…

With extinction only moments away and a deranged President Luthor on the loose, Superman and Batman prepare to employ their eleventh-hour suicidal salvation machine but are caught off-guard when a most unexpected substitute ambushes them to pilot the crucial mission in ‘Final Countdown’…

In so many ways this yarn is everything I hate about modern comics. The story length is artificially extended to accommodate lots of guest stars and superfluous fighting, whilst large amounts of narrative occur off-camera or between issues, presumably to facilitate a faster, smoother read.

On the plus side, however, is the fact that I’m an old fart. There is clearly a market for such snazzy, souped-up, stripped down, practically deconstructed comic fare. And if I’m being completely honest, there is a certain fizz and frisson to non-stop, superficial all-out action – especially when it’s so dynamically illustrated.

Public Enemies looks very good indeed and, if much of the scenario is obvious and predictable, it is big and immediate and glossy like a summer blockbuster movie is supposed to be.

The epic is followed by a stand-alone tale starring Robin – the Tim Drake version – and semi-Kryptonian clone Conner Kent.

‘Protégé’ sees the assistants – don’t call them sidekicks – despatched to Japan to end the threat of a new Toyman. This particular giggling genius is a lethally brilliant kid and their off-the-wall solution to his antics is both smart and effective…

Next follows a tale and situation that only comics could conceive.

For decades DC really couldn’t make up their minds over Supergirl. I’ve actually lost count of the number of different versions that have cropped up over the years, and I’ve never been able to shake the queasy feeling that above all else she’s a concept that was cynically shifted from being a way to get girls reading comics to one calculated to ease young male readers over that bumpy patch between sporadic chin-hair outbreaks, voice-breaking and that nervous period of hiding things under your mattress where your mum never, never ever looks…

After a few intriguing test-runs the first true Girl of Steel debuted as a future star of the ever-expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris and her dying parents, observing Earth through their vision-scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they apparently perished.

Landing on Earth, she fortuitously met Superman who created the identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage whilst she learned of her new world and powers in secrecy and safety.

Her popularity waxed and waned over the years until she was earmarked for destruction as one of the attention-grabbing deaths during Crisis on Infinite Earths.

However, after John Byrne successfully rebooted the Man of Steel, non-Kryptonian iterations began to appear – each with her own fans – until early in the 21st century the company Powers-that-Be decided the real Girl of Steel should come back… sort of…

Thus, this visually intoxicating version (from Superman/Batman #8-13) resets to the original concept and has a naked blonde chick arrive on a colossal Kryptonite meteor, claiming to be Superman’s cousin…

Written by Loeb with captivating art by Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald, the action commences in ‘Alone’, as a quarantined Superman chafes at enforced detention, the Dark Knight explores a section of the meteor submerged in Gotham Bay.

The JLA have all been active, clearing away the deadly fragments, but this last one is most disturbing. As Batman quickly grasps, it’s a ship, but its single passenger is now missing…

Soon the Gotham Guardian is tracking a wave of destruction caused by a seemingly confused teenaged girl with incredible powers and only Superman’s unwise early intervention stops the mounting carnage.

Their subsequent investigations reveal the comely captive to have all the Man of Tomorrow’s abilities and she claims – in fluent Kryptonian – to be the daughter of his long-dead uncle Zor-El…

The mystery further unfolds in ‘Visitor’ as a deeply suspicious Batman and ecstatic Superman continue their researches, arguing their corners as the most powerful girl on Earth becomes increasingly impatient. Fuelling the Dark Knight’s concern is superdog Krypto’s clear and savage hostility to the newcomer and Kara’s convenient claim that she has amnesia…

Then as Clark Kent endeavours to acclimatise his cousin to life on Earth, on the hellish world of Apokolips vile Granny Goodness and her Female Furies are ordered by ultimate evil space-god Darkseid to acquire the pliable naive newcomer…

Before they can strike, however, an attack comes from an unexpected source, as former ally Harbinger, ruthless hunter Artemis and beloved ally Wonder Woman ambush the Kryptonians. …

Princess Diana has acted arbitrarily but from absolute necessity: kidnapping Kara and bringing her to the island home of the Amazons to be trained in the use of her powers as a ‘Warrior’.

Superman’s growing obsession has rendered him unable to see her potential for destruction, despite a cryptic message on her space ship from Zor-El, and Wonder Woman chose to strike first and ask later…

With tempers barely cooled, Dark Knight and Action Ace are invited to observe Kara’s progress weeks later, just as the tropical paradise is assaulted by an army of artificial Doomsdays manufactured on Apokolips…

The wave of slaughter is a feint, but by the time the rampaging horrors are all destroyed, the Furies have done their work, slaughtering Kara’s only friend and stealing away the Kryptonian kid…

In ‘Prisoner’, DC’s superheroic high trinity enlist the aid of Apokolyptian émigré Big Barda and stage a devastating rescue mission to Darkseid’s homeworld, but not before the Lord of Evil apparently twists the innocent Girl of Steel into his tool: making her a ‘Traitor’ to the living…

The Master of Apokolips has never faced a foe as adamant as Batman and the quartet are unexpectedly victorious, but after returning Kara to Earth and announcing her as the new Supergirl, the heroes discover that they are not safe or secure, and in ‘Hero’ Darkseid horrifyingly returns to exact his ultimate revenge…

For me, the most intriguing aspect of this sometimes overly-sentimental tale is Batman’s utter distrust and suspicion of Kara as she is hidden from the world while she assimilates, but there’s plenty of beautifully rendered action – plus oodles of lovingly rendered girl-flesh and titillating fetish outfits jostling for attention amidst the lavish fight-scenes and interminable guest-cameos, should that be to your tastes – and enough sheer spectacle to satisfy any Fights ‘n’ Tights fans.

Even now the goods things have not been exhausted as Superman/Batman Secret Files 2003 provides a charming peek into the past with ‘When Clark met Bruce’ (“A tale from the days of Smallville”) in which bucolic 2-page snippet, Loeb & Tim Sale effectively tease us with the question of what might have been, had the go happy-go-lucky Kent boy actually got to have a play-date with that morose, recently orphaned rich kid from Gotham City…

Filling out the experience are pictorial fact-file on Superman, Batman,

President Lex Luthor, Talia and Metallo, plus a full cover gallery by McGuiness & Vines, Turner & Steigerwald and Jim Lee & Scott Williams and studies and design sketches for Supergirl.

Full of flash and dazzle this mighty tome might well be the kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights thrill you’re looking for this yule season.
© 2003, 2004, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 1


By Otto Binder, Al Plastino, Jerry Seigel, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7292-0

Superhero comics seldom do sweet or charming anymore. Modern narrative focus concentrates on turmoil, angst and spectacle and although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour.

Such was not always the case as this superb trade paperback compendium – spanning Action Comics #252-284 (May 1959 to January 1962) and also available in eBook editions – of the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City joyously proves.

Also included and kicking off proceedings is the delightful DC House Ad advertising the imminent arrival of a new Girl of Steel. Sadly missing, however, is the try-out story The Three Magic Wishes’ – written by Otto Binder and illustrated by Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye from Superman #123, August 1958 – which told how a mystic totem briefly conjured up a young girl with super powers as one of three wishes made by Jimmy Olsen. Such was the reaction to the plucky heroine that within a year a new version was introduced to the Superman Family…

Here, then, the drama commences with ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’, the third story from Action Comics #252 introducing Superman’s cousin Kara, who had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was somehow hurled intact into space when the planet exploded.

Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the giant world’s debris, and Kara’s dying parents, having observed Earth through their scanners and scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished.

Landing on Earth, she meets Superman who creates the cover-identity of Linda Lee whilst hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale allowing her to learn about her new world and powers in secrecy and safety. This groundbreaking tale was also written by Binder and drawn by the hugely talented Al Plastino.

Once the formula was established Supergirl became a regular feature in Action Comics (starting with #253), a residency that lasted until 1969 when she graduated to the lead spot in Adventure Comics. In ‘The Secret of the Super-Orphan!’, at her new orphanage home she makes the acquaintance of fellow orphan Dick Wilson (eventually Malverne) who would become her personal gadfly (much as the early Lois Lane was to Superman), a recurring romantic entanglement who suspects she has a secret. As a young girl in far less egalitarian times, romance featured heavily in our neophyte star’s thoughts and she frequently met other potential boyfriends: including alien heroes and even a Merboy from Atlantis.

Many of the early tales also involved keeping her presence concealed, even when performing super-feats. Jim Mooney was selected as regular artist and Binder remained as chief scripter for most of the early run.

In Action #254’s ‘Supergirl’s Foster-Parents!’, sees an unscrupulous couple of con-artists easily foiled, after which Linda meets a mystery DC hero when ‘Supergirl Visits the 21st Century!’ in #255. Her secret is almost exposed in ‘The Great Supergirl Mirage!’ before she grants ‘The Three Magic Wishes!’ to despondent youngsters and teaches a mean bully a much-needed lesson.

The Man of Steel often came off rather poorly when dealing with women in those less enlightened days, always under the guise of “teaching a much-needed lesson” or “testing” someone. When she plays with Krypto, ignoring his secrecy decree, cousin Kal-El banishes the lonely young heroine to an asteroid in ‘Supergirl’s Farewell to Earth!’ but of course there’s paternalistic method in the madness…

‘The Cave-Girl of Steel!’ then sees her voyage to the ancient past and become a legend of the Stone Age before Action #260 finds her transformed by the mystical Fountain of Youth into ‘The Girl Superbaby!’

The next tale introduced feline fan-favourite Streaky the Super-Cat in ‘Supergirl’s Super Pet!’ after which ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Victory!’ delivers a salutary lesson in humility to the Girl of Steel. Binder moved on after scripting ‘Supergirl’s Darkest Day!’ in which the Maid of Might rescues an alien prince, after which Jerry Siegel took over the storytelling as ‘Supergirl Gets Adopted!’: a traumatic and sentimental tale which only ends with the lonely lass back at Midvale orphanage.

I’ve restrained myself so please do the same when I say that the next adventure isn’t what you think. ‘When Supergirl Revealed Herself! (Siegel & Mooney from Action#265) is another story about nearly finding a family, after which Streaky playfully returns in ‘The World’s Mightiest Cat!’

Supergirl encounters fantastic fellow super-kids in Action #267’s ‘The Three Super-Heroes!’ but narrowly fails to qualify for the Legion of Super Heroes through the cruellest quirk of fate. Picking herself up she then exposes ‘The Mystery Supergirl!’ before Siegel & Mooney introduce Mer-boy Jerro who becomes ‘Supergirl’s First Romance!’

‘Supergirl’s Busiest Day!’ is packed with cameos from Batman and Robin, Krypto and Lori Lemaris all celebrating a very special occasion, after which Streaky makes another bombastic appearance as the wonder girl builds ‘Supergirl’s Fortress of Solitude!’.

Otto Binder wrote ‘The Second Supergirl!’, an alternate world tale that was too big for one issue. A sequel, ‘The Supergirl of Two Worlds!’ appeared in Action #273 – as did a novel piece of market research. ‘Pick a New Hairstyle for Linda (Supergirl) Lee!’ involved eager readers in the actual physical appearance of their heroine and gave editors some valuable input into who was actually reading the series…

Siegel & Mooney then soundly demonstrate the DC dictum that history cannot be changed in ‘Supergirl’s Three Time Trips!’ before ‘Ma and Pa Kent Adopt Supergirl!’ offers a truly nightmarish scenario, rapidly followed by a return visit to the Legion of Super Heroes in ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends!’, whilst Action #277 featured an animal epic in ‘The Battle of the Super-Pets!’

The next five tales in this volume form an extended saga taking the Girl of Steel in totally new directions. On the eve of Superman announcing her existence to the world, Supergirl loses her powers and – resigned to a normal life – is adopted by the childless Fred and Edna Danvers. Tragically it’s all a deadly plot by wicked Lesla-Lar, Kara’s identical double from the Bottle City of Kandor. This evil genius plans to replace Supergirl and conquer the Earth. This mini-epic – ‘The Unknown Supergirl!’, ‘Supergirl’s Secret Enemy!’, ‘Trapped in Kandor!’, ‘The Secret of the Time-Barrier!’ and (following the results of the Hair Style competition) ‘The Supergirl of Tomorrow!’ ran in Action #278-282 and solidly repositioned the character for a more positive, effective and fully public role in the DC universe. The epic also hinted of a more dramatic and less paternalistic, parochial and even sexist future for the most powerful girl in the world, over the months to come…

The young heroine still in very much a student-in-training, her very existence kept secret from the general public and living with adoptive parents who are completely unaware that the orphan they have recently adopted is a Kryptonian super-being.

The accent on these stories generally revolves around problem-solving, identity-saving and loneliness, with both good taste and the Comics Code ensuring readers weren’t traumatised by unsavoury or excessively violent tales. Plots akin to situation comedies often pertained, as in ‘The Six Red “K” Perils of Supergirl!’

Peculiar transformations were a mainstay of 1960s comics, and although a post-modern interpretation might discern some metaphor for puberty or girls “becoming” women, I rather suspect the true answer can be found in author Seigel’s love of comedy and an editorial belief that fighting was simply unladylike.

Red Kryptonite, a cosmically-altered isotope of the radioactive element left when Krypton exploded, caused temporary physical and sometimes mental mutations in the survivors of that doomed world and was a godsend to writers in need of a challenging visual element when writing characters with the power to drop-kick planets…

Here the wonder-stuff generates a circus of horrors, transforming Supergirl into a werewolf, shrinking her to microscopic size and making her fat (I’m not going to say a single bloody word…).

The drama continues and concludes – like this initial Silver Age compilation – with the next instalment ‘The Strange Bodies of Supergirl!’ wherein Linda Lee Danvers’ travails escalate after she grows a second head, gains death-ray vision (ostensibly!) and morphs into a mermaid. This daffy holdover to simpler times presaged a big change in the Maid of Might’s status but that’s a volume for another day…

Throughout her formative years Kara of Krypton underwent more changes than most of her confreres had in twenty years, as editors sought to find a niche the buying public could resonate with, but for all that, these stories remain exciting, ingenious and utterly bemusing.

Possibly the very last time a female super-character’s sexual allure wasn’t equated to sales potential and freely and gratuitously exploited, these tales are a link and window to a far less crass time and display one of the few truly strong and resilient female characters parents can still happily share with even their youngest children.
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