Showcase Presents Showcase


By Many and various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-364-1 (TPB)

If you’re a book reviewer, Christmas often comes incredibly early. We received lots and lots of lovely new tomes in the last week and I’ve still not caught up yet, so in the meantime, I’m fobbing you all off with a reworked recommendation I was saving for our actual Christmas promotion season. It’s still a wonderful read criminally in need of re-release and a digital edition, but readily available – for now…

The review is incredibly long. If you want to skip it and just buy the book – because it’s truly brilliant – then please do. I won’t mind and you won’t regret it at all…

In almost every conceivable way, DC’s original “try-out title” Showcase created and dictated the form of the Silver Age of American comic books and is responsible for the multi-billion-dollar industry and art form we all enjoy today.

For many of us old lags, the Silver Age is the ideal era and a still-calling Promised Land of fun and thrills. Varnished by nostalgia (because it’s the era when most of us caught this crazy childhood bug), the clean-cut, unsophisticated optimism of the late 1950s and early 1960s produced captivating heroes and compelling villains who were still far less terrifying than the Cold War baddies then troubling the grown-ups. The sheer talent and unbridled professionalism of the creators working in that too-briefly revitalised comics world resulted in triumph after triumph and even inspired competitors to step up and excel: all of which brightened our young lives and still glow today with quality and achievement.

The principle was a sound one and graphically depicted in the very first issue: the Editors at National/DC were apparently bombarded with readers’ suggestions for new titles and concepts and the only possible way to feasibly prove which would be popular was to offer test runs and assess fan reactions – for which read Sales…

Firmly ensconced in the age of genre thrillers and human adventurers, this magnificent, monolithic monochrome tome covers the first 21 issues from that historic series, spanning March/April 1956 to July/August 1959, and starts the ball rolling with the first and last appearances of Fireman Farrell in a proposed series dubbed Fire Fighters.

Following the aforementioned short ‘The Story Behind Showcase’ by Jack Schiff & Win Mortimer, the human-scaled dramas begin in ‘The School for Smoke-Eaters’ by Schiff and the superb John Prentice (Rip Kirby), introducing trainee fireman Mike Farrell during the last days of his training and desperate to simultaneously live up to and escape his father’s fabulous record as a legendary “smoke-eater”.

The remaining stories, both scripted by Arnold Drake, deal with the job’s daily dilemmas: firstly in ‘Fire under the Big Top’ wherein an unscrupulous showman ignored Farrell’s Fire Inspection findings with tragic consequences, and in‘Fourth Alarm’ mixing an industrial dispute over fireman’s pay, a crooked factory owner and a waterfront blaze captured on live TV in a blisteringly authentic tale of human heroism.

Showcase #2 featured Kings of the Wild: tales of animal valour imaginatively related in three tales scripted by Robert Kanigher – who had thrived after the demise of superheroes with a range of fantastical genre adventures covering western, war, espionage and straight adventure. Stunningly illustrated by Joe Kubert, ‘Rider of the Winds’ tells of a Native American lad’s relationship with his totem spirit Eagle; ‘Outcast Heroes’ (Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) relates how an orphan boy’s loneliness ends after befriending a runaway mutt who eventually saves the town’s kids from a flood before ‘Runaway Bear’ – drawn by Russ Heath – uses broad comedy to describe how an escaped circus bruin battles all the horrors of the wilderness to get return to his comfortable, safe life under the Big Top.

Issue #3 debuted Kanigher & Heath’s The Frogmen in an extended single tale following candidates for a US Underwater Demolitions Team as they move from students to successful undersea warriors. Beginning with ‘The Making of a Frogman’ as the smallest diver – mocked and chided as a ‘Sardine’ by his fellows (especially ‘Shark’ and ‘Whale’) – perseveres and forges bonds until the trio are dumped into blazing Pacific action in ‘Flying Frogmen’, learning the worth of teamwork and sacrifice by destroying a Japanese Sub base in ‘Silent War’

The feature returned as a semi-regular strip in All-American Men of War #44 (April #1957) amongst other Kanigher-edited war comics: making Frogmen the first but certainly not the last graduate of the try-out system. The next debut was to be the most successful but the cautious publishers took a long, long time to make it so…

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age officially arrived began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. The Shield beat Captain America to the news-stands by over a year yet the former is all but forgotten today.

The industry had never really stopped trying to revive superheroes when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956, with such precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955); Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955); Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and aforementioned Sentinel of Liberty (December 1953-October 1955) and even DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the close of the 1960’s and almost the end of superheroes again!) still turning up in second-hand-stores and “Five-and-Dime” bargain bins. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to try superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner and Golden-Age Flash scripter Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age, aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino & Joe Kubert, who had also worked on the previous incarnation.

The new Flash was Barry Allen, a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in the exploding chemicals of his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry took his superhero identity from a comic book featuring his predecessor (scientist Jay Garrick, who was exposed to the mutagenic fumes of “Hard Water”). Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative pinnacle), Barry Allen became the point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and the entire industry.

‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ (Kanigher) and ‘The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier’ (written by the superb John Broome) are polished, coolly sophisticated stories introducing the comfortingly suburban superhero and establishing the broad parameters of his universe. Whether defeating bizarre criminal masterminds such as The Turtle or returning criminal exile Mazdan to his own century, the new Flash was a protagonist of keen insight and sharp wits as well as overwhelming power. Nonetheless the concept was so controversial that despite phenomenal sales, rather than his own series the Fastest Man Alive was given a Showcase encore almost a year later…

Showcase #5 featured the last comics concept in years that didn’t actually develop into an ongoing series, but that’s certainly due to changing fashions of the times and not the quality of the work. The three crime yarns comprising cops-&-robbers anthology Manhunters, begin with ‘The Greatest Villain of all Time’ by Jack Miller & Mort Meskin, revealing how Hollywood screenwriter-turned-police detective Lt. Fowler is dogged by a madman playing for real all the fantastic bad guys the mystery author had once created, whilst ‘The Two Faces of Mr. X’ (Miller, Curt Swan & Sy Barry) finds a male model drafted by the FBI to replace a prominent mob-boss. Unfortunately, it’s the day before the gangster is scheduled for face-changing plastic surgery…

‘The Human Eel’ (Miller & Bill Ely) then pits a cop unable to endure heights against an international high-tech rogue who thinks he hold all the winning cards…

The next try-out was on far firmer fashion grounds and was the first feature to win two issues in a row.

The Challengers of the Unknown were a bridging concept. As the superhero genre was ever so cautiously alpha-tested in 1956 here was a super-team – the first new group-entry of this still-to-be codified era – but with no uncanny abilities or masks, the most basic and utilitarian of costumes, and the most dubious of motives: Suicide by Mystery…

If you wanted to play editorially safe you could argue that were simply another para-military band of adventurers like the long running Blackhawks… but they weren’t.

A huge early hit – winning their own title before The Flash (March 1959) and just two months after Lois Lane (March 1958, although she had been a star in comics since 1938 and even had TV, radio and movie recognition on her side) – the Challs struck a chord resonating for more than a decade before they finally died… only to rise again and yet again. The idea of them was stirring enough, but their initial execution made their success all but inevitable.

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are quite rightly millions of words written about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium. When the comic industry suffered a collapse in the mid 1950’s, Kirby briefly returned to DC, crafting genre mystery tales and revitalising the Green Arrow back-up strip whilst creating newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force. He also re-packaged for Showcase an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and long-time collaborator Joe Simon had closed their innovative but unfortunate Mainline Comics.

The Challengers of the Unknown were four extraordinary mortals; heroic adventurers and explorers brought together for a radio show who walked away unscathed from a terrible plane crash. Already obviously what we now call “adrenaline junkies”, they decided that since they were all living on borrowed time, they would dedicate what remained of their lives to testing themselves and fate. They would risk their lives for Knowledge and, of course, Justice.

Showcase #6, dated January/February 1957 – which meant it came out in time for Christmas 1956 – introduced pilot Ace Morgan, wrestler Rocky Davis, acrobat Red Ryan and scholarly marine explorer “Prof” Haley in a no-nonsense romp by Kirby, scripter Dave Wood, inkers Marvin Stein and Jack’s wife Roz, before devoting the rest of the issue to a spectacular epic with the doom-chasers hired by duplicitous magician Morelian to open an ancient casque holding otherworldly secrets and powers in ‘The Secrets of the Sorcerer’s Box!’

This story roars along with all the tension and wonder of the B-movie thrillers it emulates, and Kirby’s awesome drawing resonates with power and dynamism as the heroes tackle ancient horrors such as ‘Dragon Seed!’, ‘The Freezing Sun!’ and ‘The Whirling Weaver!’

The fantasy magic continued in the sequel: a science fiction crisis caused when an alliance of Nazi technologies with American criminality unleashes a robotic monster. Scripted by Kirby, ‘Ultivac is Loose!’ (Showcase #7, March/April 1957) introduces quietly capable boffin Dr. June Robbins, who becomes the fifth Challenger at a time when most comic females had returned to a subsidiary status in that so-conservative era.

As her computers predict ‘A Challenger Must Die!’, the lads nevertheless continue to hunt a telepathic, sentient super-robot who inadvertently terrorises ‘The Fearful Millions’ but soon find their sympathies with the tragic artificial intelligence after ‘The Fateful Prediction!’ is fulfilled…

Showcase #8 (June 1957) again featured the Flash, leading with another Kanigher tale – ‘The Secret of the Empty Box’. This perplexing but pedestrian mystery sees Frank Giacoia debut as inker, but the real landmark is Broome’s thriller ‘The Coldest Man on Earth’. With this yarn the author confirmed and consolidated the new phenomenon by introducing the first of a Rogues Gallery of outlandish super-villains. Unlike Golden Age stalwarts, new super-heroes would face predominantly costumed foes rather than thugs and spies. Henceforth, Bad Guys would be as visually arresting and memorable as the champions of justice. Captain Cold would return time and again as pre-eminent Flash Foe and Broome would go on to create every single member of Flash’s classic pantheon of super-villains.

Also included is filler reprint ‘The Race of Wheel and Keel’ by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane & Harry Lazarus, from All-Star Comics #53 (June/July 1950): a true story of how in 1858 a shipping magnate and stagecoach tycoon competed to prove which method of transportation was fastest…

When Lois Lane – arguably the oldest supporting character/star in the Superman mythology if not DC universe – finally received her own shot at a solo title, it was very much on the terms of the times.

I must shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright, breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, (nominally) adult liberal of the 21st century I’m astounded now at the jolly, patronising, patriarchally misogynistic attitudes underpinning so many of the stories.

Yes, I’m fully aware that the series was intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” like Lucille Ball or Doris Day played to a popular American stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but asking kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is just plain crazy and tantamount to child abuse.

I’m just saying…

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in three tales by Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira & Al Plastino; opening with seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ wherein Lois first meets red-headed hussy Lana Lang. The childhood sweetheart of Superboy seems to be a pushy conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at all costs. Naturally Miss Lane invites Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry is off and running…

‘The New Lois Lane’ aggravatingly saw Lois turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so, and the premier concludes with concussion-induced day-dream ‘Mrs. Superman’ with Lois imagining a life of domestic super-bliss…

The next issue (September/October 1957) offered three more of the same, all illustrated by Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye, beginning with ‘The Jilting of Superman’ – scripted by Otto Binder – wherein the Man of Tomorrow almost falls for an ancient ploy as Lois pretends to marry another man to make the Kryptonian clod realise what she means to him…

‘The Sightless Lois Lane’ by Coleman reveals how a nuclear accident temporarily blinds the journalist, before her unexpected recovery almost exposes Clark Kent’s secret when he callously changes to Superman in front of the blind girl. Binder delightfully closes the issue with ‘The Forbidden Box from Krypton’: a cache of devices dug up by a Smallville archaeologist originally packed by Jor-El to aid the infant superbaby on Earth. Of course, when Lois opens the chest all she sees is a way to become as powerful as the Man of Steel before becoming addicted to being a super-champion in her own right…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane launched into her own title scant months later, clearly exactly what the readers wanted…

Showcase #11 (November/December 1957) saw the Challengers return to combat an alien invasion on ‘The Day the Earth Blew Up’, with unique realist Bruno Premiani inking a taut doomsday chiller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats even today. Whilst searching for missing Antarctic explorers the Challs discover an under-ice base where double-brained aliens prepare to explosively alter the mass and gravity of Earth. Although intellectually superior, ‘The Tyrans’are no match for the indomitable human heroes and with their Plan A scotched, resort to brute force and ‘The Thing That Came out of the Sea’, even as Prof scuttles their aquatic ace in the hole with ‘One Minute to Doom’

By the time of their final Showcase cases (#12, January/February 1958) they had already secured their own title. Here, though, ‘The Menace of the Ancient Vials’ is defused by the usual blend of daredevil heroics and ingenuity (with the wonderful inking of George Klein, not Wally Wood as credited here) as international spy and criminal Karnak steals a clutch of ancient chemical weapons which create giants and ‘The Fire Being!’, summon ‘The Demon from the Depths’and materialise ‘The Deadly Duplicates!’ before the pre-fantastic four put their enemy down.

Flash zipped back in Showcase #13 (March/April 1958) in a brace of tales pencilled by Infantino and inked by Joe Giella. Written by Kanigher, ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ follows the Scarlet Speedster as he tackles atomic blackmail in Paris, foils kidnappers and rebuilds a pyramid in Egypt; dismantles an avalanche in Tibet and scuttles a pirate submarine in the Pacific, before Broome’s ‘Master of the Elements’ introduces outlandish chemical criminal Al Desmond who ravages Central City as Mr. Element until the Flash outwits him.

One last try-out issue – inked by Giacoia – cemented the Flash’s future: Showcase #14 (May/June 1958) opens with Kanigher’s eerie ‘Giants of the Time-World!’ as the Fastest Man Alive smashes dimensional barriers to rescue his girlfriend Iris West from uncanny cosmic colossi and stamp out an alien invasion plan, after which Al Desmond returns with an altered M.O. and new identity. Doctor Alchemy’s discovery of the mystic Philosopher’s Stone makes him ‘The Man who Changed the Earth!’: a stunning yarn and worthy effort to bow out on, but it was still nearly a year until the first issue of The Flash finally hit the stands.

To reiterate: Showcase was a try-out comic designed to launch new series and concepts with minimal commitment of publishing resources. If a new character sold well initially, a regular series would follow. The process had been proved with Frogmen, Lois Lane, Challengers of the Unknown and Flash, so Editorial Director Irwin Donenfeld now urged his two Showcase editors to create science fiction heroes to capitalise on the twin zeitgeists of the Space Race and the popular fascination with movie monsters and aliens. Jack Schiff came up with a “masked” crimefighter of the future – who featured in issues #15 and 16 – whilst Julie Schwartz concentrated on the now in the saga of a contemporary Earth explorer catapulted into the most uncharted territory yet imagined.

Showcase #15 (September/October 1958) commenced without fanfare – or origin – the ongoing adventures of Space Ranger – beginning in ‘The Great Plutonium Plot’ (plotted by Gardner Fox, scripted by pulp veteran Edmond Hamilton and illustrated by Bob Brown).

Their hero was in actuality Rick Starr, son of a wealthy interplanetary businessman who – thanks to incredible gadgets and the assistance of shape-shifting alien pal Cryll and capable Girl Friday Myra Mason – spent his free time battling evil and injustice. When Jarko the Jovian space pirate targets only ships carrying the trans-uranic element, Rick suspects a hidden motive. Donning his guise of the Space Ranger, he lays a cunning trap, exposing a hidden mastermind and a deadly ancient device endangering the entire solar system…

From his base in a hollow asteroid, Space Ranger ranges the universe and ‘The Robot Planet’ brings him and his team to Sirius after discovering a diabolical device designed to rip Sol’s planets out of their orbits. At the end of his voyage, Starr discovers a sublime civilisation reduced to cave-dwelling and a mighty computer intelligence intent on controlling the entire universe unless he can stop it…

Issue #16 opened with ‘The Secret of the Space Monster’ (plot by John Forte, scripted by Hamilton, illustrated by Brown) with Rick, Myra and Cryll investigating an impossible void creature and uncovering a band of alien revolutionaries testing novel super-weapons. ‘The Riddle of the Lost Race’ (Fox, Hamilton & Brown) then takes the team on a whistle-stop tour of the Solar system in pursuit of a vicious criminal and hidden treasures of a long-vanished civilisation.

A few months later Space Ranger was transported to science fiction anthology Tales of the Unexpected, beginning with issue #40 (August 1959) to hold the lead and cover spot for a 6-year run…

One of the most compelling and revered stars of those halcyon days was an ordinary Earthman who regularly travelled to another world for spectacular adventures, armed with nothing more than a ray-gun, a jetpack and his own ingenuity. His name was Adam Strange, and like so many of that era’s triumphs, he was the brainchild of Julius Schwartz and his close team of creative stars.

Showcase #17 (November/December 1958) proclaimed Adventures on Other Worlds, courtesy of Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs, telling of an archaeologist who, whilst fleeing from enraged natives in Peru, jumps a 25-foot chasm only to be hit by a stray teleport beam from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. Rematerialising on another planet filled with giant plants and monsters, he is rescued by a beautiful woman named Alanna who teaches him her language via a cunning contrivance. ‘Secret of the Eternal City!’ reveals Rann is a world recovering from atomic war, and the beam Adam intercepted was in fact a simple flare, one of many sent in an attempt to communicate with other races.

In the four years (Speed of Light, right? As You Know, Bob – Alpha Centauri is about 4.3 light-years from Sol) the Zeta-Flare travelled through space, cosmic radiation converted it into a teleportation beam. Until the radiation drains from his body Strange is a most willing prisoner on a fantastic world of mystery, adventure and romance…

And an incredibly unlucky one apparently, as no sooner has Adam started acclimatising than an alien race The Eternalsinvades, seeking a mineral that grants them immortality. Strange’s courage and sharp wits enable him to defeat the invaders only to have the Zeta radiation finally fade, drawing him home before his adoring Alanna can administer a hero’s reward. Thus was established the principles of this beguiling series. Adam would intercept a Zeta-beam hoping for some time with his alien sweetheart, only to be confronted with a planet-menacing crisis.

The very next of these, ‘The Planet and the Pendulum’ sees him obtain the crimson-and-white spacesuit and weaponry that became his distinctive trademark in a tale of alien invaders attacking a lost colony of Rannians. They reside on planetary neighbour Anthorann – a fact that also introduces the major subplot of Rann’s still-warring city-states, all desperate to progress and all at different stages of recovery and development….

The next issue featured the self-explanatory ‘Invaders from the Atom Universe’ – with sub-atomic marauders displacing the native races until Adam unravels their nefarious plans – and ‘The Dozen Dooms of Adam Strange’, wherein our hero outfoxes the dictator of Dys who plans to invade Alanna’s home-city Rannagar.

With this last story, Sachs was replaced by Joe Giella as inker, although the former did ink Showcase #19’s stunning Gil Kane cover, (March/April 1959) which saw the unwieldy Adventures on Other Worlds title replaced with eponymous logo Adam Strange.

‘Challenge of the Star-Hunter’ and ‘Mystery of the Mental Menace’ are classic puzzle tales wherein the Earthman must outwit a shape-changing alien and an all-powerful energy-being. After so doing, Adam Strange took over the lead spot and cover of anthology comic Mystery in Space with the August issue.

Clearly on a creative high and riding a building wave, Showcase #20 (May/June 1959) introduced Rip Hunter… Time Master and his dauntless crew as Prisoners of 100 Million BC’ (by Jack Miller & Ruben Moreira) in a novel-length introductory escapade seeing the daredevil physicist, his engineer friend Jeff Smith, girlfriend Bonnie Baxter and her little brother Corky travel to the Mesozoic era, unaware they are carrying two criminal stowaways.

Once there, the thugs hi-jack the Time Sphere, holding it hostage until the explorers help them stock up with rare and precious minerals. Reduced to the status of castaways, Rip and his team become ‘The Modern-Day Cavemen’, but when an erupting volcano provokes ‘The Great Beast Stampede’, our dauntless chrononauts finally turn the tables on their abductors…

Miller was always careful to use the best research available, but never afraid to blend historical fact with bold fantasy for Hunter’s escapades, and this volume concludes with an epic follow-up. Illustrated by Sekowsky & Joe Giella, ‘The Secret of the Lost Continent’ (Showcase #21, July/August, 1959,) has the Time Masters jump progressively further back in time in search of Atlantis. Starting with a dramatic meeting with Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, the explorers follow the trail back centuries to ‘The Forbidden Island’ of Aeaea in 700 BCE and uncover the secret of the witch Circe before finally reaching 14,000 BCE and ‘The Doomed Continent’ only to find the legendary pinnacle of early human achievement to be a colony of stranded extraterrestrial refugees…

Rip Hunter would appear twice more in Showcase before winning his own comic. The succeeding months would see the Silver Age truly kick into High Gear with classic launches coming thick and fast…

These stories from a uniquely influential comic book determined the course of the entire American strip culture and for that alone they should be cherished, but the fact they are still some of the most timeless, accessible and entertaining graphic adventures ever produced is a gift that should be celebrated by every fan and casual reader.

Buy this for yourself, get it for your friends and get a spare just because you can…
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Brainiac


By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Jon Sibal & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-230-1 (TPB)

Since his first appearance in Action Comics #242 (July 1958), robotic alien reaver Brainiac has been a perennial favourite foe of the Man of Steel, and has remained so even through being subsequently “retooled” many times. Brilliant and relentless, the one thing he/it has never been is really scary – until this latest re-imagining from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.

In post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity the raider was a computerised intellect from planet Colu who inhabited and transformed the body of showbiz mentalist Milton Fine, until it grew beyond physical limits to become a time-travelling ball of malignant computer code, constructing or co-opting ever-more formidable physical forms in its self-appointed mission to eradicate Superman.

However, in this slim but evocative tome – collecting Action Comics #886-870 and Superman: New Krypton Special #1 – the truth is finally revealed… or if you prefer, edited into a sensible scenario combining the best of dozens of previous plot strands.

Long ago, an alien invader attacked Krypton: merciless and relentless robotic berserkers slaughtered hundreds of citizens before physically removing the entire city of Kandor. Decades later, one of those robots lands on Earth only to promptly fall before the Man of Tomorrow’s shattering fists.

This ‘First Contact’ leads to a revelatory conversation with Supergirl – a fortunate survivor of the Kandor Incident, as seen in ‘Hide and Seek’. Now we know every Brainiac Superman has ever faced has only been a pale shadow of the true villain: autonomous automatic probes and programming ghosts of a malevolent entity that has stalked the universe for centuries, stealing representative cities before destroying the redundant worlds they once thrived upon. Most importantly, the real Brainiac has found Earth…

What nobody realises is that the Cosmic Kidnapper has been scouring the cosmos ever since Krypton died. He actually wants to possess every last son and daughter of that long-dead world and neither time nor distance will hinder him…

Superman rockets into space to confront the monster, unaware that the marauder is already en route to Earth, and as the Metropolis Marvel confronts his old foe for the very first time in a titanic, horrific clash, ‘Greetings’ sees Supergirl lead the defence of embattled planet Earth against the monster’s diabolical mechanical marauders.

The war on two fronts continues in ‘Mind Over Matter’, concluding in an overwhelming moment of ‘Triumph and Tragedy’ as Superman defeats Brainiac and frees an entire city of fellow Kryptonians he never knew still existed, only to lose one of the most important people in his life, ending on an uncharacteristically sombre, low key note in ‘Epilogue’.

Geoff Johns was then at the forefront of the creative movement to restore and rationalize DC’s Pre-Crisis mythology, and by combining a modern sensibility with the visual flavour of Ridley Scott’s Alien movies here added a tangible aura of terror to the wide-eyed imagination and wonder of those old and much-loved tales. The visceral, gloriously hyper-realistic art of Gary Franks & John Sibal adds to the unease, and their deft touch with the welcome tension-breaking comedic breaks is a sheer delight.

Available in both print and digital formats, this is a Superman yarn anybody can pick up, irrespective of their familiarity – or lack of – with the character: fast, thrilling, spooky and deeply moving, for all that it’s also the introduction to major event New Krypton – but that’s a tale and review for another time…
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The City of Tomorrow volume 1


By Jeph Loeb, Stuart Immonen, Mark Millar, Mark Schultz, Joe Kelly, Mike McKone, Steve Epting, Dough Mahnke, German Garcia, Joe Phillips, Yannick Paquette, Kano, Butch Guice, Ed McGuinness & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9508-0 (TPB)

The Man of Tomorrow has proven to be all things to most people over more than 80 years of action and adventure, with Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic Superman now practically unrecognisable to most fans after continual radical shake-ups and revisions. Nevertheless, every refit and reboot has resulted in appalled fans and new devotees in pretty much equal proportion, so perhaps the Metropolis Marvel’s greatest ability is the power to survive change…

These days, in the aftermath of the Future State and Infinite Frontier events, myriad decades of accrued mythology have been re-assimilated into an overarching, all-inclusive media dominant, film-favoured continuity, with the grittily stripped-down, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Man of Steel (as re-imagined by John Byrne and built upon by an army of immensely talented comics creators) regarded as a stunning high point.

As soon as the Byrne restart had demolished much of the mythology and iconography which had grown up around the “Strange Visitor from Another World” over fifty glorious years, successive writers, artists and editors expended a lot of time and ingenuity restoring it, albeit in terms more accessible to a cynical, well-informed audience far more sophisticated than their grandparents ever were.

Even so, by the mid-1990’s Byrne’s baby was beginning to look a little tired. The sales kick generated by the Death… and Return of Superman was already fading, so the decision was made to give the big guy a bit of a tweak for the fast-approaching new millennium: bringing in new creators and moving the stories into more bombastic territory.

The fresh tone was augmented by a new sequence and style of trade paperback editions and this new collection adheres to that format in gigantic themed tomes like this initial outing re-presenting material from Action Comics #760-763; Superman #151-154, Superman: Man of Steel # 95-98; The Adventures of Superman #573-576 and Superman: Y2K, covering December 1999-March 2000.

It spectacularly opens with ‘We’re Back!’ by Jeph Loeb, Mike McKone & Marlo Alquiza (from Superman #151), which sees the recently wrecked Daily Planet restored, rebuilt and returned to glory after a dark period under the ownership of Lex Luthor, allowing Lois Lane-Kent plenty of opportunities for reflection, remembrance and handy recapping before the sinister son of alien marauder Mongul explosively crashes to earth…

‘Higher Ground’ (by Stuart Immonen, Mark Millar, Steve Epting & Denis Rodier from Adventures of Superman #573) then details Luthor’s machinations and political chicanery in the creation of a proposed elite “hypersector” to cap the rebuilding of “his” City of Tomorrow. Only stubborn landowner Jerome Odett stands in his way, but with the mayor on his team and bending the law to his needs Lex is assured of victory… until Superman intervenes using sentiment, nostalgia and happy childhood memories as his weapons of choice to arouse popular opinion…

Mark Schultz, Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen then reveal that ‘Krypton Lives’ (Superman: Man of Steel # 95) after a Superman robot malfunctions in the Antarctic, allowing humans to enter the Kryptonian’s Fortress of Solitude and triggering the escape of a bizarre string of ancient yet impossibly alive Kryptonian artefacts and creatures.

Forced to destroy the last vestiges of his alien heritage, Kal-El returns to Lois, thinking that a precious chapter of his life is over, but he couldn’t be more wrong…

Crafted by Joe Kelly, German Garcia & Joe Rubinstein, Action Comics #760 depicts ‘…Never-Ending Battle…’ as a legion of minor menaces and misfits lead the Man of Tomorrow to Latina sorceress La Encantadora who sells slivers of Kryptonite to thugs trying to lay our hero low. Even after the elusive enchantress is corralled, she delivers one last surprise which will make much mischief for the Last Son of Krypton…

‘Deadline U.S.A.’ (Superman #152, Loeb, McKone & Alquiza) resumes the interrupted battle with Mongul Jr., but all conflict ceases when the mammoth monster finally gets the Man of Steel to stop hitting and listen…

The brutal tyrant has come to warn of a vast, universe-ending threat and, in conjunction with Luthor, is offering to train Superman to beat it…

There are more pedestrian but just as critical distracting problems to deal with. During Superman’s sparring with Mongul, Jimmy Olsen took a photo of the hero’s hand sporting a wedding ring. When the picture is leaked, the media goes into a feeding frenzy…

‘Something Borrowed, Something Blue’ (Immonen, Millar, Joe Phillips & Rich Faber; Adventures of Superman #574) follows that strand as old foe and potential bunny-boiler Obsession resurfaces in a Superwoman outfit, claiming to be the much-sought Mrs. Superman. However, her deranged tantrum leads to nothing but tragedy and disaster…

Returning ‘Home’ (by Schultz, Mahnke & Nguyen in Superman: Man of Steel #96) Clark Kent finds his Metropolis apartment transformed into a terrifying outpost of his destroyed birthworld, courtesy of renegade miracle machine The Eradicator. In the resultant clash, Superman looks doomed to destruction, until Lois takes decisive action…

Her valiant nature and wifely tolerance is truly tested in Action Comics #761, as – courtesy of Kelly, Garcia & Rubinstein – Lois is abandoned after Wonder Woman requests the Man of Tomorrow join her in battle beside gods against devils.

For the feisty journalist it’s mere days until Clark returns, but she’s blissfully unaware that her husband and the perfect warrior woman have been comrades – and perhaps more – ‘For a Thousand Years…’

The last Christmas of the 20th century ends in Superman #153 (Loeb, McKone & Alquiza) as ‘Say Goodbye’ finds the Action Ace heading into space with Mongul to battle Imperiex, Destroyer of Galaxies who has targeted the Milky Way for destruction…

When the pair implausibly triumph, Mongul instantly betrays his erstwhile pupil and only a violent intervention by bounty hunter Lobo prevents a tragic travesty. What nobody knows is that the Imperiex so recently destroyed is just a fractional drone of the real cosmic obliterator, who is now really ticked off…

Offering a brief pause and change-of-pace ‘A Night at the Opera’ (by Immonen, Millar, Yannick Paquette, Dexter Vines & Rich Faber; Adventures of Superman #575) sees Luthor poison Clark in a churlish attempt to monopolize and impress Lois, before Schultz, Mahnke & Nguyen’s ‘Bridge the Past and Future’ (Superman: Man of Steel # 97) focusses on John Henry Irons – AKA Steel – and his niece Natasha. The high-tech armourers to the City’s police force join Superman against the possessed personification of the Eradicator, still hell-bent on making Earth an outpost of lost Krypton, but now afflicted by an all-too-human consciousness …

As year and millennium anxiously count down to potential doom (kids – this was a genuine concern at the time, you should check it out…) Christmas tensions escalate in Action Comics #762 as Kelly, Garcia, Kano & Rubinstein’s ‘All I Want for Christmas’ finds Man of Steel battling occasional ally Etrigan the Demon beside current foe La Encantadora, before all rediscover the true meaning of the season…

Finally, the long-dreaded doom days begin with the Superman: Y2K one-shot special, crafted by scripter Joe Kelly and artists Butch Guice, Kevin Conrad, Mark Propst & Richard Bonk. ‘The End’ traces the history of the Luthor dynasty in Metropolis, from the first settlers in America to the present day when Last Son Lex practically owns the entire place as a counterpoint to the ongoing action…

With the end of the Holidays fast approaching, staunch traditionalist Clark is facing an existential crisis: Lois and his own mother want to elbow the sacrosanct seasonal tradition of a quiet New Year’s on the Smallville farm for a (professionally-catered, not home-cooked) vacation in the Big City…

Bowing to the inevitable, the Hubby of Tomorrow ferries the family to a Metropolis suddenly gripped with terror: fearing that all the computers on Earth will imminently expire, precipitating the end of civilisation as the millennium closes…

When the countdown concludes, everybody’s fears are totally justified. An alien entity overwhelms the world’s digital systems, triggering a wave of destruction affecting every electronic device on Earth…

Alien digital dictator Brainac 2.5 has upgraded himself since his last attack, but his hatred for Luthor is undiminished. As every hero on Earth battles panic, riots and failing technologies, and Superman and Green Lantern are busy fielding all the nuclear missiles launched during the terrifying induced glitch, the computer dictator is trying his hardest to murder Lex and his new baby daughter Lena Luthor.

As part of his scheme Brainiac 2.5 has also enslaved Earth’s many robotic and android entities such as Red Tornado, Hourman and the Metal Men, but the AI invader is blithely unaware that he too is being used…

With the world – and especially Metropolis – crashing into ruin the secret invader makes its move: from the far distant future the merciless Brainac 13 program has been attempting to overwrite its ancient ancestor and take over Earth centuries before it was even devised…

As described by Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Cam Smith in Superman volume 2 #154 (March 2000), the crisis intensifies in ‘Whatever Happened to the City of Tomorrow?’ as the colossal chronologically-displaced construct begins reformatting the world: converting matter into materials and designs analogous to its own time. Unfortunately, that’s very bad news for the billions of human beings inside buildings, vehicles and vessels abruptly undergoing those transformations…

Even Luthor is helpless, locked out of his own corporate tower as “his” city falls apart whilst the Man of Steel is occupied battling Brainiac 13 and upgraded cyborg assassin Metallo. Assistance arrives in most unwelcome form as little Lena begins offering technical advice. The toddler has been possessed by presumed-destroyed Brainiac 2.5: simultaneously becoming hostage and bolt-hole for the outmoded, nigh-obsolete alien menace…

With the aid of the Metal Men, Superman defeats Metallo and confers with Lois and Jimmy Olsen. The games-mad lad theorises that the transforming city is starting to resemble a gigantic motherboard…

As elsewhere Jonathan and Martha Kent are trapped aboard a subway train programmed to deliver organic units to a slave-indoctrination station, the Action Ace attempts to dislodge the computerising city’s main power cable. When Brainiac 13 tries to digitise and absorb the annoying Kryptonian, it accidentally reverts the hero to a previous incarnation: the intangible electrical form dubbed Superman Blue

The hostile planetary hacking continues in The Adventures of Superman #576 as ‘AnarchY2Knowledge’ (Millar, Immonen & José Marzan, Jr.) finds the Man of Energy hopelessly tackling Brainiac 13. He seeks to quell the rising body count of helpless humans, whilst far below Luthor and Lena 2.5 battle through marauding B13 creations in the overwritten bowels of the LexCorp Tower towards a stolen secret weapon…

The alien-occupied infant shares a direct link with all Brainiacs’ core programming and has discovered a possible backdoor that could enable them to destroy the all-pervasive program from the future. Their progress is greatly facilitated after Luthor’s lethally devoted bodyguards Hope and Mercy finally locate them. As preparations proceed, the villains opt to rescue Superman, incidentally restoring the Metropolis Marvel to a flesh and blood state. To save Metropolis for his family, the evil billionaire will even work with his most hated enemy…

Superman: Man of Steel # 98 continues the epic with ‘Thirty Minutes to Oblivion’ (Schultz, Mahnke & Nguyen) as the senior Kents escape conversion into B13 drones thanks to a last moment rescue by the Man of Steel and The Eradicator.

After a lengthy period of self-imposed banishment in deep space (for which see Superman: Exile) Kal-El returned to Earth carrying an incredibly powerful Kryptonian artefact which had survived the destruction of the planet. The Eradicator could reshape matter and was programmed to preserve or resurrect and restore the heritage and influence of the lost civilisation at any cost.

After a number of close calls Superman realised it was too dangerous, so he buried it in an Antarctic crevasse and foolishly assumed that ended the affair. Such was not the case and the miracle machine returned many times, always attempting to remake Earth into New Krypton.

When Superman died, it manufactured a new body and sought to carry on Kal-El’s legacy… Eventually it failed and fell into the hands of dying scientist David Connor who merged with the manufactured body to produce a phenomenally powerful – if morally and emotionally conflicted – new hero…

Superman’s understandable anxiety is assuaged as Eradicator points out a weakness in B13 tech assimilation. Its transmode programs have been unable to infect Kryptonian systems such as those in the Fortress of Solitude, but the base has now become the invader’s primary target. If the program masters Kryptonian systems it will be utterly unstoppable…

After finishing off Metallo and the co-opted Metal Men, Eradicator and Superman head to the Fortress, whilst in his factory John Henry Irons and Natasha find their own temporary answer to the threat of the constantly encroaching and bloodthirsty B13 drones…

Deep below LexCorp, Luthor and Lena 2.5 are working towards similar goals with the same insights whilst planning to betray each other later. Admitting that Brainiac core systems can’t even see Kryptonian tech, the baby bodysnatcher advises Lex to modify the robotic warsuit stolen from Superman and deploy it against the apparently omnipotent digital invader.

In the Antarctic, events have moved to a crisis point. The Fortress – transformed by echoes of the original Eradicator – has reconstructed itself into a colossal warrior attempting to overwrite the predatory B13 programs and satisfy its own primary mission… recreating Krypton.

To counter this threat David Connor pays an intolerable price…

The epic comes to a startling conclusion in ‘Sacrifice for Tomorrow’ (Kelly, Garcia, Kano & Alquiza in Action Comics #763) as Superman returns to Metropolis armed with the knowledge of B13’s Achilles’ heel and his repurposed Kryptonian butler Kelex

Attacking the monstrous computer tyrant with a battalion of mechanoid heroes, the Man of Tomorrow is again repulsed and seeks Luthor’s aid. However, despite Lex’s resolve to work with his nemesis to defeat Brainiac, the billionaire cannot resist turning the warsuit on its previous owner. Typically, Superman was counting on treachery, using it as an opportunity to hijack the Kryptonian armour’s systems to power a forced crash in Brainiac 13…

The blockbuster battle ends as Earth is rapidly reconverted to its original state, but for some inexplicable reason the remission halts outside Metropolis. The city remains a valuable, incomprehensible artefact of a far future with Luthor in the driving seat, frantically patenting thousands of incredible technological advances. There is no sign of baby Lena and the new master of Metropolis refuses to hear her name mentioned…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Phil Jimenez; Dwayne Turner & Danny Miki; Ian Churchill & Norm Rapmund; Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary; Lee Bermejo; Guice; McGuiness & Smith; Immonen & Marzan; Mahnke & John Dell and Garcia & Mendoza, this blistering paperback and digital blockbuster tome introduces a whole new world – and a wealth of fresh problems – for the venerable, wide-ranging cast to cope with: building built upon the scintillating re-casting of the greatest of all superheroes. Lovers of the genre cannot help but respond to the sheer scale, spectacle and compelling melodrama of these tales which will delight all fans of pure untrammelled Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction.
© 1999, 2000, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Aquaman volume 1


By Robert Bernstein, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Bob Haney, Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1223-0 (TPB)

Big year for comics anniversaries, and we can’t let this guy go unmentioned. Sadly, most of his back catalogue is still unavailable unless you track down aging compendia like this bulky gem. Although unavailable in digital formats, one of the greatest advantages of these monochrome tomes is the opportunity they provide whilst chronologically collecting a character’s adventures to include crossovers and guest spots from other titles. When the star is as long-lived and incredibly peripatetic as DC’s King of the Seven Seas that’s an awful lot of extra appearances for a fan to find…

One of the few superheroes to survive the collapse at the end of the Golden Age was a rather nondescript and generally bland looking chap who solved maritime crimes, rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disaster. Aquaman was created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris in the wake of Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner: debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) with fellow born survivor Green Arrow.

Strictly a second stringer for most of his career, Aquaman nevertheless continued on far beyond many stronger features. He was primarily illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazeneuve and Charles Paris, until young Ramona Fradon took over the art chores in 1954, by which time the Sea King had settled into a regular back-up slot in Adventure Comics. Fradon was to draw every single adventure until 1960 and indelibly stamp the hero with her unique blend of charm and sleek competence.

In 1956, Showcase #4 finally rekindled the public’s imagination and zest for costumed crime-fighters. As well as re-imagining Golden Age stalwarts, DC undertook to update and remake its hoary survivors. Records are incomplete, sadly, so often we don’t know who wrote what, but the initial revamp ‘How Aquaman Got His Powers!’ (Adventure Comics #260, May 1959) was the work of Robert Bernstein who wrote the majority of the subsea capers at this time.

From that tale on the hero had a new origin – offspring of a lighthouse keeper and a refugee from the undersea city of Atlantis – and eventually all the trappings of the modern superhero followed: Themed hideout, sidekick and even super-villains! Moreover, greater attention was paid to continuity and the concept of a shared universe.

The 49 adventures gathered here encompass that early period of renewal, taking him from wandering back-up bit-player to stardom and his own comic book. Writers from those years included the aforementioned Bernstein, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Bob Haney and perhaps other DC regulars, but the art was always by Fradon, whose captivatingly clean economical line always made the pictures something special.

The initial stories are pretty undemanding fare, ranging from simply charming to simply bewildering examples of all-ages action to rank alongside the best the company offered at the time. ‘Aquaman Duels the Animal Master’, ‘The Undersea Hospital’, ‘The Great Ocean Election’, ‘Aquaman and his Sea-Police’ and ‘The Secret of the Super Safe’ kept the hero in soggy isolation, but via an early crossover, Aquaman made his full entrance into the DC universe.

DC supported the popular 1950s Adventures of Superman TV show with a number of successful spin-off titles. Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #12 (October 1959) featured ‘The Mermaid of Metropolis’ wherein the plucky news hen (and isn’t that a term that’s outlived its sell-by date?) suffers crippling injuries in a scuba-diving accident. On hand to save her is Aquaman and a surgeon who turns her into a mermaid so she can live a worthwhile life without legs beneath the waves.

I know, I know: but just accepting the adage “Simpler Times” often helps me at times like this. In all seriousness, this silly story – by Bernstein – is a key moment in the development of one-universe continuity. The fact that it’s drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger – one of the most accomplished artists ever to work in American comics – makes it even more adorable, for all its silliness; and you can’t make me change my mind…

‘Aquaman Meets Aquagirl’ (Adventure Comics #266, by Bernstein & Fradon) gave a little more information about lost Atlantis whilst testing the waters (sorry!) for a possible sidekick. Remember, in those days the Sea King spent most of his time expositorially dialoguing with an octopus so with Adventure Comic #267 the editors tried a novel experiment.

At this time the title starred Superboy and featured two back-up features. Aquaman tale ‘The Manhunt on Land’ saw villainous Shark Norton trade territories with Green Arrow’s foe The Wizard and, in a rare crossover – both parts of which were written by Bernstein – the two heroes worked the same case with Aquaman fighting on dry land whilst the Emerald Archer pursued his enemy beneath the waves in his own strip ‘The Underwater Archers’, illustrated by the great Lee Elias.

In the next issue ‘The Adventures of Aquaboy!’ we got a look at the early years of the Sea King, and following that permanent sidekick Aqualad was introduced in ‘The Kid from Atlantis!’ In quick succession came ‘The Menace of Aqualad’, ‘The Second Deluge!’, ‘The Human Flying Fish!’, ‘Around the World in 80 Hours’, ‘Aqua-Queen’ and intriguing mystery ‘The Interplanetary Mission’.

Originally seen in Adventure Comics #275 – a few months after the debut of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28 – this story concerned a plot to secure Kryptonite from the sea-floor. Although Superman did not appear, nets of shared continuity were being gradually interwoven. Heroes would no longer work in assured solitude. It was back to business as usual for ‘The Aqua-thief of the Seven Seas’, ‘The Underwater Olympics’, ‘Aqualad Goes to School’, ‘Silly Sailors of the Sea’ and ‘The Lost Ocean’: a typical mixed bag which served to set the scene for a really Big Event.

In Showcase #30 (January-February 1961) Jack Miller & Fradon expanded the origin of Aquaman in full-length epic ‘The Creatures from Atlantis’, wherein extra-dimensional creatures conquer the sunken civilisation. From this point on fanciful whimsy would be downplayed in favour of character-driven drama. The saga was followed by tense thriller ‘One Hour to Doom’ in Adventure Comics #282. Inked by Charles Paris, this was Fradon’s last art job for nearly a year and a half, whilst a second Showcase issue by Miller saw the first Aquaman job for comics veteran Nick Cardy who would visually make Aquaman his own for the next half-decade.

‘The Sea Beasts from One Million B.C.’ (Showcase #31, March/April 1961) is a wild romp of fabulous creatures, dotty scientists and evolution rays presaging a new path for the King of the Seas. Jim Mooney drew ‘The Charge of Aquaman’s Sea Soldiers’ for Adventure #284, before the series shifted to a new home, replaced by Tales of the Bizarro World.

Before that, however, there was another Showcase spectacular. Miller & Cardy pulled out all the stops for ‘The Creature King of the Sea’: an action-packed duel against a monstrous villain with murder in mind. The hind end of Detective Comics #293 (July 1961) then welcomed Aquaman & Aqualad, who took only six pages to solve the mystery of ‘The Sensational Sea Scoops’. All this time Cardy – who had initially altered his drawing style to mirror Fradon – had been gradually reverting to his natural, humanistic mode. By the time of fourth Showcase outing, ‘Prisoners of the Aqua-Planet’ (#33) appeared, the Sea King was a rugged, burly He-Man, and his world – no matter how fantastic – had an added edge of realism to it.

Detective #294’s ‘The Fantastic Fish that Defeated Aquaman’ coincided with a guest-spot in a second Superman Family title. Drawn by Al Plastino, ‘The Monster that Loved Aqua-Jimmy’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #55) is another child of its time that hasn’t weathered well, but the big kid in me still regards it fondly and I hope that others will afford it the same courtesy. Meanwhile, back at Detective Comics #295, our heroes defied ‘The Curse of the Sea Hermit’ (scripted by George Kashdan), before next month exposed ‘The Mystery of Demon Island!

To accompany the more realistic art, and perhaps in honour of their new home, the stories became – briefly – less fantasy oriented. ‘Aqualad, Stand-In for a Star’ (Miller & Batman stalwart Sheldon Moldoff) was a standard hero-in-Hollywood crime caper, after which Cardy drew both ‘The Secret Sentry of the Sea’ (#298) and ‘Aquaman’s Secret Teacher’ (#299): a brace of yarns encompassing security duty at a secret international treaty signing and the Sea scions teaching an old blowhard a lesson in tall-tale telling…

The next month saw another milestone. After two decades of continuous adventuring the Sea King finally got a comic book of his own. Aquaman #1 (January/February 1962) was a 25-page fantasy thriller introducing one of the most controversial supporting characters in comics lore. Pixie-like Water-Sprite Quisp was part of a strange trend for cute imps and elves who attached themselves to far too many heroes of the time, but his contributions in ‘The Invasion of the Fire-Trolls’ and succeeding issues were numerous and obviously carefully calculated and considered…

‘The Mystery of the Undersea Safari!’ (Detective Comics #300) was the last Aqua caper before he moved again, this time to World’s Finest Comics. However, prior to that residency commencing, his own second issue appeared. ‘Captain Sykes’ Deadly Missions’ is a lovely-looking thriller with fabulous monsters and a flamboyant pirate blackmailing the Sea King into retrieving deadly mystical artefacts.

The World’s Finest run started in fine style with #125’s ‘Aquaman’s Super-Sidekick’ (Miller & Cardy) and Aquaman #3 provided full-length thrills and more exposure for the lost city in ‘The Aquaman from Atlantis’: a tale of traitors and time-travel. WF #126 then saw the heroes foil thieves with ‘Aquaman’s Super Sea Circus’ as – for better or worse – Quisp returned in #4’s ‘Menace of the Alien Island’.

A more welcome returnee was Ramona Fradon who took over the World’s Finest strip with #127’s ‘Aquaman’s Finny Commandos’ before the next issue saw ‘The Trial of Aquaman’ close in his favour just in time to endure ‘The Haunted Sea’ in his own fifth issue, and encountering ‘The Menace of the Alien Fish’ in WF #129.

This bumper volume concludes with Aquaman #6 and ‘Too Many Quisps’: a case of painfully mistaken identity and a sentiment difficult to disagree with… but still beautifully illustrated by Mr. Cardy.

DC has a long and comforting history of gentle, innocuous yarn-spinning with quality artwork. Fradon’s Aquaman is one of the most neglected runs of such universally-accessible material, and it’s a sheer pleasure to discover just how readable they still are. When the opportunity arises to compare her astounding work to the best of a stellar talent like as Nick Cardy, this book becomes a true fan’s must-have item and even more so when the stories are still suitable for kids of all ages. Why not treat the entire family to a seaside spectacle of timelessly inviting adventure?
© 1959-1962, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

World’s Finest: Guardians of Earth


By Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Elliot S! Maggin, Dick Dillin, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0178-3 (HB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable stalwarts were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whilst in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

Of course, they had shared covers on World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. In fact, they never shared an official comic book case. However, once that Rubicon was crossed in Superman #76 (May 1952), the partnership solidified thanks to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts. As 52-page titles dwindled to the 32, WFC permanently sealed the new deal and the industry never looked back…

The Cape and Cowl Crusaders were partners and allies from #71 onwards (July 1954), working together until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986. All that is, except for a brief period when the Man of Steel was paired with other stars of DC’s firmament.

This mighty compelling compendium re-presents those cataclysmic collaborations from the turbulent 1970’s (World’s Finest Comics #198-214, spanning November 1970 to October- November 1972), as radical shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape fostered a hunger for more mature, socially relevant stories. That drive even affected the Dark Knight and Action Ace – so much so, in fact, that their partnership was temporarily suspended: paused so Superman could guest-star with other DC icons.

After three years, another bold experiment reunited them as parents of The Super-Sons before the regular relationship was revitalised and renewed. With the World’s Finest Heroes fully restored, their bizarrely apt pre-eminence endured another lengthy run until the title’s demise.

Without preamble the action kicks off here by returning to a thorny topic which had bedevilled fans for years…

The comic book experience is littered with eternal, unanswerable questions. The most common and most passionately asked always begin “who would win if…” or “who’s strongest/smartest/fastest…”

Here, crafted by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and the concluding ‘Race to Save Time’ (WFC #198-199; November and December 1970) upped the stakes on two previous competitions as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the entire cosmos at their greatest velocities to reverse the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout the galaxies is actually unwinding time itself and unravelling the fabric of creation. Little does anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies were behind the entire appalling scheme…

Anniversary issue #200 was crafted by regular Robin, the Teen Wonder scripter Mike Friedrich, with Dillin & Giella doing the drawing – as they did for this entire book. ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (February 1971) focusses on college-student brothers on opposite sides of the Vietnam War debate abducted along with youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other.

Green Lantern pops in for #201, contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which would grant either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies. Sadly, all is not as it seems…

Batman returned for a limited engagement in #202 as the O’Neil-penned ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ sees archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt, just before Superman seemingly goes mad and attacks his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life for decades to come…

Current Aquaman writer Steve Skeates waded in for #203 as ‘Who’s Minding the Earth?’ pits Metropolis Marvel and King of Atlantis against parthenogenetic mutant dolphins attempting to terraform the polluted world into something more welcoming to their kind…

More ecological terror underpins O’Neil’s bleak warning in #204 as ‘Journey to the End of Hope!’ finds powerless former Wonder Woman Diana Prince and Superman summoned to a barren lifeless Earth. Here a dying computer warns that a butterfly effect will inevitably lead to this future unless they prevent a certain person dying in a college campus riot. Only time will tell if they succeed as the clash does indeed cost a life despite all their efforts…

Racism, sexism and the oppression of reactionary conservative values then get a well-deserved pasting in #205’s ‘The Computer that Captured a Town!’

Here Skeates deviously layers a Teen Titans tale with a wealth of eye-opening commentary after the team are locked into a mid-Victorian parochial paradise enforced by a dead man and alien tech, until the Man of Tomorrow wades in to set things straight…

WFC #206 (October-November 1971) was an all-reprint giant, represented here by its rousing Dick Giordano cover, after which #207 again reunites the true World’s Finest team as Batman returns to solve a murder mystery in the making and save the Man of Tomorrow in ‘A Matter of Light and Death!’, after which Earth-2 sorcerer hero Doctor Fate aids the Action Ace in thwarting the extraterrestrial ‘Peril of the Planet-Smashers!’ – both courtesy of Len Wein, Dillin & Giella.

Supernatural menaces were increasingly popular as a global horror boom reshaped readers’ tastes, informing (#209) Friedrich’s ‘Meet the Tempter – and Die!’ wherein Hawkman and Superman are seduced into evil by an eternal demon, whilst Elliot S! Maggin’s ‘World of Faceless Slaves!’ in #210 catapults the Caped Kryptonian and Green Arrow into a primordial magic kingdom to liberate the vassals of diabolical sorcerer supreme Effron

The Darknight Detective returns again in #211, as O’Neil, Dillin & Giella devise a global manhunt for a ‘Fugitive from the Stars!’ Their target is a political refugee whose arrest is demanded by warriors who are a physical match for Superman, but happily, not Batman’s intellectual equals…

‘…And So My World Begins!’ in #212 is O’Neil’s thematic sequel to Justice League of America #71, which saw Mars devasted by race war and its survivors flee to the stars in search of a new homeworld. Here, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz seeks Superman’s aid to rescue the last survivors from life-leeching mechanoids, unaware that a traitor has sold them all out to predatory aliens…

Maggin drills deep into super science for #213 as ‘Peril in a Very Small Place!’ finds the greater universe endangered by a microscopic and insatiable Genesis molecule, demanding a fantastic voyage into the Microverse inside a phone line for the Atom and Superman before this compilation concludes with wild west weirdness from by Skeates, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella. Here Golden Age troubleshooter The Vigilante delivers the silver bullet necessary to save Superman when ‘A Beast Stalks the Badlands!’

With covers by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Nick Cardy and Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, this book is a gloriously uncomplicated treasure trove of adventures which still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences.

The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2020 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

Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years


By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Chuck Patton, Kevin Maguire, Howard Porter, Ed Benes, Jim Lee, Jim Cheung & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

A keystone of the DC Universe, the Justice League of America is the reason we have comics industry today. This stunning compilation – part of a series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers a too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how the World’s Greatest Superheroes came to be, and be and be again…

Collecting material from The Brave and the Bold #28; Justice League of America #29, 30, 77, 140, 144, 200; Justice League of America Annual #2, Justice League #1, 43 and Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (covering July 1960- August 2018), the landmarks selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in their development, beginning with Part I – 1960-1964: The Happy Harbor Years

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to everyone with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

The Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and – when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956 – the true key moment came a few years later with the inevitable teaming of his freshly reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s, the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the JSA and the birth of a new mythology.

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959, ads began running…

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Crafted by Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky with inking from Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella & Murphy Anderson, ‘Starro the Conqueror!’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars unite to defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

The series went from strength to strength and triumph to triumph, peaking early with a classic revival as the team met the Justice Society of America, now sensibly relegated to an alternate Earth rather callously designated Earth-2.

From issues #29-30, ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprise the first groundbreaking team-up of the JLA and JSA, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking 2-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

Although a monster hit riding a global wave of popularity for all things masked and caped, the JLA suffered like all superhero features when tastes changed as the decade closed. Like all the survivors, the team adapted and changed…

A potted history of that interregnum, emphasising the contributions of iconoclastic scripters Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart follows in Part II – 1969-1977: The Satellite Years after which groundbreaking issue #77 exposes a new kind of America.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation at this time, with established beliefs constantly challenged and many previously cosy comics features were using their pages to confront issues of race, equality, and ecological decline. O’Neil and his young colleagues began to utterly redefine superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

Here, the team’s mascot suddenly grows up and demands to be taken seriously. The drama commences with the heroes’ collective confidence and worldview shattered as enigmatic political populist Joe Dough suborns and compromises their beloved teen sidekick in ‘Snapper Carr… Super-Traitor!’ Crafted by O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, the coming-of age-yarn changed the comfy, cosy superhero game forever…

By March 1977, the team was back in traditional territory but still shaking up the readership. Issue #140, by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin & Frank McLaughlin questioned heroism itself in ‘No Man Escapes the Manhunter!’ as the venerable Guardians of the Universe and their beloved Green Lanterns are accused of planetary extinctions – until the JLA expose a hidden ancient foe determined to destroy galactic civilisation…

Sadly, all you get here is the opening chapter, but it’s worth tracking down the entire saga elsewhere…

Closely following is issue #144 ‘The Origin of the Justice League – Minus One!’ (July 1977) by the same team. Here Green Arrow does a little checking and discovers the team have been lying about how and why they first got together: a smart and hugely enjoyable conspiracy thriller guest-starring every late 1950’s star in the DC firmament…

Change is a comic book constant and events described in the essay fill in crucial context before Part III: The Detroit Years 1982-1987 precis’ the first Beginning of the End for the World’s Greatest Superheroes, starting with blockbuster anniversary giant #200.

Here scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Brett Breeding, Terry Austin & Frank Giacoia reprise, re-evaluate and relive the alien Appellax invasion that brought the heroes together in ‘A League Divided’: a blockbuster saga involving every past member…

Big changes began in Justice League of America Annual #2 1984. ‘The End of the Justice League!’ by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt saw the team disband following a too-close-to-call alien attack, leading Aquaman to recruit a squad of full-time agents rather than part-time champions. Relocating to street level in Detroit, his old guard veterans Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna and Vixen also began training a next generation of costumed crusaders…

The biggest innovation came after a couple of publishing events recreated the universe and a new kind of team was instituted. In 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths was such a spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of Americawas earmarked for a radical revision. Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel (now Shazam!), Dr. Fate, Green Lantern Guy Gardner and Mr. Miraclewith heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

The first story introduced charismatic filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the neophyte and rather shambolic team who started their march to glory by fighting and defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outing ‘Born Again’ (Giffen, DeMatteis Maguire & Terry Austin).

An eventful decade passed and the team were rebooted again, as described in Part IV: The Watchtower Years 1986-2003

After the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, wasting death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival of the Justice League of America, tapping Big Ideas wünderkind Grant Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

The result was a gleaming paradigm of comic book perfection which again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently, we’re a really fickle and shallow bunch, us comics fans…

That idea that really clicked? Put everybody’s favourite Big-Name superheroes back in the team.

It worked, but only because as well as name recognition and star quantity, there was a huge input of creative quality. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be on every page.

The drama begins in ‘Them!’ (January 1997 by Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell) as a family of alien super-beings called the Hyperclan dramatically land on Earth and declare that they’re going to usher in a new Golden Age – at least by their standards.

Almost simultaneously the current iteration of the Justice League is attacked in their orbital satellite and only narrowly escape utter destruction. Tragically, one of their number does not survive…

Hyperclan’s very public promises to make Earth a paradise and attendant charm offensive does not impress veteran heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman or even the latest incarnations of Flash and Green Lantern.

These legends see their methods and careers questioned and are not impressed by seeming miracles or summary executions of super-criminals in the streets. They know there’s something not right about the overbearing sanctimonious newcomers…

The hits kept coming: a strung of superb adventures that enticed the readership. One of the very best and often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel saw immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway. Again, only the first instalment is here but you know where else to look…

Issue #43 declared ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (by Mark Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), as a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves…

Comics stars increasingly became multi-media franchises at the beginning of this century, and Part V: The Crisis Years 2006-2011 acknowledges the change as the printed form started a constant stream of ever-escalating blockbuster scenarios to compete. A perfect example is Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (October 2006) as Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope examine ‘Life’.

Thanks to the events Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman convene as a star-chamber to reform the Justice League of America as a force for good, only to discover that events have escaped them and a new team has already congealed (I really can’t think of a better term) to defeat the imminent menace of Professor Ivo, Felix Faust and the lethal android Amazo, plus a fearsome mystery mastermind and a few classic villains as well.

The tale is told through the heartbreaking personal tragedy of the Red Tornado, who achieves his deepest desire only to have it torn from him: an enjoyable if complex drama that hides its true purpose – that of repositioning the company’s core team in an expanded DCU which encompasses all media, tacitly accepting influences from TV shows, movies and animated cartoons underpinning everything – even the Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited-inspired HQ.

In 2011, DC took a draconian leap: restarting their entire line and continuity with a “New 52”. Justice League volume 2 #1 (November) led from the front as ‘Justice League Part One’ by biggest guns Geoff Johns, Jim Lee & Scott Williams introduced a number of newly debuted heroes acrimoniously pulled together to fight an alien invader called Darkseid

This celebration concludes with Part VI: The Media Era 1986-2018 and Justice League volume 4 #1 (August 2018) wherein Scott Snyder, Jim Cheung & Mark Morales kick off a colossal, years-long company-wide event. ‘The Totality Part 1’ sees the universe fall apart, its creator escape eternal imprisonment and the JLA hard-pressed to prevent the final triumph of Evil as represented by Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom

Adding immeasurably to the wonderment is a superb gallery of covers by Sekowsky, Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dillin & McLaughlin, Pérez, Patton & Giordano, Maguire & Austin, Porter, Dell & Geraci, Ed & Mariah Benes, Lee & Williams and Jim Cheung.

The Justice League of America has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1960, 1964, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2005, 2011, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superboy: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Bill Finger, Otto Binder, Robert Bernstein, Jim Shooter, Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway, Elliot S! Maggin, Geoff Johns, Karl Kesel, Brian Michael Bendis, Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, John Sikela, Curt Swan, Al Plastino, George Papp, James Sherman, Joe Staton, Phil Jimenez, Jerry Ordway, George Pérez, Ivan Reis, Tom Grummett, Dusty Abell, Matthew Clark, Francis Manapul, Viktor Bogdanovic, Jonathan Glapion & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Superb Supercharged Stocking Stuffer… 9/10

Superman is the initiating act and spark that created the superhero genre. Without him we would have no modern gods to worship. However, less than a decade after his launch, creators Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster also devised a concept nearly as powerful and persistent: the sheer delight of a child no adult could dominate or control…

The ever-reinventing DC Universe has hosted many key entertainment concepts that have done much to bring about the vibrant comics industry of today. This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers an all-too-brief sequence of snapshots detailing how one of the most beguiling came to be, and be and be again…

Collecting material from More Fun Comics #101; Superboy #10, 89; Adventure Comics #210, 247, 271, 369-370; DC Comics Presents #87; Infinite Crisis #6; Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #233, 259; Adventures of Superman #501; Superboy (volume 2) #59; Teen Titans (volume 3) #24, Adventure Comics (volume 2) #2; Young Justice (volume 3) #3 and Superman (volume 4) #6, 10-11, and introducing the many characters who have earned the soubriquet of the Boy of Steel, the landmark moments are all preceded by a brief critical analysis by Karl Kesel, outlining the significant stages in their development.

It begins with Part I – 1945-1961: A Boy and His Dog

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 in More Fun Comics #101 (January 1945) as Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster crafted ‘The Origin of Superboy!’, fleshing out doomed Krypton and baby Kal-El’s flight and giving him accessible foster parents and a childhood full of fun and incident…

The experiment was a huge hit. The lad swiftly bounced into the lead slot of Adventure Comics and in 1949, his own title, living a life set twenty years behind his adult counterpart.

Cover-dated October 1950, Superboy #10 originated ‘The Girl in Superboy’s Life’, wherein Bill Finger & John Sikela introduced Smallville newcomer Lana Lang, who immediately saw resemblances between Clark Kent and the Boy of Steel and set out to confirm her suspicions…

Despite battling crooks, monsters, aliens, scandal and the girl next door, Superboy enjoyed a charmed and wonderful life which only got better in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955), as Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Sy Barry introduced ‘The Super-Dog from Krypton!’ Although waywardly mischievous and dangerously playful, Krypto heralded a wave of survivors from the dead world and made Superboy feel less lonely and unique. Every boy needs a dog…

The next tale here is a certified landmark. Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) was at the cusp of the Silver Age costumed character revival, as Otto Binder & Al Plastino introduced a concept that would reshape comics fandom: ‘The Legion of Super-Heroes!’

The many-handed mob of juvenile universe-savers debuted in a Superboy tale wherein three mysterious kids invited the Smallville Sensation to the future to join a team of metahuman champions inspired by his historic feats. The throwaway concept inflamed public imagination and after a slew of further appearances throughout Superman Family titles, the LSH eventually took over Superboy’s lead spot in Adventure for their own far-flung, quirky escapades, with the Caped Kryptonian reduced to one of the crowd…

Before then though, Adventure Comics #271 (April 1960) revealed ‘How Luthor Met Superboy!’ Siegel & Plastino united to depict how teenaged scientist Lex Luthor and Superboy became fast friends, before the genius became deranged when a laboratory fire extinguished by the Caped Kryptonian caused Lex to lose his hair. Enraged beyond limit, the boy inventor turned his talents to crime…

Robert Bernstein & George Papp then introduced ‘Superboy’s Big Brother!’ in Superboy #89 (June 1961) in which an amnesiac, super-powered space traveller crashes in Smallville, speaking Kryptonese and carrying star-maps written by the Boy of Steel’s long-dead father…

Jubilant, baffled and suspicious in equal amounts, the Superboy eventually, tragically discovers ‘The Secret of Mon-El’ by accidentally exposing the stranger to a lingering, inexorable death, before desperately providing critical life-support by depositing the dying alien in the Phantom Zone until a cure could be found…

Anybody who regularly reads these reviews know how crotchety and hard-to-please I can be. Brace yourself…

The next section – Part II – 1968-1980: The Space Age – concentrates on Superboy’s Legion career. That’s not the problem because those are great stories, well deserving of their own book, but they’re wasted here while the Boy of Steel’s adventures from this period are completely neglected. That’s work by the likes of Frank Robbins, Binder, Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, Bob Brown, Wally Wood and others we don’t get to see. Poor editorial decision, that…

Calm again, so let’s see how the Boy of Tomorrow fares one thousand years from now…

During this period the youthful, generally fun-loving and carefree Club of Champions peaked; having only just evolved into a dedicated and driven dramatic action series starring a grittily realistic combat force in constant, galaxy-threatening peril.

Although now an overwhelming force of valiant warriors ready and willing to pay the ultimate price for their courage and dedication, science itself, science fiction and costumed crusaders all increasingly struggled against a global resurgence in spiritual questioning and supernatural fiction…

The main architect of the transformation was teenaged sensation Jim Shooter, whose Legion of Super-Hero scripts and layouts (generally finished and pencilled by the astoundingly talented and understated Curt Swan) made the series accessible to a generation of fans growing up with their heads in the Future. Ultimately, however, as tastes and fashions shifted, the series was unceremoniously ousted from its ancestral home and full-length adventures to become a truncated back-up feature in Action Comics. Typically, that shift occurred just as the stories were getting really, really good and truly mature…

Here tense suspense begins with Adventure Comics #369’s (June 1968) and ‘Mordru the Merciless!’(Shooter, Swan & Jack Abel) as the Legion is attacked by their most powerful enemy, a nigh-omnipotent sorcerer the entire assemblage only narrowly defeated once before.

A sneak attack shatters the team and only four escape, using a time bubble to flee to the remote and archaic time-period where Superboy lived. With him come Mon-El, (freed from the Phantom Zone to become a Legion stalwart), Shadow Lass and Duo Damsel – the last remnants of a once-unbeatable team.

Mordru’s magic is stronger though and even the time-barrier cannot daunt him…

Disguised as mere mortals, the fugitive Legionnaires’ courage shines through. When petty gangsters take over Smallville, the teen heroes quash the parochial plunderers and opt to return to the 30th century and confront Mordru, only to discover he’s found them first…

The saga concludes in #370 and ‘The Devil’s Jury!’ wherein the band escape and hide in plain sight by temporarily wiping their own memories to thwart the Dark Lord’s probes. Against appalling odds and with only Clark’s best friend Pete Rossand Insect Queen Lana Lang to aid them, the heroes’ doomed last stand only succeeds because Mordru’s overbearing arrogance causes his own downfall.

Then, when the exhausted fugitives got back the future, they joyously learn that Dream Girl and benign sorceress White Witch have undone the deluded Dark Lord’s worst atrocities…

Since that time the fortunes and popularity of the Legion have perpetually waxed and waned, with their future history tweaked and overwritten, retconned and rebooted over and over again to comply with editorial diktat and popular fashion. After disappearing from the newsstands, the team returned as Guests in Superboy, before eventually taking over the title. Deju Vu, much?

From November 1977, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #233, sees the Kryptonian join his teammates to thwart ‘The Infinite Man Who Conquered the Legion!’: an extra length blockbuster battle by Paul Levitz, James Sherman & Bob Wiacek, after which issue #259 (January 1980) drops Superboy and the… to become Legion of Super-Heroes #259, subsequently ending an era.

‘Psycho War!’ by Gerry Conway, Joe Staton & Dave Hunt sees the time-lost teen targeted by a deranged war veteran using futuristic trauma weapons, forcing his legion chums to mindwipe Kal-El and return him to his original time forever…

In the mid-1980s, DC’s editorial hierarchy felt their vast 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in such spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers must have felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, many moribund and directionless titles were reconsidered for a radical revision. It didn’t all go to plan…

The background on a new Boy of Steel is covered in the essay and tales comprising Part III 1985-2006: Dark Reflection, which opens with two stories from DC Comics Presents # 87 (November 1985) by Elliot S! Maggin, Swan & Al Williamson.

In ‘Year of the Comet’ Superman of Earth-1 meets and mentors teen Clark Kent from an alternate world previously devoid of superheroes and alien invaders, after which ‘The Origin of Superboy-Prime’ exposes the crucial differences that would make Earth Prime’s Last Son of Krypton so memorable…

Events culminated in ‘Touchdown’ by Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, Jerry Ordway, George Pérez, Ivan Reis, inkers Andy Lanning, Oclair Albert Marc Campos, Drew Geraci, Sean Parsons, Norm Rapmund, Art Thibert, from issue #6 of mega event Infinite Crisis (May 2006). Teen Clark had evolved into Superboy-Prime – one of the most sadistic and unstoppable monsters in DCU history – but here he met his end battling another kid calling himself Superboy…

That hero gets his own out-of-chronology section: Part IV 1993-2019: The New Kid detailing how he grew out of another different publishing landmark.

Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superman was stripped-down and back to basics, grittily re-imagined by John Byrne, and marvellously built upon by a succession of immensely talented comics craftsmen, resulted in some genuine comics classics.

Most significant was a 3-pronged story-arc which saw the martyrdom, loss, replacement and inevitable resurrection of the World’s Greatest Superhero in a stellar saga which broke all records and proved that a jaded general public still cared about the venerable, veteran icon of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

The dramatic events also provided a spectacular springboard for a resurgent burst of new characters who revitalised and reinvigorated more than one ailing franchise over the next decade, all exploding from braided mega-saga “Reign of the Supermen” which introduced a quartet of heroes each claiming the mantle of Superman (Don’t panic: the Real Deal Man of Steel returned too!).

The final contender for the S-shield cropped up in Adventures of Superman #501. ‘…When He Was a Boy!’ (Kesel, Tom Grummett & Doug Hazlewood) reveals the secret history of a brash and cocky kid wearing an adaptation of the Man of Tomorrow’s outfit and claiming to be a clone of the deceased hero, recently escaped from top secret bio-factory Cadmus.

After alienating everybody at the Daily Planet, the horny, inexperienced juvenile latches onto ambitious journalist – and hottie – Tana Moon, falling under the spell of corrupt media mogul Vinnie Edge. Soon the kid is fighting crime live on TV to boost ratings…

Blending fast action with smart sassy humour, the clone Superboy was a breakout hit running for years, and gradually infiltrating the established Superman Family. A key moment came in Superboy (volume 2) #59 – by Kesel, Dusty Abell, Dexter Vines – as a virtual ‘Mission to Krypton’ results in the clone finally earning a family name as Kon-El of the House of El…

In the build-up to DC’s Infinite Crisis crossover event, many long-running story-threads were all pulled together ready for the big bang. Crafted by Geoff Johns, Matthew Clark & Art Thibert ‘The Insiders Part 1’ (from Teen Titans #24, July 2005) reveals how Superboy’s belief that he was Superman’s clone is shattered after learning that half of his DNA comes courtesy of Lex Luthor.

Just as Kon-El is about to share the revelation with his Teen Titan team-mates, Luthor activates a deep-seated psychological program that overrides Superboy’s consciousness and makes him evil and murderous…

From November 2009, ‘The Boy of Steel Part Two’ (Adventure Comics volume 2 #2, by Johns & Francis Manapul) then offers a gentler moment as Kon-El, now living in Smallville as Conner Kent, enjoys a potentially romantic interlude with team mate Wonder Girl.

We then jump to May 2019 and ‘Seven Crises Part Three’ from Young Justice volume 3 #3, by Brian Michael Bendis, Patrick Gleason, Viktor Bogdanovic & Jonathan Glapion. Having skipped two universe-altering events (Flashpoint and Rebirth) the formerly erased-from-continuity Impulse has found his old friend Conner living on mystic Gemworld as part of his quest to put his old band back together. It’s fast, furious, heart-warming and hilarious. You should really get all of this tale in its own compilation – Young Justice: Gemworld – even before I review it next year…

Wrapping up this saunter in Super-kids’ shoes is the freshest take on the concept in decades. Part V 2016 and Beyond: Like Father, Like Son offers a too short glimpse at Jon Kent, the child of Superman and Lois Lane, inserted into the mainstream continuity after the New 52 Superman died. If this is making your brain hurt, don’t fret. It’s really unnecessary background for some truly exemplary comics yarns…

Superman (volume 4) #6, 10, 11 are by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, Mark Morales & Christian Alamy, and firstly depict the ‘Son of Superman’ helping dad defeat evil Kryptonian mechanoid The Eradicator before settling into outrageous action comedy beside, with and frequently against, Damian Wayne: son of Bruce and the latest, most psychotic Robin yet. ‘In the Name of the Father: World’s Smallest Parts One and Two’ pits the junior odd couple against aliens, monsters, girls, but mostly each other. It’s unmissable stuff and you should expect me to wax delirious about the new Super Sons in the New Year…

Adding immeasurably to the wonderment is a superb gallery of covers by Swan with Stan Kaye & Abel, Neal Adams, Mike Grell, Dick Giordano, Eduardo Barreto, Jim Lee & Sandra Hope, Grummett, Kesel & Hazlewood, Mike McKone & Marlo Alquiza, Manapul, Doug Mahnke & Wil Quintana and Gleason with Alejandro Sanchez, Gray & John Kalisz.

Superboy has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing off-kilter fun to offset the general angst level of Superhero storytelling. Even with my petty caveats, this compelling primer of snapshots is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1960, 1964, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2005, 2011, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Golden Age Volume Five


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, John Sikela, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka, George Roussos, Sam Citron & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8797-9 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Vital Vintage Superhero Fun and Fantasy… 9/10

The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all by now – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without The Man of Tomorrow. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation gave birth to an entire genre if not an actual art form.

Imitation is the most honest compliment and can be profitable too. Superman triggered an inconceivable army of imitators and variations and, within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Action Ace had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, and whimsical comedy. Once the war in Europe and the East finally involved America, to that list was added patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters – all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms at least, Superman was master of the world. He had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry by the time of these tales. There was a successful newspaper strip, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio was producing some of the most expensive – and best – animated cartoons ever conceived.

Thankfully the quality of the source material was increasing with every four-colour release, and the energy and enthusiasm of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster had infected the burgeoning studio that grew around them to cope with the relentless demand.

This latest addition to the splendid Golden Age/Silver Age strand of DC reprint compendia presents more of an epochal run of raw, unpolished but viscerally vibrant stories by Siegel, Shuster and the sterling crew of their “Superman Studio”. This stalwart band collaboratively set the nascent comics world on fire with crude, rough, uncontrollable wish-fulfilling, cathartically exuberant exploits of a righteous and superior man dealing out summary justice equally to social malcontents, exploitative capitalists, thugs and ne’er-do-wells, and captured the imagination of a generation.

This fifth remastered paperback collection (also available digitally) of the Action Ace’s early exploits – reprinted in the order they first appeared – covers the turbulent, times spanning May 1942 to February 1943: encompassing escapades from Action Comics #48-57, Superman #16-19 and his solo-adventures from World’s Finest Comics #6-8 (an oversized anthology title where he shared whimsical cover-stardom with Batman and Robin).

As always, every comic appearance is preceded by the original cover illustration depicting Superman trouncing scurrilous Axis War-mongers and reminding readers what we were all fighting for – captivating graphic masterpieces from Fred Ray, Jack Burnley and John Sikela – whilst each tale is credited to prolific co-originator Siegel.

I sometimes think – like many others I know – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when they were whole-heartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvel men.

All the most evocatively visceral moments of the genre seem to come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and I hope you’ll please forgive the offensive contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Nazis”. However, even in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats and gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

Jerry Siegel was producing some of the best stories of his career, showing the Action Ace in all his morale-boosting glory; thrashing thugs, spies and masters of bad science whilst America kicked the Axis fascists in the pants…

Co-creator Joe Shuster, although plagued by punishing deadlines for the Superman newspaper strip and his rapidly failing eyesight, was still fully involved in the process, overseeing the stories and drawing character faces whenever possible, but as the months passed the talent pool of the “Superman Studio” increasingly took the lead in the comicbooks as the demands of the media superstar grew and grew. Thus, most of the stories in this volume were drawn by John Sikela with occasional support from others…

The magic begins with ‘The Merchant of Murder!’ from Action Comics #48 wherein the hero topples an insidious gang of killers led by The Top who uses wartime restrictions to sell used cars with deadly faults and defects until reporter Lois Lane and her soft-spoken leg man get involved…

Sikela flew solo on all of Superman #16, beginning with ‘The World’s Meanest Man’ as the Caped Kryptonian crushes a mobster attempting to plunder a social program giving deprived slum-kids a holiday in the countryside, before moving on to battle an astrologer prepared to murder his clients to prove his predictions in ‘Terror from the Stars’.

‘The Case of the Runaway Skyscrapers’ pits the Metropolis Marvel against Mister Sinister, a trans-dimensional tyrant who makes buildings vanish, after which the power-packed perilous periodical concluded with a deeply satisfying and classic campaign against organised crime as Superman crushes the ‘Racket on Delivery’.

Action Comics #49 introduced The Puzzler – a despicable, deadly and obsessive criminal maniac who hated losing and never played fair in ‘The Wizard of Chance’ (inked by Ed Dobrotka).

The debut of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and in 1939 the company collaborated with the organisers of the New York World’s Fair: producing two commemorative comic books celebrating the event. The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics beside such four-colour stars as Zatara, Gingersnap, The Sandman and Batman and Robin. The spectacular card-cover 96-page anthologies were a huge hit and convinced National’s owner and editors that such an over-sized package of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition.

The bountiful format was retained for a wholly company-owned quarterly which retailed for the then-hefty price of 15¢. Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 (Spring 1941), the book transformed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive decluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

From WFC #6 (Summer 1942), Siegel, Leo Nowak & Sikela’s ‘The Man of Steel vs. the Man of Metal’ pits our hero and newsboy Jimmy Olsen against Metalo: a mad scientist whose discoveries make him every inch Superman’s physical match…

Back in Action Comics #50, Clark Kent and Lois are despatched to Florida to scope out sporting skulduggery in ‘Play Ball!’– a light-hearted baseball tale illustrated by Nowak & Ed Dobrotka before Superman #17 offers a quartet of tales beginning with ‘Man or Superman?’ (pencilled by Shuster with Sikela inking), wherein Lois first begins putting together snippets of evidence and at last sensing that klutzy Clark might be hiding a Super-secret, even as the subject of her research tangles with sinister saboteur The Talon.

Following that, ‘The Human Bomb’ (art by Nowak) sees a criminal hypnotist transform innocent citizens into walking landmines until the tireless Action Ace scotches his wicked racket.

Sikela handled the last two tales in the issue beginning with ‘Muscles for Sale!’, in which Superman’s Fortress of Solitudeand Trophy Room debut and the Man of Steel battles another mad mesmerist turning ordinary citizens into dangerously overconfident louts, bullies and thieves, whilst ‘When Titans Clash!’ depicts a frantic and spectacular duel of wits and incredible super-strength after Luthor regains the mystic Power Stone to become Superman’s physical – but never intellectual – master …

Action Comics #51 introduces the canny faux-madness of practical-joking homicidal bandit The Prankster in the rollercoaster romp in Sikela’s ‘The Case of the Crimeless Crimes’ and the next issue features the ‘The Emperor of America!’, wherein an invading army are welcomed with open arms by all Americans except the indignantly suspicious Man of Steel who single-handedly liberates the nation in a blistering, rousing call-to-arms classic…

As the war progressed the raw passion and sly wit of Siegel’s stories and the rip-roaring energy of Shuster and his team were galvanised by the parlous state of the planet and Superman got even became better and more flamboyant to deal with it all. His startling abilities and take-charge, can-do attitude won the hearts of the public at home and he was embraced as a patriotic tonic for the troops across the war-torn world.

The rise was meteoric, inexorable and unprecedented. He was the indisputable star of Action and World’s Finest Comics plus his own dedicated title, whilst a daily newspaper strip (begun on 16th January 1939, with a separate Sunday strip following from 5th November of that year) garnered millions of new fans globally. A thrice-weekly radio serial had been running since February 12th 1940 and, with a movie cartoon series, games, toys, apparel and a growing international media presence, Superman was swiftly becoming the entire Earth’s hero…

Although the gaudy burlesque of evil aliens, marauding monsters and slick super-villains still lay years ahead of our hero, thrilling tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster were just as engrossing and spoke powerfully of the tenor of the times, and are all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion.

No “To Be Continueds” here!

A perfect example of the done-in-one tale is Siegel, Nowak & Sikela’s ‘The Eight Doomed Men’ from World’s Finest Comics #7: a tale involving a coterie of ruthless millionaires targeted for murder because of the wicked past deeds of their privileged college fraternity. This enthralling crime mystery is suitably spiced up with flamboyant high-tech weaponry that pushes the Man of Tomorrow to his limits…

Superman #18 (September/October 1942) then offers a quartet of stunning sagas, leading with Sikela’s ‘The Conquest of a City’ wherein Nazi infiltrators use a civil defence drill to infiltrate the National Guard and conquer Metropolis in the Fuehrer’s name… until Superman spearheads the counter-attack…

Nowak’s ‘The Heat Horror’ posits an artificial asteroid threatening to burn the city to ashes until the Metropolis Marvel defeats Lex Luthor, the manic mastermind who initially aimed it at Earth.

‘The Man with the Cane’ offers a grand, old-fashioned and highly entertaining espionage murder mystery for Dobrotka & Sikela to illustrate after which Superman takes on his first fully costumed super-villain when ‘The Snake’ perpetrates a string of murders during construction of a river tunnel in a moody Nowak-drawn masterpiece.

Sikela is inked by George Roussos on fantastic thriller ‘The Man Who put Out the Sun!’ from Action Comics #53, wherein bird-themed bandit Night-Owl uses “black light” technology and ruthless gangsters to plunder at will until the Man of Steel takes charge, whilst in #54, ‘The Pirate of Pleasure Island!’ (Sikela) follows the foredoomed career of upstanding citizen Stanley Finchcomb, a seemingly civilised descendent of ruthless buccaneers who succumbs to madness and becomes a modern day merciless marine marauder. Or perhaps he truly is possessed by the merciless spirit of his ancestor Captain Ironfist in this enchanting supernatural thriller…?

A classic (and much reprinted) fantasy shocker opened Superman #19. ‘The Case of the Funny Papers Crimes’ (Sikela & Dobrotka) sees bizarre desperado Funnyface bring the larger-than-life villains of the Daily Planet’s comics page to terrifying life in a grab for loot and power, after which ‘Superman’s Amazing Adventure’ (Nowak) finds the Man of Steel battling incredible creatures in an incredible extra-dimensional realm – but all is not as it seems…

Some of the city’s most vicious criminals are commanded to kill a stray dog by the infamous Mr. Z in ‘The Canine and the Crooks’ (Nowak) and it takes all of Clark and Lois’ deductive skills to ascertain why before ‘Superman, Matinee Idol’breaks the fourth wall for readers as the reporters visit a movie house to see a Superman cartoon in a shameless yet exceedingly inventive and thrilling “infomercial” plug for the Fleischer Brothers cartoons then currently astounding movie-goers; all lovingly rendered by Shuster and inked by Sikela…

This latest leaf through times gone by continues with a witty and whimsical Li’l Abner spoof illustrated by Sikela & Dobrotka. ‘A Goof named Tiny Rufe’ focuses on desperate cartoonist Slapstick Sam who co-opts, plagiarises and ruins the simple lives of a couple of naïve hillbillies to fill his idea-empty panels and pages… until Superman intercedes to give the hicks their lives back and the devious dauber the drubbing he so richly deserves……

World’s Finest #8 (Winter, 1942-1943) next exposed ‘Talent Unlimited’ (Sam Criton & Sikela) as Superman tracks down a missing heiress who had abandoned wealth for a stage career and poor but honest theatrical friends. Unfortunately, even though she didn’t want her money, other people did…

A brace of episodes from Action Comics brings this gleaming Golden Age visit to a close, starting with ‘Design for Doom!’ from #56. Illustrated by Sikela, it pits the Caped Kryptonian against a deranged architect who creates global city-wrecking catastrophes simply to prove the superiority of his own creations.

Superman was pitifully short on returning villains in the early days so #57’s return of the Prankster as ‘Crime’s Comedy King’ made a welcome addition to his meagre Rogues Gallery, especially as the Macabre Madcap seems here to have turned over a new philanthropic leaf. Of course, there’s malevolence and a big con job at the heart of his transformation…

As fresh, thrilling and compelling now as they ever were, these endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly presented in these glorious paperback collections where the graphic magic defined what being a Super Hero means, with every tale dictating the basic iconography of the genre for all others to follow.

These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at absurdly affordable prices and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
© 1942, 1943, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore! – DC Comics Classic Library


By Dennis O’Neil, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2085-3 (HB)

While looking through old collections in my morbid response to the death of Denny O’Neil, I happened up on this book again. It’s the epitome of a comics classic and still a true joy to read. Why is it and so many other brilliant tomes like out of print and frustratingly unavailable in digital editions? I won’t stop asking, but rather than wait, why don’t you track this down now and give yourself a grand pre-Christmas treat?

Superman is the comic book crusader who started the whole genre and, in the decades since his debut in 1938, has probably undertaken every kind of adventure imaginable. With this in mind it’s tempting and very rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his inventory and periodically re-present them in specific themed collections, such as this hardback commemoration of one his greatest extended adventures. It was originally released just as comics fandom was becoming a powerful – if headless – lobbying force reshaping the industry to its own specialised desires.

When Julie Schwartz took over the editorial responsibilities of the Man of Steel in 1970, he was expected to shake things up with nothing less than spectacular results. To that end, he incorporated many key characters and events that were developing as part of fellow iconoclast Jack Kirby’s freshly unfolding “Fourth World”.

That bold experiment was a breathtaking tour de force of cosmic wonderment which introduced a staggering new universe to fans; instantly and permanently changing the way DC Comics were perceived and how the entire medium could be received.

Schwartz was simultaneously breathing fresh life into the powerful but moribund Superman franchise and his creative changes were just appearing in 1971. The new direction was also the vanguard and trigger for a wealth of controversial and socially-challenging material unheard of since the feature’s earliest days: a wave of tales described as “relevant”…

Here the era and those changes are described and contextualised – after ‘A Word from the Publisher’ – in Paul Levitz’s Introduction, after which the first radical shift in Superman’s vast mythology begins to unfold.

With iconic covers by Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson this titanic tome collects Superman #233-238 and #240-242, originally running from January to September 1971.

Almost all the groundbreaking extended epic was crafted by scripter Denny O’Neil, veteran illustrator Curt Swan and inker Murphy Anderson – although stand-in Dick Giordano inked #240. The willing and very public abandonment of super-villains, Kryptonian scenarios and otherworldly paraphernalia instantly revitalised the Man of Tomorrow, attracted new readers and began a period of superb human-scaled stories which made him a “must-buy” character all over again.

The innovations began in ‘Superman Breaks Loose’ (Superman #233) when a government experiment to harness the energy of Kryptonite goes explosively wrong. Closely monitoring the test, the Action Ace is blasted across the desert surrounding the isolated lab but somehow survives the supposedly fatal radiation-bath. In the aftermath reports start to filter in from all over Earth: every piece of the deadly green mineral has been transformed to common iron…

As he goes about his protective, preventative patrols, the liberated hero experiences an emotional high at the prospect of all the good he can do now. He isn’t even phased when the Daily Planet’s new owner Morgan Edge (a key Kirby character) shakes up his civilian life: summarily ejecting Clark Kent from the print game and overnight remaking him into a roving TV journalist…

Meanwhile in the deep desert, the site of his recent crashlanding offers a moment of deep foreboding when Superman’s irradiated imprint in the sand shockingly grows solid and shambles away in ghastly parody of life…

The resurgent suspense resumes in #234’s ‘How to Tame a Wild Volcano!’, as an out-of-control plantation owner refuses to let his indentured native workforce flee an imminent eruption. Handicapped by misused international laws, the Man of Tomorrow can only fume helplessly as the UN rushes towards a diplomatic solution, but his anxiety is intensified when the sinister sand-thing inadvertently passes him and agonisingly drains him of his mighty powers.

Crashing to Earth in a turbulent squall, the de-powered hero is attacked by bossman Boysie Harker’s thugs and instantly responds to the foolish provocation, relying for a change on determination rather than overwhelming might to save the day…

The ‘Sinister Scream of the Devil’s Harp’ in #235 gave way to weirder ways (the industry was enjoying a periodic revival of interest in supernatural themes and stories) as mystery musician Ferlin Nyxly reveals the secret of his impressive and ever-growing aptitudes is an archaic artefact which steals gifts, talents and even Superman’s alien abilities.

The Man of Steel is initially unaware of the drain as he’s trying to communicate with his eerily silent dusty doppelganger, but once Nyxly graduates to a full-on raving super-menace self-dubbed Pan, the taciturn homunculus unexpectedly joins its living template in trouncing the power thief…

The next issue offered a science fictional morality play as cherubic aliens seek Superman’s assistance in defeating a band of devils and rescuing Clark Kent’s best friends from Hell. However, the ‘Planet of the Angels’ proves to be nothing of the kind, and the Caped Kryptonian has to pull out all the stops to save Earth from a very real Armageddon…

Superman #237 sees the Metropolis Marvel save an astronaut only to see him succumb to a madness-inducing mutative disease. After another destructive confrontation with the sand-thing further debilitates him, the harried hero is present when more mortals fall to the contagion and – believing himself the cause and an uncontrollable ‘Enemy of Earth’ – considers quarantining himself to space…

As he is deciding, Lois Lane stumbles into one more lethal situation and Superman’s instinctive intervention seemingly confirms his earlier diagnosis, but another clash with his always-close sandy simulacrum on the edge of space heralds an incredible truth. Pathetically debilitated, Superman nevertheless saves Lois and again meets the ever-more human creature. Now able to speak, it gives a chilling warning and the Man of Steel realises exactly what it is taking from him and what it might become…

A mere shadow of his former self, the Man of Tomorrow is unable to prevent a band of terrorists taking over a magma-tapping drilling rig and endangering the entire Earth in #238’s ‘Menace at 1000 Degrees’. With Lois one of a number of hostages and the madmen threatening to detonate a nuke in the pipeline, the Action Ace desperately begs his doppelganger to assist him, before its cold rejection forces the depleted hero to take the biggest gamble of his life…

Superman #239 was an all-reprint giant featuring the hero in his incalculably all-powerful days – and thus not included here – but the much-reduced Caped Kryptonian returned in #240 (Giordano inks) to confront his own lessened state and seek a solution in ‘To Save a Superman’. The trigger is his inability to extinguish a tenement fire and the wider world’s realisation that their unconquerable champion was now vulnerable and fallible…

Especially interested are his old enemies in the Anti-Superman Gang who immediately allocate all their resources to destroying their nemesis. After one particularly close call Clark is visited by an ancient Asian sage who somehow knows of his other identity and offers an unconventional solution…

From 1968 onwards superhero comics began to decline and publishers sought new ways to keep audience as tastes changed. Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales, and if you weren’t popular, you died. Editor Jack Miller, innovating illustrator Mike Sekowsky and relatively new scripter Denny O’Neil stepped up with a radical proposal and made a little bit of funnybook history with the only female superhero then in the marketplace.

They revealed that the almighty mystical Amazons were forced to leave our dimension, and took with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her weapons…

Reduced to mere humanity she opted to stay on Earth, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, resolved to fighting injustice as a mortal. Tutored by blind Buddhist monk I Ching, she trained as a martial artist, and quickly became a formidable enemy of contemporary evil.

Now this same I Ching claims to be able to repair Superman’s difficulties and dwindling might, but evil eyes are watching. Arriving clandestinely, Superman allows the adept to remove all his Kryptonian powers as a precursor to restoring them, allowing the A-S Gang the perfect opportunity to strike. In the resultant melee, the all-too-human hero triumphs in the hardest fight of his life…

The saga continues with “Swan-derson” back on the art in #241 as Superman overcomes a momentary but nearly overwhelming temptation to surrender his oppressive burden and lead a normal life…

Admonished and resolved, he then submits to Ching’s resumed remedy ritual and finds his spirit soaring to where the sand-being lurks before explosively reclaiming the stolen powers. Leaving the gritty golem a shattered husk, the phantom brings the awesome energies back to their true owner and a triumphant hero returns to saving the world…

Over the next few days, however, it becomes clear that something has gone wrong. The Man of Tomorrow has become arrogant, erratic and unpredictable, acting rashly, overreacting and even making stupid mistakes.

In her boutique Diana Prince discusses the problem with Ching and the sagacious teacher soon deduces that during his time of mere mortality whilst fighting the gangsters, Superman received a punishing blow to the head. Clearly it has resulted in brain injury that did not heal when his powers returned…

When the hero refuses to listen to them, Diana and Ching have no choice but to track down the dying sand-thing and request its aid. The elderly savant recognises it as a formless creature from other-dimensional realm Quarrm and listens to the amazing story of its entrance into our world. He also suggests a way for it to regain some of what it recently lost…

Superman, meanwhile, has blithely gone about his deranged business until savagely attacked by the possessed and animated statue of a Chinese war-demon. Also able to steal his power, this second fugitive from Quarrm has no conscience and wears ‘The Shape of Fear!

The staggering saga concludes in ‘The Ultimate Battle’ as the Quarrmer briefly falls under the sway of a brace of brutal petty thugs who put the again de-powered Superman into hospital…

Rushed into emergency surgery, the Kryptonian fights for his life as the sand-thing confronts the war-demon in the streets, but events take an even more bizarre turn once the latter drives off its foe and turns towards the hospital to finish off the flesh-&-blood Superman.

Recovering consciousness – and a portion of his power – the Metropolis Marvel battles the beast to a standstill but needs the aid of his silicon stand-in to drive the thing back beyond the pale…

With the immediate threat ended, Man of Steel and Man of Sand face each other one last time, each determined to ensure his own existence no matter the cost…

The stunning conclusion was a brilliant stroke on the part of the creators, one which left Superman approximately half the man he used to be. Of course, all too soon he returned to his unassailable, god-like power levels but never quite regained the tension-free smug assurance of his 1950s-1960s self.

A fresh approach, snappy dialogue and more terrestrial, human-scaled concerns to shade the outrageous implausible fantasy elements, wedded to gripping plots and sublime artwork make Kryptonite Nevermore! one of the very best Superman sagas ever created.

Also included here is the iconic ‘House Ad’ by Swan & Vince Colletta which proclaimed the big change throughout the DC Universe, and a thoughtful ‘Afterword by Denny O’Neil’ wraps things up with some insights and reminiscences every lover of the medium will appreciate.
© 1971, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.