Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have been warned…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman: The Golden Age volume 4


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Paul Cassidy, Ed Dobrotka, Leo Nowak, John Sikela, Fred Ray & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7867-0

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

As his latest record-breaking anniversary year rapidly approaches its end, the popularity of Superman is on the climb again. 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, 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 ever-expanding “Superman Studio” who were setting the funnybook world on fire: 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 that initially captured the imagination of a generation.

This fourth 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 September 1941 to April 1942: encompassing escapades from Action Comics #41-47, Superman #12-15 and solo-adventures from World’s Finest Comics #3-5 (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, all captivating graphic masterpieces from Fred Ray whilst each tale is credited to co-originator Siegel.

Although he & Shuster had very much settled into the character by now, the latter was increasingly involved with the Superman newspaper strip. Even so, the buzz of success still fired them both and innovation still sparkles amidst the exuberance.

Written entirely by Seigel this incredible panorama of torrid tales opens with ‘The Case of the Death Express’: a tense thriller about train-wreckers illustrated by Nowak from the Fall issue of World’s Finest (#3).

Due to the exigencies of periodical publishing, although the terrific tales collected in this compendium take the Man of Steel to December 1941 and beyond, they were all prepared well in advance of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

Even though spies and sabotage plots were already a solid standby of the narrative currency of the times and many in America felt war was inevitable (patriotic covers were beginning to appear on many comic books), the war was still a distant and exotic affair, impersonal and at one remove from daily life as experienced by the kids who were as the perceived audience for these four-colour fantasies.

That would change radically in the months and issues to come…

Most stories of the time were untitled; these have been named post-hoc simply to provide differentiation and make my task simpler …

Leo Nowak was drawing most of the comic output at this time and is responsible for the lion’s share of these adventures, beginning with the first three from Superman #12 (September/October 1941). ‘Peril on Pogo Island’ sees Lois Lane and Clark Kent at the mercy of rampaging tribesmen, although spies from a certain foreign power are at the back of it all, whilst ‘The Suicide Murders’ finds them facing a particularly grisly band of gangsters. John Sikela inked Nowak on ‘The Grotak Bund’ wherein seditionists attempt to destroy vital US industries, and fully illustrated the final tale as an old foe rears his shiny head once more in ‘The Beasts of Luthor’, accompanied by a spectacular array of giant monsters…

Action Comics #41 (October 1941) exposes ‘The Saboteur’ in a terse tale of a traitor motivated by greed rather than ideology illustrated by Paul Cassidy, whilst Nowak’s ‘City in the Stratosphere’ (Action #42) reveals that a trouble-free paradise floating above Metropolis has been subverted by an old enemy. He also handled most of Superman #13 (November/December 1941).

This issue led with a Cassidy pin-up after which ‘The Light’ debuts an old foe in a new super-scientific guise after which ‘The Archer’ pits the Man of Steel against his first costumed villain. ‘Baby on the Doorstep’ took an opportunity for fun and the feel-good factor as Clark becomes a temporary parent in a tale of stolen battle plans before ‘The City Beneath the Earth’ (illustrated by Sikela) returns to the serious business of action and spectacle as our hero discovers a subterranean kingdom lost since the Ice Age.

World’s Finest Comics #4 (Winter 1941) offers ‘The Case of the Crime Crusade’: another Nowak-rendered socially relevant racketeering yarn before ‘The Crashing Planes’ – from Action #43 and with Superman attacking Nazi paratroopers on the cover – sees the Man of Tomorrow smashing a plot to destroy a commercial airline.

Even though war was undeclared DC and many other publishers had struck their colours well before December 7th. When the Japanese attack filtered through to the gaudy pages the patriotic indignation and desire for retribution would generate some of the very best art and stories the budding art-form would ever see.

Superman’s rise had been meteoric and inexorable and seemed to never stall. He was the indisputable star of Action, World’s Finest Comics and his own dedicated title. A daily newspaper strip had begun on 16th January 1939, with a separate Sunday strip following from November 5th that year, garnered millions of new fans and a thrice-weekly radio serial launched on February 12th 1940. With a movie cartoon series, games, toys, apparel and a growing international media presence, Superman was swiftly becoming everybody’s hero…

Although the gaudy burlesque of monsters and super-villains still lay years ahead of our hero, these captivating tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster are just as engrossing and speak powerfully of the tenor of the times. A perilous parade of rip-roaring action, seedy hoods, vile masterminds, plagues, disasters, lost kids and distressed damsels are all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining exemplar in summarily swift and decisive fashion.

No “to be continueds” here!

The sheer escapism continues with ‘The Caveman Criminal’ (Action #44, illustrated by Nowak & Ed Dobrotka), wherein crooks capitalise on a frozen “Dawn Man” who thaws out and goes wild in crime-ridden Metropolis, after which Superman #14 (January/February 1942 begins.

Again primarily a Nowak art affair – following a fabulous page of ‘Superman’s Tips for Super-Health’ by Shuster & Cassidy – the drama commences with ‘Concerts of Doom!’. Here a master pianist learns just how mesmerising his recitals are and joins forces with unpatriotic thieves and dastardly saboteurs, after which the tireless Man of Tomorrow is hard-pressed to cope with the diabolical destruction caused by ‘The Invention Thief’.

Sikela inks Nowak’s pencils in a frantic high fantasy romp resulting from the Man of Steel’s discovery of a friendly mermaid and malevolent fishmen living in ‘The Undersea City’ before Nowak solos again for more high-tension catastrophic graphic destruction signalling Superman’s epic clash with sinister electrical savant ‘The Lightning Master’.

Action #45 (Nowak & Dobrotka) sees ‘Superman’s Ark’ girdle the globe to repopulate a decrepit and nigh-derelict city zoo, whilst issue #46 features ‘The Devil’s Playground’ (Cassidy) wherein masked murderer The Domino stalks an amusement park wreaking havoc and instilling terror.

Spring 1942’s Finest Comics #6 explores the mystery of a flying castle as Superman breaches ‘The Tower of Terror’ to confront an Indian curse and an unscrupulous businessman, whereas in the bimonthly Superman #15 a dandy exercise regimen from Shuster (‘Attaining Super-Health: A few Hints from Superman!’) leads to Nowak’s ‘The Cop Who was Ruined’ wherein the Metropolis Marvel clears framed detective Bob Branigan – a man who even believes himself guilty – before scurvy Orientals menace the nation’s Pacific fleet in ‘Saboteurs from Napkan’ with Sikela again lending his pens and brushes to Nowak’s pencil art.

Thinly-veiled fascist oppression and expansion is spectacularly nipped in the bud with ‘Superman in Oxnalia’– an all-Sikela art job, before Nowak returns to pencils concluding science fiction thriller ‘The Evolution King’. Here, a malignant mastermind artificially ages his wealthy, prominent victims until the invulnerable Man of Steel storms in…

This splendid compilation concludes with a blockbusting, no-holds-barred battle which was only the opening skirmish in a bigger campaign. Action #47 (by Sikela) reveals how Lex Luthor gains incredible abilities after acquiring the incredible ‘Powerstone’, making the mad scientist temporarily Superman’s physical equal – if not mental – match…

As fresh and thrilling now as they ever were, the endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly housed in these glorious paperback collections where the savage intensity and sly wit still shine through in Siegel’s stories – which literally defined what being a Super Hero means – whilst Shuster’s shadows continued to create the basic iconography of superhero comics for all others to follow.

Such Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at an absurdly affordable price and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
© 1941, 1942, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Batman volume 1 (New edition)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Silver Age volume 1


By Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Robert Bernstein, Al Plastino, George Papp, Jim Mooney, Curt Swan, John Forte & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8157-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Astounding All Ages Entertainment… 9/10

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

And thus began the vast and epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder & artist Al Plastino in early 1958, just as the revived comicbook genre of superheroes was gathering an inexorable head of steam. Since that time the fortunes and popularity of the Legion have perpetually waxed and waned, with their future history tweaked and rebooted, retconned and overwritten again and again to comply with editorial diktat and popular whim.

This glorious, far-and-wide ranging trade paperback and eBook collection assembles the many preliminary appearances of these valiant Tomorrow People and their inevitable progress towards and attainment of their own feature; including all pertinent material from Adventure Comics #247, 267, 282, 290, 293, and 300-310, Action Comics #267, 276, 287 and 289, Superboy #86, 89, 98 and Superman #147, cumulatively spanning April 1958 through July 1963.

The many-handed mob of juvenile universe-savers debuted in Adventure Comics #247 (cover-dated April 1958) in a Superboy tale wherein three mysterious kids invited the Boy of Steel to the 30th century to join a team of metahuman champions all inspired by his historic career.

Devised by Otto Binder & Al Plastino, 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 Kid Kryptonian reduced to merely “one of the in-crowd”…

However here the excitement was still gradually building as the kids returned more than 18 months later in Adventure #267 (December 1959) for Jerry Siegel & George Papp to play with.

In ‘Prisoner of the Super-Heroes!’ the teen wonders turn up to attack and incarcerate the Boy of Steel because of a misunderstood ancient record they have uncovered…

The following summer Supergirl met the Legion in Action Comics #267 (August 1960, by Siegel & Jim Mooney) as Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy secretly travel to “modern day” America to invite the Maid of Might to join the team, in a repetition of their offer to Superboy 15 years previously (in nit-picking fact they claimed to be the children of the original team – a fact glossed over and forgotten these days: don’t time-travel stories make your head hurt…?).

Due to a dubious technicality, young and eager Kara Zor-El fails her initiation task at the hands of ‘The Three Super-Heroes’ and is asked to reapply later – but at least we get to meet a few more Legionnaires, including Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid and Colossal Boy

With editors still cautiously testing the waters, it was Superboy #86 (January 1961) before ‘The Army of Living Kryptonite Men!’ (by Siegel & Papp) who turned the LSH into a last-minute Deus ex Machina to save the Smallville Sentinel from juvenile delinquent Lex Luthor’s most insidious assault.

Two months later in Adventure #282, Binder & Papp introduced Star Boy as a romantic rival for the Krypton Kid in ‘Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes!’

In Action #276 (May 1961) Siegel & Mooney introduced ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends’, which finally saw her crack the plasti-glass ceiling and join the team, sponsored by Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl. We also meet for the first time Bouncing Boy, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy and potential bad-boy love-interest Brainiac 5 (well at least his distant ancestor Brainiac was a very bad boy…)

Next comes a pivotal two-part tale. ‘Superboy’s Big Brother’ (by Robert Bernstein & Papp from Superboy #89, June 1961) reveals how 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, 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 can be found…

With an August 1961 cover-date Superman #147 unleashed ‘The Legion of Super-Villains’ (Siegel, Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff): a stand-out thriller featuring the adult Luthor and correspondingly mature wicked future bad guys coming far too close to destroying the Action Ace until the temporal cavalry arrives…

Bernstein & Papp seemingly give Sun Boy a starring role in ‘The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero!’ (Adventure #290, November 1961) – a clever tale of redemption and second chances, followed in #293 (February 1962) by a gripping thriller from Siegel, Swan & George Klein. ‘The Legion of Super-Traitors’ posits the future heroes turning evil, prompting Saturn Girl to recruit a Legion of Super-Pets including Krypto, Streaky the Super Cat, Beppo, the monkey from Krypton and Comet the magical Super-horse to save the world – and yes, I typed all that with a reasonably straight face…

‘Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge!’ by Siegel & Mooney (Action #287 April 1962) sees her visit the Legion (quibblers be warned: for some reason it was mis-determined as the 21st century in this story) and saved future Earth from invasion.

She also met a telepathic descendent of her cat Streaky. His name was Whizzy (I could have omitted that fact but chose not to – once more for smug, comedic effect and in sympathy with cat owners everywhere)…

Action #289 originally hosted ‘Superman’s Super-Courtship!’ wherein the Girl of Steel scours the universe for an ideal mate for her cousin. One highly possible candidate is the adult Saturn Woman, but her husband Lightning Man objects…

Perhaps charming at the time, but modern sensibilities might quail at the conclusion that his perfect match was a doppelganger of Supergirl herself, albeit thankfully a little bit older…

By the release of Superboy #98 (July 1962), the decision had been made. The buying public wanted more Legion stories and after ‘The Boy with Ultra-Powers’ (Siegel, Swan & Klein) introduces a mysterious lad with greater powers than the Boy of Steel, focus shifts to Adventure Comics #300 (cover-dated September 1962) where the futuristic super-squad finally land their own gig; even occasionally taking an alternating cover-spot from the still top-featured Boy of Steel.

Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes opened its stellar run with ‘The Face Behind the Lead Mask!’ by Siegel, John Forte & Plastino: a fast-paced premier pitting Superboy and the 30th century champions against an impossibly unbeatable foe until Mon-El, long-trapped in the Phantom Zone, briefly escapes a millennium of confinement to save the day…

In those halcyon days humour was as important as action, imagination and drama, so many of the early exploits were light-hearted and moralistic. Issue #301 offered hope to fat kids everywhere with ‘The Secret Origin of Bouncing Boy!’ by regular creative team Siegel & Forte, wherein the process of open auditions was instigated.

These provided devoted fans with loads of truly bizarre and memorable applicants over the years whilst here allowing the rebounding human rotunda to give a salutary pep talk and inspirational recount of heroism persevering over adversity.

Adventure #302 featured ‘Sun Boy’s Lost Power!’ with the golden boy forced to resign until fortune and boldness restore his abilities after which ‘The Fantastic Spy!’ in #303 provides a tense tale of espionage and possible betrayal by new member Matter-Eater Lad.

The happy readership was stunned by the events of #304 when Saturn Girl engineered ‘The Stolen Super-Powers!’ to make herself a one-woman Legion. Of course, it was for the best possible reasons, but still didn’t prevent the shocking murder of Lightning Lad…

With comfortable complacency utterly destroyed, #305 further shook everything up with ‘The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire!’ who turns out to be the long-suffering Mon-El finally cured and freed from his Phantom Zone prison.

Normally I’d try to be more obscure about story details – after all my intention is to get new people reading old comics – but these “spoiler” revelations are crucial to further understanding here and besides you all know these characters are still around, don’t you?

Pulp science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton took over the major scripting role with Adventure #306, introducing ‘The Legion of Substitute Heroes!’ (still quirkily, perfectly illustrated by John Forte): a group of rejected audition applicants selflessly banding together and clandestinely assisting the champions who had spurned them, after which transmuting orphan Element Lad joins the big league.

He is seeking vengeance of the space pirates who had wiped out his entire species in ‘The Secret Power of the Mystery Super-Hero!’ whilst in #308 readers seemingly saw ‘The Return of Lightning Lad!’

Actual Spoiler Warning: skip to the next paragraph NOW!!!

Otherwise you’ll find out it was actually his similarly empowered sister who – once unmasked and unmanned – took her brother’s place as Lightning Lass

Penultimate escapade ‘The Legion of Super-Monsters!’ was a straightforward clash with embittered applicant Jungle King who took his rejection far too personally and gathered a deadly clutch of space beasts to wreak havoc and vengeance after which the future tension temporarily subsides with ‘The Doom of the Super-Heroes!’ from #310: a frantic battle for survival against an impossible foe

The Legion is undoubtedly one of the most beloved and bewildering creations in American comicbook history and largely responsible for the growth of the groundswell movement that became Comics Fandom.

Moreover, these sparkling, simplistic and devastatingly addictive stories, as much as the legendary Julie Schwartz Justice League, fired up the interest and imaginations of a generation of young readers and built the industry we all know today.

These naive, silly, joyous, stirring and utterly compelling yarns are precious and fun beyond any ability to explain – even if we old lags gently mock them to ourselves and one another. If you love comics and haven’t read this stuff, you are the poorer for it and need to enrich your future life as soon as possible.
© 1958-1963, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Super Powers by Jack Kirby


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Son of Superman


By Howard Chaykin, David Tischman, J.H. Williams III & Mick Gray (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-595-1 (HB)                    :978-1-56389-596-8 (TPB)

Dads are difficult: it’s their main role in life. They’re designed to protect and sustain but with so few lions and tigers and bears to fend off, they just hang around and become less understandable and more embarrassing – or if you’re a daughter, increasingly suspicious of and hostile to your friends with every month you age.

They are absolute hell to find gifts for on made-up occasions intended to fill corporate coffers.

Too late now, but why not try a nice book next year…

Originally released as a spiffy hardback in February 2000 (and rushed out in paperback four months later), Son of Superman saw Howard Chaykin and his writing partner David Tischman exploring modern themes of self-image and abandonment through a timeless lens of teenage rebellion writ large…

Set in the then far-future of 2017 AD. and an overwhelmingly conservative and corporate America, it posits that Superman has been missing since 2000. The Justice League has become an oppressive arm of Federal Government, and the biggest threat to homeland security is the terrorist organisation The Supermen.

This revolutionary cell is led by the vanished hero’s oldest friends Pete Ross and Lana Lang and the menace of humanity is ruthless, unscrupulous Lex Luthor who now claims ownership of most of the planet.

Jon Kent is a brash, smart-mouthed high school kid and his mother Lois is a Hollywood screenwriter. Their lives are pretty normal (for rich Americans) …until the worst solar storm in history abruptly triggers her boy’s unsuspected and dormant superpowers. Now mom has to reveal that his long-dead dad was in fact the world’s greatest hero.

From having to deal with girls, grades and puberty the turbulent teen suddenly finds himself the focus of all manner of unpleasant and unwelcome attention; heroes and villains, the Feds and his own budding conscience…

How this new and exceedingly reluctant hero saves the world, busts the bad guys, and solves the mystery of his missing father makes for a good old-fashioned “never trust anyone over the age of 30” romp: full of thrills and spills thanks to the snarkily superior scripting skills of arch-nonconformists Chaykin and Tischman, sublimely enhanced by spectacular artwork from J.H. Williams III (Starman, Promethea, Rex Mundi, Batwoman) and Mick Gray.

This surprisingly enjoyable, if unchallenging, alternative tale of the Man of Steel comes courtesy of the much missed Elseworlds imprint, which was designed by DC as a classy vehicle for what used to be called “Imaginary Stories” – for which read using branded characters in stories that refute, contradict or ignore established monthly continuities. Although often a guaranteed recipe for disaster, every so often the magic of unbridled creativity brought forth gems. This is one of the latter and should be re-released ASAP.

Then you could nick it from your dad…
© 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

All Star Superman


By Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely with Jamie Grant (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3205-4

Happy Anniversary, Man of Tomorrow… and here’s to many more.

When dwindling sales and economic realities forced comics down certain editorial paths, the US mainstream went for darker tales and grittier heroes. Meeting a certain degree of success, a policy of following trends became mandatory.

Ninjas, cyborgs, younger incarnations – all the old heroes put on new clothes as fashion dictated, abandoning their own mythologies whenever it seemed most expedient. The saddest thing is that sales in the long run kept falling anyway, and by recanting all the appurtenances of a long-lived character, they removed points of reference for any older readers who might contemplate a return.

So bravo to those companies that have repackaged their notionally “unfashionable” classics for the nostalgia market, and especially for those editors that have resisted slavish continuity as the only option and opened up key characters to broader interpretation.

When I was a nipper, Superman had outlandish adventures and was still a decent bloke.

His head might occasionally be replaced by a lion’s or an ant’s and he loved playing jokes on his friends a bit too much, but he was still one of us. His exploits were routinely mind-boggling, but he kept a quiet, down-to-Earth dignity about him. He only shouted to shatter concrete, and not to bully villains. He was okay and he was quintessentially cool.

…And in All-Star Superman he was again. Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (aided and abetted by the digital wizardry of inker/colourist Jamie Grant) crafted a delightful evocation of those simpler, gentler times with a carefully stage-managed guided tour of the past, redolent with classic mile-markers.

Superman was the world’s boy scout, Lois Lane spent her days trying to prove Clark Kent is the Man of Steel, Jimmy Olsen was a competent young reporter dating Lois’ sister Lucy and all of time and space knew they could always rely on the Metropolis Marvel.

A 12-part miniseries running from January 2006 to October 2008, All-Star Superman celebrated those good old days in a most subversive manner beginning with ‘…Faster…’ as the Man of Steel saves a solar astronaut but only at an incredible, fatal cost to himself.

As a result, the Action Ace has to make some major changes in his life, beginning by satisfying Lois’ greatest desire…

In #2 and 3 (February and May 2006), ‘Superman’s Forbidden Room’ and ‘Sweet Dreams, Superwoman’, Lois takes centre stage as a devilish plot to kill Superman forces the hero to acknowledge his feelings for her. The result is an astonishing trip to his Fortress of Solitude and a hyper-empowering birthday gift she will never forget…

The hero’s best pal hits the headlines next as ‘The Superman/Olsen War’ finds the plucky cub-reporter undergoing the most shocking – and potentially lethal – transformation of his strange career, after which ‘The Gospel According to Lex Luthor’ (A-SS #5, September 2006) finds unrepentant Lex Luthor on Death Row and granting Clark Kent the interview of his career and scoop of a lifetime…

Superman is dying. Clandestinely poisoned by Lex and the Tyrant Sun Solaris, the Man of Tomorrow must make bold preparations and rush desperately to finish a shopping list of impossible tasks before his inevitable end. The gallant defender is aware that the precious Earth and his greatest friends must be kept safe and happy, even after his demise…

The quest kicks into high gear after a time-bending and portentously eventful ‘Funeral in Smallville’ (#6, March 2007); leading to a brutal clash with his imperfect duplicate in ‘Being Bizarro’ (#7, June) and one last visit to the square planet htraE in ‘Us Do Opposite’ (#8, August)…

The end is fast-approaching in All-Star Superman #9 (December 2007) as ‘Curse of the Replacement Supermen’ finds the Man of Steel facing two Kryptonian emigres attempting to turn Earth into a facsimile of their lost world. ‘Neverending’ (#10, May 2008) rapidly follows our rapidly declining hero on a nonstop junket to save lives before his own concludes…

The tension ramps up for penultimate episode ‘Red Sun Day’ (July) as Luthor, having turned his execution to his own advantage, attacks with all his carefully-gathered allies, before the conclusion ‘Superman in Excelsis’ reveals the perished Man of Steel’s greatest moment and most poignant triumph…

Completing the experience are commentary, character analysis, sketches and designs by Morrison & Quitely plus a full cover gallery from Quitely and a variant cover by Neal Adams.

Don’t believe this is just a pastiche of past glories. Kids of all ages are better informed than we were, and there’s a strong narrative thread and sharp, witty dialogue, backed up by the best 21st century technobabble to keep our attention and ensure that even the worldliest young cynic feels a rush of mind-expanding, goose-bump awe…

Although a plot to kill Superman carries this tale along there is human drama and tension aplenty to season the wonderment. Revisiting such unforgettable Silver Age motifs as the Planet of the Bizarros, being replaced by (even) more competent Kryptonians, liberating the citizens of the Bottle City of Kandor and all those cataclysmic battles with Luthor, not to mention curing cancer and the last Will and Testament of Superman, these gently thrilling glimpses of finer, gentler worlds shine with charm and Sense-of-Wonder, leavened with dark, knowing humour and subtle wistfulness.

…And action. Lots and lots of spectacular, mind-boggling action…

Older readers of the Man of Steel look back on an age of weirdness, mystery, hope and – above all – unparalleled imagination. Morrison and the uniquely stylish Quitely obviously remember them too and must miss them as much as we do.

All-Star Superman: One of the very few superhero collections that literally anybody can – and should – enjoy…
© 2006-2008, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The War Years 1938-1945


By Roy Thomas, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster with Don Cameron, Mort Weisinger, Fred Ray, Jack Burnley, Wayne Boring, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka, John Sikela, Sam Citron, Ira Yarbrough, George Roussos, Stan Kaye & various (Chartwell Books)
ISBN: 978-0-7858-3282-9

The creation of Superman and his unprecedented adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form. Within three years of his debut in the summer of 1938, the intoxicating mix of eye-popping action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early exploits of the Man of Tomorrow had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy and even whimsical comedy: all deep and abiding issues for the American public at that time.

However, once the war in Europe and the East snared America’s consciousness, combat themes and patriotic imagery dominated most comicbook covers if not interiors and the Man of Steel was again in the vanguard.

In comicbook terms Superman was master of the world and had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry. There was a popular newspaper strip, a thrice-weekly radio serial, games, toys, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio’s astounding animated cartoons.

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

Superman was definitely every kid’s hero, and the raw, untutored yet captivating episodes reprinted here were also been completely embraced by the wider public, as comicbooks became a vital tonic for the troops and all the ones they had left behind…

I sometimes think – like many others of my era and inclinations – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when 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 appropriated (but now offensive) contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Nazis”.

This superb hardcover archive has been curated by comicbook pioneer Roy Thomas, exclusively honing in on the euphoric output of the war years, even though 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…

A past master of WWII era material, Thomas opens this tome with a scene-setting Introduction and prefaces each chapter division with an essay offering tone and context before the four-colour glories commence with Part 1: The Road to War

Following the cover to Action Comics #1, the first Superman story begins.

Most of the early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have in later years been given descriptive appellations by the editors. Thus, after describing the foundling’s escape from exploding Planet Krypton and explaining his astonishing powers in nine panels, with absolutely no preamble the wonderment begins in ‘Superman, Champion of the Oppressed’ and ‘War in San Monte’ from Action Comics #1 and 2 (June and July 1938 by Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster) as the costumed crusader – masquerading by day as reporter Clark Kent – began averting numerous tragedies.

As well as saving an innocent woman from the electric chair and delivering rough justice to a wife-beater, the tireless crusader works over racketeer Butch Matson – consequently saving suave and feisty colleague Lois Lane from abduction and worse, since she was attempting to vamp the thug at the time!

The mysterious Man of Steel made a big impression on her by then outing a lobbyist for the armaments industry who was bribing Senators on behalf of greedy munitions interests fomenting war in Europe…

The next breathtaking instalment ‘Revolution in San Monte’ sees the mercurial mystery-man travelling to the actual war-zone and spectacularly shutting down the hostilities already in progress…

Maintaining the combat theme, the cover of Action Comics #10 (March 1939) follows and the cover and first two pages of Superman #1 (Summer 1939): and expanded 2-page origin describing the alien foundling’s escape from Krypton, his childhood with unnamed Earthling foster parents and eventual journey to the big city.

A back-cover ad for the Superman of American club and the October 1939 Action Comics #17 cover precedes Fall 1939’s Superman #2 cover and rousing yarn ‘Superman Champions Universal Peace!’, depicting the dynamic wonder man once more thwarting unscrupulous munitions manufacturers by crushing a gang who had stolen the world’s deadliest poison gas weapon…

After another concise history lesson Part 2: War Comes to Europe re-presents a stunning outreach article. Look Magazine commissioned a legendary special feature by the original creators for their 27th February 1943 issue. ‘How Superman Would End the War’ is a glorious piece of wish-fulfilment which still delights, as the Man of Tomorrow arrested and dragged budding belligerents Hitler and Stalin to a League of Nations court in Geneva.

Accompanied by the March 1940 cover, Action Comics #22 and #23 then declared ‘Europe at War’: a tense and thinly disguised call to arms for the still neutral USA, and a continued story – almost unheard of in those early days of funny-book publishing. Here Lois and Clark’s fact-finding mission (by Siegel, Shuster and inker Paul Cassidy) spectacularly escalated, and after astounding carnage revealed a scientist named Luthor to be behind the international conflict…

The anti-aircraft cover for Superman #7 (November/December 1940) and an ad for the Superman Radio Program precede Siegal, & Wayne Boring & Don Komisarow’s ‘The Sinister Sagdorf’ (Superman #8 January/February 1941). This topical thriller spotlights enemy agents infiltrating American infrastructure whilst ‘The Dukalia Spy Ring’ (Superman #10 May/June 1941) references the 1936 Olympics and sees the Action Ace trounce thinly-veiled Nazis at an international sports festival and expose vicious foreign propaganda: themes regarded as fanciful suspense and paranoia as America was still at this time still officially neutral in the “European War.”

Behind Fred Ray’s Armed services cover for Superman #12 (September/October 1941, ‘Peril on Pogo Island’ (Siegel, Shuster & Leo Nowak) finds Lois and Clark at the mercy of rampaging tribesmen, although spies from a certain foreign power are at the back of it all after which a Fred Ray gallery of covers – Action Comics #43 (December 1941), Superman #13 (November/December 1941), Action Comics #44 (January 1942) and Superman #14 (January/February 1942) – closes the chapter.

All of these were prepared long before December 7th changed the face and nature of the conflict…

After Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor everything changed and Part 3: America Goes to War reflects the move to a war footing, beginning with the infamous Siegel & Boring ‘Superman Daily Strips’ from January/February 1942, wherein an overeager Clark Kent tries too hard to enlist and only succeeds in getting himself declared 4F (unfit to fight)…

Timeless Ray patriotic masterpieces from Superman #17 (July/August 1942) and Superman #18 (September/October 1942) precede a stirring yarn from the latter. ‘The Conquest of a City’ (Siegel & John Sikela) sees Nazi agents use a civil defence drill to infiltrate the National Guard and conquer Metropolis in the Fuehrer’s name… until Superman spearheads the counter-attack…

The other great patriotic cover master was Hardin “Jack” Burnley and a quartet of his very best follow – Action Comics #54 (November 1942), Action Comics #55 (December 1942), World’s Finest Comics #8 (Winter 1942 and with Batman and Robin thrown in for good measure) and Superman #20 (January/February 1943).

That last also provides ‘Destroyers from the Depths’ wherein Hitler himself orders dastardly Herr Fange to unleash an armada of marine monstrosities on Allied shipping and coastal towns. Of course, they prove no match for the mighty Man of Steel,

After Burnley’s Action Comics #58 cover (March 1943), Siegel, Ed Dobrotka & Sikela detail the saga of ‘X-Alloy’ from Superman #21 (March/April 1943) as a secret army of Nazi infiltrators and fifth columnists steal American industrial secrets and would have conquered the nation from within if not for the ever-vigilant Man of Steel…

Sikela’s cover Action Comics #59 (April 1943) concludes this section as Part 4: In for the Duration discusses the long, hard struggle to crush the Axis. By the time of the tales here the intense apprehension of the early war years had been replaced with eager anticipation as tyranny’s forces were being rolled back on every Front….

Following Burnley’s May 1943 Action Comics #60 cover, Superman #22 May/June 1943 provides Siegel & Sam Citron’s ‘Meet the Squiffles’: a light-hearted yet barbed flight of whimsy wherein Adolf Hitler is approached by the king of a scurrilous band of pixies who offer to sabotage all of America’s mighty weapons. Neither nefarious rogue had factored Superman – or patriotic US gremlins – into their schemes though…

Action Comics #62 (July 1943) and Superman #22 (July/August 1943) are two of Burnley’s very best covers, with the latter fronting an astounding masterpiece of graphic polemic. Don Cameron scripts and Citron illustrates ‘America’s Secret Weapon!’: a rousing paean to American military might as Clark and Lois report on cadet manoeuvres and the Man of Steel becomes an inspiration to the demoralised troops in training…

Covers by Burnley for Action Comics #63 (August 1943) and Superman #24 (September/October 1943) – which latter provides ‘Suicide Voyage’ – follow. This exuberant yarn by Cameron, Dobrotka & George Roussos finds Clark (and pesky stowaway Lois) visiting the Arctic as part of a mission to rescue downed American aviators. Of course, nobody is expecting a secret invasion by combined Nazi and Japanese forces, but Superman and a patriotic polar bear are grateful for the resultant bracing exercise…

‘The Man Superman Refused to Help’ comes from Superman #25 (November/December 1943) and follows Burnley and Stan Kaye’s cover for Action Comics #66 (November 1943). It is a far more considered and thoughtful tale from Siegel, Ira Yarbrough & Roussos exposing the American Nazi Party – dubbed the “101% Americanism Society” – whilst offering a rousing tale of social injustice as an American war hero is wrongly implicated in the fascists’ scheme… until the Man of Steel investigates.

Next up and from the same issue is much reprinted and deservedly lauded patriotic classic.

‘I Sustain the Wings!’ by Mort Weisinger & Fred Ray was created in conjunction with the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command under Major General Walter R. Weaver and designed to boost enlistment in the maintenance services of the military.

In this stirring tale Clark Kent attends a Technical Training Command school as part of the Daily Planet’s attempt to address a shortfall in vital services recruitment – a genuine problem at this time in our real world – but the creators still find and space for our hero to delightfully play cupid to a love-struck kid who really wants to be a hot shot pilot and not a mere “grease monkey”…

Wayne Boring & Roussos’ cover for Superman #26 (January/February 1944) precedes Boring’s ‘Superman Sunday Strips #220-227’ for January – March 1944 with the Metropolis Marvel heading to multiple theatres of War to deliver letters from loved ones on the Home Front after which Roussos’ ‘Public Service Announcement’ (from Superman #28, May 1944) urges everybody to donate waste paper.

July/August 1944’s Wayne Boring cover for Superman #29 find’s Lois greeting the USA’s real Supermen – servicemen all – before Action Comics #76 (September 1944 and Kaye over Boring leads to anonymously-scripted ‘The Rubber Band’ from World’s Finest Comics #15 (Fall 1944).

Illustrated by Sikela & Nowak and concentrating on domestic problems, it details the exploits of a gang of black market tyre thieves who are given a patriotic “heads-up” after Superman dumps their boss on the Pacific front line where US soldiers are fighting and dying for all Americans…

Drawn by Boring, ‘Superman Sunday Strips #280-282’ from March 1945 then rubbish and belittle the last vestiges of the Third Reich as Hitler and his inner circle desperately try to convince the Action Ace to defect to the side that is comprised of Supermen like them…

In Superman #34 (May/June 1945) Cameron, Citron & Roussos attempt to repeat the magic formula of ‘I Sustain the Wings’ with ‘The United States Navy!’ as Clark is despatched to follow three college football heroes whilst they progress – in different maritime specialisations – through the hellish war in the Pacific…

This enthralling sally through Superman’s martial endeavours conclude with one final Thomas-authored article as Part 5: Atoms for Peace? Reveals who the fruits of the top-secret Manhattan Project changed everything…

As fresh and thrilling now as they ever were, these endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly situated in these gloriously luxurious Archive Editions; a worthy, long-lasting vehicle for the greatest and most influential comics stories the art form has ever produced. 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?
™ & © 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Adventures volume 1


By Paul Dini, Scott McCloud, Rick Burchett, Bret Blevins, Mike Manley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5867-2

A decade after John Byrne galvanised, reinvigorated and reinvented the look and feel of the Man of Steel animator Bruce Timm returned to comicbook country to meld modern sensibility and classic mythology with Superman: The Animated Series.

With Paul Dini he had designed and overseen Batman: The Animated Series: a 1993 TV show that captivated young and old alike and breathed vibrant new life into an old concept. In 1996 lightning struck a second time. The show was another masterpiece and led to a tranche of sequels and spin-off including The New Batman/Superman Adventures, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

Although the Superman cartoon show (which originally aired in the USA from September 6th 1996 to February 12th 2000) never got the airplay it deserved in Britain, it remains a highpoint in the character’s long, long animation history, second only to the astounding and groundbreaking seventeen shorts produced by the Max Fleischer Studio in the 1940s.

These stylish modern visualisations became the norm, extending to the Teen Titans, Legion of Super Heroes, Young Justice and Brave and the Bold animation series that so successfully followed.

The broad stylisation – described as “Ocean Liner Art Deco” – also worked magnificently in static two dimensions for the spin-off comicbook produced by DC as seen in this first of four (so far) trade paperback and eBook compilations, gathering Superman Adventures #1-10 from November 1996 through August 1997.

With no further ado the all-ages action opens with ‘Men of Steel’ by show writer Paul Dini and illustrated with dash and verve by Rick Burchett & Terry Austin. Because they know their audience, the editors wisely treated the animated episodes and comicbook releases as equally canonical and here shady mega-billionaire Lex Luthor is a public hero even whilst clandestinely organising clandestine criminal deals, international coups and a secret war against the Man of Tomorrow.

The devil’s brew of dark deeds culminates here in the oligarch’s creation of a new secret weapon: a hyper-powerful robot-duplicate of Superman, which he uses to initially discredit and ultimately battle against the Caped Kryptonian. If it manages to kill him, Lex will mass-produce them and sell them to warlords around the world…

Comics grand master Scott McCloud comes aboard as regular scripter with the second issue as ‘Be Careful What You Wish For…’ sees the return of Kryptonite-powered cyborg Metallo. The mechanical maniac – like the rest of Metropolis – erroneously believes lonely, attention-seeking Kelly to be Superman’s girlfriend, but his sadistic revenge scheme hasn’t factored in how Lois Lane might react to the claim…

Computerised Kryptonian relic Brainiac resurfaces in ‘Distant Thunder’, having placed its malign consciousness into Earth artefacts (such as robot cats!) before building a new body to facilitate a new attack on the Metropolis Marvel. As ever, Brainiac’s end goal is assimilating data, but Superman quickly realises how to turn that programmed compulsion into a weapon ensuring the computer tyrant’s defeat…

Apprentice photo-journalist Jimmy Olsen’s dreams of success and stardom get a big boost in issue #4’s ‘Eye to Eye’. After Luthor orchestrates a deadly attack on Superman with an enhanced gravity-weapon, the cub reporter learns it’s as much about grit and guts as it is being in the right place at the right time…

Bret Blevins pencils fifth exploit ‘Balance of Power’ as electrical villain Livewire awakes from a coma and sets about equalizing gender inequality by taking over the world’s broadcast airwaves. With all male presences edited out thanks to her galvanic power, the sparky ideologue then returns to her original agenda and attempts to eradicate too-powerful men like Superman and Luthor

McCloud, Burchett & Austin reunite for the astoundingly gripping ‘Seonimod’ wherein Superman utterly fails to save Metropolis from complete annihilation. All is not lost however, as Fifth Dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk has trapped the Man of Steel in a backwards-spiralling time-loop, allowing the hero one last chance to track a concatenation of disasters back to the inconsequential event that triggered the string of accidents which wiped out everything the hero cherishes…

‘All Creatures Great and Small part 1’ opens a titanic two-part tale which sees Kryptonian Phantom Zone villains General Zod and Mala escape the miniaturised prison Superman had incarcerated them in. In the process they also shrink our hero to a few centimetres in height, but the endgame is far more devilish that that.

When scientific savant Professor Hamilton and top cop Dan “Terrible” Turpin join Lois in using a growth ray to restore Superman, Zod intercepts them and transforms himself into a towering colossus of chaos and carnage. Utterly overmatched and without options, the miniscule Man of Tomorrow is forced into the most disgusting and risky manoeuvre of his career to bring the gigantic General low in the concluding ‘All Creatures Great and Small part 2’

Mike Manley pencils Superman Adventures #9 as ‘Return of the Hero’ focuses on an idealistic boy whose two heroes are Superman and Lex Luthor. However, as a series of arson attacks plagues his neighbourhood, Francisco Torres learns some unpleasant truths about the billionaire that shatter his worldview and almost destroy his family. Happily, the Caped Kryptonian proves to be a far more dependable role model…

Wrapping up this first cartoon collection is a classic clash between indomitable hero and deadly maniac as twisted techno-terrorist Toyman returns, peddling Superman action figures designed to plunder and rob their owners’ parents. ‘Don’t Try This at Home!’ by McCloud, Burchett & Austin once again proves that no amount of devious deviltry can long deter the champion of Truth, Justice and the American Way…

Breathtakingly written and spectacularly illustrated, these stripped-down, hyper-charged rollercoaster-romps are pure, irresistible examples of the most primal kind of comics storytelling, capturing the idealised essence of what every superman story should be. This is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1996, 1997, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Many Worlds of Krypton


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Cary Bates, Marv Wolfman, Elliot S. Maggin, Paul Kupperberg, John Byrne, Murphy Anderson, Dick Giordano, Gray Morrow, Michael Kaluta, Dave Cockrum, Dick Dillin, Marshall Rogers, Howard Chaykin, Paul Kupperberg, Mike Mignola, Rick Bryant, Carlos Garzon & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7889-2

For fans and comics creators alike, continuity can be a harsh mistress. These days, when maintaining a faux-historical cloak of rational integrity for the made-up worlds we inhabit is paramount, the worst casualty of the semi-regular sweeping changes, rationalisations and reboots is great stories that suddenly “never happened”.

The most painful example of this – for me at least – was the wholesale loss of the entire charm-drenched mythology that had evolved around Superman’s birthworld in the wonder years between 1948 and 1985.

Silver Age readers avidly consuming Superman, Action Comics, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, World’s Finest Comics and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (not forgetting Superboy and Adventure Comics) would delight every time some fascinating snippet of information leaked out.

We spent our rainy days filling in the incredible blanks about the lost world through the tantalising and thrilling tales from those halcyon publications. The Fabulous World of Krypton was a long-running back-up feature in Superman during the 1970s, revealing intriguing glimpses from the history of that lost world.

Throughout the decade and into the 1980s – and an issue of giant-sized anthology Superman Family – the feature delivered 27 “Untold Tales of Superman’s Native Planet” (and long overdue for a complete archival collection) by a host of the industry’s greatest talents which further explored that defunct wonderland.

A far-too-small selection of those are re-presented in this beguiling trade paperback and eBook commemoration, taken from Superman #233, 236, 238, 240, 248, 257, 266 and Superman Family #182, to augment a brace of miniseries World of Krypton #1-3 and World of Krypton volume 2 #1-4 (December 1987-March 1988).

These collectively span 1971-1988 and, following scene-setting introduction ‘The World (of Krypton) According to Paul (Kupperberg)’, kick off Chapter 1: Fabulous World of Krypton with E. Nelson Bridwell (who was always the go-to guy for any detail of fact or trivia concerning the company’s vast comics output) & Murphy Anderson’s trendsetting and groundbreaking yarn ‘Jor-El’s Golden Folly’.

Follow-up tales would alternate between glimpses of historical or mythological moments in the development of the Kryptonians and tales of the House of El, such as this astoundingly concise and drama-packed yarn which in seven pages introduces Superman’s father, traces his scholastic graduation and early triumphs in anti-gravity physics and rocketry and reveals how he met his bride-to-be, trainee astronaut Lara Lor-Van.

The story goes on to reveal how she stows away on a test rocket, crashes on the (luckily) habitable moon Wegthor and survives until her infatuated suitor finds a way to rescue her.

This a superb adventure yarn in its own right and, set against what we fans already knew about the doomed planet, augured well what was to follow…

The remaining tales in this section concentrate on non-Jor-El episodes – presumably in lieu of what follows – so the next fable comes from Superman #236 with Green Arrow and Black Canary hearing their Justice League recount the story of ‘The Doomsayer’ (by Denny O’Neil & Dick Giordano). This eco-terror tale reveals how scientist Mo-De detected the mounting tectonic pressures at the planet’s core but was silenced by modern day lotus eaters who didn’t want to hear any unpleasant truths…

In the guise of a Kryptonian kindergarten class story-time, Cary Bates & Gray Morrow devised a hard science creation myth for Superman #238 as ‘A Name is Born’ details how two marooned – and initially mutually antagonistic – aliens crashed on the primeval planet and joined to birth a new race together…

Bates & Michael Kaluta teamed in #240 for a cunning, irony-drenched murder mystery as ‘The Man Who Cheated Time’ details the unexpected consequences of an ambitious scientist who stole from and slaughtered his rivals only to pay for his crimes in a most unexpected manner.

Kryptonian archaeologists unearth a lost moment in planetary history as ‘All in the Mind’ (by Marv Wolfman & Dave Cockrum from #248) discloses how the ancient war between the city states of Erkol and Xan resulted in a generation of mutants. Apparently, if the parents had been more understanding and less intolerant, those super-kids might have saved their forebears from extinction…

Superman #257 (October 1972) offered a timeless instant classic wherein Elliot S. Maggin and illustrators Dick Dillin & Giordano celebrated ‘The Greatest Green Lantern of All’. Here avian GL Tomar-Re reports his tragic failure in preventing Krypton’s detonation, unaware that the Guardians of the Universe had a plan to preserve and use that world’s greatest bloodline – or at least its last son…

Maggin, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella then emphasised a long-hidden connection between Earth and Krypton in #266 as ‘The Face on the Falling Star’ reveals how in eons past two Kryptonian children are saved from doom by a strange device fallen from the sky: a machine sent from a lost civilisation on pre-historic Terra…

Wrapping up this section is ‘The Stranger’ by Paul Kupperberg, Marshall Rogers & Frank Springer and first seen in Superman Family #182: an analogue Christmas fable explaining how four millennia past a holy man named Jo-Mon sacrificed his life to liberate the people and end the depredations of the tyrannical Al-Nei

The second section here is Chapter 2: The Life of Jor-El and reprints a pioneering miniseries that referenced many of those 27 vignettes as well as the key Krypton-focussed yarns of the Superman franchise.

In 1979 – when the Superman movie had made the hero a global sensation once more – scripter Paul Kupperberg and artist Howard Chaykin (assisted and ghost-pencilled by Alan Kupperberg) and inkers Murphy Anderson & Frank Chiaramonte synthesised the scattered back-story details into DC’s first limited series World of Krypton.

Although never collected into a graphic novel, this glorious indulgence was resized into a monochrome pocket paperback book in 1982, supervised by and with an introduction from the much-missed, multi-talented official DC memory E. Nelson Bridwell. That magical celebration of life on the best of all fictional worlds is a grand old slice of comics fun and forms the spine of this new composite compilation.

The story opens on ‘The Jor-El Story’ with Superman reviewing a tape-diary found on Earth’s moon: a record from his long-deceased father which details the scientist’s life, career and struggle with the nay-saying political authorities whose inaction doomed the Kryptonian race to near-extinction.

As the Man of Steel listens, he hears how Jor-El wooed and won his mother Lara Lor-Van despite all the sinister and aberrant efforts of the planetary marriage computer to frustrate them, how his sire discovered anti-gravity and invented the Phantom Zone ray, uncovered the lost technology of a dead race which provided the clues to Kal-El’s escape rocket, and learns his father’s take on Superman’s many time-twisting trips to Krypton…

In ‘This Planet is Doomed’ the troubled orphan feels his father’s pain when android marauder Brainiac steals the city of Kandor, reels as rogue scientist Jax-Ur blows up the inhabited moon of Wegthor, and is revolted as civil war almost crushes civilisation thanks to the deranged militarist General Zod and when his own cousin Kru-El forever disgraces the noble House of El…

The countdown to disaster continues until ‘The Last Days of Krypton’ as political intrigue and exhaustion overwhelm the distraught scientist and, all avenues closed to him, Jor-El takes drastic action…

Heavily referencing immortal classics such as ‘Superman’s Return to Krypton’ (Superman volume 1 #141, November 1960), Fabulous World of Krypton mini-epics ‘Jor-El’s Golden Folly’, ‘Moon-Crossed Love’, ‘Marriage, Kryptonian Style’ and a host of others, this epochal saga from simpler and more wondrous times is a sheer delight for any fan tired of unremitting angst and non-stop crises…

The final section – Chapter 3: The World of Krypton – is a dark reworking by John Byrne, Mike Mignola, Rick Bryant & Carlos Garzon depicting a radically different planet.

In 1985 when DC Comics decided to rationalise, reconstruct and reinvigorate their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to simultaneously regenerate their key properties at the same time. The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was not before time.

The big guy was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch retooling be anything but a pathetic marketing ploy that would alienate the real fans for a few fly-by-night Johnny-come-latelies who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced?

This new Superman repurposed the hero into a harsher, more uncompromising hero who might be alien in physicality but completely human in terms of feelings and attitudes. As seen in Man of Steel #1 (not included here), ‘From Out of the Green Dawn’ traced the child’s voyage in a self-propelled birthing matrix to a primitive but vital and vibrant world.

He had escaped from a cold, sterile, soulless and emotionally barren planet barely glimpsed before it was gone in a cosmic flash…

As the hero’s new adventures became a sensational success, his creators felt compelled to revisit the hero’s bleakly dystopian birthworld. It was however, now conceived of as a far darker and more forbidding place and 1987’s 4-issue miniseries opted to reveal how that transformation came about.

Scripted by Byrne, it all begins in ‘Pieces’ (art by Mignola & Rick Bryant) as an indolent hedonistic scientific paradise comes crashing into ruin after the age’s greatest moral dilemma boils over into global civil war.

For 10 thousand generations Kryptonians have enjoyed virtual immortality thanks to the constant cultivation of clones to use for medical spare parts. The rights of the clones had been debated for centuries but has recently resulted in sporadic violence. The situation changes after ultra-privileged Nyra is exposed as having stolen one of her supposedly brain-dead clones for an act of social abomination. Exposure leads to murder, suicide and a rapidly escalating collapse of social cohesion…

Centuries ‘After the Fall’, Van-L wanders a planet shattered by devastating war technologies, surviving only because of the nurturing war suit. The grand planetary society is gone, replaced by constantly warring pockets of humanity, but Van is in need of allies, even if they were once lovers or despised foes. He has learned that the original instigator of the collapse still lives and plans to assuage his shame and guilt by blowing up the planet…

For the third issue the scene shifts to millennia later as young scholar Jor-El immerses himself in a traumatic ‘History Lesson’.

The distant descendant of Van-L obsessively probes the last days of the conflict and the nuclear annihilation scheme of terrorist cell Black Zero, but his compulsion causes him to almost miss a crucial social obligation: meeting his father and the grandparent of Lara, selected by The Masters of the Gestation Chamber as his ideal DNA co-contributor to the first Kryptonian allowed to be born in centuries…

Carlos Garzon steps in to finish Mignola’s pencils for concluding chapter ‘Family History’ as, in contemporary times, Superman agrees to an interview with Daily Plant reporter Lois Lane. The subject is how Krypton died, and why…

Precising the intervening millennia of history and stagnation, the Last Son of Krypton reveals how his own birth-father uncovered a shocking secret, rebelled against his moribund, repressed culture and found brief comfort with perhaps the last kindred spirit on his world. Kal-El then tells of how they ensured his survival at the cost of their own…

Celebrating the many and varied Worlds of Krypton, this is a magnificent tribute to the imagination of man creators and the power of a modern mythology: the ever-changing evolution of a world we all wanted to live on back in the heady days of yore…
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1987, 2008, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.