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.

Boo$ter Gold: The Big Fall


By Dan Jurgens, Mike DeCarlo, John Verpoorten, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0075-5 (HB)

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in the mid-1980s, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan-era. Simultaneously, a number of corporate buy-outs such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question joined the DC roster with their own much-hyped solo titles. There were even a couple of all-new big launches for the altered sensibilities of the Decade of Excess such as the superb Suicide Squad and a Shiny, Happy Hero named Booster Gold.

A true icon of capitalist brand-aware America, the newcomer has suffered numerous setbacks and relaunches, before finally finding his proper place as the guardian of DC’s timestream and continuity. This engaging hardback and eBook compilation covers his early days, re-presenting Booster Gold volume 1 #1-12 (spanning February 1986 to January 1987), and offers fascinating bonus background material as well as a backwards-looking revelatory Introduction from Dan Jurgens.

The blue and yellow paladin appeared amidst plenty of hoopla in his own title – the first post-Crisis premiere of the publisher’s freshly integrated superhero line- and presented a wholly different approach to the traditional DC costumed boy-scout.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens with inks by Mike DeCarlo ‘The Big Fall’ introduces a brash, cocky, mysterious metahuman/obnoxious golden-boy jock who has set up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis. Unlike any other costumed champion, BG actively seeks corporate sponsorships, sells endorsements and has a management team in place to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity…

Accompanied everywhere by sentient flying-football-shaped robot Skeets, the glitzy showboat soon encounters high-tech criminal gang The 1000 and their super-enforcer Blackguard. This earns him the unrelenting ire of sinister mastermind The Director and the shallow approbation of models, actresses, headline-hungry journalists, politicians and the ever-fickle public…

In issue #2’s ‘Cold Redemption’, Blackguard is aided and abetted by thought-casting mercenary Mindancer as the Director’s campaign of malice leads to another close call for Booster. Soon after, his highly public private life takes a tawdry turn in ‘The Night Has a Thousand Eyes’ when opportunistic starlet Monica Lake begins briefing the ravenous media on her “relationship” with the Man of Gold. He is unable to refute the claims since he was knee-deep in hired thugs and super-villains at the times she claims to have shared with him…

That cataclysmic combat in #4 results in a tremendous ‘Crash’ when urban vigilante The Thorn drops in to help scuttle the 1000’s latest scheme, but once the dust settles Booster finds himself in real trouble as business manager Dirk Davis is so busy licensing his boss for a comicbook that he fails to head off an IRS audit.

It appears Booster Gold has no official record and has never paid a penny in taxes…

Happily, in ‘Face Off’, our hero saves an entire stadium of ice hockey fans from avaricious terrorist Mr. Twister, earning himself a reprieve from the Federal authorities, after which an alien refugee crashes in Metropolis’ Centennial Park in #6’s ‘To Cross the Rubicon’. This sets up Man of Gold to finally meet Man of Steel for the long-awaited origin saga…

Michael Jon “Booster” Carter was a rising sports star in the 25th century who fell in with a gambling syndicate and began fixing games for cash pay-outs. When he was caught and banned from competition, he could only find menial work as a night-watchman in The Space Museum. Whilst there, he struck up a friendship with automated tour-guide and security-bot Skeets, and devised a bold plan to redeem himself.

Stealing a mysterious flight ring and force-field belt plus energy-rods, an alien super-suit and wrist-blasters, Booster used the Museum’s prize exhibit, Rip Hunter’s time machine, to travel to the fabled 20th Century Age of Heroes and earn all the fame and glory his mistakes had cost him in his own time…

Superman, already antagonistic because of Booster’s attitude, is ready to arrest him for theft when the almost-forgotten alien attacks…

They all awaken on a distant world, embroiled in a vicious civil war and personally still at odds. As a result of ‘The Lesson’ and a vicious battle, Superman and Booster both accept some uncomfortable truths and agree to tolerate each other when they return home. Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, Dirk Davis and company PA Trixie Collins hire hotshot scientist Jack Soo to build a super-suit that would enable Booster to hire a camera-friendly, girly eye-candy sidekick…

More questions are answered in 2-parter ‘Time Bridge’ when the 30th century Legion of Super-Heroes discover evidence that their flight-rings and forcefield technology were being used by a temporal fugitive named Michael Carter. Dispatched to 1985 by the Time Institute, Ultra Boy, Chameleon Boy and Brainiac 5 arrive soon after the fugitive Carter and become involved in his very first case. The Director and shape-shifting assassin Chiller were planning to murder and replace Ronald Reagan but, in the best superhero tradition, Carter and the Legionnaires misunderstood each other’s intentions and butted heads…

The plot might have succeeded had not Skeets intervened, allowing Carter to save the day and get official Presidential approval. Ronnie even got to name the new hero…

Back in 1986, the long-building final clash with the Director opens in #10 with ‘Death Grip of the 1000’ as Dirk’s daughter is kidnapped and he’s coerced into betraying Booster, just as the nefarious super-mob unleash a horde of robotic terrors on Metropolis to wear out the Man of Gold and catalogue his weaknesses…

After Trixie is also abducted in ‘When Glass Houses Shatter’, the 1000 increase the pressure by setting blockbusting thug Shockwave on Booster, resulting in the utter destruction of the hero’s corporate HQ and home before a frenzied and frenetic final clash in ‘War’, which leaves a proud owner of an extremely pyrrhic victory…

To Be Continued…

Supplementing these blockbuster battle frenzies, ‘The Making of Booster Gold’ takes us back to the beginning and reveals how the series came about, reprinting Jurgens’ original series proposal, first character and costume studies, augmented by models of Skeets and premium give-aways, assorted press release materials and house ads, and the editorial pages from #1.

Even more enticing is ‘The Secret Origin of Booster Gold #6’, detailing how John Byrne’s reimagination of Superman in Man of Steel caused some frantic rewriting of the published BG issue. The hidden benefit of that is five pages of unused pencils that had to be scrapped to accommodate the new reality offer an intriguing “What If?” to end proceedings here…

As a frontrunner of the new DC, Booster Gold was a radical experiment in character that didn’t always succeed, but which definitely and exponentially improved; as the months rolled by the time traveller grew into one of DC’s best books.

Perhaps not to every Fights ‘n’ Tights fan’s taste, these formative fictions are absolutely vital to your understanding of the later classics and have a dated charm that may well suit you, too.
© 1986-1987, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Superman Family volume 1


By Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley, Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira, Al Plastino, Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0787-8 (TPB)

Stress-alleviating Fun is in pretty short supply everywhere these days, but if you’re a comics fan susceptible to charming nostalgia, this item – readily available in paperback, but tragically still not compiled in any digital format yet – might be a remedy for those old Lockdown Blues…

When the blockbusting Man of Tomorrow debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) he was instantly the centre of attention. However, even then the need for a solid supporting cast was apparent and quickly catered to. Glamorous daredevil girl reporter Lois Lane premiered with Clark Kent and was a constant companion and foil from the outset…

Although unnamed, a plucky red-headed, be-freckled kid worked alongside Clark and Lois from Action Comics #6 (November 1938) and was called by his first name from Superman #13 (November-December 1941) onwards. The lad was Jimmy Olsen and he was a major player in The Adventures of Superman radio show from its debut on April 15th 1940: somebody the same age as the target audience in place for the hero to explain stuff to (all for the listener’s benefit) and the closest thing to a sidekick the Man of Tomorrow ever needed…

When the similarly titled television show launched in the autumn of 1952, it became a monolithic hit. National Periodicals thus began tentatively expanding their increasingly valuable franchise with new characters and titles. First up were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of that rash, capable but naïve photographer and “cub reporter” from the Daily Planet. The solo-career of the first spin-off star from the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage began with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, which launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date.

As the decade progressed, the oh-so-cautious Editors at National/DC tentatively extended the franchise in 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting underway and it seemed there might be a fresh and sustainable appetite for costumed heroes and their unique brand of spectacular shenanigans. Try-out title Showcase – which had already launched The Flash (#4 & 8) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6-7) – followed up with a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in #9 and 10. Soon after, she won a series of her own – in actuality her second, since for a brief while in the mid-1940s she had her own solo-spot in Superman.

This scintillatingly addictive monochrome tome chronologically re-presents those experimental franchise expansions, encompassing Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1-22, (September/October 1954 to August 1957) and Showcase #9 (July/August 1957), plus the very first Lois Lane solo strip (from Superman #28 – May/June 1944) as a welcome bonus.

The vintage all-ages entertainment (courtesy of dedicated creative team Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley) begins with ‘The Boy of 1000 Faces’ in which the ebullient junior journalist displays his phenomenal facility for make-up and disguise to trap a jewel thief before heading to timber country and solving the ‘Case of the Lumberjack Jinx’ and latterly masquerading as ‘The Man of Steel’s Substitute’ to tackle public requests too trivial for his Kryptonian chum.

‘The Flying Jimmy Olsen’ opened the second issue with a daring tale of sheer idiocy as the lad swallows an alien power-potion with staggering disregard for the potential repercussions (a recurring theme of those simpler times) after which ‘The Hide and Seek Mystery’ displays his crime-solving pluck as Jim hunts down more jewel thieves. Then, the boy becomes ‘Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Ex-Pal’ to expose a cunning conman.

The red-headed rascal became ‘The Boy Millionaire’ in #3 when a wealthy dowager repaid a kind deed with a vast cash reward. Sadly, all that money brought Jimmy was scammers, conmen and murderous trouble. After that he heads to Tumbleweed, USA to cover a rodeo and somehow is (mis)taken for ‘The Fastest Gun in the West’ before meeting the highly suspect eccentric who is ‘The Man Who Collected Excitement’.

‘The Disappearance of Superman’ perplexes Metropolis in #4 until his valiant pal solves the mystery and saves the Caped Kryptonian’s life, whilst – as ‘The Hunted Messenger’ – Jimmy cheats certain death to outwit gangsters before replacing a regal look-alike and playing ‘King for a Day’ in a far off land threatened by a ruthless usurper.

In issue #5, ‘The Boy Olympics’ shares Jimmy’s sentimental side as he risks his job to help young news vendors from a rival paper and is almost replaced by a computer in ‘The Brain of Steel’, before beguiling and capturing a wanted felon with ‘The Story of Superman’s Souvenirs’…

The cutthroat world of stage conjuring finds him competing to become ‘The King of Magic’ in JO #6’s first tale, after which the diminutive lad endures a punishing diet regime – hilariously enforced by Superman – to cover the sports story of the year in ‘Jockey Olsen Rides Star Flash’. The last tale sees Jimmy bravely recovering ‘100 Pieces of Kryptonite’ that fell on Metropolis, rendering Superman helpless and dying…

Jimmy Olsen #7 finds the boy teaching three rich wastrels a life-changing lesson in ‘The Amazing Mirages’, after which a magic carpet whisks him away to write ‘The Scoop of 1869’ before the lad’s boyhood skills enable him to become ‘The King of Marbles’, catching a crook and even more headlines…

In #8, pride in his investigative abilities and a slick conman compel him to uncover his pal’s secret identity in ‘The Betrayal of Superman’, after which he becomes ‘Superboy for a Day’ sort of) and wows the chicks when a sore throat transforms him into ‘Jimmy Olsen, Crooner’. Issue #9 opens with him disastrously switching jobs to become ‘Jimmy Olsen, Cub Inventor’: a TV quiz mastermind in kThe Million-Dollar Question’ and pilot of a prototype Superman robot in ‘The Missile of Steel’.

In #10, the canny lad turns the tables on a greedy hoaxer in ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Martian Pal’ and suffers amnesia in ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Forgotten Adventure’, before going back to nature as ‘Jungle Jimmy Olsen’, whilst the next issue sees him acting – after a stellar accident – as ‘Superman’s Seeing-Eye Dog’; dumping the neglectful and busy Man of Steel for a more appreciative comrade in kJimmy Olsen, Clark Kent’s Pal’ and – accidentally – exposing a corrupt boxing scam as ‘T.N.T. Olsen, the Champ’.

He helps out a circus chum by becoming ‘Jimmy Olsen, Prince of Clowns’ in #12, thereafter uncovering ‘The Secret of Dinosaur Island’ and falling victim to a goofy – or just plain mad – scientist’s bizarre experiment to reluctantly become ‘The Invisible Jimmy Olsen’. In #13 he tracks a swindler via a half dozen namesakes in ‘The Six Jimmy Olsens’ before criminals then targeted the cub reporter’s secret weapon in ‘The Stolen Superman Signal’ and the lad is himself subjected to a cruel but necessary deception when the Metropolis Marvel perpetrates ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Super Illusions’…

Issue #14 opened with a time-travel western tale as the lad instigates ‘The Feats of Chief Super-Duper’, after which a scientific accident seemingly imbues the bold boy with Clark Kent’s personality and creates ‘The Meek Jimmy Olsen’, before the cub is lost in the American wilderness and outrageously mistaken for ‘The Boy Superman’…

JO #15 finds him demoted and at a dog-show where his infallible nose for news quickly uncovers ‘The Mystery of the Canine Champ’, after which an injudiciously swallowed serum gives him super-speed and he reinvents himself as ‘Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon’. Thereafter, a strange ailment forces him to dispose of his most treasured possessions in kUnwanted Superman Souvenirs’…

A scurrilous scammer in #16 offers to regress the kid’s consciousness and help him re-live ‘The Three Lives of Jimmy Olsen’, before a series of crazy coincidences compel identity-obsessed Clark to convince Lois Lane that Jimmy is ‘The Boy of Steel!’ Yet another chemical concoction then turns the lad into a compulsive fibber… ‘The Super Liar of Metropolis’.

The next thrill-packed issue featured ‘Jimmy Olsen in the 50th Century’ wherein the lad is transported to an era where history has conflated his and Superman’s lives, whilst in ‘The Case of the Cartoon Scoops’, he rediscovers a gift for drawing – and the curse of clairvoyance – before an horrific accident turns him into ‘The Radioactive Boy’…

In #18, humour is king as ‘The Super Safari’ finds young Jim using a “magic” flute to capture animals for a circus, whilst ‘The Riddle Reporter’ sees him lose scoops to a masked mystery journalist before having to nursemaid his best friend when a criminal’s time weapon turns the Man of Steel into ‘Superbaby, Jimmy Olsen’s Pal’…

In #19 ‘The Two Jimmy Olsens’ introduce a robot replica of the cub reporter whilst in ‘The Human Geiger Counter’ the kid becomes allergic to the Action Ace, after which a brain injury convinces him he is ‘Superman’s Kid Brother’. The next issue opened with ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Super-Pet’ as a prized souvenir hatches into a living, breathing dinosaur. Misguided efforts to save a small-town newspaper then culminate in kThe Trial of Jimmy Olsen’, after which Superman secretly makes his pal ‘The Merman of Metropolis’ in a convoluted scheme to preserve his own alter ego.

Issue #21 reveals an unsuspected family skeleton and a curse which seemingly transforms reporter into pirate in ‘The Legend of Greenbeard Olsen’. Ingenuity – and a few gimmicks – then briefly turn him into junior hero ‘Wonder Lad’ whereas plain old arrogance and snooping are responsible for the humiliation resulting from ‘The Wedding of Jimmy Olsen’ to Lois Lane…

A month later, the lady at last starred in her own comicbook when – galvanised by a growing interest in superhero stories – the company’s premiere try-out title pitched a brace of issues focused on the burgeoning Superman family of features.

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in a trio of tales by Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira & Al Plastino: opening with the seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ wherein Lois first meets red-headed hussy Lana Lang, childhood sweetheart of Superboy and 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 was off and running…

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

When Lois Lane finally received her own shot at solo stardom, it was sadly very much on the terms of the times. I shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright and breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, liberal (notional) adult of the 21st century I’m simultaneously shocked nowadays at the patronising, nigh-misogynistic attitudes underpinning many of the stories.

I’m fully aware these stories were intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” like Lucille Ball or Doris Day played to the popular American gestalt stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but to ask 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 indisputably crazy, downright insulting and tantamount to child abuse…

Oddly enough, the 1940s interpretation of the plucky news-hen was far less derogatory: Lois might have been ambitious and life-threateningly precipitate, but at least it was to advance her own career and put bad guys away… as seen in the superb 4-page vignette which closes this volume.

Back-up series ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter’ debuted in Superman #28 (May/June 1944): a breathless fast-paced screwball comedy-thriller by Don Cameron & Ed Dobrotka wherein the canny lass fails to talk a crazed jumper down from a ledge but saves him in another far more flamboyant manner, reaping the reward of a front page headline.

Before that Golden Age threat, however, there’s one last issue of the junior member of the Superman Family. Jimmy Olsen #22 begins with ‘The Mystery of the Millionaire Hoboes’, as the lad tracks down the reason wealthy men are masquerading as down-and-outs, before exposing the evil secrets behind ‘The Super-Hallucinations’ afflicting the Man of Tomorrow and ending with ‘The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen’ wherein resident affable crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter evolves the boy into a man from 1,000,000AD. That cold, but surely benevolent being has a hidden agenda in play and is able to bend Superman to his hyper-intelligent will…

These spin-off supporting series were highly popular top-sellers for decades: blending action, adventure, broad, wacky comedy, fantasy and science fiction in the gently addictive manner scripter Otto Binder had first perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent Captain Marvel and his own myriad mini-universe of associated titles.

As well as containing some of the most delightful episodes of the pre angst-drenched, cosmically catastrophic DC, these fun, thrilling and yes, occasionally deeply moving all-ages stories also perfectly depict the changing mores and tastes which reshaped comics from the safely anodyne 1950s to the seditious, rebellious 1970s, all the while keeping to the prime directive of the industry – “keep them entertained and keep them wanting more”.

I know I certainly do…
© 1944, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: The Twelve Labors


By Martin Pasko, Elliot S. Maggin, Cary Bates, Len Wein, Curt Swan, John Rosenberger, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Jose Delbo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3494-2 (PB)

The Princess of Paradise Island originally debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter in a calculated attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model and – on forward-thinking Editor M.C. Gaines’ part – sell more comic books.

She catapulted into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon won her own eponymous supplemental title a few months later, cover-dated Summer 1942.

Once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young, impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearful of her besotted child’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyte revealed the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they forever isolated themselves from the mortal world and devoted their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, with the planet in crisis, goddesses Athena and Aphrodite instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty. She would be chosen by triumphing over all her sisters in a grand tournament. Although forbidden to compete, Diana clandestinely overcame all other candidates to become their emissary – Wonder Woman.

On arriving in the Land of the Free, she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazing Amazon to stay close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick but poverty-stricken care-worker to join her own fiancé in South America. Diana soon gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, further ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although the painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for the mousy yet supremely competent and capable Lieutenant Prince…

That set up enabled the Star-Spangled Siren to weather the vicissitudes of the notoriously transient comicbook marketplace and survive the end of the Golden Age of costumed heroes along with Superman, Batman and a few lucky second-stringers who inhabited the backs of their titles.

She soldiered on well into the Silver Age revival under the canny auspices of Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, but by 1968 superhero comics were in decline again and publishers sought new ways to keep audiences interested as tastes – and American society – changed.

Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales and if you weren’t popular, you died. Editor Jack Miller & Mike Sekowsky stepped up with a radical proposal and made a little bit of comic book history with the only female superhero to still have her own title in that turbulent marketplace.

The superbly eccentric art of Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for nearly two decades, and he had also scored big with fans at Gold Key with Man from Uncle and at Tower Comics in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and war title Fight the Enemy! His unique take on the Justice League of America had cemented its overwhelming success, and in 1968 he began stretching himself further with a number of experimental, young-adult oriented projects.

Tapping into the teen zeitgeist with Easy Rider style drama Jason’s Quest proved ultimately unsuccessful, but with the Metal Men and the hopelessly outdated and moribund Wonder Woman he had much greater impact. Sekowsky would subsequently work the same magic with equally stalled icon Supergirl

The big change came when the Amazons were compelled to leave our dimension, taking with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her mystic weaponry. Now no more or less than human, she opted to stay on Earth permanently, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, dedicated to fighting injustice as a mortal, very much in the manner of Emma Peel and Modesty Blaise.

Blind Buddhist monk I Ching rather rapidly trained her as a martial artist, and she soon became embroiled in the schemes of would-be world-conqueror Doctor Cyber. Most shockingly, her beloved Steve was branded a traitor and murdered…

Sekowsky’s root and branch overhaul offered a whole new kind of Wonder Woman, but as I’ve already said fashion ruled and, in a few years, without fanfare or warning, everything that had happened since Wonder Woman lost her powers was unwritten. Her mythical origins were revised and re-established as she returned to a world of immortals, gods, mythical monster and super-villains with a new nemesis: an African (or perhaps Hellenic?) American half-sister named Nubia

Such an abrupt reversal had tongues wagging and heads spinning in fan circles. Had the series offended some shady “higher-ups” who didn’t want controversy or a shake-up of the status quo?

Probably not. Sales were never great even on the Sekowsky run and the most logical reason is probably Television.

The Amazon had been optioned as a series since the days of the Batman TV show in 1967, and by this time (1973) production work had begun on the original 1974 pilot featuring Cathy Lee Crosby. An abrupt return to the character most viewers would be familiar with from their own childhoods seems perfectly logical to me…

By the time Lynda Carter made the concept work in 1975, Wonder Woman was once again “Stronger than Hercules, swifter than Mercury and more beautiful than Aphrodite”…

But as Diana returned to mainstream DC continuity, the readers and fans expected her to fully reintegrate, leading to this early and impressive example of a comics miniseries which ran in Wonder Woman #212 through 222 (cover-dates July 1974 – March 1976), detailing how the Amazing Amazon rejoined the JLA.

Scripter Len Wein and artists Curt Swan & Tex Blaisdell got the ball rolling with ‘The Man Who Mastered Women!’ as our Hellenic Hellion thwarts a terrorist attack at New York’s United Nations building… where Diana Prince now works as a translator. In the aftermath she surprisingly meets old friend Clark Kent.

Over the course of the conversation she realises her memories have been tampered with and suddenly understands why her JLA colleagues haven’t called her to any meetings… She had resigned years ago…

Although her former comrades beg her to re-enlist, she declines, fearing her memory lapses might endanger the team and the world. After much insistent pleading, she relents enough to suggest the League should covertly monitor her next dozen major cases – in the manner of Hercules’ twelve legendary tests – until she proves herself competent and worthy, for her own peace of mind, if not the JLA’s…

Once they grudgingly agree, she leaves and Superman begins the surveillance, observing her flying to Paradise Island in her Invisible Plane. Correctly deducing she has been subjected to Amazonian selective memory manipulation, Diana confronts her mother and learns of her time as a mere mortal… and of Steve’s death.

Although the past has been removed by her well-meaning Amazon sisters, Diana now demands that every recollection excised be returned…

Back in Man’s World, a crisis is already brewing as costumed crazy The Cavalier exerts his uncanny influence over women to control female Heads of State. Ultimately, however, his powers prove ineffectual over Wonder Woman…

As a result of that case, Diana Prince changes jobs, going to work as a troubleshooter for dashing Morgan Tracy at the UN Crisis Bureau, and her first mission isn’t long in coming…

Wonder Woman #213 was crafted by Cary Bates, Irv Novick & Blaisdell, detailing how an alien robot removes all aggression from humanity in one stroke. As the Flash helplessly observes, however, ‘The War-No-More Machine!’ also quashes all bravery, determination, confidence and capability. The species faced imminent – if long and drawn out – extinction.

Happily, Diana, a teenaged girl and a murderous criminal are all somehow immune to the invader’s influence…

Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa then disclose Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s undercover observations after a lost Amazon gem in unwitting, unscrupulous hands almost starts World War III and the Princess of Power must avert nuclear holocaust triggered by a ‘Wish Upon a Star!’

The superb and vastly undervalued John Rosenberger pencilled Bates’ tale of the ‘Amazon Attack Against Atlantis’ (inked by Vince Colletta) as Aquaman watches Wonder Woman unravel a baroque and barbaric plot by Mars, God of War to set Earth’s two most advanced nations at each throats, after which #216 finds Black Canary uncovering the Amazon Sisterhood’s greatest secret in ‘Paradise in Peril!’ (Maggin, Rosenberger & Colletta).

The tale concerns an obsessed multi-millionaire risking everything – including possibly the collapse of civilisation – to uncover exactly what would happen if a man sets foot upon the hidden Island of the Amazons…

One of Wonder Woman’s oldest foes resurfaces in ‘The Day Time Broke Loose!’ (Maggin, Dick Dillin & Colletta) and Green Arrow is caught in the crossfire as the Duke of Deception attacks the UN with temporally torturous images and hallucinations designed to create madness and death on a global scale.

Produced by Martin Pasko & Kurt Schaffenberger, issue #218 offers two short complete tales. Firstly Red Tornado reports on the ‘Revolt of the Wonder Weapons’ as an influential astrologer uses mind-control techniques to gain power and accidentally undermine Diana’s arsenal, after which The Phantom Stranger stealthily witnesses her foil a mystic plot by sorcerer Felix Faust which animates and enrages the Statue of Liberty in ‘Give Her Liberty – and Give Her Death!’

This was a time when feminism was finally making inroads into American culture and Pasko, Swan & Colletta slyly tipped their hats to the burgeoning movement in a wry and fanciful sci-fi thriller. Thus, WW #219 sees Diana preventing a vile incursion by the dominating males of Xro, a ‘World of Enslaved Women!’, with stretchable sleuth Elongated Man covertly traversing the parallel dimensions in Wonder Woman’s wake.

With the epic endeavour almost ended, scripter Pasko added a patina of mystery to the affair as the Atom watches Diana tackle ‘The Man Who Wiped Out Time!’ Illustrated by Dick Giordano, Wonder Woman #220 found temporal bandit Chronos eradicating New York’s ability to discern time and time pieces: a plot foiled with style and brilliance by the on-form, in-time Power Princess.

The only problem was that during that entire exacting episode Hawkman had been simultaneously watching Diana tackle another potential disaster hundreds of miles away…

The Feathered Fury’s report details how Crisis Bureau operative Diana Prince was targeted by Dr. Cyber and Professor Moon – old enemies from her powerless period – who combine a hunger for vengeance with a plan to steal a UN-controlled chemical weapon in ‘The Fiend with the Face of Glass’ (illustrated by Swan & Colletta).

How she could be in two places simultaneously was revealed by Batman, who wraps up the twelve trials in ‘Will the Real Wonder Woman Please… Stand Up Drop Dead!’ (illustrated by Jose Delbo & Blaisdell), detailing how a beloved children’s entertainment icon has been subverted into a monster feeding off people whilst replacing them with perfect duplicates…

With covers by Bob Oksner, Nick Cardy, Mike Grell, Dick Giordano & Ernie Chan, this is a spectacular slice of pure, uncomplicated, all ages superhero action/adventure starring one of comics’ true all stars.

Stuffed with stunning art and witty, beguiling stories, here is Wonder Woman at her most welcoming in a timeless, pivotal classic of the medium: one that still provides astounding amounts of fun and thrills for anyone interested in a grand old time.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batgirl volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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