Kingdom Come



By Mark Waid & Alex Ross, with Todd Klein & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6082-8 (20th Anniversary HB) 978-1-4012-2034-1 (TPB

In the mid-1960s a teenaged Jim Shooter wrote a couple of stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes set some years into the team’s own future. Those stories of the adult Legionnaires revealed hints of things to come that shackled the series’ plotting and continuity for decades as eager, obsessed fans (by which I mean all of us) waited for the predicted characters to be introduced, presaged relationships to be consummated and heroes to die.

By being so utterly impressive and similarly affecting, Kingdom Come accidentally repeated the trick decades later, subsequently painting the entire post Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe into the same creative corner until one of the company’s periodic continuity reboots…

Envisaged and designed by artist Alex Ross as DC’s answer to epic groundbreaking Marvels, Kingdom Come was originally released as a 4-issue Prestige Format miniseries in 1996 to rapturous acclaim and numerous awards and accolades. Although set in the future and an “imaginary story” released under DC’s Elseworlds imprint, it almost immediately began to affect the company’s mainstream continuity.

Set approximately twenty years into the future, the grandiose saga details a tragic failure and subsequent loss of Faith for Superman and how his attempt to redeem himself almost leads to an even greater and ultimate apocalypse.

The events are seen through the eyes and actions of Dantean witness Norman McCay, an aging cleric co-opted by Divine Agent of Wrath the Spectre after the pastor officiates at the last rites of dying superhero Wesley Dodds. As the Sandman, Dodds was cursed for decades with precognitive dreams which compelled him to act as an agent of justice.

Opening chapter ‘Strange Visitor’ reveals a world where metahumans have proliferated to ubiquitous proportions: a sub-culture of constant, violent clashes between the latest generation of costumed villains and vigilantes, all unheeding and uncaring of the collateral damage they daily inflict on the mere mortals around and in all ways beneath them.

The shaken preacher sees a final crisis coming, but feels helpless until the darkly angelic Spectre comes to him. Taken on a bewildering voyage of unfolding events, McCay is to act as the ghost’s human perspective whilst the Spirit of Vengeance prepares to pass final judgement on Humanity.

First stop is the secluded hideaway where farmer Kal-El has hidden himself since the ghastly events which compelled him to retire from the Good Fight and the eyes of the World. The Man of Steel was already feeling like a dinosaur when newer, harsher, morally ambiguous mystery-men began to appear. After the Joker murdered the entire Daily Planet staff and hard-line new hero Magog executed him in the street, the public applauded the deed. Heartbroken and appalled, Superman simply disappeared for a decade. His legendary colleagues also felt the march of unwelcome progress and similarly dropped from sight.

With Earth left to the mercies of dangerously irresponsible new vigilantes, civil unrest soon escalated. The younger heroes displayed poor judgement and no restraint, with the result that within a decade the entire planet had become a chaotic arena for metahuman duels.

Civilisation was fragmenting. Flash and Batman retreated to their home cities and made them secure, crime-free solitary fortresses. Green Lantern built an emerald castle in the sky, turning his eyes away from Earth and towards the deep black fastnesses of space. Hawkman retreated to the wilderness, Aquaman to his sub-sea kingdom whilst Wonder Woman retired to her hidden paradise. She did not leave until Armageddon came one step closer…

When Magog and his Justice Battalion battled the Parasite in St. Louis, the result was a nuclear accident which destroyed all of Kansas and much of Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. Overnight the world faced starvation as America’s breadbasket turned into a toxic wasteland. Now with McCay and the Spectre invisibly observing, Princess Diana convinces the bereft Kal-El to return and save the world on his own terms…

In ‘Truth and Justice’ a resurgent Justice League led by Superman begins a campaign of unilateral action to clean up the mess civilisation has become: renditioning “heroes” and “villains” alike, imprisoning every dangerous element of super-humanity and telling governments how to behave, blithely unaware that they are hastening a global catastrophe of Biblical proportions as the Spectre invisibly gathers the facts for his apocalyptic judgement.

In the ensuing chaos, crippled warrior Bruce Wayne rejects Superman’s paternalistic, doctrinaire crusade and allies himself with mortal humanity’s libertarian elite – Ted (Blue Beetle) Kord, Dinah (Black Canary) Lance and Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen – to resist what can only be considered a grab for world domination by the meta-human minority. As the helpless McCay watches in horror, Wayne’s group makes its own plans; another dangerous thread in a tapestry of calamity…

At first Superman’s plans seem blessed to succeed, with many erstwhile threats flocking to his banner and his doctrinaire rules of discipline, but as ever there are self-serving villains with their own agendas. Lex Luthor organises a cabal of like-minded compatriots – Vandal Savage, Catwoman, Riddler, Kobra and Ibn Al Xu’ffasch (Son of the Demon Ra’s Al Ghul) – into a “Mankind Liberation Front”.

With Shazam-empowered Captain Marvel as their slave, this group are determined the super-freaks shall not win. Their cause is greatly advanced once Wayne’s clique joins them…

‘Up in the Sky’ sees events spiral into a deadly storm as McCay, still wracked by his visions of Armageddon, is shown the Gulag where all recalcitrant metahumans have been dumped. He also witnesses how it will fail, learns from restless spirit Deadman that the Spectre is the literal Angel of Death and watches with growing helplessness as Luthor’s plan to usurp control from the army of Superman leads to a shocking confrontation, betrayal and a deadly countdown to the End of Days…

The deadly drama culminates in a staggering battle of superpowers, last moment salvation and a second chance for humanity in a calamitous world-shaking ‘Never-Ending Battle’

Thanks to McCay’s simple humanity, the world gets another chance and this edition follows up with an epilogue ‘One Year Later’ which end this ponderous epic on a note of renewed hope…

This edition – available as a 20th Anniversary deluxe hardback, a standard trade paperback and in digital formats – comes with an introduction by author and former DC scribe Elliot S. Maggin, assorted cover reproductions and art-pieces, an illustrated checklist of the vast cast list plus a plethora of creative notes and sketches in the ‘Apocrypha’ section, and even hints at lost glories in ‘Evolution’: notes, photos and drawings for a restored scene that never made it into the miniseries.

Epic, engaging and operatically spectacular, Kingdom Come is a milestone of the DC Universe and remains to this day a solid slice of superior superhero entertainment, worthy of your undivided attention.
© 1996, 2008, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 3


By Neal Adams with Dennis O’Neil, Frank Robbins, Len Wein, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4075-2 (TPB)

It’s Batman’s anniversary year. What are you reading?

As the 1960s began Neal Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. Whilst pursuing a career in advertising and “real art” he did a few comics pages for Archie Comics and subsequently became one of the youngest artists to co-create and illustrate major licensed newspaper strip Ben Casey (based on a popular TV medical drama series).

That comics fascination never faded, however, and Adams drifted back to National/DC, doing a few covers as inker or penciller before eventually finding himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling…

He made such a mark that DC recently chose to reprint every piece of work Adams ever did for them into a series of commemorative collections. This is the last of three superb tomes (available in a variety of formats including last minute delivery eBook) starring the “Darknight Detective” as he was dubbed back then, and featuring every cover, story and issue in original publication order.

This particular package celebrates the covers and pertinent contents of Batman #232, 234-241, 243-246, 251, 255, Batman Annual #14, Batman Black & White # 4, The Brave and the Bold #99, Detective Comics #412-422, 439, 600, Heroes Against Hunger, Limited Collectors’ Edition C-25, C-51, C-59, Robin #1, Saga of Ra’s Al Ghul #4, World’s Finest Comics # 211, 244-246, 258; cumulatively embracing June 1971 to September 1996.

Following Adams’ liberally illustrated Foreword and key collaborator Denny O’Neil’s recollections describing their work process in his Introduction, the comics gold begins.

Throughout this period Adams remained one of the industry’s top cover artists, generating a stunning succession of mesmerising images on most Bat-related titles (and plenty of other comics). Those are listed here in chronological release order…

Behind a macabre eye catcher, Batman #232 (June 1971) took the hero to new heights as former kidnap victim Talia returns and we learn more of her as O’Neil & Adams – with inking as usual from Dick Giordano – introduce her father: immortal eco-terrorist Râ’s Al Ghūl.

A whirlwind adventure which became one of the signature highpoints of the entire Batman canon, ‘Daughter of the Demon’ is a timeless globe-girdling mystery yarn drawing the increasingly grim hero from Gotham’s concrete canyons to the Himalayas in search of hostages Robin and Talia, purportedly captured by forces inimical to both Batman and the mysterious figure who claims to be working in secret to save the world…

Ra’s was a contemporary, more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable ultimate foreign devil (as typified in a less forgiving age as the “Yellow Peril” or Dr. Fu Manchu). This kind of alien archetype permeates popular fiction and is still an astonishingly powerful villain-symbol, although the character’s Arabian origins – neutral at the time – seem to uncomfortably embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11, ISIS-infested world.

The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to reduce teeming humanity to viable levels and save the world from our poison, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where ecological issues first came to the attention of the young. It was a rare kid who didn’t find a note of sense in what “the Demon’s Head” planned. The spectacular tale ended with a shocking pronouncement of what Ra’s intended for Gotham’s Guardian…

The chilling covers for Detective Comics #412 and 413 (this was the peak of the revival in supernatural comics, after all), leads to Batman #234 which featured the stellar return of one of the hero’s most tragic foes.

As comics became increasingly more anodyne in the 1950s, psychologically warped, physically actualised schizophrenic Two-Face was quietly retired from Batman’s roster of rogues, but with ‘Half an Evil’ (O’Neil, Adams & Giordano), he resurfaced at the forefront of grimmer, grittier stories.

When a string of bizarre and brutal robberies afflicts the city, the baffled Batman has to use all his ingenuity to discern the reasoning and discover the identity of a ruthless hidden mastermind in time to thwart a diabolical scheme…

Covers for Detective #414-417 Batman #235-236 lead into another much-reprinted classic. ‘Night of the Reaper!’ – by the usual suspect from Batman #237 – is one of the most revered tales of the era: a harrowing Halloween epic which finds Robin working with his old mentor to solve a string of barbarous killings, only to uncover a pitifully deranged perpetrator as much sinned-against as sinner…

The fronts for Detective# 418-422, The Brave and the Bold #99, Batman #238-241 and World’s Finest Comics # 211 bring us to Batman #243 (August) as the long-brewing war between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul reaches Def Con 3: a single extended saga taken out of normal DC continuity and depicting the final confrontation between two opposing ideals.

Not included here are the non-Adams episodes from Batman #240 and 242 (although they are available in many other collections). In them, the Darknight Detective abandoned his civilian identity by faking Bruce Wayne’s death and gathered a small team of specialist allies – comprising criminal alternate-identity Matches Malone, scientific advisor Dr. Harris Blaine and Ra’s’ top assassin Ling – suborned to the side of the angels by his own superstitious code of honour and sworn to destroy the Demon forever.

O’Neil, Adams & Giordano reunited for Batman #243 which sees the team – plus latecomer Molly Post – invade the Demon’s Swiss citadel moments after their intended target dies. Nobody suspects the ageless villain’s resources include ‘The Lazarus Pit’ which can revive the dead…

The fateful finale came in #244, wherein ‘The Demon Lives Again!’ Sadly, despite all his supernal gifts and forces, Ra’s cannot escape the climactic vengeance of his implacable foe in dream-team O’Neil, Adams & Giordano’s compulsive climax. With the job done, a short addendum in #245 resolves ‘The Bruce Wayne Murder Case!’, restoring the billionaire to his rightful place in Gotham’s social whirl…

The all-Adams cover to Batman #246 (October 1972) leads to another graphic landmark. ‘The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge’ comes from Batman #251 (September 1973 by Dennis O’Neil & Neal Adams) and finally ended forever the zany, “camp” taint of the TV show by re-branding the characters and returning to the original 1930s concept of a grim and driven Dark Avenger chasing an insane avatar of pure evil.

Such a hero needs truly deadly villains and – by reinstating the psychotically unpredictable Killer Clown who scared the short pants off readers in the Golden Age – this single-issue yarn set the bar very, very high. A true milestone that utterly redefined the Joker for the modern age: the story sees the Mirthful Maniac stalking his old gang, determined to eradicate them all with the hard-pressed Gotham Guardian desperately playing catch-up. As the crooks die in all manner of Byzantine and bizarre ways, Batman realises his arch-foe has gone irrevocably off the deep end….

Terrifying and beautiful, for many fans this is the definitive Batman/Joker story, but signalled Adam’s graduation to other jobs and away from regular bat-missions. Before that departure, however, the cover to Detective #439 (February/March 1974) and one last thriller awaited.

Scripted by Len Wein and inked by Giordano, ‘Moon of the Wolf’ from Batman #255 (March/April 1974) pits the ultimate human hero against a tragic former sportsman mutated into a truly supernatural lupine killer and enslaved by old enemy Professor Milo

From Limited Collectors’ Edition C-25 comes a pin-up before a rare example of the artist’s commercial comics work appears. Adams produced art for a series of comics adventures starring various Marvel and DC heroes – as well as screen icons such as Star Trek and Planet of the Apes – for Power Records’ line of Book and Records sets. These offered a vinyl recording of a story accompanied by a fully illustrated comic tale. The Batman offerings began with ‘Trumping the Joker’ in Stacked Cards (PR-27, 1975 and written & illustrated by Adams) was followed a year later, by PR-30 (Adams, Frank Robbins and Giordano) wherein ‘Robin Meets Man-Bat’. The all-ages tales are accompanied by a house ad for the DC stars available in Power Records’ unique packages.

Still a huge draw as a cover artist, between 1977-1996 Adams generated Bat-related frontages for World’s Finest Comics # 244-246 & 258, Limited Collectors’ Edition C-51 (a wraparound reprinting the “Bride of the Demon” saga) and C-59 (‘Batman’s Strangest Cases’), the Heroes Against Hunger benefit comic, a pin-up in Detective Comics #600, covers for Saga of Ra’s Al Ghul #4 (another wraparound), Batman Annual #14, and pin-ups for Robin #1 and Batman Black & White # 4.

The history of Batman is inescapably linked to and shaped by Neal Adams’ efforts, and captivating secrets of creation are revealed in the stunning Neal Adams Sketchbook section (featuring comic art, ads, storyboards and conceptualisations for a Batman amusement park) which closes this compelling and irresistible tome (still readily available in trade paperback and digital editions).

With the game-changing classics in this volume, Batman finally returned to the commercial and critical top flight he had enjoyed in the 1940s reviving and expanding upon his original conception as a remorseless, relentless avenger of injustice. The next few years would see the hero rise to unparalleled heights of quality so stay tuned: the very best is just around the corner… that dark, dark corner…
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2005, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder


By Judd Winick, Joshua Middleton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0923-0 (TPB)

At their most impressive, superhero comics combine all the gravitas of mythology with all the sheer child-like fun and exuberance of a first rollercoaster ride. A perfect example of this is a 4-issue miniseries from November – February of 2006 collected as Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder.

One of the most venerated and loved characters in American comics, (the original) Captain Marvel was created by Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck as part of the wave of opportunistic creativity that followed the successful launch of Superman in 1938. Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett character moved solidly and steadily into the area of light entertainment and even comedy, whilst as the 1940s progressed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action and drama.

At the height of his popularity the World’s Mightiest Mortal outsold the Man of Steel by a wide margin (even published twice monthly), but as the Furious Forties closed tastes changed, sales slowed and Fawcett saw the way the wind was blowing. They settled a long-running copyright infringement case instigated by DC/National in 1940 and the Big Red Cheese vanished – as did so many superheroes – becoming little more than a fond memory for older fans.

As America lived through another superhero boom-and-bust from 1956-1968, the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and a wide variety of comics genres servicing a base that was increasingly founded on collector/fans and not casual or impulse buys. DC Comics needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unusual places.

After the settlement with Fawcett in 1953 they had secured the rights to Captain Marvel and Family, and even though the name itself had been taken up by Marvel Comics (via a circuitous and quirky robotic character published by Carl Burgos and M.F. Publications in 1967) decided to tap into that discriminating older, nostalgia-fuelled fan-base, even as the entire entertainment world began looking back in time for fresh entertainments such as The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie (or even Bonnie and Clyde)…

In 1973, riding that burgeoning wave of nostalgia, DC brought back the entire beloved cast of the Captain Marvel strips: restored to their own kinder, weirder universe. To circumvent an intellectual property clash, they entitled the new comic book Shazam!; the trigger phrase used by a huge family of Marvels to transform to and from mortal form and a word that had already entered the American language due to the success of the franchise the first time around.

You know what comics fans are like: they had been arguing for decades – and still do – over who was best (for which read “who would win if they fought?”) out of Superman or Captain Marvel. Thus, though excised from the regular DCU and stuck on a parallel universe, the old commercial rivals met and clashed a number of times, but until the landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths subsumed all those myriad worlds into one overarching continuity, the most powerful heroes in existence maintained the status of “equal but separate”.

In that new reality everything happened in one cosmos and Captain Marvel was fully rebooted and integrated. The basics remained untouched: homeless orphan and good kid Billy Batson is selected by an ancient wizard to be given the powers of six gods and heroes to battle injustice. Bestowed with the ability to transform from scrawny precocious kid to brawny (adult) hero by speaking aloud the wizard’s acronymic name – invoking the powers of legendary patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury, the idealistic lad can now right all wrongs as “the World’s Mightiest Mortal!”

After twenty years in this iteration, Captain Marvel’s early days were re-explored in this canny, big-hearted thriller which reveals the details of the first shared case of paragons of power.

Written by Judd Winick and illustrated by Joshua Middleton in a painterly style gloriously reminiscent of the old Fleischer Studio Superman cartoons, this magical treat is chronologically set just after Superman: Man of Steel volume 1 and The Power of Shazam! original graphic novel, and opens with ‘A Face in the Crowd’ as a new hero begins saving lives in West Coast metropolitan colossus Fawcett City, whilst a continent eastwards in Metropolis, Superman stumbles onto a museum robbery and is surprisingly beaten by thieves employing magic. The robbers belong to a cult – the Temple of Bagdan – and are on a nationwide spree to collect ancient Russian relics for some sinister master-plan…

In Fawcett, Marvel destroys giant robots attacking a new solar powered construction site designed by Doctor Bruce Gordon, unexpectedly inspiring the enmity of billionaire industrialist Thaddeus Sivana. Although the owner of the Solar Center project, Sivana has huge petrochemical interests and only intended his eco-friendly enterprise as a tax shelter. He certainly has no intention of supplying cheap, clean energy to the proles of “his” city…

In a makeshift shelter, homeless Billy Batson talks his day over with Scoot Cooper, another hard-luck kid and the only person who knows his secret, even as Sivana “negotiates” with his hated East Coast rival Lex Luthor. The arrogant Metropolis financier has experience with super-powered meddlers and resources to combat their interference. It’s time to make a deal with a devil…

Later when the Bagdan cultists raid Fawcett’s McKeon History Museum, Marvel is waiting for them but is also overmatched by the magical Mallus Trolls employed by the thieves. At least until Superman shows up…

The team-up explodes into action in ‘Odd Couples’ with the heroes battling together, discovering their similarities and major differences even as, in Metropolis, Luthor sells Sivana the answer to all his superhero problems: an exemplary operative dubbed Spec

The cultists have again escaped however, and are in the final stage of their plan. Having secured the mystic paraphernalia to summon consummate evil they then force disturbed kidnap victim Timothy Barnes to become host to six infernal fiends. Sabbac is the antithesis of Shazam’s agent: a supernatural super-being sponsored by devil-lords Satan, Aym, Belial, Beeelzebub, Asmodeus and Createis in the way the ancient gods and heroes empower Captain Marvel, and now he is free to wreak havoc and destruction upon the world…

To make matters worse, at that very moment Bruce Gordon succumbs to his own twilight curse at the Solar Centre as a lunar eclipse allows the diabolical Spirit of Vengeance to escape from his fleshy prison…

‘Titans’ finds Captain Marvel furious battling his dark counterpart as Superman struggles against not only evil spirit Eclipso but also his possessed army of innocents enslaved by the dark destroyer’s black diamond. When Sivana secretly funded the cultists, he intended their tool to simply destroy Gordon and his power plant, but now events have spiralled beyond anyone’s control. Even as the hated heroes inadvertently fix both of Sivana’s awry schemes, Spec is hunting through Fawcett. Soon his astounding abilities have ferreted out Billy Batson’s secret and arranged a permanent solution…

The drama roars to a terrific conclusion in ‘Men and Boys! Gods and Thunder!’ as a paramilitary hit squad attempts to gun down the merely human Billy but only hits his best friend instead, leaving Sivana to face the wrath of a lonely, bitter 10-year old boy, amok and enraged with righteous fury in the body of one of the most powerful creatures in the universe…

In the awesome aftermath, Superman decides to deal with the shell-shocked Marvel in a way that will change both of their lives forever…

Still readily available in trade paperback and digital form – and sporting such extras as a roughs and sketches, cover process guide and cover gallery – this is a big, bold, old fashioned comicbook romp full of big fights, dastardly villains, giant monsters, big robots and lasting camaraderie that will delight all lovers of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction, and whilst not a breakthrough classic like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, is an equally mythic retelling of superhero mythology which ranks amongst the very best of the genre.

They should make a movie out of it…
© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Bill Parker, Otto Binder, Elliot S. Maggin, Denny O’Neil, E. Nelson Bridwell, Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Alan Grant, Jerry Ordway, Joe Kelly, David Goyer, Geoff Johns, Jeff Smith, C.C. Beck, Marc Swayze, Mac Raboy, Pete Costanza, Chad Grothkopf, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Don Newton, Rich Buckler, Barry Kitson, Peter Krause, Duncan Rouleau, Leonard Kirk, Gary Frank & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5538-1 (HB)

At their most impressive, superhero comics combine the gravitas of mythology with all the sheer child-like fun and exuberance of a first rollercoaster ride. A perfect example of this is the original happy-go-lucky hero we can’t call Captain Marvel anymore.

First seen in the February 1940 issue of Whiz Comics (#2 – there was no #1) and cashing in on the comicbook sales phenomenon of Superman, the big red riot eventually won his name after narrowly missing being Captain Flash and Captain Thunder. He was the brainchild of Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck. Originally dispensing the same sort of summary rough justice as his contemporaries, the character soon distanced himself from the pack – Man of Steel included – by an increasingly light, surreal and comedic touch, which made him the best-selling comics character in America.

Billy’s alter ego could beat everybody but copyright lawyers; during his years of enforced inactivity the trademarked name passed to a number of other publishers before settling at Marvel Comics and they are never, never, never letting go. You can check out and compare their cinematic blockbuster version with the DC Extended Universe’s Shazam! flick too…

Publishing house Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received magazine for WWI veterans entitled Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the comicbook decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and “can-do” demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both the art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

As previously stated, the big guy was created by writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant young artist Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled most of the art on the series throughout its stellar run. Other writers included William Woolfolk, Rod Reed, Ed “France” Herron, Joe Simon, Joe Millard, Manley Wade Wellman and the wonderfully prolific Otto Binder.

Before eventually evolving his own affable personality, the Captain was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse whilst his junior alter ego was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, boldly self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds through gumption, grit and sheer determination…

Collecting in a big bold hardback trade paperback (and assorted digital formats) Whiz Comics #2, 21, Captain Marvel Adventures #18, 38, 39, 137, 148, Captain Marvel Jr. #12, Marvel Family #1, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny #6, Shazam! #1, 29, Superman #176, World’s Finest Comics #275, DC Comics Presents #49, L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘91 #31, The Power of Shazam! #1, 2, 33, Action Comics #768, JSA #48, Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #2, Justice League #21 and The Multiversity: Thunderworld #1 this is a magnificent primer of key moments and triumphs for a hero to whom change is everything…

The action opens in the Golden Age as Part I 1940-1953: The Big Red Cheese offers an abridged version of writer and historian Richard A. Lupoff’s 1992 Introduction to the Shazam Archives volume #1: a context-setting appreciation and appraisal covering the facts of his creation and his impact, after which Whiz Comics #2, (February 1940) provides our glimpse of the boy hero…

Drawn in a style reminiscent of early Hergé, ‘Introducing Captain Marvel’ sees homeless orphan Billy Batson lured into an abandoned subway tunnel to a meeting with millennia-old wizard Shazam. At the end of a long, long life fighting evil, the white-bearded figure grants the lad the power of six gods and heroes (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury) and urges him to carry on the good fight. In thirteen delightfully clean and simple pages crafted by Bill Parker & C.C. Beck, Billy gets his powers, has his secret origin revealed (he’s heir to a fortune embezzled by his crooked uncle Ebenezer), wins a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting on Station WHIZ, and defeats the mad scheme of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana who is holding the airwaves of America hostage. Defeating the demonic mad scientist sets a pattern that would captivate readers for the next 14 years…

Next, from Whiz Comics #21 ‘The Vengeful Four’ (September 5th 1941 – fortnightly, remember?) is an uncredited script limned by Beck wherein Sivana gathers three other villains to attack the hero in his youthful identity. What luck then that three other kids named Billy Batson are in town and that the magic of Shazam apparently extends to them…

Fat Billy, Tall Billy and Hill Billy took to trouncing thugs in a trice and, as the Three Lieutenant Marvels, would become frequent guest stars in years to come…

Billy soon found a companion in peril when Fascist überman Captain Nazi almost murders newsboy Freddie Freeman. Guilt-plagued Billy brings the dying lad to Shazam’s mystic citadel where the old wizard saves his life by granting him access to the power of the ancient gods and heroes. Physically cured – except for a permanently maimed leg – there is a secondary effect: whenever he utters the phrase “Captain Marvel” Freeman transforms into a super-powered, invulnerable version of his mortal self…

That origin isn’t included here but does lead into the debut of Billy’s long-lost twin sister. Cover-dated December 11th 1942, Captain Marvel Adventures #18 cover features ‘Captain Marvel Introduces Mary Marvel’ (by Otto Binder, Marc Swayze & Mac Raboy) as radio contest competitor Mary Bromfield – a wealthy (adopted) heiress – is kidnapped. While saving her, Billy and Freddie uncover the family connection and Mary discovers that shouting “Shazam!” has a remarkable effect upon her too…

While the adult Captain Marvel was having increasingly light-hearted adventures, Freddie’s adventures in Master Comics and Captain Marvel Jr. were dark and dramatic: illustrated with potent, dynamic verve and grace by one of the most gifted draughtsmen of the era. A typical magnificent example features here as Captain Marvel Jr. #12, (October 1943, by Binder & Mac Raboy) provides the boy hero with a brutal arctic rematch against Captain Nazi in ‘Baffin Land’

Fawcett in full bloom was a true publishing innovator and marketing dynamo – now regarded as the inventor of many established comicbook sales-tactics, and storytelling innovations we all take for granted today were invented by their creative folk. Fawcett was responsible for creating crossover-events and also devised a truly unforgettable villain as part of a two-year long continued story!

The “Monster Society of Evil” began in March 1943’s Captain Marvel Adventures #22, and blazed away until ending with issue #46 (May 1945). The alien tyrant in charge was a malevolent worm from Venus dubbed Mr. Mind. Included here are two chapters – #17 and 18 from Captain Marvel Adventures #38 & 39 September and October 1944. Crafted by Binder & Beck, ‘Mr. Mind’s Movie Madness’ and ‘Peril Behind the Camera’ pits Billy and his older self against the utterly vile ubi vermis (that’s Latin for worm, science fans) during the making of the world’s worst monster movie…

‘The Mighty Marvels Join Forces’ (December 1945 by Binder, Beck & Pete Costanza) finds Billy, Mary and Freddie battling the depraved and corrupted Black Adam, who was old Shazam’s first gods-empowered champion 5000 years ago in the lead tale from team-title Marvel Family #1 (December 1945).

Superheroes began to fall from popularity as WWII ended and every publisher began searching other genres. Fawcett had already applied their winning formula to the all-ages cartoon critters market with Fawcett’s Funny Animals #1 (December 1942), which featured a lop-eared costumed crusader. Hoppy the Marvel Bunny (by Chad Grothkopf) got his own title as hostilities died down, and from #6 (November1946) comes ‘Phantom of the Forest’ as the mighty rabbit exposes supposed ghosts terrorising woodland folk…

The post-war years were simply magical times, with the creative crew at the top of their game. Captain Marvel Adventures #137 (October 1952) provides ‘King Kull and the Seven Sins’ by Binder, Beck wherein a beast-king from a pre-human civilisation frees the embodiments of Man’s greatest enemies from Shazam’s custody to plague the planet. These are wholesome tales for the entire family, however, so don’t worry – “Lust” has become “Injustice” and “Wrath” is “Hatred”, here…

The last yarn is from the Good Captain’s final year of Golden Age publication: a year that generated some of the best tales in the entire run, represented here by the wonderfully surreal ‘Captain Marvel Battles the World’ from Captain Marvel Adventures #148 (September 1952, by Binder and Beck) wherein Earth decides it has had enough of humanity mistreating it and tries to wipe out life and start again…

DC, in their original identity of National Periodical Publications, had filed suit against Fawcett for copyright infringement as soon as Whiz Comics #2 was released, and the companies had slugged it out ever since. In 1953, with sales of superhero comics decimated by changing tastes, Captain Marvel’s publishers decided to capitulate. They settled and the “Big Red Cheese” vanished – like so many other superheroes – becoming no more than a fond memory for older fans…

In Britain, where an English reprint line had run for many years, creator/publisher Mick Anglo had an avid audience and no product, and so swiftly transformed Captain Marvel into the atomic age hero Marvelman, continuing to thrill readers into the early 1960s.

DC eventually acquired all rights, titles and properties to the Captain Marvel characters. Beck returned to commercial and magazine illustration, while Binder & Schaffenberger joined the victorious opposition, becoming key Superman creators of the next few decades….

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel was an international franchise across the world. However, tastes and the decade changed, and the mighty marvel faded away. Time passed, other companies and heroes were created and also failed, as America lived through another superhero boom-and-bust. We call it the Silver Age now…

The Bronze Age of the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and a wide variety of comics genres servicing a base that was increasingly founded on collector/fans and not casual or impulse buys. We rejoin our hero with the new decade fully founded as Part II 1973-1993: Cancellation and Revival sees his glorious return…

National Periodicals – rebranded as DC Comics – needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unusual places. After 1953’s settlement with Fawcett, they had secured the rights to Captain Marvel and Family, and even though the name itself had been taken up by Marvel Comics (via a circuitous and quirky robotic character published by Carl Burgos and M.F. Publications in 1967), DC decided to tap into that discriminating older fanbase.

In 1973, DC turned to the Good Captain to see if his unique charm could work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns. Riding a wave of mass-media and movie nostalgia, they revived the entire beloved Captain Marvel cast in their own kinder, weirder universe.

To circumvent the intellectual property clash, they entitled the new comic book Shazam! (‘With One Magic Word…’) the trigger phrase used by the majority of Marvels to transform to and from mortal form and a word that had already entered the American language due to the success of the franchise the first time around.

Recruiting the top talent available, the company tapped editor Julie Schwartz – who had a few notable successes with hero revivals – to steer the project. He teamed top scripter Denny O’Neil with original artist C.C. Beck for the initial story…

All this is succinctly covered in E. Nelson Bridwell’s essay (originally published in 1978’s All-New Collectors Edition #C-58) which leads off this eclectic second section…

Strangely positioned before that debut, however, comes Superman #176 (June 1974): Elliot S. Maggin, Curt Swan & Bob Oksner’s ‘Make Way for Captain Thunder!’ The sales and fan rivalry between fans of the Man of Steel and Big Red Cheese (Sivana’s pet name for his stout-hearted nemesis) had endured for decades, and Schwartz took full advantage by having the two finally – if notionally – meet, courtesy of magical trans-dimensional jiggery-pokery in a titanic tussle to delight 10-year-olds of all ages.

You will recall, I’m sure, that Captain Thunder was one of the options considered in 1940 before Fawcett went with the Marvel name…

Finally, then comes Shazam! #1 (February 1973)… ‘In the Beginning’ recounts, in grand old self-referential style, the classic origin whilst ‘The World’s Wickedest Plan’ relates how the Captain, his super-powered family and all the supporting cast (there’s a very useful seating chart-cum-biography page provided for your perusal) had been trapped in a timeless state for 20 years by the invidious Sivana Family who had subsequently been trapped in their own Suspendium device too.

Two decades later, they are all freed, baddies included, to restart their lives and resume their feuds.

Beck was profoundly unhappy with the quality of stories he was given to draw and soon left the series. One of his assistants and stable-mates from the Fawcett days had been a Superman Family mainstay for decades and smoothly fitted into the vacated lead-artist position. Kurt Schaffenberger was delighted to again be drawing one of his all-time favourite assignments again, and his shining run is represented here by Shazam! #29 (June 1977), as ‘Ibac meets Aunt Minerva’ (Bridwell, Schaffenberger & Vince Colletta. Set in Buffalo, New York and at Niagara Falls, it features a comedic battle of the sexes that was heavy on the hitting. Although the series was not a soaring success, it had spawned a hit kids TV show, introducing the Big Red Cheese to a new generation of viewers…

When the title was cancelled, the Shazam Family began appearing in anthology titles such as World’s Finest Comics with the scent gradually shifting from whimsy to harder-edged contemporary superhero stories. Here WF #275 (January 1982) supplies ‘The Snatching of Billy Batson’ by Bridwell, Don Newton & Dan Adkins; a stirring crime thriller mystery with Freddie taking the lead role…

Team-up title DC Comics Presents #49 (September 1982) then features ‘Superman and Shazam’ (Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Rich Buckler & John Calnan) which sees the immortal wizard enlist the Action Ace’s assistance to create a Captain Marvel for Earth-1. It does not go well after Black Adam interferes…

Now fully part of the DC universe, Captain Marvel popped up everywhere. He was even a long-suffering straight man in Justice League International for a while, and here (from L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘91 #31, September 1991) Alan Grant & Barry Kitson concoct a wickedly funny slugfest as the big red boy scout tries to reason with drunk and hostile super-lout Lobo in ‘Where Dreams End’

After a number of ill-received reinventions of the Shazam! concept and franchise – revised over and over again to seem relevant to a far darker, more hopeless and uncompromising world and readership – in 1994 a fresh new treatment by Jerry Ordway revitalised the heroic legend; offering a thoroughly modern but spiritually pure reboot that finally held the interest of modern readers.

Following Ordway’s introduction to Part III 1994-2010: The World’s Mightiest Mortal, a too-brief selection of those tales begins with ‘Things Change’ and ‘The Arson Fiend’ (by scripter Ordway, Peter Krause & Mike Manley from The Power of Shazam! #1 & 2, March and April 1995).

The monthly series had resulted from an original graphic novel (which I’ll be covering imminently as it’s not here) which transplanted Billy to Fawcett City in the DC Universe and enticingly added all the old plot points the readership loved: abandoned street kid, lost sister, talking tigers, and manic villains such as Sivana and Black Adam…

In the initial yarn Billy confronts his evil, embezzling uncle Ebenezer just as a lethal supernatural pyromaniac sets the Batson mansion ablaze. To make things worse, old Shazam has just cut off his rebellious protégé from the wellspring of his superpowers…

The series balanced superb Fights ‘n’ Tights clashes with potent emotional tension, and issue #33 (December 1997, by Ordway, Krause & Dick Giordano) offers a remarkable human-interest tale with ‘Yeah – This is a Face Only a Mother Could Love’: a powerful, poignant yet ultimately uplifting treatment of intolerance and the collateral damage of superhero encounters where Billy tries to help a school-friend hideously scarred by the Arson Fiend. It’s possibly the best-executed and least known story in the book…

Superman and Captain meet again in Action Comics #768, (August 2000 by Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau & Jaimie Mendoza) as ‘O Captain, My Captain’ sees a goddess-controlled Marvel Family attack the Man of Tomorrow in a fun-filled romp after which JSA #48 (July 2003) provides ‘Enlightenment’ courtesy of David Goyer, Geoff Johns, Leonard Kirk & Keith Champagne.

Extracted from extended epic ‘Princes of Darkness’, this sidebar yarn finds Billy deprived of his adult alter ego, and battling to survive beside teen hero Star Girl as mystic night closes over Earth.

A true return to greatness came in 2007 when Jeff Smith rebooted the magic in Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil. You can find the entire saga recently reviewed here, represented in this titanic tome by issues #2’s ‘NZIB GZPVH GSV XZPV! [Mary Takes the Cake!]’

Bringing us almost up to date, final chapter Part IV 2011 and Beyond: The New 52 focuses on the latest reboot which grew out of a new Justice League configuration.

Set as a series-within-a-series (in issues #7-11, #0 and #14-17) and again turning to a far harder-edged street kid persona ‘Shazam!’ was reimagined by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank and in Justice League #21 (August 2013) where the confused kid finds his Marvel Family and earns his hero stripes in final battle with murderous Black Adam…

Rounded out with stunning covers by Beck, Costanza, Mac Raboy, Chad Grothkopf, Nick Cardy, Murphy Anderson, Schaffenberger, Rich Buckler & Dick Giordano, Dan Brereton, Jerry Ordway, Duncan Rouleau & Lary Stucker, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino, Jeff Smith & Gary Frank, this is a glorious tribute to a truly mercurial comics champion.

The original Captain Marvel is a genuine icon of American comics history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. This stunning flag-of-convenience collection only scratches the surface of the canon of delights produced over the years, but is still a perfect introduction to the world of those ever-changing comics charm and one that will appeal to readers of any age and temperament, especially after a few hours in a darkened movie theatre…
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1952, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1982, 1991, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2013, 2014, 2015, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Superman volume 1


By Otto Binder, Jerry Coleman, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, Robert Bernstein, Alvin Schwartz, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Kurt Schaffenberger & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0758-8

Although we all think of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic creation as the epitome of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his launch in Action Comics #1 he became a multimedia star and far more people have seen or heard the Man of Steel than have ever read him – and yes, that does include the globally syndicated newspaper strip.

By the time his 20th anniversary rolled around he had become a mainstay of radio, starred in a series of astounding animated cartoons – plus two movies – and just ended his first smash live-action television serial.

In his future were many more (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville, Krypton et al), a stage musical, a franchise of stellar movies and an almost seamless succession of TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since. Even Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

It’s no wonder then that the tales from this Silver Age period should be so draped in the wholesome trappings of Tinseltown – even more so than most of celebrity-obsessed America. It didn’t hurt that editor Whitney Ellsworth was a part-time screenwriter, script editor and producer as well as National DC’s Hollywood point man.

However, that’s not all there is to these gloriously engaging super-sagas culled from Action Comics #241-257 and Superman #122-133, reliving the period June 1958 to November 1959 in crisp, clean black and white in this first economical Showcase Presents collection.

I’d love to plug more modern, full-colour archival editions here, but for some reason DC’s powers-that-be have been woefully slow in gathering this material – and the equally superb all-ages Superboy stuff. I’m not getting any younger but I still eagerly wait in hope – and so should you…

In the meantime, then…

By the mid-1950s The Man of Tomorrow had settled into an ordered existence. Nothing could really hurt him, nothing would ever change, and thrills seemed in short supply. With the TV show cementing the action, writers increasingly concentrated on supplying wonder, intrigue, imagination and, whenever possible, some laughs as well.

The adventure begins here with the lead tale from Action Comics #241 and ‘The Key to Fort Superman’: a fascinating, clever puzzle-play guest-featuring Batman, written by Jerry Coleman and illustrated by Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye, wherein an impossible intruder vexes the Man of Steel in his most sacrosanct sanctuary, after which Superman #122 (July, 1958) proffers 3 yarns by veteran scripter Otto Binder, beginning with ‘The Secret of the Space Souvenirs’ (illustrated by Al Plastino) as temporary madness seems to grip the Man of Steel while he gathers artefacts for a proposed time-capsule. ‘Superman in the White House’ is a fanciful dream by Jimmy Olsen also drawn by Plastino whilst the closing Boring/Kaye bamboozler finds the hero investigating an outbreak of super-powers at a US military base in ‘The Super-Sergeant’

That same month Binder & Plastino introduce both the greatest new villain and most expansive new character concept the series had seen in years with The Super-Duel in Space’ Action Comics #242) wherein an evil alien scientist named Brainiac tries to add Metropolis to his collection of miniaturised cities in bottles.

As well as a titanic tussle in its own right, this tale completely changed the mythology of the Man of Steel, by introducing Kandor, a city full of Kryptonians who had escaped the planet’s destruction when Brainiac abducted them. Although Superman rescues his fellow survivors, the villain escapes to strike again, and it would be years before the hero could restore the Kandorians to their true size.

Superman #123 (August 1958) featured ‘The Girl of Steel’ by Binder, Dick Sprang & Kaye which tested the potential of a distaff Supergirl as part of a 3-chapter yarn involving a magic wishing totem, which tragically segued into ‘The Lost Super-Powers’ before granting the hero’s greatest dream and facilitating ‘Superman’s Return to Krypton’.

Action #243 (Binder & Boring) sees Superman mysteriously transformed into a beast in ‘The Lady and the Lion’, after which Superman #124 provides the intriguing menace of ‘The Super-Sword’ by Coleman & Plastino, Binder & Kurt Schaffenberger’s delightful desert island drama wherein Lois Lane becomes ‘Mrs. Superman’ and Clark Kent’s investigation of construction industry corruption which compels him to become ‘The Steeplejack of Steel’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye).

Curt Swan pencilled Binder’s ‘Super-Merman of the Sea’ (inked by Kaye) in Action #244: a canny mystery wherein the Man of Steel abandons the surface world for an alien aquatic princess, before Boring & Kaye delineate Binder’s compelling thriller ‘The Shrinking Superman!’: featuring an insidious menace from the Bottle City of Kandor…

‘Lois Lane’s Super-Dream’ (Coleman & Schaffenberger) led in Superman #125 (October/November 1958) with another potentially offensive and certainly sexist parable wherein the plucky news-hen learns a salutary lesson about powers and responsibility, whilst ‘Clark Kent’s College Days’ (illustrated by Plastino) opened an occasional series of Untold Tales of Superman: revealing just how, when and why Superboy became the Man of Tomorrow, before Boring & Kaye conclude Coleman’s hat-trick with ‘Superman’s New Power’ as the hero gained new and incomprehensible abilities with catastrophic consequences…

Action #246 featured ‘Krypton on Earth!’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye) as a trip to tourist attraction “Krypton Island” reveals a crafty criminal scam, and #247 presented ‘Superman’s Lost Parents!’ (Binder & Plastino), wherein a criminal scheme to reveal the hero’s secret identity prompts an extreme face-saving solution. Superman #126 had Binder, Boring & Kaye reveal ‘Superman’s Hunt for Clark Kent’: a thrilling tale of amnesia and deduction whilst ‘The Spell of the Shandu Clock’ (Coleman, Boring & Kaye), provides spooky chills and clever ploys to outwit a malevolent mastermind and ‘The Two Faces of Superman’ (Coleman & Schaffenberger) again saw “conniving” Lois learn an – apparently – much-needed lesson in humility.

Action #248 (January 1959) was a rare contribution from Bill Finger, illustrated by Boring & Kaye wherein the Caped Kryptonian becomes ‘The Man No Prison Could Hold!’ to topple a war criminal tyrant, before Superman #127 opened with another Untold Tale of Superman, ‘When There Was No Clark Kent!’ (Coleman, Swan & Kaye) as an accident temporarily deprives the hero of his treasured alter ego, after which Coleman, Boring & Kaye expose ‘The Make-Believe Superman’ as a depressed dad tries to impress his son with a most preposterous fib. The issue closed with the debut of another hugely popular character in ‘Titano the Super-Ape!’. The chimpanzee who is transformed into a giant ape with Kryptonite vision was one of the most memorable “foes” of the period, courtesy of Binder, Boring & Kaye’s sublime treatment combining action, pathos and drama to superb effect.

‘The Kryptonite Man!’, by Binder & Plastino in Action #249, sees Lex Luthor deliberately irradiate himself with Green K to avoid capture, but his evil genius proves no match for our hero’s sharp wits, used with equal aplomb in ‘The Eye of Metropolis!’ (Finger & Boring) as a prominent TV journalist seeks to expose Superman’s secret identity in #250.

Finger scripted the entirety of #128 as ‘Superman versus the Futuremen’ (limned by Boring & Kaye) and ‘The Secret of the Futuremen’ finds the Metropolis Marvel framed for heinous crimes and hijacked to the impossible year of 2000AD, before outwitting his abductors and returning in time to encounter ‘The Sleeping Beauty from Krypton!’ – actually Lois in another hare-brained scheme to trap her beloved into marriage, and deliciously illustrated by the unmistakable and fiendishly whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger.

‘The Oldest Man in Metropolis!’ – Robert Bernstein & Plastino – reveals how an unfortunate lab accident ages Superman many decades overnight in Action#251, whilst Superman #129 (May 1959) reveals ‘The Ghost of Lois Lane’ (Coleman, Boring & Kaye) to be anything but before Binder & Plastino’s ‘Clark Kent, Fireman of Steel!’ depicts the reporter’s aggravating and hilarious “luck” as a temporary fire-fighter. Another major debut follows before introducing the bewitching mermaid Lori Lemaris in ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ – a moving Untold Tale of Superman (from Finger & Boring) which again refined the Man of Steel’s intriguing early life.

From the same month, Action Comics #252 would have been significant enough merely for introducing the threat of John Corben, a criminal whose crushed skeleton is replaced by a robot body and Kryptonite heart to become ‘The Menace of Metallo!’ (Bernstein & Plastino), but a new back-up strip also began in that issue which utterly revolutionised the Man of Tomorrow’s ongoing mythology.

‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’ introduced Kal-El’s cousin Kara Zor-El in another captivating, groundbreaking yarn by Binder & Plastino. The Maid of Might would occupy the rear of Action and alternate covers for a decade and more to come, carving her own unique legend…

Issue #253 featured ‘The War Between Superman and Jimmy Olsen!’ by Alvin Schwartz, Swan & Kaye as an alien presence gives the boy reporter super-powers and a mania to conquer the world whilst Superman #130 presented ‘The Curse of Kryptonite!’ (Binder & Plastino), wherein the Action Ace relives his past experiences with the lethal mineral; ‘The Super-Servant of Crime!’ (Bernstein, Swan & John Sikela) which finds the hero turning the tables on a petty crook who thinks he’s fooled the Man of Tomorrow, and ‘The Town That Hated Superman!’ (Binder, Boring & Kaye) which happy hamlet has outlawed the hero. He simply has to know why…

‘The Battle with Bizarro!’(Action #254, by Binder & Plastino) re-introduces an imperfect duplicate super-being who had initially appeared in a well-received Superboy story (#68, from the previous year), courtesy of Luthor’s malfunctioning duplicator ray.

Even way back then high sales trumped death and so popular was the fatally-flawed character that the tale was continued over two issues, concluding with ‘The Bride of Bizarro!’ in #255 – an almost unheard-of luxury back then. Here that bombastic, traumatic conclusion is separated by the contents of Superman #131, which firstly reintroduces a long-vanished pestiferous annoyance with ‘The Menace of Mr. Mxyzptlk!’ by Coleman & Plastino, before Lois Lane is granted a tantalising glimpse of ‘Superman’s Future Wife’ (Bernstein & Schaffenberger) and ‘The Unknown Super-Deeds’ reveals hitherto hidden connections with the Daily Planet staff long before Superboy left Smallville in another Untold Tale… from Binder & Plastino.

Action #256 seemingly unleashes ‘The Superman of the Future’ (Binder, Swan & Kaye) whilst in Superman #132 (October 1959) Batman and the projections of a super-computer show what might have happened had Superman grown up on an unexploded Krypton in the 3-chapter epic ‘Superman’s Other Life’, ‘Futuro, Super-Hero of Krypton!’ and ‘The Superman of Two Worlds!’ by Binder, Boring & Kaye.

Action #257 reveals Clark Kent as ‘The Reporter of Steel!’ after he is hit by a ray from mad scientist Luthor in a cunning yarn by Binder, Boring & Kaye, before the contents of Superman #133 brings to a close this potent premier compendium with ‘The Super-Luck of Badge 77’ (Binder & Plastino) with the reporter trying his hand as a beat cop, before we can enjoy the first new tales by co-creator Jerry Siegel in nearly a decade: ‘How Perry White Hired Clark Kent’ (art by Plastino) and the wryly light-hearted ‘Superman Joins the Army!’ illustrated by Boring & Kaye.

Superman has proven to be all things to all fans over his decades of existence and with the character seemingly undergoing almost constant radical overhaul nowadays, these timeless tales of charm and joy and wholesome wit are more necessary than ever: not just as a reminder of great memories past but also as an all-ages primer of wonders still to come…
© 1959-1963, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman the Deluxe Edition


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Fred Guardineer, Don Cameron, Mort Weisinger, Jerry Coleman, Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton, Len Wein, Cary Bates, Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Joe Kelly, Grant Morrison, Paul Levitz, Mort Meskin, Ed Dobrotka, Fred Ray, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Jim Mooney, Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Dick Giordano, Kerry Gammill, Bob McLeod, Ben Oliver, Neal Adams plus Many & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7887-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: the Ultimate Stocking Stuffer… 9/10

It’s a fact (if such mythological concepts still exist): the American comicbook industry would be utterly unrecognisable without the invention of Superman. His unprecedented adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Within three years of his June 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of eye-popping action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Man of Steel had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East embroiled America, patriotic relevance.

In comicbook terms at least Superman is master of the world, having utterly changed the shape of a fledgling industry and modern entertainment in general. There have been newspaper strips, radio and TV shows, cartoons games, toys, merchandise and blockbusting movies. Everyone on Earth gets a picture in their heads when they hear the name.

It all started with Action Comics #1 and this bold compilation celebrates the magic, not just with the now-traditional re-runs of classic Superman tales, but with informative articles and fascinating glimpses of some of the other characters who shared the title with him.

Available as a bonanza hardback and in various digital formats, this epic album offers material from Action Comics #0, 1, 2, 42, 64, 241, 242, 252, 285, 286, 309, 419, 484, 554, 584, 655, 662 and 800, and opens with an Introduction by Paul Levitz, a fond Foreword from Laura Siegel Larson and Jules Feiffer’s scene-setting, context-creating essay ‘The Beginning’ before the immortal wonderment commences…

Most of the early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have been given descriptive appellations by the editors. Thus, after that unmistakeable, iconic cover and a single page describing the foundling’s escape from exploding Planet Krypton (also explaining his astonishing powers in nine panels), with absolutely no preamble ‘The Coming of Superman’, by Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster introduces a costumed crusader – masquerading by day as reporter Clark Kent – averting numerous tragedies.

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

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

To say the editors were amazed by Superman’s popularity was an understatement. They had their money bet on a knock-off Mandrake the Magician crafted by veteran cartoonist Fred Guardineer. Zatara: Master Magician’s mystic/illusion powers were fully demonstrated in ‘The Mystery of the Freight Train Robberies’ but it’s still a run-of-the-mill and rather sedate affair when compared to the bombastic stunts of the Caped Kryptonian.

Next up is a sneak peek at ‘The Ashcans’: unused and alternative illustrations that didn’t make that crucial first cut after which Action #2 (with a Leo O’Mealia generic adventure cover) supplies the conclusion of Superman’s first case as ‘Revolution in San Monte’ finds the mercurial mystery-man travelling to the war-zone before spectacularly dampening down the hostilities already in progress…

‘The Times’ by Tom DeHaven deconstructs the mythology of the title before Fred Ray’s Superman cover (from November 194)1 introduces Action #42’s ‘The Origin of the Vigilante’ by Mort Weisinger & the amazing Mort Meskin. This spectacular western-themed hero-romp proves that the anthology title had plenty of other captivating characters to enchant audiences…

Issue #64 debuted ‘The Terrible Toyman’ (Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & George Roussos), wherein an elderly inventor of children’s novelties and knick-knacks conducts a spectacular campaign of high-profile and potentially murderous robberies, with Lois as his unwilling muse and accessory, and is followed by a little tale of serendipity as Marv Wolfman harks back to his early days and explains ‘How I Saved Superman’

That’s followed by a genuine lost treasure as ‘Too Many Heroes’ offers an unpublished 1940s Superman tale – credited to Siegel & Shuster – that was rescued from destruction and obscurity. What a gift!

David Hajdu then reveals the allure of the alter ego in ‘Clark Kent, Reporter’ after which we jump to June 1958 and the beginning of the Silver Age. Action Comics #241 cover-featured ‘The Key to Fort Superman’: a fascinating and clever puzzle-play guest-featuring Batman. Scripted by Jerry Coleman with art from Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye, here an impossible intruder vexes the Man of Steel in his most sacrosanct sanctuary…

One month later Otto Binder & Al Plastino introduced both the greatest new villain and most expansive new character concept the series had seen in years. ‘The Super-Duel in Space’ saw evil alien scientist Brainiac attempt to add Metropolis to his collection of miniaturised cities in bottles.

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

After a few intriguing test-runs, a future star of the ever-expanding Superman universe launched in Action Comics #252. In ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’ (May 1959), Superman discovers he has a living relative. Cousin Kara Zor-El had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished.

Landing on Earth, she met Superman and he created the cover-identity of Linda Lee, hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale so that she could master her new powers in secrecy and safety.

‘Endurance’ by Larry Tye discusses longevity and political merit before we return to Superman’s official Action Comics co-star…

Hogging the cover (by Super-stalwarts Curt Swan & George Klein) the simpler times of practicing in secret ended as a big change in the Maid of Might’s status occurred. When her new adoptive parents learn of their new daughter’s true origins, Superman allows cousin Kara to announce her existence to the world in 2-part saga ‘The World’s Greatest Heroine!’ (#285 February 1962) and ‘The Infinite Monster!’ (#286, March 196). Here Jerry Siegel & Jim Mooney detail how Supergirl becomes the darling of the universe: openly saving planet Earth and finally getting all the credit for it.

/telethon to pose a tricky puzzler in the hoary old secret-identity save plot. Written by Edmond Hamilton and illustrated by Swan & Klein, it sets up a scene where the Man of Tomorrow can use none of his usual tricks to be both Superman and Clark simultaneously, then delivers a truly shocking and utterly era-appropriate solution…

Hurtling forward to December 1972 and Action #419 we meet a surprisingly successful back-up feature created by Len Wein, Carmine Infantino & Dick Giordano. Debuting in‘The Assassin-Express Contract!’ Christopher Chance is the Human Target: hiring himself out to impersonate endangered individuals such as the businessman “accidentally” sitting in the sights of a hitman, thanks to a disgruntled employee dialling a wrong number…

From a period where Golden Age stories where assumed to have occurred on parallel world Earth-Two, ‘Superman Takes a Wife’ first appeared in 40th Anniversary issue #484 (June 1978).

Here Cary Bates, Curt Swan & Joe Giella detail how the original Man of Tomorrow became editor of the Metropolis Daily Star in the 1950s and married Lois. Thanks to villainous rogues Colonel Future and the Wizard who had discovered a way to make Superman forget his own existence, only she knew that her husband was once Earth’s greatest hero…

‘If Superman Didn’t Exist’ by Marv Wolfman & Gil Kane comes from Action #554 (April 1984) and posits an alien-invaded Earth deprived of heroes until two kids with big dreams invent one…

In 1985 DC Comics rationalised, reconstructed and reinvigorated their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths. They then used the event to regenerate their key properties at the same time. The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was not before time.

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

He didn’t.

The public furore began with all DC’s Superman titles being “cancelled” (actually suspended) for three months, and yes, that did make the real-world media sit-up and take notice of the character everybody thought they knew for the first time in decades. However, there was method in this seeming corporate madness.

The missing mainstays were replaced by a 6-part miniseries running from October to December 1986. Entitled Man of Steel it was written and drawn by Marvel’s mainstream superstar John Byrne and inked by venerated veteran Dick Giordano.

The bold manoeuvre was a huge and instant success and the retuned Superman titles all came storming back with the accent on breakneck pace and action. Action Comics #584 had a January 1987 cover-date and featured a team-up with the Teen Titans as the young heroes had to battle an out-of-control hero with a ‘Squatter’ in his head…

Following a gentle cartoon “roasting” by Gene Luen Yang in ‘Supersquare’, ‘Ma Kent’s Photo Album’ (by Roger Stern, Kerry Gammill & Dennis Janke from #655, July 1990) offers some insights into growing up different before a major turning point began.

As the years passed Lois Lane and Clark gradually grew beyond professionalism into a work romance but the hero had always kept his greatest secret from her. That all changed after the Man of Tomorrow narrowly defeated mystic predator Silver Banshee and decided there would no more ‘Secrets in the Night’ between him and his beloved (Action Comics #662, February 1991, by Stern & Bob McLeod)…

Action #800 (April 2003) then offers a reverential examination of the ongoing myth thus far as ‘A Hero’s Journey’ combines a Joe Kelly script with art from Pasqual Ferry, Duncan Rouleau, Alex Ross, Tony Harris, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Bullock, Ed McGuiness, J.H. Williams III, Dan Jurgens, Klaus Janson, Killian Plunkett, Jim Lee, Tim Sale, Lee Bermejo, Cam Smith, Marlo Alquiza & Scott Hanna: cherry-picking unmissable moments from a life well lived…

In 2011 DC again rebooted their entire line and Superman was reimagined once more. ‘The Boy Who Stole Superman’s Cape’ by Grant Morrison & Ben Oliver comes from Action Comics #0, (November 2012) and focusses on a decidedly blue-collar champion just learning the game and painfully aware of the consequences if he makes a mistake…

Wrapping up the celebrations in April 2018’s ‘The Game’ by Levitz & Neal Adams wherein the ultimate enemies Superman and Luthor face off for another round in their never-ending battle…

Before the curtain comes down, though there’s still more unbridled joy and rekindled memories as ‘Cover Highlights’ brings a selection of stunning examples from the Golden, Silver, Bronze, Dark and Modern ages of the Man of Tomorrow, as well as the very best of Action Comics ‘Now’.

Should you be of a scholarly or just plain reverential mood you can then study the copious ‘Biographies’ section so you know who to thank…

Exciting, epochal and unmissable, this is book for all fans of superhero stories.
© 1938, 1941, 1943, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1972, 1978, 1984, 1986, 1990, 1991, 2003, 2012, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have been warned…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman: The Golden Age volume 4


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

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

As his latest record-breaking anniversary year rapidly approaches its end, the popularity of Superman is on the climb again. The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all by now – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without The Man of Tomorrow. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation gave birth to an entire genre if not an actual art form.

Imitation is the most honest compliment and can be profitable too. Superman triggered an inconceivable army of imitators and variations and, within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Action Ace had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy.

Once the war in Europe and the East finally involved America, to that list was added patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters – all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

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

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

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

This fourth remastered paperback collection (also available digitally) of the Action Ace’s early exploits – reprinted in the order they first appeared – covers the turbulent, times spanning September 1941 to April 1942: encompassing escapades from Action Comics #41-47, Superman #12-15 and solo-adventures from World’s Finest Comics #3-5 (an oversized anthology title where he shared whimsical cover-stardom with Batman and Robin).

As always, every comic appearance is preceded by the original cover illustration, all captivating graphic masterpieces from Fred Ray whilst each tale is credited to co-originator Siegel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No “to be continueds” here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman/Batman volume 1 (New edition)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Silver Age volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

Devised by Otto Binder & Al Plastino, the throwaway concept inflamed public imagination and, after a slew of further appearances throughout Superman Family titles, the LSH eventually took over Superboy’s lead spot in Adventure for their own far-flung, quirky escapades, with the Caped Kid Kryptonian reduced to merely “one of the in-crowd”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next comes a pivotal two-part tale. ‘Superboy’s Big Brother’ (by Robert Bernstein & Papp from Superboy #89, June 1961) reveals how an amnesiac, super-powered space traveller crashes in Smallville, speaking Kryptonese and carrying star-maps written by the Boy of Steel’s long-dead father…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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