Superman: Infinite Crisis

Superman: Infinite Crisis

By various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-342-8

One of the major sub-storylines of Infinite Crisis (ISBN: 978-1-4012-0959-9) involves the Superman who debuted in 1938, and who for years was designated as first the Golden Age and latterly the Earth 2 Man of Steel. This slim addendum to the main event collects material from Infinite Crisis Secret Files and Origins 2006, Infinite Crisis #5, Superman #226, Action Comics #836 and Adventures of Superman #649, and details the poignant and tragic end of the characters that in so many ways birthed the DC Universe.

By detailing what became of Superman and Lois Lane of Earth 2, Earth 3’s Alexander Luthor and Superboy from Earth Prime after Crisis on Infinite Earths (ISBN: 978-1-5638-9750-4) writers Marv Wolfman, Joe Kelly, Geoff Johns and Jeph Loeb have added tone and texture that is noticeably, if not painfully lacking from the parent blockbuster, and the quiet moments reviewing and commemorating the phenomenal life of the original Mr and Mrs Superman are more powerful than the inevitable battle of the superpowers that follows.

In many ways superior to the parent tale the only quibble is that the events of this book conclude before the end of Infinite Crisis meaning that you really need to read this simultaneously. Annotated Absolute Edition, anyone?

A huge number of artists worked on this book so I’ve saved them for the end in case you’re the type that likes to leave before the national anthem (and I suspect most of you are too young for that gag as well). They are Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Cam Smith, Art Thibert, Nelson, Ed Benes, Howard Chaykin, Renato Guedes, Kevin Conrad, Dick Giordano, Jose Marzan Jr., Ian Churchill, Norm Rapmund, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Lee Bermejo, Doug Mahnke, Tim Sale, Tom Derenick, Wayne Faucher, Karl Kerschl, Duncan Rouleau, Dale Eaglesham, Drew Geraci, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, George Pérez, Ivan Reis, Dave Bullock and Kalman Andrasofszky.

The colouring was by Jeromy Cox, Guy Major, Renato Guedes, Dave Stewart, Tanya & Richard Horrie, Rod Reis, Tom Smith, Michelle Madsen, Kalman Andrasofszky and Dave Bullock with lettering by Travis Lanham, Pat Brosseau, Nick J. Napolitano and Comicraft.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: 3-2-1 Action!

Superman 3-2-1 Action!

By Kurt Busiek, Mark Evanier, Rick Leonardi, Brad Walker, Steve Rude & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-794-5

Here’s a lovely little piece of summer fun for comics fans that spins indirectly out of the Countdown publishing event. Although nominally another collection of the Man of Steel’s adventures the actual star of the book is Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. The main body of the volume reprints Action Comics #852-854, and examines the cub reporter’s trials and travails as the effects of the Countdown reach Metropolis.

Without wanting to give too much away in advance of the inevitable Countdown collections, a massive Crisis is affecting all 52 Earths of the newly minted DC multiverse. One inexplicable side-effect is the “fight-or flight” super-powers that suddenly afflict James Bartholomew Olsen, reporter-at-large. Whenever his life is endangered, sudden inexplicable transformations wrack Jimmy’s body (and older fans will no doubt be delighted to see the not so subtle tributes to such classics of the silver Age as Turtle Boy Olsen, Jimmy the Werewolf and The Human Porcupine). This engaging sidebar to the Countdown Main Event, which is by Kurt Busiek, penciller Brad Walker and inker John Livesay, also features yet another new take on Titano the Super-Ape, and the return of both Krypto and the Kryptonite Man.

This is preceded by a marvellous updating of the kid’s “origin” by Busiek, Rick Leonardi and Ande Parks, originally published in Superman #665. ‘Jimmy’ is a charming and action-packed character piece that updates the lad for the current generation, whilst still keeping the vitality, verve and pluckiness that carried the boy through seven decades and hundreds of his own adventures within the DCU.

Without doubt though, the absolute gem of this collection comes from the wonderful and much-missed Legends of the DC Universe comicbook of the late 1990s. Issue #14, to be precise; 55 glorious pages of wonderment by Marv Evanier, Steve Rude and Bill Reinhold from 1999, which featured a new story crafted from an unused plot Jack Kirby worked up during his tenure as Writer-Artist on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. This story features the Lord of Apokolips, The Evil Factory, The Guardian, The Project and enough fun and thrills to take decades off the most jaded fan.

Kirby’s run on what had become DC’s most moribund title utterly revolutionised the entire DC universe, introducing Darkseid, the Fourth World, Intergang, The Project (later known as Cadmus) and so much more. Nothing on Earth can induce me to reveal any details of this lost epic but if you can’t have prime, fresh Kirby, this loving and beautiful addendum to his work is the Very Next Best Thing.

I’m seldom able to wholeheartedly recommend a modern collection for you to buy, but with 3-2-1- Action I breathlessly do and you really must!

© 1999, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Man of Steel, Volume 6

Superman: The Man of Steel, Volume 6

By various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-440-1

At long last the latest volume in this excellent series chronologically reprinting the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman has been released, and reaches the landmark first anniversary of that brave renovation.

Featuring the creative efforts of John Byrne, Ron Frenz, Jim Starlin, Dan Jurgens, Art Adams, Dick Giordano, Brett Breeding, Steve Montano, Keith Williams, Roy Richardson and Karl Kesel, the book includes all three of the Annuals for 1987, Action Comics #595-595, Superman #12 and as a necessary bonus issue #23 of Booster Gold volume 1 – the concluding part of a cross over between the rival champions of Metropolis.

The magic kicks off with ‘Skeeter’, a vampire shocker guest-starring Batman written by Byrne and illustrated by Art Adams and Dick Giordano originally published in Action Comics Annual #1. Next is a poignant updating of a Silver Age classic. ‘Tears for Titano’ by Byrne, Frenz and Breeding first saw print in Superman Annual #1 and puts a modern spin on the tale of the giant chimp that menaced Metropolis.

The Adventures of Superman Annual #1 was the original home of ‘The Union’ by Jim Starlin, Jurgens and Steve Montano, wherein Superman is asked by Ronald Reagan and super-Fed Sarge Steel to find out what happened in the instant ghost-town of Trudeau, South Dakota. This edgy sci-fi shocker showed audiences that the new Man of Steel wasn’t the guaranteed winner he used to be, and set the scene for a momentous future confrontation with the monstrous Hfuhruhurr the Word-bringer.

‘All that Glisters’ (Byrne and Keith Williams) comes from Action Comics #594, a big battle team-up with Booster Gold that concluded in issue #23 of that hero’s own title. ‘Blind Obsession’, with art and story by Jurgens and Roy Richardson, is followed by the magical retelling of another classic Wayne Boring Superman tale.

‘Lost Love’ from Superman #12, by Byrne and Karl Kesel, recounts the tragic tale of Clark Kent’s brief affair with the mysterious Lori Lemaris, a unique girl he twice – that’s right – loved and lost, and the volume concludes with Action Comics #595. ‘The Ghost of Superman’ introduced the eerie Silver Banshee in a mystery team-up that I’m not going to spoil for you.

Against all current expectation the refitted Man of Tomorrow was a critical and commercial success. As one of the penitent curmudgeons who was proved wrong at the time, I can earnestly urge you not to make the same mistake. These are magically gripping and memorable comic gems that can be enjoyed over and over again. So the sooner you get these books the sooner you can start the thrill ride…

© 1987 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Camelot Falls, Book 2 — The Weight of the World

Superman Camelot Falls

By Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-651-1

The concluding volume of the serial epic that ran intermittently in the monthly Superman comic is finally available, and although it is very impressive eye-candy I still question the fairness of two little books when the whole story could quite easily have fitted into one. In volume 1 (ISBN: 1-84576-434-X) the ancient Atlantean sorcerer Arion showed the Man of Steel a vision of the future where the hero’s continued defence of the planet inevitably lead to its destruction, and asked him to retire before that vision became horrendous reality.

In this volume (collecting Superman #662-664, 667 and Superman Annual #13) the Mage decides to force Superman’s decision.

Chockfull of guest-stars and featuring pertinent asides with the tragic Superman-analogue Subjekt 17, plus a pack of very young New Genesis truants and even old foe the Prankster, this is a very pretty adventure. But even although the final confrontation is visually spectacular, story-wise there’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Shiny and simplistic, this is a pallid disappointment for fans with precious little to recommend it to the casual or new reader.

© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Gen Thirteen

Superman/Gen 13

By Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo & John Nyberg (WildStorm/DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-328-5

The hoary old amnesia/mistaken identity plot gets a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek dusting off in this far, far above-average cross-company team-up when the highly proper Man of Steel meets the wild and wooly super-powered drop-outs of Gen 13.

Freefall, Burnout, Rainmaker and Grunge are pretty typical Generation X teens – apart from their superpowers – and they’re pretty bummed that the stiff and prissy Fairchild gets to choose their next vacation destination. But they’re frankly appalled when she decides to take them to Metropolis, home of the biggest boy-scout in the universe.

When the team stumbles upon a super-battle and the “nearly” invulnerable Fairchild gets a formidable shot to the head from a gigantic robot Gorilla, their troubles really begin. Confused, the pneumatic leader wanders off, and deducing that she’s actually Supergirl, causes swathes of destruction whilst trying to remember how to use her “other superpowers.” And then her friends realize with horror that she was holding all the spending money!

Unable to find her and getting pretty peckish, the team has to swallow their collective scorn and actually ask the Stiff of Steel for help, and the World’s Most Perfect Hero comes to realise that even he isn’t invulnerable to the mockery of the “Cool Kids” in this brilliantly funny generation gap comedy from scripter Adam Hughes and artists Bermejo and Nyberg.

Fast, funny, action-packed and loaded with brilliant one-liners that hark back to the glory-days of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League International this slim tale is as fresh and delightful a confection as any jaded, angst-laden fan could wish for. Track it down and cleanse your palate before the next braided-mega-epic rumbles along.

© 2000, 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Time and Time Again

Superman: Time and Time Again

By various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-129-8

When Superman was re-imagined after Crisis on Infinite Earths, many of his more omnipotent abilities were discarded. He was a limited hero, more in touch with humanity because he wasn’t so far above it. One thing that was abandoned was his casual ability to travel through time.

Indeed, rather than being able to navigate the chronal corridors with ease, in this splendid epic from 1991 (originally published as Action Comics #663-665, Adventures of Superman #476-478, and Superman volume 2 #54-55 plus epilogues from #61 and 73) he is trapped in a cataclysmic temporal warp, bounced around from era to era and unable to return to his home and loved ones.

When a rogue Linear Man, (self appointed guardians of the Time Stream) tries to return the hero Booster Gold to the 25th century he originated from, Superman intervenes, but a tremendous explosion sends him careening through time. Each “landing” leaves him in a significant period of Earth’s history and only gigantic explosions can launch him back into the time stream.

As well as the mandatory “walking with dinosaurs” the Man of Steel also meets the World War II Justice Society of America, fights Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, tussles with a mammoth, fights The Demon during the fall of Camelot and encounters the Legion of Super Heroes at three critical points of their career.

This hugely enjoyable epic is by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Bob McLeod, Brett Breeding, Dennis Janke, Tom Grummett, and Jose Marzan and is both highly readable and cheerfully accessible for both returning and first time fans.

© 1991, 1992, 1994 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Exile

Superman: Exile

By various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-438-1

When Superman was re-imagined after the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths, one of the major aims was to add drama and tension by reducing his god-like abilities. As well as making him more vulnerable, many of the more charming, but just plain daft stand-bys of the Man of Steel were abandoned. So goodbye flying off to the next galaxy and being back by lunch-time, and no more drop-kicking planets; Superman was now tough but still had the capacity to be shocked and awed by the very concept of deep space. He was also more human and flawed in his personality.

This collection is a superb slice of pure comic wonderment for fans of action and adventure and collects stories from a period when DC was trying to reach new readers with their oldest icon, so the material here can be enjoyed by anyone, and there’s no need for a vast and specific knowledge of the character.

Collecting Superman (volume 2) #28-30, #32-33, Adventures of Superman #451-456, Action Comics Annual #2, and Action Comics #643 written and illustrated by Dan Jurgens, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Kerry Gammill, Mike Mignola, Curt Swan, Brett Breeding, Dennis Janke, John Statema and Art Thibert, it sees a traumatized Man of Steel forced to abandon Earth as a result of a psychotic break.

When trapped in a pocket dimension he had been forced to execute three super-criminals who had killed every living thing on their Earth and were determined to do the same to ours. Although given no choice, Superman’s actions plagued him, and on his return his subconscious caused him to stalk the streets in a fugue-state dealing out brutal justice to criminals in the guise of Gangbuster. When he finally made aware of his schizophrenic condition Superman banished himself before he could do any lasting harm to Earth.

And thus the door to a fabulous saga of action and adventure opens. In the more than 300 pages here we see an endearingly human hero rediscover his purpose, revel in his sense of cosmic wonder and even discover some dark secrets about the lost planet Krypton. The epic concludes with a rapidly weakening hero (deprived of Sol’s rays his powers quickly fade) battling as a gladiator and overthrowing the monstrous Mongul and the hordes of the giant battle-planet Warworld, before returning to Earth with the most powerful device in Kryptonian history.

If he had only known how much trouble The Eradicator would cause he would have left it where it was, but since he didn’t we get to enjoy even more thrills and chills in subsequent collections as brilliant and engrossing as this one…

© 1988, 1989 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Dark Side

Superman: The Dark Side

By John Francis Moore, Kieron Dwyer & Hilary Barta (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-526-9

I’ll make this short and sweet. This book collects a three part miniseries from the Elseworlds imprint, wherein DC properties are extracted from regular continuity for radical and extraordinary tales. The basic premise is simple.

When baby Kal-El’s rocket is sent to Earth from doomed Krypton it is intercepted before arrival and lands on Apokolips, the world of Evil New Gods. The Last Son of Krypton is personally raised by the ultimate dictator Darkseid, and on reaching his majority, irrevocably changes the universe. And then he reaches Earth and meets a reporter named Lois Lane…

For any fan of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, and the original Superman, this is a loving and powerful homage to magnificent concepts, mercifully free to reach a natural conclusion, unencumbered by the publisher’s need to keep all commercially viable characters alive and adventuring forevermore.

Written with wit and enthusiasm and magnificently illustrated Superman: The Dark Side packs an epic punch for all fans of high fantasy.

© 1988, 1989 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

By Alan Moore, Curt Swan, George Perez & Kurt Schaffenberger (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-315-0

Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, sometime in April 1938 (the date on the cover was June, but that was, by custom, the date by which unsold copies had to be returned – and hard it is to imagine that there were any!). An instant sensation, the Man of Steel promptly spawned a veritable infinitude of imitators, and gave birth to a genre, if not an industry. The Original outlived most of them, growing and adapting, creating a pantheon and a mythology, delighting millions of readers over the generations.

In the 50th anniversary year of DC Comics, editors decided that modern readers had moved beyond the old style and continuity, and consequently re-imagined the DC universe and everything in it. Crisis on Infinite Earths unmade that universe, and remade the greatest heroes in it. The editors have spent the intervening years since trying to change it all back again.

None of which is particularly relevant, except that in the lead-up to the big change, departing Editor Julius Schwartz turned his last issues of Superman and Action Comics (#423 and #583 respectively) into a gift of closure for the devoted fans who had followed Superman for all their lives – if not his. With them all concerned said goodbye to a certain kind of hero and a particular type of story. They made way for a tougher, harder universe with less time for charm or fun.

This slim tome collects the contents of those two issues, and was released to commemorate the passing of artist Curt Swan, who had drawn the vast majority of Superman family tales for more than three decades.

‘Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?’ is a glorious ending to an era and a sensibility, written by Alan Moore, stunningly drawn by Swan, and inked by George Perez and the hugely underrated Kurt Schaffenberger. In it, Moore parades for one last time the characters and concepts that made Superman special, and shows the reader just how much will be lost when the World changes.

He manages to instil modern narrative values into the most comfortably traditional scenarios, making the tale work in modern terms whilst keeping the charm, whimsy and inherent decency of the characters. It is a magical feat, a genuine Gotterdammerung; full of tragedy, nobility and heroism but with a happy ending nonetheless. I’m not going to tell you the plot, other than to say it details the last days of the World’s Greatest Superhero. Be prepared to cry when you read it.

This is a story every comic fan, let alone DC reader, should know, and even works as an introduction as well as a grand farewell.

© 1986, 1997 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: They Saved Luthor’s Brain!

Superman: They Saved Luthor’s Brain!

By various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-85286-942-7

This outrageous pastiche of B-Movie shockers is in actual fact a selective collection of tales that highlight a period of superb creativity from the post Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman reboot. If you’re counting, they first appeared in Man of Steel #4, Superman #2, 19, 21 and Action Comics #600, 660, 668, 670-73, 676-678.

By taking pertinent episodes from a seven-year sub-plot the assembled creators – Roger Stern, John Byrne, Bob McLeod Jackson Guice, Kieron Dwyer, Dick Giordano, Denis Rodier, Terry Austin, Brett Breeding, Ande Parks, John Beatty and Brad Vancata – played with all the comic-book clichés and produced a terrific tale of villainy that perfectly defined the arch-mastermind who will always be Superman’s greatest foe.

‘The Secret Revealed’ saw Luthor with a ring made from Kryptonite that kept Superman literally at arms length. Subsequent stories revealed that the alien radiation of the element slowly poisoned Luthor, firstly causing the loss of his hand and eventually fatally irradiating his entire body. As his power waned and his condition became public, the evil billionaire seemed to commit suicide in a spectacular manner.

The resulting financial chaos threatened to destroy the economy of Metropolis, but at the last moment a young, vigorous heir was found living secretly in the Australian Outback. Apparently Luthor had been keeping him hidden to safeguard the lad, but now he was grown and ready to take over his father’s empire…

If you’re any kind of fantasy fan then this book’s title is all the clue you’ll need before engaging in a splendidly paranoid romp of clones and monsters, intrigue and suspense and guest-starring the synthetic Supergirl called Matrix.

This kind of close-plotted continuity was a hallmark of the 1980s and 1990s Superman, and that such a strong tale could be constituted from the bits around the main story is a lasting tribute to the efficacy and power of the technique.

© 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.