The Greatest Stories Ever Told

Authors: Edmond Hamilton, John Byrne and others
Artists: Curt Swan, George Klein and others
Titan Books
RRP: 10.99
ISBN 1 84576 399 8
Available 21 July 2006

Introduced in
Action Comics #1 in 1938, for almost 70 years the Man of Steel has been the world's favourite superhero. Now some of the highlights of Superman's career are chronicled in this action-packed collection, which features his origin and its modern-day retelling, plus classic tales including Three Supermen from Krypton, The Last Days of Superman, Must There Be a Superman? and many more...

Which are the greatest Superman stories ever told? Chances are, as Michael Uslan (executive producer of the Batman movies) admits in his introduction, it's doubtful that all your personal favourites will be represented here, because every reader has their own favourite era. For example, my vote for top storyline would go to 1993's The Reign of the Supermen (released in graphic novel form as The Return of Superman), but that epic tale wouldn't even fit in his 190-page volume. No, what this collection is, is a sampler of varied highlights from all eras of the Man of Steel's adventures, featuring a selection of relatively short and self-contained but nevertheless enjoyable tales.

Many of these stories involve Superman's home world, Krypton. Naturally, the planet is depicted in the two versions of the Man of Steel's origin depicted here: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's The Origin of Superman (from Superman #1, 1939) and John Byrne's The Man of Steel (from Man of Steel #1, 1986). However, the planet and its people also feature in Three Supermen from Krypton (Superman #65, 1950) and Return to Krypton (Superman #18, 1988). Three Supermen from Krypton, penned by William Woolfolk and drawn by Al Pastino, provides a possible inspiration for the movie Superman II in its depiction of three supervillains exiled from Krypton by Superman's father, Jor-El. This story also includes flashbacks to before the planet's destruction. Return to Krypton, written by John Byrne, pencilled by Mike Mignola and inked by Karl Kesel, is a more poignant affair. In stark contrast to the "Superman family" of previous eras (as depicted in The Last Days of Superman), this "what if" narrative explores what might have happened had other Kryptonian refugees arrived on Earth. The Last Days of Superman (Superman #156, 1962) and The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman (Superman #164, 1963), both written by Edmond Hamilton with art by Curt Swan and George Klein, also feature flashbacks to Krypton, thanks to the Man of Steel's gift of total recall. Yes, in those days he also had a super-memory!

It's interesting to see how times change, in terms of Superman mythology as well as real-life political and scientific opinions. Both The Last Days and The Showdown make reference to the supposed canals of Mars. The Last Days also takes a rather quaint view of global warming. The most recent entry, What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way? (Action Comics #775, 2001), written by Joe Kelly and drawn by Doug Mahnke, Lee Bermejo and a host of inkers, tackles modern-day concerns about terrorism and street violence.

The other Siegel and Shuster offering in this book, What if Superman Ended the War? (Look Magazine, 1940), asks what would have been a very topical question, but is actually a rather pointless story. This two-page tale demonstrates that the Man of Steel could indeed have ended World War II very simply and quickly, but fails to address the obvious question: so why didn't he? The answer comes belatedly in Must There Be a Superman? (Superman #247, 1972), penned by Elliot S Maggin with art by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. This story, one of the strongest in the collection (in my opinion), demonstrates why human beings need to stand on their own feet rather than rely on a superhero to solve all their problems for them.

For me, the highlight of the collection is Byrne's The Man of Steel, despite the fact that it has been reprinted before and isn't entirely self-contained (pages 113 and 114 contain incidents that would be picked up in subsequent issues). Byrne reinvented, decluttered and freshened up Superman's mythology in a manner that is still benefiting the franchise today. He ditched some of the hero's more incredible powers (such as super-ventriloquism, super-hypnotism and the ability to travel through time) and the "Superman family", but kept his devoted human parents alive. The new Man of Steel is a more humanised figure, whose powers developed gradually (as they do in the Smallville TV series). In this version of the legend, it is Superman that is the disguise for Clark Kent's true identity, not the other way around.

As I said earlier, these aren't really the greatest Superman stories ever told. For one thing, there's a second volume coming out soon, which makes nonsense of the title! Nevertheless, there's something here for Super-fans of all ages.

Richard McGinlay

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