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...
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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