The Greatest Stories Ever Told - Volume Two

Authors: Jerry Siegel, Jerry Ordway and others
Artists: Wayne Boring, Stan Kaye, Curt Swan and others
Titan Books
RRP: 10.99, US $19.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84576 391 6
ISBN-10: 1 84576 391 2
Available 22 December 2006

Further highlights of the Man of Steel's career are chronicled in this action-packed anthology. It features a host of classic tales, ranging from the dawn of Superman's reign to his explosive adventures in the 21st century, written and drawn by some of the finest talents ever to work in comics, including Murphy Anderson, Terry Austin, Otto Binder, Wayne Boring, John Byrne, Matthew Clark, Tom Grummett, Edmond Hamilton, Doug Hazlewood, Stan Kaye, George Klein, Andy Lanning, Elliot S Maggin, Frank Miller, Denny O'Neil, Jerry Ordway, Greg Rucka, Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan and Ira Yarbrough...

If you can get past the contradiction inherent in the title, which reminds me of those seemingly endless processions of The Best (insert musical genre here) Album in the World... Ever compilations, this is a very enjoyable collection.

Once again, several of the featured stories revolve around Superman's home world, Krypton. Written by Otto Binder, with art by Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye, Superman's Other Life (originally presented in Superman #132, 1959), is one of the earliest "what if" narratives. Through the device of the Man of Tomorrow's super-univac computer, this fascinating tale explores what might have happened if Krypton hadn't been destroyed. One can see possible source material for Futurama here, as characters use not only a "what-if machine" (the super-univac) but also a skill machine, which assigns people's careers for life.

The moving Superman's Return to Krypton (Superman #141, 1960), by Jerry Siegel, Boring and Kaye, goes further by propelling our hero back in time to meet his parents, Back to the Future-style. Not only does he get to interact with his biological parents, Jor-El and Lara, but he also observes his would-be adoptive human parents, Jonathan and Martha, and has a hand in ensuring that their romance blossoms. Jonathan punches out an evil rival for Martha's affections, and Lara decides to name her son after their strange visitor, Kal-El. Marty McFly would be proud! Both of these Kryptonian tales show their ages with some decidedly '50s Earth fashions in evidence on the alien planet.

The collection also contains a number of firsts. The Team of Luthor and Brainiac (Superman #167, 1964), written by Edmond Hamilton, with pencils by Curt Swan and inks by George Klein, sets of tone for countless future villainous team-ups. It also features a brief return visit to the planet where Luthor is considered a hero, last seen in The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman (recently reproduced in the first volume of The Greatest Stories Ever Told). This tale also demonstrates how the mythology of the series evolves gradually over the years, by showing a slightly different motivation behind Brainiac's capture of Kandor City than is seen in Superman's Return to Krypton.

The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk (Superman #30, 1944), by Siegel and artist Ira Yarbrough, marks the very first appearance of the eponymous imp. You can compare this with one of his most recent materialisations, in Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark and Andy Lanning's Narrative Interruptus Tertiarius (Adventures of Superman #638, 2005 - recently reprinted in That Healing Touch). The artwork is a lot more sophisticated nowadays, but the sense of fun remains, in this case including some brilliant imitations of the artistic styles of Sin City, Calvin and Hobbes and the Superman Adventures (based on the animated series). Another "what if" story, this strip also demonstrates how aspects of the mythology have recently come full circle. Having undergone a change of appearance (sprouting great horizontal tufts of hair and donning a futuristic orange outfit) and name (the slightly different spelling of Mxyzptlk) in the 1950s, here we see the return of the bald-headed purple-suited imp of the 1940s.

Superman Breaks Loose (Superman #233, 1971), written by Denny O'Neil (better known for his work on the Batman family of titles) with art by Swan and Murphy Anderson, sees an early appearance by Morgan Edge.

Blink and you'll miss the witty four-page strip, The Legend From Earth Prime (Superman #400, 1984), penned by Elliot S Maggin and drawn by the legendary Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City).

No Superman anthology would be complete without a contribution by the great John Byrne. The Secret Revealed (Superman second series #2, 1987 - reprinted a few years ago in The Man of Steel - Volume 2), with inks by Terry Austin, showcases Byrne's reinvention of Lex Luthor. A powerful and terrifyingly ruthless business leader, he is nevertheless blinkered by his own megalomania. This strip also features Clark Kent's adoptive parents, Martha and Jonathan, who are still alive in the post-Byrne mythology and who play a larger role in the next story...

At 32 pages, Life After Death (Adventures of Superman #500, 1993), by Jerry Ordway, Tom Grummett and Doug Hazlewood, is the longest tale in the collection. It would have been even longer had the final few pages from the original comic been included, but these acted as prequels to the four "pretenders" who filled in for Superman prior to his eventual return from beyond the grave. And there lies the problem with the more recent strips: there just aren't as many self-contained stories nowadays. Both this and Narrative Interruptus Tertiarius are part of much larger arcs: the "World Without a Superman" and "Ruin" storylines respectively. Though these examples hold up well enough in isolation, many other single issues from the '90s to the present day just don't stand alone as well as the strips of the '40s, '50s and '60s can.

Nevertheless, offering something from every decade of the Man of Steel's career, this anthology is suitably super.

Richard McGinlay

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