The Man of Steel - Volume 5

Authors: John Byrne and Marv Wolfman
Artists: John Byrne, Jerry Ordway and various inkers
Titan Books
RRP: 11.99, $19.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84576 390 9
ISBN-10: 1 84576 390 4
Available 23 February 2007

The unscrupulous side of Metropolis is explored as Superman and the staff of the
Daily Planet uncover a gang war raging in the city's notorious "Suicide Slum". Journalistic integrity is tested when it is revealed that editor Perry White's son is involved. And what is the identity of the new protector of the streets, who emerges amid the havoc? Meanwhile, love is in the air as Clark finds himself romantically involved with the astonishing Amazon from the planet Apokolips, Big Barda, and the daring diva of co-worker Cat Grant, much to the disappointment of Lois Lane. In addition to his ever-present nemesis Lex Luthor, the Man of Steel also faces, for the first time, the twisted villainy of the Joker and Mr Mxyzptlk...

This collection contains stories from Superman issues 9-11, Action Comics issues 592-593 and The Adventures of Superman issues 432-435, continuing DC Comics' late-1980s "reinvention" of the Man of Steel.

Thanks to John Byrne's reboot of the series' continuity, Superman here meets the Joker and Mr Mxyzptlk "for the first time", despite having encountered them many times before in previous versions of the then 49-year-old mythology. Characteristically, Byrne provides an explanation for Mxyzptlk's bizarre name, by having the Fifth-Dimensional imp type the letters at random on a keyboard, because his true name won't translate into any human tongue. Batman is name-checked several times, in the Joker story and elsewhere, as Superman compares and contrasts his own methods with those of the Caped Crusader.

Whereas Byrne's stories from the pages of Superman are one-shot battles with villains of the month, Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway's work from The Adventures of Superman tends to go deeper, both in terms of duration (the gang warfare storyline lasts for three issues) and down-to-earth subject matter (poverty, street crime and vigilantism). It used to be that I didn't much care for Wolfman's more earnest, wordy style, but now it's beginning to grow on me, and Ordway's finely detailed artwork is also catching on. There are a few plot holes, though, such as why doesn't Jimmy Olsen use his signal watch on page 111 and how come Lexcorp's computer banks are hacked into so easily?

Byrne's work for Action Comics seems to combine the approaches of the comic's two sister titles. Here, in a two-part story, we meet outlandish crossover characters such as Big Barda, Mr Miracle, Sleez and Darkseid, but in the gritty context of Suicide Slum - specifically a back-street studio producing porn movies. This rather Sleezy - er, I mean sleazy - tale surprisingly raises the issue of Superman having sexual relations with an ordinary human being. I couldn't help being reminded of some classic dialogue from the Kevin Smith movie Mallrats:

"It's impossible. Lois could never have Superman's baby. Do you think her fallopian tubes could handle the sperm? I guarantee you, he blows a load like a shotgun right through her back. What about her womb? Do you think it's strong enough to carry her child? He's an alien, for Christ's sake. His Kryptonian biological makeup is enhanced by Earth's yellow sun. If Lois gets a tan, the kid could kick right through her stomach. Only someone like Wonder Woman has a strong enough uterus to carry his kid. The only way he could bang regular chicks is with a kryptonite condom, but that would kill him."

This is an issue that I don't believe has ever been resolved in the comics, despite Clark's eventual marriage to Lois. The seedy subject matter also draws attention to that fact that Mr Miracle's costume resembles a multicoloured gimp suit!

Overall, though, this is a great collection. Some of the repro is a little out of register, but I assume this is inherited from the original comics. Reprinting nine classic issues for just 11.99 (or less, depending on where you shop)... man, this is a steal.

Richard McGinlay

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