The Superman Chronicles
Volume Two

Author: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Joe Shuster
Titan Books
RRP: 9.99, $14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84576 435 7
ISBN-10: 1 84576 435 8
Available 27 April 2007

For almost 70 years he has been one of the most recognisable American icons, but in these early stories, Superman has not yet been deputised to fight crime. With only invulnerability, super-strength and enhanced senses as his powers, the Man of Tomorrow works outside the law to dispense his own brand of justice. Mad scientists, organised criminals, gamblers and corrupt businessmen don't stand a chance as the world's first costumed adventurer continues his quest to abolish injustice in all its forms...

And so this series continues its never-ending battle to reprint the complete adventures of the world's best-known comics hero in exact chronological order, presenting stories that originally appeared in Action Comics #14-20 (July 1939-January 1940) and Superman #2-3 (Fall-Winter 1939). I say "never-ending battle" because, unless DC Comics and Titan drastically increase their publication rate (it's been a year since the previous volume), we'll still be 70 years behind in another 70 years' time. So don't hold your breath waiting for today's strips to make it into this series!

Let me also make something else clear: this chronological presentation is strictly in terms of the Man of Steel's DC appearances. It does not include the complete run of the Superman newspaper strip, which commenced in January 1939. However, the strips from Superman #2-3 are reformatted versions of five newspaper stories, beginning with the third one, "The Comeback of Larry Trent" (which might explain why it recycles elements from "Superman Plays Football", as the Man of Steel impersonates a sportsman to help revive his career). You can see where artist Joe Shuster has extended various frames in order to fill the page.

Shuster's art has improved considerably since the earliest strips, though it still looks basic by today's standards. All his brunettes tend to look like Lois Lane - see for example, actress Dolores Winters in the final story, "Superman and the Screen Siren".

Jerry Siegel's writing is similarly unsophisticated, but shows signs of progress. Duff dialogue includes this expository gem from "Superman on the High Seas": "I insist you accept this $3,000 check - your overpowering of those vile crooks is a sight I, as bank manager, will not soon forget!"

Superman's powers remain somewhat undefined. In "Superman and the Skyscrapers", it is suggested that an explosion could kill him. In "The High Seas", he goes to the elaborate lengths of hiring a ship and crew in his Clark Kent guise in order to salvage treasure from a sunken wreck. Why not just jump into the water and take a super-swim as Superman? In "Superman Meets the Ultra-Humanite", the Man of Steel determines that a subway tunnel wall has been constructed from inferior cement because it "crumbles like sand" in his hand. Uh, Clark, that's because you're Superman - all cement crumbles like sand in your hands. On several occasions, he is not particularly careful about using his powers while as Clark Kent.

Nevertheless, the mythology does develop. In "Superman Champions Universal Peace!", the Daily Star's editor is identified as George Taylor for the first time. Though many of Metropolis's denizens still seem not to have heard of the Man of Steel, news of his deeds is starting to spread, as is evidenced by recognition in tales such as "Superman and the Numbers Racket" and an untitled text story. He also has numerous rematches with his brainy archenemy, the Ultra-Humanite, the hero's first recurring foe (whose name is soon abbreviated to Ultra). The title of "Superman Meets the Ultra-Humanite" is a little misleading, though - this is in fact their second meeting.

The Man of Steel is still markedly ruthless when it comes to dealing with his enemies. For example, he threatens to crush a gambler's neck and to pulverise a racketeer's face in "The Numbers Racket", to crack a felon's head "like an egg shell" in (ironically) "Superman Champions Universal Peace!" and to wring a crook's neck in "The Skyscrapers". In those last two stories, he also allows wrongdoers to die from poison gas and heart failure respectively, and would quite happily have let some others perish in a plane crash. However, he remains a staunch defender of the innocent and the oppressed from all backgrounds and nationalities.

Though far from super in certain respects, these rare tales offer a fascinating glimpse into the past, and at a very affordable price. No Superman fan should miss this collection.

Richard McGinlay

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