The Superman Chronicles
Volume Three

Author: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Joe Shuster
Titan Books
RRP: £8.99, US $14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84576 569 9
ISBN-10: 1 84576 569 9
Available 28 September 2007

The never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way is beginning to become more treacherous. For the first time, the Man of Steel faces a villain who will plague him for the next seventy years: Lex Luthor. As this historic rivalry begins, Superman, in his guise as Clark Kent, joins forces with Lois Lane, as they become European war correspondents covering the conflicts that will eventually become World War II. But even with these monumental new challenges, the Man of Tomorrow maintains his reputation as a champion of the helpless and oppressed by battling jewel thieves, blackmailers and predatory mobsters...

This volume of chronological reprints covers the first half of 1940, with comic-strip adventures from the pages of Action Comics #21-25, Superman #4-5 and New York World’s Fair Comics #2.

This period marks a number of firsts for the series, especially during Action Comics #23. The DC logo makes its first appearance on the cover of this edition, and from this point on, the newspaper for which Clark works is referred to as the Daily Planet rather than the Daily Star. Clark and Lois head off across the Atlantic as war reporters for a two-issue arc (another first) entitled “Europe at War”, which starts in #22, but they return to find that the name of their newspaper has changed. Neither of them seems to notice, though! “Europe at War, Part 2” also sees the debut of Luthor, who is apparently an instigator of the Second World War! Though the USA had yet to enter the war, we see the European conflict represented by two fictional nations, Galonia and Toran.

Luthor (who is not yet afforded his first name, Lex) looks somewhat different to the evil genius we know today. He has a full head of red hair, rather than the bald look previously sported by the Ultra-Humanite. In character, he is actually very similar to Ultra, describing himself as: “Just an ordinary man - but with th’ brain of a super-genius! With scientific miracles at my fingertips, I’m preparing to make myself supreme master of th’ world!”

Immediately prior to this story, Ultra himself/herself/whatever puts in another appearance, complete with a volcano base (decades before Blofeld’s in You Only Live Twice) in “The Atomic Disintegrator” (Action Comics #21.)

Superman’s powers continue to develop during this volume. In “Luthor’s Incense Machine” (Superman #5), he demonstrates total recall and - rather more incredibly - the ability to alter his facial features at will! He has impersonated people before this, but previously only people whom he happens to resemble in the first place. Though he cannot fly yet, he is well on his way to doing so. He spends increasing amounts of time in the air, and we even see precursors of certain catchphrases-to-be. In “The Wonder Drug”, a guard sees the shadow of an object passing overhead, and wonders if it could be a bird (no, and it’s not a plane either - it’s Superman). In “Superman at the World’s Fair” (New York World’s Fair Comics #2), the Man of Steel says: “Up... up!” as he leaps away into the sky.

Though Kryptonite would not be invented for another few years yet (and in another medium, the radio), we see a forerunner of it in “Europe at War, Part 2”: a green ray that manages to weaken Superman. We also see Lois making an early attempt to discover the hero’s secret identity, in “Amnesiac Robbers” (Action Comics #25).

Superman is still decidedly rough and ready, and ruthless with his enemies, allowing wrongdoers to die on numerous occasions: in a submarine explosion, in a car crash, and in various aircraft. However, we see the emergence of his more familiar moral stance in stories such as “The Wonder Drug”. Here the Man of Tomorrow ponders that he: “can’t stand by and let someone be killed, no matter how much he deserves it...”

Artist Joe Shuster’s characters are still sometimes hard to differentiate, especially his brunettes, who tend to all look like Lois. Even the colourist gets confused when it comes to telling some of the many mobsters apart.

Reading these tales today, they comprise a fascinating historical document rather than being thoroughly engaging and enjoyable stories in their own right. Still, no true Super-fan should miss these captivating chronicles.

Richard McGinlay

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