The Man of Steel - Volume 4

Authors: John Byrne, Marv Wolfman and Paul Levitz
Artists: John Byrne, Greg LaRocque, Mike DeCarlo and others
Titan Books
RRP: 11.99
ISBN 1 84576 128 6
Available 21 October 2005

Superman has his hands full when he encounters Rampage for the first time and has a rematch with Mammoth, together with the rest of the Fearsome Five. But all that pales into insignificance when a super-powered teenager wearing a version of his costume appears on the scene. Who is Superboy? The answer lies across time, in the 30th century...

Continuing DC and Titan's presentation of the "rebooted" Superman of the late 1980s, this graphic novel collects stories from Superman issues 7-8, Action Comics 590-591, Adventures of Superman 430-431 and Legion of Super-Heroes 37-38.

The reason for the inclusion of material from the Legion of Super-Heroes series is due to a major crossover event involving Superman, the Legion... and Superboy. When writer/artist John Byrne reinvented the Man of Steel, his version of Clark Kent didn't don the famous red and blue costume until after he had moved to Metropolis as an adult. So where did that leave Superboy, who had been a regular character in Legion of Super-Heroes for years? The answer is revealed over the course of four of the eight issues collected here. Along the way, Byrne has fun with characters from a bygone age, including, most notably, Krypto the Superdog!

But that's not the only crossover in this volume. The third chapter, lifted from Action Comics 590, features another blast from the past, in the flexible forms of the robotic Metal Men.

Once again, the episodes by Byrne are superior in terms of illustration and storytelling. The material from Adventures of Superman is, as usual, just a little bit more cluttered in terms of art (by Jerry Ordway for issue 590 and by Erik Larsen for issue 591) and just a little bit clunkier in terms of writing (by Marv Wolfman). Larsen's segment also has the dubious distinction of an apparent guest appearance by Queen guitarist Brian May as the super-permed villain, Doctor Stratos!

However, the weakest art and the clunkiest scripting comes courtesy of the Legion of Super-Heroes team of writer Paul Levitz and artists Greg LaRocque and Mike DeCarlo. Levitz gives us such dialogue gems (by the way, I'm being sarcastic) as "The only question is whether it can hold enough power in a single burst, instead of being supplied current gradually by the fusion powersphere." Hmmm, my thoughts exactly. As for the art, you can directly contrast the relative merits of LaRocque/DeCarlo versus Byrne by comparing pages 88-89 with pages 110-111, the latter of which are a direct recap of the former.

The art of LaRocque and DeCarlo is also troubled by the fact that Superboy, Cosmic Boy and Mon-El look confusingly similar to one another. To be fair, though, not even Byrne is blameless in that department, as his rendering of the Metal Men's controller, Will Magnus, looks rather like Superman with a check jacket and pipe.

Unlike my esteemed colleague Pete Boomer, who, in his review of Volume 2, disapproved of the paper stock used for this series, I believe that this is the best way to reprint material that was originally coloured with newsprint-style paper in mind. This is preferable to the effect you get when you use bright, shiny paper to present such material, as was the case with Titan's recent Star Trek: To Boldly Go graphic novel.

The chronology of this collection is a little confusing. For one thing, the final page of Superman issue 7 takes place after issue 8 and Action Comics 591, while Adventures of Superman 430 takes place over the course of a week - a week that includes the events of Superman 7. If you want to read this volume in a semblance of chronological order, you could try beginning with pages 50-71 (the Metal Men segment), followed by pages 28-34, 5-26, 72-161, 27, 35-49 and finally 163-184.

Despite being a mixed bag, this book's super-strengths far outweigh its weaker moments.

Richard McGinlay

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