By Craig Boehmer
Superman: The Man of Steel Hardcover Volume 3
Reprints: Superman #12-15, Superman Annual #1, Action Comics #594-597, Action Comics Annual #1, Adventures of Superman #436-438, Adventures of Superman Annual #1, Booster Gold #23, Superman: The Earth Stealers #1, Who’s Who update #87, Who’s Who update #88
Superman: The Man of Steel Hardcover Volume 4
Reprints: Superman #16-22, Superman Annual #2, Action Comics #598-600, Adventures of Superman #439-444, Doom Patrol #10
Writers: John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Ron Frenz, Dan Jurgens, Jim Starlin
Artists: John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Arthur Adams, Ron Frenz, Dan Jurgens, Curt Swan
Byrne’s tenure on Superman continues in Superman: The Man of Steel Volumes 3 and 4. He wrote and drew Superman for around two years before leaving the character again. Looking at his run as a whole, he introduced many new characters and concepts that came to define Superman for almost two decades. His Superman was comparable to Marvel’s big characters in their emphasis on relationships and soap opera drama. According to Comichron.com The Man of Steel #1 came out in June 1986, five of the seven remaining months of 1986 saw Byrne’s Superman place as the number one selling comic.
There are several characters that make their debuts in these volumes, or their Post-Crisis debuts. Notable Post-Crisis debuts include Lori Lemaris, the Toyman, Brainiac, Titano, Prankster, and Checkmate. I am not overly familiar with Pre-Crisis iterations of the Toyman, or Lori so I cannot accurately assess how many changes were made to the characters. I enjoyed the story of Lori Lemaris and her relationship with Clark while in college. At the time it must have been forward thinking to have a superhero develop a relationship with a lady confined to a wheelchair. It still holds up remarkably well. The Toyman stories are probably significantly darker than previous Toyman appearances. Titano only makes one appearance in these volumes. He is less important as a villain than the scientist that created him. Brainiac is significantly different in this volume than in Pre-Crisis stories. He starts as a carnival performer named Milton Fines that becomes possessed by an alien entity that imbues him with greater power. His story arc continues for many years, most of it is not contained within these volumes. Byrne and Ordway also bring their creative juices to create many interesting new characters. One of the best is Silver Banshee, her ability to suck the life force from others provides for great visuals. Her first appearance allows for the inclusion of Martian Manhunter, in her second appearance we get more of her background. She is a good straight forward villain; her design is more engaging than other villains introduced in these volumes. Skyhook is another engaging villain introduced in this run. He is abducting children all over Metropolis, pulling in Maggie Sawyer’s child who had been missing for many issues (a great use of back up plot threads). Skyhook is a creepy looking monster! The visuals for Silver Banshee and Skyhook are incredible! We also have an early appearance of Dan Jurgens’ creation Booster Gold. I love the obvious tension between Booster Gold and Superman in these stories. Also notable are the Union, and Tehra and the Exiles. The Union attacks a small town in the American Midwest, his goal is to unite all life on earth into one powerful entity. For this unification The Union must destroy each body and hook up all the brains in his facility. This keeps each individual alive and conscious, but without their bodies. Superman confronts this villain and is able to defeat him, but not without sacrificing the brains of all those inhabitants in the town, a move that will haunt him. Tehra and the Exiles are revealed to be living in a community underground in the Middle East. Superman and Jimmy are trapped in the community and must battle their way out. It is a fun romp, and the nature of the Exiles allows the artists to show creativity in designing a plethora of different characters.
Characters aren’t the only noteworthy aspects of these volumes. They contain some incredible story arcs that highlight Byrne and Ordway’s ability to write. Millenium was a DC crossover involving the arrival of the Manhunters and their attempt to wrest power aways from the Guardians. Shocking secrets are revealed about Smallville’s history and its connection to the Manhunters. I didn’t like Smallville’s role in Millenium, I find I prefer Smallville to be separated from any history of craziness and shenanigans. Despite my reservations about the major changes to Smallville’s history, the story was fun and entertaining.
The Adventures of Superman #437 story is called “Point of View”. The story is from Luthor and Lois’ perspectives on the events of a supervillain fighting Jose Delgado. The battle leaves Delgado paralyzed and in critical condition. Superman ends up saving the day and confronting Luthor, the villain was a creation of Luthor’s. It is told simultaneously, with Luthor narrating the top half, and Lois the bottom. It is a great examination of these two characters and their views of events. This is also after Johnathan Kent has told Lois that Superman is Clark’s adopted brother. This leads Lois to hate Clark and Superman, believing she has been tricked and lied to. She later attempts to forgive Clark and attempt to build a romantic relationship with him, in the midst of changing into something more comfortable, Clark must leave as Superman, apparently snubbing Lois and cementing her anger.
The big story in these collections, the one that garners most of the attention, is the Pocket Universe confrontation between Superman and Zod, with Zod’s allies. Prior to the confrontation, a blonde woman had appeared in the main universe. Over the course of many issues, it is revealed that she is Supergirl and that she has come to enlist Superman’s aid in defending the Pocket Universe. Clark travels with her and discovers that Superboy has been gone for years and through a scientific accident Zod and his minions were released onto the world. The Kryptonian prisoners subsequently defeated Earth’s nations and conquered the planet. Billions of humans have been murdered because of Zod’s cruel whims, and now Superman is the last choice. The controversy comes at the end where Superman calmly exposes the three Kryptonians to kryptonite, executing them for their crimes against humanity. It is a fantastic story and provides closure to that universe. As much as I enjoy this story, it is easy to see how Byrne’s run became known as “dark and gritty”. This story though also shows how it can positively affect Superman’s stories. As an impartial viewer, someone with no connection to the Silver Age Superboy stories, it doesn’t resonate with me to see their world destroyed. That being said, I can certainly understand how someone who loved those Silver Age stories would be upset about the wanton destruction of this world.
The art continues to be incredible, with a few notable exceptions. It is hard to choose standout artists from this crew, because it is a list of some of the best artists to draw Superman. John Byrne leads the way with Jerry Ordway. But we also get a fantastic issue by Arthur Adams inked by Dick Giordano. In fact, that is the very first story in volume 3, Action Comics Annual #3. While I don’t love Art’s figure work on Batman and Superman, his pencils on the regular citizens and the villains are gorgeous. The very next issue is penciled by Ron Frenz, then Dan Jurgens. The final issue of volume 3 is penciled by the legendary Curt Swan, and it might be the most gorgeous issue of the four collections. The story is “Superman: The Earth Stealers,” and it provides Swan with the perfect chance to flex his sci-fi muscles. Superman battles and interacts with a wide assortment of aliens across a planet sized cruiser. Not to be outdone, volume 4 has the incredible issue, The Adventures of Superman #441. You may not have heard of it, it is a delightfully penciled confrontation between Superman and Mxy. The art is so fun, Bryne and Ordway get to illustrate Superman’s world in the styles of various Saturday Morning cartoons. Action Comics #600 is another beautiful issue, with pencils by Byrne and finishes by George Perez… Two of the most incredible Bronze Age comic artists working together. I think the only other time they worked on a comic together was an X-Men annual. The issue is a visual feast, it takes place on Mt. Olympus and features a confrontation between Superman and Wonder Woman, and Darkseid, it is two legends, in their primes, flexing on all of us, and we all benefit from it.
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