GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm


Superman - page 5

Jimmy Olsen Adventures: by Jack Kirby, vol. 1  2003 (SC TPB) 192 pages

Written and drawn by Jack Kirby. Inked by Vince Colletta.
Colours: unbilled. Letters: John Costanza.

Reprinting: Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133-139, 141 (1970-1971)

Additional notes: intro by Mark Evanier, editorials by Kirby (from the original issues), cover gallery

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

When Jack Kirby jumped to DC Comics after a decade at Marvel, having helped to shape and define that company's style and characters, it sent shockwaves through fandom. Almost as shocking was when his initial work at DC was on...Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen!?! Kirby was already in the process of preparing his magnum opus for DC -- The New Gods (and accompanying series). But the DC brass apparently wanted to put him to work right away on an existing title, and Jimmy Olsen, with tepid sales and no permanent creative team, was the one DC and Kirby agreed upon.

But Kirby was less assigned to Jimmy Olsen...and more unleashed upon him.

Kirby basically re-conceived the series from the ground up, and used it as a spring board, both to lay the ground work for his New Gods series (villain Darkseid makes his first ever appearances here -- albeit as a background presence) and to explore all sorts of wild ideas careening around in Kirby's skull, both scientific and sociological...as well as re-introducing The Newsboy Legion (and super hero, The Guardian) that Kirby had helped create for DC in the 1940s! And he also puts Superman fairly front and centre for a lot of it in a way that previous Jimmy Olsen comics hadn't (where Superman was usually reserved for cameos) -- perhaps suggesting that Kirby really saw this as his crack at doing a Superman series!

In fact, Jimmy himself often seems little more than an afterthought a lot of the time.

With Kirby, Superman;'s Pal, Jimmy Olsen became a head trippy hallucination of scientific futurism, non-stop action mixed with gobs of pontificating, and one bizarre idea layered on the next. (At the same time, one should acknowledge that Jimmy Olsen was often prone to bizarre, even hallucinatory, stories that probably wouldn't have made it into the regular Superman comics, stories full of time & space travel, metamorphoses, etc. -- albeit, often tongue-in-cheek).

And it's both refreshingly audacious...and relentlessly undisciplined.

This was Kirby's first full credit as a writer (at least in a decade or more), after years of being an artist with considerable story in put (how much has long been debated). But once Kirby was un-bridled as his own writer and editor, one could realize that arguably, if nothing else, what Stan Lee (and other collaborators) brought to the partnership was discipline, reining in Kirby's ideas so that character, and plot, and yes, logic, weren't completely trampled beneath the feet of Kirby's imagination.

The result is that this collection of his Jimmy Olsen run (the first of two TPBs) is a deliriously wild ride of creativity and imagination, where each new scene just takes you one more direction you didn't expect...but little really sticks with you as a plot, as a drama, as an emotional experience. It's more about the ideas than the characters experiencing them. Fun...but superficial. Even with the Newsboy Legion, who Kirby clearly has an affection for (presenting them as a legendary creation when, I suspect, most readers at the time had no idea who they were) and for whom he does write some nice scenes with them bickering and interacting...still fail to rise to the level of commanding personalities.

The series kicks off with Jimmy being given an assignment by the new head of GBS, (the secretly criminal) Morgan Edge, to investigate a mysterious area outside of Metropolis known as "The Wild Area" and to do it, he hooks up with the Newsboy Legion -- or rather, the sons of the original characters -- who have built a super advanced car, the Whiz Wagon. And this is just in the first couple of pages! But right off the bat, we see Kirby's willingness to takes us anywhere -- logic be darned. I mean, an unexplored, mysterious area...right outside a major city? Even how it's set up is vague as, initially, Jimmy and the kids seem to follow a river to it, later it's suggested it's all underground in massive caverns. It's completely surreal as Jimmy basically enters another world, complete with mysterious areas...in the mysterious area (I mean, just how big is this place?!?) One wonders if Kirby was taking ideas he had conceived for a whole 'nother context -- maybe an apocalyptic future or an alien world -- and just dropped them down next to modern day Metropolis.

But if you accept its surrealism, it's a fun spectacle of weird and wildness, filtered very definitely through the times in which Kirby was writing, as Jimmy and the Newsboys encounter a motorcycle gang colony (of which Jimmy becomes the accidental leader), meet up with "Hairies" who are a mix of hippies and Kirby's own Forever People, and above all...The Project, a secret complex devoted to exploring science and the mysteries of life itself having cracked the human genome (years before most of us had even heard the term!). Superman, it turns out, had known about the Project already (hence why he was trying to dissuade Jimmy's explorations) and evil Darkseid (through his agents, Morgan Edge, as well as members of a rival, evil Project) wants its secrets, as well as its destruction. It's of course completely without ethics or restraint, as the Project is involved in all sorts of genetic projects, with a personnel made primarily of cloned workers. Jimmy even discovering they've cloned himself!!! What about rights to one's individuality? Or free will? Neither Jimmy, nor Supes, nor anyone thinks there's anything questionable about this.

Yet Kirby gets away with it -- certainly better than Grant Morrison did in his All-Star Superman series which homaged much of this and could just be plain creepy. Perhaps it's because of the earlier, more innocent time period, or maybe it's because Kirby presents his ideas with such wide eyed enthusiasm you can't read anything too sinister in it, or impose too serious an ethical criteria.

The comics bubble over with wild ideas, but it can all seem a bit unfocused and undisciplined. Kirby seems to throw in ideas and then throw them out just as quickly, eager to get on to the next concept. In one of Kirby's own editorials from the original comics (included in this TPB) Kirby writes a seeming heartfelt and pointed piece about the Hairies, clearly venting some deep feelings about the world and man's hostility to those who are different, as if the Hairies are an idea close to Kirby's heart, rife with sub-text and allegorical potential...

All this for characters who actually only appear on a few pages in these eight issues!

It's as if when Kirby first introduced them (and wrote his editorial) he was envisioning them as a centrepiece of his saga...and then by the next issue had lost interest in them.

Yet in other ways, Kirby will thread consistent themes. After all, the on going (if repetitive idea) of Morgan Edge and The Evil Project runs through a number of issues. Kirby even maintains some minor continuity, like Superman and Jimmy being invited to a Hairie concert in one issue...and attending in the next.

After spending six issues in the surreal environment of The Project and the Wild Area, the final two-parter collected here has the characters back in Metropolis for an off beat footnote in comics, in a story involving a look-a-like of comedian Don Rickles -- Goody Rickels. Rickles, his shtick insult humour, also appears. The backstory was that Kirby and his assistants thought it might be cute to throw in a Rickles appearance, and secured permission from the comedian for a minor cameo...but the plot (with a push from DC's marketing department and Kirby's own unchecked imagination) mutated into this two-parter with Rickles featured prominently on the covers. Apparently Rickles was not amused. Though I know of Rickles, I've seen little of his actual act, and maybe that would help to get the jokes, or at least imagine the delivery. Because as it is, it just seems like a curious exercise, that isn't that funny. It, too, reflects what I said about Kirby's ideas sometimes needing an overseer. Because the story involves Jimmy, Guardian, Superman and Goody Rickels being targeted for death by Edge (and Darkseid)...but it's unclear why he wants Goody dead. Hearing that Don Rickles is coming, Edge wants Goody out of the way, and a later scene has the two Rickles parroting each other's words, all suggesting something suspicious is going on. And given the Project's work with clones, one can wonder if Goody is a secret Rickles clone...but Kirby forgets to explain that if so! (Maybe it's followed up on in the next collection -- though I'm pretty sure the Rickles stuff was confined to these two issues).

Nor is it really explained why Goody is wandering around in a super hero costume -- other than because someone in another office told him too! 'Course, one of the Newsboy Legion -- Flippa Dippa -- is perpetually depicted in a scuba suit with no explanation, either (other than that he really digs water!)

Sometimes Kirby recognizes his own eccentricities. At one point someone tells Flippa to "take off that silly stuff!" Having someone point out it's silly...makes it seem a little less silly. At least we understand the character is supposed to be eccentric.

Art-wise, Kirby is right on form, the early 1970s maybe being his creative peak. Granted, Kirby can be an acquired taste, I certainly have grown to appreciate him more as an adult than I did as a kid. There's something very raw about his art, lacking the aesthetic prettiness of his contemporaries. But there's a powerful storytelling at work that helps fling the story across the pages, a bold robustness. And a lot of scope, from the expected Kirby action scenes of explosive figures, to some nicely detailed scenes of characters sitting around, where Kirby shows an eye for body language, capturing the sense of a body slumped in a chair, or leaning on his knee. There's also Kirby's experimentation with photo collages as backdrops which are effective in some of the wild, head trippier scenes, in their way evoking scenes from a movie like "2001: A Space Odyssey" (which Kirby later did a comic based upon). Vince Colletta was an inker often assigned to Kirby (by both Marvel and DC) and often with mixed results, not wholy suited to Kirby's raw, powerful pencils...but the pairing works well here. But a curious footnote to Kirby's art is that the DC brass, apparently concerned about maintaining a signature visual to its key properties, actually got other artists to "doctor" the faces of Superman and Jimmy, so they looked more like the way they appeared in the other Superman comics.

There's a side thought that came to me reading this TPB. Kirby has become the poster child in comics for the ill treated creator, many of his fans arguing that Kirby basically created much of Marvel's 1960s comics, including the scripts, and writer Stan Lee basically stole credit. Certainly no one can deny Kirby's influence and importance, and the fact that he was never really paid as anything more than an artist-for-hire was a devaluing of his contribution. But it's hard to entirely credit the claim of Stan Lee as a talentless credit hog when he wrote things without Kirby that are equally well regarded, and Kirby's solo stuff -- as I've said -- certainly lacked some refinement. But it's also funny, because as the Don Rickles anecdote indicates...Kirby himself wasn't above running roughshod over others' creative rights (telling Rickles he'd use him as a cameo...then turning his likeness into a central character). As well, in an autobiographical piece Kirby wrote (that's included here) he lists his creations and long, varied accomplishments...with nary a mention of collaborators like Lee and Joe Simon!

Ultimately, this first collection of Kirby's Jimmy Olsen comics certainly have an enjoyment value, revelling in Kirby's breathless creativity. But you can't escape the lack of any real grounding to the ideas, enjoying the rollercoaster ride of the collection...without necessarily finding any one issue stands out, or sticks in your mind.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $19.99 USA.


Superman: Kal  1995 (SC GN) 64 pages

Written by Dave Gibbons. Illustrated by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Colours: Digital Chameleon. Letters: unbilled.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

An "Elseworlds" tale that has Superman rocketing to earth as a baby and arriving, not in 20th Century America, but medieval England, Kal is a nicely told "what if...?" style story.

It's a fairly traditional medieval set story, featuring the lowly peasant (Kal), his high-born lady-love (Loisse), and an evil lord (Baron Luthor), with the obligatory midsummer's fair of jousting and the like thrown in, all made slightly more individual by the fact that the peasant in question happens to have superpowers. The thing never even really becomes a "superhero" story in that Kal never actually dons a costume or adopts a secret identity. But Gibbons delivers a story, with a beginning, middle and end -- if not quite a novel, the plot could nonetheless be comfortably transferred to a movie and no one would think themselves shortchanged. The story's made up of little scenes that build on each other, forming a whole. A number of "Elseworlds" one-shots I've read often leave me feeling I haven't read a graphic novel but just a regular comicbook. That's certainly not a complaint here.

As well, other such stories can seem a little too wrapped up in the cutesy novelty of an alternate reality, throwing in references and cameos that can detract from, rather than add to, the story. Again, Gibbons avoids that pittfall. We have Superman, Lois, Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen (Jamie, Oll's son) and Kryptonite, but it's all there as a logical part of the story, gaining resonance because of the association with regular comics' continuity (Jamie as Kal's best friend) but not hamstrung by it.

Gibbons displays a nice ear for dialogue and effectively entrenches the story in the period, from the fears of Kal's foster parents that his abilities will be seen as witchcraft, to the mundane idea that in the disease riddled middle ages, Kal's invulnerability might be evidenced simply by having a clear complexion (not something that comes up in 20th Century Superman stories).

The art is by the peerless Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and I'm a big fan of his work, mixing realism in his figures and positions, his expressive faces, with a nice sense of storytelling composition. He employs a heavier inking style than I associate with him, taking away some of the realism from his style, but it's still extremely effective and evokes the period to boot.

The story's somewhat downbeat, and perhaps teeters on the edge of warranting a mature readers warning. Lois's unhappy fate seems a bit, um, inappropriate for such a long lasting character, too. But, overall, this is quite compelling and atmospheric, and even delivers a cute twist ending.

Cover price: $8.25 CDN./ $5.95 USA.



 

Superman: Kryptonite  2008 (HC & SC TPB) 132 pages

Written by Darwyn Cooke. Illustrated by Tim Sale.
Colours: Dave Stewart. Letters: Richard Starkings, with Jared K. Fletcher. Editor: Mark Chiarello, Tom Palmer, Jr.

Reprinting: Superman Confidential #1-5, 11 (2007-2008)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

DC had good success with Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, a comic in which changing creative teams were allowed to tell self-contained, generally retro story arcs about Batman -- a series that was cancelled after producing more than 200 issues and simply replaced with the similar Batman Confidential. But DC has had less success trying the formula with other characters, from its multi-character anthology comic, Legends of the DC Universe, to Superman Confidential -- the latter only mustering 14 issue before cancelation.

Perhaps the problem was that Legends of the DC Universe and Superman Confidential lacked the same sense of artistic experiment that LOTDK pretended to have, or maybe they were a little too obsessed with emphasizing retro continuity that no one was that interested in (Superman Confidential did a multi-issue arc wrapped around the origin of...Jimmy Olsen's signal watch!). Or maybe Batman's name on a cover sells better than most.

Anyway, despite its short life, Superman Confidential has produced one collection, reprinting its first -- and best regarded -- story arc. Written by Darwyn Cooke, still riding a wave of acclaim thanks to DC: The New Frontier, and drawn by popular artist Tim Sale, this is set during Superman's early days as a crime fighter, still unsure of himself, his origins, his abilities, his place in the world...and featuring his first encounter with the radioactive remnants of his home world, kryptonite.

Sale as artist is an evocative choice, not simply because it suits a pairing with Cooke (Cooke's own pencil style is not dissimilar) but because Sale drew the well regarded Superman for All Seasons which was a similarly retro tale of a novice Superman. Sale's art here is maybe not as detailed in the backgrounds as on that earlier work, but it's effective stuff, the cartooniness deceptively simple looking even as it demonstrates a nice feel for composition, for storytelling, and for character design. All given an extra atmosphere and mood by the colours.

Likewise, Cooke's writing is deceptive, too. Indulging Sale with a lot of big panels, the script can seem a bit thin and simple -- and is, read month to month, the story benefitting I think read as a collected "graphic novel". Yet it is deceptively simple because, like with his DC: The New Frontier epic, Cooke manages to craft a tale with a lot of seeming disparate threads, and lot of nuances, and one that doesn't take you where you think it's going to.

In this case, the rock of kryptonite is mysteriously sentient, narrating much of the story -- nor does it seem as malicious as its toxic nature would imply. The rock is owned the mysterious Gallo, a Las Vegas entrepreneur of shady mob origins who's opened a casino in Metropolis. Daily Planet editor Perry White assigns his crack team of Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane to get the goods on Gallo. There's a retro feel to some of the story that goes beyond even the "early days of Superman" theme, with an almost 1950s vibe in Sale's costume and character designs, and the down-to-earth plot of Supes as an investigative reporter trying to get the goods on a suspected mobster evokes the tone of the 1950s Superman TV and radio series. But of course, that's only part of it, and larger-than-life super feats come into play as there's a natural disaster or two to be thwarted, and super goons in the employ of nemesis Lex Luthor to contend with.

Cooke effectively explores the notion of a novice Superman aware of his own seeming invulnerability...but also unsure how far that extends, never sure if that flood of lava, or that eruption of liquid nitrogen, will prove more than he can take. All this, of course, provides a thematic build up to his encountering kryptonite -- a substance that can kill him.

Along the way, Cooke just delivers some nice, little scenes, too, of Supes talking with his adopted parents, or trying to juggle a romance with Lois Lane while saving the world (and yes, there's that ol' inconsistent DC continuity again, since I thought the mid-1980s revamp of Superman had it be that Superman dated Lois as Clark, not as Superman). There's a cute scene of Supes confiding in a certain Artic critter.

As I said, it's deceptive how much Cooke crams in. There's even a significant twist part way through that effectively changes how we perceive earlier scenes.

Read together, it nicely ties together as a thoughtful graphic novel.

Maybe too thoughtful.

For some reason, there was a huge delay between the fifth chapter and the final chapter. I had initially assumed that, given the gap, issues #1-5 told the story and #11 was maybe an epilogue/afterthought. But, no. #5 ends on a cliffhanger that is resolved in #11.

But ultimately the climax can seem a bit...anti-climactic. As I say, Cooke maybe goes for the thoughtful more than the visceral. So instead of a grand climax, it more just seems to peter out. Even the significant twist to which I alluded, though cleverly turning our expectations on its head, also means that it saps some of the tension out of the earlier scenes. It's a good twist for a first reading...a problematic one for a second reading.

I liked Kryptonite, its mix of elements -- super hero action, and mean streets crime drama, kitchen sink realism with philosophical pondering and light humour -- and that mix meaning in some ways it'll hold up well for a second reading (as you'll probably forget about certain scenes or sub-plots). But I'll admit, the finale doesn't fully live up to what went before. It's not that I can say "Oh, this is how Cooke should've handled it", not at all. But viscerally, there isn't quite the payoff you expect. The result is definitely a really good saga...that was almost a great one.

This is a review of the srory as it was orginally serialized in the comics.

Cover price: ___


Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore  2009 (HC TPB) 192 pages
(DC Comics Classics Library)

Written by Dennis O'Neil. Pencils by Curt Swan. Inks by Murphy Anderson, with Dick Giordano.
Colours/letters: various. Editor: Julius Schwartz.

Reprinting: Superman #233-238, 240-242 (1971) - with covers (most by Neal Adams)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Additional notes: intro by Paul Levitz; afterward by Dennis O'Neil; vintage Superman ad from the time.

The modern glut of comics collections is truly bewildering in its variety -- hardcover, softcover, colour, black & white, story arcs and "best of..." collections all litter the shelves. DC's newly begat "Classics Library" collection joins the list, collecting in (expensive) hardcover supposedly classic stories. This Superman collection kicked off the new line...and may well be one of the few in which the majority of the comics here have never been reprinted previously (within a few volumes, the "classics library" collections seemed to just reprint comics that are readily available in a slew of other reprint collections!)

Anyway, this collects a run of early 1970s Superman stories that were heralded at the time as a bold, new direction (comics never being shy when it comes to hyperbole). Writer Denny O'Neil (already having made waves with his radical re-vamps of Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, and was kind of the "flavour of the week" as he acknowledges himself in an afterward -- think of him as the Geoff Johns or Brian Bendis of his day) was brought on board to shake things up, and regular Superman artist Curt Swan was paired with inker Murphy Anderson (for a combo that became known as Swanderson by fans), giving Swan's already realist pencils an even more realistic, organic finish. The first issue (which has been reprinted before) kicked off the "new" adventures feel in a story that saw newspaper man Clark Kent get recruited into TV broadcasting, shake-up his traditional blue suit with more hip colours, and witness a chain reaction that rendered all Kryptonite on earth inert and harmless. The creative thinking was that the comics had been stuck in a rut, Kryptonite was a too easy plot device...and Supes himself had become too powerful (having evolved from a guy who could leap tall buildings to a guy whose abilities were virtually limitless).

And that forms the crux of this story arc, as the explosion that nullified Kryptonite also creates a weird doppleganger of Superman...one who gradually leeches powers away from Superman, till toward the end of these issues he's having trouble slugging it out with petty thugs. The story arc eventually ends with Superman back up to fighting trim...just not quite as "super" as he had been.

This concept had already been test driven a few times. O'Neil himself was writing Wonder Woman where he had completely stripped her of her powers and she was basically a glorified private eye type. While in the Supergirl stories over in Adventure Comics another writer had already embarked upon a sub-plot threaded through various issues where Supergirl finds her powers fading in and out (in an even more obvious anticipation of this Superman saga).

Much has been made of some of these radical changes in Superman and Clark Kent's lives, transitory as they would prove (the problem O'Neil found -- and John Byrne, too, when he tried something similar in the 1980s -- is that maybe Supes didn't need "fixing"...but more on that in a minute). But I'd argue what's more significant about this run of issues -- is the simple fact that it's a story arc!

Marvel had started playing with sub-plots and multi-issue stories years earlier, and DC followed suit to varying degrees (The Doom Patrol, the most "Marvel"-like of DC's line, employed multi-issue stories, although mainly DC arcs would involve sub-plots tying together otherwise stand alone adventures, such as Aquaman's quest for Mera epic). But I'm not sure anyone had ever tried a Superman epic before -- and one stretched over ten issues! It's mainly stand alone adventures, with the sub-plot of the doppleganger and the diminishing powers eventually building to a climax. Although, that's all there is in the way of plot threads -- there're no parallel plots involving Jimmy Olsen or Lois anything (there is a reference to GBS president Morgan Edge's mob connections...but nothing is done with it here).

The results are decent...but mixed.

I have a lot of affection for Bronze Age Superman stories, occasionally picking up back issues and usually finding them offering more than decent entertainment. But I'm thinking of a few years later, when the writers had maybe had a chance to refine the formula. Compared to those who came before him, maybe O'Neil really was shaking things up, but for all the pretence at sophistication, at a Superman aimed at a growing, older audience -- there's still a lot of goofy plotting and paper thin characterization.

It's not that these comics are especially bad, but there's a curious blandness to them. And I can't fully put my finger on why. It's not like O'Neil doesn't indulge in a few grand adventures. For all that his stated feeling was that Superman was too powerful, he nonetheless steps up to the plate with stories of Supes battling a live volcano, or becoming embroiled in a conflict with some otherworldly beings. He also does precisely what you should do with the all-powerful Superman -- come up with complications to challenge him, the stories sometimes as much problem solving and dilemmas as about beating villains. There's actually a clever conceit to the volcano story -- instead of having it be a diversionary couple of panels, O'Neil wraps an entire issue around Supes trying to figure out how to save the day, both physically, and politically. And O'Neil plays up Supes' omnipotence in ways that are actually quite effective, emphasizing his alien-ness, as Superman dispassionately chastises a villain who's firing a machine gun at his chest, while nonchalantly holding the villain's helicopter down with one foot (matter-of-factly rendered by Swan).

But O'Neil hasn't mastered the lightness of later writers, the juxtaposing of the humour of Clark Kent with the action-drama of Superman, which maybe deprives these stories of a certain sprightliness. The supporting cast isn't used much and although references are made to Superman and Lois being lovers -- they barely have any scenes, and those they do are curiously snarky and belittling toward Lois. Granted, the Superman-Lois-Clark triangle had always been a problematic arrangement, and O'Neil may've just been working with what was established.

But for me, a reader who can flip through my ad hoc collection of '70s/'80s Superman comics, and find most offering more than adequate enjoyment...there's not too many issues here that stand out on their own. (Though I'm not one to argue for returning villains incessantly...the fact that not a single familiar foe crops up in ten issues might be too bad). Though after a second reading I can equally say they are all perfectly decent page turners.

The visuals may be a problem.

Not the art itself. Curt Swan was, is, and I suspect for many, will always be the definitive Superman artist, with his clear, low key realism. Although I'm maybe not quite as passionate about the Swan/Anderson pairing as many (despite being a fan of Anderson in general). The duo certainly take an issue or two to settle in together (the first couple of issues, Anderson's inks make Superman look about 65!), but it's certainly nice work. Though Dick Giordano inks one issue over Swan -- and it's equally appealing. No, the problem with the visuals is the re-production itself. I'm giving DC the benefit of the doubt and assume that they deliberately tried to evoke how the actual comics would've looked on old comics paper and with the "dot" colouring process so far removed from the slick, almost painted colours of today. But if so, they went overboard. This looks less like a collection of comics from the 1970s...and more like a mildewing collection of, say, the Yellow Kid strips from the early 20th Century! The lines are sometimes a bit blurry, the colours leaning toward jaundiced or washed out at times.

I tend to have mixed feelings about O'Neil, but there are ways he surprised me here. For a writer who often seemed to revel a bit too much in the "beat 'em up" school of super heroes, he does a nice job of capturing the sense of a likeable Superman with barely a malicious bone in his body, who will lecture thugs even as they unload guns into his chest, and who is more interested in talking things out with his mysterious doppleganger, rather than simply ploughing into him as an "enemy" (as a lot of other writers might do).

Yet I do think O'Neil's main thesis, that Superman was too powerful, was flawed. Yes, if all you're interested in writing is stories of Superman battling thugs and terrorists, he's too powerful. But that doesn't mean you make him less powerful...it means you write more imaginative stories. Hence the use, not just of green Kryptonite, but all the other kryptonites with their bizarre effects, and time travel, and space journeys. O'Neil has Superman remark that he's not used to using his brains -- but I'd argue the Silver Age/Bronze Age Superman was all about using his brain, as his adventures often involved dilemmas and puzzles rather than simply hitting a bad guy.

When Superman here is at his weakness, and must slug it out with some petty thugs, O'Neil puts it on the level that Superman achieves his greatest victory because he is now just a man. Um...yeah, if you define manhood as simply being able to beat the crap out of another man.

Towards the end, O'Neil also throws in an Asian wise man named I Ching who he had introduced into the Wonder Woman stories he was writing at the time (Wonder Woman -- who O'Neil had aready depowered even more severely -- makes appearances here, too). O'Neil may've been the first (though not the last) comics writers to have pet creations he would insert into whatever series he was writing (good thing this was before he created Lady Shiva or, no doubt, she too would've muscled in on the action!). The problem is, I Ching kind of dominates a bit toward the end -- which means a "guest star" (who hadn't been referenced earlier in the saga) kind of seems to be threatening to usurp the star at times!

The intent here was to try and make the Superman comics a little more sophisticated, even gritty (a scene where Superman changes clothes, not in a phone booth, but over a smelly sewer maybe was intended as a cheeky nod to that idea) but O'Neil touches on some interesting ideas...without fully developing them. A scene where Superman remarks that maybe he doesn't want his powers back, that he's tired of being isolated from humanity by his abilities and with being the world's saviour, would've been a neat idea -- except O'Neil tosses it in, and off, in just a few panels! One can read other comics from the time -- or earlier -- which though corny, nonetheless do explore deeper themes effectively.

Ultimately, I'm happy to have this on my shelf -- it's an enjoyable collection. Not for the "new" direction changes -- which were fleeting. The TV news job would remain for the next decade and some, but Supes' powers would be back up to god-like limitlessness (even O'Neil remarks that an issue shortly after his run...featured Superman towing a planet!), Kryptonite would soon return, and Clark would resume his navy blue wardrobe. No, it's fun simply as a Superman "epic" before there really were Superman epics. And because there aren't too many other rival collections presenting Superman stories from the Bronze Age, let alone as a consecutive run re-presenting a narrative arc.

But as an expensive hardcover (I got it slightly marked down), one can't help thinking you could probably raid the back issues bins for a handful of late '70s/early '80s Superman that would be more enjoyable, but cheaper.

In 1991, DC released a Superman Special by Walter Simonson which attempted to re-tell this story for the post-Crisis reality. And it's certainly to O'Neil's credited that his original works better than Simonson's more superficial version which crammed it into 56 pages!

Cover price: $__ CDN./$39.99 USA


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