Flashback: ‘Superman: The Man of Steel’

Decades before the New 52 and Rebirth, John Byrne was tasked with redefining the Superman mythos…

The Man of Steel 86 #1

John Byrne’s cover art for ‘The Man of Steel’ #1 (credit: DC Entertainment, used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1986

Written by:  John Byrne / pencils by:  John Byrne / inks by:  Dick Gordiano / colours by:  Tom Ziuko

What’s it about?

A young Clark Kent discovers his true heritage and decides to use his powerful abilities for the greater good to become the world’s mightiest hero, Superman…

In review

Following the multiverse shattering event, Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Comics proceeded to refresh their line and produce new, modern retellings of the origins of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman that redefined the comic book titans in the age of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.  With Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli set to explore Batman’s beginnings with the four-issue “Year One” storyline and George Perez assigned to tackle Wonder Woman, DC enlisted writer/artist John Byrne to relaunch Superman beginning with a six-issue mini-series called The Man of Steel.

Having already crafted iconic runs on Marvel’s X-Men and The Fantastic Four, Byrne was the perfect choice to bring Superman soaring back into the eighties and give the character firm creative footing heading into the 1990s.  Each issue, or ‘book’, of The Man of Steel is a self-contained story that looks at the origin of Superman and a series of ‘firsts’ during the early days of his superhero career.  Book One opens with a prologue focusing on the destruction of Krypton before providing a glimpse of Clark Kent’s early years and the space-plane rescue that leads to the birth of Superman and his first encounter with his future love – Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane.

Byrne’s reimagining of Krypton has become highly influential, seen here as a scientifically and technologically advanced society that is relatively emotionless and where offspring are grown artificially inside egg-like genesis chambers are all ideas that would later be incorporated into Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s Superman: Birthright, in big screen feature Man of Steel and more recently SyFy’s Krypton television series.

Byrne also manages to re-establish other classic elements from the Silver Age and reinterpret them in a way that is less ridiculous than in their earlier iterations, specifically an updated take on the oddball alternative Superman known as ‘Bizarro’ who appears in Book Three as an imperfect clone of the original Superman created by Lex Luthor.  Speaking of Luthor, it certainly wouldn’t be Superman without him and the titular villain makes appearances throughout the series as he draws his plans against the Man of Steel, with a slightly more sophisticated and sinister take on the character in comparison to his portrayal on the big screen (as enjoyable as Gene Hackman was in that role).

The highlight of the series though is undoubtedly Book Four, which depicts the first meeting of Superman and Batman.  Byrne perfectly nails the relationship between the two, demonstrating the differences in viewpoints and the values each attributes to their pursuit of justice.  There’s some nicely executed tension as Superman arrives in Gotham City, initially butting heads with the Dark Knight Detective but both heroes ultimately develop a comradery as they set aside their differing ideologies and work together towards a common goal in pursuit of the criminal known as ‘Magpie’.

With The Man of Steel, Byrne goes beyond the comic book action to dig into the man behind the cape.  This focus on characterisation is one of the most appealing aspects of the series as readers get a sense of who Clark Kent really is and how his upbringing by his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, together with his experiences growing up in Smallville shape the person he is to become.  It brings a human quality to Superman that adds layers to the character, making the hero more relatable and interesting.

It goes without saying that great writing in comics needs strong art to visualise it and John Byrne’s compositions are iconic.  Whilst modern art is often more flashy and energetic, Byrne’s style is classic and recognisable – his bold, assured character designs and intricate, realistic landscapes and environments give the series a pleasing look that combined with decent scripts makes The Man of Steel a defining point in the history of Superman comics.

Geek fact!

The origin of Superman would once again be revisited in 2009’s Superman: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, following another DC multiverse cataclysm in Infinite Crisis.

All six issues of The Man of Steel are collected in Superman:  The Man of Steel – Volume 1, published by DC and is currently available in digital format.

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R.I.P. Stan Lee

The Marvel Comics legend has died…

RIP Stan Lee

The incomparable legend, Stan Lee (image used for illustrative purposes only and remains the property of the copyright owner).

The Pop Culture world has been shattered by the sad news of the death of Stan “the Man” Lee at the age of 95.  The founding father of Marvel Comics, Stan worked with legendary artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck to co-create a plethora of superhero characters that continue to be loved by millions of fans all over the globe. It all began with The Fantastic Four in 1961 when a bored Stan, on the verge of quitting comics which at that time were dominated by the crime fiction and Western genres, conceived the idea of the titular superhero team when his wife Joan (who passed away last year, also at the age of 95) urged her husband to create the kind of characters and tell the types of stories that he wanted to.  The rest is of course history and a new age of comics was born when Timely Publications evolved into the mighty Marvel where Stan served as President and despite leaving the company in 1972 he continued to be credited as ‘Chairman Emeritus’.

With the genesis of Marvel many more creations followed, including (but not limited to) the X-Men, Daredevil, Thor, the Hulk, Black Panther, Iron Man and perhaps the greatest of all the Marvel heroes: Spider-Man.  Co-created with artist Steve Ditko (who also died earlier this year), Spider-Man is the finest example of what Stan Lee strove for when writing comic books and the colourful characters within their pages – finding the human in superhuman.  By infusing these characters with the same day-to-day trials and tribulations everyone faces, Stan presented stories that were relatable and more relevant to the reader whilst providing hope as the extraordinary people he wrote about surmounted their problems.

Whilst Lee and Ditko parted ways acrimoniously, with Ditko feeling Lee had downplayed his contributions in the creation of Spider-Man, Stan Lee always spoke fondly and respectfully of the artists he worked with and his love for, and work in, the comic book medium together with his boundless and passionate devotion to the fans helped shape the Pop Culture landscape as we know it today.

With Marvel superheroes being more popular than ever, in no small part thanks to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (in which Stan would regularly make cameos in the various Marvel films, his many appearances commencing with 20th Century Fox’s pre-MCU X-Men feature film in 2000), Stan Lee’s legacy will live on for decades to come and most likely, beyond.

Stan Lee died 12th November 2018 aged 95.

Comics Review: ‘Batman’ #58

The Penguin enters centre stage for the latest arc of DC’s ‘Batman’…

Spoiler-free review

Batman #58

Cover art for ‘Batman’ #58 by Mikel Janin (image credit: DC, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Tom King / art by:  Mikel Janin / colours by:  Jordie Bellaire

What’s it about?

“The Tyrant Wing” : Batman crosses paths with the Penguin as the Gotham crime boss mourns a personal loss, but are his calls for a truce with the Dark Knight genuine?

In review

One of the many great things about Tom King’s Batman run is that he is clearly telling one huge story that’s made more easily digestible by breaking it down into a series of smaller, interconnected arcs that are all pieces of a larger whole.  Batman #58 marks the beginning of the next of those mini-narratives and whilst there are call-backs to previous arcs such as “I Am Suicide” and, to a lesser extent, “The Button” this Penguin-centric tale offers enough to be judged on its own merits.

It’s indisputable that Batman has the richest and most interesting rouges gallery in all of comics (only Marvel’s Spider-Man comes anywhere close) and you can’t really beat the classics – we’ve had a pleasing dose of the Joker and the Riddler and now it’s rightfully the Penguin’s turn in the spotlight.  Oswald Cobblepot hasn’t really had significant focus since the New 52 and has been at risk of slipping into the background and “The Tyrant Wing” looks set to rectify that.  Who better to handle that task than Tom King?  With his gift for deep, effective characterisation, King brings a sympathetic quality to Cobblepot/Penguin, here suffering his own personal loss of a loved one, that hasn’t really been seen since Batman Returns.  The added dimension makes the character (and in turn, the narrative) all the more engaging.

Of course, Batman continues to endure his own emotional pain – Selina Kyle’s abandonment of Bruce Wayne at the altar remains a gaping wound that has left his soul darker than it’s ever been.  As we’ve recently seen from “Beasts of Burden” (Batman #55-57) there’s no reprieve from the Dark Knight’s intense brutality unleashed during “Cold Days” and tragedy is being piled upon tragedy with Bane, its orchestrator, lurking in the shadows.  Ther’es a foreboding sense of more to come and glancing back at King’s run thus far, it’s certainly shaping up as a sort of sequel to the epic “Knightfall” saga and that’s an enticing prospect.

Returning to art duties on Batman is Mikel Janin and it’s always welcome, his beautifully composed layouts enriched by Jordie Bellaire’s colours it’s such an eye-catching issue with visuals that are bold, exciting (the wonderfully constructed splash-page depicting the Caped Crusader’s tussle with Penguin’s goons deserves to be lingered on) and coupled with Tom King’s lyrical script, emotive.  There’s no argument that Tony S. Daniel has delivered solid work in previous issues but Janin is the perfect fit for this particular story.

The bottom line:  Another fine issue of Batman courtesy of Tom King and Mikel Janin that adds new layers to a classic villain and teases more of Bane’s unfolding plot to break the Bat.

Batman #58 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.