Review by Win Wiacek
In 1985 DC decided to rationalise, reconstruct and reinvigorate their continuity, regenerating their key properties. Their biggest gun was Superman, and it’s hard to argue change wasn’t due. He’d weathered slumps before, though, so was a root and branch retooling anything but a marketing ploy to alienate real fans for a few Johnny-come-latelies who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced? Would this new Superman suck?
His long-running title was cancelled and replaced by this six chapter story written and drawn by John Byrne and inked by venerated veteran Dick Giordano. The bold manoeuvre was such a success that when first issued as a compilation in the 1980s it became a ‘break-out’ hit in the new graphic novel format that would eventually become the industry standard for reaching mass readerships. It was quite a turnaround from the earlier heydays of the Man of Steel when editors were frantic about never overexposing their meal-ticket.
This collection offers six self-contained stories from key points in Superman’s career, newly readjusted for contemporary consumption.
Starting with a startling new and bleakly dystopian view of Krypton, ‘From Out of the Green Dawn’ follows the child’s voyage in a self-propelled birthing matrix to a primitive world. Discovered by childless couple Jonathan and Martha Kent, the alien foundling secretly comes of age in Smallville, indistinguishable from classmates until strange abilities begin to manifest. Eighteen years later the boy leaves home to wander the world. Clark Kent eventually settles in Metropolis and it provides a rapid re-education of what is and isn’t canonical as he performs his first public super-exploit, meets with Lois Lane, joins the Daily Planet and dons an identity-obscuring costume.
Lois takes centre-stage for the second chapter, scheming and manipulating to secure the first in-depth interview with the new hero before losing out to neophyte colleague Kent whose first big scoop becomes ‘The Story of the Century!’ The third chapter recounts the Metropolis Marvel’s first meeting with Batman as ‘One Night in Gotham City’ reveals a fractious and reluctant team-up to capture murdering thief Magpie. The unsatisfactory encounter sees the heroes part warily, not knowing if they will become friends or foes.
‘Enemy Mine…’ redefines the new Lex Luthor. He’s a genius, multi-billionaire industrialist, the most powerful man in Metropolis until the Caped Crime-buster appears. When the tycoon overreaches himself he is publicly humiliated. By ‘The Mirror, Crack’d’ Luthor is Superman’s greatest foe – albeit one who scrupulously maintains a veneer of respectability and plausible deniability. Here, Luthor’s clandestine attempt to clone his own Man of Tomorrow results in a monstrous flawed duplicate and introduces Lois’ sister Lucy to play hapless victim in a moving tale of triumph and tragedy.
The reimagination concludes with ‘The Haunting’ as a troubled Clark/Superman returns to Smallville. Reuniting with childhood sweetheart Lana Lang, the strange visitor finally learns his Kryptonian origins when the birthing matrix projects a recorded message from his long-dead parents. The shock and reaction of his foster family only affirms his dedication and connection to humanity.
Until then associated with Marvel, Byrne was a controversial choice, but he magnificently recaptures the exuberant excitement and visually compelling, socially aware innovation that informed and galvanised Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster’s inspired creation. Man of Steel granted a new generation the same kind of intoxicating four-colour fantasy, and made it possible to be a fan again. Superman had always been great, but Byrne made him thrilling again.
In 2020 DC repackaged Byrne’s Superman into hardcover volumes and combined this with the original Volume Two.