Ricky Church reviews Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 2…
Out of all the reboots DC has done over the years, none may be more significant than the 1980s in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths and how it restarted the myth of Superman from the ground up in a modern era. Led by John Byrne, many of the changes to Superman’s continuity and characters have remained to this day. With DC recollecting the rebooted Superman series in new hardcover collections, the second volume of Superman: The Man of Steel sees some of comics’ best names with Byrne, Marv Wolfman, Jerry Ordway and others tell a mix of adventures featuring Superman that are both episodic and serialized. Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 2 should excite fans new and old to dive back into these classic stories that made a lasting impression on the superhero.
One of the biggest differences between this volume and the first is it features several team ups between Superman and other heroes from the DC Universe. Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the Green Lantern Corps, Mister Miracle and Big Barda and the Metal Men all make appearances as they either seek his help or help him in dire situations. There’s even an issue where The Joker appears as he tries giving Superman trouble just to change it up. The biggest team-up though is a crossover with him and the Legion of Super-Heroes from the 30th Century in a story from Byrne and Paul Levitz that re-introduces the Legion to the new DC continuity, clarifying how the Legion could have met Superboy when Clark Kent was a teenager when, in this reboot, Clark Kent never held that identity and only became a superhero as an adult. The team-ups are pretty fun and wild, offering an interesting look at how Superman was viewed by the rest of the superhero community in some of their earliest meetings.
When the book shifts back to Metropolis, it really shines as Byrne and Wolfman tell compelling tales set in Superman’s home as he fights wanna-be supervillains and against a growing gang war with Lex Luthor at the heart of many of these problems. His reimagining from a mad scientist to a corrupt businessman is one of the most significant additions Byrne brought to the mythology. This interpretation of Luthor has lasted for over 30 years, appearing in various animated series, television shows and a feature film. Both Byrne and Wolfman write a great take on Luthor, showcasing his villainy, vanity and selfishness to a great degree while also displaying how deadly intelligent he is. Continuing plot threads from the first volume, Luthor has several schemes against Superman on the go and the book bounces between them very well.
There is also a great use of Superman’s supporting cast as Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and Cat Grant get a fair amount to do. It may come as a surprise to modern readers that while Superman and Lois were friends and shared romantic tension, she and Clark were not really friends as she regarded Clark more as a work rival and a bit of a nuisance. Though Clark did have feelings for her, he’s in something of a relationship with Cat Grant and even tries helping her gain custody of her son from her rich criminal ex-husband both as Clark and Superman. The relationship drama, however, is never the focal point of a story but more of an ongoing subplot. Byrne’s Lois is fun to read as she’s so career-minded and full of integrity, always risking to discover and tell the truth even if it comes with a cost. Perry White gets an interesting story as his son Jerry joins one of Metropolis’ many street gangs, causing friction within their family as Perry, Superman and other characters try getting Jerry to come clean about Luthor’s involvement in organizing the gangs. It really opens up Superman’s world with such a heavy supporting cast.
Despite the amount of stories that last only one or two issues, providing a very episodic series of adventures, there is a lot of serialization as the stories do feed off each other and character development carries over. The fact the book places these stories in the proper reading order really helps guide the plan that was being put in place with the development of the characters. One of the biggest character arcs involves Superman as he comes to grips with his dual identities of Clark Kent and Superman, viewing Clark Kent as a distraction that lets his family and friends down with his disappearances and no shows at work and gatherings. Marv Wolfman gets to the heart of this problem extraordinarily well in a scene between Clark and his father Jonathan, reminding both Clark and the readers that Clark Kent and Superman really are the same person and Clark Kent is what humanizes Superman and gives him his morals.
These being comics from the 80s, they do feature many of the common 80s tropes you’d see like an overabundance of third-person narration, characters thinking their actions and other such tropes. It’s not bad writing as Byrne and Wolfman try to make them as compelling, quick and insightful as they can, but it does sometime bog the story down, especially when you compare it to today’s style of most comic book writing. The art, however, is pretty great throughout the book as Byrne, Jerry Ordway and Erik Larson make each and every panel as detailed as they can. From the choreography of the fights to Superman’s heroic poses or Luthor’s menacing stares and more, this is a testament to the ability of many of those classic artists and why they remain regarded as some of the industry’s most legendary.
If you’re a fan of Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 2 will definitely treat your sweet spot for DC’s biggest hero. The book is a very cool and interesting look back at such a revolutionary time for both Superman and the comics industry as his modern origin was just beginning and which elements of Byrne’s reboot have withstood the test of time. Whether you’re an old fan rediscovering these stories or a first timer, this is an essential collection both from a historical and character perspective.
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