Ricky Church reviews Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 3…
DC’s collection of John Byrne’s seminal run on the Superman titles continues with Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 3 and much like the previous two volumes it features a mix of episodic adventures with a larger overarching story and several team-ups between Superman and DC heroes. The third volume is pretty entertaining and has significant moments such as the introductions of Toyman and Brainiac into the new Superman lore as well as wild developments for those unfamiliar with 80s Superman, like Clark Kent falling in love with a mermaid or the Kents’ sudden explanation for the connection between Clark and Superman. It makes for a pretty interesting turn back of the clock on one of the most significant runs on the Superman franchise and how Byrne and his fellow writers and artists Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, Ron Frenz and Jim Starlin dealt with his changes to the canon.
Byrne’s writing of Superman continues to nail many of the hero’s characteristics, updating him to fit the modern era and distinguishes between Superman and Clark Kent pretty well. It’s easy to see why so many fans consider Byrne’s take to be a definitive one as well as why this interpretation was the norm for so long. Superman is written consistently throughout the stories as he adapts to new enemies and problems in his life both as a superhero and as Clark Kent. There are a couple odd choices Byrne makes along the way with how Superman deals with some personal situations, but overall Superman’s character development is good.
As for the supporting characters, Byrne utilizes a wide array of Superman and other DC characters. Lois Lane is also written consistently across the stories as she works to uncover the truth of various villains and other strange occurrences and when she discovers the seeming truth behind Superman and Clark Kent’s connection, she is understandably furious. It is surprisingly refreshing as most stories and writers have usually hand-waved away the amount of years Superman/Clark spent lying to Lois, but Byrne actually tackles that head on as Lois is infuriated at the lie that the two are ‘step brothers’, believing they’ve been using their familial connection to get Clark ahead at the Daily Planet by beating Lois to stories. It does, however, mark one of Byrne’s odd choices as it’s rather unlike Martha and Jonathan Kent to concoct this story that Superman and Clark are step brothers after they found baby Superman in the field and he got attached to a young Clark very quickly without even consulting Superman first only to be surprised by Lois’ reaction.
Lex Luthor doesn’t play as big of a role in this collection as the previous two, but when she shows up he is still working behind the scenes against Superman, planning various schemes to damage his public image and turn others against him. One plot slightly differs as he even extends his plots to Booster Gold, the narcissistic and glory-hounding ‘hero’ who is critical of Superman and tries moving on his turf in Metropolis. Other villains to make their introductions are Silver Banshee, Toyman and Brainiac. Even the Manhunters of Green Lantern appear in the lengthy crossover Millennium, revealed to have taken over several of Smallville’s residents for years. These villains greatly expand Superman’s world and are well written. In Brainiac’s case it’s an interesting look at his modern interpretation evolved as there are still elements of the Silver Age incarnation as Brainiac’s mind has taken over the body of circus psychic Milton Fine. Toyman’s entry is entertaining and he displays how he can pose a threat to Superman using his technological genius and love of toys.
Several heroes from across the DC universe appear in team-ups with the Man of Steel. The book opens with Batman and Superman investigating a town with a vampire problem before the battle/team-up with Booster Gold and Martian Manhunter helps Superman with a unique solution to Silver Banshee’s rampage. The Millenium crossover, which is quite lengthy even when it collects the Superman centric chapters, features the likes of Green Lantern and The Spectre alongside Superman as they try stopping the Manhunters’ galactic conquest and save Smallville’s residents. In one story Byrne harkens back to a Silver Age tale of Superman and the mermaid Lori Lemaris, updating it for the modern setting as he details their past relationship and young love.
The art throughout the book is great with artists like Byrne, Ordway, Jurgens, Frenz, Arthur Adams, Karl Kesel, John Beaty and more contributing to the various series. The book even collects The Earth Stealers special written by John and illustrated by the legendary Curt Swan in a wild and trippy story with a great amount of detail in Swan’s images. The artwork is very much of its time with a stark difference to how comics today look, but is still well illustrated, mapped out and coloured from these names who elevated the artistry in the comic industry.
Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 3 is a nice collection of Superman’s modern reboot that show which elements and characterizations stuck around in the canon. The writing and artwork from Byrne, Ordway, Jurgens and the team is ahead of its time in some ways and the interconnectivity of the many Superman titles is well plotted and organized. For fans interested in looking at earlier Superman stories and how his past and informed the present, the third volume of The Man of Steel series is definitely worth picking up.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.