Review: "Superman: Man of Tomorrow Archives Vol. 1"
The Fortress of Solitude! The Bottle City of Kandor! Super scavenger hunts and weird transformations! New super powers in every panel! Kryptonite of every hue everywhere!
All stuff you don't see in Superman comics anymore, but which you saw all the time back in the late 1950s when the tales in "Superman: Man of Tomorrow Archives Vol. 1" first appeared.
Barrel-chested, spit-curled and flying through the eternally pale blue skies of Metropolis, this is Superman at his most iconic--the incarnation many of us grew up with.
The character had been around 20 years already, but in many ways the legend begins here.
Starting with Action Comics 241, June 1958, Superman takes leave of any reality we might recognize and becomes enveloped in one that's uniquely his own--a Superverse.
This Superman rarely flies around catching bankrobbers and rescuing people from floods and earthquakes as he did back in the more "realistic" 40s. He deals with situations that could arise only in his own fictional world. The tales all hinge on aspects of this new reality--the antics of members of his supporting cast, including Lois Lane, Jimmie Olsen and Perry White; the wild surroundings of his arctic refuge, the Fortress of Solitude; adventures in Kandor, the shrunken city from native planet, kept in a bottle on his trophy shelf.
The first story reprinted here features Batman, who as a birthday present to Superman acts as an anonymous enemy, leaving messages in the Fortress of Solitude that threaten to expose Superman as Clark Kent. The idea is Superman will take pleasure in detecting who is to blame. An odd choice of gift!
In other stories, Jimmie Olsen dreams what might happen if Superman were president; the Man of Steel is transformed into a lion; aliens force him to live underwater; a criminal creates a city modeled after one on Krypton. And it gets weirder and weirder from there until all the causes and effects of this universe become completely self referential.
The Superverse has its own logic, which has nothing to do with the reality we inhabit. But once you get familiar with this weird world's dynamics it's fun to see and guess how the stories will play out. No doubt this is what made them such fun for children back in the 50s. Knowing the ins and outs of how things worked in Superman's world likely gave kids a feeling of mastery and power they couldn't experience in real life. They became young scholars of a new, emerging folklore.
It's said Mort Weisinger, editor of DC Comics' Superman titles, brainstormed all this stuff--the Fortress, Kandor, Superman robots, Brainiac, etc.--to tweak comic book sales following the end of the George Reeves' "Adventures of Superman" TV series. In the absence of regular promotion on television, the comics needed something "more" to give them a boost. Hence gimmick after gimmick. Not that it wasn't all a lot of fun.
But to give Weisinger sole credit--or even the majority of it--is unfair. Any number of books and articles on comic book history portray the editor as an ogre--a miserable guy to work for who consistently claimed credit for other people's ideas. Real credit should go to the writers of these tales, especially Otto Binder, who wrote most of the scripts in this Archive.
Before coming to DC, Binder was the most prolific of Fawcett's "Captain Marvel" writers. And the Superman stories reprinted here share much of the same whimsy and imagination displayed in Binder's "Marvel" tales. Without his contribution, the Silver Age Superman would have been considerably different.
Other creators featured on these Archive stories include scripter Jerry Coleman and a quartet of classic Superman artists: Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Kurt Schaffenberger and (mainly on covers at this point in his career) Curt Swan. And while the book's index miscredits the story to Wayne Boring, "The Girl of Steel," from Superman #123, was drawn by Dick Sprang.
It all adds up to a lot of strange, strange fun and a reminder of the wild, imaginative potential of comics. For newcomers, nostalgic oldtimers or young readers, a trip to the Superverse is a uniquely entertaining experience.
A consumer note: The stories in this Archive (from Action Comics #241-247 and Superman #122-126) will all be included in the black-and-white collection "DC Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 1" out next week, which also includes Action #248-257 and Superman #127-133). While that collection lacks color, it'll be considerably cheaper and thicker.