SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL
Everybody with a remote interest in comics knows by now of DC’s ‘New 52’, but this article casts it’s eye back over the last time the DC universe rebooted itself in such a drastic way. At the end of the long ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ came Superman’s origins. But what exactly happened?
The Fact Behind The Fiction
· ‘Superman: The Man Of Steel’ was a six-issue mini-series both scripted and drawn by the legendary John Byrne, his first work for DC in six years. His previous work (‘The Untold Legend Of The Batman’) didn’t leave him in the best of terms with the company.
· Following ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ everything in the DCU was set to change, causing the fifty-year old Man of Steel to return to his roots. Byrne was snapped up by Marv Wolfman, spotting he’d left Marvel Comics.
· This wasn’t the first time the reboot had been on the table. Pre-Crisis (although a date can’t be found), Wolfman alongside Frank Miller and Steve Gerber wanted to start the continuity over again, plotting to scrap Supergirl (and the rest of the Super family) amongst other ideas, all of which found their way into Byrne’s finished script.
· DC’s idea for the reboot was to launch a mini-series followed by a two-month break, before returning with three ongoing titles. The first of these would adopt the ‘Superman’ ongoing numbering and be scripted by Wolfman (this became ‘The Adventures Of Superman’. Byrne was give the main title (Superman v2) whilst Frank Miller was brought onboard to start a new ongoing focusing on a ‘Brave And The Bold’ layout, using Superman instead of Batman. Miller’s workload became too much and this idea eventually became the Byrne scripted ‘Action Comics’.
· John Byrne lasted two years on the Superman reboot before leaving the title, claiming he didn’t have the support from DC he needed.
· ‘The Man Of Steel’ limited series became the official origin story from it’s release in 1986 until Waid’s short lived ‘Superman: Birthright’ in 2003, which has lasted just six years as the official origin until Geoff John’s ‘Secret Origin’ (2009).
· Due to the character having just begun his career, it would take another six years before Supes would become a member of the Justice League Of America, as soon as Dan Jurgens turned up as writer.
· The Byrne-scripted story had a huge impact on Superman in other media, in particularly the ‘Lois And Clark’ television series.
· Issue One sold a staggering 200,000 copies.
Superman: The Man Of Steel – The Story
This is normally where I’d break into a review explaining why ‘The Man Of Steel’ is either “so good” or “so bad” but I think the facts speak for themselves. It remained the official origin for DC’s biggest character (minus Batman) for over fifteen years. I think that says enough. But what’s that? You want more? OK, then.
Over the course of six issues Byrne decides to not just ‘tell the origin’ (boring, obvious facts in tow i.e. Krypton exploding), but decides to flesh it out in a new way. It’s through this we get a mammoth origin that details twenty-eight years in Clark Kent’s life as well as giving details on surrounding characters, making us know all we need to.
What surprises me about Byrne’s writing is how it doesn’t fit any stereotype. It’s an obvious bet where this story could’ve gone but the narrative develops itself so far it’s a disappointment once the final panel of issue six has been reached.
It also, rather surprisingly, jumps location on multiple occasions, giving us Krypton, Metropolis, Smallville, Gotham City, Metropolis again and finally landing in Smallville, meaning this is more a roller coaster ride for the readers than most stories that word is uselessly attached to. We also happen to meet, rather oddly for a new Superman, Batman and Bizarro, in issues three and five respectively, which just adds a mountain of depth to the story.
If you look into the story it’s clear where Byrne got his inspiration. Luthor appears very similar to the then-recent Gene Hackman portrayal from the Chris Reeves movies whilst the story itself shares a lot of similarities to the Spider-Man origin.
In fact, if you were to change the names of ‘Jonathan and Martha’ to ‘Ben and May’ whilst renaming ‘Clark’ ‘Peter’, you wouldn’t’ know the difference. And that is why this story works so well. It retells stories and plays emotions we are all familiar with and exploits them. You wanted Uncle Ben to not die in ‘Amazing Fantasy #15’? Then read this, because he survived and it’s here! It makes you wish Peter could be happier but enough about him, we’re focusing on Clark this time around.
But it’s not all fun and games, as Byrne’s clearest weakness in these issues is his occasional ‘clunky dialogue’. It works really well in the prologue, as it makes the Kryptonians feel more alien, yet the same unnecessary dialogue is kept through the issue, getting a trifle irritating at places, but it’s clear the writer is developing his style the further through the story we get and the entire piece is well rounded.
The best part about this book (despite a knockout story) is the artwork, which is glorious. I love the difference in style between Byrne’s Superman and his Clark Kent; the look became the most influential and iconic look for the Man Of Steel, arguably to this very day! There are very few comics where, twenty-five years on, still read easily as well as creating a legacy for a character that is still clearly vital (despite some ‘Secret Origin’ being an official origin!).
Sadly all is to, apparently, change again, as the DCU once again reboots itself, but who knows? Maybe the Byrne origin will come back into play, as it’s the most significant and memorable tale given to the Man of Steel!
‘The Man Of Steel #1-6’ is available in trade form as volume one of the six book ‘Superman: The Man Of Steel’ series. The following five volumes go on to reprint the beginning of the ongoing titles, including ‘Superman v2’ and ‘Action Comics’, both scripted by John Byrne.