November 5, 2010

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Superman: The Man of Steel (mini-series)

Written by John Byrne
Illustrated by Dick Giordano
DC

They hadn't started calling them "Year One" yet, but that's what this mini-series set out to do with Superman--revamp his history, strip away some of the things that weren't needed, and move on into the late twentieth century. For this immense task, DC chose John Byrne, little knowing the monster they were about to release upon all of comicdom. For while Byrne is in pretty good form here, the killer of continuity was coming, and no matter how good this is, you can pinpoint the start of Byrne's downfall right here.

Byrne goes all the way back to Krypton, making it a cold, loveless place, then brings us to Clark's high school days. No more Superboy for him--Pa has to explain to him why he's so special. Upon learning this, he heads to Metropolis, gets spotted by future love Lois Lane, and we're rolling. One thing that's hard to tell is time--I know Byrne likes to keep time nebulous, but it seems like there's a few years that go by in this series, which I didn't think was quite what had been intended.

As Superman's fame grows, he locks horns with Batman (with Byrne trying to set up their relationship as antagonistic in a very clunky way) and then Lex Luthor. Luthor here is a balding businessman rather than scientist, with his hands all over Metropolis. It's here that Byrne's decision to make changes really shines--Luthor as a master planner ala the Kingpin works so much better than Luthor as a Doctor Octopus-style criminal. As Luthor learns that he's been replaced in the Metropolis hierarchy by the Man of Steel, he grows ever more evil, his schemes ever more dangerous. Enter Bizzaro, who Byrne takes all the fun out of but later writers thankfully returned to "normal." (Me no write sentence in normal speak, though me not tempted to not do so.)

In the end, Superman learns his true heritage, though the cost may be higher than he expected. We also get a heart to heart with Lana Lang and the Kents show just how Clark became so full of faith and love in humanity.

All in all, Byrne does a pretty good job of clearing up Superman's history. There are explanations for things that probably don't need explaining, such as his uniform and cape. The idea of Superboy was pretty dumb--if Superboy was in Smallville, wouldn't you link his move to Metropolis with Kent's?--so it's no loss, and as I said, I love the thing about Luthor. But when he tries to modernize other aspects, they fail a bit--Bizzaro wasn't very good, and the scenes with Batman are painful to read. I also didn't like the idea that, ala Invincible, Krypton would try to overwrite Clark's humanity. Lastly, Byrne falls into his "must explain everything" trap with the glasses and hair. No, it doesn't make any more sense now than it did then, John, just let it go and keep moving. Still, it's a shame Byrne didn't take his time with other revamps (SPIDER-MAN) the way he did for this.

[Edited on to original review to add: Superman seems doomed to always be rebooted. I'm not sure why, because the constant churning does nothing to help get new readers involved. Byrne's retcons here may not be perfect, but they worked well and did not need much in the way of tweaks. It's a shame DC can't just let Clark Kent move forward. If I were them, I'd leave it well enough alone and keep reprinting this trade instead. *shrug* --Rob]