The unscrupulous side of Metropolis is explored as Superman
and the staff of the Daily Planet uncover a gang war
raging in the city's notorious "Suicide Slum". Journalistic
integrity is tested when it is revealed that editor Perry
White's son is involved. And what is the identity of the new
protector of the streets, who emerges amid the havoc? Meanwhile,
love is in the air as Clark finds himself romantically involved
with the astonishing Amazon from the planet Apokolips, Big
Barda, and the daring diva of co-worker Cat Grant, much to
the disappointment of Lois Lane. In addition to his ever-present
nemesis Lex Luthor, the Man of Steel also faces, for the first
time, the twisted villainy of the Joker and Mr Mxyzptlk...
collection contains stories from Superman
issues 9-11, Action Comics issues 592-593 and The
Adventures of Superman issues 432-435, continuing DC Comics'
late-1980s "reinvention" of the Man of Steel.
Thanks to John Byrne's reboot of the series' continuity, Superman
here meets the Joker and Mr Mxyzptlk "for the first time",
despite having encountered them many times before in previous
versions of the then 49-year-old mythology. Characteristically,
Byrne provides an explanation for Mxyzptlk's bizarre name,
by having the Fifth-Dimensional imp type the letters at random
on a keyboard, because his true name won't translate into
any human tongue. Batman is name-checked several times, in
the Joker story and elsewhere, as Superman compares and contrasts
his own methods with those of the Caped Crusader.
Whereas Byrne's stories from the pages of Superman
are one-shot battles with villains of the month, Marv Wolfman
and Jerry Ordway's work from The Adventures of Superman
tends to go deeper, both in terms of duration (the gang warfare
storyline lasts for three issues) and down-to-earth subject
matter (poverty, street crime and vigilantism). It used to
be that I didn't much care for Wolfman's more earnest, wordy
style, but now it's beginning to grow on me, and Ordway's
finely detailed artwork is also catching on. There are a few
plot holes, though, such as why doesn't Jimmy Olsen use his
signal watch on page 111 and how come Lexcorp's computer banks
are hacked into so easily?
Byrne's work for Action Comics seems to combine the
approaches of the comic's two sister titles. Here, in a two-part
story, we meet outlandish crossover characters such as Big
Barda, Mr Miracle, Sleez and Darkseid, but in the gritty context
of Suicide Slum - specifically a back-street studio producing
porn movies. This rather Sleezy - er, I mean sleazy - tale
surprisingly raises the issue of Superman having sexual relations
with an ordinary human being. I couldn't help being reminded
of some classic dialogue from the Kevin Smith movie Mallrats:
impossible. Lois could never have Superman's baby. Do you
think her fallopian tubes could handle the sperm? I guarantee
you, he blows a load like a shotgun right through her back.
What about her womb? Do you think it's strong enough to carry
her child? He's an alien, for Christ's sake. His Kryptonian
biological makeup is enhanced by Earth's yellow sun. If Lois
gets a tan, the kid could kick right through her stomach.
Only someone like Wonder Woman has a strong enough uterus
to carry his kid. The only way he could bang regular chicks
is with a kryptonite condom, but that would kill him."
This is an issue that I don't believe has ever been resolved
in the comics, despite Clark's eventual marriage to Lois.
The seedy subject matter also draws attention to that fact
that Mr Miracle's costume resembles a multicoloured gimp suit!
Overall, though, this is a great collection. Some of the repro
is a little out of register, but I assume this is inherited
from the original comics. Reprinting nine classic issues for
just £11.99 (or less, depending on where you shop)... man,
this is a steal.