New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic books; explaining, reviewing, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium.
We’ve seen the universe torn down in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the heroes rise anew in Legends, but now it’s time for more classic DC tales: this time the revamping of the greatest superhero of them all, Superman, the Man of Steel!
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: John Byrne
Art by: John Byrne & Dick Giordano
Collects: The Man of Steel #1-6
WHAT’S THE STORY?
After Crisis on Infinite Earths sought to tear away any confusing continuity issues from the DC universe, Superman was one of the various characters to get a major overhaul.
Pre-crisis, Superman had been operating since he was a teenager – previously going by the name ‘Superboy’ – and by the later years of his career, was no longer the only Kryptonian on Earth. Supergirl was the main example of someone with his shared heritage. Not only that, but Superman even had a super-powered dog, Krypto, and various issues throughout his history would introduce other Supergirls, Superwomen and Superboys.
Furthermore, Superman as a character was getting out of hand, doing increasingly crazy things with his growing power set. Durability turned into invulnerability. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound became the power of flight. X-Ray vision developed into supplementary heat-vision. Super-ventriloquism was a thing. And apparently so was shooting a smaller Superman out of his hands.
Things were weird, basically.
Things needed to change.
So after Crisis, DC took pitches from various writers on how to revamp Superman. The general consensus was that his Superboy years needed to be axed, and the various Kryptonians were to be booted.
The person who ended up penning the story was John Byrne. A former Marvel Comics writer famous for his work on X-Men and the Fantastic Four, Byrne’s ideas for Superman aligned with those of writer Marv Wolfman and the editors of DC.
Byrne wrote and illustrated the six-issue limited series, with inks by Dick Giordano. The result was a more modern Superman origin that set the table for stories going forward, and once again established Kal-El as the sole survivor of Krypton.
Real Name: Kal-El
Affiliation: The Justice League
First Appearance: Action Comics #1 (April 1938)
Born on the planet Krypton, ‘Clark Kent’ was sent to the planet Earth by his father, Jor-El, who feared their home planet’s destruction, but in their hubris, his peers would not listen to his warnings. Crash-landing on Earth, Clark was found by farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, who instilled in Clark strong beliefs in ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’. Under the Earth’s yellow sun, Clark developed miraculous powers of strength, speed, invulnerability, flight, enhanced senses and ‘heat-vision’ which he used to combat injustice from the likes of vile businessman Lex Luthor and other criminals around the globe. Wanting to stay close to the action, in his civilian identity, Clark took a job at the Daily Planet, where he used his knack for writing to report on his adventures as Superman, and met his wife and the mother of his child, Lois Lane.
WHAT’S THE PLOT?
As Krypton crumbles around them, Jor-El and his wife Lara send their only son, Kal, to the planet Earth. Although to them, it is a primitive planet, Jor-El realises that on Earth, Kal will develop miraculous powers.
Found and raised by the kindly farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, Kal grows up to become Clark Kent – a man of two worlds, burdened with amazing abilities. Now Clark must decide what to do with his awesome powers, as the world witnesses the arrival of the Superman.
Charting his early years, The Man of Steel follows Clark in his first encounters with Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Batman and Bizarro.
I love Man of Steel. The movie, that is. Prior to seeing it, I wasn’t a huge Superman fan. But it grabbed my attention. In the years that followed, my appreciation of Superman grew. I’m not the most knowledgable Super-fan in the world, but he is a character I like to read about.
But while I think Man of Steel is great, there are things that are clearly missing from that and Zack Snyder’s other Superman-centric film Dawn of Justice. Namely, accurately presenting Superman as a symbol of hope, an icon, and a generally nice person.
Superman isn’t someone who only concerns himself with Lois Lane and world-ending threats. He’s there just as much for the little guy as he is the general population. He’ll fight Zod or (more relevant here) Bizarro, but he’ll also swoop in to work out a hostage situation or recover someone’s stolen purse. He checks in with people to make sure they’re alright and gives friendly advice on how to be a better person.
This is the Superman that’s present in The Man of Steel, but somewhat lacking in most modern-day adaptations of the character. Sure, he can feature in dark situations, and he can face moral conundrums, but above it all, he should also be a bastion of integrity.
Furthermore, while he may be incredibly powerful, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s boring. Drama can be found even if the stakes don’t seem to present a clear danger to the protagonist – it can be found in other means; such as Superman struggling with his place in the world, having to be wary of where the bullets that bounce off him go, how much force he can apply without causing lasting damage or having difficulty gauging how to frame himself to fit in. John Byrne shows an understanding of all of this throughout this story, continuously throwing in bits of dialogue that highlight that Superman isn’t just a superhero: he’s an inspiration, not just to the characters he interacts with, but to the audience who reads his story – an inspiration to be better people.
This homely vibe that the comic often presents is helped immensely by Byrne’s own illustration. It’s got that classic style so commonly found in comics of that time, but it just works so well considering the subject matter. It’s bold. It’s colourful. And the various character designs, such as sleazy businessman Lex Luthor, as opposed to the mad scientist he once was, and dishevelled Bizarro really let you know who the characters are and what they represent just by looking at them.
There have been many retellings of the origin of Superman. This one didn’t even remain the definitive retelling all the way through this period of storytelling (Post-Crisis to Flashpoint) and was followed by Birthright (in the mid-2000s) and Secret Origin (in the late 2000s).
But this one is perfectly suitable. It may no longer be the go-to, but it has elements that still influence Superman to this day. It captures the dynamic perfectly, and all in all, it’s just a nice story about the world’s greatest superhero.
All-in-all, I give The Man of Steel…
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on The Man of Steel? Is Superman the greatest superhero of them all? Do you think the film’s got his character down? Let me know in the comments below!
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