25th Anniversary Review of John Byrne’s Man of Steel Part I
John Byrne’s historic six issue mini series, The Man of Steel, just turned 25 years old. It was released during the Summer of 1986 to “clean up” the ever increasing super powers and ever more complicated back story of DC’s flagship super hero. For years, this series was the official origin of the post-Crisis Superman. What’s “post-Crisis”? Glad you asked.
Twenty six years ago (Apr 1985), DC released their multiverse changing event Crisis on Infinite Earths. I discussed the genesis of that historical mini-series over on Strange Kid’s Club in a very special installment of Forgotten Favorites. That megaseries changed the landscape of the DC Universe. It ushered in a time of change. Heroes died. Heroes lived. But after all was said and done, everyone had to pick up the pieces and move on.
DC was using the event to update and modernize their heroes. After the event was over, George Perez would relaunch the post-Crisis Wonder Woman. Batman’s origin would be expanded and revamped in Frank Miller’s famous Batman: Year One. And it also was time for DC to give Superman a new start. In the years leading up to Crisis, Superman had become entirely too powerful. I talked about some of his more ridiculous “super powers” earlier this week. The time of Superman igniting suns with his heat vision and juggling planets had come to an end. Crisis writer Marv Wolfman pitched DC on a Superman reboot that would eliminate the super pets, the surprisingly large number of Kryptonian survivors and power down the Man of Steel to more “normal” levels. Wolfman even wanted to eliminate Superman’s adventures as Superboy. Surprisingly, Wolfman made a similar pitch to DC back in the 70s but they rejected it. Now DC was all ears.
Wolfman decided to hire popular writer/artist John Byrne (who had just left Marvel) to help him flesh out the details of the story. Wolfman and Byrne sequestered themselves away and came up with a multi-year plan for the new Man of Steel. A month or so after the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths, John Byrne would kick off Superman’s triumphant return with a 6 issue mini-series (re)introducing the new post-Crisis Superman to comic readers. At the end of that series, Byrne would take over writing and drawing Action Comics and the new Superman title and Marv Wolfman would take over writing Adventures of Superman with Jerry Ordway drawing.
Each issue of Byrne’s 6 issue series would re-introduce aspects of the Superman mythos back into the DC Universe. I’ll take a quick look at the first 3 issues today, then I’ll look at the final three issues tomorrow. I haven’t read this series since the mid ’90s, so it’ll be interesting to see if it’s still any good or if it’s totally dated.
Let’s find out.
Issue 1’s prologue begins on Krypton and we learn that this new Krypton is very similar to the Richard Donner version from the movies. It’s very scientific, the landscape is antiseptic and the people are detached from each other. However, despite being highly evolved, their planet is dying. Jor-El is making preparations to rocket his son to Earth. He explains to Lara that he chose Earth because the yellow sun would super charge his Kryptonian cells, making him a “super” man and superior to humans so he can one day rule the planet. The rocket takes off, we see the planet explode and then the prologue ends. We pick up with Clark in high school. He’s a football star. A jock. And kind of a douche. And he’s unaware that he’s an alien. Pa Kent shows him the crash site and explains how he was found in the fields after crashing to Earth. Clark must come to terms with not being human and learning to deal with his burgeoning powers. In the epilogue we see Clark, with help from Ma and Pa Kent, create his super suit and the disguise for Clark Kent. The suit is normal fabric. We learn that Clark emits a force field around his body that protects things close to him, like his clothes. Things outside the field, like his cape, can be torn up or destroyed.
In issue 2 we are re-introduced to Lois Lane and are given shadowed looks at the new Lex Luthor, but no face shots. Plus it is hinted that Lois and Lex have had a past relationship. Superman starts making his first appearances in Metropolis and Lois does her best to get the scoop on the new super hero. Lois pulls a classic “Lois” and fakes being in trouble to meet Superman and gets a very short meeting before Supes quickly flies out the window. She returns to the Daily Planet determined to get the story on Superman but finds out she’s been beaten to the punch by the new Planet reporter, Clark Kent.
Issue 3 introduces Batman to the new Superman for the first time. Byrne’s Batman is awesome. When first we see him he’s beating the crap out of some thug. Superman shows up in Gotham to act all sanctimonious and arrest Batman for taking the law into his own hands (really, Superman? REALLY?) and being too violent. Batman outwits Superman and reveals that he has an invisible force field around his body that, if broken by Superman, will set off a bomb killing one innocent person. Superman, of course, is horrified. Batman is incredulous. Anyway, they wind up begrudgingly working together on a case to stop this ridiculous villain called Magpie. Superman and Batman stop her, but the story is really about Superman and Batman working together as kind of an “odd couple” of crime fighting. It totally works, too. At the end Batman reveals a cool little twist about the “bomb killing an innocent” and Superman leaves telling Batman that he’s “keeping an eye on you”. This particular story is called out several times in the Public Enemies story arc of the 2003 Jeph Loeb series, Superman/Batman.
So far, these first three issues are a lot of fun. First of all, I love Byrne’s art. His layouts for Krypton are awesome. I also like how Byrne portrays Clark as a football star, a jock, in high school. Lois is as irritatingly single minded and stubborn as ever and I like the subtle implications of Lois and Lex having a past relationship. However the Batman issue, so far, is my favorite. Byrne draws a great Batman and I love the gritty and smart characterization of the Dark Knight. It’s interesting because Batman’s demeanor and the slight twist in the end of the issue makes Superman look like a holier than thou a-hole. Surprising for a Superman issue to make the man himself less sympathetic than the guest star. I’m really enjoying this series so far and, based on what I’ve read, I can recommend reading it.
So that’s the first three issues of the Superman reboot. Stay tuned, tomorrow I’ll finish up the final three issues.
Update! Read Part II here