Monday, December 26, 2016

Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years

All of the DC Comics “Celebration of 75 Years” hardcovers are beautifully designed, high quality editions. This Superman edition is what I expected. While there are no surprises here, there are some stories worth mentioning. Naturally, the collection reprints the first Superman story from Action Comics # 1. That is obviously the quintessential pulp fiction story. This is followed by the rare “How Superman Would End the War” from Look magazine in 1940. We’re treated to Superman’s origin story, and “The Mightiest Team in the World” co-starring Batman from Superman # 76 in 1952. These and other Golden Age tales are a delight, even though they’ve been reprinted many times before. The real jewel here is “Superman’s Return to Krypton” from Superman # 141 in 1960. This under-appreciated masterpiece was written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel with artwork by Wayne Boring. A three-part feature story, author Siegel takes Superman back to his birthplace in a poignant time-travel tale where he meets his parents and falls in love with the beautiful blonde, Lyla Lerrol. It’s not a dream, and Superman interacts with his family and friends without them knowing who he is. But Krypton is doomed, and at the heart of this tale is the idea that Superman is a hero who has lost everything. That key piece of characterization is often overshadowed by this idea that superman is invincible. Wayne Boring is the least appreciated Superman artist today, but “Superman’s Return to Krypton” highlights his fantastic imagination. Boring’s approach to science fiction should be the envy of today’s artists. The background buildings, flying machines, and mechanical apparatus all have that classic feel, and each panel is vivid and alive with motion. The splash page alone is awe-inspiring. The remainder of this collection is also what I expected, and long-time readers won’t be surprised by the inclusion of “Must There be a Superman?” by Elliot S. Maggin, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, and “For The Man Who Has Everything” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Other creators like Gil Kane, John Byrne, Dan Jurgens, and others are represented. Another highlight is the inclusion of both “Death of Superman” stories; the “imaginary” classic from 1961 by Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan, and the 1993 Doomsday story by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding. The concluding tales are recent vintage, and their inclusion is a study in contrasts. The color palette is darker, less optimistic, and less satisfying. Comic books are meant to be bright, and they work best when you don’t have to squint through the murkiness. I believe that trend resulted in flagging sales, and DC Comics is currently attempting to turn that around with their “Rebirth” series. Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years is highly recommended.

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