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Last updated: September 27, 2004
DC has also, in recent years, published smaller collections of Superman stories by the decades in which the stories first appeared. The most recent was Superman In The Fifties, published in 2002 as a companion volume to Superman In The Sixties and Superman In The Seventies (DC has also released similar collections for Batman).
This article reviews all three collections and a few other notable collections.
The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told
Many of the stories are reprinted in the more recent, smaller collections and are discussed below. These include "The Girl Of Steel", "The Super Key To Fort Superman", "The Girl From Superman's Past", and "Must There Be A Superman". Other notable stories unique to the Greatest collection include:
"Superman versus Luthor" from Superman #4 in 1940 - the first meeting between the two eternal enemies (with a red haired Luthor and a bald assistant) by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
"What If Superman Ended The War" - a two page story from Look Magazine.
"The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk" - the first appearance of the troublesome imp
"The Battle With Bizarro" - Superboy and the first appearance of Bizarro (also reprinted in the recommended collection, Tales of the Bizarro World.
"Superman's Other Life" - an imaginary tale at what might have happened if Krypton had not blown up and Kal-el had grown up on his home planet. In 3 parts!
"The Night Of March 31st" - the classic April Fool's Day story filled with fun errors for readers to find.
"The Death Of Superman" - another thrilling three part imaginary story where Luthor reforms (apparently), Superman dies and Supergirl assumes the mantle of Earth's hero.
"The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" is probably the most famous of the three part imaginary stories as Superman is divided into two beings and solves every single one of his problems.
"The Forever People" - Jack Kirby introduces Superman to the New Gods
"For The Man Who Has Everything" - Alan Moore hasn't written many Superman stories, but the ones he has done are amazing. Here, the villain Mongul has trapped Superman in a dreamworld where Krypton lives. Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman engage Mongul in a ferocious battle in the Fortress of Solitude in their attempt to free Superman from the deadly trap.
"The Secret Revealed" - John Byrne's relaunch of the Superman titles has Lex Luthor discover and arrogantly ignore the evidence that Superman is Clark Kent.
As enjoyable as these stories are, the introductions and end notes by John Byrne, Mike Gold and Robert Greenberger are just as entertaining and make for engaging reading in themselves.
The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told comes as close to living up to it's name as any collection could.
Superman In The Fifties
This 195 page trade paperback contains 17 stories divided into four categories: Classic Tales; Superman Family; Villains; and Pals. Like the earlier volumes, it also has an introduction (by Mark Waid) and some bonus "Cover Gallery" sections with accompanying notes and a biographical section on all of the artists, writers and editors involved in the original stories.
The volume is dedicated to Wayne Boring (1905-1987) and Kurt Schaffenberger (1920-2002), who were the primary artists for Superman and Lois Lane respectively, with the inscription: "Their art set the standard for Lois and Clark - comic's first couple".
The art is mostly by classic Superman artists Wayne Boring (whose pencils are inked by Stan Kaye) and Al Plastino, along with other stories illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger, Curt Swan (with one story inked by John Fischetti and another by Ray Burnley) and Ruben Moreira (with Al Plastino inking). Wayne Boring's Superman is on the cover, with an interior cover of Curt Swan's Superman.
The editor of this inventive period was Mort Weisinger. The majority of the stories are written by classic science fiction authors, Edmond Hamilton and Otto Binder (both of whom were represented by Mort Weisinger and Julie Schwartz in their pre-comics careers as SF agents). Other writers in the collection are William Woolfolk, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Coleman and two stories by Batman writer, Bill Finger.
The story dates range from 1950 to 1959 and showcase a wonderful collection of stories from that period - several of which have been reprinted (or retold by current writers), and others that have been difficult to find since their original publication. Primarily from Action Comics and Superman, there are also stories from World's Finest, Adventure Comics, Showcase, Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane and Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen. The stories are:
"Three Supermen From Krypton" - Superman's very first encounter with other natives of Krypton and the inspiration for the Superman II movie. The art is especially eyecatching with Plastino evoking Jerry Shuster and Wayne Boring but with his own clear, detailed style.
"The Menace From The Stars" - the prototype for the Red Kryptonite stories, when Superman encounters a strange variety of kryptonite on an asteroid (the kryptonite is never directly shown or referred to by colour) and develops amnesia.
"The Girl Who Didn't Believe In Superman" - a blind girl doesn't believe what she can't see.
"Superman's Last Day In Smallville" - a classic story where Superman overhears a convict bragging that something Superboy did during his last day in Smallville will reap a million dollar prize for the criminal. Superman visits his old haunts as flashbacks recall events of the day. The story is notable for the clever ending and the hidden clue earlier in the story.
"The Ugly Superman" - from Lois Lane's comic, an ugly wrestler who wears a Superman costume falls for Lois. Hijinks ensue. Typical for the period, but (as also typical for her comic) greatly enhanced by Schaffenberger's wonderful art.
"Superman's Big Brother" - one of my all time favourite stories, since reading it in a 80-page Giant many years ago. A super-powered amnesiac arrives in a rocket ship containing a chart from Jor-el "so my son can reach Earth!". Superman assumes this to be his big brother (despite the note on the chart naming the man as Halk Kar - clearly not from the house of El) and spends the issue covering for Halk Kar's obviously weaker powers, until a blast of electricity restores the lost memories. Not a great story in itself, the issue is more notable for the inspiration of the later Superboy story which introduces Mon-el in almost identical circumstances (even down to the costume - red tights with blue cape).
"The Super-Dog From Krypton" - The first story of Superboy's beloved pet. Krypto clearly got much better looking and much smarter in later years. This troublesome canine is clearly the inspiration for the current version of Superman's pet. Jor-el's handy notes, found in Krypto's rocket, explain the family connection.
"Titano, The Super-Ape" - an essential bit of Superman mythology: the chimp who loves Lois and grows to become a giant ape with kryptonite vision after being exposed to uranium/kryptonite radiation.
"The Supergirl From Krypton" - the frequently reprinted classic story introducing Superman's cousin, Kara Zor-el.
"Superman's Super-Magic Show" - an early tale with Superman facing his first gathering of villains as Mr. Mxyzptlk teams up with Lex Luthor and the Prankster. Wacky hi-jinks ensue.
"The Super-Duel In Space" - The first tale of Brainiac and the bottled city of Kandor! Comes complete with Brianiac's pet space-monkey, Koko.
A double Bizarro treat with "The Battle With Bizarro" and "The Bride Of Bizarro" - the creation of the adult Bizarro Superman, followed by the creation of Bizarro Lois Lane. Al Plastino directly references the origin of the Bizarro Superboy which inspires Lex Luthor to create another creature. The stories are original and entertaining and a great complement to the collection in the trade paperback, Tales Of The Bizarro World.
"The End Of The Planet" is the weakest story of the collection, but is included as a showcase of Clark Kent's co-workers
"Superman And Robin!" is from World's Finest Comics and has Superman filling in when Batman is sidelined with injuries.
"The Stolen Superman Signal" has Jimmy Olsen and his watch, helping Superman catch the bad guys
"The Girl In Superman's Past" introduces Superboy's grown up girl friend, Lana Lang, who competes with Lois Lane for Superman's romantic attentions.
Like the previous two collections, Superman In The Fifties is a terrific collection and well worth a spot on your shelf.
Superman In The Sixties
This trade paperback was the first of the series, released in the fall of 1999 as a companion volume to Batman In The Sixties and Batman In The Seventies. The collection doesn't pretend to collect the best stories of that decade. Instead it showcases the many writers, artists, styles and themes from that era.
Don't get me wrong -- they may not be the best stories, but they are all great, often classic, tales. The 240-page collection has 17 stories, most of which are written by Jerry Siegel, with contributions from Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton, and Leo Dorfman.
The collection identifies the various artists (pencillers and inkers) and offers a great opportunity to compare the art of such classic Superman illustrators as Al Plastino, Wayne Boring, George Papp, Jim Mooney, Kurt Schaffenberger, and Curt Swan (or even just to compare Swan's pencils with different inkers).
The title should more properly have been called Superman In The Early Sixties since, with the exception of a Neal Adams-drawn World's Finest story from 1968, all the stories were originally published between 1960 and1964.
Roughly arranged into categories such as Mythology, Cast, Classic Tales, Relevance, and Lighthearted Fun, the stories provide an excellent showcase of stories from Superman, Action Comics, Superboy, Adventure Comics, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, and Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane, as well as the World's Finest tale.
Some of the more notable tales include
"The Story Of Superman's Life" -- an origin story;
"The Last Days Of Ma And Pa Kent" -- how Superboy's parents died of a deadly fever;
"Superman's Return To Krypton" -- Superman accidentally returns to Krypton before its explosion and attends his parents wedding, befriending both of them and falling in love with the beautiful actress Lyla Lerrol;
"The Superman-Batman Revenge Squads" -- the Neal Adams-drawn World's Finest story;
"The Showdown Between Luthor And Superman" -- has the two battling on a planet which comes to worship Luthor as a hero (in a later story, the citizens rename the planet Lexor);
"The Sweetheart Superman Forgot" -- a bittersweet Red Kryptonite story that has Superman lose his powers and memory and win true love;
"Superman's Mission For President Kennedy" -- the story promoting Kennedy's fitness program that had to be delayed after the President's tragic assassination, but which was published months later in tribute to him;
"The Giant Turtle Man" -- do you really need an explanation?
"The Hallowe'en Pranks Of The Bizarro Superman" -- couldn't be the 60's without a Bizarro World story;
"The Bizarro Invasion Of Earth" -- also known as "The Great DC Contest", this story invited readers to use their detective skill to find out what made it so unusual. The answer was that the story was crafted to only use the letters D and C once each.
(SPOILERS HO! -- as far as I can tell, the letters only appear together in the opening splash panel which takes place in front of the "City Dump" sign. However, the bottom panel on page 4 has a caption referring to the "Daily Planet." I believe this was said to be an editorial mistake.)
Aside from the stories themselves, another gem is the reprint of single or double page spreads on such things as the "Map Of Krypton", "How The Super-Family Came To Earth", "The Secrets Of The Fortress Of Solitude", and several cover galleries.
Much appreciated is a two-page spread on the writers, artists, and editors with brief biographical commentary. Mark Waid also does the four-page introduction.
Superman In The Sixties should still be available at your local comic shop and it's well worth buying and enjoying!
Superman In The Seventies
The cover of this collection sports a fancy Neil Adams rendition of Superman, flexing his arms and chest, to burst chains apart, evoking the classic, "Kryptonite Nevermore" cover. The collection is dedicated to iconic Superman artist, Curt Swan (1920-1996) with the inscription, "Under his hand, a legend soared to unprecedented heights". The introduction is by another inspiration, Christopher Reeve.
As with the other collections, there are great stories from various comics, cover galleries and interesting text pieces. The primary Superman writers for that era, Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin, are well represented with several stories. Other writers are Paul Levitz, Len Wein, Robert Kanigher, Denny O'Neil and Jack Kirby.
The majority of the pencils are by Curt Swan with inks by Bob Oksner, Murphy Anderson and Joe Giella, but other artists include Dick Dillin & Dick Giordano, Jack Kirby & Vince Colletta and Werner Roth & Vince Colletta.
At 225 pages, there are only 13 stories, but they're good ones:
"Make Way For Captain Thunder" For a time, Superman's greatest rival in the publishing world was Captain Marvel. While DC eventually acquired the rights to the hero (if not the name), they first introduced a wannabe Captain Marvel to the DC Universe, in the form of young Willie Fawcett who becomes a familiar looking hero when he rubs his magic belt and says his magic word, "THUNDER!". It's a great romp and foretaste of the eventual team-ups and fights between the Man of Steel and the World's Mightiest Mortal.
"Superman vs Superboy" is an odd choice for the collection since it is the middle of a series of stories from DC Comics Presents. In this tale, an adult Pete Ross uses a time machine and mind transfer ray to become Superboy and then to attack Superman. However, the story really begins in the previous issue, DCCP #13, with Pete revealing to Clark that he knows his secret identity and demanding that Superman rescue Pete's son, Jon Ross. The Legion of Super Heroes prevents the rescue, claiming the kidnapping is essential to their history and that Jon will become the saviour of the alien planet. This leads to the reprinted story, which leaves matters unresolved and with Pete as a madman. The resolution doesn't come until DCCP #25 when Superman's conscience drives him to return Jon regardless of the consequences to the future timeline. It's a weak ending to a strange storyline, making the choice to insert this story even odder.
"The Man Who Murdered Earth" has mad scientist Lex Luthor creating a Golem to attack Superman, resulting in the apparent destruction of everything on Earth. A fun story and an interesting villain.
"The Man Who Murdered Metropolis" is set in the era of the television reporter Clark Kent and has Superman confronting Brainiac in yet another attempt at destruction.
"The Challenge of Terra-Man" features the first appearance of the magically powered cowboy.
"The Parasite's Power Play!" has Lex Luthor and Superman teaming up against the Parasite who has stolen knowledge and power from both men.
"The Newsboy Legion" is classic DC Jack Kirby. The story is dynamic and enjoyable, even if it is only an episode in the King's creative explosion. I expect someday, DC will collect the King's tales from Jimmy Olsen and hopefully soon.
"I Am Curious (Black)" is a controversial story (or at least it was at the time it was first printed) which has Lois Lane undergo a transformation to a skin of another colour through the use of Kryptonian technology, so that she can experience life as a Black woman.
"Who Was That Dog I Saw You With Last Night" has the canine of steel drop in for a visit and experience puppy love.
"Superman Breaks Loose" (or "Kryptonite Nevermore!" as the famous cover proclaimed) marked Denny O'Neil's attempt to revamp Superman by having an explosion that converted kryptonite to lead, but weakened Superman's powers considerably and created a Sandman Superman who would return to plague him in future issues. O'Neil's revamp was shortlived and Superman soon returned to his former status.
"Must There Be A Superman" is Elliot Maggin's classic story which has the Guardians of the Universe (from Green Lantern's comic) implant a suggestion to Superman that his influence is interfering with human progress - making people reliant on him instead of self-reliant. An encounter with oppressed farm workers provides the setting to test the boundary Superman must consider.
"I Can't Go Home Again" is from a series of backup stories called "The Private Life Of Clark Kent". This sentimental tale has Clark returning to Smallville and reminiscing over his family home with his old friend, Pete Ross (this takes place before the DCCP stories).
"Superman Takes A Wife" tells the story of the first marriage of Clark Kent and Lois Lane - not an imaginary story since it takes place on Earth-2. A thoroughly delightful and enjoyable story which provides the perfect closure to the issue.
Giant Superman Annual #1
An 80 page collection, this 1998 replica edition of 1960's Giant Superman Annual #1 doesn't have the quality of the other collections, but is a great sampler of Superman stories. There is a nice variety of early, Wayne Boring drawn Superman, as well as typically bizarre stories from Jimmy Olsen ("super-brain egghead") and Lois Lane ("super-fat")
Notable stories include Supergirl's introduction (also included in Superman In The Sixties collection) and the classic tales, "The Girl From Superman's Past" where college student Clark Kent meets mermaid, Lori Lemaris, and "The Super-Key To Fort Superman" which has Superman puzzled by a mysterious intruder to the Fortress of Steel and featuring a nostalgic and happy ending with a couple of old pals. Another enjoyable tale has Jimmy Olsen travel to the past to meet Superboy.
The collection includes a spectacular two page spread of the Map of Krypton, showcasing all the wonderous sites of the Silver Age Krypton (also found in Superman In The Sixties).
Other Notable Collections
The hardcover, Superman: From The 30's To The 70's stuffs a great number of stories in it's 386 pages and includes an introduction by E. Nelson Bridwell containing interesting insights into the development of the Superman saga. The stories are almost all in black and white, with only two small colour sections. Containing many of the classic stories referred to earlier, it also has a great selection of early stories and several cover galleries. The collection was published in 1971.
More recently, in 1998, DC published Superman: The Complete History by noted comic historian Les Daniels. This hardcover contains few complete stories. Instead Daniels entertains with articles on all things Superman - from his creation, to his development in comics, radio, television, movies and the marketing of Superman products. Daniels has written similar books on Batman and Wonder Woman.
The pages are filled with illustrations - both art and pictures. The dust jacket has a closeup of a Joe Shuster drawn Superman and the hardcover itself has an interpretation of the same image by Alex Ross.
Daniel's book is a wonderful and vital addition to the collection of every Superman fan.
...so until DC publishes a Superman In The Forties...