Review – “Superman: The Man of Steel” Hardcover Collections

By Craig Boehmer

Superman: The Man of Steel – Volume 1 Hardcover
480 pages
Reprints: Man of Steel #1-6, Superman #1-4, Action Comics #585-587, Adventures of Superman #424-428

Superman: The Man of Steel – Volume 2 Hardcover
544 pages
Superman #5-11, Action Comics #588-593, Adventures of Superman #429-435, Legion of Superheroes #37-38

The selection of Modern Age Superman Omnibuses is significantly lacking when compared to other DC superheroes like Batman and his family, or even Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. And it is disgustingly light when you compare it to Marvel Comics. Currently Superman has seven Golden Age Omnibuses, and four modern ones. Those modern Omnibuses include, Superman Exile, Death and Return of Superman, Grant Morrison Superman, and Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason Superman. Seven Golden Age, two Supergirl Golden Age, and only four Post-Crisis is a shameful way to treat the first superhero. For reference Captain America has sixteen Omnibuses, Conan the Barbarian has twenty, Daredevil has thirteen, the Fantastic Four has eleven, and the X-men family has over fifty… Maybe comparing Marvel Omnibus output to DC Omnibus output is like comparing apples to oranges. But comparing the numbers of Superman Omnibuses to those of other DC characters tells a similar story. For this I will look exclusively at the Omnibuses where Superman, or a member of the Superman family is the main character, not a team book like Justice League, or a team up book like “Superman/Batman” or “World’s Finest”. Currently the Batman Family has fifty Omnibuses released (thirty of those are modern), Wonder Woman has eight modern Omnibuses and a total of fourteen (with one being released this year), and the Flash has five modern and eight total. So, the superhero who started it all, whose popularity has admittedly waxed and waned, has less Omnibuses than Wonder Woman… When have Wonder Woman comics ever outsold Superman comics? It has less than solo Captain America…

While it may feel good to vent these things to you, oh faithful readers, it does no good for my mental health. I would prefer to celebrate the incredible collections and stories we have received featuring our beloved Man of Steel. Maybe by celebrating what we have received, and shining a light on it, the powers that be will be more inclined to give us more. The first collection I will be looking at isn’t actually an Omnibus, but once upon a time is was solicited as one. John Byrne’s Post Crisis reboot of Superman was originally slated to be collected as an Omnibus, but was resolicited as four hardcover collections. Each collection is roughly 450-500 pages and collects from the renumbered Superman series, Action Comics, and the Adventures of Superman. Adventures of Superman was the original Superman series retitled, and so it kept the numbering of the original Superman book.

This review will be looking at the first two hardcover collections of John Byrne’s run. I will then review the third and fourth books, followed by the Superman Exile Omnibus, and finishing with the Death and Return of Superman Omnibus. I would love to have two Omnibus volumes to close the gap between Exile and the Death and Return of Superman. If we receive those, then I will add reviews of them to this series.

These collections have some incredible stories, both well-known ones, and underrated gems. The Man of Steel mini-series ranks as one of the best Superman stories ever. It sets the new status quo for Superman and his supporting cast. It showcases Jor-El sending Kal to earth, and Clark’s discovery of his powers and alien heritage, his first meetings with Lois, Lex, Batman, and Jor-El’s AI. Right off the bat some of the major changes are Superman and Batman’s relationship, which is much more antagonistic. Lex is no longer an evil scientist, but rather a schlubby evil businessman, and Clark was a star football player, developing his powers gradually through adolescence. Byrne writes Clark Kent as the person not the persona, this contrasts with other popular Superman works like “Superman: The Movie” and “All-Star Superman.” I prefer Clark Kent being the primary identity, and not a bumbling mask. On a side note, I am currently reading the “Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Volume 1;” you can really see how the Spider-man/Peter Parker persona and the soap opera melodrama with his supporting cast heavily influenced Byrne’s reinvention of the Superman mythos. I found this interesting because while reading these early Spider-man comics it was concurrently evident that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were heavily influenced by Golden Age Superman in their creation of Spider-Man. Maybe that can be a focus for another day.

Other stand out stories in these collections include “Superman #1”. Metallo arrives to kill Superman, Clark and Lois discover him holding up a jewelry store. He quickly “disposes” of Clark, and is about to off Lois, when Superman arrives. The fight becomes very one-sided though as he reveals his Kryptonite heart. He is about to kill Clark when someone seizes him. It’s a good story, that holds up really well. The next Superman issue, #2, may be one of my favorites in this collection. Lex’s people discover that Lana Lang is in all the available footage of Superman’s appearances. This leads them to believe that she is connected to him, so they track her down to Smallville. They seize her and knock out the Kents to also search their house. Lana is let go and makes her way to Clark’s apartment building. Clark follows her bloody footprints to a hall closet, she reveals that she was tortured for days, and her face is severely disfigured. Enraged, Superman confronts Lex, but is unable to touch him because of the kryptonite ring that Lex recently acquired. This issue really showed that Lex was a formidable foe for Superman, it also showed how selfish and depraved he is. The first volume also has the Legends Crossover issues #17, #18, and #19. This story sees Clark being captured by Darkseid, who is seeking Superman. Clark is cast out of Darkseid’s presence and after a fight, plunges into the Fire-Pits. This story is incredible, it has fantastic twists and turns, and a titanic battle between Superman and Darkseid. In the second volume we get the meeting between Superman and the pocket universe Superboy. The duo joins up with the Legion of Superheroes to defeat the Time Trapper.

Volume two starts off with Clark having a fantasy about Wonder Woman, this is an important dangling plot point that will follow through in Byrne’s Superman for a year or so. This fantasy leads into a globetrotting adventure in South America where Lois is investigating a story. The investigation leads to the discovery of an ancient species of inhabitants that used to live on the earth until they were forced to flee to space. Five hundred of these citizens stayed behind on earth and combined their powers to create a force to sustain them from danger. They awaken in South America and decide to use their powers to enslave Earth and rule it once again.

Wolfman’s incredible “Gang War” story is also in this volume. It is incredible and showcases how to properly use Superman in more grounded conflicts. Gang violence is spreading across Metropolis, and has embroiled Perry’s son, Jerry. It also introduces Jose Delgado, Jerry’s High School student counsellor. He is portrayed as just a good guy trying to help the teenagers in his neighborhood. Jose later adopts the persona of Gangbuster, a vigilante targeting gang leaders to end the violence. Jose is a great character added to Superman’s world and highlights the need for Superman to have a thriving and expanding core of side characters.

The final major storyline in volume two features the Circle. Superman had been confronted by members of the Circle on his first visit to the terrorist state Qurac. The Circle is a group of metahumans who have survived on Earth for thousands of years. In their first introduction Superman unknowingly killed one of their members. The Circle believes Superman is their lost member, who will take them to safety and peace. Their individual characters aren’t fleshed out a great deal, but the ones we do get to know reveal the potential for many intriguing stories, and another secret history of Earth. I was surprised at how often these stories with original monsters thoroughly entertained me. The 500, and the Circle are just two examples of the incredible world building that occurs in these two volumes.

While this is ostensibly John Byrne’s run, he is actually joined by Marv Wolfman, Jerry Ordway, and Paul Levitz. The group admirably ushers Superman’s world into the wider Post-Crisis universe. Each book receives its own flavor, that can mostly be read alone, but works better when read in succession with each other. Action Comics acts as a fun team up book, allowing Superman to travel across the DC universe. It reads a lot like “Superman: The Animated Series,” introducing us to the deeper DC character library. Included are interactions with the Phantom Stranger, the demon Etrigan, the Green Lantern Corps, Hawkman/Hawkwoman, and many more. They were usually the least connected to the other two Superman books, but they are fun diversions.

The art is incredible! Seeing John Byrne and Terry Austin illustrate Superman and his world illicits feelings of sheer joy. Each panel is gorgeous to look at, even just him flying through the city is dynamic and fun. It really has the energy of Byrne’s Marvel work. Byrne’s depiction makes Clark a handsome, confident man. His Lois is beautiful, and obviously a woman who keeps tabs on the latest fashions and trends. The villains, both old and new, also look great. Especially Darkseid and the New Gods. Darkseid is menacingly evil and powerful. The pages in this collection are newsprint, which somewhat hinders the art’s presentation, however it is cool to see it as close to how it was originally printed as possible. The designs for new villains like the 500 and the members of the Circle are very cool to look at and make up a major part of the appeal of these two books.

These two volumes contain consistently entertaining stories. They put us in a world where Clark is the main character, and his supporting cast are just as integral to his world as are his adventures as Superman. The villains challenge Superman and push him to his limits and his love life is constantly in turmoil, yet he never loses his hopefulness or optimism. As a modern fan, these books represent an idealized version of Superman storytelling that I had always wished for, but never knew existed. If they released these in Omnibus format, I would buy them again.