In 1986, DC Comics commissioned writers to create "reboot" stories for their three largest properties: Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Two of those reboots became some of the most famous comics ever written: Frank Miller's BATMAN: YEAR ONE, and John Byrne's SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL.
THE MAN OF STEEL was originally a 6-issue miniseries. Issue 1 dealt with the destruction of Krypton, Clark's discovery that he was adopted, and Clark's invention of his alter-ego, "Superman". Issue 2 involved Superman's first rescues in Metropolis, the appearance of mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, and the beginning of Lois Lane's infatuation with the Man of Steel. In Issue 3, Superman travels to Gotham City to arrest Batman, but instead comes to accept Batman's vigilante methods as the two battle the villainous Magpie. Billionaire Lex Luthor tests Superman's abilities in Issue 4, ultimately being arrested by Superman at the Metropolis mayor's command ("You can't arrest me," Luthor says. "I'm Lex Luthor!"); Luthor vows to take down Superman. In Issue 5, Luthor's attempts at cloning Superman fail as they discover that he is not a mutation, but an alien lifeform; the result is the deformed Bizarro. In the final issue, Issue 6, Superman is haunted by a hologram of his father, Jor-El; he learns his otherwordly origins while dealing with the pain he inflicted on Lana Lang by telling her his secret and then disappearing after high school.
THE MAN OF STEEL is notable for many reasons besides being the Superman reboot. For one thing, here Superman is not born on Krypton and then sent to Earth; he travels through space in a "birthing matrix", where he develops before finally being born on Earth. The most important change of Byrne's comics is that Clark Kent becomes the real person, while Superman is the alter-ego; almost always Superman is shown as being the true person with Clark Kent as the alter-ego. Using Clark Kent as Kal-El's true identity was also used on the hit TV series LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN in the 1990s. The final major change is Lex Luthor, who previously was no more than a brilliant evil scientist, but here becomes the third richest man in the world, a ruthless businessman.
John Byrne's writing is great. It moves fast, it's exciting, and it lets us feel how Superman feels. He uses each character and situation to further the story, and in the end it all works extremely well. My only complaint would be the dialogue. While Frank Miller revolutionized comic book dialogue with his realistic, straightforward, 40s noir-style dialogue, Byrne's dialogue is like that of old: hokey and unbelievable. Some of the characters are incredibly outspoken. Byrne makes Superman explain each and every move to the fullest; Batman rambles on in the campy fashion of his 60s TV series, coming across as a far nicer and more chatty character than the Batman who appeared in works like BATMAN: YEAR ONE and BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.
Byrne's artwork, inked by Dick Giordano and colored by Tom Ziuko, is excellent. Not excellent in a film-quality, panoramic sort of way, a la SIN CITY or WATCHMEN, but excellent in an above-average, classic comic sort of way. The artwork isn't extraodinarily complex, but it is colorful, vivid, and pronounced. Byrne's drawings of Superman/Clark Kent are especially wonderful.
All in all, SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL is great. The writing's great, save for the campy dialogue, but even that just seems to add to the charm of the comic. The artwork's great. It's not an incredible comic, but it's interesting, fun, and well-made, a fitting reboot for the ultimate superhero. If you're trying to decide between the 2004 reboot, SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT, and this 1986 reboot, I'd recommend the '86 reboot. A superb re-telling of the Man of Steel's origins.
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About the reviewer
Tom Benton (TomBenton)
Aspiring high school English teacher with dreams of filmmaking and a strong taste for music.
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This is the bestselling book that reestablished Superman as the world's foremost superhero! Relive the legend of Superman, from the doomed world of Krypton to his first encounters with archenemy Lex Luthor, ally Batman, and fellow reporter Lois Lane.