First Published: September 2008
Contents: Superman stories from Action Comics #293 (October 1962) to #309 (February 1964); and Superman #157 (November 1962) to #166 (January 1964)
Key Creator Credits: Edmond Hamilton, Al Pastino, Curt Swan, George Klein, Jerry Siegel, Leo Dorfman, and others
Key First Appearances: Nightwing, Flamebird
Story Continues from: Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3
Overview: Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman! Welcome back to the fourth Showcase Presents volume of Superman tales from Superman and Action Comics. The story formulas remain basically the same from previous volumes, but the quality of the stories continues to improve with each collection.
What stands out in this volume is the innocent story points that are introduced in these issues, but then have ripple effects over the next 50 years of Superman story-telling. For example, in Superman #158, our hero and Jimmy Olsen travel to the bottled city of Kandor. The two adopt new costumed identities inside the city, Nightwing and Flamebird. They would adopt those identities, before handing the roles off to two of Superman’s cousins in the pages of Superman Family in the 1970s. (And in the 1980s, as Dick Grayson was growing out of the Robin identity, he would adopt the new costumed identity of Nightwing as a tribute to the role that Superman had in his life growing up. Grayson would use Nightwing as his code name for nearly 30 years.) Likewise, the adventures of Superman Red and Superman Blue, from Superman #162, was revised in the 1990s by Karl Kessel and friends when Superman was split into two separate electrical beings.
Why should these stories be Showcased?: One of my biggest gripes about the Silver Age Superman stories is that there is no order or continuity to the stories. Most of these stories can be read in any order. Sure, you may have characters introduced from time to time, such as Supergirl, but it’s not a distraction if a story does not include the ENTIRE supporting cast. But we finally get a moment in this volume, Superman #161, where things change forever. We experience the death of Ma and Pa Kent, as Clark Kent is once again orphaned. (Yes, although not reprinted here, but the Kents remained quite alive and active in the pages of Superboy, which recounted his teenage adventures.) The death of his adoptive parents forced the creative teams to start changing the stories. Suddenly, Clark no longer had the excuse of going back to Smallville to see his parents. The orphan angle gets played up on two different levels. Removing these two characters (which lasted until the John Byrne reboot of the Superman franchise following Crisis on Multiple Earths) changed the dynamics for the creators, forcing them to tell NEW stories rather than just rehashing previous stories.
Footnotes: The “Monster From Krypton!” story from Action Comics #303 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2.
If you like this volume, try: Superman: Secret Identity, which has been collected in multiple formats. Written by Kurt Busiek with art by Stuart Immonen, this four-issue series follows the life of a young man from Kansas, Clark Kent, growing up in a world where the only super-heroes exist in comic books. And yes, he happens to share the name of everyone’s favorite comic book character; his parents thought it would be funny. So all of his life, Clark has to endure every Superman joke ever told. Each year on his birthday, he receives numerous gifts all emblazoned with the Superman logo. Clark just wants to lead a normal, quiet life. Until one day when Clark actually starts developing powers. He finds that he can fly and that he is now super-strong. Realizing that this may be destiny calling, Clark dons a Superman uniform and becomes the hero that everyone always expected he would be. This is hands-down one of my all-time favorite Superman stories, and it should be part of every collection. Kurt Busiek has proven multiple times that he is a master storyteller, whether it be his own characters in Astro City, or managing the corporate characters from Marvels to Avengers to Superman: Secret Identity. Please pick up this book – you’ll thank me later!
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