Superman: The Man of Steel Volume 2 (2021)
Reprints Superman v2 #5-11, Action Comics #588-593, Adventures of Superman #429-435, and Legion of Super-Heroes v2 #37-38
Written by John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, & Paul Levitz
Art by John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Erik Larsen, and Terry Austin
One of the things that were always a bit confusing during this era of Superman was how much the character remembered the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Crisis had been DC’s way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the company and was used to condense the elements of the Multiverse into one cohesive reality. Part of that was John Byrne’s reboot of Superman, erasing certain sillier Silver Age elements from the characters and reducing his powers. A significant piece of Superman’s backstory that was axed was his early days in Smallville as Superboy. Under Byrne’s version, Clark Kent’s powers developed slowly, and only when he was an adult did he have them all. His costume wasn’t made until then, so Superboy never existed.
This created a problem, though. If Superboy didn’t exist, then how do you explain the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legion is a team of teenaged superheroes that live a thousand years in the future. They first appeared in a Superboy story published in Adventure Comics, where he is inducted into their ranks. From there, they became a recurring part of Superboy’s life until they took over the Adventure Comics title. Up until 1985, Superboy was a regular member of the Legion, albeit significantly reduced in those last few years. They still remembered Superboy and Brainiac 5 had a romantic relationship with Supergirl, who had also been erased from continuity. At some point, these inconsistencies would have to be addressed.
This volume contains the four-part storyline, which brings a handful of Legionnaires back in time to be reunited with Superboy. He’s definitely there right along with Smallville, Pete Ross, and everything else from the pre-Crisis days. However, Byrne and Paul Levitz concoct a somewhat convoluted workaround so that the Legion doesn’t need to undergo a drastic reboot, but the new status quo for Superman remains intact. I’ve always felt this explanation just made things more confusing, and its lack of coherence led to a full-blown reboot of the Legion in the mid-1990s. When we reach the Supergirl Saga, things get even more confusing and fiddly.
The rest of the collection has the expected team-ups in the pages of Action Comics. Superman works alongside Hawkman & Hawkwoman, The Green Lantern Corps, The Metal Men, and Mister Miracle & Big Barda. Byrne does a decent job of highlighting characters in the DC Universe and how they have changed post-Crisis. The Hawkman issue stands out because of how screwed up that character’s continuity would become due to a lack of oversight when the company rebooted its universe. From what I gather, this is retroactively not the real Hawkman & Hawkwoman but Thanagarian secret agents, but when the issue was written, they were the classic characters. Check out my spotlight on Hawkman for a somewhat more straightforward explanation.
The odd element throughout this whole series has been Marv Wolfman & Jerry Ordway’s Adventures of Superman. Other than a few mentions of story elements from the other books, it seemed to operate in total isolation. The schemes of Luthor in the Byrne books aren’t mentioned during his appearances in Adventures. Instead, Wolfman seemed to be doubling down on his concept of The Circle. Superman first encounters them when he rather surprisingly decides to pre-emptively attack the Middle Eastern nation of Qurac. The Circle are for an intents & purposes mutants who believe Superman might be one of them? I dunno. We get this at the same time Wolfman’s work on Teen Titans had become dull and repetitive. I admire him for introducing new villains in the DCU, but they are just complete duds that don’t have anything that hooks me right away.
It’s only near the end of Wolfman’s time on the book that it started to get interested. Instead of the villain of the month or the bizarre Circle storyline, Superman is pitted against organized crime in Metropolis. His relationship with Daily Planet reporter Cat Grant becomes more serious. He helps her get custody of her son, Adam, back from her abusive ex-husband. We also get introduced to Jose Delgado, a Metropolis high school teacher who takes on the vigilante persona of Gangbuster. Luthor becomes integral in the gang story, and it develops his past history with Perry White. We meet Jerry White, Perry’s troubled teenage son who gets caught up in Luthor’s deadly scheme. It would actually be this element of Wolfman’s work that would set a standard in the post-Crisis Superman books to come. Years later, as Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Karl Kesel, and Roger Stern were helming the books, they would create more cohesion between their title and deliver a robust supporting cast that populated Metropolis. As for the Circle, to my knowledge, no one ever had an interest in picking that up and running with it again.