What I’m Reading: Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Volume 2

I picked this up at a sale at a local comic store last Free Comic Book Day (i.e., Nerd Christmas, the first Saturday every April), but didn’t get around to reading it until now. (For a review of other books I picked up at the sale, go here.) I’m normally much more of a Marvel guy than a DC guy, and from DC, Batman and Swamp Thing are the only ones who I’m particularly interested in, but the price was hard to beat on this one. Plus, it’s Superman’s Greatest Stories (volume 2), so these should be really good, right?

Well, it was a mixed bag. A couple Mr. Mxyztplk stories, including his first appearance in 1944. If you don’t know, Mr. Mxyztplk is an imp from another dimension who likes to come to Earth to cause mischief, but if you can trick him into saying his name backwards he has to return to his own dimension for a period of time. For Star Trek fans, he’s the DC equivalent of Q. (Oh God, this is my nerdiest post ever, and there’s a lot of competition.) I don’t care for the character, and so the stories were kind of wasted on me.

But, there were three really excellent stories, out of ten, which isn’t bad. And those three were really good. I mean, these were among the best comic stories I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot. The first, Superman’s Return to Krypton, from 1960, shows what happens when Superman gets sucked into the past (don’t ask), and ends up on Krypton about 20 years before it explodes, or about 19 years and 11 months before he’s born. He finds a job working as a lab assistant for his father, Jor-El, even witnessing his parents’ marriage, and falls in love with a Kryptonian movie star, Lyla Lerrol. But of course, at the end, Krypton is doomed to destruction, and though he’s willing to die with the planet to stay with his true love, Lyla, circumstances lead to him being the only one to survive Krypton’s destruction, again. Of course it’s rather silly, but it’s done effectively, and the ending is quite moving.

The second excellent story is from 1986, the second issue of the re-booted Superman series from that year, written and drawn by one of my favorite comic artists, John Byrne. In the story, Superman has only recently started appearing around Metropolis, and Lex Luthor, head of a major corporation, does not like this new superhero. He has figured out already Superman is an alien, vulnerable to green kryptonite, and has some sort of relationship to Clark Kent. Since he’s never quite able to capture Clark Kent, he decides instead to kidnap Clark’s high school sweetheart, Lana Lang, and torture her. Of course, Superman realizes what’s happening and comes to rescue her, and take Luthor in to the authorities. Only, Luthor is wearing a Kryptonite ring, and Superman falls ill while Luthor makes his escape. Another very effective story.

The final excellent story is Narrative Interruptus Tertiarius, from 2005. By this time, Lois and Clark are married, and Lois has decided she wants to have a baby, but Clark is against it. What if mixing human and Kryptonian genes turns out to be unhealthy for the future kid? What is his enemies learn he has a child? But Mr. Mxyztplk shows up (okay, his appearance here isn’t so bad), and makes Lois and Clark live through a lifetime with a child in the course of an hour (he is a magical imp, after all). At the end of it, Clark realizes he needs to let go of his fears and rely on hope, and he agrees with Lois that they can have a baby. Another one that’s kind of silly, but done well enough to be truly emotionally involving.

Well, I wouldn’t recommend Superman’s Greatest Stories, Volume 2, to most people, but if you have an interest in comics there are some great highlights in here. Although, I also have Batman’s Greatest Stories, Volumes 1 and 2, and Joker’s Greatest Stories, as well, and those have a far higher proportion of really great stories (Night of the Stalker in BMGS Vol. 1 being my all-time favorite Batman story, which is saying a lot). So maybe starts with BMGS Volumes 1 and 2, and move to this next. But if you already are a comics fan, what are you waiting for?

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