The (Mostly) Superman Reading Diary – January 2020
I’ve recently stopped collecting modern comics beyond the occasional 100 Page Giants that are sold at Walmart. This includes the Superman books, which I walked away from for a variety of reasons and if you are, in any way, curious about those reasons go ahead and listen to this episode of It All Comes Back To Superman, where I talk about that and the final issue of Doomsday Clock.
Anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve walked away from the Superman books, but unlike last time I am not walking away from Superman and since I own hundreds of Superman related comics that I haven’t read yet that survived The Great Comic Book Purge of 2019 I figured it was high time that I actually read them. I thought it might be fun to keep a diary of sorts of what I read, so I’ve been noting the books I read on a daily basis in a notebook in addition to posting covers over on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
All of that brings me to this post, which will (hopefully) be the first in a monthly blog entry about the books I read the previous month. I thought about doing it in podcast form, but Professor Alan does such a great job with his Comics Reading Journal that I didn’t want to go down that road. So, I’ll do a blog post containing a boring list of books I read and some thoughts about those books.
I call it The (Mostly) Superman Reading Diary because I will also be reading other books that aren’t Superman related.
As I wrote earlier, one of my goals this year is to read comics that are in my collection that I haven’t read before. I had been slowly selling off my rather unsustainable and borderline hoarding comic collection for a few years, but last year I finally picked out the books I really wanted to keep and sold the rest off in one of the most freeing experiences of my life. I loved them when I loved them, but at some point, the idea of having over seventeen thousand comics, most of which I was never going to live long enough to read, became the proverbial millstone around my neck. It actually stressed me out at times. So, getting rid of them was good for me in a small way financially and in a big way for my mental health.
When you combine the selling of the books to the realization that, with a few exceptions, modern comics aren’t for me AND the fact that I haven’t lost any love for actually reading comics, getting to the books I haven’t read yet became a priority. The problem was choosing what to read first. One of my faults is that I can be mercurial in my reading. I have a sudden and overwhelming urge to read a certain series and then I get five issues in and I just lose all interest. This worried me when it came to choosing what I read, which led me to try and read a few different series all at once, but after a week or so of that I settled on a single character to focus on.
Long time followers are no doubt surprised by this.
In that “not at all” kind of way.
Even then I did something kind of weird. My Superman collection stretches back to 1976, which was my somewhat arbitrary cut off point. I own every issue of Superman and Action Comics going back to 1976 and stopping just recently. I have most of the various series and mini-series and specials published during that time, in addition to issues of Superboy, Supergirl, Steel, etc. Right before Christmas of last year I tried going through those Superman issues chronologically, but it didn’t take. I can’t explain it.
Again…mercurial, but I did finally settle on a more manageable run that I am digging.
This leads to…
The Boring List of Comics That I Read in January 2020.
- Action Comics issues 513-516, 525,526, 560-566
- Batman 100 Page Giant (Vol. 2) #1
- Booster Gold (Vol. 1) Issues 1 and 2
- Comet #1
- DC Comics Presents Issues 26, 74-80
- Legend of the Shield #1
- Starman (1988 Series) Issues 1 and 2
- Super Friends #3
- Superman (Vol. 1) Issues 352, 400-406, Annual #10
- Superman Family #203-206
- Superman Special #3
- Superman: The Secret Years Issues 1-3
While the non-Superman books I read this month were a lot of fun, I am glad that I decided to zero in on just the Superman books. It’s not just that Superman is my favorite character. That’s part of it, but after spending over thirty years following the new Superman books as they came out it’s nice to finally get around to the books from before my time. It’s a new hill to climb, a new land to conquer, insert another example of charting uncharted territory. At first I tried maintaining two separate reading projects; The Marv Wolfman written Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman stories and stories that ran in Superman, Action Comics, DC Comics Presents, and assorted mini-series, annuals, and specials that came out two years before John Byrne’s Man of Steel. Bouncing between the Wolfman issues and the Two Years To Man of Steel books (as I will now start calling them) made for some fun reading, but as I wrote earlier I finally decided that I wanted to read the Wolfman issues in the context they were published.
I’m also trying to figure out if the group think regarding elements of the Pre-Crisis Superman are correct. One of those example of group thing is if Wolfman’s run on the Pre-Crisis Superman was as much of a breath of fresh air as I’ve heard, and I can’t accurately gauge that without also reading the books that came out alongside them. So, I put that to the side and focused on the Two Years books.
The question with the Two Years to Man of Steel books is; were the books published over those two years really just a bunch of inventory stories or were they better than people say? Short answer so far is yes and yes. The stories have been, at the very least, fun. There are only a few that I haven’t dug and some are downright emotional. I’m more engaged when there is a sense of ongoing stories involving the supporting cast, but the books also serve well as done in one, episodic stories. There are times when you can see the era needing a fresh coat of paint and there are times where it’s obvious that was life in the Silver and Bronze Age Superman and his world yet.
Like most things in life, there is nuance.
The Wolfman issues of Action Comics are so good. I look forward to revisiting them. The Toyman story in Action Comics #561 was great, as was the main story in Action #564. The Forgotten Heroes/Forgotten Villains two-parter in DC Comics Presents issues 77 and 78 were much better than I thought they would be. Marv Wolfman plays with…well, forgotten characters from DC’s science-fiction books of the fifties and sixties and makes them work in a fun adventure with Superman. The Hawkman team-up in DC Comics Presents #74 had a lot of heart to it and dealt with an ancestor of Superman.
The Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane stories from Superman Family #203-206 were much better than I thought they would be. Wolfman (him again) tells two separate stories with Jimmy and Lois and then brings them together organically. Superman #403 and 404 had great lead features and made me appreciate Paul Kupperberg as a Superman writer. He had a real understanding of what made that version of the character work.
By far my favorite comics from the month were the first three issues of Superman: The Secret Years. I read them years ago, but it had been long enough that I didn’t remember much about them. If you’re looking for an emotional story involving Superboy becoming Superman and watching Clark deal with being an adult, the death of his foster parents, and some very real-world problems with his classmates then this is the story for you. The art is by Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger make for an interesting combination and considering both of their histories with Superboy it’s a solid pairing. This could make a great direct-to-home media animated film.
Least Favorite Issues
Superman Special #3 had a decent plot, but it was a 22-page story told in twice that amount of space, which led to it feeling padded. The main story in Action Comics #566 made me realize that while there are people that like Captain Strong as a character, I am not one of them. This made the issue a bit of slog to read, though the art made it go down easier.
Also, and I know I am going to get rapped on the mouth for this, but the Jim Steranko story in Superman #400 may have looked great, but it was a boring story to read. It did not hold my attention at all. It felt pretentious and the O’Henry style ending was like a bad episode of The Twilight Zone.
Ambush Bug. Full stop. I had only ever read one of the Ambush Bug specials back in the late nineties, but to see the back ups in Action Comics in the context of when they were published was a joy and a pleasure. The satire is snarky but never mean and I have no idea what a reader unplugged from the wider DC would make of the shots the creative team took as then modern comics.
The Non-Superman Issues
Booster Gold was a good book from issue one, page one. I will re-visit those issues down the road. Same with the Will Payton Starman series and the two Impact Comics books I read. The only newish comics I am reading currently are the 100 Page Giants sold through Walmart that catch my fancy. For those that aren’t aware of these giants, they are 100 page books that contain one or two original stories about a character then three or so reprints. The first issue of the current Batman 100 Page Giant had a solid, original Batman story, an engaging, original Batwoman story and reprints of other Bat related books. It contained the second modern Harley Quinn story I’ve read, which was mainly a retelling of her origin. This isn’t a complaint as these books are meant to grab non-readers and long-time readers alike. The first chapter of Court of Owls reminded me why I loved Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman so much. The Nightwing story was…okay.
The Wrap Up
After a fun but erratic start I’ve settled into a nice reading project. I’m getting to the Superman books published concurrently with Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is a fascinating time period for DC in general, so I’m looking forward to seeing how and if they tie into Superman more than the crossover issues. I’m planning on picking up more 100 Page Giants, which, at five bucks a pop, are a great value for the money.
January is done. On to February. Depending on how much I read a day (I’m going for at least two issues a day as a goal) I may have to figure out a new project by the end of the month. I have some ideas.
We’ll see how that goes.