Superman: The Man of Steel Volume 1 Hardcover Review
This book had a strange path to getting published. Originally it was solicited as Superman: The Man of Steel By John Byrne Omnibus Volume 1 in October 2019 with a release date of July 7, 2020. The book was going to collect (almost) the entire first year and change of John Byrne’s run on what became the various Superman titles. That was cancelled and DC solicited another, smaller hardcover collection in March 2020 with the same release date. This collection, titled Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 1 HC, cut the omnibus in half. Then the release date was changed again, and the book finally came out on August 25, 2020.
I will admit that I was disappointed that the omnibus was cancelled. I will also admit that when it comes to this era of Superman that I have a firm bias even when I am criticizing aspects of it. So, me wanting an omnibus of that first year is not even remotely surprising. It’s the opposite of surprising. It would be surprising if I didn’t want a fat, hardcover collection of books that I already own in variety of formats.
(This isn’t a cry for help. I realize that me wanting to buy the same story over and over again is a bit odd, but they’re neat to have, I love this era, and if I keep buying it maybe they’ll make more.)
Despite being delivery of this book being delayed by a day and having a nice dent on the upper corner of the book (thanks Amazon) I finally got my copy and had some thoughts on what was in this collection and how it compares to previous collections of these comics.
This is a handsome volume. The front cover of the dust jacket uses the art from the alternate cover of Man of Steel (1986) #1 with literally a new coat of paint. The original had a blue suit and an orange tie, where this one has a gray suit, a reddish tie, and a more varied texture to the colors on the S symbol. While it is darker in tone than the cover to the original issue, it actually pops more. The back cover of the dust jacket likewise repurposes art from the cover of Superman: The Man of Steel Vol. 2, published in October of 2003. Jerry Ordway is the artist and it is once again given a darker recoloring with a blue background instead of the tan of the original. The background of this image is a little more washed out and some of the detail is lost, but the main figure looks great with the darker colors.
Under the dust jacket we have more repurposed art. The front cover is the final page of Man of Steel (1986) #6, minus the dawn or dusk colored background and the thought balloons. I was actually surprised that they went with this one and not the final page of Man of Steel (1986) #1, which is an oft used shot of Superman taking flight. It does pop up later. The back cover is from the splash page of Action Comics #584, again minus word balloons and backgrounds. Contextually this is an odd choice given this is a Superman that has had his mind switched with a handicapped man and that man was using Superman to tear up real estate, but it’s a bold image and it’s on the back, under the dust jacket. It’s interesting that there is no copy on either the front or back interior covers, but I’m good with that. The white backgrounds are also an odd choice. I’m not sure how I feel about them.
The inside flaps of the dust jacket have images from the splash page of Superman (1987) #1 and the previously mentioned last page of Man of Steel (1986) #1 on them.
From a purely visual standpoint, this is a nice-looking book. It has a modern feel with the coloring, but since the art is between twenty-four to seventeen years old, it feels right for the era it was published in. Having Ordway art on the back cover is fitting. While John Byrne rightly gets most of the acclaim of revamping Superman, Jerry Ordway was there at the beginning and would stay with the Superman books full time until 1993. I’m happy that whoever designed this gave Jerry his due.
A Look Inside
If you have read the previous trade paperback series, there isn’t anything new about the interiors. After a title and dedication page, we have an essay that serves as an introduction called Superman: A Personal View by John Byrne. This was originally published on the inside back cover of Man of Steel (1986) #1, so it’s a bit odd that the year 1991 is given next to the author credit. From what I could tell nothing had been added from the original in 1986, but this is a minor quibble.
Unlike volumes 1-6 of the series of trade paperbacks titled Superman: The Man of Steel, which were published between 2003 and 2008, this collection puts the cover of the issue before the issue instead of having a cover gallery at the back. I always prefer this. I realize an argument could be made that not having the covers before the issue gives the reader a more streamlined reading experiences, but cover galleries in the back mean the reader can skip them and I always think seeing the cover before the issue is better. Again, a very minor quibble, but one I apparently felt the need to mention.
After issues 1-6 of Man of Steel (1986) the placement of the comics matches that of Volume 2 and a bit of Volume 3 of the previously mentioned Superman: The Man of Steel trade paperback series. Like those volumes, it does not reprint them in release order. Instead, it puts them together more in story order. You have Superman (1987) #1, followed by Action Comics #584, followed by Superman (1987) #2. After that, you have issues 424 and 425 of Adventures of Superman are slotted in, which reads just fine except for the minor hiccup of there being a shot of Clark talking to the villain of Action Comics #584 in the pages of Adventures of Superman #424. Originally, in the single issues Adventures 424 came out before the Action issue. This is the sort of thing that you’d really have to be paying attention to notice.
If this sounds pedantic…it’s because it is. I’m mentioning it purely out of wanting to compare this book to the previous version of this collection.
And…to be a bit of a pedant.
I mean, I’m doing a deep dive into a hardcover comic book collection. This shouldn’t be shocking.
From there the books are in the same order as the Superman: The Man of Steel trades and ends on a fun but not terribly deep team-up with Etrigan the Demon, which has the “because of time travel or something this story never happened” trope Byrne plays with from time to time. Then we are treated to the Why Superman? Why Today? essay by Ray Bradbury. This has appeared in most trade paperback collections of Man of Steel (1986) going back to the first time the series got a proper collected edition in 1987. Once again, the date 1991 is given and I am curious where that date is coming from. One of the versions of that trade had a mostly black cover that I thought was put out in 1992 but it’s possible it came out the year before. Release dates on non-first printings can be tricky.
Next are reprints of the introductions from volumes 2 and 3 of the Superman: The Man of Steel trades. The first, which originally appeared in volume 2, is Reinventing The Wheel by Marv Wolfman, which recounts his experiences writing Superman before the reboot and his part in the revamp of 1986. This is followed by what was originally titled Introduction in volume 3 but here looks like it’s called The Adventures of Superman. Either way, it’s written by Jerry Ordway, who, like Wolfman, talks about his experiences with Superman before he started drawing the character and his thoughts on the stories that were reprinted in volume 3 of the 2003 trade series.
Finally, we have the covers from the first three volumes of the Superman: The Man of Steel trade series that I apparently can’t shut up about as well as some pages from Who’s Who: Update ’87. The pages included here, with one notable exception, were reprinted in volumes 2 and 9 of the Superman: The Man of Steel trade series. Amazing Grace, Bizarro, Bloodsport, Lex Luthor, Krypton and Kryptonite, Lois Lane, Magpie, and Metallo were included in those volumes. For some reason, the people that put this collection together threw in Host (a.k.a Mummy Rocket Boots, and if you get that reference, thank you for listening to From Crisis to Crisis). I had to check and double check that, but yeah…the previous collections did not have Host in them and it’s kind of weird that it was included here since those issues of Superman (1987) are not in this book.
I’m not complaining. It’s just odd.
While I would have preferred the omnibus they initially dangled before us, this is a very well put together hardcover. The coloring is a bit dark in places, but that doesn’t distract from the art or the writing. If you are a completist, like me, then you need to get this book. If you want a nice hardcover to put on the shelf, you need to get this book. If you have never read these series and don’t feel like chasing down the previous trade paperback series, then you need to get this book. It is a wonderful introduction to the Post Crisis adventures of Superman and is a well put together package.
Currently there is an Amazon listing for Volume 2 of this series, which looks like it collects the rest of the original omnibus. I have already pre-ordered my copy and I encourage you to do the same if you can. I realize that these things can be cancelled at a moment’s notice, but fingers crossed that the second volume comes out.