Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Superman (But We’re Afraid to Ask)

Back in the 1970s, comics writer Michael Fleischer launched a series of encyclopedias about Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and other heroes. Unfortunately sales apparently weren’t good enough, so the series stopped after Superman (I’m not sure we’d have gotten that one if not for the first Chris Reeve movie coming out.

Fleischer’s books are a great resource I still have on my shelf, but he only covers stories through the mid-sixties. I was delighted to pick up a bargain copy of  THE ESSENTIAL SUPERMAN ENCYCLOPEDIA by Robert Greenberger and Martin Pasko which covers the 50 years since. If you’ve ever wondered “Did I just imagine Superman battled a villain called the Purple Piledriver?” or “What was the radioactive material that killed Hyperman?” this is the book with the answers. It’s also better written than a number of online sources with the same information. It’s an impressive job considering that in addition to sheer volume, the authors have to take into account the existence of Earth One, Earth Two, etc. and the repeated reboots from Crisis on Infinite Earths onwards (Lucky for Greenberger and Pasko they came out before Flashpoint).

As I’ve skimmed a lot of Superman stories in the 21st century, this book made it easy to catch up on all the pre-Flashpoint stuff, such as when General Zod and a bunch of Kryptonian survivors founded a New Krypton on the far side of the sun. The list of Supergirl reboots and re-interpretations confirms my feeling that it’s been a long while since anyone knew what to do with her. Post-Crisis, Peter David’s reboot making her an earthbound angel was the last time they had a sure handle on her, and the last time any version lasted more than a couple of years (of course it’s not like they didn’t do a lot of soft reboots pre-Crisis).

On the other hand, Superman’s Golden Age foe the Ultra-Humanite got his “definitive” version back in 1981 when he had his brain transferred to a gorilla’s body. He’s been rebooted a few times since, but the writers invariably default to the gorilla look.

THE SUPERMAN ENCYCLOPEDIA also shows how confused you can get when you have multiple hands writing something and no story Bible. Smallville has been placed in a half-dozen Kansas counties, for instance (and this after John Byrne’s reboot supposedly tidied up continuity) and once in Maryland. And despite being a small town of only a few thousand residents, it boasts not only a Smallville Museum but a war museum, a natural history museum, a museum of the occult, an aviation museum and a Grecian Museum. Presumably whatever sort of museum a particular story called for. Admittedly this is nothing surprising to anyone who’s been reading comics as long as me, but it’s still a jolt when it’s all put together like this.

Obviously this is a specialty book, but if Superman history is a specialty that appears to you, it’s worth getting.

#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by  Curt Swan, Al Plastino and George Perez. All rights remain with current holder.

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