Considering a classic, more than three decades later.
UPDATED 7/6/20: I first posted this four years ago and like to re-present it periodically, with minor tinkering, when the opportunity presents itself. It’s Byrne’s birthday, so here we are again! Oh, and if Marvel’s more your speed, click here for the TOP 13 ALPHA FLIGHT STORIES — RANKED. Dig it. — Dan
I was not a huge fan of Superman comics as a kid. Curt Swan’s art just didn’t do it for me and it was hard for me to root for a god when my favorite character had to dodge bullets and skulk in the shadows.
That’s not a knock on those who wrote and drew Superman — it’s just a matter of taste.
Then along came 1986 — 30-plus years ago now — and the announcement that John Byrne, after years as one of Marvel’s heaviest hitters, was coming to DC to revamp Superman post-Crisis on Infinite Earths.
If you don’t remember, or weren’t there, it’s hard to explain what a big deal that was — even in that pre-Internet era. This was huge news. Byrne, to a lot of people, was Marvel in those days. This was as if Boston’s clean-up hitter came to the Yankees.
The more I heard, the more I liked: Superman would start over from scratch with a biweekly, 6-issue miniseries called The Man of Steel. It would feature a Kal-El who really was the Last Son of Krypton — no Supergirl, Krypto, Kandor, none of it. And Clark Kent was never Superboy. (Again, not to knock Superboy but I always thought that idea was an especially long stretch.)
It sounded an awful lot like Superman: The Movie, which was my favorite version of Superman (and remains so today).
So when Man of Steel came out that summer — Issue #1 evidently came out July 10 — I was blown away. This was the Superman I’d been waiting to see on the page.
The art was bright, clean and powerful — soaring even. The characterization was humane and distinct. Superman was made of steel but he was also a man. Like the previous version, Clark liked being Superman and was likeable — but now he was relatable. He was a contemporary — and no longer “Uncle Superman.”
And it wasn’t just when he was in the cape. Clark Kent was more an affable guy than buffoon — and got his own makeover in the process. Gone was the blue two-piece and red tie.
Lex Luthor got a similar update: He no longer wore purple-and-green costumes — choosing instead Fortune 500 tailored suits. The Luthor you saw in the Bruce Timm cartoons was pretty much lifted whole cloth from Byrne. Lois, meanwhile, was a stylish cross between Margot Kidder and Barbara Stanwyck. Classic, but up to date.
To this day, I’ve never liked a comic-book Superman better.
This was a stripped-down but still mighty Man of Steel, one that should have been allowed to flourish.
Sadly, it didn’t last. Byrne only worked on Superman for about two years. Some of the elements — like LexCorp — remain to this day but Superman’s origin has been retconned so many times now that The Man of Steel and the issues that followed have become something of a relic. (Click here for more on that.)
Over the years, I tried Superman again and again, in a vain attempt to capture that magic. I never really lasted — until the last few years.
DC’s Rebirth gave us a Kal-El whose roots were in the post-Man of Steel era. It was the most entertaining Superman since the Byrne days: soaring, humanistic and exciting.
And while I admit I’m not entranced by the current comics, like Superman I remain ever the optimist.
— JOHN BYRNE’s ALPHA FLIGHT: The TOP 13 STORIES — RANKED. Click here.
— 13 COVERS: A JOHN BYRNE Birthday Super-Celebration — 2018 Edition. Click here.
July 6, 2016
Not my favorite version of Superman but a close second. I’m a huge 70’s Curt Swan / Garcia Lopez fan. Byrne’s however the best Reboot ever done! It maintained enough classic elements that it wasn’t jarring but was very fresh.
July 7, 2018
Bronze Age Superman forever!
February 11, 2023
Despite what others say john MARVELIZED superman. He gave the constant pseudoscience on why his powers work how they do and had great internal monologues. Taking supes down a notch in power from world puller to world beater. what john calls back to basics is what he learned at marvel. this is one of my favorite versions of superman other than the animated series take on him.
July 6, 2016
I tried to like Byrne’s Superman (and I DID like the art!), but his post-Crisis version of Superman told me that the stories I had enjoyed for the previous fifteen-or-so years were pointless, worthless, and… NO, that’s not the way to revamp a character or universe — certainly no way to win over old fans. Yes, there were many good elements to his stories, but just as many problems/
mistakes. (While stopping by Clark’s apartment, Lois tries out his weight-training equipment, and she finds his weights a bit “light.” Clark’s thoughts tell us he has a hard time estimating things like the amount of weight a grown, athletic [Earth] man should lift, as if that was an adequate excuse for his goof. He couldn’t go to the library for Arnold’s book? He couldn’t visit a gym to see what similarly-built men lifted, or buy a bodybuilding magazine off the newsstand? Please!)
When Byrne left Superman (taking his wonderful art with him), I left the character, too. I’ve occasionally returned to visit Metropolis, spurred by this cover, or that storyline, but, sorry, no. My Superman is gone. I hope he returns someday (he did, in a way, in “All-Star Superman”). It’s not likely, but I have hope.
July 7, 2016
The stories weren’t worthless or pointless if you enjoyed them. And how can you reboot a universe AND keep all the old stories as canon? Virtually impossible and no reason to try. It goes against the point of rebooting.
July 6, 2020
See New52 for what happens when you blur the lines between rebooting, and keeping the existing mythology. It was confusing and wishy-washy… not at all confident in what it was doing. Huge disappointment.
October 18, 2019
Those previous, pre-Crisis tales did actually happen — it was just that the universes that they took place in were destroyed during the events of the Crisis, but none of the preceding canonical events were erased in any type of “Zero Hour”-style event. Indeed, the defeat of the Anti-Monitor and the creation of the new, post-Crisis DC universe could not have even happened were it not for the heroes of the pre-Crisis reality.
And as we see in various post-Crisis sources like Grant Morrison’s “Animal Man,” some of the wreckage of the antimatter-destroyed realities still exists in the post-Crisis universe too, which means that none of the canonical tales were ever “erased”…their universes might no longer exist, but the effects of their actions both prior to and during the assault of the Anti-Monitor still linger even to this day.
October 18, 2019
Very well said.
July 6, 2016
I have to agree with this article 1,000 %.
It became a very relatable and frankly accessible launch point for me, as a young reader to dive into this super “farmer’s son” slash god figure / investigative reporter.
Byrne may not have been the greatest writer to tackle Suped, but his world felt complete and expansive, engaging and full of possibilities.
He distilled the Superman myth to its core meaning: timeless optimism, a champion for truth, and an ultimately human alien-god , out of water amongst we troubled mortals.
I’d look forward to Rebirth bringing him back to this type of core mythology & iconography.
That and a little dash of Morrison’s super-science celebrating All Star Superman approach, could be a real winner in my book.
July 7, 2016
Good article, but give credit where it’s due. Thee Luthor revamp was more Marv Wolfman than Byrne
November 24, 2020
Michael Updyke – I was going to post this. Marv had the idea of the Mogul-Lex about 1980 i believe? I think he decided to propose the new Braniac (with the skull spaceship) over the Lex revamp? I think DC would only let him propose one character redefining idea?
July 7, 2016
The printing was awful, very poorly done, an I chalked that up to the then_new Flexographic system
July 8, 2016
“The Man of Steel” wasn’t printed using Flexography. It was traditional comic book printing (which was not great back then). I think DC pretty much abandoned Flexography the year before when the first issue of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” turned out so poorly.
July 8, 2016
I still have some of these the funny part is i found them at a dollar store quite some time ago and bought one of each that they had
July 8, 2016
I completely agree with Dan’s sentiments. While I’d always liked the character, Man of Steel was what made me become a Superman reader and collector in earnest.
July 8, 2016
I second everything you wrote. I was 13 in 1986. I loved the Christopher Reeve Superman movies (at least the first two) but I just couldn’t get into the Superman comics back then (I know Curt Swan has his fans, but like the author, his art just never appealed to me). But “Man of Steel” was something special. Even today I think it still holds up as the best Superman comic I’ve read (much better than the inexplicably overrated “All-Star Superman”). It’s not perfect: John Byrne’s dialogue is a little creaky 30 years later, and I wish the story had been more novelistic in its structure (like “Batman: Year One” was) and less episodic. But, man, Byrne really did freshen up the character in a way that still feels relevant today. “Man of Steel” the movie owes so much to this mini-series (in a good way). And Byrne’s artwork (especially paired with Dick Giordano’s inks) never looked better.
I know the book is available in paperback but I really wish DC would re-issue it in a more durable Deluxe Edition.
July 7, 2017
Byrne’s Superman is the best Superman of all time, and the truest to what Siegel & Shuster did with the character. He is SuperMAN, not SuperALIEN, Byrne handles Superman as he was always suppised to be. I want a Byrne Superman Omnibus so bad.
As for Rebirth, it is hot grbage, New Fifty-Screw rebranded, and the costume “redesign” (distortion) is horrendous.
Without the yellow belt and red trunks, the Superman suit has no color balance. The new suit is ugly as sin. The true costume with the red trunk and yellow belt is perfect in its design, it is timeless, which is why it lasted for over 70 years. There is no reason why Superman should not be in his correct costume, and I will not be giving DC or Warner Butchers a cent of my money or praise until Superman is back in his correct and true costume. Do not fix what was never broke.
July 9, 2017
Sorry, but I hated Byrne’s run. He burned Superman dow and left nothing for other storytellers to work with. Krypton was changed from a near-utopia to a eugenics-focused dystopia that deserved to die. The wealth of characters built around Superboy? Gone. They’ve been trying for 30 years now to make Superboy interesting again, and it weakened the LSH. Lex Lithor was just another stereotypical, ruthless exec, only now he was a sadist and a pervert (remember him forcing his secretary to undress before reporting to him?) Superman was reduced from a starfaring hero whose expwrimces wpuld give him a broadened consciousness to a parochial farmboy who never even considered the idea that he shouldn’t take a life. And son’t het me started on the bit where he and Big Barfa make a porn film. The writers that followed had to try to meet ne the past, coming up with only shadows of Bizarro, Braniac, Superfirl and others. Yes, the stories were pretty, but the writing was hollowand lacked the heart and morality that only recently has been restored.
July 12, 2017
I don’t understand why so many comic fans feel the need to relate to super heroes for them to be able to enjoy them or their stories. If you won’t like superman because bullets don’t hurt him or because he wears bright colors, good chance you probably are better off reading batman. Or vice versa really.
September 20, 2022
Byrne was a good writer and artist. He also had a very well edited miniseries. However, a good deal of what he used had been created over decades by writers and editors. Given all the PreCrisis characters and ideas to use, but confined to none of them, of course he was able to create some good comics about the best characters and villains in comics. Some of his takes paled before the originals or later creations, such as Bizarro and nutcase Hamilton. Lots of us liked the more episodic, high concept science fiction of PreCrisis Superman over the perpetual soap operas they became. Byrne did not decompress too much, unlike later writers, but by covering Superman’s early years and major characters in such short strokes it deprived later writers of the opportunity to organically explore them.
Byrne’s Superman run is good, but not perfect, and the best PostCrisis comics have more Silver Age cosmic Superman than Byrne’s human.
February 3, 2018
ByrneThe great John Byrne not only updated Superman and his mythology, gave him a new life. to start the Kripton, with those golden towers and desert terrain, the design of the costumes of the Kryptonians I liked a lot, the other changes that I liked was to change the Clark Kent shy by the victorious Kent, his parents alive, Lex Luthor step from being a b-series villain to turning him into a powerful entrepreneur who owns metropolis, the style of the most mature stories, and a more human and less powerful Superman but a great warrior, something that some current writers do not understand and that every clown can give you problems, when I read Man of Steel 01 in my adolescence I was very impressed, it hurts that Byrne did not stay a couple of years more, he would have made better stories
February 3, 2018
DC should release this era in Omnibus/HC.It´s not 100% excellent but still very good. Byrne writing had some flaws in the story, especially the connection of Superboy/Legion of Super Heroes and Supergirl, but still a very enjoyable reading and amazing art.
February 3, 2018
Es el mejor superman, tiene aspectos de las raíces que puesteros shuster y siegel, pero aplicable a su momento, era un verdadero hombre de acción y héroe emblemático
February 4, 2018
I quit reading comics because of Byrne’s reboot.
July 6, 2018
I grew interested in John Byrne’s take on Superman and read all of his issues online. I enjoyed them very much.
July 7, 2018
The 1986 reboot is where most current Superman readers started reading Superman. They didn’t read any of the Bronze or Silver Age stories, and the only Golden Age story read was probably Action Comics 1. I’ll hear lads go on about “Byrne was the best!”. I ask, “Well, did you ever read Sword of Superman? What about the first Death of Superman story?” Huh? What? I’ve read Superman from all ages, and without a doubt, the greatest era is the Bronze Age. It was the culmination of 40 years of building, from Siegel, Shuster, Binder, Boring, Swan, Adams, Pasko, Bates, and Maggin. The 1986 reboot decimated all of that to give writers a more manageable Superman, and a bite-size one for Marvel readers who were used to heroes significantly less powerful. If it was your first go at Superman, it was great, but if you had read the Bronze Age stories, they tended to pale in comparison.
July 6, 2019
I liked Byrnes run. It made me be interested in reading Superman again. I liked him eliminating all that other paraphernalia like Superboysupergirls and Super-cat. I was very disappointed when he left bye boy afte only two years just because he got angry over Time magazines harsh criticism of the wise changes he made. One canolybkmagine what the impact Bryan’s ten year run would have had on the character.
July 6, 2019
At the time, I liked Byrne’s reboot of Superman. Today, I’m not as enthusiastic, but that could be due to my general dissatisfaction with post-Crisis DC. As an artist, Byrne is not in the same league as Curt Swan; he’s not even close. I fail to understand what others see in Byrne’s art – at best, it is the work of a functional journeyman, Bleh!
July 6, 2020
My least favorite Superman was the soft reboot of the early ’70s. I hated the idea of him becoming a TV broadcaster. It made no sense. It just didn’t seem plausible.
Did I like everything Byrne did? No. But, I enjoyed most of it. I never liked the movie version or Byrne’s version of the planet Krypton. Or, did I care for the new Luthor. I didn’t mind his parents being alive. Too me that seemed too much like BAT-MAN. So yea, somethings yes and somethings no.
The thing I wish comic publishers would do is let writers and artist tell good stories. I don’t care if these 12 issues line up with these 3 from the year before. New 52, I just skipped it. Give me anything close to the bronze age, I’m there. Could we get a ’40s version of the JSA that are portrayed as a bunch of old wash-ups?
I don’t know if that would sell. But, if you don’t try, you’ll never know.
September 6, 2021
I was 9 when Man of Steel came out. I had seen the Superman movies, but had been reading actual comic books for probably less than a year, and only Marvel. DC was doing a great job of promotion at that time though, and I got interested and read Man of Steel from the beginning. It was absolutely wonderful. The artwork looked astounding, the storytelling was clear and the characters were as pure and recognizable as they were in the movies. I don’t think I got too far into the main Superman title after its relaunch before I quit reading comics for a couple years. I tried reading Superman again around the “Death” era, but it seemed like a lot of melodramatic premises without clear, efficient storytelling. I have read Alan Moore’s “final” Superman story, which was wonderful, but also made me very glad Byrne had gotten rid of all of that corny stuff in his reboot that Moore gave one last nostalgic nod to. Byrne had cleaned up and modernized the mythology in the best possible way.