Welcome to Around the DC Universe, your weekly guide to the best comics and shows featured on DC Entertainment’s exclusive new streaming service.
I begin this week with technical issues because after almost two weeks of playing with the app I have finally figured out how DC Universe deals with the release of new comics.
Most of the titles are part of the curated library, a selection of 2500 or so issues that will swap out quarterly (though I imagine that a few key issues like Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 will remain in perpetuity). Special features will be added weekly for shorter runs usually of a week or two.
Right now you have three weeks to check out the original Death and Return of Superman in Action Comics (1938-), Adventures of Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel and Superman (1986). This epic event stands at the crossroads between marketing gimmick and heartfelt storytelling. The writers and artists involved have a deep and abiding affection for the Man of Steel that shines through the hype as they take him as low as a person can go and then bring him back. Superman’s supporting cast, one of the best in the history of comics, really gets a chance to shine in the absence of the series’ main character and there are several moments that still move me to tears. Unfortunately, as of this writing DC Universe is missing several key issues including Superman (1986) #78 and 79 which introduce the infamous Cyborg Superman. It’s possible to enjoy the story despite this gap but it is disappointing that DC could not be bothered to correct their mistake despite several queries on the community forums and at least one query to their customer service department which received no response. Even if you have read the story before be sure and check out Newstime: The Life and Death of Superman (1993). Originally published as a facsimile of a tribute magazine, this is a great artifact from within the DC Universe that offers some interesting perspectives and more than a few easter eggs and has never, to my knowledge, been reprinted.
Movies and TV
Those who don’t have time to wade through all those comics might find themselves tempted two different animated versions available on the video streaming portion of DC Universe. Sadly the older of the two (Superman: Doomsday) is an inferior adaptation. The original story took up almost a year’s worth of four monthly titles so trying to condense it into a mere hour and forty five minutes is impossible. A lot of questionable creative choices were also made, including a Superman who is perfectly willing to engage in intimate relations with Lois Lane without telling her his secret identity. The generally mean characterization of many of the characters involved robs the feature of all of its poignancy. A double feature of Batman v Superman and Justice League does the original material more credit and is infinitely more preferable to this waste of good talent. I’ve yet to watch this year’s The Death of Superman but it’s on my agenda for next week.
On the other side of the Superman coin I’m surprised by how much I enjoy watching George Reeves in the Adventures of Superman TV show. While it’s very much a product of its time, it’s still incredibly fun to watch in small doses. Reeves is inherently likable as both Superman and Clark Kent has the inherent likeability and the supporting cast is also top notch. There are some interesting wrinkles added to the legend. I particularly liked watching Pa Kent risking his life to save Baby Kal El from the blazing wreckage of his rocket after it crashes to work. The plots are much more down to Earth than we’re used to with Superman taking on smugglers and bank robbers instead of alien despots and mad scientists. That’s not a bad thing however as it reminds us that Superman was once a much more relatable, down to Earth character, not so much in his power level but in his concerns. It’s fun to revisit that simpler time even if only for a couple of episodes.
The Legion of Superheroes is one of my all time favorite teams. The long running drama of a club of teenage heroes in the far future is in turns both goofy and profound with a tangled continuity that makes the X-Men look simple by comparison. If you’ve never experienced the Legion many of their earliest stories are currently available in Adventure Comics. DC Universe has taken a greatest hits sort of approach with some of the best stories from the first few years of the Legion’s run, many of them by science fiction legend Ed Hamilton. Reading the stories as they’re presented does sacrifice the development of on a rich and compelling continuity but these high points, including the death of one of the major players in Legion history, is well worth your time if you’re a fan of DC’s silver age. Adventure Comics was an anthology title that also featured stories about of other heroes and they are included here as as well. Fans of Aquaman should take note of superior stories in the first two issues with art by the great Ramona Fradon, one of the first women to draw a superhero comic. Available on DC Universe in Adventure Comics (1938-) #247, 267, 300, 304, 306, 310, 312, and 316.