Thursday, 9 May 2019

How Avengers Endgame sets up the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe


Avengers Endgame is an astounding cinematic achievement. It manages to be a coherent, satisfying film in its own right while also serving as the culmination of a number of stories that have been unfolding across 11 years and 22 films.

There's so much to love about Endgame, but my favourite aspect of it is the way it brings the story of Tony Stark AKA Iron Man to an end. In my opinion, this ending has come at exactly the right time, and it may even have set up the circumstances in which the next big character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe can emerge.

Tony Stark's cinematic story began in 2008 in Iron Man, the first film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Throughout most of the next 21 films (even some of the ones he's not in) we grew to understand the context in which Tony exists, and had the pleasure of seeing him grow and develop as a character. We saw a selfish, narcissistic playboy become a man determined to take responsibility for his actions. In a way Stark weaponised his own narcissism, as he allowed the belief that he was responsible for protecting everybody on Earth become his primary motivation. Tony's efforts to protect the world led to the creation of the menace known as Ultron, and to a personal battle with PTSD. But ultimately he was able to fulfil his mission and atone for his past mistakes by sacrificing his life to save the world. Tony was played throughout all of this by Robert Downey Jr, who gave the most considered, nuanced, entertaining, and true to the character portrayal of a superhero since Christopher Reeve's Superman.

As much as I loved watching Tony's story unfold, his end was a timely one. In 2008, Tony Stark was the right superhero at the right time - the world was ready for a capitalist superhero who had made things worse in the Middle East but felt bad about it, and was now ready to save us all with technology. But now in 2019 a new generation has started to worry about wealth inequality and we've realised that the tech bros won't save us because they're basically Nazis. A millionaire playboy became the American president and it turns out he's just a revolting old man. The white guy redemption story has been done to death in films and TV and we've all started to move on from it. Tony's story has come to an end not a moment too soon.

So where does that leave the Marvel Cinematic Universe? What's next?

There's an account on Twitter that appears to have some kind of insider access, and has had some success in predicting what will happen in Marvel films. This account has predicted that the Thunderbolts will feature heavily in the next phase.

In the comics, the Thunderbolts are usually depicted as a team of villains working as superheroes, either as part of an evil scheme, an attempt to find redemption, or because they're being forced to do so by the government. One character that has featured prominently in Thunderbolts comics is Spider-Man's arch-nemesis Norman Osborn AKA The Green Goblin. It's worth remembering that Osborn is a Spider-Man character and as such, Marvel may have not yet recovered the rights to him from Sony. But if they have, I feel that Tony Stark's death has created the right set of circumstances for Norman Osborn to emerge.

Mike Deodata

The trailer for the next Marvel film, Spider-Man Far From Home shows us a world that has placed Tony Stark on something of a pedestal. We see candles and graffiti left in gratitude to remember Tony's sacrifice. Spider-Man himself says "the world needs the next Iron Man."

What if this is a world that is scared after what it just went through in Endgame, and is desperate for the next Tony Stark to come along and protect them? What if this is a world that is so scared and desperate it will embrace the first charming, billionaire genius that comes along? What if that charming, billionaire, genius is Norman Osborn? Imagine Osborn, a petty, spiteful, greedy megalomaniac, playing on people's fear, cynically taking advantage of the situation the world's in, and setting himself up in a position of power. He could be a Tony Stark for the age of Trump.

Perhaps, just as the threat of Thanos and the events of Infinity War were set up in previous Marvel films, Far from Home and the films that follow it could set up Osborn and the Thunderbolts?

We could see Marvel taking on a critique of the very concept of superheroes. Putting all your faith in individuals is a dangerous business, because in all likelihood, they're not going to be Tony Stark, or Captain America. They're going to be someone who will hold on to any power you give them and eventually use it against you. This would be a pretty radical thread for a multi-billion dollar superhero movie franchise to pull at, but it's such a fascinating and relevant theme that I can't help but think that they're going to want to explore it.

Besides, the next big bad guy isn't the only thing that Tony Stark's death sets up. The events of Endgame have left us with a world that has experienced forces beyond their understanding meddling with everybody's life in a pretty huge way. Half of everybody on the planet died for five years before suddenly returning. It's not enough to merely defend the Earth from these forces, as the Avengers did. The world will need somebody to explore and understand these terrifying new frontiers.

Now if only Marvel had recently reacquired the film rights to a team of super-powered explorers of the strange and fantastic......

Alex Ross

If you'd like to see me take a small part in a discussion of Avengers Endgame involving lots of clever people, head over to The Comics Cube!

Saturday, 30 March 2019

The Best Superman in the Best Superman Costume

Here's a picture I did of my favourite actor to play the Man of Steel wearing my favourite Superman costume - the Grant Morrison/Rags Morales Action Comics costume.

Friday, 15 March 2019

The Science of Obscure Superheroes

Recently I gave a talk for the Reading branch of the British Science Association on the subject of the science of superheroes. It's a subject that's been covered a great deal elsewhere and so I wanted to approach it from a different angle. I decided to focus on the science behind some lesser known superheroes. I chose to discuss The WhizzerChunkMatter Eater Lad, and the Red Bee. I looked at their powers and origin stories and tried to find parallels in real world science. I've adapted my talk into a four part article.

Here are links to all four parts, and also the "reading list" I made for attendees of the talk. 

The Science of Obscure Superheroes Part One: The Whizzer

Here are the illustrations I created for the talk:

The Science of Obscure Superheroes: Reading List

Recently I gave a talk for the Reading branch of the British Science Association on the subject of the science of superheroes. It's a subject that's been covered a great deal elsewhere and so I wanted to approach it from a different angle. I decided to focus on the science behind some lesser known superheroes. I chose to discuss The WhizzerChunkMatter Eater Lad, and the Red Bee. I looked at their powers and origin stories and tried to find parallels in real world science. I also created a list of  some of my favourite comics featuring these characters, alongside a list of some of my favourite, vaguely science related comics.

Here are some comics where you’ll find some of the characters from these articles:

Legion of Super-Heroes The Silver Age Vol. 1
By Various 

These 1950s tales feature Superboy’s first adventures with his teenage pals in the futuristic Legion of Superheroes. These stories are endearingly daft and charming, but most importantly this collection features the first appearance of Matter Eater Lad!

Superman and the Legion of Superheroes
By Geoff Johns and Gary Frank 

While Matter Eater Lad doesn’t appear in this comic, his pals in the Legion of Superheroes do. The lesser known heroes of the Legion of Substitute Heroes also make an appearance. Superman gets transported to the 31st Century and he must reunite his childhood friends in order to fight space Nazis!!!

Animal Man Vol. 1
Animal Man Vol. 2: Origin of the Species
Animal Man Vol. 3 Deus Ex Machina
By Grant Morrison and various artists 

During Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man in the 80s, Animal Man gave up superheroing and began to focus on animal rights activism instead. As he did so he became one of the first superheroes to realize the truth of his existence - that he is actually a comic character living in a two-dimensional world. Along the way he encounters some pretty obscure superheroes, including B’wana Beast, Merryman, and our pal the Red Bee!

Avengers Epic Collection: The Final Threat
By Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, and various artists

Marvel fun from the 1970s. The Whizzer pops up to help the Avengers fight his villainous son, Nuklo! This collection also features appearances from Doctor Doom, Ultron, and Infinity War baddie Thanos! It also features some fantastic art from comics legends George Perez, Jim Starlin, and John Byrne.

Flash (1987) #9-11
By Mike Baron, Jackson Guice, Mike Collins, and Larry Mahlstedt

The first story to feature Chunk! These comics have never been collected to my knowledge but you’re likely to find them for quite cheap on ebay or in the bargain bin of a comics shop and they’re well worth hunting around for.

Flash: Rogues
By Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins, and Doug Hazlewood

Chunk gets shot in the first story in this collection, and Flash must prevent all of Keystone City from getting sucked into his old friend. Then Flash battles a bunch of villains from his extensive rogue’s gallery, including Captain Cold, Fallout, and Gorilla Grodd!

Here are some science related comics you might like:

Concrete, Vol. 1: Depths
By Paul Chadwick

Ron Lithgow gets his brain transplanted into a giant, alien, concrete body and tries to make a life for himself as an explorer and a writer. The interesting thing about Concrete is that aside from Concrete himself and the aliens who give him his body (who are never seen again after the first issue) there are no other sci-fi aspects to this comic. The ramifications of life in a giant concrete body are explored by applying real world physics, and conveyed through some stunning art from creator Paul Chadwick.

Action Comics Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
Action Comics Vol. 2: Bulletproof
Action Comics Vol. 3: At The End Of Days
By Grant Morrison and various artists

Grant Morrison combines the feel of the original 1930s Superman comics by Siegel and Shuster with his own mind bending cosmic concepts. Superman battles a menace from the fifth dimension and Morrison realizes this threat in a fascinating way. Just as a fork from our three dimensional world might “attack” a two dimensional piece of paper at several different points simultaneously, Superman is attacked at several different points in his life simultaneously by his fifth dimensional foe.

Ministry of Space
By Warren Ellis and Chris Weston

The murky, real life origins of the American space programme are used as an inspiration for this alternate history, where Britain got to all the Nazi rocket scientists after World War II instead of the Yanks.

Invincible Iron Man Vol. 2: World's Most Wanted Book 1
Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3: World's Most Wanted Book 2
By Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca

Iron Man has always been one of the most science-y superheroes and this is one of his very best stories. The Green Goblin has taken over SHIELD and Tony Stark is on the run. Tony uploads a computer virus into his own brain to erase all his secrets and keep them out of the Goblin’s hands. He must evade capture until the virus has done its work. But how can he stay one step ahead while he’s gradually losing his greatest weapon – his mind?

Tom Strong: Book 1
By Alan Moore, Chris Sprouse, Alan Gordon

Tom Strong inhabits a fantastic world that’s more Jules Verne than Stan Lee. He isn’t a superhero, he’s “science-hero”! Raised on a remote West Indian island by his scientist father in a high gravity chamber that made him super strong, Tom Strong was educated to genius level. He now uses his mental and physical perfection to fight such science themed foes as the Modular Man, Ingrid Weiss and her flying Nazi girls, and even an invasion from a universe where the Aztec civilization survived and became Earth’s dominant culture.

The Science of Obscure Superheroes Part Four: The Red Bee

Recently I gave a talk for the Reading branch of the British Science Association on the subject of the science of superheroes. It's a subject that's been covered a great deal elsewhere and so I wanted to approach it from a different angle. I decided to focus on the science behind some lesser known superheroes. I chose to discuss The WhizzerChunk, Matter Eater Lad, and the Red Bee. I looked at their powers and origin stories and tried to find parallels in real world science. I've adapted my talk into a four part article. This part is about The Red Bee. 

The Red Bee first appeared in Hit Comics #1 (1940). His name is Richard Raleigh, an assistant district attorney who decides to dress up in a puffy shirt and fight crime using bees! Red Bee uses lots of trained bees to fight Nazis and gangsters, but his favourite bee is called Michael. Michael lives in Red Bee’s hollow belt buckle and will only come out for special missions. The character starred in 24 issues of Hit Comics before fading into obscurity. He was brought back in the pages of All Star Squadron in the early ‘80s, only to be killed off straight away.

Rick Hoberg
Let’s talk about Michael. Surely bees hang about together in huge swarms and inhabit hives? They don’t sit on their own in some bloke’s belt buckle. There are in fact certain types of bees that do prefer a solitary existence. For example, there is a type of bee found in the UK called Osmia bicornis, or more commonly, the red mason bee!

Steven Falk
Red mason bees are usually found in gardens and parks. They nest in existing holes or cavities, such as mortar joints, window frames, or dead wood, and prefer holes in sunny south facing locations. It’s not a massive stretch to believe that Richard Raleigh could have tempted such a bee into his belt buckle, provided he was thrusting his hips towards the sun.

Michael is probably a female, as male mason bees tend to hang around the nests where they first hatched from their cocoon, waiting to have sex, before dying soon after the deed is done. That’s very much what the kids call a “big mood” for me.

When the females have chosen a place to make their nest they harvest mud which they use to seal up their nest cells, allowing their young to safely develop, keeping them warm over winter.  Red Bee’s belt buckle would probably be full of mud.

Once Michael has been released from her mucky belt buckle, she may be more useful in distracting criminals than actually hurting them. Red mason bees don’t sting unless they’re threatened. The venom in a female red mason bee’s sting is similar to the venom of a honeybee sting, but the red mason bee sting contains fewer barbs than that of a honeybee. This could explain why the red mason bee’s sting does not penetrate human skin.

While Michael wouldn’t make much of a weapon, the Red Bee’s other bees could potentially be a tenacious foe for any criminal that crossed their path. Africanised “killer” bees from Central America have been known to chase a person into water and then patiently wait for them to resurface before stinging them. These bees can recognise the chemical scent of the breath of their target as air bubbles break the surface of the water.

The Telegraph
Honeybees in the UK are less aggressive but are still known to be pretty tenacious. In 2016 a grandmother from West Wales returned from her shopping to find a swarm of over 20,000 bees covering the back of her car. She called some local beekeepers, who were able to remove the bees and she returned home. Over 24 hours later, outside her home she found the bees had returned to the car! The beekeepers theorised that the queen bee may have become trapped somewhere in the car.

So bees could potentially be an effective weapon against anyone who provoked them, but how could the Red Bee control them? How could he make sure the bees attacked the gangsters and not him? Smoke can be used to make bees docile, but dopey bees might not be much use in the war against crime. Is there an alternative?

The answer is smells!

A queen bee secretes a combination of chemical scents in order to communicate with the worker bees. The queen’s scent can help control swarming, it can inhibit the development of ovaries in the worker bees, and it can tell the workers whether a queen has mated or not. The queen’s scent can also give workers the cue to gather around the queen and form her own little entourage, or retinue to look after her.

In 2007 researchers in the University of Otago found that a queen bee can manipulate worker bee’s behaviour by releasing a pheromone that blocks aversive learning in young bees. This means that the queen can stop her offspring from learning from bad experiences. This is necessary because being exposed to a chemical scent that stops you from growing ovaries can be pretty unpleasant for a worker bee. By preventing the young bees from developing aversive memories against her odour the queen is ensuring that they will continue to tend her. Basically, she smells bad but she makes the other bees forget how bad she smells.

If The Red Bee could harness these chemical scents, perhaps he could use them to convince a colony of bees that he was their queen! If they ever decided that they didn’t like the life of a crime fighter, he could make them forget that decision! A real life Red Bee would perhaps be, not a man in a domino mask and a puffy shirt, but a stinky, insect drag queen, armed with water pistols full of bee sweat!

But being a queen bee is not all it’s cracked up to be. When a queen bee gets too old to give off the right smells they are replaced by the workers in a procedure known as "supersedure". The workers rear a replacement queen and when the new one is ready the workers will kill the old one in a gruesome fashion. The workers cluster tightly around her, “balling” her until she becomes so hot she dies. 

If the Red Bee is a man who would be queen he must ensure he never runs out of scent, lest he is balled to death by his insect minions!

Click here to read part one!
Click here to read part two!
Click here to read part three!
Click here for the Reading List!


Many thanks to insect experts Jade Hailes and Antonia Forster.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Science of Obscure Superheroes Part Three: Matter Eater Lad

Recently I gave a talk for the Reading branch of the British Science Association on the subject of the science of superheroes. It's a subject that's been covered a great deal elsewhere and so I wanted to approach it from a different angle. I decided to focus on the science behind some lesser known superheroes. I chose to discuss The Whizzer, Chunk, Matter Eater Lad, and the Red Bee. I looked at their powers and origin stories and tried to find parallels in real world science. I've adapted my talk into a four part article. This part is about Matter Eater Lad. 

Matter Eater Lad first appeared in Adventure Comics #303 (1962). In the 30th Century, Tenzil Kem was sent from the planet Bismoll to represent his home world in the Legion of Superheroes. On Bismoll microbes had made all food inedible, and so the Bismollians evolved the ability to eat all matter. Matter Eater Lad can eat any amount of any substance at super-speed. Writers have struggled to find anything for Matter Eater Lad to do over the years – there’s only so many times you can have a character escape a cage by eating the bars. As a result he is often written out of the stories by being drafted into his home planet’s political system. It’s a literal case of  “I have to go now, my planet needs me!”

When I first started to consider how Tenzil’s powers might work in real life I thought I might find the answers with goats! Like a lot of people I was under the impression that goats could eat the shirt off your back if they wanted to. Could Matter Eater Lad be a kind of human goat?

In actual fact, no he couldn’t be. The idea that goats can eat anything is a myth. Goats are in fact incredibly picky eaters. The idea that they’ll eat anything comes from the fact they are browsers. They will root through their potential meals to find whatever they think will give them the most nutrition, even if it means digging around in rubbish. A goat may well rip the shirt off your back and have a chew on it but they would probably spit it out after a while once they’d decided there was no goodness to be had from it.

Matter Eater Lad may not be a goat-man, but there is another member of the animal kingdom who echoes his abilities.

Crocodilians, a group which includes alligators and crocodile, are far from picky eaters. Crocodiles eat fish, amphibians, crustaceans, molluscs, birds, reptiles, and mammals, and even smaller crocodiles. Certain types of crocodile have been known to eat, sharks, wild boar, big cats, elephants, and hippos. Young alligators and crocodiles have been observed eating up to 23% of their bodyweight in the lab in just one sitting. That’s like a 70 kilogram (or 11 stone) person eating a 17 kilogram (or 3 stone) turkey in one meal. There have even been seeds found in their poo, suggesting that they also eat fruit! They can and will eat anything and they don’t leave leftovers. If you're feeling particularly brave type "Crocodile eating" into Youtube for some examples.

Crocodiles have evolved sharp teeth for piercing and holding onto flesh, and powerful muscles to close the jaws and hold them shut. They have the strongest bite of any animal. But it’s their hearts and their stomachs that really make them such successful eaters.

Crocodiles have the most acidic stomach of any vertebrate. It can close off a part of its heart on the right side and use a part of its heart on the left side to flush blood loaded with carbon dioxide from its muscles directly to its stomach. This makes its blood supply extra acidic, which in turn makes it much easier for the stomach lining to secrete more stomach acid to quickly dissolve a lot of flesh and bone.

Crocodiles’ stomachs are also divided up into two sections. The first section is a muscular pocket where the crocodiles keep any rocks that they might eat. All the hard bits of their prey tend to remain in this area of the stomach for a few days at a time. Once the bones are thoroughly crushed, they transfer over to the next section of the stomach to finish up the digestion process. This process, combined with the acidity of the stomach, means that every single part of the crocodiles’ prey gets digested, including bones, horns, scales and hooves.

Matter Eater Lad could well be a sort of grotesque crocodile-man, if he actually existed. It’s worth remembering though, since crocodiles get so much from their prey, they don’t need to eat as often as other animals. Crocodiles usually eat about once a week, although they have been known, in extreme situations, to live off their own tissue for up to three years. If Matter Eater Lad was a human crocodile, you’d have to hope that he hadn’t eaten recently if you expected him to free you from a cage by eating the bars. Or on second thoughts maybe it would be better if he had eaten recently, just in case you started to look particularly tasty to him.


Wednesday, 13 March 2019

The Science of Obscure Superheroes Part Two: Chunk

Recently I gave a talk for the Reading branch of the British Science Association on the subject of the science of superheroes. It's a subject that's been covered a great deal elsewhere and so I wanted to approach it from a different angle. I decided to focus on the science behind some lesser known superheroes. I chose to discuss The Whizzer, Chunk, Matter Eater Lad, and the Red Bee. I looked at their powers and origin stories and tried to find parallels in real world science. I've adapted my talk into a four part article. This part is about Chunk. 
First appearing in Flash #9 (1988), Chester Runk was a scientist who created a matter transmitting machine. The first time Runk activated the machine it imploded and he became merged with it. Runk was now Chunk, the human black hole! Chunk has the ability to teleport objects and people into another universe – a dead universe! He needs to continue feeding himself 47 times his own mass in dense materials to avoid permanently imploding into that dead universe.

When the Flash first encountered him, Chunk was a villain, stealing diamonds to prevent himself from imploding, and trapping anyone who offended him in the dead universe. These included his therapist, a woman who turned him down for a date, a man who had cut him off in his car, and even a man whose shirt Chunk had taken a dislike to.

Mike Collins & Larry Mahlstedt
Eventually Chunk released his captives and became good friends with the Flash. Chunk started a waste disposal business and became a millionaire. He was a regular member of the Flash’s supporting cast for a while until the writers lost interest in him and just stopped mentioning him.

But what would a human black hole actually be like?

A black hole is a great amount of matter packed into a very small area. The result is a gravitational field so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape. Scientists can’t see black holes but they can see how the strong gravity affects the stars and gas around the black hole. Also, when a black hole and a star are close together, high-energy light is made. This kind of light cannot be seen with human eyes. Scientists use satellites and space telescopes to see this light.

Black holes can be big or small. Scientists think the smallest black holes are as small as just one atom but have the mass of a large mountain. So theoretically Chunk could carry a black hole around inside him, but he’d have to be pretty damn strong to move about.

Another kind of black hole is called "stellar." Its mass can be up to 20 times more than the mass of the sun. Stellar black holes are made when the centre of a very big star collapses. When this happens, it causes a supernova - an exploding star that blasts part of the star into space.

Brian Bolland
Chunk is depicted as a kind of big, walking Hoover, sucking people and objects into himself, but in actual fact objects have to get fairly close to a black hole to get sucked in. For example, if our sun was suddenly replaced by a black hole of similar mass, the planets would still continue to orbit as normal, they’d just be really cold and dark.

In order to get sucked into a black hole you would have to pass the event horizon – the point at which escape becomes impossible, even for light! So if Chunk was a particularly powerful human black hole he would look more like a huge sphere of darkness, waddling around the place. This sphere would be surrounded by a flattened band of spinning matter called an accretion disc. An accretion disc is material, such as gas, dust and other stellar debris that has come close to a black hole but not quite fallen into it.

Due to the extreme gravity around a black hole, an object in its gravitational field experiences a slowing down of time, relative to observers outside the field. This is known as gravitational time dilation. A distant observer would see an object falling into a black hole appear to slow down and fade, approaching but never quite reaching the event horizon. Finally, at a point just before it reaches the event horizon, it becomes so dim that it can no longer be seen. Perhaps Chunk would be surrounded by fading statues?

Once you were past the event horizon it’s really brown trousers time. The Flash could probably escape the event horizon as he can move faster than light, but you wouldn’t be so fortunate. You’d get torn apart as you were sucked towards the singularity, your body getting stretched and squeezed at the same time. This process is known as spaghettification. A singularity is the centre of a black hole, where the gravitational field becomes infinite! Chunk has been described as a living singularity. When you reached the singularity, you’d be crushed to infinite density and your mass would be added to the total of the black hole.

But that’s only true of certain kinds of black holes. There are other kinds of black holes, charged, or rotating black holes, where it would be theoretically possible to avoid the singularity and pass through a wormhole into a different part of spacetime! We’re now talking about Einstein-Rosen bridges, and these might seem familiar if you’ve seen Thor Ragnarok!

Yes, Chunk could be a walking Devil’s Anus!

According to Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity a massive object like a star, creates a distortion in the surface of spacetime that we experience as gravity. Imagine putting a bowling ball in the centre of a trampoline. The ball would press down into the fabric, causing a dip. A marble rolled around the edge would spiral inward toward the bowling ball, pulled in much the same way that the gravity of a planet pulls at rocks in space. According to Einstein and Nathan Rosen, if an object has an even greater mass, like a black hole for example, it could great a "dip" so great that it creates a pathway to another part of space time! A shortcut or wormhole across time and space!

If Chunk’s mass created an Einstein Rosen bridge, maybe it would be possible for him to transport people and objects somewhere else, although it would be to another time and place in our universe rather than to a dead universe. Of course, anything that entered his event horizon would still be spaghettified, so Flash would be left with the gruesome task of retrieving the noodle shaped remains of Chunk's victims from another part of spacetime!

Click here to read part four!

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

The Science of Obscure Superheroes Part One: The Whizzer

Recently I gave a talk for the Reading branch of the British Science Association on the subject of the science of superheroes. It's a subject that's been covered a great deal elsewhere and so I wanted to approach it from a different angle. I decided to focus on the science behind some lesser known superheroes. I chose to discuss The Whizzer, Chunk, Matter Eater Lad, and the Red Bee. I looked at their powers and origin stories and tried to find parallels in real world science. I've adapted my talk into a four part article. This part is about The Whizzer. 

In the 1940s, The Whizzer was Timely Comics' super-fast answer to The Flash. He first appeared in USA Comics #1 (1941). Robert Frank was bitten by a cobra while on a trip to Africa with his father, Dr. Emil Frank. To save Robert’s life, Emil did what any caring responsible, scientist dad would do. He transfused the blood of a mongoose into his son’s body. Luckily this granted Robert the gift of super speed! He found he could run at speeds of up to 100mph, create cyclones by running in circles, and could run up walls and across water.  He of course, used these gifts to fight crime.

If the Whizzer sounds familiar to you it may be because a version of the character appeared in the second season of Jessica Jones. This Robert Frank was radically different from his comic book counterpart, although Netflix provided a little nod to his roots, by giving him a pet mongoose.

Robert Frank was the subject of xenotransfusion - the transfer of blood from one species into the veins of another.  But how plausible is the idea that humans can take on the characteristics of animals through the transfusion of their blood? Well, very plausible, if you happen to be a scientist from the 17th Century. 

On June 15th 1667 a French physician named Jean-Baptiste Denys performed the first documented blood transfusion on a human. Denys bled a feverish 15 year old boy with leeches before treating him with a transfusion of lamb’s blood. The idea was that the calm, gentle nature of the lamb would be transferred to the boy. The boy survived, although this was probably only because Denys had transfused so little of the lamb’s blood into him. Denys had further success performing the same experiment again on a butcher. It wasn’t until he performed it on a third subject that he got into trouble.

Antoine Mauroy was a mentally ill man, well known in Paris for terrifying the locals with his antics. Denys and his colleagues thought they might be able to cure Mauroy by replacing his “bad” blood with the “pure” blood of a calf. Mauroy was picked up off the street and forced to take part in the experiment against his will. Denys performed the experiment in the presence of a group of rich aristocrats whose hobbies included witnessing new and risky scientific procedures.  The experiment was performed a second time and appeared to actually have a positive effect on Mauroy.  According to science writer Pete Moore, there was a reason for Mauroy’s positive reaction to the transfusion that was peculiar to him. He had syphilis.

Mauroy’s white blood cells attacked the unfamiliar blood in much the same way as they would attack a disease. This caused a raging fever. Fever is a known treatment of tertiary syphilis. Two and a half centuries later, Julius Wagner-Jauregg would receive the Nobel Prize for treating syphilis by deliberately infecting patients with malaria. Denys had accidentally treated Mauroy’s syphilis!

After the second transfusion Mauroy went back to his debauched ways. His wife begged Denys to perform the procedure again, which he did. This time Mauroy died and Denys found himself on trial for murder.

You might be thinking “Serves the silly bugger right! This is what happens when you go injecting people full of cow’s blood”. But it wasn’t as cut and dried as it might have first seemed. It was later found that Mauroy had actually died of arsenic poisoning. Denys was let off the hook, and Mauroy’s wife was found guilty of poisoning his soup. It would seem that, in a plot worthy of Columbo, Mrs Mauroy had grown tired of her husband’s debauched antics and saw Denys’s experiments as a convenient scapegoat for his murder! Other historians have argued that Mrs Mauroy herself was a scapegoat and that enemies of the experiment murdered Mauroy in a successful effort to get the icky and ungodly practice of blood transfusion banned in Europe. Either way, it just goes to show that if you are going to practice risky, untested medical procedures then make sure you’re not performing them on a complete prat who everybody's trying to kill.

These days we know a lot more about the risks of blood transfusion. We know that even humans are not universally transfusion-compatible. Humans are divided into blood groups that determine who can receive blood from whom without suffering a severe immune reaction that can be fatal. That’s because our immune system senses molecules on the surface of red blood cells and reacts aggressively to red blood cells that don’t have the right kind of surface molecules. This is why when we receive blood transfusions our blood group has to match the donor blood. Our blood must have the same kind of surface molecules on its red blood cells as the cells in the donor blood. 

These blood groups are not just limited to humans. They are also found in our close relatives in the animal kingdom, especially other primates. Theoretically you could receive a blood transfusion from a gorilla or a chimpanzee, if you shared the same blood group. You might wonder why we aren’t all getting monkey blood on the NHS. Well, there are still minor differences between the blood of humans, and apes, and we don’t know what effects these differences would have. Also, great apes are endangered and they’re not exactly easy to come by. 

So, is there an animal alternative? And is it a mongoose!?

Xenotransfusion research is currently focusing on pigs rather than apes, and it’s not just because there’s bloody loads of pigs around the place. Pig’s blood is quite similar to human blood. Our red blood cells are about the same size and have the same life span as a pig’s red blood cells. There are other similarities too, such as the structure of the haemoglobin – the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.  

Pigs could also be genetically modified to produce red blood cells that are equivalent to human type O negative. O Negative blood cells are called “universal” meaning they can be transfused to almost any patient in need. O Negative blood is what patients are given when they need an emergency transfusion and there’s no time to figure out the patient’s blood type.

You might be asking yourself “Yeah, but what about the poor pigs?” Rest assured that if we were to use pigs for blood transfusions there would be no need for them to come to any harm. Only 10% of the pig’s blood volume would be used each time, leaving the pig in need of nothing more than a biscuit and lie down. 

Due to the fact that kind humans are still willing to donate blood, and also due to advances in both the storing of blood and in getting what we need from it, it’s unlikely that any of us will be receiving pig’s blood transfusions any time soon. Even if we did however, the process unfortunately would not grant us the strength, speed, and agility of a pig.


Monday, 14 January 2019

Top 25 Best Superman Stories Ever! (2019 Update!)

The most common reaction to this sort of list is to cry "I can't believe they left out (insert story here)!" I thought I'd start this article by explaining why I've left out some of the Superman stories that quite often appear in lists of this nature.

Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, and Kilian Plunkett used to be on this list. This is an update of an article that I've shared before and the main reason I'm updating it now is so I can remove Red Son. Millar's work has a nasty, mean-spirited streak running through it that I have less patience for as I grow older. Also, the stomach turning sight of Millar discussing Superman on a Russian state funded propaganda network with the odious bully George Galloway has spoiled my enjoyment of his work, particularly his Superman work.

Superman For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale is too twee for my liking, and I find Sale's depiction of Superman as a giant headed, small faced man-baby a bit creepy (although some of his work has made it into my Top 25).

Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen is frankly too nice. Busiek is obviously so fond of the characters that they face little, if any conflict and the whole story ends up being quite uneventful.

What's So Funny about Truth , Justice, and the American Way by Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke is one of those Superman stories where the writer has decided to lecture the readers on what Superman means to them, and I find such stories self indulgent (although there are some exceptions).

Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Lenil Francis Yu has been left out as I think Yu's art is completely at odds with the tone of the story.

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross has been left out because, while it's a fantastic story I find it a bit too depressing to count among my favourites. It is after all a story about what happens when Superman gives up.

Last Son, Escape From Bizarro World, Brainiac, Secret Origin, Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, Superboy's Big Brother, The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman, Clark Kent's College Days, The Super-Key to Fort Superman, The Girl in Superman's Past, The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue, and The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk all nearly made the list.

25. 'Superman, Champion of the Oppressed' & 'Revolution in San Monte' Action Comics #1&2 (1938)
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Penciler: Joe Shuster
Inker: Joe Shuster

The very first appearance of Superman! In this two part story we're introduced to Superman, his origin, his powers, his human identity his job as a reporter, and Lois Lane. But that's not the half of it! We also see Superman catch a murderer, save an innocent man from execution, clobber a wife beater, mess up a date with Lois, save Lois, dangle a corrupt lobbyist from a tall building, join a foreign army, save Lois again, crash a plane, and end a war! Phew! The pace and energy of this story is unbelievable. The script and art are crude even by the standards of the time, but this only adds to it's energy. This is a story created by two poor, Jewish boys struggling to make a living in 1930s America and the sense of cathartic wish fulfilment is palpable and infectious! It's easy to see why Superman was a such a massive hit.

24. 'Strange Visitor' Adventures of Superman #46-48 (2014)
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Pencilers: Ming Doyle, Brent Schoonover, David Williams, Tulay Lotay, Jason Shawn Alexander
Inkers: Ming Doyle, Brent Schoonover, David Williams, Al Gordon, Tulay Lotay, Jason Shawn Alexander

This story is short but truly epic. It spans Superman's whole life, from the 1930s to the literal end of time. It manages to examine Superman, his mission, and his relationship with the human race in a way that's as imaginative as it is moving. The multiple artists and their varying styles help to convey the richness of Superman's long and unpredictable life and the huge variety of stories that can be told with this one character. Through all of his diverse adventures however, Superman remains reassuringly consistent and steadfast in both who he is and what he does. This is emphasised by a thread that runs throughout the story about Superman's one "failure" and the amazing way he eventually overcomes it.

23. 'Bodyguard or Assassin?' Action Comics #405 (1971)
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Superman has to protect the President from an unseen foe in a hi-tech underground bunker, but an increasingly unstable Man of Steel may be the real threat. Despite a twist that's very typical of it's time this story still succeeds in making Superman's descent into madness feel disturbing. Curt Swan was DC's top Superman artist for over two decades and drew the design sheets used by other artists to learn how to draw Superman. This story really gives Swan's experience with the Man of Steel a chance to shine, as Superman has to go through a wide range of emotions during his apparent breakdown.

22. 'DOA' Action Comics #766 (2000)
Writer: Joe Kelly
Penciler: Cary Nord
Inker: Jason Baumgartner

Lois Lane has been kidnapped by the Parasite but Superman is slowly succumbing to Kryptonite poisoning! It's a race against time as Batman tries to help Superman find his wife before the Man of Steel kicks the bucket! This story offers probably the most compelling examination of Superman and Batman's contrasting methods. Batman is every inch the crime solving machine, while Superman, even in his weakened state, inspires others to help them. We see Batman learn from Superman's strength and goodness, while Superman learns why Batman needs to observe the world in such a cold manner. We really get a sense of the admiration these men have for each other, as well as the depth of Superman's love for Lois. 

21. 'Ex Machina' Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2 (1988)
Writer: Paul Chadwick
Penciler: Paul Chadwick
Inker: John Nyber

Over the years we've seen a few stories where Superman saves someone who's about to end their own life, but this one is the most well crafted of the lot. This story carries an emotional weight, but it doesn't beat the reader around the head with it. Superman doesn't offer the man the answer to all his problems. Just warmth and hope. As with Paul Chadwick's work on his own character, Concrete, this story is subtle, honest, and beautiful.

20. 'The Last Days of Superman!' Superman #156 (1962)
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein

Superman is dying from an old Kryptonian virus and so he locks himself in a glass case (of emotion) and directs his friends to perform some of the super-feats that he never got around to during his life. Almost all of the fun aspects of the Superman myth are trotted out for this story, including Krypton's past, the Legion of Superheroes, Lori Lemaris, and the miniature Superman Emergency Squad from the Bottle City of Kandor. Superman's final message to the Earth, scorched into the surface of the moon for the whole world to see is lovely. And there are few images in the history of comic books more haunting, iconic, and beautiful than Curt Swan's dying, Christ-like, Superman, carried to his Fortress by a squad of tiny Super-people. 

19. 'World's Finest' (1990)
Writer: Dave Gibbons
Penciler: Steve Rude
Inker: Karl Kesel

This story was written during a period when DC were portraying Superman and Batman as cautious allies rather than bosom buddies. It's filled with examples of the many contrasts between our two heroes and their worlds but this makes the glimpses we see of their burgeoning friendship all the more satisfying and resonant. There's also Luthor and Joker engaging in an extremely fun partnership, followed by an even more entertaining war against each other, and a compelling story about an orphanage with a dark secret. As much as I love Dave Gibbon's writing though, Steve Rude's art is the real star of this book. He really emphasises the contrast between the two characters with a wonderful use of light and darkness. Everything is drawn in a style that harks back to the character's early days, but in a way that doesn't seem gimmicky and doesn't distract from the story.

18. 'Time and Time Again!' Adventures of Superman #476-478, Action Comics #663-664, Superman #54-55 (1991)
Writers: Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway
Pencilers: Dan Jurgens, Bob McLeod, Jerry Ordway
Inkers: Brett Breeding, Bob McLeod, Dennis Janke, Jerry Ordway

After a battle with the mysterious Linear Man, Superman is left bouncing uncontrollably through time! This is less a story and more a series of things that happen to Superman as he's thrown around time against his will. It is however, a series of REALLY COOL things that happen to Superman as he's thrown around time against his will. He fights Nazis, dinosaurs, demons, and a Sun-Eater, and encounters the Legion of Superheroes, Etrigan the Demon, and FDR! Despite being a victim of time shenanigans Superman is far from passive during his travels. Seeing Superman being thrown into a succession of confusing scenarios and still finding a way to fight for what's right is immensely satisfying.

17. 'Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow?' Superman #423/ Action Comics #583 (1986)
Writer: Alan Moore
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Perez

Beardy comics genius Alan Moore has written three of the most acclaimed Superman tales ever and they're all on my list. This is one of 'em. Just before John Byrne rebooted the character in 1986, Moore wrote this legendary two part tale to close the book on Superman's Silver age adventures. The story depicts Superman defending himself and his friends from a final ruthless attack from all his greatest foes. The whole story has a tragic air of finality about it as Superman sees parts of his myth break away one by one like pieces of an iceberg. The fact that it's pencilled by Curt Swan, the man who defined the look of the Silver Age and Bronze Age Superman, adds to the poignancy of the whole thing. This story genuinely feels like the end of an era. Every legend needs an ending. Robin Hood was killed by a treacherous prioress, King Arthur was clobbered over the head by Mordred and Batman has Frank Miller's Dark Knight ReturnsWhatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow is a worthy ending to the legend of Superman.
16. 'The Jungle Line' DC Comics Presents #85 (1985)
Writer: Alan Moore
Penciler: Rick Veitch
Inker: Al Williamson

Next on the list is another Alan Moore classic. Superman has caught a deadly Kryptonian virus. He rents a car and drives South to die. There he encounters Swamp Thing while in the midst of huge super-powered fever driven freakout. The reason this story is so effective is that it paints a vivid picture of a god confronting his own mortality and pretty much crapping his pants. Moore does this by contrasting Superman's moments of fever induced physical weakness with beautifully detailed descriptions of his awesome powers. For example, "Once he bathed in the heart of the sun, careless of the mile high geysers of flame that spat at him in frustrated outrage. Now, for his impudence, it cooks him by degrees." Superman's fear at confronting pain, death and helplessness for the first time in his life is tangible. In one darkly humorous moment Clark Kent gets a paper cut and artist Rick Veitch has drawn him reacting with a perfect look of confused horror.

15. 'For the Man Who Has Everything' Superman Annual #11 (1985)
Writer: Alan Moore
Penciler: Dave Gibbons
Inker: Dave Gibbons

Here's the third Alan Moore story in my list. Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman turn up at the Fortress of Solitude to celebrate Superman's birthday. Unfortunately Mongul has got there first and ensnared Superman in a Black Mercy, a parasitic plant that grants it's victims a vision of their heart's desire as it drains their life. Moore figures that Superman's heart's desire is to live as an ordinary Joe on Krypton surrounded by family. I love the idea that Superman, the perpetual outsider, the alien super-god, would just want to be a regular normal slob living in a place where he felt he truly belonged. As Superman fights the influence of the killer plant his fantasy world starts to go tits up. Superman's dad, Jor-El is depicted as a crusty old racist who is the laughing stock of Krypton ever since the planet failed to explode as he predicted. Jor-El and his clan are also pretty unpopular due to the protest movement against the Phantom Zone. Moore was probably the first writer to acknowledge that the Zone (an extra-dimensional dumping ground for criminals that was discovered by Jor-El) was pretty cruel and pretty unusual, as punishments go. This was also the first time, at least to my knowledge, that Krypton was depicted as anything other than a scientifically advanced Utopia. As well as all this brilliance the story also features Wonder Woman and Mongul in a huge scrap, a really, really pissed off Superman, and at the end, Robin saves the day! 

14. 'Kryptonite' Superman Confidential #1-5, 11 (2007-2008)
Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Penciler: Tim Sale
Inker: Tim Sale

This is the story of Superman's first encounter with Kryptonite and so, as you might assume, it's also the story of Superman's first encounter with his own mortality. Even before the infamous, glowing rock shows up Superman suffers a harrowing near-death experience with a volcano. Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale convey Superman's fear and panic so well that the reader is able to empathise quite easily with an invulnerable super being who's drowning in molten lava. Superman's supporting cast are served very well by this story. There are some wonderful moments between Clark and his parents, Jimmy Olsen gets a chance to shine. and Lois Lane demonstrates what makes her such an amazing investigative journalist. We also see Superman realising that while he has a duty to the world, he can't take a woman like Lois for granted. Tim Sale's art style seems to be reigned in somewhat during this story and for me at least that's a good thing. Superman's innocence is conveyed without the exaggerated baby-face that Sale draws on him in other stories such as Superman for All Seasons.

13. 'Up, Up and Away' Superman #650-653, Action Comics #837-840 (2006)
Writers: Geoff Johns, Kurt Busiek
Pencilers: Pete Woods, Renato Guedes
Inkers: Pete Woods, Renato Guedes

Superman has lost his powers and for the past year has been enjoying life as plain old Clark Kent. But his old enemies are starting to reappear, and Lex Luthor is collecting Kryptonite! For anyone who hasn't read a lot of Superman before and would like a straightforward, fun introduction to the character and his world, this is the story for you! Superman is a powerless and very human Clark Kent for half of this tale. As a result the reader is offered a fantastic insight into who our hero really is and what really makes him so Super. The story also offers a great portrayal of Clark and Lois' relationship and a look at some of the lesser known members of Superman's rogue's gallery as well as the heavy hitters. This is also a great Luthor story, and by the end of the story you'll be left in no doubt as to what Lex really feels about the Man of Steel.

12. 'Day of the Krypton Man' Superman #41-42, The Adventures of Superman #464-465, Action Comics #651-652 (1990)
Writers: Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway
Pencilers: Dan Jurgens, George Perez, Kerry Gammil,  Jerry Ordway
Inkers: Brett Breeding, Art Thibert, Dennis Janke

This story deals with the conflict between alien and human that rages within Superman, and it does so in a hugely entertaining way. Superman falls under the influence of an ancient Kryptonian artifact called the Eradicator. Robbed of his human values he becomes isolated and cold, and Ma and Pa Kent get a real chance to shine as they try to remind their son of his humanity. Superman's inner struggle with his alien nature is mirrored in the outside world as he faces intergalactic menaces such as Lobo, Maxima, and Draaga. This story also marks a significant advancement in the relationship of Lois Lane and Clark Kent, as Clark's uncharacteristic coldness causes Lois to begin to realise just how much he means to her.

11. 'Must There Be A Superman?' Superman #247 (1972)
Writer: Elliot S! Maggin
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

A friend of mine once asked me, why doesn't Superman feed the starving of the world, or end all war? This was the first story to provide anything approaching an answer to such questions. Superman walks a fine line between helpful super-powered pal and scary alien invader, hell-bent on imposing his will on the world. In a way, the fact that he's so powerful is his greatest weakness. If he does too much he emasculates the human race and removes them of their drive to help each other achieve a better world. If he's always there to help them, why should they bother? In this story Superman begins to consider this for the first time, paving the way for the more sophisticated superhero stories of the subsequent decades.

10) 'The Death of Superman' Superman #149 (1961)
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein

This is one of the all time greatest Lex Luthor stories and also one of the most famous "imaginary" stories of the sixties. This story imagines what would happen if Luthor pretended to turn good and then zapped Superman with a Kryptonite lamp while his guard was down. For a start, this story is great because it features Luthor's Lair, which is always a treat. It's in an abandoned museum full of waxworks of Al Capone, Atilla the Hun and other famous baddies. You have to shake hands with a statue of Julius Caesar to get in. The other high point of this story is the nastiness of Superman's death. Luthor fries him slowly under the aforementioned lamp and forces Lois, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen to watch. In Luthor's own words, "He wriggled and twisted like a worm on a hook! He sweated and turned green and the last thing he ever saw was my grinning face!" It’s grim stuff, at least by the standards of sixties Superman comics, but also very entertaining.

9. 'The Challenge of Terra Man' Superman #249 (1972)
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

This fantastically daft Bronze Age tale features Superman suffering from the annual birthday depression that apparently all Kryptonians must endure. As a result our melancholic Man of Steel is woefully unprepared for an attack from Terra-Man, a villainous cowboy who wields expanding, atomic bullets and killer cigar smoke. Superman is having a super freakout and his powers are behaving unpredictably. In one brilliant bit his X Ray vision is reversed and he is forced to stare in horror at his own brain! I don't know about you but Superman fighting a Super-Cowboy with Killer Cigars while he flies upside down and stares at his own brain sounds pretty entertaining to me.

8. 'Unconventional Warfare/ That Healing Touch/ Ruin Revealed' The Adventures of Superman #625-648 (2004-2005)
Writer: Greg Rucka
Penciler: Various
Inker: Various

During Greg Rucka's run on The Adventures of Superman, our hero is forced to ask himself some pretty hard questions. Lois Lane is shot while reporting in the Middle East and the consequences of rescuing her forces Superman to confront the influence his very presence has on human history. Clark and Lois wonder whether to start a family or not and Mr Mxyzptlk gives them a glimpse of what it might be like to raise a super-child. Wonder Woman is forced to kill a foe to save Superman, and the two heroes (as well as Clark and Lois) debate whether it's ever acceptable to take a life. Throughout it all Superman is being targeted by a ruthless enemy named Ruin who knows his secrets. The brilliant thing about this run is that Rucka deals with these moral quandaries intelligently without allowing Superman to get bogged down by uncharacteristic moping or angst. Superman ultimately provides the answer to these dilemmas the only way he can, by being Superman.

7. 'Superman and the Men of Steel/ Bulletproof/ At the End of Days' Action Comics (vol. 2) #0-18 (2011-2013)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciller: Rags Morales & Various
Inker: Rick Bryant & Various

The mind-bending, cosmic concepts of writer Grant Morrison done in the style of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's fast paced, two-fisted 1930s Superman strips! This run is split into several different stories of the Man of Steel, including his origin, his early years in Metropolis as a champion of the oppressed, his first encounter with Brainiac, his rescue of Krypto the Super-dog from the Phantom Zone, and his battles against the Anti-Superman Army with the Legion of Superheroes. There's even a detour into a parallel universe where an African American Superman is President. But together all these tales depict an attack on Superman from the 5th dimension, fought at different points in his life from Superman's perspective but all at the same time from the perspective of his foe! At the heart of all the multi-dimensional, meta-conceptual brain melting is a Superman for whom nothing is impossible, and who won't let bullies get away with it!

6. 'Superman under the Red Sun' Action Comics #300 (1963)
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Al Plastino
Inker: Al Plastino

This is a surprisingly grim Silver Age tale of Superman trapped in a post-apocalyptic future. Robbed of his powers, Superman takes a long walk across a dried up ocean in order to reach his Fortress and find a way home. He encounters a variety of bizarre, mutated creatures along the way and is accompanied by a robotic duplicate of his boss, Perry White. The final panel of the story features a brooding Superman looking out over Metropolis and hoping that he will never again find himself the last man on Earth. Considering most stories from this period ended with Lois Lane getting annoyed while Superman winked at the reader, this rather dark ending really stands out.

5. 'Reign of the Supermen'  
Action Comics #687
Superman: Man of Steel #22
Superman #78
Adventures of Superman #501
Action Comics #688
Superman: Man of Steel #23
Superman #79
Adventures of Superman #502
Action Comics #689
Superman: Man of Steel #24
Superman #80
Adventures of Superman #503
Action Comics #690
Superman: Man of Steel #25
Superman (Volume 2) #81
Adventures of Superman #504
Action Comics #691
Superman: Man of Steel #26
Green Lantern #46
Superman #82
Adventures of Superman #505 
Writers: Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Karl Kesel
Pencilers: Dan Jurgens, Jon Bogdanove, Jackson Guice, Tom Grummett
Inkers: Denis Rodier, Dennis Janke, Brett Breeding, Doug Hazlewood

While Superman's death (not the one that appears at #10 in this list) is the most famous Super-story of the nineties, it doesn't amount to much more than a big cross country punch up. Superman's resurrection was far more interesting. Following the death of the Man of Steel four Super-pretenders turn up. A Cyborg, a grim vigilante, a super-teen and a man in super-armour. How nineties is that!? Neither the armoured guy (Steel) nor the teen (Superboy) were really claiming to be the real deal but the other two were strong contenders. At the time I was convinced that I had figured out which of them was the real Superman. Boy, did I back the wrong horse! This was the first time I'd ever read a comic and thought "Did they just do that!?" The story gave us two strong characters that have become important parts of the DC Universe, John Henry (Steel) Irons and Conner (Superboy) Kent. This almost makes up for the fact that this story was also the first appearance of Superman's short lived nineties mullet.

4. 'Exile' Adventures of Superman #451-456, Superman #28-30, Superman #32-33, Action Comics Annual #2, Action Comics #643 (1989)
Writers: Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, George Perez
Pencilers: Dan Jurgens, Kerry Gammil, Mike Mignola, Curt Swan, Jerry Ordway, George Perez
Inkers: Brett Breeding, Art Thibert, Dennis Janke, John Statema, George Perez

Writer/artist John Byrne's Supergirl Saga gets discussed a lot among Superman fans. This was the story in which Superman is forced to execute General Zod and his gang in order to save billions of lives. Aside from the controversial ending and the introduction of a new Supergirl, this story is actually pretty subpar and forgettable. But we must thank the gods of comics it exists, because the story that dealt with the consequences of the Supergirl Saga is one of the greatest Superman stories ever. Superman is traumatised by his actions and exiles himself into space, believing himself to be a danger to the Earth. During his journey through space he avenges the deaths of an entire Earth town, teleports inside a gigantic space blob, learns the bloody history of Krypton, and fights and wins in an alien gladiatorial arena (years before a certain green, gamma-irradiated Marvel monster did the same thing), Exile is the story of a lost Man of Steel gradually remembering who he is. That realisation comes with nine defiant words: "MY NAME, TYRANT, IS SUPERMAN AND I DON'T KILL!"

3. 'Superman and the Legion of Superheroes' Action Comics #858-863 (2007)
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciler: Gary Frank
Inker: Jon Sibal

Superman goes back to the 31st Century to reunite his old teenage gang, the Legion of Superheroes. While there he battles super-powered, alien-hating human supremacists. This story is very accessible, despite the fact that it draws on decades of continuity to return the Legion to their roots. The getting-the-band-back-together plot and the array of colourful characters would make this a perfect basis for a Superman movie. This story is absolutely littered with moments so cool that I literally punched the air with joy while reading them. The best thing about the tale is that Superman is without his powers for most of it but you hardly notice because he's such a badass. Towards the end a powerless Superman pushes the main baddy, Earth Man through the window of a space station in order to battle him while plummeting through the atmosphere. Balls. Of. Steel.

2. 'The Man of Steel' (1986)
Writer: John Byrne
Penciler: John Byrne
Inker: Dick Giordano

This is the story that got me, at age eleven, into Superman. I'd read Superman comics before but I'd always viewed Superman as a bit stuffy and po-faced and I had always preferred Batman. That was until I read Man of Steel. Byrne took an approach to the character that had never been done before. He made Superman a bit less powerful and a bit more vulnerable, he could no longer move planets but he could be hurt. Byrne emphasised this vulnerability by having Superman's cape get visibly torn whenever he found himself in a particularly challenging battle. This effective little artistic trend continues to this day. But Byrne did much more than make Superman physically weaker. He strengthened Superman's ties to Earth. As a man who was born in England and yet spent most of his life in the United States, Byrne felt that Superman would be proud of his Kryptonian roots but wouldn't constantly pine for his lost world in the way the Silver and Bronze Age versions of the character had. Byrne also figured that as Superman never wore a mask, then people would have no reason to suspect that he had a secret identity. This gave Clark Kent the freedom to shed his meek, mild mannered image and live his life without holding back his courage and charm. To Byrne, Superman was the disguise and Clark Kent was very much the real person. This made for a character that was very easy for the eleven year old me to relate to. After all, this Superman was much more human than Batman, the aloof millionaire. Byrne's very human Superman was my gateway into the wider world of the Superman myth, and it's for this reason that I've placed this story at number two.

1. 'All Star Superman' (2005-2008)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciler: Frank Quitely
Inker: Jamie Grant

This is it. The ultimate Superman story. It's written by Grant Morrison, one of the best writers in comics today and it features everything that's good about Superman, and I mean EVERYTHING! Despite this it's not just a greatest hits package. Every aspect of the Superman myth is taken to its next logical extreme. Morrison's handling of Bizarro World contains a beautiful example of this. In All Star Superman Bizarro World contains not only imperfect duplicates of Superman and Jor-El but also an imperfect duplicate of Bizarro himself, Zibarro! Zibarro is the sensitive, poetic and intelligent opposite of Bizarro in every way, trapped on a world of mindless monsters. Morrison has taken the story of Bizarro and pushed it just that little bit further, just as he does with every aspect of the Superman myth contained in this series. This is Superman Plus!

Lois Lane is beautifully depicted as the very flawed human woman who captured the heart of a god. Under the influence of alien chemicals a paranoid Lois admits to herself that she fears she couldn't love Superman if any part of him was actually like his oafish and bumbling Clark Kent persona. Seeing this ugly but very human side of Lois exposed makes her seem more of a real person and makes Superman's love for her even more special.

Lex Luthor is absolutely perfect, a super genius utterly consumed by hate, just as he should be. At one point Clark Kent takes off his glasses and shouts in Luthor's face and yet, blinded by his own -arrogance, Luthor fails to recognise what is literally staring him in the face. Luthor is contrasted with the character of Leo Quintum, head of P.R.O.J.E.C.T, a lunar-based scientific laboratory performing advanced genetic testing. With his presence in the story Quintum spells out the tragedy of Luthor, representing what Luthor could accomplish if he wasn't so obsessed with destroying Superman.

The plot of the story revolves around a dying Superman's attempts to perform twelve Herculean super-feats before he passes away. Like Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow it serves as an effective and poignant ending to the legend of Superman. But it's not all doom and gloom. All Star Superman is fun! It contains, among other things, a cross dressing Jimmy Olsen, an arm wrestle with Samson and Atlas and an ape called Leopold in a Superman suit.

So there's the list. The Top 25 Best Superman Stories Ever! What do you think? What was left out? Does anything not belong there? Leave a comment and let us know!