Thursday was Superman’s 75th anniversary and since he’s my favorite DC superhero, if not my favorite period, I wanted to do something special. Well, I have a Superman book here that won’t go through the “Chapter By Chapter” process over on my other site, because it doesn’t read like that. I’m sure you’ve heard of Choose Your Own Adventure ® books. They’re awesome. The Wikipedia article I linked to refers to them as “gamebooks” and there are elements of role-playing games in there. If you haven’t heard of them, the idea is that at certain points in the story a choice is offered. The reader then makes a choice and his or her choice will change the story. You don’t read it like a normal book, but bounce to different pages to continue the story. They’re a lot of fun.

They’re also very popular, so much so that other book publishers got in on the game, creating similar “gamebooks”. One of them was Archway Paperbacks, who created the “Which Way” series, an obvious play on their name. Like CYOA, Which Way books had the reader playing themselves as a character. The narrator talks about “you” and character names aren’t given. Even in the two Star Trek books you “play” an ensign and decide who you want to hang out with.

An intended sub-series was the “DC Super Heroes Which Way” books (although the gamebooks website in that link refers to them as “Super Powers” it clearly says Super Heroes on my book). I was lucky to get the first one in the series, featuring the Man of Steel himself, Superman! On the back cover of mine are teasers for a Wonder Woman and a Batman book. According to that gamebook site, Wonder Woman’s never showed up, although apparently Supergirl and the Justice League did have books and Batman’s showed up eventually. The series didn’t do well for Archway. Too bad, because the Superman one was darn good!

Superman Which Way

“I get by with a little help from my…enemies?”

Superman: The Man of Steel

Super Heroes Which Way #1

PUBLISHER: Archway Paperbacks (1983)
A British printing was released in 1985, and this book was reprinted for his 50th birthday under the “Super Powers” series.
WRITER: Andrew Helfer
ARTIST: José Delbo

The story begins with Superman on patrol. You’re technically playing Superman although the narrator refers to Superman as Superman and not “you”, the reader/decision maker. The first branch begins almost immediately. You can do one more sweep of Metropolis or head to the Daily Planet as Clark Kent. The first has one main story with a potential side story, while the second has two potential full stories of their own.

If you make the sweep you find an alien monster attacking. This will lead you into an outer space mission where you can become a brainwashed king or a corpse or liberate a planet. One decision back on Earth could delay that and lead to a battle with General Zod or the Phantom Zone villains. Some choices can still lead to a happy ending but a shorter story. The battle with the Phantom Zone villains will not stop your mission to outer space, and that mission has a few good and bad endings. So even as a victory it’s not the same story every time. That happens quite a bit, actually.

By going to the Planet you end up with two other adventures, and even those are altered or lengthened by your decisions. In one version you face Lex Luthor, who want to challenge Superman to a fair fight, which means Superman losing his powers. You could end up keeping Superman powerless forever or simply getting Metropolis destroyed. Choose carefully, Kal-El.

Or perhaps you’ll square off against the sinister Toyman. Maybe you’ll face his toy army. Your decision could end Lois’s life either in the real world or in a video game, where Superman will have to pick from numerous (fake) games that he will travel into Tron style in order to save her. Picking the wrong game will extend the story but you only get one life and nobody wants to be eaten by virtual monsters, do they? The video game section is rather dated but if you set your mind in an 80’s story you should get past it.

The only problem I have with the Lex and Toyman stories is both features paths where Superman loses his powers and must fight without them. I know Superman is more than his powers but only one of those stories was necessary and my vote goes to Lex, although that might have gotten some influence from an actual comic story. Granted it would be MORE work for Toyman to program Superman’s powers into the game but that’s never stopped a story before. (Although there are also “zapped into a game” stories where people GAIN power–Tron again–or lost the powers they had because the villain’s a…villain.) I just think it worked better with Lex’s challenge than Toyman’s, where the writer could have just limited his powers, like in real-life Superman video games.

I should also mention that José Delbo‘s art on the illustrated pages (of which there are many) is also well done, but that shouldn’t be a surprise as he’s a comic artist and has drawn Superman and his cast before. There’s also a “Fortress File” section in the back of the book for readers who don’t know a lot about Superman. While the original characters (mostly in the off-world mission) aren’t there you do get backstory on Luthor, Toyman and Zod and his underlings. It’s a great feature to have and it only takes two pages out of the storytelling.

The scan above is the cover of my copy and you can see how read the book is. It’s not just getting to “play” as Superman, which certainly made me happy as a kid, but the stories are good and the decisions making it feel like play. It’s too bad the series didn’t do better but not having read the other books I can’t say if it was deserved or not. I do recommend this one if you come across it.