ACTION COMICS #561 & #572
(DC Comics, 1984 & 1985. By various.)
I bought these two issues because they apparently contain the last two Silver Age Superman stories ever drawn by Wayne Boring.
Whoa! Wait a second — Wayne Boring was still drawing Superman stories in 1985?!?
Actually, I shouldn’t say “still.” Boring’s work here is advertised on the cover as a “return.” At the same time the direct market version of the UPC box says: “The New DC. There’s no stopping us now.” No, nothing except bringing Wayne Boring back to draw some Superman stories.
The very idea of 40s and 50s Superman artist Wayne Boring drawing Superman comics in 1984 is like saving your MP3s on a data cassette unit. His style is somehow inherently old fashioned — he’s like the Dave Berg of Superman artists. Something about the stiff, awkwardness of it, and the pre-70s-Mister-Universe musculature. Wayne Boring drew an iconic and — for a period — definitive Superman, sure (due in no small part, I’d bet, to having worked on the newspaper strip). His barrel-chested Man of Steel is one that seems right at home on a rusting 1963 Superman lunchbox that you find in a vintage shop. Price: $265.00. (The all-time great Superman artist is of course Curt Swan, but writing about him is a job for better writers than me.) But judging from Boring’s sequentials, he doesn’t seem like the ideal Superman artist since he apparently struggled to draw a man flying. One of his idiosyncrasies was his way of drawing Superman flying through a window. It looks like he just turned the paper on the side and drew Superman flying up.
And as discussed in a recent interview with Tom DeHaven on Comics Reporter, DeHaven said:
“[W]hen I went back to look at his stories again, I kept on thinking, “What is going on here?” Then I realized that nobody looks at each other. They’re all looking off in different directions… and I thought, “What a strange situation.” In the scenes when Superman is flying through the air, he looks like he’s jogging. [laughter] There are some very strange things when you abstract out the panels from the stories. So yeah, I was surprised by Wayne Boring. Although I still have a lot of affection for him. I thought he was a really good draftsman. As a storyteller, there was a lot to be desired.”
Indeed, when Boring’s characters have conversations it looks he used mannequins as reference and didn’t quite pose them right. And he had that semi-frequent habit giving a weird Dutch tilt to many of his panels. We identify Boring with these things because it seems like he drew them the same way so many times! I mean how many times did Boring draw that same shot of Clark pulling his shirt off? Or the flying-feet-first-at-an-angle shot?
As for his figures, I mentioned the barrel-chested Superman before, but looking at it now, his trunk just seems way too big on his garden-gnome-sized legs. And more than any other artist, Boring’s Clark and Superman were virtually indistinguishable, especially the way he drew Kal-El’s unhumanly massive chin.
By the 1960s, Boring was working on Superman only occasionally, and was finally fired in 1967, leading to his hilarious caricature of Superman uber-editor Mort Weisinger.
Technically speaking, Boring’s contemporary Al Plastino was a better artist. If you were sleepy you might mistake Plastino’s art for Boring’s, but closer inspection reveals that Plastino had a less bludgeoning style and more versatility. It’s possible that Plastino was aping Boring deliberately to some extent (Plastino was after all the guy tapped by the syndicate to replace Charles Schulz on Peanuts!!). But Plastino’s figures are friendlier and have a wider range of expressions.
And yet it’s probably Plastino’s lack of affectation that makes him the less remembered, less merchandised artist. And for me the less appealing artist. So why do I — unironically — love Boring’s art? Well, there is the lunchbox thing — his art is nostalgic, to be sure. And then there is the soulful gaze to the lower corner which no other artist seemed to give Superman, but Boring whipped out, like, 70 times. Look, comic artists on a monthly schedule need to take shortcuts, I know — but it is the very quirkiness of his art that I find appealing.
Speaking of nostalgia, the other story in issue #561 (is two stories in one Superman issue in itself also old fashioned?) is illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger. Schaffenberger is one of my all-time favourite comic book artists for his run on Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane (a massive influence on Weird Crime Theater), and an artist that Mulele loathes. Like Boring, Schaffenberger too may have had a somewhat repetitive style (same poses, same angles, same zoom), but it’s just too smooth and pretty to be ignored. Schaffenberger didn’t disappear from DC like Boring did — he went on to Shazam! (he’d already worked on Captain Marvel at Fawcett) and Superboy — but his work too seems out of place on Superman. His figures are just too damn cuddly. While a cuddly Captain Marvel and Superboy are fine, and a cuddly Superman occasionally showing up as a guest in Lois Lane is fine too, a cuddly Superman in a sustained narrative is as discombobulating as if it had been drawn by Junko Mizuno.
Meanwhile back in 1984, Boring is up to all his old tricks as you can see from the scans below. To be fair though, it is totally conceivable that Boring wanted to do something different, but editor Julie Schwartz was, like, “Hey, do those poses like you used to do in the old days!” Then again, maybe Schwartz hired him for the job knowing exactly what he was going to get. At any rate, Boring is inked here by Dave Hunt who slightly takes the edge off Boring’s wonky figure work, but the devil is in the layouts where Boring’s id is not to be denied.
This story makes no sense and Boring isn’t helping. Look at the scans below. 1) If you are like me and you read your comics ten minutes before bed, you might misread the title and assume from the art that Superman is splitting into his past, present, and future selves, especially looking at the grammatically fucked up panel 5. But actually there are only two of them — past and future. 2) Further confusing things, Future-Superman is able split into two, but worse: apparently his Kent identity is somehow not as “bulky” as Future-Superman. 3) Past-Superman has no knowledge of the present, while Future-Superman… who knows what the hell’s going on here.
But by 1985 in Action #572, Boring is a little less boring (ho ho hee hee), and his story in this issue is actually pretty fine. Boring is inked by Dave Hunt again here, and the story involves shape shifters on the moon who’ve all taken on the form of Clark Kent, but there is a kind of internal logic to the weirdness that makes it pretty coherent actually.
… But. Boring did actually do one further Superman story: the retelling of the origin of the Golden Age Superman in Secret Origins #1 in 1986. Boring’s old-fashionedness is a logical fit for a retelling of the first Superman story, and inked by Jerry Ordway, Boring’s art incredibly takes on a kind of depth and glamour you would never have expected.
Jog on, Superman. Jog on.