Tag Archives: Silver Age Superman

Yes, I am petty.

So… I was somewhat looking forward to the above upcoming Superman one-shot. It was written by Martin (“Marty”) Pasko as part of DC’s nostalgia-driven “Retrograde” mini-event this month – a last hurrah before the big line wide reboot coming next month. It’s a series of one-shots that’s supposed to feature artists and writers (when available) who worked on various DC characters in the 70s, 80s, and 90s writing those same characters again in stories set in those decades, and presented as if they were written and drawn back then. This event was announced back in April, well before the reboot news hit, but it’s obvious looking back that they planned it to sequence this way. (The reboot, of course, should have hit back in 1985 after Crisis on Infinite Earths, but that’s another blog post.)

Marty Pasko wrote Superman stories in the late 70s / early 80s, back when the character was under the editorship of Julius Schwartz. Julie’s Superman was my first Superman, and was possibly one of the worst interpretations of the character in his history, usually only tolerable when Curt Swan was on art duties. Still, I couldn’t / can’t stop reading it. You read one, and it’s, like, “That was complete shit! Maybe I’ll buy another one!” “DC Retroactive: Superman – The 70s” is the kind of comic they make for guys just like me.

But, the thing is: I am now boycotting this comic.

Yes, you heard me right, Crime Fans. Pick yourselves up off the floor. I’m boycotting it! There’s no way I’m even flipping through this thing any more. Why? Because of recent comments by Marty Pasko about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:

If you REALLY wanna interview someone who’s a creator of TMNT as we know it, f*** Eastman & Laird; talk to David Wise

TMNT was a lame, amateurish B&W indie when TV ani producer Fred Wolf bought the option for chump change. No key TMNT branding element came from Eastman or Laird–not Turtles’ personalities or any shtik like pizza thing. Every TMNT thing that was leveraged 4 big licensing bux came from the cartoon, not the stupid, insipidl B&W indie comix. TMNT works almost exclusively thanx 2 creative innovations by the brilliant David Wise

How do I know all this? I wrote the 3rd TMNT episode of the ongoing series (i.e., after David Wise’s 5-part “pilot”) & a few more TMNTs, & I can swear that what made TMNT huge & famous was what David brought to it. Why? Bcoz I consulted comix AS WELL AS David’s pilot script & bible & the comix were useless as ref. 4 series that estabed property. Fanboys hate hearing this, but most peeps who get “Created By” cred have high-powered lawyers who fuck over collaborators.

 

 Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow down there, Marty.

1) However “lame” or “amateurish” or TMNT might have been, I don’t think Pasko should be going around pointing fingers when at the same period of time he was writing complete fucking corporate rubbish aimed at six-year-olds. At least TMNT was self-published.

2) How much more artistic merit did TMNT the animation have over TMNT the comic? I mean, really? This is like Pac Man The Cartoon (the pot) calling  Pac Man the Game (the kettle) black.

3) How much of the Superman comics of the 70s got used in the Christopher Reeve movie?

4) Most Importantly: TMNT inspired the catastrophic self-publishing boom and bust of the 80s from which comics never full recovered. But that Turtles money also led to foundation of:

a) The Xeric Foundation, which helped dozens of now-vital cartoonists get on their feet.

b) Tundra Publishing, which – though short-lived and insane – brought us Dave McKean’s Cages, Understanding Comics, Al Columbia, From Hell, Lost Girls, Skin, and more.

Eastman and Laird – whatever their missteps – have been vital to the development of alternative comics, and they deserve respect for that. What has Pasko done for the development of comics as an art form? Nothing. With “Retroactive,” Pasko is going back to the artistically bankrupt corporate sludge gutter once again, so you deserve the fucking, Mister Pasko, not Eastman and Laird.

KS

P.S. Even though he’s writing the Punisher and I suffer from Punisher-itis, I boycotted all of Jason Aaron’s comics a while back too. Though for different reasons, you can probably guess why.

Superman by Marty Pasko and a Committee, not at all like...

... "stupid" and "insipid" TMNT comics by Eastman and Laird.

Review: Wayne Boring

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.”

Jogging

Mannequins

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?

1955

1959

1959

feet first, 1954

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.

Click Me!

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.

Al Plastino

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.

1960

1960, same story

1960, same story again!

1959

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.

Feet First, 1984

Costume Change, 1984

Soulful Gaze, 1985

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.

costume change, 1986

Soulful Gaze, 1986

Jog on, Superman. Jog on.

KS

Review: PHANTOM ZONE #1-4 & DC COMICS PRESENTS #97

(PHANTOM ZONE #1-4: written by Stever Gerber, art by Gene Colan & Tony DeZuniga, 1982. DC COMICS PRESENTS #97: written by Steve Gerber, art by Rick Veitch & Bob Smith, 1986.)

As usual, I can’t remember exactly how or why these comics ended up on my wish list. I think I may have read something about it in the Krypton Companion, and I do like learning minutia about Silver Age Superman mythology, so maybe that was it.

Anyway, first up is the Phantom Zone miniseries by Gerber and Colan. There is a guy at the Daily Planet named Kweskill who we learn was once incarcerated in the Phantom Zone but upon his release somehow lost both his powers and memory and is now living like the Average Joe. Except the villains still in the Phantom Zone are psychically manipulating Kweskill to build a Zone projector which releases the criminals while trapping Superman and Kweskill inside. The pair then spend the remaining issues trying to escape, while Zod and the other escapees build a giant Zone projector to phase the whole planet Earth into the Zone.

The concept of the Zone is that you can only think and observe while you are there — no feeling or aging, though criminals can psychically communicate with each other. So I actively disliked the way that Superman only had to do a bunch of stuff to escape — much the way he came back from the dead in the 90s. Somehow the way Gerber delineates the Zone in such physical detail detracts from the existential horror of the idea. And the whole idea is so huge that plot holes are bound to emerge if you try to describe it too much. I have to admit though that I found Gerber’s approach less disconcerting on a second read through. Still, at times it was almost as if he bit off more than he could chew. Gerber’s best notes are played on Kweskill, who is the kind of Man-On-The-Street Gerber excelled at writing and often appeared in Gerber’s Howard the Duck. In fact, the fact that he makes time for the panel below amongst the chaos is classic Gerber.

But there is some weird stuff in this series. One the very first page of issue one, in the very first sentence, there is a misprint which reads: “Perry White is a newspaper of the old school.” Ironically, this page is about newspaper editing. (It’s so blatant part of me wanted to believe it was some kind of meta-commentary by Gerber.) We get a bit of history of Jor-El’s discovery of the Zone as well. Jor-El proposes the Zone as a punishment for criminals instead of cryo-freezing them and rocketing them into orbit as they do currently and the council seems to accept this after one day of deliberation — no scientific investigation or anything. Jor-El explains that the criminals are in the same physical space as them after they are projected into the Zone, but it’s not clear how they “travel” from place to place — how did they get to “Earth space” 30 years later? The council decides to rocket the projector into space to protect people from the psychic influence of the prisoners. This makes no sense since the criminals do not exist in the projector, and dooms them to eternity in the Zone no matter how long or short their judged terms were. It’s also very, very fucked up that Perry forgets that Kweskill was a Kryptonian until Batman reminds him in issue 3! And why does Superman keep a “disintegration pit” filled with “radioactive Kryptonian fuel” at his Fortress? Where did he get that fuel anyway? It’s also weird that Superman only has to destroy Zod’s mega-projector to return Earth from the Zone after being half phased into it. Really? So all you have to do is destroy any projector and whatever’s inside pops back out? Finally: Zod escapes and his one goal is to completely destroy the Earth — but his motive is never given. As far as we know, the Earth never did him any wrong. And if he kept the people alive, with his superpowers he could rule over them as slaves.

In terms of art, the work by Colan — a frequent collaborator of Gerber on Howard the Duck as well — is beautiful and moody and horribly reproduced. The heaviness of it is well suitted to the wasteland-like Zone. So why did they choose to make the covers so “comedic”? Weird. And I found it odd that when the villains manage to launch nuclear bombs against the Earth and Superman is forced to watch helplessly from the Zone, his face is practically emotionless. Also — probably not Colan’s fault — I disliked that Zod was bald. Aren’t Braniac and Luthor enough bald villains for Superman?

DC Comics Presents #97 (the last issue of the series) on the other hand, is one of the best superhero comics I have ever read. Gerber returns to write, this time with Rick Veitch on art, to create the final chapter of the Phantom Zone’s history in which the living entity which is the Zone becomes corporeal in our universe, fusing with Mr. Mxyzptlk, and releasing the prisoners once again.

As the cover states, this is an “Untold Tale of the Pre-Crisis Universe” — meaning Gerber had almost complete freedom to mess things up as much as he wanted since the continuity he was writing for no longer existed — much like the freedom Alan Moore had with WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW. In fact, Gerber seems to have had so much freedom, that some of the events in here involving Mr. Mxyzptlk seem to contradict directly what Moore did with his story.

There is a very obvious Moore-influence here. Gerber often narrates in the first person here, instead of the omniscient third person narration he used in the miniseries. And the Zone, as a sentient being, speaks in an appropriately “unhuman” version of English — something too difficult for the 11-year olds reading the miniseries, but something Gerber seems quite comfortable with after Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing bomb hit DC Comics in 1984. This isn’t a knock-off though — it’s more like Moore revealed to Gerber more tools in his shed that he could be making use of, and Gerber used them to craft his own kind of house. (Although it is possible that the miniseries and this issue are each enriched by reading the other.)

Veitch’s work on this story is phenomenal. Gerber covers a lot of the same Zone backstory that he did in the miniseries (was it already in place before then even?), but he’s far more passionate about it here, and Veitch — Moore’s frequent collaborator on Swamp Thing — attacks it with the eye of Victor Moscoso, abstracting and intensifying the layouts. Characters are sweaty and paranoid and visceral — I felt like Veitch was channeling Justin Green the whole time. I haven’t seen superhero characters look this emotional since Kirby. After reading this and Veitch’s Heartburst and Shiny Beasts recently, I am convinced that Veitch is one of the true greats of comic art, and I wish sometimes he could draw every superhero comic.

 

(Faora and Binky Brown — separated at birth?!)

The other great thing about Gerber’s freedom on this book is that the ending is negative in a way that I don’t ever recall seeing in a superhero book up to that time. It’s almost like the DC Universe version of Miracleman #15, with Metropolis largely destroyed — which totally makes sense if Kryptonian villains were allowed to run rampant on earth — and Mxyzptlk having seemingly become a god.

Excellent. A heady, feverish experience of a superhero comic book. Highly recommended.

KS