"You See That? He's STILL The Greatest!" COMICS! Sometimes It's GilWolf Unbound!

A-huh! HUH! It’s another instalment of Gil Happy! Unsightly blemishes are a thing of the past as Gil Kane and his plucky sidekick, Marv Wolfman, team up with friends galore to document the exciting, amazing and thoroughly ridiculous adventures of 1980s Superman. Bonus! Feel the years just fall away as we revisit that time a comics creator flicked DC’s tie back in its face! Documentary evidence provided! Anyway this…

 photo Anniv08B_zps923d1c52.jpg DC's Legal Department in a self congratulatory mood...oh, sorry, it's actually Brainiac!

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN: GIL KANE Art by Gil Kane Written by Marv Wolfman, Martin Pasko, Bob Rozakis, Gil Kane, Cary Bates, Roy Thomas and Joey Cavalieri Coloured by Tom Ziuko, Gene D'Angelo, Anthony Tollin, Jerry serpe and Carl Gafford Lettered by Shirley Leferman, Ben Oda, Gaspar Saladino, Andy Kubert, Milt Snapinn and Todd Klein Originally published in Action Comics #539-541, 544-546, DC Comics Presents Annual #3, Superman #367, 372, 375 and Superman Special #1 and 2 DC Comics, $39.99 (2012)

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

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AN APOLOGY: John's scanner is still acting up. While this sounds like John's housemate is Darryl Revok and he isn't doing his share of the washing up, what it really means is that all images are not taken from this book. All images in the body of the review are in the book but in a much cleaner, nicer form. I apologise for this.

I've mentioned some of the comics contained herein on previous occasions. Usually I've emphasised the art as the stories seemed a bit, er, slapdash. Since my age tanned run was incomplete I thought this was the result of absent chapters. Having experienced the visually splendid whole I find that, in fact, the stories are just straight-up nonsensical and preposterous in the extreme. That’s not intended as a slur on Marv Wolfman, who is a pretty decent comic book writer. Indeed, shortly after these issues he would have a far more coherent run on Adventures of Superman with Jerry Ordway following the Byrne re-boot. This does suggest that Gil Kane had the storytelling/plotting lead here and while he has given himself plenty of ostentatious incidents to illustrate the burden on explaining these, seemingly after the fact, falls to Wolfman. Most of whose intellectual energies are engaged with coming up with various different scientific, cough, results for Superman spinning around very fast indeed. I may exaggerate upon occasion but I feel safe in saying that if you are a fan of pictures of Superman spinning around very fast indeed you will want to marry this book. There are a lot of pictures of Superman spinning around very fast indeed, is what I’m getting at there.

 photo Anniv07B_zps7232b157.jpg No, he isn't spinning around but it is all quite exciting!

As a writer Wolfman gets some craft scraps in the form of Lana And Lois continually trying to c*** block one another over Clark and a slightly less ludicrous approach to inter-personal dynamics than comics may previously have shown. I said, slightly. Yes, Jimmy Olsen does put on a magic show for orphans because - you don’t fuck with the classics. Wolfman does refer to Joanie Loves Chacchi and for this he should never, ever be forgiven. Ideally there’d be an introduction in which Wolfman explained how the book came to be but DC splashed out on glossy paper instead, I guess. Tightwads. As it is I have made a great deal of assumptions so maybe I am wrong. Maybe Marv Wolfman forced Gil Kane to illustrate his scripts exactly as written so convinced was he of their literary worth. Maybe. I doubt it. Anyway, none of it makes any sense at all but Marv Wolfman does make it hold together enough for rational human beings to enjoy the book’s goofy charms without getting nosebleeds. Just about. C’mon, it’s a comic about a flying man with a good heart drawn by Gil Kane and that’s enough for me.

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Gil Kane just straight up drew the Hell out of this panel, didn't he? The collection eases you into the insanity with a couple of shorts one of which is about how if you ignore a hosepipe ban Superman will pay you a personal visit and tell you a story about Krypton expressly designed to make you feel like a proper shitheel. Where I live a man from the Council with cheap shoes and a bad haircut would come round and threaten to fine you which, frankly, lacks razzamatazz in comparison. GilWolf©’s run proper starts with a tale concerning two sorcerers who seek a divorce via time travelling magical violence. Relax, they are a lady and a man so bigots can enjoy this tale too. This magical marital disharmony results in Superman’s doppelganger creating the universe at the dawn of time, where he is spotted by Brainiac whose disembodied consciousness has travelled back to the dawn of creation because mumble mumble. Brainiac, now a fussily re-designed robot, entirely reasonably comes away with the impression that Superman is the Angel of Death or something and pressgangs several planets’ populations into an army. After failing to kill Superman because his plans repeatedly fail to take into account the power of spinning around very fast indeed, Brainiac attacks earth whereupon Gil Kane draws a whole issue where the JLA and Teen Titans fight, fight, fight those coerced alien rascals. This is a mid-way high point as Gil Kane demonstrates you don’t need six fucking months to draw some robots and rubble as well as proving it is possible to draw Starfire without making me ashamed of my entire gender. As I implied, there’s more to come and that more involves a parade of DC’s Lamest Heroes© (who are actually fantastic in their lameness and this world is all the poorer without them), Vandal Savage, some pyramids, aliens, stuff, nonsense, bit, bobs, maybe even a kitchen sink and it all culminates chaotically in that fantastic single issue where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster create Superman and save the world through their pluck, belief and imagination. I may have mentioned that one before. Fair play though; it’s impressive how each storyline in the main run flows into the next, with elements being carried across and the whole thing building to the magnificently shameless optimism of the final chapter. Sure, it’s crackers but it’s quality crackers. The book ends with a DC COMICS PRESENTS ANNUAL where Superman, Superman of Earth -2 and Captain “Shazam” Marvel fight Silvana which is beautiful in its combination of single minded narrative simplicity and the raw joy communicated by Gil Kane’s art.

 photo SwoopInB_zpsf4eaf735.jpg Swooping in...

And it’s that art you’ll mostly be revelling in. Because, Gil Kane. Keep up, son. Art-wise the big thing I noticed reading these comics in a fat batch wasn't just all Gil Kane’s usual tricks but a couple of new ones. Well, new to me, I’m hardly Oliver Observant you know. I’ll just focus on one because you look a bit restless; apparently having forgotten that you can stop reading this at any time you like. Now, we all know that people being punched so hard they back flip out of the panel is a ©Gil Kane move. It’s not exactly subtle is it? It’s only due to the limits of reality that the back flipping dude isn't literally in your face. But a slyer move Gil Kane sneaks in is a number of panels where a character will be flying, leaping, bounding etc (as Kane’s athletic characters were wont to do) and some extremity or other crosses beyond the panel border. This basically flips the effect of the “punch out” panels to give the impression of the figure entering the panel/page from without. Sometimes the character’s extremity just fails to cross the border but due to the position and tendency of the figure with the other contents of the panel it’s unmistakably the artist’s intention to communicate the impression of entrance. Over the long haul the combination of these “punch out” and “plunge in” panels create, I think, a particular and magical effect. Rather than the panels on the page being read as images projected onto the flat page and the “screen” of each panel, Kane’s pages are like windows onto another world. Another couple of scotches and I’d be trying to push my face into the panels imagining it looming hugely out of a cloud on the other side of the dimensional barrier that Kane’s art creates the illusion of having broken. Due to Kane’s distinctively friable style it’s obviously not our reality but it could be easily be a world where everything looks like Gil Kane drew it. That’s just the one thing I noticed, there’s plenty of others. As the art goes there’s something to ponder, admire or puzzle over on every one of these pages. Even if that thing is just that someone with talents so awesome and honed by practice could still have such trouble drawing feet.

 photo Act_CAWMON_B-1_zps5523acec.jpg Gil Kane was quite a humorous artist too. That guy in the foreground is not only doing a "Hey, youse guys, check out alla da commotion!" pose but the fact that the same pose crops up again and again in more modern milieu implicitly makes this chump the ancestor of many of Kane's foreground folk.

Oh, wait, before you all go could DC Comics just stay behind for a minute…thank you.

Now, I take no pleasure at all in pointing this out but if we don’t address this issue it may have ramifications for your future. So, this book cost £39.99, which is no small sum, and on the back of the jacket there is this blurb:

"Kane's work of Superman shined on such titles as..."

Look, DC Comics, I’m not unsympathetic; I realise these are tight times for us all and I guess, allegedly, crushing the dreams of elderly people in courts of Law is a pricey business. But the apparent outsourcing of your proof reading to the linguistically challenged Brian Bendis is just a false economy. No good can come of it. It hardly speaks to a commitment to quality commensurate with your position in the industry does it now? Treating your audience with the same disdain as you now treat creators post Levitz/Kahn might not actually be the soundest policy with regards to the future. Just a thought there. Don’t let me have to detain you again. Now go outside and play in the sun.

Despite DC Comics’ best efforts at self-sabotage ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN: GIL KANE is VERY GOOD!

However, purchasers will miss out on the non-Gil Kane contents of ACTION #544. But it’s okay because I have that issue and I can fill you in on what you missed. The issue in question is an Anniversary issue and so to celebrate DC Comics got the creators of Superman to contribute.

 photo Anniv01B_zps9c42bd68.jpg Art by Gil Kane and Dick Giordano

That’s Mr Jerome Siegel and Mr Joseph Shuster I’m talking about there. You may remember them fondly from decades of legal hassle with DC Comics. I guess there was a bit of a truce on at the time. DC was paying them something at least, I imagine. Everybody on their best behaviour and all that. So, being the writer, Jerry Siegel gives us several thousand words reminiscing about the creation of Superman; thanking all the people who helped it become a success; how it defined his life and such. It’s all very temperate and polite. Neal Adams et al are all thanked but he doesn’t explicitly say that’s he’s thanking them for securing Joe and he the payments from DC then currently ensuring the truce and the good behaviour.

The whole thing is sweet and kind of heartbreaky. Mind you, the fact that it’s actually addressed to Superman throughout in the manner of one of those letters dead parents leave for their children to find, the ones which emphasise how the child enriched the parent’s truncated life, kind of gets the ducts filling early anyway. Of course, hearts are harder these days, with most of fandom more concerned with how the Siegel & Shuster legal battles would affect the possibility of a Justice League movie or whether Superman’s trunks could come back. Because, priorities.

Being the artist Joe Shuster submits this charming piece:

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Now, as nice as that is the words he sent it with knock it into a cocked hat. This is what Joe Shuster wrote:

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"...I have decided to keep the original."

All those years, all those lawyers and they didn’t break him.

HA! Now that’s not comics but it is very - COMICS!!!

Have a good Easter now, y'all!

"Believe!..BELIEVE!!" COMICS! Sometimes Imagination Changes EVERYTHING!

I hear your pain, people! January is a real nutcracker ain't it. What we need, as  Bonnie Tyler advised, is a hero. And, yes, Virginia, there are still heroes. It's just sometimes you have to root about in the back issue bins to find 'em. I found one. I found a Hero. Photobucket

What's the best Superman story ever, ever, ever? It's a question that has occupied many minds for many decades; a real bone of contention with the self explanatory importance of the issue justifying every brutally curtailed friendship, divided family, and more than one instance of burning dog poo being forced through someone's letterbox. Sorry about that, Mom, but it's an inflammatory subject and fiery faeces spoke more eloquently than I ever could. Look, tempers can run high. Luckily, I'm here to solve the conundrum for all time for I, as ever, am totally right once again. It's a gift and yet, at times, a curse. Don't envy me too quickly. Anyway, the best Superman story ever, ever, ever is: Photobucket

ACTION COMICS #554 "If Superman Didn't Exist..." Art by Gentleman Gil Kane Written by Mighty Marv Wolfman Coloured by Bountiful Ben Oda Coloured by Tiny Tony Tollin DC Comics, $0.95 (Apr 1984) Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

The title is such an obvious construction that you've probably already completed the missing words signified by the ellipsis. "...then it would be necessary to invent him." And you would be 100% correct. Take a bow! But this is ACTION COMICS where Superman already exists so what, by the ruby rays of Rao, the dingdangdong is going on here? Specifically here being ACTION COMICS #554 and unbeknownst to most ACTION COMICS #554 is the glorious summit of  Gil Kane and Marv Wolfman's run on the title.  A run which I believe has just been collected in a hardback from DC Comics. A book which Babylonian Brian Hibbs will gladly sell you in return for cold hard cash. That's how he works, it's too late to change him.

When I first read this comic a while ago though I didn't know it had been preceded by a long build up, it was just this weird story where there was a world without a Superman but which sorely needed a Superman. It had, in fact, been a world with a Superman but due to a series of quite magnificently preposterous events throughout GilWolf™'s run (I later learned, because it's never too late to learn!) Superman had been erased from the fabric of this (his) world as  thoroughly as your mother erased those adolescent stains from the fabric of your underoos. Although in this case via the use of  "power pyramids" rather than a boil wash and some sturdy tongs.


The details don't matter, all that matters is that the course of world history has been changed retroactively. Not only is there no Superman there is no "heroic concept"! This is because there is no War and never has been. Rather depressingly this has led to an agrarian plough level civilisation of scattered settlements. People wear baggy clothes and sport bowl haircuts like some horrific world-wide Madchester revival and while technology is rudimentary they have, astonishingly, developed corrective eye wear. On balance the drab content of life in 20th Century Earth in exchange for millions of years of suffering and violence is probably a fair trade but, crucially, it has sadly left Earth open to a full on conquering by an alien race. Which was said alien race's plan all along. All resistance has been removed, yea unto the very fish that crawled onto the shores and walked. Cunning, perhaps but  thorough, most definitely.


The source of earth's salvation comes from two wee tow-headed scamps renowned about the township for their useless dreaming and pointless imaginings. Two tow-headed scamps by the name of Jerry and Joe.

Jerry and Joe.

Oh, you worked it out. (Someone give that guy at the back a hand. 'Sokay we can wait.)

Jerry and Joe realise that to resist the invaders the Earth needs a hero so they hide in a cave and chalk upon the walls the design of this man who "...comes from the stars...", this man who's "GOOD instead of being BAD..." this man with "...a Cape...to CATCH THE WIND!" This man ends up being Liberace, who while very entertaining isn't much use against an alien invasion, so they try again and come up with "...a...SUPER MAN!".  This seems more like what they were after and in short order this creature birthed from the human imagination and powered by human belief sets all things aright as Superman is restored to the world and all is well again. Of course, that mean's War is back but so are aspirin and microwaves but, hey, comme ci, comme ça, amiright? That's rhetorical, we already established I am always right back at the top.

Now, this isn't exactly what you might call a realistic premise. It's not terribly likely is it? I mean I love this comic but even I don't think you can imagine Superman up, believe in him and he will exist and sort it all out. I've been trying long enough and hard enough I've given myself a hernia and - no dice so far. I will keep you posted though. No, it's not supposed to be realistic. It's supposed be inspiring and entertaining. Heroic even. And I like that. I like that a lot.


Most (but not all) of the success here can of course be laid at the feet of Gentleman Gil Kane whose art is present in all it's '80s prime. The '80s was, for me, Gil Kane's Shining Time. The time when he had the inking nous to finally do his own pencils justice and the editorial clout to ensure he got to ink himself. While in previous decades Kane was often a hostage to unsympathetic inking the '80s saw Kane unleashed as never before. Yes, I quite like Kane's '8os art. I see '80s Gil Kane in much the same way as '70s Kirby (KOIBY!!!) - a thing unique and entire unto itself. Both styles are so complete that no further development is desirable or, I strongly suspect, possible.  Even Kane's shortcomings work to his advantage here. His perfunctory space ships and goofy aliens play into the childish naivete of the narrative. For it is an intentionally childish narrative I think. It's often thought that people like Kane and Wolfman were unsophisticated storytellers since, um, craft apparently only got invented ten years ago or some such horseshit which flatters the current generation. But there are many levels of sophistication and one of these levels is surely being able to pitch a tale to appeal to children while at the same time winking at adults.


Here kids can thrill to the scrappy youngsters showing the adults what's what despite the initial disbelief, get a little fearful frisson when the parents die, be reassured when it turns out the aliens were kidnapping not killing the adults and, finally, soar with Superman as the impossible becomes possible because two children dreamed a dream which became real.  Adults of course can get a kick out of the goofy antics as well as enjoy the cheeky moments of humour such as when Joe enquires after his parents and an adult just blandly states, "They're probably DEAD. Buried under the RUBBLE." or when the plucky pair outline their insane plan only for a kid to say "But that makes no semnffmfm" his latter words muffled because an adult has just shut him up with a stern hand. GilWolf™ are not unaware of the daffiness they are dealing in and handle it with a balance and surety easily missed. But you can't miss, no one could miss, the glory of Kane's Superman. Initially appearing as a chalk drawing (an amazingly detailed and preternaturally accomplished chalk drawing - a lot like a Gil Kane drawing (another wink)) Kane's Superman is revealed in an amazing sequence that thrums with power, so much so that Wolfman has little recourse but to resort to the Greatest Wordsmith of all  - The Shakespeare. The insane and impossible magic achieved by combining words and pictures and imagination reaches its magnificent apogee here. After this things necessarily fall off a bit (or the risk would be that the reader's head would melt) but Kane's Superman is still like unto a God or at least a Roman Hellenistic statue of a God. A stutue that moves, because, boy, does Gil Kane's Superman move. When he's in motion, and he is mostly in motion, Kane's Superman is fluidity and power in perfect union. Kane's Superman looks delighted to be alive. Kane's Superman is so transported by the act of living even his cape blooms like a physical flare of joy.


And as Superman flies off to heal the world on a monthly basis once more the story shifts scene a final time to another pair of kids. An older pair but a pair engaged in a similar exercise of imagination. The exercise of imagination known as creation. Two kids called Joseph and Jack.

Joseph and Jack.

Joseph and Jack.

'Nuff Said, right?

And maybe that, in the end, is why ACTION COMICS #554 is the greatest Superman story ever told. Because although it could only whisper it tried to tell us the truth. About creation. About imagination and the people who have it and where the real original value in all these creations, all these billion dollar making creations, resides. It resides in the act of creation and it resides in those who have imagination enough to create.


For Joe and Jerry.

For Joseph and Jack.

For the creators.