"And He Hasn't Yet Learned HOW to Lose!" COMICS! Sometimes You shouldn't Oughta Honk God Off!

Gil Kane. John Buscema. Superman. Mortality.  photo SBomAHeaderB_zps237de432.jpg

Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

Anyway, this… SUPERMAN: BLOOD OF MY ANCESTORS Pencils by Gil Kane, John Buscema Inks by Kevin Nowlan Plot by Gil Kane & Steven Grant Dialogue by Steven Grant Lettered by Ken Lopez Coloured by Noelle Giddings Separations by Sno Cone DC Comics, $6.95 (2003) Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

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Gil Kane! John Buscema! Big John! Garrulous Gil! Together at last! On Superman! No! It isn’t as good as Gil Kane and John Buscema delineating Superman should be! Which is a shame! But then it isn’t totally terrible either! So it’s not too much of a shame! I mean, c’mon, it’s still – Kane! Buscema! Superman! If you can’t wring any pleasure out of that then I hope your high standards are a comfort to you. And while Superman: Blood of My Ancestors may not exactly have been anyone’s finest hour it was, alas, both Kane and Buscema’s final hour. Kane died on 31st January 2000 before the book was completed and Buscema finished it off before he too succumbed to the inevitable on January 10th 2002. Since they were both in their seventies when they died we’ll leave any eyewash about cursed books where it belongs – in the Middle Ages. Now I’m in my own Middle Age I’ve quite warmed to the book but when I first read it I was a demanding little shit and it just didn’t come up to scratch. Mostly that was because it doesn’t really work, but there’s still magic to be mined from it.

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Image by Buscema, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

Dollars to doughnuts the concept for this book came from the brain of Gil Kane; rejigging a Biblically evocative tale with post-apocalyptic trappings is so Gil Kane it might as well have swirl of ice creamy hair and address everyone as “M’boy!” I refer the honourable reader to such prior exercises in friable buildings and flapping loincloths as Blackmark, Talos of the Wilderness Sea and Sword of The Atom. In order to sell his concept (I groundlessly conjecture) Kane had to stick Superman in it. Regrettably this apparent sop to commercialism makes everything a little less sense-making than might be desirable.

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Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

It starts off alright with “my” Superman (everybody has their own Superman but this one is mine; how can I tell? Easy, he says, "Superman doesn’t kill." Word!) swooping in to save lives against a big eye on tentacles (very Gil Kane) which is resorbing people. It’s even quite clever that bit, because the tentacle-eye is devouring their memories and when it starts tucking into Superman it finds his racial memories stored in his DNA and…cue the main story in flashback! By all known laws of North American genre comics this flashback should involve an ancestor of Superman facing just such a beast and defeating it, thus revealing its weakness to his descendent in the present. Kane (or Grant; but I’m guessing Kane) instead sidesteps into the true reason for the book's existence – a sort-of sci-fi scuffle with the Old Testament Samson story. Which is kind of really clever because if memory (Wikipedia) serves Samson is considered by academia as a derivation of the “Sun Hero” type a la Hercules; as is Superman (whom academia is probably slower to recognise). Unfortunately all the bits required to shoehorn the story into Superman’s mythos are the bits where it fails worst. Superman has his own mythology and part of that mythology isn’t that there was kryptonite on Krypton or that Superman’s strength and heroic nature are divinely inspired by Rao and also hereditary. Everyone (he said about to tempt fate) knows Kryptonite is leftovers of Krypton and that Superman is powerful because of the sun and that he is lovely because he was brought up properly by decent elderly white Middle American child stealers.

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Image by Buscema, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

But them’s the breaks; Kane clearly just wanted to do the Space Samson stuff which fortunately is pretty sweet even though he only got to draw it for a few pages before the world was denied his presence. As exits go it might not be inspired but it’s still pretty great. In the slight space fate allotted him Kane crams in all a Gil Kane Fan’s favourites – Power Amoebas©®, Back Flip Impact©®, Angst Akimbo©®,Body Cradling©®, Floating Head of Melodrama©®, Nasal Upshot©®, Turnover Boots©®, Crumbly Buildings©® and more. All of which might as wll be ©® Gil Kane. Yes, those are all things Gil Kane does all the time, but they are also the things Gil Kane Fans turn up for because he was so darn awesome at them. They were his moves. No one ever listened to Elvis sing Moody Blue and thought, well; I have now heard that song I need not ever listen to it again. No, everyone who listens to Elvis sing Moody Blue is forever after waiting to be blessed by that aural glory again. No need for thanks; poorly thought out and decidedly jejune appreciations of comic book artists is what I do. It’s important to note that the success of the art throughout the book is indebted to the sympathetic and fluid inks of Kevin Nowlan. Not only does he professionally finish Kane’s pencils but he’s also called upon to polish Buscema up and in the process provide a discreet visual continuity between the two. Which he does, because Kevin Nowlan is awesome.

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Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone Truly, it’s no mean feat Nowlan performs here either, as Buscema and Kane are hardly interchangeable. I can say that with some authority since this book shows both their essential styles side by side and even their unique interpretations of some of the same characters. Buscema’s a great fit with the book having spent a soul wilting span of years illustrating the savage shenanigans of Conan and such ill-bred sorts. Here amongst the rubble, the rabble, the swords, the sandals, the temples and the tempers Big John walks his last walk and he walks it tall. I didn’t mind the story but most of the fun was looking at Buscema and Kane’s art and then stating the obvious for you. Because looking at Superman: Blood of My Ancestors it’s clear that Kane was all fluid athleticism and Buscema was all burly sturdiness. Kane’s figures flare in their denial of gravity while Buscema’s bodies bow and bend under its burden. Weight is Buscema’s greatness while Kane’s is grace. Buscema’s work thunders with meaty drama while Kane’s shimmers with strident melodrama. Neither men are at the height of their powers here and they probably only look as good as they do because of Nowlan but, still, Christ, these guys. These goddamn guys...uh...shitshitshitdontloseitdontloseit..aw man, my mascara is running now…

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Image by Buscema, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

..Humph. Anyhoo, like Nowlan, Steve Grant pulls his weight and then some in a thankless role. I imagine he was called upon to ‘facilitate’ Kane’s vison hence his twin credits for script and dialogue. It’s probably due to his efforts the book reads as smoothly as it does. It’s still a bit of a bodge; the Krypton stuff never really convincingly meshes with the Earth stuff. But while he can’t quite make it work as a piece he does make enough pieces work well enough. Grant crams in plenty of characterisation too, so that while the villain, Utor(!), is still a villain he is at least a droll one and El (Samson) remains sympathetic even as his arrogance swells to God taunting proportions, but Grant’s best work is with Laras Lilit (AKA Delilah). She’s no one note femme fatale but a complicated and conflicted woman who shares in the redemption El’s ordeal offers. She even gets the best for while, in that endearingly Biblical way, El learns his lesson by dying (that’ll teach him!) she gets to live a life at peace with herself. Which is better than she gets in the original; God alone knows what happens to her in the Bible. Literally.

Superman: Blood of My Ancestors is a bit of a muddle; less satisfying as a comic than it is as a final chance to see two giants of the form in action. It isn’t a great comic but it is by some of comics’ greats so that makes it GOOD!

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Out of the eater came something to eat. And out of the strong came forth – COMICS!!!