I remember the first time I encountered Joe Kubert’s artwork. It was in DC Special Series #19, a “Secret Origins of the Super-Heroes” themed digest featuring one new story (a retelling of Wonder Woman’s origin) and a bunch of reprint stories. Among them was a reprint of The Brave and the Bold #43, featuring a Hawkman story by Gardner Fox and Kubert. I would’ve been eight years old when the 1979 digest was published. I hardly possessed the most refined eye or appreciation of comics storytelling at that early juncture in my almost-lifelong love of the medium, but I was immediately struck by Kubert’s distinct style, especially in the context of so many other super-hero stories by a diverse array of artists. For an eight-year-old kid to recognize the uniqueness of a super-hero artist’s work is a testament to the powerful visual “voice” Kubert had.
Kubert’s work always struck me as being tailor-made for certain characters and genres. Despite his Silver Age Hawkman’s status as an interplanetary sci-fi cop, he maintained a rough, manly, even savage look for the character that’s proven to be integral over the years. And while I wasn’t an aficionado of war comics in my youth, I later developed an appreciation of the genre — especially when Joe Kubert was involved. The grit and strength he imbued in soldiers were always striking.
Just as there were characters he seemed destined to draw and transform into cultural icons, I always felt there were characters he wasn’t quite built for as well. Someone who worked in comics for as long as he did (especially for DC) was bound to illustrate Superman from time to time, and I never really felt his rough, loose style suited the Man of Steel. I remember Kubert illustrated one chapter of Justice League of America #200. Most of that comic was made up of individual scenes in which original members of the team, under the influence of malevolent aliens, fought newer members. Kubert handled the Superman chapter, which seemed an odd choice — save for the fact his opponent was Hawkman.
Kubert was more than someone who illustrated others’ stories. He was a talented, meticulous writer in his own right. For me, the project that showed me the light in that respect was Fax From Sarajevo. With it, he demonstrated war comics were about more than entertainment and stories of adventure, that they reflected real people, real fears, real horror.
Whereas other comics professionals inspired many who came after them, Kubert helped to mould and guide the industry artists who came after him. To appreciate the importance of the Kubert School to American comics, one need only look at the names of its alumni. It’s safe to say Kubert had a hand in every story a Kubert School student would later tell.
As I write this, I don’t know what Joe Kubert’s death will mean for Joe Kubert Presents. DC was set to release the first issue of the six-part anthology series in October. When it was announced, Kubert said, “I had a blast doing it.” I hope that means all of the material was completed ahead of his death. I hope we can look forward to as much Kubert-illustrated material as possible in the months ahead. But if he didn’t have all of the artwork for all six issues in the can, I hope DC, instead of seeing it as a scuttled project, will instead see an opportunity to allow the industry as a whole pay tribute and give thanks to a master and a mentor.
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