Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Pair Necessities

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 27th, 2013

Showcase Presents: DC Comics Presents – Superman Team-Ups Vol. 1 trade paperback
Writers: Mike Barr, Cary Bates, Paul Levitz, Dennis O’Neil, Jim Starlin, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, David Michelinie & Martin Pasko
Pencils: Murphy Anderson, José Luis García-López, Jim Starlin, Joe Staton, Curt Swan, Rich Buckler & Dick Dillin
Inks: Dan Adkins, Murphy Anderson, Vince Colletta, José Luis García-López, Joe Giella, Steve Mitchell, Jack Abel, Dick Giordano, Frank McLaughlin & Frank Chiaramonte
Letters: Ben Oda, Clem Robins, Todd Klein & Milt Snapinn
Cover artist: José Luis García-López
Editor: Julius Schwartz (original)/Ben Joy (collected edition)
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $17.99 US/$22.99 CAN

I’ve amassed a small collection of DC’s Showcase reprint editions and some selections from Marvel’s Essential line, and I’ve only recently started really delving into them. I find I’m enjoying these phone-book-like collections of Silver and Bronze Age material as much as some of the better modern comics on my pull list today. Mind you, I’m definitely judging these books through a different filter, from a different perspective. These are not sophisticated comics, not by a long run. The writers take some ridiculous shortcuts to get the plots where they want them to go at times, and some of the stories definitely bite off more than they can chew for a one-off, standalone story. But they are incredibly fun, especially when they include such forgettable villains as Dr. Horus and the De-Volver. Perhaps the best thing this black-and-white reprint edition has going for it, though, is how it spotlights the incredible talent of artist José Luis García-López, arguably the best comics talent the Bronze Age ever produced.

Superman certainly keeps busy, and he meets the most interesting people along the way. He’s forced to race the Flash through time to save the human race, contend with his childhood best friend’s anger and revenge after being forced by the Legion of Super-Heroes to strand a young boy on an alien word, fight villains such as Chemo and Killer Frost, deal with magical threats, cure an alien epidemic and even move Earth light-years back into its rightful place in the Solar System. And all of those adventures and rescues might have been for naught if not for the tandem efforts of a variety of other heroes from throughout the DC Universe.

García-López is definitely the star of this book, illustrating the first few issues of DC Comics Presents reprinted here, and a few others later in the run covered in this collection. The power, grace and, well, beauty of the human form that he brings to each and every panel is stunning. His work is definitely at its strongest when the artist inks his own work, but it still looks sharp when some others, Dan Adkins and Steve Mitchell, embellish his pencils. But there’s one story in this book that demonstrates García-López definitely has to be paired with the right inker. The Superman/Green Arrow team-up features Joe Giella’s inks over García-López’s pencils, and it’s surprising and disappointing to see how Giella’s style overpowers the penciller’s. I like Giella’s work, but he and García-López just don’t mesh well together. Now, I offer this not as a criticism; what would be the point, given the material is more than three decades old? But I found it interesting from a more academic perspective, to see how some editorial and artistic choices worked out and how some didn’t.

The other two artists who illustrate most of the issues included here are Joe Staton and the late Dick Dillin, who both performed admirably with their assignments. They boast radically different style — which also deviate from García-López’s distinctive approach as well — but they suit the material quite well. Another element of note here is the appearance of a story illustrated by Jim Starlin, a Superman/Green Lantern story. His flair for cosmic stories is quite apparent here, and it’s interesting to see an early stage in the evolution of his noteworthy style (his work here evokes an easy comparison to the early style of George Perez, I think). The one artistic contribution to the book that didn’t quite work was Rich Buckler’s, but it wasn’t any real failing on his part. He boasts a rather standard super-hero style, conveying dynamic action quite well. The problem was his style was a poor fit for his particular issue, which featured Superman teaming with Mr. Miracle. The story was immersed in Kirby elements, not only the New God and his friends, but Intergang as well. It was an issue that cried out for something other than the standard fare, something more bombastic than the lithe, realistic approach Buckler employed.

Something that surprised me about this book was how opened my eyes to the importance of a particular issue. The Superman/Firestorm issue is penned by Firestorm co-creator Gerry Conway (and features some of that amazing García-López art). Now, Firestorm debuted in a short-lived title of the same name in the 1970s, but I didn’t realize it was in DC Comics Presents that Conway revived him. The story shows Firestorm as basically being in retirement, and Conway used the team-up not only to bring his creation back into the thick of things at DC, but as a bridge to his role in Justice League of America (which Conway was also writing at the time). Now Conway’s plot, which posits Killer Frost has mind-control powers by “freezing men’s minds,” is rather ludicrous, but the interaction between the two heroes and the gorgeous linework make up for it. I have to admit a certain nostalgic connection with this particular story, as the JLA story in which Firestorm joined the team was my first from that series, and I didn’t know it actually started in DCCP.

This is a collection of stories that, for the most part, has grown beyond the camp over the Silver Age of super-heroes, but it also celebrates the fun of the genre and the colorful cast of diverse characters. This book is a brick of solid entertainment and nostalgia, each story a dense foray into the impossible (and occasionally the goofy). It’s distilled fun — not pure, mind you. There’s some sediment of clumsy plot devices and developments that don’t work in the larger context of continuity. But these comics are from a time when continuity wasn’t king, when creators focused on entertaining readers rather than looking to how their stories fit into the works and worlds devised by others. It’s a great value and a good time. 7/10

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