Posted by: John Kane on July 22, 2012
Bit pressed for time, I’m afraid. So here’s:
Gil Kane, Superman and some words about them both. Maybe some of it makes sense, that’d be a turn up for the books! Cheers!
SUPERMAN SPECIAL #1
“Behold! The Ultimate Man!”
Story & Art by Gil Kane
Lettered by Milt Snappinn
Coloured by Tom Ziuko
Edited by Julius Schwartz
DC Comics, $1.00 (1983)
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
I totally missed all Gil Kane’s work on Superman in the ‘80s so my excitement upon hearing the news that these works were to be collected by DC between two covers (available on 26 Dec 2012!!) was both genuine and verging on the unhealthy. There were two factors preventing me from experiencing them at the time; the first being availability on the spinner racks which I pestered with my teenage presence. See, back when phones were stationary and you had to go to them, I was too young to get to Leeds on the bus (this took an hour and a quarter on the 508 bus, but due to a space-time paradox around Armley only 40 minutes on the X84 bus. Or they may have taken different routes. You can take all the magic out of life, you know.) to an actual comic shop dedicated to comics. Consequently I had to make do with what ended up on the market stall. This never included Annuals or Specials (like this one). The other factor was money. It usually is. I did sort of lackadaisically pick up an issue here or there in later years but I knew eventually they’d be collected. And some thirty years later I have been proven right. Patience there, that’s what that is. So as a sort of taster to the amazing delights of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN: GIL KANE here’s some words about Gil Kane and Superman.
Other than the selfish reasons outlined above I also hope the book will bring Gil Kane back into the ever-evolving comics conversation. I don’t hear his name bandied about so much these days, which is a shame verging on an injustice. Because the big thing about Gil Kane is that his later stuff is totally great. (He died in 2000 so the ‘80s is Later Kane). Throughout his career he usually moaned about his inkers but lacked the confidence to do it himself. By the ‘80s though he was by all accounts pretty pleased at the results he was achieving. And so am I. SUPERMAN SPECIAL #1 is a bit of an anomaly in that Kane gets the writing credit also. Over 43 pages he shows you why his art is what he’ll be remembered for, and why that art is worth remembering and, yes, celebrating.
Because to be fair, the writing isn’t very good. That does not mean it is unentertaining. In fact, the very broad strokes of significance it uses to disguise the underlying daftness create a kind of insanely joyful read. The story has a loosely three act structure. In the first act Superman fights a big “energy-being” which mindlessly feeds on “whatever matter it can suck into its maw.” This dangerous drainer is dispatched by Superman spinning around very fast indeed. Kane throws some hard science in our face by telling us that this maneuver has generated “counter energy” and “nullified the vacuum.” It also appears to have killed the poor slobby thing. There are several elements introduced here that will be repeated through the remainder of the pages; the danger of the thirst for power, the power of spinning around very fast indeed, gibberish as science and Superman being okay with killing.
No sooner has Superman returned to earth than he is faced with a maverick politician who has holed up in the White House and is going to press The Button. And, yes, it is a literal Button. I very much enjoyed the bit where the guy says “All that is bad proceeds from weakness” and the fact that although he is nothing like Richard Nixon he is just like Richard Nixon in the same way that Anthony Hopkins is/is not like Richard Nixon in that Oliver Stone film. U-Turn is it? In the final and by far the lengthiest act Superman is faced with a scientist who takes science into his own hands and accelerates his own evolution for the good of the world; he will of course be telling us all what to do from now on. He chucks a load of natural disasters at Superman.
These take up the bulk of the issue as Superman defeats each in turn (yes, spinning around very fast indeed is again involved), before just dumping Superman in a “twisting vortex” at “the end of the universe”. Superman worries a bit before he remembers that he can spin around very fast indeed and he “explodes outward in a shower of creation-making incandescence!” Also, inadvertently reminding every male reader of their adolescence. Superman gets back to find that the scientist is having another go at his evolutionary ray so, as you would, Superman fetches the “lens of the world’s largest telescope” which he positions between the scientist and the beam and so burns him up like a sadistic child with an ant. Although he looks more like a singed chimp. Luckily Superman tells us what to think of all this baffling nonsense and flies off. If that’s not your idea of a good time I don’t know what is.
The real value of SUPERMAN SPECIAL is that it acts like a showcase for Gil Kane’s art. Every panel on every page has something Gil-tastic going on inside its borders. Even the borders are worth noting. If there’s a better example of how to use diagonal separations of single panels in order to enhance coherence and pacing, then I’d bet who ever is responsible read this comic. Inside the borders the pictures themselves are pitch perfect examples of perspective and positioning. This is a comic that can get right up into a face so that the beads of sweat are defined individually, and can also pull back so far that Superman can be seen traveling to the “rim of the universe” within a single slim panel. Gil Kane’s got scale down pat, pal.
He’s also got deadlines and alimony payments so he takes shortcuts aplenty. But these are Gil Kane shortcuts. So, while there’s a certain familiarity to the Kane-Tech (is that a camcorder with a sieve stuck on?) he twists the details and ups the scale to render it alien and unfamiliar. The greatest testament to Kane’s skill is that, in more panels than should be strictly healthy, he renders the contents as little more than texturally suggestive abstractions of what he is telling you you are seeing. Much of the art here may have its origins in expediency but the results are astonishing in their effectiveness. It’s difficult to see how anyone else could make so little mean so much. But then no one else was Gil Kane. Certainly no one else had Gil Kane’s way with textures. There’s an epicurean delight, the kind only comics can provide, to be had in Gil Kane’s textures. His people seem moulded from an extremely friable cheese and they inhabit a world sculpted from some combination of nougat, steel and water like fractured glass; a purely comic book world where power is visible in the form of bizarre swirls and sworls of milky amoebas.
Like Elvis, Gil Kane had his hits, and Gil Kane’s hits are here. On the cover alone he’s given you a floating head and a tortured soul with legs akimbo, a power amoeba and that glorious smoke like squid ink. Inside there are the Gil-tastic thrusting and flailing figures that thrum with anatomical excellence; grace and goofiness combined in the ever rewarding Gil Kane style. Perhaps he did these things out of habit, perhaps they were shortcuts themselves, but to read a Gil Kane comic without them would be to see Elvis and not have him do Suspicious Minds. Every Gil Kane comic is a performance. Every Gil Kane comic is Elvis in Vegas. There are good nights and bad nights but SUPERMAN SPECIAL is a VERY GOOD! night. The kind of night where Tom Jones is in the audience and Priscilla hasn’t run off with her karate instructor yet. I miss Gil Kane, and not just because when he changed his name from Eli Katz he chose the best surname of all.
So, yeah I’ll be talking about him some more probably. Something to look forward to there, eh?
Okay, probably not, but you can still look forward to COMICS!!!