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“You See That? He’s STILL The Greatest!” COMICS! Sometimes It’s GilWolf Unbound!

John Kane

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

7 Responses to “ “You See That? He’s STILL The Greatest!” COMICS! Sometimes It’s GilWolf Unbound! ”

  1. I would have loved to read an article on this version of Superman since I really enjoyed it when it came out and you could tell that Wolfman was essentially interviewing for the Superman redo.

    However, the level of cutesy, “ironic”, gee willikers
    “humor” was just too much. My eight year old would probably love it.

  2. @Joe: No good, huh? Oh well. Still, entertaining kids is okay by me. Comics used to be allright with it too. In fact I think your 8 year old would probably love this book. Go on, treat the little tyke! Thanks for your time anyways!

  3. John Kane on Gil Kane – what could be better?

    Fantastic stuff as always. That Superman-Superman-Captain Marvel book was one I loved as a kid. And that note from Shubert kinda choked me up, I must admit.

  4. Since it is apparently my lot in life to show up to these amazing pieces and throw in my two cents on the Kane art…(Breaks through wall, yes, spinning) HERE I AM!

    I really liked your point re: the dynamism present in the plunging in panels and the back flipping out. We’ve inter-chatted before about Kane’s comfort with showing you the principals from varying angles, “Look there, it’s Superman’s ass!” but not necessarily about “the plunge.”

    For my take it’s as much about putting the reader in an active mode. When I see characters thoughtfully breaking panel borders it always put me in mind of whipping my head just so to catch a glimpse of a character in action. The reader “reacting,” as it were, to the portrayal of action on the page.

    In much of today’s pin-up happy art choices we, as the reader, are just constantly being pummeled with a fist or a lunge COMING ATCHA!

    It’s refreshing to get that sense of movement, that feeling of capturing – not in perfect frame or from the flawless angle – a character of immense physical presence doing something really awe inspiring.

    Thanks as ever!

  5. According to the cover the title is “Adventures of Superman Gil Kane.” That’s how he should be called forevermore: “Superman Gil Kane.”

  6. S: Say now, thanks and sorry for the delay with this one. Hey, I *still* love that Superman-Superman-Captain Marvel book! You’re a big old softie too, aincha now! Thanks again!

    @J_Smitty: You can spin in anytime, sir. I always like what you say about art and I think what you are saying here might point to a broader facet of Kane’s art; one I’m only just recognising i.e. it is very “active”(as you say)as opposed to “passive”, isn’t it? Thanks to the cumulative effect of all Kane’s devices the reader feels involved in it all rather than just being an idle spectator. I don’t know, something like that. I’m not really very good at this. I’m embrassed to realise that I’ve written several thousand words on Gil Kane and not mentioned depth of field once. Hopeless. Still, with the help of your bad self and everyone else I might get somewhere eventually. Maybe even somewhere as good as your last paragraph. Thanks, and steady on the sprinkles, sir!

    @Michael Hoskins: I’m down with that! Ha, I do like that a lot. “Superman Gil Kane”. Awesome. Hey, Superman Gil Kane’s pal could be Howard Victor Chaykin! I doubt if HVC’d put on any magic shows for orphans. More likely to be caught trying to saw a lady in half with his {Redacted Following Legal Advice}.

    Thanks as ever to each and all!

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