Comics: The Garcia-Lopez Superman
Gerry Conway, et al (scripts)
Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (art)
DC Comics, 2013
As noted, the rumbling you can feel in the floorboards is the near-approach of Warner Bros’ enormous, $250 million-dollar summer blockbuster special effects extravaganza, Man of Steel. Long-time Superman fans already have much to worry them about this looming cinematic event. Its star, Henry Cavill, is astonishingly good-looking, but he isn’t American, and that’s something of a travesty right there. Russell Crowe as Superman’s Kryptonian father and Kevin Costner as his adoptive human father could combine to turn the movie’s first act into competitive scenery-chewing. A redhead has been cast to play Lois Lane, who’s been a brunette for 80 years, and a brunette has been cast to play Lana Lang, who’s been a redhead for 70 years. The project is directed by Zack Snyder, who – with one notable exception – has never displayed any talent at directing, nor any interest in it either. True, it stars the redoubtable Michael Shannon as renegade super-villain General Zod, but since Jesus Christ couldn’t give a more memorable performance in that role than the one Terence Stamp gave us in 1980’s Superman II, what difference does it make?
But regardless of how Man of Steel turns out, its ominous imminence is having one purely positive effect: it’s prompting DC Comics, the home of Superman, to flood the market with choice Superman reprints. One of the latest is also one of the best: the new “Adventures of Superman” volume features the artwork of the great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
A previous volume in this run featured the legendary Gil Kane, and both artists can rather cynically be viewed as standard-bearers of the “anti-Swann” school of Superman art – referring, of course, to artist Curt Swann, who set the visual template on Superman for thirty years. Swann’s work is iconic (shame on DC for not giving him one of these “Adventures” volumes, and the first one), but it’s also as stiff as granite, a holdover from a time when it was company policy at DC that Superman could be many things – authoritative, forceful, avuncular – but never, never dynamic.
Comics were changing fast in the mid-‘70s when Garcia-Lopez first started drawing his own Superman appearances; not only were gold-standard DC characters beginning to experience the kind of angst and conflict so common over at DC’s competitor, Marvel Comics, but the whole visual vocabulary of the industry was shifting away from the static of three-panel newspaper strips and toward far more vivid and fluid presentations. After Garcia-Lopez put in some apprentice-work inking the pencils of others, he was given more freedom to bring to readers a Superman unlike anything they’d ever seen before. Mostly in the pages of DC’s Superman team-up book “DC Presents,” Garcia-Lopez showed us a Superman who got angry, irritated, wryly amused – and more, a Superman who looked like he was straining when he put those alien muscles to some outlandish task (in one of the issues reprinted here, he breaks a sweat by moving the Earth just a smidge to the left) … and a Superman who looked graceful in flight. In its own small way, it was all revolutionary.
This sturdy hardcover volume features 16 adventures that originally appeared from 1975 to 1981, including the extra-continuity team-up of Superman and Wonder Woman, and also including the 1980 Gerry Conway-scripted classic “The Sleeper Out of Time” about a stranded intergalactic courier and his tragic fate. Several of these stories – some of which are real keepers – have never been anthologized before. To hypothetical fans who’ve been re-reading their fragile single issues over bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for forty years, having them in a bound volume is a timely godsend.
Garcia-Lopez didn’t just update the Superman look Curt Swann had put in place for so many years; he also updated the official character-template by which all incoming artists guided their renditions of Superman, Batman, Aquaman and the rest of the DC stable. For years, these templates (most often with Garcia-Lopez’ own artwork) were used on every last scrap of DC merchandise, from lunch boxes to sleeping bags to “Reading is Super” library posters. It’s a safe bet that this artist’s version of Superman was seen by millions of people during its own forty-year reign.
That reign is over now – the character has been thoroughly redesigned in the last two years (new costume – complete with popped collar and redundant piping), new hair (the famous spit-curl is gone), new attitude, new allergic reaction to smiling), and Snyder’s movie isn’t doing anything to challenge that new look. The sleek, happy, graceful Man of Steel perfected by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is gone from the comics stands, perhaps never to return – which makes this new memory-lane volume all the more welcome.