Superman and…

Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents Superman Team-ups Volume 1: written by Martin Pasko, Cary Bates, Len Wein, Paul Levitz, Denny O’Neil, Gerry Conway and others; illustrated by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Joe Staton, Ross Andru, Murphy Anderson, Dick Dillin, Jim Starlin, and others (1978-1980; collected 2011): Back in the Bronze, Pre-Crisis Age of DC Comics, this was the first new regular Superman title to be released in about 30 years.

As heroes still didn’t cross willy-nilly over into one another’s books all the time (even over at Marvel), the team-up book was still a viable concept. Indeed, long-running Superman/Batman team-up book World’s Finest had briefly turned into a Superman/everyone-else book in the early 1970’s.

Reading Superman comics from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, I’m struck by what a beating the Man of Steel takes during what revisionist comic-book history has portrayed as his ‘too powerful to be interesting’ phase, a phase which supposedly led to the John Byrne reboot of Superman in 1986, a reboot that radically depowered the Man of Steel. He’s still very powerful in these stories, but he can be knocked out, chained up, and even frozen. And this is a good thing — there should be a sense of peril, especially when one needs two superheroes to solve a problem.

A lot of the art contained herein is terrific, especially those issues illustrated by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, an artist’s artist whose work seems to be more famous among fellow comic-book artists (the aforementioned Byrne is a big fan) than among fans. It’s fine-lined, detailed, exquisitely composed art (DC is releasing an all-Garcia-Lopez Superman reprint volume in the next month or so, a great idea). He’s also the sort of artist whose work looks incredibly good in the black-and-white Showcase format.

The only reason he didn’t draw more comics was that Warner made him the main Superman artist for non-comic-book material, which is to say everything from Superman lunchbox art to Superman French Fries (!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

There’s other solid work here from Jim Starlin, Joe Staton, and others, and the writing is generally solid as well, with most of the writers having a firm grasp on Superman’s personality and morals. The only real misfire collected here is a Superman/Swamp Thing team-up written by Steve Engelhart and illustrated by Hawkman and Superman veteran Murphy Anderson. Engelhart makes Superman terribly dense, while Anderson simply cannot draw Swamp Thing. But other than that issue, the book is very enjoyable, maybe never moreso than when an amnesiac Superman teams up with Sgt. Rock and East Company. Recommended.

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