Joe Kubert Presents #1
Joe Kubert, Sam Glanzman, Brian Buniak
“I can still remember when I picked up the issue with the first appearance of Superman. Wish I’d saved that book. Might not have to be worrying about the economy today. Of course, the printing, color and quality of paper was not what it is today. But, then again, it was sixty-four pages of story and art for a dime. Ten cents!
Anywhow, there are certain kinds of stories and cartoonists whose work I admired. Lots of them no longer around. The kind of work I don’t see enough of today. So when I mentioned to Paul [Levitz], he came back at me and said: “Okay, Joe, Tag! You’re it!” Well, that’s not exactly the way it happened. But, Paul did say, “Why don’t you produce the kind of book you’re talking about? An anthology – different stories – presented by Joe Kubert.” Joe Kubert
Among the most recent crop of new releases one stood out for me in this last week: Joe Kubert Presents #1. With a gorgeous grayscale Hawkman cover and Kubert’s name on it, I couldn’t resist picking it up. I mean, it’s Joe Kubert for goodness sake, one of the finest artists the medium has seen, and a hugely influential figure, inspiring and tutoring so many others. As his own words above, borrowed from the issue, explain, he had been chatting to DC’s Paul Levitz about some older works and styles of comics that he just didn’t see much of anymore, and out of that came the idea for a six issue anthology run, with Joe creating the lead story himself and selecting the other creators and their work, which he would then present. Frankly they had me simply at Joe Kubert’s name on the cover…
I have to say right off the bat I enjoyed this hugely. In fact it’s probably the single book I enjoyed most from the most recent releases. It’s Old School. And by that I don’t mean to infer any negative connotations like it being slow paced or static, far from it, by Old School I simply mean that, just as Kubert himself said of the collection, it presented some styles of comics storytelling that I haven’t seen in years, probably since I was a kid (and even back then some of those older comics I was reading were more than likely reprints of earlier works, as was fairly common). And you know what? I loved that. Not that there’s anything wrong with many modern styles of comics storytelling. But for me it was a bit like reading the New 52 take on The Flash – none of the convoluted, multi-layered, multi-referential, post-modern, morally anguished takes on heroes and tales that seems to be run of the mill for the last decade or two, but more of a simple joy, that a comic could appeal to an adult but still give you the enjoyment and thrill it did when you were ten. And, dammit, that’s a wonderful feeling to get again, as well as being a nice change of pace.
(Kubert’s introduction to the concept behind the anthology includes some pencil sketches by his fellows and himself, such as this splendid Hawkman panel)
We get four stories here, two by Kubert himself (Hawkman and also Spit), Brian Buniak’s Angel and the Ape and the USS Stevens by Sam Glanzman. Kubert explains for the leading Hawkman tale he decided returned to this as one of the characters he “cut his eyeteeth on… over sixty years ago.” Back then, he notes, he was drawing to a script penned by some of the best in the business, but for this he wanted to do the writing, art and colouring all himself, for it to be a short Hawkman tale entirely from his own perspective.
(flying over Africa in Kubert’s own Hawkman tale which opens the collection)
I’ll confess Hawkman is not a character I’ve ever really been especially interested in, even as a kid, but I enjoyed this brief tale of Katar and Shayera being summoned by their planet’s council to go on a mission to a backward world called Earth, to investigate the people there who seem beset by many problems – violence, war, pollution, greed – and who are now beginning to experiment with space travel, meaning they could perhaps export their primitive problems to other worlds in the future. The tale has a nice environmental theme to it, appropriate to Hawkman, of course, and the pair begin their journey in the cradle of life, Africa, where they are taken aback at the rich diversity of animal life.
Kubert’s other offering, Spit, is inspired by Moby Dick and where his Hawkman has a very traditional DC superhero look and feel to it, Spit has a very atmospheric monochrome artwork, rough, almost unfinished feeling, quite suitable for depicting an older, harder era, as our wandering, hungry orphan seeks shelter in a port town’s inn. Most of the hard-bitten sailors have little pity or time for the child, but one intervenes to stop another who offers to take him home and look after him because they all know that man has a penchant for abusing children. After his intervention he feels some responsibility and so takes the boy onto their whaling vessel. It’s only a few pages of opening, but the artwork is very atmospheric and different to all the other work in the collection, which I suspect was a deliberate decision by Kubert.
Kubert had admired Brian Buniak’s work for years and asked him if he would contribute something, so Buniak resurrected his The Angel and the Ape characters, a sexy, sassy female private investigator teamed up with a very smart ape. The story is brief – a businessman requires a bodyguard to protect him from himself as he is trying to kill himself – but Buniak packs in the gags, both in words and images, so it is impossible to stop smiling as you read those pages, from a tremendous fight in the duo’s offices (professional wrestlers, ticked off by the detectives exposing wrestling as being fixed – who would have thought it!) to a classic gold-digging vamp who changes her affections from our supposedly doomed businessman to his brother depending on which has more money. Sheer delight to read.
(Brian Buniak’s take on everyday office life and work in The Angel and the Ape)
Sam Glanzman is semi-retired, but at Kubert’s call took up his pencils and brushes once more, agreeing to create some short tales based around events he witnessed or stories he had told to him by comrades back when he was a young lad serving his country on the USS Stevens, an American destroyer during World War Two. USS Stevens is probably the most old school of all the stories here, with the look and feel of some of those classic war comics many a boy grew up reading, myself included, but this is no gee-whiz, gung-ho, jingoistic adventure tale glamorising combat, this is a solid, gritty story by someone who witnessed it, told fairly simply because the events don’t require embellishments. They’re stories of characters who didn’t get books written or films made about their exploits, they were just a couple of the thousands and thousands who went into service to answer the call, to “do their bit”. And some of them, only young lads as Buniak himself was, never came home. It’s very simple and that suits it perfectly, anything more complex would be a distraction from the events that happened to these men, just a few of the many who gave their all on behalf of generations unborn.
(Sam Glanzman’s powerful recollections of past battles and long lost – but never forgotten – shipmates in USS Stevens)
It’s a lovely collection of work that you simply don’t see much of in comics today, which is of course the idea of it. Sadly we lost Kubert just in August (see here), which means that he never got to see this first issue go to press, never got to see his delightfully old school collection on the shelves. But as with his decades of other comics work, and the generation of artists he mentored (not only old school, but the Joe Kubert School), we lucky readers still get to enjoy his work. As I said this is the sort of comics many of us grew up with – perhaps to some it may be too old fashioned for their tastes, but, nostalgia aside, I truly enjoyed taking in those styles once more and will be picking up the other five issues. What a lovely last present from a giant of the medium.