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Tom Grummett

The Death of Superman

I’m going to spend most of my December catching up on graphic novels that I never finished earlier in the year. I had picked up this classic Superman title when I was switching jobs, but it got set aside. So, let us now dive into the “death” of Superman!

The story opens with a new villain Doomsday smashing himself from underground to the Earth’s surface. He is established as a bad guy when he kills a bird in his hand and laughs about it- gasp! There is a convoluted storyline about Lois Lane and a random boy getting into trouble in the basement of a power station in which Superman needs to save them. I was amused that Lois left Clark a message on a computer of where to find her- and he mentioned that it was so high-tech of her do that, instead of on a note (as this was published in 1992). Superman dispatches all these underground baddies, not knowing the worst is yet to come. Then we are introduced to the B-level Justice League heroes such as Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Bloodwynd and Maxima who first meet Doomsday and can’t defeat him at all. Having just read Heroes in Crisis, I knew who a few of these lesser-known heroes were, but the entire time I was wondering why in the world Batman, Wonder Woman and other more powerful Justice Leaguers never came to help. While Supergirl briefly plays a part, I had to look up why in the world she was in a romance with a red-bearded Lex Luthor, and why she failed to be of any use. So Superman and Doomsday meet and they punch each other…over and over…and over and over again…until Superman dies. The end.

We all know Superman does not stay dead, and that very fact sucks the gravitas out of the whole story. As if DC would truly kill this icon, thus this storyline was just a publicity stunt when they had ran out of other ideas. Sequels Funeral for a Friend and Reign of the Supermen just negated the whole story.  Plus, Doomsday is the villain that kills him? All he does is punch- that’s it.

I’ve noticed in older Marvel and DC comics, that there are often several artists listed, but the art remains consistent. I’m guessing they were required to, as I am thinking of the book How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way, and they were given a blueprint for them to follow. I have mixed feelings about this- I become very annoyed when illustration styles change within a graphic novel, yet following a required design boxes artists in and they remain anonymous as their personal style does not shine through. And on a further aside, although this novel came out in the early 90’s the art retains the look of the golden/silver age of comics although the storyline was in the “modern age of comics”. The excesses of art that Image Comics was known for had not effected DC, at least in this graphic novel. But I truly loved the “countdown” of panels- the book opens with varied panel configurations, but as the story progresses the panels reduce to four a page, then three, then two with the final battle consisting of one-page splash pages.

All in all, this was a fun, somewhat campy read. While the storyline didn’t work, this was a turning point for comics and established a legacy of crossover events, so I am glad I picked it up to further my comic knowledge.

-Nancy

Animal Man

Animal Man was this month’s selection from the Goodreads group  I Read Comic Books and because of it I was introduced to the kitschy awesomeness of Grant Morrison’s 1988 take on this B-level superhero. The graphic novel starts with a lengthy introduction by Morrison that explains how he and other Brits were contacted after Alan Moore’s success with Watchman and Swamp Thing, to give life to DC’s back catalogue of superheros. Morrison choose Animal Man and the rest is history.

The story establishes Buddy Baker as a married “everyman”, who as he nears thirty is having an identity crisis. In this world, heroes are common with Superman and Wonder Woman being the recognized top tier, with the other heroes scrambling to find a niche and a super-group. Buddy struggles to provide for his family, so he wishes to gain recognition, hoping to join a prestigious group and use his powers of temporarily picking up the abilities of animals nearby. Despite the campiness, the stories could be more nuanced than you would think. Animal cruelty,  family responsibilities, societal commentary and humanizing villains are all tied into the story lines. However, these themes are inconsistently used, as sometimes they are pulled together in  a witty way, but other times they are groan-worthy.

So let’s talk about The Coyote Gospel. OMG- I loved it. The jokes were so sly- starting with the trucker (who looked like Freddie Mercury) and hitchhiker singing the The Modern Lovers song Road Runner right before they accidentally struck the human like coyote in the desert. Animal Man is actually just a secondary character in this chapter as the coyote man and trucker duel it out. This homage to Will. E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, and comparing him to Jesus, was a trip. By coincidence I attended a small anime convention last week and as I was looking through the bins of posters of comic covers, I ran across the picture of Animal Man being painted on the road in an obvious crucifix symbolism. One week ago I would not have known who Animal Man was or the significance of the pose, but now I can claim more credibility as a comics fan!

I also picked up the recent Jeff Lemire version and absolutely hated it. The art was grotesque and I quickly put it down. Which goes to show that no matter how good the story is, art can torpedo a graphic novel. Luckily this first version has strong art with a Golden Age vibe and it elevates the stories. Artists Chas Truog, Doug Hazlewood and Tom Grummett, with some Brain Bolland covers, bring the Baker family to life along with the animal menagerie that Buddy encounters in every chapter. All in all, I enjoyed this graphic novel especially the deeper themes of animal rights activism that Animal Man advocated for.

-Nancy

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