Action #900…

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A DC Comics milestone suitably celebrated with a 96 page spectacular, 2011’s Action Comics #900 would court considerable controversy, but not in the tradition fans may have expected.

Unusually for the comic-book universe, one of the many anthology stories in this issue would cross over into international news headlines due to Superman’s renouncement of one of his defining attributes – upholding ‘Truth Justice, and the American way.’

Ironically in a collection also featuring Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner as a guest writer, this publication slams the book firmly closed on the ‘classic’ Superman interpretation and in retrospective, clearly paves the way for what would evolve into the ‘Man Of Steel’.

David Goyer (yes, that one) in a short story entitled ‘The Incident’ manages to plunge Superman into real-world controversy (something the late screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz always insisted the character should always avoid) by attending a peaceful protest in Iraq.  When questioned about his actions by US Officials, Superman at once declares that the world is now a smaller place and ‘Truth and Justice isn’t enough anymore’ (third pic), effectively ending his status as a representative of the US.  While the story is well-crafted, the notion of Superman becoming politicised and being anything other than ‘A Friend’ seems somewhat irresponsible writing given the ramifications.

Continuing SUPERMANIA’s series of posts for recommended comic reading for fans of the classic Superman series is a challenge in this instance, not least by the contribution of two of its greatest contributors (Donner and artist Gary Frank) but for what a wasted opportunity this was to unite them.  Indeed, Frank’s wonderful art (still shamelessly channelling Reeve) is relegated to a few pages (second pic) in a large chunk of otherwise poorly illustrated Saturday morning cartoon silliness that is the first story ‘Reign Of Doomsday’ (the finale of the ‘Black Ring’).

The worse news is that Donner’s mini-screenplay (written with Derek Hoffman) somehow manages to be utter tripe, a poor soulless attempt to merge Superman with the movie ‘Hancock’ (even acknowledging Superman’s nemesis as ‘like Will Smith’) and similarly failing to engage at every turn. Presented as storyboards (feebly rendered by Matt Camp) with accompanying dialogue and story notes (bottom pic) its astonishing to think that Donner may have had anything to do with it.  It has to be read to be believed.

There is little more to be enjoyed beneath the moody cover (by David Finch) but the absolute highlight of the whole issue is a somewhat abstract story entitled ‘Life Support’ with mature, sharp dialogue (by Damon Lindelof), lavish art (by Ryan Sook) and an indisputably epic, cinematic tone.  Amazing how something as simple as Jor-El’s recruitment of an aide to build a part for will become Kal-El’s StarShip can be told so elegantly and effectively.

Only this and the tiny vignette ‘Friday Night In the 21st Century’ by the always-dependable Geoff Johns (coupled with Gary Frank’s art) emerge worthy of the ‘spectacular’ status as declared.  A landmark issue to be sure, proving, if little else, June 1938 was a long time ago…

Movie Reports…

sutghf6ytgft67ty5t4df5t4r546trdg6yrtgstr4trsdfSUPERMANIA is proud to host these fascinating long-forgotten yellowed pages from deep within various Silver Age DC Comics.  Collated and contributed by Superfan Ethan Clark from (the top), Worlds Finest #251 & #252, House Of Mystery #257 and Batman Family #18 & #19 respectively, they form a valuable documentation of the buildup to release of Superman: The Movie.

With the advent of what would become the ‘Event’ movies of the late ’70’s early ’80’s and the most revered fictional character of the all making his cinematic debut, what better forum to generate advance word than within the comic-book readership?

In what would be so much rapidly-circulated internet noise today, these well written and researched reports profile everything from the Producers, (third pic), actors, (second and fifth) and even the Special Effects (where we learn for the first time Reeve’s cape flapping device was the creation of John Richardson).

However its the advance screening writeup by Mike Gold (top) that really fires the imagination.  Though as we all know the picture didn’t meet its planned release date of Summer 1978 I envy the excitement of any child old enough to read and comprehend that article and the anticipation it creates, and for once, having the finished product more than exceed the initial promise…

Decker’s Dissection Pt.2…

CJ5CJ6CJ7CJ8SUPERMANIA presents the concluding part of Dwight R. Decker’s exhaustive review of Superman: The Movie from the vintage pages of The Comics Journal.

Pulling no punches as established in Part 1, Decker’s continued observations are at once barbed as they are complimentary.  Having passed judgement on the Krypton scenes through the eyes of a comic-book devotee, Decker notes that the Smallville scenes (short of the era represented by the established timeline) are equally strong.

A favourite quote from the late Tom Mankiewicz was “Bam! You get to Metropolis and you’re in the comic book” may be true but this is where Decker begins to take exception.  Besides the obvious praise for newcomer Reeve (no mean feat for a die-hard comic fan) the casting choices of Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper and especially Gene Hackman in his view are at odds with the characters represented on the page.  While a case could be made for the descent into camp of the Luthor scenes( being reminiscent of the Batman TV series) the commentary on Margot and Jackie is harsh and the romantic, whimsical themes portrayed in the picture are clearly wasted on him.

In his summing up Decker enforces a common myth by claiming Superman is several movies in one.  As the narrative is clearly a play of three very different acts he manages to undo some of his sharper insights when he claims the movie commits ‘dramatic suicide’ with the Luthor plot and that Lois should’ve stayed dead…

Decker’s Dissection…

CJ1CJ2CJ3CJ4From the Comic Reader to the Comics Journal, SUPERMANIA continues its retrospective on vintage reviews of Superman: The Movie through the eyes of comic-book purists.

And Dwight R. Decker’s essay (Part one of which presented above) is arguably a definitive review, or at least the most exhaustive.  Found beneath a splendid cover by Joe Staton (showing Superman through various incarnations through the ages) Decker’s words are nicely arranged alongside stills from he movie and random art from the likes of Fred Hembeck.

Surmising early on that the movie is “An erratic collection of disparate scenes that individually range from the utterly splendid to despicably camp” its enjoyable to share the early anticipation/dread of the prospect of a rehash of the Batman TV legacy (or indeed the Broadway show ‘Its a bird, its a plane, Its Superman..!’).

Indeed, one finds themselves empathising with many of the points Decker raises about the Krypton scenes in regard to production design.  For all its frigid glory as represented onscreen its easy to forget what made the demise of Krypton so tragic was its flourishing and youthful culture as depicted in comics by the art of Wayne Boring et,al.

To be concluded in Part 2 coming soon..!

Ordway’s Super-Debut…

Comic_Reader1Comic_Reader2Comic_Reader3Comic_Reader4The genesis of an artistic partnership that would thrive for decades to come, the collage above (top) represents the first published Superman piece by one Jerry Ordway.

Found on the impressive wrap-around cover of pulpy but highbrow magazine ‘The Comic Reader’ for its November 1979 issue, Ordway’s dynamic but realistic style was a perfect compliment to the characters as represented in Superman: The Movie.

Of arguably more interest, however, were the contents of the magazine and in particular, the views of comic-book purists on this fresh take of what was, at the time, a 40 year-old beloved flagship character.

Indeed, the excellent review of the movie (cropped and reformatted here for ease of continuity, click for larger) is referred to by Mike Tiefenbacher as ‘refreshing & wonderful’, highlighting the major differences between the movie and the comic book but interestingly not to its detriment.  In fact, many of the observations here (modelwork on the dam/turning back the world) are still hotly debated today and some are even prophetic (describing it as a benchmark/suggesting a Superboy TV series/longer TV edits) all of which make for great reading.

Tiefenbacher’s follow-up piece is an insightful, personal critique of the character’s evolution which incorporates everything from ‘The Great Superman Book’ by Michael L. Fleisher to Elliot S! Maggin’s Superman: ‘Last Son Of Krypton’.  The latter notable for its mistaken identity as the novelisation of the movie.

If this has whetted your appetite for vintage reviews by comic journalists you may want to check back soon for scans from from the ‘Comics Journal’ – a monster review spread over two posts..!