Adventures of Superman: José Luis García-López

By José Luis García-López, Martin Pasko, Gerry Conway, Elliot S. Maggin, David Michelinie, Len Wein, Denny O’Neil & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3856-8 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Super Special Stocking Stuffer… 9/10

It’s a fact (if such mythological concepts still exist): the American comicbook industry would be utterly unrecognisable without the invention of Superman. His unprecedented adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Within three years of his June 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of eye-popping action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Man of Steel had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East embroiled America, patriotic relevance.

In comicbook terms at least Superman is master of the world, having utterly changed the shape of a fledgling industry and modern entertainment in general. There have been newspaper strips, radio and TV shows, cartoons games, toys, merchandise and blockbusting movies. Everyone on Earth gets a picture in their heads when they hear the name.

Moreover, he is a character endlessly revitalised by the creators who work on his never-ending exploits. One the most gifted and intoxicating is José Luis García-López.

An industry professional since he was 13 years old, he was born in Pontevedra, Spain in 1948. By age three he was living in Argentina where he was reared on a steady diet of comics: especially the works of Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, Alberto Breccia, Milt Caniff and José Luis Salinas.

During the late 1960s, García-López finally broke into the US comics world, with anthological romance work and anodyne horror tales for Charlton Comics and mystery-suspense yarns for Gold Key, and in 1974 moved to New York City where Joe Orlando got him a crucial intro with DC Comics. That turned into an almost-exclusive 40-year association which not only led to some astounding comics sagas, but also saw the artist become the corporation’s official reference artist for style guides and merchandising materials. His art was DC’s interface with the wider world.

After a few tentative inking jobs, García-López debuted as a penciller/inker on a Hawkman back-up in Detective Comics#452 in October 1975, and a month later began illustrating Hercules Unbound. His sumptuous art could also encompass grim & gritty and he was drafted in to end run on the company’s Tarzan title, and afterwards handed western antihero Jonah Hex as the gunslinger – bucking all industry sales trends – graduated to his own solo title in early 1977.

The artist’s star was on the rise. While filling in all across the DCU – his assorted Superman tales are all in this stunning hardback and digital compilation – García-López was increasingly first choice for major publishing projects such as the Marvel-DC Batman/Hulk tabloid crossover, prestige specials such the Wonder Woman clash collected here and such breakthrough miniseries and graphic novels as Cinder & Ashe, Atari Force, Twilight, Star Raiders, Road to Perditionand countless more. He remains, paradoxically, one of the company’s greatest artists and yet largely unknown and under-appreciated…

This splendid tome gathers the contents of Superman #294, 301-302, 307-309, 347, All-New Collectors’ Edition C-54and DC Comics Presents #1-4, 17, 20, 24, 31, collectively spanning December 1975 to March 1981 and, hopefully, eventually to be joined by a companion DC Universe of… edition one day.

What we have here, though, is a boldly exuberant celebration of the Man of Steel, many with guest stars and all splendidly accessible to veteran fans and casual acquaintances alike.

The wonderment opens with a short back-up from Superman #294.

Scripted by Martin Pasko and inked by Vince Colletta, ‘The Tattoo Switcheroo!’ details how Clark Kent escapes secret identity exposure after being nabbed by gangsters, but such pedestrian concerns are forgotten in issue #301 (July 76) where Gerry Conway & Bob Oksner help prove ‘Solomon Grundy Wins on a Monday!’ as the Earth-2’s monstrous zombie horror sideslips to Earth-1 to wreak havoc in Metropolis, forcing the Action Ace to use brains rather than brawn to win the day.

An issue later, Elliot S. Maggin scripted ‘Seven-Foot-Two… and Still Growing!’ as super scientist Lex Luthor finds a way to diminish the hero’s intellect by enlarging him to the point where his brain no longer connects to his dinosaur-dimensioned body. Thankfully, size-shifting hero The Atom is only a phone call away…

Curt Swan was Superman’s premiere artist for decades: a supremely gifted and conscientious illustrator who made the character his own. He was not, however, superhuman and while he was drawing the then-“longest Superman story ever” for DC Special Series #5 (Superman Spectacular 1977) García-López united with Conway and inker Frank Springer for issues #307-309 (January – March 1977), as the Man of Steel was deluded in ‘Krypton – No More!’ into believing his alien origins to be a comfortable fabrication to ease a human mutant’s twisted mind. Waging a war to save the environment from big business and their multipowered minions Radion and Protector, Kal-El even battles his cousin Supergirl to disprove ‘This Planet is Mine!’ before the true story is revealed, just in time to tackle an alien invasion in ‘Blind Hero’s Bluff!’ with the Girl of Steel returning to battle beside the now clear-headed hero and his faithful dog Krypto

Following that comes one of the most impressive and fun comics sagas of the era as All-New Collectors’ Edition C-54(January 1978), written by Conway and inked by Dan Adkins. ‘Superman vs. Wonder Woman’ takes us back to World War II, as Man of Steel and Amazing Amazon meet for the first time after Nazi Übermensch Baron Blitzkrieg and Japan’s lethal assassin Sumo the Samurai unite to steal a prototype atomic device. Although they should be allies, the heroes are quickly and cataclysmically at odds over the dispensation of the nuke, but once they stop fighting, they still must defeat the Axis Powers’ most fanatical operatives…

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero the only thing they want is to see how the new gaudy gladiator stacks up against the first. From the earliest days of the comics industry (and according to DC Comics Presents editor Julie Schwartz it was the same with the pulps and dime novels that preceded it), we’ve wanted our idols to meet, associate, battle together – and if you follow the Timely/Marvel model, that means against each other – far more than we want to see them trounce their archenemies in a united front…

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was far from new when DC awarded their then-biggest gun a regular arena to have adventures with other stars of their firmament, just as Batman had been doing since the middle of the 1960s in The Brave and the Bold. It was the publicity-drenched weeks before release of Superman: The Movie and Tim Burton’s Batman (which, BTW, García-López also provided designs for) was over a decade away…

In truth, the Metropolis Marvel had already enjoyed the serial sharing experience before, when World’s Finest Comicsbriefly ejected the Caped Crusader and Superman battled beside a coterie of heroes including Flash, Robin, Teen Titans, Vigilante, Dr. Fate and others (issues #198-214: November 1970 to October/November 1972) before a proper status quo was re-established.

The star-studded new monthly DC Comics Presents was a big deal at the time, so only the utterly astounding and series-unattached José Luis García-López (inked by Adkins) could conceivably open the show.

Silver Age Flash Barry Allen had been Superman’s first co-star in that aforementioned World’s Finest Comics run and reprises his role in ‘Chase to the End of Time!’ and ‘Race to the End of Time!’ from DCCP #1 and 2 (July/August and September/October 1978), wherein scripter Marty Pasko detailed how warring alien races trick both heroes into speeding relentlessly through the time-stream to prevent Earth’s history from being corrupted and destroyed.

As if that isn’t dangerous enough, nobody could predict the deadly intervention of the Scarlet Speedster’s most dangerous foe, Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash, who tries to turn the race against time to his own advantage…

David Michelinie then wrote a tantalising pastiche of classic Adam Strange Mystery in Space thrillers for García-López to draw and ink in ‘The Riddle of Little Earth Lost’, wherein the Man of Two Worlds and Man of Tomorrow foil the diabolical cosmic catastrophe scheme of a deranged military genius Kaskor to transpose, subjugate or destroy Earth and light-years distant planet Rann.

Len Wein came aboard to script the superb ‘Sun-Stroke!’ as the Man of Steel and the madly-malleable Metal Men join forces to thwart solar-fuelled genius I.Q. and toxic elemental menace Chemo after an ill-considered plan to enhance Earth’s solar radiation exposure provokes a cataclysmic solar-flare.

With the title on solid ground the artist moved on, but returned with Gerry Conway and inker Steve Mitchell to herald the return of Firestorm in DCCP #17’s ‘The Ice Slaves of Killer Frost!’: a bombastic, saves-the-day epic which brings the Nuclear Man back into the active DC pantheon after a long hiatus.

In #20, Green Arrow steals the show as always in gripping, big-business-busting eco-thriller ‘Inferno from the Sky!’ by Denny O’Neil, García-López & Joe Giella, after which the artist filled in with Conway on Superman #347 (May 1980) as the Last Son of Krypton clashes with a mythic cosmic courier in ‘The Sleeper Out of Time!’

In his peregrinations around the DCU, García-López had particularly distinguished himself with numerous episodes and fill-ins starring murdered aerialist Deadman. One of the very best came in DC Comics Presents #24 (August 1980) wherein scripter Wein reveals the tragic and chilling story of ‘The Man Who Was the World!’ as the grim ghost is forced to possess Superman and save the Earth… but fouls up badly…

Wrapping up this superb Fights ‘n’ Tights festival is ‘The Deadliest Show on Earth!’ (DCCP #31); written by Conway and inked by Dick Giordano, teaming Man of Steel and original Robin, the Teen Wonder Dick Grayson to conclusively crush a perfidious psychic vampire predating on the performers at the troubled Sterling Circus…

These tales are gripping fare elevated to epic regions by the magnificent art of one of the world’s finest artists. How could any fan possibly resist?
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.