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review 2020-05-09 20:01
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang
Superman Smashes the Klan - Gene Luen Yang,Gurihiru

Adapted from the 1946 'Superman' radio serial on 'The Clan of the Fiery Cross', 'Superman Smashes the Klan' is great fun and offers a message of hope for those confronting intolerance.

 

Author Gene Luen Yang, most famous for the middle grade graphic novel 'American Born Chinese', offers a detailed essay in this edition on the origins of the famous serial and its direct influence in defeating a revival of the Ku Klux Klan in postwar America.

 

The Lees are moving from Chinatown into the heart of Metropolis' residential area. Dr. Lee has been hired by the Health Department (a private company) on a top secret project and looks forward to integrating his family into modern American life. He encourages his wife to speak only in English and they have had their children take on "American" names.

 

The night after the Lees move in, the Klan burns a cross in their front yard, attracting sympathetic and negative responses. The Daily Planet's most valued reporters are on the story, of course. 

 

Roberta Lee is a great character, shy and prone to motion-sickness, she is nonetheless brave and stands up for what's right for herself and her family. She doesn't like the idea of leaving their old lives behind, but a piece of advice from her mother about how to make new places home ends up helping Superman as well. During this conflict Superman is increasingly dealing with challenging visions and memories of his childhood. How different is Superman willing to be in order to be his best self?

 

A timely and important story, appropriate for all ages.

 

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review 2020-04-20 14:44
Fabulous Monsters: Dracula, Alice, Superman, and Other Literary Friends - Alberto Manguel

Alberto Manguel’s book Fabulous Monsters details those fictional characters that he seems to feel the most for. At times it is a stranger list. There is Phoebe Caulfield for one. But it is an international list and that in of itself is a pleasure. Each character gets his/her own essay. The book, like most of Manguel’s work when he writes about reading is engrossing and great fun.


At times, though, it is very strange and, dare I say, very male.


Manguel’s reading of Little Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty are bit disturbing, off putting. They are not necessarily wrong. But strange. He takes about the seductive power about Red Riding Hood, and while he is not wrong when he calls her both the seduced and seducer, there is something weird about that expression considering that the version Manguel mostly deals with is the Perrault version, which is really about women and sex. He also does not mention the coda in the Grimm version (I can see Angela Carter rapping his knuckles about that), and so there is a disjointed feeling.
The same is true about his reading of Sleeping Beauty where the rape versions are not mentioned, which is strange because there is a French version. It makes for slightly strange reading.

 


But his essays about Alice and Gertrude in particular are absolutely wonderful. His take on Alice is great and his opinion of Gertrude is quite amusing. He also gets you to look at Catcher int eh Rye in different way (besides Holden as an ass). He is one of those people who does feel something for Gertrude.

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review 2019-08-18 21:21
Becoming Superman : My Journey From Poverty To Hollywood - J Michael Straczynski

J. Michael Straczynski is somebody who I've admired for a long time: for his superior talent at storytelling, for his refusal to let the shallow end of the brain pool screw those stories up, for his integrity, for giving his heart and soul to everything he writes.
And now I've read his autobiography over a less-than-24-hour period (I had to stop and sleep at one point because I didn't want to do JMS the disservice of reading this book with anything less than full attention) and WHAM!!! That admiration is increased by I-can't-even-calculate-how-many-times. It's a story both horrifying and grand and all the other descriptive words (even the third ones) in between and told in excellent style.
And that little matter of a 1 followed by 42 zeroes … Douglas Adams long ago gave us the answer to life, the universe, and everything. ;-)

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review 2019-08-06 00:00
Superman Team-Ups Vol. 1
Superman Team-Ups Vol. 1 - Len Wein This book collects, in glorious black and white, DC Presents Superman Team-Up # 1 through to DC Presents Superman Team-Up # 26. It came out a while ago but is still available for $700 dollars if you’re mad enough to pay that. Shop around. The cover price is £13.99. It’s worth snapping these things up when they come out to avoid being fleeced later by some dealer.

The collection opens strongly with a two-part Superman and Flash story in which they have to race to the end of time, under threat from evil aliens who will destroy the Earth if not obeyed. The aliens have been fighting for millennia and one side wants to stop. The other lot don’t. I liked the concept of a ‘cosmic curtain’ at the end of time which you go through to get back to the beginning. Excellent script by Martin Pasko and great art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who is very much school of Neal Adams and just as good as his main influence. He’s ably inked by Dan Adkins.

In issue # 3, Superman teams up with Adam Strange when the evil Kaskor boosts the zeta rays that transport Adam to Rann. So boosted are they that Earth and Rann swap places in space. Garcia-Lopez performs more wonders with the art, inking his own pencils this time. It’s still school of Adams but with hints of John Buscema on page 5, panels 2 and 5. The script was by David Micheline.

Issue # 4 teams our hero with the Metal Men against the giant Chemo. Len Wein’s story was okay but the art is king again here. DC Showcase Metal Men # 1 is one of those volumes that now costs more than the cover price to buy. Like Doom Patrol, they were a quirky team.

It’s beastly to say the art goes down in quality with issue # 5 and unkind to that worthy professional Murphy Anderson who provides both pencils and inks when Superman teams up with Aquaman to stop a civil war between two undersea cities, so I won’t say it. Perhaps DC Comics used the clever device of launching a new series with top talent to get the readers hooked, in the hope that they would stay on after it left. In the 60s, most new Marvel series had their first few issued pencilled by Jack Kirby for the same reason. A rocket needs the biggest boost at lift-off. Anderson is the DC house stylist par excellence and his work is easy on the eye so it’s not really a complaint but that Garcia Lopez fellow certainly packs a mean pencil.

Green Lantern is Mister Kent’s next teammate when the weapons masters of Qward set Star Sapphire on him in an attempt to get his ring. The next issue is a follow up to this as Superman gets help from Red Tornado to prevent the evil Qwardians conquering Earth. Red Tornado is a logical robot trying to learn how to be more human, an old cliché now but fairly new at the time if still inexplicable. When I read how humans behave, I think we should try to be more like robots.

There follows a parade of DC characters co-operating with the Kryptonian: Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Atom, Black Lightning, Firestorm, Zatanna, Batgirl and the Elongated Man,. Some time travel shenanigans allow Superman to go back and fight alongside Sergeant Rock and even battle Superboy. This run is pencilled by Joe Staton or Dick Dillin. Staton’s pretty good but Dillin’s art is never great and sometimes the figures look deformed. Rich Buckler pencils a team up with Mister Miracle but oddly doesn’t do his Kirby pastiche on this Kirby character. The stories by Steve Englehart, Martin Pasko, Cary Bates and Paul Levitz and Gerry Conway are generally okay. Nothing mind-blowing.

This comic book series is from 1978 and there are a few talents here that I associate more with Marvel Comics, probably because I stopped reading comics in the late 70s and that’s where they were then. Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Jim Starlin, Rich Buckler. Jim Starlin does a good story, the last in the book, in which Superman teams up with Green Lantern to battle an evil alien in a Ditko inspired other dimension, all floating rocks and strange shapes. Starlin’s art didn’t look as good as usual so I think the inker let him down.

All in all, it’s a readable collection with some excellent nuggets. By the late 70s, DC was improving in quality and responding to the challenge from Marvel. The stories are tightly plotted but don’t go down the soap opera route which is a pleasant change. As with all these editions, a crazy person can pay hundreds of pounds for it but if you shop around it might be available cheaper. This simply emphasises the fact that fans should snap them up when they come out. DC Showcase Batman vol 6 with lots of Neal Adams art is now out so if you’re interested grab it quick.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/
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review 2019-06-17 00:00
Superman: The Golden Age Sundays, 1943-1946
Superman: The Golden Age Sundays, 1943-1946 - Wayne Boring,Jack Burnley,Whitney Ellsworth,Jack Schiff The ‘Superman Sunday’ pages were written and drawn during World War II and that’s important to remember. One of the most perceptive comments about that war I ever read was made by Len Deighton, the British thriller writer, who also dabbled in history. He pointed out that during the war we didn’t know we were going to win. Certainly, from a British point of view, it looked as if we were certain to lose at one point, about to be over-run by a truly evil regime. When you realise that, it gives the whole thing a very different perspective from the heroic nostalgia of retrospection. At the time, people were terrified.

Maybe not so much in the United States, where Superman hangs his cape, but even Americans were under threat and their especially perceived menace, as this book demonstrates, from the Japanese. There is a lot of nasty stuff in here about the ‘Japs’ and much of the content, both words and pictures, is overtly racist. This has to be put in context but there’s a warning about it in the introduction by Mark Waid to ‘readers of Asian descent and/or nervous dispositions and/or a speck of human decency’. There is irony in two Jewish comic creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, producing such stuff at the time of the Third Reich. Just goes to show we all have our blind spots, especially when in danger.

The approach to Hitler and his henchmen, on the other hand, is almost jovial. In one set of strips, Superman goes to meet the leaders of the Third Reich – ‘the nasty nabobs of Nazism’ – whereupon those ‘supermen’ of the master race dress up in Superman costumes and assure him they all belong on the same side! Cartoons of Goering, Goebbels, Himmler and Hitler in super-hero costume are quite amusing sixty years on. Poking fun at the big bad menace is also a way of bringing it down to size.

But, you may ask, why didn’t Superman just go out there and thrash the enemy himself? This issue obviously had to be sidestepped. Clark Kent avoided the draft by a genuine error. He was reading an eye chart but was so keyed up with anticipation to enlist that he inadvertently used his x-ray vision and read the chart in the next room! He failed the test. Superman, meanwhile, generally opined that American men and women could easily win the war without his help. It would have been ‘presumptuous’ for him to intervene. Of course, he does intervene all over the place. That’s what the strips are about

Clark Kent does a column following the exploits of Dave Cooper, a model Army Air Corps Cadet. Nazi spies led by ‘Eyeglasses’ are out for a propaganda coup by discrediting Dave. Happily, Superman is always on hand to save the young chap. Eyeglasses vows that Superman’s interference ‘shall not deter me from my avowed determination to link misfortune and dishonour to the name of David Cooper’. He has a pretty nifty vocabulary for a newspaper cartoon villain.

Too many of the stories are about ‘Superman’s service for servicemen’ whereby, in response to sack loads of mail, our hero does favours for the fighting forces. One chap is worried that some bloke is after his girl back home. A girl has a similar problem when a ‘mutual friend’ tells her that her man prefers someone else. The ‘friend’ is Lily Field. ‘She toils not, neither does she spin.’ Clever scripting again. Superman spanks her! He couldn’t have done that under the Comics Code Authority. What with Wonder Woman tying everyone up and him spanking, super-heroes were a pretty frisky bunch back in the 1940s. On the more positive side for feminists, there is loads of praise for women’s contribution to the war both in the services and back home.

There’s quite a lot of front line action. A desk-bound officer in Washington DC requests that Superman take him to Asia for a weekend so he can get involved for real. Several ‘Japs’ are duly bashed about. However, this portrayal of the fighting as a bit of a lark where the enemy was far inferior to the mighty American male and easily dispatched might not have been so pleasing to those actually on the front line, where things were pretty damn tough. I suppose they took it as a joke.

When the war is finally over, there’s a reprisal of Superman’s origin. The story is familiar but I noted that Ma and Pa Kent are quite elderly and not so glamorous as in later incarnations, especially on television. Pa is a bald, bespectacled little man who wears a derby hat. There’s a gangster yarn in which Clark Kent gets his job on the Daily Planet, then an adventure on the planet Suprania in which another lady gets spanked! Not by Superman this time but he is encouraging the fellow who does it. After the beating. Queen Arda says that the spanker is ‘strong and masterful’ and she may marry him. Ah, the good old days. Next is a story set in a circus but the war is the main thing here.

It’s worth mentioning that the scripting is often witty and the art is quite charming in its own cartoonish way. Each strip takes one page and there are usually about eleven panels, all rectangular. Within these limitations, the lads do a good job of storytelling. Which lads, though? As with many early comic strips, it is difficult to know who actually did the work. The credits on this edition say ‘Scripts by Jerry Siegel and DC Comics’ and ‘Artwork by Wayne Boring and Jack Burnley’. The introduction to this magnificent volume mentions ‘Siegel, Shuster and their assistants’ struggling to meet the demand for strips. I will leave the question of who did what to those many pundits on the net. Whoever did it, they are well-served by this large, beautiful bound volume in glorious colour. No squinting at tiny lettering or little pictures with this production.

The book would probably not be on the average fan’s must-have list. It is what it is: dated one-page comic strips written for a particular moment in history. I found it interesting and not nearly as awful to read as I thought it might be at first glance. Superman aficionados should snap it up and collecting these historical items into this well-produced volume is good work by the publisher.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/

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