Friday, September 25, 2015

Forgotten Books: Superman in the Seventies - Elliot S! Maggin, Cary Bates, et al.

When I was reading comics as a kid, Superman was never one of my favorite characters, although I have fond memories of watching the Superman TV show with George Reeves every day after school. But there were other DC characters, such as Batman and Green Lantern, I liked better. Oh, I saw Superman in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and occasionally picked up an issue of SUPERMAN or ACTION COMICS, but my history with the character is spotty at best.

So out of the 13 stories in the trade paperback collection SUPERMAN IN THE SEVENTIES (published back in 2000), I had read only one, a story from Jack Kirby's great run on SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN. The others were all new to me, and while they didn't quite make me feel like I had gone back to that era, I enjoyed them.

Many of the stories in this volume were written by Elliot S! Maggin (yes, that's the way he was credited), who was the most prominent Superman writer during the Seventies. Maggin's first script was for a Green Arrow back-up yarn in GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW that turned out to be a classic, and quite possibly the best thing he ever wrote. But his Superman stories were very good and added some depth to the character. At the time I thought the idea of making Clark Kent a TV reporter and adding "workplace humor" to the stories was a terrible idea, but looking back now I find the stuff somewhat charming, if a little clunky.

Other stories are by Cary Bates, also a very prolific scripter for DC during the Seventies, usually on Superman or The Flash, Len Wein, Paul Levitz, and Denny O'Neil, who contributed an important "turning point" story in which all the kryptonite on earth is destroyed, leaving Superman more invulnerable than ever...or is he? These are all good yarns, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, all in 17 to 22 pages, unlike today's endless story arcs and crossovers. Admittedly, sometimes the shorter lengths work against the stories, leading to deus ex machina endings or some that are just too rushed, but for the most part they're very enjoyable.

Not surprisingly, most of the art is by Curt Swan, who penciled hundreds of Superman stories during a career that lasted more than four decades, usually being inked by another legend, Murphy Anderson. Superman fan or not, I always liked Swan's art. The guys in those days were storytellers, something that's often lacking in today's comics.

Overall I found this to be a good, solid collection and really enjoyed reading it. There's a lot of DC stuff from the Sixties and Seventies I never got around to reading back then, since I was mostly a Marvel fan and had only so much money to spend on comics, so I'm trying to catch up on some of it now that I've given up reading most modern comics. For curmudgeons like me, collections like these are a nice trip into the past.


Scott Parker said...

I have the Batman collection from this decade, but not the Superman one. Curt Swan is my favorite artist to draw Supes. When I think of Superman as a comic book character, it's Swan's drawings I imagine. I just found out that down here at Rice University, there's a Jack Kirby/Curt Swan/Some Other Guy Who I Don't Know exhibit featuring actual pages and art. Gonna check it out.

Back to the book, I was always Batman first, but I have the better part of a long box full of Superman and Action Comics and DC Comics Presents. I may have to crack that box this weekend.

Keith West said...

I started reading comics in the mid 70s, and I tended to read more DC than Marvel simply because I was more familiar with the characters from the Super Friends cartoon on Saturday mornings. And I also only had so much to spend. Curt Swan will always be _the_ artist for Superman in my mind, just like Irv Novik will be the artist for The Flash, Dick Dillon the artist for the Justice League, and Jim Aparo the artist for Batman.

I still have only so much money to spend, so this collection, as much as I want it, will have to go on the wish list.

Scott Parker said...

Keith: So happy that you mentioned Aparo. He is my favorite Batman artist as well.

Richard R. said...

I think this is a good collection, representative of the time and I like almost all of the stories, though I don't recall now which one I thought was corny. I was pretty much done with comics by the Seventies, but regained interest in the Eighties, mostly with early Dark Horse stuff and Batman comics, as well as FF from Marvel. I was also a fan of Green Lantern.

Bill O said...

This was the first serious effort to reboot the character - remove kryptonite, that writer's crutch, modernize his life and job, and take away his ability to juggle planets. Under Swan/Anderson, the character never look better, tho older. The whole experiment crashed to Earth, tho.

James Reasoner said...

Neal Adams is my favorite Batman artist, although Jim Aparo is right up there and did many more stories than Adams did. Carmine Infantino will always be the Flash artist for me. When I think of the Justice League, I think of Mike Sekowsky, although he was never a favorite of mine! Dillin had a great run on the JLA. Gil Kane on Green Lantern and The Atom was great, too, although if I had to pick a GL artist, it would have to be Adams again.

George said...

I'm going to have to track down a copy. Like you, I wasn't a big Superman fan. But I did like the Bizzaro stories. I'm with you on Carmine Infantino, the great FLASH artist. Gil Kane was terrific with GREEN LANTERN.