Wednesday, 27 July 2011

DC Retroactive 1970s Superman #1 review


Superman's having a bad week in this Retroactive special. Criminals are popping up when they shouldn't, doing things that are beyond them - Metallo's flying, Bizarro am speaking perfect English, that sort of thing. Lois Lane is annoyed at Superman paying attention to Lana Lang, Supergirl and Van-Zee think their Kryptonian cousin is super-cranky, Clark Kent's colleagues reckon he needs a long rest ... 

Writer Martin Pasko returns to the continuity he was working with back in 1979, managing to recapture the Superman house style of the time. Pasko's no nostalgia act, but he puts concept before cool by opting for an omniscient narrative voice that likely seems cheesy to today's kids, but was the only game in town back then. He gives those of us who were there a treat by including regulars Lana Lang, all 'luv' and 'ta' after a few years in Europe, overgrown jock sportscaster Steve Lombard and TV producer Josh Coyle, forever suffering heartburn due to newscaster Clark Kent's last-minute shows on set. Great Krypton, Superman even yells the odd old-fashioned oath!

There's humour from the surprise villain, old-fashioned editor's notes referring to contemporary issues and a caring Lois indicative of the character maturity that enabled the Superman/Lois relationship to deepen around this time. It all makes for a thoroughly entertaining callback to my childhood reading which I'm able to appreciate both due to nostalgia, and its own merits.

Drawing part of the comic is Eduardo Barreto, a talented artist who began being used by longtime editor Julius Schwartz just a few years after this story is set, so he fits right in. It's a delight to see him return to the old cast, especially Supergirl in her Seventies hotpants outfit, which remains my favourite to this day. Christian Duce takes over as illustrator for pages 13 and 15-26 and does a fine job of echoing Barreto's style. Hopefully we'll see this talented artist given free reign to draw for DC in his preferred style soon. 

The production is pretty much dead on, with the subtly different Superman logo in place, along with the splash page legend used back then. And Carlos M Mangual matches the old lettering style (compare it to Ben Oda's in the back-up), right down to the raggy title design. The only thing that sticks out like a sore thumb/Fortress of Solitude key is the colouring, which is too dark for the time, over-textured. It could be that Andrew Elder was told not to go for Seventies-style flat tones, or perhaps he didn't know what paper the book would wind up on (a rather nice stock that's like thick newsprint). Not knowing the details, I shan't judge too harshly, but it's a shame.

You can see how vibrant, how joyously gaudy the story should be by looking at the back-up, 'Superman Takes a Wife'. I expected the Retroactive reprint to reflect the new strip, so this is a surprise. Originally published in 1978's Action Comics #484, it features the wedding of the Earth 2 Superman and Lois Lane, marking the 40th anniversary of the title. Written by Cary Bates, drawn by Curt Swan and Joe Geilla, lettered by Ben Oda and coloured by Tatjana Wood, it's a typically twisty turny tale and great fun, but not really representative of what was going on in the Superman strips of the time.

But what the heck, it is, as I said, a lovely little story - better than that other time Clark and Lois wed.

Barreto's cover is a spot-on late Seventies cover concept, though Allan Passalaqua colours Lois's hair with grey, rather than blue, highlights. Blah blah, nitpick nitpick, I know - but that's how it was in the Seventies, readers liked to spot 'boo-boos'. Pasko himself was a lettercol regular early in the decade, with his sharp-tongued notes leading Editorial to nickname him Pesky Pasko. Well, old Pesky, and all the team gathered by editor Ben Abernathy, should take a well-earned bow - they've done Seventies Supes proud.


10 comments:

  1. "...an omniscient narrative voice that likely seems cheesy to today's kids."

    That's funny, because "cheesy" is a word I often apply to first-person narration. Granted, it's all fiction, but first-person narration always adds an extra layer of unreality for me, as if the characters telling the story may be exaggerating or lying to build themselves up. An omniscient third-person narrator "feels" more trustworthy and believable to me.

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  2. Hi Bob, I'm good with first person, I'm fine with third - it's only second that gets my goat. Here it's third person, occasionally addressing our hero ('Familiar indeed, Superman!'). So old school.

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  3. The "My name is Wally West" style is the one I find irritating, it was overdone. I'd rather have narration than no narration however as a lot of modern books are either confusing due to the lack of information or just too thin a read.

    I'm on the fence as to whether to but this Superman as while I'm very fond of that whole era it just isn't Superman without Curt Swans distinctive style. Even back in the day when you got fill in artists like Ed Hannigan or Rich Buckler I found it hard to get involved with Superman, Swan really did bring that character to life for me and to this day it's a treat to find an issue I haven't read and just soak it up.
    Still, I think Ed Baretto is a good choice thinking on it, I liked his 80s Supergirl a lot and his Teen Titans run is decent. Like Chris Marrinan on Wonder Woman he had a bad act to follow as once you've been fed a steady diet of George Perez' work most other artists work is going to suffer by comparison!

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  4. Seems like you can't go wrong with Eduardo Barreto. That talented guy never lets me down. I just wish he had inked his pencils.

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  5. That would've been great. Hopefully Eduardo Barreto is recovered from his recent illness.

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  6. Christian Duce is the penciller with Barreto:

    (www.christianduce.blogspot.com)

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  7. Writer: Martin Pasko
    Penciller: Eduardo Barreto and Christian Duce
    Inker: Eduardo Barreto and Christian Duce

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  8. Thanks Anon - a pox on DC for not giving us detailed credits! I'll tweak the review.

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  9. Good fun, bringing back tons of 70s concepts, my favorite being the glam Lana Lang!

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