But Kubert was also an editor, steering such titles as Our Army at War and Tarzan while also providing stories and art. And in Joe Kubert Presents he's once again curating talent and characters, presenting the type of stories he missed seeing in comics. The six issues see Kubert showcase fellow pioneer Sam Glanzman, veteran Kubert School humour teacher Brian Buniak and, happily, himself. As well as writing and drawing, all three look to be lettering and colouring their work, making for a purity that's rare to see; what's more, DC have printed the work on heavy stock, allowing for sharper reproduction.
... Kubert's mastery of the comics form is also evident in the book's joyfully coloured feature-length strip, a story of the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl's first adventure on Earth (Katar's blond here, like his Golden Age counterpart Carter Hall, making him look more than ever the classic comics hero). They're sent down by authorities on their homeworld Thanagar not to study police methods, but to report on Earth's increasing threat to the universe. It's not stated outright, but there's a sense that Katar and Shayera are judging Earth's people, that Thanagar may take drastic action if there's no cause for optimism. The all-business Katar foregrounds the implications of their mission, but the cheerier Shayera chooses to concentrate on the potential for exploration and adventure. She's not stupid, just approaching their mission from another angle.
Having them land in a canopied part of Africa, filled with animals of the jungle and veldt, allows Kubert to bring a Tarzan artistic sensibility to the story. And while the local people wear animal skin and shake spears - there's even a witchdoctor type - they don't feel like comic book caricatures, so much as classic adventure strip denizens. There's an inarguable message about pollution, but mainly I loved this strip for its stripped-down approach to Hawkman and Hawkgirl - the continuity contortions of recent years are absent, this is just a pair of winged wonders, space aliens who can talk to the animals, getting to know earth. It's easy to find a messianic subtext - sent from on high, they're here to save us from themselves else their 'father' finds us wanting - but it's equally easy to ignore such things (the inescapable Jesus parallels are coming next month, as Kubert's long-lost Eighties project, Redeemer, finally appears).
I don't know enough about illustration to say for certain, but the cover illustration looks to have been done on textured paper or board, lending a timelessness, a poetry, to its image of Katar, Shayera and elephant chums. The signature-turned-logo and unobtrusive contents lettering sit well beside it.
A packed issue - 52 high quality pages for $4.99 - is rounded off with an essay by Kubert explaining the concept better than I have here, and an addendum by his friend and collaborator Pete Carlsson.
There's a production problem, and I mention it only in the hope that someone at DC might see this and take a look at what's very much a nuts and bolts, not a content, issue: the two slight staples are too weak to maintain the integrity of this heavier-than-the-norm comic. Even before I read it, the central four pages had come away.
With Kubert gone, and his final strip already printed in this week's Ghosts #1, there's a bittersweet tinge to this series. But with quality work of the calibre contained in this first issue, I can see subsequent releases being something to treasure for reasons far removed from justified sentimentality. Joe Kubert understood how to make a comic book story sing, and even after his death, he's showing us how it should be done.