Thursday, May 29, 2014

Recently Read: The Superman Chronicles, Vol. 6

DC's nearly complete chronological reprinting of every Superman story chugs along in Vol. 6.

These stories are still written by co-creator Jerry Siegel, with an anger and vitality lost in later decade's renditions of Superman (in comics and film). I appreciate the wide range of antagonists and social issues dealt with here, from a spoiled heiress to a hypnotist, Lex Luther and two fascist organizations doubling as Nazis. The stories are formulaic and, frankly, can get tedious when read in bunches. On the other hand, Siegel had to write them at a prodigious rate: the book reprints fourteen stories written within the space of about five months, from May through Fall, 1941.

As mentioned in earlier reviews of the series, the art content of each volume has progressively less charm than the earliest stories drawn by Joe Shuster. The stories in Superman Chronicles Vol. 6 are largely drawn by Leo Nowak (who later also drew the Superman newspaper strip). One of Nowak's limitations as a cartoonist was a reliance on stock poses. His favorite shot is a figure shot from above, with one shoulder above the other. So, we get dozens of panels looking like this:

The Shuster Shop (Joe Shuster and assistants, I assume) do ink some of the stories (and reportedly, the Superman heads), keeping the look consistent. One artists' work very much stands out over the others in the book: John Sikela. In comparison to Nowak's tired, repetitious and formulaic art, Sikela used subtle body language and posture that rings truer than most superhero art of the period:

Several times in Chronicles Vol. 6, Superman is shown jumping or flying underneath cars. Nowak drew it this way:

Sikela not only portrays the scene more realistically, he goes a step further and shows Superman underneath the car, from two different angles, yet.

I have two criticisms of DC's packaging of the book. First, and most importantly, the art restoration in many places is horrendous.Over and over one can see the hand of someone going over the art with hand held (or digital) white-out, resulting in art that looks nothing like the original publication:

I guarantee even Leo Nowak never drew a tree that looked like this:

I'd prefer it if DC just shot from the original comics, or hired a restorer who has a good track record of being faithful to the original material - like Harry Mendryk, who's been doing a superlative job on recent Jack Kirby reprints from the '40s and '50s for Fantagraphics.

My second criticism is that, literally as I was writing this review, the book's pages began separating from the cover! DC needs to use a stronger glue for their binding.

Lastly, does anyone know if this series has been cancelled? The last Superman Chronicles (Vol. 10) was released in 2012.
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