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Joe Kubert Presents #1 – Review

By: Joe Kubert, Brian Buniak, Sam Glanzman (story & art)

The Story: Flying men, private eye apes, starving children, and burning ships—enter the world of Joe Kubert.

The Review: Even though I didn’t really know Kubert’s work all that well (being much more familiar with his sons’ project), I was grieved to hear of his death.  Old-timers in the comics biz, the ones who were there in the early days, who really brought forth the building blocks of storytelling in that medium, are rare figures.  And Kubert stood among the greats of his time.  His experience and wisdom will certainly be missed.

Even to the end of his life, Kubert seemed to hold on to that wonderful optimism and sense of wonder that made DC Comics (and America) of the olden days so great.  All this modern learning has made us slightly cynical with any kind of fantasy or sci-fi story, and Kubert asks us to cut through that and just embrace a tale that has the essence of a dream: “Suspend doubts and give me your hand and mind.  Take a giant step from supposition to acceptance.  From imagination to reality.  You laugh?  Is this a joke?  Or—just “kid stuff”?  Come, let’s see…”

Ultimately, “Hawkman” is mostly an excuse for Kubert to show off the flair and style that made him such a force in comics.  The story has a Golden Age simplicity.  Kubert makes no effort to navigate moral ambiguities or make a pointed statement on world affairs; his values, like his art, are straightforward, but rich.  Thanagar sees Earth’s petty, self-inflicted problems as capable of infecting whole star systems, and that perhaps reflects a high estimation of humanity’s influence.  Though Kubert is not squeamish about blood or violence, he always portrays it with grace and dignity.  It’s a kind of class in artwork that seems in short supply these days.

Buniak’s comic-strip cartoons (think Dagwood meets Archie) in “Angel and the Ape” appear to have little in common with the Kubert school of art, but then you see a facsimile of Kubert himself driving a cab and all that delicate detail tells you why Buniak was chosen for this particular anthology.  Again, simplicity rules the story.  The humor in this feature isn’t close to what you’d call contemporary, but it’s more like the most intelligent comedy of a simpler age.  Angel’s client expresses astonishment that she can communicate with her simian partner.

Angel: “Sam was born here.  He’s a citizen.  He was in Africa on an art scholarship.”

Her client persists.  “B…but you seem to understand him?!!??”*

“Oh, Sam isn’t so hard to understand,” she reassures him.  “He has almost no ‘artistic temperament.’”

Sam: “Ook.”

Kubert’s final contribution to the issue, “Spit”, shows us the other side of his artistry.  In comparison to his Hawkman feature, which was full of light and nobility and beauty, his tale about a starving orphan is dark, bleak, a rough, scratched-pencil world that one may only survive in.  To say that it’s Dickensian is an understatement.  You know that old Dickens line everyone likes to pull out as a joke, “Please, sir, may I have some more?”  Spit’s pleadings fall right into that same pathetic category: “I-I’m…so cold…and-and hungry.  M-maybe someone will give me a piece of bread—or—a leftover…”  Ultimately, things don’t end on an exactly hopeful note for Spit, but at least we get reassurance that it can’t be worse than the life he left behind.

Nonfiction comics don’t seem to do much more than drool over media-worthy celebrities these days, and about the only time you get any actual history is when your favorite superheroes end up in some time-travel shebang.  “U.S.S. Stevens” is war comics at its finest: stark and clear about the horrors of those past events, but again with that elderly sense of dignity.  Glanzman’s finicky accuracy is a plus in such a story, and he makes some lovely artistic choices, like the Stevens sinking into a horizon graced overhead with a sun as round and red as the Japanese flag, making it clear whose waters these sailors are treading.

Conclusion: As individual stories, these pieces are worthy of appreciation, even entertainment, but little more.  As a tribute to one of the formative comic book artists in comics history, these pieces are loving and appropriate.

Grade: B+

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – “These vine ropes…are like iron!”  Least inspiring comment from a superhero ever.

- Hey, props to Kubert.  It’s not often a writer has the guts to write a pedophile into his story.

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