By: Joe Kubert, Sam Glanzman, Brian Buniak (story & art)
The Story: Ethics in space, jokes on the sea, and a mystery for a blonde and a gorilla.
The Review: Retro definitely seems to be in with comics these days. Making the rounds of internet reviewers, I hear a lot of gushing comparisons to the Golden Age and Silver Age, and it’s no wonder. As downright nonsensical as most of those stories were (pretty much ever Jimmy Olsen story ever told comes to mind), they represented an enthusiasm and fearlessness to be different that a lot of current titles, even the ever-precious indie ones, have little of.
But even the most retro of tales are mere homages to those bygone ages. What we get in Joe Kubert Presents is the real thing, material generated from the same minds that produced the Golden and Silver Ages. Imagine if someone just unveiled a brand new piece by Norman Rockwell, the paint still fresh on it, or if Charlie Parker rose from his grave and improvised one last swan song. Even if they didn’t compare to works past, it’d still be a thrill.
I suppose that’s the best way to describe my feelings about this special series. “A Time of Life…A Time of Death!” is, by all accounts, incredibly simple and straightforward. Yet it also maintains an appealing unpredictability because it doesn’t tell your typical comic book story, and without that touch of cynicism that we’ve grown so used to that it’s become a kind formula. The intersection of spiritualism and sci-fi shows Kubert at his most creative, and he details this battle between good and evil in the purest terms. His confident, grandstanding language (“In this battle…this contest of souls…we must use our most effective weapons! Our minds!”) is very endearing, and again, he displays a lovely dignity in his simple, stylish art with its pale, delicate colors. You may like it or you may not, but you have to appreciate it.
“A Sailor’s Life” is a living history, a National Archives exhibit delivered to your hands. Glanzman’s sketches, scribbled and rough as they are, are meant to be treated with reverence, the account of an artist in the thick of war. There is something a little heart-breaking about them, particularly when you see the misspellings (“Causualties”). It just tells you how very young he was in all this, and how talented. As with his piece last issue, there’s a haunting quality throughout the depiction of his life on the U.S.S. Stevens. Even though “Squish Squash” is meant to be a funny sort of story, it’s as poignant as it is amusing, as all war tales tend to be. The ringing guffaws at the end have the feeling of men taking their laughs wherever they can get it.
In contrast to the complete slapstick we get last issue, this installment of “Angel and the Ape” actually takes a turn towards the serious side, with some actual stakes for the titular detectives and bodyguards. Even so, Buniak goes for the classic setup-punchline joke on nearly every page. All that’s missing is the canned laughter, courtesy of Leave It to Beaver.
Angel, confronting Mimi, a busty gold-digger/ambulance-chaser: “[T]he title was stripped from you when it was discovered you were—ahem—in flagrante with all 3 judges.”*
Mimi: “That’s a lie! There were 4 of them”
It’s fitting, then, that Buniak draws his characters more like caricatures, complete with the enlarged heads and exaggerated facial features. It’s charming, but very, very old-fashioned, the equivalent of smiling through your great-uncle’s knock-knock jokes.
Conclusion: This issue once again gets solid marks as a piece of history, more than anything else. I don’t know if you can say these are seminal works by the creators, but they do represent something of the styles that make them honored.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – This is just me as a military noob talking, but I was delighted by the revelation that real sailors didn’t dress like Donald Duck every day. You can blame my naivety on watching Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly dance in On the Town with my sister too many times.
– I was also charmed by the use of the euphemism “in flagrante.” Mark my words, I will be using that phrase myself in a review one of these days. I just have to wait for the right opportunity.