By Paul Dini, Rick Burchett and Terry Austin
By Scott McCloud, Rick Burchett and Terry Austin
Captson/Stone Arch; $15.95
In looking for DC back issues to mine for hardcover reprints, Capstone stuck a particularly rich vein in Superman Adventures, the 1996-2002 series based on the Superman: The Animated Series television series. That cartoon was from the makers of Batman: The Animated Series, and as they did with Batman, the producers and designers sampled the best bits of the title character’s long history of multi-media successes, remixing them into an ultimate, definitive version. And, naturally, when DC adapted that version back into comics, they had a stripped-down, purified-to-its-essence Superman narrative to hand to their creators and let them loose on it.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the resultant comics were among the very best Superman comics of their time, and ones that hold up remarkably well when compared to the many Superman comics published before and since.
Capstone’s repackaging of this series is just like that for DC Super Friends: One issue per book, starting at the beginning of the series, with biographies of the creators, a glossary of big words (formidable, pulverize, duplicate), a Superman glossary of franchise-specific vocabulary (The Daily Planet, Jimmy Olsen, invulnerability) and a section of questions on the preceding story.
I read two of the first four books in the series.
First up, there’s Men of Steel, written by Paul Dini (who was a producer and story editor on the TV series that this comic is based on) and drawn by artists Rick Burchett and Terry Austin, who drew all four of these comics-turned-books.
In it, secretly evil industrialist Lex Luthor watches as Superman takes apart a robot battle suit of his and the city of Metropolis starts to rally around the strange visitor from another planet as their champion. Luthor decides to retaliate by making a Superman robot duplicate with all of the original’s powers. Luthor may be a genius, but his plan doesn’t work out as he intended.
In Distant Thunder, written by Scott McCloud, the cartoonist who literally wrote the book on comics (and who wrote much of the first year’s worth of issues of this comics series), Superman’s scientist friend Professor Hamilton alerts the hero that the light from Krypton’s explosion would be visible in Earth’s night sky shortly and, not coincidentally, Kryptonian robotic villain Brainiac arrives to wreak havoc in Metropolis.
Like much of McCloud’s scripts for the series (and those of the other writers who would take over later on, including, most surprisingly, an up-and-coming writer named Mark Millar), there’s an elegiac nature and a certain sweetness to the story, but these are just accents on certain scenes; the requisite scenes of super-powers being shown off are present.
McCloud, Burchett and Austin are responsible for the other two books among the initial quartet: Be Careful What You Wish For…, in which Superman must deal with the kryptonite-hearted cyborg villain Metallo, and Eye To Eye, in which Superman and Jimmy face off with a couple of crooks who have a stolen gravity amplifier at their disposal.
The only downside of these books is the production quality. Burchett’s pencils and Austin’s inks were as clean and crisp as one could wish for, and their storytelling was pitch-perfect. Though working with the designs of the cartoon series, their comics pages sung with life of their own.
For whatever reason, the art in both of the books I read was slightly out-of-focus looking, and looked a little like a comic might were I to read it without my glasses on (They were on though; I checked). The lettering in the dialogue bubbles doesn’t have the same problem, so whatever went wrong seems to have happened with the art reproduction, rather than with the printing.
It’s unfortunate bordering on tragic, given how good the comics are. They can still be read and enjoyed, and its certainly possible the youngest of young readers won’t notice, let alone be upset by the poor quality of the reproduction, but it certainly muddies up what should be a superlative reading experience.