by KC Carlson
Joe Kubert’s death hasn’t sunken in fully for me. The first anniversary of his passing at the age of (almost) 86 is next Monday (August 12). Yet new work from him has been appearing all year long — six issues of Joe Kubert Presents (soon to be collected into a TPB) plus his inking of his son Andy’s pencils on Before Watchmen: Night Owl. (Two issues were completed before he passed. Bill Sienkiewicz inked the remainder.) In some ways, it seemed like just another year — if it wasn’t for the big emptiness of his loss.
Joe Kubert: Creator & Mentor, aka Comic Book Creator #2 (from TwoMorrows) picks up on this with a very special 160-page tribute issue and history of Kubert. It includes history and remembrances from over 130 comics fans, friends, and students, in a beautifully written package compiled by editor/designer Jon B. Cooke. Some of the major contributors include Joe’s sons Adam & Andy Kubert, Frank Thorne, Irwin Hasen, Russ Heath (all are interviewed), George Pratt, Rick Veitch, Timothy Truman, Paul Levitz, and more, under an amazing cover by Sergio Cariello (and colored perfectly by Tom Ziuko) which you would think was actually drawn by Kubert himself if you weren’t looking carefully. (It’s based on a classic Sgt. Rock/Our Army At War cover by Kubert from 1970.)
Despite its title, it’s not really a magazine — it’s a full-fledged trade paperback (with stiff covers) filled to the brim with full-color examples of Kubert’s classic work (plus a couple of never-before-seen surprises). Work from other artists — Neal Adams, Michael Netzer, Paul Rivoche, Bill Sienkiewicz, Ken Steacy, Fred Hembeck, and others — are side-by side with tributes to Joe from Stephen R. Bissette, Jan Duursema, Steve Lieber, Rags Morales, Graham Nolan, Jerry Ordway, Karen Berger, Steve Skeates, Kurt Busiek, Steve Mitchell, Don Simpson, and a lengthy tribute by Westfield columnist Beau Smith. Many of the contributors are themselves alumni of Kubert’s famous school.
I’d love to be able to tell you more about this amazing project, but I’m reading it in short bursts, as I occasionally get overwhelmed by the subject matter, which is still a little too fresh. I can tell you that there is much love in these pages. Heartfelt tribute doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Joe Kubert: Creator & Mentor (aka Comic Book Creator #2) is available now at all good comic shops and subscription services. It’s also available digitally direct from TwoMorrows, with additional, exclusive content that wouldn’t fit in the print version.
CHANGING THE SUBJECT SLIGHTLY…
I think my first realization that Joe Kubert was something special was DC Special #5 (on sale in October 1969). This 64-page comic is an all-Kubert issue, spotlighting most of his famous characters for DC with reprints starring Sgt. Rock, Hawkman, Viking Prince, and Eagle Feather (from the long-forgotten 1956 Showcase #2 Kings of the Wild issue). Missing is an Enemy Ace story, since it would take a few more years before that series would become universally hailed as a comics classic. The short-lived Firehair (from Showcase and Son of Tomahawk) is mentioned briefly as Kubert’s then-current DC project. Tarzan (1972) and Ragman (1976) were still in the future.
Kubert fans should seek out DC Special #5 immediately, as beyond the several reprints, there’s also some never-reprinted Kubert material, including a two-page feature of Kubert drawing “some” of the DC characters that he worked on in DC’s Golden Age. There are 11 here, including GA Hawkman, the Flash, Dr. Fate, and Johnny Quick (inks over Mort Meskin’s pencils). (Several of these characters are also on the then-all-new cover.) Also in this issue is a lettercol written by Kubert answering questions from “fans” including Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Norm Maurer, Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino, Kubert’s wife Muriel, and their five children — David, Danny, Lisa, Adam, and Andy.
His family also pops up in an all-new four-page story in this issue. (It’s reprinted, albeit at small size, in Joe Kubert: Creator & Mentor.) Today’s comic pros Adam and Andy Kubert are depicted as children (in 1969) in their first appearance as comic book characters. Also featured is a hilarious cameo by artist Russ Heath and a quick appearance by Gerda Gattel, a legendary DC Comics staffer and production coordinator. Any DC creator or editor who ever needed reference about a DC character owes Gerda a big thank you. She created and maintained DC’s legendary archives (now known as the DC Library) of all the company’s publications. In this story, she presents Joe with a pile of fan letters (including one from Lyndon B. Johnson) that’s twice as tall as he is.
DC Special #12 is also a good issue for fans of Kubert, Heath, and Novick, as it reprints adventures of the Viking Prince, the Silent Knight, Robin Hood, and the Golden Gladiator from early issues of The Brave & the Bold.
SINCE WE’RE HERE: DC SPECIAL BACK HISTORY
DC Special was a reprint anthology series that originally ran from 1968 to 1971 and was restarted 1975 to 1978. The first issue was artist-oriented, as it featured all Carmine Infantino (eerily, also recently deceased) stories. This issue was published at the time that Infantino was moving over to become a DC executive, eventually becoming DC Publisher by 1971. It was sort of a tribute to his illustration career at DC seemingly coming to an end (at that time).
DC Special was the home for three issues (#7, 9, & 13) of “Strangest Sports Stories Ever Told”, reprinting mostly Julius Schwartz-edited SF stories by Gardner Fox, John Broome, Carmine Infantino, and others, most from earlier issues of The Brave and the Bold. It also included Wanted: The Word’s Most Dangerous Villains (issues #8 & 14), which ultimately spun-off into its own short-lived series, notable for being an early DC attempt at reprinting Golden Age material beyond the usual first issue and origin stories. This culminated in the collection of Jack Cole Golden Age Plastic Man stories that appeared in DC Special #15, a much-beloved issue at the time.
Most of the rest of the first run of issues were genre tributes:
- #2: teen comedy reprints from the 50s, with fashions crudely updated
- #4: “horror” stories from the 50s, with all-new wraparounds by DC’s then-current horror hosts — including the first-ever appearance of Abel, later appearing in the House of Secrets and Sandman
- #6: “The Wild Frontier!” aka Tomahawk and other early Americana characters with new wraparounds by Gil Kane
- #10: “Stop: You Can’t Beat the Law!” featuring cop stories from the 50s, plus Fireman Farrell from Showcase #1
- and #11: “Monsters!”, reprinting stories from the 1950s and 60s House of Mystery (one by Jack Kirby). Sergio Aragonés provides some new linking pages.
DC Special #3 was billed as the “All-Girl Issue”, featuring reprints of Supergirl and Star Sapphire stories, and a SF story. The big draw for this issue were the two never-before-published Golden Age Wonder Woman and Black Canary stories. This one has the classic cover (by Neal Adams) of DC’s females bursting through the background, as DC’s main male heroes look on in shock!
The second incarnation of DC Special (issues #22-25) was notable for more reprints of the adventure heroes (Three Musketeers and Robin Hood) from the early The Brave and the Bold, collections of early Silver Age Green Lantern (one of the few popular DC characters who didn’t have his own 1960s Annual series), and finally some Enemy Ace reprints by Kanigher and Kubert. Most of the rest of that series were a bunch of unfortunately named collections of reprints — “Super-Heroes Battle Super-Gorillas”, “Presents… Earth Shaking Stories”, “War Against the Giants”, “Super-Heroes’ War Against the Monsters”, and “Earth Shattering Disasters” — which actually contained some great stories, with that last collection (in #28) being all-new.
More new stores were tried. #27’s “Danger: Dinosaurs at Large!” featured a great Captain Comet (then starring in Secret Society of Super-Heroes) story with lots of guest stars. And #29 (the last issue) featured the historically awesome, 34-page, never-before-told origin of the Justice Society of America by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton, and Bob Layton. Sadly, the story was pre-Crisis continuity, and it was ultimately re-done (keeping much of the original story, but lacking the spark) in Secret Origins #31 by Roy Thomas, Mike Bair, and Bob Downs in 1988.
KUBERT GETS THE LAST WORD
Joe Kubert is one of the greatest comic book artists to ever walk the planet. Sure, he was known for superheroes during his youth, during the Golden Age of Comics, and he is closely associated with Hawkman. But later, when he had more choice fof what he wanted to work on, he picked adventure characters, not costumed superheroes. Even his Hawkman was a modern warrior in his best depictions.
Look at Kubert’s other best-known characters: Tor, Viking Prince, Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, Firehair, Tarzan, Ragman, the soldiers from the Green Berets newspaper strip, and the protagonists of his latter-day graphic novels. Kubert’s characters didn’t need special powers. Most were mortal men — warriors — frequently fighting against impossible odds.
Kubert also inspired in other ways. Through the Kubert School, he’s trained and taught at least two generations of aspiring artists, including two of his own sons, Adam and Andy, who are now following in their dad’s footsteps in more ways than one.
Warriors do the hard thing, defending and protecting the weak, constantly saving peoples’ lives, often at great risk to themselves.
Teachers, on the other hand, fight for life in another way. Beyond inspiration, they often must grab life from within their pupils to wrench them into becoming the very best artists — no, the very best people that they can be.
And, in this way, Joe Kubert became an altogether different warrior.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this past year.
KC CARLSON SAYS: Thanks, Joe!
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.