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Subj: Bypassing Superman #21, and exhuming The Man They Buried on Page 64!
Posted: Mon Apr 13, 2020 at 10:35:48 am EDT (Viewed 115 times)
Not Only Is It Possible... It's True! And That's Why The World, And Superman, Must Now Face The Wrath Of... "THE MAN WHO WAS BURIED ON PAGE 64!"
Being honest I hadn't intended to write about an old 1974 short story here, rather I had been thinking (for the last three weeks) of writing a little about the latest instalment of Brian Bendis' Superman. But the arrival of Action Comics took precedence and so I wrote about that instead - a few threads down below.
In truth the criticisms, and some of the indifference, that I experienced while reading Superman #21 are much the same as with that issue of Action Comics I discussed. While the plot to Superman #21 is more accessible at least, and the inner monologue of Superman himself is at least marginally engaging to follow, the story and the overall production itself suffer due to much the same problems as Action Comics did, and in particular what was particularly noticeable was how much the work of the artist (Ivan Reis) showed its boredom with the delivered script in much the same way as John Romita's work on Action Comics did... with a jumbled and largely wandering series of page layouts and puzzling storytelling choices Reis' pages show all the signs of someone who is not being absorbed or engaged by the material he is given. As with John Romita, there is the sense of an artist who is idly serving out his contractual obligations, rather than being an enthusiastic co-collaborator and invested body. And if the material in question is just another issue-long punchup between Superman and Mongul, coming on top of equally monotonous punch-ups with Rogol Zaar, perhaps his boredom and lack of stimulation can be understood. Because there is precious little here that Brian Bendis' script is really demanding of such a normally talented and dynamic artist as Reis. Little wonder then that the boredom perhaps is what is showing through in the pages of his work on 'Superman' at the moment.
The problems with Ivan Reis work is laid out starkly with that very first page. The problem being fairly self-evident as apart from it being very badly designed, with that close-up of Superman's face and the white voided surround seemingly tacked on as an afterthought, it fails as a professional piece of work on every single level.
The first page of any comicbook has traditionally always been seen by professionals and publishers as the introductory page to the-story-to-come in the pages after, but also as the 'hook' that will snare the readers interest enough to want to actually read it. In technical terms the input Brian Bendis himself has with the page is more or less fine, with a brief note of the setting and some inner monologue from Superman himself to introduce the scene. But the Prose Bendis supplies is grounded in small inobtrusive text boxes thanks to the letterer, and the accompanying page-scene supplied by Ivan Reis shows us... a distance shot of Superman from behind, framed in a half-hearted and lazily sketched-out shot of some strange otherworldly vista that lacks any interesting detail to it. There are two moons there in the sky, the sun being shown both behind and just below them, therefore why are the moons not seen in silhouette? Superman is stood in some... valley perhaps? Enclosed by sketched out mountains in the distance. We don't know where this is precisely, we don't have the information to know why it is he is stood there in the distance, looking away at something perhaps... But then there is that horrendously obtrusive slapped on shot of Superman's face pasted onto the bottom of the page shouting at someone, or some thing, to admit defeat and go home!
What IS the thinking behind this page from Ivan Reis? How much effort before lunch did this cost him I have to ask. If one had to estimate how long it took Reiss to design and illustrate this page... would I be rude in suggesting it was all over and done with within one Hour?
A bad page layout by any standard. But this is the first page, the introductory page to an issue, and coming on top of a reading of Action Comics #433 from 1974 the vast distance between the generations of craftsmen and publications is extraordinary to consider.
Written by a still fresh Cary Bates and illustrated by the always dependable Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson one of several remarkable things to note about "The Man Who Was Buried on Page 64!" is that it is only 13 pages long as a story, and that's counting the first page.
A story that is sold to his editor Julius Schwartz on the basis of a simple idea and its starting point, this is a fairly atypical example of how stories were sold to editors at DC Comics at this time. We have a pitch for an idea that can be summed up in perhaps six words, those six words of an idea become the stories title, and more often than not that story is deliberately limited to anywhere between 13 pages or 22.
With just 13 pages the plot behind the story's premise is everything and as a result the events and characters understandably become very condenscend because of it. Following the story of one Noam Sythe, a man who's considerable achievements have been eclipsed by repeated bad timing and the whims and flukes of unfolding history, we are served a compelling idea for a story that on one level works as an ironic parable on the particular quirks and unintended cruelty of the media establishment, and on the other serves as a lesson in what happens to someone when their self-ego goes completely out of control and becomes wildly unbalanced. Perhaps Noam Sythe's problem in life was as much down to his lack of a partner to balance and mediate his disappointments as it is his perceived lack of instant gratification from the media and public alike... but when reading it the relative failure of Cary Bates' tale here for me comes down to his failure to realise that what Sythe's motivation should have been is paranoia, the Paranoia that comes from being repeatedly cast aside in his due recognition and the surety that something is working against you in doing so. If Noam Sythe was seen as demonstrating this understandable sense of paranoia, paranoia that this 'something' was deliberately sabotaging him, then the story would make that bit more sense in terms of his motivations and actions. Because as it is what Noam Sythe actually demonstrates is more in line with a petty sense of entitlement and pricked ego rather than a genuine sense of frustrated fury at fate and a fear that all-powerful 'fate' is what is conspiring against him, rather than the media.
This isn't me holding up "The Man Who Was Buried on Page 64!" as being some failure, nor as being any forgotten gem I must stress. But the concept behind it is a clever and novel one, the artwork is terrific, the plot is filled full with events, the script itself however... suffers from some innate credibility problems in terms of Noam Sythe's motives and actions, and on balance Cary Bates is trying to pack far too much incident into the limited space he has available. As is typical of his and others work in this era it is a story that relies on the 'mad scientist' tropes of the day, a resulting threat to earth, and when given any thought Sythe's grievances and his bitterness at them ring somewhat petty, when they should be ringing as tragic. His discoveries and inventions might have been persistently pushed from the front pages and first-spots in media news reports, but discovering triumphs of the kind he did guarantees his firm place in history regardless. He will go down in texts and discussions over these achievements for centuries to come.
But the triumph of this story, for me, is that wonderfully crafted first page. So typical of its time. And yet in and of itself a work of art all of its own.
It would be very interesting and informative to learn the process and thought put into these first pages of the era. Of how much of the design was the arrangement of editorial, and how much was Cary Bates. Certainly the stamp of Curt Swan's layout is undeniable, with the intersect of the irate Noam Sythe airing his grievances whilst holding the frontpage of the Daily Planet at us - the papers headline being then illustratively shown in the foreground and holding the centre of attention on the page as a levitating Superman dramatically halts, and saves, the presidential limousine by applying his super-breath to freeze the large pond it has sped into. This one pages dramatic composition from Swan tells the story all on its own: We see the danger is the car having crashed through a fence and into the water, we see Superman having arrived just in time and is in the process of halting the potentially lethal outcome for those inside the vehicle (presumably intended as being President Richard Nixon), but while all of the information we need to know is there to be seen in the artwork the accompanying text of the page, and the use of an intersect of Sythe himself, all come together to demonstrate just what the purpose, and the craft, of the first page once was. And what in effect the first page is for on any comicbook.
Accessibility to the reader may not be an aspect of production todays creators are taught to understand, certainly the first page to Superman #21 is a demonstration of how far the standard of production and editing has fallen in this day and age. And yet really the basic elements of that introductory first page of Action Comics #433 isn't something that publishers long ago discarded. We do still do see on occasion the same basic techniques and philosophy that the first page has traditionally been intended for, but what has tended to be clear today is that much of the imagination and effort that the first page demanded from both artist, writer, and editor, has largely disappeared from production and publication today. Not altogether no, but largely so...
Regardless however, if you can, give Action Comics #433 a few minutes of your time why not. While "The Man Who Was Buried on Page 64!" isn't without numerous inherent problems as a story the basis of it is an interesting and, very importantly - an imaginative one. The lovely clear storytelling prowess and illustrative artwork from Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson demonstrate a strong example of how artists of calibre have always elevated the material they are given. And few artistic collaboration in the realm of Superman match or exceed the work of the Swanderson partnership. So if you can (and that shouldn't be difficult!) forget Mongul, and instead take a trip back to 1974, and in the span of just 13 pages commiserate on the black ironies and lifetime of frustrated ambitions endured of one Mr Noam Sythe... The man they buried on page 64!
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Re: Action Comics #433 - The Man Who Was Buried on Page 64!
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