For a lot of people, Superman is one of those characters that they know is important, but they aren’t all that interested in reading about him.
The Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics, Geoff Johns, is trying to change that.
Johns took over “Superman” almost a year ago and immediately set about re-establishing the Clark Kent we know, emphasizing his relationships with Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and — although not his girlfriend these days — Lois Lane. It felt pretty natural, and all the changes of recent years by other authors to freshen up the mild-mannered reporter felt less intrusive.
On the Superman side, Johns presented the Last Son of Krypton with someone entirely new: The Last Son of Earth! Stumbling onto our planet from “dimension 4” was Ulysses, a character who may be as powerful as the Man of Steel, and who has an eerily similar origin. His scientist parents, it seems, thought the world was ending 25 years ago, and rocketed baby Ulysses to another dimension where they hoped he’d gain super powers and come to be its champion.
Could this possibly be true? Could this strange visitor really be what he appears to be? It seems so implausible, and yet these “Men of Tomorrow” do discover Ulysses’ parents, who survived the calamity he remembered. And he does seem rather heroic. It takes him a while to understand this whole “secret identity” thing, but he proves to be very useful in Superman’s mission.
To draw this story, DC Comics tapped John Romita Jr., a popular artist they lured away from Marvel Comics, where Romita’s father is something of a legend (he was the second artist to take on “Amazing Spider-Man,” and served for years as art director). Romita’s big-screen, in-your-face, kinetic style was a perfect match for this story, which relies as much on action as mystery.
And now the story has reached its climax, and been collected. “Superman Vol. 6: The Men of Tomorrow” ($24.99) includes Johns’ entire run on “Superman” — eight issues — which presumably sets the stage for a Super-renaissance.
Which only works if “Men of Tomorrow” gets us all interested in reading “Superman” again. Will it?
There’s only one way to find out (and it’s not by getting rocketed to another planet).
While “Superman” often tells the stories of man at his best, “Nanjing: The Burning City” (Dark Horse, $24.99) tells a story of man at his worst.
In 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army invaded what was then the Republic of China’s capital city, Nanking (now spelled Nanjing). What followed next is called “the Rape of Nanking,” and, if anything, that sobriquet is an understatement.
The Japanese Army went on a raping, pillaging, looting and murdering spree that killed in the neighborhood of 200,000-300,000 people, mostly civilians. (The numbers can’t be verified, because the Imperial Army destroyed all records.)
This event is also called “The Nanking Massacre,” and that seems pretty inadequate also, considering the horror that took place.
Enter Ethan Young, who has written and drawn a graphic novel set in this holocaust.
It focuses on two Chinese soldiers, abandoned by their leaders, who try to find their way to safety through the burning, Japanese-occupied city.
In the hands of a lesser talent, this could descend into pathos. But Young is a fascinating talent, whose work suggests a host of influences, from both East and West, from “Sgt. Rock” to “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Working entirely in black and white, Young uses shadow and expert rendering to bring the horror of the burning city to life, while reflecting that horror in the faces and postures of his characters. Amazingly, no two faces in this book are remotely alike, and no framing is ever off, not by a hair. The pacing and storytelling are equally well done, resulting in a book that carries the reader through horrific events at breakneck speed.
“Nanjing: The Burning City” is a horrible story. It is a wonderful story. It is certainly an unforgettable story.
And speaking of masters of the comics form, American audiences are finally seeing the most famous works of one of them.
EuroComics has begun publishing the definitive English-language collections of Corto Maltese, the enigmatic sea captain and adventurer. Maltese is the work of Hugo Pratt, whose own life was nearly as interesting as Corto’s.
Pratt was born in Italy, and moved as a lad with his family to Ethiopia, as his father was a soldier, and Benito Mussolini had just invaded the place.
Pratt’s father was later captured by the British and died in 1943, while Pratt and his mother were interned. After, the war, they moved back to Italy, where Pratt — inspired by American comics from the Red Cross — became a cartoonist.
But Pratt didn’t stay still, splitting his time between Argentina, London, Paris and Venice — cartooning all the way.
In 1967 an enigmatic sailor named Corto Maltese appeared in Pratt’s “Sgt. Kirk” comics, in a story titled “The Ballad of the Salty Sea.”
Two years later Maltese gained his own strip, which Pratt wrote and drew until 1984. Pratt’s many international experiences informed his work, giving rise to the mysterious Maltese — whose loyalty belonged to no country, and whose motives and goals were kept private.
American audiences, at least those familiar with the works of Milton Caniff, should recognize the style Pratt employs. After all, “Terry and the Pirates” was one of the inspirations for Pratt to become a cartoonist!
EuroComics has already published two albums, “Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn,” and “Corto Maltese: Beyond the Windy Isles” ($29.99 each).
The stories are generally self-contained and can be read in almost any order.
And they should be read, and savored. They’re classic tales of adventure and intrigue in a bigger world that no longer exists.