Review by Frank Plowright
As noted when reviewing Volume 1, throughout the 1970s and 1980s José Luis García-López impressed his artistic peers as the consummate professional, which he was, and this collection is a work of two halves. The opening half mops up individual Superman stories produced during his golden period before a leap to 1995 and a selection of longer one-off specials. The gap is explained by much of the intervening period being spent working for DC’s marketing and licensing departments, where among other tasks he produced style sheets for a huge selection of DC characters for use abroad.
Most of Volume 1 featured stunning art allied with less momentous stories, and that’s the case for the first half here. Bob Haney’s opening teamings with Batman both hinge on perpetuating mystery, which is handled well, but the revelations aren’t great pay-offs. Neither does Dennis O’Neil impress with the following two stories, one with Batman, one without, but García-López invests them with such grace and style you can’t tell without reading them. In the subsequent Martin Pasko story it’s as strange to see the Joker as a merry prankster as it was to see Batman operating in daylight earlier, both manifestations of their time, but allow for that and Pasko’s is the best of the earlier work.
There’s then a jump from 1982 to 1995 and the Dave Gibbons-written ‘Kal’ in which Superman arrives on Earth during medieval times, beautifully rendered by García-López. In the post Game of Thrones era, merging Luthor, Lois and kryptonite with knights of old may have greater appeal, although using rape as a plot device isn’t clever, and Gibbons oversells the kryptonite.
It’s the Clark Kent with ponytail era when Dan Jurgens has Superman visit Apokalips. He comes up with an imaginatively cruel piece of sadism, but that and the following team-up with Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) are ordinary. It’s interesting to note, though, how García-López has modified his layouts to match the style of the 1990s for big images and close-ups. It lacks the poise of his more familiar style.
Thankfully that’s back for ‘Superman Inc’ the collection’s highlight. When it came to ‘Elseworlds’ stories of the Superman from an alternate reality too many writers considered dropping Superman into a different time or environment was enough, with ‘Kal’ being an earlier and better example. However, Steve Vance tries something different. After considerable trauma in his early life Dale Suderman shuns his powers until parlaying strength and athleticism into a sports career, and moves from that into business, with ‘Superman’ being a concocted alias playing on his name. Vance includes the essentials of Superman’s history, but twists them into something very different, and this is an under-rated gem elevated by the art.
Vance also writes ‘Realworlds’, set in the 1950s and looking at how the fictional Superman might provide real world inspiration. The appearance of the Superman insignia is shockingly inventive, but it’s otherwise overly sentimental and largely predictable, although the art’s phenomenal.
2018’s ‘Actionland’ shows that at 70 García-López hasn’t declined in the slightest, and his pencils are given a lush finish by Kevin Nowlan. Paul Dini’s story is a short seemingly concerning a Superman theme park in the future. There’s a twist, and it’s better than Haney’s, but the art’s the star.
Fifty pages of cover art for stories that García-López didn’t draw round out a collection where the plots don’t match the grandeur of the art.