Review by Ian Keogh
In 2012 DC launched a series enabling Joe Kubert to revisit characters he worked on during his long career as artist, editor or writer. In principle Joe Kubert Presents is a really nice idea, and in practice it means page after page of that gloriously cultured Kubert artwork. However, it’s rather a mixed bag.
Drawing Hawkman as a very talented teenager in the 1940s was Kubert’s first landmark, but this story concerns Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s updated 1960s counterparts, Thanagarian aliens arriving on Earth for the first time. It’s a clever ecological fable. Kubert also both writes and draws ‘Spit’, the maudlin experiences of a child at sea in the 1800s, most drawn in roughs, as if storyboards, but Kubert’s rough art is the equal of many artists’ complete product. When he moves to full art for the final instalment’s whaling sequences, the results are memorable. The standout feature is ‘The Redeemer’, a story announced and promoted in 1983, but never published then. It’s obviously a project close to Kubert’s heart, and has the spiritual side so often part of his work. The premise is a hero called the Redeemer gaining more and more experience through the centuries as he’s reincarnated. It enables Kubert to set each story in a different time, incorporate some DC characters he’s had a hand in, and the art is sumptuous.
Two stories aren’t produced by Kubert, but look back on features he edited. They couldn’t provide a greater contrast. Sam Glanzman’s U.S.S. Stevens stories are personal memoirs of his naval service during World War II, respectful recollections of people he served with, even the comedy moments tinged with a wistful feeling. They’re drawn with feeling and a very precise attention to detail, Glanzman at 85 having lost none of his artistic skill, and the sample art is from an episode where he looks back on his Virginia youth. Brian Buniak is responsible for reviving an old DC feature ‘Angel and the Ape’, a knockabout comedy about a detective agency partnership between a glamorous woman and a gorilla. With CGI now so advanced, the concept suddenly seems ripe for a TV series. Buniak supplies Mad-style cartooning busy with background visual gags and verbal dexterity, but it’s too manic with no down time.
We’re also given some shorter episodes. ‘The Biker’ is partially based on the experiences of Kubert’s eldest son. It’s an unpredictable mood piece, Kubert varying his artistic approach for this haunted man. Paul Levitz writes a touching Sgt Rock story for Kubert to draw, looking back on the first American soldiers to land on the Normandy beaches during World War II, and the almost incomprehensible bravery that took. ‘The Ruby’ is a collaboration with writer Pete Carlsson and artist Henrik Jonsson, which develops into an interesting take on an old DC mystic, and Kubert and Brandon Vietti throw another DC character into Kamandi’s world in what’s an awkward mix.
Kubert’s recollections, observations and explanations separate the stories, and he comes across as a lovely guy as well as a talented artist, always with something interesting to say.
Some fans consider any page of Kubert art makes a book worth buying and they’ll find there’s no loss of imagination or capability over this mixture of his last work and some unpublished from far earlier. For anyone else, Joe Kubert Presents is a mixed bag, and readers will also need to appreciate Buniak and Glanzman, whose contributions are considerable.