Friday, January 18, 2008

Reprint This! 24. The World's Greatest Superheroes

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected a couple of dozen titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

At last we come to the final installment-of-this-length of this series, and not before time. This entry is a subject near and dear to my nostalgic heart. I've shied away from most superhero titles in this feature. I guess it's part of my growing disinterest in capes-and-fisticuffs fiction, but also because Marvel and DC seem like they're on a track to reprint all their superhero stuff before long anyway. However, there's one title they might overlook. When I was a kid, THE WORLD'S GREATEST SUPERHEROES was, for a couple of years, among the most important parts of my day, but it doesn't look like it's set for a reprint anytime soon. This newspaper strip, written initially by Martin Pasko and illustrated by George Tuska and the often-maligned Vince Colletta, was a serialized adventure pitting DC's superhero crew against a number of nefarious villains.

The World's Greatest Superheroes, which began in 1978, could be compared to a daily strip version of DC's long-running Justice League of America comic, in which some of Earth's mightiest defenders, operating from an orbital satellite, match wits against evil supervillains. The first serial featured Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman against the immortal Vandal Savage. The second sidelined Aquaman, and Batman and Robin joined the others in a battle with Dr. Destiny, master of dreams. The third and fourth serials also featured Black Lightning.

In mid-1979, the series was retitled The World's Greatest Superheroes Present Superman, and the Man of Steel got the strip, now written by Paul Levitz, all to himself for a few more years. I lost track of it when my dad stopped going into his office every day and bringing a copy of The Atlanta Constitution home. Nor would my folks change their subscription from the afternoon Journal to the morning paper, despite all the good comics like Peanuts running in the morning. In 1983, the strip went to Sundays-only, and it was cancelled in 1985.

When I was a kid, I was incredibly aggravated that the strip became a Superman-only serial, because I enjoyed the other characters, especially Wonder Woman and the Flash. At the time, I figured that they reworked it due to the Christopher Reeve Superman film, which was released at Christmas, 1978. Since I tracked down some scans of the series online, and got hold of some 1980 episodes from the UGA library, I'm still certain that's the case, but I'm also struck by how unusual a drama serial with multiple characters feels. Pasko must have found it a great challenge to hop back and forth between the heroes in their individual situations with only three panels a day. In the first serial, Wonder Woman gets caught in a trap at the Empire State Building, and then the action shifts to the Flash in the Arctic, and then to Superman in Egypt. Two months later, Wonder Woman is still tied up in New York City!

In 1980 or so, DC released a digest-sized collection of the first serial, with the panels rearranged to fit two or three per page. Evidently it didn't sell well enough to follow up, so these stories haven't been seen in more than 25 years except by afficionados. Serial newspaper strips are incredibly fun to read in collected editions, though. Titan's been proving that with their addictive James Bond 007 and Modesty Blaise books, with Jeff Hawke newly joining their lineup. Marvel US is thought to be planning a collection of their Stan Lee-scripted Spider-Man strip later this year - there's an edition already out in England via Panini. Marvel always seems to execute the good ideas before DC can get theirs ready, so even if DC got started now, it would be months before we could see any such collected edition. However, these are incredibly fun stories which are sure to spark fond memories from readers, and the growing market for trade collections and reprints would surely have room for these strips. Presented right, as, say, a three-volume collection, you'd have a winner... or it might even work as a Showcase Presents. So how about it, DC?

Many thanks to Jared Bond for providing these nice scans from the series. Most appreciated!

Next week, Reprint This! wraps up with five other features I'd like to see again, but didn't feel like subjecting everybody to longer essays about for one reason or another.

(Originally posted January 18, 2008, 06:10 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

1 comment:

  1. Like I just wrote, nicest newspaper comic strip artwork ever by Mssrs Tuska and Colletta.