BEHOLD! THE ULTIMATE MAN!


by

Friday, October 30, 2009


The only thing I’m really obsessive about is trying to find the real worth of something and my relation to it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s comics or anything else, you know. So that’s an ongoing process. It’s a matter of possibly trying to find, to develop, what I know so that I can grasp things that I’m only seeing in an overt way. You never get to the essence of anything. What you do is just peel back layers. I just wanted to pass the first couple of layers. I feel like my whole life is wasted if somehow or other I respond to a lifetime of work exactly the same as the fucking fans.

—Gil Kane, 1977 conversation with Gary Groth included in his tribute “The Man Who Knew Too Much: Remembering Gil Kane”, The Comics Journal #222, April 2000

The first comic book I remember getting my hands on was Superman Special 1983 #1, written and drawn by Gil Kane. I obsessed over this comic book. The chunky drawing composed of spindly, coarse lines and bold, slanted hatch marks gave everything a tactile and chiseled look that made the unreal seem real to my young, impressionable eyes. I must’ve spent hours studying the cover alone: An angry Superman shoving his fist in the air, lines radiating out from under his cape, a giant flash of fire and smoke echoing his rage … A large, disembodied head hovers behind the man of steel … nervous hands reel, anticipating what might happen … and what happens is lurid, colorful, intense, over the top … an oratorio of a comic book, full of bubbly slime, furrowed brows, sweat bullets, clenched fists, tornadoes, tsunamis, an erupting volcano and Superman. Lots and lots of Superman as he navigates the silly world of mere mortals … and it’s the “mere mortals” part, which today makes me find Gil Kane’s frustration, smoldering and pinched between Superman’s black eyes.

Tonight I made the rounds; visiting several different quarter and dollar bins. I came home with a nice haul. I used to do this with more regularity but too often I found myself revisiting the same bins with the same shit, so now I go less often giving the retailers time to replenish their stock of cheap, unwanted comic books. For me, these bins are where it’s at. Flipping through thousands of grimy, moldy, water-damaged comic books in one night can be a heavy trip. It’s not out of the ordinary for a prismatic range of emotions to move through me as I spend hours digging through what seems to be the world’s supply of Image comics. But more often than not, by the second or third hour, I’ve settled into an undulating balancing act, sliding back and forth from cosmic excitement to common existential dread.

Gil Kane’s work on Superman Special 1983 #1 is fucking awesome. But it’s not enough.

It’s over! He’s gone … destroyed by his own ambitions! His mind and body couldn’t endure the trauma of endless accelerated mutation! Ambition pursuing its own ends, indifferent to the world about it … corrupts all! No matter how well-intentioned, ambition without compassion makes us … not more … but less than human!

—Superman’s thoughts from panels 1 and 2 from page 43 of Superman Special 1983 #1, written and drawn by Gil Kane.

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7 Responses to “BEHOLD! THE ULTIMATE MAN!”
  1. afdumin says:

    It has become a theory of mine that 90's era Image comics were invented with the sole purpose of filling out retailers' quarter bins.

  2. looka says:

    Now, there's a point.

  3. Robert Boyd says:

    I always thought of Gil Kane as a master of the "up the nostrils" POV panel.

  4. Frank Santoro says:

    "Flipping through thousands of grimy, moldy, water-damaged comic books in one night can be a heavy trip."

    say it brother

  5. Anonymous says:

    Those early-mid 80s DCs that Kane did looked really striking to me then. His Superman in particular seemed so much bolder than the soft Curt Swan approach. His redesign for Braniac made that character look dangerous in a way that most super-villains don't. I can't say I would have picked up any of that stuff if I had been an adult then, but as a kid it made me notice Superman comics when I was otherwise past caring about the character.

    And I totally agree about his trademark "up the nose" angles.

  6. Jason Overby says:

    When's that dang Gil Kane interviews book coming?

  7. w says:

    I remember Kane's Superman having a cape that looked really stiff and solid. Kane drew it like another appendage.