Reviewer: John Babos
Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster
A hallmark of Julius Schwartz‘s editorial vision was his ability to conceive imaginative covers to serve as springboards for writers in need of story ideas.
For the DC COMICS PRESENTS Specials, classic Schwartz “concept covers” inspire new stories from some of comics’ greatest creators. For this issues cover, artist Adam Hughes pays tribute to the cover of SUPERMAN #264… by Nick Cardy. ( — from the inside back cover)
Opening Story Title: The Phantom Quarterback
Written by: Stan Lee
Penciled by: Darwyn Cooke
Inked by: J. Bone
Colored by: Dave Stewart
Lettered by: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Mike Carlin
Inspired by the issue’s cover, the opening story is very much a Silver Age-inspired light hearted tale penned by none other than Julius Schwartz’s Marvelous counterpart Stan “The Man” Lee.
Julius Schwartz may have been the architect of the Silver Age of the comics industry as whole, but Stan Lee has arguably had much more commercial success resulting from his Silver Age rebuilding of what we know today as Marvel Comics.
Stan Lee returns to DC, after his successful Just Imagine Elseworlds series, to pay tribute to his rival and friend Julius Schwartz.
The central figure of Lee’s tale isn’t Superman, but unlucky-in-love scrawny scientist Harold Gorky. Many of those around Gorky, including his love-interest Tiffany, are more enamored with “heroes” like gridiron superstar “Tank” Torgan or a dreamy (tongue in cheek 😉 ) Superman.
In an effort to boost his stock in the eyes of Tiffany, Gorky claims that he can beat Torgan at his own game – football! The upcoming charity football game, to be refereed by Superman, between the Thundering Buffalos and the Unbeaten Tigers provides the Gorky the opportunity to put his money where his mouth is with his creation of a… Phantom Quarteback!
This is a very touching tale of love, the fine line between hero and loser, with glimpses of the kind heart and gentle spirit of Superman… the things that really make him super, more than his amazing powers.
Artist, and Silver Age enamorist (is that even a word?), Darwyn Cooke of DC: The New Frontier fame delivers his brand of stylized pencils that really capture the mood of Lee’s tale. Cooke amps up the cartoony quotient in this tribute title which really captures the free spirit and simplicity of the Silver Age of comics. Inker J. Bone compliments Cooke’s pencils well and helps enhance the “fun” feel of the story.
Colorist Dave Stewart and Letterer Jared K. Fletcher (Cooke’s partner in DC: The New Frontier) deserve a nod for two areas of comic books that are often overlooked, but so vitally important. Their contributions really add to the feel that this is a story from a different time (although, Stan Lee’s vaguely misogynist ending helps in that regard too).
If you like DC books based on their animated TV series, like Justice League and/or Batman, than you should enjoy this book. It is very all-ages accessible and a real simple guilty pleasure (misogyny notwithstanding).
Score – Opening Story: 9.0
Concluding Story Title: Secret of the Phantom Quarterback
Acknowledgment: With thanks to Cary Bates for the original story.
Written by: Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen
Penciled by: Keith Giffen
Inked by: Al Milgrom
Colored by: Lovern Kindzierski
Lettered by: Ken Lopez
Assistant Editor: Pornshak Pichetshote
Editor: Karen Berger
While this tale is also inspired by the cover, it very much feels like a story from the late 1970s or early 1980s than the Silver Age – which isn’t a bad thing for a fan like me who grew up reading comics in those lazy days. Like many of today’s younger top talent at DC, like writer Geoff Johns, I was enamored by DC’s offerings during that period. A key book, in different iterations however, was the future-super-teen title the Legion Of Super-Heroes.
Legion alumni Paul Levitz, the current President and Publisher of DC Comics, and writer-artist Keith Giffen collaborate on a tale sprouted from the mind of another veteran talent, writer Cary Bates (who wrote many of the Curt Swan penciled Superman tales that I so enjoyed in the early to mid 1980s – when you could actually by a wide range of super-hero comics at the corner store.)
The story revolves around the dangers of a new designer steroid that washed out and one-time gridiron quarterback great Steve Lombard grows to rely on. The odd part of this premise is that the drug appears to be a prescribed steroid that if the user exceeds the recommended dosage they become a being of energy that dissipates their matter and slowly makes them invisible. Well, how could a drug with that kind of side effect make it to a point that it can actually be prescribed is beyond me, but that’s the only real quirky part of the tale.
Anyhow, the irradiated quarterback rampages and begins to level the old football stadium all the while slowly disappearing and becoming proportionately crazier. He comes to blows with Superman who tries to help him back to sanity and work off the effects the deadly steroid and end the destruction. Is this dangerous steroid’s side-effect reversible? You’ll have to read the story to find out.
What I will say, the quirky premise aside, is that this harmless “message” story very much channels the 1980s when DC was involved with the government’s anti-drug campaigns.
Penciller Keith Giffen and inker Al Milgrom’s Superman is really heroic in stature. What helps make Kal-El of Krypton look like a “Man of Steel” are the panel shots chosen by Giffen and the sheer weight that Giffen-Milgrom team give Supes’ renderings.
All in all, a decent tribute issue that shows that Keith Giffen is still at the top of the penciling game. The man deserves a monthly title!
Score – Concluding Story: 8.0
The book ends with a one-page obituary by comics’ great Alan Moore who teamed with Julius Schwartz to chronicle the final Silver-Bronze Age Superman tale – the classic “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”. Like the eulogy by sci-fi writing legend Harlan Ellison, with Schwartz biographer Brian M. Thomsen, Moore’s words are a fitting tribute and well worth the read.
So, the final score of this issue, factoring in the ranking of both tales, averages out to 8.5.