The image of Hawkman and Hawkgirl struggling against an elephant on the cover of “Joe Kubert Presents” #1 immediately grabbed my attention by the scruff on the neck when I saw it in the October solicitations for DC Comics a few months ago. As a considerable Hawkfan and unabashed admirer of the elder Kubert’s work, I made note to get this book. While the issue does have a Hawkman and Hawkgirl story that features elephants (among other animals) the remainder of this first issue isn’t quite what I had in mind.
After all, when comic readers hear “Joe Kubert” we tend to think of Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, Hawkman and Tarzan, among others. I tend to think of Rima and Ragman as well, so my expectations were pretty high for this issue, after all, “Joe Kubert Presents” should be like the old “Solo” series from DC, except it should all be Joe Kubert. That line of thought was wrong and my expectations were struck a major blow.
Yes, there are Joe Kubert stories in this issue, but there are also stories by people he chose to have included. All of this is explained by Kubert, first person, in a text piece roughly two-thirds into this first issue of the six-issue series.
The first of the non-Kubert pieces is “Angel and Ape” by Brian Buniak. Buniak’s work echoes the drawings of legendary cartoonist Bill Ward with regards to gravity-defying anatomy and charming expressions on the characters. The story itself is straightforward enough to introduce any reader to Angel O’Day and Sam Simeon. It’s a light-hearted adventure that appears to be the opening chapter in a series of serials for these two characters. That story is couched between Kubert’s two tales in this issue.
The other story not by Kubert focuses on the “U.S.S. Stevens” and serves as a sort of autobiographical memoir for writer/artist Sam Glanzman. The story itself is a combination of history lesson and war story, offering slices of life for men serving on the ship named in the title. The art is very much inline with Kubert’s work, but the story is a little slower and reads more like a diary or journal entry. It works, to an extent, but it didn’t manage to secure my interest as much as Kubert’s two stories.
Kubert handles a lead Hawkman and Hawkgirl adventure that truly seems as though it could be from recently unearthed archives. Hawkgirl is a little ditsy in this story and Hawkman a bit bossy, but the adventure they embrace just feels like a Silver Age tale. Sent from Thanagar to help defuse Earth, the duo exhibit powers and influence over terran fauna not unlike Tarzan. Taken for what it is — Joe Kubert accepting full responsibility for a Hawkman adventure — this story works, but on the surface just seems a little heavy-handed, as a great many Silver Age adventures do nowadays.
Kubert’s second story is less light-hearted and shades closer to a Charles Dickens-like tale about an orphan named Spit. While Kubert handles the story and art in both installments, “Spit” is rougher and more visceral, like a peek into a concept study sketchbook. The work in that segment is life study drawing given depth. Like “Angel and Ape,” it appears as though more is yet to come for Spit.
All in all, “Joe Kubert Presents” #1 is an anthology that shares the artistic sensibilities and storytelling dynamic of Joe Kubert even if his work is not present in all four of the stories. Additionally, this issue is a nice reminder of the versatility and passion Kubert brought to comics. While the artist recently passed away, at least we have this last hurrah to celebrate his accomplishments. The text piece in this book is more poignant for the fact that Kubert is no longer alive, but the art here leaves behind can never truly die.