Land of Lost Stories: Chapter One
"End of the Neverending Battle?"
A Lost Superman tale by Dave Gibbons & Co.
This "Land of the Lost Stories" installment is the first in an ongoing series of examinations of initiated but never-published comic book stories. Originally conceived by me for "Comic Book Artist" magazine in 2002, my hope is that those folks who have this type of material in their files may consider contributing to my desire in telling the "Greatest Stories Never Told" in comics.
A long time ago when the grass was greener and all of us more innocent, Earth's greatest and most recognizable super-hero Superman would celebrate the greatest of all his milestones: his 50th anniversary. The year was 1988 and the anniversary would be a global affair with enormous mass media celebration for the Man of Steel, a beloved character that has many a times single-handedly saved our comics industry from the most dire of fates. For someone at 50, he was as youthful, handsome and awesome as ever, also extremely busy appearing on the cover of "Time" magazine, an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, his own primetime TV special, and other countless festivities and honors across his adoptive home planet of Earth. But whatever happened to the boys from Cuyahoga County who created the Man of Steel? Were they forgotten?
Nineteen eighty-eight was also an important year for the Cleveland natives named Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster, lifelong friends, who together originally envisioned the Man of Tomorrow. There was renewed interest and demand in them as they finally received the worldwide attention and praise that had eluded the partners after so many years of hardship and bitter litigation. Even the folks of Cleveland wanted to honor them and thus a booster club was created named The Neverending Battle. That group sought to ensure that the citizens and tourists of Cleveland never forget where Superman was originally conceived.
The Neverending Battle (NEB) was definitely an attempt to take the title as "Hometown of Superman" away from the city of Metropolis, Illinois. A non-profit organization, NEB had many plans, among others converting an old Greyhound bus station into a beautiful Superman Museum. One of the group's supporters, comics writer and columnist Tony Isabella, precisely remembers the objectives of the group. "The goals of the organization were to honor Siegel and Shuster during the 50th anniversary of Superman, to host a convention for that purpose, to erect a Superman statue honoring them, and to create a 'Siegel & Shuster Museum of Comics and Science Fiction.' It accomplished the first of two of those goals."
Another thing that Neverending Battle wanted to achieve was an elaborate tribute comic book that would help raise funds for the museum. This project was initiated by Isabella and to be prepared as a joint project by DC Comics and NEB. Isabella envisioned the book to feature the best comic artists creating short Superman stories for this dream anthology comics extravaganza. So in 1987, he contacted many creators including one of the hottest artists, fresh off the heels of his massive hit "Watchmen," Dave Gibbons, an overall nice guy, and the artist that took it upon himself to create a gem of a story. The tale was titled "Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On…" and was drawn by some of Her Majesty's greatest comic book artists.
Having personally volunteered to see the completion of this story, Gibbons sought a framing device, which would allow freedom for the other artists to illustrate their favorite aspect of the Superman mythos. The story involved Krypton's Last Son discovering an exotic crystal that would allow him to see various existences of himself. In hindsight, Gibbons would write and pencil the first two and last pages while the other artists were free to draw and write their own sequences. The artists Gibbons sought were friends and accomplished creators in their own right like Brian Bolland, Alan Davis, John Higgins, Garry Leach, Paul Neary, Richard Starkings and Mark Farmer (the latter who inked Dave's own pages). Gibbons would also scribe the openings of each page to keep a follow to this story and rewrite - when needed - to ensure DC's continuity was not violated. The results of their combined efforts were an affectionate and poignant six-page Superman classic that remains unseen to this day. The story captures Mort Weisinger's quaint mythology that made the timeless super-hero both wonderful and fantastic.
So what went wrong, you ask? Tony Isabella can answer that better than I: "The most concise version of why the benefit/tribute comic book wasn't completed and published was that NEB went bust in rather spectacular fashion. There's much more to the story than that but, forgive me, I'm saving that for a project of my own." Once the Neverending Battle was over and left many of its volunteers devastated, the possibility of this tribute book was sunk. Ironically, there was only one other completed story, which was written by Mike W. Barr (based on a rough concept by Tony) and illustrated by the immortal Curt Swan and the legendary Kurt Schaffenberger.
For Gibbons, it was a small defeat that he quickly turned into a positive. "Although the story never saw print, I did use the idea in an intro and outro that I wrote for a paperback called 'The Further Adventures of Superman,' edited by Martin H. Greenberg." So this tale doesn't have a happy ending because Dave Gibbons and friends' great little Superman story remains lost in a vacuum where a plethora of other lost tales roam waiting for a home. Despite all of that, all was not loss; after all of these years, Superman remains, in print and in movies, the hero deserving of the relentless virtue and integrity bestowed to him by two young Jewish lads from Cleveland.
Special thanks to Dave Gibbons, Tony Isabella and Garry Leach for their invaluable help on this. This article originally appeared in "Comic Book Artist" #21.