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Joe Kubert Presents

Yesterday in the comics shop I had one of those head-smacking moments. "Excuse me?" I asked. "What the heck is this?"

The book I had in my hand was DC's Joe Kubert Presents, which yes, months ago when that incredibly influential artist passed away, I had known was coming out but completely forgot. Even back then, I had no idea what the book would be.

Luckily for me, Illusive still had the first issue on the shelf, so I could get a better handle on what it's all about -- but really, it's about good creators telling interesting stories for a reasonable price.

In the text-piece from the first issue, Kubert implies the inspiration came from Golden Age comics, when every book you bought was an anthology that spanned genres. While today you can't get away with 64 pages for a dime, you can still gather favorite creators and do something different.

For Kubert, that meant bringing Sam Glanzman out of retirement, a writer/artist who was really doing autobiographical comics before Harvey Pekar, but because they were "disguised" as war comics, he doesn't get quite the attention. Glanzman turns in stories about his experiences in the Navy in World War II, both personal and those shared with him by other sailors at the time.

In the first issue, the story is a sad slice of life about hopes and dreams in war, while the second issue gets grimly comical.

Then Kubert enlisted writer/artist Brian Buniak (sensing a theme? It's about singular creators he admired and respected) to revive Angel and the Ape. Not familiar with that feature? It's about gorgeous detective Angel O'Dare and her partner, Sam Simian who is, well, simian. (At one point in DC history, Phil Foglio claimed he was Grodd's grandson.)

The story Buniak tells feels just like the title's short run in the 60s, like an escapee from Mad Magazine at its most chaotic. Throwaway gags abound on every page, some hidden in the artwork. But Buniak doesn't quite have the rhythm of the old stories down; the Ape, in particular, isn't quite as charming as he once was.

That leaves the last of Kubert. In the first issue, Kubert returned to Hawkman, writing and drawing a story of the Thanagarians first visit to Earth. With this and in his unfinished story in the recent Ghosts anthology, it feels like he knew he wouldn't get more chances to run a victory lap around his own skills. The Hawks travel from Thanagar to Africa, and though it's still a superhero story, it's also reminiscent of his superb work on Tarzan. Few artists could have been better suited to the entire Edgar Rice Burroughs canon.

It is the second issue that long-time DC fans need, though, because it presents Kubert's great lost work -- Redeemer. Announced back in the early 80's, and no doubt destined to be left somewhat open-ended, it's still satisfying to see at last.

Redeemer gets billed as a sci fi epic, but that sells it too short. Clearly, Kubert intends a discussion of the nature of good and evil, and the importance of heroism. The story exudes a simplistic sense of spirituality.

An evil being called "The Infernal One" gathers minions to take down an endlessly reincarnated warrior, the Redeemer. No one knows what he'll look like, only that in each lifetime, he gets to retain his knowledge from the past and grow stronger, so that one day he may destroy evil and redeem all men's souls.

The story spans from the days of the caveman to the 26th century, with Kubert making a couple of nods to past work. Blink and you might miss panels that look suspiciously like Kubert lifted them from "The Viking Prince" and "Enemy Ace."

The writing is a little simplistic, and it may be Kubert wrestling with Objectivism versus a social conscience. Something about that topic does make things stilted, even when you're coming out against it.

At any rate, DC has this set up as a 6-issue mini-series, and it will be great to see this complete. It's the last from a giant, truly wrestling with big ideas to the end.

Derek McCaw

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