I am seriously digging on the Alex Ross painted covers that have graced the latest issues of Superman.
I really am. I have some issues with how Ross draws the character, such as the shape of the S shield and the fact that sometimes he makes Superman look a little old, much like Curt Swan did back in the day, but I respect Ross (and Swan for the matter) enough to let that go and enjoy the art.
The latest cover (shown above) is probably my favorite of this current run. There is something truly powerful in seeing Superman lift the Daily Planet globe. It’s just a beautiful piece of art and it has this really neat Easter egg in it as well.
If you look toward the bottom left hand side you will see this sign.
Wylie’s. Maybe a bar. Maybe a restaurant. Maybe a combination of the two or a sports bar where the people of Metropolis go to support their teams because Metropolis strikes me as a city where the people have so much spirit that they overturn cars and set things on fire when their football or baseball team wins the Super Bowl or World Series.
All that aside I love the fact that it is a reference to the novel The Gladiator by Phillip Wylie.
If you are a student of Superman lore the name might be familiar to you, but in case you aren’t obsessive/compulsive like I am The Gladiator was a novel published in 1932 and presented the reader with the life story of a man named Hugo Danner, whose scientist father injected his wife with a special serum while Hugo was still in the womb that would (and did) bestow upon Hugo powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Hugo was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, could leap tall buildings in a single bound and nothing more than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin.
And his life was miserable because of it.
The Gladiator is a fantastic novel. If you can track down a copy do so. It is not a happy or uplifting book and it is pretty clear that the author had issues with women, but if you are looking for an engaging story about a man that despite his great abilities can never seem to find happiness or a purpose than this is a novel for you. Wylie wrote angst ridden super powered characters decades before Stan Lee made that type of hero popular. In many ways it is a sad tale and written in a very…interesting style but the story is rich and the settings and characters vivid on the page.
There have been some comic adaptations of the novel, most recently by Wildstorm, which took the setting out of the early part of the twentieth century and put it into the 1960s, which I think hurt the story on a certain level but was a fine read nonetheless. Roy Thomas also worked the story into the history of Iron Munro, a member of the Young All-Stars. Despite the novel saying such a thing couldn’t be Iron Munro was Hugo’s son, but then again Roy Thomas made a career out of retroactive continuity so that really shouldn’t be a surprise.
How much of an influence Wylie’s novel had on the creation of Superman is up for debate. Publicly Jerry Siegel denied ever reading the book but given the fact that Jerry was such a voracious reader and that he apparently reviewed the novel for a fanzine it would be hard to believe that he didn’t run across it at some point. Having read the book I have a hard time thinking that Siegel “stole” anything from Wylie. Beyond having the same abilities Hugo Danner and Superman are two completely different characters and lead very different lives. Superman was the champion of the weak and the oppressed. Hugo Danner drifted through life and grew to hate his abilities and humanity as a whole. Superman was a hero. Hugo was as well, or at least he ended up in situations where he saved lives, but he also took them and is more of a tragic figure than anything else.
In any case I really can’t fault Jerry if he did swipe from the book. Some of the best characters of all time were distillations of other concepts. Batman was Zorro. The Fantastic Four had a lot in common with the Challengers of the Unknown. The Incredibles is a lot like the Fantastic Four. There really are no new themes and ideas, just interesting combinations of stuff that has come before and I find nothing wrong with that.
It would be interesting in that, “wouldn’t that be cool,” kind of a way if you could do a story where the characters meet. I know I am stepping into the realm of fan fiction here but I think there is merit in an Elseworlds special where the Golden Age Superman meets Hugo Danner. The differences between the characters alone would make for a good story because you could really get into what makes these two men tick and why they would probably never, ever get along.
Sure there would be a fight, but that’s a cool scene, not a story.
Oh well. Enough wool gathering. There is much to do and miles before I go to sleep. Neat cover, though. Ross is a master. There is no denying that.
And I really dig that Easter egg.
More to follow…