The Greatest DC Comics Cover Never Told

Amazingly enough when it comes to companies recreating art in-house, even the legends aren't immune. Any comic fan worth their salt knows the cover that's pictured here. It's one of the all time classics, although some artists didn't think much of it. I'm pretty sure that Jack Kirby at one stage expressed his disdain for a cover that he felt was too static and one that had the figures in the same poses, looking exactly the same (I'll happily stand corrected on that though). Still it summed up DC at the time. Even now Neal Adams retouches and recreates a lot of his own artwork for his collected volumes for DC. Personally some of it leaves me a tad cold, but then that's because I grew up with those old books and, as crappy as the overall presentation might have been physically (paper etc etc - not art or colouring) those are the books I know and adore. But then who am I to argue with Neal Adams?

The other part of the company sanction recreation that has always fascinated me is that even when the company in question has access to original art, high quality stats and the like, more often than not they'll plump for an uncredited artist to re-draw a certain piece. They'll often deny, but it's fairly common knowledge. In recent times I remember seeing a line-for-line recreation of Action Comics #1 on eBay which was done at DC in the mid 1970s because they wanted to use the cover as part of the 'celebrations' surrounding the Superman movie. That they could have asked the original art to take a swing over it clearly never entered anyone's minds, but then DC were in the process of ignoring both Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, so it's obvious why they went with an uncredited staff artist to trace it off.

With all of that in mind it surprised me, but only mildly, when The Former DC Staffer sent the following essay down and explained how what should have been a great image was virtually ruined, and how the original Neal Adams cover has been replaced for reprints by a re-drawn version by Dick Giordano.

"The Greatest DC Comics Stories Ever Told was a concept that originated out of Mike Gold’s editorial group. It was certainly a response to Marvel’s Masterworks books but DC’s idea was to pick out the best stories and stuff each book with the greatest hits. With Superman, Batman and The Joker versions under our belts the production department was confident we could process the 4th edition, The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told (1989), in record time. That wouldn’t be the case as this book could only be described by the old cliché of having too many cooks in the kitchen. The assistant art director had great ideas but just far too many for one book to deal with. What should have been a simple job became very tiring and the book shows too many inconsistencies in its final presentation.

"One glaring inconsistency still haunts me to this day.

"On page 48 of the book you’ll see a mock ad for the DC 100 Page Super Spectacular #6: World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, first printed in 1971. This classic reprint book carried the legendary genre-changing cover by Neal Adams depicting DC heroes from both Earth-1 and Earth-2. This cover would inspire many future artists for years to follow. It was during a meeting with the assistant editor (un-credited) on the project that I suggested using the art. He got very excited and asked me locate it.

"Film negatives were still being used at this point and locating this particular piece of film was difficult, the problem was that it was misfiled and the search went on for days. I was also concerned about the condition of the film once I found it. It was normal practice to send the film anywhere and everywhere in the world for reprinting. A great example of this would be Green Lantern and Green Arrow #76 which looked like it had been crumpled up and tossed around the globe. So imagine my surprise when I did locate the film to find that it was in pristine shape! I personally took it into the Photostat room and ran off 5 copies. I returned the film at this point. The assistant editor then did a faithful color rendition of the cover and off it went to the printer.

"Now let’s review, what went to print was the classic Neal Adams cover.

"The separator refused to cut color film for the piece, no PhotoShop at this point, as it would hold up the printing. This was sad news so I hastily did the zip-a-tone spotlight effect that ended up in print. What should have been a great tribute was now junk.

"I decided to move on but first I gave my 5 stats to some key people at the company and said the following, “This is an important piece of work and we should always have it on hand.”

"Fast forward 15 years or so and I’m on one of my rare trips to NYC. I decide I’ll drop into a comic shop and see what’s happening. Out of the corner of my eye I see this cover and walk towards it happily. There it was a reprint of that classic comic…but wait, something’s wrong! That’s not the real cover but a…reconstruction! After all these years and all the careful planning DC had lost the original cover! How was that possible? Certainly someone there knew of the copies or even the film? There were a number of times at the company that a cover or even a book would go missing but they would always turn up at some point. And I can honestly say that DC was very good about returning art and keeping good copies around for reprint or research purposes.

"The point here is that sometimes a restoration should be viewed as a last resort and not a solution. That cover exists and all someone had to do was show some initiative and dig."


BPearce said…
This kind of stuff drives me nuts, as well -- but to be fair, DC's Film Library has moved several times over the past ten or fifteen years, and is now (I think) stored off site. And during that time, there have been the usual turnover in staff -- it's quite likely many of the "key people" who were given stats are no longer even with the company.

That said, speaking as a former DC employee, I wish more attention was paid to some of the finer details, like this.
Anonymous said…
I was afraid that that might be the case with the film archives. DC (as well as Marvel) must take itself seriously and understand that the followers of the genre are sharp and always on the look out for inconsistencies. The Adams cover is not lost and certainly did not need to be reconstructed.

Or if it did it shouldn’t have been detectable! Greg Theakston once wrote an article on this subject. Anyone remember this?

bpearce said…
"Or if it did it shouldn’t have been detectable!"

While digital restoration has come a long, long way over the past several years, it's unlikely anyone would have been able to do so using a printed source for a piece with a screened k-tone over most of the linework.

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