Monday, August 13, 2012


Back in the '40s,'50s and '60s, Carl Barks drew hundreds of stories featuring Donald Duck, his three nephews and Uncle Scrooge McDuck for various comic books published by Dell and Gold Key. He was a superlative artist but those comics didn't run creator credits for writers, artists, inkers, letterers and colorists like today's books do. Most of us kids who read those comics didn't know who Barks was by name, but we knew his work by sight. He was quite simply "the good duck artist."

Joe Kubert didn't create his brilliant comic book art anonymously over his astonishingly long and remarkably rich career. He signed both his cover and interior art in many instances and his style was unmistakable. And for this child of the '60s, Joe Kubert was "the good war artist."

If Joe Kubert had only ever illustrated the long-running Sgt. Rock series that ran in DC Comics' OUR ARMY AT WAR, his place in comic book history would be assured. The Sgt. Rock series, written by Robert Kanigher and beautifully illustrated by Kubert, is top-flight work depicting men achieving heroic and noble deeds amid the horrors, the stress, the insanity of war. Sometimes just surviving was enough. Sgt. Rock and his men in Easy Company never stopped fighting the good fight. Rock fearlessly led his men into danger and even though the ultimate price was sometimes paid by one of his troops, Rock somehow was still standing when the battle was done.

But Joe Kubert was far more than Sgt. Rock. Over the course of a career that began when he was a teenager in the late '40s, Kubert worked for a variety of publishers before finding a permanent home at DC Comics where, in addition to Rock, he pencilled such first rate series as The Viking Prince, Enemy Ace, Hawkman, Firehair, Ragman, Tor and more.

Kubert's Enemy Ace series (which began as a backup in OUR ARMY AT WAR, was then tried out in SHOWCASE and finally earned a home in STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES) was groundbreaking, daring and revolutionary. Who would dare show WWI through the eyes of an enemy combatant? Kanigher and Kubert, that's who in a spectacular series that captured the balletic aerial combat of biplanes in the skies and the grim reality of No Man's Land on the ground. A German ace seemed an unlikely hero for a war comic but Kanigher and Kubert invested Hans Von Hammer with an air of nobility, pride, courage and fierce grace. All of the Enemy Ace stories are outstanding and well worth checking out.

When legendary editor Julius Schwartz was re-imagining the Golden Age DC heroes for the new Silver Age (a name which did not exist at the time) of comics, he tapped Joe Kubert to breathe new life into Hawkman. In the old days, Carter and Shiera Hall were archaeologists who fought crime as Hawkman and Hawkgirl. In the new iteration, Katar and Shayera Hol were alien police officers, sent to earth from the planet Thanagar, to observe our law enforcement system. Kubert gave us a firmly muscled, lean fighting man in Katar and a smoking hot redhead in Shayera. The duo took to the skies, armed with ancient weaponry, to fight a variety of menaces. The series mixed superhero action with science fiction tropes and Kubert brought it all to vivid, gorgeous life. The new Hawkman series ran as a try-out in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD before eventually earning its' wings (sorry) and moving into HAWKMAN in 1964. When Katar and Shayera got their own book, the art chores were handled by Murphy Anderson, a very, very good artist but one whose style was vastly different from Kubert's.

Kubert's other magnum opus was TARZAN. When DC acquired the rights to publish the adventures of Tarzan and his son Korak (along with other heroes) from the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate in the early '70s (the series had previously been published by Dell and Gold Key), Kubert was put in charge of the Ape Man as writer/artist/editor. He faithfully adapted several of the ERB novels into comics form and his work ranks as some of the best interpretations of the character ever put on paper.

Kubert's art was at times sketchy and slightly unfinished looking. He often used silhouettes of figures in the foreground with more fully rendered backgrounds. But he was a consummate storyteller and he drew characters that were lean, sinewy, wiry and tough. His men were well muscled and powerful looking without being muscle bound, steroidal superheroes. Kubert could also draw beautiful women and any comic book with Joe Kubert artwork is worth reading.

The amazing thing about Joe Kubert was that he kept working right up until the end of his life with no drop off whatsoever in terms of quality and style. He was as good last year as he was twenty, thirty, forty years ago. Joe Kubert was one of the greatest comic book artists of all time.

And now he is gone. And with his passing yet another part of my childhood goes with him.

But weep not for this fine soul. Joe Kubert lived a long and incredibly productive life and almost all of his work is still in print and readily available to be enjoyed, savored and thrilled to time and time again. Rest in peace and go with God my good man. I will miss you but I will always treasure your work and the wonderful times I've had in my life while reading comic books drawn by "the good war artist".

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