The Contrarian Collector: Discussing Original Art From ‘Action Comics’ #662

by Koom Kankesan

I should have written this up in time for Valentine’s Day, but better late than never. I gave up collecting comic issues a long time ago. Once slabbing became a thing, it was obvious that this awkward and cumbersome process that was dominating the practice of the hobby expressed one thing and one thing only: it was more about owning the collectible than reading it. I got rid of most of my floppies or ‘collectible comics’ for a pittance, hung on to a few favourites, and started buying trade paperbacks which I could read and not worry about. However, that collecting bug came back and started exercising itself through comic art. Not to mention other memorabilia that are tied to the process of producing comics. Even though superhero and mainstream comics don’t affect me content wise in the same way they once did, the mechanical process of producing comics and their storytelling capabilities still fascinate me and so, I thought I’d try and get down some of the stories of how I acquired these things (and in some cases lost them) before I forget. After all, none of us are getting any younger and who knows what future changes the hobby and life might bring?

Things tied to the work of Alan Moore are my primary focus of interest but way before I ever discovered the work of Moore, when I was a young boy, Superman was my favourite superhero. I think this is very common; Superman’s popularity with boys could be summed up by: a) his immense powers and b) his characteristics as a model hero. These are more of a product of the Silver Age but since most of us didn’t grow up with the Golden Age Superman, the more clean cut character is the one we inherited. Part of the charm was Superman’s civilian persona – this squirming, awkward nebbish called Clark Kent. Kent’s persona seemed more like a bona fide weakness, especially as Kent seemed to genuinely long for Lois Lane (his attraction to her seemed a further mystery and even more of a weakness) but couldn’t win her over. In the earlier issues, Lane was a hard nosed snoopy dame and she rebuffed Kent hard. In the Silver Age issues, she was more of a nuisance and threat than anything else because, well, I guess the possibility of a real and fulfilling romance was icky to boys?

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At some point, Superman got filed in the same mental box in which I placed other childhood favourites like Spider-man and the Hulk and I got into characters like The Punisher and then later, Daredevil. However, when I saw the cover of Action Comics #662 (cover dated February, 1991) with Lois removing Clark’s glasses and learning Superman’s identity, I had to get it. Apparently, this isn’t the first time DC had played with the idea of Clark revealing his identity but this seemed decisive and final. The only other iteration I’d known of at the time was the episode in the film Superman II but by the end of that film, Lois’ awareness of Clark’s identity had been reversed by a Super-kiss, in silly Silver Age fashion!

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It’s been a long time since I’ve read these issues so bear with me as I try and recollect (I can’t remember if Action Comics #662 is one of the comics I kept after selling off the rest of my collection but regardless, I wouldn’t know where it is now even if I do own it), but I do remember it as a two parter story with Superman #53. In Action Comics #662, Clark and Lois had been engaged for a while and Clark finally told her his secret identity. They’re making out at the beginning of the issue and he tries to tell her (because, you know, you shouldn’t really keep big secrets from your future spouse) but just as he’s about to, some villain called Silver Banshee breaks through the door of Lois’ apartment and stops him. Then there’s some action stuff with Silver Banshee and Superman in costume because mainstream comics demanded that there must be a fight and action in every… single… issue… (this is one reason why Saga of the Swamp Thing #34 is one of my all time favourites – by Moore and Bissette and Totleben – it’s just about the act of Swamp Thing and Abby making wonderful, expressive, psychedelic love and nothing else).

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However, I was much more interested in the aspect of the small moments between Lois and Clark and their relationship, rather than the action sequences. To me, it seemed incredible that Action Comics had been running for more than fifty years and though there had been many reversals, revisions, and changes, I thought of the relationship between Lois and Clark as a single expedition (forgive the pun!). This was a momentous moment! Perhaps DC was trying to ape the marriage of Spider-Man and Mary Jane which Marvel had successfully pulled off in the late eighties? Like Lois, Mary Jane had initially been sort of an annoying foil to Peter Parker but over time, Marvel had made her more human, mature, and likable. By the time, she started dating Peter, they made her into a compatible partner for the protagonist and I guess DC sort of did a similar thing with Lois.

If I’m remembering correctly, Lois and Clark never ended up marrying because the whole Doomsday/Death of Superman cynical fiasco hit the titles like an earthquake. The implosion of comic craft and storytelling due to the ascendance of the Image guys, cynical marketing practices, lack of storytelling in comics, and the speculator bubble pushed me away from superhero comics forever. So Clark revealing his identity to Lois was really the last time I could enjoy a major event in mainstream comics in a meaningful way. The art in Action Comics #662 is by Bob McLeod, a very solid artist, who despite having a long career working for both Marvel and DC, never gained the popularity some of his peers did. I was aware of McLeod’s name, especially as a collaborator or inker on the work of other artists that I collected like Mike Zeck or in the instances of a couple of covers, Frank Miller. But I didn’t really know who he was other than a name on some covers and inside some of the comics I owned.

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Fast forward to years later. I began seeking out art and I ran into Bob at a convention here in Toronto. Looking through his work, I realized he’d worked with a lot more people and on a lot more things than I realized and he still had many pages from different aspects of his career. He was nice, personable, and his prices were very affordable. I remember saying that his solo art (pencils and inks) reminded me a lot of John Byrne’s and he was gracious enough not to express offense at that. He simply replied that he and Byrne had a lot of the same influences. I don’t remember how many pages I bought from him that day (I think it was three or four) and he gave me a good deal to wrap things up; he had to rush to a panel discussion he was part of. I kept in touch via email when he returned to the U.S. and bought more art through the mail because his prices were so affordable and he was so easy to do business with. At one point, I wanted to commission him to recreate one of the amazing Kraven’s Last Hunt covers he had done with Zeck but he was understandably preoccupied with his daughter’s wedding and by the time he was ready and finally got back to me, I no longer had the money I could have spent on the commission.

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I tried to avoid buying more pages from his site because I felt I should not have more than a few things by any one artist. However, because he had such a wide breadth in terms of what he’d worked on during his career and what he had for sale on his site, I ended up buying a couple more things when he came through Toronto again. And then some time ago, McLeod started to seriously post pages onto his Facebook wall that he’d been holding back. He dedicated himself to posting some of the comic art lessons he’d taught during the teaching aspect of his career and he also posted very strong, striking pages from jobs on Spider-Man, The New Mutants, X-Men, Superman, among others. Some of these pages were from Action Comics 662! And these were very striking pages indeed! They squarely hit my nostalgic nerves decades after the fact. I could see now, as an adult who understood a little more about comic technique and craft, that McLeod had really put a lot of passion and craft into this issue. Work on other issues around this one are very strong too, but there seems to just be a special aura around his work on the Action 662 pages.

Bob McLeod wasn’t selling these pages but he was showing them, often with pencils from earlier in the process, to show how he finished pages or enhanced or changed them. Fast forward again and McLeod was starting to sell stuff on eBay he hadn’t previously listed on his website. I wasn’t really interested in the Superman in costume action pages (they tend to go for a lot more anyway) but I did love the small moments between Lois and Clark. I don’t know if McLeod still owned many of the action pages with Silver Banshee. I don’t know if he owned the big splash page at the end where Clark reveals his identity to Lois. I didn’t ask. Of the pages I’d seen him post, this one was my favourite because of the perspective, the dramatic composition and contrast with the rain. It really gives you the feeling that Lois lives in a very real apartment in a real city.

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However, McLeod wished to keep that page as a keepsake for his children. More than understandable! He ended up offering me a choice of either of the two pages below. Though it didn’t feature Clark, I think the page of Lois on the phone waiting, not knowing if Clark is okay, is the stronger one in terms of craft. The top two panels in particular showing the moment to moment transition as the power goes out and the contrast in terms of lighting effects is extremely accomplished. I also like the dramatic close-up after that with the terror in Lois’ face as she holds her cat and the use of the feathering. Yes, there is a cheesecake element to having Lois in her nightie that gets the blood pulsing (there’s nothing inherently wrong with sex and sexiness). In some ways, this again reminds me of Marvel’s maneuvers with Mary Jane – Todd McFarlane would draw her in nighties a few times during the years before Action Comics #662 came out.

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In the end, I bought the second page he offered as well. I loved that Clark was trying to tell her and tell her, and finally the villain’s fist came through the door, literally choking him as he tried to get the words out. That’s the world of superheroes for you! It was almost like a Freudian refusal to pay allegiance to romantic drama over physical drama. The half-splash is very strong, it’s the Superman I grew up with and remember, and it’s sort of the last hurrah of anything you could reasonably call continuity and life drawing before everything went up in flames. I realize that there are many collectors who love the Image era and what it wrought but to me, it’s the era before that which will always define what superhero comics could be – nudging towards reality without ever really getting there. It’s bound up with my own growth in high school, my changing views on art and relationships, and a step in the nostalgia ladder I can always come back to whenever life and work afford the reprieve. I’m very grateful to Bob McLeod for deciding to sell me these pages and they are key artifacts to a bygone era in comics history for me.

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