Back in the late 70s, we thought
we knew where Superman art was headed.
In those days, you could literally draw a line connecting
all the major Superman artists in a neat, orderly fashion. The
"line" began, of course, with Superman's artistic creator
Joe Shuster. Then, Wayne Boring emerged from Shuster's shop full
of assistants to become the Superman artist of the 50s.
Curt Swan, in turn, arrived to take
some of the load from Boring and ended up as top dog in the 60s.
Now here we were in the 70s, with a new artist on the scene to
help out Curt. This "new kid on the block" had a graceful,
elegant style we were sure was the next step in the Man of Steel's
evolution. Surely, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez would be "The
Artist of Tomorrow."
Alas, it was not to be, but for a few terrific years
there the future looked very bright for old Supes, as Garcia-Lopez
crafted his adventures with just the right blend of tradition
Judging rom the youthful energy and vitality of
his art, it seemed natural to assume this "new kid"
literally was a kid, but the truth is Garcia-Lopez was
close to 40 years old when he came to the Superman books, and
had more than paid his dues as an illustrator. Born in Spain in
1948, he had moved to Argentina as a child and by 1962 was enrolled
in a private art school. He entered the American comics scene
in the late 60s, providing art for Charlton Comic's mystery books.
A 1974 meeting with editor Joe Orlando brought him his first assignments
for DC Comics, and soon he was working on Superman, Batman,
Hawkman, Tarzan and Jonah Hex stories and covers.
A talented draftsman who counted Alex Raymond and
Hal Foster among his influences, Garcia-Lopez shared their mastery
of human anatomy and elegant composition. His superheroes were
athletic, sinewy figures who seemed quite capable of the daring
acts demanded of them. His Superman was less muscular than Kirby's
and more limber than Swan's. This Man of Steel's physique suggested
the all-around fitness of an Olympic decathlete rather than the
husky heft of a circus strongman.
Moreover, this Superman looked young, as
much as ten years younger than the benevolent father figure Swan
and his imitators drew. Not so young, however, that he lost credibility
as a full-grown hero. In fact it would be fair to say that what
Garcia-Lopez brought to Superman was sex appeal. For the first
time in decades, Kal-El was all about youthful athleticism and
raw energy. Wizard magazine once described the Garcia-Lopez
Superman as a dead ringer for Christopher Reeve. Frankly, I never
saw much resemblance, but I will allow that if you accept Swan's
Superman as the George Reeves model (fatherly, protective and
all-knowing), then Garcia-Lopez provided the Christopher Reeve
version (younger, virile and more emotional).
supporting cast benefited from the new art style, as well. Lois
Lane and Jimmy Olsen took on trim, handsome new looks to match
the Man of Steel's. Just about everyone got better looking, but
my personal favorite was Dr. Jenette Klyburn, a high-ranking
scientist at STAR laboratories whom the writers occasionally toyed
with making into a love interest for Supes. With Garcia-Lopez
on the art chores, Jenette graduated from another stock Swan female
into a spectacular bombshell. With her green eyes and red hair,
she provided a nice visual contrast to brunette Lois, and her
scientific background suggested a brain behind the pretty face,
unlike a certain pair of long-time girlfriends who had proved
themselves hopeless ninnies time and again.
Garcia-Lopez provided art on numerous Superman stories,
but for the most part he remained a "fill-in" artist,
stepping in for the odd stand-alone issue while Curt Swan churned
out the art for the vast majority of Action and Superman
stories. There were some high-profile special assignments, however,
like the tabloid-sized Superman vs. Wonder Woman. Designed
to capitalize on the popularity of the Wonder Woman TV show, the
story was set in World War II, despite the fact that Garcia-Lopez
drew Superman in his "Earth-1" configuration (for those
too young to remember, the Earth-1 Supes would have been a baby
-- or not even born -- during the war). In fact, there was an
"alternate universe" feel to the whole thing, but the
chance to see Garcia-Lopez work his magic on two of DC's "big
three" was irresistable. The story introduced Nazi villain
Baron Blitzkreig, later to figure in the All-Star Squadron
series of the 1980's. The Baron gave Superman a run for his money
in this story, with Garcia-Lopez using the enlarged, tabloid format
to great effect in numerous slam-bang fight scenes.
Garcia-Lopez found a home of sorts in the pages of DC Comics
Presents. In case you missed it, DCCP was to Superman
what Brave and the Bold was to Batman; a place for Superman
to interact, on a monthly basis, with the various characters of
the DC Universe, from the obvious (Green Lantern, Hawkman, the
Flash) to the unlikely (Sgt. Rock, OMAC, Swamp Thing) to the downright
strange (the Joker, the Legion of Substitute Heroes and...Clark
Kent?). Garcia-Lopez provided terrific art for many issues in
the early part of the book's run, most notably the first two issues
guest-starring the Flash (with inks by Dad Adkins) and a splendid
team-up with Deadman in issue 24. He inked his own pencils on
this issue with terrific results, but unfortunately, his others
inkers were a mixed bag, so that some of the tales (the Joker
story springs to mind) turned out pretty awful.
If there was ever any truth to my theory that Superman
artists ascended to the throne via "royal succession",
it became a moot point in 1986, when the monarchy itself was overthrown
with DC's infamous Superman "re-boot." The Man of Steel
was re-imagined by (then) superstar artist John Byrne, who took
a wholly different direction from Garcia-Lopez (though he did
set out to make Superman even younger and more sexy than ever).
In Byrne's wake, art on the Superman books has turned for inspiration
to the Marvel style and, of all things, to Japanese manga. But
lest you think Garcia-Lopez and his traditional illustrative style
were rendered obsolete, consider this: after almost 20 years,
his renditions of Superman not only continue to serve as an in-house
"style sheet" for DC artists, but also account for spot
illustrations for magazine ads, buttons, and t-shirts, plus packaging
art for merchandise from coloring books to lunch boxes to peanut
In fact, even though he missed out on his "destiny"
to become chief artist on the Superman books, the images of Superman
that have been most viewed and recognized around the world for
two decades now have been images created by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
Thanks to him, Superman is still looking good after all these
And you know what? Old blue still doesn't look a
day over 29.