a way, Steve Rude is the ultimate Superman artist. His work
combines the expressiveness and humanity of Curt
Swan's Superman, the majesty and power of the Jack
Kirby model and the raw energy and nostalgic charm of
Joe Shuster's original. Added into the mix are influences
from animators Doug Wildey and Alex Toth, as well as the
classic Superman cartoons from the Fleischer studios.
All of which is not
to suggest that "The Dude's" Superman is a mere
hodge-podge, or that Steve Rude is somehow lacking in orginality.
Far from it; though he draws upon these key influences from
Superman's long history, Rude's unique skill is the ability
to combine them, despite their diversity, into a coherent
amalgam, a fresh and original vision all his own.
Rude put himself on the comics
map in the 1980's with the independently published "Nexus,"
a character he co-created with writer Mike Baron. Later
the two would team up for a well-received "Mr. Miracle"
one-shot at DC, but it was Dave Gibbons who would pen Steve's
inaugural effort on Superman, the 1990 mini-series "World's
Set in the post-Crisis DC Universe,
the tale makes much of the thematic and visual differences
between Superman and his co-star, Batman. Thus, where Gotham
City is a foreboding, slum-filled war zone and its hero
a dark and brooding shadow-dweller, Metropolis is a gleaming
showcase of a city filled with technological marvels, blessed
with perpetual blue skies and sunshine, and home to a super-guardian
as bright and cheery as the city itself.
Whether flying above the clouds,
performing some great feat of strength or just standing
around, Superman generally seems to be having a great time
in this series. Whenever he takes to the sky, or hangs out
on a rooftop, there are doves flying about and American
flags waving proudly from every pole. Even at a formal evening
function, Clark brightens up the room full of tuxes by wearing
a white dinner jacket. Of course this is all a bit over
the top, playing Superman as an exaggeratedly bright character
to drive home the contrast with the shadowy, grim Batman,
but the imagery is very effective.
|With the World's Finest
miniseries of 1990, Steve Rude unveils his vision of
Superman, honoring many past artists but still uniquely
Rude's major influence
here is the work of Joe Shuster and the Fleischer
cartoons. Superman is shown with the slightly stocky
build and often squinty eyes of those early days,
and his cape barely comes down to his knees (most
post-40's artists lengthened it a bit). The time period
Rude portrays is hard to nail down; modern vehicles
share the road with vintage models and the latest
fashions co-exist comfortably with fedoras and trenchcoats.
Rude carries it all off with his characteristic mastery
of the inking brush, suggesting musculature, weight
and fabric with an economy of lines that thicken or
thin in just the right places. His "animation-like"
lack of clutter is a nice break from the work of many
modern artists who add what seem to be thousands of
lines and scratches to their drawings and still end
up with figures that lack any hint of realism.
In 1999, Rude illustrated The Incredible
Hulk vs. Superman, penned by veteran Hulk and
Superman writer Roger Stern. Once again, the time
period is elusive, as futuristic weaponry and desktop
computers co-exist with Eisenhower-era jalopies and
roadside drive-ins with waitresses in mini-skirted
This time out, Rude keeps
a bit of the Fleischer and Shuster influence, but
infuses a healthy dose of the Superman we haven't
seen since Jack Kirby's work on Superman's Pal
Jimmy Olsen circa 1970. As before, there is a
feeling of size and weight to Rude's Superman and
Clark Kent. Like Kirby, and later Alex Ross, The Dude
draws Superman's costume as form-fitting but not the
"second skin" so many artists portray. There's
plenty of power implied in Superman's build, but again
there's no detailed musculature or popping veins visible
through the blue tights; just a feeling of bulk under
a costume that bunches slightly at the elbows and
knees...kind of a "George Reeves look."
Of course Rude's Hulk is pure Kirby, as are the fantastic
scientific devices, military vehicles and weaponry
that populate the tale.
Mayhem and destruction
are the order of the day, but Rude masters another
Kirby hallmark that scores of modern artists have
never quite grasped; a wonderful sense of humor. The
reactions of bystanders to property damage, the outrageously
exaggerated physical feats of the two combatants and
bits like the Hulk's invasion of a neighborhood barbecue
are huge fun; the kind of stuff that's been absent
from comics since the early days of the Fantastic
|Proving an old comics rule:
Heroes can get along in their secret ID's, but when
the costumes go on it's time to rumble!
Rude returns to the Kirby well
once again for Legends of the DC Universe #14, adapted
from an unproduced plot by The King and involving a host
of elements and characters from those Jimmy Olsen
days. Collaborating with writer Mark Evanier, Rude makes
it easy to sandwich this tale between a couple issues of
that long-gone comic, and again gives us over-the-top action,
outlandish machinery and good clean fun. In the grand tradition
of classic comics, the action is hard-hitting and exciting,
but never gory or cruel.
Every so often, some superstar
comic artist or self-styled editorial genius takes it on
himself to redesign Superman to "fit the times."
So far Superman's many "bold, trend-setting updates"
have included such masterstrokes as a black and capeless
costume, Fabio-style long hair, separation into a red and
blue model (each more hideous than the other) and so on.
All of these changes have met with resistence or reader
apathy, and each of them resulted in stories that seemed
instantly dated. Thankfully a handful
of artists understand there's no shame in admitting that
giants have gone before them. Artists like Steve Rude are
more concerned with doing the character right than they
are with "making their mark" with a "radical
new approach," so they don't mind returning to the
classic look that made Superman an icon in the first place.
Thank Rao for an artist who appreciates and respects the
great artists of the past, and builds on their work rather
than trashing it. As long as there are artists like Steve
Rude who "get it," Superman just might hang around
for a few more generations to enjoy.
|If only those storeroom
walls could talk, what secrets they would tell!