A tale of two DC Comics Presents.

§ November 9th, 2020 § Filed under superman § 7 Comments

So one of the series I’m reading on the DC Universe app is DC Comics Presents, the Superman team-up series that ran for 97 issues plus four annuals, from the ’70s into the ’80s. I read, probably, about a third of the run just buying it off the stands. The earliest issue I owned was a Whitman edition of #3, either out of a bagged three pack of comics, or perhaps in one of those batches of comics my grandmother purchased for me from a second-hand store. I’m pretty sure the first issue I actually bought fresh off a newsstand was #29, wrapping up the Mongul trilogy, the first two parts of which I wouldn’t read ’til I started going to comic shops with back issue bins on a regular basis. I would then proceed to pick up futher issues of the series, on and off, for the rest of its run.

Like I said, I read about a third of the series that way. I probably read another third, more or less (look, don’t press me on my math skills) via back issue purchases or by reading stories reprinted in digests. And now, with the aforementioned DC app, I am slowly working my way through the issues I hadn’t read yet via either method.

I’m two issues closer to having read the full run as of last weekend, as I decided to peruse DC Comics Presents #48 from 1982 (Superman and Aquaman), and DC Comics Presents #51, also from 1982, with Superman and the Atom. And I found I had a very different response to the two stories.

In the Aquaman team-up the King of the Seven Seas and the Fella in the Red Cape must join forces to defeat super-intelligent octopuses, which, sure, okay:


Of note, Aquaman uses his telepathic ability to control his unconscious body, citing the evolutionary connection to ancient sea life humans (and also, luckily for ol’ Arthur, Kryptonians) have. Pretty sure this is something Grant Morrison eventually picked up on decades later in JLA, if I recall correctly.

Anyway, point is, it was a perfectly fine, if odd, Superman story where he teams up with Aquaman. Superman does his thing, Aquaman does his watery stuff, the menace is defeated, and there, we’ve got a comic book. All very surface level (er, so to speak), basically shaking action figures at each other, but sometimes that’s what you need from a superhero comic to kill a few minutes.

Now the Atom team-up is just about as outlandish…the Atom, while visiting the past of 100 years ago, sees Superman there gettin’ killed by some alien invaders, and then he, Supes, and Professor Hyatt (who owns the time travel device the Atom had been using) to return and try to solve the mystery. This also ties into an ongoing subplot from a previous issue I had read as new, involving the mystery of Superman’s ancestor Var-El.

Stuff happens, the professor gets separated from the heroes, and he runs into Var-El his own self, living as a mountain man in this time period (hence the get-up you’ll see). The professor tries to get Var-El to speak to his descendant (after spilling the beans about, oh, his home planet exploding), but Var-El is reluctant. Which leads to this exchange:


And that…was a bit of unexpected depth that caught me by surprise in what I thought was going to be solely another “how does this combination of super powers solve this situation?” plot. Some thoughtful comments on dealing with age and the knowledge that the world doesn’t stop when you do? There’s a conflict you don’t often see in the pages of a superhero comic.

It’s not much, just a few panels, but it gives the proceedings a little extra emotional depth, some weight behind the time travel and aliens and all that hoohar. And that made all the difference. The Aquaman team-up was fine…silly and weird and enjoyable with nice Irv Novick art, but ultimately empty calories. The Atom team-up, with just that slightest pensive touch, is a story that sticks with you maybe a little longer than simply dissipating as soon as you closed the covers.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not saying the Aquaman story is “bad” or “inferior” — there is absolutely a place for a plain ol’ all-plot, shallow-as-a-sidewalk-puddle story with a big gimmick (Aquaman “controlling” Superman’s boy telepathically) to sell it. But it’s nice when that emotional content gets in there, too. And I wonder, if I’d read this at the age of 13 when it was originally released, if that bit in the Atom book would have hit me as strongly, as opposed to reading it for the first time now as I approach 52. I suppose I may know the answer to that already.

Oh, and by the way, the Var-El storyline get wrapped up in issue #74 of this series, which I also hadn’t read yet. Guess that’s next up!
 
 

DC Comics Presents #48 (August 1982) by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

DC Comics Preens #51 (November 1982) by Dan Mishkin, Alex Saviuk andFrank McLaughlin

7 Responses to “A tale of two DC Comics Presents.”

  • King of the Moon says:

    Marvel Team Up, Two-in-one, Brave and the Bold, DC Comics Presents

    They always made me feel like I was getting my most bang for my $0.60

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I play the old-timer card here, and remember DC’s first attempt at a Superman team-up comic–1970-1972, when Batman’s sales had plummeted, and he was temporarily kicked out of WORLD’S FINEST. I was of the age to most enjoy team and team-up comics–the more superheroes the better, I would think; also, I liked the idea that all the superheroes were friends, who hung out together and always came to each other’s rescue. However, even then something seemed wrong about this series. Put simply: Why would Superman need this sort of help? I could understand that he would not refuse the assistance of such powerful characters as Green Lantern and Doctor Fate, and I could imagine circumstances in which the specialized abilities of Aquaman and the Atom would be useful. When, however, was he ever going to need the help of Green Arrow, Hawkman, or the Vigilante? These seemed less like proper team-ups, and more instances of Superman being too polite to say “That’s all right, I can handle this on my own.” (You might say the same about his team-ups with Batman, but those were grandfathered in. One simply accepted it as a fact that they liked to work together.)

    With DC COMICS PRESENTS, the writers did seem to be aware of this problem, and did work a bit harder on finding reasons for the guest star to be there and to do something useful. Also, better advantage was taken of Superman being a character who could be dropped into any sort of story–he could fight gangsters in one issue, fly into outer space in the next, and then have an adventure on the ocean floor or in the House of Mystery. Still, there were times one had to ask “Really? Air Wave?”

  • Chris G says:

    This was around the time that some writers started thinking about Aquaman’s powers in terms of their implications: If he can withstand the pressures of the ocean, maybe he can stop a bullet or lift a car? If he can command fish, maybe he can nudge human minds? And so on. I remember a LOT of this in the Detroit JLA years.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “#3”

    Ohhhhhhhhh I LOVE the cover on that one! I saw it in ads a LOT.

    “super-intelligent octopuses”

    That sounds like something even AQUAMAN could have solved in 5 minutes!

  • Cassandra Miller says:

    I’ve been gradually working on amassing a complete run of DC Comics Presents. It’s a fun book, but some issues are definitely better than others.

  • Robcat says:

    I didn’t read a whole lot of DCP. Even though I liked Superman better, Brave and Bold felt like it had more consistency to it. Maybe it’s just the Aparo art. Of course, sometimes you did get Garcia-Lopez art! Looking back, though, they are both to be admired.

    “Shaking action figures at each other.” I have never heard that before. Did you come up with it? I’m stealing that and plan to use it as often as possible. Of course, lately I seem to be reading comics which just have two action figures…. uh, I dunno. Looking at each other? Gossiping? Expositioning? Posing? Just sayin’ I’d like a little more action in my Legion, Bendis!

  • philfromgermany says:

    That DCP with the Atom has that strange green monster in the upper left corner. You kinda remember what it looks like but not exactly. It’s a weird un.

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