Saturday, March 22, 2014

Unearthed: Superman Salutes the Bicentennial

I was not alive in 1976; I am also not a citizen of the USA. From what I gather, the Bicentennial celebrated in the States was a year-long 4th of July party, spawning musical extravaganzas, celebratory documentaries, and, of course, Bob Hope's Star-Spangled Spectacular Special. All of this no doubt healed the wounds of a nation so recently released from the shackles of the Vietnam War, free to remind themselves of the time when they were the plucky rebels battling the forces of imperialism.

Obviously, the comic books had to become involved; Jack Kirby returned his signature creation Captain America in time for the Bicentennial, crafting an immense arc usually known as the "Madbomb" story, wherein Cap battled the Royalist Forces of America, descendants of the Loyalists who considered themselves the only "true" Americans. Further, Kirby launched the tabloid-sized and all-out gonzo Captain America's Bicentennial Battles, in which Cap journeys through time and space, living and reliving moments of US history.

Not to be outdone, DC Comics also published a tabloid-sized Bicentennial comic featuring a great patriotic hero - in fact, a patriotic hero who was beloved all the world over (Captain America still being rather obscure in '76). Thus, let's turn back the pages of time to 1976 and Superman Salutes the Bicentennial (Limited Collectors' Edition C-47).

The cover promises us "6 tales of heroic history celebrating the Spirit of '76! Plus: gallery of Presidential portraits" and "Bicentennial newspaper." Let me tell you, this book delivers everything the cover promises - but not as you might expect.

I hope you enjoy that grand cover of Superman with the eagle on his arm because you won't get much more than that - rather than having Superman engage in a giant-sized story, Superman is merely the host to a batch of reprints; he appears on the first two pages (art by Curt Swan) to introduce the book's real star: Tomahawk!

Tomahawk (and his sidekick Dan Hunter) appeared all over DC Comics from 1947-1972. Although Tomahawk appears to be an American frontiersman of the Davy Crockett or Jim Bowie type (both being men who came the century after him), he actually held his adventures during the days of the Revolutionary War. My father bequeathed his collection of Tomahawk comic books to me when I was teenager and although they came from later in the series run (by which time Tomahawk had become the leader of an entire team of sidekicks called the Rangers, becoming a veritable 18th century Blackhawk), I found them to be harmless fun. Come to think of it, those comic books were likely my first exposure to the Revolutionary War - it's not as though I ever had to learn about it in school. The final ten issues of Tomahawk actually featured his son, Hawk, in an attempt to capture an older, hipper audience; despite some fantastic Joe Kubert covers, it didn't pan out. Tomahawk struck troubled waters at the same time as many other comic books which lay outside the super hero genre; it only seemed to convince publishers to place more emphasis on super heroes.

Anyway, the "6 tales of heroic history celebrating the Spirit of '76!" are 6 reprints from 1950s Tomahawk stories which were particularly close to the events of the Revolutionary War; George Washington himself features in many of them. One story involves an early submarine, the Turtle, straight out of the history books!

There's also an interesting 13-page sequence telling the battle of Valley Forge through the art of Fred Ray (artist of the Tomahawk stories reprinted here); it was originally published in 1951 and didn't originate from DC (Ray evidently self-published it), but DC wanted something related to '76 so... there it is! There's also a celebratory biography of Fred Ray, which is a nice touch (plus, it takes up another page).

The "Bicentennial newspaper" turns out to be a two-page "Bicentennial Planet" text feature, which is kind of cute. However, the "gallery of Presidential portraits" is actually the back cover of this book. Not exactly a cheat, but not the spirit of the cover blurb (or '76?).

If you slapped down your $1 in 1976 expecting Superman to have fantastic adventures celebrating US history, you'd be quite disappointed; however, as a Tomahawk fan I'm quite pleased. In fact, this appears to be the single least expensive entry in the Limited Collectors' Edition series, probably because Tomahawk fans aren't especially numerous.

No comments: