This is the saga of the Neverending Battle for the 'lost' Superman story.
In 1988 the character of Superman turned 50, if you were reading comic books back then you'd recall it. Television specials, Time Magazine, articles everywhere - hell the fever even reached Australia with the television special being broadcast in prime-time, believe it or not. However all that paled in comparison to what Cleveland was preparing. Why Cleveland? That's the spiritual, and physical, birthplace of Superman! You see the characters creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, originally conceived the character in that very town. Part of the celebrations revolved around the creation of a Superman Museum and associated items (as late as June 2008 the museum idea is still being floated). In an interview with George Khoury for Jon Cooke’s Comic Book Artist #21, writer Tony Isabella expands on his role, “The goals of the organization were to honour Siegel and Shuster during the 50th anniversary of Superman to host a convention for that purpose, to erect a Superman statue honouring them, and to create a Siegel & Shuster Museum of Comics and Science Fiction. It accomplished the first of two of those goals.” Another of the organisations goals was to create an all-new comic book that would be published outside of DC’s continuity (indeed this book wouldn’t be published by DC at all) with the profits being used to help fund the museum. The original art for the story would then be donated to the museum to be placed on permanent display. Creators were approached and stories written and drawn. So what happened and why haven’t you seen it yet?
Tony Isabella was approached to oversee the project and recruit writers and artists. One of the first he approached was Dave Gibbons, then fresh from the success of the critically acclaimed Watchmen and also the penciler of one of the best Superman stories in recent times, the Alan Moore written ‘For The Man Who Has Everything’, the latter being how the character should have been handled all along - and don't just take my word on it, go and find a copy of Superman Annual #11 and read it yourself. If you're not stunned then something is very wrong. Gibbons wrote and drew a framing sequence and then approached some of his counterparts in England to fill out the rest of the story titled “Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On”. These creators were pencilers Brian Bolland, Alan Davis, Garry Leach, John Higgins, Paul Neary and Mark Farmer, who, assisted by Richard Starkings on lettering, managed to produce a stunning six page story. As Dave Gibbons recalls, “In a nutshell, I was approached by Tony Isabella to assist in a project to honour Siegel and Shuster on the occasion of a big shindig in their home town of Cleveland, Tony also being a native of that city. I talked a handful of my compatriots into contributing and supplied the overall framing device, illustrating the first and last pages and a retro-styled tribute of my own.”
Others also remember the project with mixed feelings. Garry Leach, who supplied the images you’re now seeing, recalls, “As I remember it, I had a call from Dave who told me about the whole Superman museum project. The idea wasn't to produce a comic, but new pages that would be on permanent display and could be used by the museum. It was a freebie job, so it wasn't going to be that complex an idea or time consuming. He had the idea of the crystal as a framing sequence so we could all depict our Superman pages without needing to cross reference each others pages, ( those were pre-jpeg days) and keep it all as simple as possible. Dave wrote his own framing pages and Brian, Alan and myself all scripted our own. I wasn't a big Superman fan in general, but I did love the old 80 pg giant annuals, which is apparent in my more nostalgic contribution.
“Dave was acting editor so the pages were sent on to him, luckily he had the foresight to photocopy the completed story before fed-xing it off to the states and eventual oblivion. On the plus side, I'm an unashamed hoarder and kept my set of photocopies, the job turned out pretty nifty for a quickie, freebie.”
All the pages were finished and the story handed in. So why did it never see print? In his interview with George Khoury Tony Isabella hinted at a possible reason, “The most concise version of why the benefit/tribute comic book wasn't completed and published was that NEB went bust in rather spectacular fashion.” Alan Davis recalls events slightly differently, and offers a more likely scenario, “I know I wrote the story for my portion of the job and Paul Neary inked it and I think (emphasizing think, absolutely NOT certain) Tony Isabella originated the project as something to celebrate the impending anniversary-- and to be archived in some museum or other as a permanent tribute. I, we, had done our work when it transpired that DC hadn't/wouldn't give their approval and the whole thing fell through.” Garry Leach recalled recently, “Nothing happened for a whole while, there were grapevine rumblings about 'problems' and then finally we heard that the project had collapsed, contributed art had gone 'missing', it was all a big, bad tasting mess, but not uncommon, then or now. Good intentions are fine in theory, but reality is a hard master.” Dave Gibbons was able to turn the negative into a positive though, “For whatever reasons, the planned comic never materialized and the story was "lost". However, I did re-use the framing device for an intro and outro to a compilation of Superman text stories that, I believe, George R.R. Martin edited, later in the decade.”
What happened to the original art? That’s another mystery and one that, to date, has yet to be solved. The most common theory is that the art was stolen. Certainly no-one associated with the story had their art returned. Garry Leach, “As for the original art, well it used to get stolen all the time from publishers, so no surprise there. 9 years later I had an entire Thunder Agents story boosted from the office and that pissed me off a hell of a lot more.... but I'd dearly love to know which slimy bastard swiped an entire charity job.” Dave Gibbons can’t recall what happened to the art other than to say, “I really don't know what happened to the original art for that "jam" story, but it wasn't commissioned by DC.” The best guess is that someone lifted the art, either in transit, or at the museum itself, but frankly until it surfaces no-one will ever really know, or, at least, they’re not going to be telling. So if you’re offered this art as a collector, just remember, *choke* it’s stolen. We’re just lucky that Dave Gibbons copied the art and sent it out to all concerned at the time; otherwise this would be another lost story that we’d only be hearing about and not seeing. Perhaps one day DC will pick the story up and run it in one of their own books…perhaps.
Until then enjoy one of the classic 'Lost' Superman stories!