Sunday, November 25, 2012


Back in the 1950s & 1960s (known in comics circles as the "Silver Age"), DC Comics' editor-in-chief, Julius Schwartz, liked to set up challenges for the writers. Basically, he'd have an artist create the craziest, most nonsensical cover he could imagine, then present the cover to the writer and say, "Make a story out of it." Batman is dressing up in a zebra costume. Jimmy Olsen is marrying a gorilla. Superman is Pope. Take the idea and run with it. In the 1970s, the books started getting more serious and more socially relevant. And while I love that era (the "Bronze Age"), it's kind of sad that so much of that playfulness was lost in the process.

Artist Yale Stewart has set up a tumblr site on what could have been a classic Silver Age cover concept: What if the members of  the Justice League had attended grade school together? Twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays), he posts a newspaper-style strip that follows the continuing adventures of eight-year-old superheroes. We watch young Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter and Power Girl going through Peanuts-style adventures and it honestly is better than anything you'll read in the "New 52" titles that have been clotting shelves this past year.

The most fascinating part of this strip is how Stewart is able to move between light comedy to genuine pathos and the occasional commentary on modern comics. An eight-year-old Power Girl trying to leave the house in a revealing outfit highlights the over-sexualization of female comic characters, as well as the motivations of young girls (often not much older than eight) who seek attention through such displays. Eight-year-old Batman's practiced indifference is both funny and touching when you realize this is a child coping with the loss of his parents. The Martian Manhunter is perfect as the foreign exchange student. And this version of Wonder Woman is simply one of the best renditions of a character who is strong, confident and compassionate.

Of course, there are plenty of in-jokes for long-time comic fans. The school bullies are all supervillains, led by a young Lex Luthor (who still has his hair and likes to wear it long). And there was that great moment when I figured out the joke about the bully wearing the red hoodie. The requisite sadistic phys ed instructor is Darkseid. And the home-room teacher is none other than Julius Schwartz.

You can check out the comic on the tumblr site and get updates by joining the Facebook page. Due to copyright laws, Yale Stewart can't actually package these strips into a print collection; but if you're just itching to hold this work in your hands, you can always request an art commission from him. Right now, he's doing this strip for free; but with any luck, he'll be working for one of the major publishers soon.

No comments: