by Jesse Marinoff Reyes:
Detective Comics “50th Anniversary”
DC Comics, March 1987 issue, #572
Illustration Michael Wm Kaluta (b. 1947)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICHAEL WM. KALUTA!
We’ve been so busy with our week-long Jack Kirby celebration that we have nearly been remiss in not wishing one of our favorite artists a very Happy Birthday—making it under the wire, sorry Michael! Coincidentally, while I was perusing graphic novels at the B&N at the mall today (yes, it’s come to that—but hey, there was a sale on DC graphic novels, buy two and get the third free!) I stumbled across Bantam’s graphic novel adaptation of the HBO television series Game of Thrones (in turn adapted from George R. R. Martin’s excellent sword & sorcery novels) and immediately thought to myself, “why didn’t someone throw money at Mike Kaluta to do this instead of what looked like an Andy (son of Joe) Kubert clone? I walked away, shaking my head, with a Neal Adams deluxe edition Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, a David Mazzuchelli deluxe edition Batman: Year One, and Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor’s Batman: Death by Design graphic novel tucked under my arm.
I’ve written before on the impact Kaluta’s work had on me as a kid-comic collector. I marveled at his brush line in the pages of DC Comics titles like House of Mystery, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Carson of Venus stories (back-up feature in the Korak, Son of Tarzan title), and especially in DC’s short-lived 1973-75 adaptation of Maxwell Grant’s The Shadow (to whom Kaluta would return from time to time as a cover artist for DC in the 1980s and Dark Horse in the 1990s, etc.). I came to the conclusion early on that Kaluta, like his former studio partner Barry Windsor Smith, was one of the finest talents working in fantasy and comics art, and I have held the belief for much longer that he is underused—despite that talent.
Not that Kaluta’s work is uncommon. He has been frequently sought-out as a cover artist in between his all-too sporadic fully-illustrated comics projects, for which I am grateful (but darn it, the interior art is almost never up to Kaluta’s level!). And in my own all-too-brief tenure as a comics co-editor (Harris Comics, ca. early-1990s), myself and my co-editor Richard Howell sought him out for that very purpose—to illustrate covers for our then relaunch of Jim Warren’s Vampirella as a comic book series (since reprinted as a collection by IDW, Vampirella: Morning in America, also using one of Kaluta’s covers done for us for its cover).
So, to homage Kaluta today, I chose one of my favorite cover-only projects at random that I’ve collected over the years—his cover for the 50th Anniversary issue of Detective Comics—the comic that debuted The Batman in 1939—from back in 1987. The issue’s conceit, a rather clever one, was to pay tribute to both Detective’s long run as a Batman title, and also its own prior incarnation as a “detective” stories title (dating back to 1937). To do that, writer/editor Mike Barr crafted a story that teamed The Batman with a hard-boiled, Sam Spade-type detective, Slam Bradley—who, incidentally, had appeared in the first issue of Detective in 1937 by Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster—thusly uniting Detective’s earlier beginnings with the super hero who ultimately overwhelmed the title and made it his own. But Barr went a step further. Barr credits the creation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in 1887 (a century before this issue, get it?) as being the genesis of the detective genre in fiction (there had been detective stories that predated Holmes, but none were as iconic, and the genre truly begins in earnest with his debut). So the adventure that Bradley and Batman embark on takes them to London and into the shadow cast by their collective (fictional) scion, the world’s first “amateur consulting detective,” which Kaluta used as his metaphoric cover theme.