The Retro Cover Of The Week is a pre-computer mix of an iconic pose with photography: Action #419

Action Comics #419, 1972, DC Comics, Cover by Neal Adams and Murphy Anderson.

The POP Retro Cover Of The Week continues its celebration and examination of iconic comic covers from the 1970s through the 2000s, this week returning to the Seventies, a decade when squeaky spinner racks were full of comics costing 15-20 cents, and were still printed on cheap, pulp paper that yellowed with age.

The first few years of the decade were especially dynamic and game-changing in many ways, with the arrival of Neal Adams at DC Comics. Adams brought with him his ad agency experience and the knowledge of printing techniques that were not yet being put into practice in the down-and-dirty comics printing industry. One technique Adams loved to experiment with was merging illustration with photography, placing DC heroes in the real streets of New York City.

Adams did several covers with this technique, but the one that always comes to my mind first is Action #419, perhaps because I bought it off one of those squeaky spinners as a kid. It also happens to be one of the most iconic Superman covers ever, if only for the cool Neal Adams pose.

Adams found a dizzying aerial photo of downtown New York city and superimposed an illustration of Superman flying upwards, about to pass over the reader’s left shoulder and off the cover. The placement of Superman’s head in front of the still-cool Art Deco Action masthead heightens this illusion.

However, the very garish, comic-booky color palette, makes the attempt at joining illustration with photo a poor one, especially when Neal Adams, the master of photorealistic superhero illustration was handling the pencils. If only the colorist had made more of an attempt to render Superman in a more subdued, realistic palette, it would have made this cover even better. Perhaps if Adams himself had been allowed to ink and color this cover, it would have been. But other than a few warmer areas in the skin here and there and the trace of a highlight on his shoulders, Superman is colored very flatly. Also, a very clumsy and half-hearted attempt is made to color some of the cars that can be seen on the streets. It merely distracts instead of adding to the illusion.

A Super rare event: Murphy Anderson inks Neal Adams

Who did ink this figure is interesting, though. Murphy Anderson, Curt Swan’s excellent inker on Superman and Action Comics, somehow got tapped to ink Adams work here, and I cannot think of another instance where this penciller/inker combo happened elsewhere. As big of an Anderson fan as I am, I can't say he was a good match for Adams. Anderson had a tendency to overpower most pencillers with his distinctive inking, and it shows here. While Anderson's linework and brushwork is absolutely beautiful, very little of Adams' photorealistic style remains, and Superman's face has especially been Murphy-ed. As an Adams fan, I would have loved to have seen his pencils.

A rare look at the cover paste-up, with Adams/Murphy Superman and foreground trade dress elements on acetate overlaying the photo background

The trade dress during this era was a mixed bag. While I liked the perfect symmetry of the DC logo bug and the price circle, along with the character portrait and the Comics Code Authority stamp, I always felt the experimental trend of setting the cover captions in type rather than using the more traditional and energetic handwritten lettering was a failure. Perhaps they were looking for a more modern look, but to me, the typesetting always looked clunky, especially since it usually appeared in boxes with holding lines.

But still, it’s hard for the negatives to outweigh the positives in this classic POP Retro Cover Of The Week!

Next week: A cover from the Bronze ‘80s!

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