Captain Comics: A sad story behind the scenes of the comic industry

If you’re looking for some beach reading, the comics industry is ready to provide. Here are four options:

NEVER-ENDING BATTLE

The story of the injustices suffered by the co-creators of Superman is oft told, but usually through the eyes of writer Jerry Siegel. “The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman” (Super Genius, $24.99) tells the story of the other half of the duo.

And a sad story it is. It begins hopefully with two nerdy high school students in Cleveland creating the first superhero, Superman. Weathering multiple rejections, the pair work on other projects until the company that would one day be DC Comics buys the first Superman story for “Action Comics” #1.

Siegel and Shuster were given a check for $130. When they endorsed the check, the two men – they were just over the age of majority – gave up all rights to the character.

Siegel and Shuster initially surfed the character’s success, but only as for-hire contractors. As Superman expanded into other media – a comic strip in 1939, a radio show in 1940, cartoons in 1941, a movie serial in 1948 – the publisher reaped the huge profits, with Siegel and Shuster receiving only paychecks for whatever stories they produced. And when they sues to get more, they lost even that, as they were fired.

It got worse, especially for Shuster. Failing eyesight and shaky hands due to deteriorating health eventually forced Shuster out of the art business, and he took whatever work he could, including a delivery job. One delivery took him, ironically, to the offices of National Periodical Publications, the publisher of Superman at the time. National president Jack Liebowitz gave him $100 in exchange for a promise to never return.

The low point cmae when a policeman picked Shuster up for vagrancy. Penniless and unable to work, Shuster was taken to his brother’s apartment to live.

Throughout this story, Jerry Siegel is a energetic background presence, constantly suing for the rights, any rights, to Superman. Nothing works until the arrival of “Superman: The Movie” in 1978. Incensed, Siegel writes a fiery screed about how badly he and Shuster had been treated, which he mails to everyone – publishers, media, writers, artists and more.

The resultant bad press induced DC Comics to give the two a stipend and creator credit on all Superman projects. It might not be truth and justice, but it is most certainly the American way.

Written by Julian Voloj (“Ghetto Brother”) and drawn by Thomas Campi, “The Shuster Story” came out in May, 2018 – almost 80 years to the day when Superman exploded into pop culture. It was also the same month that DC celebrated that anniversary with various books, merchandise and “Action Comics” #1000.

All thanks to two boys from Cleveland, who fought a never-ending battle of their own.

THAT GIRL

Remember “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”? It was the first novel about hacker Lisbeth Salander by Swedish writer Stieg Larsson, which he continued into two more novels, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” Initially this “Millennium Trilogy” franchise expanded with a “Tattoo” movie (starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig), plus “Tattoo” and “Fire” graphic novel adaptations from DC’s adult-reader Vertigo line (by writer Denise Mina and artists Leonardo Manco and Andrea Mutti).

But Vertigo bowed out in 2014. Now it’s the UK’s Titan Comics that is flying the Salander standard. They’ve already released adaptations of the three Larsson novels, by writer Sylvain Runberg and illustrated by Jose Homs (“Tattoo,” “Nest”) and Manolo Carot (“Fire”) – all beach-worthy reads.

But that’s not all. Runberg has written a sequel to the trilogy, “The Girl Who Danced with Death – Millennium.” Illustrated by Belen Ortega, the first part (of three) was released Aug. 15 (64 pages, $5.99), with the remaining two coming out in September and October.

In this story, the relentless justice warrior is on the verge of exposing the Swedish secret service’s illegal database of European citizens, while on the run from the lethal fascist organization Sparta. Even Salander can’t fight a war on two fronts, which draws her old ally (and bedmate), journalist Mikael Blomkvist into the crosshairs.

After three adaptations, Runberg knows her way around Larrson’s world – “Death” is powerful, delicious, vintage Salander. Ortega’s art isn’t as strong as Titan’s previous GNs (or Vertigo’s, for that matter) but it’s competent and avoids the biggest pitfall to plot-heavy stories, the Curse of the Talking Heads.

And if that’s not enough, check out another sequel to the trilogy on the silver screen, “The Girl In The Spider’s Web.” Premiering Nov. 9, “Web” stars Claire Foy (“The Crown”) as Salander, and Sverrir Gudnason as Blomkvist.

WEREWOLVES

OF RIVERDALE

Archie Comics has discovered that the Riverdale teens are so well developed that the publisher can drop the gang into wildly divergent media and genres successfully. We’ve seen the frothiest of soap operas on the “Riverdale” TV show, the zombie apocalypse in the “Afterlife with Archie” series, superheroes in “Archie Superteens vs. Crusaders,” teen bloodsuckers in “Vampironica” and biker chicks Betty & Veronica in “Vixens.”

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that everyone’s favorite oddball has become a werewolf. “Jughead: The Hunger” launched with a one-shot last year, before graduating to an ongoing series. The first trade paperback arrived July 19 ($17.99).

So how do you turn a furry Juggie into an open-ended series? Well, after the requisite murders to establish Jugwolf’s bona fides (Sorry, Miss Grundy! Sorry, Dilton!), writer Frank Tieri created a world where the Joneses have had the lunar curse going back centuries – and have been pursued all the while by the clan Cooper.

Yep, Betty is a certified, grade A werewolf hunter, and Archie’s best pal is a lycanthrope. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

DESPERADO

I’ve said before that Rick Geary is a national treasure, and he proves it again with “The True Death of Billy the Kid” (NBM, $15.99).

As he has done with his more than 20 “Treasury” books, “Death” takes a controversial historical event and reports every scrap of information available in an objective way. Adding to the historical vibe is Geary’s unique faux woodcut style, which falls somewhere between a political cartoon and a 19th century engraving.

While focusing on Billy the Kid’s final days, the man born William H. Bonney didn’t have that long a life, so Geary includes most of what is known about him. Bonney began as a cowpoke in the New Mexico territory before finding his groove – and his legend – on the other side of the law.

One of the things that made Bonney famous is that he not only thwarted authority figures, he ridiculed them. This was exciting to the downtrodden Latinx people of the territory. Bonney also spoke fluent Spanish, adding to his appeal among the Mexicanos – and giving “Billito” the ability to hide among them.

But that affection was misplaced – Bonney was a stone killer. He was notorious for escaping jail, mostly because of his ruthlessness. He gunned down anyone in his way, whether they wore a badge or not.

Geary gives a lot of space to Bonney’s end, when he died in pitch darkness with the words “Quien es?” (“Who is it?”) on his lips. Several pages are devoted to the local legends of him surviving that gun battle, although it’s unlikely any of them are true.

Unlikely, but possible. Geary reports just the facts, ma’am. His deference to the reader’s interpretation is the icing on a delicious, if violent, cake.

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).