Sam Loeb was a superhero. He accomplished things in his 17 years that most comic book- and TV-loving teenagers only dream of. And he faced things that no kid should ever have to deal with during his three-year struggle with a rare form of bone cancer.
“Sam always taught us that life was all about ’finding the funny’ in any situation,” says his father, Jeph Loeb, a veteran comic book, film and TV writer.
The elder Loeb is known for writing contemporary Superman and Batman comics, including the “Superman for All Seasons” graphic novel that influenced the tone of WB Network’s “Smallville” series centering on Clark Kent in his high school days. Now a supervising producer on “Lost,” Jeph Loeb spent three seasons on “Smallville,” where his son was a frequent visitor to the writers’ room. “Smallville’s” fifth-season opener in September was dedicated to Sam. So was a recent episode of “Adult Swim’s” “Robot Chicken.”
Sam had befriended a lot of comic book and TV writers during the time spent hanging out with his dad. And Sam was a comer in his own right, having collaborated with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon on a comic, “Tales of the Vampires .5,” for Dark Horse Comics. (Whedon had been impressed with the younger Loeb’s story sensibilities while working with Jeph on the “Buffy” animated series that never got off the ground.)
Sam was ready to follow up that debut by writing his own issue of DC Comics’ popular “Superman/Batman” series, one that appropriately enough would revolve around teenage apprentices Robin and Superboy. He finished the story for the issue, but he ran out of time before he could see it through to comic book stores. Sam died June 17, two months and four days after his 17th birthday.
His ordeal had started three years earlier with a little bit of numbness in his left leg. It was diagnosed as osteosarcoma, and pretty soon Sam had 14 inches of bone removed from his leg. He went through an intense chemotherapy regimen. His doctors believed that they had licked it, but six months later the cancer turned up in his jaw. They took more bone out of his other leg to build Sam a new jaw. And then they found small growths on his lungs that required periodic surgeries to remove them.
Sam’s funeral last year drew an overflow crowd that ranged from top comic book creatives to “Smallville” staffers to his many friends at North Hollywood High School, the magnet school where Sam was a high achiever in the gifted-student program.
Out of shared grief at the funeral came the idea to assemble an all-star roster of comic writers and artists to finish Sam’s issue. Jeph also found some solace in writing a companion piece, “Sam’s Story,” about a friend of Clark Kent’s in Smallville who gets cancer and dies. It’s lovingly illustrated by Jeph’s longtime collaborator, Tim Sale.
“Superman/Batman 26” is due out April 19. The contributors, who happen to number 26 and include Whedon and novelist Brad Meltzer, have waived their fees and royalties, and those funds are to be directed to the Sam Loeb College Scholarship Fund, established by his family at North Hollywood High. The plan is to award $10,000 a year to the student who most embodies Sam’s zany-artistic-brilliant spirit, as selected by the faculty members who will never forget him. That spirit shines through in a note, reprinted in “Sam’s Story,” that he wrote four months before his death.
“Your destiny does not lie in a hospital bed,” Sam wrote. “Far greater achievements are to come.”