Monday, June 26, 2017
In a combination Birthday-Father's Day present to myself (I deserve it don't you know) I picked up the latest Fourth World artist's edition from IDW, The Forever People. These handsome oversize volumes collect up and publish select stories from Jack "King" Kirby's Fourth World saga. Already published in years past are a New Gods volume and a Mister Miracle volume. These are hefty books and they command a hefty price, but for this fanboy of the Fourth World it's a sheer delight to get a look at the King's work, work which is so very personal to me, in such a fascinating format.
For those not of a Fourth World frame of mind, I remind you of IDW's other Kirby offerings. There is Jack Kirby Pencils and Inks which published the complete debut issues of both Kamandi and The Demon. And speaking of the former, there are two full volumes with early Kamandi stories represented. The two Kamandi tomes I do not have, but maybe someday.
For more detail on what is in each of these IDW Artist Editions check out this link.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
One of Simon and Kirby's most entertaining creations is Stuntman. While he didn't end up being much of a financial success for Harvey Comics when the duo launched him alongside Boy Explorers after the WWII boom, nonetheless the art and story Joe and Jack produced for this quixotic and amiable character was top notch. Here is a rendition of the character by the 'King" with Jim Steranko supplying the inks. (Of course Steranko was oddly an influence on Kirby when he created Mister Miracle for DC as part of the Fourth World saga.)
Here is that same image minus the Steranko embellishment, just in raw Kirby form.
Timely Comics sure lived up its name. The stories and yarns contained in Marvel Firsts: WWII Super Heroes are of the moment, if that moment is the late 30's and early 40's. Marvel (or Timely if you will) bursts onto the comics scene quite literally with Marvel Comcs #1 featuring a demonic looking rendition of the Human Torch. Included in that momentous debut was also the Sub-Mariner and lesser lights like The Angel, Ka-zar, Masked Rider and others. With these and other creations from the Loyd Jacquet studio which had such talents as Carl Burgos and Bill Everett, With titles like Daring and Mystic Martin Goodman found a toehold in the burgeoning comic book market which had exploded when a certain gentleman from Krypton landed on Earth. Superheroes were the order of the day, but masked vigilantes with a decidedly pulp flavor. The aforementioned Angel was a spin on The Saint despite the bright blue costume, The Fiery Mask battled zombies in his lurid origin story, and Breeze Barton found a lost land hidden between dimensions.
The creativity was strong in many of these stories, but sometimes the craftsmanship was wanting. Primitive is one way to describe the artwork on strips like Blue Blaze and The Falcon, but fascinatingly incompetent might cover the work on The Patriot. The latter is a strip so lame in its presentation that it's no wonder anyone might imagine they could do comics. Alongside these efforts were truly stylistic offerings such as Flexo, the Fin, and Blazing Skull. The war is central to the stories here and heroes like The Destroyer, the Defender, and most famously Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's Captain America are products of that war. This volume is a raucous collection of stories which showcase heroes with simple moral codes and villains who are easy to spot due to the rank racism which infused itself in pop culture of the time. Young Allies even takes that unfortunate aspect and uses it to give us arguably Marvel 's most regrettable character, Whitewash Jones. But I'm a guy who reads stuff in its context, or tries to, and seen as historical documents of a kind, these fast-paced yarns are not only diverting but enlightening. Seeing how we were can help us all to be better.
Saturday, June 24, 2017
The SHIELD Helicarrier is among the coolest craft in all of comics. The reveal of the vast airship in the very first Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD story always impresses. In this awesome image, Kirby does a masterful job with scale by having enormous airplanes and other craft switching impossibly close to the monster of the Helicarrer. Like Nick Fury the reader has been unaware of the location of the portentous meeting and we like him are gobsmacked.
The Helicarrier has been realized in the recent Marvel movies very effectively.They changed many aspects of the profile, but the idea of such a giant ship actually lifting off into the sky remains a grand spectacle.
I don't remember buying the Fantagraphics volume Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941, but I'm glad I did. It's a neat little window into the earliest prototypes which were finding a way into the brand new entertainment. Taking artistic cues from the newspaper comic strips and thematic cues from the pulp magazines of the 30's, the comic books of this earliest period are filled with energy if not refined craftsmanship. For example take a look at this two-page tale by Superman's daddies Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster.
Rough stuff, but it filled the pages and that was all that was mostly required by the schemers, hucksters, and outright business men who were launching into the new field.
The Clock was the first masked man of the comics, and the storytelling is so primitive that the panels are numbered to make sure the reader didn't get lost. Actually the drawing on this series is okay, but it's evidence that the novelty of reading material repackaged in this way which made the creators careful about their potential readership.
Bill Everett is one of those names who is associated with comics from the very beginning. He's represented here with a sci-fi yarn, but soon of course he takes his skills beneath the sea.
Will Eisner and Lou Fine's The Flame is a pretty standard superhero of the time. He's a regular dude who gets a costume and a potent gimmick and takes on the lurid and depraved enemies who are all too willing to prey on the helpless.
Though he never got a cover appearance, the sheer wildness of a character like Stardust by Fletcher Hanks pointed out just how robust the and open to innovation the early comic books were. There was limited oversight and that was a good thing for those who wanted to do something a bit different.
Violence was a big part of what these early comics presented, a more vivid and literally more in-your-face variation of what was merely described in the pulps. Characters like The Comet, drawn by Irv Novick, killed people with limited concern.
Strips like Skyman and Marvelo from Big Shot Comics had a real polish and visual sophistication but sadly were missing some of the raw verve of less refined Golden Age offerings. That was not the case with The Face, a gritty series with a hero who wore a fight mask and had the behaviors to back it up.
The Claw was an unabashed villain -- Fu Manchu blended with King Kong, the Yellow Peril never got a more pure presentation. His mob of Asian agents gibbered and knifed their way into the streets of somber America screaming for the world to awaken to the threat. Daredevil, a guy in a very slick costume met the enemy with almost no advantage but his purity of spirit won the day.
Spacehawk from Basil Wolverton is stylish and well thought of these days because of Wolverton's inspiration for underground cartoonists. The adventuers of Spacehawk have a real edge with an other worldly quality for certain.
And finally we have Blue Bolt, the strip which for the first time blended the dynamic talents of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. I'll have more to say about him next week.