Monday, July 28, 2008

My eyes were opened...

IT WAS Give Our Regards To The Atomsmashers - Sean Howe's 2004 flawed collection of essays by "real" writers on comics - that first shocked me into realising that Jack Kirby wasn't this untouchable comic artist god.

In Jonathan Lethem's essay, The Return Of The King or Identifying With Your Parents, he looks at his Brooklyn youth, linking it with Kirby's initial legendary run with Marvel in the 60s and his ill-fated (but much feted at the time) return to the fold in 1976.

Howe dares to question Kirby's work on such titles as Captain America, The Black Panther, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man and 2001: "In fact, what he would turn out to bring to Marvel was a paradoxical combination: clunkily old-fashioned virtues...together with a baroque and nearly opaque futuristic sensibility that would leave most readers chilled, largely alienated from what he was trying to do."

Lethem also disses Kirby's DC work on his "massively ambitious and massively arcane" Fourth World.

He talks about how he and his childhood friends - big fans of Jolly Jack's 102-issue run with co-creator Stan Lee on The Fantastic Four - were "mostly baffled" by his later run.

Anyone who describes Kirby's late 70s run as "autistic primitive genius" and "great/awful, a kind of diastrous genius" deserves a Pulitzer in my book.

And, frankly, no-one could have summed up better the essence of the Lee/Kirby collaboration: a Lennon/McCartney-style relationship who "really were more than the sum of their parts, and who derived their greatness from the push and pull of incompatible visions".

And the harsh coup de grace: "I'd be kidding if I claimed anyone much cherishes the comics of Kirby's 'return to Mavel' period - 2001, The Eternals, Machine Man. Even for souls who take these things all too seriously, those comics have no real place in the history; they define only a clumsy misstep in a dull era at Marvel, before the brief renaissance signaned by the ascent of the Chris Claremont X-Men..." Ouch.

Wait, there's more. And it's all true: "It's possible to debate the moment in the 70s when Kirby's pencilling began to go south. He was good; he got worse. What's undebatable is the execrable, insufferable pomposities of Kirby's dialogue-writing in the Marvel work without Lee. As a writer, as opposed to an "idea-man", he always stunk." Double ouch.

Ultimately, Howe's radical (heretical) ideas about the "untouchable" Jack Kirby blew my mind and allowed me to think that it was OK to question aspects of Jack Kirby's work without feeling like some kind of evil devil-spawn.

BTW, as a whole, Give Our Regards is a remarkably disappointing book. Many of the essays are painfully literate - in the "I'm an author, but look, Mother...I'm writing about comics. How frightfully lowbrow of me" style that I've come to loathe and despite in wanky publications like The Comics Journal. There are a couple of entertaining pieces - Glen David Gold's piece on regret, Warlock and original art collecting and Brad Meltzer's fond memories of The New Teen Titans - but you really should only seek out a cheap second-hand copy before handing over your dollars.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

REVIEW: Kirby Five-Oh! (The Jack Kirby Collector #50)

DESPITE a few reservations, this oversized book is a stunning tribute to The King, celebrating 50 issues of The Jack Kirby Collector.
In reality, it's merely TJKC #50, but it's been put out by editor John Morrow - a dedicated Kirby fanatic since 1994 - as a high-quality soft-cover publication, a stand-alone tome celebrating Jack Kirby's greatness.
Kicking off with an excellent Kirby rendition of Superman on the cover (inked by the brilliant Darwyn Cooke), Kirby Five-Oh! gives us list after list of the 50 greatest this and 50 greatest that involving the prolific artist.
So what's to love? Well, the swag of rare photos and art easily made it worth the thirty bux I paid at Kings Comics (how appropriate) in Sydney. The colour section was also a welcome touch.
There are also intriguing lists like Kirby's 50 Best Stories (one per year) and 50 Best Covers - the top vote-getter was Fantastic Four #12 (1963), a suspenseful scene with The Hulk about to pounce on an unsuspecting FF in an underground cave.
The 50 Best Examples Of Unused Kirby Art was intriguing as was the mini-interviews with 50 artists influenced by Jack Kirby.
Quibbles? Well, there's the usual sycophantic ravings by people who seem to think that EVERYTHING Kirby did was brilliant. And a few ACTUALLY think he was a decent scripter. Ha!
And fuckwit Adam McGovern is deluded enough to claim 1985's The Hunger Dogs - possibly the worst piece of unintelligible drivel ever vomited out by Jolly Jack - is a piece of genius. Puh-leeeeeeeze!

Despite these minor flaws, Kirby Five-Oh! is a stirling effort by TwoMorrows Publishing.
Buy it and get an overview of why Jack Kirby remains the most influential comic book artist of all time.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Silver Star #1 - dear god...this is horrible!

I PICKED this up cheap on eBay and - holy hell! - I'm glad I didn't pay big bux for it. Kirby's last major piece of independent comics work (c.1983) is fucking fucking FUCKING shithouse!

Bad art - blame Michael Royer's inking, I guess - but worse still is Kirby's plotting and script. I put this down to the old man's growing senility. I mean, this is just awful, even by Jack's painful writing standards.
From what I can tell, this is some kinda New Gods/Eternals retread with a big emphasis on Jack's daughter Susan Kirby's crapola song lyrics. Seriously, he devotes pages to her inane, trite, stupid song lyrics. Yikes! Other than that, it's completely nonsensical. I mean, it makes no sense whatsoever.
And just try to read the above stream-of-diarrhoea dialogue above. There's 20 pages of this drivel. TWENTY FUCKEN PAGES!!!
Listen, I love Kirby's artwork, but when his art's bad - and, seriously, his art is BAD here - then there's NOTHING worth recommending in one of his comics.

No wonder Pacific Comics went belly-up soon after Silver Star came out.

And you have a fucken cheek, Image Comics, rereleasing this garbage on an unsuspecting world (the hardcover's sealed in plastic, dammit!). I'm so glad I fought the urge and didn't waste my money buying the book.

BTW, Kirby crony Michael Thibodeaux wrote and drew the back-up feature, Last Of The Viking Heroes, and it pretty much proves that MT should stick to inking for a living.

Friday, July 25, 2008

FOR a different - more touchy-feely friendly - review of Jack Kirby's NEW GODS work, head to

He's much nicer than me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hey, HE said it, not me...

THE famed writer of Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers, Secret Invasion, etc etc, Brian Michael Bendis said this in a May interview with (and republished in Powers #29: “And just think about if we had superheroes, how we would treat them. In this world, not Stan Lee’s world. He started it. Stan started it, that was a Stan Lee thing…”

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The difference between a good inker and a bad inker...

A GOOD inker - like Joe Sinnott or Mike Royer - added to Kirby's pencils and accentuated their finer qualities. They gave depth and life to his work, making even his worst-written yarns sing on the printed page.

However, a bad inker - like D. Bruce Berry in 1st Issue Special #1: Introducing Atlas - sucked the life out of Jack's art and gave it a flat, bland quality.

Basically, Berry appears to have erased half of Kirby's pencils to make his inking job as easy as possible. The result: a piece of hackwork that can't save what was already a lacklustre yarn about Atlas, the first king of Atlantis.

I'm certain it was Berry's inks that led to Atlas not being given the green light for its own series, thereby robbing us of yet another gods-filled universe by Kirby.
(So maybe that was a good thing...)