Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Guest Post: Jack Kirby's 1970s Series

Doug: Thomas F. drives this train today, and he's got the King on his mind.

Thomas F.: Jack “King” Kirby is best-known for his Silver Age contributions to the comic world. He was the co-creator and illustrator of the Fantastic Four, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Avengers, X-Men, and of course, Captain America. Not Spider-Man, though. For a look at Jack Kirby’s rendition of Spider-Man from as far back as January 1964, check out The Amazing Spider-Man #8 (or a reprint such as Marvel Tales #145), where Kirby penciled the backup story, inked by Steve Ditko, “Spider-Man Tackles the Torch!”

It is no exaggeration to claim that Jack Kirby was one of the most influential contributors to the comics genre to ever live. Few can deny that Kirby was an unparalleled expert at drawing eye-popping monsters, aliens, sci-fi weaponry, and futuristic technology. And most of it looked fully functional.


My own favorite Kirby creation is Darkseid (with the possible exception of the Silver Surfer). Gotta love those cosmic tales, rivaled only by Jim Starlin’s Warlock.

And what do you all think of Kirby’s version of Superman? It sure was different. Many people hated it—no one more so, apparently, then the DC bigwigs, who ordered that Al Plastino’s version of Superman’s face be plastered over most of those drawn by Kirby—behind his back.

It was Kirby’s Seventies stint, however—a period when he insisted on total creative control, and when he was able to produce Kirbyesque works as he saw fit—that he really shone. Granted, Kirby enthusiasts have long held widely-differing views on his Seventies creations. As for myself, I personally regard Kirby’s Seventies output to be the peak of his inventive skill and a time where he was able to showcase the full range of his genius—especially at DC.

Kirby fans are all aware that he left Marvel in the autumn of 1970 to work for the “Distinguished Competition,” which is how Marvel dryly referred to the opposition. This abrupt departure sent shockwaves throughout the comic book industry—just imagine it! Kirby jumping ship! And it wasn’t long before DC began a marketing campaign advertising Kirby’s upcoming works—major titles that the “King” himself would write, draw, and more often than not, edit.

*For this post, I’ve specifically chosen works that Jack Kirby both scripted and penciled (not just one or the other). Note: Kirby’s run on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen lasted from #133-139, 141-148; his run on Our Fighting Forces lasted from #151-162; his run on Amazing Adventures lasted from #1-4; and his run on Captain America lasted from #193-214 plus Annuals #3 and #4.

DC COVER SELECTIONS: 1st Issue Special #1 feat. Atlas; 1st Issue Special #5 feat. Manhunter; 1st Issue Special #6 feat. Dingbats of Danger Street; Demon #1; Forever People #1; Kamandi #1; Mister Miracle #1; New Gods #1; OMAC #1; Our Fighting Forces #152 feat. Losers; Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133.

MARVEL COVER SELECTIONS: 2001: A Space Odyssey #1; Amazing Adventures #1 feat. Inhumans and Black Widow; Black Panther #1; Captain America #200; Devil Dinosaur #1; Eternals #1; Machine Man #1.

Monday, May 23, 2016

That Zany Bob Haney:The Brave and the Bold 143

The Brave and the Bold #143 (September/October 1978)
"Cast the First Stone"
Bob Haney/Cary Burkett-Jim Aparo

Doug: At the end of March the Creeper's name came up in our discussion of costume accessories. It then occurred to me that we've never had this weirdo on the BAB. That, for better or worse, changes today. And yes, he is a weirdo. NOTE: Apologies at the top for the quality of the scans. I am reading/scanning from Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo, volume 2. As this is my first review from that book, the spine is pretty tight.

Doug: The 50c cover price really threw me -- when I got to setting up the post I assumed this issue would be from the early 1980s. I was never a reader of The Brave and the Bold as a child, so that the book apparently went double-sized eluded me. It seemed an oddly short-lived experiment, lasting only two issues (this one and #144) before settling in at 40c. So basically the marketing dept. at DC charged you 35c, but when Marvel raised their prices to 40c DC actually went to a 44-page book at 50c for two months. I believe this up-and-down occurred across the line and was the last straw before the famed "DC Implosion". You can check out the well-referenced facts on the Wikipedia article -- it's interesting.

Doug: Let's check out the plot of this story in a 100-Word Review:

We open with a news broadcast from “the most trusted man in America”, Cosmic Broadcasting’s Monty Walcott. He’s being trailed by the Batman; his top security man is Jack Ryder (secretly the Creeper) – you see where this is headed. Batman and the Creeper meet, tussle briefly, and the Batman tells him of an adventure he’d had with Aquaman concerning the log of a ship sunk 30 years earlier. It’s a tale of drugs, drug lords, and a revelation about Aquaman’s father. But the true bombshell was the reveal of the Gotham City kingpin – Monty Walcott! Can our heroes stop him?

The Good: When you're reading a Bronze Age B&B, you know you start your praises with Jim Aparo's art. As many around these parts say, he's the definitive Bronze Age Batman artist, and the favorite of more than a few of our readers. Aparo stays inside the lines for every one of his panels, but he really varies the size and shape of each one -- no grid system here. He paces things well, and of course his action sequences are top shelf. Although not the colorist on the issue (Jerry Serpe is credited), the page where Batman narrates to the Creeper the adventure with Aquaman from the previous issue is really well done in solid colors with only the inks for shading. And as three of the panels are underwater scenes, it's nicely effective.

Aparo also chooses interesting camera angles, really showing Batman from all perspectives -- I've chosen a panel with a shot from above that is pretty cool -- of course, the blowing cape doesn't exactly lend itself to stealth, does it? I also enjoy Aparo's depiction of Commissioner Gordon with the tousled hair and thick mustache that's really wanting to become a handlebar! If I have a qualm, and it's a minor one, it's in the way Jack Ryder is drawn. Fortunately he's named in each panel that starts a scene, as one might be tempted to think "Bruce Wayne" if just bouncing through the book visually. This was a real problem in the Silver Age in the Avengers in any scene where Cap, Goliath, and/or Hawkeye were shown sans masks -- all that square jaw/blond hair was tough to differentiate. That's what I'm saying here about Aparo's "tall, dark, and handsome" guys. And they are that -- he draws a good-looking man. If I have any knock on the guy's style, it's that his female faces are not equally attractive.

The story in this issue is only 17 pages, as again the book was divided but extra length. Bob Haney's script is pretty simple, with the surprise revealed at the beginning. After all, who would suspect the DCU's version of (apparently) Walter Cronkite as a drug kingpin? Not me. But that's out of the way at the front, and Batman really doesn't have to do much convincing to get the Creeper to help him out in putting Monty Walcott away. Walcott does get crafty in the middle of the tale, as he employs a "vertigo effect" that allows him to escape the clutches of the Batman and Gordon during an interrogation. Batman later learns that this is actually a gas weapon whereby the gas could be set off with a bomb, but activated by a particular radio frequency (there's your Zany) and causing crippling dizziness. There was an antidote, and Walcott had used it to escape from GCPD headquarters. You know he won't be on the lamb for long, though...

The Bad: I am searching the dark depths of my memory for facts lost among minutiae like what I'm supposed to get from the grocery store, in order to recall if I've read many Creeper stories. I know I've owned a few, notably in a longbox of Batman comics I bought for $30 in June 1989 (I've told that story -- took 'em right off the hands of a fellow at a flea market who apparently didn't know there was a Batman film about to be released. Two copies of Detective Comics #400 in there among the other 200 Bat-books). I must say that I don't really care for the character -- not his look, and I find his personality a bit confusing. Bear with me -- it could be just because I'm a novice. I'd like our readers to "sell" me on the character if you have a particular affinity for him. I thought the mash-up of his laughter, mystic talk, and regular-guy talk was off-putting. I guess I couldn't decide which was the "real" him. I said at the top the Creeper is weird -- standing by that, but then again -- maybe that's the point. Other than that general impression, there wasn't anything else in the story that wasn't either positive or what I would have expected from the Haney/Aparo team.

The Ugly: First, can you imagine if the Creeper was really out there running around all yellow and red hairy-cape-thing? That's ugly. Second, as mentioned above, I really tire of megalomaniac talk that includes admonitions like "Mortals!" and "Humans!" Pfah... spare me.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fire up the grill for a Fantastic Four Roast!

Fantastic Four Roast #1 (May 1982) ( Cover by Fred Hembeck and Terry Austin)
"When Titans Chuckle" 
Story by Fred Hembeck, plot by Jim Shooter, art by: Fred Hembeck and just about everyone else

Redartz:  Happy Saturday everyone! Today we will kick back, loosen up, and laugh a bit; the source of the hilarity: one of my all-time favorite single comics, Fred Hembeck's "Fantastic Four Roast". It may be possible to fit more fun into a 32 page comic, but I don't know how. 

To start, here's the 100-Word Review:

The Fantastic Four are the honored guests at a "roast" dinner, featuring blessings and brickbats from just about everyone in Marvel's 80's universe. Fred Hembeck himself serves as Master of Ceremonies, and he introduces both the dinner courses and the abundant speakers. We witness loads of banter between the guests and guests of honor, replete with puns both verbal and visual. Unfortunately some mystery villain appears to be sending deadly dishes for our Foursome to partake of. After Dr. Doom denies his involvement, the assembled heroes discover the identity of the true culprit,and the day (and dinner) is saved! 

Man, where to start? Why, the cover! Fred Hembeck fills it up completely with his signature curly-jointed figures. I loved Fred's humorous cartoons in the 80's, and bought several of his comics (and I need to replace those...). His stories are good for lots of laughs, full of puns and nostalgia. He speaks for the comic geek in all of us! 

Once we open the book, we are bombarded by a hailstorm of humor. The artwork is so jam-packed, you need a magnifier to catch all the detail. I would love to see some pages of original art for this story, simply so I could admire the artwork better! For instance, page 3 introduces the Avengers, Defenders, Inhumans, X-Men, and Legion of Monsters (!), in the space of 5 panels; complete with claustrophobic crowd detail in the backgrounds. My eyes are still refocusing...

The artwork in this comic is a treasure trove. Hembeck provided layouts, and everyone (a list follows shortly) took it from there. Often the characters were rendered by the artists most associated with them, for example: the Spider-man panels by John Romita Jr. and Sr., Captain America by Mike Zeck, Iron Man by Bob Layton, Daredevil by Frank Miller and Hulk by Sal Buscema. The artists seem to have had a lot of fun doing this book. Miller's Daredevil page is hilarious, with some self-parody as DD dramatically mugging with a flashlight. 

Hembeck has a fine feel for the voices of the characters he works with. He handles everyone with familiarity , starting from  the first pages with the Fantastic Four ( by Ron Wilson and John Byrne), with Ben and Johnny sparring as usual. He continues perfectly capturing each player, through the various character roasts and audience banter, to the last page where he brings the house down (literally). Fred has the whole Marvel toybox to play in, here; he makes the most of every piece.

There is way too much in this book to cover in detail, but I will mention a few great scenes: 

Here Spider-Man and the Torch , old friends and rivals, engage in some verbal sparring. Love Johnny Storm's comment about Spidey's showbiz faux pas...

Next up we find Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, making a splash with his entrance...and breaking the third wall with a reference to his return in the FF's comic...

 HB, this page on the left is for you, courtesy of  "Our Pal Sal". On the right,  the Avengers and Champions get a few words in with their comments on the Fantastic Four's origin story:

Frank Miller's Daredevil page is a big highlight in this book. The Torch at a self-serve pump; gotta be a potential problem.

Eventually, after Black Bolt (of all people) reveals the existence of a threat to the gathering, Ben Grimm quickly assumes it is the work of Dr. Doom...

Nonetheless, the gathered heroes quickly find the culprit, order is (somewhat) restored, and all is well. Yet I can't conclude without sharing this colossal two-page spread:

Ok, now take a deep breath; here's the list of artists  I promised earlier:
Fred Hembeck, Ron Wilson, John Byrne, Michael Golden, John Romita Jr. and Sr. , Al Milgrom, MIke Zeck, Bob Layton, Alan Weiss, John and Sal Buscema, Mike Vosburg, Kerry Gammill, Bob Hall, Keith Pollard, Frank Miller, Denys Cowan, Marshall Rogers,  Don Perlin, Gene Day, Walt Simonson, Frank Springer, Brent Anderson, Steve Leialoha, Dave Cockrum, Bill Sienkiewicz, Chic Stone, Terry Austin, Joe Rubinstein, Joe Sinnott, John Beatty, Ricardo Villamonte, Dan Green, Klaus Janson and Bob McLeod . Whew...

Thanks deeply to the Grand Comics Database for this list , here's a link to the page for this comic with all the specifics:

This comic is a terrific remnant of the day when comics could be silly, free-wheeling and just plain fun. It would be wonderful to see a bit more of such things today ( albeit, to be fair, there are some light-hearted books coming out today, but that's a topic for another day)...
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