One Fan's Opinion: Issue #73

Sun, February 18th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

"Journey Into Mystery" #97, featuring the first "Tales of Asgard"
Prepare yourself for yet another Kirby rant.

Y'see, I love Jack Kirby! I love his boundless imagination, the many worlds that he populated, his powerful storytelling, his sometimes stinted, sometimes bizarre, sometimes poignant scripting and his amorphous anatomy and backgrounds.

Jack pushed things farther than any creator in comics that I know of. In his later years, Jack's art became almost cubist. Jack's grasp of anatomy was pretty decent in his younger years but as time passed, Jack increasingly let things slide. He started using jags and slashes to represent cuts where one muscle met another and these tended to shift and slide in directions that often bared only the slightest resemblance to those on an actual human being. He wouldn't solve the same problem twice. The anatomy of one arm or one shoulder or one back could be wildly different from those on another figure. Jack's concern seemed to be on motion and power and storytelling. It wasn't important to have an arm drawn with authentic detail - what was important was that you could tell that it was an arm and that it served its function in telling the tale at hand.

Jack got credit for drawing great machines and they were marvelous to behold. His fans will go on about the thought and care that went into them and how they seemed to be able to really work, but that's not really the case. As anybody who's tried making a 3-D model of one of his machines can tell you, they really didn't work in three dimensions. Is it any wonder that most artists, faced with the challenge of having to draw one of Kirby's exquisite machines opted to simply slavishly copy them line for line as Jack drew them rather than try to figure out how to turn these contraptions? They're almost Escher-like in the way they bend reality.

Jack tended to eyeball perspective and he seldom touched a ruler, which left his inkers the often-awesome challenge of making sense of it all. Jack made it work. It looked great, but on further examination you'd notice buildings with multiple sized windows and randomly placed awnings with nonsensical outcroppings thrown together at juxtaposing angles with similarly bizarrely constructed dwellings. Jack's unstructured structures made for a lively landscape that bulged and bended and practically breathed with life. Often Jack placed shadows more to balance a page than to indicate a working light source. Snakelike shadows crept and crawled up buildings and over faces creating fascinating nonsensical patterns along whatever surface they wandered.

"Silver Star" #1
A big part of what made (and makes) Jack's work so compelling is the haphazard quality of it all. Here was a guy creating thousands of pages at a breakneck speed. His art veered wildly and his shortcuts were amazing. Rather than try and draw a horde of gods or insects matching outfits, Jack would give each of them their own imaginative look that would appear once and than be forgotten as characters were mowed down with wanton abandon. Why bother looking up a character's previous appearance when it's easier to make up a new character or redesign the old one? Stories started at one place and lead to another without any rhyme or reason. Jack would get distracted or confused or simply had an idea that overwhelmed the one before and he was off and running in a bold new direction.

Take the Inhumans, for example. Medusa was introduced fairly early on in the pages of the Fantastic Four as a deadly femme fatale who joined forces with the Sandman, Wizard and Trapster to form the villainous Frightful Four - later on it was revealed that she was part of the Inhumans, but taken altogether her actions made no sense. She had no real motivation for hanging out with a bunch of bad guys and once she was reunited with Black Bolt and company, she no longer gave them the time of day. In the one story where she was thrown back together with the others, Medusa betrayed her former teammates but she really had no sound reason to join their ranks in the first place under the circumstances. It was simply the case (as I see it) of one idea trumping the previous one. Ditto with Thor's extended quest in "Tales of Asgard." It started somewhere and seemed to have a direction but over time it wandered off in another direction and its original purpose was never satisfactorily addressed. (And sure, Stan Lee was involved here, but it's well known that Kirby did much of the plotting and his later work on New Gods and the rest follow similar paths, veering madly from one direction to the next).

I don't view these as bad things necessarily. Too many stories in comics suffer from too much thought being put into them - characters do what they do in a perfunctory manner to get readers to that big payoff and it often reads as though characters are simply going through the motions. Jack Kirby's comics were organic. They grew and unfolded as they went along in wild and unpredictable directions and therein was found the fun.

I've had Jack Kirby on the brain of late. Image Comics is putting out trades of the collected "Silver Star" and "Captain Victory" comics. The first trade collects the complete "Silver Star" saga in one volume and it's wacky fun. The second collects all 13 issues of "Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers" plus the one Special.

The big dilemma in collecting both of these books is how to reconcile the coloring. In both cases, colorists changed and successive colorists paid little or no attention to the work of the previous ones. Unlike at Marvel and DC, years ago, where one book pretty much looked like the next as colorists strictly adhered to previously-established colors. these books had strong individualistic styles.

"Silver Star" #2
In the case of "Silver Star," the colorist for issues five and six colored the pages by hand and did state-of-the-art airbrush effects that, frankly, have not aged well. The first four issues had flat color and were printed on newsprint. They were also inked by Mike Royer, who made subtle alterations to Jack's work, aligning eyes and making other alterations that helped make the work look that much better. D. Bruce Berry inked issued five and six, which were printed on whiter Baxter paper and these issues were less competently embellished. Duplicating the color from the later issues would be a nearly impossible task and they would simply look out of place next to the previous flat-colored issues if we did manage to pull it off. So we've taken it upon ourselves to try and make the books look, as much as possible, as one piece and have the later issues use similar colors to those in previous issues.

The end result is, frankly, stunning.

They look great!

Now, purists may bristle at the idea of making such alterations, but given how slavishly we're trying to emulate the coloring from the first few issues and how much better the later issues look in that similar style, I think they'll come around. Jack's work really suffered from the overpowering efforts of the later colorist and his airbrush experimentation.

And then there's "Captain Victory."

"Captain Victory" #1
Mike Royer inked and lettered the first couple issues and Mike Thibodeaux inked the rest of the run. Thibodeaux lettered his first couple issues before Palle Jensen stepped up to the plate. Jack drew the first couple issues years earlier and the rest was drawn during the end of his career. The book is a wild ride. It's Jack at his wildest. It's unrestrained and "out there."

The first few issues were colored by Steve Oliff who would later go on to color "Legends of The Dark Knight" and "Moon Knight" and "Cosmic Odyssey" and the "Death of Captain Marvel" and "Spawn." Steve's coloring was all over the place. He popped in zips to give himself a gray tone and his color choices were anything but orthodox. He lighted things in oranges and greens and he had Captain Victory's colors vary from page to page and even panel to panel. Stave avoided the usual primary colors that heroes traditionally wore in favor of complex and often muted colors. The zips Steve applied gave Jack's characters textures that the inker had never intended and in some cases, they were so overwhelming that they altered the art as their tight patterns closed up and turned things black. Steve was learning the ropes and he was not afraid to experiment.

And Jack fired him.

Next up came Janice Cohen who did more traditional coloring. Captain Victory wore primary colors and the pallet brightened up considerably.

And the later issues were colored in a god awful blotchy painted style reminiscent of that found in the final issues of Silver Star in terms of sheer ugliness.

What to do there? We're incapable of reproducing the uneven, blotchy painted issues and clearly Jack was not happy with Oliff's efforts on the first six issues. Do we stray from those in an effort to make the book look and read as a single coherent piece? Do we stick with the original colors as much as possible? It's hard to know where to draw the line exactly.

"Captain Victory" #9
The zips that Steve added in his first issue are gone. They weren't on the inked pages that we received from the Kirbys and since they obliterated much of Jack's line work I saw no reason to try and recreate them. Beyond that, I expect that we'll make every effort to try and duplicate the work Steve did and then do the same with Janice's coloring in later issues. The painted stuff will be dealt with in much the same manner as in Silver Star. It'll be used as a guide when possible but strayed from where necessary. When coloring gaffs were committed, changes will be made. I'm doing much of the coloring myself.

It's not the same reading experience as perusing the old printed comics. It can't be. The printed comics were on newsprint and later on Mando paper and later still Baxter paper and they had glossy covers and ads for other Pacific Comics and they came out monthly and all the rest. This will be in a single book with one kind of paper with one issue following the next. It's a different animal, but a damned cool one nevertheless.

It's actually really exciting to be working on these projects. Having Jack's few creator-owned treasures in print has long been a dream of mine and while they're not Jack in his prime, they're certainly worth your attention. They're worthy efforts and entertaining as all hell. This is wild stuff.

You'll soil yourself when you see the Cosmic Fetus unleashed!

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