Posted tagged ‘Jack Kirby’

Godland: Far Beyond the Bang

April 29, 2010

Joe Casey and Tom Scioli start moving towards a conclusion in the latest volume of their Jack Kirby homage, Godland.  

It’s a fantastic book, but this one hardly makes for a useful starting point.  Casey tries, but the story so far recap is so long and in such a small font that I dare anyone to read it without going cross-eyed by the end.  But if you’ve been with the book all along this book is pretty damn rewarding.  

Friedrich Nickelhead and his army of super-villains decimiate the US congress and start the beginings of mainstreaming their villain-culture ideas.  Adam Archer tracks down his missing sister on the other side of the universe and gets caught in a cosmic conflict with a godlike nihilist.  And then nuclear winter begins to set in on Earth.  

Casey doesn’t quite manage to juggle it all properly, but then Kirby never did either in his prime, and this book in particular feels like it came straight out of the King’s Fourth World.  Granted that’s partly because of a fairly blatant New Gods reference, but still.  Which pretty much makes it a foregone conclusion that I would love this book, but I can see others not being so taken with it.

Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance

March 23, 2010

Joe Casey excells at two things in particular when it comes to superhero stories, characters with an awareness marketing concerns (Wildcats, the Intimates), and characters that owe a huge debt to Jack Kirby (Godland).  So now he’s been given what is essentially a dream job with Dance, a mini-series focusing on Grant Morrison’s Super Young Team.

The Super Young Team is a group of five Japanese teen heroes, who Morrison used as a replacement for Kirby’s hippie-radical Forever People.  With their publicity agent in tow they spend this series trying find a way to redefine the role of modern superheroes, although they never quite succeed, and sadly neither does Casey, although he does come fairly close.

There’s a lot to love here, but it’s all things that Casey has done better elsewhere.  For example Most Excellent Superbat’s (he of the power of being unbelievably rich) running Twitter feed along with the narrative works great, but not quite as well as the meta-commentary scroll bar Casey used in the Intimates.  More importantly considering the team only has five members, it’s an issue that one is entirely ignored and another written off as little more than a lush.

It’s still worth a read though, especially if you’ve never been exposed to Casey.  But he is capable of better.

Review: Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Vol.1

January 25, 2009

The Challengers of the Unknown is one of DC’s best, failed comics.  The concept is pretty straight forward, 4 adventures have a near death experience and decide they are living on borrowed time (which they never get tired of saying).  Thus they decide to live the rest of their lives risking death and routinely saving the Earth from alien menaces and evil scientists.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is the book Jack Kirby was working on just prior to the Fantastic Four, three out of four team members are nearly identical (if you must know Ace Morgan and the Invisible Woman are the odd ones out).  So if you ever wondered what the FF would be like without super powers, this is that book.

The stories themselves are nothing that special, lots of women in distress, lots of three part McGuffin quests, but every now and then something odd sneaks in.  I particularly liked the two issues with Multi-Man, a villain who gleefully commits suicide in order to be reborn with a new power set.  And the premise of the comic makes this one out shine a lot of DC’s other silver age comics for me.  The plots really are identical, but just the fact that you’ve got a professional wrestler doing the same sorts of things as Superman at the time elevates it a bit.

However, the Challengers never really caught on, and that’s hardly surprising given that you can look back at them as an inferior version of the FF.  It’s a shame though, given the chance (Darwyn Cooke did his best to save Ace Morgan in the New Frontier) there’s some potential in these characters for further adventures.

Review: Godland: Amplified Now!

January 3, 2009

Joe Casey and Tom Scioli’s Jack Kirby on amphetamines epic continues in the latest volume of Godland.  And this is the craziest collection yet.  Las Vegas is victimized as part of a phallic plot to destroy the Earth, butler turned super-villain Freidrich Nickelhead opens a a hotel on the Sunset Strip, and Adam Archer’s estranged sister returns to Earth and accidentally upsets reality.  Oh and then there are the half-gorilla prostitutes.

Casey’s always had an amazing imagination, but here is where it’s really on full display.  This is one of the best things he’s done, and there’s still more to come.

Review: Jack Kirby’s the Demon

December 6, 2008

DC comics might be going down the toilet at the moment, but their collected editions program is awesome enough to make up for it.  Their latest must have book is Jack Kirby’s complete run on the Demon.

Now, the Demon Etrigan is just about my favorite character to have come out of DC’s long history.  He’s just like nothing else from any of their other books.  As the name implies he is a demon from Hell, but a usually benevolent one due to his having been bound to Merlin.  He also shares a body with Jason Blood, an immortal demonologist who spends most of his time in Gotham City.  Oh and since the mid 80’s he only speaks in rhyme (or occasionally blank verse).

But this is back when he could still speak like a normal person (relatively speaking, it is a Jack Kirby comic after all), and these early tales are some of the King’s best work.  Although derivative at times (there are both Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein stories here) every page here is a masterpiece from Kirby at his peak.  And when Kirby does try for something totally new, the book soars.  The highlight here is without a doubt the Demon’s two encounters with Klarion the Witchboy, an unbelievably creepy Puritan sorcerer from another dimension that is totally unlike anything seen elsewhere.

Of course the one problem with premise this odd is that it’s really hard to carry it as an ongoing series.  Thus the book died after a mere 16 issues, and Kirby’s time at DC was nearly over.

Review: The Eternals Vol. 2

October 18, 2008

The second volume of the Eternals marks the abrupt end of the series, and the end of Jack Kirby’s second stint at Marvel (and pretty much his career as well).  The book itself, is not very good.  Volume 1 was typical (albeit recycled from the Fourth World) Kirby, epic in scope and gorgeous to look out.

But everything falls apart in volume 2.  Nothing of any significance happens in this book, unless you count a pointless 3 issue fight with a Hulk robot.  And then the book just stops.  I can’t even complain about it not having a satisfactory ending, as it didn’t actually feel like there was much of a story to be concluded.

Keeping Current with Comics

August 30, 2008

Yesterday I tried to remove whatever collection development credentials people thought I had.  But I did say that the one area of particular expertise I might actually possess is in comics.  So I figured I’d take a shot and do a batch of brief write ups on current comics libraries should be aware of.

Secret Invasion: For the past decade at least the Summer has been the time for large scale comics events and crossovers.  Actually for the past few years the events have all kind of blended together to the extent that some fans are complaining of event overload.  Secret Invasion is Marvel’s entry this year, and it concerns an alien invasion of shape shifters who have been posing undetected as some of Marvel’s most well known characters (in some cases for quite some time).  The book has received decent reviews overall and I’ve been enjoying it, but there are accessibility issues for those who haven’t been following the last few years worth of Marvel stories.  In the end it will probably prove more significant for the effect it has on the Marvel line to come than for the story itself.

Final Crisis: Final Crisis is DC’s answer to Secret Invasion.  It’s being marketed as the day evil won.  The writer on this one is Grant Morrison, a personal favorite but someone who’s more eccentric writing tendencies don’t always lead to clearly told stories.  Final Crisis has also suffered from poor editorial control (the story did not match up with many of the details from the books that led into it, including the death of a major character).  Again I fear it’s going to become essential reading because of its effects (notably the return of the Silver-Age Flash, Barry Allen) and not because of its own merits.

Final Crisis: the Legion of Three Worlds: The Legion of Three Worlds is a pseudo-spin-off of Final Crisis (because the worlds Final Crisis are in the title), and so far it’s shaping up to be far superior to its parent book.  The story, crafted by the workhorse Geoff Johns and drawn by George Perez at the top of his game, is an attempt to redefine the Legion of Superheroes, one of DC’s best loved but most muddled books.  Early reviews have uniformly praised the book and it is becoming a series I am greatly looking forward to the ending of.

Green Lantern: Another Geoff Johns book.  Johns relaunched Green Lantern a number of years ago now, bringing back classic ring bearer Hal Jordan and focusing on crafting a true mythology for the character.  Having succeeded at his initial goals he has worked to steadily up the ante on the action in the story.  Last year he gave us the Sinestro Corps War, in which a Universe wide battle broke out involving most of the villains from the biggest events in DC history.  Since that time he’s been steadily building to The Blackest Night, a story which probably has more buzz going for it than anything in comics at the moment (including the 2 current events).  Keep an eye out for it.

Batman: RIP: In a similar bit of character redefinition, Grant Morrison has been steadily working on a deconstructionist take on Batman for awhile now.  His run has met with mixed reviews so far, albeit with a few standouts to date (the League of Heroes collaboration with J.H. Williams was one of my favorite comics last year).  But the culmination of his approach to the character is in the current story arch, in which Bruce Wayne suffers a massive psychological break and all of the events that led to the creation of the Batman are thoroughly reexamined.  It’s been a riveting story and it seems pretty certain that the Batman coming out of it will be different than the one that went in to it.

The Punisher: Garth Ennis has just wrapped up what has been by far the best take on the Punisher in the character’s history.  Make no mistakes this is an adult comic, in which the Punisher is portrayed as a near mythical force of nature.  It it grim, it is tightly plotted, the art is gorgeous, and it left me never wanting to read another Punisher comic because everything else can’t help but come across as a disappointment after this.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8: Exactly what it sounds like.  Joss Whedon has reassembled a large portion of his writing staff from the classic show along with a number of comics writers with tv writing experience and has crafting a follow up season.  And it’s really good.  If you were a fan of the show or know someone who was make sure to pick up this book as it has lost none of what made the Buffy great to begin with.

The Umbrella Academy: Easily the most enjoyable comic last year.  My Chemical Romance’s front man Gerard Way has crafted an entirely original take on superhero comics (or is that dysfunctional family stories).  The art from Gabriel Ba is perfectly suited to the material (I don’t know of anyone else who could nail something like a robot zombie Gustave Eifle with such wild abandon).  The sequel launches next year.

Criminal: Criminal is a show case for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to tell the sort of crime stories they love.  Besides the story each issue (which have consistently been the most well crafted comic of each month) the comics contain a wealth of interviews, reviews, and letter columns concerning the history of the crime genre.  The book is nearly as good as a reference resource as it is for the stories.

Collections: The last few years have been a great time for collected editions.  Bookstores and libraries have opened up to nicely bound editions and the major publishers have been doing a great job of dusting off their back catalogs.  A few archival projects are of particular note.  DC has been republishing some great hardcover editions of James Robinson’s Starman, Grant Morrison’s JLA, and everything Jack Kirby did for them in the 70’s (The Fourth World Omnibus’ have a place of honor on my bookshelves).  Some other recent highlight are Image’s collections of Mike Allred’s Madman, Oni’s new editions of Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country, and another personal favorite, Marvel’s recently released omnibus edition of Howard the Duck (which really is an essential read, albeit a pricey one).

Review: The Eternals Vol. 1

July 17, 2008

The Eternals was the book that marked Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel comics after his all to brief stint working for the competition (a period during which he produced his best work).  The story concerns what went on to become the origins of the Marvel universe (but which was originally intended to be separte from the publisher’s other books).  In brief the Space Gods known as the Celestials are responsible for evolving mankind from the apes, and also created two other species, the Eternals and the Deviants, at the same time.  Now the Celestials have returned to judge their work and the three species of man spend the series figuring out how to respond to their trial.

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  In one regard it’s one of Kirby’s most well written titles.  Most of the over the top concepts he’s known for have been scaled back in order to focus more on the characters, who are amongst Kirby’s strongest.  But on the other hand, those same larger than life bursts of creativity are what worked best in many of his other books.  I also have trouble with the similiarity to Kirby’s New Gods work over at DC.  The concept of Gods from space is nearly the same, but the approach here is different (the New Gods was more about the creation of the mythology while the Eternals focuses on the effects of mythology instead).

I can’t help but feel the Kirby is simply recycling ideas from his older books here.  But the additional maturity that is present in the writing helps alleviate my reservations somewhat.  And as always with Kirby, the art is wonderful, and this edition does a very nice job on the reproduction.  So I guess this is a must for Kirby fans, but if you’re new to him you should probably stick to the DC books and his earlier Marvel runs on Thor and the Fantastic Four.

Spotlight On Jack Kirby

June 21, 2008

The collection development bug has bitten me thanks to my getting to help spend down the last of our yearly book budget.  I loved that I was actually asked to help because of of geek credentials.  In the end I orderd a ton of graphic novels, filled in the significant f&sf books from the last year, put together a small collection of noir classics on dvd, and even got to order a bunch of art books.  And now it’s time to share my expertise in what I think is going to be a regular feature here.

There’s only one person I could think of to start off a creator spotlight, and that is Jack “the King” Kirby.  Kirby is probably the single most important artist in the history of American comics.  He’s credited with co-creating Captain America, Thor, The X-Men, the Fantastic Four and too many others to bother naming here.  As an artist he revolutionized the field, as a writer he was decades ahead of his time (just not his dialogue).

The reason Kirby’s been on my mind recently is that DC has been releasing his 70’s works for them in some beautiful new editions, with meticulously restored art.  The Fourth World, OMAC, and the Demon are major works of pop art.  The only problem with them is that they were all cancelled and so they all remain unfinished.  OMAC is probably the worst for this, considering that at the end of issue 8 everyone explodes in order to tie up the loose ends.  But the imagination on display in all of these puts every writer to have come since to shame.

However, I would only recommend these to a library with a sizable graphic novel collection.  For more modest ones I would stick with Kirby’s work at Marvel in the 60’s, particularly his runs on the Fantastic Four and Thor.  I actually really like the black and white essential editions Marvel has put out of these, Kirby’s pencils look really good uncolored, just be warned that these copies are cheaply made so you can expect to reglue pages periodically.  Full color, hardcover editions exist as well, but they are marketed as collector’s items, and carry much higher price tags because of that.