Sunday, October 16, 2011

King Kobra!

Ernie Chan

Jack "King" Kirby's last stand at DC Comics in the mid-70's was a little project titled Kobra. And I consider this comic like near-beer, it sort of tastes the same and looks the same, but it's not really the same at all actually.

Original Kirby Splash Page

The project was originally called "King Kobra" and it was the brainchild of Kirby assistant Steve Sherman, who under the tutelage of Kirby had been given the green light to try his hand at a new feature for DC's First Issue Specials series. He created a story about two characters who chase after one another, one a calm and collected man of some years who works with world police agencies to track down the other, a megolmaniacal leader of a Thugee cult called King Kobra. Kirby looked at the treatment and suggested a Corsican Brothers bond between the two central characters and the comic was born, more or less.

It was scripted, drawn and delivered at about the same moment that Jack Kirby left the DC digs for his return to Mighty Marvel. So the project fell into the hands of Gerry Conway, a Marvel writer taking his talents to DC at the same time. He was given "Conway's Corner", a self-created niche at DC where he could create and write his own projects. Ironically Conway's deal seems to have actually been the deal that Kirby was promised when he switched over some years before, but never actually got to realize because of editorial interference.

Revised Splash Page

Marty Pasko, a novice talent was given the "King Kobra" pages to revise for inclusion in the Conway's Corner. He took the material and employing the significant skills of Pablo Marcos began to slowly but surely revise the original. The protagonist was changed into a twenty-three year old college kid and so his counterpart was also given the gift of youth despite the fact that undermined his cred as world-beating villain. The story became less of a manhunt for the cult leader and more of an accidental meeting of the two "heroes". Many of the faces were changed and almost all the dialogue got transformed, but the basic material drawn by Kirby and inked by Bruce D. Berry was still present.

The story begins in the lair of Kobra as three thugs meet him to arrange some nefarious transaction or other. The three criminals make the mistake of pulling guns on the master villain and he retaliates with a giant robot who he says is from a probe from space. The robot kills the thugs and then Kobra orders it to seek out Jason Burr. The robot leaves and goes on a rampage through New York City. At a resturant Burr is meeting with Lieutenant Perez of the NYPD about Burr becoming part of the investigation into the doings of Kobra. The robot appears and captures Burr but then when the robot crushes down on Burr the pain is also felt by Kobra who then orders his robot to self-destruct. Burr and Perez then drive away and the story of how two siamese twins were separated at birth and one was taken by a mysterious snake cult is related. One grew up to become Burr and the other was raised by the cult to become its legendary leader Kobra. Burr uses the physical link between himself and Kobra to attact the villain and the two meet for the first time but the NYPD is there to attempt a capture. Kobra escapes leaving Burr to ponder his future.

It's not a bad tale as far as it goes. It sets up a decent premise, though the original premise had more direction since it wasn't necessary for the Burr character to be so naive about his origins. I guess the thought was it made him more identifiable, but it resulted I think in making him yet another college kid in a comics world at the time full of such types.

These pages show the artwork in transition, as mostly the pasted on Marcos additions have fallen off, but in some cases can still be seen.

"King Kobra" changed to merely "Kobra" was given its own series and last for seven issues, though there was a hiatus in there somewhere. After the first and only Kirby issue, talents like Marcos and later Michael Nasser drew the adventures of the master villain. The cover of the debut story is by Ernie Chua (not yet Chan) though the text page inside suggests that Joe Kubert will be doing the honors. Everything about the comic wreaks of the last-minute.

I like Kobra okay, but when I see what it was before the hand of Pasko got to it, I think I liked that much better. I'm not upset at Marty Pasko for any reason, he just did what he was told, and he did what he thought best. It is sadly ironic that Kirby's last project for DC at this time was wrought with the same problem his first work at DC had suffered, the replacement of heads by other artists. This time it was Pablo Marcos and not Murphy Anderson, but the result is the same, a lack of real confidence in the immense talents of the "King".

That Kobra still lingers in the DC universe in some fashion is a testament to the talent of Jack Kirby, because even the least of what the King touched still resonates.

Unpublished Kirby Image of King Kobra

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