Saturday, May 30, 2015

Tales To Astonish!


Ronin Ro's Tales to Astonish purports to be a biography of Jack Kirby, though admittedly the cover blurb does make some noise about Stan Lee and whatnot. I did learn some things about Jack "King" Kirby reading Ro's chronology of events from the earliest days in the slums of New York City to his days in the army overseas during World War II and right on through his time with Joe Simon and Stan Lee and beyond. Ro dutifully follows Kirby as his main thread, but sadly I don't somehow think Kirby was his main subject.


The early parts of the story seem to move swiftly as Kirby is quickly raised and takes his place among the multitude of young and mostly Jewish artists who were trying to crack into comic strips by way of the junk which were comic books. We race through his time with Joe Simon as the pair work in tandem to upgrade the superhero comic then invent the romance comic. We spend a moment with Kirby after his departure from Simon at DC when he was trying to navigate the politics of those offices and failed.


Which brought him ultimately to Marvel and into a long term partnership with Stan Lee. It's this subject which it seems Ro wanted to analyze and he does so with vast detail, if not always vast insight. We leave Kirby behind in his own journey for long stretches of time, as we follow Stan's story and the development of the Marvel mythos.


The story picks up steam for me personally when we finally get Jack to DC and the creation of the Fourth World materials, which of course were a reaction to his Marvel work and an evolution of it. This section of the book was the most enlightening for me and the most interesting as Ro looks at how the books of the Fourth World were rolled out and then quickly replaced, as he worked in an editorial environment which was at once supportive at first but seemed not to understand the nature of the talent they had employed.


We then travel back to Marvel and the saga begins to lose steam again as Kirby seems to be coming to the end of his truly creative career and comics seem to be losing interest in him. At most stops we find Kirby surrounded by lesser talents who don't get his work and either consider him too crass (DC) or too old (later Marvel).


I get the sense that Ro expected us as Kirby fans to be especially touched by the later years in the 80's when Kirby, largely retired from comics was brought back in a few times for particular reasons and was lauded and defended from many quarters as his just due was at long last given in the face of some mighty opposition from the edifice which has become Marvel. It seems a bit overwrought in the presentation as Ro seemed intent on presenting the saga in terms of the personal struggle between Kirby and Lee and how eventually they were able to make amends.


The dynamics of this duo are significant, but it wasn't alas what I expected as the focus of this story. I learned a great deal in Ro's workmanlike narrative, but I wish the insights into Kirby's inner self had been richer and that the attention paid to Stan had been reserved for a book about him.

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2 comments:

  1. If that's what you want, then start judging books by it's cover, silly :P

    It says right on it that it's about "Jack Kirby, Stan Lee & the American Comic Book Revolution" :P which, to me, implies equal billing and/or screen time as well as an overview of what they did, how they did it, what they did *together*(if anything, for the brand-new readers who might know nothing about either man) as well as the result of whatever it was that they actually did & what their accomplishments meant for the future or current state of comics today :)

    TBH, I find this whole "cult of Kirby" thing to be mindlessly pandering & pedantic in saying "Jack Kirby's so great, Stan Lee's nothing or a showoff/stealer" :P same with Ditko :( it's like it's the "cool, hipsterish" thing to do to not like Stan Lee because he has a much higher profile, etc. whatever, I don't know, & it's the same with Bob Kane :\ whose "expose" on Dial B For Blog was one of the worst, most vitriolic pieces of tripe that I've read in a long time, on any subject, unfortunately :( my personal opinion? Blasting Mr. Kane for putting his name on all his projects done by ghosts has about the same amount of "illegitimacy" as Mr. Disney putting out all his animated films with the 'Disney" signature on it but not actually hand-drawing every frame & cel all by his lonesome self :P

    Either way, these were great talented men who have their strengths & legacies, most of which I appreciate :D

    PS: I've seen Mr. Ditko's "response" to Stan's ownership/co-creator thingie, blah, blah, blah...so just ask yourself this: "Would Steve had come up with the concept of Spider-Man if left completely on his own devices?" & "If Spider-Man had been a one-issue wonder, an experiment that completely flopped, would Steve have thought twice about never seeing the character again if Stan just said, 'Well, let's do something different like this instead?'?" :\

    ...*NOW* you start to see my point :P :) :D

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    1. Yeah I saw the blurb. But that's not how the narrative of this book flows nor is it how this book is advertised. It presumes to be a biography of Kirby, it does so sort of, but with a focus that seems to undermine that seeming intent.

      That said, what you say is fair. Clearly Ro's focus is what it is, despite what I thought it might be, but I just think he creates a book which is neither fish nor fowl. Neither a sufficiently focused bio nor broadly sufficient exploration of the Marvel mythos.

      Now don't presume I am a Kirby acolyte, merely because I am. I think that the special magic which he and Stan created is distinctive and has had a remarkable resonance over the decades. He needed Stan to make his creations sing. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking Stan created much of anything after Jack left. Stan's a great guy, I don't doubt it, but he was part of a team like Joe Simon before him, and both made great use of the talents of a man who was often as self-defeating as he was creative.

      As Ditko, he didn't create Spider-Man out of whole cloth, he was inspired by Stan's suggestions but certainly the philosophy which emanates from some of those issues is pure Ditko and he has created many heroes since which evince the same attitude.

      As for Bob Kane I think you are on much weaker territory. Kane was a savvy businessman, but there's little or no evidence he was much of a comic book creator since he hardly ever created any comics after his first few years.

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