Thursday, June 29, 2017

100 Days Of The King - Day 40

Forager, the Bug has proven to be one of the more popular denizens of Jack Kirby's Fourth World. He even has his own comic book as we speak during this centennial year. Kirby was fascinated by these colonies of "bug" cultures and the way in which the individual desires of person were sublimated to the larger cultural needs of the larger society. That's demonstrated dramatically in the scene above where "Prime One" the leader of the Bugs sacrifices himself to fulfill the requirements of the role.

Given more time, I'm sure we'd have seen much more of Forager. He gets to Earth and teamed up with Orion and Lightray, a contrary voice indeed to the high and might citizens of New Genesis.

Michael Allred's Bug

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A Day In The Anti-Life - Small Men!

The "Chattering Class" is fascinated with itself and chief among its number are the denizens of the White House press corp. Since they often conflate what is of key interest to them with what is of key interest to the majority of the country, they spend way too much time talking about personalities in and around the shadows of the White House. An analysis of a lapse in the President's responsibility to communicate with the public is transformed into a battle of personalities and overlong and overwrought talk about who is up and down in the "People's House". The stature of Shawn Spicer is in particular discussed and he seems at this juncture to have been disappeared totally. The blow up with a reporter a few days ago seems emblematic of the breakdown.

Likewise our current "So-Called" President has diminished those who serve at his pleasure by demanding public kowtows such as the recent obsequious Cabinet meeting in which the participants were one-by-one called upon to praise the "Leader". Such behavior is grotesque and embarrassing for Americans, especially Americans who tout liberty and evoke the Founders, characters who were far from ass-kissers of the their government. The swoon of Congress too has belittled them as their avarice and clear intention to suspend all objections and move forward on a healthcare plan that is likely to gut the party. They are willing to cut loose their moral compasses for the simple fact that such brazen cuts are necessary to get the tax cut their one-percenter masters demand.

And so the era of Trump has in exceedingly fast order diminished much of what was once held out as worthy. Public discourse is diminished, public service is demeaned, and our illustrious history is belittled as the lives of those who have come before and defended this land are disregarded. Their sacrifice is forgotten as the powers-that-be publicly suck the cock of the man who would be king.

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The Golden Derby - June 1967!

Fifty years ago this month was a big one for the Charlton universe, such as it was. The second issue of Steve Ditko's Blue Beetle revealed the connection between Ted Kord and his predecessor Dan Garrett. This shouit out to an old series, defunct and supposedly forgotten really gave these Charlton comics a sense of being part of a larger whole. The seeming death of a superhero was still a big deal back when this issue struck the stands and not the tiresome cliche it has become in modern comics lore. Likewise in Captain Atom where up front we get a perfectly fine Ditko and Mastroserio adventure with out titular hero against a worthy opponent, the Firey-Icer, but in the back up series by Dave Kaler and Jim Aparo featuring Nightshade which revealed her origins and tied into the Judomaster comic by having her taught by a grown up Tiger, the Scarlet Smasher's WWII partner. Judomaster and Tiger take on The Acrobat in their own comic by Frank McLaughlin. Charlton offers up its usual gaggle of war books as evidenced by this potent cover for Fightin' Army. Ghostly Tales gives us a stunning cover by Rocke Mastroserio featuring Mr. Dedd as he invites one and all into the Haunted House.

More to come next month.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

100 Days Of The King - Day 39

Toward the end of his comics career Jack "King" Kirby created Captain Victory and The Galactic Rangers which was published by one of the earliest independent companies Pacific Comics. I loved the series, which took vintage sci-fi melodrama and bonded onto that a cosmic scale and echoes of then popular flicks like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It is generally held that Captain Victory is a sequel of unofficial sorts to the grand Fourth World saga. 

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Bolts From The Blue - The Dream Team!

In the hectic early days of the Golden Age of comics the demand for new material seemed to far outstrip the ability of the talent to produce it. It was a mismatch in the marketplace of cheap offerings keeping the really fine talent out. That left youth. It was they up and coming youngsters from the close confines of New York City who fill the gap. They worked for small money in an industry which barely seemed to know it existed, but was beginning to capture the public imagination.

Into this atmosphere stepped Joe Simon, a savvy and talented artist who had honed his skills, such as they were, in local newspapers and as part of studios which supplied talent to the shark-like publishers who were entering the new field. Victor Fox was perhaps the most shark-like of all of them, a self-important loudmouth who called himself "The King of Comics".

His staff made fun of that remark and it became an ironic catchphrase many years later. Simon impressed Fox and was soon producing Blue Bolt, a comic which evoked the essence of the time, namely the science fiction serials such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

In the debut issue of Blue Bolt we meet Fred Parrish, the obligatory football hero who is struck by lightning and finds his way into a weird underground world dubbed Deltos. There he is infused with more lightning power which makes him effectively superhuman with great strength and the ability to fly. He dons a blue costume and with little reflection on the life he left appears to pledge allegiance to the scientist to who made him. The "Scientific City" is in a war with the Green Army led by the alluring Green Sorceress.

The second issue of Blue Bolt brings with it a new flavor as the artwork seems more energetic and alive. That's no accident, as the second Blue Bolt adventure is the first published work by the Joe Simon and Jack Kirby team. Simon seemed well aware what a consummate talent he had discovered with Kirby and was very savvy to hitch his horse to such an artist. Simon's skills were not insignificant as an artist and his skills as a writer and businessman were quite advanced for the time period.

The struggle between Blue Bolt and the Green Sorceress is one of those classic frictions in which there is romantic attraction in combination with fundamental differences in politics. The Sorceress wants to rule of of the tiny world of Deltos and Blue Bolt in service to Dr. Bertoff stands in her way.

The schemes switch back and forth and the Sorceress is captured and then escapes. The story is told not unlike a serial, owing much to its movie inspirations. Each chapter sets up a high-concept bit, but by the end the story is either reset or ends on something akin to a cliffhanger.

Blue Bolt was something of a hit, though Simon and Kirby left the series after ten episodes or thereabouts. The title ran for many years and the character showed up from time to time. Reading these yarns felt at times more like watching the Flash Gordon serials than even reading the original Alex Raymond material which those were based on. Simon and Kirby really tap into that movie vibe quite successfully.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

100 Days Of The King - Day 38

This splash page from Jack Kirby's 1950's tenure at Harvey is a delightful image. It's evocative and mysterious and serves the narrative purpose quite well. The tiny figures laced across the sharp-edged facade work amazingly well.

Of course this story pre-dates the discovery of the somewhat more famous "Face on Mars" discovered by space probes several decades ago and now long since revealed for the optical illusion it was.

But clearly Kirby knew something about establishing a mystery deep in the vastness of space, a mystery of our own origins which escape our understanding yet constantly call out to us to discover.

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The Skull Island Saga!

When I first started my visit to Skull Island it was only supposed to be a six-issue cruise, but then Boom Studios expanded the story of how King Kong came to be the center of a cult on a lost island of forgotten natives. And Kong of Skull Island does move the story line along very neatly, getting to a logical end point by its twelfth and seemingly final issue. I first thought I wouldn't follow along on this extended journey after being less than completely gobsmacked by the first half dozen issues (go here for my review) but I found I didn't want to miss these details and allow inertia to let the issues collect up. Now I've taken them and read them through, and once again it 's a mixed bag. The artwork is lush and in places quite stunning, doing a decent job of moving between human scale and monster scale. But also once again the character designs are so muddled that keeping track of individuals is downright difficult to do. A lack of captioning undermines storytelling which seems to rely on subtle clues to the detriment of clarity. So at many points in the story you're not sure who someone is and what they are trying to do. Even the Kong's getting confusing in places, and yes there are multiple Kongs. I  do like whee this story ends up and it does a dandy job of getting the pieces into position as it is based on Joe DeVito's more recent origin of King Kong. These are not bad comics by any means but a little confusing and that's a shame.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

100 Day Of The King - Day 37

This portrait of the enigmatic Metron is one of Jack "King" Kirby's most fascinating and compelling images as he prepared his "Fourth World". Metron is the character who exists between the nobility of New Genesis and the depravity of Apokolips, he sets himself apart and tries to uncover the secrets of the universe. His quest is ultimately futile as we learn eventually all gods and men must choose.

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Fine Art Of The Fourth World!

In a combination Birthday-Father's Day present to myself (I deserve it don't you know) I picked up the latest Fourth World artist's edition from IDW, The Forever People. These handsome oversize volumes collect up and publish select stories from Jack "King" Kirby's Fourth World saga. Already published in years past are a New Gods volume and a Mister Miracle volume. These are hefty books and they command a hefty price, but for this fanboy of the Fourth World it's a sheer delight to get a look at the King's work, work which is so very personal to me, in such a fascinating format.

For those not of a Fourth World frame of mind, I remind you of IDW's other Kirby offerings. There is Jack Kirby Pencils and Inks which published the complete debut issues of both Kamandi and The Demon. And speaking of the former, there are two full volumes with early Kamandi stories represented. The two Kamandi tomes I do not have, but maybe someday.

For more detail on what is in each of these IDW Artist Editions check out this link.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

100 Days Of The King - Day 36

One of Simon and Kirby's most entertaining creations is Stuntman. While he didn't end up being much of a financial success for Harvey Comics when the duo launched him alongside Boy Explorers after the WWII boom, nonetheless the art and story Joe and Jack produced for this quixotic and amiable character was top notch. Here is a rendition of the character by the 'King" with Jim Steranko supplying the inks. (Of course Steranko was oddly an influence on Kirby when he created Mister Miracle for DC as part of the Fourth World saga.)

Here is that same image minus the Steranko embellishment, just in raw Kirby form.

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The Timely War!

Timely Comics sure lived up its name. The stories and yarns contained in Marvel Firsts: WWII Super Heroes are of the moment, if that moment is the late 30's and early 40's. Marvel (or Timely if you will) bursts onto the comics scene quite literally with Marvel Comcs #1 featuring a demonic looking rendition of the Human Torch. Included in that momentous debut was also the Sub-Mariner and lesser lights like The Angel, Ka-zar, Masked Rider and others. With these and other creations from the Loyd Jacquet studio which had such talents as Carl Burgos and Bill Everett,  With titles like Daring and Mystic Martin Goodman found a toehold in the burgeoning comic book market which had exploded when a certain gentleman from Krypton landed on Earth. Superheroes were the order of the day, but masked vigilantes with a decidedly pulp flavor. The aforementioned Angel was a spin on The Saint despite the bright blue costume, The Fiery Mask battled zombies in his lurid origin story, and Breeze Barton found a lost land hidden between dimensions.

The creativity was strong in many of these stories, but sometimes the craftsmanship was wanting. Primitive is one way to describe the artwork on strips like Blue Blaze and The Falcon, but fascinatingly incompetent might cover the work on The Patriot. The latter is a strip so lame in its presentation that it's no wonder anyone might imagine they could do comics. Alongside these efforts were truly stylistic offerings such as Flexo, the Fin, and Blazing Skull. The war is central to the stories here and heroes like The Destroyer, the Defender, and most famously Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's Captain America are products of that war. This volume is a raucous collection of stories which showcase heroes with simple moral codes and villains who are easy to spot due to the rank racism which infused itself in pop culture of the time. Young Allies even takes that unfortunate aspect and uses it to give us arguably Marvel 's most regrettable character, Whitewash Jones. But I'm a guy who reads stuff in its context, or tries to, and seen as historical documents of a kind, these fast-paced yarns are not only diverting but enlightening. Seeing how we were can help us all to be better.

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