Saturday, September 30, 2017

Return Of The King (1977-1978)!

Jack "King" Kirby wrapped up his career at Marvel in 1978. He'd returned to the "House of Ideas" after an astonishing but ultimately dissatisfying turn at DC and found a publisher which while no longer dominated day-to-day by Stan "The Man" Lee was still ambivalent about the epic contributions of Kirby. Reports hummed that Kirby suffered some disrespect from staffers who had disdain for Kirby's accomplishments, little recognizing apparently that they owed their jobs to the success of  his creations.  It was mixed though and the slights might be overstated. Whatever the case, Kirby felt the need to move on and went into animation where he finally found some degree of financial freedom after decades of worry. Here are Kirby's final covers for the publisher, many of which are still quite impressive and as usual with  his work quite memorable.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Captain Victory - The Graphite Edition!

One of the finest pieces of my Kirby collection is Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers - Graphite Edition. This jewel published by Twomorrows Publishing captures the original story by Jack Kirby which was the form the basis for his own comic book company in the late 70's. That didn't come to pass and later the project was put forth as a screenplay.

Then Pacific Comics came calling and Kirby dusted off the good Captain, revised the story a bit and started a whole series and by extension a whole new side of the comic book industry when Captain Victory became the first direct sales comic by a major mainstream comic book talent.

Seeing Kirby's work in the raw is a spectacle in itself. He put so much into the pencils that it's fascinating to see what inkers brought to the mix. Kirby reputedly had little interest in inks, preferring to get on to the next story, because as much as I admire the dynamics of his artwork, it was making that serve the needs of storytelling which really marks the genius of Kirby. The Captain Victory Graphite Edition captures that beautifully. Highly recommended.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Silver Star - The Graphite Edition!

The cult of Jack "King" Kirby has no more ferocious voice than the folks at Twomorrows Publishing. John Morrow and his gang have built a small empire from the once humble pages of The Jack Kirby Collector. For a Kirby fan the magazine still delivers, though I have to confess that we seem to have run out of much new to say about his contributions. But it doesn't stop me from droning on and it doesn't seem to be slowing down there either.

One of the more impressive accomplishments was the publication of Silver Star - The Graphite Edition which puts into print the story of the Pacific superhero, one of Kirby's last new creations in its original pencil form. Kirby famously xeroxed his pages and from those which survive the folks at Twomorrows cobbled together the saga of Morgan Miller and the fiend Darius Drumm. A few pages are by necessity published from printed versions, but the whole yarn is here. Along with that is a fascinating introduction and the screenplay which was the original format of this story before it was adapted to comics.

This is a gem for any Kirby fan.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Machine Man - Mister Ditko!

After the departure of Jack Kirby from Marvel for the last time in the late 70's, he left two projects behind. Devil Dinosaur was cancelled and Machine Man was put on hiatus. It returned from hiatus following a high-profile guest-star appearance in The Incredible Hulk.

The series also returned with a new and talented team of creators. Steve Ditko is the other artistic pillar of the early Marvel era and along with Marv Wolfman as a scripter Ditko took on the Machine Man and made him distinctive Ditkoesque.

The first thing the team does is de-power Machine Man, taking away some of his gimmicks and presumably limiting his powers. As it turns out they largely ignore these changes going forward and as with the Kirby books, the Machine Man does pretty much what he needs to do to defeat the villain of the day such as the Binary Bug, a classic Ditko burglar type came with a then trend-setting computer motif.

In a story which can only be considered weird, X-51 gives oddball birth to a quintet of humans/gods who attempt to enlighten their "father" before ascending into the heavens.  As I said, this one is weird all the way through.

More standard is the battle Machine Man has with Khan the master of the dirigible home dubbed "Xanadu". The crime lord wants X-51's body for his own purposes to evade mortality, but things don't go as he'd planned.

In the last Wolfman scripted tale, Machine Man has to battle a man pretending to be him (he's green on this cover so it doesn't make sense here)  and working to defend the city and his own reputation.

Tom DeFalco steps in as writer with the fifteenth issue and there is a feeling of greater pace almost immediately. Machine Man matches wits with the Fantastic Four (at least Thing and Torch) while battling a woman who has undergone a terrifying transformation.  We also meet Gears Garvin, a mechanic who comes to X-51' assistance when his legs are damaged.

Gears returns in the next issue when Machine Man must battle a full-blown super-villain named Baron Brimstone, a user of magic maybe and his two henchman who form the Satan Squad. This trio has a real old-fashioned Ditko feel to them.

In the next issue we meet Madam Menace, an arms dealer who covets Machine Man's body for profit. She schemes to get hold of him and loses. Rich Buckler is handling covers on the next few issues.

She returns in the next issue as X-51 comes into conflict with three members of Alpha Flight (Sasquatch, Northstar and Aurora) who are manipulated into the fight by the forgotten Senator Brinkman. This is his swan song as his role comes out and he is disgraced.

Issue nineteen is the last one and sports a handsome Frank Miller cover. Machine Man battle a new villain named Jack O'Lantern who reminded this reader mightily of Green Goblin. This is another slam bang action issue and at the end we have Machine Man reflective about his future.

Machine Man though was now firmly ensconced into the Marvel Universe and he'd show up in sundry places for many years. The final story by Ditko appeared of all places in Marvel Comics Presents and it features art by the great man which was slightly more exotic than his late 70's style. A robot wants access to Machine Man's parts and it's a hoot.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Day In The Anti-Life - Kneeling Power!

The Crackpot-In-Chief has done it again. In an effort to distract the public attention from his myriad and profound inadequacies, he has thrown out the vitriolic red meat his sycophants so enjoy to chew on. I suppose he thought he was on pretty safe ground with his fans when he tried to twist the controversial protests around the national anthem in the NFL and elsewhere to serve his immediate  needs. But this one didn't turn out quite like he expected, though I suspect he's still pretty satisfied with the sheer spectacle and the fact he's once again at the center of a new media controversy.

Colin Kaepernick has succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings I have to think, despite the current unwillingness to add him to a roster. When he opted to take a knee during the national anthem, an act of protest intended to be sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter protests in the streets and elsewhere around the nation, he was making a move which has captured the collective imaginations of the country. Folks were supportive or they were not, but as far as I can tell, few folks don't have an opinion. His protest was at once a poke in the eye of game which tries to have it both ways when it comes to race. An industry in which almost exclusively white men employ a large cadre of black men to work for them is a showcase for the ruptures of race relations in this country. It reeks of the classic plantation and despite the large sums which many garner, it can never not be about men of color sacrificing their bodies (and as we are learning their minds) so that white men can make a profit.

It's a perfect place for Kaepernick's protest and the reaction to that protest points up many of the conflicts in the country. I keep hearing mealy-mouthed folks suggest they are in sympathy with Kaepernick's cause but wish he'd have found some other means to make his point. But they miss the point and purpose of protest, to leverage whatever power one might have to make a larger point by inconveniencing others so that they will pay some small attention. Marching in a street and blocking traffic for some measure of time, shouting slogans and upsetting the public quiet for a bit, whatever the means, it must make some folks uncomfortable or it's not going to have much effect. Kaepernick's protest afflicts many who want their sports to be free of politics, but fail to realize that the insertion of the anthem at the sporting event is in itself a political act.

Our "so-called" President is a racist. I don't mince my words on that point, as it's been demonstrated many times over. Folks don't want to admit that simple fact, but that doesn't make it any less true. When he's under stress his racist attitudes emerge as a natural impulse to fend off those people he feels threaten him. It is his racism which makes him comfortable waging this new tempest he's picked out, which speaks to a base which is itself peopled by racists and folks who are intentionally ignorant of  how power is distributed in this country.  This latest brouhaha will blow over just as most of his little ploys do, but the defiance demonstrated by the NFL has to sting a little bit, even as it serves his larger purposes.

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