Sunday, June 14, 2009

Discovering Jack Kirby

Recently, I ordered a stack of reading copies of bronze-age Marvel books off eBay. The books were cheap, and I've discovered over the past year that I seem to really enjoy the sensibilities of that era of comics. I'm also (finally) discovering how awesome the work of Jack Kirby is.

I know, I'm late to the Kirby party. I started reading comics in 2000, and have read mostly current stuff, occasionally venturing as far back as the 1980's. But when DC began publishing Final Crisis, and so many elements of Kirby's Fourth World seemed important, I bought the first two volumes of the Fourth World Omnibus to take a look at the source. Those two volumes astonished me for how quickly and easily they read, especially for books that contained such massive cosmic sagas.

But this stack of books from eBay contained some big surprises. Several of the books offered re-printings of older Marvel stories. I found myself devouring an issue of Marvel Double Feature, or Marvel's Greatest Comics for the Captain America and Fantastic Four stories they contained. As a rule, I tend more towards writers than artists, but Kirby's work is very strong and very distinctive. The Fantastic Four story (one of the original Lee/Kirby... number 87 to be specific) took on a life of it's own. I couldn't stop turning the pages, and for the first time I think I began to understand why the title was as successful as it was.

But the book that surprised me the most was an issue of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Where I expected a quick movie tie-in, I found instead a completely different take on a licensed book. Instead, Kirby (writing and drawing) painted a dystopian future where human-kind had destroyed their environment, and submerged themselves in fictions to escape the horror they had made of their home. And in this setting, a man from the year 2040 encounters the Monolith from the original story, which sends his life shooting off in a very different direction. This wasn't the story I was expecting to read when I opened the pages, but now it's something I want more of.

With HeroesCon drawing near, I don't imagine I'll have enough of a budget to purchase an early Fantastic Four issue, but something like 2001? Maybe. I plan to keep my eyes open, that's for sure.

1 comment:

p said...

Machine Man showed up for the first time in Kirby's 2001: Space Odyssey, I think. I've only read 1 issue of it, and I think I'll need another 1 to have a meaningful opinion about it.