Return Of The King

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Nothing can get me off my big, fat, non-blogging butt faster than the 97th anniversary of Jack “King” Kirby’s birth!

To celebrate, here’s a classic tale written and drawn by The King himself from Harvey’s post-Code science-fiction anthology, Alarming Tales. Entitled “Forbidden Journey,” the main character of the tale embodies the adventurous spirit that typified Kirby’s own career over the decades.

The story originally appeared in Alarming Tales #4 (Harvey Comics, March 1958).

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The last panel just seems to sum up everything regarding Jack Kirby and his contributions to comics and culture in general. We are all in his debt.

If you would like to own higher quality reprints of Kirby’s (and Joe Simon’s) science-fiction work with Harvey and other publishers, pick up the beautiful hardcover collection issued in 2013 by Titan Books,  The Simon And Kirby Library: Science Fiction ASAP!

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

Today’s pick is easily one of my all-time favorite Pre-Code horror stories. I first encountered an edited version of “The Greatest Horror…” in DC’s brief series of Black Magic reprints of the 1970s, but the tale achieves its greatest impact free of Comics Code restrictions.

The big question, of course, is who exactly is this “great horror?” Is it one of the freaks who populate the story, or – in the fashion of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s X-Men, the prejudice and hatred that lurks within “normal” mens’ hearts?

Our Four-Star Fright Fest – along with the entire 31-day Halloween marathon – concludes with “The Greatest Horror Of Them All” by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

The story originally appeared in Black Magic #29 (Prize Comics, March-April 1954).

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The King Of Comics

Today is the 95th anniversary of Jack Kirby’s birth.

My first experience with the King of Comics was New Gods #1, an experienced that would warp any 11-year-old’s mind. (Throw in Jim Starlin’s Warlock and Steve Englehart’s Dr. Strange and you can probably figure out why I love posting left-of-center comics like The Eye … )

I followed Kirby’s career through the never-completed Fourth World saga, OMAC, Kamandi, The Demon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur and his underrated mid-‘70s run on Captain America.

Heck, I even loved his Pacific Comics output and was thrilled to note the King’s touch on the early-80s classic post-apocalyptic toon, Thundarr The Barbarian.

Cheap reprint comics were plentiful back in the day as well, so I was also able to learn how Kirby revolutionized the comics industry with Stan Lee and Joe Simon.

To this day, Jack Kirby remains my favorite creator. His work simply epitomizes everything I love about the medium of comics.

To celebrate this milestone anniversary, here’s the entirety of Alarming Tales #1 (Harvey, September 1957) minus ads and text pages. Each of the stories were written and drawn by The King, and observant readers will note the introductions of several concepts that would one day fully flower in The Fourth World Saga and Kamandi.

With Great Chutzpah …

In the midst of the imbroglio over Alan Moore and Before Watchmen, Rob Steibel’s Kirby Dynamics blog reminds us that Marvel’s record of caring for creators isn’t any better.

In a new documentary about Stan Lee, “The Man” takes sole credit for creating the Black Panther when history indicates that some guy by the name of Jack Kirby had just as much – if not more – involvement in conceiving the character.

Lee also claims credit for The Falcon, when the idea – as originally revealed in the forward to a Marvel Masterworks Captain America volume – apparently originated from the mind of Gene Colan.

Guess those constant cameos in every single Marvel film, cartoon and video game weren’t enough to stroke Stan’s ego…

Poor Man’s Batman

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As conceived by writer France Heron and artist Jack Kirby, Mr. Scarlet was Fawcett’s answer to Batman, one that was every bit as cold and ruthless as Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s original depiction of The Dark Knight.

The tone of the series rapidly softened, however, as the Crimson Crusader (Hey, why not?) adopted a sunnier attitude and picked up a teenage sidekick, the unfortunately named Pinky. Competent, if unexciting, adventures ensured.

Somewhere along the way, though, somebody in the Fawcett bullpen came up with a brilliant idea: What happens when a masked crime fighter succeeds beyond his wildest dreams?

In the case of Mr. Scarlet, a district attorney in his civilian life, the hero finds himself standing in the unemployment line. The character was so good at his work that illegal activities in Gotham City – believe it or not, Scarlet’s hometown was identified as such in Wow Comics # 1 – ground to a screeching halt and the good citizens no longer required the services of criminal law attorneys.

The end result effectively lampooned the concept of millionaire crime-fighters as Mr. Scarlet literally became the “poor man’s Batman.” The remainder of his adventures, which lasted until 1948, found the super-hero struggling to support himself and his ward as he continued battling the threat of the month.

Until Peter Parker came along 14 years later, I’m not sure comics saw a more hard-luck super-hero than Fawcett’s Mr. Scarlet.

From Wow Comics # 21 (Fawcett, January 1944), here’s the excellently titled “Out To Lunch – With Danger.” The art is uncredited, but the story is provided by one of the medium’s greatest writers: Otto Binder.

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No Ordinary Joe

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The comic-book world lost one of its greatest innovators this week. Joe Simon, the co-creator of Captain America and – heck – entire genres of comics with Jack Kirby passed away Wednesday at the age of 98.

Although many tributes have already mentioned Simon & Kirby’s most prominent creation – a certain star-spangled Avenger – Joe Simon will always hold a unique spot in my geeked-out heart for his whacked out masterpieces of the late ‘6os and early ‘70s: Brother Power The Geek and Prez.

I have to admit that both series warped my young, impressionable mind and helped me realize how comics could communicate more outré concepts than costumed musclemen beating the crap out of one another.

Simon, of course, was responsible for much more than DC oddities. Along with his famous partner, he created such landmark titles as Boy Explorers and Young Romance. Simon also founded and edited one of the more interested Mad knock-offs, Sick Magazine.

While the creation Captain America alone would enough for most writer-artists to consider themselves successful, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s accomplishments are proof positive of just how great an impact two visionaries can have on an art form.

Simon and Kirby, after all, did far more than create characters. They created the back-bone of an entire industry.

From Black Cat #6 (Harvey Comics, June-July 1947) here’s a brilliant, off-beat tale by Joe Simon starring “His Highness, The Duke Of Broadway.” The story is entitled “Fear.”

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War And Peace

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In celebration of the 94th anniversary of Jack Kirby’s birth, here’s a story from the very beginning of the King’s legendary partnership with the equally great Joe Simon.

Kirby first met Simon while working at Fox Publications. The two decided to freelance together and began their long collaboration with a memorable story from the second issue of Novelty Press’ Blue Bolt Comics.

The tale – which features one of the great femme fatales of the Golden Age, The Green Sorceress – may strike modern readers as odd given the heroes’ willingness to wage a brutal war against their enemies. They even resort to brainwashing as a means of securing victory.

While such tactics are usually attributed to anti-heroes – or form the basis of an over-hyped mini-series – in contemporary comics, Simon and Kirby’s early comics reflected their acute concerns regarding Hitler’s expansion in Europe.

(An issue they would tackle more overtly with their most famous creation, Captain America.)

At that point in comics history, super-hero comics were much more freewheeling. Even the Big Blue Boy Scout himself, Superman, felt free to toss criminals and sabouteurs to their deaths if it meant innocent lives would be saved.

To Simon and Kirby, who were following in the traditions of pulp characters like The Shadow and classic adventure fiction such as Dumas’ Three Musketeers, heroic figures utilizing any and all means possible to secure peace seemed perfectly natural.

Here are “The Green Sorceress and the Cyclotron” from Blue Bolt Comics Vol. 1 #2 (Novelty Press, July 1940) and “The Green Sorceress Reforms” from Blue Bolt Comics Vol. 1 #3 (August, 1940).

The story and art for both stories are by Simon and Kirby.

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