The King and I
Scrutiny on the Bounty
By Desmond Reddick
13 March 2008 — The months before my 13th birthday began what was to become a lifelong love affair with one man's work. I had heard the name Jack Kirby before but never actually knew of his impact. After all, it was always said that Stan Lee created everything at Marvel. But it was Todd McFarlane's name that sold me on Satan's Six #1. It wasn't Todd's art that sold me; he inked Kirby's cover. When I bought that issue, I had no idea what was in store for me. That was the year I became a fan of Jack Kirby. It was also the year he passed away.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were very productive partners at Marvel. Together they created hundreds of characters. It is, in my opinion, rather obvious that Stan Lee's creative output had its heyday in that Silver Age. No slight, Stan has probably had more brilliant ideas sitting on the crapper than I will in my entire life. But it is fact that Kirby never slowed down. In fact, he continued to create until his last days. Every few years sees a surge of new Kirby creations coming to the comic market, making him the comic industry's version of Tupac Shakur.
My name is Desmond Reddick and I am a Kirbyphile. In this column I'll be dissecting works by Kirby, works inspired by Kirby and works that can be considered his legacy, all with an appreciation for classic style and a modern eye. I'll be breaking things down into three sections: the good, the bad and the Kirby. There was a reason I mentioned Satan's Six earlier, because in this first installment of The King and I, I'll be looking at another — more recent — instance where his ideas were adopted by friends and, in this case, a relative.
Jack Kirby's Galactic Bounty Hunters is a Marvel Icon book based on a conceptual sketch of characters meant for a Captain Victory story. The creative team consists of co-writers Lisa Kirby (Jack's daughter) and Steve Robertson, and artist Mike Thibodeaux (longtime Kirby family friend).
The premise: Jack Berkley — sigh — is a cartoonist whose comic book, The Galactic Bounty Hunters, is a top seller, but his son Garrett can't stand him. It turns out that Jack's comics are actually autobiographical, and he is a Galactic Bounty Hunter named Mainframe who retired to raise his kids on Earth. But when his rebellious son is kidnapped by Slugg, son of his greatest enemy Ma Slugg, it's time to get the old gang back together and bring some good ol' interstellar action.
The good: The simple plot brings to mind old science fiction B movies and has a bit of the self-referential awareness so prevalent in his original Fantastic Four run, but it falls as flat as most of the humor in this book. There is a certain endearing 1960s feel to Bounty Hunters, but it is only in style and not in delivery. Lisa Kirby has seen enough of her father's books to know how they were written, but it appears that someone more familiar with the six-issue arc format has gotten in her ear. (More about that later.) To be quite frank, there's not a lot to like about this series. The thing I liked most is that Marvel is seemingly in the process of reprinting everything Kirby has ever created for them in colored trade paperbacks — according to the advertisements, anyway. But where are all those Timely Comics reprints, Marvel?
The bad: The major issue I had with this series is just that — it's a series! It did its best to capture the magic of those books from the 60s, but the six-issue format made it exhausting to read. Had Kirby crafted this, it would have been completed in one issue with a cliffhanger ending. The narration made me feel as though I were reading Chris Claremont. I absolutely abhor it when pictures of people doing heroic things are accompanied by narration of the characters saying, "I'm doing heroic things." It made me try an experiment: after reading the last three issues of this series, I prepared the coffee machine for the next morning while narrating by actions. "I am putting one scoop of fine-grind coffee for every two cups of water. Once I have finished this, I put one more scoop for that extra kick. I now must make sure to check that the preset time is 7:00a and not 7:00p like it was last week — gee whiz, what a trial that day was!" It's just plain dumb, and was only used by Stan Lee to explain what the hell Reed Richards was doing attaching his atomic debollicker to Galactus' purple frock. It's Debollicking Time! It is acceptable to do this for one issue nowadays as homage, but over six issues — it's enough to make one pour paint thinner over their frontal lobe. This I don't recommend.
Furthermore, this is a story based around a team of Bounty Hunters who have a heightened code of non-violence, yet their weapons are unarguably made for killing. But you are saying, "C'mon, Desmond! At least they go around bounty hunting, right?" You'd think so, wouldn't you? In case my unimpressed tone is not coming through in this response, no, they do absolutely no bounty hunting. Now quit asking these silly questions and let me get on with it!
I also would like to write a little note to Ms. Kirby concerning her handling of comic fandom in relation to her father:
You do a great disservice to your father's legacy by portraying his counterpart as a man who dislikes his fans. Your father was maybe the kindest man in comic book history, and if you actually paid attention to all those people you say came to your house to talk to your father, you would know that the vast majority of comic book fans are not all rude, elitist, deluded basement-dwellers obsessed with screwing over people for profit.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to climb the stairs to ground level, gas up my Quinjet and head to the comic store before it closes so I can pawn these issues of Galactic Bounty Hunter I've forged your name on.
Zalnok, Destroyer of Suns
The art in this book is very uneven. After reading the back matter, available throughout the series, we learn that Mike Thibodeaux had learned to draw with his left hand after an earthquake ruined his right. Funnily enough, it is the best rendered issue of the lot. It does its best to ape Kirby's style and does so in the otherworldly character design quite well, but the human characters and many of the alien characters look like a cross between Tom Grummet and Mark Bagley — their styles, I mean. This just doesn't fit a Kirby-style book. Many of the ships and weapons are also lovingly rendered in Kirby's trademark style, but it suffers from the rest of the art: there is no vibrancy to it. One can imitate Kirby, but they can never duplicate him. Kirby Crackle or not, there is just something about a piece of The King's art that lives and breathes, but this just laid flat on the page.
The Kirby: Pieces of Kirby's artwork are thrown in willy-nilly. (That, coincidentally, was the first time I've ever typed "willy-nilly.") There are also several Kirbyisms, as previously mentioned: the technology, the alien character designs (including riffs on Fin Fang Foom and the New Gods), the requisite Kirby Crackle and more, but it all comes across as posturing and is entirely devoid of the feel Kirby's books had. The self-referential aspect of the main character and his comic book did make me smile a little — it made me think of his Fantastic Four run — but it gets old when Garrett keeps recognizing his father's characters throughout the series: "Garm... Skylla... Tyr... You guys exist too!?" The previous quote is taken from issue five, but is representative of how Garrett acts in every issue.
Final thoughts: It seems unfair to say this book is bad because it doesn't live up to Kirby, because nothing really can. But in recent months I've seen issues of Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four, Atomic Robo and a few other books that capture the feel of a Kirby story. Jack Kirby's Galactic Bounty Hunters does not capture that feeling. I wanted this to be a cool return to Kirby's unrealized properties, but it suffers from the same thing as the Topps Comics run from the early 1990s: all intent and no follow-through.