The King and I
The Power and the Pride!
By Desmond Reddick
27 March 2008 — Last time I told you I was introduced to Kirby's work with the cover of Satan's Six #1. It wasn't until a year later — when I discovered a hidden gem in a dusty 10¢ bin at a flea market — that I fully realized the power of Jack Kirby. I am proud to say that the first issue I ever bought featuring full art by Kirby was Fantastic Four #87. Well, it was actually the 1977 reprint issue Marvel's Greatest Comics #69, but I digress.
I could write a doctoral thesis on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's monumental Fantastic Four run. There has never been — and will never be — another creative team that has come close to the boundless creativity and sheer wonder portrayed in those issues. With 1200-ish words I can't begin to go into exactly why I like the seminal run, but I can tell you why I chose this issue to review; not only was it the first one I read, it also represents everything to love about Kirby and his run on that series.
My name is Desmond Reddick and I am a Kirbyphile. In this column, I'll be breaking things down into three sections: the good, the bad and the Kirby.
Fantastic Four #87 was published in June of 1969 and features the writing of Stan Lee, embellishment by Joe Sinnott and letters by Artie Simek.
The premise: Having just been saved from an attack by Doctor Doom, the FF mount a counterattack on the Latverian Royal Castle in order to rescue an undercover SHIELD agent.
The good: Everything? I honestly don't know what there is to dislike about this issue. The first page, in true Silver Age fashion, is a splash page that recaps the previous issue and then the Thing proceeds to throw a freaking clock tower at a balcony full of soldiers! Doom's first appearance in this issue is one of my favorite Kirby illustrations, and is very reminiscent of his Fourth World-era work. Kirby's art is on point throughout, including a glut of action that leads to Sue Storm and Crystal being — wait for it — invited to dinner by Doom. Yeah, that's right: Victor von Doom is a playa!
Despite the art, this issue is comparable to all Fantastic Four stories of the era; it's uncommon compared to any other comic you'll ever read. The story, beginning in medias res, is a radically explosive and frantic battle scene that has Doom defeating the FF with hypersonics (controlled by his grand piano) and, of course, with his many minions. Near the end he has the FF in his clutches. As he prepares to unleash his diabolical plan (I'm assuming it has something to do with getting back at that "cursed Reed Richards"), his henchman, in an effort to please his master, breaks out the flamethrower and attempts to kill the rat SHIELD agent in — Doom's gallery of priceless stolen art. Turns out Doom's an art lover, and kills his henchman with the aforementioned hypersonics. He then sends the Fantast Four away to lick their wounds, as he is "weary of the game." The best part about the issue, besides Thing throwing the clock tower, is how Sue Storm looks back at Doom after he has released her from captivity. There is a gentle but confused look on her face as she ponders the tyrant's motivations.
It is as complex a story from the Silver Age gets, and does not disappoint. This issue also continued the trend of Doom being a very mysterious character. When I originally read this, I was used to the Doom of the 1980s and 90s, which is an entirely different beast altogether. Doom, to me, was always the maniacal tormenter with an unquenchable thirst for power. This opened my eyes to other aspects of his character, the aspects that had all but been abandoned.
The bad: There is only one thing I would possibly complain about in this book. There is a three-panel break in the story to set up a future storyline that seems so awkward and sore-thumbish that I even said, "Yikes!" I thought the Yancy Street Gang had pasted a different set of panels over the book I was reading. Those blasted kids! I'll kill 'em! Anyway, the fourth panel brings us back to the Human Torch with an arrow-shaped caption that reads: "And now that we've sneakily laid the groundwork for next ish... onward." I've been hit in the face with sneakier bricks, but Silver Age cheese is acceptable now and again.
I also suppose those with little understanding of Doom would laugh at his behavior. They would also be wrong. Even with a huge chip on his shoulder and revenge on his mind, Doom is still royalty. He would be civil to his enemies' female friends — while he attempted to kill the men, of course. He would also bend over backwards to make them comfortable. Why he cuts off the battle when he is about to win? Well, that's what makes him Doom. He isn't Red Skull. He has a powerful sense of honor and pride. If things aren't going exactly as planned, he very well may scrap the whole operation and fight another day.
The Kirby: Kirby's work on this issue is both typical and atypical of his Fantastic Four run. It's typical in that the action has his trademark bombastic style. When there is an explosion that throws people, most artists draw the characters as if they are shielding themselves or rolling with the force of the blast. Kirby, however, chose to be grounded in reality and drew rag dolls. This is indicative of his style. Whatever people say about his anatomy, his sense of movement is as real as it gets. His characters are not static images, they are full of potential energy. It's what makes his action scenes exciting to read. They not only depict snapshots of the implied action, they are like frames of a film. Movement is not only implied, it is captured.
It is this that defines Kirby's style and sets him apart from all of his contemporaries. This is what makes Kirby's four-panel layout more exciting than other Silver Age four-panel layouts. The time between panels is often the same, but it is the quality of those panels that lead the mind to believe it is seeing a more complete set of actions.
What is atypical about Kirby's work on this issue is the precise detail of his backgrounds. Earlier issues of Fantastic Four had detailed backgrounds (an area Kirby always excelled at), but not like this issue. In fact, the intricacy of lines, patterns and details is very much indicative of what Kirby would unleash later in his Fourth World books, a time marked by vibrant Pop Art and fantastic machines.
Final thoughts: What else is there to say about this book? It captures everything about Kirby that I love: the action, the patterned lines and — yes — the crackle. It gave me a new insight to one of Marvel's top tier villains, and it has a large orange rock-man throwing a clock tower into a balcony — to get their attention! What more do you want?