The King and I
Kaiju Kirby: The Stone Age
By Desmond Reddick
16 June 2009 — Most Atlas-era aficionados and hardcore Marvel fans will already know that the green-skinned goliath was not the first creature created by Jack Kirby to be called The Hulk. Few will remember the much more interesting and far cooler Marvel namesake progenitor: Colossus. Way before the steel Soviet sprung from the pages of Giant-Sized X-Men #1, the shadow of the Colossus already spread far across the landscape of the Marvel Universe's Soviet Union.
If Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are known for anything other than creating the Marvel Universe, it's for making awesome giant monster comics — sometimes three times a month. Tales of Suspense #14 is not only no exception, it's one of the best. It birthed, or carved out as the case may be, one of the most enduring and yet obscure giant monsters in comic book history.
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.
Tales of Suspense #14 was cover dated February of 1961 by Atlas Comics, and the lead story covered here is titled "I Created the Colossus!" by an unknown writer (most likely to be Stan Lee or Kirby himself) with pencils by Jack and inks by Dick Ayers. It was reprinted in Monsters on the Prowl #17 in 1972, which was where yours truly got his pre-adolescent mitts on it.
The premise: Sensing dissent, a Soviet army official kills two birds with one stone by getting his suspected anti-communist sculptor brother to make amends by creating the world's largest statue to prove a symbol of strength and invincibility of the Soviet menace. He does so with reservation by taking months to carve the huge stone monolith until, upon completion, he is alerted to a crashed UFO. The sculptor is chased by a bizarre crab-alien who phases into the head of the statue, animating it. This happens in the first few pages of the 18-page story, while the rest of it is dedicated to the rampage the Colossus takes across the country. Destruction is maximum, and the entire Soviet Union is at a standstill until the aliens come to rescue their crashed brother — leaving the Colossus stopped cold overlooking the Kremlin. The sculptor informs the government that it will stand there, insuring that they are a true and just ruler over free people.
The good: The story itself is a masterwork of giant monster storytelling. The creature's existence makes sense, for one. It isn't just a crashed monster or unearthed denizen of a time long lost. I took a trip to Budapest a few years back and went to a park on the outskirts of the city (I think it may have actually been called Statue Park) where the government took all of the former Soviet statues littered throughout the country of Hungary and put them in the park as a reminder of the monoliths that used to stare down at them, symbolizing their oppression. Almost all of these statues were of large, muscular men with no features and smooth edges. Think of the Academy Awards' Oscar statue made of stone and at least 20 feet tall, and you have the right idea.
So, the above sets the precedent for the reality of this story and, more importantly, gives the story some rich and powerful political and social subtext. And this story is dripping with it. And I haven't even talked about the art yet!
At 18 pages, this is actually a relatively long story for a double feature, but Kirby manages to bring some good pacing even though it is probably too dense for such a small page count. There is an interesting mixture of art styles, as you can see the Golden Age Kirby, but also Kirby's burgeoning Marvel style.
There are moments of very cool storytelling, such as Colossus escaping the barrage of shells being fired at him by digging into the ground and seemingly burying himself alive before digging back up under his attackers. This encapsulates how off-the-wall some of the Atlas Age stories could be. Great stuff.
There is also an interesting moment early on when the Soviet army officials are talking to each other where it will go from one panel of two soldiers talking, to a panel of Earth as seen from space, back to the soldiers. This seems incredibly jarring on its own, but just a few pages later, we see it was merely foreshadowing the alien's arrival.
The Colossus is an example of great character design in its simplicity. Oftentimes, the giant monsters were flashy and intricate. Not here, my friends. The Colossus is just a looming, massive stone man with few distinguishing features beyond its size.
The last positive of this story has little to do with the story itself. Colossus is one of the more enduring of the giant monsters in the Marvel Universe. He returned for a sequel in Tales of Suspense #20, four consecutive issues of Astonishing Tales and in various other incarnations over the years as recent as 1994. You never know, he may still pop up tomorrow!
The bad: I rarely have bad things to say about Kirby's art, but this time I must. Regardless of how good the storytelling and character designs are, this story is marred by one glaring problem: the size of Colossus.
I have done the math — because I'm a nerd — and it just doesn't add up. Let me get technical for a second. As the alien chases the sculptor, we see that they're roughly the same size when the alien is hunched over. So, I will assume, at a very fair estimate the alien is roughly six or seven feet tall. Early on, it enters the stature through the back of its head and he stands from the nape of the statue's neck to the bottom of its ears. This makes the alien at seven feet tall, let's say, half the height of the monsters head. The Marvel Way, and general practicality, tells us that a proportionate human is eight heads tall. That would make Colossus 16 times the height of the alien, or 112 feet. Fair enough, that's one huge statue. But, and bear with me here, using my own hand as a measure, the width of the Colossus' hand at the get-go should not be more than the height of a human being.
This is all fair and good and if you're still with me then you will understand the point I'm trying to make. The Colossus stomps across the Soviet Union and enters the ocean where he picks up submarines and crushes them in his hand. One hand. Using the proportions I have so nerdily set forth, as well as the knowledge that a regular nuclear submarine has an average length of somewhere shy of 600 feet, Colossus should be able to ride the Submarine like a large horse, but most certainly not pick it up and crush it in one hand.
So, in all, the Colossus goes back and forth from 100-ish feet to at least 1500 feet over the course of the story. Talk about inconsistency! In the span of two pages, the Colossus crushes a submarine in one hand, rides a fighter jet into the atmosphere, then swats them out of the sky King Kong-style. It's all a little too much.
Now, to be fair, Kirby probably had four or five other issues to draw that month and knocked this sucker off in a day or two, but it is a serious stumbling point in my ability to enjoy this story as much as I should.
The Kirby: As I mentioned earlier, this looks a lot more like Jack's Golden Age work than the style we would get to see mere months later. This is very indicative of the Atlas-era monster stories of the time, where the style of art was more of a house style that Kirby would adhere to. Later on in the Marvel Universe, Kirby's style would develop and then become the house style at Marvel. It's interesting to see it in evolution here.
The biggest standout is the movement of the people Colossus is running over. In true Kirby fashion, the impossible looks possible. This lends a lot of credence to the art. It's almost enough to make me overlook the fluctuating size of our monster.
Final Thoughts: Besides the glaring issues with the art, this story is still fun, poignant and very indicative of an entire genre of comics Kirby has contributed so much to. While it certainly isn't the best example of a giant monster book, it is one of my favorites in spite of inconsistencies. It goes beyond the Cold War xenophobia and actually offers a fair story from the other side of the Iron Curtain, and for that it deserves more of a spotlight.