The King and I
Wish List: The DC Edition
By Desmond Reddick
15 October 2009 — There is no doubt that Jack Kirby is one of, if not the most productive comic book artist of all time. And in this age of the reprint, it is a crime that many of his greatest works are either out of print or have never been reprinted at all.
Seeing as the holiday season will soon be upon us, I thought I'd break format again and talk about the works from Marvel, DC, and other publishers that need to see the reprint treatment. Initially I had decided to cover all of these works in one column, but after further inspection, it became quite obvious that there's enough to spotlight each publisher. So what are the underappreciated gems and classics that have yet to be bound for our enjoyment in the house that Superman built? Let's take a look.
DC is not the worst culprit amongst our negligent publishers, but they do have a lot of trees to kill. The past year has seen a very impressive fusillade of great reprints from DC's Kirby library — from both the Golden and Bronze ages. The entire Fourth World epic, The Demon, The Losers, OMAC, and even Sandman have all received the omnibus treatment. And the Golden Age Newsboy Legion is coming in March. But there is still a bevy of DC work that needs to be packaged in the omnibus-style to make my bookshelf look even awesomer.
Manhunter: The Golden Age exploits of a big-game-hunter-turned-superhero, The Manhunter was a Joe Simon / Jack Kirby collaboration for eight issues of Adventure Comics back in 1944, with a few Kirby penned-issues afterwards. They're pretty standard, but a little bit darker than the norm; think somewhere between the Golden Age Batman-type story and their work on Captain America. In Manhunter they weren't scared to turn on the violence. The war caused a paper shortage and the cutting back of DC's page count made him a casualty of that war. It would certainly be nice to catch some of those classic stories again.
Boy Commandos: The King never drew Batman, but he sure spent a lot of time drawing Detective Comics. In 1942, Jack and Joe debuted their newest kid-gang comic, mixing it with popular war comics of the time. Bouncing around between Detective, World's Finest, and eventually their own series, the Boy Commandos brought juvenile wish fulfillment to the boys who wanted to fight the Ratzis themselves. With the very first "kid gang" series being collected next year, it's only a matter of time before the tiny troopers get their turn.
Black Magic: Call me a horror nut, and I am, but it's a damned crime against humanity that these haven't been collected. Black Magic is a Prize Comics anthology from the 1950s that featured some of the best horror comics of the time, including those done by Simon and Kirby. DC published a nine-issue reprint series collecting the Simon / Kirby stories in the 1970s, and they hold up to this day — as a classic horror comic should.
The Challengers of the Unknown: The Silver Age was just on the horizon, and Jack was still playing in the DC sandbox in 1957 when he created (or at the very least co-created, as the hotly debated issue goes) the series from which the Fantastic Four would spring. The Challs, as they were affectionately known, had a superhero sheen to them with a heavy anchor set in pulp adventure stories. At 16 issues, it's one of the longest-running contributions from Kirby at the time, but it isn't at the top of my wish list; every Kirby issue has already been collected in a volume of Showcase Presents, but it would still be nice to see his work collected on its own in a color hardcover.
Kamandi: One of Kirby's most substantial works for DC in the 1970s — and, indeed, of his career — was a Planet of the Apes cash-in. Though he only planned to do the first issue, Kirby wound up drawing 40 and writing 37 issues before he returned to Marvel in 1976. The first 20 issues of Kamandi have been reprinted in two volumes of DC's Archive line, but those are very pricey and their future is dicey. It is unclear as to whether or not the DC Archives will continue for two more volumes, but it would be very nice if they could start over at a more reasonable price in the omnibus editions. I'm no accountant, but you have to think that more people would buy Kamandi than Sandman and The Newsboy Legion, right?
Miscellaneous: After the substantial runs have been taken care of, there's still the matter of all the odds and ends he did while working for DC. I suppose that the one-off stories he did for various issues of Weird Mystery Tales, The Unexpected, and Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion could be compiled with Black Magic for a horror omnibus (excuse me while I wipe the drool from my chin), but then what of Kobra #1, the 1st Issue Specials, and the other superhero, Western, war, and hero books? And what about the great four-issue Justice, Inc. series written by Denny O'Neil with alternating art by Kirby and Joe Kubert?! How awesome would a mishmash omnibus be? The answer: very awesome.
The fact of the matter is, The King spent two very important periods of his career at the world's biggest comic publisher — the formative and the restriction-free eras — so there's bound to be a glut of work sitting there just rip for reprinting.
DC is where Kirby and Simon got into their groove before moving to Marvel to create their greatest character. It was also a time when superheroes were not the most popular genre of the day; a time when the Western, horror, and space opera were all vying for the top spot.
After cutting his teeth and becoming prolific in the form, he moved to Marvel — Timely actually, then Atlas, then Marvel — to create the very form we understand today. When he left DC the first time, he was a vibrant young mind brimming with talent and creativity. When he came back, he was a veteran, and even more creative.
Good God! A column this long for the major publisher who's not even the worst offender? Next time, we'll look at Marvel and how they've fared in the reprint game. Here's a hint: not very well.