The King and I
Wish List: The Marvel Edition
By Desmond Reddick
22 October 2009 — Last time we looked at reprinting books from two important eras: the Golden Age and the Bronze Age, where Jack did some of his best work with DC. But of all the comic pages the man illustrated, it is safe to say that he drew more pages for Marvel (in all of its incarnations) than all other publishers combined.
It was a time in his career where he turned productivity into an art form and set the standard for the comics we see today. From drawing what was one of the earliest (if not the first) splash page in Captain America to creating the characters whose combined cinematic worth reaches into the billions, this was Kirby as a force of nature.
With this in mind, you come to understand why it's difficult to tackle this era of his career in a comprehensive manner. To be fair, much of the work I'll be talking about in this edition of the Wish List has been reprinted, but is either out of print, too expensive, or just too varied. What I'm looking for as a Kirbyphile is Kirby-specific reprints. Now, last time, I called Marvel a culprit for their lack of Kirby reprints, and I meant it — but they do deserve a bit of praise. In fact, Marvel could be considered a frontrunner in Jack Kirby reprints. In the six years Jack worked at DC exclusively, there was hardly a month that went by without a reprinted Kirby story appearing in a Marvel comic. Marvel even invented titles like Monsters on the Prowl, Creatures on the Loose, Marvel's Greatest Comics, and Marvel Triple Action for the sole purpose of reprinting those stories. (Was that too facetious? )
They have, in recent years, reprinted The Eternals and Black Panther, but they were standard trade paperbacks. The reprinting of the Inhumans and Thor stories is a step in the right direction, but the Inhumans books are collected in the Masterwork format. And I'm not sure how much I can be spending on those in the future.
There are a multitude of ways in which the stories discussed in this column can be collected, but the most likely and convenient is to group them by era. And while we can put a very easy and clear divide in the eras he spent at DC, Jack was a Marvel fixture for so long, you almost have to say when he was there and when he wasn't. But for our purposes here, we'll look at the eras that divided themselves during his time at Marvel, and then his post-DC return as far as what your intrepid columnist wants to see reprinted.
Jack was recruited by his creative partner Joe Simon to join Martin Goodman's roster of artists at Timely Comics in 1940. Simon had been hired on as editor, as his successful streak at Funnies, Inc. proved he could move comics. The first book he would work on with Jack was Red Raven Comics #1, in which Jack penciled, inked, and lettered a story featuring Mercury — whom he would later revamp as Makkari in The Eternals. From then on, Jack would draw a few issues here and there until 1941, when he and Simon created Captain America and then jumpstarted All Winners Comics, Young Allies Comics, and USA Comics for a line of patriotic, Ratzi-smashing propaganda books before jaunting off to DC with Simon. This is all on top of creating dynamic and fun characters like Marvel Boy along the way. Here we have a nice breaking point for a collection of patriotic hero stories from Simon / Kirby, and some genuine solo Kirby stuff as well.
The Atlas Era
In the few years after leaving Timely, Simon and Kirby weren't too busy. I mean, besides revamping fan-favorite National Publications characters, working on crime stories for other publishers, creating one-off heroes, and inventing the boy gang and romance comic genres. Oh yeah, there's also the little bit of business where they stockpiled a year's worth of comics thanks to their publisher's foresight of the draft taking away his two biggest stars. And then of course there was the war that almost took Jack's life and legs. So, not too busy at all.
With his first recorded foray into Atlas Comics under editor Stan Lee, Jack did a war story in Battle-Ground #14 in 1956. He then plunged headfirst into any genre he could get his hands on: Westerns in Rawhide Kid, supernatural horror and fantasy in Astonishing, and international intrigue and mystery in Yellow Claw.
But it was with the Cold War-era giant monster books that Kirby really shined. Tales to Astonish, Journey Into Mystery, Strange Tales, and Tales of Suspense would all feature monstrous horror and alien stories under the guise of "suspense stories" to throw off the censors (which is a lot like a ninja pretending to be a tree by holding a leafy branch).
These books allowed Kirby's already limitless imagination to run wild and pump out creatures that only got more and more insane as the months rolled on. With the coming of the Marvel Age, most of these suspense books would be used as springboards for the popular Marvel heroes of today. With the end of the Atlas Age, there are boundless collections that can be created by culling Kirby's work from this era. War, horror, mystery, and romance are all genres that could have at least one collection apiece, but the giant monster books could be a series of collections on their own. They deserve it.
The Marvel Age
Once Atlas went from monsters to Marvel heroes, the reprinting idea gets kind of sketchy. Almost everything that Jack did in that early age of the Marvel hero has been collected in either an Essential or Masterworks collection — some even in both! But Westerns and romances carried into this era through several books, most notably in Kid Colt Outlaw and Love Romances, and they've gone almost completely without being reprinted. There's also the sad fact that Sgt. Fury hasn't had an affordable reprint, either.
But in 1976, after a long and amazingly creative stint at rival publisher DC, The King returned. And what better series to herald his return than with the legendary Captain America #193, pitting Cap and Falcon with Henry Kissinger versus The Madbomb? His latest run on Captain America would last uninterrupted until issue 214. Although the Madbomb story and other bits and pieces are reprinted in three Captain America trade paperbacks — Madbomb, Bicentennial Battles, and The Swine — Kirby's entire run deserves the hardcover treatment. It was his third stint with the character, but his most creative and dynamic. It also remains the least-read to this day.
Since we're talking about Jack's return to Marvel — it's almost as if I planned it this way — could we please have Devil Dinosaur and The Eternals omnibuses back in print? Hell, throw together a Black Panther omnibus while you're at it! For that matter, the two Marvel works that would be best served by an oversized hardcover collection are those that felt as though the pages were restraining the wonder and vibrancy that threatened to leap off the page and scorch the readers' retinas: 2001: A Space Odyssey and Machine Man. Kirby wrote and penciled the 1976 Marvel Treasury Special - 2001: A Space Odyssey as a film adaptation of Kubrick's film from eight years earlier and liked it so much, he created a 10-issue series expanding on the themes and imagery therein. That book led to the Machine Man series that itself ran for nineteen issues — the first nine of which Kirby wrote and drew. Now, if we're talking wish lists here, my ultimate treasured item is a complete collection of both of these series. They are essentially the last original work that Marvel would see from its most prolific artist.
There you have it dear reader: three glorious ages of stories ripe for reprinting from the man who built the House of Ideas. But this wish list is far from over! Join me next time as we dive into some of the miscellaneous stories from publishers lost, obscure, and independent.