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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Blazing Combat
Two-Fisted Tales
Frontline Combat
Kirby's Fourth World
Jack Kirby's The Losers
An examination of Kirby's Losers
Jan's Atomic Heart
Chicken with Plums
Showcase Presents Ambush Bug
Recent Books of Interest

Jan's Atomic Heart by Simon Roy (New Reliable Press) Jan's Atomic Heart
Simon Roy's near-future thriller of robotics and terrorism ushers in a major new talent. Following an accident, the mind of Jan, a computer analyst, is downloaded into an outmoded Lunar robot. In this reality, the Earth holds a very tentative peace after a war with the Lunar colonies. Jan discovers that similar Lunar models have committed acts of terrorism. Roy populates his red herring-laced plot with multi-faceted, realistic personae. Top all that off with his magnificent Tardi-influenced art and Jan's Atomic Heart emerges as this summer's sleeper hit.

Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon) Chicken with Plums
The creator of the acclaimed Persepolis returns with a new family story. After his wife destroys his beloved tar (a Persian lute),musician Nasser Ali Khan decides to die. Satrapi recounts the eight days until his death, manipulating time as she relates the futures of his children and grandchildren. Along the way, Satrapi accomplishes the seemingly impossible by turning the bitter, unlikable Nasser into a truly sympathetic character. Through her masterful use of layout, design, and shadow, Satrapi creates an extraordinary family memoir.

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug by Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, and others (DC) Showcase Presents Ambush Bug
Initially, a goofy teleporting villain dressed as a green bug, Ambush Bug came to embody the silliness inherent in super-hero comics. From 1982-1992, creator Keith Giffen and scripter Robert Loren Fleming, through their proxy Ambush Bug, parodied nearly every corner of the DC publishing empire. The lunacy ran roughshod through two eponymous mini-series, two specials, and several other DC comics. For the first time, Showcase Presents Ambush Bug collects these hilarious, metafictional adventures.

War on Two Fronts

Following the success of their EC-inspired horror anthology Creepy, publisher James Warren and editor Archie Goodwin began Blazing Combat in 1965. The new magazine employed a similar format, using many of the same artists of the previous Warren publication -- Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, John Severin, Al Williamson, Gray Morrow, Russ Heath, Alex Toth, and Wally Wood. Like Creepy, Blazing Combat also featured Frank Frazetta covers, and Goodwin scripts in a magazine format. But unlike its predecessor, Blazing Combat died a ignoble death after just four issues. Fantagraphics collects the complete run and outlines the whole sordid history via interviews with Warren and Goodwin in the handsome hardback Blazing Combat.

Modeling the content after Harvey Kurtzman's legendary EC comics Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, Goodwin focused on the grim realities of war. The American public in 1965, a broad majority of which supported the newly-escalating involvement in Vietnam, proved ill suited for the new comic.
[War is] a crazy way to settle things and you could be very sympathetic to the people who were stuck with having to fight them.
—Archie Goodwin
The first story of issue one ("Viet-Cong!") focused on the mistakes made by American soldiers in Vietnam and included scenes of torture and killing of villagers. Goodwin and artist Orlando teamed up for two more Vietnam stories, both well-rendered morality plays. Their most famous and controversial tale ("Landscape!" from Issue 2) related the tale of a Vietnamese rice farmer whose life is inextricably altered by the ongoing conflict.

Blazing Combat Landscape!

After the second issue, the military banned Blazing Combat from bases citing the anti-war stance. The American Legion also protested, and most distributors stopped carrying the magazine. The quarterly publication limped on for another two issues.

If the censors had delved beneath the perceived bias, they would have discovered some of the finest war stories and illustration in the medium's history. Goodwin and his cadre of contributors detailed the uniquely personal views of soldiers and civilians through several engagements: the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Civil War, Indian Wars, both World Wars, and the Korean War, with a side trip through the Ancient Greek battle at Thermopylae. The dynamic art leaps off the pages throughout. In particular, Toth and Morrow created some of the best works of their long careers. Goodwin actually celebrated soldiers, sailors, and airmen rather denigrated them. Without leaning on glory and sensationalism, Blazing Combat focused on heroism, sacrifice, and dignity.
Archie [Goodwin] was a prophet in his own time. He knew. He didn't have to wait until 1973 to find out that the war was a mistake.
—James Warren
Jack Kirby's The Losers Jack Kirby's The Losers

Following the 1973 cancellation of his Fourth World titles (New Gods, Forever People, Mister Miracle, and Jimmy Olsen), Jack Kirby created several new titles for DC (Kamandi, The Demon, and OMAC). In 1974, he also assumed the mantle on one existing title: Our Fighting Forces. Beginning with issue #151, Kirby rendered the chronicles of a dysfunctional WWII fighting troop, code-named the Losers.

In 1969, famed war comics creator Robert Kanigher (Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace) cobbled together this band of archetypes from four existing DC characters that formerly headlined their own titles. Navajo air ace Captain Johnny Cloud, the fighting infantry duo of Gunner and Sarge, and Navy man Captain Storm compromised the Special Forces quartet. The Losers, who always drew the short end of the stick, primarily tackled the seemingly impossible missions.

No stranger to war, Jack Kirby served as a Private First Class in the U.S. Army on the European front during World War II. Throughout his storied career, he called upon on those experiences to inspire numerous comics most notably Boy Commandos, Foxhole, and Sgt Fury. The Losers were far more ordinary than Kirby's usual characterizations -- no super deeds nor powers. Therefore, his portrayals of the four lacked his usual originality and flair.

On the other hand, Kirby's art promised a series that would soar past the limitations of a typical 70s comic. His use of outlandish illustrations and innovative storytelling revitalized the title and resulted in a memorable and unusual war comic.
[T]he Losers are Kirby at his best. Distilled essence of Kirby, if you will. No gigantic, world crushing machines (well, if you ignore Big Max and the Devastastor). No superheroics. Just ordinary people, with the whole of the Second World War as a playing field.
—Neil Gaiman, from his introduction to Jack Kirby's The Losers.
Though lacking the social and political gravitas of Blazing Combat, Kirby's exciting twelve issues on Our Fighting Forces typifies the creative power and dynamism of this artistic genius.

Copyright © 2009 Rick Klaw

Rick Klaw produced four years of the popular monthly SF Site column "Geeks With Books", and supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The San Antonio Current, The Austin Chronicle, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.

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