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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Stan Lee
Steve Ditko
Jack Kirby
"Who Really Created Spider-Man?"
The Fly
Fantastic Four creation controversy
Challengers of the Unknown
My review of Kirby: King of Comics
Revolver
Ax Volume One: Alternative Manga
Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art and Culture
Recent Books of Interest
Revolver by Matt Kindt (Vertigo)
Revolver Matt Kindt, creator of the excellent Super Spy, recounts the flip-flopping worlds -- one a post apocalyptic nightmare, the other a contemporary, realistic reality -- of the miserable Sam. Stuck in a dead end job at a local newspaper under the thumb of a tyrannical boss and in a nowhere relationship with a needy girlfriend, Sam's world changes when a dirty bomb explodes, an avian flu outbreak kills millions, and the US slides into the chaos of economic ruin. At 11:11 PM that first day, the world alters once again back to one similar to before all the atrocities occurred. After living a confused day in "normal" reality, things flip once again at 11:11 PM and Sam returns to the post-apocalypse. The cycle repeats endlessly. Apparently the only person who shares both worlds, Sam uses knowledge from one reality to influence events in the other. Eventually, he realizes his actions have profound effects in both and he must choose which world to destroy. Kindt's riveting exploration brilliantly explores the origins of happiness, morality, and mortality. If destroying your reality could bring you happiness, would you?

Ax Volume One: Alternative Manga Edited by Sean Michael Wilson (Top Shelf)
Ax Volume One: Alternative Manga Weighing in at 400 pages, Ax reprints for the first time in English some of the finest selections from Japan's legendary alternative comics magazine Ax. Much like their American alternative counterparts, the often experimental stories center around sexual, scatological, and surrealistic elements within a wide range of artistic styles and a great variance in quality. Highlights include Takao Kawasaki's tale of a terminally ill hitman "Rooftop Elegy"; "Inside the Gourd," a delightful magic realistic love story by Ayuko Akiyama; a disturbing vision of relationship end in "Push Pin Woman" by Katsuo Kawai; Toranusuke Shimada's fantastic "Secret Story Tour #1: Enrique Kobayashi's Eldorado," an alternative history of motorcycles, Nazis, and capitalism; Yoshida Mitsuhiko's excellent cartooning and storytelling skills overcome the fact that his "The Hare & the Tortoise" almost perfectly mimics the classic Tex Avery Bugs Bunny cartoon "Tortoise Beats Hare" (1941); and Shigeyuki Fujumitsu's powerful tale of redemption, respect, and aging, "The Song of Mr. H." Overall an excellent collection of tales, Ax serves as the perfect American introduction to the largely unfamiliar universe of manga not dominated by wide-eyed characters and wanton violence.

Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art and Culture by Damian Duffy & John Jennings (Mark Batty)
Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art and Culture Duffy and Jenning's beautiful survey chronicles the under-publicized culture of the African American comic. Illustrated with an abundance of magnificent color and black & white art from the finest African American artists of the past 25 years, the book intersperses revealing essays pertaining to various aspects of the culture including a retrospective of Brotherman, explorations of hip-hop, humor, superheroes, criticism, conventions, awards, and other topics. From Shawn Alleyne (Hero's Diary) to Ashely A. Woods (Millennia War), Black Comix showcase alphabetically over fifty artists. Outside of industry vets such Larry Stroman (X-Factor, Alien Legion), and Eric Battle (Batman, Green Arrow, Spider-Man), a vast majority of these talented creators will be unknown except to the most ardent fan. Hopefully, the gorgeous volume, a must have for any serious fan of the medium, will alleviate these oversights.

Class in Session

Adventures of the Fly
Challengers of the Unknown
Fantastic Four
Spider-Man

It started with an innocent quip from my nephew Alex, aged 13. "Stan Lee created Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four." As the primary progenitor of his geek existence, which encompasses a passion for Godzilla, Monty Python, Dominion, Munchkin, RPGs, and video games, I chimed in. "Not exactly." And with that, class was in session.

Though Lee receives all the press and mainstream accolades and certainly played a pivotal role in the development of the seminal Marvel characters, declaring him as their sole creator downplays the important and vital roles of artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. Not that I told Alex any of this. I showed him my four hardcover collections of Ditko's Spider-Man run. He immediately noticed that these comics "looked a lot like the movies." I pointed out that the movies looked LIKE the Ditko comics.

The true origin of Spider-Man is shrouded in mystery and legend. Jack Kirby (more on him later) claimed he pitched the concept of "Spiderman" from an idea that he and longtime creative partner, Joe Simon (the duo responsible for Captain America, the romance comic, and a great many other things), developed back in 1953. Simon and Kirby introduced the Fly, youngster Tommy Troy who wielded a magic ring that gave him the enhanced powers of a fly, in The Double Life of Private Strong #1 (June 1959, Archie Comics) some three years before the premiere of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1952). Ditko himself offered even further support in Robin Snyder's History of Comics #5 (May 1990): "Stan said Spider-Man would be a teenager with a magic ring which would transform into an adult hero -- Spider-Man."

Lee asserts that his love for the pulp hero Spider inspired the creation. Though he acknowledges the Fly, he maintains that the concept didn't influence his vision for Spider-Man.

Initially tagged for the assignment, the prolific, popular, and overworked Kirby stepped aside for Ditko. During his 40-issue tenure on the character, Dikto's contribution informed all future interpretations of the character, artistically and storywise. Eventually, he added plotter to his credits. Lee and Ditko re-invented the super hero narrative, relying on an ongoing story and endless emotional pathos. Sadly, Ditko left Spider-Man regarding a dispute involving the yet unrevealed identity of the Green Goblin. The Objectivist Ditko believed the villain should be a common and anonymous person which clashed with Lee's plans to introduce Norman Osborn, father of Spider-Man's best friend Harry, as the nemesis.

Again, I didn't explain this all to Alex. I just let him absorb the images.

I then broached the other. "And of course Jack Kirby co-created the Fantastic Four."

Alex looked up from the Spider-Man. "Who?"

Perhaps the most important pop culture artist of the second half of the 20th century, Jack Kirby's vision infuses nearly all modern popular culture, certainly almost everything creative that Alex enjoys. Film, video games, and especially graphic novels benefit from his dynamism in both art and storytelling. Before Kirby, most comic action remained passive and within the confines of the page. Kirby's work exploded off the page, grabbing the reader and demanding his attention.

Individually Lee and Kirby both created some extraordinary works, but when working in tandem the duo became the Lennon/McCartney of the comic book world. Neither achieved the same greatness apart as when together. From 1961-64 in one of the most impressive creative outbursts in pop culture history, the pair created Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, The Avengers, X-Men, and of course their magnum opus, The Fantastic Four.

Similar to the confusion surrounding Spider-Man, conflicting reports exist about the origins of the Fantastic Four. Kirby previously created an adventurous foursome for DC in 1957. Pilot Kyle "Ace" Morgan, daredevil Matthew "Red" Ryan, strong man Leslie "Rocky" Davis, and scientist Walter Mark "Prof" Haley all miraculously escaped a plane crash unscathed. Deciding that they were "living on borrowed time," the quartet band together for hazardous missions as the Challengers of the Unknown. Kirby chronicled their bizarre and unusual encounters with dinosaurs, giant sea creatures, aliens, and magical creatures until 1959 when he left for the downtrodden Marvel.

Wanting to reverse the company's fortunes, Kirby decided to create a super-hero concept with "a real human dimension." He envisioned a team similar to his Challengers but with powers. His design included a Frankenstein-like monster, a teen-aged Human Torch, a pliable everyman, and a woman who turned invisible. Kirby pitched the concept to Lee.

Lee tells a different tale, most likely apocryphal. While golfing, DC publisher Jack Liebowitz bragged to his Marvel counterpart Martin Goodman about the success of his new team book, Justice League of America. Returning to the office, Goodman ordered Lee to produce their own team book. A recent conversation with his wife Joan suggesting he make something of himself as a comic book writer and create something unique influenced Lee. He claims that he sat down and put his new determination into a two page plot for Kirby to illustrate.

Additionally, who contributed what spawns endless debate. Kirby claimed he conceived and plotted every issue without Lee's assistance. Lee contends that while Kirby sometimes produced entire stories without help, those were the rarities. The realities of both conundrums probably lies somewhere in between but the actual truth of either matter will never be resolved.

Kirby with Lee remained on the title page for an amazing 102 issues and six annuals. A record for longevity of the same creative team on one title that was only recently broken by the tandem of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley on Ultimate Spider-Man (110 issues).

Of my some 500 graphic novels and collections, 26 of them feature the works of Kirby (tied with Alan Moore for the most), so determining what to share with Alex took a moment. Without preamble, I handed him Mark Evanier's loving memoir Kirby: King of Comics.

When it came out, I wrote the following about Evanier's book:

  As aptly demonstrated in this visually intense book, Kirby's fame was based on far more than speed or output. He introduced dynamism into visual storytelling, literally creating a new storytelling language using larger than life, yet anatomically realistic, characters, who leapt off the pages at the reader. Whether you love or hate the visuals, Kirby's work was never boring.  

Alex's response upon opening the book supported my opinion. His eyes went wide, and he managed a weak "Wow." He flipped through the book, stunned by what he saw. He couldn't believe the quality; how utterly cool it was; the detail; the excitement. He'd never seen anything quite like it. It blew his young mind.

The whole sequence warmed my geeky heart. Mission accomplished.


Copyright © 2010 Rick Klaw

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, 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. He can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.


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