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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Jack Kirby
Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby's Romance Comics
Fourth World
Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Volume One
Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Volume Two
Madwoman of the Sacred Heart
Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery
Recent Books of Interest
Madwoman of the Sacred Heart Written by Alexandro Jodorowsky Art by Mœbius (Humanoids)
Madwoman of the Sacred Heart For their first non-Incal collaboration, the creators of the legendary science fiction graphic novel ventured into radically different territory. Popular philosophy professor Alan Mangel appears to have it all: A tenured position at the world famous La Sorbonne university, academic acclaim, a seemingly happy marriage, and wealth. On his sixtieth birthday his world crumbles. His wife leaves him for another man. His students lose respect for him. Only Elisabeth, a beautiful and young student, still believes in him. But she's not working with a full deck. After receiving a vision from God, Elisabeth declares that Mangel must impregnate her with the second-coming of John the Baptist. The late Mœbius proves equally adept at creating gorgeous intimate exchanges between very earthbound contemporary people as producing spectacular alien vistas. Jodorowsky steers this racy parody into unexpected places and scenes while successfully keeping the story firmly in reality. The magnificent Madwoman of the Sacred Heart showcases two storytelling masters at the heights of their abilities.

Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery Written by Grant Morrison Art by Frank Quitely (Vertigo)
Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery The 1996 popular four issue series languished, uncollected for over 15 years. Inspired by the long-running Charles Atlas "The Insult that made a Man out of Mac" comic book advertisements, the Charles Atlas company filed a trademark infringement suit. The suit was eventually thrown out citing fair use in a parody. Flex Mentallo, refugee from another reality, fights crime using "muscle mystery." He can affect reality by flexing his muscles. Suddenly other elements from Mentallo's homeworld pop up, spawning his quest for the truth. Simultaneously, in typical Morrison fashion, a despondent, drug-addled artist struggles with his own reality issues. In their first collaboration, Quitley's lush art beautifully illustrates the bizarre twists and turns of Morrison's tale. Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery proves once again why Morrison and Quitely (All Star Superman, Batman and Robin, JLA: Earth 2, We3, New X-Men) are the best and most reliable duo working in comics today.

Of Romance and Gods

The Girl Who Tempted Me
Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby's Romance Comics
Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 1
Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 2
Last month, my esteemed colleague Mark London Williams reported that the Visual Effects Society bestowed a lifetime achievement award upon Stan Lee. The honor was for as Mark put it "creating characters that had given everyone else in the room so much employment." Except that's not wholly true. Lee's artistic co-creators' deserve at least as much of the credit especially in the case of Jack Kirby.

Without Kirby, the forthcoming The Avengers film simply would not exist. The Black Widow and Hawkeye, both of whom Lee created with Don Heck initially appeared as villains in the pages of Iron Man, a concept conceived with Kirby. Kirby, alongside his longtime collaborator Joe Simon, first introduced the world to Captain America in 1941. The Lee-Kirby team were responsible for Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the first appearances of The Avengers. They were truly the McCartney-Lennon of comics. And like that famed duo, creative differences ripped them apart. Lee, the McCartney analogue, parlayed the previous endeavors into a wildly successful, legendary post-split career, reliant primarily on rehashes of past glories. Kirby took a different path.

By the time the duo first collaborated in the early sixties, Kirby was already an acclaimed and accomplished comics creator. He revolutionized the burgeoning field in the 1940s with his over-the-top, dynamic action style. He and Simon popularized the patriotic superhero concept and brought the "kids gang" to comics with The Boy Commandos and the Newsboy Legion. After the conclusion of World War II and the decline in popularity of super-heroes, the partners took a decidedly different path. They created a new genre: the romance comic.

Prior to 1947, romance existed in comics but primarily as the humorous teenage variety for young readers, typified by the gang from Riverdale in Archie Comics. Simon and Kirby re-imagined the concept with mature stories aimed at adults, primarily women. Issues of their initial series Young Romance sold in the millions of copies. The duo added three more regular romance titles in 1949: Young Love, Real Western Romances and Western Love. Soon other publishers jumped on the bandwagon and by 1952, over 500 romance titles were being published, roughly a quarter of the entire comics market.

Originally the well-crafted Simon-Kirby melodramas hinted at pre-marital sex and illicit affairs, displayed class differences, and offered surprisingly modern women (though typically tinged through a filter of angst and societal expectations). Suicide, seduction and tragedy littered the works. At least until the coming of the dread Comics Code in 1954. Now the stories were forbidden from showing or hinting at illicit sex. Love/romance must emphasize the "sanctity of marriage," not include a whisper of seduction. Parents and the "moral code" shall be respected. Even with the new limitations, the pair soldiered one, producing excellent and popular tales through 1959.

Fantagraphics recently collected many of these stories in the handsome hardcover Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby's Romance Comics. Within the true artistic mastery of Kirby becomes evident. The same man, well known at the time for his bombastic stories, delivers these subtle, very human tales of angst, betrayal, and of course love. The volume's essays place these tales within the proper historical context. The beautiful reproductions were completely restored and unlike some of the Marvel Kirby reprints, nothing was recolored.

When Kirby left Marvel and Lee in 1970, he joined the dreaded rival DC Comics, where he produced what proved to be his magnum opus. Kirby envisioned a massive series of interconnected stories with an ultimate goal to be collected into books. In other words, he presaged the current comics publishing philosophy some 30 years before it became a reality. The complex storyline, known as The Fourth World, began appearing in four monthly titles, all written and drawn by Kirby. The three new -- New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle -- joined the already existing Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen to chronicle a classic storyline of good vs. evil as represented by the worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips. Darkseid, the evil lord of Apokolips, seeks the Anti-Life Equation which will allow him to control the thoughts of all living beings. His son Orion, raised by the benevolent ruler of New Genesis Highfather, and his allies oppose Darkseid. The war spills over onto Earth, where Darkseid believes the equation rests within the mind of an Earthman.

The Fourth World allowed Kirby to explore ideas that intrigued him since working on Thor and discovering the writings of Joseph Campbell. He included numerous fascinating concepts such as the Mother Box (small portable super computers capable of extraordinary actions and a mothering personality), Cadmus (a massive scientific complex devoted to cloning), and The Source (a mystical power that guides the enemies of Darkseid). This was Kirby unfettered. The images literally exploded off the pages. His enjoyment in creating this was palpable.

New Gods While acclaimed, Kirby's latest vision failed to capture the general comics reader and the experiment ended after just three years. When the end became apparent, Kirby attempted to wrap up all the storylines with limited success. He later returned to the characters in the disappointing The Hunger Gods graphic novel. DC forced Kirby to change his ending. They even re-arranged some of the story elements.

The entire Fourth World saga has been collected in four volumes entitled Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus. While the original hardcovers are no longer available, DC recently reprinted the first two volumes in paperback. The set delivers the stories in the original order of publication, the way Kirby conceived it. Each gorgeous full-color volume includes an afterword by Mark Evanier, Kirby friend and biographer, discussing different aspects of the work. The just released Volume Two also features several original penciled pages.

After the demise of the Fourth World, Kirby produced other quality works for DC including The Demon, Kamandi, and OMAC but nothing quite on that scope again. Unlike at Marvel, Kirby (and his heirs) received residuals from any use of the characters he created at DC. In the mid-70s, he returned to Marvel where he fittingly enough shepherded Captain America through the American bicentennial and worked on the lauded titles Black Panther, 2001, and The Eternals.

Jack Kirby died on February 6, 1994 as perhaps the most influential pop culture artist of the 20th century. His legacy can be seen in the vast majority of comic books, in countless movies, and even in many science fiction novels and short stories.

Thanks to Austin Books for their help.

Copyright © 2012 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, Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, Steampunk, and The Steampunk Bible. Coming in March 2013 from Tachyon, he is editing The Apes of Wrath, a survey of apes in literature with contributions from Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert, Joe R. Lansdale, Pat Murphy, Leigh Kennedy, James P. Blaylock, Clark Ashton Smith, Karen Joy Fowler, Philip José Farmer, Robert E. Howard and others. Klaw can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.

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