Of Romance and Gods
Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby's Romance Comics
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.