Comics of Future Past
After a rare set of back-to-back guest columnists (thanks to Claude Lalumière
and Gary Phillips for their superior pinch hitting), I return with a
selection of nothing but reviews of recent reads. Mark will be back in two weeks with his regular missives.
Due largely to their significant roles in the formation of the Marvel Universe, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby are inexorably
linked. Prior to the creation of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, Ditko established a reputation as an artist of monster comics. Perhaps
his two most famous contributions derived from the creative and financially disastrous 1961 UK films Gorgo and Konga. Charlton
Comics obtained the rights to both properties and assigned writer Joe Gill and artist Ditko as the primary creative teams. The
monsters proved moderately popular with Gorgo lasting 26 issues
in three different series and Konga 27 in three. Craig Yoe
recently collected these adventures in two massive hardback volumes from IDW: Steve Ditko's Monsters, Vol. 1: Gorgo and
Steve Ditko's Monsters, Vol. 2: Konga. Given my predilection for apes, the latter attracted my attention.
The massive volume collects all of Ditko's Konga tales, which play much better than the dreadful Michael Gough-fronted
movie. The highly-regarded Gough's career survived the encounter as he went on to well-remembered roles
in Doctor Who, The Avengers, and most famously in the US as Alfred in Tim Burton's Batman films.
The uneven Ditko art flashes some true signs of brilliance especially in regards to storytelling and Konga's emotional
state. The underrated Gill expertly relies on Ditko's abilities, rarely relating the ape's feelings through captions. As
the stories progress, the synergy between the pair increases as does the quality of Ditko's work. Unlike most Charlton
titles of the time, Konga enjoyed a continuity between issues. Sadly, probably due the vagaries of newsstand and the
perceived youth of the readership, Ditko and Gill felt the need to spend 2-4 pages per issue recapping events.
When the first issue of In the Days of the Mob premiered in 1971, Kirby had already achieved legendary status in comics
with the creation of Captain America, The Sandman, The Newsboy Legion, Challengers of the Unknown, the Fantastic Four,
Thor, the Avengers, and even the romance genre. He left Marvel in 1970 to produce titles for their dread rivals DC. Shortly
thereafter, Kirby created two black & white magazines: Spirit World and the above mentioned Mob. Both only lasted one
issue. In 2012, DC collected the rare, lone issue of Spirit World along with four stories intended for the unpublished
second issue in one volume. Now they've done something similar with In the Days of the Mob.
The handsome hardcover includes the entire first issue, complete with the text pieces and Sergio Aragonés cartoons plus the
five comic stories intended for the second issue. In his introduction, John Morrow, editor of The Jack Kirby Collector,
relates the tribulations surrounding the second issue. Some of the pages were incomplete or only grainy photocopies
existed. Morrow and his team managed to complete the pages with existing Kirby collages and clean up the copies. Ultimately,
the volume included the two rarely seen and three never-before-published Kirby tales.
Unlike most of his work during the era, In the Days of the Mob delivers some of the most realistic and non-bombastic work
of Kirby's career combined with his always magnificent storytelling. Several of the effective tales rank high among the
annuals of crime comics including "Ma's Boys," "Bullets for Big Al," "A Room for Kid Twist," and especially "The Ride!" With
the last story, Kirby crafts a disturbing virtuoso of crime fiction with no blood and little violence.
The fantastic In the Days of the Mob reminds that Jack Kirby wasn't just "The King" of superheroes but of all comic book genres.
By the end of the 1980s, Frank Miller and Alan Moore reigned supreme as the most respected creators within comics. Not
surprisingly given the similarities between the mediums, both received opportunities to work in film.
Miller's big opportunity arrived with Robocop 2. The first Robocop movie, a low budget sf actioneer directed by the then
virtually unknown Paul Verhoeven, proved wildly popular. Due to a writer's strike, the studio contacted Miller, fresh from
his success of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and hired him to write the sequel. His screenplay was considered "unfilmable"
and Miller removed from the project. Only pieces survived through the numerous re-writes and into the universally
disliked movie. The original screenplay attained an almost "urban legend" status. In the early 2000s, Avatar Press publisher
William Christensen, who owned a copy, contacted Miller about a comic adaptation. Originally published as the nine issue
mini-series Frank Miller's Robocop from Avatar (2003-2006), Boom Studios collects the entire story as Robocop Volume 1.
Since Miller lacked the time to write or draw the comic, veteran writer Steven Grant and artist Juan Jose Ryp (best known
for Alan Moore's Another Suburban Romance) oversaw the project. Miller and Grant successfully create an intriguing tale of
despair and loss that further humanizes our hero Murphy only to tragically strip away at his essence. At times
beautiful, Ryp's cluttered and chaotic art degrades the tale, often making sequences unreadable. While the flawed, über-violent
story only shallowly touches on the important issues of law enforcement, drug use, the poor, and the societal role of
corporations, it is by no means "unfilmable." Disappointingly, Robocop Volume 1 offers no introduction or text pieces explaining
the story's interesting origins.
Sometime in the late 80s, the already legendary Malcolm McLaren, musician, impresario, visual artist, performer, clothes
designer and boutique owner, contacted Alan Moore about working on a movie project. After discussing several
ideas (including Surf Nazis which featured an aboriginal hero with the ability to summon waves and an Oscar Wilde in the
Wild West tale that somehow morphs into the story of a 19th century female performer in the mode of the 20th century
Madonna), they settled on Fashion Beast, an amalgamation of the life of Christian Dior and "Beauty and the Beast," both the
fable and the haunting Jean Cocteau adaptation. Moore completed the screenplay but it was never filmed. Avatar's William
Christensen (him again!) discovered a copy of the screenplay and as with Robocop 2, asked to convert the story into a comic.
Writer Antony Johnston converted the story into a more comics-friendly format and Facundo Percio handled the art
chores. Unlike with Frank Miller's Robocop, the artist enhanced the lurid and at times disturbing near future tale.
After losing her job as a coat checker at a trendy club, the androgynous Doll literally stumbles into a modeling job for
a reclusive designer. Moore and McLaren delve into the warped perceptions of the fashion industry, while society literally
crumbles. The fears of Thatcher's conservative late 80s England sadly still resonate with the 21st century reader. The
reality of a decaying society with the poor being crushed under the weight of the super rich and privileged remains a
very real reality.
The graphic novel reads much like a typical 80s Alan Moore piece, complete with the obvious tropes and in your face
symbolism. And much like that decade's work, the compelling Fashion Beast toys with ideas and concepts that simultaneously
thrill, terrify, and intrigue.
Special thanks to Austin Books and Comics.
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.
Publisher Weekly called his anthology The Apes of Wrath (Tachyon) "a powerful exploration
of the blurry line between animal and human." Later this year, his new anthology Rayguns Over Texas,
a collection of original science fiction by Texas authors, premieres at Lonestarcon 3.
Klaw can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.