November 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Movies have tried to bring superheroes into the real world, but illustrator Alex Ross can claim to do it better with his dynamic watercolors.
Ross’ work will be shown at the Norman Rockwell Muse um, opening Saturday, Nov. 10, through Feb., 2013.
Best-known for block-buster comics, like “Marvels” and “King dom Come” that took characters like Superman and Spider-Man into realms of hy per-realism, Ross includes Rock well as one of his influences, which is unusual for a comic book artist, but Ross’ work isn’t like typical comic book art.
Centering on the form of superheroes, Ross strives to render the fantasy characters in realistic terms, whether with fully-painted comic book interiors or covers. Ross says that his innovation wasn’t the use of gouache watercolor paints to illustrate comics — that had been done before. The difference he made was the choice of subject matter.
“I just applied it, in frankly the most commercial way possible,” he said. “Many painters had preceded me, who all did more original and experimental works that got away from the main commodity of comic books, which is trading on superheroes. I was whole-heartedly embracing putting these figures in the light and rendering them as fully and as realistically as anything I could imagine being rendered, with the attempt to try and make it all as a believable thing.”
He traces the turning point to his time in art school — he attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago — when he first worked with live models.
“Working with live models was an eye opener for me,” Ross said. “The feeling that I was looking closely at reality and immediately putting it down, that showed a dramatic impact upon what my work could do and how it could grow.”
“Everything I was doing beforehand, I did with the thought toward comics, which is that you draw everything out of your imagination, that you don’t look at reference or people or anything, other than your interpretation of these things. If you study life as most fine artists always have, and then use a direct reference, that would be life that you were directly absorbing and reinterpreting.”
Ross was determined to not practice “a reductive art style” that would rely on “a caricature of life, or simple contour outlines based upon inking of forms” in his comic book work. His realization that he could not only achieve and satisfy his artistic goals for the level of detail and rendering that he demanded, propelled him forward with his vision.
The challenge was to take characters entrenched in a well-accepted unreality and usher them into a new dimension, while still maintaining the qualities that make them desirable and interesting in the first place. Ross would center in on the artistic interpretation most associated with the character and work with that design for his own.
“I have a love for the version of Robin that was around for decades before I was born,” said Ross. “This is a character that wears, arguably, the most unlikely costume of all. I want to win over the audience and convince you, just even for a split-second, that you could believe that character was legitimate and real, wearing that classic outfit.”
“It might take a certain amount of shadow, a certain amount of lighting control, just even the posing of the figure, but I’m going to make that attempt to try and sell you on something that I know doesn’t necessarily hold up as well to modern tastes.”
Women superheroes often have their challenges. It’s no secret that a good number of them were designed for pure titillation, rather than any reality of what a powerful woman fighting crime might look like. As Ross examines how any character should appear, he takes into account the character’s history, psychology and the philosophical concepts of how that character’s power and place in the world should be reflected by outward appearance and costume.
“One of my greater innovations would just be that Wonder Woman seemed to have a little bit more heft, in terms of some muscle tone, that wasn’t clearly just the model body type that maybe she had been drawn as before, but also that I gave her flats,” Ross said. “To me, that was enough of a little additional tweak to her look. You would realize that, of course, Wonder Woman should not have high heels. For one thing this is a tall, tall woman, she is imposing, and there is no need for her to add this unnecessary heel that, frankly, makes running or walking very hard.”
“Her costume seemed to be maybe more a thing of armor, that the eagle that she’s emblazoned with is something made of a strong metal, not that she’s necessarily covered so carefully because she obviously is mostly running around in a bathing suit, but that her imposing shape coming forward makes you not think about that as exposed, but in a way you’re seeing a character of strength and that strength is completely exposed, much like The Hulk runs around half naked.”
Ross must juggle these absurdities with a layer of reality, as well the understanding that these characters do not live in our world. Their home is a fictional one with different social and psychological reactions to the strange and fantastic circumstances reflected in fashion choices.
“If you’re going to have varied characters running around in a single universe, occupying a given city, the absurdities of design or the graphics that they are wearing become blended when you think that there are a whole lot of those people around,” said Ross.
“You yourself might think, ‘Hey, I’m an athletic guy, I think I can go out and fight crime,’ and then you compose an outfit and you start doing it, and don’t necessarily stand out. People could look at you and think, ‘I don’t know what powers that guy has, because I know this guy over here, who dresses like a fool, has a lot of powers,’ so maybe the more brightly-colored outfit indicates the level of power the person has. You have a fashion world that we don’t live in that they do.”
Ross takes equal care when depicting the environments his characters inhabit — in his hands, Spider-Man’s Manhat tan is the same one any of us have been in. Seeing such a recognizable fictional character navigating a space that we now share with him is part of the power of the drama, bringing fiction into our own world and melding the two through Ross’s lens.
“It was important to me that the world that as represented had as much reality to it as possible,” he said, “especially because the mainstream com ics style had been to frankly research as little as possible and to draw things so interpretive of life that you almost had no sense of the real world entering and intersecting with these fantastic people.”
“I realized in creating a more grounded drama, if you see city streets and see automobiles, or whatever it is, especially if it’s a period piece, that truly ground you in that place and that time, that will make everything seem that much more elevated.
Ross’ conceptual prowess extends beyond his artwork, though that does remain the anchor. An equal amount of detail and effort goes into his concepts for plot, situation and character, and creates opportunities for collaboration with strong writers.
“I was envisioning crafting whole dramas when I was young and however they would be written, whether it was by me or somebody else,” Ross said. “The projects that everyone knows me for, the ones that I didn’t write, were ones that I conceived, and then brought to the companies.”
“All those things were a great way to use the resources of another person who’s actually trained as a writer where, of course, I never have been, but over time, you read need enough comics, you start to think that you can do that job too, and maybe to a meager degree I can be passable for one or two projects here or there. But for the most part, I’m still contributing ideas to get projects off the ground and then the net’s cast out to find the right talent to execute that concept.”
In the next month, Ross will return to illustrating the full interior of a comic book for the first time in years with the debut issue of Masks, from Dynamite Entertainment, featuring classic pulp characters like The Shadow, the Green Hornet, Zorro and the Spider. He won’t continue with the series after that, but it’s largely his concept, a work that Ross has teamed with writer Chris Roberson to bring to life. Painting a full comic on regular basis is a huge stress, and the level of commitment required can be debilitating and affect other projects negatively.
The bulk of Ross’ work will continue as it has, specializing in covers and pulling from the same tradition as the pulp novels that Masks pulls its heroes from. It’s all part of the vision he had so long ago, still being realized fresh again and again.
“It’s like anything, if you were fighting to salvage something from your childhood that you believed in so strongly then, that you want others to share in that same belief. You don’t want it to be dismissed, and putting all that effort that I can and using my strength and hopefully helping to make all of that more relatable or sellable, or whatever goals I can achieve with that.”
December 6, 2011 § Leave a Comment
M. Night Shyamalan’s second film “Unbreakable” offered something different on movie screens with its vision of what a superhero would be like in the real world. As portrayed by Bruce Willis, it was a grim vision, steeped in crime noir trappings.
Daniel Clowes’ new graphic novel does much the same thing, but instead of machismo, he wraps his tale up in coarse laughs, emasculated bitterness and the sort of world weary brilliance that has become standard in a Clowes novel.
In “The Death Ray,” Clowes tells the pathetically depressing story of loner Andy and his big-mouthed, vulgar friend, Louie, as they traverse the ugliness life hands them in the form of dysfunctional family situations and hostile schoolenvironments. Utilizing a variety of traditional comic books styles, Clowes follows their deadpan drama as a lead-up to Andy’s curious realization of specialness and power and the self-destructive exploits he and Louie undertake as a result.
The superhero trope is now an accepted standard in American pop culture far beyond comic books themselves, and it often involves a weakling, who somehow realizes great power and must secretly fulfill his power fantasies in service of society and strong moral virtue, all the while still being punished for his weakness because of the damned necessity of maintaining a secret identity.
It’s a set-up of a torturous, but noble, life for the hero that purports the existence of a universal good in service of ironclad, black-and-white narrative morals. Clowes, however, turns the whole idea inside out. Andy’s “origin” never quite leads to rollicking adventures, and his efforts to right wrongs never quite captures a strict line between the two.
There are no moral absolutes in Clowes’ tale, and the hero is just as much a mixed bag as those around him. Specialness offers no special life for Andy, and Clowes’ manages to address all these issues of ambiguity and nihilism while remaining a master at providing laughs about it all.
September 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
It’s not really my usual practice to review many regular, floppy comic books — I would do this on a very select basis when I was comics reviewer at Worcester Magazine, but I more often opt for full graphic novels or collections. This is for various reasons, not the least of which is my interest in them – or lack of. But when piles of DC Comics’ New 52 titles started to show up on my doorstep – review copies graciously provided to me by DC – I felt the need to do something in return, so have been tweeting mini reviews of the titles. This may be like looking a gift horse in the mouth for DC, because I can’t say I’ve been especially delighted or even kind about most of it.
It did occur to me, though, that because of the girth of titles, this was an opportunity for an overview of certain constants I began to notice and thought I would jot these down.
To begin with, I’ve divided up the titles into four groups that are pretty self-explanatory, but I will add these comments to the headers I’ve given the groups. “Have Potential” means I liked it, but it needs more than this issue to sell me on it. “Acceptable Time Wasters” is mostly reserved for unadventurous but inoffensive and readable books – standard fare, with various degrees of good and bad lumped in there. “Total Snoozers” might be boring or bad or tiresome – Batman titles had a bad habit of ending up in this category. “Loathsome” goes beyond bad, where the very concept and execution point to something totally offensive. Each title is followed with the original Twitter comment.
All Star Western “Jonah Hex is good – as ever – but Dr. Arkham in 19th Century Gotham City deserves his own series.”
Aquaman “Delightful! I didn’t know they made these sorts of superhero comics anymore!”
DC Universe Presents: Deadman “Reliable Deadman with solid supernatural superhero angst. Mature in the right sense of the word.”
Demon Knights “Fun!”
The Flash “Barry Allen is back! This is a fun reboot!”
Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE “Now THIS is a comic book! With the Creature Commandos! Jeff Lemire saves the day! More like this.”
Justice League Dark “Cancel the other JL titles and just run this one – it’s different and well-realized and fun.”
Storm Watch “The one I liked”
Animal Man “At least the last panel is intriguing”
Batwing “good premise, interesting art, an African superhero in Africa has promise for something different, at least.”
Batwoman “Much better than anything Batman’s in. I wish Batman would go away. This has more potential.”
Grifter “Okay you have my attention now go somewhere with this, might be cool”
Hawkman “Fun superheroics and superdramatics- actually feels like a bit of a throwback to the Golden Age version of the character”
I, Vampire “More conversation disguised as story but at least offers some intrigue as a prologue. Art is moody.”
Resurrection Man “That’s interesting in a way. I guess. Makes me appreciate Animal Man more, though, which was actually gentle.”
Swamp Thing “Nice if unimportant”
Acceptable Time Wasters:
Action Comics “Is this a nod to Smallville or something? Never did watch that show.”
Captain Atom “Old fashioned fun. Superhero vs volcano! I can’t really insult it.”
Green Lantern “Fine standard GL story.”
Green Lantern Corps “A reasonable GL effort, nothing special, fits like a reliable old t-shirt with stains you can ignore.”
Green Lantern New Guardians “More intriguing than I expected when I opened it up but bided its time too much.”
Justice League “a conversation masquerading as a story”
Legion of Superheroes “For a so-called new beginning this sure is confusing. All the references to what happened & no real explanations sucks.”
Mister Terrific “Horrible costume, likable superhero”
Red Lanterns “Monlogue masquerading as a comic book adventure – more story!”
Static Shock “Not something I expected to enjoy but there was something old fashioned about it. Surprise!”
Superboy “Sf plot shoehorned into Superman backdrop that it could really do without. Is this a reboot?”
Supergirl “If she must be rebooted then at least this adds some interest. I wish the character were still silly, tho.”
Teen Titans “Likable as this sort of thing goes but having read Superboy the continuity confusion was intrusive. I like Kid Flash.”
Wonder Woman “They’ve never known what to do with WW and still don’t. Not so much bad as just … eh. A lot more needed to happen”
Batgirl “Higher heights in mundanity”
Batman “Better than the other 2 Batmans I read which ain’t saying much. Enough. Why are we fixated on this one note character?”
Batman and Robin “Is Robin supposed to be a precocious unlikable prat? Cause that doesn’t help the comic much.”
Batman: The Dark Knight “From ‘Fear is a cannibal that feeds upon itself’ to ‘You can call me One-Face now’ it’s like a freakin’ parody.”
Birds of Prey “Boring.”
Blackhawks Nonsensical action and soap opera. This stuff might work in movies, but in comics it’s plain boring.
Blue Beetle “So boring I couldn’t finish it, but at least there seemed to be a story for a change.”
Detective Comics “Took us years to get here? Alright.”
Firestorm “This character has always been boring and he’s carrying on that tradition here.”
Green Arrow “Unreadable”
Legion Lost “I can’t read this, I really can’t.”
Hawk and Dove “Higher heights in mundanity”
Justice League International “Higher heights in mundanity”
Men of War “Higher heights in mundanity”
Nightwing “Holy crap the 1st person narration sent me dozing. I’m tired of all the 1st person in these New 52 books.”
Superman “I tuned out and then just skipped to the end.”
Catwoman “I actually had to rub disinfectant in my eyes after reading this. Proof that you can actually poop out a comic book.”
Death Stroke “Preposterous nihilistic machismo posturing.”
Red Hood and the Outlaws “Speedy never knew Starfire was a slut even after all the time in the Teen Titans? What an offensive & smarmy book this is”
Suicide Squad “Well that was an unpleasant bit of torture porn.”
Voodoo “The ending wants to make us think it’s a horror comic but it’s really a dumb story about a stripper doing a lap dance.”
The Larger Picture:
What struck me more than any escalation of violence or sexism – which are the hot ticket discussion items for the titles – is that first person narration, monologues or conversations are used far too much in these books. They run rampant throughout the line.The point is that they are utilized for easy exposition, with a way to wrap some action around them. I find this cuts off the possibilities for suspense that could sustain any of these titles better, and smells of cookie cutter technique. I don’t know if this is something weak writers fall back on or if it’s an editorial command, but I don’t generally like it.
Also, as a genre that has been mired in continuity and continuity correction, I have found that the act of starting over but not giving precise moments in time when these are taking place – at least, not in the actual titles – to be confusing. Why do some characters get total reboots and others not? Why is the Superman cast so young in Action Comics? When is JLA supposed to take place anyhow? Why is The Flash so new and Green Lantern so established? After being such control freaks, I find it odd that the relationship between many of these titles is so confusing – and if it is not confusing to long time readers, then why bother to start with a new slew of #1s in order supposedly entice new readers? I thought that was the point – the fresh start. The best way to approach these, I suppose, is to ignore the cross title continuity and enjoy each title on its own – as it always should be, in my belief, just not what they have practiced since the 1980s.
I was also struck at how unspecial many of these were. Many seemed like they could be issue #22 or #329 or, worse, #2. The sense of specialness was in the marketing more than the products themselves.
That said, there were some with a sense of humor and an air of friendly playfulness that surprised me immensely, and to me are exactly what superhero comics should be like if they’re going to insist on existing anymore – Aquaman, The Flash, Hawkman, Captain Atom, Mr. Terrific were all examples of various qualities. It was as if human beings wrote these, which is sadly not the feeling most superhero comics leave me with.
The best titles, to me, were the ones that weren’t mired in the DC Universe but so much on the edge of that they could include nods to it without requiring much knowledge of it or affection for it in order to enjoy the titles – they were given their own context. Demon Knights, Frankenstein, Storm Watch, these were my favorites in this area, but there were others that succeeded in this, as well.
And now to the Batman issue- and I know I’m alone in the dark with this, but never more than through this bonanza of titles have I felt the company’s over-reliance on that character and the peripheries of the property is deadening to the soul. The character has had nowhere to go for years and most of these titles tended to take us exactly there. I’m estimating there are 11 Batman-related titles – including team books and off-shoots like Batgirl – and with the exception of Batwoman, Batwing, and Justice League Dark – the ones that don’t center around the character or his mythology as much and offer some new scenarios – it’s mostly the same comic over and over and over, as it has been for the past 20 years. No wonder I can’t even bring myself to see the Dark Knight movies. Too much, overdone, please, go away.
All in all, I don’t know that this huge gesture really offers any opportunity that wasn’t there before, but as a symbolic marketing move, it is a way to highlight that some of the books have changed and become easier to access, and I guess it’s worthy for that.
March 20, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Comic books have come a long way, but not as far as you think. On one hand, the creators who seized the medium in order to create literature comparable to any of its non-sequential cousins have garnered plenty of attention in the last decade. However, superheroes still exist and though companies try to grit them up, they’re still rather silly.
What is surprising, though, is that the superhero comics of yesteryear — we’re talking the pioneering first works from as far back as 1936 — hold much more in common with the literate graphic novels of today than their logical ancestors in the mainstream. Two new books give readers the opportunity to trace that path.
“Supermen” collects the earliest examples of lesser-known superhero comics from 1936 to 1941, the so-called first wave. No Superman or Batman here — instead, lost champions like Dr. Mystic, The Face and Sub-Zero seek to protect the Earth from bizarre villains bent on kidnapping, robbery, revolution, invasion and other efforts against the decent citizenry.
In pawing out the genre, there are areas of clunkiness that are charming — The Silver Streak lives in an apartment that anyone can visit, while The Comet’s house is easily found by criminals while he takes a snooze in his superhero get-up. The creators also have good humor revolving around the absurdity of the their chosen genre — suave man of mystery The Clock tries to calm a cop down after one-upping him, reminding him of his blood pressure.
Meanwhile, Marvelo — know as the Monarch of Magicians — starts off his adventure after the inconvenience of gangsters stealing a much-needed taxi from him. Marvelo retaliates by turning the crooks into pigs. « Read the rest of this entry »
December 28, 2008 § Leave a Comment
What the world needs now — and what it has been lacking for far too long — is a character who walks in the realm of the supernatural but doesn’t take it so damn seriously. You could never tell from most TV shows and movies and books and comics, but the supernatural can be pretty funny. Really funny, actually — but we’re moving through a period in American culture when darkness rules in our preoccupations, and the supernatural cozies itself with not only our spirituality, but also our notion of romance and rebellion. What’s funny about all that?
Thank goodness for the 1960s. Even as an era of political and social turmoil, popular culture’s obsession with ignoring everything that was wrong with the world created some utterly goofy delights, and this collection of “Nemesis” comics captures that silly, exciting era. The creation of comic book veteran Richard E. Hughes for the American Comics Group in order to capitalize on the superhero craze wrought by the Batman TV series — Hughes’ most famous work of the era was Herbie, the Fat Fury — Nemesis is a dead superhero in striped pants who regularly passes from the spirit realm to protect humanity. The cover of “Adventures in the Unknown” — in which the Nemesis stories were run — promised “gripping tales of suspense,” but it delivered light-hearted tales of fun, and that’s the key to its charm. « Read the rest of this entry »
December 28, 2008 § Leave a Comment
As both a labor of love and an unabashed public display of total goofiness, “Bat-Manga” is the result of designer Chip Kidd’s quest to uncover something that hasn’t been seen by fans in our country in decades — if ever.
Back in 1966, Japanese comic book publishers got a license to publish original comic stories while the TV show was a major hit on Japanese television. Kidd has gathered as much of this material as he can find into this collection — which means some of the stories are incomplete, although it honestly doesn’t put a damper on the reading at all.
Nowadays, the darker, more brooding Batman has seized control of all others — it started 25 years ago, and it’s been the rule for the character in all venues. Not only gone are the days of the vibrant pop art of the television show, but also the science-fiction strangeness that infected the comic in the 1950s. “Bat Manga” is a literary time machine back to those days, a resurrection of a little corner that we didn’t know existed as filtered through great book design. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 3, 2008 § Leave a Comment
In the annals of comic books, my all-time favorite super team has always been the Legion of Super-Heroes. These guys have always been different from everyone else — they live in the 30th Century, they are mostly aliens with native powers, their clubhouse was shaped like a rocket ship, they were teenagers, and they palled around with Superboy and Supergirl.
That last point probably doesn’t make a non-comics fan blink an eye, but if you have a running knowledge of Superman’s chronology, you’ll realize that Supergirl didn’t hit Earth until Superboy was all grown up into an icon. Such is the bizarre quality of the Legion that they would include membership to two people interlinked by blood but from totally different — and mildly conflicting — eras. « Read the rest of this entry »
July 25, 2008 § Leave a Comment
Joe Staton has enjoyed a 30-plus year career in comic books and it’s about to be summed up by a show in Pittsfield presented by the Storefront Artists Project and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York City. The show in Pittsfield will concentrate on his Scooby Doo work and various versions of Batman that Staton has worked on, including some from the 1970s and more recently in “Batman Adventures,” which was based on the animated television series.
Staton made his name in the 1970s, most notably working for DC Comics, where he drew characters from the Justice Society of America to the Metal Men. He co-created The Huntress, a character that started life as the daughter of Batman and Catwoman (she has also seen action on the television screen in the series “Birds of Prey”) — but he is most fondly remembered for his own creator-owned character, E-Man.
These days, he’s maintained a young audience through his work on Scooby Doo — he was the artist on that title for its first 10 years and will return after a short hiatus — as well as a new version of Jughead that features an update of the character’s look. Staton also recently worked on the recent Ronald Reagan biographical graphic novel.
Becoming a comic book artist was an early plan for Staton — no other course seemed to suit him
“I pretty much decided that I should draw comics when I was sitting on the floor when I was 3 or 4 trying to trace Dick Tracy,” said Staton. “I realized that somebody drew Dick Tracy and why shouldn’t I? I almost became an art history teacher along the way, I almost became a newspaper person, I almost became several other things, but comics were always what I wanted to do and once I started getting comics work, it’s where I stayed.” « Read the rest of this entry »
May 30, 2008 § Leave a Comment
There is no argument — Jack Kirby is the single most important figure in 20th Century comic books. Whether you like his work or not, whether you appreciate his ideas or not, no single person has had so much of his output spread so vigorously throughout the industry.
And if you think this is something that should only matter to comic book fans, consider this — Jack Kirby had his hand in some of the biggest movie and television blockbusters of recent years. “Iron Man,” for instance — Kirby had a major hand in his creation, doing the initial designs for the character and then taking over the art chores on the book soon after. More importantly, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Captain America and the X-Men, among others, are all Kirby creations.
Furthermore, his later characters the New Gods — most notably the villain Darkseid — has played a major role in “Super Friends” and the “Justice League” cartoons over the last two decades, becoming very familiar to kids everywhere.
He’s also the guy Roy Lichtenstein co-opted for his famous pop art works.
Jack Kirby was the George Lucas of his day, creating fictional universes that would provide plenty of fuel for others to build upon — but he was tons better because he wasn’t derivative. He was even a little mad — how else would you explain someone who did a monthly comic book based on “2001: A Space Odyssey” and actually made it fun?
In Mark Evanier’s new art book and biography, “Kirby: King of Comics,” Kirby’s career is traced from his humble beginnings in the comic book sweat shops of the 1930s to his death — and point of triumphant acknowledgment for contributions to the world of comic books — in 1994. Evanier’s presentation is alternately gushing and honest — he’s not one to gloss over mistakes Kirby might have made in his work — and through one man provides a great history of the way comic books have been published.
Kirby started out in the cartoon studios, where hordes of artists were employed to churn out second tier comic strips at cut rate prices. From there, he moved through several comparable situations, including an agreeable tenure at Will Eisner’s studio, before ending up at Timely Comics, the precursor for Marvel. The situation was not ideal, but did team him up with Joe Kirby, with whom he would create the seminal character Captain America.
In the 1950s, Simon and Kirby refined the romance comic and ventured into surreal superhero satire with the Fighting American. In the 1960s, Kirby changed comic books forever at Marvel Comics, teaming with Stan Lee to create the tone and style of the modern superhero story. These were superheroes with real personalities and problems — Clark Kents who became Superman, not vice versa — and the stories often touched on themes that were traditionally too lofty for the superhero genre, most notably the idea that power brought responsibility.
Kirby went on to produce as string of insanely clever science fiction comics for DC in the 1970s — most notably “Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth” and “Omac, the One Man Army Corps” — and continued doing so for several companies until his death. His work was prolific, his ideas one of a kind.
Kirby was also the poster boy for creative rights within the comic book industry, the idea that artists deserve more compensation for creating these characters than a standard page rate. Consider this — when Jack Kirby came up with the multitudes of characters for Marvel, he was coming up with models for toys and movies and television shows and clothing and accessories and more. In return, Marvel Comics dismissed him from their employment and refused to give him his original art back. Kirby fought back and, years later, finally won.
Even with all the historical information, the real star of the show is the artwork. The book is lavish in its illustrations, from full color cover reproductions to plenty of examples of Kirby’s pencil work and character designs. It’s a beautiful and fitting presentation that serves not merely as a tribute this very important comic book creator, but an explanation of why he is important and a revelation for those who don’t know but should.
May 23, 2008 § Leave a Comment
Of all the superheroes in the tapestry of costumed wonders, it’s Captain Marvel who has gotten the raw deal. In his original incarnation in the ’40s and ’50s, he was a character of silly and delightful whimsy, but he has always been harder for the modern writer to peg. The usual plan is to aim it towards kids, but that often becomes a labor in simplifying the presentation rather than crafting a superhero tale on par with some of comparable recent literature for kids.
At some point, though, creator Jeff Smith was brought in and his “Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil” proved to be a hoot — Captain Marvel done right and done modern.
As a way of traversing the other interpretations of the character, DC has released “Shazam: The World’s Greatest Stories,” which gives several examples through the decades that show that Captain Marvel and the rest of the cast are often delightful enough to shine through in any era.
There are several fun stories from more recent times — “With One Magic Word” offers a good natured team-up with Superman and the comical “Out of the Dark Cloud” takes details of Captain Marvel’s magical transformation from Billy Batson to the World’s Mightiest Mortal and extends them to wacky extremes. There is also a bizarre — and I mean that in the best possible way — tale involving “Captain Thunder,” a kind of alternate Captain Marvel who has gone bad and is causing some problems for Superman.
But the real treasures of the book are the six stories from the character’s original era that really capture his essence. The origin story is often reprinted, but little seen tales such as Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s untitled tale a visit to a planet inhabited by domineering dragon men from “Captain Marvel Adventures #1″ are a whole lot of fun.
In great bit of absurdity, the Marvel Family helps build a modern city in the Amazon for a society of talking apes, but discovers that the apes aren’t all that they seem and their naive trust of the simian society turns to a race to save the world, with the craziest way to save the day you can imagine.
Most impressive of all is “Captain Marvel Battles the World,” a charming and sly fable that has the World’s Mightiest Mortal evading the ire of the earth itself. The earth is sick of humans digging into it and despite the moon’s attempts to talk it out doing anything, the earth retaliates with a series of natural disasters that Captain Marvel must present. The surreal tale comes to a conclusion when even the earth learns a valuable lesson about appreciating a resident superhero.
This is highly recommended for kids, but grown-ups with a good sense of delight and an affection for whimsy will eat these marvelous tales up.