Quick Take: Superior Spider-Man (2019)

I read the first issue of the New Superior Spider-Man when it first came out and I wasn’t inspired to invest in the series. Not even Terrax was enough to inspire me to purchase issue 2. But while my car was being serviced, I noticed that the first issue was available on Marvel Unlimited. I decided to give it a second read. It did not get better. The set up is obvious, Dr. Octopus’ mind now resides in a cloned body of Peter Parker, with all of the powers that implies. He’s teaching at Horizon University in San Francisco and trying to be a better hero than Peter. The whole thing has a perfunctory “been there, done that” kind of a feel. It’s the same themes as volume 1 without having Peter’s story to bolster my interest.

The art isn’t superior either; it’s competent, but all the characters look like posed manikins. I’ve seen people talking about how they really like this series and it isn’t terrible. Maybe I’ll return to it in a couple of years, once the entire run is on Marvel Unlimited, but then again, maybe not. I can’t see investing in this series for the individual issues.

Also, do you remember a time when comic book companies tried not to overexpose their characters? In the 1940s Superman, Batman and Flash couldn’t be in the JSA because each had his own book. Similar policies persisted for a long time. But now Peter has two books, Miles, Gwen and Otto have books and there’s something called “Symbiote Spider-Man.” If Marvel isn’t careful, we’ll all have brand fatigue before long.

Bottom Line:

Who the Hell are the Eternals Anyway?

The Eternals (1976) #1

Eternals Vol 1 1

I’ve been reading comics since 1973, but I really have no idea who the Eternals are. I know they were created by Kirby and I remember Sersi being an Avenger for a while. And I know there’s that one guy who wears the Superman color scheme, whose name I feel like I should know. That’s about it, although I just learned that Eternals #2 is the first appearance of the Celestials, which intrigues me. I’m going to take the plunge and learn about these guys in advance of their movie. To that end, here’s a review of their first issue.

You may wonder how, being a Marvel guy, I missed the Eternals. Blame economics. My limited reading budget in 6th grade was progressively being focused on novels and I quit comics cold turkey (not to worry, I came back) when the cover price went up to 30¢. That gave me two months to notice the Eternals, but I never actually did.

Spoilers follow if one can spoil something published 43 years ago.

928 best Jack Kirby images on Pinterest | Comic art, Comic ...

When I was in college, I tried to read Harlan Ellison’s “For I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” three times. The first page is both excellent and electrifying. Offbeat and dark, it leaves you dying to know what happens next. I never found out. Each time I lost interest around the third page and I never successfully finished the story. Eternals #1 is a lot like that.

The first four pages are spectacular. The splash page is dominated by a “Kirby machine,” with small characters in the corner teasing some sort of great discovery. This expands to an amazing and intricate two-page spread. The Kirby machine of the first page is the head of the Incas’ “Space God.” The discovery is a huge statue of the Space God in his vehicle with myriad attendants along side and there’s so much interesting detail that you could pour over this page for quite some time. Page 4, another full page shows more of the Gods’ (now plural) equipment.

But then it gets kind of tedious. One of the characters is named Ike Harris and it dawns on me that the guy with the fashion sense of Superman might be called Ikaris. He is. Inwardly, I sigh; my least favorite thing about Kirby-as-writer is his names and these are going to be as cheesy as usual. Ikaris reveals himself to be an Eternal and he is searching for a Cosmic Beacon. He wants to summon the Gods so that they will return to Earth.

We’re also introduced to the Deviants. Monstrous creature’s with names like “Dog,” “Kro” and “Tode.” They’re as determined to prevent the Gods’ return as Ikaris is to bring it about.

Along the way we learn more about the Space Gods. They are aliens who came to Earth ages ago and genetically manipulated the ape creatures they found here. This lead to the creation of three species. The Humans, the Deviants who are genetically unstable with no fixed form and the godlike Eternals who are few in number, powerful and immortal.

Interesting, but still ultimately tedious. One reason, I realized, is that in panel after panel, the captions do nothing but describe what’s clearly happening in the artwork. I had thought that Kirby’s writing had improved a great deal by this point, but this undermines that. If anyone should understand “show, don’t tell,” it’s an Artist/writer.

Like a lot of Kirby’s writing, there’s lots of good ideas but I find the execution kind of flat. I remind myself that this is an introductory issue and those can be dull; the characters have to be introduced, the situations have to be laid and out and the universe needs to be built. That calls for a lot of exposition and that can leave very little room for story.

Unlike a lot of Kirby’s writing, it feels derivative. There is very little that feels new. The premise is essentially the same as 2001: A Space Odyssey which Kirby had just adapted a few months before. This comic falls between the 2001 Treasury Edition and 2001 the ongoing series which, at least so far, I find a lot more interesting. The rest of the story feels a lot like the Inhumans with some of Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods mixed in.

The cliffhanger at the end of the issue is that the Space Gods have arrived and we’re told they’re called the Celestials. I’m still intrigued. More to come.

Bottom Line:

The Avengers in the Stars

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged anything, although there’s lots of stuff in the works that will hopefully come out soon, when the term is over and I have some time to finish it up.

In the meantime, here’s something quick that falls under “comics” and “the universe” with not so much of the “everything.”

Image result for star walk 2

Many of you may have the App “Star Walk 2” installed on your phone or tablet. It seems that they have added a number of new constellations based on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, probably inspired by some teevee show or movie or something. Who really knows? But now we have some modern mythology among the stars along side its classic siblings.

The new constellations were created by the folks at the Institute of Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences and are available for free in the “Additional Content” section of the App.

Here a sampling:

There’s lots more to find, including some of the better ones, but I don’t want to spoil all of the fun. And part of the fun is finding the things that seem Marvel themed, but were there all along, such as the constellation Hercules or this one:

Happy Hunting!

Credit Where It’s Due Department: Don Heck and the Wondrous Wasp

“Who created the Wasp?” might be less of a settled question than is usually believed.

I’ve been working my way through the Ant-Man/Giant Man era in Tales to Astonish (TtA) and I made it img_4223up to the first appearance of the Wasp a month ago or so.  I was enjoying the story and the art and looking at the picture to the left, it’s obvious that Don Heck is the penciller.  The art looked particularly good, and I wondered who did the inking.  Could Heck be inking himself?  I turned to the credits and to my surprise, I discovered Jack Kirby is credited as the artist while heck is only credited as the inker.  That seemed to contradict everything I see in the book.

img_4224

The Wasp is generally considered a Lee/Kirby creation or a Lee/Hart/Kirby creation.  I probably first read this story when I scored a copy of The Superhero Women (TSW) back in the early 80’s.  Here’s what Stan Lee had to say about the art in this story in TSW.  “As for the artwork – who else but Jack Kirby?  And it was a real treat to have Dashin’ Donnie Heck available to do the inking.”  But he says something else that’s interesting.  “Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to write the story that introduced Janet Van Dyne.  Luckily, however, after writing the basic plot, I was able to give it to an old friend of mine, Ernest Huntley Hart.”   A bit later we see “Why he signed his name as H. E. Huntley is something the world may never know…” [1]

What do we get from this?  Lee was busy, busy enough to pass off the scripting duties for this issue to Ernie Hart.  Tales to Astonish #44 was published for June 1963.  To  quantify how busy Lee was at that time, we can check his credits at ComicBookDB.com.  He worked on at least 11 comics in May of 1963 as well as 8 comics in June and 11 in July.  Kirby was no less busy; he worked on 10 comics in May, 7 in June and 10 in July.

Let’s look at a few panels from Tales to Astonish #44, from page 12…

TtA 44 pg 12 org

and from page 17.

TtA 44 pg 17

There’s not a lot here that seems reminiscent of Kirby.  You can compare these to any of Heck’s pencils from this time period, this looks like his work.  The faces and figures look like Heck’s; one of the characters on page 12 could be a doppelganger of Happy Hogan.  The hands look like Heck’s work; he tended to draw longer, more slender fingers on the male characters.  The shading also looks like his work; here that tends much more toward hatching (clusters of close parallel lines) than is typical of Kirby’s work.

Compare these to some other panels credited to Kirby published the same month, first from Rawhide Kid #34…

RawhideKid34

and these from Journey into Mystery #93.

Journey93

The art in these issues scream Kirby.  The faces look like Kirby’s and the figures look like Kirby’s.  The shading looks like Kirby; Kirby tended toward more and larger areas of solid black than Heck did.  The hands look like Kirby’s as he tended to draw blockier, squared-off fingers on the men.

So, giving Kirby full credit for the artwork seems dubious.  The credits in the issue certainly make it seem there is some element of truth to it, but the other evidence should at least make us think there’s something worth investigating here.

Who created Iron Man?

ToS 39 Splash

Let’s rewind three months to a comic published in March of 1963.  Tales of Suspense (ToS) #39 introduced the Invincible Iron Man to the world.

The creative process for “Iron Man is Born!” seems very similar to the process for “The Creature from Kosmos!”  Judging from the credits, Lee was responsible for the basic plot, but he handed off scripting duties to his brother, Larry Lieber.  We know Kirby did the early design work for Iron Man and penciled the cover while Heck was responsible for the interior art.

But, actually it’s not that simple.  Kirby claimed to have done full breakdowns for the story and this was reported for years.  Mark Evanier did a careful study of Kirby’s involvement with this story and with Daredevil #1 and concluded that Kirby…

“definitely did not do full breakdowns as has been erroneously reported about … the first ‘Iron Man’. [In the early 1970s], Jack claimed to have laid out those stories, and I repeated his claim in print — though not before checking with Heck who said, in effect, ‘Oh, yeah. I remember that. Jack did the layouts’. We all later realized he was mistaken. … Both also believed that Jack had contributed to the plots of those debut appearances — recollections that do not match those of Stan Lee. (Larry Lieber did the script for the first Iron Man story from a plot that Stan gave him.) Also, in both cases, Jack had already drawn the covers of those issues and done some amount of design work. He came up with the initial look of Iron Man’s armor….” [2]

Is the situation here analogous to TtA #44?  Is it the very same situation with the claim of doing the layouts preceding the writing of the credits box?  Much depends on what is meant by “art” and “inking.”  It’s likely that later credits would delineate the tasks here as “layouts” and “embellishing” which recognizes a much greater contribution on the part of the inker, but comic book credits were still in their infancy.

Introducing Credits

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During the Golden Age, comics tended to credit a single creator if they credited anyone at all.  This practice had not changed much by the time Fantastic Four (FF) #1 was published a mere 17 months earlier, as you can see here it credited only Lee and Kirby.  It was Stan Lee who introduced the “credits box” to the industry, mimicking credits in motion pictures in an attempt to give comics a greater sense of importance.  Eventually the credits would recognize editors, writers, pencillers, inkers, letterers and colorists and some more nuanced roles such as co-plotters, layout artists and embellishers.  At the time I suspect that the lines between these various roles was still being codified.  Is it possible that the only difference in the credits between TtA #44 and ToS #39 is merely different, but not  yet codified meanings of “art” and “inker?”

Don Heck as an Inker

Some inkers are known for being heavy handed, where their personal style overwhelms the style of the penciller.  Could that be the case here?  It’s not likely.  Let’s look at a couple of examples.  Heck inked Amazing Spider-Man #63 over the pencils of John Romita.  Here’s a few panels.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ams-63.jpg

Romita’s style is undiminished while there are very few indicators of Heck’s influence.  We see something similar in ToS #80 where, more on point, we see Heck’s inks over Kirby’s pencils.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tos-80-a.jpg

This is quite clearly Kirby’s work.  The hallmarks are there: the composition, the poses, the black areas in the shading and the look of the hands.  If anything, Heck is responsible for giving the art nice, clean lines that enhance Kirby’s pencils rather than supersede them.  Although this is a small sample, it seems that, if Heck had been given detailed pencils from Kirby, we would have a finished product that reflected Kirby’s style. [3]

If we want to see a contemporary rendering of Ant-Man and the Wasp by Kirby, we need look no further than Janet’s second appearance in Fantastic Four #16, published the following month, July 1963.

Janet only appears in this single panel.  Let’s compare it to this image from TtA #44.

The broad scheme of Janet’s outfit is the same in both books.  However, in TtA #44 the outfit is more formfitting than the version in FF #16 and it drapes a bit better.  Both of these imply Heck’s influence.  The other distinct difference is in the outfit’s shoulders; in the TtA version the shoulders are smaller and up swept, making them more evocative of wings.  If both versions were pencilled in detail by Kirby, it seems as though there would be more similarity in the details.

In FF #16, we see Hank employ his catapult to travel across the city.  Compare the FF version,

to this image from TtA #44.

The final image in the FF version is far more dynamic, one of Kirby’s calling cards.  This second sequence seems much more similar to this sequence from TtA #43, (pencilled by Heck) than it does to the FF version.

This isn’t, by itself definitive, there are less dynamic catapult sequences that were penciled by Kirby.  Here’s another image from FF # 16.

Again, Kirby’s signature dynamism is on full display.  It’s tricky to find a similar scene in an Ant-Man story,  but here is one of the highlights of TtA #44.

The action is depicted competently, but it’s a much more conventional depiction than the fight sequence in FF #16.  In the latter piece, most of the action is parallel to the panel, occurring safely behind it.  In the first, the reader is either drawn directly into the panel or the action is projecting directly out of the panel, moving directly toward the reader.  The action is even more muted in this sequence from TtA #45 by Heck.

The scene from TtA #44 looks qualitatively different both from the panels from FF #16 and from Heck’s artwork in TtA #45.  It’s possible that TtA #44 is a hybrid, using Heck’s more traditional poses with a bit of Kirby’s flair for action.

Original Art Pages

One helpful consequence of the Ant-Man and the Wasp movie having been released so recently is that many pages of the original artwork for TtA #44 have been for sale online.  This makes it easy to find and inspect the artwork to see if anything can be learned from it.  Unfortunately, at least as far as can be seen on-line, most of the pencil work is covered by the ink lines or is not visible for other reasons.  But there are notable exceptions.

In the left-hand panel here, you can see pencil marks probbly meant to depict Janet’s shoulders as she faces the projected image more directly than in the final image.  In the right-hand panel, there is an oval in the approximate position of Janet’s head which might indicate an original sketch where Janet’s head was smaller than Heck drew it in the final version. TtA #44 pg 16 panel 4

There is an image of page 16 on-line where a lot of  the pencil work is visible.  Let’s look at two panels from this page.  The pencils in this image look rough.  You can also see penciled-in placements for the dialogue balloons.  That could be Kirby’s handwriting in the balloons, but there’s not enough visible to be certain.  What this implies about the plotting process is unknown.   TtA #44 pg 16 panel 5

The rough nature of the layouts is particularly evident in this image, where it looks like Heck made a number of changes as he inked the final version, specifically, Hank’s arm is at his side rather than  on Janet’s shoulder, his foot is moved and Janet’s wings are positioned differently.  There’s no reason to necessarily assume that the pencils here aren’t Kirby, but the work is sparse enough that, judging from this alone, they could just as easily be by Heck or any number of other artists.  Other Kirby pencils that can be found online are carefully detailed and definitely display the artist’s distinctive style.

Conclusion

I’m far from the first person to suggest this but it is clear that Kirby (or whoever did the pencils) did only a minimal layout for TtA #44.   Kirby was certainly  involved in the design work and the cover art.  Kirby is credited for the “art” but there are other indications that he is indeed responsible for the layouts.  The technology in the story resembles what we call “Kirby machines”  and the design of the creature appears to be more reminiscent of Kirby’s work than much of the other artwork in the story.  Although not as dynamic as the art in other Kirby publications, the layouts and the action sequences appear different from Heck’s typical work.

But these layouts are sparse enough that to credit Heck only as the inker is an understatement.  His style dominates the art in this story and he must have been responsible for many of the fine details of the issue.  In ToS #39, Kirby designed the Iron Man armor and Heck developed the look of Tony Stark and the supporting cast.  It remains an open question in my mind whether the creation of the Wasp isn’t directly analogous.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, Don Heck is an integral part of the creation of the Wasp and I think he should share credit with Kirby, Lee and Hart.

Footnotes:

[1] I had initially wondered if this name swap was due to some sloppiness in the credits, but it appears that Hart scripted seven stories for Marvel in 1963, two Human Torch stories from Strange Tales (ST) 110 and 111 and the Ant-Man and the Wasp stories in TtA 44 to 48.  All of these are credited to H. E. Huntley except the story in ST #111 which is credited to H. Huntley.  It’s still possible that the the credit for TtA #44 was an error that was then repeated, but that seems far less likely than if it were a single occurrence.

[2] This quote was taken from the Don Heck page at ComicBookDB.com where it is sourced back to Evanier’s “POV Online” column.

[3] Speaking of Credit where it’s due, this post was inspired by a discussion with Jared Aiosa of the Heroes Your Mom Threw Out Comic Shop in Elmira, NY.  The Don Heck angle was self-evident, but Jared pointed me toward a lot of the other things I investigate here.

References:

 

What if Captain America became President?

Cap for President

First Published on Quora, 14 October 2019.

CaptainAmerica250It’s worth pointing out here that this very idea has already been played around with in the comics. In Captain America 250 (October 1980) Steve is approached by the New Populist Party and asked to be their candidate for president. He gives it serious thought and spends most of the issue debating the pros and cons with his friends, Avengers and otherwise. The ending of the issue is bittersweet; Steve, of course, decides not to run for president and the enthusiasm that had been building within the NPP turns to a profound disappointment.

About six months later, Marvel itself answered this question in What If? #26. Of course we don’t really know whether WI#26 tells us what “really” would have happened, but it’s at least as valid as what anybody else would have said. And in some sense, that’s the ultimate answer to the question at hand. It really depends on who gets to write the story.

Cap #250 is a classic. What if #26 is pretty good. Both are worth checking out and are available on Marvel Unlimited.

what-if-26.pngTo give my own opinion, there’s two things I think are worth addressing, how Steve would have governed and how the public would have been likely to respond.

Politically, I think Steve is likely to be a New Dealer. He was born in 1920 and came of age around 1940; FDR was popular and won a fairly lopsided electoral victory that year, although not nearly as lopsided as 1936. I think what we’ve seen from Steve over the years bares this out, from Englehart’s run in the 70’s to his reason for stepping out of the role in “Captain America No More” to his stance in Civil War and beyond (Hydra-Steve not withstanding). In foreign policy I think he would be an excellent diplomat, able to find common ground with other nations and move forward productively. He would certainly be more apt to use military force than Carter, but probably not nearly so apt as either of the Bushes. He would be relentlessly ethical.

But I think that the public’s response to Steve as president would be more indicative of his legacy as Commander-in-Chief than his political positions.

If he had been elected President in 1980 when “Cap for President” first hit the stands, conservative or liberal, I think President Rogers would have been a transformational  figure. Six years out from Watergate and a bit over a year after Carter’s malaise speech, the American Electorate was in flux. “Reagan Democrats” were becoming a thing while there was a candidate for the Republican nomination, John Anderson, who was arguably more liberal than the Democrats’ eventual nominee. If there’s one constant in all the portrayals of Steve Rogers, it’s in his ability to lead and inspire. Cap as president in the early 1980’s would have changed the political landscape for a generation or more.

On the other hand, had Steve been elected in the current political climate, I don’t think any of that would have mattered. Ed Brubaker (I’m pretty sure, I haven’t been able to locate the quote) made a relevant remark about the time Steve “died” in the aftermath of Civil War. He said that it was tricky to write Cap. One side of the political spectrum mainly wanted to see Cap beating up terrorists, while the other side mainly wants to see him giving speeches about rights and fairness. If anything, this aspect of has gotten more extreme over the past 11 years. Steve as president in the 21st Century probably presides over a lackluster presidency with one side of the aisle lauding his accomplishments and the other condemning his inadequacies, justly or unjustly.

And that, I think says much more about the state of politics in America today than it does about Captain America.

References:

Captain America #250 (October 1980)

What If? # 26

Captain America – Wikipedia

 

Man and Machine Man

First Published April 2018

It seemed natural to follow up on Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey by reading his run of issues in Machine Man, #1-9. Indeed, the last three issues of 2001 are closer to being a prolog for this series than they are a coda for thatimg_8535.jpg one.

The first issue is a bit jarring. There’s a near complete reset of supporting characters despite coming only seven months after 2001 #10. Visually, the first nine issues are pure Kirby goodness that escape the excessive cheesiness that diminish some of his other writing efforts. In these issues, it seems that the book isn’t intended to exist within the Marvel Universe. That makes sense as it continued from a licensed series which compared the character to the “Marvel Superheroes” in a way that doesn’t seem natural within that universe. The writing is kind of klunky in places. There’s a lot of what Star Trek fans would call “technobabble” as Machine Man demonstrates some new ability or other and Colonel Kragg (a character precisely in the General Ross motif) reminds us that he lost an eye battling the other robots in the X series virtually every single time that he appears. Not a great collection of books, less interesting than the 2001 series it sprang from but still, an enjoyable read.

The series seems to end here, promising a follow-up in Incredible Hulk. But the cancellation became a hiatus and the series was resurrected after a few months. More on that later. Probably.

Edit:
Jim Kosmicki inspired me to look at the timing of this. It turns out this is the very moment Jack left Marvel for the last time to work in animation. His last work for Marvel was Machine Man #9 and Devil Dinosaur #9, both cover-dated December 1978. Devil Dinosaur ended permanently. I don’t know if the Machine Man revival was planned or if he proved popular enough in the Hulk issues to justify restarting the book.

Not Kubrick or Clarke, but Kirby’s Space Odyssey

First published 20 April 2018

Finally finished this run on Saturday and read ‘em today. The first 7 issues are a lot of fun and… trippy.  The first few issues follow the pattern established in the movie.  The monolith encounters a creature in the far past; it then encounters a character in a near-future setting and that character is evolved into a star child.  The star child then moves on to other adventures.  The themes continue, but the narrative loosens as the series progresses.

It’s impresimg_3531sive to me that Kirby was able to draw on the concepts of the Movie and the novel in non-trivial, substantive ways. I’m not generally a fan of Kirby as a writer. The Inhumans run in Amazing Adventures is a great example; it’s hard to overstate how much better those got after Thomas and Adams took over. But Kirby had clearly grown a lot as a writer over the intervening 6-7 years. These were spot on and much better than I’d expected.

Machine Man is introduced in issue 8 and the 2001 stuff fades into the background as the book shifts to a standard superhero narrative. Still good though. Overall, a fun read.