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.

Carefully Reconstructed Nostalgia; All in Color for Forty Dimes

A Review of Fantastic Four #1 Facsimile Edition(2018),
by J. F. Kolacinski ©2018

I was excited yesterday to pick up a copy of the new facsimile edition of the original Fantastic Four #1. It was honestly amazing to hold this comic in my hands, to read and enjoy without having to worry about all the concerns that come with handling a 57-year old collectible.

IMG_3908It would be redundant to summarize the story here, but a couple of things are apparent as you read the book.

I’m far from the first to point this out, but the early influences of Marvel were far closer to the monster comic genre than to the distinguished competition’s superhero stories. This traces back to Marvel Comics #1; those initial appearances of the original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner are starkly different from your run of the mill superhero story and this influence permeates FF #1 from Ben’s first appearance to Johnny’s destruction of the race car and to the design and feel of the Mole Man’s creatures.

Once you’re used to reading modern comics, revisiting this comic makes it easy to see how the industry has changed over the years.  When Marvel returned to this story to reimagine it for Ultimate Fantastic Four in 2004, it took 6 issues to cover the same ground as FF #1.  Six issues that were, to me, inherently less satisfying. There’s a lot to the argument that the industry no longer writes comics; it writes trades which get split into individual issues.  I think that’s part of the reason Individual comics are not as enjoyable as they once were.

As for the physical comic, there were a lot of nice features.

The cover is a sturdy piece of card stock.  I wish modern Marvels would get closer to that on a regular basis.

The cover art has been restored to the original, or at least more painstakingly reproduced.

Here’s a scan of the original cover:

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For years reproductions of the cover to FF #1 seemed to be variations of the cover to the Golden Record reprint from 1966.  This omitted the figure closest to the police officer and had a redrawn figure on the far right.  The signage is also absent from the buildings.  Here’s the new cover side-by-side with the Golden record reprint.

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That this is the source seems clear if we look at the cover reproduced on the first printing of the FF Marvel Masterworks.  This image is also recolored and omits the police officer.

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In addition to restoration of the cover, the original interior coloring has been restored or reproduced. Here’s a pair of original pages.

IMG_3917And here are the corresponding pages from the Marvel Masterworks reprint.

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This coloring is consistent with my recollection of reprints and retellings from the 70s and 80s.  The coloring from the facsimile edition matches the original closely.  It’s interesting to notice that even the ads are colored consistently with the original.

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IMG_3918It’s a much nicer effect.  The older reprints had more of a paint-by-numbers feel while the original coloring seems more careful and more nuanced.  It’s also an integral part of the artwork, underscoring certain dramatic moments.  Returning the original flight suits to the dark blue and white color scheme also gives some historical context to the so called “negative uniforms” that John Byrne introduced in issue 256.  This is all very well done, but it’s worth noting that the corrected cover and coloring dates at least as far back as the version of FF #1 that appeared on Marvel.com in 2009.

Despite the clear effort that was expended making this a genuine facsimile of FF #1 there are some distinct differences, both intentional and unavoidable.

The intentional:IMG_3920

  • The cover price is $3.99, carefully done to match the style of the original.
  • The cover date reads “Aug” rather than “Nov.”
  • A modern “Marvel” logo and UPC code appear on the lower right-hand side of the cover.
  • A collection of original essays follows the reproduction of the original back cover.This is nice addition; it gives the book some original content and is appropriate to the occasion,  namely the return of Marvel’s first family to the Marvel Universe proper.
  • A painted version of Kirby’s original artwork is used as the back cover.

IMG_3907The unavoidable:

  • It’s a modern book printed on modern presses; it is consequently slimmer than the original.
  • The paper is distinctly different from the original pulp paper. It isn’t glossy but it’s whiter than pulp paper was traditionally and this gives a different feel to the book.
  • The printing is also modern. This helps on the cover, I think.  The shading isn’t as dark as on the original which gives a nicer effect.  In the interior, the small dots of color that indicated color combinations on vintage books are undetectable.  On the original the colors are more muted and warmer.  On the new edition, the effect of the original coloring with the whiter paper and the brighter colors is ever-so-slightly harsh.

Still, it’s clear that the folks at Marvel put a good deal of effort into making this an experience that’s as close as it could be to reading an original Fantastic Four #1 from 1961.  For me that effort paid off.  If you’re interested in such a thing, I recommend that you pick up a copy.

Sources:

  • CoverBrowser.com
  • git corp.The Complete Fantastic Four (2005)
  • Fantastic Four #1 Facsimile Edition (2018)
  • Marvel Masterworks Volume 2 (11/1987)
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four issues 1-6 (2004)
  • Brown, M., “Unstable Fashion Sense Part 1: The History of the Fantastic Four’s Costumes in the Comics,” comicbook.com, (1/2015)