Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I spent several years collecting all the issues of The AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that were written and illustrated by its (one and only) creator, Steve Ditko. Since then, I've been steadily assembling a collection of the FANTASTIC FOUR issues that were written and illustrated by its (sole) creator, Jack Kirby.

These two books and all of the characters connected to them were the foundation upon which the most successful comic book company in modern history was built. Without Kirby and Ditko there would not have been a Marvel Comics as we know it. And I love being able to refer to the actual issues when the urge hits me to review them.

An ingenious cover that keeps the villains a secret until the fan gets into the story.

Unusually good inking by Chic Stone.
Today I landed a copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #37. This issue came out during a relatively pedestrian period for the title, but even during this calmer time Jack Kirby was showing the kind of story-telling chops he had. This stand-alone issue features a brief adventure of the Four as they journey to the Skrull homeworld during which time they are stripped of their powers and find themselves at the mercy of enemies against whom they'd been pitted from time to time since issue #2 of their book.

Although Kirby was not introducing any major new characters in this story (or even in the run leading up to issue #44) he was still doing some amazing things. Kirby had introduced a new kind of continuity to superhero comics with the books he was producing for Marvel. The stories were all interconnected. They were connected not only between one issue and the next, but between one title and another. The things that went on in Fantastic Four could (and often did) influence the things happening in X-Men and the Avengers (and other titles).

Another of Kirby's collage pages.

This issue holds true to that form created by Jack Kirby and which was then pretty much completely unique to superhero comics. We see again the Skrull Empire. This was yet another facet of storytelling that would lend itself to the further adventures of the Kirby characters, and which other writers and artists would be able to mine long after Kirby had departed the company. We see in this book that Skrulls--while at odds with humans--are possessed of the same emotions and desires as humans. They may be antagonistic toward the Fantastic Four, but they were shown not to be without their own reasons, and not to be without compassion. Keep in mind that Kirby was creating this type of intergalactic empire building blocks long before we ever saw this method of continuity in television shows like Star Trek or motion pictures such as Star Wars.

Kirby action!

And we see Kirby using continuity and humor with the ongoing story of the wedding between Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and Susan Storm (the Invisible Girl). As the story closes, we are left with a panel of the four going through a wedding rehearsal, a buildup for the story that Kirby would give us in FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #3 (which I covered in a previous blog).

How many superhero comics had shown a long-running romance of two superheroes culminating in their marriage?
(Chic Stone was never my favorite inker on Jack Kirby's pencils. However, sometimes he did an exceptionally good job. But this issue's work is so uneven that I wonder if it was, in fact, the work of several inkers. For instance, the first page I posted after the cover shows top-notch skill, while the work on this last page--and especially that last panel--don't seem to have been done by the same artist! I'm sure there's a comic book historian out there who knows if this issue was inked by a team of artists. To be fair, I've read that Stone was a very busy artist--taking as much work as he could get, so maybe it really is all Stone inks in this issue...some when he'd had his first cup of coffee of the day, and some when he was falling asleep at the drawing board.)


MarkGelbart said...

I remembered this the other day and thought of you.

This was decades ago.

Stan Lee was being interviewed on national tv--I think it was on 60 Minutes but I don't remember for sure.

Someone, maybe it was Ed Bradley, asked him how he came up with the idea for Spiderman.

At first, he didn't recall, then he said he saw a spider crawling on the wall.

I didn't realize this at the time, but if he couldn't remember how he created a character, he was obviously telling a falsehood. He should have said I didn't create him, Ditko did.

Maybe his ego is so big, like J. Jonah Jameson, that he actually believes he created him. Probably didn't give Ditko credit for legal reasons, though.

James Robert Smith said...

Lee is a loudmouth. The best shill the industry ever had. That said...he's not terribly smart. His story about the creation of Spider-Man has changed over the years. From he saw a spider crawling on the wall to he saw a fly crawling across the window to whatever he felt like saying. The sad fact is that he never created anything. He just stole the intellectual property of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (and other artist/writer/creators).

There are tons of stories of how Lee would not hire artists who wouldn't or couldn't write their own stories. Some artists would get fed up with writing the stuff only to see "Written by Stan Lee" on the title page. The anger from guys like this run the gamut from Stan Goldberg to Wally Wood. Fellows who just got sick of the charade.

The saddest thing about it all is that the company is worth many billions of dollars. The creations of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko have made--just in motion pictures alone--BILLIONS of dollars. Not counting comic book sales, toy sales, TV shows, etc.

Kirby and Ditko were not just robbed, they were brutally raped.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

To me Stone had a crisp, clean, simple, BOLD style that was a perfect match for Jack Kirby, and while he was able to make many other artists' work look good as well, it was often totally at odds with their styles (see Don Heck or John Buscema). While Dick Ayers brought a gritty "real world", almost documentary feel to Kirby's work, Chic Stone gave it a "Saturday morning cartoon" look, only with more budget than they ever gave Alex Toth or Doug Wildey. Kirby-Stone is what those cartoons SHOULD have looked like!!!

I've never seen the original printing of "BEHOLD! A DISTANT STAR!", but I have seen some widely variably reprints where some pages are too dark, lines too thick, and others, too light, lines completely disappearing. Marvel's "blunt instrument" stat machine at it again, that and of course, the incompetent loss of so many original stats (which probably weren't as good as they should have been in the first place).

This story has always been a classic to me-- after all, it was adapted, rather faithfully, for the 1967 cartoon show. They left out the personal motive for the FF actually traveling thru hyper-space to reach the Skrull Homeworld-- to get revenge / bring justice to the murderer of Sue & Johnny's father in a previous issue. Instead, Reed was simply testing a new rocket engine, and their spacecraft was diverted off course, deliberately, by Warlord Marat-- who reminds me of Michael Ansara!

The story goes that Chic Stone, who did a TON of inks for Marvel for about a year, quit, because he kept asking editor Stan Lee to give him some pencilling work, but Stan ONLY wanted him to do inks. Now, I've seen Stone's pencils. Maybe Stan was right. But that's not the point. Had Stan bent just a little, thrown Stone a bone (heh), just ONE strip, maybe a back-up somewhere, just to keep him happy, we might have seen him stick around for many years.

Which brings up the question... could Stone write-- did he want to? THAT could have been the real stumbling block. BUT, since Lee would NEVER admit to what was really going on, the whole thing about him not wanting Stone to pencil, or perhaps not having any books for him to pencil, may have been JUST ANOTHER LIE.

Apparently, George Tuska and Jim Mooney did not want to write, EITHER. Note the way they got around this. After ONE story with Stan (a TALES OF THE WATCHER episode), Tuska was teamed with Jack Kirby (story & layouts). He disappears for awhile after that, but resurfaces when Archie Goodwin-- a REAL writer-- is on IRON MAN. By that time, Marvel was hiring more and more real writers (some of questionable ability, but never mind that). So in the 70's, Tuska did a TON of work. When "The Marvel Method" actually became reality-- writers coming up with detailed PLOTS, artists contributing the rest (perhaps 50% or more), there was a lot of flexibility going on.

In the case of Jim Mooney, EVERY single book he EVER did with Stan Lee was REALLY him working with JOHN ROMITA. And of course, Romita has revealed over the last 15 years that-- GUESS WHAT?-- he was writing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, not Stan.

Once you realize Stan NEVER wrote anything (except for SILVER SUFFERER), so much of 60's Marvel history begins to make perfect, obvious sense.

James Robert Smith said...

I'm glad to hear that Romita is at last talking about what was really going on at Marvel. Lee had the writer/artists by the short and curlies. You either went along with the lie that he was writing the books, or you tried to go find work elsewhere. Yeah, you would think a guy like Romita could just walk across town to DC, but then they'd put him on romance books again so he not only wouldn't be creating the kind of thing that lit a fire under him, he'd also not get a lot of work.

Lee kept this up, inflating the lie that he was a creator.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

Of all the people who worked for Stan Lee (for, not "with"), John Romita was always the most loyal, the most dependable, the most handy, the one Stan could most count on (since he had his office right there in the corner and was there more days a week than Stan ever was).

So when Romita-- of all people!!-- began slowly, painfully, a piece at a time, revealing what REALLY went on... it had a tremendous effect on me. He talked about his liflong battle with crippling low-self-esteem (boy, do I know what that's like) and how he wished he could have had the courage to be able to stand up to Stan all those years.

I recall reading multiple interviews with Romita in the last 15 years, and each one, he seemed to go a little farther. He still likes Stan, and claerly doesn't want to say or do anything that might hurt Stan. But the truth began to come out.

More than anyone, Romita was the ONE person, because of what I described above, who made me realize the scope and enormity of what was REALLY going on at Marvel in the 60's.

Kirk G said...

The Skrulls played a role in three books prior to this,issue #37. They were featured in FF #2, #18, #32 and five issues, less than a half year later, in #37. They don't return until #90-93. I never had #37 in my collection, but I did have #36 and #39 as felt that there was a continued story running from #36 thru the pay-off for issue #40 depends on the innovation of the "stimulator" being introduced on page one of #37.
I know V. Colleta did the inks on #39. Did he do #38 as well? Or was that Chic Stone's last FF? If Stone started with #27 or #28, did he complete a full year's contract?

James Robert Smith said...

Frank Giacoia did the inks for #39, except that all of the figures of Daredevil were inked by Wally Wood in what had to be a cool idea between the artists involved.

Some of the pages looked to have been inked by Stone, but that could have just been Giacoia trying to approximate Stone's style, or maybe coincidence. I don't have a copy of #38 yet.

And, of course, Giacoia did the inks under the pseudonym "Frank Ray". Inkers and pencilers did this to keep jobs at other publishing houses, but sometimes I wonder if they did it when several inkers ended up working on various pages to meet a deadline.

James Robert Smith said...

Henry: I can't imagine any of the artists who were used by Lee having any fond emotions for that guy. I suppose to harkens back to just being a cog in the machine and not having any concept of creator rights.

Kirk G said...

It must have made it incredibly confusing to figure out who to pay, if multiple people were working on inking a book, and an umbrella "nom de plume" was being used on the splash to obscure it.
Heck, it sure makes historical research like our a pain in the rear! (Of course, they never thought that the original artwork would ever be worth anything either. As Curt Swain once said to me, "we were just working joes, trying to keep meat and potatoes on the table for our families. We never dreamed there would be this recognition for our work."

Kirk G said...

I never had a copy of FF #38 for the longest of times. I saw the in-house ads for the cover in my other back issue Marvels that I had scored...but I never knew anyone who had it. Clearly, my copy of #39 recapped it significant event, but I didn't know how the evil FF had pulled it off.
And then one day, I was flipping through the old used comics standing up on end in the cardboard box/display rack at the local family grocer, and there it was. Holy crap, it was priced as just 35 cents and it was bagged!
I snapped up that bad boy so fast, I couldn't believe my luck. It resides in a treasured spot in my collection ever since. And the cliff-hanger ending makes the launch into #39 all the more incredible, as you think for sure, they're all dead at the end of #38. WOW!

Richard Fahey said...

It's very difficult to be objectively fair in the wrangling of who created or wrote what between Lee and his artists.After so many decades,I don't suppose will ever know who did exactly what.

First the stark facts:I know Lee did'nt do it all and has'nt given enough recognition to his co-creators,especially Kirby and Ditto.{Ditko in particular had a slick but natrualistic style,prehaps shown to best effect in Dr.Strange,where his brilliance in creating psychadelic and metaphysical realms,is proberly unequalled.A pity he left Marvel so early,4 years before Kirby.]Secondly,despite his grabbing of so much credit for what he did'nt do,there was and is no dought that Lee is a talented writer and scripter,well versed in literary lore,and created much of the characters personalities and imbued them with realistic dialogue and modern idioms.

Spider Man,it is well known,was inspired by the character of the 1930s pulp magazine,The Spider,that Lee loved so much,that would seem to make nonsense of arachnids crawling up the wall!Was it not his idea also to have a weak,bumling everyman as the modern hero?How much of the character was later supplied by Ditko and Romita however,I can't say.

Lee gave so much freedom to his artists in creating the "Marvel method",that he was asking for trouble,when really he was following his own aspirations to be a literary writer.Comics were the only way he could make a career as writer,and make money.

The art of Kirby,Ditko and others was so marvellous though,so organic for Stan and later Roy Thomas,to use their wit and literary skills to great effect.It's a pity that he could'nt have kept his dignity by admitting to his contribution,without having fill his ego.

James Robert Smith said...

I would have been willing to give him that much credit if he hadn't acted as he has over the years, making sure that Kirby and Ditko got nothing.

Lee's editing of the dialog was mostly excellent. I've never said that he was not a decent editor. And he was the best publicity man that the comic book industry ever had.

But I just don't see any evidence that he contributed to the creation of the titles and characters generated mainly by Kirby and Ditko.

Richard Fahey said...

Lee has admitted to not creating some characters.A famous example of course,is the Silver Surver,of which Lee,prehaps suprisingly,was not happy with when Kirby showed him the original drawings for the Galatacus epic.[I think we can safely say he at least conceived the seed for that one,but can't measure Kirby's contribution]Later as you know,he saw the potential in the saintly sky glider,and was able to use his wit and literary skills to create one of the great personalities of comics.

The point is though,that Lee was supplied with consistent ideas by Kirby and others,and was in a field where it was nescessary to keep coming-up with new ideas and to meet deadlines.It was understandable that he or his artists could'nt take the load on their own shoulders,,but as you say,it would have been dignified to have admitted it.

Vince Collecta did a nice job on the inks on the Fantastic Four after Chic Stone left,but was better on Thor,where it's already been said,his stuff was less slick and suited the magazine better than Joe Sinnott would have done,but did such an excellent job on the FF.I think Stone's work was crude on both books and had a less dramatic effect.

James Robert Smith said...

The basic truth is this: Lee never created anything until Kirby and Ditko came along. Kirby and Ditko, by contrast, had created superhero characters before they did so at Marvel. And Kirby and Ditko created superheroes AFTER they left Marvel. They didn't need Lee's help. Ever. Never HAD any help from Lee, who was only their editor and the publisher's nephew.

The Surfer was always a lost soul. That was the way Kirby created him. Did Lee and Goodman capitalize Kirby's creation? You bet they did!

Lee has accidentally admitted that he didn't create certain characters. But now his name is plastered all over those characters as "created by Lee", despite those past admissions. Silver and Surfer and Dr. Strange foremost in that category.

Richard Fahey said...

Lee did create The Destroyer for what would become Marvel,for Timely in the 1940s,about an American journalist who ends-up in a Nazi concentration camp,but is helped to get out or escape by an inmate,and then becomes a superhero determinded to fight tyranny and injustice,but what help he had from the artist creator[Carl Burges?]nearly 20 before "the Marvel method",I have no idea.

I suppose you're right about the Surfer,but whose idea was it,that would help to make him such an interesting character,to make him an exile on our miserable planet?I think it was Lee's trademark to infuse the characters with tragic bearings,such as the fabulous Inhumans king,the silent Blackbolt,created near enough the same time,but obviously much of that was Kirby's creation.

Yes I can see what you mean by capitalising on Kirby's creations.He never drew the first Silver Surfer comic,and prehaps needless to say,was unfair considering it was his brainchild,but also it only lasted 18 issues mind you,so some integrity was shown in now turning a cerebral comic book saga into a commercialized venture.[no polishing here of Stan's scout badge!]

To be honest though,John Buscema did a truly excellent job of penciling the series with equally good inking from Joe Sinnott and John's brother Sal.It was a somewhat different character from the one in the Fantastic Four though,where there was a more cosmic vision,compared with the earthly and intense storylines not seen in mainstream comics before,and difficult to see how Kirby's rugged,slingshot style could have coped with them.He would I think have had a greater selling power over the magazine though with a quite different emphasis to that given to the natural style of Buscema.

Once again,Dr Strange was I know was based on earlier comic book magicians and a radio one that Lee loved as a young man,so it was only natural he would want to create one for himself to indulge in.What made him different from the earlier ones though,was the ancient lore of transcripts reminiscent of Lovecraft,the esoteric metaphysics,psychedelic realities and the little later origin story of a fallen,flawed human being finding enlightenment in a more spiritual realm.

This last facet once again seems to have Lee's signature for want of characters with feet of clay,but I suppose once again I don't know how much Ditko contributed to it,or the concepts for that matter.I do know his art was astounding on the series though,his technical ability to create light,shade and subtle mood was unequalled,and as for those fabulous dimensions he made....well Stan just could'nt have imagined all that on his own!

I totally agree though,he shouldn't try and make himself into a god when he's only made of lighter stuff.Admission of humility is much nearer to divinity.

James Robert Smith said...

Yes, I've heard that he did create the Golden Age version of The Destroyer. Because of all of the stuff he's claimed over the years, I have to take that one with a grain of salt. It could be true, I suppose.

I've also heard that he did create Willy Lumpkin, the mailman. That one could also be true.

Richard Fahey said...

I can't comment on that last one.The artists who worked with him on the Golden Age hero,were apparently Jack Binder and Alex Schomberg,who did the covers and may have been the original artist.