Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The King's Last Hurrah

With the obvious theft of his intellectual property, Kirby had to be thinking of moving on well before he finally did take his leave of Marvel. I cannot imagine creating, writing, and illustrating any number of comic book properties, only to have authorship and ownership of them taken by a slimy shill and the corporation for which he worked.

I had long noticed that Kirby had all but ceased to create major characters for Marvel after issue #67 of FANTASTIC FOUR. In that issue he gave us the artificially generated superhuman that we would later come to know first as HIM and then as WARLOCK. I think that negative experience (Stan Lee utterly wrecked the narrative with his clumsy interference) showed Kirby that unless he had some solid editorial control, his work would continue to be misinterpreted and the products of the sweat of his brow stolen at every turn.

After the #66-67 storyline, Kirby pretty much stayed with established co-stars and villains with his flagship title. He would, of course, always find a way to toss in one of his unique monsters, but by and large he kept that strictly to his signature androids, robots, and aliens.

And the last great story arc he gave us with the book spanned four issues from #90 through #93. It's been said that Kirby was highly influenced by the original Star Trek episode "A Piece of the Action" in plotting this tale. That's quite possible. Kirby was obviously a movie fan and sometimes film influenced his work. If so, Kirby left that influence in a relatively minimal stage here.

He sets up the story on a world where, although possessed of advanced technology, the residents are stylistically and socially influenced by Prohibition-era USA. We have gangsters and street toughs and the dress and cityscapes of 1930s Chicago or New York. But instead of dealing in prohibited alcohol, the gangs who rule the roost trade in slaves, who are pitted one against the other in hand-to-hand (and lethal) combat in Roman-style arenas.

This story was classic Kirby and ALL Kirby. It was his life and his youth that was steering the content and the storyline. Not that of a middle-class wimp who had sat in an office his whole life and had never known poverty or hunger or been in the midst of a bare-knuckled fight in a ghetto neighborhood.

The Skrull-Slaver  arc was a story that only Jack Kirby could have told and he laid it out in such a simple way that not even that jackass sitting in the editor's chair could fuck it up. And this was Kirby's final moment not only to shine, but to show off his finest superhero creation, Ben Grimm.

The story begins with Grimm (Kirby) being fooled by a shape-changing Skrull disguised as Reed Richards (Stan Lee, his boss) who betrays him, gasses him, locks him up on a starship, and sells him into slavery (steals his ideas and intellectual property and making him a wage slave while the publisher grows rich). Even if on a subconscious level, this one is almost too obvious for words.

During the four issues, we are treated to some of the best writing Kirby was able to get past his unneeded (and fake) "co-creator". As I said, it was very difficult for even that jackass to fuck up Kirby's work here. There is great gangster speech, wonderful plot twists, and tons of action as only Jack Kirby could show it. And all during this long story, Kirby really only introduces one new character, that being Torgo, the gladiator who is supposed to defeat and kill Ben Grimm. And Kirby drew Torgo to resemble nothing so much as one of his robots so that it would be difficult to utilize him later in the way of merchandising.

Here then was the last great story-arc for Kirby on the FF. After this, he didn't attempt anything of such magnitude. It was his final big shout-out to his fans on the title, and probably at Marvel Comics.


Ben is betrayed and kidnapped.

Taken to a Skrull slave world in chains!

Fated to fight to the death against TORGO! (One of the best covers Kirby ever illustrated!)

The fight to the death!

1 comment:

Kirk G said...

Wow!