Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Two Favorite Comic Stories

As a kid, I loved superhero comics. As an adult...not so much. Except, of course, in the realm of nostalgia. I still adore those comic stories that inspired and fascinated me as a kid and enjoy looking at them through the lens of decades of history.

My two favorite superhero comic book yarns were written and illustrated by (of course) my two favorite creators of that period of my life: Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. I won't get too much into the history of the pair of stories that so influenced me, except to reiterate that Steve Ditko created, wrote, and illustrated The Amazing Spider-Man; and Jack Kirby created, wrote, and illustrated the Fantastic Four. Neither man had a "co-creator"--just an editor.

I've also covered both of these stories in past essays here in my blog. So I'll just list the stories and the issues in which they appeared and leave my earlier words to stand; and perhaps add some depth to those essays on another day.

The first of these great stories was the Master Planner story arc that ran for several issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. This is, as far as I'm concerned, the finest super-hero story ever done. Ditko outdid not only himself with this adventure, but all other super-hero comic creators before or since. A few have come close to capturing the depth and breadth of what he was achieving, but no one has surpassed the sheer power of this tale.

When he was allowed, Ditko could create some of the finest covers being done in comics.

Yeah, the fans had never seen Spider-Man done like this.

Despair was never portrayed quite like this. Someday I need to do a study of the way Ditko utilized the imagery of water in his comics.
Years later, after Ditko had left his employment at Marvel Comics and abandoned his amazing creations there, his former colleague was winding down his own tenure at that company. Jack Kirby pretty much created not only most of the characters at Marvel, but the company itself. No one else was as important to that company as Jack Kirby. I have studied his run on his most popular title there, FANTASTIC FOUR, and always noticed that he seemed to let up on the gas after the "Him" storyline in issues 66 & 67. Further research led me to the conclusion that his editor there had wrecked his story, almost completely nullifying its effectiveness and mucking up the dialog pretty much beyond belief. Thereafter, the explosion of creativity that Kirby had lavished on the book to that point ceased. The stories were still excellent and the art was still the most dynamic around, but there were almost no new characters coming out of the book. Kirby was, I am convinced, fed up with seeing the sweat of his brow being capitalized by his employers with nothing for him beyond his page rate. Further, not only was his intellectual property being robbed from him, his stories were often being mangled by the ego-mad idiot editor under whom he worked. Thus, the flow of new properties to his bosses slowed to a trickle.

Then, in issue #90 of the title, a new story arc appeared. The Skrull/Slave arc. It could be argued that the plot was partially based on the germ of an idea from the TV series Star Trek. But beyond that it was all classic Kirby. Kirby had always been fascinated by mob characters and science fiction. And so he plunged his comic book alter-ego, Ben Grimm, into a long story steeped in mob culture and a pure science-fiction, planet-spanning adventure. It was, I now know, Kirby's fond farewell to his character of Ben Grimm as he planned his move away from Marvel and to fields greener for his creative energies.

Symbolism. One of Kirby's earliest creations for Marvel was the alien race, the Skrulls, who were shape-shifters. Here, he is tricked and kidnapped by a Skrull posing as his friend, Reed Richards. Fooled again, sucker!

Ben Grimm, in chains!

One of the most effective and dramatic covers I've seen in superhero comics.

The finale. Torgo was the major character (I can't say "villain" because he truly was not such) that Kirby created for this story arc. However, for all the emotional power of Torgo, Kirby chose to give him a kind of generic android appearance similar to the kind of thing he'd been handing off to his employers since issue #68 of the title. Let them create their OWN unique images to exploit!

No comments: