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Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s Thor – The Might Thor Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

I am a massive fan of The Mighty Thor. There’s just something so clever and playful about the idea of a classic Norse deity reimagined as a Marvel superhero, a self-aware take on the whole “modern myth” approach to American comic book storytelling that it’s hard not to love. Indeed, I would rank portions of Lee and Kirby’s work on Thor among the best of their output from the Silver Age, a truly epic large-scale epic fantasy narrative that isn’t anchored or tethered to any limitations beyond the imaginations of those working on it.

While The Fantastic Four is a lot more consistent and a lot more important in the grand scheme of comic book history, Thor is a bit rockier. It took Lee and Kirby a considerable amount of time to find their creative voice on Thor – a difficulty compounded by the fact that heavy work loads on other Marvel often forced the duo to delegate the early issues of the book to other writers and artists. As a result, this mammoth tome of Thor serves more as a learning curve, building towards a point where the duo will have figured out quite how to tell compelling and exciting stories featuring the God of Thunders.

Taking the hammer for a spin...

Taking the hammer for a spin…

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Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s X-Men – X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are the architects of the shared Marvel Universe. The pair collaborated on titles like The Fantastic Four, The Avengers and Thor – helping reinvent American comic books during the sixties. The comics redefined what superheroes could be, honing in on the changing sensibilities of the era. However, not every series was a run-away success. Not every idea worked from the very first issue.

The X-Men are one of the most iconic bunch of superheroes in existence. They have had everything from blockbuster films to celebrated cartoon shows. However, they had a rocky start. The book limped along through its first years of publication, never quite connecting with its audience. Indeed, the book almost died a quiet death in the early seventies, before writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum revived the team for a relaunched Giant-Sized X-Men. After that, Wein handed the book over to Chris Claremont, who really defined the book and its characters during an extended run on the title.

Reading these early issues, from Lee and Kirby, it’s quite clear that the X-Men aren’t working. There’s a lot of stilted awkwardness to the stories, as Lee and Kirby try to find a compelling hook for the team. They come quite close – it’s surprising how close at times – but it’s easy to see why the premise took so long to catch on.

To me, my X-Men!

To me, my X-Men!

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The Fantastic Four #108 – The Monstrous Mystery of the Nega-Man (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Jack Kirby is one of the defining comic book creators of the twentieth century. He started out working in the medium during the Great Depression. He was a major force during the Golden Age of comics, creating the character of Captain America in 1940. However, Kirby displayed an incredible ability to evolve and adapt over time. In the 1970s, for example, Kirby would move towards crafting cosmic odysseys and epic god-like conflicts. However, during the 1960s, he played a huge role in the development of Marvel Comics during the 1960s. With a flair for science-fiction story-telling and a knack for crafting iconic characters, Kirby came to be one of the talents who defined the period known as “the Silver Age.” Working with Stan Lee, Kirby created characters like The Fantastic Four and The X-Men, who defined not just Marvel, but the entire medium.

I think it’s fair to cite Star Trek as a major influence on Jack Kirby’s work in comic books, particularly his later work on The Fantastic Four. I know that his fans can be very protective of their idol, and he certainly deserves a lot of the praise heaped upon him. I know that Kirby’s possible influence on Star Wars remains a massive bone of contention. That said, I suspect that Star Trek made quite an impression on Kirby.

A smashing time...

A smashing time…

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Earth X (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

“Your kind does love to rewrite history, Richards,” the Watcher observes towards the end of Earth X, after we get an introduction and brief recap of the life of Tony Stark. Almost every issue of the collection opens with a review of an iconic Marvel character’s back story, as writer Jim Krueger and plotter Alex Ross attempt to tie the tapestry of the Marvel universe together in some way. It turns out that everything a character underwent wasn’t just their own personal development, but part of a broader tapestry of history within the Marvel universe. No character evolution, it seems, happens in isolation. Everything is interconnected, even if we (or the writers or the characters) never realised it at the time.

Earth X is really just an attempt to tie most of the Marvel universe up in one gigantic knot, to connect everything to everything else. In a way, published in 1999, it seems to foreshadow the current era of Marvel publishing, where absolutely everything within in the shared universe must somehow be connected to something else. Avengers vs. X-Men, for example, would connect the Phoenix from the X-Men to the Iron Fist mythology. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men connected the Weapon X project to the development of Captain America. The X-Men and the Avengers must be united as part of Uncanny Avengers.

In many ways, Earth X reads more interestingly as a treatise than as a comic story. It’s far stronger as a thought-experiment than an actual narrative. It’s more fun on purely technical level, watching Jim Krueger and Alex Cross connect all those dots, than it is as an adventure in its own right.

Stellar...

Stellar…

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The Demon by Jack Kirby (Review/Retrospective)

Of all of Jack Kirby’s seventies DC work, I think that everything must be somebody’s favourite. His Fourth World books bristled with ambition and perhaps serve as the most high-profile, influential and long-running of Kirby’s work with the publisher, but you never have to look too hard to find a proponent of the author and artist’s work on O.M.A.C. or Kamandi. While I am fond of all of Kirby’s DC work, enjoying the raw energy and sheer volume of ideas he brings to his high concepts, I have a soft spot for The Demon, if only because it’s a delightfully off-the-wall example of Kirby’s multiple interests bouncing off one another and familiar archetypes to create something that is often quite difficult to pin down.

Night of the Demon!

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Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man – The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

It’s hard to believe that Spider-Man first appeared fifty years ago. The character is arguably Marvel’s most iconic comic book creation, and his appearance and iconography is instant recognisable all around the world. As such, fifty years after his first appearance, it’s fascinating to look at just how much of Spider-Man is firmly rooted in the initial thirty-eight issues of the title, written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Steve Ditko. While I am normally quite wary of older material (Will Eisner’s The Spirit being the exception that proves the rule), it’s amazing how well Lee and Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man holds up.

Animated by Kerry Allen.

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Captain America by Jack Kirby Omnibus (Review)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” Today, I’m focusing on one in particular, Captain America.

“All the years of combat against forces of overwhelming power have done little to prepare Cap for the terrifying experience of being thrust under the Klieg Lights amid an undulating sea of precision dancers…”

– Oh no! Cap’s fatal weakness! Precision dancers!

It seemed like a bit of a no-brainer. With America’s bicentennial celebrations approaching, Marvel decided to put comic book legend (and co-creator) Jack Kirby on the comic book. Publishing two annuals, twenty-two issues of the on-going Captain America and Falcon book, and the iconic Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles, Kirby celebrated two centuries of the United States in style, crafting Captain America stories that were at once anchored in the past, yet boldly forging forward. He also seemed to embrace the crazy and energetic potential of the medium he helped define, producing a run on the character that was borderline surreal, occasionally crazy, but never boring.

The most awesome comic panel ever…

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