Kirb Your Enthusiasm (4)
By: Dan Nadel | Categories: Popular, Read-outs

Fourth in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single panel from a Jack Kirby-drawn comic book.

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OMAC arrived in 1974, a year after Jack Kirby’s cosmic opera “Fourth World” titles were canceled, leaving him with two years left on his contract with DC Comics and no real direction. Kirby’s career is full of such moments of financial and creative drift: when what must’ve felt like desperation resulted in great work — it forced him into the business in the late 1930s and pushed him to innovate for Marvel in the early 1960s. Of course he did just as much, if not more, good work under better conditions, but it was not always a bad thing when his natural grandiosity was pinched a bit, forcing him to condense rather than sprawl. In those two years of limbo he wrote and drew some of his best comics: The bulk of Kamandi and Demon, Our Fighting Forces and OMAC.

OMAC (One-Man Army Corps) was a working stiff named Buddy Blank who was “changed by remote-controlled hormone surgery … from space!” by Brother Eye, “the most sophisticated machine ever devised.” And he’s a force for peace — “large armies lead to large wars,” so OMAC contains conflict before they grow. Issue 2 (November 1974) finds OMAC on his way to Electric City to see Professor Myron Forest, the scientist behind his transformation. But the city is “closed” because villainous Mr. Big has rented it for the night; in return the citizens of Electric City won’t have to pay taxes for a year. Or, as Kirby presciently wrote: “It’s the era of the super-rich! When money, like technology, reaches complex proportions, complex situations arise.”

After OMAC fights his way into the city (“He’s breaking through!! This dude is a one-man army!”), he’s offered a ride in a convertible by two men — one in a harlequin suit and the other dressed as a skeleton. And here we arrive at our panel. It’s a typically deep space, seemingly stretching through the comic book itself, a technique Kirby probably learned from “Wash Tubbs” cartoonist Ray Crane. And within that space is Kirby’s blend of plausible machinery (really more like abstract patterning) and grounding realism, like a road and a goofy threesome silhouetted in a future car. Kirby is sometimes claustrophobic with detail — he’s controlling everything you look at, so there’s no way into his language. But sometimes, as with this panel, he allows himself transitions and moments of quiet (well, quiet and some exposition). Suddenly, rather than being in the middle of the action you find yourself just observing from afar.

After this panel, the story moves fast: The skeleton and the harlequin turn out to be hit men gunning for OMAC, but instead only succeed in killing Forest. Some pages later Mr. Big is defeated and OMAC is once again ready for assignment. And Kirby has finished a 20-page story about some of his primary themes: money, war and death, cloaked in hyperbole, esoterica and machinery. It all seems so simple, but then, like with this panel, you start to take it apart, look at what he did, and realize just how much this artist was able to pack in. Back against the wall, Kirby always produced.

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CHECK OUT “Cosmic Debris: Kirby in the ’70s,” a series running in tandem with “Kirb Your Enthusiasm” at the 4CP gallery of comic book details | Kirby cutaways and diagrams collected at the Comic Book Cartography gallery | Joe Alterio’s Cablegate Comix and HiLobrow posts about comics and cartoonists, and science fiction | The Jack Kirby Chronology | scans of rare 1940-50s Kirby comics at the Digital Comic Museum | Joshua Glenn on the New Gods generation

POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing |

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Dan Nadel is the owner of the visual culture publishing house PictureBox and is the author of Art Out of Time: Unknown Comic Visionaries 1900–1969 and Gary Panter. His most recent book is Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures 1940-1980. As a curator, he has mounted exhibitions for the Athens 2007 Biennale in Greece, the Watarium Museum in Tokyo, among other venues. Most recently Dan curated "Karl Wirsum: Drawings 1967-1970" at Derek Eller Gallery, and the first major Jack Kirby retrospective, "The House that Jack Built" for Fumetto, Switzerland. He lives in Brooklyn.