Kirb Your Enthusiasm (5)
By: Deb Chachra | Categories: Read-outs

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

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In the late 1960s, a young astronomer named Vera Rubin used a new spectrograph to measure the rotation of galaxies. She showed that the stars at the edge of galaxies weren’t moving at the right speed: stars in the centre should rotate quickly, pulled along by their neighbours, and the stray stars at the edge should, comparatively speaking, mosey along. But instead, they were all moving at the same brisk pace. Rubin and her colleagues argued that this was only possible if the galaxy contained much more matter than we can see with our telescopes — dark matter.

Several years earlier, first in the pages of Fantastic Four and then in other titles, Jack Kirby began to use black dots to delineate amorphous energies, defining their appearance through the use of negative space. Born of the limitations of four-color printing on cheap newsprint, Kirby Krackle (as the drawing technique would come to be known) made the invisible evocatively visible. In this panel from Captain America (October 1976), Kirby dots trace the fractal contours of a glowing ball of unknown energy to make it visible to the viewer, in much the same way that an invisible corona of dark matter haloes each galaxy, defining its motion and behaviour for observant astrophysicists.

Do we dare put it to the test? Well, decades later, the presence of dark matter has been confirmed using a variety of techniques, including gravitational lensing: dark matter causes the distortion of bright, faraway objects like quasars by an intervening galaxy cluster. Dark matter is like negative space; while invisible itself, it defines the motion of what we can see. Although we have no idea what it’s made of, the current candidates for dark matter are mostly exotic particles like axions, sterile neutrinos, or WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles). Our best estimates suggest that there’s about six times as much dark matter as visible stuff, including all the stars and planets, in the universe.

In other words, the universe, as it turns out, is mostly Kirby Krackle.

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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 | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing |

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Deb Chachra is an engineering professor who does research on biological materials and on education, and is interested in practically everything else besides. She's @debcha on Twitter.