Kirb Your Enthusiasm (14)
By: David Smay | Categories: Read-outs

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

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I scanned this panel from Mister Miracle #9 (July 1972) out of the very comic I bought off a spinner rack at the corner 7-Eleven that year. It only cost twenty cents for Jack Kirby to blow my eleven year-old mind. Looking at it now I’m distracted by how much pleasure I take in the four-color printing process where the cheap, pulpy paper absorbed the dyes. I’ve seen reproductions on glossy stock and while the composition remains strong, it isn’t as beautiful; I think Kirby designed the drawing to pull down into the page. Glossy reproductions of Kirby’s work are akin to that first generation of CD releases with their too-tinny brightness, lacking warmth and depth.

Let me extend that musical parallel to praise in particular Mike Royer’s inks. Remember when Sonic Youth toured with Neil Young and talked him into releasing an entire CD of nothing but feedback? That’s what Mike Royer does for Kirby, unleashing raw, ink-black power. It’s difficult to reclaim the element of shock that ran through comic fandom at Royer’s inking, clutching at their pearls as their faces flushed — simply because Royer chose to amplify Kirby’s pencils instead of muting them.

The panel itself is just another everyday Kirby master class in composition. You see exactly why everybody stashes Kirby in their swipe files. Note the genius of the aero-discs as a method of flight. Kirby was always mucking about with ways to make flying look more dynamic, whether it was Thor launching his hammer or the Silver Surfer. But I think the aero-discs were his best innovation because it allows him to bring the poses of a skater into the sky — and what better way to unleash speed and power onto a panel than pulling from hockey and roller derby. It’s fast, brutal, strenuous and gliding. In contrast, the Para-Demons come after Scott Free like a sky full of aerial linebackers trying to drag down a speed skater.

This panel comes from the story “Himon,” which concluded a three-issue storyline that returned Scott Free to Apokolips, and explored his original escape. Considering that Darkseid’s primary motive is to acquire the Anti-Life Equation, which extinguishes all free will, the most surprising aspect of Apokolips is that it is an anarchic free-for-all where different branches of Darkseid’s forces routinely bludgeon each other with manic glee. New Genesis looks like a Swiss day spa.

The character of Himon, a benevolent Fagin training his misfits to create their own Mother Boxes and find The Source, reflects back on Kirby himself and his mentorship of young talents. Similarly, Apokolips plays like the rough-scraped Lower East Side that forged Kirby, and it’s not hard to see Scott Free’s desire to be free, to escape, to find The Source as a metaphor for the young Jacob Kurtzberg’s desire to rise above the streets, to realize the visions he could imagine. This story thrilled me as a kid because I saw myself in Scott. But it’s even more affecting to me now when I see it as a dialogue across time from the older Kirby as Himon — masterful, weary with loss, unbowed — reaching back to his younger, yearning self.

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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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David Smay is the co-editor of two books about pop music, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, and Lost in the Grooves. He's also the author of Swordfishtrombones, the 33 1/3 series entry on Tom Waits. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.