Kirb Your Enthusiasm (19)

By: Matthew Specktor
March 4, 2011

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

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I came late to Jack Kirby. Accustomed as I was to the more hyperbolic postures of the Buscemas, it came as something of a shock to look over my shoulder and find Gods and Monsters who seemed positively… human. Almost. The Hulk as smaller green troglodyte; Thor as practically lithe, compared to the one whose biceps popped in agonal struggle even while their owner was at rest. You’d think I, a scrawny kid, would’ve found these figures more relatable. The opposite is true. Part of it’s the desolation of landscape, part of it a different kind of quiet that bled through. This panel, from The Avengers #1 (September 1963), feels typical. Here, the most material of Marvel figures — well, with Ben Grimm — fades towards translucency, while the least human (I suppose this is debatable, but I always found Thor so) gives chase. The perspective is hopelessly fucked, those mountains and patches of scrub seeming at once too puny and too pressing, while Thor’s little soliloquy (even as written by Stan Lee) points towards a loneliness that’s everywhere in Kirby. Later in the same issue it’s echoed by the Wasp: “Henry! Did you see that gorgeous Thor? How can I ever make him notice me?” Invisibility. Intangibility. Compared to the cataclysmic physicality I was used to — rocks, trees, buildings just there to be demolished; heroes and villains whose agency was plain — it was just too much, or not enough. I wanted things to feed the adolescent fantasy of becoming. Now, of course, it’s all plain. One spends a lifetime trying to matter. Wishing, at times, one didn’t have to. Kirby encoded that ambivalence, those riddles of perception, better than anyone.

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2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): 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 | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker

ALSO ON HILOBROW: Joe Alterio’s Cablegate Comix | HiLobrow posts about comics and cartoonists | HiLobrow posts about science fiction | The New Gods generation

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2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.

2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.

2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins

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What do you think?

  1. “One spends a lifetime trying to matter.” This was particularly true of Kirby’s amazing generation — which collectively moved mountains and won wars and overhauled American capitalism, etc., etc. It’s always illuminating and perversely inspiring to find members of that generation who were ambivalent about such projects and goals.

  2. Sorry to come in late — but thank-you Matthew for articulating so perfectly that almost blithe determined/undetermined physical presence that Kirby sometimes evoked. The eyes are set elsewhere. This element of KIrby actually diminished somewhat during the 60s as his dynamism intensified. But the moment of Kirby without purpose, are, as you say, intriguing. And, yes, they are achingly lonely.

  3. Comparing Kirby ’63 to Buscema (I assume) late 60’s-early/mid 70’s is a lot like comparing Beatles ’64 to, oh, The Kinks ’71. About the time John (and a bit later, Sal) Buscema did the lion’s share of his Marvel work, Kirby’s art had also begun to become more massive and stylized. His style was a lot different (as were his inkers) in, say, 1969 than it was five years earlier. The Buscema compare/contrast still works, but I’m a little surprised that you’d think Kirby’s five-years-earlier style was the one which should be used for it.

  4. Aw, thanks. You never really know–do you?–if those qualities you find in a work of art belong to it, or you, or to what extent both…

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