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