Kirb Your Enthusiasm (20)
By: Terese Svoboda | Categories: Read-outs

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

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Our hero is slight but smart and works in a lab with bullies. (“He ought to work on vitamin pills,” suggests one vial-wielding lab grunt to a balding pipe smoker.) When he gets a date with Anne, another technician, his coworkers go protoplasmic: they lose their heads in a taunt-a-wheel. Our hero and Anne scrunch themselves down under six bodiless heads spewing out bile in yellow, blue, pink, and white word-clouds. On the left, mirth-rays balance the “Ha! Ha! Ha!” from one of the heads on the right; the mouth on the furthest right doesn’t say anything but looks as if it will bite Anne’s arm. No bodies are responsible for this cruelty — the bodies are off making Tang or some evil plastic. Our hero and Anne wear hats that look suctioned tight to their heads in response. Anne’s clearly annoyed but he doesn’t wait for her feeling to turn into pity; a page later, he will fall into a radioactive vat and become the monster Bruttu.

“Beware of Bruttu” appeared in Tales of Suspense #22 (October 1961), a year before a landmark suit against Senator Joe McCarthy made the US government liable for professional and financial damages accrued by those who were blacklisted. Throughout the Fifties, McCarthy and his anti-communist hatchet man Roy Cohn, allegedly a closeted homosexual, had also promulgated the Lavender Scare, which was seen by pundits as a reaction to a perceived crisis in American masculinity — by persecuting gay men and women both in and out of government. Long after these witch hunts ended, men who didn’t think or act “normal” still had every reason to be paranoid in the workplace and outside it. Jack Kirby, whose lawsuits against comic-book publishers and movie studios demonstrate that he hated bullies, didn’t write this story. But his illustrations — particularly this panel — perfectly capture the prevailing mood of the era.

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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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The novel Bohemian Girl, Terese Svoboda's seventh book of prose, will be published this fall by Bison Books.