Kirb Your Enthusiasm (25)
By: Douglas Wolk | Categories: Comics, Enthusiasms, Most Visited, Read-outs, Sci-Fi

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

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Imagine for a moment that somebody — not Jack Kirby — wrote a script for 2001: A Space Odyssey #9 (August 1977), and that somebody else — also not Jack Kirby — was going to have to draw it. The description of this panel would probably have said something like “Interior: a small prison cell. X-51, our robotic protagonist, is seething at being locked up. His face has been stolen, and we can see the machinery beneath it — maybe a couple of red lights for eyes — along with an identifying plate on his forehead that says ‘X-51.’ He’s prepping the weapons systems in his gloves, figuring out how he’s going to break out.” The artist might have staged it any number of ways: a long shot of X-51 meditating in the corner of his cell, or inspecting it for an escape route, or maybe some kind of surveillance image, overlaid with a set of shadows to emphasize the bars of the cage. The idea is to establish the setting, the situation and the character, right? Storytelling 101.

Except Kirby was, of course, doing the whole damn thing himself. (“Edited, written and drawn by Jack Kirby,” reads the credit at the top of the page: in that order, apparently.) He also knew that Storytelling 101 won’t do you a crumb of good if you don’t grab the reader by the shoulders from the get-go. So the story opens with the most dramatic image the situation permits: we’re looking at X-51 from the perspective of something (the door, as it happens) that he’s a microsecond away from smashing clear into next week, and his fist is zooming in on us, occupying a full quarter of our visual field. Kirby and inker Mike Royer’s line here is so thick that it’s not just mapping the contours of the character’s shape, it’s indicating that those contours are about to make contact with your own. Each of the robot’s fingers appears to be a different kind of weapon, bristling with Kirbytech circuitry (and there’s a Kirbytech lockpick extending from his left fuck-you finger to his right j’accuse fingernail); his eyes and mouth are glowing with three different strains of electronic heat.

Guess what, though? This panel still does all that 101 stuff without even breathing hard. The cramped, stuffed layout makes it obvious that X-51 is trapped in a very small space; the three tiny “air vents” at the right of the panel, in conjunction with the blobby shadows of Royer’s inks, are all the visual cues we need to know that he’s imprisoned. And the robot’s face here, with its snap-to-lock striations and uncovered lighting sources, is the metallic equivalent of a skinned skull — missing its surface and desperate to get it back. Every element of the story’s physical facts and psychological perceptions is present in this drawing, and they’re all about to explode.

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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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Douglas Wolk, author of Reading Comics and Live at the Apollo, is an arts critic and comics writer in Portland, Oregon. His new book is Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two, with artist Ulises Farinas. Twitter: @douglaswolk