When I was a kid, I grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, a borough of — not Metropolis, not Gotham, not Central City — but New York. You know — where the Marvel superheroes lived.
Which meant that although I could never hope to catch a glimpse of Superman flying by, there was always a chance I might turn the corner and bump into the Fantastic Four. Because I lived in New York City.
Jack Kirby’s city.
[HiLobrow recently published a series of 25 posts, by 25 authors, each analyzing a single panel from a Jack Kirby-drawn comic book. This essay by Scott Edelman, who worked in the Marvel bullpen in the ’70s, is the second of five Kirby exegetical commentaries that we'll publish in weeks to come.]
I lived on Ocean Parkway, and when I was the same age as the kids in my favorite panel [above] from “A Visit with the Fantastic Four,” originally published in Fantastic Four #11 (February 1963), my friends and I created a superteam we called W.A.S.P., which stood for War and Sports Place. I was The Hangman, wore my father’s black leather gloves, and with a rope tied into a clumsy noose, I’d try to hook bicycles as they passed by. I pretended to be a hero, tossing airplanes into the six lanes of Ocean Parkway so I could practice my agility by rushing through speeding traffic to scoop them up.
I could have been one of the kids in this panel!
I was one of those kids.
Because the Fantastic Four were my neighbors.
This panel made explicit what implicit in all Marvel Comics of the time, that my heroes walked down my streets, breathed my air, protected me, were me, the same way ballplayers of the day didn’t live in gated communities, weren’t locked away in Fortresses of Solitude, but instead… were our neighbors.
This panel reinforces the idea that our heroes don’t have to be above us; they can be beside us. It doesn’t break the fourth wall in the traditional way we think of fourth walls being broken; instead, it dissolves a barrier between reader and character, both making and fulfilling a promise of potential access, of serendipitous encounters. To run across a panel that basically put me on the page was as exciting as any superhero battle.
There is a tenderness to the panel, too, as shown in Kirby’s compositional choices. How was I advised to be a hero? By using my powers to pick flowers for my invisible girlfriend. Even though the Fantastic Four spend most of their time destroying the city in order to save it, to save us, they can still take a moment to pause and tell us that… we matter.
If lumber had been as easy to find as rope, instead of being The Hangman, I might have tied gloves to the ends of boards and pretended to be Mr. Fantastic. I certainly had already tossed matches imagining myself a Human Torch — and Johnny Storm knew it, which is exactly why he’s warning against it in this panel. He cares enough about me to make sure I don’t get hurt trying to make my four-color dreams real.
In the panel that comes immediately after this one, the kid pretending to be The Thing says, “They were so close I coulda reached out ’n touched ’em!”
And yes… I coulda.
And I did.
CHECK OUT “Cosmic Debris: Kirby in the ’70s,” a series that ran 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
KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: 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 | BTOOM! Kirby vs. Lee, by Rob Steibel |