Btoom! Kirby vs. Lee (4)

By: Rob Steibel
July 1, 2011


Fantastic Four Page 3, panel 4 (published)

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Fantastic Four Page 3, panel 4 (original art)

Here’s what I think Jack’s margin notes say: “Triton wangs out even harder — knowing he must knock out Blastaar or be blown to smithereens.”

I’m pretty sure the text says “wangs,” but not 100%. I’ve never personally heard that term used before, certainly not as a verb, but that’s what it appears to be. Could be some kind of slang Jack picked up as a kid or Jack getting creative with language. I find Jack’s margin notes a lot of fun. They’re very conversational, direct, and simple. They’re straightforward and no-nonsense — very much like Jack’s own style of speaking. I get the feeling looking at hundreds of Kirby margin notes that Jack was having a blast producing this material during the mid-1960s. There is a sense of almost childlike glee as Jack describes the brawls taking place in his stories — like a kid on a street corner telling his buddies about a brawl he just saw take place.

[HiLobrow recently published a series of 25 posts, by 25 authors, each analyzing a single panel from a Jack Kirby-drawn comic book. That series was followed by additional Kirby exegetical commentaries, of which this series of five posts by Rob Steibel is the final example. Series intro here.]

I suspect that Jack’s approach towards portraying combat in the pages of a comic book like Fantastic Four was probably influenced by two specific things: growing up on the Lower East Side of New York during the 1920s, and his experiences fighting on the European battlefields during World War II. As a kid, young Jacob Kurtzberg probably wasn’t the Joe Louis of the neighborhood because he was fairly short in stature, but certainly Jack took part in his fair share of street-fighting, and that type of fierce, competitive, fist-fighting culture must’ve been a huge part of his early life. The Thing is a great example of this type of mentality. The character doesn’t have any superpowers like x-ray vision or an ability to fly — to survive one-on-one combat, the Thing character relies only on his strength, bravery, and wits — mainly his fists.

Although Triton is a character better suited to underwater combat, here Kirby has him engage in a straightforward toe-to-toe boxing match with the streets of New York serving as the backdrop. In this panel, Triton slams the character so hard he is turned upside down and backwards. A perfect visual representation of a protagonist dominating an antagonist. The image probably defies the laws of physics but it clearly communicates the idea that, for at least a moment, Triton is winning the fight. On the other hand, Blastaar symbolizes the concussive force of a bomb blast. He doesn’t use any type of technology to produce that kind of energy, but instead is physically capable of hurling explosive energy from his finger-tips — a living incarnation of the tremendously destructive forces Jack saw first-hand during his service in the Second World War — Blastaar is an anthropomorphic representation of the devastation Jack witnessed on the war-torn streets of Europe. Of course, in a comic book, no civilians ever die in a rubble-strewn Kirby City, but the fistfights are ferocious — charged with a metaphysical electricity — and the damage to everything but civilian human life is extreme.

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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 | 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 | BTOOM! Kirby vs. Lee, by Rob Steibel

SIMILAR HILOBROW SERIES: SECRET PANEL —Silver Age comics’ double entendres | SKRULLICISM

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What do you think?

  1. “Wang” is a familiar term from my central Illinois youth. The full idiom is “wang upside the head,” used like this: “you don’t watch out I’m gonna wang you upside the head.” “Shirley McFee is so cross-eyed, you’d like to think someone wanged her upside the head with a two-by-four.”

  2. Yeah — wanged (whanged?) is like whomped or whacked or whonked or konked or bopped or biffed — sorta onomatapoetic, though in a cartoonish exaggerated way. I remember in the one real fist-fight I ever had (real because it was with a neighborhood nemesis, not my brother) I found myself making cartoonish noises to accompany my feeble punches: Bamp! Ka-pow! Biff!

  3. Thanks guys.

    I had heard of “Wang Dang Doodle,” the great blues song written by Willie Dixon for Howlin’ Wolf.

    If we think of the term “doodle” as a sketch, we could say Jack’s pencils here are a wang dang doodle. :)

    Maybe Jack picked the term “wang” up from one of his buddies fighting beside him in WW II. Or I suppose that in the same way urban legend has it that Eskimos have 100s of names for snow, surely street-fighting kids living on the Lower East Side in the 1920s must have had a 1000 different ways to describe somebody getting wacked in the face.

    Thanks for the comments, and hope everyone enjoys the 4th of July weekend.

  4. I expect that everyone knows the movie ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ (1938) . That wise-crackin’ boy-gang and their competitive verbal cacophony has a pugnacious but good-humored energy that feels very Kirby.

    I expect that no-one who saw serious combat in WWII came through entirely unscathed. How could they not? Jack was in the thick of it, while Stan was far luckier — he wrote army training films in the US. It’s another example of their divergent life experiences. Perhaps an important one.

  5. Yeah, Greg — the Dead End Kids/Bowery Boys! Those actors were exactly Kirby’s age. Kirby was riffing on that sort of thing with the Newsboy Legion, and the Boy Commandos right? And later the Dingbats of Danger Street.

  6. Absolutely Josh, I watch dose movies and I want me an egg-cream so bad.

    The practice of teenage boys fast-talking, wise cracking and shouting to jostle for status is as energetic today as it is ever was.

  7. “Blastaar is an anthropomorphic representation of the devastation Jack witnessed on the war-torn streets of Europe. Of course, in a comic book, no civilians ever die in a rubble-strewn Kirby City, but the fistfights are ferocious — charged with a metaphysical electricity — and the damage to everything but civilian human life is extreme”
    A brilliant little piece of Kriticism (sic), Mr Steibel. I especially love the bit about “metaphysical electricity” and seeing this minor villain as a representation of something so huge as WWII-devastation.

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