Category Archives: Bonus

Mister Miracle #1

Cooke Look: “The Missile Murder Trap!”

I’ll admit I considered Mister Miracle #1 a slight disappointment when first I cracked open that comic book at the time. The contrivances and coincidences kinda put me off, but I was darn glad the character costume’s color scheme was changed between the time the interior was colored and when tints were added to the cover… I mean, c’mon! Mister Miracle sports a great costume design! And nice as the purple-green-&-yellow is in the story itself, the cover and subsequent series’ red-green-&-yellow is simply the best color combination of any super-hero, beating out the original Captain Marvel’s (sans green) red-&-gold… sigh! And I can’t say enough about the fancy cape and, especially, the superb mask design (particularly when it didn’t indicate Scott’s nose or show his pupils but just the sideways-ankh-shaped motif about the eye-slits)…

But as for the content, the story doesn’t have the same energy and confidence as the other Fourth World debut issues, but in retrospect that makes the series even more remarkable because the title expanded and changed as it went along during its 18-issue run, the longest of Jack’s 4W books. And if we thought Scott Free was a slightly corny character to start, so deferential to old man Thaddeus and seemingly bland and unassuming (with very hip sideburns though!), so apparently simple and average, we would become surprised how remarkably well-adjusted the young man ended up as we learned more about his hellacious background.

Indeed it’s what the title grew to become which endears this particular issue to me. This is Dorothy back at the farm, so to speak, before the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy Gale before Oz and the Wizard; Scott Free before Apokolips and Darkseid. (Not literally, of course, but in the reader’s eye, if you know what I’m saying.) And those coincidences I mentioned raise tantalizing questions in me that delight rather than frustrate. Did Scott choose to be at the fence observing The Great Thaddeus at just that moment when Inter-Gang arrives (as Richard Bensam suggests in a reply on this blog)? Was Scott planning to assume Thaddeus Brown’s identity from the start, albeit likely not as the result of murder, of course! Is Scott in the country, walking on foot with carpetbag in hand — gawd, I love the idea of this super-scientific “eternal” carrying around an artifact from the 19th century, the much-maligned carpetbag! — to get distance from the city and hide from Darkseid’s agents looking to capture him and return to Apokolips? I know, I know, I’ve asked these questions earlier, but they’re fun to contemplate because the series did, indeed and in very short order, started weaving into a delightfully complex and rewarding tapestry, one that still leaves a whole bucket-full of questions. The biggest query of all being what did Jack ultimately intend for Scott Free? That is, the guy is a product of New Genesis, making him a “new god,” and he is one part of “The Pact,” his breaking of which started renewed war with Apokolips and spreading it to Earth… I mean, he’s a huge player and yet he seems like a (deceptively?) simple character, the most Earth-like of anyone from Highfather’s world.

I’ll stop yammering except to say I’m pretty happy that I was underwhelmed with Mister Mister #1. My little brother, Andy, picked this title at the time to be his Fourth World favorite (I liked The New Gods and Jimmy Olsen pretty much equally as my personal fave) and I understand why now: Mister Miracle is simply Jack’s purest super-hero created for the epic. He’s a conventional crime-fighter in some ways, yet refreshingly innovative, given the escape artist angle. He’s a nice guy, a friend to many, and he surrounds himself with people he cares for and who care for him. In other words, he’s a great role model and eminently pleasant character, almost totally out of tune with that era of the emerging anti-hero and yet perfect for that time with his hippy-like attitudes… Jack, you did it again!

The New Gods #1

Cooke Look: “Orion Fights For Earth!”

With Jack Kirby’s fine work on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen and The Forever People, we’ve already got a good look at the conflict developing on Earth, but here, in “Orion Fights For Earth!” we now get view of the cosmic dimension, and it’s an awesomely impressive image of an unfolding complex tapestry of celestial intrigue with a universe-quaking background story. As is appropriate for a Kirby epic, this is BIG stuff, involving BIG characters and BIG concepts.

The comic book opens in cataclysmic fashion, Ragnarok depicted on page one; the violent, fiery creation of two planets on page two; and a gorgeous close-up of our hero with that extraordinary helmet on page three. I mean, counting the magnificent depiction of Supertown on page five, that’s three full-pagers out of the first five… and they are so gorgeous, it makes one yearn for an entire book of Jack Kirby splashes!

It is a beautiful set-up for a first issue in that we get a sense, right off the bat, that our main star is much more than he appears — evidenced by Metron and Highfather’s side-chatter — which immediately engrosses us with strong hints that Orion has a deeper connection to the enemy than he himself imagines. It also seems obvious to me that Jack had thought long and hard about the overarching storyline as there seem remarkably few loose threads. (The only one that immediately comes to mind is the fact the Earth-built “Mass-Director Unit” obviously didn’t work, as Darkseid and his minions would later focus on monitoring devices with decidedly smaller range, particularly Happyland (a.k.a the “camp” and “Kingdom of the Damned”), to find the human who possesses the Anti-Life Equation. You’d think, given how the King of Evil has the habit of roughing up and brutalizing those who fail to carry out his orders — think Brola, Desaad, Mantis, Mokkari and Simyan (well, a strong berating to the last two, anyway!) — we would see the Apokolips ruler mete out his unhappiness to whomever supervised the earthbound Mass-Director Unit. But, as we see in the referring panel, it looks like Darkseid himself is directing its construction, so maybe he gave himself a stern talking-to behind closed doors!)

There’s really not much more I can add. It’s a magnificent debut for the title, arguably the best of the Fourth World quartet of comics, and it confidently — and with supreme competence — sets the stage for the Super War on Earth to come… A bravura performance by THE master of adventure comics.

(Oh, just to tie up the story synopsis, let me round out this issue (though I’ve pretty much described what’s happening, only a bit disjointedly, I fear): After Orion confers with Metron, he frees the Earth folk from the brain-scanning device. Kalibak, now freed courtesy of Metron’s exit, engages Orion, who bears partial brunt of Kalibak’s nerve beam and returns fire with Astro-Power. Suddenly a Boom Tube appears and our heroes jump aboard, Orion holding up the rear astride his Astro-Harness. Kalibak hurls his Beta-Club in frustration at the disappearing Boom Tube to no avail, and our team arrives on Earth, to ominous winds of war coming toward them. Jack, who started this opener with an epilogue, audaciously closes with a prologue, a full-page splash of Darkseid and some spectacular minions in the background (none, I believe, who were seen again in the series!). Closing the comic, we sense we’ve just experienced something new to the form, a multi-layered, sprawling, complex and exhilarating epic of cosmic proportions which engages and screams for your attention: Simply put, an intelligent and still viscerally satisfying super-hero comic series…)

Good and Evil

On this fascinating journey I am in the midst of, yours truly is consistently reminded that though I too often think I’m as smart as Metron in understanding Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, I’m often as dumb as Kreetin when it comes to comprehending Mr. Kirby’s vast mythology. This being Thanksgiving 2010, I’d like to extend my profound thanks to the gods, old and new and forthcoming, for this recurring ignorance and (ahem) an ability to learn from my mistakes.

Y’see, Kirbyheads, though I’ve read the opus time and time again over the last four decades, I’ve failed to comprehend the essential and true duality the former Jacob Kurtzberg has concocted for his magnum opus. Here I’ve been thinking, all these years, that the conflict was of good and evil — of good New Genesis versus evil Apokolips, of good Highfather versus evil Darkseid, of good Orion versus bad Kalibak — with us, humanity and our planet Earth, set squarely in the middle of the ultimate war.

Sure, I could make the argument a nuanced debate, seeing the tutored-in-goodness son of Apokolips, Orion, contrasted with the raised-in-hate New Genesis offspring, Scott Free, viewing them as the personified yin and yang of this Super-War… but the reality both are on the same side kinks that view up a bit, but I smugly think maybe we don’t know the true destiny of the son of Darkseid after all…

But now, as the elements [see Elements, Master of] of the Fourth World story are only just now giving me a glimmering of what this masterwork is really all about, allow be to expound on one of my theories [see Theories, Master of] regarding Jack’s symbolism.

The secret, I think, lies not in the unknowable mysteries beyond the Final Barrier, but in the two greatest comic books of Kirby’s interlocked tetralogy, tales that expound on the epic’s backstory, “The Pact” and “Himon” (along with hints sprinkled about the run, remarkably some early on). Maybe it’s a no-brainer to some of you guys — yeah, I’m talking to you, RAB and PF! 😉 — while I do see a yin-yang aspect to the core conflict, it is not about Orion and Scott Free; rather I see the opposing players as those characters who work as collaborators together: Metron of New Genesis and Himon of Apokolips.

Frankly, I’m beginning to perceive Metron as the evil, black spot in the whiteness of the New Genesis yin, and Himon as the white, good essence in the Apokolips yang field of black. It’s that handshake between the two, on page 16 of Mister Miracle #9, that clinches the bond and contrast for me.

Allow me to throw out this (hopefully tantalizing) opening volley to my emerging opinion, but Turkey Day dinner calls from out of town and the family and I must travel now. Much as I intend to detail my observations today, the WordPress time clock (notably earlier than my own East Coast timezone) might indicate tomorrow before I have a chance to post… But, please, if any of you folks can pull yourself away from the game or the game bird, chirp in when you can and let’s get a rousing debate a’ ragin’! Back as soon as am able.

Happy Thanksgiving, Kirby acolytes!

For the Love of Jack!

If I may be allowed this indulgence…

I dunno if it’s the specter of death flittering about the edges of my psyche in these colder, decaying days of mid-autumn and on the down-side portion of my life, but I’m a little more jumpy lately. A few minutes ago, a leaf falls on the ground, I see it land from the corner of my eye, and I’m a little startled. An imagined “meow” seems to emanate from the back seat as I drive yesterday, and I’m like, “Huh? Wazzat?” Last night, just absentmindedly staring at the license plate on the van in front of me, I am filled with this slightly creepy feeling that some little mistake is going to lead to some big, dreadful event. It’s only a minor paranoia, a small uneasiness, but it’s now a constant and, inevitably, it leads to the realization that my time on this earthly plane will have an inevitable conclusion. Finito, the end, that’s the whole enchilada, buddy-boy.

The zeitgeist deems my wife and I are members of the “sandwich generation,” a phrase I’ve been reluctant to embrace, like au courant “comfort food,” but the term is so apt these days, expertly describing the unfolding reality of our lives. Without yammering on too much of my personal life — this is, after all, a blog about a comic book artist and his work — it should be enough to say the grown kids don’t appear to be leaving Casa Cooke any time soon and in-law misfortune adds an entirely new and unexpected dimension to our daily regimen as a 23-year-old married couple. Days are filled with obligations and chores, and surprises young sons give their parents sometimes seem perpetual, so the word “hectic,” overused and by now a cliché, is still the one best characterizing these time for Mr. and Mrs. Cooke.

And so what? Life could be far worse, pressures much more pressing, happiness utterly extinguished because of health and financial catastrophes. I mean, I’m not disadvantaged like so many on planet earth; we both work at good jobs and no one we support suffers from material want. But, still, my contemporary reality gives pause and invokes in me a certain jitteriness regarding the future. My mom will tell you I’ve always been this way, restless, and she says I’m just itchy.

And I am purposefully itchy these days, at least about this, the Fourth World blog and assorted other things Kirby, and it’s a heaven-sent urge to scratch that is transforming my life. Despite chimeras of doom nibbling away of the borders of consciousness, I’m experiencing a great awakening, coming to realizations about my role in life and what comics mean to me in the final analysis. Ask anyone I’ve associated with and I think, to a person, they’ll tell you that Jon B. Cooke is a little crazy (though more than one might leave out the qualifier!). Obsessions have ruled my interests since probably Day One, and among them, obviously, is my passion for Jack Kirby’s masterful storytelling. Such preoccupations have also led me far astray, and all too often, to isolation and avoidance, when I would indulge in any number of manias, among them certain disparate subjects as Gerry Anderson teevee shows, the JFK assassination, Alfred Hitchcock anthology paperback collecting, Doctor Dolittle, national politics, running and an unhealthy fixation on the Holocaust. And, it’s funny, these engrossments very often coincide with the advent of fall, a time when, I suspect, I suffered seasonal depression.

In other words, consumed with guilt of neglected obligations and riddled with despair that it was all “too late” to make amends and set things right, I delved into distractions becoming increasingly void of meaning. Yes, I was learning more than your average Joe about Kristallnacht, the “magic bullet,” and Joe 90, but it was becoming (pardon the term) just mental masturbation, empty of any use and serving nothing but my increasingly nonsensical immersions. Just another cycle of dysfunction adding to a life filled with seemingly endless rotations of self-absorbed inanity, looping like the seasons every year.

I would, typically, snap to attention with the turn of the calendar page, rush to tidy up and ready my office for the new year, because “this” time,” “this” year, would be different. I’d jump into my mountain of up-’til-then neglected e-mails, fire off apologies and avowals, and promise everyone, “this” time,” “this” year, will be different. But it always ended up the same old, same old. Sure, life was busy and being a son, husband and father was paramount above all else — and will remain, so long as my responsibilities in that department live and breathe — but, it goes without remark, I could have handled it all much better. Verily.

So, here it is again: the frost is on the pumpkin, trees are stripped bare and tonight they’re turning the clocks back for us to have even less daylight in the afternoon. (How is the weather in Sydney these days, mate?) And what makes “this” time, “this” year any different than the past seven or eight years, since I stopped producing Comic Book Artist magazine? Why believe me now?

Believe it or don’t, I’m not one to seek deification or even “sainthood” for Jacob Kurtzberg. My higher power holds reign over heaven and earth, a little bit more than over the comic book page, and I need to remain humble in recognizing that Truth and grateful for that power’s blessings. But Jack Kirby is my comic book god, my king of the funnybooks, and a perennial inspiration in the work I do. I see in the artist a lovely example in how to approach one’s labor — always do your best and give everything your all — and how to treat others, no matter their status — with deference and respect. I perceive in Jack’s art a blinding majesty and import I’ve yet to adequately describe or maybe even fully fathom, but I’m quite convinced his is the stuff of genius, perhaps even touched by divine grace, and I now understand that by recognizing his achievements as such, I have been given a mission (God-given? Dunno ’bout that!) to advocate a greater understanding of the man and his art. My job, as I see it, is to help get Jack the respect I am convinced he deserves.

I had the epiphany early on in this blog’s development, as I was cataloging Jack’s concepts into a database, and the sheer enormity of his accomplishments, if even for a mere 55 issues out of many, many hundreds of comic books he produced in a lifetime, hit me smack square in the forehead. Before this crystalline moment of clarity, I had simply chosen Jack’s Fourth World as yet another obsession to try and satiate my bottomless pit of want; but then, sitting at my desk, plunking away in Excel, inventorying the Boom Tube and Mother Box, I was struck with a sense of purpose and a path to attain a sense of joy in my endeavors. I was shown a way to perhaps dampen inner turmoil and ambivalence. I was endowed with a desire to be of service.

Simply put (if not so simply done), I will seek to help produce as-definitive-as-possible three tasks, besides this miniscule blog, that will do its damnedest to manifest Mr. Kirby’s labors to the greater world: in print, through celluloid, and by event. Sorry to be oblique at this stage but, well, gotta prepare…

Is a revival of Comic Book Artist magazine part of the equation? I don’t know, much as I’d like that labor o’ love to return. The publishing environment is vastly different than last when I was part of it and there are a lot of amends that need to be made, a number of hat-in-hand sincere apologies given, before I jump in again. So, we’ll see. I do know that I’ll be a very lucky hombre if the study of comics will turn out to be my life’s work — and, without equivocation, I certainly intend it to be! I hope I can be an asset, giving more than I get, be an addition to the field and not a subtraction. To make this, for me, a New Age.

I also know I will be completing this life-changing endeavor, what I affectionately call “365JK4W” (ain’t that a cute name?), whether or not my readership dwindles to none. It’s fun, it brings joy to my life, and it’s nice to be back chatting up the stuff I love, so whaddaya want for nothing? I thank you folks for reading these essays and have special gratitude for those who chime in. I’ll also be contributing again to John Morrow’s superb ’zine, The Jack Kirby Collector, and dedicating time to the development of said plans. Thus I’ll be around, Kirbyheads, whether you like it or not.

Believe you me.

The days are getting shorter, and if it is fear of the grim reaper that’s motivating me, so be it. I’m on a mission. I sincerely hope you can participate and I am grateful for your attention. Thanks.

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135

Cooke Look: “Evil Factory!”

With this issue, the third of Jack’s run, the Jimmy Olsen segment of The Fourth World tetralogy is starting to gain texture, the pacing nicely building, and the storytelling just a smidgen more measured, as if the artist/writer was beginning to cozy into his new creative environs at DC and getting comfortable with a whole new set of characters. While we do get boatloads of exposition — hey, all that’s happened is a lot to take in; just check out how many entries we have for 66 pages of story thus far! — and, believe it or don’t, Jack throws in concepts he obviously plans for, but the ideas are coming at him so fast, sometimes he plain forgets and keeps in forward motion! Have a look-see at the “File 202” so prominently displayed as a major coming element on this issue’s splash page, and after finishing the entire JO run, you tell me what that dalgarned “File 202” is! (Hey, I can surmise it pertains to the coming “Four-Armed Terror,” but never be certain…)

A great deal of pleasure can be derived from this issue: the mini-Supes, Scrappers and Jimmys; the slightly mincing Mokkari and cravenly Simyan; the two Newsboy Legions joyful embrace; not-so jolly green Jimmy; and (sigh) a delightful “new” super-hero, The Guardian. Reading this specific comic book as a kid eased any doubt I might have had about where Jack was going (I mean, “Whiz Wagon”? “Hairies”? “Mountain of Judgment”? “Flippa-Dippa”??? In the beginning, as charmed as I was, I wondered whether or not this guy was sane!) and when I was finished with this issue I surrendered to a new existence as a fan for life. My motto became “Trust In Kirby: Maybe We’re Headed for Crazytown, But the Ride Sure Is Wild!”

I think I caught a hint that this guy Kirby was a genius early on, especially in his Jimmy Olsen series, when all of his abilities started to coalesce for me: His unique dynamic drawing style (even when muted by Colletta’s oft-inappropriate, feathery inks); his unrelenting, pile-driving, never look back storytelling; his delightful, sometimes wonky dialogue, so melodramatic and so… so Warner Brothers, I guess!; the overarching cheeriness of his comics, urging us kids to come along and have some fun; and, maybe the most important aspect, his lack of sentimentality about the nature of man but (albeit guarded) optimism for life itself: the vision of Jack Kirby.

While much of this issue is exposition and setting up for the “time-bomb” of the story to come, we still get to relish again one of Jack’s longest running devices: The good old fashioned slugfest, with “Giant Jimmy” beating the Krypton out of Kal-el… Nobody, but nobody does a fistfight better than the King!

Upon re-reading there’s always something new to find — or something I think I uncover — and I’m beginning to detect that while Jack depicts authority very often in light-of-day, clean cut imagery, there’s nuances and subtleties that show however good the intentions of the institutions of “our” side, disastrous badness just might emerge… The Guardian clone’s strange brain patterns, the mere fact DNA was used to grow alien monsters, the folly of building super-nuclear reactors in Metropolis’s basement, to name a few of The Project’s creating the opportunity for their own — and maybe our own — demise. Do I detect an uneasiness emerging from Jack about science and technology, and a yearning for a return to the Garden, so to speak, the pristine nature of New Genesis and the Wild Area?

Themes are beginning to take shape and come into sharp focus. And next entry, Jack lays his cards on the table just what the coming battle is all about, as we move on to the second-released title of his Fourth World opus. They belong to sunrise — they’re here in mid-day — to stop the spread of night! Yes, Kirbyheads, here come The Forever People of Supertown!

The Kirby That Jack Built!

Just for kicks, as I was digging out my old Kirby Collectors and looking through my “Kirby’s X-Files” article (in TJKC #17), I note the entry for the cool-sounding text piece, “The Kirby That Jack Built!” and I find my beat-up copy of Super DC Giant #S-25 (cover-dated July-Aug. 1971) to reacquaint myself. While I’m disappointed it’s merely a reprinting (without the N.Y. editorial preface) of “Jack Kirby — Continued,” the autobio text piece in JO #133, I notice the issue, devoted to some of the best Wallace Wood-inked Kirby stories from “Challengers of the Unknown” (credited herein as Kirby-written stories; I thought the Wood brothers wrote ’em… I’ll check the index), it is a veritable Kirby promotional piece, featuring not only some his most lavish ’50s DC work, but a trio of house ads devoted to Kirby Komics. I thought I’d scan the pertinent stuff, including the little-seen Kirby cover for that ish (newly penciled by the King and inked by Colletta) and the text piece (ganged up from the three separate page appearances)…

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134

Cooke Look: “The Mountain of Judgment!”

Holy smokes! What a helter-skelter ride this ish is, the second comic book in Jack’s Fourth World saga: A breakneck race down the Zoomway by the Whiz Wagon (with Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion onboard) and the Outsiders in search of the gargantuan Mountain of Judgment! The Big Jump, Flippa’s underwater demolition save, Supes’ last-second rescue of the boys, who were about to become roadkill under the wheels of The Hairies giant ride… phew! Where’s my Valium?

It’s appropriate, I think, that after Jack introduces SO much to us readers in his premiere Fourth World effort, a solid half of his second issue is devoted to a (albeit hair-raising and nonstop) road race… it eases the intellect and stimulates the id, don’tcha think?

(And we haven’t mentioned in these entries his two facing pages of photo collage work, an aspect of Jack’s art which endlessly fascinate me. Even if sometimes it’s for the fact I strain to ascertain exactly what’s in the images as comic-book printing was so ill-suited at the time to achieve his intent. With the able and appreciated assist from Jon Cooke’s Pal, John Morrow, we’ll be featuring some of the original collages (in full, glorious color!) in a bonus entry to come.)

There’s not much to talk about really, regarding the story overall, but we do feel like we’re going somewhere, on the Zoomway, towards the deeper mysteries of The Wild Area, and into the complexities of the unfolding storyline.

We see the natural, outside world of The Outsiders and then glimpse the dark interior environment of The Hairies’ high tech laboratory on wheels. And they both are appealing. Jack’s starting to get at something, a thing I’m just beginning to fathom… a statement about the hopes and dangers that encompass man’s endless quest for answers…? I dunno, but I sense we can forever dig into this material and be amazed at what we might find (or THINK we find!).

And, it goes without saying, we are introduced to the Great Villain Himself.

I guess the word is resonant.

Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen is a confident, courageous man of his own, the Newsboy Legion complement his leadership with camaraderie and bravery — with Flippa taking MVP for derring-do — and Jack’s rendition of Superman is emerging from behind the muted Colletta inks and Plastino face redraws. (I used to lament how a Kirby Superman, the one especially alluded to in Forever People #1 and in the “Supertown” story, never was really unleashed — not like Gil Kane was able to accomplish in those GREAT stories of the 1980s — but I realize now there’s enough of the King’s Man of Steel to admire and be satisfied.)

I’m not a big Superman fan, but I do think Kirby’s version stands with the Burnley “Powerstone” saga, Gil Kane’s Action Comics, and the Fleischer cartoons… and of course, the contemporaneous-of-the-Fourth-World and also-not-properly-concluded “Sandman” epic by O’Neil, Swanderson and Schwartz…

I’m ramblin’, but good ish!

Cover: (Attributed to Murray Boltinoff) B-792
Story: X-114
Text Page: “The Whiz Wagons Are Coming!” X-116

On Sale Date: Oct. 20, 1970?

Jimmy Olsen, Icon!

I scanned the b&w art from TJKC last night and stole John’s color scheme (on the cover of #31). Jack had intended this to be the top left-hand cover icon for his Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen run. Alas, never used… (Thanks, Mr. Morrow!)

Where Fourth Art Thou? The Concepts

[Just to keep up the context, here courtesy of the Kirby Museum archives (and John Morrows’ wicked awesome mag, The Jack Kirby Collector, from whence they were scanned) are the concept drawings Jack used for his presentation to DC Comics in 1970, depicting characters in his Fourth World pitch. Top row: Darkseid (left) and Metron on his Mobius Chair (right); inks by Jack Kirby. Second row: Orion (left) and Lightray (right); inks by Don Heck. Third row: Mister Miracle (left) and Mantis (right); inks by Don Heck.]

Comics & Context

With your indulgence, I’d like to prattle on a bit about an aspect of this wacky field of… what is it? Comic book scholarship?… that’s becoming increasingly important to me, as I slowly and surely begin a return (of sorts) to a realm I had some participation some years back. It’s about, like the header states, the comic book in context.

My primary passions as a kid were history and comic books. Like I’ve previously mentioned, our mom did us a wonderful favor by taking her two youngest children, that’s Andy and myself, on a year-long sojourn to Europe. We stayed for varying lengths of time in Ireland, England and France. I was 11 and 12 during the trip; ADC, two years younger than me, and we didn’t go to school per se. But we were educated constantly as we were taken on, for instance, a nationwide tour of the cathedrals of Great Britain. My brother and I got a taste of European history, one that spans thousands of years, and were exposed to a sense of time and space very different than we have in the States. It was a fascinating experience and one that changed our lives, making us, I’m convinced, into creative people.

Though it was 1970-71, World War Two, in particular, was still very much in evidence, such as when we visited the bombed-out Coventry Cathedral or walked past plaques mounted along the Seine dedicated to the fallen of the French Resistance. So history became a living thing in my consciousness. And so much of great interest was taking place during those times, as well — the moon missions (I avidly followed the near-tragedy of Apollo 13 while in London), the Vietnam War, the re-emerging “troubles” in Ireland, and (of extreme importance) the rise of the counter-culture, which suggested there might be other ways of looking at things.

And, of course, we found comics. Or rather, we embraced them as Our Own. Was it because, as a preteen, I look at American comics — and comix — as something profound because I was seeking profundities at that tender, curious age? Or did, in fact, comics have more to say during that tumultuous era?

Though much maligned as a sub-genre of American funnybooks, I confess I loved the era of “Relevancy in Comics,” the more tied to present-day issues, the better. I reveled in underground comix, even if I didn’t understand everything I was reading. Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow spoke directly to me, as did the “Radical Chic” parody by Roy Thomas in The Incredible Hulk, R. Crumb’s work, Dan O’Neill, The Liberators in The Avengers (whatever happened to them? Those (ahem) chicks were cool!), even some Corben stories were allegories of Vietnam, for instance… anyway, it was a fertile period for injecting reality into the fantasy of comics, whether folly or not. And I particularly loved it because connections were being made that I could relate to…

The moment I remember best about melding history and comics was reading the Tales of Suspense “Origin of Captain America” story by Jack Kirby — reprinted in Captain America Annual #1 — when it all started to click for me. Most other heroes were disconnected from precise years and eras. Heck, the reinvention of Golden Age heroes was hardly a novelty by the early ’70s and they had, in the revivals, lost any context, any linking to their times… We can look at the Superman of 1938 and surmise he was very much a product of the Great Depression, that he represented the sense of “otherness” and a need for acceptance by mid-western American Jews, that he represented the gathering strength of a nation as war neared on the horizon. But the Superman of 1945, the context shifted, as American self-identity shifted, and he became a different (and far less interesting) character, like the Mickey Mouse of 1950 compared to ’35.

But I recall a lightning bolt hitting me upon realizing that Captain America, Jack Kirby’s Captain America, would always be linked to the fight against Hitler. Inseparable. In my understanding, character and context could not be separated. It was that aspect, along with my firm conviction that Steve Rogers, drawn as Aryan as could be envisioned, was in fact Jewish, a stand-in for Jack himself.

So, here I am delving in minute detail the characters and concepts Jack created in The Fourth World, and the closer I look, the more I find. (As the Vulcan would say, “Fascinating.”) And, thinking about the upcoming court battle between the Kirby Estate and monolithic Disney, I’m reading The Forever People # 4, and I open up to the double-page spread on pgs.2-3:

Kids, was Jack prescient or what??? I don’t know if he was making an oblique, specific reference to The House That Walt Built, but it is hard not to look at it any other way in light of what is transpiring today…

As this blog starts looking into Jack’s take on the then-revolutionary DNA predictions in the pages of Jimmy Olsen, and then into what, perhaps, Apokolips and Darkseid represent in the “real world,” among many other subjects, I’d like to continue examining the context of his magnum opus… and I hope y’all will join in.

[Mea culpa for the disjointedness of this chat — this was supposed to be yesterday’s “Sunday Bonus,” but funny how life gets in the way sometimes. I’ll try to polish this up at a later date…]