When he first went to DC in 1970, Kirby seemed to think that they’d be open to different ideas and new formats. Soon enough he’d learn that they weren’t, not so much. In the meantime he did produce a number of stories, some still unpublished, in the crime, horror and romance genres. All genres that Kirby had quite a bit of experience in, although at this point in his career it had been years since he’d done any substantial story-work in anything but super-heroes (except for two short horror stories he’d done for CHAMBER OF DARKNESS late in his Marvel days, which didn’t end well). DC ended up publishing two issues of this stuff in 1971, oddly under the “Hampshire Distributors” label (I’m not sure if anything else was ever published under that name).
Clearly crime stories fascinated him, as he showed in a memorable storyline for the FF shortly before. Let loose to work solo he came up with IN THE DAYS OF THE MOB. It’s your basic true-crime book, with a framing sequence set in Hell, with Warden Fry doing the hosting. Kirby pulls out some of the big guns for the first issue, Ma Barker, Al Capone and Pretty Boy Floyd.
The issue features 41 pages of Kirby comics, as inked by Colletta. Kirby apparently planned these to be colour stories, but instead they were printed in black and white format with a heavy grey inkwash, and for some reason no panel borders. The combination seems to deaden it somewhat, which is a shame as it’s really strong work otherwise. While I don’t know if it would have been successful at the time even if it was given a higher level of support and production, it’s strong work by Kirby, who was clearly into the subject matter, and his attention to period detail and scripting style really fit the material.
The book opens up with the no-nonsense Warden Fry exclaiming “Welcome to Hell”, and showing us through the section of Hell where mobsters serve their time, including a massive two-page spread of the teeming masses of the prison (and if there were this many after Colletta was done, imagine how many there were before). He then comes across Ma Barker, and tells her story about how she led her four boys into a life of crime and how they all died. Back in Hell we see various felons playing cards, with predictable results.
We then meet Al Capone, allowing the Warden to launch into the story of “Bullets For Big Al”, where we see the story of a misguided attempt to overthow Capone in the Chicago mob. A fun story, it features another two-page spread of a lavish mob party, with a big band and dancing girls, before descending to some brutal violence.
Next up are some text features. Kirby writes a three page article with photo illustrations about the era, a sort of bizarre free-form essay called “The Breeding Ground” about era he grew up in. Meanwhile Evanier&Sherman write a two page article, “Funeral For a Florist”, with a small Kirby illustration for the header.
Back to the comics after that, as the warden leads us to a 1933 train station to witness “The Kansas City Massacre”, an attempt by “Pretty Boy” Floyd and others to help a prisoner escape gone wrong. Finally we get “Method of Operation”, a quick look at the story of “Country Boy” and how his affection for fishing and women led to his capture in New Orleans.
Sergio Aragones finishes up the book with two pages of cartoons, and there’s a large poster insert of a wanted poster for John Dillinger included. The cover is a mix of photo-collage and illustration, apparently inked by Frank Giacoia.
A finished second issue, inked by Mike Royer, was done but not published, although parts of it appeared in AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS and various fanzines. The inside back cover features an ad for it, with two great full pages of art from the “Ladies of the Gang” story and a panel from “A Room For Kid Twist”. For more about the series, including a page from #2 and comments by Mark Evanier, read this article from TJKC #16, ignoring the odd comment about Colletta’s inks for #1 being better than Royer’s for #2.
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