Two more pages of the final Sunday storyline for Sky Masters on the covers of this issue, from January 17 and 24, 1960, inked by Dick Ayers. Sky is able to demonstrate to Doctor Royer how the yoga techniques he’s learned enable him to slow his metabolism down to almost nothing. However, since the project was tied up thanks to bad publicity, Sky goes on to his next assignment, training some pilots in handling launches into space. Unfortunately, the test rocket loses control, sending Sky and another pilot out into space with only a four-hour supply of air.
Kind of obvious from the set-up where this one is going, without too many twists thanks to the quick ending when the Sunday strip wraps up in just three more weeks, but that’s some really slick artwork.
Comics Revue #185 continues the final “Sky Masters” Sunday storyline with covers featuring two strips from January 3 and 10, 1960, with art by Kirby and Ayers. Sky finds some promise for the space program in Roland Aly’s yoga techniques that he’s being trained in, but two reporter take footage of the training and use it to cast doubts on how the space program is spending taxpayer money. After some public backlash based on the news report the General is forced to pull Sky off the yoga research.
This issue features a 13-page Kirby/Ayers reprint TALES OF SUSPENSE #16 (1961). Mike Fallon escapes from jail and decides the best place to hide-out would be to volunteer to test a radiation suit. Apparently there’s no background check for that, so he’s in, and gets to try out the giant robot frame, which can’t be damaged or even opened except from the inside. The tests end up involving one of the greatest scenes of all time: Giant Robot vs. Giant Octopus!
The suit passes all it’s other tests, and then Fallon decides that he should use it for his own gain, and procedes to rob a bank. After that he decides to free the prisoners in Alcatraz and enlist them as part of a criminal army. Makes sense to me. Fortunately for the world, as he gets to the prison he begins to feel ill, and the prison doctor informs him that he has a disease that can only be treated with radiation therapy, which would require he leave the suit. Struck by the sheer irony of the situation, he wanders off, leaving all thoughts of a criminal army behind.
Pretty good twist for this kind of story, and a lot of great art throughout. I especially like one panel where Metallo does the typical Kirby “thoughtful hand-across-the-chin” gesture, which looks pretty funny with those big robot fingers.
The cover is also from ToS #16.
Norton, our super-hero loving character from the previous issue, finds himself a long way from New York, on a spaceship under attack from a massive alien ship.
Realizing that the aliens are after the alien Princess in the small capsule they found earlier, Norton takes off in that capsule to save his crewmates. That leads to one of those wild cosmic trips that the Monolith often causes, including some nice odd splash pages. They wind up under attack at a matter transmitter, where the Princess escapes but Norton falls, leading to a return of the Monolith and Norton’s final conversion to a New Seed.
One of the interesting things about these short little 2001 stories by Kirby is that there is always a long of unexplored stuff below the surface that you get the feeling Kirby had a whole backstory worked out on who the Princess and the aliens were and where they went.
Mike Royer inks the 17-page story and Frank Giacoia inks the cover.
Rick Norwood’s COMICS REVUE has been reprinting comic strips for over 20 years now, including one run of Kirby’s long running comic strip, the ones after those included in the 1991 Pure Imagination SKY MASTERS magazine to the end of the strip (before Greg Theakston published THE COMPLETE SKY MASTERS). Daily strips ran in #124 – #142, #144 – #153 and CR SPECIAL #1. Sunday strips ran on the covers (usually front and back, with the front missing the “Scrap Book” footer and sometimes the cut panel) of the odd numbered issues from #145 – #191. The Sundays are still of interest even with the COMPLETE book since it’s still the only colour reprint of those pages, though the quality of the colour varies depending on the printed source. Some of them are excellent, but others are very dark, or have a lot of bleed-through from the other side, or out-of-register colours. And of course all of the issues have a lot of other great strip reprints you won’t find anywhere else.
#183 has the first two strips of the final Sunday storyline, from December 20 and 27, 1959. Astronaut Sky Masters is called in for his new mission. Apparently international playboy and yoga expert Roland Aly has shown he can use his skills to withstand pressures that no human should be able to, something that would be very useful to the space program. Sky is sent to Aly’s private island to learn these techniques.
Dick Ayers was the inker at this point, and doing an excellent job. This is some of favourite Kirby work of the era, lacking a bit of the goofy energy of the monster comics but making up for it with the dense, tight storytelling, detailed art and imaginative ideas.
This issue opens with Kamandi and Sultin taking a look inside a museum which includes, among other things, several statues of US Presidents (including the ruins of the Lincoln Memorial apparently just excavated). Oddly the museum also has a lot of large statues of the humanoid lions of Kamandi’s era, those presumably of much more recent vintage. The two-page spread of the museum is one of the Kirby classics from this series.
Unfortunately the sight of humans in captivity acting like animals is too much for Kamandi, so he rebels, and Sultin has to escape with him out to the wild.
There Kamandi runs into some bears, who despite their increased intelligence are still godless killing machines. Fortunately, Kamandi displays that knack for running into people he knows at random places in the big world and is found by radioactive mutants (but human) Ben Boxer and Renzi, much to his delight. They escape to the waiting balloon where the third member of their team, Steve, is waiting and Kamandi decides to stick around on their return to their point of origin, Tracking Site.
A lot of this issue is based on Kamandi’s reactions to the world he finds himself thrust in, his frustration at how far humans have fallen, how alone he is, his joy at re-discovering people at least somewhat like him. Kirby does a good job of portraying that in the dialogue and body language, and in showing how Kamandi’s friends like Sultin and Ben empathize with him.
Mike Royer inks the 20 page story and cover.
An intruder enters the Valley of Flame in this issue, a giant human-like being wearing the skull of a thunder-horn and rampaging through the forests.
Moon-Boy goes to find out what kind of creature this is, and gets captured by the object of the giant’s search, his son who had wandered into the valley. Of course, neither father or son, despite their giant frames, are any match for the cunning of Devil and Moon-Boy. Fortunately for them, Moon-Boy puts everything together in the end and convinces Devil to rescue the Giant and re-unite the pair to leave the Valley in peace.
This is my favourite issue of the short run of this series, a good solid complete adventure with a lot of action, some clever planning by Moon-Boy and a nice ending.
Mike Royer inks the 17-page story and cover.
Kirby also writes a one-page text piece, “The X Age… A Comic Book Bonanza”, about how filling in the blanks on pre-history is a fertile ground for comic book creators, or “Comic Bookeroos” as Kirby calls them. I’m surprised that name never caught on…
A 13-page Kirby/Ayers reprint from TALES TO ASTONISH #17  leads off this issue. This one has a wax museum owner specializing in monsters deciding to create a massive new creature to renew interest in his museum. Personally I’d suggest moving out of a small village in Transylvania. Anyway, some great images of the creation of the creature, from the skeleton out. I love that panel of him working on the eye, giving a nice sense of scale to the whole creature.
Of course the villagers are suspicious, and rightly so as the creature comes to life in a billion-to-one lightning strike (although given how often that happens in these stories I think those odds are off). The creature is attacked by the villagers, but then an alien invasion from Mars lands in the village, planning to use it as their base. The creature attacks them and drives them off, saving the Earth, but dies in the process. The villagers realize they were wrong and help Vandoom create a new statue as a monument.
Kind of a by-the-numbers story after you’ve read enough of them, but as a stand-alone it’s a fun story with some great visuals.
The cover is sort of a reprint of the cover to TALES TO ASTONISH #17, heavily modified with a whole new face on the monster, the general form kept but with the fur effect smoothed out, and a few extra fleeing villagers.
Two Kirby/Ayers reprints in the final issue of this mini-series, both 7-pagers, both from 1961.
From STRANGE TALES #90 is “Orrgo, the Unconquerable”. Orrgo is a creature from one of those warlike alien races who decide that Earth is only worth conquering if just one of their number can conquer humanity. He lands in the middle of a circus and makes short work of all of Earth’s defences with his mental powers, melting tanks, turning airplanes into birds and bombs into eggs, freezing Washington and causing New York to float in the air. He then hypnotizes humanity so he can rest before summoning his peaple. Fortunately for humanity, Jo-jo, a gorilla from the circus, angry at not being fed due to all the fuss Orrgo caused, kills he sleeping alien. As a reward for saving the planet, Jo-jo gets extra bananas. Some gratitude. Some very nice images, like the planes turning to birds and Orrgo’s general goofiness.
And courtesy JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #64 comes “I Dared to Battle Rorgg, King of the Spider Men”.
Down in New Mexico, young Tim’s parents are critical of his fascination with sci-fi comics. Normally I’d take Tim’s side in this, but he’s also ignoring the extremely attractive Ann to finish his comics. Anyway, Tim and Ann are at the site where the first webs of a vast alien spider invasion touches down, led by Rorgg. Fortunately, Tim’s expanded imagination manages to reason that a powerful dose of DDT will kill Rorgg and drive off his army. After that everyone was much more accepting of Tim’s comic reading. Unfortunately, the DDT killed them all off soon after… No, just kidding. Another light but fun story, not one of the great ones, but with some spiffy aliens.
Lead story in this issue is a reprint of the 7-page Kirby/Ayers “The Living Shadow” from Strange Tales #79 . The story begins with Philip Lawson, mystery writer, talking about his UFO theories, which are dismissed by most. As luck would have it, he encounters an actual UFO, with shadow creatures at the aliens. Seems they come from that mysterious planet on the other side of the sun, and developed shape shifting powers (and look not entirely unlike Skrulls…).
Their leader Kaa’s typically convoluted plan for conquering Earth is to infiltrate the planet by hiding one of their agents in the shadow of every human. Lawson is able to escape their mountain headquarters using one of the Shadows as a parachute and alerts the UN about the aliens. All of them are rounded up except Kaa, who escapes and vows to return.
Short and kind of silly, but this has some great visuals making it one of the stories I’d include if I was doing a best of Kirby’s sci-fi list. The Shadows are very evocative in their simplicity and the action sequence of Lawson grabbing a shadow and leaping from the mountain is just poetry.
The MonsterBlog entry for the story discusses some of the earlier “living shadow” stories that might be linked to this, as well as later super-hero stories with Kaa.
Also, one “world balloon” in this story.