Category Archives: Atlas Kirby

Black Rider’s Final Ride

Kid Colt Outlaw #86 (September 1959) “Meeting at Midnight”, art by Jack Kirby

“Meeting at Midnight” is the last Kirby Black Rider story to be published, and the last one that I have occasion to post about as well. The job number (M-556) indicates that the story was likely to have been done prior to the Atlas Implosion. The existence of two other Kirby Black Rider stories (“Trouble in Leadville” and “The Raiders Strike“) that also have ‘M’ job numbers suggest that all were originally intended for an unpublished Black Rider Rides Again #2, a casualty of the Implosion.

The story opens with the Black Rider arriving in town as shots are fired. He finds the shooter but looses him in the pursuit. Changing back to his identity as the town doctor he treats a man who claims to have been wounded while cleaning his gun. Suspicious, Doc reverts back to the Black Rider and observes his patient providing money to another; the wounded man is being blackmailed. The two men arrange for another meeting the next night. Back in his public identity, the Doc slips his patient a sedative and goes as the Black Rider to the appointment with the blackmailer. A gun fight ensues and, while trying to escape, the blackmailer falls to his death.

The plots of this and the other Black Rider stories are so repetitive that this feature is not one I care for very much. That repetition is so unlike Jack’s writing style that I seriously doubt whether he made any substantial contribution to the plotting or the writing. One of the reasons for my interest in Kirby’s pre-Implosion art for Atlas is the amount of control Jack seemed to have on some of that work. Unfortunately for “Meeting at Midnight” not only was Jack not the writer, he was not the inker either. I personally cannot say who the inked this story, Atlas inkers are a subject I know next to nothing about. The Jack Kirby Checklist credits Bill Everett as the inker, while Atlas Tales and the GCD attribute it to George Klein.

The drawing of all the Kirby Black Rider stories, excepting “Meeting at Midnight”, is very stylized with elongated figures or limbs. A similar style can be found in another western that Jack both penciled and inked “No Man Can Outdraw Him” (posted on here and here). The stories from Black Rider Rides Again #1 and “No Man Can Outdraw Him” were inked by Kirby in a manner that I think works quite well with the stylized drawing giving the final art an expressionistic look. The inker(s) of “The Raiders Strike” and “Trouble in Leadville” adopted a different, more intricate, inking but otherwise remaining faithful to Kirby’s pencils. I find that this results in figures that look freakish. The figures in “Meeting at Midnight” do not look so stylized and I think this was the result of the inker adjusting Kirby’s pencils. As I said I am no scholar of Atlas comics, but I will hazard an observation that the art for “Meeting at Midnight” looks closer to Kirby’s later Atlas/Marvel westerns. Perhaps the inking was not done at the time of the Implosion but only when it was decided that this story would be published in the Kid Colt Outlaw title.

Another Pre-Implosion Atlas Kirby

Quick Trigger Western #16
Quick Trigger Western #16 (February 1957) “The Vengeance Of Growling Bear” page 2 pencils by Jack Kirby

A peace treaty with the Indians threatens the business of gun dealing. To prevent the unwanted peace, the dealers dress up as Indians and raid the community, leaving death and destruction in their path. The Indian leader, Growling Bear, uncovers the truth. His reputation is enough that when the gun dealers realize that he is on to them, their plot unravels before war is resumed.

I must confess I am a bit underwhelmed by this story. Jack’s pencils are good in comparison to other Atlas artists, but then again I have a low opinion of much of the art done at the time for Atlas. In comparison to the rest of Kirby’s oeuvre, this story art is one of his lesser efforts. Nothing particularly wrong, just not as exciting as most of what Kirby did. The writing does not help either. Again it is not that the writing is bad, just that not very exciting either.

One of the reasons that I find Jack’s pre-Implosion work for Atlas so fascinating is the level of control that he appeared to have. Even so Jack did not seem to consistently have full creative leeway. That seems to have been the case here. Unlike many pre-Implosion pieces, the inking was not by Jack, but it may have been inked under his direction. Most of the brushwork is fine and lacking Kirby’s style. But look at the second panel of page 2 (image above), the horse’s leg on our far right has a bold use of a row of dashes. This technique does not occur elsewhere in the story but is part of Kirby’s brush vocabulary (see the similar drop string in the inking glossary). It would appear that Kirby reviewed and touched up the primary inker’s efforts. The writing does not seem to be Jack’s either. The plot, where white men masquerade as Indians, was used previously by Simon and Kirby. So Kirby may have had a hand in the plotting. Then again I remember that plot from some old movies (although I cannot recall which ones) so perhaps it was just a common theme. In any case general plots are easily picked up by other writers and therefore are a poor use in determining attributions.

Now with “The Vengeance Of Growling Bear” I have had a chance to review all Kirby’s work that Atlas published before the Implosion. This consists of 20 stories. Jack did the inking for 16 of them, an impressive proportion. Because credits were not provided, determining the writer is a particular risky business. None the less the writing for 15 of the stories suggest to me that Kirby may have been involved. This amount of creative control by Kirby is in stark contrast to post-Implosion. I know some disagree with me, but I find no examples of post-Implosion writing by Kirby, that is until late in his career. As far as I know, Kirby did not do any inking after the Implosion either until the cover for Fantasy Masterpieces #4 in 1966. Nick Caputo has suggested that Kirby inked some other later covers, but I have not seen this evidence yet.

Battleground #14 (November 1956)
“Mine Field” Kirby inks
Astonishing #56 (December 1956)
“Afraid to Dream” Kirby inks and writing
Strange Tales of the Unusual #7 (December 1956)
“Poker Face” Kirby inks
Yellow Claw #2 (December 1956)
“Concentratet On Chaos” Kirby inks and writing
“The Mystery Of Cabin 361” Kirby inks and writing
“The Yellow Claw” Kirby inks and writing
“Temu-jai, The Golden Goliath” Kirby inks and writing
Quick Trigger Western #16 (February 1957)
“The Vengeance of Growling Bear” Kirby inks and writing
Yellow Claw #3 (February 1957)
“The Microscopic Army” Kirby inks and writing
“UFO, The Lighting Man” Kirby inks and writing
“The Yellow Claw Captured” Kirby inks and writing
“Sleeping City” Kirby inks and writing
Yellow Claw #4 (April 1957)
“The Living Shadows” Kirby writing
“The Screemies” Kirby writing
“Five Million Sleepwalkers” Kirby writing
“The Yellow Claw and the Thought Master” Kirby writing
Black Rider Rides Again #1 (September 1957)
“Legend Of The Black Rider” Kirby inks
“Duel At Dawn” Kirby inks
“Treachery At Hangman’s Bridge” Kirby inks
Two-Gun Western #12 (September 1957)
“No Man Can Outdraw Him” Kirby inks and writing

Job numbers indicate that there are three works that may have actually been done before the Implosion but not published until afterwards. These appear to have intended for the never released Black Rider Rides Again #2. I have not seen two of them, but the one I have seen was was not inked by Jack, and I doubt if he wrote it either.

Gunsmoke Western #47 (July 1958)
“Trouble In Leadville”
Gunsmoke Western #51 (March 1959)
“The Raiders Strike”
Kid Colt Outlaw #86 (September 1959)
“Meeting At Midnight”

Battleground, Jack Kirby’s Return to Atlas

Battleground #14
Battleground #14 (November, 1956) “Mine Field” page 2 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby turned to freelancing when the Simon and Kirby studio failed. Battleground #14 (November 1956) was the first of his freelance jobs to be published. It also marked Kirby’s return to a company that he left almost 15 years before. Jack probably still remembered Goodman’s unfulfilled promise of royalties for Captain America, but Kirby had a family to support and so had to swallow his pride. His reentry job was a short five page war story called “Mine Field”. The job should have been easy for Jack, only a couple of years before Kirby drew, wrote and edited for Foxhole, a war comic for Simon and Kirby’s own publishing company called Mainline. One story for that title, “Hot Box”, was only two pages long and Jack still managed to make it a masterpiece.

“Mine Field” is a simple tale. A somewhat bumbler of a soldier gets separated from his outfit during a night patrol. He becomes lost in the dark and by daybreak finds himself close to the enemy’s position. From his observations he realizes the Germans plans to lure the Americans into a mine field. Upon dark the soldier rearranges the German marker and finds the way back with the outfit. The table has turned and the enemy falls into their own trap. It is a good story, just not one that plays on what would normally be considered Kirby’s strengths. Jack likes his war action up close and personal and that is not what this story is about, although Jack does manage to sneak in some typical Kirby action in the last panel. But it is because the story does not have a lot of action that it provides a showcase for how good an artist Kirby was. I provide an example page above. Note that there really is not a lot happening on this page. We find the hapless soldier fall into a shell hole and his unsuccessful attempt to find his comrades. Yet by altering the view point and careful use of the landscape Jack manages to make it all interesting. Kirby is able to do this throughout the story. This sort of low action story may not have been the best vehicle for Jack, but he still managed to make it look easy.

Jack’s pencils are always at their best when inked by his greatest inker, Kirby himself. For this story Jack’s inked in a manner which I referred to as the S&K Studio style. That style is categorized by bold brushwork and some unusual techniques. In the image I provide above, note the use of the picket fence pattern (see inking glossary) in the second and fifth panels. By itself there is nothing unusual about Jack’s inking in the Studio style, he had often used it in the past. What is surprising is that this style appeared in a work at this late date. At this time Jack had adopted a similar style but with a finer brush for Prize romance covers or a simpler style without techniques like the picket fence brushing for romance story art. However the inking in “Mine Field” does show one important trait agreeing with both the Fine Studio and Austere styles. Spotting has been downplayed giving the entire art a lighter look. Black areas tend to be limited coverage but when used are done by filling the area with ink. The inking for this story was not as masterful as Jack would shortly do for Atlas in Yellow Claw #2 and #3. However in its own understated way it is a beautiful job without any signs of rushing and loss of control found in “Afraid To Dream” that Kirby also did in the next month.

I have already remarked above how the plot for “Mine Field” was not typical for Kirby. I also find that the actual text writing does not have Kirby’s “voice”. Jack’s writing usually includes exclamations that are a little over the top. I find none of that quality in the script for “Mine Field”. Therefore I do not believe that Jack had much to do with the writing for this story and that he was working from a script supplied by Atlas. This sets this story apart from most pre-Implosion Atlas work which either Kirby seemed to have a lot of control over the writing (Yellow Claw, “Afraid to Dream”, “No Man Can Outdraw Him” and “Pokerface”) or at least some input to the plot (Black Rider Rides Again).

Battleground #14
Battleground #14 (November, 1956) “Beyond the Call of Duty” art by Joe Maneely

In my posts for this blog I generally avoid comparing other artists to Jack Kirby. It really is not fair and can result in overlooking the special talents these comic book artists possessed. Effectively Atlas made just such a comparison between Jack Kirby and Joe Maneely and judged Maneely as the better artist. Presumably this judgment was made by Stan Lee and it continued as long as Joe Maneely was alive. It was Joe that was the most frequent Atlas cover artist while Jack did not even get to do the covers for comic books titles where he did all the interior story art. In Battleground #14 Joe got the most important first story while Jack’s contribution was delegated towards the back. But this does not seem to reflect the actual merits of the two stories. Maneely is working from a script with much more action then what Kirby had. For a war title this should almost insure a more interesting story, yet Kirby’s piece is a much better read. Maneely just does not seem to know how to make the action exciting. Under Joe’s hands all of the artwork seems dry and unmoving. Even today there are those who say Joe Maneely was a great artist. I just do not understand exactly what they feel Maneely did so well.

Strange Tale Indeed, The Ending Revealed

I am always unsure how to handle how much to reveal in my Feature Story posts. I have received a request to provide the end of “Poker Face”. So I have decided to provide the ending as a comment to this post.

SPOILER ALERT: Do not click on comments if you do not want to know the ending for “Poker Face”.

Strange Tale Indeed

Strange Tales of the Unusual #7
Strange Tales of the Unusual #7 (December 1956) “Poker Face” page 1 pencils by Jack Kirby

A giant alien arrives in an odd cylindrical spaceship. Without any attempt to hide, he makes visits all over the world. People’s responses vary, the Russians fire with all their available weapons, most citizens of Indian hide in the bushes but a few approach closely, New Yorkers gawk but quickly get bored and return home. But it seems that no matter how the people of earth react, the alien completely ignores them and just goes about his business. Only nobody can figure out what he is doing. He just seems to go everywhere with his weird gadgets. The answer to the riddle is provided at the end and of course it is an unexpected explanation.

When I was young I remember reading some DC comics, Superman, Batman, the Flash and so on. What I remember most about them was how boring they were. My DC phase did not last long and was never very intense. I then progressed to Marvel pre-hero fantasy, which was still filled with stories very much like “Poker Face”. I remember enjoying them very much for a while. Eventually I got tired of the formula. It may sound strange but I found the use of a surprise ending repetitious after a while. So I drifted out of comics. But later I somehow stumbled on an early Fantastic Four (probably FF #4) and I was hooked, a confirmed Marvel junkie.

This is another of those pre-Implosion Atlas where Kirby inked his own pencils. As described in Chapter 6 of “Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking” the spotting was a pared down version of the formerly used Studio style. Jettisoned from that older style were brush techniques like drop strings and picket fences. New to the inking was the use of a pen, often in parallel lines to provide grays.

Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 6, Atlas

Towards the end of 1956 (I am using comic book cover dates throughout this serial post) Jack Kirby began to do freelance work for Atlas and DC. This did not mean the end of Simon and Kirby productions but their working relationship must have changed. Although Joe Simon took part in presenting the Challengers of the Unknown to DC he was not involved in any of the actual freelance work that Jack did for DC or Atlas.

Among the earliest of the work Jack did for Atlas was the Yellow Claw. He started with issue #2 and therefore did not have anything to do with the title’s creation. Nonetheless Kirby clearly had a lot of control on the contents of the issues he did (#2 to #4). The stories are nothing like those from YC #1 and are pure Kirby. As I said in Chapter 7 for my serial post of The End of Simon and Kirby, I consider These Yellow Claw work by Kirby to be nothing short of masterpieces. The issues of interest for this serial post on Kirby’s inking are YC #2 and #3, in those issues Jack did his own inking. Whereas YC #4 was inked by someone else, with pretty horrendous results.

Yellow Claw #2
Yellow Claw #2 (December 1956) “Concentrate On Chaos” splash panel from page 1 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

If you have been following my serial blog on Kirby’s inking styles this splash should be recognized as a Fine Studio spotting. Jack had used pretty much the same method in some of the Prize romance covers earlier in the year. The Studio Style had been a mainstay of S&K for about a decade. Not that it was entirely static but if anything it evolved into even bolder effects. I cannot say why, but in a short time Jack transformed it. Going from coarse to a finer lines may not seem like much, but it had a big effect on the final image. New here to Jacks inking was the use of a pen, previously all spotting was done using a brush. It was a pen that now did all the pickets of the picket fence patterns. Even further from the standard Studio Style was the use of a pen to just provide grays, such on the sole of the foot.

Yellow Claw #2
Yellow Claw #2 (December 1956) “The Yellow Claw” page 3 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Not all the work in Yellow Claw used pen work and picket fences. These techniques take greater effort and more time. As can be expected it was in the regular story panels where the finer work was sometimes abandoned. When that happened, as for example page 3 from the story “The Yellow Claw” (see above) the results look very much like the Austere Style. A lighter look, black areas often made by flooding an area with ink and simple spatulate cloth folds. Note the presence of shoulder blots, this is a quintessential Kirby trademark although possibly used by Joe Simon as well.

Yellow Claw #3
Yellow Claw #3 (February 1957) “UFO, The Lighting Man” page 1 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

But Austere Style inking was not limited to Yellow Claw story panels. Look at the above splash from YC #3. Although the use of a pen is still evident what is missing are typical Studio Style brushworks such as drop strings or picket fences. Ignoring the use of the pen, the actual brushwork looks like very typical Austere style.

Yellow Claw #3
Yellow Claw #3 (February 1957) “UFO, The Lighting Man” page 2 panel 6 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The last panel on page 6 shows that pen work could also appear in the story art as well.

Yellow Claw #3
Yellow Claw #3 (February 1957) “Sleeping City” page 4 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Another example of mostly Austere type of inking on a story page. But look at the last panel with Fine Studio style using pen.

Yellow Claw #3
Yellow Claw #3 (February 1957) “The Yellow Claw Captured” page 4 panel 1 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

I wanted to end my examination of Kirby’s Yellow Claw inking with a panel showing spotting technique that is a holdover from the standard Studio style. This is what I call the abstract arch shadow. It was not used nearly as often as some of the other inking methods that I have discussed. But it has a long history of use and given enough pages any work done in the Studio style is bound to have examples of abstract arch shadows. This is another inking method that I have not seen used outside of Simon and Kirby (or just Kirby) productions. Like shoulder blots, I do not quite get what abstract arch shadows are supposed to represent. Nonetheless when present they can be important components of the composition and make the page more interesting.

Asonishing #56
Astonishing #56 (December 1956) “Afraid To Dream” page 1 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

I previously discussed this work. Looking over it again for this serial post I still conclude that the spotting looks like Jack Kirby’s work. It is another example of his Fine Studio style. That is not to say that it is as nice an inking job as Jack’s work in Yellow Claw. Instead the inking looks a little rushed.

Also done at this time was “Poker Face” published in Strange Tales of the Unusual #7. I will be posting an image of that story in an accompanying post. As for the inking it is typical Austere style along with occasional pen work. This job was as nicely done, if not so elaborate, as Jack’s Yellow Claw inking.

In a comment to another of my posts Ger Apeldoorn advanced his hypothesis that “Afraid To Dream” and “Poker Face” may have been originally been Simon and Kirby productions created for Harvey’s Black Cat Mystic. As I mentioned in the previous chapter, Black Cat Mystic had an incredibly bad schedule with long periods between issues. Ger suggestion is that due to that schedule Jack took the work to Atlas instead. Without a doubt either of these two stories would have fit quite well with the others that S&K did for Black Cat. The only thing that bothers me about this thesis is that the inking on these two stories, particularly the use of a pen, fit better in with the rest of Kirby’s Atlas work then they do for his Black Cat jobs. Still the inking could have been done or modified after the decision to change venues. Anyway Ger’s suggestion is intriguing.

Black Rider Rides Again #1
Black Rider Rides Again #1 (September 1957) “Duel At Dawn” splash panel from page 1 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

When recently I posted on Black Rider Rides Again #1 I had concluded that the pen work was added to the art after it was delivered to Atlas. Now that I have reviewed the Yellow Claw work I feel I have to withdraw my previous opinion. The pen work in Black Rider matches what was done in Yellow Claw. In YC there can be no question that the pen work was part of the original inking, it is so perfectly integrated with the rest of the spotting. This use of a pen still bothers me. It seems so out of place from the days of the Simon and Kirby studio, I cannot recall his using a pen before. I will return to this issue next week in my chapter on freelance work done for DC.

Black Rider Rides Again #1
Black Rider Rides Again #1 (September 1957) “Treachery At Hangman’s Bridge” splash panel from page 1 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Other then the use of pen, the rest of the spotting for Black Rider is a good match for the Austere style. There is not much use of drop strings or picket fences. Well that is generally, Jack did use a modified drop string to texture the cactus in the “Duel At Dawn” splash panel. When dramatic effects called for it (such as the Hangman’s Bridge splash above), the image would be rather dark. Still over all the art has a light look that is decreased only partly by the use of a pen.

Black Rider Rides Again #1
Black Rider Rides Again #1 (September 1957) “Treachery At Hangman’s Bridge” page 2 panel 2 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Sometimes I feel the pen work is effective, sometimes intrusive. Oddly sometimes I find it both. In the second panel on page 2 of the Hangman’s Bridge story the contrast between the Austere brush work in the foreground and the use of pen in the background gives depth to the image. Unfortunately it also distracts from the drama provided by Black Rider’s rearing horse.

Two-Gun Western #12
Two-Gun Western #12 (September 1957) “No Man Can Outdraw Him” splash panel from page 1 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

This is another story that I have posted on recently. Here Jack provides a pure Austere inking. Very minimal brushwork without any of the more complicated techniques. Next to Yellow Claw, this is my favorite Kirby piece from this period. I cannot say if Kirby did the writing, but it is a great story. The figures are more elongated then typical for Kirby, a trait also found in Black Rider. This and the matching inking gives the art an almost expressionistic look which Jack puts to good use.

So far all the Kirby inking Kirby pieces I have seen that were done for Atlas were all pre-Implosion. Kirby did not ink even some with job numbers that indicate they were made before the Implosion but were published afterwards. I am not very knowledgeable about Atlas so perhaps Kirby did some inking later that I have not seen. But it sure looks like Kirby stopped inking for Atlas after the Implosion.

Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 1, Introduction
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 2, Mainline
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 3, A Lot of Romance
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 4, Prize Covers
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 5, Harvey

Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 7, DC
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 8, More Harvey
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 9, More Prize
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, A Checklist and a Glossary

other post with Kirby inking Kirby:

Strange Tale Indeed
Battleground, Jack Kirby’s Return to Atlas
Captain 3D

The Black Rider Rides Again, And Again

Gunsmoke Western #47
Gunsmode Western #47 (July 1958) “Trouble In Leadville” page 1 pencils by Jack Kirby

Like “The Raiders Strike” in Gunsmoke Western #51 this Black Rider story with an “M” job number is probably inventory left over from before the Atlas Implosion. One reason that I have been reviewing some of Kirby’s work that might have been done before the Implosion is the hope of finding more examples of Kirby inking Kirby. Alas GW #47 is not inked by Jack but instead looks like the same inker as GW #51. I check Atlas Tales and they do not list the inker for GW #47. Because I forgot to do so in my previous post, I also check Atlas Tales for GW #51 and they list Dick Ayers as the inker. A check of GCD gives Ayers as the inker of both stories, but surprisingly says Dick also penciled “Trouble In Leadville”. Sigh, what can I say, the GCD is such a mixer of accurate and, in this case, widely off mark attributions. Anyway I really do not know enough about Ayers to voice an opinion on the inking attribution. Whoever the inker for GW #47, he did a good job and did not overwhelm Jack’s pencils. As with GW #51, I feel that inker’s more detailed style is a poor match for Kirby’s pencils. Jack’s pencils in these Black Rider stories are stylized and the inker’s style make the figures look somewhat freakish. It may seem odd to say the inker did a good job but a poor match for Kirby’s pencils. With Black Rider Rides Again #1 I felt that Kirby’s inks complimented his pencils. Jack’s pencils would suffer from any inker not following that style, which would be pretty much any other inker. That being the case the most one could expect is that at least the line inking be sensitive to Jack’s pencils.

In the very beginning of “Trouble In Leadville” the Black Rider is involved in a shoot out against a number of opponents. He proves too much for them and the ride away. We then find that he has saved Marie (the recurring female character) and her father from Dan Basset’s gang. The gang came asking a lot of questions about Leadville and became angry when the pair refused to answer. Suspicious that the gang was up to no good the Black Rider tries to go after them but the trail goes cold. But he asks Marie to go to the sheriff and warn him about the gang’s presence. Back in town and having resumed his identity as the local doctor, we find out the sheriff has left with a posse. Basset and his gang arrive to find the town is unprotected and make for the bank. But the doctor does a quick change to the Black Rider and saves the day.

I have to admit I am really not a big fan of these Black Rider stories. Of course Kirby’s art is nice but the stories themselves leave a lot to be desired. They seem very formalistic. The stories often seem to start with action where either the Black Rider prevents the bad guys from whatever they are doing but is unable to capture them, or the Black Rider arrives too late to and the bad guys are already gone. The Black Rider resumes his identity as the town doctor. Later when the bad guys show up, he dons his Black Rider outfit and almost effortlessly saves the day. The repetitive nature of the plots indicates to me that they were not by Kirby who, if anything, had an overly active imagination.

The Black Rider Rides Again, Again

Gunsmoke Western #51
Gunsmode Western #51 (march 1959) “The Raiders Strike” page 1 art by Jack Kirby

I recently posted on the Black Rider Rides Again #1 that Jack Kirby did for Atlas prior to the Implosion. I find this period fascinating because the work Jack did seems a mixture of material that he had a good deal of creative control and others which he did not. Jack’s efforts after the Implosion seem to me to decidedly fall in the latter category. Tom Lammers in his “Tales of the Implosion” discusses job numbers and the existence of an inventory of pre-Implosion work that was published after the Implosion. Among these are work with a job number starting with an “M”. This would include “The Raiders Strike” from Gunsmoke Western #51 (March 1959). Actually job numbers are not the only reason to believe that this story was pre-Implosion. Three Black Rider stories were published after the Implosion as back-up features. This is just the right number for a Black Rider Rides Again #2 but that title and did not survive the Implosion.

“The Raiders Strike” is very much like the older Black Rider stories. A gang of thieves rob the receipts from a county fair. The Black Rider is present and manages to wound one, but is without his horse so he cannot follow. Still he vows to recover the money. Resuming his secret identity as the local doctor he frets that since he has no lead he will be unable to fulfill his promise. Some of the thieves arrive and take the doctor at gun point to treat their wounded partner. The doctor is hit after he performs his services. When he recovers he pursues the gang as the Black Rider. He catches up with the thieves and of course recovers the money.

This is a repeated plot with the Black Rider wounding a villain, the doctor tending the wounds, followed by the Black Rider saving the day. In my opinion, the writing style does not sound like Kirby did it. That Jack probably was not the writer is not too surprising. I did not believe he was the scripter for the earlier stories either.

The big difference between this and the earlier Black Rider stories is that Kirby was not the inker. This inker provides a more detailed and realistic inking then Jack’s. Unfortunately I find it a poor marriage between the pencils and inks. Jack drew this Western and “No Man Can Outdraw Him” with a elongated figure style. This seemed quite interesting to me when inked by Jack’s more abstract Austere Style (the subject of a current serial post). This story’s more realistic inking sometimes makes the figures come off rather freakish looking. Still the inker was sensitive to many of Kirby’s nuances and he does not overwhelm the pencils.

Battle Kirby

Recently I posted in some details on Foxhole, Simon and Kirby’s own war comic book. I thought it might be fun to examine some of the work in this genre that Kirby did later in his career. In this post I will look at a couple of stories from Battle, an Atlas title.

Kirby’s work for Atlas as a freelancer was interrupted by the Implosion. Thomas G. Lammers has a marvelous paper called “Tales of the Implosion”. I use the self published version (if you are interested in getting your own copy email Tom at Tom points out that some of the work after the Implosion was from a sort of inventory. He indicates that for Battle new work started to appear with issue #62 (February 1959). By the time Kirby work appears in Battle #67 (December) the comic is produced entirely from new material. The job numbers allow us to distinguish newly produced work from pre-Implosion inventory. All the Kirby battle stories have job numbers starting with T which allows us to say that they are all post-Implosion creations.

Battle #65
Battle #65 (August 1959) cover by Jack Kirby

Although Kirby may not have had as much control over his work for Atlas after the Implosion, at least he started to produce covers. The covers that Jack did for Atlas/Marvel varied greatly in quality. Some of that variation is of course due to Jack himself. However for me most of it is due to the various inkers used. Some were more sensitive to Kirby’s pencils, others tended to overwhelm them. Cover layouts for Jack’s Atlas/Marvel period are generally quite different then produced under the Simon and Kirby collaboration. The questions is was this new look really Kirby’s or could it have been due to his working from someone else’s layouts?

I am not going to try to provide a blanket answer. Jack would do a lot of covers for Atlas/Marvel and I suspect the answer to who was responsible for the layouts may have varied. Instead I will focus on the covers Jack did for Battle and use issue #65 as an example. Note the fighter on our left and how he seems to be looking out of the page calling for reinforcements. This is a device that Jack used earlier in his career when depicting combat. Now at the time the combat included superheroes or kid gangs but the general concept was the same. An example of this compositional technique is Champ #23 (October 1942). This is an effective device as it acts to place the viewer as part of the action. Sometimes this can be a bit paradoxical as Jack would sometimes portray a foe as the caller which would place the viewer as one of the enemies. This device was later abandoned by Simon and Kirby. Now part of this can be explained as due to WWII being over. But when S&K produced Foxhole Jack penciled all the covers and he never returned to using the calling figure.

Not only does Battle #65 use this calling soldier device, but it also shows up on issues #66 and #67. When we look at earlier Battle covers although we find soldiers looking out toward the viewer none of them are calling out. Therefore I would suggests that this figure was Kirby’s. On all the Battle covers that use this calling figure it plays an important part of the total composition. I consider it a good indication that Kirby is responsible for these layouts.

It is interesting to observe that once more Jack has turned to using a technique from early in his career. We previously observed circular panels and figures extending past panel borders. Those two techniques resurfaced in Challengers of the Unknown, The Yellow Claw and the Black Rider Rides Again. However in those cases the technique would be dropped after a short period of use, perhaps because the publishers felt it was too old fashion. This fate did not happen to the calling figure device. Jack would not use it frequently but he would occasionally use it throughout his career. The goofy Captain America #197 (May 1976) is a good example.

Battle #65
Battle #65 (August 1959) “Ring of Steel” art by Jack Kirby

1959 found the U.S. in the grips of the Cold War. The Hungarian Revolt had occurred less then three years before. “Ring of Steel” does not include the start of the rebellion, when a student protest escalated to the point that the Communist government in Hungary was deposed and the Russians expelled. Instead the comic story begins with the reports of Russian tanks grouping outside the city. When the Russians enter the city the citizens fight desperately to keep their freedom. Of course in the end they are defeated by the overwhelming force sent against them.

I was rather young when the Hungarian Revolt toke place. and was raised during the height of the Cold War. My father’s side of my family was Polish with relatives still living under the Communist regime. With my background it is not at all surprising how moving I find “Ring of Steel”. Still even an inspiring story needs a good writer to be truly effective. I feel the author of “Ring of Steel” did an excellent job. For example page four has three rows of panels with two or three panels per row. Each row starts with how the patriots would fight the Russians. Each row would then end with the unfortunate results of those attempts. The same caption is used on the last panel of all the rows, “… against hopeless odds”. Very good scripting. I wish I could credit Jack Kirby with this writing. Frankly it just does not read like his work to me. Particularly things like page four sound more like something from a writer then a visual artist.

A good comic book story needs more then just good writing. It requires great art as well. Of course with Jack Kirby as the artist, the great art in the story is not much of a surprise. I do not know the inker, Silver Age inkers are not an area that I am knowledgeable about. I can say that Jack did not ink this job himself. Whoever the inker was he did a good job. He did not attempt to “correct” Kirby’s pencil nor did he overpower them.

I want to take particular note about the splash page whose image I provide above. Jack was famous for his use of exaggerated perspectives. Still there is something unusual about this splash. In “The Comic Book Makers” Joe Simon describes the proper way to create art for 3D comics. Joe’s prescription is that the art should project out to the user, not into the page. Well Jack generally followed that rule not just for 3D art but whenever he used his special perspective. Early in his career Kirby did not follow that procedure, he developed it as he gained experience. For this splash he completely disregards this canon, but with good reason. The perspective directs us from the freedom fighters with their small arms down to the object of their assault, the massive power of the Russian tanks. In doing so Jack not only condenses all the action into a tightly knitted scene, but also makes the viewer feel as if he is participating in the fight. Kirby’s cover on the same theme (see image above), wonderful though it is, pales by comparison to the splash. What a masterpiece.

Battle #67
Battle #67 (December 1959) “The Invincible Enemy” art by Jack Kirby

The main character of “The Invincible Enemy” is a new replacement, but some other battle hardened soldiers play secondary roles. They are part of a force trying to hold a town from some elite German forces. The replacement is clearly frightened and when the German counter attack begins he initially freezes up. Prompted by his sergeant he then joins the fray but it is the more experienced fighters that take the lead. One by one these fighters succumb to the Nazi onslaught. The replacement is suddenly filled with fury and becomes a one man assault team. He not only overcomes the German soldiers that attach him, but also takes out a tank. By the time his fury is extinguished, the fight is over and the German counter attach has failed.

This story reminded me a lot of “The Replacement” from Foxhole #2 (December 1954) drawn by Bill Draut. Both concerned an inexperienced replacement and an intense German attack. There are important differences between the two. The replacement is really the only character for the Foxhole story. We are shown some of the “veterans” but none of them stand out or take any significant part of the story. While in the Battle story there are three other soldiers that are unidentified and play a part in the tale. Draut’s replacement fights heroically but you never get the impression that he is any different from the other soldiers in his unit. With Kirby the rest of the unit is defeated while the replacement becomes a sort of super-soldier. In some ways “The Invincible Enemy” is “The Replacement” on steroids. Having said all this, for me it really is not a case of one story being better then the other. Each has their own theme and flavor and I think both are superb works of comic book art. Jack Kirby was a better artist, but Bill Draut’s efforts should not be dismissed.

Jack has once more supplied excellent art. Again Kirby is not inking his own work. After the Atlas Implosion and outside of the late Prize romances, Kirby inking Kirby would be very rare occurrences. Here the inker does a great job and does not overwhelm Jack’s pencils.

You can tell that Kirby and the writer are making great efforts to provide high impact while skirting the Comic Code. The best example of this it the fate of the machine gunner. At the start of the fight we see a German soldier throw a grenade. In the next panel The caption accompanying the violent explosion says that the machine gunner was driven back to another position. But in the following panel we see the German soldiers storming into opening. At their feet on one side are the upturned legs of the machine gun while on the other side a pair of boots are visible and they show that the gunner is face down. Clearly indicating the machine gunners new position actual is. Despite the fierce fighting this is the only death depicted.

Jack did other work for the Battle. The two stories that I discuss here are my favorite, but by no means do I denigrate his other work for this title. All of them are great examples of what Kirby could do. As for the other artists whose creations appear in Battle, well they really are outside of the focus of this blog since they never worked for Simon and Kirby. Still there is some worth while stories here besides those by Kirby. Marvel has been reprinting some of their older material. This effort has largely been focus on their superheroes. But a few volume of their “monster” and western comics have been reprinted. Perhaps, just maybe, someday Battle might be reprinted. I think it would be worth it. Hey a fellow can dream can’t he?

The Black Rider, Another Early Westerns by Jack Kirby

Black Rider Rides Again #1
Black Rider Rides Again #1 (September 1957) “The Legend of the Black Rider” page 1 art by Jack Kirby

The Black Rider was a western costume hero along the lines of the Lone Ranger. Apparently his first appearance was All Winners Western #2 (Winter 1948). Black Rider Rides Again #1 reintroduces the hero after a lengthy hiatus. Therefore the first story provides information about his origin. We learn that as a very young man our hero’s family was killed by an outlaw. When he was older he tracked down the outlaw and killed him in a gunfight. At his trial he threw himself on the mercy of the court, which gave him probation. The judge then helped him to become a doctor. Doc started his profession during a dispute between some ranchers and rustlers. Doc refuses to help, saying he is not a fighting man. In the end he finds he cannot ignore what is happening, so he puts on a black suit and a mask and saves the day.

The origin story told in the legend has many similarities to that of Bulls-eye, a Simon and Kirby creation. In both the hero’s family is massacred, the hero becomes phenomenal with a gun, maintains a secret identity that projects a unheroic personality, and adopts a mask when performing his heroic exploits. The first appearance of the Black Mask was in 1948, very much earlier then that of Bulls-eye in 1954. However the origin of Black Mask as described by Jess Nevins at A Guide to Marvel’s Pre-FF #1 Heroes sounds like it might be a little different. There is no mention of the death of Black Rider’s family. The circumstances involving the shootout that gets the young hero before a court are vague with no mention of a revenge killing. It sounds that the Black Rider may have been retconned slightly in this relauch attempt.

Black Rider Rides Again #1
Black Rider Rides Again #1 (September 1957) “Duel At Dawn” page 1 art by Jack Kirby

We enter the story as the Black Rider responds to an ambush attempt. He manages to wound the attacker but did not get a chance to identify him. Back home and back to being a doctor, a man comes in with a wound from a accident with barbed wire. Or so he says, the Doc recognizes it as a bullet wound. Later the Black Rider visits the man who under questioning admitted to having been offered money to ambush him. Before the man was able to say who offered the money, he is shoot. Once again our hero takes on the role as the Doc and saves the man’s life. Now the man will not say who is responsible. While recovering his assailant returns to finish the job, but of course the Black Rider saves the day.

Black Rider Rides Again #1
Black Rider Rides Again #1 (September 1957) “Treachery At Hangman’s Bridge” page 6 art by Jack Kirby

The midnight stage coach gets blown up but the Black Rider is nearby and arrives quickly. But not soon enough because he hears The thieves departing. Our hero changes his identity to become the Doc in order the help the wounded. The sheriff finds some men in the area but no sign of the stolen gold so he has to let them go. Doc keeps his eye on them and follows one who purchased supplies. Another change and the Black Rider surprises the thieves as the attempt to recover the stolen gold from the river.

These are not bad stories, but somehow I really cannot get that enthusiastic about them. The Black Rider is a little too successful. When he arrives he saves the day with no real effort. It is never quite clear why the Black Rider must hide his real identify. The rancher’s beautiful daughter’s interest in the Black Rider but not the Doc is a little too contrived. While Jack may have had something to do with retconned origin, on a whole I do not find many convincing Kirby-isms. If Jack was involve with the writing, his more personal touches were edited out.

The art is rather nice with lots of fist fights, blazing guns, galloping horses, and exaggerated perspectives. Just the sort of things that you would expect from a Kirby western. Maybe it is mostly the inking, which I will discuss below, but this comic has more of a Simon and Kirby look then a Lee and Kirby one. Still no matter what your favorite Kirby period was, it is hard to imagine that you will not find something to appreciate in the art. There are also some interesting aspects to the panel layouts. Often figures extend beyond the panel edges. That sort of technique was more commonly used during the earlier days of Simon and Kirby most noticeably in the Captain America stories. But it was used much more sparingly if at all towards the end of the S&K collaboration. Another trait from Black Rider that was frequently used early on but abandoned later is the use of round panels. Interestingly circular panels also occur some of the initial Challengers of the Unknown stories done several months before.

Most of the inking is very much like what we found previously in “No Man Could Outdraw Him”. There generally is no crosshatching, spotting is more limited giving the art a light look, but when black is introduced it generally is produced by flooding an area with ink. In some ways it is very reminiscent of S&K shop style inking. In particular the way that black areas are used in the overall design. Conversely the lack of crosshatching is very unlike the S&K shop style of inking. As I said before I believe Jack developed this austere style of inking after the Simon and Kirby studio had disbanded. It allowed Jack to ink more quickly yet still provide a beautiful and effective job.

Although most of the inking appears to have been done by Jack himself, there are parts that look different. Some areas have been spotted using closely spaced lines, sometimes laid down using a straight edge other times by free hand. Generally the lines are roughly parallel, but occasionally there are some areas of true crosshatching. These lines appear to have been done using a pen, while most of the Kirby inking seems to have been done with a brush.

The splash page for “Duel At Dawn” (see above) provides some good examples of what I am talking about. Most of the inking is the severe style that I attribute to Kirby. But take a look at the mountain in the left part of the right story panel. The lines seem weak and the mountain seems mushy. Not only does it not look like Kirby’s work but the mountain itself seems to detract from the art. The line spotting of the mountains in the splash panel itself seem different and look more like Kirby’s hand. But most of the fine line inking in this book look like the panel version.

Black Rider Rides Again #1
Black Rider Rides Again #1 (September 1957) “Duel At Dawn” page 5 panel 4 art by Jack Kirby

Above I give an example of the use of ruled lines for spotting. For me this use is less objectionable then things like in the hills because it does not change the overall design. But it still seems unnecessary. I believe that this fine pen inking not only was not by Jack, but it was not done under his direction either. I suspect that it was added after the art was delivered to Atlas.

In the past I have remarked that Jack seemed to have a good level of control of the work that he did for pre-Implosion Atlas. But that does not seem to be the case for Black Rider Rides Again #1. If Jack had been involved in the writing, it has been strongly edited. The pencil work is all Jack but the inking is not.

Black Rider Rides Again #1
Black Rider Rides Again #1 (September 1957) “The Empty Saddle” page 1 art by Bob Powell

Besides the Kirby Black Rider stories, this comic also includes a short non-Black Rider story drawn by Bob Powell. Now Powell was a very prolific artist and I have only seen a small fraction of his work. I know it is not what he is famous for, but he did some gorgeous art for various Harvey romances. Everything I have seen by him has always impressed me. That is up to now. I got to say I really do not care for the art done in this particular story. Still it is a nice splash panel.

Black Rider Rides Again #1
Black Rider Rides Again #1 (September 1957) cover art by John Severin

Jack Kirby only did a small amount of work for Atlas prior to the Implosion, my database shows 20 stories. What Jack did not do was any covers. I find it surprising that even though Kirby would do all the main stories for Yellow Claw and Black Rider Rides Again, someone else would do the covers. For Black Rider it was John Severin. I guess I really am supposed to say what a fine artist John was. But in all honesty I find most of what he did in this period rather dry. For me this cover is one of his better efforts.