Category Archives: Assorted

The Early Frankenstein of Dick Briefer

Prize Comics #7
Prize Comics #7 (December 1940) “Frankenstein”, art by Dick Briefer

Prize was reinvented when Simon and Kirby arrived in 1947. Before long old titles were transformed (Headline comics went from action hero anthology to a crime comic), new titles added (Justice Traps the Guilty and Young Romance) and other old titles discontinued (Treasure and Wonderland Comics). Even Prize Comics was transformed into Prize Comics Western. The only original title that was unaffected by all of this was Frankenstein. This odd comic book did not belong in the horror genre but was actually a humor comic. Even more unusual was the fact that Frankenstein Comics was the work of a single artist, Dick Briefer (although he signed the initial issues as Frank N Stein).

Prize Comics #7
Prize Comics #7 (December 1940) “Frankenstein” page 7, art by Dick Briefer

But Briefer’s Frankenstein did not start out as humor, or even in its own title. The first appearance was in Prize Comics #7 (December 1940) and it was a true monster feature. The feature borrowed heavily from both the original novel by Mary Shelley and the Hollywood movie. On some occasions the monster seemed intelligent as in the novel and he seeks to take revenge on his creator for the dismal existence he, the monster, must endure. But his revenge does not consists of killing his creator instead the monster leaves him to live in order to see the suffering that his creation will inflict on mankind. Violence was not unusual this early in the golden age of comics but even so mayhem caused by the monster seems well above what typically occurred in comics. For instance, when the monster runs along a crowded Coney Island beach he literally leaves a trail of human victims.

Prize Comics #8
Prize Comics #8 (January 1941) “Frankenstein” page 8, art by Dick Briefer

Dr. Frankenstein did try to fight back and destroy his creation, but to no avail of course. One attempt was to create Croco-Man however as seen above that was not successful either.

Prize Comics #9
Prize Comics #9 (February 1941) “Frankenstein”, art by Dick Briefer

Physically the comic book version of the monster resembles the movie version with the most glaring difference being the distorted and highly placed nose of Briefer’s monster. There are times that Briefer’s monster seems to share the movie version’s limited intelligence.

Frankenstein did not appear in Prize Comics #10 but reappeared in issue #11. However this time Dick Briefer would drop the humorous alias and sign with his true name. Frankenstein would appear in each issue of Prize Comics until PC #68 (after which the title became Prize Comics Western). Somewhere along the line Frankenstein went from a monster genre to humor and would get its own title in 1947. It was a long run from December 1940 to January 1949 (Frankenstein Comics #17). Frankenstein Comics would reboot and run from March 1952 to October 1954 and again Dick Briefer would provide the art. During all that time no other artist did a Frankenstein story for Prize. I do not know if that is a record but it sure is impressive.

Young Allies and the L Word

Young Allies #1 (Summer 1941), art by Jack Kirby

Recently there was discussion on one of Yahoo’s comic book lists about the correct attribution for the art for Young Allies #1 and #2. I do not want to get into details of that interchange, although I may disagree with some of the participants they are entitled to their opinions. But I thought I would write a post on Young Allies #1 to explain my position. The cover for Young Allies #2 presents its unique problems so I will discuss it some other time.

There can be no question about Simon and Kirby’s involvement with Young Allies #1. The punch throwing Bucky on the cover is so typical of Kirby that there can be no doubt that he drew the figure. I would go even further and confidently credit Jack with the Red Skull and Hitler as well. Normally that would be enough for me to attribute the entire cover to Jack Kirby; it was not Simon and Kirby typical procedure for Kirby to draw part of a cover then pass it on to someone else to finish it up (there are two exceptions that I know of, the covers for Detective #65 and In Love #1).

Three of the bound Young Allies, those on our left, have enough similarity to other Simon and Kirby creations that I would conclude Jack probably drew them. The soldier firing a pistol is a typical Simon and Kirby motif and although he is a little stiff I would assign him to Jack as well. I do have trouble attributing the last Young Ally, Whitewash, to Jack. While Simon and Kirby produced some stereotypical characters none of them ever went as far as this troubling image. Finally there is Toro. Frankly there is not much in Toro’s depiction that suggests Kirby but then there is little in the Simon and Kirby repertoire to compare Toro with.

To sum up there are parts of the YA #1 cover that clearly were done by Kirby, some parts that might be Jack’s as well, but other parts that may be someone else’s work. I will return to the cover after I have considered the story art as well.

Young Allies #1 (Summer 1942) chapter 3 page 3

The book is one long story with 6 chapters. Each chapter, with the exception of the first, starts with a full pages splash. The first chapter begins with a sort of table of contents in the form of a matrix of reduced versions of the chapter splashes. This format of turning the comic into one long story is a device that Simon and Kirby would return to in Boy Commandos. While some of their later work did not take up the entire book Simon and Kirby did return every so often to long stories requiring multiple chapters. It is clear that different hands were involved in drawing this story. The story art certainly was not drawn by Simon and Kirby. I really have not carefully examined it and so I will not be discussing credits for the story art at this time.

Young Allies #1 (Summer 1941) enlarged Chapter 1 section of the table of contents

Although the first chapter actually starts with a table of contents that table includes an image that may have been the originally intended splash. For the most part everything seems drawn by Kirby. Fists are square in shape as is typical for Kirby. Bucky’s legs have a form often used by Jack. Of course nobody could depict a punch like Jack and this is a good example of a Kirby slugfest. In fact we shall see the attribution of this panel to Jack Kirby is the most secure of all the splashes. There are two troublesome aspects and they are the same ones found in the cover: Whitewash and Toro. Toro is an important part of the composition and the fall of the topmost Nazi soldier makes no sense without him. Yet the figure of Toro is as stiff and uninteresting as his depiction on the cover. Whitewash on the other hand just seems out of place.

Young Allies #1 (Summer 1941) Chapter 2

Bucky looks like he could have step out of a page from Captain America and I am quite comfortable attributing him to Kirby. The Red Skull is a bit awkward but this is not unusual for Jack’s work at this period. Otherwise the Red Skull looks like Jack’s work. Note how Whitewash is placed in the background. His attempt to escape the graveyard was meant to provide comic relief but his small size hides what would otherwise be his stereotypical facial features. Once again Toro seems stiff and uninteresting but still plays an important part of the composition.

Young Allies #1 (Summer 1941) Chapter 3

I am not sure why anyone would have problem with Chapter 3 being penciled by Jack Kirby; what with square fingertips, Bucky’s wild hair, and the disarrayed posses of the Nazi seamen. This splash more then any of the others is centered on Bucky with all other Young Allies delegated to the background. Toro, with his stiff flight, seems little more then a smaller version of the Toro depicted on the cover.

Young Allies #1 (Summer 1941) Chapter 4

Only in the splash for Chapter 4 do we find some decidedly non-Kirby elements. While there are some square fists (a cautionary example to depending on this trait alone when identifying Kirby art) the rest of the hands look very different from Kirby’s usual manner. The pile of Young Allies pinning Hitler lacks the action of typical Kirby art. Even the heavy boy’s readiness to use a hammer on Hitler’s rear end is not typical Simon and Kirby humor. Bucky has not only been placed in the background but now Whitewash gets to be the centerpiece of the splash which makes his stereotypic features all that more repulsive to our modern sensibilities. Toro is given the most dynamic pose of all the splashes or the cover. In short I do not think Kirby had anything to do with this splash, nor for that matter Joe Simon.

Young Allies #1 (Summer 1941) Chapter 5

The low viewing angle, the wide running stance of the Red Skull and the lower of the two Boy Commandoes Young Allies, and the soldier firing his pistol from above all are classic features of Jack Kirby’s art. Also note the Red Skull’s square fists; while I caution against depending on this feature its presence should not be ignored either. There is a crudeness to the art that makes this splash distinctive compared to the other splashes we have examined so far.

Young Allies #1 (Summer 1941) Chapter 6

Most Simon and Kirby splashes and covers have an emphasis on design that makes me believe that they had been laid out by Joe Simon (see my serial post The Wide Angle Scream). But there are others where the figures are distributed all over the image and interlink with one another like some complicated puzzle. I believe these “all over compositions” are Jack’s alone. The splash for Chapter 6 is an example of this type of composition. Jack really did not try to provide accurate anatomy but he paid careful attention to the underlying form. Kirby might distort the figure but he always did it without “breaking” the structure. It is just that sort of distortion that is found here in the legs found on Bucky and his thrown (and barely clad) opponent. Some of the Young Allies have been excluded from this splash, in particular Whitewash. Toro gets one of his most energetic posses but he still presents a stiff and awkward appearance.

Now that the cover and all the splashes have been presented what can be concluded? As I mentioned above the splash for Chapter 4 does not seem to me to have any significant Simon and Kirby involvement and I will be excluding it from my discussion. Otherwise all the splashes and the cover had Simon and Kirby involvement at some level. Jack Kirby brought to Captain America a dynamic art style that no other artist at that time came close to. That dynamism is found in the cover and all the splashes (again excluding Chapter 4). While Simon and Kirby’s presence seems pretty certain much of the art seems crude compared to what Kirby was penciling in Captain America at the same time. Although Joe may have been involved in some of the inking, I do not think Simon was stepping in to help with the pencils either. Thus one or more other artists are likely to have had a hand in this work as well.

It was probably the combination of the Kirby dynamic action with the crudeness of the drawing that has caused some to use the L word. Yes some are saying Kirby only did the layouts. Frankly I am getting pretty disgusted with the L word when applied to Jack Kirby. Normally when the term layouts implies that one artist would provide very rough or outline drawings with another artist then providing the details. A good example are the layouts that Carl Burgos did for Joe Simon (Carl Burgos does the Fly). When I say that I believe Joe would often provide Jack with a splash or cover layout that is what I am talking about. But my study of Simon and Kirby productions (particularly the romance comics) and Marvel silver age comics convinces me that Jack never did layouts of that type. Unfortunately we no longer have any examples of Kirby “layouts”, that is those left unfinished by another artist. But it is obvious even in the finished product that Kirby provided much more then mere outlines. Kirby “layouts” may have been a little rough but they were tight enough that his hand is still often detectable in the final product. In some places Kirby’s presence would be so strong that Jack must have provided very tight drawing. To call this type of work layouts is completely unfair to Kirby. Frankly I blame Stan Lee for first using this term for some work that Jack did during the 60’s. The only problem is that I have yet to come up with a better term. However it is clear that the proper credit for the pencils for cases like the cover and splashes for Young Allies is that Jack Kirby drew them working with other artists.

As for Young Allies I believe the cover and splashes (still excluding Chapter 4) all were done by Jack Kirby but with some portions tighter then others. Bucky invariably got the best treatment and Toro the roughest. It may sound like heresy but I do not believe that at this time Jack had any idea how to handle a human torch and since it was someone else’s creation little interest in figuring it out. While Kirby would carefully place Toro into the composition he left it the finishing artists to flesh him out and frankly they were not up to the job. As for Whitewash Kirby always seem to place him far in the background of the splashes, or leave him out entirely. I suspect that Jack really was not comfortable with Whitewash and this suggests that his presence in the Young Allies was dictated by someone else.

Joe Simon, Art Director

I have previously discussed Joe Simon’s work as an art director for Timely’s detective magazines. In this post I will therefore be going over familiar ground, but I cannot resist including in my blog some further example that Tom Morehouse has kindly provided. While in my previous post I was largely about the art, this one will chiefly be concerned with layouts that do not use art.

National Detective Cases vol. 1 no. 1 (March 1941)

Joe Simon (since he is listed as the art director, I attribute the layouts to Joe) surrounds the table of contents with a collage. Note how some of the figures encroach across the content’s border. This is of course the converse of having figures extend beyond the panel boarder that Simon and Kirby made such effective use in Captain America at this time. I have seen something similar in the table of contents in a later competitor detective magazines; one wonders whether it already was a common technique in such magazines when this issue of National Detective Cases came out or whether Joe introduced this device and others followed? In any case I particularly like the way the policeman on the left seems to be peering around the content edge.

Amazing Detective Cases vol. 1 no. 3 (February 1941)

Above is another content page with a collage background. Nothing crosses the edges of the content proper but Joe gives it all a very 3-D effect by placing the contents at an angle and providing a trompe l’oeil curled top edge.

Complete Detective Cases vol. 3 no. 1 (January 1941) “I Squealed on the Red Light Boss”

But it is the opening pages of the stories that Simon provides his most interesting efforts. Pages like those in the image above can obviously be compared to the double page splashes that Simon and Kirby would in a few months do in Captain America (#6, #7, #8, #9 or #10). In some ways there are valid correspondences between the Timely detective layouts and the Captain America double page spreads. Both have designs that include a number of elements in innovative manners. For instance, both share the use of design elements such as circular fields. However the similarity between the magazine and comic spreads is not complete. The magazine layout uses some design techniques that I do not believe were ever used by Simon and Kirby in their comic book work. One of these, the placing of the start of the text at the top and almost in the center, can be explained. The equivalent in a wide splash would be putting the initial story panels in a similar location but that would not be good design because it would result in a confusing layout. This problem does not exist in the magazine layout because by its nature the text is easily distinguishable from the imagery of the rest of the layout. Another design feature for the magazine that I do not believe S&K every used in comics is the diagonally position title. In this case there was no reason why this design technique could not have been incorporated into comic books but I cannot remember any comics where Joe and Jack every used it.

National Detective Cases vol. 1 no. 1 (March 1941) “Sex Marauder and the Parked-Car Lovers”

Above is another layout with a layout with emphasis on the diagonal and the text starting at the top of the second page.

Amazing Detective Cases vol. 1 no. 3 (February 1941)

Of course layouts did sometimes include art so I will close this post with one of Jack Kirby’s best efforts for the Timely detective magazines. In “The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino” Carmine describes Kirby’s advice on how to draw a man hitting a woman:

No, try it like this: Do the scene but don’t show the people; just put the shadow on the wall. Let the reader’s imagination fill in the details.

“Love Bed Alibi” shows Jack using a shadow for somewhat different reasons. It is not so much an attempt to mitigate a violent scene as to force the viewer to go to the background shadows in order to make sense of the foreground action. It is as good a crime drawing as any Jack would do years later for Headline or Justice Traps the Guilty. The only detrimental aspect is the photo of the “bundling” bed placed on the bottom of the layout. While it is an interesting digression a more appropriate photograph should have been used.

Joe Simon Interview and Captain America

As many of my readers probably already know, there is a lengthy interview of Joe Simon conducted by Jim Amash in the latest issue of Alter Ego (#76). I am sure it is the longest Simon interview ever published and it is filled with information that Joe has never previously revealed. In short it is the best Joe Simon interview ever, by a long shot. What I particularly appreciate is how Amash has managed to reveal the real Joe Simon, at least as I know him. Joe is a natural and entertaining story teller and that is a side no other interviewer has ever managed to bring out. My hat is off to Jim Amash, great job!

Captain America Comics #1
Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) “The Riddle of the Red Skull” page 13, art by Jack Kirby

The interview is accompanied by lots of great art, although on that subject I am certainly biased. Long time readers of this blog will already have been familiar with some of it but it is nice to see even those in print. There is an image I would like to comment on, one from the Captain America #1 described as “a photocopy of the original art”. Technically that is a completely accurate description, but nonetheless I fear that it might be misleading. I wish I could say that Joe still had any original art from Cap #1; it would be quite valuable today. I am pretty confident that all the actual art from Captain America #1 has been forever lost. The source of the Alter Ego image was a flat that Joe did save. The term flat may confuse some because Joe uses it in the interview as a name for magazines printed on non-glossy paper. In the context that I am using it now, a flat is a proof made during the construction of a comic. It is an image of four pages of the comic book arranged as they will be printed on a single sheet of paper. The images of each of the four pages were made from the original art without any colors. As such, flats are the next best thing to the long perished original art. Obviously both Joe and Jack must have known that there was something special about Captain America #1 because they both saved flats from that issue and that issue alone. Joe’s collection does not contain any other flats until some of those published in making Mainline comics (from 1954). In the sixties Jack sold his Cap #1 flats to Marvel for use in their reprint “Captain America, the Classic Years.” Those flats have been the basis for all the reprints Marvel has made since of the first issue of Captain America. Since modern printing technology is much superior to that used at the time for publishing Captain America #1, you can see better reproductions of the line art by purchasing one of Marvel’s reprint today then you would get by spending thousands of dollars for an original issue.

A Daring Cover

Daring Mystery #8
Daring Mystery #8 (January 1942) art by Jack Kirby

Daring Mystery had a rather sporadic schedule. Issue #7 came out seven months after the previous issue and it would take an addition nine months for #8 to be released. What a difference an issue made. Daring Mystery #6 was produced shortly after Simon and Kirby started working for Timely. It included a Fiery Mask story, a hero Joe Simon created for Timely as a freelance artist when he had just started in the comic book business. DM #7 came out shortly after Captain America #1, Simon and Kirby’s first big hit. Issue #8 came out the same month as Cap #10, after which Simon and Kirby moved on to working for DC.

So even though the cover for Daring Mystery #8 is only two issues away from that of DM #6, which I previously wrote about, what a difference that makes! While I am less then enthusiastic about the cover for DM #6, with DM #8 Jack seems to be in full form. One difficulty with anthologies is what do you put on the cover? The most common technique was to just depict one of the comic’s heroes and list the others by text. While that works it may not be effective in attracting buyers more interested in one of the other characters. Some comics therefore include small images of some of the other features. But too many of these small images would limit the area for the main image. For Marvel Mystery and some other Timely comics the solution was a large image that included two or three key heroes (Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America). To be fully effective that technique required a good artist. someone like Alex Schomburg. But Daring Mystery did not have any of these key characters, its features were constantly changing. I do not know if Simon and Kirby were the first to present a solution like that for DM #8, but Jack sure makes it look easy. Five heroes charging in a ‘V’ formation makes effective use of the cover area. At this point Kirby excels in the use of exaggerated perspective so even the simple act of running looks exciting.

An inserted image shows a rare example of a Simon and Kirby drawing of a female superhero. But more importantly it shows how far Jack has advance in depicting a hero(ine) slugging a foe. In the future Kirby would improve on this even further, but already he made it one of his trademarks. Kirby did not use realism to make the scene so effective. Someone felled by a fist would not have their lower legs come up like drawn here. And exaggerated perspective is not a realistic view at all. A stop action camera would never capture anything that looked like what Jack drew. What Kirby has done was obtain the correct balance of stylized drawing that makes the final result look truer then reality.

Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 9, The End of the Beginning

It has been months since I wrote my last chapter to this serial post so I think I should remind the reader of where I left things off. Jack Kirby met Joe Simon while both were working for Fox Comics. After a few months Joe went on to be art editor for Timely and a short time later Jack followed. Joe’s first job was the launching of a new title, Red Raven Comics, which included work by Kirby. The publisher Goodman must of got a case of cold feet, because Red Raven was cancelled after the first issue, way too early to tell what the sales would be like. Jack would then do the art for a new backup feature for Marvel Mystery Comics called “The Vision”. The Vision would never achieve the prominence of the main Marvel Mystery features (the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner or even the Angel) but Jack would end up drawing it for as long as he worked for Timely.

Prize #9
Prize Comics #9 (February 1941) “The Black Owl” page 6 art by Jack Kirby

Perhaps the most important work he was doing just before the launch of Captain America was the drawing for Blue Bolt. Simon and Kirby would now also do some freelance work for Prize Comics starting with a cover date of December 1940. The work for some already running features, the Black Owl and Ted O’Neil. It is not clear if this was truly a Simon and Kirby gig or just Kirby since the work is unsigned. However the stories read very much like what would be done for The Vision and Captain America so I am inclined to believed that Joe was involved also. All penciling was certainly done by Jack.

The Black Owl is one of those forgotten Golden Age superheroes. With good reasons as far as I am concerned. Obviously a take off on Batman, the creators failed to provide a decent costume. The suit and cape are completely nondescript. The only unique portion was the mask. But while Batman’s cowl might inspire fear in his foes, I cannot see the Black Owl’s mask getting more then a smirk. The Black Owl did have one feature that would have historical interest, his goggles. Similar goggles would reappear many years later in a Simon and Kirby creation that was never launched, the Night Fighter. Later yet Kirby would alter the Night Fighter to create the costume of the Fly (Archie Comics).

Despite the weak material they had to work with Simon and Kirby put together pretty good stories as for example in Prize Comics #9 (see image above). In an effort to thwart a mysterious woman gangster and her jewel robbing minions, a newspaper reporter concocts an article where the Black Owl promises to capture the mob. The article is read by a woman sleuth, the Black Owl himself in his secret identity and the female gang leader. That night while alone the reporter hears a noise. Now I have to admit that what follows is more then a little illogical. The reporter believes that the Black Owl is paying an expected visit, so the reporter turns off the lights and grabs the intruder. Only to find when he turns on the lights that he is holding the woman detective! Now if the reporter was really expecting the Black Owl, would he have tried to capture him? If, on the other hand, he wanted to be sure who the intruder was, would the reporter have turned off the lights? Illogical, but it does make for dramatic scene. They would handle this sort of thing a little better in the future, but it is just the twist that Simon and Kirby would often use later. Anyway the sleuth and the reporter wait it out together but instead of the Black Owl appearing, some of the jewel gang shows up to abduct the pair. It turns out that the Black Owl has observed it all and trails them. The kidnapped pair are brought to the lady crime master who plans to use them as bait to catch the Black Owl before being killed. Of course the Black Owl appears to save the day.

The Kirby art is a step up from what he did for Marvel Boy. You can see Jack beginning to put together elements of his classic style. Although reminiscent of what we will find in Captain America it still does not have quite the same punch. I am not sure about the inker, or possibly inkers. There are some parts that look like Joe Simon’s inking to me. For the most part panel layouts are irregularly sized panels that were typical of the work of both Joe and Jack at this point. However there are some uses of circular panels. One is a duel set (see image) showing a gang member speaking over an intercom to who he believes is another gangster but is actually the Black Owl. This pair of circular panels both shows the two sides of the conversation and also makes a visual suggestion to the Black Owl’s goggles. Another circular panel shows up on the next page, but that one is small and appears to have been added later since it both helps fill in the story while intruding on the existing panels. This use of circular panels is another harbinger of what will come when S&K produce Captain America.

Prize #9
Prize Comics #9 (February 1941) “Ted O’Neil” page 3 art by Jack Kirby

Ted O’Neil is an American pilot in the British Air Force. This is in the days before the U.S. had entered the war. While on leave with his sidekick Hinky, Ted finds himself in an air raid. Without enough time to enter a bomb shelter, the pair retreat to a nearby building. Once inside they hear a suspicious sound as if from a radio set. When they investigate they are knocked out and tied up. Their captors are German spies who are sending information of the position of British warships so that they can be attacked and destroyed. Before the spies can execute them, Ted and Hinky break free of their bonds and turn the tables to capture the spies. After delivering their prisoner to the authorities, Ted and Hinky fly off with their squadron to try to protect the British fleet. A fierce combat ensues which the English eventually win.

The spy angle would of course play an important part in the Captain America stories to come. As would the use of Nazi Germany as the enemy. No circular panels in the layouts, just the variously sized panels that often require arrows to indicate reading order. Kirby pencils throughout but again I am not sure if more then one inker was involved. Parts do suggest to me that Simon was inking at least some of it.

Captain Marvel Special Edition
Captain Marvel, Special Edition (March 1941) bleached page art by Jack Kirby

Coming out the same month as Captain America was a special freelance job Simon and Kirby did for Fawcett’s Captain Marvel. Joe and Jack were effectively ghost artists and as such they are trying to mimic another artist’s style. Still you can easily detect their hand in this comic. Because they were ghosting it really is not fruitful to compare the work to other material they were doing. For this reason I am going to skip any analysis.

Daring Mystery #7
Daring Mystery #7 (April 1941) “The Underground Empire” page 1 art by Jack Kirby and unidentified artist

The next work by Kirby that I want to discuss is a Captain Daring story from Daring Mystery #7. This comic came out in April which is a month after the first issue of Captain America. But there are two reasons I feel it is appropriate to cover it here with the early Kirby work. One is that although this issue has a cover date of April, Daring Mystery #6 was dated September 1940. With such a long period between issues we cannot be certain about when the art was actually produced. The other reason is that Captain Daring is actually a science fiction story and very much related with other early work in this genre by Kirby.

I will give only the barest of outlines for this story. It concerns the attack on the modern day U.S.A. (that is modern for 1941) by a previously unsuspected underground empire. The enemy is resisted and eventually defeated by Captain Daring and Susan Parker, a beautiful female secret service agent. I do not provide more detail because I fear I am just not up to the task of condensing the story. It has so many jumps you almost get dizzy just from reading it. For instance we are introduced to Susan Parker as she is with Captain Daring watching over a futuristic telescope the destruction unleashed by the underground army. Later we suddenly find her with an army mounted on giant dogs that they liberated from some of the underground forces. She is leading a ground attach while Captain Daring fights above in sun powered rockets. At the end of the story she it is said that she was elected queen of the liberated underground masses. This sort of erratic turns occur throughout the story. It makes for a great read but only if you simply do not worry too much about the continuity of the plot.

There is something funny about the whole story. Although it purports to be taking place in America everything looks futuristic. There are a several fight scenes which the captions state are between Americans and the underground forces but the art depicts all the fighters as dressed in the same shorts and all look like the underground race. Actually the whole concept of an underground race is funny since nothing looks like it is taking place below the surface. I am convinced that this story was rewritten from a early version with minimal, if any, art changes. In fact it could of originally been meant for Solar Legion or Comet Pierce. All the references to the underground race, America and the Fuehrer were added later. Was this an early case of Kirby being rewritten by an editor (with Joe Simon taking the place of Stan Lee)? Or did Kirby do the rewriting himself? I cannot be sure but I would guess the latter, it all sounds like Kirby to me.

“The Underground Empire” is unsigned but in this case it looks like the work of Jack alone without much help from Joe Simon. All the penciling was done by Jack and I also attribute the inking to him. The art as well as the panel layouts are good matches for previous science fiction that Kirby had done. Even the inking style is the same. The only significant difference is the modern day references, which as I commented above I do not believe were part of the story when it was first made. But these alterations could be a reflection of Simon and Kirby’s work on Captain America.

I attributed all the art to Jack alone, but there is one exception. The figure of Captain Daring on the splash page (see image above) was neither penciled nor inked by Jack. I am not sure why this was done, most of the rest on the page surely was by Kirby except maybe the dogs in the background. Perhaps an original figure had something that was too clearly identified with its original source. But if that was the case why didn’t Kirby do the rework? I do not know who the artist was but it does not look like Joe Simon’s work either.

The launch of Captain America brought an end to Kirby’s early period. There was a sudden curtailing of freelance work outside of Timely. Perhaps Simon and Kirby realized that Captain America was likely to be a hit. Maybe producing Cap left little spare time for doing other work. Possibly the money they made at Timely plus the promise (unfulfilled) of royalties made the lower page rates of their freelancing unattractive. Whatever the reason S&K even stopped doing their previously most successful job, Blue Bolt. Joe and Jack did not give up freelancing entirely, however what outside work they they did would be limited to covers.

A big change came over Jack’s art as well. We caught premonitions of what was to come in Blue Bolt, Marvel Boy and the Black Owl. You could say the early work laid the foundations. In Captain America these hints blossomed into extraordinary pieces of comic book art. Irregular shaped panels including circular ones, figures extending beyond the panel boundaries, bodies in unusual posses stretched by the exertions of their action, fast pass stories, and so on. With all the comic history in between, it is hard for us to appreciate how startling Captain America was. There was nothing at all like it at the time. Other artists began copying what Jack and Joe were doing. The public eagerly bought up the comic and Captain America became a big hit. Simon and Kirby became a brand name. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

Featured Story, The Vision from Marvel Mystery #25

Marvel Mystery Comics #25
Marvel Mystery Comics #25 (November 1941) The Vision, page 1 by Jack Kirby

Professor Enric Zagnar is the leading authority of metaphysics in the country. But he is forced to resign because of his predictions that man will one day be able to control the forces of nature. He retreats from the town vowing revenge and dedicates himself to uncovering the secrets that would make his predictions come true. A short while later a storm hits the town. This is no ordinary storm but one with much fury and persistence. Smoke from a lightning strike of a tree allows the Vision to enter to save the people of the town. He directs the townsmen to climb the nearby mountain in order avoid the flood that forms. But before the people can reach the top a blast from dynamite prevents them from going further. It is Zagner at the peak, relishing his revenge. Zagner urges the storm on using a spell that he reads from a book entitled “Black Magic”. The Vision proceeds to climb in an attempt to stop Zagner. Seeing the Vision, Zagner in turn rolls down a large boulder and when that is unsuccessful throws more dynamite. Despite all this the Vision reaches the top and a fight with Zagnar ensues. Though a dirty trick Zagnar defeats the Vision. Just when he is about to deliver the coup de grace with a large rock, Zagnar gets hit by a bolt of lightning from his own storm! The Vision recovers and reads out the counter spell from the Black Magic book to end the storm and save the day.

Marvel Mystery Comics #25
Marvel Mystery Comics #25 (November 1941) The Vision, page 6 by Jack Kirby

As with the Vision story from Marvel Mystery #24 this splash page makes use of over sized figures. Note the small houses being washed away by the rushing water. I really like the way the title separates the Vision from his foe. The only fault I find with this exciting splash, and it is a minor one, is the “pinning” of the “The” in the title. It seems so unnecessary for this splash. Further it really fails as trompe l’oeil. Not only does the pin not look realistic but also the sharp end is visible so how is the title “pinned” down?

The title of the book that Zagnar uses, Black Magic, is a common enough term. Still it seems interesting that of all the possible titles that Simon and Kirby could have chosen they picked one that they would use again for a comic book that they would launch about nine years later.

The Vision is an unusual hero for a comic book. Comic book art depends on the visual image to provide an indication of the character. Heroes are handsome, heroines beautiful and villains ugly. Although the hero, the Vision is anything but handsome. Of course what Simon and Kirby are doing is to use the Visions unnatural appearance as an indication that he is not of this world. I was just simplifying things when I said villains are ugly, a good comic book artist will go well beyond just making the foe ugly. With his name, Enric Zagnar, is marked as different. Although foreign sounding the origin of the name was probably purposely left ambiguous. Notice that in the first two story panels at the bottom Kirby provides Zagnar with what was then considered long hair. Such hair length was the mark of an intellectual and appropriate for the then Professor Zagnar. In the first panel Zagnar looks fairly normal (but there are those big ears that Kirby would often draw with heads viewed from the back). The next panel provides a glimpse of Zagnar’s already disturbed personality heightened by being partly cut off with the panel edges. The splash panel provides what Zagnar will look like when he becomes at the end of his transformation. You do not need the eyes or the grotesque mouth, the hair alone reveals that Zagnar has gone way past the edge of sanity.

Featured Story, The Vision from Marvel Mystery #24

In my serial post on “Early Jack Kirby” I commented that I regretted that I only had a few scans of The Vision from Marvel Mystery Comics. I find those that I have very enjoyable provided that to do not let some of the logical inconsistencies bother you. I believe the only way to enjoy any superhero story is to not take them too seriously. Actually I rather enjoy the inconsistencies.

Marvel Mystery Comics #24
Marvel Mystery Comics #24 (October 1941) The Vision by Jack Kirby page 1

The Vision lives in another dimension, entering and exiting this one through smoke. The sole purpose of his visits to Earth seems to be fight evil, which despite the war going on in Europe and Asia, somehow only occurs in America. In this story his foe is someone the Vision is already familiar with. It is Grosso from the war-dust world who has a similar mode of transportation as the Vision only instead of smoke uses metal dust. Grosso comes from a world that relishes war and he has decided that our dust free world would be a suitable place for his people to live and easy to conquer. Grosso method is to enter a weapon factory via the metal dust they produce and destroy it. The Vision soon detects the presence of Grosso’s evil and enters into battle with him. Grosso does seem to have some advantages. One is that he is able to control how fully he is in this dimension. When Grosso is only partly in our world the Vision is unable to touch him. Grosso is also able to use metal dust as a weapon or even a poison.

But the biggest difficulty that the Vision faces is that he does not know where Grosso is going to attach next. The Vision puts on a hood and some glasses as a disguise and gets hired at the largest factory expecting that Grosso will turn up. He tells his employer that he hides his face because it was disfigured when a factory was destroyed by Grosso. The ability of the Vision to appear as a normal mortal that was seen in the first Vision story now seems gone. Also surprising is that nobody seems to make any comment about the disguised Vision’s green hands. Of course in the end the Vision soundly defeats Grosso. It would even appear that Grosso was killed, but we all know how often a good villain stays dead.

This Vision story came out toward the end of Simon and Kirby’s stay at Timely and it shows. Included are lots of irregularly shaped panels, figures that extend beyond the panel edges, running figures with legs stretch out to an unrealistic degree, and square fists. The splash page is particularly effective. Note how over large the figures of the Vision and Grosso are. Such use of over sized figures was not typical for Kirby through most of his career. On the other hand Joe Simon did use large figures from time to time both before teaming up with Jack and after their split. Covers create by Simon and Kirby at Timely never used this motif but over sized figures occur often in their Timely splashes.

Marvel Mystery Comics #24
Marvel Mystery Comics #24 (October 1941) The Vision by Jack Kirby page 7

Check out the dialog from the third panel on page eight.

Vision: Now, Grosso, we face each other for the last time! One of us is not going to leave this factory alive!

Grosso: And it isn’t going to be me!

I have to admit I had to read it several times before I could convince myself that they got it right. It reminds me very much of the script in another story that Jack drew about years later from Tales of Suspense #92

on last panel of page 9

Cap: Okay mister, I’m ready for you! So let’s wrap it up. Only one of us is gonna walk out of here under his own steam…

on first panel of next page

Cap: and it won’t be me!

In this case comes out wrong no matter how many times you read it. Because the story was done by the Marvel method it is not clear whether this snafu should be blamed on Jack Kirby or Stan Lee. Despite the fact that the Vision and Cap stories were done about 20 years apart, the similarity between these two scripts make me suspect that it was Jack who came up with Cap’s goof-up.

Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 7, Marvel Mystery

Marvel Mystery #12
Marvel Mystery Comics #12 (October 1940)

October (cover date) was a relatively slow time for Jack Kirby. The only full comic story that Jack drew was for Blue Bolt. As we saw Jack had been doing all the penciling for Blue Bolt starting with issue #4. The October story for Blue Bolt was issue #5, the first comic that had a Simon and Kirby credit line. Also to come out in October was Famous Funnies #75. However the art for Lightin’ and the Lone Rider may actually have been done sometime earlier. Even if it was done at the same time as Blue Bolt #5, it is only two pages.

The only other work Jack produced for October was the cover for Marvel Mystery #12. This was Kirby’s fifth comic book cover. Some of his earlier covers (Champions #9, Red Raven #1 and Daring Mystery #6) contain a certain awkward quality. But with Marvel Mystery #12 Jack has arrived to a cover style which he would use quite successfully later with Captain America. The hero for this cover, the Angel, is one of the backup features for this title. Judging from the covers it is not clear how much of a backup the Angel really was originally meant to be. The Angel had appeared on four of the previous eleven covers. Kirby’s Angel cover would be that hero’s last for the title with future Marvel Mystery covers exclusively by either the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, or most frequently both of them.

Unfortunately Jack Kirby would never draw an Angel story. Judging from this cover I suspect that if he had it would have been an interesting read. As was typical in Simon and Kirby covers, the hero arrives just at the critical time. He plows through his diminutive green advisories, shoving one of them in the face in a manner similar to that used for the cover of Champion Comics #10 (see Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 5). The Angel does not use the gun on his most immediate foes. Instead the hero reserves it for saving the beautiful victim, as the blurb says “could the Angel be in time”? Exactly what is going to happen to the woman is not completely clear. A first glance it looks like nothing more then that a mask will be placed on her. On closer look the mask has a strap with a sort of bolt attached. This suggests that the mask will be more then just worn, her face will be forced into the mask. Will this result in some sort of transformation? We may not know what will happen, but the lady seems to have some sort of idea as she squirms away trying to avoid her fate. The victim is unable to move very far as she is being held tightly by two gigantic hands. The hands might seem to belong to a statue, but the color and glint of the eyes, as well as the open mouth, convinces me that this is some monstrous being in league with the little green men. This cover effectively does what it is meant to do, perk the interest of the perspective buyer. The cover is not meant to provide all the answers, but unfortunately the Angel feature inside is a completely different story so questions about exactly what is going on can never be cleared.

Wonderworld Comics #15
Wonderworld Comics #15 (July 1940) by Joe Simon

The cover has some props that would be stock features for many Simon and Kirby covers. The vessel with an open fire in the lower right goes back to some of the covers that Joe Simon did for Fox Comics such as Wonderworld #15 (see above). The chains hanging from the wall can be traced back to Silver Streak Comics #2 one of Joe’s first cover work. The barred window would be used repeatedly in the future. The descending staircase leading into the room would also often show up again.

Marvel Mystery #13
Marvel Mystery #13 (November 1940) The Vision, page 1

For November Jack Kirby penciled a new feature, the Vision. This feature would appear as one of the backup stories in Marvel Mystery. Up to now this was one of the few successful features launched with Jack’s involvement. Jack had be penciling Blue Bolt but that had been started by Joe Simon alone. The Red Raven, a feature started while Joe was editor at Timely, was not only short lived but also assigned to another artist. Jack was involved with Marvel Boy who premiered in Daring Mystery #6, but that hero would only reappear one further time in 1943. The only other ongoing comic feature that Jack started was the Solar Legion for Crash Comics see Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 3. the Solar Legion did last five issues, with the first three stories done by Jack. The Vision would be longer lasting and Jack would be involved in it throughout his stay at Timely.

The Vision is an odd sort of superhero. He was initially brought forth as a scientific attempt to reach the supernatural world. Once this was done, the Vision was then able to appear and disappear from smoke of any kind. This power is reminiscent of the Flame, a Fox hero that could teleport using any fire as a portal. Not only was Joe Simon previously an editor at Fox but he did several covers of the Flame (see Wonderworld #15 above). Although normally residing in another dimension, the Vision also had a secret mortal identity.

It is I Aarkus in material shape. Only those approaching death can see me in my true form as the Vision!

This despite the fact that his “unmaterial shape” had been seen by others who were not facing his retribution. However if you are willing to accept some logical inconsistencies the Vision stories are rather good. As with the cover for Marvel Mystery #12, Simon and Kirby has fully arrived at a story telling style that would shortly bring them fame with Captain America.

Marvel Mystery #13
Marvel Mystery #13 (November 1940) The Vision, page 8

We have seen that Marvel Boy had some features that would later be the used for Captain America; parts of the costume and the fight against spies. One would think that the Vision was so different from Captain America that we would find little in common. But there are a couple of ideas related to the hero’s origin that were carried over from the Vision to Cap. In both witnesses are gathered to observe an experiment being held in a separate lab. Also common is that the experiment is disrupted at a critical time; by criminal thugs in the Vision and by a gun carrying spy in Captain America.

I wish I could present further Vision features. Although short in length they have lots of interest both in their stories and as showcases for Jack Kirby’s development during a critical time in his career. Marvel has been publishing Marvel Mystery Comics reprint volumes. But if they keep to their pattern of four issues per volume it will not be until the fifth volume before any will include Vision stories. I do have scans of two other Vision stories but they both are from the end of Simon and Kirby’s stay at Timely. This is not the correct point to discuss them. I will not be including Captain America in this serial post of Early Jack Kirby, that is a topic that requires much preparation and will have to be subject of a future serial post. So I have decided that perhaps the best thing would be to write the two other Vision stories as Featured Stories after I finish up this Early Jack Kirby serial post. So stay tuned.

Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 6, Daring Mystery #6

After Red Raven Comics #1 (August 1940) Joe Simon and Jack Kirby would do work for Daring Mystery Comics #6 (September 1940). Previously Joe had done some stories for this title, but now he would be its editor. This Timely title did not have anywhere near the success of Marvel Mystery Comics. Although declared a monthly, in fact Daring Mystery suffered a rather sporadic publication schedule.

Recently Marvel has been publishing reprint volumes of some of its golden age titles. This has been much appreciated as the original comics are rare and rather expensive. Volumes for Marvel Mystery, All Winners, Captain America, the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner have already appeared. I understand a reprint volume of USA Comics will also soon come out. However I doubt that Daring Mystery is ever likely to receive this reprint treatment. The issues are filled with features that would last only a few issues, sometimes even a single one, and then disappear.

Daring Mystery #6
Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940)

But the obscurity of Daring Mystery’s heroes is not the only reason I doubt it will get reprinted. As I see it another problem with Daring Mystery is the cover for issue #6. I really cannot think of another golden age cover that today is likely to provoke more of a negative reaction then this one. The image of a white woman at the mercy of some African American thugs brings to mind the rise of the KKK in the silent movie “Birth of a Nation”. It is true that when America entered the war there would be similar covers involving stereotyped Japanese or German soldiers. But at least then a war can be used to explain such derogatory works.

Not to excuse it, but those were different times. As uncomfortable as the DM #6 cover may make us feel today, we cannot just ignore it. History is meant to help us understand our past, not to remake it in the image of our present day. African Americans were conspicuous for the absence in comics books of those days. I suspect that in casting them as villains, Joe and Jack were just looking for a way to make their cover stand out on the racks. Whatever their intentions were, they would not repeat it. I can think of only one case where an African American was used as a villain by Simon and Kirby. Captain America #9 introduces the Black Talon. The Black Talon got his hand from an African American criminal who was executed. Pretty tame stuff compared to the cover for DM #6.

But apart from the racial overtones, what can be said about the Daring Mystery #6 cover? We have the hero swinging by a rope simultaneously kicking one thug in the face and pulling the hair of another. It would seem that Jack was trying to make this cover as exciting as possible. This was done early in the history of the comic book industry and both Jack and Joe were still learning. To me this was not that great a cover. I guess much of my feeling is due to the kicking and hair pulling. This is not the type of fighting one would expect from a hero, especially during the golden age. Like the racial reference, this would not be repeated in future Simon and Kirby covers.

Daring Mystery #6
Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “Introducing Marvel Boy” page 1 by Joe Simon

Both Joe and Jack were involved in the drawing of two of the interior stories for DM #6, “Introducing Marvel Boy” and “The Fiery Mask”. An interesting pattern is shown by both cases. Joe would do the starting pages of the story and then Jack would do the rest. For Marvel Boy Joe did pages 1 to 3 while Jack did 4 to 10. With the Fiery Mask Joe did 1 to 4 and Jack pages 5 to 10. My interpretation is that as editor Joe wanted to establish the look of the story. Joe had been working with Jack on Blue Bolt so I am sure he was comfortable sharing the drawing with Jack and Knew that the final would look fine. Joe did not use This drawing arrangement with any of the other artist in DM #6.

Daring Mystery #6
Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “Introducing Marvel Boy” page 8

Most of the stories we have seen by Kirby outside of syndication have been science fiction. Now Jack was back to doing something from the superhero genre, and doing a nice job of it as well. Marvel Boy fights an assortment of spies. We are not told what government his foes work for but they all seem to have German accents, say “Heil” while saluting, and one exclaims “Himmel” when attached. To keep things interesting, Kirby keeps changing the view point and makes a lot of use of exaggerated perspective.

Inking on the Marvel Boy story is different on the pages penciled by Joe as compared to those done by Jack. It is tempting to assume that the inking for a page was done by the same artist that did the drawing. But Joe was an editor at Timely and there were other artists available to do inking. The use of various hands in the inking of the same art page was a common practice in the future but it may also be occurring at this early stage.

Marvel Boy had costume features (“skull cap” mask, boots) and a story (fighting spies) that foreshadow a future character, Captain America. Neither Joe or Jack would do any further work on Marvel Boy. Years later there would be one further Marvel Boy feature in USA Comics #7 (February 1943) after which he would disappear completely, like so many other Daring Mystery heroes. In the 50’s a character with the same name would have a short run, but that hero only shares the name with Simon and Kirby’s creation.

Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Fiery Mask” page 5

The Fiery Mask first appeared in Daring Mystery Comics #1 (January 1940) is one of Simon’s earliest published comic book work. Although Joe did other work for some of the early issues of Daring Mystery, they did not include the Fiery Mask. Both the GCD and Atlas Tales indicates that the character did reappear in DM #5 (June 1940) but was done by another artist, George Kapitan. I have not seen the contents of this issue and so cannot add my own opinion. While Joe was editor at Timely the Fiery Mask would make two further appearances, here in DM #6 (September 1940) and also in Human Torch #2 (Fall 1940). It is not clear which was done first. DM #6 runs an advertisement for Red Raven Comics #1, not its replacement Human Torch #2. The cover for Marvel Mystery #13 (December 1940) includes a reference to HT #2 comic. Both facts suggest that DM #6 came before HT #2. The Fiery Mask story in HM #2 was drawn entirely by Simon and it is quite possible that it was actually created earlier just not published right away.

Daring Mystery #6
Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Fiery Mask” page 9

As mentioned above, Joe did the first 4 pages of the Fiery Mask story in DM #6 and then handed the story over to Jack. Jack did an excellent job drawing it. Part of the story involves a child delivered by a demon to a couple to raise. Jack’s transformation of an apparently peacefully sleeping baby in one panel into a malevolent infant in the next is just marvelous. The fight scene between the Fiery Mask and demons from hell is quite exciting.

Daring Mystery #6
Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Fiery Mask” page 10

As with the Marvel Boy story the inking appears to be different on the pages drawn by Jack as compared to those penciled by Joe. As previously discussed this could be due to the inker being the same as the penciler. But care must be taken because Joe may have had other artists available and multiple hands may be involved. However there is an exception to the general rule that the inking is the same on the pages drawn by Jack. On page 10 panels 4 to 6 appear to be inked differently. The penciling was still clearly done by Jack but the inking looks to me like it was done by Joe.

Kirby would do further work for Daring Mystery Comics. However because of the erratic publication schedule for this comic DM #7 would not be released until April 1941 and DM #8 would come out in January 1942. It would be best to discuss what Jack did for those comics later in a more appropriate place.