Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cringe Before My Wonder Gloves


While it's true that Jack Kirby produced a good deal of his full-page portraits featuring Marvel's principal characters, he also made some impressive pages where lesser characters rated their own dramatic presentations. Whether it was a villain preparing to strike, or a scene that drew you closer into a story, the placement of the page was timed well. And though there were rare instances where the dialog on the page wasn't able to live up to the image, Kirby more than met the story halfway.

One of my favorites comes from a story in Fantastic Four, where the Thing is kidnapped and taken to a planet in the Skrull empire where the inhabitants are imitating Earth's development in the 1930s--even though their science is well beyond that of the next century. Or, as Reed explains it:



Kirby's attention to detail in these scenes is extraordinary, clearly having an affinity for the styles of this time period. Take this full-page image where "Boss Barker" and his aide arrive at a meeting of top bosses. You can't help but wonder if it's paying homage to Star Trek's "A Piece of the Action," which aired just a year earlier:



The only thing I might call into question would be the colorist's choice of making the chandelier the same color as the walls, ceilings, and pillars--but perhaps that was just an oversight.

Then of course there are Kirby's imposing villains. Kronin Krask, of course, we've met before--a wealthy schemer who sought the secret to immortality. And pictured alongside him is the Wizard, who first menaced the Fantastic Four with his cohorts in the Frightful Four, and then impressively tackled the group solo:



The Wizard made not one attempt to take out the FF, but two--using nothing but his new pair of "wonder gloves." I have to give the Wizard props for threatening his opponents with "wonder gloves." The FF probably annoy Wonder Man about it whenever they see him--"hey, Simon, why aren't you wearing your wonder gloves?? HAR HAR..."

A more down-to-Earth villain was Jasper Whyte, whose creation, the Crypto-Man, threw down with no less than Thor and, later, the Hulk. The Crypto-Man was a walking siphon which could draw strength from his powerful opponents--but with Whyte such an integral character to the story in Thor, Kirby gives him equal relevance in the portrait:



But let's take a break from Earth for a moment to throw the spotlight on those characters who are more at home in the cosmos. On the left, we have one of Kirby's most impressive races--the Rigellian Colonizers, where the High Commissioner meets with their creation, the Recorder, who has arrived with Thor for an audience. A meeting which just happens to involve the events taking place in the second portrait--the confrontation between Galactus and the living planet, Ego:




Somebody should tell Galactus that if you call your ship a "visi-sphere," you're probably not going to be invisible to your enemy. Though I'd probably wait until the battle is over to point that out.

Finally, I can think of no better way to end this series than a portrait of two major Marvel characters meeting for the second time in a proposed alliance--the Sub-Mariner and Magneto. We've seen the escalation of this development elsewhere with another artist at the helm, so in a way this portrait would mark Kirby's farewell to both characters:


I still don't know how Namor gets away with attending to royal matters of state in just a pair of swim trunks.  Then again, if you're the one stamping the royal seal on the dress code, you probably have sufficient carte blanche in the matter.

Not all of Kirby's full-page portraits were so dazzling and impressive; in fact, there were arguably some scenes that got full-page treatment which didn't really merit the exposure of an entire page.  But for this series, I think I've selected those which exceptionally stood out, hopefully piquing your interest to read the stories that were so skillfully crafted around them.


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