Thursday, October 4, 2012

When Kirby Became Kirby

I can only imagine what a feast for the eyes a third match-up between the Hulk and the Thing would have looked like under artist Jack Kirby's pencils, once Kirby's layouts had evolved to a more dynamic style. After the second meeting between the two powerhouses, that evolution would take at least another fifteen issues--a little over a year, but time well spent for Kirby. There were a few noteworthy battles around that time where you could see Kirby had turned the corner, in this respect--the "Battle of the Baxter Building," where we see greater evidence of Kirby's increased use of motion and effect, as well as the stories following "The Gentleman's Name Is--Gorgon!", featuring the battles with Dragon Man and the Inhumans.

During this evolution of his work, Kirby also began enhancing his panels with more detailed backgrounds, which were truly remarkable and added a great deal to battle scenes where destruction needed to be displayed. Naturally, since the Fantastic Four lived in and operated out of New York City, it was only fitting that the city began to play a greater role in their battles--to the detriment, unfortunately, of innocent New Yorkers, who probably didn't appreciate all of that flying or falling rubble.

But with Kirby's departure from Fantastic Four--and from Marvel--we readers were to be deprived of seeing Kirby take the reins of a third Hulk/Thing battle, now that his style was up to the challenge. The images from the prior two fights are stark reminders that Kirby's nascent style was still a work in progress. Take this very first roundhouse that the Hulk delivers to the Thing, for instance:

Kirby's way of detailing a fist fight, in these early issues, was to basically put the characters in place, and letting a "pose" of the action tell the reader what happened. Additional scenery--a character crashing through some object, for instance--would be dealt in on an as-needed basis. It wasn't the most exciting reading--it all but sapped the pace of the fight, and made any reaction or effects felt by the characters dependent on the dialog to express. But the dialog can't always pick up the slack. Here, we're told that the Hulk delivered a "thundering" left, which the panel really doesn't convey well. (And why would the Hulk have any adverse reaction whatsoever from hitting a mere "stone wall"?)

As you can see in the second meeting between the two, as the Hulk delivers his final blows to the Thing, Kirby's method--just over a year later--is showing the bare beginnings of making more use of displaying motion and impact. The characters themselves, however, still look woefully undetailed and rushed:

Yet over time, Kirby's style found its legs--not only with the FF, but in the Thor comic, where necessity proved the mother of invention. In this case, the character of Thor and the conflicts in Asgard demanded a far more dynamic rendering of the characters and battles, and perhaps motivated Kirby to up his game. Not that he wouldn't have gotten to that point if he'd exclusively drawn Fantastic Four--every artist I've ever seen at Marvel has fine-tuned their work as the years passed, if only to prevent sheer boredom from drawing the same characters the same way, year after year.

So close to four years later, Kirby, weaving many more elements into his panels, began delivering more dimension to his scenes and more power to a punch. The Thing was certainly happy about it:

(Though now, New Yorkers had to worry about falling androids as well as falling rubble.  C'est la vie.)

And now that their images matched their power, the FF took off like gangbusters, their adventures virtually exploding onto the scene:

Nor was it just Kirby's artwork which dramatically showed improvement--his ability to tell a story grew as well. Panel sizes increased or shrank, depending on the emphasis he wanted to place on characters or situations in key parts of the story. We were also treated to exquisite full-page renderings, which he increasingly indulged in. Stories--and, by extension, the FF--became more interesting as a result, more "real" to the reader. Faces no longer blended together--expressions no longer involved just pinpricks for eyes--bodies were no longer frail-looking and distant. Ironically, panels that once had very little artwork inside them were now becoming too small to contain his work. It was an amazing turnabout.

Kirby's last work for Marvel before his departure appeared in late 1970, though thankfully other artists of the time were also making characters larger and bolder in their respective books. But in a twist of the knife, plot-wise it would only be another twelve issues of Fantastic Four before the re-match between the Hulk and the Thing would occur. It's too bad someone didn't commission Kirby at the time to draw his interpretation of the battle. It would have been an item of curiosity, and a treasure, no doubt still admired today.


Super-Duper ToyBox said...

Great post! Kirby really did get better there with the Fantastic Four! Marvel Essentials Vol.3 was great even without color. Loved that Gorgon story!

Comicsfan said...

Once he came into his own, Kirby certainly gave us all a great ride. :)