Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Fighting-Mad Floating Heads


I wish I could get a look at the alternate covers for Fantastic Four #54. I'm reasonably sure there might have been one or two of them. I say that because, in the course of the 100+ covers artist Jack Kirby drew for the book, his covers were some of the best examples I'd seen of representing what was actually happening in a given issue, regardless of how many things were taking place in it. For instance, this cover to FF #77:



We get a taste of practically everything that's going on in this issue--yet we have the impression that the story's focus will be on the FF's battle with Psycho-Man. And with a character like Galactus in the story, tucking him into a corner was an interesting choice; but if you read the issue, and see how everything falls into place, you see how beautifully the cover works.

And while Kirby could at times go about crafting a cover for an issue in roundabout fashion--such as FF #78, which only features the Wizard, the Thing, and Ben Grimm, and little else--most of the time you didn't have any problem getting an idea of what the gist was of the story you were going to read. It was a rare day when Kirby "phoned in" a cover--and by that I mean one that featured the issue's character(s) but did little if anything to represent the issue's story--yet there were still instances when you found one of these covers greeting you on the comics rack. I can think of a few offhand:



But FF #54 stands out for me in this regard. Because while you could argue that the covers above represented their respective stories in a more abstract sense, issue #54's cover is about as generalized as they come. We can get a better sense of that if we line it up with its companion cover from Marvel's Greatest Comics #41, where its story was reprinted:



The original cover on the left shows us that the Human Torch will be the story's focus. (I don't know who wrote that cover caption, but thanks for stating the obvious--I may be jumping the gun, but I'm already pretty sure that the Torch is going to be flaming and flying.) His battle is with Prester John, who carries a weapon that the Torch wants to borrow and use to free the Inhumans. A pro like Kirby could have thought of any number of appealing battle representations of that conflict to put on the issue's cover (including making the Torch "fighting mad"); instead, the cover that went to press, with its virtual explosion of floating heads, only tells you that the FF, the Black Panther, Wyatt Wingfoot, and the Inhumans will be featured, with seemingly only the Torch in action--doing what is anyone's guess.

The newer cover, drawn by Jim Starlin, also makes clear that it's only the Torch we'll see in battle, but tones down the floating heads significantly and puts the emphasis back on the Fantastic Four. Yet it also gives generous cover space to the Torch's foe, as well as providing symbolism that highlights the mysterious threat of the Evil Eye. (Though adding a skull was probably overkill.) Prester John may not have been the most attention-grabbing character, nor was he even really a villain--but this book is no stranger to those kinds of characters, and it's unlikely any harm would have been done featuring him on the cover.

So I can't help but be curious as to whether or not Kirby had prepared drafts of other covers to this issue--and if so, why they were rejected. Granted, even a substitute Kirby cover is still going to be eye-catching, even if the story within might have more suitable elements to catch your eye.

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