Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Cogito Ergo Sum" Cries... Primus!

With so many of artist Jack Kirby's character creations from his brief return to Marvel during 1976-78 having gone on to find new life in stories following his departure, it's a delight to see them turn up where you least expect them, as other writers continue to dip into that pool and recycle his concepts into new stories. For instance, we've recently seen the reappearance of Primus, the "mutate" created by the mad bio-geneticist known as Arnim Zola who forsakes his former master and allies himself with Baron Zemo to destroy Captain America in a story by J.M. DeMatteis. With Zemo taking center stage in that plot, Primus is a secondary character in DeMatteis's story, but an important one since he uses his malleable abilities to impersonate Steve Rogers--and it's interesting to see how DeMatteis adapts several of Kirby's ideas for the character to build on Primus's development.

Seeing Primus operate in DeMatteis's story arc, it's understandable to find yourself curious about how the character was first handled, since a scene from the Zemo tale brings back another of Kirby's unusual characters--one that Primus, like it or not, continues to find himself part and parcel of:

Doughboy is a creature that Zola took great pride in, a servile creation that was able to take any shape or form and gave Zola both mobility and an incredible tool/weapon that facilitated his operations. If you're wondering about specifics, Zola is only too happy to demonstrate.

Primus enters the picture when Captain America attacks Zola and comes close to disabling him. But Zola's control module is still at hand, and Zola uses it to create another weapon from the form of Doughboy that is more suitable to hand-to-hand combat--an almost invincible form that seemingly cannot be harmed.

With an odd mixture of arrogance and independence that almost disavows any ties to either Doughboy or Zola, Primus is unlike the larger form he springs from, with Kirby seemingly using the character's shape and appearance of a man to distinguish him from his misshapen host in both mind as well as body--though there's really no question of his loyalty to Zola or that he'll do what's required of him, at least for the time being. But as he follows his orders to subdue Captain America, he also focuses his attention on Donna Maria, the woman who fell in with Cap following his encounter with the dictator known as the Swine--and when Zola decides to regain control of the situation, he decides that it's Doughboy he must use to restore order. From that point on, Primus's questions and comments begin to border on, of all things, insubordination.

Zola, of course, has only tolerated this behavior from Primus, not condoned it; after all, Primus to Zola is a mutate that can be dispatched with the press of a button and recalled at will. Yet it becomes clear that Primus will only become more bold with his questions and, soon, with his demands--and when that moment indeed arrives, Zola returns Primus against... his will? the form and substance of the creature he sprang from. And so pleased is Zola with the behavior and compliance of his other creation that he doesn't give the matter a second thought.

Later, when Zola's plans come crashing down around him along with his bio-engineered castle, Primus imposes his will on Doughboy's and takes control of the creature to escape the carnage, soon crossing paths with Zemo and finding acceptance instead of Zola's disdain. DeMatteis likely drafted Primus for his story because of his ability to convincingly take the form of Steve Rogers and fulfill that part of Zemo's plan, yet he makes use of the building blocks that Kirby has provided for developing the character further. Primus remains a determined foe against Cap, but his exposure to Cap's girlfriend, Bernadette, has taught him to be less forceful in his behavior toward a woman (though there's still room for improvement).  In addition, he joins with Zemo to further Zola's work with mutates, this time joining them with human hosts as hybrids in a misguided plan to use them as a stepping stone to unite humanity--unfortunately willing to use any means toward that end, even if it led to murder. Primus, it seems, remains a character who prefers to take shortcuts on his path to self-awareness.

Kirby's introduction of Doughboy, part of an impressive double-page spread.
(No wonder Primus had an identity crisis!)

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