Monday, September 13, 2021

Inhumans! Mandarin! Kirby!


In August of 1970, Marvel Comics launched both Amazing Adventures and Astonishing Tales, two bimonthly books with split-story formats that recalled the success of the company's earlier trio of titles from 1964 which eventually adopted the same double-feature presentations--Tales To Astonish, Tales Of Suspense, and Strange Tales, all of which shifted their focus from monster/mystery/macabre tales to super-hero adventures in 1962-63.

In some of his last work for the company before his departure, artist Jack Kirby would be assigned work on each book's premiere issues. Having already seen Kirby's work with writer Stan Lee on the Ka-Zar feature of Astonishing Tales, we turn to his contribution to the first four issues of Amazing Adventures, a title where the uncanny Inhumans would be featured until the beginning of 1972 (on a bimonthly publication schedule). In this assignment, Kirby would not only provide artwork but also write both stories--to my knowledge, the last of only four scripting jobs he would turn in during his nine years with the company (apart from his earlier work with Timely/Atlas comics), a rare opportunity to see a Marvel story executed exactly as Kirby conceived it.

Since the Inhumans (like the issue's other featured star, the Black Widow) would only be allotted one-half of each issue due to the split-feature format, Kirby's work for these four issues would essentially comprise two regular-sized stories. And we have quite a lineup of guest-stars, with the Inhumans coming into conflict with the villainous Mandarin as well as none other than Kirby's signature characters at Marvel, the Fantastic Four.

It stands to reason that any dispute between the Inhumans and the FF would be the result of a misunderstanding, since the four have been in good standing with Black Bolt and the royal family for some time--in addition to the fact that one of their own, Crystal, is part of the team (though not for much longer). At any rate, the ball gets rolling just as the Inhumans detect an apparent attack launched against their Great Refuge, at a time when their race is already skittish about the possibility of humans invading their sanctity.

Of course, it may come as no surprise to readers who are familiar with the Inhumans to discover the identity of the true instigator of this hostile act--Black Bolt's spiteful brother, Maximus, who wishes to regain the throne he once usurped at any cost, even if it leads to war.

(Assuming there's a Great Refuge or any Inhumans left after that war--much less a throne, you lunatic.)

Maximus is correct, however, in his assumption that the power of Black Bolt will likely be enough to avert this crisis; in fact, in the scene which follows, it's fair to wonder (as his family all but admits here) just what the Inhumans would do without the presence of their king, who is their first (and apparently sufficient) line of defense against an attack of this nature. But there is a more pressing concern:  during these tense moments, the Inhumans are forced to consider that since these weapons are directly targeting the Refuge, whoever fired the missiles knows of their location--and the evidence they discover seems to be conclusive as to who must be held responsible.

And yet, while the assault on the FF proceeds, Black Bolt has sent Triton to verify the other suspect in this matter--and when confirmation as to the true culprit has been obtained, a message is sent which only (again, who else?) Black Bolt is equipped to receive. And just in time, too, judging by the state in which we (along with Reed and Sue) find the FF.

Maximus's annoying ranting aside, Triton would have done well not to have cut him off, as we would later see this madman gain his revenge as well as the throne he craved. As for Medusa's parting words--while they strike a conciliatory tone, there really wasn't any "pausing" done on the Inhumans' part until after they had first ambushed and neutralized the three members of the FF in residence (including their own cousin and Medusa's sister, Crystal). It's rather easy to lay claim to an enlightened posture, once you've dealt with your targets, eh, madam?

Sometime later (as in the following issue), the Inhumans continue to take action to prevent discovery of their Refuge--only this time, someone else takes notice from afar and schemes, like Maximus, to use them for his own purpose.

At this point in time, the Mandarin is far more capable of aggressively confronting the royal family than Maximus, and he makes an impressive showing against Karnak, Gorgon, Triton, and Medusa. But, as before, it's Black Bolt whose power is depended on to end the threat. How gratifying, then, to discover that the Mandarin is ten steps ahead of them all in cunning, giving this story its second wind.

With Stan Lee serving in an editorial capacity, I couldn't help but notice that these stories thus far have been noticeably lacking in Kirby's curious tendency to place emphasis on words that don't necessarily reflect how a speaking person might sound using the same sentences. As a result, both stories have been a smooth read from start to finish, and their dialog less distracting than it otherwise might be (assuming that Lee indeed took an active hand in making such adjustments).

As the Mandarin indicates, Black Bolt acts as the villain had predicted and has decided to investigate just why the Mandarin fought so fiercely to lay claim to the area. The answer lies in an ancient temple discovered beneath the surface, and a chamber that houses an idol where rests the prize that the Mandarin has sought--a source of power which the Inhumans have all but delivered to their enemy's waiting hands.

Seeking to more quickly track down the object, the Inhumans separate--and, one by one, they discover that the Mandarin is not only alive, but that his rings are far more powerful than what they faced before. Consequently, Karnak and his cousins again fall to the forces that the Mandarin brings to bear, at which point we discover the madman's plans for the entire planet. Yet again, however, it's Black Bolt who carries the ball for the other Inhumans, wresting victory from almost certain death.

Considering that one of the Mandarin's rings delivers a hypnotic effect, being defeated by Black Bolt's hypno-pattern must be especially stinging to him.

Despite Black Bolt's sealing away the Mandarin's rings, our villain would be able to use an alien headband to regain them and go after Iron Man (with the Unicorn tagging along as the Mandarin's mindless "eleventh ring"). As for Mr. Kirby, he was spending his time more productively, busily churning out amazing product for DC Comics.

Jack Kirby's other scripting work, circa 1966-69.


Anonymous said...

This is new to me! Classic Kirby stuff, here.
His rendition of the Mandarin made me smile. Remember that post you did, C.F., about all the villains who were drawn with huge mouths and giant teeth? (I guess my memory ain't completely shot).
I only hope I didn't look like a Kirby villain when I was grinning. Somebody might call the cops.
Mandarin's got his head tilted back and everything. Looks like he's getting ready to swallow a cat. Yep, that's basic Kirby.
I thought the scripting was pretty good. Jack would later catch a lotta flack for his rather florid dialogue, which apparently some thought was too cornball for the '70's, but this reads (to me, anyway) like Stan Lee or even Roy Thomas mighta scripted it.
Pretty good issue!


Colin Jones said...

Those two missiles must be pretty expensive so it's fortunate for Maximus that he's a multi-billionaire AND a tech genius who can design and build his own intercontinental missiles :D

Comicsfan said...

The Mandarin's chops are nothing to sneeze at, M.P., I'll give you that. (And I'm not talking about his karate skills!) And Colin, what can I tell you? A good madman bent on usurping a kingdom always makes sure his villa is equipped with top-of-the-line armament (and we can be sure that launching apparatus didn't come cheap, either), just in case he gets the urge to wipe out a city while he's musing on his return to power.

Big Murr said...

Marvel really fired the Big Guns for those early Amazing Adventures!

A cavalcade of names: Jack Kirby and Neal Adams on the Inhumans with John Buscema and Gene Colan doing Black Widow. (even Don Heck later brought his A-Game for Widow during his stint)

And after issue #8, Amazing Adventures became unreadable muck.

Comicsfan said...

Murray, you indirectly raise a more-than-fair observation concerning a new title and the plethora of A-list creative talent that is diverted to its launch--only to return to prior assignments once the title is on its way, with others stepping in to take the reins of the book while it still has sufficient momentum to allow a new writer/artist team to take advantage of a readership which might have had different expectations. If so, the subject certainly rates a post of its own at some point, with likely no shortage of examples to cite.

Anonymous said...

Killraven, unreadable muck? Surely not...

I do find myself in agreement with my colleague the estimable M.P. though, that these Inhumans stories read like they could have been scripted by Stan Lee or Roy Thomas.
So much so that I strongly suspect they WERE scripted by Stan Lee or Roy Thomas, because they certainly don't read like Jack Kirby. And I say that as someone who thinks Kirby is very underestimated as a writer, and likes his allegedly "florid" style (so sue me).

If that were the case, why would he be given the credit?
Who knows, but fwiw AA #2 had the same cover date as FF #102 and Jimmy Olsen #133 appeared the following month, so given the timing it doesn't seem unreasonable to suggest it may have been a last ditch gesture toward Kirby...


Big Murr said...

The "unreadable muck" I refer to is the immediate downshifting of quality in the Inhuman storyline after issue #8. And I'm afraid I was no fan of the work trying to breath life into Hank McCoy as a newly furry Beast.

I guess by the time Killraven debuted, I wasn't thinking of the comic as "Amazing Adventures" any longer. So, the "muck" epithet is not directed in that direction. (Though Killraven had a pretty wobbly beginning...)

Anonymous said...

Thats a fair point about the (then) new Beast, Murray.
And the beginning of Killraven. Actually tbh even though I'm fond of the McGregor era, in retrospect I could see how someone might think it wasn't the most readable Marvel of the mid-70s either.


Comicsfan said...

Gosh, I'm hoping you Killraven poo-pooers leave your tomatoes at home when you lay eyes on the PPC's next scheduled post. If not, just be sure to yell, "DUCK!" :)

dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

Everybody knows I'm going to say this but let's not forget the Black Widow story in AA #5 with artwork by Colan and Everett.

Right up there with Avengers #84, Cap #110 and Silver Surfer #4 in terms of artwork royalty.

Anonymous said...

I was never that keen on Bill Everett's inks on Gene Colan's work, dangermash. But Natasha having a shower in #5 was quite memorable...


Fantastic Four follower said...

Loved Amazing Adventures and it was similar to Thor in that Adams took over the artwork from Kirby. Marvel knew they needed a big hitter to take over in 1970 when Jack left and Adams was nos. 1!However he was incapable of drawing FF hence Romita being given the thankless task of replacing Jack. Apparently the sales increased under John Romita which amazed me as they were poor stories and average artwork.Amazing Adventures #9 and 10 were strange issues. Is it possible they were meant to be a single double sized issue as were every other Marvel title in November 1971.Real strange vibe of the artwork as well.... Mike Sekowsky!! Strange DC type comic!!! Never liked the Beast series nor the Killraven issues that followed. Bought them all at the time but the promise of the first 8 issues never achieved.