Friday, November 30, 2012

More Kirby War: Battle

For my 50th post (I never thought I'd make it this far!) I will examine Jack Kirby's 10 stories that he produced for Battle, an Atlas comic that had originated in 1951 and would cease publication in 1960.

  In 1959, concurrent with his output on monster, western and romance stories, Kirby was asssigned a number of interesting war stories. Based on a reading of many early stories, it appears that Kirby also scripted many early stories, especially pre 1960 (an examination of his possible scripts on other genre stories will appear at a later date). There are many similarities in style, tone, emphasis of words, phrases, use of quotation marks and sound effects that point to Kirby’s input. I will point out a few of these patterns as I go through each story.   

"Action on Quemoy!" Battle # 64, June 1959, Jack Kirby story and art?; Christopher Rule inks, Job # T-266, 5 pages

The opening narration is similar to the style Kirby often employed, even into his 1970s stories. Kirby often begins with a paragraph of exposition, setting up the story. There are other stylistic tics, such as his use of sound effects. WHAAM! was a favorite, which continued to be employed in his Loser war stories some 15 years later. The story centers on a lone reporter in the midst of destruction, vying for survival, a favorite theme of Kirby’s.  In page 5, panel 2, the caption shouts at the reader:

“WE ARE STILL ALIVE!” shrieked the sound! WE ARE STILL FIGHTING!” cracked the fury! “WE ARE STILL FREE!” thundered the echoes of rumbling in the torn and twisted steel!”

The writing "sounds" very much like his own credited edited and written stories for DC and Marvel in the 1970s. 

"FIND 'EM -- CHASE 'EM -- BLAST 'EM!" Battle # 65, June 1959. Jack Kirby story and art?; Christopher Rule inks, Job # T-300, 5 pgs

If that isn’t a Kirby title, I don’t know what is! The opening has Kirby’s terse style, and there are numerous uses of quotation marks throughout the story, beginnig on the splash (“Guided Missle Story”). Sound effects such as WHAAAM also appear. This is a story about the weapons of war and how they grow more deadly and sophisticated. Kirby’s interest in technology was ongoing.

"Ring of Steel!" Battle # 65, Jack Kirby story and art?; Christopher Rule inks, Job # T-341, 5 pgs

 In Kirby’s second story in this issue the threat of tanks rears its ugly head, a trope that would later appear to great effect in one of his Losers stories. Kirby's opening splash is a effective overhead shot and his narration is declarative, filled with trademark exclamation points. Again we see the use of familiar sound effects. Hungarian freedom fighters battle against overwhelming odds, and Kirby even gets away with an ending where the good guys don’t end up victorious, although the bravery of the characters comes through.

"Submarine" Battle # 66 Oct 1959 Kirby story and art;Christopher Rule inks? Job # T-411, 5 pgs.

The history of submarines, with the use of quotation marks throughout. Kirby’s theme of asking questions is also employed: "WHERE DID IT ALL START?” as he segues from a submarine commander to a viking on a ship, he links the past with the present. We see the visual cue on page 1, panels 2 and 3, a tactic he would emply much later, in a 2001, a Space Oddysey story.

"The Invincible Enemy!" Battle # 67, Dec 1959. Jack Kirby story and art?; Christopher Rule inks. Job # T-453, 5pgs.

This story is fascinating due to the heavy hand in evidence of the Comics Code throughout. Kirby’s story centers on four soldiers preparing for an attack by Hitler’s elite corps. Kirby clearly had soldiers killed, but this was obscured in both copy and art. There is a minor change beginning on page one. The opening pararaph has a word relettered, obviously not in the hand of Artie Simek, whose distinctive lettering style stands out. Veterans is used, perhaps replacing the word killers.

"The Invincible Enemy" page 3

On page 3, panel one, the machine gunner is murdered, but the crudely lettered replacement copy ("...driving him back to another position") has him escaping. There are also signs of art alteration on the right hand side, likely the area where Kirby had the soldier lying or struck. In the following panel, though, they forgot to white out his boots in the rubble, as can be seen in the lower right side. 

In Panel 3 you again notice the words "Fights back" crudely lettered, replacing more violent phraseology.

panel 6 has a crudely drawn puff of smoke (possibly added by Stan Lee) to replace a dead Nazi soldier. "Wounded" replaces a word, perhaps dead or murdered.

"The Invincible Enemy" page 4

On page four it appears that the corporal and sergeant have also have been killed, although the art and copy do not convey this.

page 4, panel 1

 Again, there are large, hastily scribbled puffs of smoke (again likely by editor Lee) to hide any dead bodies, probably of his fellow soldiers. The copy is obviously replaced in the last sentence. "....he stares in disbelief at the SMOKE FILLED RUINS! I suspect he was staring in disbelief at his fallen soldiers. Panel 3 also seems to be tampered with, probably deleting the body of the Machine Gunner. His weapon lies on the ground, the same one seen in page 1, panel 2.    

page 5

Page 5, panel 5

By the end of the story the young replacement survives, taking out a tank. Other soldiers come along to assist him, although there is no mention in the copy that they are his group, and they do not look like the men on page one. In panel 5 the word DEFEATED is again substitued for another word, and the puffs of smoke replace dead bodies.  

The final caption is again tampered with, begininng with  " enemy is invincible!..Kirby's expurgated text surely focused on the harshness of war and its deadly effects. Kirby's story of a rookie overwhelmed by his experiences, but surviving, is diluted considerably by the Comics Code, which depicts a war without dead bodies or consequences. 

"Sitting Duck!", Battle # 68, Feb 1960 Kirby story and art ?; Al Williamson inks? Job # T-523, 4 pgs

This short story, wonderfully inked (I believe by Al Williamson, although he claimed he didn't ink the story), focuses on a Korean flyer. I'm not convinced that Kirby wrote the dialouge here, although some of it sounds Kirby-ish, there are not of his usual tics; no bold words, sound effects of stylistic touches that I can discern. I suspect this was either more heavily edited by Lee, or possibly an earlier Lee plotted/Leiber scripted story.

 "Guard Duty!" Battle # 69; Kirby art, Steve Ditko inks, job # T-530, 5 pgs

Ditko’s magnificent embellishment adds a crispness and mood to Kirby's pencils. Ditko’s inking was very much influenced by John Severin in this period, and his early inks over Kirby were impressive (as is the coloring of Stan Goldberg). This is another story of a young recruit in a baptism of fire, but the writing sounds more like the Lee plotted/Leiber scripted stories then appearing in the fantasy line. I suspect that sometime around this period Kirby’s assignments grew and he stopped scripting stories.

"Doom Under The Deep!" Battle # 69, Kirby story? Kirby art. Sol Brodsky/George Klein inks? Job # T-600 , 6pgs.

The  tale of a submarine crew facing the Japaneese enemy has a few Kirby tics, including the use of quotation marks, so this may have been scripted by Kirby and edited by Lee, who revised some of Kirby's more distinctive features. I'm uncertain of the inker, although it may be a combination of Brodsky and Klein. Whover inked it, the sharp lines are clean and effective.

A Tank Knows No Mercy!", Battle # 70, June 1960, Kirby art, Ditko inks. Job # T-692, 5 pgs

We close out Kirby’s Battle run (and the series, as this was the final issue) with 2 stories.

“A Tank knows no Mercy!” opens with a wordless splash, a style that Kirby rarely, if ever, used on his own. It did follow the pattern of other Atlas fantasy stories, which leads me to suspect this was a Lee plotted/Lieber scripted tale. Ditko once again provides exquisite inking, and the art drifts with atmosphere. The tale again focuses on the threat of a tank, though, and a lone soldier protecting a family.

"A Tank Knows No Mercy!" page 3. Kirby's figure in panel one slouching out of the panel border adds a three dimensional effect, and Ditko's inking adds detail.

               “The Thick of Battle!” Kirby pencils; Joe Sinnott inks, Job # T-707, 4pgs.

We close out with an early inking job by Joe Sinnott, who would go on to produce magnificent work over Kirby’s pencils on the Fantastic Four in a few years. The story involves the heroisim of a linesman in the signal corps during the Korean war. Aside from the use of sound effects in a few panels (Kirby may have pencilled those in when he was drawing) the story reads more like a familiar Lee/Lieber tale. Even early on Sinnott inks are glossy and effective.

And so ends Kirby’s Battle run, consisting of 10 stories and seven covers, a neglected part of Kirby's output that is worth seeking out, and certainly worthy of reprinting. Kirby would go on to create Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos with Stan Lee only three years late. Still, these slice of life stories, despite the looming and sometimes corrosive presence of the Comics Code, show individuals in the midst of madness. Kirby’s war stories would always emphasize the turmoil and personal hell he experienced during World War Two, and those stories would be repeated and einterpeted in various ways, both obvious and subtle, throughout his career.   

For a definitive history of Atlas War comics, including discussion of the above Kirby stories, please go to Michael J. Vassallo's blog:




maw maw said...

One thought about the lettering: had Stan Lee requested dialogue changes from Jack Kirby at the editing stage, it probably could have been accomplished in-house by Morrie Kuramoto (or, less often, Herb Cooper), who were generally responsible for such changes. Is it possible that Stan approved of Jack's dialogue, but the Comics Code Authority insisted on a last-minute change, which resulted in a hasty re-lettering by whomever was available?

Nick Caputo said...

maw maw,

I absolutely agree with your theory. The lettering is clearly rushed out quite sloppily, as are the art corrections, which lead me to believe that these were last moment changes. It's possible that Stan himself did the lettering changes.

Steven Thompson said...

Kirby and Ditko are so different style-wise, each naturally creative and unique, that Ditko inking Kirby by all rights shouldn't work.

And yet I look at these pags you have here and every other page I've ever seen with the two collaborating and really, REALLY wish Ditko had inked Kirby more often!!

Kid said...

Funnily enough, I'm not a big fan of war stories (even 'though I bought Kirby's THE LOSERS hardback volume), but because some of the artwork on your post is Jack at his best, I'd be tempted to acquire these stories if they became available.

Great stuff as usual.

Nick Caputo said...


I'm not the biggest fan of war stories either, but there are some exceptions to the rule, and these stories are in that category.