Friday, November 30, 2012

More Kirby War: Battle

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

  In 1959, concurrent with his output on monster, western and romance stories, Kirby was assigned a number of compelling war stories. Based on a thorough reading it appears that Kirby scripted as well as drew many of the pre-1960 stories (an examination of possible scripts in 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 focus on these patterns as I go through each story.   

"Action on Quemoy!" Battle # 64, June 1959, Jack Kirby story ? Kirby pencils; Christopher Rule inks, Job # T-266.

The opening narration is similar to the style Kirby often employed; a long paragraph of exposition (which would be seen in many of his 1970s scripted tales). There are other stylistic tics, such as his use of sound effects. "WHAAM!" was a favorite, which appeared in his "Losers" stories some 15 years later. The tale centers on a lone reporter vying for survival in the midst of destruction, an ongoing theme of Kirby’s.  

On page 5; panel 2, the caption "shouts" at the reader with words in all caps:

“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 Kirby's edited and written stories for DC and Marvel in the 1970s. 

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

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

"Ring of Steel!" Battle # 65, Jack Kirby story ? Kirby pencils; Christopher Rule inks, Job # T-341. An overhead shot adds drama to the splash page. 

 In Kirby’s second story in issue # 65 the threat of tanks rears its ugly head, a device that would later appear in one of his DC Losers stories. Kirby's 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 somehow evades the Comics Code restrictions of a happy ending. The good guys don’t end up victorious, although the bravery of the characters comes through.

"Submarine" Battle # 66 Oct 1959 Kirby story ? Kirby pencils;Christopher Rule inks ? Job # T-411.

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 employ in his 2001: A Space Odyssey stories for Marvel in the 1970s.

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

This story is worth looking at in detail due to evidence of the Comics Code Authorities heavy handed tampering. Kirby’s story centers on four soldiers preparing for an attack by Hitler’s elite corps. A close study of the pages points out that Kirby originally had soldiers killed, although this is greatly obscured in both copy and art. Beginning on page one a minor change appears; the opening paragraph has a word re-lettered in a hand other than the distinctive Artie Simek's  (veterans, perhaps substituting for killers or butchers).

"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 on the lower right panel.

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

panel 6 has a crudely drawn puff of smoke (possibly added by editor Stan Lee) to obscure 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, large, hastily scribbled puffs of smoke (again likely by editor Lee) are used to hide dead bodies, probably of 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 substituted for another word, and puffs of smoke replace dead bodies.  

The final caption is tampered with, beginning with  " enemy is invincible!..Kirby's expurgated text surely focused on the harshness of war and its devastating outcome. Kirby's story of a rookie overwhelmed by his experiences, but surviving nonetheless, is diluted considerably by the Comics Code, which depicts a war without dead bodies, or consequences. As a private in the army during WWII, Kirby lived through such horrors and knew better.

"Sitting Duck!", Battle # 68, Feb 1960 Kirby story ? Kirby pencils; Al Williamson inks ? Job # T-523.

This short story, wonderfully inked (I believe) by Al Williamson, although he claimed otherwise, focuses on a Korean flyer. I'm not convinced that Kirby wrote the dialogue; although some of it sounds Kirby-ish, none of his tell-tale signs appear - no bold words, sound effects of stylistic touches that I can discern. I suspect this was either heavily edited by Lee, or possibly a Lee plotted/Larry Lieber scripted story (the team that reportedly worked on many of the unsigned pre-hero monster tales).

   "Guard Duty!" Battle # 69, April 1960; Kirby art, Steve Ditko inks, job # T-530.

Ditko’s magnificent embellishment adds crispness and mood to Kirby's pencils. Ditko’s inking was very much influenced by John Severin in this period, and his delineation over Kirby was impressive (further complimented by Stan Goldberg's coloring). This is another tale of a young recruit facing his baptism of fire, but the writing sounds more like the Lee plotted/Lieber scripted stories appearing in the fantasy line. Around this period Kirby became heavily involved in drawing stories and covers for the entire line (sans the girl-teen humor titles) and his solo scripting seems to have ended.

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

The  tale of a submarine crew facing the Japanese 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 Sol Brodsky and George Klein. Whoever 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.

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

“A Tank knows no Mercy!” opens with a wordless splash, a style that Kirby rarely, if ever, used on his own. That style 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 drips with atmosphere. The plot 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 soldier slouching out of the panel border gives the panel a three dimensional effect; Ditko's meticulous inking adds further depth.

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

"The Thick of Battle!" features an early inking job by Joe Sinnott, who, in just a few years, would bring a lustrous sheen to Kirby’s pencils on The Fantastic Four. The story involves the heroism 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 penciled those in while drawing) the story reads like a familiar Lee/Lieber tale. 

And so ends Kirby’s Battle run, consisting of ten stories and seven covers, a neglected part of Kirby's output that is worth seeking out, and certainly worthy of reprinting. Kirby would return to the genre three year later, creating Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos with Stan Lee. These stories, despite the looming and sometimes corrosive presence of the Comics Code, portray individuals in the midst of madness. Kirby’s stories focused on the turmoil, grief and hell of war, derived largely from his personal experiences during World War Two; those stories would be repeated, dramatized and embellished in 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:



Thursday, November 8, 2012

Paul Reinman 1933 Drawing

Some time ago I was contacted by Gideon Remez asking for information about Paul Reinman's background. He discovered I had written an article on Reinman for Alter Ego some years ago and hoped I could assist him. I told him there were few Reinman interviews I was aware of, but Reinman wrote a brief memoir for Alter Ego in the early 1960s, which I passed onto him. In that same period I was over Timely-Atlas expert Michael Vassallo's house, and what does he have on his desk? A Paul Reinman interview that appeared in The Burroughs Bulletin # 13, 1962 (Reinman drew the Tarzan strip a number in 1949-1950). Serendipity! I asked Mike to pass on the info to Gideon, as well as information on Reinman's Atlas work, which he gladly did.

                           Reinman Tarzan strip, 1949. Image from Heritage Auctions.

Gideon is not a comics fan, but his interest in Reinman overlaps with my interest in the lives and history of creators, which extends to many areas, as the article will reveal.

I've always found Reinman's work intriguing. I enjoyed his quirky qualities, his sometimes crude, imperfect figures figures and  that spoke of. Crude, perhaps, but with an underlying mood. His background work often overshadowed his figures, and this likely speaks to his primary interests. In the few paintings I've seen his backgrounds and scenery showcased strengths that were only touched upon in his comics work.

An attractive Reinman page that includes impressive rendering of buildings, trees, animals and figures. "The Temptation of Jesus", Bible Tales for Young Folk # 3,  December 1953 

Original artwork to Reinman's cover for The Shadow # 1, August 1964. His use of blacks and scratchy lines provides an atmospheric touch.

Much or Reinman's work outside of comics remains a mystery. It certainly includes undiscovered paintings and advertising art (a field he moved to after he left comics; he was also a courtroom artist), but could include book or record cover illustrations and movie posters, such as the one below. Further research into the work of Paul Reinman may open the door for a better assessment of him artistic talents.


                     Reinman Bustin' Loose movie poster, circa 1981

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kirby's Losers: A Personal Journey Into Hell

“I had the privilege of doing “The Losers” for DC, a war story, and I put some real elements in there, some elements that I’d experienced, and of course that facilitated the realism for the story, which made it acceptable. It wasn’t a fantasy war story. It was the “Real McCoy.”  But the characters had color, and they had a reason for being there. It was their story but their surroundings were real, and they were accepted by the reader.”  

 Jack Kirby interview conducted by James Van Hise, The Golden Age of Comics # 6, November 1983.

Jack Kirby’s “The Losers”, originally appearing in the title series Our Fighting Forces, rated little attention in their original presentation, but it is one of the artists’ unsung classics. Though war comics were still a part of DC’s lineup in 1974, they were often ignored by the majority of comics’ fans, whose interests fixated primarily on the latest superhero fantasies. Even a monolithic creator like Jack Kirby could not engender excitement, but these stories are worth a closer examination.

The Losers premiered on the cover of G I. Combat # 138 (Oct/Nov 1969), as “The Born Losers.” Gunner, Sarge, Captain Storm and Johnny Cloud were familiar to fans of DC war comics, having appeared in various features over the years, some dating back to 1959. It is likely that either Joe Kubert, the series editor, or Robert Kanigher, the main writer and creator, decided on a team approach, in an attempt to turn the tide on waning fan interest for the individual characters. Their intent was to gauge the pulse on reader reaction, launching them in a popular series, The Haunted Tank, which headlined G.I. Combat. The story, entitled “The Losers” (the name was shortened from “The Born Losers” at the last moment, due to copyright issues), was written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Russ Heath. Their try-out was a success: eight months later The Losers took over the lead spot in Our Fighting Forces # 123 (Jun 1970). Ken Barr was the initial artist, followed by Ross Andru and, for the longest duration, John Severin, an excellent storyteller who brought a sense of drama and authenticity to the stories.

In 1974, Jack Kirby was handed the editorial reigns of Our Fighting Forces from the departing Archie Goodwin. As with all the comics Kirby produced for DC, management expected him to both write and draw the strip. Kirby was reluctant to take over existing characters, preferring instead to work on projects of his own design. At Marvel, he and Stan Lee succeeded in reviving Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner in The Fantastic Four, and later, at DC, Kirby lent his perspective to mainstays like Jimmy Olsen and Superman (who he inherited as a crucial supporting character in the comic). In almost every instance, any similarity to their traditional personas was negligible. Fans were dismayed by the abrupt shift from earlier Losers plot-lines, and their harsh criticisms often filled the letters pages. For good or ill, Kirby’s individual take on characterization was a key aspect of all his comics work, and the Losers were no exception.

It has been reported that Kirby was at odds with “The Losers” moniker, which might not only be construed as a reflection of the veterans they portrayed, but of the book itself. Kirby’s naming of titles/characters usually tended toward the optimistic (Forever People, Mr. Miracle) but with no authority to alter the designation, he forged ahead. Despite any editorial division, Kirby’s strong work ethic, stellar professionalism and fierce independence paved the way for a freewheeling series of stories.

Kirby’s World War II experiences provided the impetus for the Losers’ adventures - shaping an intimate, insider’s look into the nature of combat. The result, quite often, exposed a bleak, malevolent landscape, punctuated by abrupt violence and swift fatalities. Comedic passages were also scattered throughout, in an effort to present an even-handed account. Additionally, it offered a glimpse of the defense mechanisms that were essential to a soldiers’ equanimity, and the means by which one could bear the incomprehensible.

Jack Kirby was no stranger to war comics. Paired with partner Joe Simon, he created The Boy Commandos for DC shortly after the outset of World War II (Detective Comics # 64, cover-dated Jun 1942). In the 1950s, he and Simon produced Foxhole for their own company, Crestwood. 

Kirby’s cover for the first issue of Foxhole (October 1954) was ironic for its depiction of life on the front line. It showed a bandaged and bloody soldier, his one good eye staring out at the viewer. In the background, medics assist the wounded and collect the dead. The soldier is observed writing a letter to his mother. Kirby uses the notepad paper as an integral component of the cover. The copy reads:

             “Dear Mom: The war is like a picnic!—Today we spent A DAY AT THE BEACH!”

"Nine Lives for Victory" as reprinted in Boy Commandos # 2, Dec 1973. Originally published in BC # 2, Spring 1943. Joe Simon inks; Howard Ferguson letters.

"Booby Trap", Foxhole # 2, Dec 1954. Kirby story ? 

In all likelihood, Kirby wrote many of the stories, and may have performed similar duties for Atlas in 1959, on their anthology title, Battle.

Kirby's superb use of perspective is evident on the splash page to "Ring of Steel!", from Battle # 65, Aug 1959. Kirby pencils; Chris Rule inks, Artie Simek letters; Kirby story ? 

"A Tank Knows no Mercy!", Battle # 70, June 1960. Steve Ditko's crisp, vibrant inks add depth to Kirby's pencils. Kirby may have also scripted this story. A tank will play an important part in his "Losers" story 14 years later. 

In 1963, responding to the popularity of DC’s war line, Stan Lee  and Jack Kirby created Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, an offbeat, ethnically diverse WWII combat unit.

Dynamic splash page to Sgt. Fury # 2, July 1963. Dick Ayers inks.  

Lee and Kirby appropriated key aspects of the formula used in their other team books, notably Fantastic Four and The Avengers, sans super powers, and occurring in real locales during the European campaign. Kirby, who encountered warfare first-hand, reportedly took exception to the lighthearted touch favored by Editor Lee (who had a desk job during the war), and asked to be taken off the strip after seven issues. While replacement Dick Ayers supplied serviceable interior art, more often than not, Lee continued to assign Kirby cover duties (on not only Sgt. Fury but virtually the entire Marvel line), fully conscious of both their aesthetic quality and sales performance. One outstanding example was Sgt. Fury # 16, brilliantly inked by Chic Stone. It portrayed Fury and the Howlers on the verge of exhaustion as they stagger through the sweltering desert heat. Kirby’s use of body language strongly implies the weight of their burden.

Stan Goldberg's two-toned colors add to the feeling of oppressive heat that confront the Howler's. Sgt. Fury # 16, Mar 1965. 

While the hodgepodge of tomfoolery and exaggerated physicality was unmistakable in Sgt. Fury, on Kirby’s watch there was – at the very least – a glimmer of realism. Almost a decade would go by before Kirby again found himself working in the genre.

Kirby’s first Losers’ story appeared in Our Fighting Forces # 151 (Nov 1974). There are no formal introductions to the “Special Forces Unit” (one of the few references that remained from Kanigher’s period): they (and the readers) are immediately thrust into a skirmish. Kirby’s opening caption sets the mood:

              “Night is DANGER! –Night is TERROR! – Night is a WHISPERING voice!”


Kirby in action! John Severin's Loser's faces still adorn the right side. D. Bruce Berry inks. Our Fighting Forces # 151, Nov 1974.

The Losers are assigned to rescue a famous concert pianist from a German stronghold in occupied France. In the guise of a humble maid, the woman goes unnoticed by her Nazi captors; her frumpish appearance being a benefit, in this instance. Soon after, Gunner is taken captive and brought to the house. Here he confronts the major, who takes great pleasure in playing Wagner on the piano. The Nazis threaten to kill every woman in the house if Gunner does not disclose her identity, but his teammates arrive in time to stop the bloodbath. The major is shot by Sarge in the melee, and as his life begins to fade away, he discovers the “maid’s” true identity. In his last moments, he is overwhelmed by Wagner’s haunting melodies; visions of Valkyrie’s hovering overhead, as the pianists’ fingers nimbly stroke the ivories. Kirby’s dialogue, often accused by critics of being problematic (this author included) is curiously effective here. The staccato delivery and blocky sentences, while awkward at times, manage to propel the drama, providing a good sense of the moment.  

A Small Place in Hell” (Our Fighting Forces # 152) showcases Kirby’s magnificent use of sound effects, echoing the work of two masters in the comics’ field - Harvey Kurtzman and Will Eisner. Both men achieved recognition by creating a sense of sound in a silent medium: Kurtzman for his signature war vignettes at EC; and Eisner for his innovative run on the Spirit newspaper strip. The noise of battle and unrelenting gunfire is palpable as words overwhelm the art. There is no sense of tranquility in the cruel world the Losers inhabit – a fact that Kirby articulated throughout his run.

The sounds of war as translated to comics. D. Bruce Berry inks and lettering. Our Fighting Forces # 152, Jan 1975.

In “The Partisans” (Our Fighting Forces # 155) Sarge is the principal player. He is wounded and stunned by a blast, and begins to taste his own death in the form of an advancing tank. Page 11 and 14 are particularly disturbing, and eerily reminiscent of the surreal, incoherent sights witnessed on 9/11. While almost all of Kirby’s work possesses a larger than life quality (which has particular potency in the comic book medium), he was also skilled at touching on real-life events with razor sharp precision. At times the drama is so harrowing that one can’t help but become immersed in it and, in some way, almost comprehend the chronic nightmares that traumatized Kirby throughout his life, as recounted in interviews by his wife Roz.     

Sarge stunned and devastated. Berry inks and letters. Our Fighting Forces # 155, May 1975

Kirby’s war is an intricate web, populated by both those who sought a moral high ground, as well as unsavory types that lack principles. In Our Fighting Forces # 157-158 (Kirby’s only two-part story) we meet “Panama Fattie”, a woman who exploits the conditions around her, selling weapons to the Japanese in return for vast profits.

In swift, sadistic fashion, and with a casual smile, the plump woman coldly guns down an inspector who discovers her treachery. Despite her abhorrent behavior, and with minimal exposition, Kirby evokes a degree of sympathy for “Fattie”. The reader is informed of the pain and loneliness she has lived with throughout her life. Her words are tinged with cynicism and bitterness:

 “The kinda guy I go for don’t go for ME---but soon I’ll have enough dough to buy one…”

When “Fattie” meets up with the Losers they are unaware of her crimes, and she escorts them to her club. She is attracted to Capt. Storm, who has mutual feelings for Lil (her real name). Tensions mount when Sarge callously refers to Lil as “Fattie.” Storm takes exception to the obvious affront and the two struggle, but their fight is cut short when they both lose consciousness, after having been drugged (along with their teammates) by Lil, and are faced with imminent execution.     

In the conclusion, while the Losers remain captives of Lil and her gang of mercenaries, a Japanese Kamikaze mission is underway to blow up the Panama Canal. Storm tries to sway Lil, asking: “Is this the way YOU want it?” Lil touches Storms’ cheek tenderly, explaining how she is consoled by the large sums of cash, rationalizing her dubious behavior. The Losers stall for time, mounting a frantic attack on their assassins, but in the scuffle Lil gets the drop on Storm and his team. She aims a gun at him, but is incapable of pulling the trigger. Lil makes her getaway in a truck, and now it is Storm who has her in his sights. Storm hesitates: their feelings are too strong and neither can hurt the other. Seizing Storm’s rifle, Sarge blows out the tires, forcing Lil to retreat into the jungle. Lil reaches the Japanese outpost, demanding to see the Lieutenant, as the squad sternly admonishes her to leave. She shoots a soldier and is gunned down in return, while in tandem, Storm races in vain to her rescue. In the aftermath, Kirby draws us in to a tender moment, where Storm closes the eyes of his dying Lil. Her end is violent as much as it is inevitable, a direct result of the path she chose in life.

The tragic end of "Fattie". Mike Royer inks and letters, Our Fighting Forces # 158, Aug 1975. 

The Losers play a minimal role in “Mile A Minute Jones” (Our Fighting Forces # 159), a story that echoes the unusual friendship that transpired between runners Jesse Owens (an African American) and Carl Ludwig Long (a German) during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In Kirby’s allegory, Henry Jones substitutes for Owens. He is a soldier whose platoon was massacred by the Nazis, and we observe him as he frantically tries to elude the enemy. Only one member of their division can keep pace with Jones: Bruno Borman, who fires a warning shot from his rifle. Both men are surprised to encounter each other in such bizarre surroundings, but despite the circumstances, Borman demonstrates great fondness and respect for Jones, a fellow athlete. Nevertheless, in the world they now inhabit, Borman must follow the orders of his commanding officers.

The Losers, whose task involves the capture of a general, stumble upon the scene, taking Borman prisoner. He soon escapes, racing through the fields in an attempt to warn his fellow paratroopers. Jones uses every ounce of stamina to overtake Borman; he focuses intently on a white line, similar to the one he trailed in the Olympics. As his thoughts drift back to the moment he beat his challenger, his desire to win overwhelms him. Jones leaps at Borman, but fails to stop him. In this contest, Borman is the victor, but his triumph is short-lived. Attempting to pursue the Losers he is blown up in a land mine. In the conclusion, Jones and company are rescued by a plane, but Kirby also explores the flip-side of this dirty coin, as he focuses on the littered corpses of the paratroopers scattered upon the grass. In two panels he highlights Bruno Borman’s face in close-up: a frozen image, his mouth open wide and eye sockets hollow. Kirby’s visual choices are telling: by concentrating on the dead soldier, he accentuates both the senselessness and the finality of the moment. It reflects an artist who, even thirty years later, was still trying to come to grips with the brutality of warfare.

A pattern of death. Royer inks and letters, Our Fighting Forces # 159, Sept 1975. 

“Ivan” (Our Fighting Forces # 160) is a story stripped bare of sentiment. In a double-page splash we view a group of civilians lined up against a wall; their faces denote fear, revulsion and resignation. With cold efficiency they are brutally mowed down in a hail of gunfire, their bodies ripped apart as they crumple to the ground. It is a chilling sight by comic book standards of the day (then heavily regulated by the Comics Code Authority), and while Kirby understood the limitations imposed on him, and had his own standards of good taste, his point was made with alarming intensity (without bloodshed or gory details). It was a scene he would reenact only a few years later in the Silver Surfer Graphic Novel. Kirby’s caption tells a stark tale:

“This is a war which has jumped all previous boundaries---civilians are killed, NOT by accident, but by DESIGN! They LOOK wrong---they THINK wrong---they TALK in ways intolerable to those with the gun---and when the gun begins to bark, it cannot see men, women and children---its sights are centered on labels---thousands of DYING labels---“

The senselessness and brutality of war. Royer inks and letters, Our Fighting Forces # 160, Oct 1975.

 Kirby’s words suggest pain of a personal nature, one that hits uncomfortably close to home. While he does not specifically reference the Jewish experience, or emphasize his own religious background, they are part of the massacre, discarded like refuse by the Nazi machine. It is a poignant page, one of Jack Kirby’s finest moments in a long and noteworthy career.

The story involves a mother and her son, Ivan, two Russians who double-cross civilians, pretending to shelter them from the Nazis in exchange for cash. This is a ruse, for while in their care, the “benefactors” pillage their homes, steal their valuables, and, ultimately turn them over to the Nazis for execution. The Losers, disguised as SS troops, stay in the house of Ivan and his mother on an undercover mission (Kirby stretches credibility to the breaking point when he has Johnny Cloud, a Native American, disguised as a Nazi). Once The Losers discover their misdeeds, they leap into action. First, taking a group of soldiers by surprise, and then gunning them down. Although Sarge wants to kill Ivan, he opts for a more fitting end, knocking him out and placing the gun in his hand. When the SS find their fellow soldiers murdered, it is Ivan who is the obvious suspect. He is sent to be executed alongside men, women and even children. As he frantically pleads his innocence, Ivan becomes a victim of his own appalling actions.      

Ivan joins those he betrayed. panel three is particularly effective.  
 Jack Kirby’s run on "the Losers" ended after thirteen issues, when he accepted an offer to return to Marvel. Robert Kanigher immediately resumed his role as writer and resolved his earlier story-lines. Mark Evanier, Kirby’s former assistant, suggested to Marvel that a 1940s setting might better fit Kirby’s writing style (Kirby’s contract called for him to edit, write and draw his own material), either on a WWII era Captain America series, or a return to Sgt. Fury. Those ideas were rejected; the former due to Roy Thomas’s use of Captain America in The Invaders (a strip that teamed Cap with the Original Human Torch and Sub-Mariner); the latter due to a lack of interest in war comics (Sgt. Fury was still being published, albeit in reprint form). While Kirby had many more combat experiences to share, "the Losers" would be his final outlet for such fare in comics – although in person, and in interviews, the urge to relive those terrible moments was overwhelming.

Working from his heart and gut, Jack Kirby’s adaptation of "the Losers" explored conditions GI’s were apt to confront in the throes of war. As portrayed by Kirby, the Losers were a battered, gritty and tough lot, whose darker potential was suggested and understood in blink of the eye fashion, and certainly went beyond that which was depicted on the page. Kirby gave the sense that these guys let expletives fly and told dirty jokes. This was the true power of Kirby’s pen: you got the story outside the panel as much as the one told inside. Of course, you also had the attitude, so the low down was always in your midst. The mean streets of New York City’s Lower East Side, where Kirby spent his formative years, ultimately informed both his personal outlook and professional life. In truth, The Losers is an autobiographical story buried in a mainstream package, and, arguably, the best solo work of Jack Kirby’s career.

“There is nothing that you would call “romantic” about war. Sure, in the movies and on television they paint a great picture of the fellowship that it creates. I’ve seen war bring lots of people together, but I can tell you that the cost is extremely high: not just in terms of lives, but in the human spirit. I think that we are diminished by war; our character as a race is somehow reduced by each war that we allow to happen. Hitler had to be destroyed, there was no choice and I was glad to do my duty – but if there were another way to bring him down I would have preferred it. Perhaps the Germans would have been defeated by their own ambition; they could not possibly hold all of Europe forever – the more you force people down, the more they will push back. It is human nature to be free and I feel that eventually there would have been a revolt. Perhaps it was the right thing to do, but I do not think this applies to other wars that this country has fought. This country has always been at war – it was started by war. Perhaps that is how it will end.” 

Conversations with Jack” by Ray Wyman, Jr. Based upon interviews with Jack from August 1989 through June 1992. Excerpt published in the Jack Kirby Collector # 27, February 2000. 

With special thanks to Frank Mastopaolo, Barry Pearl and Mark Evanier for their invaluable editing, suggestions and assistance.             

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Maurice Bramley

There are plenty of twists and turns on the road of comic books and their history, many of which are both unusual and fascinating. For instance take Maurice Bramley, a name I suspect few recognize. His involvement drawing Marvel characters is largely unknown because he worked for an Australian company, Horwitz, in the 1950s and 1960s, pencilling many covers based on the originals by artists like John Severin and Jack Kirby. Horvitz reprinted stories of Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid, Ringo Kid and Apache Kid, as well as war and superhero stories, and reprinted other companies work as well. For a more detailed history of Howvitz, accompanied by examples of many Bramley covers, please go to this wonderful site:

While Bramley was often reworking the original covers, unlike artists that copy the styles of those artists, he brings a personality of his own to the artwork. Bramley's work has a distinct charm and he reinterpets many cover scenes with a decided flair. Bramley was not a young kid breaking into comics, indeed, he had worked in commerical art and magazine illustration for years before he drew any comic books. To learn more about Bramley, go here:

Horwitz appears to have ended publication in 1965, so many of the later Marvel Super Hero stories were not printed there, but they did reprint early issues of Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Human Torch, Daredevil and Ant-Man. Its interesting to see Bramley's interpretations of the characters. There is an old world charm to his art and it fits well with the odd conglomeration of heroes.

Maurice Bramley's cover for Daredevil # 1, Horwitz, 1965. Based on the original by Jack Kirby and Bill Everett. While closely resembling the Kirby/Everett DD figure there are enough touches to make this one interesting on its own, including the boxing scene added in the lower left hand corner.

Not only did Branley draw covers for Horvitz, he also pencilled new stories as fillers in the interior. Unfortunately none featured Marvel characters, although I would have liked to see him working on a Human Torch or Ant-Man tale.

Maurice Bramley's cover to Two-Gun Kid # 40, Horwitz, signed in the lower right hand corner.

 In researching Bramley and Horwitz publishing, I discovered Danny Best wrote about him in detail on his blog some years ago, so I bow to his greater knowledge in this area and point you to those posts:

A talented artist who did exciting work outside of comics, Bramley transitioned into the business, bringing an unusual style and quality to his work. Bramley is another fascinating piece of the comic book puzzle, one that continues to unearth new areas of exploration.     

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Marvel's Western House Ads

While the Marvel westerns became increasingly marginalized as the 1960s wore on, early on they were quite popular and while Lee never featured any cross-overs (there were requests from time to time in the letters page to have a time travel story) they were still strongly linked with the Marvel Superhero line.

The Marvel brand name continued to grow in the early to mid-1960s, and the western "Big 3" of Kid Colt Outlaw, Two-Gun Kid and Rawhide Kid were part of that advertising. Full page ads for Fantastic Four or Amazing Spider-Man were scattered throughout the line, along with ads for the latest westerns. Stan Lee was still writing some of the westerns in 1965, but began relinquishing thes duties to Larry Lieber, Al Hartley, Roy Thomas, Denny O'Neil and Steve Skeates. In late 1964 the western's also received their own letters pages.

Kid Colt's first letters page, including a short lived western checklist, from Kid Colt Outlaw # 120, January 1965.

Like the superhero line, Lee also used full page ads to promote the western heroes. 

Ad from Two-Gun Kid # 75, May 1965

Ad from Kid Colt Outlaw # 130, Sept 1965. Note Lee's reference to the Marvel Bullpen. Two-Gun and Rawhide Kid images by Kirby/Colletta and Kirby/Ayers; Kid Colt image by sorely missed Joe Maneely.

Ad from Rawhide Kid # 46, June 1965. Carl Hubbell art?

The MMMS house ads were identical to the ones used in the superhero comics, of course substituting the Kid's for the long-underwear types. 

Since not all the western heroes had recurring villains a generic owlhoot was used, drawn by Marie Severin. From Kid Colt Outlaw # 124, Sept 1965

Ad from Kid Colt Outlaw # 126, Jan 1966. Kid Colt by Marie Severin.

The very same month Marie Severin's T-Shirt ad featuring the Hulk and Dr. Doom appeared (see my previous blog post) Marie contributed this charming illo of Kid Colt, from issue # 127, March 1966.

I'm curious if the MMMS was either advertised or mentioned in the Girl's titles (Millie the Model, Modeling with Millie, Patsy Walker, Patsy and Hedy). I have some example of those comics, but none with a reference to the club. It should be noted that the paid ads in these comics were usually different that those appearing in the rest of Marvel's line, although house ads for Millie and company still mentioned the Marvel brand and those titles also included letters pages. Any info would be appreciated and updated right here.

I hope you enjoyed this excursion down the dusty western trail.  


Thursday, September 6, 2012

More Early Marvel House Ads

We continue with an examination of more early Marvel house ads, including some promoting the MMMS

MMMS Ad from Amazing Spider-Man # 25, June 1965. Marie Severin art?

The Merry Marvel Marching Society was a fan club that was hinted at for many months throughout the line, in letters pages and the Special Announcements Section . Stan Lee came up with the idea of a fan club to engender brand loyalty and excitement for the entire line. This was not a new idea, as a little more than a decade earlier, in 1953, EC Comics had the EC Fan-Addict Club.   

As you can see, it appears that Lee patterened his club very much after Gaines'. Lee also had an employee who worked for Gaines at the time and likely colored the membership certificate: Marie Severin. Severin contributed to this club as well, drawing some of the material in the stationery kit that would be sent out to members. Marie recalled drawing the E. Pluribis Marvel Seal and likely drew the Hulk on the skratch pads. Marie also did some of the art in the full page ads that appeared in most Marvel comics in 1965 and 1966.     

From Amazing Spider-Man # 26, July 1965. Carl Hubbell art?

Marie was likely not the only artist who worked on the ads. While some ads employed stats from the regular series artists, others used new art based on artists such as Kirby and Ditko. Carl Hubbell, an artist who had worked at St. John Publishing, spent some time inking at Marvel in this period, mainly on Sgt. Fury and Rawhide Kid, and reportedly assisted on staff for a short time. Jameson's face, although based on a Ditko drawing, looks like it may be drawn by Hubbell. Incidentally, according to Roy Thomas, Hubbell was the artist who redrew a Ditko Spider-Man figure, changing him to the Looter in one panel of Amazing Spider-Man # 36, at the request of Lee.

Ad from Amazing Spider-Man # 27, Aug 1965. Marie Severin art?

Not only was Lee advertising the MMMS, he was also hawking a line of Tee-shirts featuring the Marvel heroes, with art by Kirby and Ditko (even the western heroes Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid recieved a tee-shirt, albeit a shared one). I always liked the line: "If you're unpopular..if you're unsuccessful..these won't help!" Every ad also featured the names of 25 different fans. Was YOUR name printed?

The Green Goblin figure, based on a Ditko drawing, looks like Marie's work.  

Ad from Fantastic Four # 39, June 1965. Brodsky art?

Brodsky may have drawn the Thing figure above. It doesn't look like Marie's work and it's definitely not a Kirby figure. It could be someone else, including Carl Hubbell, but I'm not certain.

Ad from Fantastic Four # 40, July 1965

I'm also unsure of the artist who drew Sue Storm. Something about the inking reminds me of Carl Hubbell, although its only a guess. 

Ad from Fantastic Four # 43, Oct 1965. Severin art ?

The drawing of the Torch looks like the work of Marie Severin, based on a Kirby drawing. The hand in particular has a very Severin feel.

Ad from Fantastic Four # 46, March 1966, Marie Severin story and art, with Kirby, Powell and Esposito Hulk.

Finally we come to the above ad that Roy Thomas recalled in an interview conducted by Dewey Cassell in his excellent new book, Marie Severin The Mirthful Mistress of Comics. Roy has this to say:

"Well, there's this ad with the Hulk and Dr. Doom that appears in one of the books, and as its printed, it has some drawings laid out by Kirby and I guess, finished up by Mike Esposito, at least as far as the Hulk, and the Doctor Doom figure is by Marie. But Marie had just been playing around and did this cartoon, even wrote it, basically, and most of her writing stayed, with a little editing from Stan in the printed ad.....and Stan, finally, at the last minute, decided he wanted the Hulk to look a little more like he did in the comic, so he changed him and left Doctor Doom, as I said. But I think it was that page. There may have been something else, too, but it was a page like that Martin Goodma saw that  made him tell Stan "She should be drawing some of the comics"... "    

Roy was correct about the ad. The Hulk figure was a stat from a recent Tales to Astonish story. It was laid out by Kirby, although Mike Espoito inked it over Bob Powell pencils. However, Marie's original version DID make it in print!

Ad from Amazing Spider-Man # 34, March 1966. Marie Severin's original version.

Somehow or other Marie's original version WAS published, in Amazing Spider-Man # 34. Checking through my collection, which includes all the hero titles, as well as Sgt. Fury (some titles did not include the ad), it appears that all the other ads used the Hulk stat. Apparently Lee or production man Sol Brodsky overlooked that one book and included Marie's version. Whatever the case, Marie did a fine and funny job on that ad, and Martin Goodman took note, leading to some outstanding work by her on features such as Sub-Mariner, Kull, Not Brand Echh, and, yes, the Hulk! 

Marie is a tremendous talent and deserves a post all her own, but I found this little surprise worth noting as I perused Marvel's house ads.