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:




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.