An "X-Force" To Be Reckoned With - Marvel's Mutant Militia Turns 25
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jack Kirby, and the issue is Mister Miracle #2, which was published by DC and is cover dated June 1971. These scans are from the trade paperback Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus volume one, which came out in 2007. Enjoy!
I still haven’t read Kirby’s 1970s DC work, because I have a lot of comics to read, maaaaaan, and Kirby’s are, typically, both verbose and voluminous. In retrospect, Kirby’s New Gods epic running through a bunch of titles looks like a wonderful idea, with one creator controlling a bunch of different threads to tell one story, but at the time … well, it didn’t sell for shit (I mean, some issues probably dropped beneath 200,000 copies sold!), so DC pulled the plug and Kirby slunk back to Marvel. Kirby in the 1970s wasn’t treated any better than Kirby in any other decade, but dang, the comics look great. I wanted to take a look at his early DC work, when Vince Colletta was still inking him, and then take a look at some of his work when Mike Royer took over on inks. Mister Miracle #2 is early enough in the saga (it’s the 11th issue) that Colletta was still inking Kirby, but it’s also after he got some growing pains that are evident on Jimmy Olsen out of his system. So let’s take a look!
This is the first page of the issue, and it shows how confident Kirby, at age 52/53 (he turned 53 in August 1970, and probably drew this before that, even though it didn’t come out until months later), had become. He has three different layers of art and text working here, yet it all fits together very well. Scott and Oberon are assembling a Mister Miracle robot, so we get an introduction to them (including Oberon’s awkward-yet-perfectly-natural-for-the-time use of Scott’s full name) and even the fact that Scott appears to live in suburbia, although it’s not actually his house (it belongs to the original Mister Miracle, who is killed in issue #1). Overlaid on that banal scene is the panel border design, which is typical Kirby metallic contraption, with lots of insect-like segments and flexible loops and whorls. Finally, we get Overlord’s ticker tape, which introduces him (it?) and its mission. According to the Grand Comics Database, John Costanza lettered this issue, and his Times New Roman-esque font for Overlord’s text gives it a clinical and robotic feeling to it. Kirby makes sure that, while Scott and Oberon aren’t doing anything terribly interesting for the first three pages, the way he adds Overlord’s threats and the metallic panel borders creates a good deal of tension.
Overlord is a pretty Klassic Kirby Kreation, what with the many shiny metallic plates, the intricate circuitry, and the general air of menace. Kirby gives it a large “head” and a pinched “face,” with tiny “eyes,” a pug “nose,” and a sour-looking “mouth” – it’s bugging me that I can’t think of what it reminds me of (yes, M.O.D.O.K., but something else, too). I always love how Kirby takes inhuman-looking things and makes them look alive, so that the clam shells that function as Overlord’s eyes give it a somewhat dyspeptic look. There’s also an odd childlike vibe about Overlord (which is deliberate), in that it has the large head but stubby “arms” and, again, that unpleasant, almost whiny “face.” The biggest problem with this page might be that Kirby never makes it clear where Overlord is, and as on the next page that energy bolt, it seems, almost kills Scott, the fact that Overlord isn’t near Scott is a bit weird. Oh well!
Oh, hey, Granny Goodness, how ya doin’ there? Yeah, not well. Kirby was really good at drawing grotesque characters – he was firmly of the mindset that a comic character’s exterior matched their interior, as I (and many others) have noted before – and Granny is an interesting example, because she’s an old evil woman, which is not terribly common in the annals of superhero comics. Kirby gives us that tremendous Kirby face, flatter and wider than most artists, and he distorts both Granny’s eye shape and the shape and length of her eyebrows (look at that right one – it’s going to take over her face!) to give us a maximum effect. He gives her wrinkles under the eyes and around her mouth as she becomes more and more shrill, and it’s interesting that Kirby plays on the fears of the elderly quite well here. Granny is evil, but she’s also terribly lonely, left behind by the orphans she abuses, which she sees as a kind of love. In this panel, Granny is almost insane with rage that Scott left her, and she’s determined to rein in the “rebellious boy.” Granny is still evil, but she’s the most sympathetic of Darkseid’s minions, as she honestly believes she’s doing some good for the children and it bothers her when they don’t see that.
Granny manages to kidnap Oberon, and when Scott arrives to rescue him, Granny maneuvers him into the “X-Pit.” Kirby was always good at designing a page, and we see that here. In Panel 1, he draws Scott and Oberon against the border, which implies there’s a floor right there even though there’s not. Because he’s Kirby, he draws the machinery underneath the floor, giving us a cross-section to show it all. The Kirby Krackle acts as energy powering … something, and it cleverly makes the hard-edged machinery a bit more alive, as it snakes its way through the straight lines and precise angles. In Panel 2, we get a sense of how far down the hole goes, as Kirby draws Scott and Oberon at the bottom and uses long rectangles and plunging lines to highlight the depth of the hole and make it appear that the walls are crashing down on them. In Panel 3, he focuses our attention on the cage, as the shapes all converge on it. This is a frenetic page, like so many of Kirby’s are, but it also shows how well he manipulates the view of the reader.
Here’s where I’m not sure if this is all Kirby or if Colletta did some heavy lifting. The spot blacks on this page, especially Panel 1, are really nice, showing the surging of the mud that threatens to drown our heroes. It makes the mud look tackier, viscous, and even a bit evil. Panel 1 is a bit impressionistic, as the mud flows down on Scott and Oberon, drenching them. But did Kirby do all of that, or did Colletta add more in? Kirby or DC famously (is it famous?) fired Colletta when he was showing pages of Kirby’s DC stuff around the Marvel offices, and I know Colletta has a less-than-stellar reputation in some circles of comicdom (I don’t know enough about him to have an opinion), but if he had anything to do with this page looking as mucky as it does, then he deserves some credit, doesn’t he?
Here’s the payoff of the scene earlier, as Granny reacts to the “death” of Overlord, which Scott caused. Granny’s pathetic face in Panel 2 is more human than the one we saw earlier, even though we could see hints of it above. Then, in Panel 3, Kirby twists it again into hatred for Scott, and it’s a good transition. Kirby was very flexible, and rushing through emotions like this was old hat for him. He even makes Scott look proud in Panel 1 even though he’s wearing a mask. Kirby was a bombastic writer, but he was able to get some nice human moments into his comics, which made them have more of an impact. Granny’s wailing and her crestfallen face in Panel 2 is the mark of someone losing something they love, even if Granny isn’t quite sure what “love” is. It’s a nice moment.
So Kirby was off and running at DC, and while all didn’t turn out well, we got five years of astonishing art out of it. So much to choose from! What could be next? Come back and check it out, and don’t forget to take a stroll through the archives, where you can find Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the King’s work!
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