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CSBG Archive

Year of the Artist, Day 182: Jack Kirby, Part 6 – Mister Miracle #2

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

18 Comments

Vince Coletta doesn’t really seem like himself in those pages. Much better than usual.

T.: Of course, the problem could be that it’s not the original issue. I don’t if DC “cleaned up” any of the art for the trade – I’m glad they didn’t recolor it with modern techniques, but I’m not positive how the issue actually looks.

Man, I just can’t read Granny’s dialogue without hearing Ed Asner’s voice.

tom fitzpatrick

July 1, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Y’know, thinking back, my first Kirby exposure was probably either Captain Victory (Pacific Comics) or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The latter was a weird book for Marvel. It started out as a movie adaptation series (or mini-series) which slowly morphed into a spin-off of a Marvel super-hero book called Machine Man. I cant remember if Kirby continued drawing the Machine Man of the first series, but the character, Aaron Stack or X-51 went on to be used time and time again to this day.

My point is: so many of Kirbys creations or books is still used to this day. Who would have thought that Kirby would be responsible for so many lasting characters.

Overlord looks to me like MODOK and Master Mold had an unfortunate teleportation accident.

Some of the earliest material by Jack Kirby that I read, via back issues, were his comic books from the 1970s. In the early 1990s, when i was in high school, before EVERYTHING that he had ever done was collected into trade paperbacks and hardcovers, back issues were pretty much the only way to read the books Kirby had worked on. And the material from the 1970s was usually much more affordable & easy to locate than the books from the previous decade. And then DC published those black & white collections of the Fourth World books. So yeah, I have a real fondness for Kirby’s work from this period, and I’m glad to see it spotlighted.

By the way, Greg, I was wondering if that “Klassic Kirby Kreation” Overlord could possibly have been reminding you of the cover to Eternals #1 which although it was drawn several years later is a much more famous image…

http://www.comics.org/issue/30016/cover/4/

Mister Miracle was always my personal favorite of Kirby’s Fourth World books, in part because it felt like it was the one book in the series that could stand on its own but still clearly connected to the larger story. Still haven’t read the whole run though, I think the earliest issue I own is #3.

Overlord there immediately reminded me of Gil Kane’s Brainiac redesign, with a bit of Quintesson (from the Transformers) thrown in there, but both of those were from more than a decade later. Which probably says a bit about just how influential Kirby was to the look of cosmic style Science-Fantasy.

I thought of Gil Kane’s Brainiac as well.

And similarly, Mr. Miracle was my favorite of the Fourth World books (which I just blogged about about recently). “New Gods” was the most important to the plot, but “Mister Miracle” was where you got the emotional / character depth.

Overlord’s head looks a lot like the mid-1980s reborn Brainiac. Maybe it was suggested by Kirby for the Superpowers toy line?

Ben: No, it’s not the Eternals. It is, in fact Brainiac. Thanks, Mr. JR and Luis, for reminding me! It was really bugging me.

Yeah, now that you, Mr. JR and Luis mention it, I actually do see the resemblance to Ed Hannigan’s redesign of Brainiac.

The last few pages are a lot less Kirbyesque, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Kirby breakdowns with Colletta finishes or DC did something to the art for the reprint.

Pete Woodhouse

July 2, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Judging from memory, Colletta didn’t do too horrendous a job on his DC Kirby stuff, but he suffered in comparison to his replacement Mike Royer, who in my opinion was Kirby’s best inker apart from Joe Sinnott. Also, the episode where he was showing Kirby’s art around Marvel (which I believe is quite well-known in comics fandom – certainly silver/bronze age fandom – so I agree with you, Greg) obviously did Colletta no favours…

But yes, the art does seem uncommonly good so I wonder whether it has been touched-up in reprint.
I don’t have easy access to my original Fourth World issues. If I manage to dig them out, I’ll get back to you.

Great feature – where’s parts 1 to 5?

Pete: I linked to Parts 1-5 – they were the first five days I did this year! :)

Pete Woodhouse

July 2, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Sorry Greg I missed your link! Nice that you’re showing Mr Miracle, the most accessible and stand-alone of the Fourth World stuff, and Omac. Kirby’s 70s stuff is not as highly-regarded but well worth checking out.

The Eternals is the closest of his Marvel stuff to what he was getting at with the New Gods, etc, at DC.

Kirby really loved his big-domed characters, didn’t he?

Oh, that’s right, Hannigan did the design while Kane drew the first full story with the new look. Had forgotten that, always seem to associate that version of Brainiac with Kane.

Speaking of which, Gil Kane would be a great artist to cover, if you have the material to do so!

Mr. JR: Kane is on my list, but I haven’t looked to see how much early stuff of his I own. Anyone who began in the 1960s and earlier is a bit dicey, because I just don’t have a lot from that era.

Jeff Nettleton

July 4, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Mister Miracle was always my favorite Fourth World book (with Jimmy Olsen a close second). New Gods had the more powerful stories; but, Mister Miracle couldn’t be beat, for sheer inventiveness. Also, I thought Kirby’s dialogue was much better in those books. Love the cover to that issue, one of my Kirby favorites.

In regards to the sales of the books; Paul Levitz has gone on record in saying that the sales figures were on par with a lot of DC books of the time; but, that Kirby’s page rate meant that they weren’t viewed as high enough to justify his pay, in DC’s eyes.

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