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CSBG Archive

Year of the Artist, Day 184: Jack Kirby, Part 8 – Captain America #211

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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 Captain America #211, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated July 1977. These scans are from the Captain America by Jack Kirby Omnibus, which came out in 2010. Enjoy!

Kirby went back to Marvel in 1975/1976 and took over Captain America, and his 22-issue run (plus two annuals and a special) is pretty bonkers, honestly. As with a lot of Kirby solo work, it’s kind of hard to even judge it because of the spectacle. Kirby took Cap and the Falcon (the title was changed include Sam) and simply threw them into one weird situation after another, and I wonder if anyone has ever broken down exactly how long all this stuff takes, because in “real time,” it feels like less than a month. It’s insane and glorious and totally Kirby. Toward the end of it, Kirby introduced Arnim Zola and brought back the Red Skull, because it’s a Cap story and of course the Red Skull is going to show up! I mean, really. But first! an added bonus from issue #198:

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Kirby didn’t do any single-page splashes in issue #211, so I thought I’d show this one from issue #198. When you consider that many splash pages these days feature one or two characters posing, this scene jumps off the page. Kirby leads us around the page very well, from the Falcon holding onto the dude who’s clutching the big machine on the right, so that we move from the upper left to the slightly lower right. The punk’s legs form a “roof,” if you will, over the two dudes falling down after being shot, while his arms and left leg frame the dude using the machine gun and the other dude getting shot. If we go from his crotch downward, we find the hand of yet another thug who’s been shot – at least he gets a line before he’s choked off. In the foreground, we get a bunch of blue-suited S.H.I.E.L.D. agents firing their weapons. In the lower right, one agent invites the reader into the frame, as he looks “out” at us and tells us to “rush ‘em!” It’s a clever device to make sure that the drawing isn’t too remote from us – we might be looking at it, but that guy helps draw us into the panel. Obviously, here we see more manifestations of the Mature Kirby, as he’s in complete command of the page, making sure that everything clicks together. As we’ll see, this is not an unusually busy panel in Kirby’s run, because Kirby liked his panels busy!

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As this is a big ol’ Omnibus, I can’t open it far enough to scan the art without some of it falling into the spine, so we get this poorly-scanned double-page spread. But I don’t care about the left side of the page. Let’s take a look at Donna Maria:

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Kirby in the 1970s drew women who could kick anyone’s ass (as opposed to Kirby in the 1960s, where his women tended to be a bit more waspish), and Donna Maria is a good example of that. Yes, she’s a bit freaked out by that thing crushing her arm, but I think everyone would be a bit freaked out by that. Kirby does a nice job with Donna Maria’s fearful face, as he widens her mouth and arches her eyebrows, while he or Mike Royer uses just a little hatching to make her face look more worried. Donna Maria’s hand is a bit weird, but let’s ignore it to drink in her magnificent body. Kirby liked wide torsos, which makes his large-breasted women look much more “normal” than what we usually get from comic artists, and Donna Maria has a fairly thick waist, which fits with her wider torso. She also has solid legs, as many Kirby women do. She is, in other words, in the proud tradition of Big Barda, as Kirby obviously dug large yet beautiful women.

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Zola, referring to himself in the third person like any good supervillain does, runs around his lair, and we get a bunch of Kirby-isms on one page, which is nice. First, there’s Zola’s design, which is nuts. I mean, why wear that little apron over your crotch, dude? What are you hiding? Zola’s lair, with its rough lines implying stone, clashes well with the Kirby Kontraption in Panel 3, which has the smooth and sleek lines of a futuristic machine. Kirby leads us well from Panel 1 to Panel 2 to Panel 3, where he tilts the floor just for the hell of it, even though Zola himself is not tilted, which means he’s leaning to his right as he enters the room. What’s up with that, Arnim? Kirby gives Zola a beautiful angry face in Panel 1, but then he’s weirdly satisfied in Panel 4 as he hooks himself up to the machine. Kirby’s design of Zola allows him to draw his trademarked wide Kirby face without worrying about it being too wide for the head, because it’s as wide as a torso! And as we’ve seen, the purple and orange/yellow color scheme on Zola looks good even when modern coloring techniques are applied to them. I don’t know if Kirby or colorist Glynis Wein came up with the scheme, but it was well done!

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On the next page, we get this tremendous display. I love pages like this, because they’re just bursting with energy, and Kirby does them so well. The Krackle from the “E.S.P. box” flows through every inch of the laboratory, almost overwhelming Donna Maria and Cap in Panel 5. I like two things especially on the page – in Panel 3, Kirby puts a dragon statue onto the futuristic machinery, because Zola is hanging out in a castle. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be a fancy staircase, which would make more sense, but Kirby’s blending of the medieval with the modern here is pretty neat. In Panel 5, he draws Donna Maria and Cap running very dramatically – they take big strides and swing their arms really wide. Comic artists draw characters running in different ways, but I like how Kirby does it, because it’s like he does everything – big and bold!

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Kirby wasn’t much for odd layouts, especially during this run of Captain America, but that doesn’t mean his pages are boring, because, as usual, he packs so much into each panel that it’s hard to catch your breath. Here’s a fairly standard six-panel grid, but look at all that happens on this page. The door handle tries to ensnare Donna Maria before Cap breaks it, swords and spears fly out of a column and almost obliterate our heroes, some kind of wooden furniture flies at the two of them, and the floor opens up and our heroes fall into it. Kirby drives us relentlessly across the page – the handle aims us to Panel 2, the weapons in Panel 3 fly across the gutter to Panel 4, Cap leaps over the furniture into Panel 6, and the hole falls off the page. Despite the fact that this was an era where no one used one word where five would do, Kirby’s pages never feel cluttered even though they could stand to lose some of the verbiage. It’s really a testament to how well he’s able to lay out a page even when he’s “just” using a simple grid. Meanwhile, once again we get the nice blending of medieval and futuristic, as the ornate door handle “comes to life,” which feels weird and science-fictiony, while the castle’s defenses are old-school swords and wood. Kirby brings them together well.

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While Cap is running around with a scantily-clad sex bomb, Sharon Carter is discovering that the Red Skull is behind all the skulduggery, which isn’t terribly surprising. Once again we get the six-panel grid, and in Panel 1, we get the one emotion Kirby doesn’t do too well, and that’s disgust. Sharon realizes that the Skull isn’t an old man, but someone wearing a mask, and her emotions don’t really match the impassioned exclamation about his “true face.” Kirby brings her eyebrows down to scrunch up her face a little, but other than that, Sharon doesn’t really look too horrified. That’s okay, though, because the rest of the page is nifty. The way Kirby stretches the mask in Panel 2 is grotesque, foreshadowing the reveal of the Skull’s face directly below it. Panel 3 is one of those Kool Kirby panels in that we see only the Skull’s hands holding Sharon’s, and we have to imagine both faces as she sees the Skull. Just the way he bends Sharon’s fingers and uses the motion lines to show her hands shaking gives us a good idea of how she’s reacting. Panels 5 and 6 are really nice, too, as Kirby doesn’t do anything different with the Skull, but the Skull has always been a really good visual villain, so Kirby shrinks his pupils and irises so that he looks more insane and gives him a mouth only an orthodontist could love. In Panel 6, the close-up is even better, as the eyes are even more insane and the Skull’s brows clamp down over his eyes, making him both crazy and terrifying. Kirby certainly knew what he was doing.

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This is the next time we see Cap after the floor swallows him, and Kirby shows him and Donna Maria emerging from the – frankly – anus-looking hole onto a rough ground. If someone hasn’t written a treatise on the sexual imagery in Kirby’s work, someone should. Then we get the eye, which is tremendous, as it connects this part of the story to the Red Skull’s blazing eyes, although this is a cooler blue and looks far less malevolent – it’s trying to kill Cap and Donna Maria, but only because it views them as intruders. In Panel 3, Kirby once again expands the space with an illusion, as Cap pushes Donna Maria off the panel (again, I apologize for the blurry scan), creating a sense that they’re in a vast chamber but also making the monster bigger simply by implying that two people can’t be in the same space as it is because it will drive them into the gutter itself. For some unknown reason, Cap calls Donna Maria “foxy lady” in Panel 4 (Kirby should have had her respond, “NOT THE FUCKING TIME, CAP!!!!”), and then we get that really nice final panel, as Cap and Donna Maria find themselves back in Zola’s lab. Kirby pushes Cap off to the side, both for mundane reasons – to fit the word balloons into the panel – and for aesthetic reasons, as it diminishes Cap just a little and allows Kirby to close in on his eye and mouth. Unlike the creature above but like the Skull, Cap’s pupil and iris are smaller, making him a bit more deranged as he challenges Zola’s madness. Kirby does insanity better than he does terror, as Cap’s eye and downturned mouth veer him toward losing his grip on reality. It’s a tremendous page, as it pushes Cap almost to his breaking point (he comes back, fret not!).

Kirby’s run on Captain America in the 1970s might have been the last great comic he worked on, although he never stopped working, of course. Tomorrow I think I’ll look at something a bit more personal to Kirby, if I can find it. If not, well, I’ll think of something. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out the archives!

14 Comments

Kirby in the 1970s drew women who could kick anyone’s ass (as opposed to Kirby in the 1960s, where his women tended to be a bit more waspish), and Donna Maria is a good example of that. Yes, she’s a bit freaked out by that thing crushing her arm, but I think everyone would be a bit freaked out by that. Kirby does a nice job with Donna Maria’s fearful face, as he widens her mouth and arches her eyebrows, while he or Mike Royer uses just a little hatching to make her face look more worried. Donna Maria’s hand is a bit weird, but let’s ignore it to drink in her magnificent body. Kirby liked wide torsos, which makes his large-breasted women look much more “normal” than what we usually get from comic artists, and Donna Maria has a fairly thick waist, which fits with her wider torso. She also has solid legs, as many Kirby women do. She is, in other words, in the proud tradition of Big Barda, as Kirby obviously dug large yet beautiful women.

I don’t have much to add except to say these are some very good observations. Especially the part about the wide torso and how that makes the large-breastedness appear more natural and attractive. One thing I hate about the 90s guys and their imitators is that weird big breast and microscopic waist with swayed hips combination that just looked all types of awful.

LouReedRichards

July 3, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Another great comic. This was the first issue of his Cap run that I owned, a personal favorite.

Even by Kirby’s standards this issue had a lot going on.

When you’re discussing Royer’s inking on Kirby I think you can safely assume any detail you’re seeing was penciled in by Kirby. Royer was just about 100% accurate to Kirby’s pencils, much more faithful to his pencils than probably any other inker up to that point.

Chris Schillig

July 3, 2014 at 4:20 pm

The ’70s Kirby run was my introduction to Captain America. It was gloriously weird. Long live the King.

T.: I just don’t get why every woman has to look the same, unless she’s a complete outlier, like Amanda Waller used to be. Especially, as you point out, that look is large-breasted with a tiny waist, which looks weird enough on real women, but is especially weird on comic women.

LouReedRichards: I’ve seen some of Kirby’s pencils, and I know how detailed they are, but I’m still never completely sure how much the inker adds. So I err on the side of caution and try to give the inkers credit!

I am a huge fan of these issues! I bought them out of the back issue bins in the early 1990s when I was in high school. Jack Kirby’s multi-part story with Arnim Zola and the Red Skull was really ,really bizarre but cool. And I have to admit that Kirby’s Donna Maria Puentes definitely attracted the attention of my teenage hormones.

With those wool socks and hiking boots, Donna Maria could almost be a Robert Crumb woman!

In the last page, the big blue eye, Cap’s shield (positioned the same as the eye, as if it were an eye), and the mouth almost form a face when viewed as a group.

I originally posted much of these comments in CSBG’s 31 Days of Comics, but it’s apropos, so I’ll repeat myself here.

Captain America #210 (one issue prior–my intro to the Captain) blew my little mind. I bought it for the cover, a bizarre Kirby konfection featuring a sort of cross between the Red Skull’s head and an octopus, its tentacles ensnaring Cap, Falcon, etc. Truth be told, it’s a slightly misleading cover as the Falcon appears in exactly 6 panels, and he’s “thousands of miles away” from the rest of the action. The Red Skull is hardly in it, either.

The main villain is the ever-freaky, just introduced Arnim Zola, the dude with his face in his torso. Hats off to Kirby, though…Zola’s not even the weirdest baddie in the ish! Nor is the goofy half bird/half yeti with Andy Rooney eyebrows! Nor is the living, mindless blob known as Doughboy! Rather, the oddest menace must be the creatures Zola forms to hunt down Captain America: a hopping froglike creature, and (most especially) a completely surreal 3-eyed surveillance monster. This last creature has two giant ears where its arms should be, and a huge eyeball where its mouth should be. Even in an issue stuffed with strangeness, it stands out. And, if you’re like me, this thing will populate your nightmares for years to come!

Now, this stuff might not be Kirby at his best. As Fabio P. Barbieri pointed out in the comments to an old Legends Revealed, “Captain America, in particular, was FANTASTICALLY badly plotted. By the time we get to the Arnim Zola story, there is practically no continuity from issue to issue – Zola acts on instructions that the Skull never gave him, Cap and Donna Maria recognize two monsters they have never seen before; and a good bit of space is wasted on a pointless jaunt by the Falcon, which is eventually settled off-panel.” Who cares? It has a ton of weird, genetically manipulated flesh monsters and a guy with a stomach face controlling them! AND it’s got a Hostess ad starring the Hulk!

Addendum: I was absolutely flabbergasted to see good ol’ Zola in an episode of the Avengers cartoon. Here I thought he was a one-shot WTF bit of Kirby kray-kray from the forgotten 70’s. I looked him up on Wikipedia and couldn’t believe what a huge role he has been playing in the Marvel Universe! Then, he even showed up in the Cap movie. Man, my secret little run was suddenly all over the place! This weird little run has been fueling the media for over 30 years!

Kirby can draw a sexy woman that actually could exist.

Kirby was giving us kick-ass women in the late 1960s — the earlier Kirby issues of the Captain America solo title that started after Tales of Suspense twice have Sharon Carter saving the day (and Cap) by defeating the villain outright!

Jeff Nettleton

July 4, 2014 at 10:13 pm

I remember seeing the debut of Arnim Zola, in the 70s and was totally freaked out by his design. It took a long time to really absorb that character. No one could have come up with him, other than Kirby.

Omar: Kirby had women kicking ass, sure, but I’m thinking of how he drew them – I know my Kirby knowledge from the 1960s is woefully inadequate, but it seems like he drew them more with smaller waists and slighter figures. They could still do well in a fight, but it seems like he moved toward zaftig women more in the 1970s. If that began in the late 1960s, I will bow to your knowledge!

I tend to view Kirby’s approach to depicting women as having started its evolution the moment he and Stan Lee throw Jane Foster out of the pages of Thor in favor of using Lady Sif as female lead. You can sort of see how the introduction of a more assertive, combative woman gets him start to playing with how he renders figures as he goes along from that point. Thematically speaking, you can usually draw a pretty good line from what Kirby was doing on Thor to what he does in his 1970’s output in general, as it always felt more “his” than Fantastic Four did (in the same way Dr. Strange felt more Ditko’s than Spider-Man did).

Any write-ups on the sexually expressive elements of Kirby’s work that I’ve seen usually deal with how his two, unused “Galaxy Green” pages really predicted the “contort figures to get as much T&A in panel as possible” trend from 90’s bad girl comics (which really, continues to this day as a lot of those guys are still getting high profile work). I think someone has done a write-up on Big Barda that dealt with those themes in his work too, but I can’t recall who.

Always dug his 70’s Cap run though. Would find issues of it at a used bookstore I frequented as a kid There’s just something really nightmarishly gripping about the visuals in those comics. The Night People stuff in particular, was rather haunting for me growing up.

Kirby had women kicking ass, sure, but I’m thinking of how he drew them – I know my Kirby knowledge from the 1960s is woefully inadequate, but it seems like he drew them more with smaller waists and slighter figures. They could still do well in a fight, but it seems like he moved toward zaftig women more in the 1970s. If that began in the late 1960s, I will bow to your knowledge!

Kirby’s figure drawing got, well, “beefier” in general towards the late 1960s and early 1970s, so his women were evolving towards somewhat fuller figures even then. The big shift does seem to happen around the time of his shift to DC in the 1970s, though.

Some of this seems to be that his inspirations shifted. Talking of Kirby’s sexual expressiveness, it’s widely recounted by Mark Evanier and others that Big Barda’s look was based on a Playboy photoshoot featuring Lainie Kazan, but also on his wife Roz Kirby, who would’ve been middle-aged at the time.

Thanks for featuring some 70’s Cap! My first introduction to the character was 205, with the energy creature from the future, Agron, inhabiting an old cadaver in a really weird sci-fi spectacle. Falcon wasn’t the only one who almost got his mind fried by this story!

Nice to see that ol’ Arnim Zola is still going strong in animation and the movies today.

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