Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pop reviews: Marvel's Complete Invaders; Jack Kirby - A Personal View

What I've been watching, hearing, reading, etc.


I probably shouldn't admit this, but much of what I know about World War II, I learned reading Roy Thomas comic books.

I was a big fan of Marvel's "Invaders" in the 1970s and DC's "All-Star Squadron" in the 1980s, both scripted by Thomas, and both featuring iconic superheroes battling Axis troops and assorted Nazi baddies.

On both books, Thomas was a whiz at keeping the action flowing, but also managed to work in a lot of history. Never breaking the flow of the story, but adding richness to the period detail, he'd include little footnotes about historical events; define military jargon, 40s slang and German phrases, and share a wealth of information about Golden Age comics to boot.

So, it's been fun revisiting some of those stories over the past week or so via "The Complete Invaders," a recent 500-page paperback that collects the first chunk of Roy's run in full-color.

The reproduction is great and the stories hold up well. With Captain America -- along with the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner -- in their ranks, I'm sure the "Invaders" likely appeal to fans of the first Cap movie and it's WWII setting.

There's no deep digging into character here, as compared to other 1970s Marvel stories - just some routine squabbling amongst the key characters when they aren't busy knocking Nazi's skulls together. But there are some great plot twists and incidental characters, such as "Brain Drain" - Nazi genius that's essentially a pair of floating eyes and disembodied brain in a glass bottle - and the first appearances by Nazi vampire Baron Blood and Brit superhero Union Jack.

It reads well in collected form, too, with stories holding your interest and building from issue to issue. It makes you recall how good Marvel was at this sort of thing back in the Bronze Age, and how disjointed and padded out most  single-issue comics are today.

I remember many fans taking issue with comic strip vet Frank Robbins' art on this title, but I love it. His line is jagged and heavy. His figures and faces are cartoony. And he takes liberties with dynamic foreshortening that might give even Jack Kirby pause. But the art just works. It has a 40s feel and Robbins' visual storytelling and flow of action is superb.

A second volume rounding up the 1970s run is due out in December.



I'm a fan of Kickstarter as a concept and have donated to a few projects here and there, but I think Jeremy Kirby's new book about his grandfather, Jack, is the first actual product I've received as a result.

"Jack Kirby: A Personal View" is just that - a collection of family photos depicting America's most influential comic book artist at home and relaxed. There's not a wealth of biographical detail or Kirby artworks on display, but the photographs tell a story remarkably talented, hardworking and family-loving man.

Along with the photos, there's the text of an original play/screenplay Kirby wrote - a family melodrama, not a tale about superheroes or fantastical gods. It's interesting to read Kirby's dialogue and see his plotting in text. Much of the writing is quite good and the dialogue is more natural that that used in his self-scripted works of the 1970s and 80s, though the plot is not terribly strong.

The book should be of interest to the growing number of comics and Kirby scholars out there.

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