Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


TALES TO ASTONISH: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution. Ronin Ro. Bloomsbury; 2004.

NOTE: As previously noted, Great Old Movies will occasionally run reviews of comics and comics-related projects due to the similarity of the mediums of comics and film -- and the fact that more movies are inspired by comic books than is ever admitted!

While most people expect there to be all sorts of internecine quarrels behind the scenes of, say, an opera company or sitcom set, they may be surprised at all the squabbling that goes on behind the scenes of a comic book company. This highly entertaining and readable book, ostensibly a biography of Jack Kirby, documents the heady early days and troubled later years of Kirby, his frequent collaborator Stan Lee, Marvel Comics, and the other firms, including DC Comics, that they, especially Kirby, were also involved with as time went by. With Joe Simon, Kirby created Captain America back in the Golden Age of Comics during the forties. In the sixties, he and Lee collaborated on such characters as the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the Avengers, the X-Men, and many others. Kirby became disillusioned, then enraged by the perception that Lee – which he felt Lee fostered -- was the sole creator and writer on these various strips, when Kirby did much of the plotting and creating himself. Eventually Kirby left Marvel for rival DC Comics where he created his own “Fourth World” of comics characters such as The Forever People, Mister Miracle, and The New Gods – but DC Comics was dissatisfied with the books and canceled them prematurely. (Ironically, The Fourth World proved a major influence on the Star Wars movies and most of Kirby's characters, particularly the villainous Darkseid, are now a big part of the DC Comics Mythos.) It was also noted that Kirby's books suffered without the deft scripting of Lee, whose contribution to the Kirby-Lee comics could not, in truth, be underestimated. Still, Lee got too much of the credit as far as Kirby, and many others in the comics industry, felt. Ro's book is full of fascinating details such as how Kirby and Lee disagreed vehemently on the direction taken by the character the Silver Surfer, who had a brief popularity, and the way that DC Editors had another penciller replace Kirby's drawings of Superman's face so that the image would conform to the accepted version of the Man of Steel. While it is utterly ludicrous to compare Kirby to the likes of Michelangelo(!), as one person does, this book makes clear that he was an extremely talented and very influential artist whose imagery and style has resonated throughout the comics industry for generations and will undoubtedly continue to do so for many years to come

Verdict: Darn good read for comics and pop culture fans. ***1/2.

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