Friday, September 17, 2010

The Simon and Kirby Superheroes

It's taken me a couple of weeks to get around to reviewing The Simon and Kirby Superheroes, partly because my schedule has been hectic and partly because it took me that much time to work my way through this gigantic 480 page Omnibus of classic comic book work. You've heard me sing the praises of seminal comics artist Jack Kirby many times in the past and recently, thanks to last year's The Best of Simon and Kirby and to reprints of DC Comics' Sandman, Boy Commandos, and Newsboy Legion, I've been able to talk more about the long and impressive partnership of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
The Simon and Kirby Superheroes gives readers a look at much of the super hero work that S&K did for companies other than the big two, Marvel and DC. There are heroes here that the more casual comics reader may not be familiar with, such as Stuntman and the Black Owl. There are examples of S&K's work for MLJ (later Archie Comics) such as The Fly and Private Strong. And there's pretty much the entirety of Fighting American, which began as a 1950s retake on Captain America but turned into more of a parody of the Superhero genre. Amazing Stuff.
Being a long time fan and collector of Kirby I already owned a lot of this material in other forms. Fighting American was collected a couple of decades back (though the reproduction in the new book is much better) and I own the originals of The Double Life of Private Strong, The Fly and Captain 3-D. I also had some of the Stuntman material. However there's stuff in The Simon and Kirby Superheroes that has never been reprinted anywhere before and even I didn't have some of the more obscure stories. Besides, having all of this in one place is too good a deal to miss.
The great thing about the book is the sheer amount of gorgeous Simon and Kirby art. Figures leap and stretch across the pages, often seeming to threaten to break free of the panel borders. Kirby's art hadn't reached the level of personal expression that it would later find in the 1960s but you can see that style developing, especially as you reach the second half of the book. And speaking of personal I noticed something in a couple of these stories that I hadn't seen before and that's how much some of Kirby's female characters resemble his wife Rosalind. People have noted how some of Kirby's heroes resembled Jack over the years but that's the first time I really caught his wife's features on a couple of characters.
From a technical standpoint this is a fantastic package. The publishers, Titan Books, went to the trouble to size the book at 11" by 7-1/2" so that the comic pages could be printed at their original size. They used high quality paper and the restored color is vivid. There's some stuff I wasn't expecting, since they included the Captain 3-D story that S&K didn't draw, this one penciled by Mort Meskin and inked by a young Steve Ditko. (I'll have much more to say about Meskin soon, having just read a biography/study of this often overlooked comics talent last night.)
Anyway, I've noted in previous posts that the sheer amount of Jack Kirby (and Simon and Kirby) material being reprinted has allowed me to dedicate an entire shelf on one of my bookshelves to Kirby and with the addition of this huge and wonderful collection it looks like that may soon spill over to a second shelf, especially since Titan Books has further titles planned, featuring S&K's work in other genres such as Horror and Romance comics. If you're a student of the history of comic books or if, like me, you just love comics, you'll definitely want to pick up The Simon and Kirby Superheroes.

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