Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Human Torch

Martin Goodman always felt The Human Torch (a misnomer as he was an android) was a "good luck charm", as when he decided to have HT on the cover of MARVEL COMICS #1 instead of Sub-Mariner, it became a hit.  After that, he insisted on The Human Torch (or, at least, A Human Torch) being in most of his anthologies.  When it was decided to start doing superheroes again in 1961, sure enough, one of the FANTASTIC FOUR was "The Human Torch"-- although, this time, like DC's late-50's superhero "revivals" (Flash, Green Lantern, etc.), it was an entirely new version of the character-- and this time, he actually was a human being, in the form of Johnny Storm, "kid brother" of Sue Storm, The Invisible Girl.

Success breeds excess, so Goodman decided to spin-off one of the members of the F.F. into his own series.  If you've noticed a pattern here, it should be no surprise it was Johnny Storm, The Human Torch!

Now, over the years, it's become habitual for most Marvel fans to belittle and look down their noses at this spin-off series. Sure, it's never rises to the creative or artistic heights of its parent book, or even THE INCREDIBLE HULK for that matter.  But I have to say, ever since the entire series was collected in ESSENTIAL HUMAN TORCH Vol.1 (and only, heh), it's had a special place in my heart.  Why? Well... it's FUN!

There's basically 3 periods of the run.  The first has stories & art by Jack Kirby, inks by Dick Ayers, and dialogue by Larry Lieber.  There's a certain continuity here, for not only did Kirby & Ayers both work together on the F.F., but back in the 1950's, Ayers did full art on the 50's revival of the original HUMAN TORCH.  I must say at this point, that having read a sampling of the original character's stories, both from the 40's and the 50's, not one of them (NOT ONE!!!) has really impressed me.  Not so Johnny Storm's stories.  Now, it's been said they're a lot like what you might have gotten if Kirby was still working for DC... well, all I have to say about that is, even at DC, Kirby was STILL better than most of the guys they had working for them.  Put another way, Johnny's solo stories may not be as good as F.F. stories, but they STILL manage to be better than, say, SUPERBOY stories.

The 2nd part of the run has stories & art by Dick Ayers.  And again, while his stuff may not be as imaginative as Kirby's, they make up for it by being MORE FUN.  I think it helps if you picture Johnny's stories as being like a TV sitcom, where the main character just happens to have super-powers.

The 3rd part of the run saw Ayers replaced by Bob Powell, and an ever-rotating roster of writers & inkers.  For whatever reason, Powell, a real star in his own right in the 1950's, NEVER seemed to fit in at Marvel.  Maybe it was because he didn't like doing his own stories, which was something editor Stan Lee insisted on.  Had it been the early 70's (or even late 60's), there might have been a place for him (even as there was for George Tuska and Jim Mooney).  Ah well.  Powell was around a long time, and his period at Marvel amounts to little more than an ill-advised blip.  In 1966, he did some really classic art, when he was teamed with painter Norm Saunders on the BATMAN bubble-gum cards!

Anyway, this has been more long-winded than usual for me (at least, at this blog).  So, here we go, lovingly, painstakingly restored, are the early STRANGE TALES covers featuring Johnny Storm.  Enjoy!

STRANGE TALES 101  /  art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (October 1962) 
STRANGE TALES 102  /  art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (November 1962) 
STRANGE TALES 103  /  art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (December 1962) 
STRANGE TALES 104  /  art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (January 1963) 
STRANGE TALES 105  /  art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (February 1963) 
art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (March 1963)
art by Jack Kirby & Sol Brodsky   (April 1963)
art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (May 1963)
art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (June 1963)

Although he'd done a few stories already, this was the point where Dick Ayers really took over the series full-time.  This particular story was the first-ever team-up of The Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete, which proved to be a lifelong partnership.  It was also written almost entirely for laughs, with dialogue by Ernie Hart, whose writing, it turns out, was a LOT funnier than Stan Lee's!

Meanwhile... you'd never guess that Steve Ditko's brand-new creation,  
Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic, debuted in this issue!  Was his
editor trying to see him fall flat on his face?

art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (July 1963)
(Continued in Part 2)

Artwork (C) Marvel Comics
Scans supplied by Barry Pearl
Restorations by Henry R. Kujawa

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fantastic Four

JACK KIRBY was possibly the single most creative person to ever work in the comics industry in America.  A professional since 1937, he did it all-- concept, design, writing, pencils, inks, and even colors (though he usually did that "for fun" in his spare time).  Early-on, his work appeared in publications from Lincoln Feature Syndicate, TEM Publishing, Fox Feature Syndicate, Novelty Press, Worth Publishing, Timely Publications (later known as Marvel Comics), Fiction House, Prize Comics, and Fawcett Publications.  Kirby & his business partner Joe Simon struck a deal with Timely publisher Martin Goodman to create a new "patriotic" hero in answer to MLJ's The Shield-- CAPTAIN AMERICA. The book became a million-seller, and S&K were contractually guaranteed royalties on the sales.  Unfortunately, in a move that seems to be standard operating practice in Hollywood, Goodman's accountant "cooked the books" to hide the sales in a move to deprive them of what they had due IN WRITING.  Simon's answer was to sign with National Periodical Publications (later known as DC Comics Inc.) for double the page rates and no accompanying editorial duties to get in the way.

Following World War 2, the duo reunited and, despite an early slump due to the post-war boom that saw too much product and not enough shelf space, they eventually rebounded, creating the "romance" comics genre, and had another MILLION-seller on their hands.  Publishers Kirby's work appeared in during this time included Harvey, J.C. Penney Co., Hillman, Crestwood and Prize.  Things only took a wrong turn when they decided to start THEIR OWN company-- Mainline-- which, tragically, fell victim to the early-50's WITCH-HUNT spurred on by crackpot psychiatrist Frederic Wetham's ham-fisted "expose" book, "Seduction Of The Innocent", which tried to blame all juvenile delinquency on... COMIC-BOOKS.

After Joe Simon decided to get out of comics (for awhile), Kirby scrambed to find what work he could. In late 1956 he wound up doing some for the last place he ever wanted to be again-- Martin Goodman's Marvel Comics. Before long he found more at National / DC, and in addition to HOUSE OF MYSTERY stories, revamped the dull-as-dirt Green Arrow.  He also created a new "adventure team" in the form of CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN.  It became a hit, especially when science-fiction artist Wally Wood began doing the inks.  This is turn led to an opportunity that must have seemed too good to turn down, a chance to do a science-fiction newspaper strip-- SKY MASTERS OF THE SPACE FORCE, also with Wood on inks.  The deal proved a bad one, and led to a lawsuit over a "finder's fee" payment.  The result was all of Kirby's DC work vanished overnight, and he found himself forced to return to Marvel, which was on the verge of shutting down following a disastrous distribution debacle.

From the first, spurred on by desperation and a belief in his own powers of creativity, Kirby urged his editor to try reviving costumed heroes as he'd done with the CHALLENGERS. Instead, he spent the next couple years doing mostly westerns and giant-monster stories.  Finally, in mid-1961, publisher Goodman, no doubt seeing the success of rival DC's revivals of THE FLASH, GREEN LANTERN and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, gave the okay.  (Goodman always imitated what someone else was already having success with.)

The result managed to combine, in one title, costumed heroes, giant monsters, and the "kid gang" and "smartass teen humor" formula Kirby had used so many times before (only, like CHALLENGERS, with adults-- albeit ones who often acted like kids).  Somehow, it wasn't QUITE like anything that had been seen before.  For many comics fans, THE FANTASTIC FOUR would become the one series Jack Kirby was MOST associated with out of his entire long career! 

FANTASTIC FOUR 1  /  art by Jack Kirby & George Klein   (November 1961)
FANTASTIC FOUR 2  /  art by Jack Kirby & George Klein   (January 1962)
FANTASTIC FOUR 3  /  rejected art by Jack Kirby & Sol Brodsky   (March 1962)
FANTASTIC FOUR 3  /  art by Jack Kirby & Sol Brodsky   (March 1962)
FANTASTIC FOUR 4  /  art by Jack Kirby & Sol Brodsky   (May 1962)
FANTASTIC FOUR 5  /  art by Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott   (July 1962)
FANTASTIC FOUR 6  /  art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (September 1962)
FANTASTIC FOUR 7  /  art by JACK KIRBY   (October 1962)
FANTASTIC FOUR 8  /  art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (November 1962)

FANTASTIC FOUR 9  /  art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (December 1962)
FANTASTIC FOUR 10  /  art by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers   (January 1963)
(Continued in Part 2)

I figured with Nick Simon's Silver Age Marvel site down for the forseeable future, I might as well start posting some more of my "restorations" here, since, at the moment, this is the only place most people are gonna have a chance to see 'em.

One of the great unsung heroes of early-60's Marvel was Stan Goldberg, who back then, colored pretty much EVERY book they put out! While the extremely primitive technical conditions (and uncaring people at the engravers) did no service to most of the interiors, Goldberg somehow managed to work miracles on the covers, and for the most part, HIS color work has never even been attempted in reprints.  But here it is, in all its original scanned-in / Photoshop cleaned-up glory!!!

(4-8-2013)  I just dug out the files for these and have begun doing ADDITIONAL clean-ups.  So if you've come here before, these are going to look BETTER than they did before!  (Pass it on...)

(8-20-13)  I decided to go back and add a text intro as I'd done with my DAREDEVIL section and the various later pages of the FOURTH WORLD section. It seemed called for, given the crucial and pivotal nature of the FF series.

Artwork (C) Marvel Comics

Raw scans supplied by Barry Pearl
Scan of FF #3 rejected version from FANTASTIC FOUR #224 (Nov'80)

Restorations by Henry R. Kujawa

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fourth World, Part 5

(Continued from Part 4)

MISTER MIRACLE 7  /  art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer   (April 1972)

FOREVER PEOPLE 8  /  art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer   (May 1972)

NEW GODS 8  /  art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer   (May 1972)
JIMMY OLSEN 150  /  art by BOB OSKNER   (June 1972)
MISTER MIRACLE 8  /  art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer   (June 1972)

FOREVER PEOPLE 9  /  art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer   (July 1972)
NEW GODS 9  /  art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer   (July 1972)
MISTER MIRACLE 9  /  art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer   (August 1972)
art by ALAN WEISS   (August 1972)

art by MIKE KALUTA   (August 1972)
art by Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsly & Bob Oksner   (September 1972)

FOREVER PEOPLE 10  /  art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer   (September 1972)

(Continued in Part 6)

For in-depth reviews and a fascinating discussion of these issues, go to the CAPTAIN COMICS message board...

Artwork (C) DC Comics Inc.
Scans from my collection.
Restorations by Henry R. Kujawa