The House That Who Built? (with apologies to Bob, Tom, and probably every other Silver Age Marvel aficionado, except for, possibly, Neilalien…)

(Soundtrack: Le Tigre — This Island)

So, I’ve been spending some time lately with the newest issue of Roy Thomas’Alter Ego (featuring entries on Werner Roth, Don Heck, and Paul Reinman by Nicholas Caputo) and the second volume of Essential Daredevil, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this Jack Kirby stuff has just got to stop! Wait a sec now–I don’t wanna fight! Hear me out!

If you’ve read this blog at all then you know that I consider the whole Marvel superhero line (and every editorial/fan transaction published therein) from 1961 to the late eighties to be one giant masterwork, and, obviously, the Fantastic Four is the first chapter of the metanovel. I think Jack Kirby is great. I agree with everyone from ADD to Seth that the King’s neo-vorticist style is fascinating to look at. However, were I to name my favourite “Marvel moments” of the 60’s and early 70’s, I’d have to get through a lot of stuff drawn by Ditko (ASM #1-38, Strange Tales #110-146); Gene Colan (DD, Doctor Strange, Captain America, Iron Man, Sub-mariner); Frank Brunner (Dr. Strange with Englehart); Don Heck (Iron Man, Avengers), John Romita (ASM), Gil Kane (ditto), Ross Andru (again), Steranko (SHIELD); the Buscemas (Avengers with Roy Thomas); and Werner Roth (X-Men, also with the Rascally One) before I made it to mid-sixties FF and Thor, and we’d be near the bottom of the list before his Captain America made it onto the radar. Of these artists, I would say that only Steranko was influenced by Kirby! Yes, the rest of them worked under almost continuous pressure from Stan Lee to conform to the “house style”, but don’t you agree that it’s a good thing that they mainly resisted this pressure? Have there ever been two superhero artists more different from Kirby than Ditko and Colan?

The King’s world is at right-angles to the stars; Ditko’s art–even when it goes psychedelic (or didactic!)–is fleshier and more humanistic than most humans can bear to look at; and Colan’s figures are passionate waxworks that melt instead of move. As for Don Heck and Werner Roth, well, I just think those guys were better at telling the kind of story that I like… I’m not interested in BIG epics, I like little ones… I want the emotions turned up to the max, I just don’t think the stakes need to be any higher than who is going to wind up dating whom. Otherwise it’s distracting. Because the real question, for me, is: how badly is the villain’s arrival going to screw up the romance? Not: can the world survive? Guess that’s why I love the Thomas/Roth X-Men so much!

I understand the appeal of “The Coming of Galactus”, and I like it fine, but it sure ain’t my synecdochic Marvel story.

What say you Merry Marchers? Am I off my nut?

Good night friends!




  1. No one who loves Colan’s artwork is off their nut. The reason why I think that Kirby is the first name mentioned most of the time is that he was the co-creator for so much of the universe. Not all of it of course. The biggest character out of Marvel ever is probably Spider-Man. But the atmosphere and creativity that Kirby showed in his comics influenced so much at Marvel (and pretty soon everyone else). Even without Lee pushing Heck and Ayers and other to draw like Kirby I still think he would pretty much the same influence.

    With 60’s Marvel and then the Fourth World Kirby was creating entire worlds with his work. The only artists I think also did that were Ditko, Romita and Colan. Kane might be a bigger influence than Kirby (certainly has been swiped from more) but he’s known more for what he did with anotomy and posing than creating these worlds.

    Ian Brill

  2. Yes, I’d say you’ve always been off your nut, but then again that’s why we like you. I think that both stories belong at Marvel. I used to love that in one issue Eric The Red or some villain would wisk the X-men off on some mission into space and a few issues later they are in a bar, Storm is in her garden, they’re out by the lake, or playing baseball for an issue. That’s the greatness of the old Marvel stuff. The fact that from their stories to their artists and writers anything could happen… and it did. I’m sort of getting that feeling more from DC these days, but it’s not quite the same.

  3. For myself, classic Marvel is actually a creation of, well, Roy Thomas: give me the Kree/Skrull War anyday. My favorite Marvel heads were writers like Thomas, Englehart, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Gerber, the aforementioned Mantlo, of course Marv Wolfman… while I have issues with the ‘fanboyization of Comics’ (actually, I really only have issues with the ‘marvelization of DC’, because the fanboys were very very good to Marvel) these are the guys who wrote the stories I loved and are the guys I think of. Stan and Jack were before my time: I wasn’t even alive yet when they were working, and while I recognize and salute what they did, it’s not my Marvel.

    Barry Windsor-Smith, Sal Buscema, Perez and Adams are the artists I think of. Ditko’d gone off into didactic tirades and Kirby’d moved on… My Marvel is the Marvel Comics of 1977-1986, really, and the immediate predecessors I got to read in back issues.

    – Matt

  4. you’ll never hear me complaining about what Roy and the rest of the fanboy-writers wrought Matt! They made my Marvel too–and they cast such a spell upon my teenaged mind that I was compelled to work all kinds of extra jobs in order to gain access to all of that stuff that happened during the 25 years that I missed! The more I revisit Thomas’s work (at both corps!), in particular, the more I love it!


  5. As epic as Owsley’s run on Conan was, I still think Thomas got the feel much better. Owsley almost “civilised” the barbarian too much. And I still can’t get over Captain Carrot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s