Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 4

Published: June 5th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 272 Pages

Review:

I’ve been blowing through these Fantastic Four – Masterworks collections pretty fast. But these represent the collaboration of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at its best while also showcasing the earliest stages of the Marvel universe, as it was still developing, taking shape and hitting its stride.

This one kicks off with the second Fantastic Four annual and then collects issues 31 through 40.

I’ve always wanted to read the second annual and man, it did not disappoint. It actually tells the origin of Doctor Doom, as well as showing him meet Rama-Tut a.k.a. Kang the Conqueror for the first time. I knew enough of what was in this massive 72-page issue but I never got to read it until now.

Beyond that, this gives us more Namor, the return of the Mole Man, as well as a great Skrull story. Probably my two favorite things come in the second half though, which sees the debut of the villainous Frightful Four, as well as the first time that the Fantastic Four meet Daredevil, which is a great story on its own.

This was a real high point for me in the overall grander Fantastic Four mythos. A lot of cool stuff happens and this just keeps building up the Marvel universe in a great way.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 3

Published: March 6th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 247 Pages

Review:

Man, I’m really glad that I started reading Fantastic Four from the beginning. There’s just something unique and truly special about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creations and collaborations. And while these stories are hokey and not as refined as they would become, it’s really cool seeing the earliest version of the Marvel universe take shape.

Each volume in the Masterworks releases really builds off of the previous ones and expands the larger universe more and more.

Here, we get to see stories with the Avengers, as well as the X-Men, bringing several core Marvel characters together in their earliest days. I also liked that the Hulk came back for a multi-part story arc. Although, this one was lacking in Spider-Man magic. But I also just love old school Spidey and FF stories.

This brings back most of the main villains from previous issues and even introduces some new ones like The Hate-Monger. I actually own that comic in its original floppy form, so reading it here means that I don’t have to physically touch my already weathered copy.

Stan Lee really seems to be hitting his stride with these characters and these stories while Jack Kirby’s art seems a bit more fine tuned and dynamic. Granted, Kirby was one of the most dynamic comic book artists in history but his work in this collection really shows how much he’s enjoying drawing these characters. It just has this little extra flair that’s hard to describe. I guess it’s like eating a meal made with love, as opposed to eating a meal that was just made out of necessity.

Overall, this was thoroughly enjoyable and it kept moving the story forward while constructing a very young universe that would grow into something massive.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 2

Published: June 24th, 2009
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers

Marvel Comics, 298 Pages

Review:

While this isn’t the peak of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby 100-issue run on the Fantastic Four, they really start to slide into their grove here, as the larger Marvel universe has expanded and this is the first collection that sees the Fantastic Four meet other heroes.

In this volume, we get to see them meet the Hulk, Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Wasp for the first time in Fantastic Four titles. The Hulk issue is particularly important, as it is the first time that Stan Lee created heroes crossed over in Marvel continuity.

In addition to that, we get more stories featuring Namor, Doctor Doom, the Puppet Master, as well as new villains like the Super Skrull, the Impossible Man, Molecule Man, the Mad Thinker and Rama-Tut, who would later become Kang the Conqueror, one of Marvel’s greatest and most powerful baddies.

This is simply a fun and entertaining read. As hokey as the earliest Stan Lee era stuff can be, it’s just enjoyable as hell and pretty endearing. He was one of the greatest creatives in the comic book medium and it’s really apparent here, as he travels in a lot of different directions, from issue-to-issue and covers a lot of ground, laying the foundation for the Marvel comic book universe, as a whole.

Incorporating the heroes of other titles into this, really sets the stage for the broader continuity. We also get to see a Watcher for the first time, which kind of propels things forward in the cosmic realm for future Marvel stories.

Where the first ten issues felt kind of random and like they were trying to find their way, these ten issues (plus an annual) seem to be building towards something. While I’m not sure if Stan Lee already had Galactus in mind, the man has definitely cleared the path for that massive introduction, which wouldn’t happen for another two years.

I also have to give props to Jack Kirby, who had an incredibly consistent art style his entire career but definitely looks as if he found his grove with these characters and their world. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Vids I Dig 345: Comic Tropes: John Buscema: More Than a Jack Kirby Clone

From Comic Tropes’ YouTube description: John Buscema is one of the all-time great illustrators in Marvel Comics’ history. He worked on over 200 issues of Conan comics and had celebrated runs on Avengers under three different writers: Roy Thomas, Steve Engleheart, and Roger Stern. Yet there are critics who will say he’s simply a clone of Jack Kirby. I believe this accusation is unfair and in this episode we look at Big John’s history and techniques. We pay close attention to the evolution of his artwork including key turning points in the Silver Age and on Silver Surfer #4.

Comic Review: Super Powers by Jack Kirby

Published: 1984-1985
Written by: Jack Kirby, Joey Cavalieri, Paul Kupperberg
Art by: Jack Kirby, Mike Royer, Greg Theakston, Mike Thibodeaux

DC Comics, 268 Pages

Review:

When I was a kid and super into G.I. Joe and Transformers, my cousin Billy was super into Super Powers and Marvel’s Secret Wars action figures. In a lot of ways, those two toylines were my introduction to many of the comic book heroes and villains outside of what a six year-old would know.

Playing with Billy’s toys and playsets, I was pretty captivated by them and it is probably a major factor in what got me to read superhero comics, as opposed to just G.I. JoeTransformers and Star Wars.

I never read either of the two Super Powers miniseries, however, so I was pretty excited to pick this up. Also, since this was primarily done by the legendary Jack Kirby, I thought that reading this was long overdue and that not having read this sooner was a major crime against my own soul.

This edition collects both of the miniseries, the first being five issues and the second being six.

Overall, this is a really fun time and other than Mister Miracle, it’s my favorite stuff that Kirby has done for DC. Essentially, this is Kirby writing and drawing the Justice League. It features many of the core League members while also using some of their main villains.

I really like what Kirby did with these characters and I really would’ve liked to have seen this spin off into a Kirbyverse for DC, as his style and charm worked well with these characters. This feels very ’60sish but it works even though this is an ’80s comic.

While Frank Miller and Alan Moore would drastically alter the tone at DC, just after Kirby’s Super Powers, this is a nice contrast to what DC became synonymous with in that decade. 

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Jack Kirby’s other work at DC Comics, as well as ’80s Justice League comics.

Comic Review: Super-Villain Classics: Galactus – The Origin

Published: May, 1983
Written by: Stan Lee, Mark Gruenwald
Art by: Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Bob Layton (cover)

Marvel Comics, 36 Pages

Review:

This was one of those odd things that’s been on my bucket list for quite awhile. I finally came across one at my local comic shop, so I picked it up. Weirdly, the value has gone up in the last few years.

This is essentially a one-shot. I’m not sure if Marvel had more of these planned for other villains and then pulled the plug on them but it was a neat concept and it could’ve been used for other characters.

Basically, this is the origin of Galactus. I’m not sure how much of this was taken from earlier Fantastic Four stories, as I still haven’t completed the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run but this is a perfect compliment to the Galactus-centric stories that those two greats produced over their 100 issue run.

The plot here is solid and I absolutely love the Kirby art, which should always go without saying.

This gives Galactus a backstory and helps to flesh him out into a character with much more context than just being a chaotic force of cosmic nature. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to read about his genesis and it made him more interesting, even though he’s already one of my favorite classic Marvel villains.

There’s a lot that I learned from this comic that I didn’t already know, which honestly, makes it well worth the price I paid for it. If you aren’t willing to pay an arm and a leg for a copy, I’m sure that it is collected in a trade paperback with other Galactus stories.

If you’re a fan of the character, I’d call this a must own.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: early Galactus and Silver Surfer stories from the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four.

Vids I Dig 241: Comic Tropes: Vince Colletta: The Inker Who Ruined Jack Kirby’s Art

From Comic Tropes’ YouTube description: Vince Colletta was an inker who worked on many comics for one of the most popular artists in comics ever, Jack Kirby. He worked with him on Thor, Fantastic Four, the New Gods and more. Colletta was well liked but was notorious for taking shortcuts in his work, including erasing work so he had less to do. This episode looks at Colletta’s history, techniques, and makes comparisons with other inkers.

Comic Review: Avengers, Issue #6 – First Appearance of Baron Zemo & The Masters of Evil

Published: July 8th, 1964
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, Chic Stone

Marvel Comics, 24 Pages

Review:

I recently read Avengers issue #8, the first appearance of Kang the Conqueror and I really enjoyed it. And since I actually now own a high quality original issue of this comic, the first appearance of the original Baron Zemo and his Masters of Evil, I figured that I’d read this one too.

Granted, the comic I own is graded and slabbed, so I read this digitally. It’s actually free for Comixology Unlimited members.

I’ve got to say, I enjoyed this issue immensely. Even more so than the Kang issue.

This was a pretty high energy issue that was mostly action, as the Avengers didn’t fight one big villain but instead, fought a group of villains that were very aware of each hero’s weakness.

The story also ties back to the death of Bucky and how personal that tragedy was for Captain America. We learn that Zemo was behind Bucky’s death and that gives some added emotional weight to the story, cementing him, immediately, as one of Cap’s greatest rivals.

I loved Stan Lee’s writing here, especially his dialogue. I also appreciated the extra layers added to the plot that called back to past events that existed before Stan was even writing comics.

This is, of course, all enhanced by the stupendous artwork of Jack Kirby, who is still my favorite person ever to draw Captain America. He also really gives Zemo a presence and style that no one else has been able to replicate with the same sort of impact.

For those of you that just like old school comics when stories were told over just one issue, this is a great representation of that bygone narrative style.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Stan Lee and Jack Kirby era Marvel stuff, especially The Avengers and Fantastic Four.

Comic Review: Devil Dinosaur – The Jack Kirby Era

Published: 1978-1979
Written by: Jack Kirby
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 165 Pages

Review:

I always thought that Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur looked like a cool comic book for its time. Mainly, because it featured a badass red T-Rex-looking dino with a little caveman dude riding on his back. I never picked up and actually read any of these until now, though.

So working my way towards being a Kirby completist, at least with his Marvel and DC work, I figured that reading Devil Dinosaur was long overdue. Plus, the entire run is only nine issues and clocks in at just 165 pages – a nice afternoon read.

What I wasn’t expecting but found surprising is that this feels like a sort of spiritual successor to some of the ideas, concepts and narrative style of Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a comic series that went beyond just the story of the famous film and tied together stories from Earth’s prehistoric past and its possible future in the stars.

Where Machine Man spun-off from 2001, after Marvel lost the license to continue that series, Devil Dinosaur picked up where 2001 left off in how it focused on prehistoric era characters and their eventual confrontation with cool-looking aliens from outer space that were very much Kirby creations. I’d say that makes this more of a real successor to 2001 than Machine Man, which became more of a sci-fi superhero series tied to regular Marvel continuity, leaving behind its 2001 origins.

In fact, one alien group, whose story takes up three issues, are very reminiscent of the Celestials that Kirby introduced in The Eternals. So while this is directly tied to the Marvel universe, especially since the Devil Dinosaur character exists in modern continuity, it also feels tethered to The Celestials, Machine Man and again, 2001: A Space Odyssey. That all just makes Devil Dinosaur a weird, unique series.

It would’ve been interesting to see where this could have gone had it lasted more than nine issues. Hell, I wouldn’t have been shocked if this would’ve somehow crossed over with Conan or Red Sonja because it already bridges a gap between multiple franchises, even if it does so indirectly.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Jack Kirby stuff from the ’70s, specifically his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey.