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Showing posts from February, 2018

The Brute That Walks (Monsterbus p.512)

Another superb tale. The hero's desperation! The chase through a funfair (I suspect inspired by a movie or two?) But this time I want to draw attention to the moral complexity of the story.

This is a fairly typical Kirby monster book, At his rate of working at the time, he probably wrote and drew the entire two parter in three days or so, before writing another and another and another. It's aimed at a much younger audience, and nobody could call it Kirby's best. Yet even here there is such nuance, such moral ambiguity. And a superb chase sequence, you can really feel the emotion for each character! 

In the story the hero makes mistakes, then he does bad things in the heat of the moment, he gets himself into a bad situation and keeps going. The hero wins at the end by lying to the authorities and to his girlfriend about some extremely important stuff (she would not be his girlfriend if she knew the truth!). It makes the reader think. Remember, the initial situation wa…

It (Monsterbus p.498)

This is a lovely morality tale. A symbol of how attempts to do bad ultimately fail, and the good takes over. This is true by definition: if morality did not ultimately aid our survival then why would anyone want it? Morality is nothing but cost in the short term, but survives because those who care for others and for truth find they can work more efficiently, so their tribe is more likely to win in any crisis.

So Kirby the prophet has another great sermon.

Also note the details:

Nature: Man's attempts to thwart nature do not work (the start of the story). But nature works: in that slime and ooze was the source of primordial life! The creature is only alive because the completely artificial (man's plastic) permanently merges with the natural ooze.Science: Unlike regular comics, a Kirby comic knows that scientific experiments usually fail to give the hoped for response, and often must be discarded: clearly this is a familiar experience for the villain.Sophistication: the villain …

The Colossus (Monsterbus p.479)

Kirby the Prophet does it again. This parable came true: the Soviet Union created a colossus to its own glory, in the form of a gigantic military industrial complex. And that giant proved too big to support, and forced change. At the end of the story we see the Soviet leaders coming t agreement with the west, just as Gorbechev was forced to.
Historical significance This is the first full length story. I have noted before how Kirby was pushing for longer stories, and would soon get his way with Fantastic Four issue 1. And note how the splash page to part 3 is like the cover to FF 1.
Pacing I love the pacing of Kirby's monster stories. Note how it took all night for the alien to make the colossus move. This is like something from a Victorian sci fi story: the slow pace adds to the impact. Kirby's writing, like his art, is unrivalled in its ability to convey scale and power.

Vandoom (Monsterbus p.465)

Here we have Kirby the Prophet at his purest: a second story about a golem. After numerous stories about the dangers of creating technology we do not understand, this (and the scarecrow story) return the warning to its original, purest form.
Vandoom and Von Doom Note the eastern European location, the castle, the obsession with honouring his father, and the creation of robots. Kirby later developed these ideas further with Victor Von Doom, a cross between Victor Frankenstein and Vandoom, a mad scientist who uses magic and science in his castle to create life and control the world.
Jewish Golem stories The golem is a creature that is given shape by man (in these examples a scarecrow and a wax model). It is then mystically given life It has no free will or higher reasoning ability, and can be a force for either good or bad. Frankenstein and every robot story are examples of golems.

The Jewish and gentile golems are different. The gentile golems (Frankenstein, robots, etc) are about powe…

Thorr (Monsterbus p.457)

This is the third of Kirby's four Thorr stories. This one illustrates the strength of Kirby's writing: he conceives, he does not contrive. That is, he does not try to create a clever story (a contrivance). Instead he creates something that grows after he leaves it (like a newborn child).

On first reading this story is silly. A man defeats aliens by causing a volcanic eruption. But look closer: nowhere is it shown that he defeats the aliens, he merely thinks he does. Those aliens could easily walk out of the sea again. And we only have the one alien's word that they are aliens at all: the visual evidence is that he is a machine, so could be programmed to think that. If the masters are really aliens working on million year timescales, is it likely they could arrive so quickly?

When we look closer, we see a realistic story: once we accept that some kind of robot could exist, how the man reacted is just how real man might react. And we can also judge his actions: it was his fa…

The Scarecrow Walks (Monsterbus p.450)

A beautiful tale of a golem, well told. The slow, careful thoughtfulness of the creature and the pleasing structure (growing to write a wrong the shrinking back to the new status quo) together with the powerful art (emphasising ponderous scale) gives it an ethereal quality that I find mesmerising.
Kirby's fingerprints The final text box looks like Lee: breathless and needless repetition. I suspect that Lee also wrote the opening box, though that might be Kirby. The body of the story is confident: it shows that this event did happen, and all we can do is watch in awe. But the opening box snot confident, it sounds defensive, and confrontational, "it might happen, you can't prove it didn't!" To me that sounds more lie Lee. it was common for Lee to edit the start and end, aiming at younger readers who don't like ambiguity.

Otherwise, the story is basically of the Jewish Golem, the kind of story Kirby would have heard at his mother's knee (whereas there is no …

Rorgg, King of the Spider Monsters (Monsterbus p.441)

An interesting one, this. At first I was going to say it's pretty thin on content, but on reflection there are some unique ideas.

This is the first Monsterbus story to feature a boy and his girlfriend as the heroes, and the ending leaves it open for more adventures. The previous story also had a two person team and left the ending open for further stories. We see this so often, Kirby is pushing for continued stories. And I hope it's not sexist to note that the girl is very pretty! People who say Kirby can't draw women either don't have eyes or were brought up on plastic dolls. Kirby draws the best real women of any comic artist I know.

The idea of giant six legged spider-things spinning webs between planets??? Mind blowing! I love it! I haven't even tried to get my head around it, I'm sure there is some way to explain it, but it's just too wonderful!!!
DDT I also learned something about DDT: I had assumed that, since it only worked on insects, it must be so…

Gargantus (Monsterbus p.434)

This is just a beautiful story. (And with beautiful art, from the cover to the final frame). It's packed with amazing concepts, realistically presented: you can imagine being inside that submersible, hearing the great creature in the darkness, climbing the cables! It's solid science from start to finish: the realistic bathysphere, the MIM-14 Nike Hercules missiles, and of course the ending. I could rave about this story for hours, but this blog is about Kirby as prophet, so let's focus.
Kirby the prophet We evolved for our niche. Kirby understood that intuitively: a creature from the depths could not survive in our surface world. Whether it's the lack of pressure, lack of buoyancy, higher oxygen, dryness, or whatever, his body is not designed for this. One day we will discover that about space travel as well: our perfect planet is right here, if only we would treat it well.
Pure Kirby dialog? Finally, the dialog fits the story so perfectly, and in such detail, that I w…

Elektro (Monsterbus p.426)

This is Kirby the prophet at his purest! This story is unique, and very interesting. It's not a regular story, it's a message. All realism is rejected* in order to have the clearest, simplest message possible: if we make something smarter than ourselves then it will control us. Kirby seems determined that nobody should miss the message. He dispenses with the usual layers and science. The creature is created by a magical flash and finally defeated by effectively flipping  a switch. How he was made and how defeated is not important. Even the things he does are not important: in effect he can do anything. The message is that we cannot understand or control him.

This is the most common warning in all Kirby stories, the Frankenstein message, and Kirby does not want the slightest ambiguity. Elektro is not out to entertain us, he is out to warn us, in a way that nobody can miss: do not create things more intelligent than human!!!!!

Even the name of Elektro is prophetic. Electricity ca…

The Blip (Monsterbus p.418)

This is more like Kirby! Compare it with the previous story: this has better science (discussing the various phenomena that might cause radar anomalies; the use of dynamos) and a much richer story (the mystery, exploring the cave,  a wormhole, man versus man, man versus alien, alien is not an enemy, etc.). And most important, it's mind expanding: not just the idea that man should be less warlike, but the idea that a whole network of alien civilisations exist! I would have loved this as a child, and I love it now.
Kirby the prophet Note how the most advanced alien is made of electricity. We are moving on that direction now: more and more of our identity depends on electricity. More and more of our body functions (memory, transport, strength, etc) are being outsourced to machines. We have centuries to go yet, but we are noticeably closer than in Kirby's day. And note that the most important development is a move away from violence. The book "Better Angels of our Nature"…

Goliath (Monsterbus p.410)

I don't think this is a Kirby plot. Or at least, not one he gave much thought to. Let's look again at the checklist:
Eight ways to identify a Kirby plotMore than a twist: The plot does not ONLY rely on a twist at the end. It is satisfying even without the last panel.Kirby did the layouts.Description above the title. Kirby's stories were richer so needed the extra introduction: see Challengers, New Gods, Eternals, etc.Every page is rewarding. There's something new and interesting on every page: it doesn't merely tease the ending.Reality: The story is based on science, or history, or something else from the real world.How would I defeat...? The story has you thinking how to beat a new threat. And the solution is something that would work in the real world. Kirby said in interviews that he got a kick out of thinking up some wild new threat and then thinking "how would I beat it?"The dialog fits the art. The amount of dialog does not look squashed in awkwardl…

The Dangerous Doll (Monsterbus p.405)

What a beautiful story! It's cover dated December, and is like a Charles Dickens Christmas story. Kirby has such wide ranging story telling skills!

The misdirection was clever: in a different context, this story could be a cliche. But previous issues have set us up to expect aliens to be evil, and this had all the elements of a horror story. The key was the evil face. But it was only evil looking by human standards: who knows what it meant to aliens?

In hindsight, nothing the doll did was bad. And yet the title, "the dangerous doll" is correct: the earth people had no way of knowing if it was good or bad. It could quite easily have caused death and destruction. Danger only means it could kill you, not that it will.
Kirby as author The opening hyperbole, with "in all the world..." is typical Stan Lee, as is the "what will happen? Is it X?" This exaggeration and wild eyed dumbing down is in contrast to the very serious tone of the story itself. By this …

The Living Shadow (Monsterbus p.397)

Another Kirby classic, with no evidence of Lee's editing down. Hurrah!
Kirby the prophet:  Prophets are people who see trends and dangers and principles that others do not. They warn us so we can have a better future: if we ignore them we face disaster. This story is no exception. Look at what it is saying:
An idea we dismiss as silly could actually destroy us all.The danger is in our shadows: something we think we control. Throughout the monster stories, Kirby's theme is that scientists can inadvertently create something more intelligent and powerful than ourselves. Kirby the prophet warns that it is the nature of power to enslave. We will be enslaved!!!  This theme was developed further in OMAC and The Eternals. These two dimensional creatures are a perfect metaphor for how this happens:

They begin as something that is fundamentally unable to harm us: how can two dimensions harm three? But they gain the ability morph and fold, and finally influence the third dimension. They th…