Friday, April 3, 2015

The Best of Simon and Kirby reviewed

Or is it?  With such a slim selection – only 26 stories – there are bound to be worthies left out.  But how does this “best of” list stack up?

“Captain America and the Riddle of the Red Skull” (from Captain America Comics #1, Mar. 1941).  Grade:  B.  You can see the Red Skull’s potential dripping from the page, though this early Simon/Kirby work looks fairly primitive compared to what comes later, and the story itself has its weaknesses.  Cap’s origin story from the same issue is much, much better.

“The Vision [vs. the Werewolf]” (from Marvel Mystery Comics #14, Dec. 1940).  Grade: B.  Rushed, sometimes confusing story, but with a great backstory to it that would have been even more exciting.

“Sandman: The Villain from Valhalla” (from Adventure Comics #75, Jun. 1942).  Grade: A.  Here is the fantastic, dynamic art that we expect when we see Kirby. The fight scene is all of one page long – but what a page! You just wish there was more, or that the villain didn’t have to wind up being so ordinary in the end.

“Stuntman: Killer in the Big Top” (from Stuntman Comics #1, Apr. 1946). Grade: A. Great art, a terrific set-up for a series filled with excitement, humor, and mystery – the only weakness is that Stuntman himself is a little boring (and his origin seems to be cribbed from Robin!).

“Fighting American: Assignment: Find the King of the Crime Syndicate” (from Fighting America #2, Jun. 1954). Grade: B-.  A fun little story, though too short and strains the suspense of disbelief. Though this was generally true of Fighting American, several of his stories would have been stronger choices.

[The Fly:] “Come into My Parlor” (from Adventures of the Fly #1, Aug. 1959). Grade: B+. A technically proficient preview of the Marvel Age of Comics Kirby would soon introduce…but there’s just not that level of excitement here.

“Solar Patrol [vs. The Tree Men of Uranus]” (from Silver Streak Comics #2, Jan. 1940).  Grade: D.  Kirby barely had a hand in this very early, very campy tale, and it shows. Almost unintentionally comical, in a Fletcher Hanks way.

“Blue Bolt [shrinks]” (from Blue Bolt Comics #4, Sep. 1940).  Grade: B+.  There’s a surprising amount of moral ambiguity here.  Which is the evil one, the Green Sorceress, who wants to conquer, but loves Blue Bolt; or Dr. Bertoff, who will stop at nothing – even murder -- to thwart the Green Sorceress? It’s almost a shame that a character as boring as Blue Bolt is stuck in the middle.

“The Thing on Sputnik 4” (from Race for the Moon #2, Sep. 1958).  Grade: B+. Perhaps based on the Arthur C. Clarke stories 2001 a Space Odyssey would be based on, this story is about as confusing as 2001, though mainly because of its brevity. 

“Satan Wears a Swastika” (from Boy Commandos #1, Win. 1942).  Grade: A-. What a wild ride! In the meta-comic part of the story, Simon and Kirby are in trouble at DC Comics when their best-selling characters, the Boy Commandos get killed in Germany. They get the news from their other characters, the Newsboy Legion, and get help from their version of the Sandman to find out what happened! This part is spliced not-quite seamlessly with a more normal story of midgets being mistaken for the Boy Commandos, while the Boy Commandos hunt a club-footed Nazi killer. 

“The Duke of Broadway: My City Is No More” (from Black Cat Comics #5, Apr. 1947).  Grade: A. More of a parable against nuclear weapons than a real adventure story, which is good because it’s pretty weak on details.

“Booby Trap” (from Foxhole #2, Dec. 1954). Grade: A. Short, but near-perfect story about the senseless carnage of war.

“Weddin’ at Red Rock” (from Western Love #1, Jul. 1949). Grade: C-. It’s a Western! It’s a love story!  It’s got a twist ending! But, at 3 pages, it’s not much of any one of those things.

“The Savage in Me” (from Young Romance #22, Jun. 1950). Grade:  B.  This one’s a weird critter. It starts, rather remarkably, with the attempted rape of a pretty missionary in Southeast Asia, and then follows her descent into shame for the first three pages. That’s all well and good by today’s standards, but then the would-be rapist “turns out” to not be such a bad guy, saves her and her dad from invading soldiers. Now she sort of feels obligated to love him and, more disturbing still, her father practically pushes her on the guy. In the middle of all this weird “love” garbage is a pretty suspenseful story about the political scene in Southeast Asia circa 1950.

“Trapping New England’s Chain Murderer” (from Headline Comics #24, May 1947).  Grade: C-.  I kept expecting a twist ending! This is a fairly pedestrian police procedural, worthy of the first half of an episode of Law & Order.

“Mother of Crime” from Real Clue Crime Stories v. 2 #4, Jun. 1947.  Grade: B-.  A mundane mini-bio for Ma Barker is elevated by its framing device of Ma speaking to the reader from Heck.

“The Case against Scarface” from Justice Traps the Guilty #1, Oct. 1947.  Grade: C+.  I’m not that impressed by this Scarface bio. It also makes me think that maybe Kirby couldn’t draw a pie…

“Apache Justice” from Kid Cowboys of Boys’ Ranch #6, Aug. 1951. Grade: B+.  A sometimes intriguing cowboy ranch soap opera with some action and adventure mixed in. The Indian stuff is horribly cliche, but the mystery of Angel is intriguing and I wonder if more was ever revealed.

[Bulls Eye:] “Doom Town” from Bulls Eye #4, Feb. 1955.  Grade: A.  An intriguing scenario, plenty of action, and some compelling backstory are marred, mainly, by Bulls Eye being upstaged by the more interesting Major Calamity.

“Scorn of the Faceless People” from Black Magic #2, Dec. 1950.  Grade: B-. An intriguing dream sequence segues into a dull love story.

“Up There!” from Black Magic #13, Jun. 1952.  Grade: A.  An effective supernatural mystery, mildly horrific, but with a powerful ending; marred only by being too short and not having a more interesting protagonist.

“Woman in the Tower” from Strange World of Your Dreams #3, Nov. 1952.  Grade: B-. Atmospheric and creepy, but way too abbreviated -- almost as if they found out while drawing the last page that they had a smaller page count than promised and had to rush an ending.

“Rainy Day with House-Date Harry” from My Date #4, Jan. 1948.  Grade: C+.  Eh.  Really only mildly amusing.

“20,000 Lugs under the Sea” from From Here to Insanity #11, Aug. 1955.  Grade: A.  Quite funny and visually inventive -- if not original, since it reads just like a Mad magazine parody. The lines they give Kirk Douglas’ character from the movie are laugh out loud funny. Could have used a stronger punchline ending, though.

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