When The King Was Topps
The last installment of The Unspoken Decade focused on one of the primary architects of the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee, returning to the playground of comic books in the 1990’s with at best mixed results, and at worst, a bad comic book. This time, let’s go to the other (some would say only) primary creator of the 1960’s Marvel Universe, THE KING JACK KIRBY!!!!!
I have always been a Kirby fan, even when I had no idea who Jack Kirby was, what he had done in comics, and how he had gotten screwed over left and right by the companies he had deigned to make rich with what may very well be the greatest imagination of all time, or at least the 20th century. I was first exposed to his work in the comics, Kamandi and Super Powers. I didn’t know that was Kirby art then of course; I just knew that I liked what was going on.
When I got heavily into comics in 1992, Jack Kirby’s name was one of the first I learned. As I stated last time around, I intensely study the history of my interests partly to sate my insane curiosity and partly to have tons of inane facts so that I can annoy the folks around me. Then again, if I hadn’t gone on and on to my girlfriend about Gangbuster, WHO WOULD HAVE? Basically, I’m a hero and deserve a mention in a Budweiser commercial.
I learned all of the things that most of the folks reading this blog totally already know, and by most of you I mean everyone except you, Brandi Burgess Battles, which is that Kirby was at the helm of the creation of some of the most memorable, loved, and recognized characters in superheroes, such as Captain America, Sandman, The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, Nick Fury, the New Gods, and many more. He’s also one of the very few entities in any medium of which I am aware that actually lived up to his hype. He’s as good as we think.
(Don’t let the big-headed vampire distract you from the fact that Jack Kirby created were-lions as well, and one is about to devour Jimmy Olsen.)
Don’t feel bad; I looked at that cover about 5 times before I saw the Were-Lion. That’s sort of the thing about Kirby, though; no matter how much I look at Kirby’s work, I just cannot help but keep looking at it. His art works as an entire entity that is larger than life, but one can also just stare endlessly at a nook or a corner and dwell upon the minutest of details and the beauty of its nuances. Just in case you don’t get it yet, I love Jack Kirby, so here’s another cover.
(I think either Briggadoom or Paradise Prison would have been worth 25 cents, but you’re getting both here for the same quarter! Everything was better in the 70’s.)
By the time I was getting heavily into comics, Jack Kirby was more or less done as a regular creator. I would hear of his greatness, and I was able to see a few pieces of Kirby’s works via reprint or in an original or two hanging on the wall at The Paperchase (LCS). I was entranced with their copy of Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles. Maybe one day I will spring for that treasury edition.
But before this becomes Longbox Graveyard, let’s get back to the 90’s. Two years deep into my heavy collecting days, Topps Comics launched the Kirbyverse. I couldn’t believe it. Topps was one of my older loves. I grew up a hardcore baseball fan, and I still deeply love baseball to this day. I used to buy baseball cards every summer and Topps was one of the companies that made cards, so they and I were old pals. They had made some comics that I wasn’t interested in up until that time, including an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I had the first issue of that, and I am unsure why I had such a boring adaptation of such a boring movie.
Then something exciting came! THE KIRBYVERSE! Although Kirby wasn’t going to do much art besides a few covers and some of Satan’s Six, I didn’t care. These were Kirby’s concepts, man! If anyone could deliver grand concepts on a larger-than-life scale, it was Kirby! How did they do?
(Sometimes I sing “Kirbychrome” to the tune of “Kodachrome.”)
The Secret City Saga centered around an idea that there was an ancient society that was based on organic technology. This society was that of The Ninth Men, and it was destroyed by an apocalypse. Modern 90’s society, the society of the Tenth Men, could be saved by putting a few of the toughest and best heroes of that day into pods and then allowing them to emerge at the right time to prevent that cataclysm from occurring again. Sort of like Terminator, but in reverse. Of course, some power players from The Ninth Men decide to save themselves as well in order to conquer The Tenth Men.
Three heroes, Captain Glory, Night Glider, and our hero of the day (90’S METALLICA ARGUMENT BEGIN PLEASE) Bombast!
First thing, I love how Bombast looks! He may not be as cool as I believe him to be, but I am a sucker for the Helmet Shades combo, as popularized in my 1980’s world by GI Joes Thunder and Sci-Fi.
(He’s sort of doing the Norm MacDonald “Note to Self” thing.)
(I wonder if his helmet has the 1986 equivalent of Google Glasses in it.)
Bombast’s story begins with an Earthquake striking Chicago, which LITERALLY CAUSES A RIFT between a young man and his crack dealers. How do I know they’re crack dealers? He thanks said rift for saving him from said crack dealers!
(Notice how in tune Roy Thomas [plot] and Gary Friedrich [script] are with young 90’s African-Americans. I can hear it now. “Spike Lee makes the movies the young black folks like!”)
You can’t also help but see the use of “Yo Momma” as some sort of interjection, when even a young white man who lived in rural Arkansas then knew that this was an insult. I do have to agree with the assessment that quiet white dudes are pretty cool, which is basically an admission that I am uncool because I am a LOUD white dude. Caps so you know just how LOUD I can be.
Next page, ACTION!
(It’s good that these two cannot understand one another because I am pretty sure that the yet to be named young man would take offense to being called “brown man.”)
The picture on the left above isn’t done by Kirby, but there is a smidge of that magic of motion that Kirby had there. I do appreciate that Bombast does not emerge from that pod speaking English easily. That’s a nice touch that makes for fun misunderstandings. Heck, even if he knew a word or two of English, that would still make for fun misunderstandings. I mean we have all seen Perfect Strangers, right?
I just made a Perfect Strangers joke; dude, I’m old.
Bombast emerges from the pit, kind enough to let us know on his way up that carrying the yet to be named man is easy because he has “arms genetically engineered for superhuman strength!” Bombast sees the new world and is dismayed because it is mechanical instead of organic. Speaking of mechanical instead of organic, our subplot with the yet to be named young man against his crack dealers continues, with two good things coming out of it. We learn this young man’s name is Darren, and we also get this:
(“You Can Stay in Your Jammies Forever” is what I will now say when threatening people.)
Bombast then starts to attempt to make his way in the 90’s world, where he is almost hit by a car. Insulted, he does the only obvious thing he can, and tosses a rock to plug its tailpipe. Since this is Chicago, someone in a hat who appears to be a baseball scout makes mention that he plugged the tailpipe at 100 yards, and it was lefty! Of course, the driver of the car isn’t down with that. Baseball Scout guy, instead of attempting to help, remarks that Bombast “better punch as good as he throws!” All the commotion brings in Chicago’s own Super-Cop, The Savage Dragon!
(Baseball Scout guy not only is weirdly invested in Bombast having only just seen him, but he also seems creepily concerned when the ginger guy punches Bombast.)
One of the reasons I chose this comic from the Secret City Saga first (I do plan to do them all someday!) was this appearance. The Savage Dragon is still going strong today, but he started with Image Comics when the biggest names in comics broke off from Marvel to found their own company where they would all own their own characters. Little epitomizes the 1990’s in comic books, particularly superhero comics, more than the Image Comics logo.
Now obviously we are going to go deep into Image Comics during The Unspoken Decade, but for now the important thing to focus on is the fact that Erik Larsen owned Savage Dragon, not Image Comics. That made is easy for Savage Dragon to appear here, as there was little red tape to clear; they just had to ask Erik.
Dragon makes quite a mark here, as he absolutely dominates Bombast in a fight. Bombast throws everything possible at Dragon, who takes it all with little pause and wallops Bombast. Bombast bounds away by crossing a drawbridge.
(I’d actually like to see Baseball Scout guy and Bombast’s adventures. Re-open Topps Comics, please.)
I also like two more things about the above page. The getting away by jumping that bridge is a nice little nod to Blues Brothers, set in Chicago, and the lady in the last panel that is so creeped out by guys in costumes THAT IT TURNS HER ON is my new hero of the day. (90’S METALLICA ARGUMENTS END)
Bombast keeps on trucking though, and he even manages to learn a lesson that we all learned as young children: how to cross the damn street.
(I feel like the blind guy is a beatnik, and I wish Topps had done a series about his adventures. FOR MATURE READERS ONLY.)
After mastering the nuances of being a pedestrian, Bombast decided to turn himself in to the police because he thinks they may “represent authority” here. That’s funny because Dragon had a cop uniform earlier and he just slugged Dragon. These white cops, though, are apparently safe to go with. Between his denoting Darren “brown skin” and the disparity between his treatment of Dragon and the white cops, I am thinking Bombast may have subscribed to some questionable literature when he was with The Ninth Men back in the day.
The jaunt to the cop shop though is interrupted by a cyborg who speaks the same language as Bombast!
(I’m not sure how seriously you can take a promise not to be harmed from a guy named Death Flash.)
Death Flash and Bombast chat, and Death Flash drops the bomb (OH HAI PUN) that The Ninth Men who rose when he did plan to take the world over from the Tenth Men and remake it in the image of The Ninth Men. You’d think Bombast would be totally down with this, what with his hatred of cars and technology, but instead Bombast stays true blue to the cause that gave him that great helmet and those sweet specs and fights Death Flash off. Death Flash then engages in one of the oddest strategies I have ever seen.
(I am unsure why Bombast wants to find more Ninth Men; the only one he has met tried to kill him.)
Death Flash for whatever reason has decided that the best way to win a fight that one could easily win is to RUN THE HELL AWAY. Whoever wrote The Art of War during the reign of The Ninth Men was not ¼ as good as Sun Tzu. Bombast bounds away from the cops, and even though he doesn’t seem to need any help, Darren opts to help him anyhow and spouts off some banter at the cop that makes me love him unconditionally.
(Darren is unlucky he tried to trip the world’s most coordinated cop, who somehow caught her gun and grabbed him MID-FALL.)
Seriously, that line about his mother calling him grace made me laugh in 1992, made me laugh every time I would flip through it again, and I chortled again. This is the moment of the comic for me.
UNTIL A BIG SUPER-HERO FIGHT AT THE END!
I don’t know why I like to see heroes fight so much. I mean, I want them to team up too, but they have got to fight first. If that doesn’t tell you I am a Marvel guy, then perhaps I should just start a website with just my picture on it called IamaMarvelGuy.info. The Marvel formula is on display here at the end of Bombast, and that is only fitting as Kirby helped concoct said formula.
(Captain Glory looks sort of like he is doing the twist as he separates them. That’s Secret City Style right there.)
That’s where our story ends for now! All in all, I liked this. I have certainly read better comics, but the zeal and the design of Kirby still shine through a bit even when other people are doing it. Now, this is no masterpiece, but it does feature a promise and sheen not seen in Stan Lee’s Ravage 2099, so for those of you eternally enmeshed in the Kirby vs. Lee debate, it would seem that Kirby won the 90’s.
Sadly, Kirby would not live much longer. After he passed, I named a calf after him because we had cattle and I was white trash and white trash do things like that. That calf grew into one ornery cow, which seems appropriate for the King, whose creativity and sense of wonder knew no bounds.
One thing that was striking and that I made note of here frequently was the stark difference between how black characters were treated as recently as the 90’s and now. I don’t think the creators here were trying to be racist so much as they came from a different era when terms were different and acceptable terms then are abhorrent now. We still have a long way to go on that front, but we’re getting there. Look at the big change in about 20 years. Amazing.
Next week, my sister, Angel Hayes, will be doing a guest blog on Bad Girls of the 90’s! I’ve conned her into doing a guest blog once a month, so get used to her voice too! I will be back in two weeks with a look at Punisher: War Zone!!!!!