JACK KIRBY’S THE LOSERS (DC)
Written and drawn by Jack Kirby
Collects Our Fighting Forces #151-162
I admit it, up until the last few years, I’ve been a bad comic book fan. Sure I bought comics and trades which helped the industry, but I rarely went back and read older comics or learned much about the history of the medium I love. I’ve been slowly rectifying that by reading as many Jack Kirby comics as I can get my hands on and buying issues of TwoMorrows mags like Comic Book Artist and Write Now which get into the nitty gritty of creating comics in the modern, silver and golden ages. In the past year or two I’ve read the four Fourth World volumes, OMAC, the first few Avengers issues, part of a book called The Complete Jack Kirby June-August 1947 and now The Losers. Damn, I love this guy. Sometimes his dialogue isn’t so great and when he was really busy in the Marvel days I feel like his backgrounds suffered, but there’s an amazing kind of energy that he packs into the panels that just blows me away.
This collection of Our Fighting Forces comics starts with an introduction by Neil Gaiman (whose Sandman I’m also reading now interestingly enough). It’s a fun and short intro that makes Gaiman incredibly relate-able because he’s basically geeking out about Kirby. I will say that reading the intro ahead of time might have painted how I read the comics themselves. If you want to go in with a completely clear point of view, I’d recommend just skipping it and jumping right into the book.
What I like most about these issues is that it shows Kirby’s incredible skill at drawing dynamic action, but unlike anything else of his I’ve read, these are real people set in the real world with real weapons and vehicles (99% of the time at least). Even when drawing something as simple as a gun, it’s got that Kirby-ness to it that makes it instantly recognizable. All but two issues are self-contained stories starring the four Losers–Storm, Cloud, Sarge and Gunner–getting teamed-up with another person or group of people during World War II. I’m not a huge fan of WWII fiction, but these stories really sucked me in. Another great part is that you don’t need to know anything about these characters or this book to enjoy this collection. All you need to know is that, during The Great War, we fought the Nazis.
My favorite story is called “Devastator Vs. Big Max” from Our Fighting Forces #153. Consider this SPOILER territory. The idea is that the Nazis have this gigantic canon they call Big Max that can blast towns and convoys from miles away. The Allies don’t have anything to counteract this bad boy, but they’ve got a plan: Devastator. A sci-fi loving soldier tells the Army about his plan for a futuristic tank type vehicle called Devastator that the Losers tell him is real. In reality, it’s a sham set up to scare the Nazis into revealing the location of Big Max so the fliers can blow that shit up. In the end the sci-fi lover is completely disappointed, which is kind of poetic. Most of the stories end like that with no victory ever being 100% for the Losers or their compatriots.
Another fun bit about this book is the back up features Kirby did where he’d draw weapons, vehicles and uniforms of soldiers from various eras. You can tell he really studied these things, possibly while he served during WWII himself between 1943 and 1945, or at some other time between the end of the war and these comics being published in 1974 and 1975. As a quick note it absolutely blows me away that WWII comics were still so freaking popular 20 years after the war actually ended. That’s wild.
Of all the Kirby books I’ve read, I’d say this is the one I can 100% recommend to anyone. I like OMAC a lot, but it’s not a complete story and the Fourth World comics were hard to get through at times dialogue-wise. Plus, like with OMAC, they also kind of peter out at the end. And, from what I’ve seen of his Marvel stuff–I haven’t been able to get my hands on his FF stuff for the record–he got better when we worked at DC. The Losers is an incredibly easy comic to hand to just about anyone. War buff, parent, grandparent, history fan, anyone really. Next up, I want to finish the volume of The Complete Jack Kirby I’ve got and then onto The Demon, plus some more Avengers issues as I slog through them.