If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen me tweet about a stack of books I want to finally finish in this new year. Some I started in the waning months of 2012 while others, like the two reviewed in this post, have been in the works for longer. I actually got my first copy of Image’s reprinting of Jack Kirby’s Pacific Comics miniseries Silver Star while working at Wizard. I had yet to really discover Kirby’s genius at that point and wound up swapping it or passing it along to someone else. After reading the Fourth World stuff, though, I was converted. In a strange bit of timing, I actually finalized a swap for the volume on January 19th, 2011 and finished reading it on that same day in 2013. Weird, right?
Speaking of weird, that word perfectly describes Silver Star. Man, this is one wacky book. The basic plot, as much as there is one directly expressed in the story, is that a doctor introduced his “genetic package” to some pregnant women (this is not a euphemism, by the way) who eventually had babies referred to as Homo-Geneticus, essentially super humans. Silver Star, the lead, discovered his abilities while fighting in Vietnam (called Viet Nam throughout the story). He can basically control atoms and also traverse various dimensions or something. Some of the H-Gs have the same powers while others utilize them to be super strong, grow to immense sizes or become indestructible. Darius Drumm, the bad guy, has the same basic abilities as Star, but, well he’s bad, the product of a crazy abusive father who was a quasi-religious leader.
The reason it took me two years and several attempts to read this book from front to back, though, is because it’s kind of a mess. Not on the art side of things, of course, Kirby still kills it drawing everything from rocks that turn into dragons and scenes from Viet Nam to gigantic carousels and a group of new costumes. (I will say that I prefer the issues inked and lettered by Mike Royer over the latter ones by D. Bruce Berry who just doesn’t match the thick lines or deep blacks I associate with Kirby’s artwork.) The problem is how much the story jumps around. Star and his fellow H-Gs can teleport, which seems like as much of a power as a way to rush the story along. It’s not uncommon to see the focus characters and setting switch from one panel in the middle of the page to the next. At its base, the story is just plain old hard to follow.
At the end of the day, Silver Star just doesn’t feel like a complete story and I’m guessing that’s because it was originally a screenplay. The full treatment and additional materials are actually reprinted in the back of this collection, though I haven’t made time to read more than the intro just yet. Reading Silver Star is kind of like talking to someone whose been having the conversation with you in their head for about 30 longer than its been going on in real life. They’re going on and on like you’ve got some basic knowledge that you don’t while you’re just trying to keep up with everything being thrown at you. I’m all for taking off at a sprint and letting the reader eventually catch up, but there has to be a time at some point in the story for that to actually happen. I didn’t see that with Silver Star. Still, I’m going to keep this one in my collection this time if for no other reason than to stare at Kirby completely unleashed in all his creative glory.
The Demon doesn’t suffer from that same stream of conscious type storytelling that Silver Star does, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easier read. I’ve been starting and stopping this one for most of 2012 if not longer. I hate to say it, but I found the first half of this book to be pretty boring. Much of that feeling comes from my existing biases and experiences, things that I would not have had if I was reading this book when it came out. For instance, I hate the character of Morgan La Fey thanks to John Byrne’s run on Wonder Woman. I don’t really remember why, but every time that character shows up in a DC comic, I let out an audible “Ugh.” I also wasn’t super interested in watching Etrigan face off against random witches and monsters. I think this was partially because they weren’t super interesting (aside from visually) but also because I wasn’t really sure what the Demon could do and not do. I know this was a book created in a more fly by the seat of your pants days, but I could not understand why this supposedly super powerful demon was having trouble fighting a witch.
And then, at around the halfway point, Kirby essnetially decided to just make the book “The Demon versus Universal Monsters.” The Demon faces off against a wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera (in a THREE PARTER), Frankenstein’s monster and the like. At first I was bored by these stories too, especially because I just watched a lot of these movies this year, but then I thought about it and posed the following question to myself: Would you like to read a Kirby adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera? When the answer was a clear “yes” I accepted what I was given and enjoyed it all the more.
What also helped me start liking this book is that it’s not really like any other Demon comic or guest appearance I’ve read. Instead of running around the DCU and popping up wherever something weird is going on, Jason Blood actually lives in Gotham and has a pretty swank apartment filled with all kinds of awesome things for Kirby to draw (I stared at a desk in one panel as much as I did a double page spread of Blood’s armory). But he’s also got a supporting cast in the mystic Randu, regular guy Harry who loves a good one-liner as much as he loves a party and Blood’s love interest Glenda. I actually found myself enjoying the non-Demon moments of this book more than the others because I’ve seen a lot of what goes on on the page in various forms before.
The problem I seem to have every time I open a Jack Kirby book is that reading some of these comics is like watching a beautiful film by Akira Kurosawa, but with the cast of your average Disney live action show doing voiceovers. It looks amazing, but the dialog leaves much to be desired. I think these are the kinds of things that could have been easier overlooked in a monthly format, but reading through issue after issue just makes Kirby’s lack of grace with the written word all the more clear.
And that’s really what it is, a lack of grace. Kirby’s not a terrible dialog writer — there are some great conversations and jokes in these pages — but he lacks subtlety and it often reads like he didn’t give the words as much thought as the beautiful artwork. And, again, like above and every other thing I’ve seen from The King from the 70s and on, Jack can draw. He can draw expressions as well as witches with horrid faces. His style is just so damn cool and intricate that I can’t help by stare deep into some of these pages. And that’s where some of the frustration comes, it looks so good you want the words to match that level of quality.