Thursday, November 23, 2006

Kirby Meme

Naturally, I can't seem to post images today (when I want to) so follow the links for the images.

I was tagged by Plok a while back on the Jack Kirby Character Design Meme and didn’t realize it. Sorry Plok, I didn’t read your blog for a while, I’ve been off the net, kind of – well reading it anyway. I was out of the office yesterday and away from my computer for most of it so no update yet on comics I'd write cheaply (I know you're all waiting on tenderhooks for that) and I didn't even get to the shop to make a purchase. That probably means I'll miss out on Godland.

I’m not all too sure what to do since my knowledge of comic book history is, shady, at best but non-existent is more appropriate. Which is sort of what I’ve been working to remedy with the help of the public library and my own hard earned cash. Sure I won’t be collecting old issues or anything but with the collections out there I’m reading a lot of stuff I normally wouldn’t pick up if I had to pay collector’s prices for them.

Anyway, I looked up a bit of online Kirby history and I fired up Freedom Force on my PC again to get in the mood. So far Doom, Thing and Silver Surfer have been covered. All great choices in themselves for the reasons stated – inhuman pathos, pride and power, and the streamlined stylized human form.

I wasn’t honestly sure which way to go here with Kirby. I do think that his more garish, throw everything at a character’s costume design is more emblematic of Kirby’s approach to comics in general. I love Omac’s Mohawk (Mohican to you Brits out there) and Black Bolt’s tuning fork field goal setup, but RAB covered him already. I would normally go for Black Bolt because he’s a badass who wants you to make fun of that accessory – but that’s not exactly a comment on his design per se.

There’s the excesses of the entire Fourth World costumes, Galactus, MODOK, and Thor that get countered by the simple jumpsuits of the Challengers of the Unknown, the protohuman abstract of the Silver Surfer and Kamandi as, basically, Thor in his blue fur underpants. I’m also a fan of Captain America being the living embodiment of the American Flag with his warrior’s winged helm – yes it’s a bit gaudy but so is the source material, sorry. Happy Thanksgiving down there by the way.

So what is all this rambling about anyway? Well it’s me saying I found it hard to choose between 3 real contenders. As much as I wanted to go for the emblematic Kirby flourishes I was drawn towards his simpler approach. In other words I tried to find his Revolver instead of his Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

With that I looked at the original X-men. Yeah they’re a bit goofy but they’re also very eye-catching. To me they use old school colouring techniques to their highest with bold contrasting colours draped over different human forms. They look like three character studies – man, woman, hulking man body types that have become the staple of every single superhero creation screen in video games. But they weren’t my choice.

Neither was Devil Dinosaur. I love the look of Devil Dinosaur. I mean it’s a Tyranosaurus but it’s bright red. It just embodies mean, rip you a-twain chompy stompy comic book goodness. Plus he’s always jumping which I’m pretty sure a T-Rex couldn’t do but who cares. He’s mean and totally inhuman in the same way Etrigan embodied the same aspects in a more human form.

Nope, in the end I went with Kirby’s creation that is having the most successful revival these days. Machine Man. Look at him. He’s essentially one colour with a few contour lines that allow the character to divide, extend or have any other deus ex machina apparatus at the main points of figure articulation. Like the Silver Surfer he’s been streamlined which reflects his robotic nature and those freaky bug-eyes keep him from being too visibly human. Not only in their bug-eyed look but in the fact that they clash horribly with the main color of the character. Now, all that streamlining to one side what is it about the character that really makes him stand out for me? It is the fact that all this streamlining allows Kirby to showcase his approach to art through the character. Because the character is a robot with random points of extension, we’re constantly allowed to see the comic in Kirby-rama perspectovision.

So I’ll tag Kevin and Mr. Sterling, if they’re feeling generous, because I know Kevin is a devout Kirby follower and Sterling has a much more encyclopedic knowledge of comics than I’ll ever have. I’ll also tag Kalinara because I really like her perspective and sense of humour.


plok said...

What an interesting choice, Jon! I confess I thought Machine Man was a dumb idea for a character when he first appeared, but over the years I've warmed up to him quite a bit: it seems very elegant to me now, maybe the cleanest in concept of any Kirby creation (although I'd actually forgotten it was Kirby and not Ditko until I read this post). The idea of the "living robot" is of course anything but new...still, for all the time it's been around it's rarely been treated straight, without adornment, and as a result the existential oomph of it has tended to get a bit watered-down. Aaron's powers aren't tacked on to his machine-ness like, say, the original Human Torch - his powers consist in the fact that he's a machine. Likewise the matter of how he's to fit into society...his problem isn't learning to find acceptance, his problem is that he's a machine! The very purity of the Silver Surfer's design creates ambiguity about what that purity signifies, but the purity of Machine Man's design leaves no doubt: as you say, that streamlined purple casing, those extensible steel limbs, those freaky bug-eyes. He's so much what he is, that he barely belongs in the Marvel Universe at all.

Excellently out-of-left-field choice, in my opinion!

plok said...

By the way, Jon, if the rest of your ideas are as good as the ones you've revealed thus far...keep hammering! I'd pay good money to see the Marvel Family plus Tim Drake Robin take on Solomon Grundy -- what a f$@#&ing excellent f&$#^!ing story! That is comixxx, my friend! That is action!

Grant Morrison, eat your heart out! And: get your ass down here!

As far as "The Brave And The Bold" goes, though...

I think it should star Aquaman, teaming up with whomever. Batman, Green Lantern, The Omega Men, Adam Strange, The Flash, Aztek...

As I'm sure you know, Jon (but I just want to say it out loud, if you'll forgive me), there are a lot of people in this world who if you ask them "what superhero do you like the most/want to be the most?" cheerfully answer "Aquaman". There are a lot of Led Zeppelin fans who think Aquaman is cool. There is a lot of Aquaman in Roger Daltrey's scream in "Baba O'Reilly"...

And further to this, not wanting to steal Ed's thunder, I'll let him rant and rave.

joncormier said...

Really I just slapped Brave and Bold on the cover so I wouldn't be stuck calling my post "Batwoman and The Question." Although now that I look at that title it reminds me of something that could have been a turn of the century nouveau wave band like Hot Hot Heat.

And with my luck, Machine Man was a Ditko creation. I was going to go with The Original X-men because there is just something about those costumes I'll always love but I hit Wikipedia and I'm a bit anxious about trusting anything posted to the internet anonymously.

plok said...

No, Machine Man's Kirby: he first appeared in the 2001 comic. So you're good!

joncormier said...