Archive for the ‘Mark Evanier’ Category

Kirby Continued, Part 1

March 31, 2008

THE FINAL VOLUME OF Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus has arrived. I don’t have my copy yet, but with the release of the sort-of-ending-but-really-not, it seemed like a good time to dig out follow-ups to Kirby’s Fourth World material and see how well they hold up. I’m not exactly sure how many reviews this will include, since I have to look around for what I have and figure out what counts, but it’ll be at least three.

In part one, Mark Evanier, Kirby’s assistant while he was creating the Fourth World, scripts from some leftover Jimmy Olson plots. It’s a project with a few goals in common to Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure, through probably less historical interest, but is ultimately a more satisfying read.

The American Evolution!
(Legends of the DC Universe #14)
By Mark Evanier, Steve Rude, and Bill Reinhold
DC Comics, 1999 – Saddle-stitched, $3.95

According to Mark Evanier’s afterwards to previous volumes of Fourth Wold Omnibus, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olson wasn’t an assignment that Jack Kirby took a lot of pleasure in, especially with all of the editorial interference he suffered. Nonetheless, he managed to come up with more stories for the series than he ended up fitting in. In his capacity as Kirby’s assistant, Evanier was privy to the details of these stories, and “The American Evolution!” sees him joined by Steve Rude and Bill Reinhold in telling one more story of The Project and its dark twin, The Evil Factory.

Except for the Newsboy Legion, it’s all here: Jimmy, Superman, Dubbilex, The Guardian, Darkseid, Morgan Edge, even the Whiz Wagon. The team captures the feel of Kirby’s Jimmy Olson stories well, despite some differences. Evanier’s plot is a little tighter, though not as full of ideas. It’s less madcap and a little more coherent, likely a product of different standards of pacing between the ’70s and the ’90s, as well as his advantage in having 56 pages (Kirby could take it slower when he had more space, as seen in the 2001: A Space Odyssey Treasury Edition). His dialogue is less earnest, with more schtick, but mostly captures Kirby’s urgent quality. The effort to make the story simultaneously harken back to the Kirby era and not disturb post-Crisis continuity is mildly distracting, establishing an uncomfortable middle-ground when, as a one-shot, it could have ignored present continuity. Being unaware of the circumstances of Superman comics circa 1999, I couldn’t help but notice the differences from the Kirby material, like Clark and Jimmy knowing Morgan Edge but not working for him.

But overall, it feels like a Kirby plot. The Fourth World Saga, for all its focus on raw power, was a product of the Vietnam era, and had a deep ethical concern with the view from the ground, splitting issues between the battles of gods and the dramas of the human characters caught in the crossfire, some of whom only appeared for an issue. It’s no different here, with Superman and The Guardian battling Darkseid’s attempts to devolve Metropolis into apes, while the human drama revolves around Jimmy and Daily Planet doorman, Bernie Sobel, who does his best to not get involved in other people’s problems, even as the building starts to come down around him. His arc has more stabs at comedy than I imagine Kirby injecting, but his discovery of courage under fire fits in with the other human characters of The Fourth World.

Steve Rude does an interesting job pulling off a tough challenge, homaging Kirby’s style while maintaining his own. For the most part, characters have Rude faces and Rude builds, but he pulls off some convincing Kirby-style panel compositions and extreme perspectives, and draws some pretty admirable Kirby-tech. Bill Reinhold’s inking is spot-on, melding Rude’s grace with some Kirby weight and textures, making those chunky lines sit comfortably on Rude’s figures. Together, they do a stellar job of homaging Kirby without aping him.

I’ll be honest: If it weren’t for the Kirby history and homage, I don’t know how interested I’d be in “The American Evolution!”’s somewhat boilerplate story (of all of Kirby’s Fourth World work, I’m not sure if fans were really screaming for more Jimmy and The Project). However, the obvious love Evanier et al have for the material shines through, and touches like Bernie’s transformation, parallels between the fear Darkseid and Edge’s underlings have for them, the many excellent monsters and machines, coupled with great art, push it beyond mere nostalgia artifact to genuinely enjoyable read.

More:

Kirby Continued part 1

Kirby Continued part 2

Kirby Continued part 3

Kirby Continued part 4

I’m With Stupid

October 15, 2007
Sergio Aragonés’ Groo: 25th Anniversary Special
by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier
Dark Horse Comics – saddle-stitched, $5.99

WITH THIS REMINDER THAT GROO IS OLDER THAN I AM, I figured it was probably time I gave the world’s dumbest warrior a shot. I’m glad I did. Sergio Aragonés is a master cartoonist who crams every page with gags and funny-looking characters and makes it look easy. This issue covers a lot of the characters and settings of Groo, thereby giving Aragonés ample opportunity to show off those talents. As written by Mark Evanier, the stories are also pretty funny.

The issue begins with an introduction, in which Evanier explains the significance of a silver anniversary to Aragonés, a cute method of running down Groo’s publication history. The first story is called “The Plague,” in which a sneezing epidemic is the vehicle for an effective and funny satire of the many unnecessary medicines pushed on society by pharmaceutical companies, and the hypocrisy of governments, churches and the rich when peasants are in trouble. Aragonés fills every panel to the brim with details, which all pop nicely thanks to Tom Luth’s colors. Evanier keeps pace with Aragonés (and keeps letterer Stan Sakai busy), making sure almost every panel has a one-liner or insult. Not all of them hit, but since another is coming in the next panel, that’s not a big deal. Evanier’s only problem here is a tendency to over-write mildly; some of dialogue and many of the thought balloons are redundant next to Aragonés’ facial expressions.

Next is a text piece by Evanier addressing urban legends about Groo. Here Evanier goes into the origins of the Groo character and expands on the publication history mentioned in the intro. It’s whimsical and informative, especially for someone new to the material.

The second story, “Groo For Sale,” begins to make some of the themes of Groo clear: greed and exploitation are punished once again, this time by an oblivious young Groo. I don’t know if young Groo is something done just for the anniversary issue or if it’s a recurring feature, but it’s definitely charming. Groo is less talkative than those around him to begin with and here, as a child, he has only one line. The rest of the time he’s a destructive miniature force of nature. That’s the only sure thing in the story, as the adults are all working at cross-purposes and the consequences of Groo’s accidental destruction pleasingly turn the plot around several times.

The closest this issue comes to filler material is the “Groo Alphabet,” 14 pages (counting a title page) of rhyming couplets about Groo’s cast, in alphabetical order, two per page. It’s not clear if this is meant to introduce a new reader to the cast or elicit recognition from long-time readers, but I decided part way through that it wasn’t important. While I think I’d have preferred a third long story, I started to see that the real purpose of the section was to showcase Aragonés drawing all of the characters and the many diverse settings they represent. Again showing what a great cartoonist he is, Aragonés suggests an entire story with each image, quite a feat of storytelling. Some of the poems read awkwardly, but several are funny and most complement the images quite well.

As a complete package, this anniversary issue of Groo is definitely worth the $6. I got several laughs out of it and enjoyed the intro to all things Groo. I’ll now be on the lookout for more Groo material from Aragonés and Evanier.


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