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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

KING KIRBY'S FOGGY FROGGY PT. 2

(Continued from part 1)

PAGE 4-- While the swordsman prepares to attack, Mister Little tells Panther that the little metal frog was the instrument that caused the death of Alfred Queely, the corpse occupying the chair. For some reason the Panther takes this assertion very literally: "Whoever killed Queely moved faster than that frog ever will!"

Y'think, T'Challa? Eventually Little will explain that he meant that the frog summoned Queely's assailant from some bygone time-era, but just then the Armored Hot Dog attacks, trying to shish-kebob the Panther. Despite the Panther's "cobra speed," the heavily-armored opponent breaks off the fight and outpaces the hero to the nearest window, where he crashes through it. Little tells the Panther to let the man go because "he'll be picked up by the police in short order." And the Panther, who presumably *could* overtake the armored guy, agrees to let him go, even though the guy's just killed one man and still has his sword in hand. Hey, King Kirby, what if the armored nutjob comes across a couple necking in the park and decided to do a Friday the 13th on them? Or, assuming the cops do come across the warrior first, how do they subdue the guy without either their bloodshed or his? But of course the armored guy is just a tool for some opening action, and is never seen again despite having been rudely plucked from his own era by the fellow he kills.

PAGES 6-10-- Once Little has detailed the frog's ability to open the "door of time," Little and Panther leave Queely's house by "jet-copter," and Little explains that he wants to return the frog to "its original resting place-- King Solomon's burial chamber!" But their dialogue is interrupted as a hostile aircraft attacks the copter. Little blows the attacker to bits and then continues telling his story. The brass frog was liberated from the burial chamber by a group of thieves, one of whom, name of Baba, unleashed another time-displaced being, this time a barbaric giant six stories tall, whose uncanny rampage led to the legend of "Ali Baba and the genie" (!)

PAGES 11-12-- Again Little's copter is attacked, this time by men in jet-packs. This time Little goes into hyperdrive and outdistances the men, who work for some unspecified "competitor." Little then lands his copter inside a mountain that is his own concealed hideaway from competitors like a certain "Princess Zanda." Not needing two more mentions of her name, Zanda and her henchmen promptly pop out of the shadows.

(So if as suggested the aircraft and jet-pack guys were both in her employ-- why did she bother making either attack? Waiting to surprise Little and Panther in Little's own retreat certainly works a lot better, as well as avoiding collateral damage of the coveted froggy.)

PAGES 13-16-- After a gunshot fells Mister Little-- whom a henchman claims to be dead-- the Panther fights the henchmen but is brought down by Zanda's nerve ray. After Zanda tries to sway the hero to her side, he breaks free again, and swipes back the frog. A hasty shot from a henchman hits the brass frog instead the hero, and causes the artifact to do the time warp. And the issue ends with a cliffhanger as a big-headed visitor from a far future-Earth menaces both the hero and his foes.

So in the space of one sixteen-page story, we have Kirby making by my count five major errors of continuity/verisimilitude:

1) a dead man somehow holds an object in the palm of his curiously-upraised hand
2) Panther makes a dumb remark about the brass frog killing someone (which would have been appropriate with a dumb character)
3) Panther lets a dangerous time-traveler run free even before he knows that he is a time-traveler, rather than a modern-day maniac in knight's clothing
4) the story of "Aladdin and his genie," which Kirby certainly knew as well as any of his contemporaries, suddenly becomes "Ali Baba and his genie" just so that Kirby can draw a line between a gang of thieves and a marauding monster (though Aladdin's genie isn't known for playing Godzilla and knocking down buildings)
5) Villainous Princess Zanda goes through all the trouble of breaking into Little's hideout and yet apparently is so impatient that she sends other minions to bring Little to heel

Further, the list grows to six if you include the lettercol, where Jack Kirby addresses his readers in an introductory letter. For though we find out in BP #2 that Mr. Little doesn't die of his wound (the old armored vest trick), we're not supposed to know it in BP #1. Yet here's Jack Kirby telling readers:

"You've seen the mysterious Mister Little (you thought he was dead, didn't you?)"

For me, though probably not for my opponents, a crazy-ass pulp tale like this one shows conclusively that when Jack Kirby was his own editor, he was capable of generating just as many problematic narratives as he was while under the editorship of Stan Lee. Thus attempts to whitewash Kirby as the Mistreated Artist won't, so to speak, wash.

In addition, such a flagrantly sentimentalization betrays Kirby's status as a great pulp-style artist, a master of what I've called "thematic escapism."

I've made a little fun of the oddball errors in BLACK PANTHER #1 (though I'm pretty gentle compared to some sites), but the errors don't bother me in the context of what is meant to be a wild-and-woolly adventure. In this essay I wrote of a Gardner Fox JUSTICE LEAGUE story:

The story’s game of “vanishing powers and weaknesses,” though, is arguably one that comes forth in its full glory only in a tale able to ignore the demands of thematic realism, and to focus on what the 1940 film THIEF OF BAGDAD calls “the beauty of the impossible."


I don't think any of Kirby's vagaries of verisimilitude hurt one's experience of BLACK PANTHER #1, nor do they indict the superhero genre as a whole, as I can imagine some critics saying. The errors only hold importance for comics-criticism as a corrective to the fallacious fan-vision of Saint Kirby, Apostle of Comic Book Art.

Jack Kirby would not have been a better artist had he been more concerned with the probable. Often he took the simplest way, and for what he was doing, the simplest way was best. Kirby didn't want to deal with the time-traveling swordsman as a character, so he has his hero take the most expedient step and let the killer go free, using a justification as lame as (if not worse than) any of Stan Lee's. But lame justifications are much of the essence of pulp escapism. With such works their internal consistency is generated by a montage of expressive effects, not by obedience to Aristotelian mimetic unities, as must the case with works concerned with thematic realism, of which I've written here and here.

For comics-critics there will always be many grey areas to consider when dealing with matters as complex as the intersecting creativity that comes from collaboration. But the grey has to be explored for what it is, rather than solving it in "superhero" fashion, as a contest between black and white.

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