August 28th is Jack Kirby’s Birthday, and rather than go with my usual tribute post–because really, I said about all I can about the guy with last year’s–I thought I might take the opportunity to revisit one of my favorites because hey, it worked out pretty well last time.
Anyway, I’ll be honest with you: When I was a kid, I did not like Kirby. I remember picking up the first few issues of X-Men: The Early Years when I was around thirteen and thinking that the art and character designs were just awful. To be fair, those early X-Men issues aren’t Jack’s best work, and when you stack them up against other stuff he was doing at the time, you can tell that his heart’s not in it the way it was for stuff like Fantastic Four. Still, even before then, his work turned me off.
Or to be more accurate, it scared the hell out of me.
I must’ve been about six or seven when I got a copy of Captain America #195, from Jack’s mid-70s return to the title. It was the first Marvel Comic I’d ever read, and until I hit the seventh grade and was issued my mandatory copy of Amazing Spider-Man #33, it was the last one. I should probably explain here that when I was a kid, I took things way too seriously, and when I saw this…
(Click to enlarge)
…it FREAKED ME OUT.
The weird, distorted figures, the floating head with the hangman on the American flag, the mob of people driven to murderous frenzy and tearing the “Freedom Freak” effigy limb from limb… it blew young Chris’s mind to the point where even today, I’m always surprised when I grab the trade off the shelf and find out that they aren’t huge splash panels.
Of course, it didn’t scare me away for that long, and from what I’ve heard from friends of mine, it wasn’t an unusual experience. Not the part about being scared by an issue of Captain America–that one, it seems, was just me–but just not understanding what the big deal was with Kirby until the one magic summer where you all the sudden realize that holy crap Jack Kirby is awesome.
For me, it was the New Gods that won me over, but that wasn’t the book that made me the die-hard fan I am today. No… that was this guy:
For those of you unfamiliar with him–and if you’ve been reading the ISB for any considerable length of time, this cannot possibly apply to you–OMAC is the One-Man Army Corps, who polices The World That’s Coming with the help of an all-powerful satellite named Brother Eye that uses “electro-hormone surgery” to give him super-powers and the greatest mohawk in comics history.
That’s right, I said greatest. Suck it, Mr. T and the T-Force.
Anyway, with all that I talk about OMAC, it occurs to me that I rarely talk about anything past the third page of #2–because really, once you’ve seen those dudes try to keep OMAC out of that city even though he straight up told ’em he was going in , what else is there?–so instead of going back to the City of the Super-Rich tonight, I’m going to focus on this one:
OMAC #4’s The Busting of a Conqueror, wherein OMAC follows up the previous issue’s act of fighting a literal One Hundred Thousand Foes by dragging a “little Hitler” called Kirovan Kafka downtown, which in this case is represented by a criminal court at the top of Mount Everest.
And that’s the thing: For all its huge Kirby concepts and bravura that go into it, the World That’s Coming is unique among comic book futures for the simple fact that it’s not the shiny paradise of Legion of Super-Heroes or the grim, terrible dystopia of… well, also of Legion of Super-Heroes. Instead, the setting Kirby gives us is a world that, once you get past the shock of his designs, is one that we can believe is coming because for the most part, it’s already here.
He takes everything that could go wrong with technology and all the fears that go along with a world where the ability to destroy every bit of life on the planet is at hand and just extrapolates it out to the fantastic–with stories of artificial water shortages and plastic surgery gone crazy as the rich pursue eternal youth–and gives us a hero who has to act alone because a full-scale war is just too dangerous. In essence, it’s the world we live in, but with giant green robo-tanks.
And that’s why we need a lawman like this:
So back to the story: OMAC brings in Kafka to face trial at the Top of the World, but when the would-be dictator keeps going on and on about an alleged “avenger” coming to rescue him from his court date, OMAC heads out in a jet and..
Well just check this radness out:
“Animal, mineral or vegetable? It could be all three!“
It gets better.
Yes: In order to bring a criminal to justice in the World That’s Coming, OMAC has to take out a giant purple fire-breathing nuclear insect monster.
And that is why I love Jack Kirby.