The Comic Book Club: Strange Adventures and Kirby Genesis

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I liked this book more than I was expecting and, really, I was intrigued by the first page. It blurred the line between reality and fiction and teased me with a bit of history I didn’t know. From there, Genesis incorporates the themes of Kirby’s work–the wonderment at and questioning of the human condition against a backdrop of unknowable cosmic forces–into the universe and the voices of its everyday characters. I mean, it’s funny yet effective that all that portentious space talk was coming from a teenager’s mouth. That kind of trick is what makes Kurt Busiek such a great (if deeply underappreciated) writer. He always manages to find some vein of relatable naturalism in his work: photographer Phil Sheldon’s confusion at the dawn of the Golden Age in Marvels or the Clark Kent teased with Superman jokes only to find he does have Kal-El’s powers in Superman: Secret Identity. Yet it doesn’t feel like a template in his hands; it just feels like good storytelling.

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I haven’t talked about Alex Ross much, even though he’s one of Genesis’ chief architects. That’s because his contributions kind of hover in the background. His brand of eyes-with-crow’s-feet realism informs Herbert’s style, and he’s got pages in the book, too, but it’s not his show. It’s Kirby’s show. I don’t know if this is the book you give to a reader who doesn’t get Kirby, but I am interested to see if some of his lesser creations can find new life in the hands of others.

DOUGLAS: Brent Anderson is a good point of comparison–the brief (twelve-page) preview here actually read a lot like Busiek and Anderson’s Astro City project. (Also, the cover design of Kirby Genesis looks a whole lot like the cover design of Busiek and Ross’s previous collaboration, Marvels!)

I sometimes like to imagine that “Jack Kirby” is not a particular creator but an actual genre of comics, with its own evolving traditions and tropes. Think of it that way, and this is the equivalent of an old-fashioned whodunnit or showdown-at-the-OK-Corral story, with Kirby Krackle in the place of a sinister butler or clinking spurs. Everyone involved is clearly having a really good time playing with some of the finest toys in the toybox, which makes it a pleasure to read. That said, I would be very happy to never see Alex Rossified versions of Captain Victory or Silver Star or, I don’t know, Destroyer Duck; visible crow’s feet don’t make a character more meaningful. Obviously, Kirby not getting a cut of his creations and co-creations’ eventual profits is one of the great embarrassments of the American comics business. But I also don’t think it’s unfair to say that, especially during and after the Kamandi/OMAC era, he really did need collaborators on the writing side–people who could channel his crackling power into something more directed and focused.

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Busiek actually wrote one (published) issue apiece of Victory and Silver Star comics back in 1993, when Topps Comics published a short-lived “Kirbyverse” line of more not-particularly-realized ideas from the Kirby notebooks. As we’ve also seen in Astro City, Busiek’s got a real fondness for Kirby’s cosmic madness, but he comes at it from a completely different angle: he pulls back from it to give a sense of its reverberations, rather than smashing directly into the heart of the thing itself. I enjoyed it a lot–and maybe my favorite bit of writing in the issue is the dead-on Kirbyism of the next-issue box: “We sent an invitation! But who’ll come a-knocking? The trader–or the tiger?” Which turns out, on the next page, to be partly an actual Kirbyism.

GRAEME: I’m on the record as being firmly on board for this series. I really enjoyed this preview, but what really sold me was the sneak I had at the next issue, which firmly sets out the tone of the series, and it’s that tone – and really, the UNKirbyishness of it, the deliberate evocation of a real world that Kirby could never quite surrender himself to, before it gets invaded by Kirby’s creativity – that won me over almost effortlessly. There’s something about what’s done here that feels respectful of Kirby’s legacy in ways that I wouldn’t even have considered: The recontextualization of his optimism about humanity (in terms of both Kirby as a character, and the, I guess, “cosmicness” of the opening of the story, the idea that the universe gets inspired by the creativeness of a human), for example, seems to understand Kirby and speak to his appeal without devolving into parody or just copying what was already there.

There’s such affection for what makes Kirby’s stuff great, here. Not just in the art (although Alex Ross and Jack Herbert both bring work that fits in with Kirby’s aesthetic without sacrificing their own take), but in the language, too. The next issue caption here is perfect, you know? As much as I wanted to love this book when it was announced – I adore Busiek’s work, especially Astro City, and am a complete Kirby nut – I had managed to convince myself this would, somehow, be a letdown. But it really wasn’t. I am an unabashed fan.

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