Friday, February 19, 2010

BAB Two-In-One: Jacked-up Storytelling and the Savage art of Barry Smith

Doug: Back atcha with a look at Amazing Adventures #2 from September 1970. As with the premiere ish of the Inhumans solo series, this story was written and drawn by Jack Kirby with inks by Chic Stone (who incidentally seems to have tipped over the ol' inkpot square on Black Bolt's mug on the splash page!).

As I'd commented last time, while Jack Kirby might have been known as the King, it certainly was not a title to be associated with his writing prowess. Let's see if things get better with experience... When we left off, the Great Refuge had been attacked by a cobalt missile. Destroyed by Black Bolt, the scraps carried the insignia of the Fantastic Four. With the revelation that former allies had instigated the attack, Black Bolt gave the signal for the royal family to now make war.

This issue opens with Lockjaw teleporting the Inhumans directly into the Baxter Building where they find Ben reclining in his personal quarters and Crystal (still can't figure out why she's in this story -- as I'd said, she had been called back to the Great Refuge some months ago) and Johnny dancing to records (that's right -- vinyl, baby!) in the rec. room. There's a great scene of Lockjaw holding the door knob to Ben's room so that he can't get out, and Ben on the other side giving a firm tug. When Lockjaw finally plows through, Black Bolt follows and hits Ben with an electron burst from his antennae. Ben's floored then by Karnak and the scene switches to the young lovers.

Moving into the hallway to check out the commotion, Crystal is subdued by Medusa while Johnny squares off against Gorgon. Of course the Baxter Building is virtually destroyed in the melee. When Reed and Sue return from a shopping trip, there's not much left of their home.

Meanwhile, Maximus is on his secret island gloating about the events transpiring. However, Black Bolt had dispatched Triton on a hunch that the Mad One was behind all of this (as he usually is in an Inhumans yarn...). Yep -- Triton sees the missile launcher, catches a little of Maximus' gloating, and takes him into custody. Shortly after that the fighting in New York comes to a halt.

While Black Bolt regenerates Ben's destroyed bath robe, Medusa gives an odd soliloquy about doing right in the face of a false attack (or something like that). It's a real moralizing speech, and coming from Kirby's pen is understandable given his war experiences but the delivery is just odd. And that's also the overall evaluation of this 2-parter -- while Jack's visual storytelling works, the plot and dialogue are just so contrived and basic that it's really a bore. As I've read so much history about the man, I find myself sad that all of the ideas caged up in his head didn't make him happy on the graphic page -- that he had to write, when that was not his gift, somewhat seems to diminish the overall talent. And I'm sorry I feel that way about it.

Karen: My comrade in comics, Doug, has inspired me with his selection of the split-book, Amazing Adventures. Since I've been reading Astonishing Tales featuring Deathlok, I decided to go waaay back to issue 3 of that title, back when it was a split book as well, shared by the incongruous pairing of Dr. Doom and Ka-Zar! I've had this book plus a number of other early Astonishing Tales issues sitting in my comic boxes, unread. So I pulled out the earliest one I had and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the art of Barry Smith. While best known for Conan, Smith left his mark in a number of other titles, such as Avengers and Dr. Strange. But I've always felt that his style worked best with the non-super-heroes. There is a sort of otherworldliness to it - at least, in my eyes. Here, he turns in a terrific Ka-Zar, who resembles Conan in many ways - the blond hair being the primary difference!

The story in this issue, "Back to the Savage Land," was written by Gerry Conway, another guy who popped up all over the Marvel universe. According to Wikipedia, this was Conway's first writing job for Marvel. If that's the case, then it's no wonder he was soon scripting almost every title Marvel had. It's a really solid adventure that continues with the next issue. But probably the most interesting thing about it is that it is the precursor to a much-better known X-Men story. Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin basically did a sequel to this issue in issues 114-116 of that title, when the X-Men found themselves stuck in Ka-Zar's home base.

In this story, the blood-thirsty priestess Zaladane of the Sun People uses the worship of their god, Garokk, to influence her tribe to attack and conquer the other people of the Savage Land, breaking years of peaceful co-existence. In the meantime, Ka-Zar, who has been living in New York, is contacted by the Petrified Man, the human avatar of Garokk. The Petrified Man was originally a sailor in the 16th century who wound up in the Savage Land. By drinking mystical water consecrated to Garokk he has become immortal; but he has also been turned into stone (but can still move, obviously). He senses things are not right in the Savage Land, so he and Ka-Zar return to their jungle home. They soon discover what Zaladane is up to and try to stop her.

I really enjoyed the artwork in this issue
. I think Barry Smith is one of the most immediately-recognizable of artists - I knew as soon as I looked at the first page that this was his work. He does an excellent job here in depicting the hidden world of the Savage Land, and his pacing moves the story along at just the right speed. His figures are dynamic. All in all, just a real joy to look at. It's always great fun for me to read an old book like this for the very first time - but when it is a truly good story, so much the better.

I won't review the Dr. Doom story here, but I must say something about the Wally Wood artwork. It is truly beautiful. It has a heavy, dark feeling that perfectly suits Dr. Doom. In some ways, it feels 'old' to me. But in a good way. It's extremely dramatic, and well....just take a look. Wow.


Edo Bosnar said...

You can definitely see "Barry" Smith's evolution into his own lush and lovely style in those Ka-zar panels (like in the very first Conan issues). I was shocked a few years ago when I saw some scanned panels of Smith's work from the late '60s that looked almost exactly like Kirby's.
Speaking of Kirby, I can't really comment on that Inhumans story, since I never read it, but I think the weakness of Kirby as an actual scripter came to the fore when he returned to Marvel in the mid-70s (I think his DC output was pretty good...) Specifically, I'm thinking of the Eternals, which was a fantastic idea but it suffered not only from poor writing but also what seemed to me really rushed and sloppy pencilling.

Doug said...

Edo --

Kirby's Captain America was enough for me -- I never got to the Eternals!

You're spot on in your evaluation of Barry Smith. Early stuff -- yuck! His Conan work was incredible. Then, to be quite frank, his 1980's-90's work morphed into yet a different style that I didn't find particularly appealing.


Karen said...

From what I understand Barry was encouraged to ape Kirby (probably just as Rich Buckler was), but I don't think it really suited him. His work on Conan was beautiful, although I always thought his Cimmerian was a bit too skinny!



"Back to the Savage Land," was about the best or least ways rememerable Ka-Zar story.It shows you can go beyond super hero soap opera or redone Weismeuller Tarzan,or no so hip Soul patch Tarzan with Lord Kevin Plunder.Too bad Barry Smith couldn't do both Conan and Ka-Zar.
Speaking of Kirby,lets not-too much can be oversaid about a guy who can't five fingers on Ben Grimm or the Hulk-nor uniform the Things rock image.Check out Alex Toth's version and tell it's not better than Kirby the King and all the rest who imatate him.


Barry Smith's breif time on Ka Zar shows you could do more with the character than Marvel soap opera,or bad biblical drama or the dum Johnny Weiseuller Tarzan.Too bad Barry Smith could do both Ka-Zar and Conan.Despite his skinny Conan-Smith made the Hyborean Age truelly an Age Undreamed of whereas John Buscema just drew Medieval Earth-borring.Great on the way guys and gals look-I learned alot on him,as an artist,but Smith showed me,you can push the artistic world building up a bit.Buscema just finnished the comic on time and got it done enough for publication.
You can definitely see "Barry" Smith's evolution into his own lush and lovely style in those Ka-zar panels (like in the very first Conan issues)
Speaking of Kirby,lets not.Anyone can't design a uniformed outer shelled Thing-check Alex Toth's version in the Hanna Barbara series,nor draw a five finger Ben Grimm or the Hulk,at times dosen't deserve the much way over used by fanatic morons and asskissing pros King of Comics title.

IMFI Pty. Ltd. said...

So the Petrified Man is part of the same family tree as the other Trasks in the Marvel Universe?

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