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The Simon & Kirby Library: Superheroes

01/11/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy The Simon & Kirby Library: Superheroes in the USA - or Buy The Simon & Kirby Library: Superheroes in the UK

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pub: Titan Books. The Simon & Kirby Library: Superheroes by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. 478 page graphic novel hardback. Price: GBP 35.00 (UK), $49.95 (US), $62.00 (CAN) . ISBN: 978-1-84856-365-0.

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There are people who say Jack Kirby couldn’t draw and looking at the opening pages of this ‘Best of’ collection you would feel bound to agree.

The books kicks off with Captain America’s first meeting with the Red Skull from 1941 and the art is not great. This surprised me but reading on I discovered that this art was probably by Joe Simon because some stories definitely accredited to Joe alone have the same style. Thankfully, most of the art in this volume looks like the Kirby we know and love.

Anyway, the Red Skull is an industrialist called Maxon and he commits suicide at the end which Captain America doesn’t stop to Bucky’s surprise. This is morally ambiguous but I guess anti-Nazi feelings were running high at the time, especially in the (very Jewish) comic community of New York. In the next story, the Vision (not the later android) appears out of a pipe, from another dimension and tackles a pair of werewolves who also end up dead. They had fun before the Comics Code!

Kirby’s art was always unique but it changed over time. When Sandman fights Thor in 1942, its okay, and when Stuntman fights a circus in 1946, its better. Of course, when Thor fought the circus in 1967 the art was great! But that’s not in this book. However, you can see the progress from the former to the latter here, with the drawings looking distinctly more Kirby-esque during the fifties. These were horror, western, crime and romance tales rather than the super-heroes for which The King became best known. Joe Simon probably did the scripting because it doesn’t sound like Kirby dialogue. Kirby’s scripting is famously awful but I think it’s an acquired taste and has its own singular flavour. Simon may well have done much of the inking, too. Jack almost never inked himself, but it‘s hard to be sure. They ran a studio and employed other men to help out.

The book is divided into sections by theme: super-heroes, Science Fiction, war, romance, horror, westerns and so on. There is a general introduction by Joe Simon and then introductions to the individual sections written by Kirby expert Mark Evanier. These contain interesting anecdotes about the duo. For example, in the war introduction artist Jerry Robinson tells how other artists in the studio would gather round to watch Jack because they couldn't believe how fast he drew. He could do three pages before lunch and four more after. It struck me that both Jack and Joe's parents were tailors, turning out garments on piecework rates. Jack and Joe turned out comic pages on the same principle. The more you created, the more money you earned. The art is beautifully reproduced in this luxurious volume and it's nice that this stuff is preserved and enshrined but only a crazy man would call it great art. It is bold, colourful, dynamic, unusual and interesting but not great. The stories aren't brilliant neither, by modern standards. Who cares? This is comicbook history.

Notwithstanding Mark Antony’s famous funeral speech, it is the works and not the evil that men do that lives after them and such is the case with Jack Kirby. Joe Simon is still around to benefit from royalties on this material in his ripe old age. No bad thing. The cult of Kirby has grown and grown to the diminution of his collaborators but I think his star power - to which their wagons were hitched - always worked best when harnessed. He needed a good editor. Stan Lee and Joe Simon were the best he had and no mean talents themselves. His later work with Stan can be purchased cheaply in Marvel's ‘Essential’ line and his work with Simon is now available in this luxurious format. There are more of these books to come. Enjoy.

Eamonn Murphy

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