Archive for August 2012

Captain America #4 The Unholy Legion part one   Leave a comment

We have now reached Captain America #4, detailing the first story, The Unholy Legion. Coming from the lower East side of New York City, Jack Kirby seemed fascinated with the underside of life that he must have observed there in his developing years. Throughout his career, he crafted several stories that featured homeless people or vagrants as depraved villains or even soulless zombies as in the story in All Winners #1 entitled The Case of the Hollow Men. Then of course, in Fantastic Four #4, one of the most famous chance encounters in comic book history, he has Johnny Storm retrieve the deluded Sub-Mariner from the depths of the Bowery.

In Cap#4, we see our heroes captain America and Bucky uncover a plot by a fiendish ragtag mob of Nazi saboteurs and killers. The title page is as usual crisply drawn and inked mostly by Kirby.

Issue four of Captain America kicks off the major involvement of Al Avison as an artist. Next to Reed Crandall and Kirby himself, Avison is my favorite Golden Age Kirby interpreter. On page two, Avison appears to be finishing fairly loose Kirby pencils, but the drama of Kirby’s initial composition is there with the crutch wielding machine gunner and the poison apple hag. There is something primordially horrific about these first few pages when these vagabond creatures attack, as if we are looking into some dim recess of Kirby’s urban nightmare dreamscape.

Avison worked over Kirby on Captain America fairly consistently on issues four through ten, and actually took over penciling chores after Kirby and Simon left Timely.

Avison appears to have been fairly adept at finishing loose Kirby pencils and layouts, while adding some strong stylistic touches of his own. Here is a sample of Avison’s pencil work in issue #12’s story, Rozzo the Rebel.

One can clearly see that he is using Kirby traced or influenced poses. Also note the characteristic facial features of some on the drawings, particularly the turned up or bulbous noses and heavy lower lips. If we compare those features to the ones on pages two and six below, we may see a similarity of styles. Still, my feeling is that there is solid Kirby underneath most of these drawings. the poses, such as Bucky socking  the vagrants on page six seem beyond the abilities of Avison alone. These figures are counterpoised to optimal visual advantage.

Mike Vassallo also has George Klein and Syd Shores credited as inkers, starting more or less in this story. Shores’ style can best be seen with his use of a cross-hatching inking technique best described as “Hay” as seen in the upper left corner of panel three.

Captain America finally appears on page seven, bursting through the door to rescue Bucky in the nick of time. This is not a particularly well-constructed page and the only outstanding pose is Cap’s figure in panel three. I do however like the character in the final panel, springing up into the air after receiving a hotfoot from Bucky. While it’s obvious that Kirby is doing layouts and loose pencils, it also seems that Avison is being given quite a bit of responsibility to finish the artwork.

To be continued

Posted August 16, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized

Captain America #3 The Murdering Butterfly, Part 2   Leave a comment

Page six above also looks very nice, probably because it is the result of strong Kirby layouts finished by a tight inker, who is probably yet another new hand. It looks to be neither Kirby, Simon nor the Eisner stylist, and the shading is distinct in that the inker uses masses of parallel lines to suggest shadows, as in panels three and four. The drawing of Lenny lifting Bucky out of the panel is particularly cool. One of the features that stands out is the inker’s distinctive rendering of hands that curl slightly at the fingertips.

Now we come to the page above that is almost certainly partially finished by Reed Crandall’s line. Page seven is beautifully laid out, and it is probably  Kirby’s baby. It has a wonderful flow from start to finish, beginning with Steve Rogers’ three-in-one blow starting a curve that moves through the pile of thugs in panel two and diagonally down to the speeding Rogers racing along the wall in three. In the final tier, Rogers ducks behind a gorilla and emerges as the stalking panther-like Captain America. Sadly, the ink lines are so finely drawn that the poor reproduction deprives us of much of their beauty.

Page eight above gives us a smashing dynamic Kirby layout, with that heavy-handed shading ink style again, which contrasts with the deft lightness of the inking on the previous page.We also see that peculiar treatment of fingers here again. Cap’s figure in panel one is very tastefully rendered and Lenny’s head is nicely done as well, but in panel two, we see a bizarre wood cut like cross-hatching on Lenny’s face and the heavy lank hair looking almost like an Albrecht Durer etching. Lenny’s torso in panels one, three, six and seven has that bizarre parallel shading, but nothing here detracts from the spectacle of Kirby unleashed, especially when the page contains panels like five, with the wonderful whip cord figure of Cap delivering a roundhouse right.

It’s downhill from there, as the next page is again a bit of a rush/hack job, that starts out with some promise in the first four panels and then falls apart in the final three. Cap’s figure is particularly strong in panel three, but the inking is fairly unremarkable. Skipping page ten, which shows even more diverse inkers, we come to the final page, which is even more peculiar in that the faces of the characters make me think of artist Mac Raboy. It is probably not he, but there you go. That is the nature of this bizarre hodge-podge of a comic series.

Posted August 13, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized

Captain America #3 The Murdering Butterfly   Leave a comment

Now we come to the final story in Captain America #3, entitled “The Queer Case of the Murdering Butterfly and the Ancient Mummies”, a title so provocative that it had to be altered to “The Weird Case of The Plundering Butterflies and the Ancient Mummies”

 

Here is another uneven story with some nice work, as well as some less than sterling rendering. Page one above looks to me like Kirby drawing with some of his inking mostly in the bare torso figure on the left. It also looks like Kirby’s shading behind said figure and on the floor. This is a splash panel that could have been sharper if Kirby had inked it all as he often did with such pages, but he has left much of it to less accomplished hands. The details in the mummy case are particularly weak. Could this possibly be rushed Simon?

 

 

Page two above is weird and even weaker, and as Jim Vadeboncoeur has pointed out looks as if it may have been added after the fact, with page three actually having originally been the second page. There doesn’t seem to be any Kirby here. The drawing is desultory and the inking is no better. Panel one is the strongest drawing here in my opinion and reminds me a bit of George Roussos’ work

Page three is drawn in a way that I would have originally suggested might be the work of Reed Crandall, but having studied his art more carefully, I’m more inclined to believe that it is someone else.

 

 

 

Throughout this story as well as most of the second issue of Captain America, there is a stylist who appears to have worked with Crandall or Lou Fine or picked up some of the peculiarities of Will Eisner’s house style, which manifests particularly in folds of clothing and the highlights on faces. This third page is either drawn and/or inked by such a person, and I see little here that looks like Kirby’s work again. In panel six, there is a setup with a figure overlooking a desk which is reminiscent of a Crandall panel in Cap #2, leading me to believe that it may have been laid out by that artist, but the final drawing is shoddy.

 

Page four above is stronger, with what could actually be some Crandall in it. Jim has pointed out that the faux Crandall/Eisner’s anatomy looks “faked.” On page four, we see something that looks a bit more like real solid anatomy in Lenny’s musculature and clothing folds in panel one, and his carrying of the heavy stone idol in two. Still, it’s not as sharp as it could be, and the face of the idol is pathetic, especially when compared to Crandall’s sculpted signature masks that he is often wont to include in his artwork. Some of the other figures are also weak, such as the prone guard in panel six. There is something Kirby-esque in the Butterfly straddling  that figure, but with the peculiar inking it is difficult to see clearly.  This remains an unsolved mystery. The general design of the page is strong with occasional flashes of brilliance in the details. Perhaps Crandall had an assistant, who is doing most of the work and the master’s hand is only showing through the cracks.

Page five is a vast improvement, showing more solid Kirby layouts as well as drawing and perhaps even a bit of inking. This is a star turn for Bucky, and he and the environment he occupies are done very nicely. I particularly like the Egyptian head in panel three.

 

 

 

To be continued.

Posted August 10, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized