By Jack Kirby, Dick & Dave Wood, Wally Wood & Dick Ayers (Pure Imagination Publishing)
Sky Masters of the Space Force is a beautiful strip with a chequered and troubled back-story, which you can discover for yourself when you buy the book. Even comics-god Jack Kirby spent decades trying to forget the grief caused by this foray into the newspaper strip market during the height of the Space Race before finally relenting in his twilight years and giving his blessing to collections and reprints.
I’m glad that he did because the collected work is one of his greatest achievements, even with the incredible format restraints of one tier of tiny panels per day, and a solitary page every Sunday. Fifty years later this hard-science space adventure is still the business!
Against a backdrop of international and ideological rivalry turned white-hot when the Soviets successfully launched Sputnik in 1957, the staid George Matthew Adams syndicate decided to finally enter the 20th century with a newspaper feature about space. After approaching a reluctant DC Comics (then known as National Periodicals Publications) a deal was brokered, and Jack Kirby, inked by Wally Wood – later to be replaced by Dick Ayers – and initially fed scripts by the brothers Dick and Dave Wood (no relation to Wally), began bringing the cosmos into our lives via an all-American astronaut and his trusty team of stalwarts.
The daily strip debuted on September 8th 1958 and ran until February 25th 1961 (a scant few months before Alan Shepherd became the first American in Space on May 5th), and the Sunday colour page told its five long tales (The Atom Horse, Project Darkside, Mister Lunivac, Jumbo Jones and The Yogi Spaceman) in a separate continuity from February 8th 1959 until 14th February 1960.
Sky Masters, burly Sgt. Riot, astronaut’s daughter Holly Martin and her feisty brother Danny (who do they remind me of?) were all introduced in The First Man in Space and the human tragedy of that moody tale informs all the following stories, even as grim yet heady realism slowly grew into exuberant action and fantastic spectacle. Sabotage, Mayday Shannon, The Lost Capsule, Alfie, Refugee, Wedding in Space, Weather Watchers and finally The Young Astronaut form a meteoric canon of wonderment that no red-blooded armchair adventurer could possibly resist.
This volume also contains an abundance of essays, commentary and extras such as sketches and unpublished art, which more than compensates for the Sunday pages being printed in black and white.
Quite honestly I can’t be totally objective about Sky Masters. I grew up during this period and the “Conquest of Space” is bred into my sturdy yet creaky old bones. That it is also thrilling, challenging and spectacularly drawn is almost irrelevant to me, but if any inducement is needed for you to seek this work out let it be that this is one of Kirby’s greatest accomplishments. Now go enjoy it…
© 2000 Pure Imagination.