The Jack Kirby Omnibus Volume One: Green Arrow and others


By Jack Kirby, with Joe Simon, France E. Herron, Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Robert Bernstein, Frank Giacoia, Roz Kirby & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3107-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Action and Moody Mystery for All Seasons… 9/10

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars. He’s been a fixture of the company – in many instances for no discernible reason – more or less continually since his 1941 debut in More Fun Comics #73. Many Happy Returns, Emerald Archer!

In those distant heady days, origins weren’t as important as image and storytelling, so creators Mort Weisinger & George Papp never bothered. The first inkling of formative motivations came in More Fun Comics # 89 (March 1943) wherein Joe Samachson & Cliff Young detailed ‘The Birth of the Battling Bowman’ (and a tip of the feathered hat to Scott McCullar for bringing that tale to my belated attention).

With the secret revealed, it was promptly ignored for years, leaving later workmen France Herron, Jack Kirby and his wife Roz to fill in the blanks again…

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are millions of words written – such as those here by former Kirby assistant Mark Evanier in the revelatory and myth-busting Introduction to this gloriously enthralling full-colour hardback compilation – about what the King has done and meant, and you should read those too, if you are at all interested in our medium.

Tragically this particular tome is not available digitally yet, but that will just make it an even more impressive gift this year…

For those of us who grew up with his work, his are the images which furnish and clutter our interior mindsets. Close your eyes and think “robot” and the first thing that pops up is a Kirby creation. Every fantastic, futuristic city in our heads is crammed with his chunky, towering spires. Because of Jack we all know what the bodies beneath those stony-head statues on Easter Island look like, and we are all viscerally aware that you can never trust great big aliens parading around in their underpants…

When comic books began, in a remarkably short time Kirby and his creative partner Joe Simon became the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born industry. After generating a year’s worth of the influential monthly Blue Bolt, and dashing off Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for Fawcett, Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely, where “S&K” created a host of iconic stars like Red Raven, the first Marvel Boy, Hurricane, The Vision, The Young Allies, immortal villain The Red Skull and of course million-selling mega-hit Captain America (and Bucky AKA today’s Winter Soldier).

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid company were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and were given two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around virtually overnight and, once established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe & Jack created wartime sales sensation The Boy Commandos and Homefront iteration the Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comicbook pages since 1940.

When they returned it was to a very different funnybook business, and soon they left National to create their own little empire.

Simon & Kirby heralded and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations. They saw it all disappear again in less than eight years. Their small stable of magazines – generated for an association of interlinked companies known as Prize/Crestwood/Pines/Essenkay/Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry abruptly contracted throughout the 1950s. After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing house, producing comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom.

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulation. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished and mature themes challenging society’s status quo were suppressed…

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Kirby soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less daring, companies. As the panic subsided, Kirby returned briefly to DC where he worked on mystery tales and Green Arrow (a back-up strip in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his long-dreamed-of newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

During that period, he also re-packaged a super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956, Showcase #6 (a try-out title that launched many DC mainstays) premiered the Challengers of the Unknown. After 3 more test issues they won their own title, with Kirby in command for the first 8. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff kicked off and the King was gone…

During that brief 3-year period (cover-dated 1957-1959), Kirby also crafted a plethora of short comics yarns which this fabulous tome re-presents – in originally-published order. It comprises superhero, mystery and science fiction shorts from Tales of the Unexpected #12, 13, 15-18, 21- 24; House of Mystery #61, 63, 65, 66, 70, 72, 76, 84, 85; House of Secrets#3, 4, 8, 12; My Greatest Adventure #15- 18, 20, 21, 28; Adventure Comics #250-256 and World’s Finest Comics # 96-99: a lost gem from All-Star Western #99 plus 3 quirky vignettes by Simon & Kirby from 1946-1947 for Real Fact Comics #1, 2 and 6.

Records are sparse and scanty from those days when no creator was allowed a by-line, so many of these stories carry no writer’s credit (and besides, Kirby was notorious for rewriting scripts he was unhappy with drawing) but Group Editor Schiff’s regular stable of authors included Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Ed Herron, Joe Samachson, George Kashdan, Jack Miller and Otto Binder, so feel free to play the “whodunit” game…

National DC Comics was relatively slow in joining the post-war mystery comics boom, but as 1951 closed they at last launched a gore-free, comparatively straight-laced anthology which nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles: The House of Mystery (cover-dated December 1951/January 1952). Its success inevitably led to a raft of similar creature-filled fantasy anthologies such as Sensation Mystery, My Greatest Adventure, House of Secrets and Tales of the Unexpected.

With the Comics Code in full effect, plot options for mystery and suspense stories were savagely curtailed: limited to ambiguous, anodyne magical artefacts, wholesomely education mythological themes, science-based miracles and criminal chicanery. Although marvellously illustrated, stories were rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which dominated until the early 1960s when superheroes (reinvigorated after Julius Schwartz reintroduced the Flash in Showcase #4, October 1956) usurped them…

In this volume, following that aforementioned Introduction – describing Kirby’s 3 tours of duty with DC in very different decades – the vintage wonderment commences with another example of the ingenious versatility of Jack & Joe.

Originating in the wholesome and self-explanatory Real Fact Comics, ‘The Rocket-Lanes of Tomorrow’ (#1, March/April 1946) and ‘A World of Thinking Robots’ from #2 (May/June 1946) are forward-looking, retro-fabulous graphic prognostications of the “World that’s Coming”. A longer piece from #6 (July/August 1947) details the history and achievements of ‘Backseat Driver’ and road-safety campaigner Mildred McKay.

These were amongst the very last strips the duo produced for National before moving to Crestwood/Pines, so we skip ahead a decade and more for Jack’s return in House of Secrets #3 (March/April 1957) where ‘The Three Prophecies’reveals an eerie tale of a spiritualist conman being fleeced by an even more skilful grifter… until Fate takes a hand…

Mythological mysticism informs the strange tale of ‘The Thing in the Box’ (House of Mystery #61, April 1957) wherein a salvage diver is obsessed with a deadly casket his captain is all too eager to dump into the ocean.

From the same month, Tales of the Unexpected #12 focuses on ‘The All-Seeing Eye’ as a journalist responsible for many impossible scoops realises the potential dangers of the ancient artefact he employs far outweigh its benefits …

In House of Secrets #4 (May/June 1957) the ‘Master of the Unknown’ seems destined to take the big cash prize on a TV quiz show until the producer deduces his uncanny secret, after which ‘I Found the City under the City’ (My Greatest Adventure #15, from the same month) details how fishermen recover the last testament of a lost oceanographer and read of how he intended to foil an impending invasion by aquatic aliens…

From May 1957, France E. Herron & Kirby investigated ‘The Face Behind the Mask’ (Tales of the Unexpected #13): a gripping crime-caper in involving gullible men, a vibrant femme fatale and the quest for eternal youth. There was no fakery to ‘Riddle of the Red Roc’ (House of Mystery #63, June) as a venal explorer hatches and trains the invulnerable bird of legend, creating an unstoppable thief before succumbing to his own greed, after which My Greatest Adventure #16 (July/August) features a truly eerie threat as an explorer is sucked into a deadly association creating death and destruction to learn ‘I Died a Thousand Times’

That month, Unexpected #15 offered ‘Three Wishes to Doom’: a crafty thriller proving that even with a genie’s lamp, crime does not pay, after which weird science transforms a rash scientist into ‘The Human Dragon’ (HoM #65 August, with George Roussos inking his old pal Jack), although his time to repent is brief as a criminal mastermind capitalises on his misfortune…

There’s an understandable frisson of foreshadowing to ‘The Magic Hammer’ (Tales of the Unexpected #16 August) as it relates how a prospector finds a magical mallet capable of creating storms and goes into the rainmaking business… until the original owner turns up…

A smart gimmick underscores a tantalising tale of plagiarism and possible telepathy in ‘The Thief of Thoughts’ (HoM #66 September) whilst straight Sci Fi tropes inform the tale of a hotel detective and a most unusual guest in ‘Who is Mr. Ashtar?’ (Tales of the Unexpected #17, September) before My Greatest Adventure #17 September/October 1957) reveals how aliens intent on invasion brainwash a millionaire scientist to eradicate humanity in ‘I Doomed the World’.Happily one glaring error was made…

In Tales of the Unexpected #18 (October), Kirby shows how an astute astronomer saves us all by outwitting an energy being with big appetites in ‘The Man Who Collected Planets’, after which MGA #18 (November/December 1957) ushers in the comic book Atomic Age with ‘I Tracked the Nuclear Creature’ detailing how a hunter sets out to destroy a macabre mineral monster created by uncontrolled fission…

A new year dawned with Roussos inking ‘The Creatures from Nowhere!’ (HoM #70, January 1958) as escaped alien beasts rampage through a quiet town, and HoS #8 (January/February) finds greed, betrayal, murder and supernatural suspense are the watchwords when a killer tries to silence ‘The Cats who Knew Too Much!’

Tales of the Unexpected #21 (also January) sees a smart investor proving too much for apparent extraterrestrial ‘The Mysterious Mr. Vince’, whilst a month later Unexpected #22 sees an ‘Invasion of the Volcano Men’ start in fiery fury and panicked confrontations before resolving into an alliance against uncontrolled forces of nature.

Kirby never officially worked for National’s large Westerns division, but apparently his old friend and neighbour Frank Giacoia did, and occasionally needed Jack’s legendary pencilling speed to meet deadlines. ‘The Ambush at Smoke Canyon!’ features long-running cavalry hero Foley of the Fighting 5th single-handedly stalking Pawnee renegades in a somewhat standard sagebrush saga scripted by Herron and inked by Giacoia from All-Star Western #99 (February/March 1958).

Meanwhile in House of Mystery #72 (March) a shameless B-Movie Producer seemingly becomes ‘The Man who Betrayed Earth’ whilst in MGA #20 (March/April), interplanetary bonds of friendship are forged when space pirates kidnap assorted sentients and a canny Earthling saves the day in ‘I Was Big-Game on Neptune’

Inadvertent cosmic catastrophe is narrowly averted in Tales of the Unexpected #23 (March) when one man realises how to make contact with ‘The Giants from Outer Space’, after which issue #24 (April) slips into wild whimsy as ‘The Two-Dimensional Man!’ strives desperately to correct his incredible condition before being literally blown away…

When an early space-shot brings back an all-consuming horror in MGA #21 (May/June 1958), a brace of boffins realise‘We Were Doomed by the Metal-Eating Monster’ before ‘The Artificial Twin’ (HoM #76, July) combines mad doctor super-science with fraud and deception and House of Secrets #12 (September) sees one frantic man struggling to close ‘The Hole in the Sky’ before invading aliens use it to conquer mankind…

Also scattered throughout this extraordinary compendium of the bizarre is a stunning and bombastic Baker’s Dozen of Kirby’s fantastic covers from the period, but for most modern fans the real meat is the short, sharp sequence of superhero shockers that follow…

On his debut, Green Arrow proved quite successful. With boy partner Speedy, he was one of precious few masked stalwarts to survive beyond the Golden Age. His blatant blend of Batman and Robin Hood seemed to have very little going for itself, but the Emerald Archer always managed to keep himself in vogue. He carried on adventuring in the back of other heroes’ comic books, joined the Justice League of America just as their star was rising and later became – courtesy of Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams – the spokes-hero of the anti-establishment generation, during the 1960-70’s “Relevancy Comics” trend.

Later, under Mike Grell’s stewardship and thanks to epic miniseries Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters, he at last became a headliner: re-imagined as an urban predator dealing with corporate thugs and serial killers rather than costumed goof-balls. This version, more than any other, informs and underpins the TV incarnation seen in Arrow.

After his long career and numerous venue changes, by the time of Schwartz’s resurrection of the Superhero genre the Battling Bowman was a solid second feature in Adventure and World’s Finest Comics where, as part of the wave of retcons, reworkings and spruce-ups DC administered to their remaining costumed old soldiers, a fresh start began in the summer of 1958.

Part of that revival happily coincided with Kirby’s return to National Comics.

As revealed in Evanier’s Introduction, after working on anthological stories for Schiff, the King was asked to revise the idling archer and responded by beefing up the science fictional aspects. When supervising editor – and creator – Weisinger objected, changes were toned down and Kirby saw the writing was on the wall. He lost interest and began quietly looking elsewhere for work…

What resulted was a tantalisingly short run of 11 astounding action-packed, fantasy-filled swashbucklers, the first of which was scripted by Bill Finger as ‘The Green Arrows of the World’ (Adventure Comics #251, July 1958) sees costumed archers from many nations attending a conference in Star City. They are blithely unaware that a fugitive criminal with murder in his heart is hiding within their masked midst…

August’s #251 takes a welcome turn to astounding science fiction as Kirby scripted and resolved ‘The Case of the Super-Arrows’ wherein the Amazing Archers take possession of high-tech trick shafts sent from 3000 AD. World’s Finest Comics #96 (writer unknown) then reveals, ‘Five Clues to Danger’ – a classic kidnap mystery made even more impressive by Kirby’s lean, raw illustration and wife Roz’s sharp inking.

A practically unheard-of continued case spanned Adventure #252 and 253 as Dave Wood, Jack & Roz posed ‘The Mystery of the Giant Arrows’ before GA and Speedy briefly became ‘Prisoners of Dimension Zero’ – a spectacular riot of giant aliens and incredible exotic other worlds, followed in WFC #97 (October 1958) with a grand old-school crime-caper in Herron’s ‘The Mystery of the Mechanical Octopus’.

Kirby was having fun and going from strength to strength. Adventure #254 featured ‘The Green Arrow’s Last Stand’ (by Wood): a particularly fine example with the Bold Bowmen crashing into a hidden valley where Sioux braves thrive unchanged since the time of Custer. The next issue saw the heroes battling a battalion of Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender their island bunker in ‘The War That Never Ended!’ (also by Wood).

December’s WFC #98 almost ended the heroes’ careers in Herron’s ‘The Unmasked Archers’ wherein a private practical joke causes the pair to inadvertently expose themselves to public scrutiny and deadly danger…

As previous stated, in the heady early days origins weren’t as important as just plain getting on with it. The definitive version was left to later workmen Herron, Jack & Roz (in Kirby’s penultimate tale), filling in the blanks with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ as the superhero revival hit its stride. It appeared in Adventure Comics #256, cover-dated January 1959 and this time the story stuck, becoming – with numerous tweaking over successive years – the basis of the modern Amazing Archer of page and screen.

Here we learned how wealthy wastrel Oliver Queen was cast away on a deserted island and learned to use a hand-made bow and survive. When a band of scurvy mutineers fetched up on his desolate shores, Queen used his newfound skills to defeat them and returned to civilisation with a new career and purpose…

Kirby’s spectacular swan-song came in WFC #99 (January 1959) with ‘Crimes under Glass’. Written by Robert Bernstein, it sees GA and Speedy confronting crafty criminals with a canny clutch of optical armaments, before the Archer steadfastly slid back into the sedate, gimmick-heavy rut of pre-Kirby times…

The King had moved on to other enterprises – Archie Comics with Joe Simon and a little outfit which would soon be calling itself Marvel Comics – but his rapid rate of creation had left a number of completed tales in DC’s inventory pile which slowly emerged for months thereafter and neatly wrap up this comprehensive compendium of the uncanny.

From My Greatest Adventure #28 (February 1959) ‘We Battled the Microscopic Menace!’ pits brave boffins against a ravening devourer their meddling with unknown forces had unleashed, whilst a month later HoM #84 depicted a terrifying struggle against ‘The Negative Man’ as an embattled researcher fought his own unleashed energy doppelganger.

It all ends in an unforgettable spectacular as House of Mystery #85 (April 1959) awakens ‘The Stone Sentinels of Giant Island’, who rampage across a lost Pacific island and threaten the brave crew of a scientific survey vessel… until one wise man deduces their incredible secret…

Jack Kirby was and is unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures are an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover could resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the American comics scene and the entire comics planet: affecting billions of readers and thousands of creators in every arena of artistic endeavour for generations. He still wins new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

This collection from his transformative middle period exults in sheer escapist wonderment, and no one should miss the graphic exploits of these perfect adventures in that ideal setting of not-so-long-ago in a simpler, better time and place than ours.
© 1946, 1947, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.