Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tales to Astonish #82 (August 1966): I bought this for Gene the Dean, found Jack the King!

Tales to Astonish #82 (August 1966)  Pencils: Gene Colan,
Inks: Dick Ayers (according to Comic Vine) 
Well, that was a pleasant surprise!  I recently bought a digital handful of Marvel Comics superhero books by Gene Colan.  Some people were talking about him on Facebook the other day and I suddenly developed a hunger for his work.  And also for one of those old Marathon bars, but you can't buy those on Comixology. 

Anyway, my appetites aside, Gene Colan is one of my top five or six all-tme art heroes, a guy I've tried to imitate in my own art however futilely.  While I own a DC hardcover full of Batman stories by Colan, and I know he was responsible for a storied run on Daredevil, I tend to think of Colan as more of a horror artist because of his stellar art on Marvel's Tomb of Dracula and for Warren Publications.  After reading all that jazz from people way more knowledgeable than I about this stuff, I decided it was time to fill a gap in my education and study up on his superhero work.

Well, I already knew Colan for a horror master.  Love his moody, shadowy imagery and the extreme figure foreshortening because he chose very unusual "camera" angles.  He was incredibly cinematic, with a strong feel for intense drama and noir-ish lighting.  So I was really looking forward to reading this and seeing how he put that to use in one of those two-character long-underwear dust-ups printed before I was born.   I opened to the splash, scanned the credits to see who inked it (inking interests me lately) and got a surprise.  After the cover, there are only two pages of Colan in this book!  But we're not going to complain because after those two pages it's none other than Jack Kirby the rest of the way.
Tales to Astonish #82 (August 1966) has a Stan Lee plot and a Roy Thomas script, and it's a continuation of a fight started in another title, which is easy to confuse with this one, especially since their numbering runs so close together.  I'm talking about Tales of Suspense #80, which also has Lee's and Kirby's famous "He Who Holds the Cosmic Cube!"  I say it's famous because it's a Captain America story I read many years ago in the book Captain America: Sentinal of Liberty.  All the stories in that book are famous because Stan Lee says so.

Anyway, Captain America isn't in this.  It's just Iron-Man and Namor.  Their story starts over there, continues here in this one, then goes of into another comic.  I haven't had time to sit down and really give Tales to Astonish #82  a reading, but just from staring at the art, this story, called "The Power of Iron Man!," is a frenzy.  Just two characters duking it out.  I have no idea why, don't really care all that much.  I'm downloading it into the Comixology iPhone app as I type this, so I'll read it in those scant free moments I'm not shaking the earth and building a better future or whatever the hell it is I do.  I don't really wax nostalgic over things like two characters having a fight, or that this is "the first real inter-book crossover."  I'm more interested in the artwork by Colan and Kirby.

Despite Dick Ayers' inking, it would be obvious we've got two very different pencillers even if we haven't read the helpful credit boxes on the splash page which tell us Colan came down with the flu and Kirby had to take over.  I wonder if that's really the case, or if this is one of those cute jokey things Stan and Roy liked to use as an easy explanation for some other chain of events they didn't want us to know.  Seems likely enough, much more so than Kirby drawing the book then asking who the Sub-mariner is, but that's the claim here, too.

Here's where Iron Man hits Namor the Sub-Mariner so hard they both turn from Gene Colan figures...

Script:  Roy Thomas, Pencils:  Gene Colan, Inks: Dick Ayers
... into Jack Kirby figures:

Thomas, Pencils: Jack Kirby, Inks:  Ayers

Jagged purple "KRAK!" is the sound of metal-clad fist striking flesh and bone chin.  Earthquake-like yellow and blue "THOOM!" is what happens when fish-guy knocks armor-guy through a wall. 

In the Colan panel, notice how Iron-Man's weight is planted on that front foot.  Most of his body is moving towards Namor in the foreground because he's put everything into one massive hay-maker of a blow, which landed a split-second or so before Colan "photographed" this moment.  Even though he's still able to talk, Namor is flying upwards and backwards with his right foot dangling loosely.  This is follow-through, the impact completed, an interesting split-second between the moments of collision and release and much closer to the latter so the figures are opening up, becoming loose-limbed and extended, although I imagine Iron-Man's left thigh is clenched because he's planted that foot and is stopping his forward momentum with it.

Now look at Kirby's panel.  This isn't follow-through.  This is the exact moment of impact.  Namor has punched Iron-Man with a more compact body-blow.  Notice the rigidity of Kirby's figure drawing here.  Namor lowers and draws in his chin, which means his chest and abdominal muscles are clenched, tense.  He's still performing the action itself.  In Colan's, taking place nano-seconds after the action, we see Iron-Man's fist.  In Kirby's, at the moment of impact, Namor's fist has vanished in a white starburst.  And Kirby either gives us two time differentials here or else that punch is so powerful, the transfer of kinetic energy has already thrust Iron-Man through the wall in exact moment Namor landed it!  It seems impossible, two states at one time, but there you have it.  Also, like Namor before him, Iron-Man flies backwards from blow, but Kirby puts his upper body into a kind of defensive posture, arm raised to protect his face, while the other arm goes limp and he appears to be drawing his legs up so that he can land in a ball on the other side.  Or the fetal position.

Colan's is kind of athletic and even graceful, Kirby's is as hard and bone-shattering as two cars in a head-on collision.

These panels come a couple of pages apart.  I just wanted to show you one of Namor's answering blows because it wouldn't have been fair to give Iron Man two consecutive shots.  The art switch is just this abrupt, though.  You get that Iron Man punch at the end of one page-- and I find very entertaining Thomas's characterization of Namor as the kind of cool customer who can fall backwards after a sock to the jaw and still find it in himself to make a sneering speech about how Iron Man's "crushing defeat draws nearer with each fleeting heartbeat"-- then the very next page starts with a Kirby-drawn panel of Iron Man shooting his "repulsor rays" right at us, the readers! 

What gives?  Aim those things elsewhere, buddy!

Since I was born a generation later than the kids who bought these issues new off the stands, stories like these were hard to find unless they popped up as a back-up feature in an annual or else in one of those hardcover collections at the library.   The ones that were constantly checked-out and never available.  Or that Sentinel of Liberty book I was just telling you about, which I bought at Waldenbooks at our mall along with one about Dr. Strange. 

We didn't have all the archive reprints and essentials and, of course, digital comics had yet to be invented.  I didn't have the disposable income to buy swanky back issues, and I probably wouldn't have been inclined to even if I did.  There were always new comics to buy.  And living in a small southern town, I was largely isolated from fandom at large and things like fanzines and mailing lists.

This means I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of storylines predating my interest in comics, nor do I know a whole lot about the inner workings of Marvel or DC or who drew or wrote what when or where.  It also means every time I go on a Gene Colan or Jack Kirby rampage, I'm liable to find stuff completely new to me.  I like that.  The joy of discovery!  The joy of turning a page drawn by Gene Colan and finding the next one drawn by Jack Kirby!

Oh, and there's a Bill Everett-pencilled Hulk story as the back-up feature, and that looks pretty cool, too.

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