Aug 20, 2015

On Moon People, Devil Dinosaurs, and The King

Next Friday marks what would have been the 98th birthday of Jack Kirby, arguably the greatest superhero comic book artist of all time and almost inarguably the most influential. A tribute to him is basically the selling point for Kirby4Heroes, a campaign run by Jack's granddaughter Jillian for the Hero Initiative. For those not in the know, the Hero Initiative is the only federally registered nonprofit organization dedication to provide medical and financial assistance to those in the comic book industry. There aren't many more worthy organizations in the comics industry to contribute to, and not many reasons more worthy to convince any comic fan to donate money.

Much has been made of Kirby's artistic achievements. His innovations, such as the use of the splash page (for money shots and dramatic moments, as opposed to Will Eisner who would use it as a visual hook and a quick way to introduce a situation) or his decision to compress whole figures into single panels to heighten the drama and emphasize scale, are well documented. But we don't talk enough about his storytelling choices that don't have to do with panel layout and composition. Jack Kirby was one of the most progressive and demonstrative proponents of diversity and equal representation in the history of comics, introducing such characters as T'Challa the Black Panther and Wyatt Wingfoot. He created lots of strong female characters, such as the Invisible Woman (look at her appearances minus the dialogue, and you'll see it), Lady Sif, and Big Barda.

Kirby's influence on that score seems more felt today than at any point in comic book history. There are all sorts of arguments against racebending and genderbending, and really, I get it. In an ideal world, we'd just create black heroes, Asian heroes, female heroes, and whatnot, and they'd become icons. But history has shown that that isn't easy in practice and that society's still got a lot to catch up on, even when it comes to our fiction. So let's table the whole "If they made Luke Cage white, it'd be the same thing," because it's not — for one thing, a big part of Luke Cage's background is that he is black. For another, there are few enough minority characters that are actually well developed, that it would just be socially regressive to do so. Let's also not forget that racebending to a white color has been a trend throughout history, such as it were. To add to that, I don't understand the following bits of outrage either:

  • Johnny Storm is black in the new Fantastic Four movie. A movie is basically like an alternate version of a property. There are several properties where Superman is black, at least two properties where Spider-Man is Japanese. Why is Johnny Storm being black in one property so wrong? Your comics with Caucasian Johnny aren't going anywhere; neither are your three movies.
  • Thor is now a woman. Actually, Thor is telling a story where Thor lost the worthiness to hold Mjolnir and Jane Foster got the power of Thor. It's not like they flat-out turned Thor into a woman, and even if they did, you wouldn't be at least intrigued by that story? 
  • Alan Scott is gay. It's an alternate universe Alan Scott who has always been gay, and has no relation to anything other than name and basic powers to the Alan Scott who had two children.


See, this actually does matter to me, because everyone should have role models. Everyone. You cannot, in any way, underestimate the importance of role models to whom to aspire — some people find strength in it, in their darkest moments.  And you can see that yes, people will react more if they see someone like them being Thor, being Superman, being Spider-Man, than they would if they were just another new superhero who may or may not succeed down the line. Everyone should have role models. And Jack Kirby knew that.

Which brings us to the new Devil Dinosaur. In the 70s, Jack Kirby created Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy. Moon Boy was a hairy caveman boy thing and was Devil's friend. They wandered around and had adventures in prehistoric times.

This page made Will Eisner appreciate Kirby as an artist.

Earlier this week, Marvel announced a new Devil Dinosaur series with Moon Girl. It's set in downtown Manhattan. Moon Girl is a completely new character.



As expected, there's been some backlash to it because some people are sick of what they see as pandering to women and minorities, but honestly, as a market analyst, I can say that you do have to keep in mind your growing markets, and no market in comics is growing faster than women.

On a social scale, I don't understand the backlash. It's not like they're changing Moon Boy into a black teenage female. (And even if they did, it's Moon Boy, so who cares?) They're moving Devil into the present day where his first friend is a black teenage female. Which is like if you move from Asia and have an Asian best friend and then move to America and have a white best friend.

Really though, the only thing I really ask when things like this happen is what the original creator would think. And in the case of Jack Kirby, I think he'd have been proud of how far we've come, while being cognizant of how far we have left to go. Because everybody needs role models. And Jack Kirby knew that.

Happy birthday, Jack.

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