Oct 18, 2012

Pop Medicine: 70s Kirby Would Make Great Movies

Pop Medicine is a column written by Travis Hedge Coke. Travis is the founder of Future Earth Magazine, and his writings can be found all over the place, including in Renderwrx Magazine in a column called "Pop Mechanics." He is currently a visiting professor in China, and for the next year, the Cube will be giving his columns a virtual home. Be sure to visit his personal website if you would like to read more of his work. Click here for the Pop Medicine archive!

70s Kirby Would Make Great Movies
by Travis Hedge Coke

We’ve had X-Men, Fantastic Four, Captain America, a couple Hulks, Avengers, and so on, and yeah, I’m glad for those, mostly. They’re cool movies and they have had some positive effects on the comics, too. I wish Kirby’s family got more money from them, and I’m all for things like A Buck For Jack if they work, to try to even that out even a little. There are maybe only a few more concepts of Stan Lee’s, or of Steve Ditko’s that can be easily transfigured into successful movies, I think, though naturally, I wish anyone trying the best of luck, as great movies are better for everyone.

Unlike a lot of people, I don’t think Kirby — Like Stan Lee, I want to call Kirby by his first name, like I knew the guy, my commercial uncle or something, right? I’m not the only one? But, I won’t, because I did not know him and haven’t the right. — I don’t think Jack Kirby went off track or lost anything in the Seventies, when he was solo with support, writing and penciling, but with inkers, colorists, letterers and assistants helping out. I think, if anything, he’s stronger in a lot of ways, and as much as I love early Fantastic Four, I don’t reread his work there as often as I look at OMAC or Mister Miracle. Jack Kirby didn’t suddenly become less influential or less present to the zeitgeist of comics once the Sixties ended, and no offense, but I think Lee and Ditko did even when they still, occasionally, turned out awesome comics.

Kirby was still at the fore of many major developments in 70s comics as he was in the 60s, weaving a massive saga with his Fourth World titles, doing a regular comic with a black lead the comic was titled after (Jungle Action was cool enough, but it’s like a French comic set in Seattle and calling it Seaside Action, featuring a Choctaw engineer and his failing romance, especially if the second story you do is him in Peru fighting a corrupt police force), pushing the existentialist or pop philosophic comic into the major leagues, introducing female characters, nonwhite characters, counter culture characters who just did their own thing and were confident and strong and frequently had at least one helllllll yeaaaah! moment under his pen. Not to say Sixties Kirby wasn’t cool as all, because there’s no denying, but Kirby was the best of the old guard in the Seventies and he has some things, still, over newer comics makers. While he made some missteps sometimes in terms of race, in terms of class or gender presentation, I still find Seventies Kirby less classist at all times than the bulk of Alan Moore or Will Eisner comics and I think he frequently handles racial issues and nonwhite characters better. Is he as elegant and structuralist as as Moore’s work, as careful as Eisner’s, as bidding for permanence as Art Spieglman’s comics? Well, no. But he was not trying to be.

But that’s me, that’s my preferences. Big budget movies have to appeal to a lot more than just me and mine, so how’s this going to work?

Devil Dinosaur is often seen as sillier and less mature a work than, say, Old Batman on Horseback or Isn’t Fascism Bad? Read This Propaganda While I Therapy You to Right Thinking (AKA The Dark Knight Returns and V for Vendetta, which are great comics, don’t get me wrong — read them today!). It’s a comic about a big bright red dinosaur and his little apish friend, Moon Boy, set in a time long ago when apemen lived near dinosaurs and spaceships. The poor, unevolved apemen fear the red dinosaur, but he’s a good guy, so he saves them from threats every issue anyway. Along the way, we have UFOs, time travel, and a fucked up Adam and Eve tale with Adam as an alpha jerkass and an old man, and a woman who’d like everyone to just chill out… while they’re in a sort of zoo display case and messing with a computer that gives them stuff.

Devil Dinosaur is perfect as a kid’s comic, and it would make a fantastic children’s movie. It’s got a dinosaur who beats up bad guys, like if Godzilla had gone heroic without becoming less frightening over the course of umpteen movies. Aliens, dinosaurs, fights, explosions! But in its course, also, is a story about why you should take a second look at your situation, why you should not judge solely on appearances or what everyone knows. Devil Dinosaur is all about why your parents might be wrong, your history books and political systems can be fixed, why you have to step up, do your own thing, think for yourself, and be responsible. And it communicates that while a giant red dinosaur puts the beat down on giants and aliens. Yeah, that’s not as politically savvy as Nolan’s Batman movies, where good is good and Batman wearing black makes him dark and undesirable as a public face of justice (and able to be brought low by guns, dogs, the world’s luckiest jugalo), where being heroic is deliberately not saving someone when you have the chance.

Oh. Wait. Devil Dinosaur, if played as it is in those comics, could be the most mature and child-friendly comic book movie America has produced in recent memory.

While you’re shivering scared of that thought, let’s look at OMAC. If you don’t know OMAC at all, go buy the Kirby collection, right now. Immediately. Do not finish this, go buy (then come back).

Back? Okeh. Continuing…

OMAC, more recently, has been used in completely non-relevant, retro-dodgy, safe ways, but when Kirby created the concept and did the first series, OMAC was the story of the world of the future, today! Ultra-wealthy people could buy your city, they could kill with impunity, they could shame, select, mock and use you. Wars were excuses to make money and control people. Sex is a commercial. Love is a sell. Hate is packaged. Your rebellions were programmed and scheduled for you by the same people you believe you are rebelling against. Your comforts, even those that feel like empathy, are manufactured and sold to you. But Brother Eye, a satellite of love and power, speaks deep in office drone Buddy Blank’s heart, and will transform him when he is at his lowest into a self-actualizing badass with a mohawk, the eye of Horus on his chest, and fire in his belly, fire in his fists.

OMAC is about life, the compartmentalization and commercialization of life, about striking back, futility, and living free or dying for the effort. Hilarious, sad, mean, beautiful, with the best of huge parties, greedy bastards, massive explosions, and hope and punching a comic can hold. The movie could do just that, but in living flesh and light, in color and sound and motion, bringing in the aspects real actors can communicate differently than line art, that movement can delineate differently than still panels arranged on pages. OMAC would look flashy and silly, and it would be, but it’d break the audience’s collective heart fifteen minutes in and sit on their shoulder as they left the theater, sit in their heart, and tell them they too can move forward and be good, that they are free.

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