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Review: 'The Simon and Kirby Library: Science Fiction' Is Kind of a False Advertisement

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks

Impossible as it seems, we're seemingly getting closer to the day when most every piece of comic art that ever was created by Jack Kirby is in print in one form or another. It’s a thrilling time to be a Kirby fan. Thanks to the good people at Titan Books and the wonderful Simon and Kirby Library: Science Fiction, we're now yet one more volume nearer to that perfect fanboy nirvana.

 

 

It goes without saying that this gorgeous hardcover will answer many a fanboy daydream. Just look at some of the long out-of-print content that art director Harry Mendryk and editor Steve Saffel present:

  • Three chapters of "The Solar Legion" by Kirby, only reprinted once since 1940 in black and white and in a relatively obscure publication.
  • Ten chapters of Simon and Kirby's absurdly kinetic (and surprisingly sexy) 1940-41 strip "Blue Bolt", a wonderful Flash Gordon-inspired wild space romp.
  • Over two dozen shorts  from the mid-to-late 1950s, from such little-known titles as Win a Prize Comics and Alarming Tales, nearly all drawn by Kirby but also presenting the remarkable vision of Jack Kirby inked by Al Williamson -- a superbly robust combination
  • Several shorts that neither Simon nor Kirby wrote or illustrated, with pieces by Williamson, Angelo Torres, Roy Krenkel, Reed Crandall and  Wally Wood. Frankly each of those cartoonists deserves the deluxe treatment as well, so their inclusion here is quite welcome, if somewhat problematic.
  • Coolest of all, we get a collection of never-seen presentations, including a rejected comic-strip proposal by Kirby and a never-realized spy series by Simon and his frequent collaborator Jerry Grandenetti.

 

 

All the stories are lovingly reproduced, and aside from a few problems with the edges of images sometimes seeming blurry -- see "The Ant Abstract" for an example of that problem -- the restoration and reproduction are first-rate.

 

 

It's also fantastic to fill in some gaps in the Kirby reprint library by printing material in a popular edition instead of a hard-to-find small-press publication. Most of the tales in S&K Sci-Fi are hamstrung by corny or weird twist-ending plots. Even the  most dedicated Kirbyophile will feel a bit fatigued of the endless progression of heartfelt but slight tales such as "Gismo" (which reminds me slightly of The Iron Giant) and "I Want to Be a Man" (with a charming, outlandish Kirby robot design) and "Garden of Eden" (in which Kirby's endlessly dynamic art combines with Williamson's graceful beauty to produce something truly unique) and "The Great Moon Mystery" (anther Williamson collaboration, this time with deliriously surreal results). But any book as encyclopedic as The Simon and Kirby Library: Science Fiction is bound to feel repetitious.

 

 

You may become fairly tired of reading over 30 short-short twist ending tales in a row -- I know I quickly became bored of guessing the stories' silly conclusions within a panel or two of the story's beginning -- but that just means you'll want to spread your enjoyment out over a few days rather than sucking it down like a nice cool glass of lemonade on a hot June day. You won't be buying a collection like this for the writing, anyway.

 

 

That said, the collection of stories here is pretty odd. I adore Al Williamson's art, and every page by him that the editors present is magnificently gorgeous. But in some ways it's false advertising to title this book Simon and Kirby Science Fiction and then feature a lovely tales such as "Hermit" by Archie Goodwin, Reed Crandall and Al Williamson -- with no content by Simon or Kirby in sight -- or "The Space Court", which has beautiful artwork by Williamson, Torres and Krenkel, but again no Kirby.

 

 

I admire these mens' work, and I suppose that quite a few of these tales appeared in comics that were edited by Joe Simon, but their inclusion in Simon and Kirby Science Fiction is strange, as if the editors didn't have enough sci-fi material by Simon and Kirby to fill the entire 350-page package, or as if they simply wanted to share these favorite comics with other readers. Regardless, a little more backmatter explaining this material would have been welcomed.

But even with that important caveat, I have to recommend S&K Sci-Fi without reserve. Any earnest Kirby fan will find so much here to appreciate, so many small precursors and dynamic moments and instants of pure Kirby that will make any fan want to jump on a spaceship and make a run for the moon. The worlds that Kirby creates are almost too welcoming and too tempting to resist.

 


 

Jason Sacks is Publisher of Comics Bulletin. Follow him at @jasonsacks, email him at jason.sacks@comicsbulletin.com or friend him on Facebook.

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