As I've probably mentioned before, I didn't read super-hero comics as a kid. So, I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Jack Kirby or pretend to always have the proper genre context. But I DO know the 1970s. And let me tell you, this is the most 1970s-ish comic book that I've read so far.
(The Eternals #13, July, 1977 "The Astronauts!" by Jack Kirby, inking & lettering by Mike Rover, colors by Glynis Wein, SPOILERS AHOY!)
Yeah, it's 1977. People are watching InSearch Of... and reading Chariots of the Gods? Paperback racks are filled with lurid titles promising photos of UFOs and maps of the true location of Atlantis. And a 30 cent Jack Kirby comic book gave you seventeen pages of story about space gods. Sixteen, if you count this double-page spread as one:
|Well, giant god bombs shouldn't look NICE|
Oh, the glory of Kirby machinery! And this is only the second page! One opens up the book confronted by a half-page of explanatory text followed by a half-page panel introducing our villain. And then you go right to this! It even seems to be designed in a way that mimics the shape of a stapled comic book held in two hands, starting out with a curve on the left and becoming straight as the image goes to the right (And note that reference to Lemuria, another big 1970s paperback subject).
Much like the centerfold in a men's magazine, these giant images also work because they break our expectations of a regular panel grid. Kirby usually uses a three-tiered system, which allows him to expand some panels to “widescreen” length. Above, he uses one of the shorter panels to reveal the dwarven Deviant astronauts, who fit entirely in its height, as contrasted with other Deviants who can't be contained by the grid.
He also used an odd-four panel, two-tier layout; great for portraying space shuttles launching into orbit.
|Some Kirby "reg'lar guys"|
And how well-read WAS Jack Kirby? Here he is presenting us with NASA's planned shuttle program, followed by astronaut dialogue that could come from an Arthur C. Clarke novel. Of course he had previously worked on the adaptation of 2001, and there seems to be a bit of that floating around in his head, too.
|Celestials love painting their ships in primary colors|
You also have to love that “There's no turning back” dialogue being placed at the end. Not only is this a transition from page-to-page, but it's a transition to another sub-plot. We've been spending so much time with Deviants and humans, that the lack of titular characters has gone unnoticed.
We check in with Sprite, who has been left alone while the other Eternals are off forming something kinky called the “UNI-MIND.” He sets off towards an interesting skull-shaped building that resembles Salvador Dali's famous painting, "Skull of Zuburan." I wonder if he saw it when visiting Washington D.C. and kept it in mind for a few years...
The hero in darkness
And, so, Hercules! But Marvel already has a Hercules-based character, so this dramatic, shadowy hero must remain un-named (or perhaps to be given a Kirby-style variation moniker ala Sersi or Makari). Sprite makes Mr. No-name a spacesuit and ship and sends him up with the other two parties.
So, we have a crew of Deviants flying a space-bomb toward the Celestial ship, a rogue Eternal racing to stop them and a crew of Earth men recording the whole thing. Who are we missing? Oh yeah, God.
|Kirby's God is a fair God. And he has crackly eyes.|
Luckily for us, Kirby's God is a God of Justice, much nicer than that Old Testament guy who would have just flooded the planet by now out of sheer disgust with everyone. He makes a judgement, and his judgement is that everyone is in the wrong ship.
So, the Deviants get teleported over to the Earth ship, while the Earthlings get sent over to the Eternal ship. Once again, the dialogue (“SEE FOR YOURSELF!”) encourages us to move on to the next panel. I'm starting to wonder if this is a regular Kirby technique.
|But...you're already there...|
Our Eternal friend has been sent to the giant bomb, of course. He has just enough time to give us some badly-written expository dialogue before jumping in and destroying this huge, beautiful Kirby machine.
|A rare, slow moment with Kirby|
Of course, one could consider this whole comic book to be a beautiful Kirby machine. The parts work together so well, one can forgive the campy language that crops up in the dialogue and exposition. There's a lot of story to cram in here, but even with those long caption boxes above, he can still take time to give us a lovely fixed-camera sequence to bring those Earth men home. The Deviants don't fare so well, crashing their ship into the ocean. And our Eternal?
|The scale of cosmic beings|
He is WORTHY OF THE GODS! Unfortunately, the entire tone of the story is ruined by the promise of a battle against the Hulk in the next issue. I imagine the sales numbers on this title prompted some sort of tie-in to the proper super-hero world, but it just seems to cheapen the grand effect that Kirby was going for. If I ever find #14 in a thrift store pile, I may just leave it there out of trepidation. It's a sad thought that Jack needed a major publisher more than the publisher needed him.