The Late Posts

Panel of The Black Racer, a caped and colorfully armored man on skis with poles, emerging from a Boom Tube in the sky / 'So, Destiny has changed and my my course and takes me here -- to Earth!
Splash panel of The Black Racer from The New Gods #3 
© 1971 DC Comics. Script, Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Vince 
Colletta. Letters: John Costanza. Colors: Unknown.

Decades before The Late Show was the title of David Letterman's CBS alternative to Jay Leno, it was the rather generic name of after-hours broadcasts of old movies on local TV stations. The phrase also came to be used, with morbid punnery, for the Oscars' familiar montage of industry folks who'd passed away in the previous year.

I've been planning for some time to use a variation of it to introduce, contextualize, and/or apologize for a batch of posts that weren't up for very long, or never quite went up at all, just a bit too long ago to republish them randomly without some explanation.
Now seemed like a good idea, when now — the languid end of summer — was still a few weeks in the future. At least one memorial was already planned for this particular bunch, too, but more out of coincidence than dark humor.

Then I returned home after visiting my father (and [mostly] shunning cyberspace) to the news that Joe Kubert had passed away on Aug. 12th — the day that artist Mike Wieringo had died 5 years earlier and writer/editor Mark Gruenwald had died 11 years before that. It was already officially a date in the comics community to remember gentle, creative souls who made friends wherever they went and fans wherever their words were read or pictures were seen.

And the hits, as they say, kept on coming. I learned that essayist David Rakoff had died on Aug. 9th. Welcome Back, Kotter's Horshack, Ron Palillo, a staple of my childhood, died on Aug. 14th. Director Tony Scott took his own life on Aug. 19th. Phyllis Diller, a true grande dame of comedy, passed away on Aug. 20th. Muppeteer Jerry Nelson, who performed Sesame Street's Count von Count and countless more delightful characters, died on Aug. 23rd. Neil Armstrong ceased to be a living legend, all the more legendary for his humility, on Aug. 25th.

I wrote about Armstrong last weekend and hope to have a post about Kubert up soon. They and the others have been fittingly eulogized elsewhere as well, but sometimes I just can't help but add my voice to the multitudes — which is why it's been so frustrating that the Internet connection at my house slowed to a crawl again recently just as I came down with a weird bug to complicate my already sorry state of productivity.

The Black Racer bearing down from the sky on a green car driven by a man holding a gun / 'Run! Run! Death is The Black Racer!' / 'Is he after Orion... or you?' The Black Racer approaching the reader's POV as a man points a gun at him / 'Don't let him touch you! Death is The Black Racer!'
Covers of The New Gods #3 and New Gods #2 © 1971, 1984 DC Comics. Pencils: Jack
Kirby. Inks: Vince Colletta; Mike Royer. Letters: Gaspar Saladino. Text, Colors: Unknown.

The past month's march of mortality in the pop-culture realm culminated almost cathartically with the Aug. 28th observance of the late Jack Kirby's birthday. Kirby devised, alone or in tandem with Joe Simon and later Stan Lee, plenty of individual characters. Yet what made them sing was the way they interrelated within a larger scope, including the ambitious Fourth World saga — concurrent series full of cosmic concepts that many consider Kirby's crowning achievement, which is saying something in a career that includes classic runs on Captain America and The Fantastic Four. Rather than rest on his laurels, the King of Comics showed us what pure, undiluted Kirby really looked like when he returned to DC after a revolutionary stay at Marvel, and to nearly everyone's surprise (even those who didn't give a silver-skinned, surfing spacefarer a second thought) it included an astral avatar of Death on skis.

Kirby wrote and drew, yes, famously, ever a storyteller, but with Simon he also oversaw a studio of fellow artists, packaging material for various publishers; with Lee he crafted the foundations of modern-day Marvel, a mutable tapestry of modern mythology that has made the leap from comics to film in wildly successful fashion.

While best known for his sci-fi and superheroes, Kirby contributed mightily to the war, horror/suspense, romance, and Western genres too. His output was notable for its sheer size as well as for the kinetic genius it contained. Kirby threw everything at the wall, as much just to get it out of his system as to see what stuck — only a relevant matter, really, in that it ultimately dictated what projects drew his focus as a practical matter of employment. The wall in this metaphor was covered many times over. And even though his prodigious output continues to power entire fictional universes, that is his legacy: the inspiration that he provides to countless disciples he's never met to do, do, do.

Celebrating Kirby's legacy, folks across the comics world spent part of his birthday sharing memories of the man, galleries of his artwork, and artwork of their own inspired by his. It was a great way to deal with the sadness of recent passings, recalling that lives inspire well after they've been lived.

Orion, The Black Racer, and The New Gods TM DC Comics.


Arben said...

You were right that the hits keep on coming — Hal David and now Michael Clarke Duncan.

Gots ta love the Kirby... I really like what you say about him throwing everything at the wall and only caring what stuck in that it meant that's what he would keep doing. Surely it's more complicated than this, and I don't know what was in the man's heart (which itself surely changed, and perhaps in certain respects even hardened, over time), but I get the sense that he was at once totally committed to whatever he was doing, especially the stuff he really "owned" (in concept albeit not, sadly, legally), and could dismiss whatever he'd just done in favor of the next thing, even the stuff he really "owned". I know he was of a generation where men, dreamers included, defined themselves in large part by whether they could put food on the table (not that this is exclusively the purview of yesteryear), but I also gather that Roz cleared as much of a path for him as she could to do things his way, particularly once they'd moved out to California. One can only wonder what more/else he'd have done if he'd been more secure financially earlier or had a business partner like Simon running interference for him in his feverishly creative latter days.

Blam said...
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