Jack Kirby’s Galactic Bounty Hunters Volume 1 by Lisa Kirby, Mike Thibodeaux, Karl Kesel, Steve Robertson, Richard French, Scott Hanna, Mike Royer and Jack Kirby: The ‘Jack Kirby’s’ part of this title from the early oughts pretty much approximates the ‘Gene Roddenberry’s’ in the titles of Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda. The great Kirby — co-creator with Stan Lee of such characters as the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the Hulk and the Mighty Thor — who died in 1994, didn’t really create this book — it’s instead extrapolated from unused character sketches and ideas, primarily from his early 1980’s Pacific Comics title Captain Victory. One of Kirby’s daughters, Lisa, worked with others on the writing, while 1980’s and 90’s Kirby inker Mike Thibodeaux handles the majority of the pencils.
The basic premise here is that a seemingly boring comic-book writer artist with a wife and two kids — one, Garrett, a teen-aged boy with an all-consuming magic hobby — turns out to be a member of the ‘Galactic Bounty Hunters’ whose adventures he chronicles in his famous comic-book of the same name. The son only learns this after he’s been kidnapped by an old foe of the now-retired Bounty Hunters. The father gets the band back together, and they rush to save his son.
The creative team does a decent job of approximately late-period Kirby sci-fi wonkiness, dialogue and tendency to break stories down into very short chapters, each with its own title and blurb. Some of this approximation comes from what amounts to posthumous self-plagiarism — an amusement park for criminals here is pretty much the amusement park for criminals there, over in Kirby’s 1970’s OMAC title. Given that Marvel Comics has been living off rewritings and recombinations of Kirby characters and concepts for years, I don’t see this as a problem.
The father and mother in the book are super-heroic homages to Kirby and his wife Roz, while budding magician Garrett recalls both Kirby’s super-magician Mister Miracle and the real-life inspiration for that character, comics writer/artist and escape artist Jim Steranko. I had fun, anyway. Recommended.
Essential Avengers Volume 6 by Steve Engelhart, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema, George Tuska, Joe Staton and others: In many ways, I found this collection of about two years of early 1970’s Avengers stories the most satisfying Essential Avengers volume I’ve read (and I’ve read all of them up to this volume). Marvel’s superhero group with an ever-changing line-up doesn’t have Captain America around for most of these adventures, but it does have Thor and Iron Man to accompany lesser-knowns like Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Mantis and the Swordsman.
The success of this volume rests to a great extent on the shoulders of writer Steve Engelhart, who looks more and more to me like a great and underappreciated master of superhero shenanigans on books like Avengers, Green Lantern, Silver Surfer, Captain America and Batman in Detective Comics. A large portion of this book is taken up by the Celestial Madonna saga, an occasionally loopy epic (the climax involves a woman marrying a plant) that nonetheless seemed a lot more satisfying to me than the much-more-beloved Kree-Skrull War Avengers storyline of a few years earlier.
Editor Roy Thomas’s love of obscure continuity questions makes its mark here, as the Vision is revealed to be the original Human Torch and villains Rama Tut, Kang the Conqueror and Immortus are revealed to be the same person at different points in his (time-travelling) timeline. But Engelhart makes it all fly, and wraps it up the appropriate melodrama, superheroic self-sacrifice, and Avengers infighting that the Avengers book at its best is all about. There’s a giant, period-specific dollop of Eastern Kung-Fu mysticism thrown in, primarily through the character of Mantis, a mysterious woman with killer martial arts skills and a murky past. All of this goes down nicely.
Artists come and go on the Avengers, as always, to greater and lesser effect. The pairing of Sal Buscema and Joe Staton (known more for his pencilling) is an especially nice one here, as is one issue pencilled by John Buscema and inked by the late Dave Cockrum. Highly recommended.