Andy’s Read Pile: Jack Kirby’s Super Powers Mini Series

GhostAndy

IMG_5290Just for the record, for those of you that listened to last Friday’s bonus episode of the podcast in which we drafted members of the JLA for our fantasy teams, I stand by my Hawk man for 6 dollars pick. For those of you that haven’t listened, I politely say to you:

“What the hell is wrong with you?!? Please stop reading this immediately go listen to the podcast instead!”

Anyways, yes, I may not have exactly went into the draft clamoring for Hawk man to be among my personal hand picked list of superheroes to defend the DC Universe, but I’m ultimately happy I got him.

Why you might ask? Because he is one of the two last vestiges of my personal collection the Kenner Super Powers toy line characters I still have intact. As mentioned in my article on this toy line several months ago, I really do have an incredible soft spot in my heart for these toys, and regardless of how many times you might call Hawk Man a worthless confusing continuity nightmare of a bird brained barbarian, I’ll still be happy that I got him for 6 bucks. Hell, his figure on Ebay alone goes for 3 times that easy.

I will say that all this JLA talk and reminiscing on the Super Powers line of DC action figures, reminded me that I had picked up the Omnibus edition of Jack Kirby’s run of tie in books for that toy line that he spearheaded at DC in the early 80s.

Entitled simply, Jack Kirby’s Super Powers, the book contains all of the various series put out at the time to help market the line. Well that is except for the mini comics that came with the figures, which I’m not sure have been collected in any trade as of yet. (Don’t quote me on that! If they have been and you know about it, drop me a line in the comments!)

Any who, instead of reading the entire book, I decided just to read and review the first 5 part mini series that was released for the Super Powers line in 1984. I figured that should give me a decent idea whether I should continue with the rest of the book or if the entire series was just “toying” with me as a way to sell out cash on a nostalgic tie in.


Synopsis:

Darkseid’s latest scheme to conquer Earth has been put into motion. After holding intense gladiatorial games to find the 4 best warriors among his ranks, he then bestows a fraction of his great power on each them, willing them to in turn pass that power on to some of Earth’s most deadliest villains in hopes they will destroy the Justice League.

The villains that are selected include Lex Luthor, The Joker, the Penguin, and Brainac, and each set out to capture as many heroes as they can with their few found powers. Lex Luthor tries to imprison Superman and Flash in a Time Distortion loop, Joker traps the Dynamic Duo of Batman & Robin as well as Hawk Man in an inter-dimensional bottomless pit, but at every turn the combined might of DC’s Superheroes is just too much for them.

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In fact, the only one that even moderately succeeds is Brainac who manages to brainwash Wonder Woman and the Amazons into believing a nearby South American country launched an attack and that Wonder Woman should seize their missile base and teach the rest of the world a lesson. However, even that scheme is eventually foiled and all of the villains return to their evil benefactors empty handed.

It’s at this point that Darkseid reveals that these attacks were just a diversion, something to tie up the Justice League long enough for him to get his ground forces into place. The Justice League has their backs against the wall now and needs every resource they can get, so they negotiate a deal with the super villains that just attacked them to instead help them repel these alien invaders, proving the enemy of my enemy is my friend!


Things I Liked:

My favorite part of this entire book was the brief sequences in which the Joker was granted the power to create fantastically absurd yet supremely deadly nightmare worlds. I’m not sure whether this was illusionary or not, but anyway you slice it giving that kind of power to someone with that level of demented mind and seeing what they come up with is going to be downright horrifying.

I remember it was too as a kid reading some of these issues with the Joker condemning Batman & Robin to fall forever into a black inky abyss which was an bottomless hole of space, I was genuinely creeped out.

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Then there’s this exchange with Superman where he turns Lois Lane into a marionette doll while taunting the most powerful hero in the universe with his unique brand of off kilter psychosis. I mean, this is Supes we are talking about, the man that can punch any problem to death, and he even seems out of his depth when faced with a Joker that’s been given the god like powers of creation.

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The sequences reminded me so much of the Emperor Joker storyline that Jeph Loeb and J.M. DeMatteis did in the mid 2000s, what with the notion of giving unlimited power to someone with an unlimited imagination that was also not held back by any moral or intellectual code. 

However, this happened almost 20 years earlier and although it’s not played with the same Earth shattering significance that it is in the more modern retelling, it’s still a downright brilliant idea and one that even makes the Man of Steel quiver in his boots for a while.

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It almost feels like a shame that the entire story wasn’t just about the Joker and these dark psychoactive powers, as they were super interesting compared to some of the other plots hatched by the villains once they were given those incredible powers like deadly flocks of birds and even deevolving Superman into a mindless barbarian. No one can hold a candle to the brand of horrifying villainy the Joker can cook up once you give him the right set of tools.


Things I Didn’t Like:

Some people would think I was going to rail against how simple and one dimensional this entire series was, with cookie cutter villains, heroes that never lose, simple melodrama at it’s most cheesy. However, I’m not going to do it.

Why?

Because I knew what this book was going into it.

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Seriously, this is one step away from a Superfriends cartoon episode, with it’s kid friendly straightforward black & white plot and happy endings. And I’m fine with that, and the book is fine with that. This book never tries to be anything other than that. It knows what it’s audience is and it’s playing to that audience. It’s not like it’s pretending to be Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” and it totally missed the boat. Again, it is what you think it would be going into it, so I’m not going to knock it.

What I am going to totally rip is how this is billed as Jack Kirby’s Super Powers, yet, Jack Kirby does pretty minimal work on it. Sure, you could argue he plotted the book, but what does that mean actually. It definitely doesn’t mean he scripted it as that was done by Joey Cavaileri. It also definitely doesn’t mean he drew it as the art was done by Adrian Gonzales. That is except for all of issue 5 which is drawn in it’s entirety by Kirby. That at least is legitimate. However, other than that all he did was provide a some covers, and I dunno, that seems like a massive ton of false advertising.

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If you say this is Jack Kirby’s book, that should mean something as in the bulk of the book should be Jack Kirby’s work. And it’s not as if it gets better with future issues after this mini series as Paul Kupperberg was the scripter for most of the second series. As it stands this is no different than what Jack Kirby used to give Stan Lee grief about for years in terms of slapping his name on a book he barely had anything to do with. It’s hard not to call foul on that.

Plus one of the major draws of the series is that it seems you are promised an opportunity to see Kirby draw so many iconic DC heroes and villains, yet instead you pay your money to see Adrian Gonzalez, which whom I had issues with in terms of the art. Mainly with the Joker’s face.

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You see, just because the toy had a elongated face with that big toothy grin doesn’t mean the Joker has to have that face in every single shot! I mean, wow, you could land a 747 on that chin, its so disproportionately long. I’m all for giving the Joker wide smile but this is ridiculous.

It looks super painful like Joker was born with some sort of horrific birth defect caused him to have a horse face. Buck tooth nasty. I can’t even look at it.


Fun Facts:

The Super Powers Collection was not the only Saturday morning cartoon themed project that Jack Kirby had worked on in the early to mid 80s.

First and foremost, there was his work on The New Fantastic Four cartoon series for Marvel Comics Animation in association with DePatie–Freleng Enterprises. This was a joint enterprise between himself and Stan Lee, as the two attempted to recreate the magic of the original “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” that had put them on the map in the early 60s.

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Unfortunately the series, which introduced the infamous Herbie the Robot, has not really aged that well in the decades since it’s release, and stands as one of my least favorite Marvel animated series.

Also to a lesser extent, Jack worked as a production designer for cartoons like “Turbo Teen”, “The Centurions“, and for Steve Gerber’s Saturday morning cartoon project entitled “Thundarr the Barbarian”, which was one of my personal favs as a kid.

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I only say to a lesser extent in terms of this show because the actual design of the main characters such as Thundarr himself, was done by legendary artist, Alex Toth. However, when he was unable to continue with the series, Steve Gerber brought in Jack to finish the rest of the character designs.

Thus, most of the evil wizards which made the series so memorable in my opinion were done by Jack Kirby, including the incredible two-faced wizard Gemini, which was one of the only recurring villains on the show, and definitely sports a signature Kirbyesque look to him.

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It’s incredible to think there was a cartoon series out there that had Steve Gerber, Alex Toth, and Jack Kirby all collaborating on but you get that with “Thundarr, the Barbarian”. It’s a shame that this series gets overshadowed and thought of as just a second class “He-man” rip off, when in fact, it’s got some impeccable design work and clever writing.

If you have never watched an episode, you can at least check out the opening credits on YouTube which sports just a sample of what made me a huge fan!

 


Final Thoughts:

Boy, this one is tough. On one hand, I want to sincerely honor the great memory of a true legend of the comics field in Jack “the King” Kirby.

He has drawn and plotted some of the best comics has had to offer, setting unmovable foundations that other greats have built their own quality work upon. Sincerely, in the top 10 greatest and most influential forces in the industry.

However, for the most part, other than the really neat Joker stuff I mentioned above, this book is a pile of middling to low grade shlocky junk. And I guess I can say that with a clear conscious because for the most part, this isn’t a Jack Kirby book.

As I mentioned as well above, it seems like he barely did anything here other than that 5th issue, which is in some way the best of the mini as it finally delivers on promises the rest of the series failed to do. That was namely give us Kirby drawing classically designed members of DC’s first tier characters. Not only that but it was also able to tie in some of that great Fourth World mythology that was cut by the wayside originally so prematurely with the inclusion of not only Darkseid as the big bad, but also Metron as a balancing force for good.

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I can only wonder what the rest of the series would have been like if Kirby had been more than just the plotter. As I said, whether it would have been just the same cheap Superfriends-esque melodrama story-wise for those other issues given this was a series aimed at children, at least it would have been delivered with those wonderful Kirby pencils building that universe for us.

Instead we are still left with that lingering question of “What if Kirby had drawn the Silver age at DC comics vs. the Silver age at Marvel?”

A question this particular series was supposed to answer, and yet, never even ended up in the same ballpark.


Andy’s Read Pile Grade: C-


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