The Cream of Kirby
♦ Tripwire Senior Editor ANDREW COLMAN took a look at IDW’s latest Artist’s Edition, Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four Artist’s Edition…
Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Artist’s Edition
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby and various inkers
Another high-quality mega-volume of prime Marvel Age art has arrived, courtesy of IDW – and this time it’s all Kirby, focusing in its entirety on his most celebrated work, the Fantastic Four. Once again, the format is super-deluxe, the untouched art reproductions faithful enough to the original art that a better facsimile would be nigh-on impossible to manufacture. This is The King at his zenith, with the art pages liberally peppered with rough notes and scribblings from his partner, Stan Lee – the notations providing some fascinating insight into the creative process, along with an idea of how much input Lee had throughout the production of each episode.
Joe Sinnott, considered by most fans to be Kirby’s best inker throughout his career, provides a timely assessment of their relationship in his foreword – he was in awe of Kirby’s pencils, aware that comic history was unfolding in front of him as he embellished. Sinnott mentions his favourite collaboration (issue 51, This Man, This Monster) of the run, and it is indeed a high watermark. His point about Kirby being a great cover artist but an even better splash artist is spot-on – however great or iconic his covers were (the cover to issue 55, itself in that bracket, is reproduced prior to the contents page) it is Kirby’s splash work or explosive two-page action spreads that really were his forte.
In this colossal tome there are four complete stories, from issues 33 (Side By Side With The Sub-Mariner), 45 (Among Us Hide The Inhumans) 47 (Beware The Hidden Land) and 60 (The Peril And The Power). All but the first issue listed were inked by Sinnott (33’s inking chores were done by Chic Stone). There are also poster-sized repros of two Marvelmania posters of the Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom. As always, these art pages evoke the scale, ambition and pop art abandon far better than the twelve cent four colour comic versions. Issue 33’s little tale is about Namor’s love Dorma betraying him to invading sea-lord Attuma, with the Fantastic Four coming to her and the Sub-Mariner’s rescue, thanks to Reed Richards’s Oxy-spray allowing our heroes to breath underwater. Although not quite a tour de force, it’s still a compulsive read. Issue 45 and 47 focus on the first and third appearances of The Inhumans, another group of super-powered outsiders that were a Lee / Kirby creation which proved that the pair were at their peak. Kirby and Sinnott’s work here is far more polished than earlier, with the team managing to fit so much plot, dynamism and characterization into twenty pages. Issue 60 has the foursome battle arch-nemesis Dr. Doom, who in this instalment has appropriated the Silver Surfer’s powers – yet he is still out-manoeuvred by Reed Richards at the end. Needless to say, the art team’s efforts here are dazzling, with Kirby’s line never more fluid than at this juncture.
But there’s still plenty more eye candy – twenty-two covers, all but one the Fantastic Four, including such feted classics as 40, 55, 66, 72 and 74, along with an unpublished 52 (all no doubt priceless in the original art market!). Not to mention a huge array of single pages, from the title’s early days to its later period, with far too many celebrated and familiar moments in the canon to list, featuring the Impossible Man, the X-Men, Daredevil, the Inhumans, Ronan, the Silver Surfer and Dr. Doom and many others besides. I’ve never been moderate in my approbation for IDW’s project, but this feast of artistic brilliance may be the most outstanding entry yet, with so many treasures within. As always, it merits the highest possible recommendation.