Silver Age Superstars
♦Tripwire’s Senior Editor ANDREW COLMAN cast his experienced eye over two of IDW’s lavish reprint hardcovers: Fantastic Four Artist’s Edition and John Buscema’s Silver Surfer Artist’s Edition
Fantastic Four Artist’s Edition
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby & various
John Buscema’s Silver Surfer Artist’s Edition
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Buscema & various
It’s difficult to know where to start regarding such celebrated and lauded properties as the Jack Kirby Fantastic Four and the John Buscema Silver Surfer series. Both titles are obviously iconic to comic fandom, providing the bedrock for most devotees’ collections. You could say that along with Spider-Man, these two titles are the entry books for the novice fan. Of course one doesn’t have to collect the original Silver Age issues to enjoy these classics – there have been, as one would expect, so many reprints over the years featuring our favourite super-team and the angst-ridden cosmic being that debuted in their flagship book, from the Marvel Masterworks, the Essentials, the Omnibuses and even Silver Age series such as Marvel Collector’s Item Classics, Fantasy Masterpieces and Marvel’s Greatest Comics.
However the deluxe hardback collections, published by Marvel long after the characters’ heyday, left something on the page, the art, especially the inks, muted by garish colours and slicker paper that somehow peeled away a layer of the essence of the two titles from the low-rent newsprint originals. And the art, be it Kirby’s masterfully kinetic bombast or Buscema’s career-defining classicism, demands the right medium to exhibit its virtuosity. Both artists hit their zenith in the latter half of the 1960s, providing the motor and impetus for Marvel’s mercurial rise and subsequent surpassing of their arch-competitor DC Comics.
In the Kirby volume, there are five complete issues featuring him at full throttle – admittedly these books are just after the incredibly creative purple patch that the King and Stan Lee had had, from #36 through #67, which saw the introduction of many new characters who would become Marvel staples, including of course the Surfer himself. Issue 70 showcases a battle royale with The Thinker’s unstoppable android, the pace barely letting up throughout. Annual 6 has Reed, Johnny and Ben doing battle in the Negative Zone with Annihilus in order to find the cure for a pregnant Sue Storm, culminating in the arrival of her and Reed’s son, Franklin. The complete issues section concludes with #s 82-84, a three parter featuring the Inhumans, which is considered by many to be Kirby’s last major story arc for Marvel, even though he was still on board for another year and a half. As ever with this outsize format taken from original art pages, it’s another breathtaking tour de force.
In John Buscema’s album, there are three complete stories, two of which are ably inked by kid brother Sal. The first, issue 5’s “And who shall mourn for him” has The Stranger, like Galactus and the Brotherhood Of The Badoon before him, attempt to destroy the world, on this occasion due to mankind’s consummate selfishness. As usual, the Surfer comes to the rescue of his earthling tormentors and defeats his cosmic foe. Issue 6, “Worlds Without End” contains possibly my favourite Silver Surfer tale, in which our skyrider of the spaceways successfully breaks through Galactus’s space-time barrier, only to confront a particularly monstrous nemesis who can only be vanquished by going back in time and preventing his birth. Buscema’s fluid, groundbreaking pencils here are at times impressionistic and psychedelic, and fit the genre perfectly. His languid, skinny version of Norrin Radd was a departure for conventionally heroic characters, while his delineation of spacescapes, misshapen tyrants and netherworld ghouls (Mephisto pops up in issue 8, also reproduced in full) provided as much of the basis for the Marvel House Style as Kirby.
On top of all these stories, both books also have numerous other high quality reproductions, with many highly cherished covers, splashes and key pages included, as well as notes, illustrations, biographies and the odd unpublished work, such as the alternative cover for issue 2 of the Silver Surfer. I have effusively sung the praises of IDW’s super-deluxe Artist Editions series before, but if one had to pick a definitive outing in this terrific project, then either one of these two books would get my vote. Magnificent stuff as always, and a deserved five star effort.