Kirby Genesis Part 1 – Comics Review [Shadowhawk]

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Shadowhawk reviews the first volumes of three of Dynamite’s tribute series to creator Jack Kirby: Kirby Genesis Volume 1 collecting issues #0-8, Kirby Genesis – Silver Star Volume 1 collecting together issues #1-6 and Kirby Genesis – Captain Victory Volume 1 also collecting together issues #1-6.

“Better than expected but with a few flaws, these comics definitely gripping and entertaining.” ~The Founding Fields

I’ve never read anything from Jack Kirby that I can recall, being from an entirely different generation and all among other things. I’ve seen a fair amount of his artwork over the years however and I’d like to think that I can spot a Jack Kirby from an Alex Ross, to use one example. One of the reasons that I requested Kirby: Genesis Volume 1 and Kirby: Genesis – Captain Victory Volume 1 from Dynamite (through NetGalley of course) was that I wanted to take that plunge. Kirby is lauded across the comics industry as one of its heaviest weights, as one of its best innovators, with the characters and settings etc he created still resonating with readers today. Simple enough reason when you think about it. Another draw factor was that these comics are being published through Dynamite and, in the main, I like their titles, such as Prophecy, Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris, Warlord of Mars, Witchblade/Red Sonja, Red Sonja, Vampirella and some others.

*****

Silver Star Volume 1 by Jai Nitz

Silver Star is the first of these comics that I read. The series is about a superhero called Silver Star, who operates entirely under the auspices of the American Government, has since the earliest days of the Vietnam War in fact, and may well be the only one on Earth as powerful as himself. Written by Jai Nitz, this series charts an interesting narrative for the hero. The series starts off rather slow in #1, but in subsequent issues all through to #6, the pace picks up considerably. Jai Nitz’s script is convincing in that he makes Silver Star, who can be said to be a Superman-style analogue of this alternate history, someone that the reader can care about. Silver Star fights his nature every day of his life. He often reminisces about what he’s lost. His interactions with the people around him, such as his father, lay a good foundation for what promises to be a great character. But Nitz doesn’t really go the whole way. Part of that has to do with the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a very coherent narrative arc until #6, and even then, there is a fair amount of confusion. The writer’s vision is all there on the pages, it just doesn’t come across properly to the reader.

One of the more important characters in the series is a little girl named Tracy Coleman. Her background is never clear, beyond the little tidbits such as her being locked in some kind of a stasis sarcophagus for nigh on 40 years, and that she has some kind of astral-walking psychic powers and that she is Silver Star’s best friend. His only friend in the series really. She was, I think, a missed opportunity. She is likeable enough, but it was as if her character development was being held back because the series is so focused on Silver Star. It is to the detriment of the series ultimately but the script works in that I always wanted to know more about her, and wanted to see where the script was taking her.

The artwork in the series is courtesy of Johnny Desjardins. From an overall perspective, his pencils are decent and they evoke the settings and the dark, grim moods perfectly, but he often gets his character proportions wrong. Sometimes the characters are pencil-thin, and sometimes they are too beefed up. That inconsistency often threw me off certain panels and pulled me out of the experience. Vinicius Andrade however, derserves a shout-out for his colours, which complement Desjardins’ pencils perfectly. If Desjardins can get his character proportions to be consistent, then he and Andrade can definitely make one of the better teams in the business. Also, special mention for cover artist Alex Ross. Ross has a very distinctive style to his covers and I’m quickly coming to rate as him as one of the best artists out there. I’ve seen several of his covers for Dynamite and they are all excellent, bar none. Even for Silver Star, his work is among the best he’s done to date.

All in all,Silver Staris a decent enough series. If alternate post-WW2 history is your thing, then this is right up your alley. If all-powerful flawed superheroes is your thing, then also this is the title for you.

Rating: 7/10

*****

Kirby: Genesis Volume 1 by Kurt Busiek

This was next on my radar and is mostly a standalone book, although this seems to be the title that “started it all”, since Silver Star has a cameo here and my impression was that this was the main title of this tribute series. The series focuses on a college boy Kirby, a geek-nerd, whose life is irrevocably changed when an old space probe, thought lost in the far reaches of space, returns, and brings something unnervingly alien back with it. The idea is quite similar to the return of the space probe Voyager from Star Trek, the first movie of the franchise, in which the probe was found by the Borg, reprogrammed, and sent back to Earth. And lots of hijinks follow. The series aims very high in terms of content as it seeks to tie in several different factions of this Kirby-verse and ties in the modern times to the prehistoric ones. Revelations about the true nature and the origins of Mankind are also explored, as well as the “older races” who once called the planet home but are no more. This is a coming of age story, but doesn’t focus on a single individual, but on a species as whole.

I have to say that I really liked this book. The script has a very old-style feel to it, with all those distinctive (as I’m coming to realise) Kirby-esque characters and classic plotlines that few writers explore anymore today. This book is as space opera as you can get in comics that are so focused on superheroes. The script often meanders off in its minor plots but it is a testament to Busiek’s writing that none of it feels forced, and he is able to tie everything back together into a cohesive whole, which immediately marks it as much different from Jai Nitz’s Silver Star. The sweeping meta nature of the script, as apparently latent superheroes come to the fore and various heroes and vilains from across the Kirby-verse all are drawn to Earth to respond to the invasion of the alien presence that the space probe has brought back with it.

Another thing that the book has going for it is that it blends fantasy nicely with science fiction as characters like Captain Victory find themselves up alongside various mythological gods and heroes. It made for a nice change of pace from most other comics I’ve read this year.

Alex Ross and Jack Herbert have done the pencils for this book, with colours by Vinicius Andrade, and they made for a much much better team than Johnny Desjardins and Vinicius Andrade. Alex Ross is a fair master of his work and this book is a perfect example of that. In him, Dynamite has an ace in its hole. I don’t know which parts of the book have done by Jack Herbert, but I do have to say that I had a hard time looking for the difference in art styles. I wonder if that speaks to Herbert’s skills as much as it does to Ross’ direction on this book. The colours definitely speak to the Kirby style from what I’ve seen at large, with that distinctive riot of different shades and hues. That alone sets this book apart from others in the genre.

As a full-on graphic novel, Kirby: Genesis Volume 1 is a very, very good book. It held my interest from the prologue #0 issue to the final #8. The tangents that the script goes on to are interesting in and of themselves and I enjoyed reading all of it, but I think a fair few of them could have been cut for the sake of brevity. It all got a little too much. The length of the book, a big fat 232 pages,  was sort of appropriate in that regard. In the end, none of it mattered, for I had a hell of a good time reading through.

Rating: 9/10

*****

Kirby: Genesis Captain Victory Volume 1 by Sterling Gates

So far, this book is the third in my read through of the Kirby: Genesis series. In the interest of comparison, I find that this book lies in between Silver Star Volume 1 and the maintitle Volume 1. I read of Captain Victory of the Galactic Rangers in the latter for the first time, and his character intrigued me enough to get this book off NetGalley as well. Gates’ writing has a very episodic Star Trek feel to it, which I think is a good thing. I had fun reading the book, but did have a few issues with it.

Captain Victory is an interesting character, all things considered. He has a rough-edged ruthless side to him alongside the typical space hero jock that I expected. Gates’ writing gives him a much more forceful personality than Kurt Busiek’s brief portrayal, which I consider to be appropriate given the subject matter of each issue within the collection. His role as the commander of a battleship’s worth of galactic lawmen lends to a certain type of storytelling that Gates nails with each issue. Writing each issue as a sort of vignette on each of the characters, Victory and his senior cadre about the Dreadnought-class battleship Tiger, he teases out their driving motivations and personalities in a very finely focused approach. There’s a larger narrative at work of course, but each issue works well as standalone, which I found to be a unique thing in all of the Kirby: Genesis books so far. Which is why I said that it sits comfortably between the other two, straddling a fine balance.

Among the bunch, I found the issues that focused primarily on Victory and Major Klavus to be the best of all, with Orca being a close second and Tarin and Tiger 20 following on. Who doesn’t love a good Lion-Man character after all? This is the part of the book where the episodic approach in the style of Star Trek shines through. The characters aren’t interchangeable, and neither is the setting, for obvious reasons, but the book still puts me in mind of The Next Generation and DS9 in terms of them being character studies for the ship captain and his senior crew (or station commander where Sisko is concerned).

The artwork this time around is by Joe St. Pierre with colours by Dennis Calero. Captain Victory Volume 1 is almost as good a book visually as the maintitle Volume 1 is, and since the artwork is fairly consistent (I didn’t spot anything otherwise during my read through), its better than Silver Star Volume 1. The characters are all well-defined with distinctive looks to each and every one of them. The settings, such as ocean worlds, the Tiger itself, the Galactic Command council chamber and others are also very evocative of what they are meant to be. No confusion at all. And once again, Alex Ross is handling the cover art, so this marks his third straight home run in terms of how good a job he’s done for Dynamite. Expect great things from him!

In the final tally of things, while the larger narrative isn’t very complex, and the book only hints and teases at it in general, I had a good old time with the book and can certainly recommend it. Its one of the better series I’ve read this year and it proves why Dynamite is such a great, up-and-coming publishing house. They’ve got the talent to validate their immense success.

Rating: 8.5/10

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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