Saturday 18 July 2009

Retrospectives On Two Teams of Two

Both of the books reviewed this week have more in common than simply reprinting old sequential art. In their own way, they each focus on a different creative team.

With an introduction by Simon and essays by Mark Evanier, the book acts as a sampler for people unfamiliar with the work of the legendary team. More than 25 stories and other material, originally published between 1940 and 1966, are reprinted within eight chapters. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific genre: superheroes, science fiction, war, romance, crime, western, horror, and humour. Other material includes photos, cover art, and a rare two-page illustrated article on Lenny Bruce from Sick(Vol.1)#2 (October 1960).As anyone can tell after reading its title, The Best of Simon and Kirby is a retrospective of the collaborative comic book efforts of writer Joe Simon (born: 1913) and illustrator Jack Kirby (1917-1994). Together, the two men made their mark on not only comic books but also pop culture in general, as both a team and as individuals. They are best known as the creators of Captain America, Bucky, and Red Skull.

As expected, some of the stories are better and/or more historically significant than others. Most comic fans will likely enjoy or, at least, appreciate the importance of the inclusion of a few Golden Age Marvel and DC superhero stories.

The most notable of these is "Captain America and The Riddle of The Red Skull" which is the first appearance of the villainous Red Skull. Originally printed in Captain America Comics#1 (March 1941), it's also a curiosity due to the hero's decision to not prevent Skull's death during the climax when he had the chance. (It doesn't really matter because Red Skull was revealed to have faked his death in a later issue anyway).

However, the best overall story within the book is "Weddin' At Red Rock!" from Western Love#1 (July 1949). For a western comic from the 1940s, it has a refreshingly good twist ending.

Of course because humour routinely evolves with society, some "serious" stories have become somewhat humorous by modern standards. "Trapping New England's Chain Murderer!", from Headline Comics#24 (May 1947), is a good case in point. When a murderer confesses to police officers, he says, "I killed 'em!! Killed 'em all!! When I don't get reefer, I go crazy"¦. CRAZY!" (It's a good thing the hippies in the 1960s weren't like that"¦)

For the record, identifying The Best of Simon and Kirby as a sampler is justified because Titan Books is already planning at least six follow-up books.

The other creative team featured in a book this week is Hewlett & Martin in the pages of The Cream of Tank Girl.

Although they're much more contemporary compared to Simon & Kirby, Jamie Hewlett (born: 1968) and Alan C. Martin's collaborative heyday together, primarily consisting of Tank Girl, ended over a decade ago when they got busy doing separate projects. In Hewlett's case, he co-founded music group Gorillaz with Damon Albarn (Blur).

Written by the duo for the 21st anniversary of her first appearance in Atomtan#1 (1987), The Cream of Tank Girl focuses on the behind the scenes rise and fall of the character. In it, the duo doesn't hide their blame on her diminished popularity on the 1995 film adaptation, Tank Girl.

As they point out: "You can't polish a turd".

The book's a great retrospective with all sorts of Tank Girl material: photographs, covers, scripts, etc. It even includes their impressive unreleased G-rated follow-up comic strip The 16s.

Although Tank Girl has resurfaced with miniseries and books in recent years, The Cream of Tank Girl could sadly be almost seen as an obituary for the character.

The Best of Simon and Kirby: 2/3

The Cream of Tank Girl: 2/3

Publisher of both books: Titan Publishing Group Ltd.

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. He can be reached at , or by e-mail at © Bernard C. Cormier 2009