The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction (Titan Books)

A collection of Space Race-era sci-fi stories from the prolific creators of Captain America.

 

 

352 pgs., color; $49.95
(W / A: Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Various)
 
When it comes to superhero comics, few names are writ larger than Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. But they did much more than Captain America, and to bring some of their lesser-known works back into print, Titan Books is publishing a series of oversize, full-color hardcover books that include restored versions of Simon and Kirby’s comics work along with essays and archival materials. These collections are a great way to round out your knowledge of the American comics industry at mid-century—popular culture is never just about the greatest hits, after all.
 
The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction includes comics from 1940 to 1966, and includes many one-offs as well as a fairly long run of Blue Bolt (#1-10, from June 1940 to March 1941) and a number of contributions to Race to the Moon from the late 1950s. The table of contents indicates exactly who did what on each comic, when this is known—because at times both Simon & Kirby did both writing and art, and both worked with a number of collaborators at various times, it’s nice that the editors have sorted this out for us.
 
Blue Bolt is the former Fred Parrish, a clean-cut Harvard football star who becomes a superhero after being struck by lightning, crashing his biplane, and being treated with radium (seriously!) by the mysterious (and bearded) mad scientist Dr. Berthoff. Blue Bolt’s arch-rival, who of course falls in love with him, is the scantily-clad Green Sorceress. The action comes fast and furious in this series, and it’s a lot of fun, while at the same time embodying good old American values like using force only when necessary, and giving people who do wrong a chance to reform (Berthoff treats the Sorceress with “vandrelen” in an attempt to make her good qualities dominant).
 
I haven’t done a tally, but one thing Blue Bolt has in common with Flash Gordon is that both were sports stars—so how many other superheroes of the period shared this trait? Poor Captain America had the opposite problem: he was a skinny guy unfit for service until being treated by the SuperSoldier serum. I’ll also note in passing that the lightning strike comes while Fred and three companions are presumably engaging in only manly activities in a world free of women—the text says they are “practicing punting on a secluded mountain estate”—when they unwisely seek shelter under a tree (!) during an electrical storm.
 
Simon cites the successful launch of Sputnik in 1957 by the Soviet Union as the motivation behind his creation of Race for the Moon, and nine installments are included in this volume, all with pencils by Jack Kirby. Comics have never been bound by the practicalities of physics, of course, so these are full of monsters riding on Sputnik and human landings on Jupiter, but it’s Kirby’s art that really sells them. In fact, a comparison of his work with Simon’s art for “Solar Patrol” earlier in the volume shows that they both picked the right specialties. In general, the reproduction quality of the art is great, thanks to restoration by Harry Mendryk.
 
The one-offs in this volume include all kinds of stories. One of my favorites, published in Alarming Tales in 1957, is “The Last Enemy,” a first-person tale of an average guy who uses a “time cube” to travel to Connecticut in the year 2514. He finds it populated by animals that walk on their hind legs and wear clothes (note that this was published before Planet of the Apes), and have also adopted some of our less lovely habits, like smoking cigarettes and waging war.
 
Extras in The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction include an introductory essay by Dave Gibbons, essays introducing each decade of comics by Peter Sanderson, a covers gallery, original art for the unpublished series “Tiger 21,” and an essay and concept art from the Joe Simon-Jerry Grandenetti proposed series “Cyborn.” | Sarah Boslaugh

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