Each week, Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of the brand new Supervillain Field Manual, examines a major comic news item and reviews a few selections among the week's comic book releases.
If you read the comics Internet at all (and by virtue of the fact you're reading this column, I'd say the chances of that are pretty good), you probably know that yesterday would have been Jack Kirby's 96th birthday. You also don't need me to tell you just how important Jack Kirby was to comics. Plenty of people have already done that.
I may not even have to tell you about how Kirby, the guiding force behind most of the Marvel characters who appaeared in the movie "The Avengers," never got much more than standard freelance rates for his work at Marvel. He was refused his own original art when he wouldn't sign a highly restrictive contract. His family is still fighting Marvel and Disney over copyrights, though they've suffered some major blows of late.
Kirby and his family's struggles have been well documented over the years. But here are some stories you may not have heard:
Bill Mantlo, the creator of "ROM: Spaceknight" and writer of tons of Marvel Comics over the years, was hit by a car more than 20 years ago and lives in a Queens nursing home. He didn't have health insurance that would cover his injuries, so his family had to sell most of his possessions so he qualify for Medicaid.
William Messner-Loebs, who had well-known runs on "The Flash" and "Hawkman," has had to turn to fans for financial help a few times. Most recently, he sold his original artwork at bargain-basement prices to help pay for his wife's heart surgery and the repercussions of a carbon monoxide leak in his house.
Fans held a charity auction for "Suicide Squad" creator John Ostrander, who was losing his eyesight to glaucoma.
Jerry Ordway, artist of some classic "Justice League" and "Superman" comics, had to essentially beg for work in an essay back in the spring, saying he couldn't pay the bills on his legendary status alone.
Russ Heath, who was the artist on a good many "Sgt. Rock" comics, had to turn to The Hero Initiative, a charity for comics creators in need, for knee replacement surgery.
Jack Kirby's granddaughter, Jillian, has started Kirby4Heroes, a program that raises money for The Hero Initiative. Help them out. Help these creators.
If you love comics, then make it a profession that doesn't punish the people who gave their lives to the medium just for aging out of it according to someone's arbitrary relevance clock. The King never aged out of comics. No one does.
And now the comics of the week!
"Batman Incorporated Special" #1
(DC Comics, by too many creators to name)
I wasn't sure I was into the idea of bringing the Batman Inc. characters back under this banner now that Grant Morrison's run on the book is complete, but the lassiez-faire approach to this issue -- no continuity to speak of, no real sense of time, even -- made it a lot easier to swallow. This ended up being a pretty fun, breezy collection of stories and not much more than that. That's all it needed to be. And yes, the Bat-Cow story did make me laugh, just like it did Chris Burnham.
(MonkeyBrain Comics, by Brian Winkeler and Robert Wilson IV)
This comic is just a hoot. I don't want to spoil any of the jokes for you, but there's a vomit gag in this book that is just amazing. It's so well timed, and that's so hard to do in a comic book. There's also a pretty hilarious riff on a famous line from "Superman: The Movie." Laugh-out-loud great.
(Image Comics, by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark)
Usually the big question of a comic like this one, where conflicts between and within factions lead to investigations and constant looking over one's shoulder, is just who's pulling the strings. Here, we sort of know that. Rucka and Lark make it fairly apparent who's trying to off Forever, the Lazarus of the title. It's fine that we know that. The big questions are more about the whys than the whos, and I like that a lot. It's intrigue of a whole different stripe.
(Marvel Comics, by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred)
It's all kinds of sad that Matt Fraction is leaving this comic, but at least he gets to go out with an issue that's indicative of what his run has been these past eleven issues: Weird, inventive, a little heartwarming. I love Impossible Man stories, and this isn't like any other one I've ever read before. Allred is amazing with the otherworldliness of IM's home, too. Oh, and there's a subplot with Julius Caesar. We'll miss you, Matt.