Bronze Age Beginnings

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Kool Kirby Avengers Kovers!

I never really got Jack Kirby during my early exposure to his art - reprinted in various Marvel UK titles - but just as The Avengers returned to UK distribution, Jack Kirby returned to Marvel and produced four covers for the team that I have some very fond memories of. There were nine in total, but only four were pure Kirby, the others featuring layouts by Al Milgrom, and one with some minor alterations by John Romita.

The first was #148 (cover date June 1976) and featured The Avengers getting their collective arses kicked by Marvel's stand-in Justice League of America, the Squadron Supreme. It is a classic example of Kirby's use of three planes to convey depth; the foreground with Golden Archer, Tom Thumb and The Amphibian looking at the middle-ground, with the focus on Hyperion holding a defeated Thor aloft while standing atop a crumpled mess of Avengers, and in the background, cheering him on, Cap'n Hawk, Doctor Spectrum and Lady Lark. It is a perfect example of an artist controlling the viewer's eye through composition, further enhanced by a very limited colour palette, predominant with the three primaries and a dash of the secondary's, against a stark white base. It was inked by Mike Esposito.

The second cover was #151 (cover date September 1976), and is a classic 'the old order changeth' image, inked by Dan Adkins.
Kirby uses pretty much the same composition here, the assembled Avengers candidates in the foreground looking at Captain America in the middle-ground, with Thor and Iron Man slightly behind him in the background. Again, the three primaries, red, yellow and blue are predominant, while the foreground characters are blocked out in a grey tone that emphasises the importance of the three primary characters against a white base.

Note the way that Thor and Iron Man are staring out, straight at you, the reader, challenging you to guess at the new line-up. How could you resist?

Issue #152, again inked by Dan Adkins, features the new line-up plus a surprise addition.The surprise addition of Wonder Man, along with the villain Black Talon, is, in this case, the focus of the foreground, while The Vision is in the solid middle-ground and The Wasp, The Scarlet Witch, Iron Man and Captain America are in the background. The Vision's placement is well judged, considering his importance to the story of Wonder Man.

The cover is dominated by the colour green, - one of the secondary colours - in the costumes of The Vision and Wonder Man, and the background. The Black Talon's costume has also had some red added to the blue, creating almost a purple hue in contrast to the strong blue that Captain America is wearing (highlighting his villainy).

The three-toned green background, while it doesn't allow the central image to 'pop', does create an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, suitable for a story involving a man dressed as a chicken raising a fallen 'hero' from the dead.

Last, but by no means least, is #157, either inked by Adkins or Joe Sinnott. This is probably my favourite of all four.

Again, Kirby uses the three planes, but they are much closer in relationship this time. He also brings the foreground up close and tight, featuring the fallen figures of Captain America and Iron Man,
 with the middle-ground taken up by the imposing lower third of the issue's mystery villain.

The remaining Avengers, The Vision, The Scarlet Witch and
Yellowjacket are scattered around in the background, The Vision's leg (and Wanda's arm) entering the middle-ground, and anchoring the imposing figure coloured in greys.

It is the predominant use of grey, on the legs of the Black Knight (Oops! Spoliers!), and in the slightly grey toned Captain America (against a cool blue base) that adds to the prevailing sense of menace. Who is this villain, and how did he defeat all The Avengers?

As I mentioned earlier, I never got Jack Kirby when I was younger, but these four covers alone were enough to fire my imagination and taught me to appreciate what made Kirby one of the best, if not the best, super-hero cover artists of all time.

1 comment:

  1. It's really interesting to hear an analysis of Jack Kirby's Avengers covers from someone who knows about art. I'm still not keen on them - I generally like Kirby covers only when he was on the interiors, otherwise the style difference is too jarring. And Joe Sinnot spoiled me for any other inkers at Marvel.

    I disagree that there are three planes for the eye to find in the #151 cover; Thor and Iron Man are pretty much lock-step with Cap.

    The final cover is my favourite too. I like Vision coming through the logo, but I never got why he was given pride of place - it's a team book, innit?


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