Sunday, 5 November 2017

Jack Kirby's THE DEMON - Reviewed

TITLE: The Demon
CREDITS: Edited, written & pencilled by Jack Kirby, inked by Mike Royer
FORMAT: 384 full colour American comic sized pages. Paperback. Square bound.
PRICE: @£15.71 (Amazon)

Jack Kirby is one of the most famous and well respected names in comics fandom, but to the wider public he is pretty much unknown, but the titles, characters and concepts that he is credited with co-creating are now household names… Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Ant-Man, SHIELD, Nick Fury, the Uncanny X-men, Iron Man, Marvel's version of the Mighty Thor, the Avengers, Black Panther, Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy… The list goes on-and-on.

In the early 1970s he had left Marvel Comics for their Distinguished Competition due to the former's lack of appreciation of his creative input. Now not just an artist (as he had been mainly up to this point) but a writer too. This was an amazingly creative period for Kirby that coincided with the Comics Code Authority relaxingly their rules about occult concepts in comics. This lead both main American comics companies to launch many horror themed comics. Marvel had 'Tomb of Dracula', 'Ghost Rider', 'Werewolf by Night' and others… While DC had 'Swamp Thing', 'House of Mystery' and Jack Kirby's 'The Demon'!

This new paperback collects all sixteen issues of this 1972-73 comic in full colour. It is perhaps his most accessible solo creation. Besides being set in (Batman's) Gotham City there are no crossovers, guest appearances or references to the wider DC Universe. Everything you could want to know about the Demon and his adventures are contained between these covers.

The comic follows the story of Jason Blood, a knight of Camelot, who Merlin merges with a demon called Etrigan to defend the realm from an attack by the witch Morgaine Le Fay and her forces. Centuries later, in the present-day, Blood is still alive and still able to transform into his demonic form to fight evil. Clearly this owes much to superhero comics and is perhaps closest to Kirby's earlier (co) creation… The Incredible Hulk.

Etrigan himself is a bright yellow-skinned, stocky, horned creature clad in primary red… leaving a very strong superheroic impression on the reader. As with most Kirby works this isn't trying for subtly… It's big and bold and in your face. His blocky, unrealistic art isn't for everyone, but there is no denyingly the power of his images. His costumes and character designs have been incredibly influential both inside and outside comics. (Clearly without Kirby's Demon we would not have gotten Mike Mignola's 'Hellboy'.)

The villains are just as impactful as the main character… With Le Fay and Klarion the Witchboy being everyone's stand-out favourites… Both of which get return appearances in this collection. Le Fay's fantastic costume is a design stand-out in the first two issues.

Coming from an art background rather than a writing one helps Kirby's storytelling. Other comics of the era were still suffering from writers overwriting the dialogue and caption boxes (perhaps in an effort to make their presences felt on the page or steer stories the way they wanted when the artist wasn't giving them what they wanted?) But Kirby keeps the dialogue to a minimum and so 'The Demon' reads as a much more modern comic than it was.

Considering how religious America is (even today) it's a wonder this comic was ever done (but Kirby obviously gave little consideration to the Bible Belt since he'd called one of his other creations 'New Gods'.) This is prime Kirby… Every bit as creative (if not as complex) as his 'Fourth World' titles. Recommended.

Reviewed by John A. Short

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