With Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday nearing, today’s Retro Review is going Kirby with a vengeance!  These days, everyone remembers Jack Kirby as the creative legend behind Darkseid and The New Gods, the co-invention of romance comics and damn near the entire Marvel Universe.  But back in 1940, he was just a young artist trying to make his mark…  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Red Raven Comics #1 awaits!

RED RAVEN COMICS #1

Writer: Joe Simon/Dick Briefer/Martin A. Burstein
Penciler: Louis Cazanueve/Dick Briefer/Jack Kirby
Inker: Louis Cazanueve/Dick Briefer/Jack Kirby
Letterer: Jack Kirby
Editor: Joe Simon
Publisher: Timely Publications/Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $16,000.00

Previously in Red Raven Comics: Born August 28, 1917, Jacob Kurtzberg taught himself to draw in order to get away from his neighborhood on the Lower East Side of New York.  He began drawing for a newspaper syndicate in 1936, then worked as an in-betweener artist for the Fleischer Brother cartoon studio.  But the late 1930s brought with them a boom in the new comic book art form, and Jacob began working under a number of aliases, drawing westerns, science fiction and pirate comics for the Eisner/Iger art studio.  In 1940, he ended up at Fox Feature Syndicate, where he met his longtime artistic collaborator Joe Simon, working on Blue Bolt, Blue Beetle and other titles.  When Joe became art editor at Timely Comics, he brought Jack on as artist for a new venture, an anthology comic book named for the lead feature, much like the  ‘Blue Bolt Comics’ they had done for Fox.  Red Raven hit the stands with a stunning cover by then 22-year-old Jacob…

I gotta say, had I seen that book on the stands I’d be really interested in seeing what was happening inside, and more than happy to plop down my dime to check out what this Red Raven fellow was all about.  Sadly, the lead feature’s art is handled by Louis Cazanueve, who isn’t bad at all (especially by Golden Age standards) but just isn’t following through on the promise that the cover makes…

Much like Black Condor over at Quality Comics, Raven was orphaned and raised by flying creatures, but Red Raven’s world was one of technologically advanced bird-people who raised him and gave him wings that he could use to duplicate their flight prowess.  (Black Condor was raised by condors and learned how to fly from them which, to be fair, is basically Tarzan’s origin only with features.)

Raven’s lead story is okay enough, but the character would not reappear after this issue for more than twenty years, finally reappearing as an antagonist in an X-Men comic in 1968.  Interestingly, though this is but the first issue, the final panel (which would normally advertise the next issue of Red Raven) indicates that readers should go check out Marvel Comics for more super-action, making me wonder if editorial knew that this would be the only issue of Red Raven.  Up next, we meet The Human Top…

The Top, too, wasn’t terrifically successful, though he got at least one more Golden Age appearance before limbo overtook him, and his story features interesting art by a pre-Frankenstein Dick Briefer.  (If you don’t know who that is, go ask Otter Disaster on Twitter.  He’ll set ya straight.)  Finally, we get to the reason we’re here, the first appearance of Mercury, featuring art by the man himself!

You can absolutely see the seeds of what would become the Jack Kirby bombastic sixties art style in these pages, and even though he’s practically a kid, Mercury’s story stands out artistically from the rest of the issue…

Later retconned as one of the identities of the Eternal called Makkari, Mercury is explicitly the Roman gawd in these pages, serving as the first (but not the last time) that this artist is associated with the stories of actual mythological figures as superheroes.  Mercury is sent to Earth to defeat the scheme of his semi-cousin, Pluto, who has come in a very familiar guise…

“Rudolph Hendler”‘s real world inspiration should be obvious, and I really like the obviously Satanic features given to the villain here, making an unequivocal statement about the fascism in “Prussland.”  By the Spring of 1941, this book’s editor and this story’s artist would drop all pretense and have Adolf Hitler taking a sock in the jaw from Captain America in his debut, but in these pages, Mercury uses his super-speed to vex Pluto/Hendler in a sneakier manner…

Having been in the industry for a few years sat this point, Jacob Kurtzberg had used a number of aliases, from Fred Sandy to Curt Davis and even Lance Kirby.  But this issue marks the first credited use of the name for which he would become famous, with the debut of sci-fi adventurer Comet Pierce.

We quickly meet hotshot pilot Comet Pierce and his frenemy, rival space-jockey Jort, who is described in text as a bad apple, proving once and for all that Jorts are bad.  Stay away from Jorts, friends…

Crashing on a strange planetoid thanks to Jort’s treachery, Comet is forced to face down a hungry alien, delineated in the classic Kirby creative style…

Knocked unconscious by the explosion that saves him, Comet awakens to find a beautiful women hovering over him, and she’s got some things to say to our rocket-faring hero…

Once again, even though his art is 20 years less refined and stylized than fans of old-school Marvel would recognize, it’s easy to see what would become the FF, Avenger and Hulk in the linework here.  Tell me that you can’t see Nick Fury delivering the left we see here…

Comet’s punch proves, once and for all, that nobody needs to mess around with Jorts (except maybe Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s just because he’ll put your lights out), returning to his mysterious savior, revealing that he knows who she is and is willing to devote his blaster and piloting skills to her cause…

Man, this all feels a little bit like Han Solo and Princess Leia, doesn’t it?  Note also that, once again, the coming attractions aren’t for a new issue of Red Raven, but for Mystic Comics, another Timely joint.  Other non-Kirby stuff in this issue includes a big-foot humor strip featuring police buffoon Officer O’Krime, a text adventure and the first appearance of Magar The Mystic, re-creator of souls!

A sort of mash-up of Ibis The Invincible and the powers of Kid Eternity, Magar never returned after this single adventure.  Of course, the final feature of this issue DID return, after a fashion…

After his elderly body fails, Professor Carmody’s brain is implanted in a hovering glass jar, allowing him to tap into psychic blah blah blah something telepathy.  This story actually takes place in the 1980s, allowing Carmody to return as part of ‘Marvel: The Lost Generation’ a few years ago, and later to act as part of the zombie-killing Ducky’s Dozen.  This issue ends with a very strange moment, though…

For whatever reason, Red Raven Comics #1 is the only issue of the book, with the numbering taken over by The Human Torch’s solo series soon after, but Kirby moved on to bigger and better things, with the creation of Captain America only a few months ahead, and the issue receives a composite 3 out of 5 stars overall.  The comics that would come after this would only solidify Jack Kirby’s reputation as a creative genius, something that you can tell from the cover of this issue alone…

With Jack Kirby's 100th birthday nearing, today's Retro Review is going Kirby with a vengeance!  These days, everyone remembers Jack Kirby as the creative legend behind Darkseid and The New Gods, the co-invention of romance comics and damn near the entire Marvel Universe.  But back in 1940, he was just a young artist trying to make his mark...  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Red Raven Comics #1 awaits! RED RAVEN COMICS #1 Writer: Joe Simon/Dick Briefer/Martin A. Burstein Penciler: Louis Cazanueve/Dick Briefer/Jack Kirby Inker: Louis Cazanueve/Dick Briefer/Jack Kirby Letterer: Jack Kirby Editor: Joe Simon Publisher: Timely Publications/Marvel Comics Cover…
Kirby first becomes Kirby, with some interesting glimpses of what might be to come in an issue that is historically fascinating and diverse...

RED RAVEN COMICS #1

Writing
Art

Kirby first becomes Kirby, with some interesting glimpses of what might be to come in an issue that is historically fascinating and diverse...

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

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