The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction
Review by KC Carlson
In comic shops this week, the latest and maybe the most fascinating volume yet in the Simon & Kirby Library series.
The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction was slightly delayed due to the passing of Joe Simon in late 2011. Simon was very involved in the production of these wonderful volumes, and it can’t have been an easy time for editor Steve Saffel and the rest of the crew at Titan Books. Nonetheless, this volume is a beautiful tribute to both creators, and it bears the fond accolade “Dedicated to Joe Simon — One of a kind”.
Appropriately, this book features not only some of Simon and Jack Kirby’s earliest solo work — ”Solar Patrol” from Silver Streak Comics #2 (1940) by Simon and “Solar Legion” (also 1940) from Crash Comics Adventures #1-3 by Kirby — but also their first credited collaboration, with the title character in Blue Bolt Comics. Simon created the Blue Bolt solo for issue #1 (June 1940). Kirby came aboard with issue #2, but he was not officially credited (with the now-legendary “by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby” byline) until the story in Blue Bolt Comics #5 (October 1940). All the Blue Bolt stories with S&K involvement from issues #1-10 are included in this volume.
There’s also a S&K oddity in this volume. “Daring Disc” is a five-page story by both Simon & Kirby that is one of the duo’s earliest collaborations (and may actually be the first, although the evidence for that may be lost to time). In this book, it’s positioned before the Blue Bolt material. “Daring Disc” was originally unpublished until 2003, where it first appeared in Simon’s memoir The Comic Book Makers.
And that’s it for the 1940s material in this book, as S&K moved on to other comic genres throughout the decade, most notably superheroes, beginning with Captain America. Concepts which we now associate with Cap (such as his airborne shield and super-soldier serum) were actually “previewed” in these Blue Bolt stories.
By the 1950s, superheroes were practically gone, so S&K jumped back into other genres, including science fiction, as well as westerns and crime comics. During that decade, Joe Simon became involved with Harvey Comics, long before they became known just for Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, and Sad Sack. Among other work, Simon packaged Alarming Tales (1957) and Race for the Moon (1958), both anthology series featuring science fiction stories by a number of creators, including Al Williamson and Angelo Torres, which gave fans the exciting opportunity to see Jack Kirby inked by Al Williamson on a number of stories (all included here).
Around the same time, Simon and Kirby science fiction stories would also appear in Black Cat Mystic for three issues (#58-60) as well as the early issues of Alarming Tales. Many of these stories from the 1950s and 60s were reproduced for this book directly from the original artwork from Joe Simon’s archives, with the appearance here stunningly crisp and sharp.
One oddity from this era is a double-page spread originally prepared for Captain America Comics #11 and unused, as the duo left the title with issue #10 after a financial and copyright dispute with Timely (Marvel). The duo replaced the Cap and Bucky figures and sold the piece to Charlton Comics, where it appeared in a writing contest in their Win-a-Prize #1 comic in 1955. Before-and-after reproductions appear in this volume.
Simon and Kirby amicably dissolved their working partnership in the mid-1950s, although they did continue to collaborate occasionally. Simon left comics full-time in the 1960s. He primarily worked in advertising (and creating custom comics) but kept a toe in the comics world by creating and editing Sick, a popular competitor to MAD magazine. Simon also packaged more anthology comics for Harvey, including a brief (1 issue) S&K revival of Fighting American (1966). Short-lived titles such as Alarming Adventures (1962), Blast-Off (1965), Thrill-O-Rama (1966), Unearthly Spectaculars (1966), and Jigsaw (1966), were edited/packaged by Simon and offered up an occasional Kirby-pencilled story, usually inked by either Williamson or Reed Crandall. All of those are included here, as well as a handful of non-S&K stories from these titles featuring other work by Williamson, Crandell, Torres, Roy Krenkel, Wally Wood, and Archie Goodwin.
Extras in this 352-page hardcover include a funny and sweet introduction by artist and writer Dave Gibbons describing his love for Jack Kirby’s work and how, at a young age, he worked out that all inkers are not created equal by studying Kirby’s work. Race for the Moon was instrumental in that discovery and became the comic book that inspired Gibbons to become an artist.
Also, the Joe Simon Archives are opened up for a look into two unrealized projects. Tiger 21 may have been a late 1940s presentation for a Sunday newspaper strip, illustrated by Jack Kirby. Only two art boards of lettered pages survive, and there we realize that concepts later grafted onto Fighting American were originally used here. One FA story, “Homecoming: Year 3000”, began life as a Tiger 21 story.
Jove U.N.born and His Checkmates was originally conceived by Simon in the early sixties and occasionally worked on over the years, sometimes assisted by his son, Jim. It was a superhero concept starring an unknown soldier, nearly destroyed in nuclear warfare, who was rebuilt by UN scientists and called Cyborn. To insure hs neutrality, he was remade with organs from three major nationalities — Black, Asian, and Caucasian. He was also assigned three female specialists (one of each ethnicity) to aid with his cyborg body; they were also martial arts and espionage experts. This never went farther than a TV and film proposal in 1970, with painted concept art by Jerry Grandenetti presented here. Simon and Grandenetti would later collaborate on several projects at DC Comics, including the cult-classic Prez.
The Science Fiction volume of the Simon & Kirby Library is exceptionally produced and bursting with fantastic concepts. It’s also fully authorized by both the Simon and Kirby families and estates. This continues to be both an amazing and historically important series that anyone who’s serious about comic books need to have on their bookshelves alongside Titan Books’ hardcovers of S&K Superheroes and Crime, and Joe Simon’s exceptional biography My Life in Comics. And if committing to the series is too much, at least try out Titan’s Best of Simon and Kirby overview or the softcover collection of Fighting American. You won’t regret it! (The publisher provided a review copy.)