by Robert Greenberger
There have been numerous teams of collaborators to make their mark in comics, beginning with pioneers Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. They met at the Fox Features Syndicate and wound up working together at Timely Comics, where Joe was the company’s first editor and Jack was his Go To artist. When publisher Martin Goodman wanted a costumed hero, they whipped up a little something called Captain America. As pioneers and partners they developed the use of splash pages and spreads in addition to later introducing romance comics to readers.
They were in such demand that DC Comics hired them away from Timely with a fat contract and used their names on the covers as a selling point; this at a time when few readers knew or cared who wrote and drew the four-color adventures.
DC Comics has wisely been collecting the Simon & Kirby series in hardcover for the discerning reader and now Titan Books is looking at their complete output. Last year, they released the Best of Simon & Kirby, a delightful sampler of all their genres and now, we get a fat collection of their costumed crimefighters.
According to project Editor Steve Saffel, Simon & Kirby: The Super-Heroes “is all of Joe and Jack’s superhero action outside of their Marvel and DC stuff. It begins with their first true costumed hero, the Black Owl (from Prize Comics) then jumps to their post-war Stuntman adventures. With a little help from our friends we’ve been able to unearth a Stuntman story that never saw print: Stuntman Crowns a Jungle Lord, which they had written and Jack had pencilled. It was lettered, and an S&K Studio artist had added black outlines, but Joe had not yet had the opportunity to do full inks on anything but the opening spread.
“That spread and some others come from Joe’s personal files, as do two other stories in the book, the Vagabond Prince story Trapped on Wax and the Fighting American story The Mad Inker (which still lacks the splash page but features the cover, which does the trick). Because we include The Mad Inker, this is the first and only time the full run of Fighting American appears anywhere.”
The 480-page volume contains stories featuring The Black Owl, Stuntman, The Runyonesque Vagabond Prince (which hasn’t been collected before), Captain 3-D (with some of Steve Ditko’s first comics work on the inking), Fighting American, The Double Life of Private Strong, and The Adventures of the Fly.
“For all of these, we’re focusing entirely on the work by Joe and Jack, with the exception of Fighting American (in the interest of being completist),” Steve explains. “All of the stories appear in full color by restoration wizard Harry Mendryk, as does the first issue of Captain 3-D, which I think has never been reproduced in its entirety, and certainly not restored to it’s original 2-D form and offered in color. Also, because we’re working from Joe’s archive, we’re reproducing the Vagabond Prince, Fly, and Private Strong stories from original art, so they’ll be clearer and more vivid than they’ve ever appeared before.”
Not only do we get these breathless tales, but Neil Gaiman wrote the introduction, and Joe’s son, Jim Simon, provided a pair of essays that help put everything into context. Novelist Jonathan Lethem said of this work, “For those of us weaned on the Silver Age, these Simon and Kirby masterpieces are like the revelation of a fund of founding documents, exotically rich and raw and bursting with the promise of a world just coming into being.”
Saffel describes the trim size to be the “visionaries” size – larger than a DC Archive or Marvel Masterworks, but smaller than The Best of Simon and Kirby. The collection will reproduce the pages in their original published size without having to reduce the artwork. After all, comics from that era were slightly larger in size, with the art done twice-up, that is, twice the printed size, allowing for more panels and action per page.