Books

Jack Kirby's Influence Is Felt on Nearly Every Page of 'Marvel Year By Year'

All of the important in-continuity events are here: the death of Gwen Stacy, the Kree-Skull War, the death of Jean Grey, Civil War.


Marvel Year By Year: A Visual History, Updated and Expanded

Publisher: DK
Length: 400 pages
Author: Peter Sanderson, Tom Brevoort, Tom DeFalco, Mathew K. Manning, Stephen Wiacek
Price: $50.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-04
Amazon

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby, who is arguably the greatest comic book artist of all time. Ineed, it was Kirby who established the look of Marvel Comics during its early days of rapid expansion and creative growth, a look that was at odds with the staid style at competitor DC Comics. Kirby’s characters -- and there are so many of them -- are in a constant state of movement, adventurous in every panel, filled with energy and power. What Kirby’s creative partner, Stan Lee, accomplished with zippy dialogue, Kirby accomplished with images on the page, no, with images that practically leap off the page.

Like Lee, Kirby was hardly a newcomer to the world of comic books at the launch of the Marvel Age in 1961. Both had been around in the Golden Age of the war years. Marvel, then, was known as Timely Comics, and Kirby’s partner was the equally creative Joe Simon. Together they created Captain America. Kirby would return to Captain America when the hero was rescued from his icy tomb in 1964. He would return to him again, triumphantly at the top of his ever-developing style, in 1976. By then, after a short stint at DC, Kirby had grown into the title that Stan Lee had bestowed upon him. Kirby was King.

Marvel Year by Year: A Visual History is not the story of Jack Kirby, but it might as well be. Kirby, in person or by influence, is on nearly every page. It was at the very beginning of Timely Comics, in 1940, when Kirby joined the creative team. In March of 1941, he and Simon introduced Captain America to a world not yet at war. Kirby’s cover, in which Captain America punches Hitler in the jaw, is a classic. Though primitive by his later standards, it is Kirby at his purest. Timely Comics’ heroes may have never been as big as National’s (later DC’s) Superman or Fawcett’s Captain Marvel (who was actually bigger than Superman), but they were popular and influential, and none as much so as Kirby’s Captain America.

After the war years, the superhero comic dropped out of favor to be replaced by westerns, sci-fi, horror, and romance comics. Timely Comics became Atlas. For much of the next decade, Kirby and Simon worked on their own romance comics, now considered classics in the genre. Kirby also worked with Lee on giant monster comics at the soon-to-be Marvel Comics, but of course, the real break came in 1961 when Lee and Kirby introduced the world to the Fantastic Four. Comic books were never the same. Marvel Comics exploded with Lee and Kirby the driving force.

Kirby wasn’t around forever, of course. He and Lee had a falling out that led to Kirby’s jump to DC for a few years. He returned for a dazzling tenure on Captain America, Black Panther and a host of other comics. His covers were everywhere. When he left Marvel for the final time, his influence remained. His style was the Marvel style. Kirby was Marvel Comics. If there were times through the years when Marvel’s creativity and artistry declined, it was often because the company lost sight of that fact.

Marvel Year by Year: A Visual History is just what the title implies, a year-by-year and month-by-month look at Marvel Comics from 1940 to 2016. Reading this books makes it possible, once the Marvel Age kicks off in 1961, to follow along with both the in-universe and real-world history of these comic and characters. All of the important in-continuity events are here: the death of Gwen Stacy, the Kree-Skull War, the death of Jean Grey, Civil War.

The book, one of those large, glossy-paged, boxed editions that are a specialty of DK publishers, is filled with images from the last 70 plus years of Marvel. Cover images and details fill every page. Large two-page spreads are found throughout. The encyclopedic entries are concise but informative, perfect for dropping in and out or for reading straight through from beginning to end. (Though the book is so large it is best to read it at a table, fully alert and fully immersed.)

The boxed edition comes with two exclusive prints, suitable for framing, by Dan Panosian, each with more than a hint of Kirby’s influence.

Kirby, long gone but still celebrated, is still alive as the book comes to a close in 2016. Kirby’s superteams, the Avengers and the X-Men, are still going strong. His Black Panther is written by the acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Captain America is still a metaphor for our times.

The dynamic images in Marvel Year by Year tell the story of Marvel Comics in a way that Kirby would have surely enjoyed. His work, and the work of countless other talented Marvel artists, make the heroes leap from every page.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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