Regular readers of this blog know that Jack Kirby is my all-time favorite comic book artist. At last weekend's Austin Wizard World Comic Con, the only thing I bought (besides a cup of coffee and a $4.25 bottle of Dr. Pepper!) was the book pictured above. I recall buying this one when it was originally published in 1976 but somehow, over the years, it disappeared from my collection. Sold or traded away most likely. It's one of the few Kirby comics from his second stint at Marvel during the mid '70s that included work on CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE BLACK PANTHER, THE ETERNALS and DEVIL DINOSAUR, that I don't currently own. I found a dealer who had a very nice condition copy for twenty-bucks. He let me have it for fifteen. Sold.
How do I begin to explain this one? If you thought Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was a head scratcher the first time you saw it, this over-sized all-Kirby extravaganza offers some answers but raises an equal number of new questions. First, the film was released in 1968. This Treasury Edition behemoth was published in 1976, eight years after the film had come and gone. That's far too late to be accurately identified as a bonafide tie-in and, coming in '76, was a year before STAR WARS hit and changed everything, especially in regards to merchandising for blockbuster films. Apparently, Kirby wanted to do this book as part of his deal to return to Marvel in the mid '70s. Someone must have agreed to it because rights and permissions had to be secured from MGM and Stanley Kubrick and any one else who had a claim to the property. That's also probably why this material has never been reprinted in any form. Rights must have reverted to MGM and the Stanley Kubrick estate, not Marvel and/or Jack Kirby. While there's interest in seeing this reprinted as a Kirby work, I doubt there's much commercial potential in a reprint of a forty-year old adaptation of a forty-eight-year-old film.
While I'm always happy to see Kirby's work in any format, I have to admit that I don't believe he was the best artist for this material. Sure, his artwork is solid but it's not his best work. Frank Giacoia was not Kirby's strongest inker but he does a serviceable job here. Joe Sinnott would, of course, have been perfect. Mike Royer would have been a good choice also. Thank goodness the inking was not assigned to Vince Colletta. Kirby's dynamic, powerful layouts, compositions, figures, landscapes and machinery are all well done but his style just never seems to mesh with the cold, sterile look and pace of Kubrick's visuals and storytelling. If any then contemporary artist could have more closely captured the look and feel of the film, I submit that Jim Steranko would have been a better choice. Of course if Steranko, never the fastest artist, had started work on the book in 1976, it might just now be ready for publication.
So, let's take what we have and be glad that we have it. It's Kirby. What can I say? Jack also provides the captions and dialogue which explain everything we're seeing on the pages, leaving little or nothing to our imaginations. He over explains as much as Kubrick under explained events in the film. Where the film relied almost totally on visuals and sparse dialogue, deliberately evoking an ambiguous atmosphere full of mystery and wonder, Kirby spells it all out for us.
Plus, he adds material that was not in the film. This material appears to have come from two sources. One, Arthur C. Clarke's novel, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and an earlier draft of the screenplay co-written by Clarke and Kubrick . The added material expands the narrative but doesn't change the storyline in any major way.
As good a penciler as Kirby was, his attempts to replicate the film's notorious "cosmic light show" finale, fall short here. His pages are full of star scapes, "Kirby Krackle" and, photo collages. It's good but it's not the awesome visuals seen in the film.
Apparently, the Treasury Edition sold well enough to warrant a continuing comic book series of the same name. In the monthly comic book, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Kirby repeated the same two part structure of the film for several issues. Open with a primitive man or woman, introduce the monolith, cut to the future where an astronaut encounters the monolith and is transformed into a "Star Baby." That's the gist of the first few issues until Kirby introduced a robot character who eventually became Machine Man, a hero who ended up taking over the book and causing a title change.
I'm glad I have this comic. It's not great but it is Kirby and even lesser Kirby work is better than many artists' best stuff. It's an adaptation of one of my all-time favorite films. It's a giant-size, tabloid format hunk of Bronze Age magic that's worth reading if you can track down a copy.