A few thoughts on The Essential Thor vol. 4

The Essential Thor, Volume 4. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, John Buscema et al. Marvel, 2008.  $19.99, 600 pages.

Of all their collaborations, it’s the Kirby-Lee Thor that is my favourite. Yes, that means I like it more than their Fantastic Four. Not that I don’t like their Fantastic Four, but when Kirby cuts loose in Thor, he really cuts loose. There’s a savage, primal energy to the best of Kirby’s work on Thor that seems only fitting for a series about a Norse god with a really big hammer and a penchant for talking smack — ye olde schoole style.

Kirby’s pencils on Thor are so strong that they can even, for the most part, overcome inks by Vincent Colletta, surely Kirby’s least popular inker. Colletta’s inks actually work fine over Kirby’s romance comics — he softens the sharper edges and smooths out faces into something more conventionally attractive — but they are catastrophically ill-suited for the gotterdammerung of Thor. Colletta’s line is too feathery, too scratchy for the bombast-turned-up-to-eleven that fills the pages of Thor. (And that’s without even getting into Colletta’s overzealousness with the eraser)

So it should come as some relief to find that many of the Kirby-pencilled tales in Volume 4 of The Essential Thor are inked by Bill Everett. It should, but it doesn’t. While there are some nice panels here and there, Everett’s inks are, overall, too crude to do Kirby justice. Everett may have had considerable cartoonist chops himself, but he doesn’t acquit himself too well here.

Or maybe some of the blame for crude rendering should go to the great man himself. Kirby certainly seems to have run out of enthusiasm for the character in his last year and a half (collected here). He recycles characters and plots from earlier issues and, when he does create new characters, the results are, uncharacteristically, visually dull. It’s dispiriting stuff, really, much in the way that his last year and a half on Fantastic Four (reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 5) is dispiriting. It all smacks of someone who was just going through the motions. Granted, Kirby going through the motions is still better than anything else Marvel was probably printing at the time, but it’s a long way from the feverish pitch of earlier issues. Unlike those earlier issues, these ones don’t shimmer with invention, or that mad headlong rush into new territory that we associate with Kirby’s best work.

But that’s only the first half of the stories in this volume. As for the rest of them, they’re fairly typical of the sort of thing that filled Marvel’s books once Kirby and Ditko left. Neal Adams turns in a very restrained two issues, with nothing much to recommend them; he’s followed by John Buscema who does yeoman but unremarkable work.

In all, it’s a disappointing end to an otherwise excellent body of work.

Recommended? Kirby completists will still want it, caveats and all. Others should stick to the earlier, better volumes — particularly volumes 2 and 3.

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11 Responses to “A few thoughts on The Essential Thor vol. 4”

  1. William Bender Says:

    Incredible that someone writing a blog about comic books has no clue how innovative, great and different from anything else in the genre were the Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta THORs.

  2. Jones, one of the Jones boys Says:

    Hi William, did you actually read the first paragraph of the review? Sheesh.

  3. William Bender Says:

    The first paragraph? Where in the first paragraph, or anywhere else, does it say how integral Vince Colletta’s inks were to making THOR one of the best and most unique books in history?

  4. Jones, one of the Jones boys Says:

    What I meant was, we agree that Kirby’s Thor is awesome. Where we evidently disagree is Colletta’s role in that awesomeness. You think Thor is awesome (in part) because of Colletta’s inks; I think it’s awesome despite them. To my eyes, Colletta’s inks are just ugly. I particularly dislike the way he hatches in shades on muscles. Give me Frank Giacoia any day.

    But now I’m sincerely curious as to what good you see in Colletta’s inks that I’m missing.

  5. William Bender Says:

    Let’s look at the cover of THOR #126 for example. Giacoia, Sinnott, Stone, etc. would have drawn Thor’s and Hercules’ muscles with a few gloppy lines, great for graphic comic book art, no doubt, but much farther from a real life illustration. Colletta’s brushes and pen created the actual look and feel of what muscles actually look like. He was the absolute best at drawing hair, and close-up facial features using similar techniques. There’s totally more depth in his inking. But what it comes down to is a matter of taste. I like the slick look of the inkers I mentioned too but as art there’s no comparison, especially when it came to the main figures, especially women, that Vinnie was without peer.

    To prefer other inkers or other inking styles is understandable but to not be able to recognize and appreciate Colletta’s wonderful inking is not.

    Your article also mentioned erasing. I’ve never seen any more than very minor things that he ever erased, and none that I can remember in a THOR book so that was an unfair cheap shot. “Catastrophically ill-suited”? I think that history will see the Kirby and Colletta THOR books much differently.

  6. Jones, one of the Jones boys Says:

    See, I look at that same cover and cringe. As I said, I hate the way Colletta inks muscles — there’s nothing Kirbyish about the effect. I prefer those of Kirby’s inkers who let the pencils speak for themselves (the reason I’m not too fond of Sinnott, for that matter).

    But thanks for trying to convince me anyway. It was helpful to hear from someone who likes Colletta!

  7. William Bender Says:

    If you think that pencils should speak for themselves then you either need Kirby to have inked himself or a tracer, somewhat like Mike Royer.

    So you are not into comic art in general as much as you are into Kirby art.

    Doesn’t make you a bad person.

  8. Donald Newton Says:

    I’m not sure that Vince Colletta erased quite as much as he’s reputed to have done. It’s a shame to read comments that essentially say “I like the guy’s inking but I can’t forgive the fact that he erased things.”

    Colletta was one of the giants of early comics. His art will be discussed and his practices debated until the end of time.

  9. Ed Ooo Says:

    Being pretty new to golden and silver age comic book collecting, my first acquisitions have been Fantastic Fours, Thors, Avengers, Spider-Man and X-Men. What I have noticed about the inking of Vince Colletta is that he adds so much extra to the characters.

    Why would he erase a few things just to cut corners when he was spending so much extra time doing all that intricate pen work?

    Color me dubious.

  10. Warlord versus Phoenix « Let’s you and him fight Says:

    […] versus Phoenix By Jones, one of the Jones boys About nine months ago, I caused some minor controversy among Vince Colletta fans with my review of The Essential Thor Vol. 4, where I repeated the old […]

  11. Late to the party Says:

    I know William Bender is long gone, but I don’t think being into comic art and Kirby art are as mutually exclusive as he thinks. There’s nothing wrong with wanting an artists’ strengths to be played to instead of a hodgepodge of whatever talent is laying around.

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