God Hates Comics: Kirby tackles Kubrick – Marvel’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

Gentlemen:

The opening of 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY in the New Orleans region of the Miocene period is geologically impossible. The Miocene period — from 25-million to 13-million years ago — occurred long before the emergence of the earliest ancestors of man (circa 4-million years ago) . Therefore, “The One Who Hunts Alone” belongs at least 11-million years later, in the Pleistocene period. In addition, the New Orleans region was formed by the build-up of the Mississippi delta. Thus, there were no mountainous areas in that region at the time.

excerpt from “Monolith Mail”, issue #4.

I’m Rob Bradfield, and I take four-color bullets so you don’t have to.

This existed?

I think I should explain how I got here, because, well, since talking about it to friends, I’m always faced with the same response “Holy fuck! They made a comic series out of that???” Believe me when I say that the revelation was just as shocking to me.

I am a sucker for B-level (and below) characters – and concepts that could only be described as “batshit nuts.” For instance, when it comes to DC comics, although I love a good Batman story, I’m much bigger on Deadman and Blue Beetle. And Wikipedia is a great resource for people so inclined to seek out info on even the most obscure of comics characters.

Geeky, or cool? You say tomato...

So, when I wanted to find out more about a very obscure Marvel character called Machine Man, well, curiosity didn’t so much kill the cat as it made a cat buy the entire run (10 issues) of a lousy comic for no other reason than morbid curiousity. It turns out that MM first appeared in an adaptation (more to the point, a continuation) of a film I, as both a comics fan and cinephile, would never think, in a million years, could be the stuff of good comics – Stanley Kubrick’s (and Arthur C. Clarke’s) 2001: A Space Odyssey

Et tu, ‘King’???

The book has two advantages, the first of which is Jack Kirby ‘s art. Even if his artwork is not your cup of tea, his legacy and talent are unquestionable. And, as usual, every page is packed with Kirby goodness. 

Behold! The first ballbuster!

Its second advantage is that there was a lot of distance between the original release of the film and the beginning of the comic series – eight years, to be exact. By 1976, though it was far from forgotten, the Kubrick film was playing in second run theaters and at midnight shows. Additionally, most of the action is so unfocused and misguided that it if the title were, say, Adventures in Space, it would have no relation to the source material. And because the title is both short-lived (the movie adaptation – plus 10 monthly issues), and obscure, barely anybody – including die-hard fans of the film – knows about it.

The source of …Space Odyssey‘s narrative weakness is the source of its visual strength – Jack Kirby. The problem here isn’t an issue of talent, Kirby could write, too. [Two words: New Gods.] It’s really an issue of his writing style being incompatible with the spirit of the source material. You want a race of humanoid aliens who live on the moon, and fight crime on the Earth, you call Jack Kirby. You want contemplative, cosmic scifi… you call… um, shit. Who would you call in the 70’s? Steve Gerber? Jim Starlin?

There is no such thing as a syllable I could utter to improve upon the wonder of this panel. Not one.

Comic adaptations of movies are the ass end of the comic book industry – for both writers and artists. There’s very little artistic reward in, more or less, copying somebody’s work. What’s worse is that the Comics Code Authority was even more narrow minded than the MPAA – so, most of the time, the comic was a watered-down version of the movie. [In a day and age where the turnaround for the home video release of a major motion picture is just a couple months, I don’t understand why they’re still published.] Comics that attempt to continue and expand on a movie usually aren’t much better.  For example, when Marvel Comics had the license on Star Wars, they added a talking, green rabbit to the crew.

Enough jibba-jabba. Let’s take a look at this clusterfuck.

My God… it’s full of… shit!

I don’t know if there’s an official word for this in the lexicon of comics jargon, but you can tell a lot about the quality of older comics from the “line-up box.” Back in the day, almost every Marvel comic had a little box under the price tag that had a little picture of who was in the book. This was especially useful on team books like The Avengers, because the title goes through so many line-up changes – not all of them good. Let’s compare:

On the left: Beast, Vision, Iron Man, Wasp, Captain America, Wonder Man, and Scarlet Witch. On the right: Caveman, Spaceman, and Monolith - good times ahead!

Actually, issues 1-4 resemble, sort of, the movie. The stories mimic the structure of the film, just in different time periods across The Dawn of Civilization. The structure of the stories is exactly the same: a neanderthal/cro-mag (accuracy wasn’t important to Kirby) has a dilemma; then the Monolith appears to them, telling them exactly what to do/build to solve their problem (make the wheel, learn metallurgy, build weapons); after that, a match-frame time jump like with the bone and the space station in the movie – except the characters in the future are direct descendants of the people in the past; the character faces some dilemma in the future – and has to jump into the Monolith to escape.

I’ll demonstrate by pulling each of those beats from a different issue, out of sequence:

Caveman with dilemma talks to the monolith

The conflict in issue 3 - a bigger, more organized tribe wants to take over

Monolith solves the problem

Issues 3 and 4 were a two-parter. Apparently, the Monolith tells weaker tribes to roll over for this Conan analog - which gives birth to the wheel. I don't know...

Match-frame, time skip

In issue 2, a hungry, independent cavewoman dons the bones and skins of dead animals to scare the men in her tribe into feeding her, thus inventing government (no kidding) - her great, great... grandaughter is attacked by aliens

Character in future has to jump into the Monolith to escape some peril

The descendant of the "tooth guy" had to escape from space monsters, too

That’s all for now. Next time, it’s all about the Monolith as a character, New Seeds and Mr. Machine when I sharpen my beak and pick clean the remaining bones of this fetid, decaying corpse!

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About Bradfield

Bradfield is a millionaire. He owns a mansion and a yacht. He likes the chili spaghetti at Bob's Big Boy.
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2 Responses to God Hates Comics: Kirby tackles Kubrick – Marvel’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

  1. Clint says:

    Just finally sat down and read through this long-awaited piece. I can safely say it is everything I imagined, and more… seems Kirby is no more capable of not being Kirby than Stallone is capable of not being Stallone. Some people just have their own style to such a degree it don’t fit right for a lot of things.

    Also, congress would be a lot more awesome if they wore bones and smeared their faces with soil.

  2. Pingback: Kirby tackles Kubrick – Marvel’s ’2001: A Space Odyssey’ (pt. II) | The Satellite Show

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