God Hates Comics: Kirby tackles Kubrick – Marvel’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (pt. II)

Dear Jack,
 
Your treatment of the concepts presented in the movie/novel 2001: A Space Odyssey has brought me to the point of anger. It is my opinion that your treatment is entirely off base. Clarke, in the novel, gave the impression that the Monolith was just a one time experiment – 4,000,000 years ago – and its purpose was to teach the man-apes how to survive! …In forthcoming issues, I expect you’ll have a Monolith telling the Wright brothers how to build a glider, or telling Edison how to make a light bulb!
 
excerpt from “Monolith Mail,” issue #8
 
I’m Rob Bradfield, and I take four-color bullets so you don’t have to.

How NOT to expand a universe

This is the “splash page” for issue #5… of a SPACE ODYSSEY COMIC!!!

I can’t believe I’m going to say this: after four issues of repeating the themes in the Clarke story (see last installment), the series got really stupid. I’m really not sure what kept it on the stands for another six issues. Marvel doesn’t exactly pride itself in its commitment to sinking ships. The process of audience tracking must have been exponentially slower, or non-existent, in  the mid-70’s.

For the most part, it reads as if Jack Kirby, frustrated with angry letters like the one at the beginning of these articles, reverted to making 2001: A Space Odyssey into a “real” comic book. Issues #5 & #6 are supposed to be about a guy who’s love for comic books, and an encounter with a monolith, inspire him to become an astronaut.

Remember: this is the device guiding the evolution of man...

In the Year of Our Lord 2040 (the comics were written before Stanley Clarke’s sequels to the original book), according to Kirby, “…comics have reached their ultimate stage.” This means that, in a world where all cities are in giant domes, and everything from the sky to the sea is artificial, [Did you ever notice how popular domed cities were with early scifi writers? Somebody really needs to bring back the domed cities!] cosplay and LARP‘ing are the hip thing to do. I just knew the future would suck – but I always thought it would be because the Republicans finally pulled the trigger and instituted an eternal police state.

Every time I watch "2001..." I think to myself, "You know what would make this movie better? Superhero action!"

Actually, even though Kirby is clearly lauding (and overestimating) the potential of comics and fans of the medium, what ends up happening is two issues of of a prime example of just why our ilk shouldn’t be in charge. Of anything. That’s just what the space program really needs to give it the shot in the arm it’s been sorely lacking: imaginitive leaps taken by people who are already fuzzy on the dividing line between fantasy and reality.

I thought the monolith guided evolution of man. Apparently, this is a rogue monolith that encourages irresponsible behavior for its own amusement.

Per the story device used in the prior four issues, there’s a time jump, but only the amount of time it takes the comic book guy, Harvey Norton, to graduate from Acme Space Academy or something similarly inspired from the the part of Jack Kirby’s brain that came up with this fuckfest.

Really, Jack? REALLY? This is the spaceship you come up with after watching that movie AND adapting the film to comics???

Why in the world employ pesky devices like character development? The readers who would gravitate toward this title wouldn’t want to see how, I don’t know, how Harvey Norton himself evolves, joining the academy out of boredom with life, then ends up realizing that reality is far more fantastic than his comics… No! They want to see the kind of cosmic razzmatazz that made Fantastic Four a hit with the kids!

But I digress…

So, Harvey Norton is mature, and realistic enough to make it onto a ship. Kind of. It appears to be a mining ship of some kind.  Ostensibly, once humans have travelled to the outer reaches of the solar system, it will be easier to qualify for some kind of space program. The only scenario I which I see anybody wanting this chowderhead in space is that the owners of the corporations that would be financing outerspace mining have a high employee turnover rate. For instance, the crew finds an alien spacecraft. His reaction…

Can't quite call it "Jungle Fever," can you?

Almost instantaneously, they are attacked by another ship. Now let’s not even go into the fact that, against the orders of his superior, he opened an alien ship without a quarantine. That’s bad enough. Look at how he sums up the situation for his shipmates…

Try this: imagine the "princess" is actually an intergalactic criminal.

That’s right. He automatically assumes that the alien is a “princess,” and the people who are attacking the ship are “bad guys.” How does he know they’re bad? Maybe that’s how those people look all the time? That’s certainly the kind of decision making acumen you want in a situation where one wrong move could mean death for you and several others – a guy who’s processing the situation through a retarded sense of drama informed by comic books.

"What's a 'heel'? I should take this lifeform with me. His blood will make fine nourishment for the trip home."

He does make one intelligent decision, though. He abandons ship with the alien princess, (Aw dammit! Let’s just go along with the moron!) hoping to draw the aliens’ fire. But they make their escape in the princess’s spaceship. I know that story logic is out the window on this series, but last issue, they pulled the ship into the dock with some kind of tow cable, and the princess appeared to be in some kind of hibernation, when Norton and crew found her, which leads me to believe the ship was damaged, or at least not using fuel for propulsion. [By the way, I’m extremely stupid. If I am picking up gaps in the science, it means your story is beyond bad.]

"He was a fuckin' idiot." "Yes, but he was the bravest fuckin' idiot that ever served on this ship!"

I can only assume that the rest of the story is the result of Kirby on a drinking binge. As bad is the book already is, it takes a really bizarre turn. What was he trying to say???

A conversation with the princess on the approach run for a base on her planet…

"Whatever the hell it is, it sure is a noisy lifeform. I shall eat its throat, first."

They crash land at some kind of structure, which Norton assumes is a “fort,” one step ahead of their pursuers. The princess activates what is obviously a transport device, and motions for Harvey to join her…

"Quickly, you fool! I hunger!"

But he’s so busy with the play-by-play, he misses the transporter beam, or whateverthefuck it is. The alien pursuers bring the building down around his ears, and…

"HAHA! EVIL MONOLITH TRIUMPHS AGAIN!!!"

WTF???

My basic interpretation of the monolith, informed only by the film is: it was kind of a cosmic breadcrumb. The first step was to present an evolved (enough) life form with something outside itself. Something that as hunter-gatherers, they could never manufacture themselves – and then there’s the crazy, almost musical humming. The next step, for mankind, or another baby step in space exploration was leaving one on our closest satellite – which, as beings who could reach a satellite, we would have some form of communication over large distances, so it pings the next monolith. This leads us to Saturn, and so on.

Kirby believes the monolith has a more constant and direct influence on the direction of human evolution, and that it’s more a character than a device. Well, actually, he really has no fucking idea whatsoever what the monolith really is because, another thing that’s the same, issue after issue (thus far), is that the opening pages always has some kind of rhetorical questions about the monolith.

Imagine Ted Knight reading these in his "Superfriends" announcer voice

I mention it at this point because, without the idea that Kirby’s take on the text was very literal, perhaps way too literal, issue #7 seems really strange. Don’t get me wrong, all of it is strange. But, well…

This issue starts where most of the issues up until this point have ended. Remember, the structure of the stories always mimics the structure of the film. A monolith appears, and inspires somebody to do something; there’s a time jump; at somebody’s impending death, a monolith appears to them, they enter it, and…

…as far as I’m concerned, it’s another part that’s left open to interpretation. Especially, the “space baby” looking out at Earth from a sort of cosmic womb. To me, that was highly symbolic, and the child represented how the reborn Bowman was looking at the universe, the larger universe that the aliens – maybe more than just that race – come from. He became a baby metaphorically. I could be wrong. I don’t think that “right” or “wrong” is particularly important.

Even though I have not read the books, nor have I read Kirby’s adaptation of the film, Wiki confirms that the concept of “the New Seed,” was uniquely, and solely, his. That is to say, that well…

The aliens literally make you old, then you become a baby with a big noggin

And once you’ve become a big-headed, cosmic Buddha-baby, what do you do?

Maybe part of the chrysalis period involves an indoctrination in to how this can be any fun at all

You travel of course! You go to distant planets, that vaguely resemble planets Jack Kirby has drawn before, where the characters vaguely resemble characters in other Kirby comics.

Where's Darkseid when you REALLY need him?

You terrorize lesser evolved beings…

Who do you think would win in a fight between space-baby and the baby from "It's Alive"?

And when you find worthy souls, do you send the monolith for them so that they can become a “New Seed” like you? NO! Because that would make sense! No, you take their essence, and…

What if they wanted to travel the universe as a mongoloid baby, too?

Okey…

…dokey.

To be concluded in part III: Rise of the Machine (Man)

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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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One Response to God Hates Comics: Kirby tackles Kubrick – Marvel’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (pt. II)

  1. Clint says:

    There was so much to comment on, but by the time I finished I was so overwhelmed. I suppose my favorite part is noting how Kirby can’t even draw Earth’s own Solar System without making it look like the cracked-out excesses of a Dr. Strange dimension, and how his spaceships all look like they were designed by Galactus.

    Also the Hitler alien in the splash page at the beginning is fantastic. I think it just boils down to the Silver Age style and Arthur C. Clarke/Kubrick being ah, “uneasy bedfellows”. I mean, if all the 2001 trappings were removed from these stories and it was just “TALES OF THE EBON STONE!”, it’d still be cheesy nonsense but it’d be free of any preconceptions on our part. It’s trying to reconcile this series with the source material that really ‘splodes your brain.

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