Silver Star: Graphite Edition trade paperback, $19.95 US, published TwoMorrows Publishing
Writer: Jack Kirby; Artwork: Jack Kirby with Mike Royer and D. Bruce Berry
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Jack Kirby is, without a doubt, one of the most influential comic book creators of the 20th Century. His dynamic art style and storytelling influenced dozens of other artists. Kirby was also responsible for creating or co-creating literally hundreds of characters for both Marvel and DC Comics. Among these were Captain America, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, the original X-Men, the New Gods, Darkseid, the Demon Etrigan, OMAC, and Kamandi, just to name a few!
Unfortunately, Kirby spent the majority of his career working during a time when the legal rights of comic book creators were few and far between. Both financial benefits and creative control were almost unheard of. So, despite creating a major share of the Marvel universe, and contributing key concepts to DC, Kirby was sadly denied both creative and financial recognition by the owners of the companies that employed him.
Nowadays, this situation has improved somewhat. And, if a creator chooses to, he can take his ideas to a publisher such as Image Comics, where he will retain total creative and legal control of a series.
The concept of creator-owned books was only in its infancy in the 1980s. By this time, Kirby was already over sixty years old, his health was beginning to decline, and his career in comic books was winding down. Fortunately, until his death in 1994, he did have the opportunity to work on a small number of projects that he retained ownership of. One of these was Silver Star, which was published for six issues by Pacific Comics in 1983.
I’d been interested in reading Silver Star for a few years now, having seen scans of some of the original artwork on www.comicartfans.com. I finally had the opportunity when I purchased a copy of the TPB from the Jack Kirby Museum’s table at MoCCA Festival 2010.
Silver Star is the story of “Homo Geneticus,” the next stage in human evolution, artificially jump-started by Doctor Bradford Miller. Hoping to find a way for humanity to survive a nuclear holocaust, Miller created a “genetic package” that he injected into a number of pregnant women, including his own wife. All of their offspring were subsequently born with various superpowers, including “atomic manipulation,” the ability to reshape matter itself.
Miller’s son Morgan first manifests his abilities during the Vietnam War, when he unexpectedly uses them to save his comrades during a devastating battle. However, Morgan’s body immediately begins emitting massive amounts of energy. The military is forced to encase him in a silvery metal suit. That outfit, combined with the medal for valor Morgan receives, causes the government to give him the code name Silver Star.
Unfortunately, not all of the recipients of the genetic package are as altruistic as Morgan. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Darius Drumm. Born to a stern, wife-beating evangelical preacher, leader of the “Foundation For Self-Denial,” Drumm grows up in a strict, puritanical environment. This upbringing, coupled with the discovery of his seemingly unlimited powers, leads Drumm to become a truly twisted individual. Mentally unbalanced, convinced of the inherent corruption of all humanity, Drumm is determined to wipe the world clean of sin. He is the ultimate nihilist, ready to reduce the entire Earth to a sterile globe.
Before Drumm can proceed, he feels obligated to kill all of the other members of Homo Geneticus he can locate, lest they pose a threat to his scheme. This he does via some particularly violent and gruesome acts, ones that do not just take out his targets, but also cause an immense loss of innocent life.
Drumm is clearly insane. At first, he attempts to kill Norma Richmond, an attractive stuntwoman whose main Homo Geneticus ability is near invulnerability. Silver Star thwarts this attempt, and rescues Norma, but Drumm strikes again, this time kidnapping her. At this point Drumm is unable to decide if he wants to seduce Norma or murder her, violently torn between his lust for the beautiful woman and his father’s strict discipline of self-denial.
In the final chapter of Silver Star, Drumm, fully committed to his apocalyptic mission, uses his atomic manipulation on himself. He transforms into a horrific, towering figure of the Angel of Death. Spreading his vast wings, Drumm sweeps out, scouring the surface of the planet with his flames. Silver Star sets off in pursuit, desperate to halt Drumm before mankind is completely annihilated.
I have to admit, as a great fan of Jack Kirby’s work, I was a bit underwhelmed by Silver Star. The story is not his best writing. I think he probably hit his high point, both as a writer and an artist, a decade or so earlier, when he was creating the Fourth World trilogy of books featuring the New Gods at DC.
By the time Kirby was working on Silver Star in 1983, it’s possible that he may have been burned out on comic books, due to his shoddy treatment at the hands of Marvel and DC. I cannot say I can blame him for that. His advancing age may also have been a factor.
On the other hand, it appears that while Kirby intended for the conflict with Darius Drumm to conclude in Silver Star #6, he may have believed the book would last on past that point as an ongoing series. Kirby spends a significant portion of the first four issues establishing a supporting cast and status quo. As a result, the pacing on these issues is rather slow. Things only kick into high gear with the final two issues, which are by far the strongest of the entire series. Darius Drumm becomes the Angel of Death, and the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance. It’s possible that if Kirby had known he would only have half a dozen issues to work with, he would have structured the pacing of the story somewhat differently.
At least the conclusion of the story, while somewhat abrupt, is quite novel. Realizing that he has little hope of physically besting Drumm in a contest of superpowers, instead Silver Star is forced to use psychology to defeat his nigh-unstoppable opponent.
One story point that I felt was much too casually brushed aside was Doctor Miller conducting genetic experimentation on unborn babies. I don not know if he ever received the parents’ consent, but even if he did, there are still ethical issues. Darius Drumm, and the massive destruction he wrecks, are the direct results of Miller’s experimentation.
Kirby did something similar with the Cadmus Project in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. In that case, the government created numerous clones of Jimmy Olsen without his permission. Jimmy, rather than expressing outrage at this violation of his person, merely seemed in awe by the whole accomplishment. It’s strange, in that Kirby appeared to view concepts such as cloning and genetic engineering with a black & white morality. He either had good, well-intentioned scientists such as the Project or Doctor Miller experimenting with human DNA for the selfless betterment of mankind, or he’d show insane nutjobs such as Simyan & Mokkari or Arnim Zola transforming & twisting organic life out of some sort of sadistic, perverse curiosity. Kirby doesn’t seem to have acknowledged in his works that the act of genetic engineering, whatever the intent of the scientists behind it, can have a host of complicated moral issues all by itself.
Another issue I had with Silver Star is the artwork, some of which is on the sketchy side. There could be a few reasons for this. You see, the Silver Star: Graphite Edition collection was printed mostly from Jack Kirby’s uninked pencils. Or, to be more precise, photocopies of Kirby’s pencils, which he made before the actual artwork was inked by Mike Royer and D. Bruce Berry. I do not know if Kirby’s art looks unpolished here because these are reproductions of quarter century old photocopies, because he was getting on in age, or because he simply didn’t finish his pencils as tightly as he could have because he knew they were going to be inked.
There are a handful of pages, mostly splashes and double page spreads, that there aren’t any photocopies of. In those cases, the pages were printed from Royer and Berry’s inked artwork. And, in those instances, the finished art looks fantastic. I can understand the archival and instructional value of presenting Kirby’s rough, uninked pencil art, as it reveals a lot of the creative process. I just don’t necessarily think that the near-entirety of the book had to be produced in that manner.
Of course, there is a novel solution to all this: release a second edition of the Silver Star trade paperback, this one reproduced from the inked artwork. That way, true Kirby aficionados can have access to both versions. Ordinarily I dislike purchasing multiple editions of the same story, but considering this is Kirby we’re talking about, I’d gladly make an exception.
That said, Kirby’s uninked pencils for Silver Star #6, with the titanic Angel of Death unleashed upon the Earth, are amazing. Perhaps the excitement of illustrating the end of the world inspired Kirby, because his artwork on these pages is dramatic, horrifying, and riveting.
Silver Star originated as a pitch for a film that Kirby and Steve Sherman wrote in 1977. It was never produced, and Kirby used many of the ideas from the film treatment several years later in the Silver Star comic, albeit with certain alterations. The entire story treatment by Kirby & Sherman is reprinted in the back of the trade paperback, and it’s interesting to compare the initial film premise to the finished comic book version.
I also thought it was noteworthy that Kirby’s suggested actor Jack Palance to play Darius Drumm. According to Kirby’s former assistant Mark Evanier, the grand cosmic villain Darkseid from the Forth World books was modeled on Palance. And an early concept drawing for Drumm printed in this volume bears more than a passing resemblance to Darkseid. Kirby obviously thought very highly of Palance’s acting abilities & screen presence. Certainly he wasn’t the only comic book artist to feel that way, as Gene Colan has acknowledged that his version of Dracula from Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula series was based on Palance.
There are several other concept illustrations and previously unpublished drawings by Kirby contained in the trade paperback. My favorite would have to be the original design for Norma Richmond, or “Jayne Davidson” as she was originally called in the Kirby/Sherman film pitch. Someone, I forget who, once suggested on a message board that Kirby was incapable of drawing sexy women. That, I argued was pure nonsense, and I listed at least half a dozen examples of curvy Kirby women who were absolutely gorgeous. I’ll have to add Norma to that list.
I don’t know if I would recommend the Silver Star trade paperback to a Kirby newcomer. A better introduction to Kirby’s tremendous oeuvre would probably be the Fourth World collected editions from DC, or the various Essential Fantastic Four volumes published by Marvel. But if you are already a fan of Kirby, then Silver Star is worth picking up. It’s an unusual but memorable story, and one of the last complete works in Kirby’s long & varied career.