samedi 11 juillet 2009

Kirby's The Losers

I just received three Kirby Omnibi, The Losers, O.M.A.C. and The Demon.
They're all work that Kirby did at DC in the 70s.
Traditionally, DC has reprinted the Fourth World and New Gods in particular (three collected editions that I know of). When these series were cancelled, Kirby had to come up with new ideas. The Demon and Kamandi were the first. Bruce Timm and Mike Mignola have a long admiration for Kirby and the Demon could benefit from the recent relaxing of the Comics Code Authority to delve into horror while Kamandi tried to jump on the Planet of the Apes bandwagon.
Kamandi was one of the first of the survivalist fiction that is so popular today (Walking Dead, Resurrection, Y The Last Man, Crossed), Erik Larsen emulated it in Savage Dragon The Save World (#76-81). The adventures of this very human hero had a palpable feeling that without civilization the world was harsh and anything could happen. O.M.A.C. dealy with future war and featured the eponymous One Man Army Corps. Since that didn't last as well, Kirby was assigned to one of the Bob Kanigher war titles, Our Fighting Forces featuring The Losers for twelve issues (#151-162).
By the mid-70s war titles were on the wane, The Losers were a fusion of three different war strips: Capt Storm, Capt Johnny Cloud, and Gunner and Sarge. It was one of the first co-features (if not the first) which were to be a defining part of the Bronze Age.
Kirby had been doing war series before, most famously Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandoes. But what he brought to the Losers was his own war experience. He didn't feel comfortable writing about losers since he defined himself as writing about winners. Thus he reinterpreted the characters as everymen. They became indistinguishable in personality, Kirby even dressed the Navajo Captain Cloud as an SS officer as if it was plausible that no German soldiers would notice.
Writing characters he didn't create, Kirby relied on a technique he had started to use on New Gods, telling stories about characters he introduced. It becomes obvious in the second half of the run with such titles, Panama Fattie (#157), Mile-a-Minute Jones (#159), Ivan (#160), and The Major's Dream (#161).
Every story except one (#152, possibly the best one according to this essay, tell the story of one or two new memorable characters in 18 pages.
From the first story we find about a Wagner-loving German major and the woman spy he tracks, concert-pianist Emma Klein. Issue 152 is a study in claustrophoby where the Losers are trapped in a town full of unnamed Germans. More than any other this story is the epitome of the fight of the nameless soldier, be it American or German. This anonymity is sharpened by the apparition at the end of a war celebrity, Patton.
Issue 153 tells the story of Rodney Rumpkin, a science-fiction fan and a stand-in for Kirby himself. Colonel Yamashita is the center of issue 154. Issue 155 returns to the theme of anonymity as the central character is a partisan named only at the end as we find out he was a ghost. 157-158 is the only two-parter. In 159 an Olympic rivalry finds its denouement on the battlefield. A Russian collaborator is the focus of issue 160. Major Geoffrey Soames and his ominous dream is the thread of 161. The last issue presents us with four teenage French soldiers and is a reminder of the youth of many combatants.
Conversely the historical characters appear only as cameos in the first issues, Patton (#152), Hitler, Himmler and Rommel (#153). Though the rivalry between Olympic athletes Henry Jones and Bruno Borman evokes the real-world rivalries between Jesse Owens and German athletes as well as between boxers Joe Louis and Max Schmeling.

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