Kirby's Late Period

2001: A Space Odyssey #2

2001: A Space Odyssey #2

"Vira the She-Demon!"

Written and drawn by Jack Kirby
Inked and lettered by Mike Royer
Colored by Janice Cohen

Are we the end of the line!? Are we the last stop in the journey of human evolution? The answer could be that the voyage is far from over! Each of us could be a stepping stone to the new seed!

More philosophical questions from the Jack Kirby — and once again, he doesn't even attempt to answer them. Kirby's second issue of 2001 hews to the formula established by the first issue, and is maddeningly muddled in many of the same ways.

"Vira the She-Demon!" starts off with a real bang, though it ends with a whimper. The first three pages introduce us to the voluptuous Vira, a starving cavewoman. She wanders into a "ritual cave" where she's confronted by angry cavement, but manages to drive them off with a flaming skull on a stick. Retreating from the angry males, Vira decides to consult Monolith. Its advice inspires Vira to dress up in a costume made of bones and use fear to dominate the other cavement. Kirby claims this is Earth's first government — though it seems more like a religion to me. Flash forward to the future...

2001: A Space Odyssey #2, page 14

2001: A Space Odyssey #2, p. 14

This is great storytelling. The bottom of the hut in the first panel lines up with the bottom of the hut in the second panel, which creates an immediate connection between the two (interestingly, you're usually told not to to line up objects this way). The food items in the second panel form a gentle arc that leads your eyes down to the next tier. These three panels form one continuous zoom which starts outside Vira's cottage and ends just inside her front door.

The flash-forward itself is another subtle piece of work. The color from the walls of Vira's hut continues over into the background of Vera's space ship, as do most of the dark areas. The cool color scheme of the first panel contrasts with the warm color scheme of the second panel, which reinforces the shift in tie and space. Again, note that Kirby stages the figures in similar but not exact poses, which implies a connection between them while drawing attention to their differences..

Anyway, we flash forward to the future, where we meet astronaut Vera Gentry. Vera spouts some nonsensical feminist garbage1, is harrassed by UFOs, and chased by aliens into a cave where she, well, falls into the Monolith. You will recall that the exact same thing happened in the first issue. It's just as unsatisfying here.

2001: A Space Odyssey #2, page 22

2001: A Space Odyssey #2, p. 22

I like these two panels, though you can pretty much toss the rest of the page. The first panel is a nice composition — the repeated vertical lines of the shadow, the cave edge, and the Monolith lead your eyes to the right. However, I have to wonder why Kirby reverses Vera's position relative to the reader from panel one to panel two, though — I think this might work better if she were falling to the right instead of to the left.

That second panel, by the way, is a perfect example of the sort of crap that Kirby pull off that less experience cartoonists struggle with. You'll note that none of those limbs look like they belong to the same figure — her left hand is bigger than her right hand, even though it's further away, and her right legs seems to have completely separated from her body. And yet, it all looks okay until you spend far too long dissecting it, because Kirby's experience allows him to take shortcuts. Of course, Janice Cohen's colors help quite a big, with the waves of coruscating energy providing a nice ground for the figure to rise out of (or fall into). The yellowing of the newsprint has helped a bit here — if you sharpen the image to make the paper whiter then the figure seems much less coherent.)

Anyway, once she falls through the Monolith, Vera is transformed into a space baby and goes off to explore the universe. You know, the usual.

This issue really starts to show the cracks in the formula Kirby developed for 2001. The caveman stories are filled with fascinating ideas which aren't explored in nearly enough detail. The astronaut stories are rushed and nonsensical, with no clear connection to the caveman stories.

Again, you have to wonder how much to blame Kirby for all this. The end of 2001 the movie is maddeningly vague as well. And it probably should be — how can you even attempt to explain that sort of quantum leap to someone who hasn't already made the transition? On the other hand, the film also had a definite story with a beginning, middle and end, which Kirby's spaceman tales do not. It's an interesting reversal from the film, if ultimately an unsatisfying one.

Kirby also anthropomorphizes the Monolith to a dangerous extent. It's less of a mysterious force and more of an obvious plot device. When the Monolith "speaks" it dispels all ambiguity about its role in human evolution (though there's still some ambiguity remaining about its goals). But it seems less like an inscrutable alien artifact and more like a caveman agony aunt.

On the other hand, this is still leagues better than 2001 #3-4, which I'll get to tomorrow...

  1. Vera's exact comment is, "NASA must be recruiting male chauvinist staffers. They would pick a female for this U.F.O. assignment!" While this creates a clear connection between Vera and Vira (they're both being held down by men), I'm not sure why Vera thinks her superiors are sexist here. But I digress.

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