November 24th, 2003


The year the Beatles invaded America, Julie Schwartz rescued the Caped Crusader, and Chic Stone wound up inking virtually every classic Marvel Comic that the legendary Jack Kirby pencilled in those twelve months--and folks, he pencilled quite a few!

Despite my sincere admiration for the exemplary work of long-time embellishers, Joe Sinnott and Mike Royer--as well as his less frequent but Hall Of Fame worthy collaborators, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, and Steve Ditko--to this day, my favorite Kirby inker remains Chic Stone!

Sure, a large part of it is based upon a nostalgia for that particularly memorable year, a year in which I remain convinced Marvel reached their absolute peak with a steady stream of exciting yet concise stories, featuring casual crossovers across the board, a practice that would sadly diminish as things got more complicated--and serious--in the Marvel Universe. I'm that rare fan who preferred Gideon to Galactus, and someday I'll expound at further length on that unpopular stance, but for today, suffice it to say, beyond the bold and expressive line Stone's varied brushwork brought to Jack's power-packed pencils, the sheer fact that, by years end he was inking the King on FANTASTIC FOUR, AVENGERS, X-MEN, and the Thor and Captain America features in their respective home titles gave the entire line a warm and homey sense of visual cohesiveness that it's never quite managed to achieve since.
But as much as I wound up loving the guy's work, it sure didn't start out that way. Already familiar with the stories he both pencilled and inked for the tiny ACG Comics Group, I'll have to admit I had no strong feelings about his work one way or the other. The very first Marvel super-hero story that he inked over Jack--the second half of a Tomorrow Man tale in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #102 (cover dated March 1964), the first part of which was finished by George Roussos--caused me to have grave doubts as soon as I opened up to the splash page (Sol Brodsky handed the cover finishes, by the way). Now, I'd long forgotten about the initial qualms I'd had with with Chic's tenure as the King's Earl of Inks, but it all came flooding back to me the other night thanks to, well--wouldja believe the Beatles??...
Stay with me here--things are about to get (surprise!) convoluted. Y'see, I was watching the recent DVD release of the first episode of four complete Ed Sullivan shows featuring those lovable Moptops (about which, again, more anon), when it came time for Frank Gorshin to do his act. Yes, THAT Frank Gorshin, Bat-fans--the Riddler. But in those pre-camp days, he specialized in celebrity impressions. The premise of his bit in this particular instance revolved around the notion of Hollywood stars taking up residence in some of our various political institutions (what a CRAZY idea, huh?...), and I was fascinated by his chameleon like-facility going from Broderick Crawford to Dean Martin to Boris Karloff to Burt Lancaster to Kirk Douglas to Marlon Brando to--

....Marlon Brando?...

Suddenly, at this point, I'm out of the moment. I'm no longer concentrating on Gorshin's act. My mind wanders, sparked by the faux appearance of that great method acting legend, Marlon Brando. And where exactly does it go? Off to thoughts of "On The Waterfront"? "The Godfather"? "Mutiny On The Bounty"? "A Streetcar Named Desire"? "Last Tango In Paris"?

Nope. In my mind, this quasi-Brando sighting brings forth but one name: Chic Stone!

Why? Well, I ran a small reproduction of that initial Kirby/Stone splash up above, but look just a little bit closer at this specially enlarged detail from that selfsame piece of art if you would. Take a good long gander...
Do you see it? Do you see what I saw four decades back when I first gazed upon the God of Thunders face--enslaved though he may've unfortunately been at the time by the scheming Zarrko--MARLON BRANDO!!!
Yup, I open up the latest issue of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY only to find that not only has Jack Kirby got some new guy inking him, this new guy has made Thor look like the spitting image of Marlon Brando--and believe me when I say I didn't WANT Thor to look like Marlon Brando!! (Years and years later, I didn't want Jor-El to look like Marlon Brando, either, but that was one battle I wound up losing...)

When you get right down to it, those large lips, squinty eyes, and tentative eyebrows don't make Thor look like Marlon Brando as much as they make him look like the CARICATURE of Marlon Brando that Wally Wood provided MAD with for their parody of "The Wild One", which I had only then recently stumbled across in a paperback reprint. That was all fine in its place, but I wasn't at all happy with the faint whiff of humorous cartooniness--or my misguided perception thereof--lurking in my very serious, very important super-hero comic. We''ll have none of that here, thank you very much. And since it couldn't possibly have been the beloved Kirby's misstep, I chose to blame the new guy. I figured I was going to have to watch this Chic Stone character very, very closely...
Well, things only went onwards and upwards from there, but to this day I cannot look at that splash page without seeing the surly screen star somehow dressed in an Asgardian God's raiment! It's funny what sticks in your head (and folks, my head's funnier than most!...)
Though just try and imagine Thor and the God of Mischief doing that famous scene in the back of the cab: " Loki, Loki--you were my BROTHER!..."

Now THERE'S a comic you couldn't refuse!?!...

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