So I was busy talking to Alex about something on the convention floor when he peered over my shoulder and asked me, "What's that Jack Kirby looking thing over there?" We walked over to the booth where this "Jack Kirby looking thing" sat. A strong-jawed man with red, white and blue striped hair stared back at us from a hardcover book with a look of surprise, the kind one shows when an enemy combatant has just whipped out a surprise from his pugilistic deck of cards. I opened the book and instantly knew I had to buy it.
American Barbarian, as it's called, was written and illustrated by Tom Scioli. It first appeared on the Internet, but it is absolutely worth picking up in physical format because it is an unparalleled, quintessential homage to Jack Kirby like none I've ever seen.
The story revolves around a son of the Yoosamon tribe, Meric, who despite being the youngest of seven sons is the one with the most important destiny of them all. The threat of a cybernetic army led by the massive Two-Tank Omen looms over the post-apocalyptic embers of American society, and Meric's strength and will is the only thing able to resist them.
Tom Scioli has absolutely nailed the feel and style of not only a Kirby comic, but of Silver Age stories in general. Meric lives in a world where every mish-mash race, tribe and government all compete in a ruined landscape. There's robot dinosaurs, real dinosaurs, a moving city, robots, zombies, and mutants. The tone of this work is epic and intense while still being over-the-top ridiculous. Even when it's dramatic, I can't help but giggle gleefully. It's not that I find the story stupid, because it's the ridiculousness that makes it awesome. Whenever I laugh at a line of dialogue or an action scene, it's a reaction born from two thoughts: "This is brilliant" and "This is hilarious." I mean, these days we don't take these kinds of stories seriously because we prefer emotional, serious storylines and multifaceted characters. But god damnit, if loving simple and crazy stories is wrong, I refuse to be right.
I absolutely love the writing style. Characters talk in a voice that reminds me of He-man characters, and yet in spite of how serious the dialogue tries to be, it always injects slang and expletives ever so casually. That is what makes the writing so funny to me. Here's the panel Alex and I can't stop quoting from now until the heat death of creation:
Sums it up pretty nicely, I think.
I have only two words to describe the art style: Nailed it. Scioli has perfected Kirby's style to a T, but still adds a little of his own uniqueness through the contrast of the main character with the rest of the art. His red, white and blue hair is a gaudy, ostentatious protest against the grim color palette dominating the rest of the world around him, and it's only the first of many symbolic choices and references to Kirby's work and American pop culture. Go ahead and count how many of his character designs are thinly veiled tributes to classic heroes and villains from the Silver Age--they're everywhere, but they don't feel at all like lazy attempts at diversity. His main characters are all based on classic archetypes--Meric is a throwback to sword-and-sorcery comics while Two-Tank is this evil technology based monstrosity with tanks for friggin feet. It is amazing. The religious and pop culture symbolism is easy to detect, but it doesn't feel cheap or contrived. All of it is homage to the society this book was made in, meant to both lampoon and venerate.
He also does some cool things with his panel layout, like when he first introduces Two-Tank's army. He also has this one action scene where we see him fighting in sequence in a cutaway of a building, sort of like a long-exposure cut of his battle, and it's got a ton of detail packed in a small space.
I am just beaming about this book. It's fantastic and even after reading through it, I still get an urge to rally an army whenever I sift through it. I also got to interview Scioli for a few minutes, and you can expect a transcript of it soon. Seriously though, this is probably the best book I've read from SPX. Sure, everything else I bought was pretty rad, but I feel like this is my pick of the entire convention. Also, he does a ton of other work, like Godland and the Myth of 8 Opus. I didn't get to check those out but you should buy them if you love this.
TL; DR: Tom Scioli's online Kirby homage epic is in print, and I forbid you to read it without paying for it. It's that good.
American Barbarian was written and illustrated by Tom Scioli and published by Adhouse Books. Check out his website and ask for it at your local comic book shop. Or, support Spandexless by purchasing from Amazon.