Monday, November 27, 2006

Kirby’s Best Character Design: The Thing

Better late than never, right Sean? I can’t tell you how tempted I was by King Solomon’s Frogs, but in the end, I have to agree with plok and go with Ben Grimm. This will come as no surprise, I’m sure, since I’ve waxed poetic about the pathos, profundity, and—heck yeah—perfection of Kirby’s great existential hero before.

The idea of a creature composed of living rock is one of humankind’s oldest myths, but Kirby gives this myth its most viscerally human embodiment with one brilliant design feature: the brow. Yes, the orange rocks are essential, but it is the craggy brow shading Ben’s mournful baby-blues that creates a visual metaphor of the character’s extreme vulnerability and gives this pop version of Frankenstein’s Monster the true spark of life. And let’s not forget that Ben Grimm’s connection to Mary Shelley’s monstrous Adam (or is that Eve? or Satan?) extends beyond a visual referencing of the Boris Karloff movie version: Shelley’s original alienated Monster is, in many ways, the existentialist precursor to Grimm as well.

Additionally exciting, I think, is the way the Thing design so successfully sublimates Kirby’s primitivism. The astonishing modernist vitality that Kirby cannot help imparting to everything he draws achieves something unique here: in contrast to his more overtly thematized designs, the Thing is a truly modern primitive, and this means that he uncannily embodies an emotional intensity that (politically incorrect though it now is) modernist art routinely associated with “pre-modern” cultures. The Thing’s living rocky hide makes him a humanized version of the “primitive art” that was in many ways at the heart of Kirby’s own style. That Kirby himself was a stout figure gives Ben Grimm the additional savour of a self-portrait.

The real shame is that Marvel seems unable to imagine a meaningful place for its most adult character in its current universe. Is it a coincidence that the Thing left the FF just as Civil War began? I don’t think so; perhaps he found the whole debacle as depressing as I do. May his exile at least be short-lived.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, Jim --

There's no deadline for the Kirby Design Meme. Glad you were able to play.

Thing's a good choice for all the reasons you cited. The golem is a classic in every sense of the word, and the Thing is, in some ways, just a conteporization of the original myth. (Which might explain why it was so easy for Susan to convince him to go on the fateful flight in the first place!)

And at least Ben took off from the FF after they replaced Reed with that weird science-for-the-sake-of-evil Reed.

Oh, and believe me when I tell you that I considered King Solomon's Frogs as well!

plok said...

I wish I had considered King Solomon's Frogs...(mopes)

Ahh, the Brow! So right, Jim. And I like the primitive/modern bit a lot, too; the FF adhere so strongly to the feeling of their times, science, space, the future, that to have Ben standing there with his three teammates is...

I dunno what it is, exactly. It's very cool, though.

plok said...

Oh my goodness, I just read that Golem wiki! I just had a rough idea of the details surrounding a golem up 'til now, but...holy crap! That'll teach me not to do my research...

Good God, what an impossibly brilliant design! I liked it before, but now my mind is blown. Jim, I bet you could write a few more pages on this...let me tell you, I'd read 'em...

Nobody said...

Your post reminded me of Tim Story's report a few months ago that they are thickening up Ben's brow for FF2. The brow's simplicity as both a visual and metaphorical keystone is definitely ingenious on Kirby's part.