Sometimes when a great creator dies in any medium I get a kick in the head as to why I had missed out on some of his creations. Often no matter how much you admire and follow a creator in any medium there are always the pieces that you missed or hadn’t got around to yet.
I met this particular person at the New York Comicon a few years ago and got to tell him how much I enjoyed his stories. He thanked me and grinned and shook my hand. I was literally grinning for the rest of the day. Some people you admire find a way to let you down. This man never did.
Last week the always great Joe Kubert died. One of the true giants of the medium and beyond. I was prompted to get over to Amazon and order something. Anything that would remind me of his greatness.#
With Joe it is never difficult. He was prolific to say the least and all of his work (not easy to say for even the best creators out there) was of genuine genius. Amazon – please take my wages! You know you want to!
I actually ordered a few books but the first one I read had a real impact on me. This is a review.
Tor: A Prehistoric Odyssey.
Art and Story – Joe Kubert.
Colors - Pete Carlsson.
Introduction – Roy Thomas.
The story of the book follows Tor. A prehistoric man unlike others and his travels and adventures through his strange lands. Tor is a character that Joe returned to throughout his long career . This particular story sees him on a journey of survival where he finds allies in a group of outcasts and finds a mate. During his journey he fights horrific prehistoric missing links and monsters a many.
The book ends with him standing with his new mate awaiting the opening of a further story.
The book in many ways has a simplistic story. Why would it not? There are no direct speech bubbles and it is told in an almost poetic narration but the author. It is epic in scope but also manages to speak to the character of Tor really well. He is a character devoid of the useless emotions of modern life. He paces forward whenever physically possible in a quest merely to survive.
Joe famously took care of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan mythos for many years. But to me this is more akin to say Bran Mak Morn by Robert E Howard than it is to the King of the Jungle. Tor’s wordless style allows in many ways to use the image to portray this almost hopeless quest to survive in the harshest of environments. Raw emotions are always on show. The bare teeth of the enemy manage to say more than pages of blah blah in a stylish New York apartment for example.
This book ooses bleakness. We travel from snow topped mountains to fantastical forests. When Tor hungers you can feel his hunger, when he rages you feel his anger.
The story is packed full of masterfully executed surprises. We see gross and terrifying monsters spring up and attack. We fear for the protagonists in each and every one of the battles. Never sure who will live through the issue. The death of the adoptive son character in the snowy wastes has a real poignancy. They mourn his passing and plough ahead for their own survival. There is no melodramatic weeping in this book.
Tor is the man of practical feats with almost superhuman results. Oh, and a mullet – never forget that!
Joe’s art has (as always) a real feel of motion to it. An expert cartoonist you can feel the motion of each movement throughout the issue. When he throws himself into a fight you can feel the sweat on him, the wind against him and his gritted teeth. This book very rarely feels the darkness. Why would it? Why would a man of Tor’s time bother travelling in the dark. It seems that the brightness of the story almost adds to the bleakness of the situation. Desperation through seeing the way spread out in front of you, feeling the battle that is every day in this world.
The book manages to speak to so many themes. We see an ongoing commentary on outsiders in all forms of society. The abuse of the weak by the strong. A world of religion gone mad (see the nonsensical sacrifice in issue 2). It has themes of drugs and hallucinations. And most obviously the inter racial relationship that is pretty much the only thing to survive the Odyssey. What other six issue mini series can boast to this many?
But to me the most interesting strand in the story of Tor is his desperation to never lose control. We see him a walking dead man covered in injuries in issue one as his tribe throw him out. His horrible nightmares and a sense of falling when he hallucinates. A fight against overwhelming odds that he cannot hope to win. We see him injured again and again and carried away by a monster / friend. He cannot move and watches three disparate strangers treat his wounds as he drifts in and out of a fever dream. What is real and what is not? Tor is reliant on his strength and his cunning. To lose control is to lose everything.
Draw what you will but there is no denying that it is very interesting.
I think my stand out moment is when (in issue six) Tor allows a moment to look and ponder. His mate is asleep and he looks up at the stars.
‘Did those immense figures jump into the sky from snow-capped mountains. Why do they not fall from the sky.’
After reading this book I found a knowing fondness for Tor. For an outwardly simple character this story gives him real depth.
I could reread this book all day – and probably will.
RIP - Joe Kubert 1926 – 2012.