Saturday, December 01, 2007

Toxl The World Killer…

A look at Jack Kirby’s pivotal story…

Toxl DPS - Pencils: Jack Kirby - Inks: Mike Royer

Toxl Splash - Pencils: Jack Kirby - Inks: Mike Royer

Back in the early seventies Jack Kirby’s arrangement with DC or National as they were still known as then was such that he was expected to not just create as many concepts and ideas for stories and characters as his imagination could create, but also to come up with new formats for telling them.

His first foray into this was to create “In the Days of the Mob” and “Spirit World”, two magazine format magazines. Unfortunately DC saw fit to publish these with a one-colour tint instead of the full colour as envisioned by Jack himself.

The former of the two told stories about gangsters and Jack had a great feel for this kind of story, having grown up during the mob days as a young boy and man, although he was best known for his “Cosmic Epics”. A photo of the young man Kirby looks for all the world like a Young Jimmy Cagney.

The second of the two books told tales of the supernatural, not blood and guts horror, but ghostly, weird tales, more in tune with X-Files than Halloween.

The trouble with the format was where the newsstand could place them. They didn’t fit alongside the regular comics and were better positioned with the magazines, but this meant a lot of the regular comic book readership went without copies, unable to find them and those that saw the books, outside of the comic book world were unable to make out what the magazines were meant to be. Added to this was the incredibly bad distribution, which meant entire states went without copies, which was hardly conducive to selling product.

The books were sadly cancelled after the first issues saw publication. They utilised Jack’s normal comic work, inked by Vince Colletta, Collage work utilising photomontage, and funetti (photo-stories resembling comic books, with captions and word balloons). The books were anthologies, telling several different self-contained stories.

There were still completed stories “Spirit World” to find accommodation for, however and these would see publication in the first three issues of “Weird Mystery Tales”.

The best of these stories for me has always been ”Toxl The World Killer”. There was something about the whole concept, the story and the power of the drawings. It finally appeared in Weird Mystery Tales Issue #2 cover dated September – October 1972 and was priced at 20 cents for 36 pages.

Toxl was a 12 page mini self-contained epic and was pencilled by Jack with inks by his regular inker at the time Mike Royer. It was conceived during a plotting session with Jack and his then assistant, Mark Evanier.

In Mark’s own words: "I wrote 'Toxl, it was a plot we worked on together. It was very strange: He just threw it at me one day. I wrote an outline, which he didn't follow, and then he gave it to me to dialogue - it was the one time I ever dialogued for Jack over his pencils. I wrote it in his style and he changed a few lines here and there."

The story is narrated, as were all the Spirit World stories by Dr Maas, a Para-psychologist, a character along the lines of a Mulder, but older and very educated.

The basic concept behind the story is that if an invading race of people that have created a huge factory known as “The Plant”, which spews forth pollution into the skies around where Toxl and his tribe live. It shows an amazing juxtaposition of the technologically advance race within the confines of “The Plant”, with little concern for the damage to the environment and that of the barbarians living outside.

The story opens with the reader being introduced to an artefact by the aforementioned Dr Maas and a theory. The second and third pages contain what I consider to be one of Jack Kirby’s finest double page spreads. The image has stayed with me since I first saw it back in 1972. In it we see “The Plant” in the background spewing forth plumes of pollution. Toxl and some of his tribe watch as some tribal musicians play music for a handful of females, also from their tribe, as they dance seductively before a couple of armed guards from the plant.

With the guards engrossed in the movements of the women Toxl makes his move deciding that now the show ends, killing the guards and taking the “Key”, holding it above his head triumphantly like he would if it were a weapon. In Jack’s words, “A Key in certain hands, is a weapon in itself…”

The tribe have obviously been frustrated by the actions of those within The Plant and now seek to right these wrongs. They begin to attack The Plant heading for, in Toxl’s words The Hell-Pit. Against what should be insurmountable odds Toxl and his people break into The Plant.

All throughout the story we can see a sharp contrast between the technological people and Toxl’s people, both in dress and in attitude. The people inside The Plant are aloof with a total disregard for Toxl’s people and the planet itself, whereas Toxl and his kind show a foresight and need to preserve what the planet offers. Entering a room with a glass floor, below which we see the flames of the furnace, which is the internal magma of the planet, Toxl pulls back his weapon and drives his blade deep into the what he perceives as a Demon, unknowingly causing a great cataclysm.

In his words, “ They destroyed our land…we shall destroy their soul!”

The penultimate page is a splash page of a world’s destruction and has one of the greatest Jack Kirby explosions that I ever saw him draw. You can almost hear the explosion, that is drawn sans SFX lettering.

Dr Maas then leaves us with a few questions:

How often has this cycle been repeated?

Is the story of Toxl purest fantasy, as the cataclysm theory is not?

Would the artefact in full working order be able to not just pull a small metal box across a table, but in actual fact open a magnetic lock?

His parting words to the reader:

“Something out of the future, but it comes form the past!”

“Or…is the entire episode out of our future?”

The story ends as they did in the Weird Mystery Tales comic books with a monologue from Destiny, a cowled character along the lines of the Creep-show host or Warren Comics’ Cousins Creepy and Eerie, who tells the reader:

“I know the answer…for I am Destiny! But I prefer to let you decide for yourself whether Dr Maas’ theory is true…or false! Think it over…for this world is much like Toxl’s…with stone-age men in one corner of the Earth, while other men go to the Moon!”

If you have never seen the story of Toxl, go out and grab a copy of Weird Mystery Tales Issue #2, it really does have some of Jack Kirby’s most beautiful storytelling and is so incredibly well drawn with all that is synonymous with Kirby’s work: Power, Majesty and Dynamism on an epic scale.

It truly is one of the finest of Jack’s stories of all-time as far as I am concerned. Short but concise and shows a great insight into the world of global warming in which we live today and shows also a close relationship to the peoples of our planet, much like Toxl’s…The money people, that could do something about the pollution if they really wanted to and those folk who know simply that things cannot go on for long like this without the same inevitability of Toxl’s outcome coming about, with or without a Toxl there to try to stop things.

Maybe a copy of Jack’s story should be sent to every leader and politician on the planet Earth…to see if it makes any difference…or are we heading for a cataclysm…just like Jack foretold…?

Until next time have fun!

Tim Perkins…

December 4th 2007


Mike D. said...

Ahead of his time Kirby was...The key is a flash!!!???

Tim Perkins said...

He was indeed, my Mobile is a "Mother Box!"