Review: "Sky Masters of the Space Force - The Complete Sunday Strips 1959-1960"

Talk about a labor of love. This first-ever complete collection of Jack Kirby's Sunday "Sky Masters" comic strips in color is truly a thing of beauty.

Spanish graphic designer Ferran Delgado spent literally years on the book, reproducing the art from the best sources he could find, whether they be printers proofs, published strips or color guides. The 54 full-page Sundays are printed in large format and are supplemented by additional material, including a detailed history of the strip, examples of the original artwork, Kirby's original color guides and 100 rare extra panels, which were discarded by most newspapers due to formatting considerations.

Inspired by the United States' fledgling steps into outer space, the short-lived "Sky Masters" strip was Kirby's most successful foray into newspaper strips, running first in daily installments starting in September 1958 and with Sunday strips added beginning in February 1959. Delgado also adds text pieces that detail some of the contemporary news stories and scientific developments that influenced the strip's storylines and artwork.

Initially, scripts were provided by Dave Wood, Kirby's colleague on DC Comics' "Challengers of the Unknown" title, with inks by the legendary EC Comics/Mad Magazine artist, Wally Wood, who'd also worked on "Challengers" stories with Kirby.

The teaming of these two giants of comics art is one of the things that makes "Sky Masters" so special. Wood did classic space-based stories on his own and the blending of his rich inks on various space hardware and moonscapes with Kirby's dynamic figures is spectacular. While Wally Wood gets equal billing on the cover here, it should be mentioned that only the first 22 Sundays feature his inks. The rest were inked by Dick Ayers, or Kirby on his own with assists from his wife, Roz. Kirby also wrote many of the later strips on his own.

While Kirby takes some imaginative leaps in putting man in space, and on the moon, ahead of actual events, the action is at a human level and based on emerging or envisioned technology. As a result, it's all fairly realistic. There are no aliens or ray guns, but, as he did throughout his career, Kirby does imagine a few things that eventually became reality, such as books with electronic displays. You could very well be reading this blog on such a device right now.

"Sky" Masters, the lead character here, and his colleagues on the Space Force (yes, Kirby invented that first, too) are an engaging bunch who interact in a lively way - not unlike the Challengers, or the Marvel heroes Kirby would create shortly after this strip's demise.

"Sky Masters" ended as a result of a lawsuit filed by DC editor Jack Schiff, who claimed he'd made the deal that led to the strip being produced and was not provided a percentage of the profits as promised. Kirby denied such a deal had been made, but Schiff prevailed, gaining a percentage interest in the strip. This led Kirby to quit producing "Sky Masters"in 1961 and to his departure from DC.ultimately, to the creation of the Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, the Avengers and more at Marvel with Stan Lee. In the long run, I'd say Kirby and comics fans alike came out the winners.

Copies of this English edition of Delgado's book are apparently hard to find now, unfortunately, and from his posts on the Collected Editions forums, it sounds like its very unlikely more will be published. I suggest snagging one now wherever, and however, you can.

I suppose this means hopes for a collection of the "Sky Masters" dailies from Delgado are also slim, which is too bad. Hermes Press recently published a collection of those, but I skipped it, due to being unimpressed by Hermes' work in the past. Plus, a have an old paperback collection of those. 

Sometimes labors of love, I'm afraid, don't pay off monetarily. But, man, I'm glad this book exists.

Coming Up: Batgirl - The Bronze Age Omnibus Vol. 2

Out April 2. Pre-order from Amazon now.


Now, for the first time ever, Gotham's greatest heroine's adventures are collected in this oversize omnibus collection, Batgirl: The Bronze Age Omnibus Vol. 2!

These hard-to-find 1970s tales featuring Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, are now recut and collected in their entirety! In these stories, Batgirl teams up with heroes including Robin and Red Tornado, and faces villains including Killer Moth, the Cavalier and Madame Zodiac.

Collects stories from Batman Family #12-20 and Detective Comics #481-519 and Batgirl Special #1

New comics collected editions for March 2019

Our picks. Click the links to pre-order items from Amazon.

When come the Gatherers! First, the machinations of Hera and Ares pit Hercules against Thor! A visit from the Starjammers and the X-Men proves painful for the Black Knight - and so do his feelings for Crystal and Sersi! And the demonic return of a classic villain teaches the Avengers to fear the Grim Reaper - not to mention his shambling Legion of the Unliving! Then, the Gatherers - Proctor, Magdalene and the Swordsman, plus Sloth and Cassandra - attack at last! But what is the secret behind their dastardly plan - and why is their next target Black Panther? Plus, the Avengers aid Arkon! And Captain America, Thor and the Fantastic Four are drawn into the time-travel saga of Citizen Kang!

The legend of Conan continues! Tired of the thieving life, Conan signs on as a mercenary for the warring kingdom of Turan. The enemy will tell of Conan's legendary skill in battle - if any of them live to tell the tale - but palace intrigue may prove more dangerous to the barbarian. After all, it's never wise to bed a wizard's woman. Then, Conan joins with Red Sonja for a multipart adventure. Last, but far from least, we present Roy Thomas and Gil Kane's never-before-reprinted GIANT-SIZE adaptation of "The Hour of the Dragon," the iconic story of how Conan became king and conqueror and met the woman who would become his wife. And it's all restored to the original coloring!

Celebrate 80 years of Marvel Comics, decade by decade - together with the groovy ghoulies of the Supernatural Seventies! It was an era of black-and-white magazines filled with macabre monsters, and unsettling new titles starring horror-themed "heroes"! Now, thrill to Marvel's greatest horror icons: The melancholy muck-monster known as the Man-Thing -whosoever knows fear burns at his touch! Morbius, the Living Vampire! Jack Russell, cursed to be a Werewolf-by-Night! And the flame-skulled spirit of vengeance, the Ghost Rider! But what happens when they are forced together to become...the Legion of Monsters? Plus stories starring Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Manphibian, the vampire-hunter Blade...and never-before-reprinted tales of terror!

Iron Man's nemesis, the Mandarin, has returned and he pushes the Golden Avenger to the breaking point. First, he pits Iron Man against the Incredible Hulk in a battle of the titans that only one will walk away from, and then he tears down Tony Stark after discovering he is Iron Man! It's an all-time Iron Man classic, and there's more where that came from. Tony Stark finds himself replaced by his own S.H.I.E.L.D. Life-Model Decoy. And this doppelganger doesn't just want to take Stark's place - he wants to take his life. Also featuring the Controller, the Titanium Man, the Crimson Dynamo, an epic throw-down with the Sub-Mariner and the first appearance of Madame Masque.
COLLECTING: VOL. 3: IRON MAN (1968) 2-24

The Marvel Universe has always reflected the world outside your window -- from the moment Captain America charged into battle in World War II, to the present day! Marvel's characters face relevant and real-life issues alongside their extraordinary adventures -- from grappling with alcoholism, to participating in politics, to celebrating diversity and everything in between! These powerful stories from Marvel's 80-year history feature iconic heroes tackling heavy-hitting subjects including drug abuse, teen suicide, HIV, terrorism, school shootings and more. Collecting AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) 97, HOWARD THE DUCK (1976) 8, IRON MAN (1968) 128, NEW MUTANTS (1983) 45, ALPHA FLIGHT (1983) 106, UNCANNY X-MEN (1981) 303, INCREDIBLE HULK (1968) 420, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1999) 36, CAPTAIN AMERICA (2002) 1, ASTONISHING X-MEN (2004) 51, MS. MARVEL (2015) 13, CHAMPIONS (2016) 24; material from CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS 2, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1999) 583.

From the heart of the Silver Age Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers bring you the World War II adventures of Sgt. Nick Fury! These creative titans took the Marvel method and applied it to the combat genre, creating the "war comic for people who hate war comics." Starring Fury, Dum Dum Dugan and the rest of the Howling Commados, the series was an instant hit and would even inspire filmmaker Quentin Taratino's Inglorious Basterds. In this augural Sgt. Fury Epic Collection, our heroes battle more Nazis than you can shake a bayonet at, team-up with Captain America and Bucky, battle the nefarious Barons Strucker and Zemo, and set out to capture Adolf Hitler himself!
COLLECTING: VOL. 1: SGT. FURY (1963) #1-19 

One of the all-time great stories of the Silver Surfer, by the legendary Stan "The Man" Lee and visionary French artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius - as stunning now as it was 30 years ago! A star falls to earth. Panic grips the planet as mankind prepares for its inevitable end. But the star is a ship, and inside is a god. All he asks is adoration. Overcome with relief, man rushes to obey. There is only one voice of dissent that will not be silenced: the Silver Surfer, who recognizes the "god" as his former master! But why has Galactus encouraged mankind to live down to his darkest nature? The Sentinel of the Spaceways stars in a bewitching tale of man's folly and nobility.
Mickey's uncle wants to bring the tourists back to his fading seaside resort -- and Mickey and Goofy think populating the pier with fierce pirate cosplayers is the perfect solution! But when our heroes unwittingly open the floodgates for a real pirate raid by Black Pete and his scurvy crew, it looks like our heroes will be going from plan to plank!
Our latest volume in the Disney Masters collection features a swashbuckling series of travels and travails -- from cowboy capers at "Yesterday Ranch" to the fan favorite mystery of "The Vanishing Railroad!" Seven Mickey serials in all -- all newly recolored in the warm colors of the original comic books!