Did Debris Like Jack Kirby
By Jamie Shanks
looked at the slowly revolving spiral galaxy of cream in his
coffee cup. He impulsively thought about spitting into it,
obliterating it with a supernova of saliva. Instead he
watched it swirl in lazy elegance.
“How do you want your toast?” Manchuk asked him.
“About halfway up the scale on the toaster,” he said. “Not quite
warm bread, not quite charcoal. Just somewhere in between.”
“Does anybody even use the highest setting?” Manchuk mused aloud
from the kitchen. “This goes from one to six. If you crank it up
to six, I guarantee it would burn. This entire motel would be an
inferno, and the manager would get strung up for having unsafe
appliances in his units. We wouldn’t be liable. It’s not like we
were using it for something it wasn’t designed for.”
Sweazy’s stomach was already tense and he could feel the
beginnings of a metallic taste returning to his mouth. The
leaves in the hedge outside their window in the parking lot were
rattling in a growing breeze. Another windy day. Another
day of “mechanical turbulence”—that was the term for when wind
interacted with ground effects like trees and buildings and
swirled up and around it with invisible tentacles of writhing
air. And they would be flying through it, over and over. Sweazy
sighed deeply. His cheekbone was still sore where the Hasselblad
camera had hit it a few days earlier during a photo run through
some particularly active mechanical turbulence over an enormous
barn. Manchuk, the pilot, had decided to call it a day after
that. “It ain’t worth getting your nose broken for 18 cents,” he
said, and they’d laughed, since they’d done the math based on
their commission per shot per roll of film. The salesmen who
later peddled the photographs to the landowners probably did
marginally better, and the view admittedly wasn’t as good.
Manchuk slid a plate onto the table and disappeared into the
bathroom, leaving some wry comment in his wake, and in a moment
there was the hiss of the shower.
Sweazy leaned forward over his cup and dove into it headfirst.
It felt increasingly and pleasantly warm as he descended toward
the still-hot coffee, and as his physical form diminished
geometrically in size, he penetrated effortlessly through the
film of fatty lactose that had spread like an oil slick over the
surface of an ocean. He had a curious daydream sensation of
floating even though he instinctively knew he was falling. A
caffeine molecule, C8H10N4O2,
lumbered past him, big as a mountain. Out of the drifting
subatomic cosmos a globe appeared below, and as it enveloped him
it occurred to him that he had discovered one of those parallel
worlds that are so central to comic book physics.
world where he was king. His feet touched down and he was a
millionaire. He was a photographer of world renown, the
successor to the throne of Helmut Newton. He had kept playing
hockey and was a star rookie, beloved by fans and pundits alike.
He was an actor, wallowing in fame. He was marooned on a desert
island like a modern Crusoe and while there spun all sorts of
thrilling adventures for himself, but primarily growing the kind
of wild flowing mane of manly hair he’d always dreamed of having
but could never get through that early to middle stage where it
looked like hell.
he would see Her here. The recurring character of the Girl whose
name and face and hair and occupation had changed so many times
to suit his mood or his environment—a composite of every girl
and woman he’d ever seen and wished he could have known, or
known better. They’d talked together over lunch, during walks,
while being stuck in airports socked in with snow, on a midnight
bus to somewhere far away, discussing everything that was so
dear to him and, delightfully, to Her as well.
“The hardest thing about carving the pumpkin was the mouth,” She
said, sipping from Her glass of dark red Fin du Monde.
Her fingernails were black, he decided, along with Her lipstick.
A touch of goth this time. For variety. The restaurant manager
had rolled his eyes ever so slightly, but Sweazy knew that since
he was such a king-sized tipper the guy had to bite his tongue.
Sweazy was wearing that sweater he’d seen in a fashion ad in a
men’s magazine. He’d always wanted a sweater like that. She
rolled the wine around in Her mouth until it disappeared and put
Her glass down. “Did you cut a chimney hole in the lid?”
“No,” he said.
“Really? Why not? They must have—”
Wait a minute.
“No. I never thought of that, actually.” A bit chattier.
“Really? Why not? They must have smelled awful.”
“They did. I didn’t really mind, I suppose. That smell just
smelled like Halloween to me.”
“Memories are linked pretty closely to smells. I read it
She put Her elbow on the table and propped up Her chin. “I love
the smell of an old book.”
“Do comic books count?”
“Yes, of course they do. I used to collect them.”
Sweazy feigned surprise. “You did?”
“I had every issue of Devil Dinosaur and Kamandi, The Last Boy
on Earth. I kept them a secret from my girlfriends. I didn’t
think they’d understand.”
“A Kirby fan, were you?”
“You know your comics,” She said appreciatively. “His style was
so distinctive. It was just so—brawny. It was all in the
details, I think. Nobody did debris like Jack Kirby.”
that point they were interrupted by a cataclysmic event as
Sweazy took a sip of his coffee. The spiral galaxy of xanthine
alkaloid molecules they were comfortably wining and dining in
was dislodged and appropriated by Sweazy’s stomach, where it
began to be metabolized, Fin du Monde, bottle, surly
manager and all. Sweazy shrugged. He had struck upon an
interesting topic for further thought.
A chance arose later to bring it
up. “It’s too bad,” Sweazy said after capturing one of Manchuk’s
pawns en passant, “they didn’t teach comic book physics
in high school.”
“Comic book physics?” They were sitting in the airport lounge. A
milky fog was reluctantly lifting outside like a pale smoke
getting slowly paler. Manchuk was fully qualified for IFR
takeoffs, but you didn’t sell too many pictures of farms buried
under a blanket of morning mist.
“Yeah, like how does the Silver Surfer stay on his surfboard, or
how does the Flash breathe when he’s running at Mach 10.”
Manchuk sparked up a bit, obviously glad to explore a brief
respite from the sorry state of his chess game and apply a bit
of his hard-earned, and much-paid-for, technical expertise.
“Well, that never bothered me so much as the fact that if he was
running at Mach 10, he’d be going over seven thousand miles an
hour. If he ran through a shopping mall or something he’d blow
it off the face of the earth. If he didn’t melt first.”
“Yeah. At hypersonic speeds over Mach 5 it’s blowtorch city.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I’ll hit the booster switch this afternoon on the way back and
show you,” he said with a contemptuous laugh. They frequently
joked that the little company Cessna they were flying might do
two hundred knots if you dropped it off a cliff. “Actually my
dad flew F-104s in the air force way back when. They’re
basically a rocket with wings. He used to love reading my comic
“What did you have?”
“Mostly DC stuff. You?
“Marvel. Anything by Kirby.”
“I never liked Kirby that much.”
“What! He was the great granddaddy of comic book artists. I had
a stack this high of his Fantastic Four stuff.”
“I preferred Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. He was good. I had a
Superman comic of his where Superman looked real, like a
bodybuilder or something. He lifted an ocean liner up out of the
water and busted the anchor chain with his head.”
“Could he draw debris?”
“Yeah, like wreckage, and bits and pieces of broken whatever
laying all over or flying through the air. Nobody did debris
like Jack Kirby. You knew when a place was getting torn apart in
a fight when Kirby was drawing it. It wasn’t just punches
getting thrown and people getting knocked down. There’d be a
hell of a mess with fire, busted glass, and parts of the
landscape all over kingdom come like a hurricane just blew
through. I loved little details like that.”
“I never really noticed that.” Manchuk moved his bishop. He was
slyly attempting to set up a fork attack.
“I did,” Sweazy said. He watched, through the dirty and spotted
window, the airport manager’s dog pick its way out of the main
hangar and flop down on a patch of green grass. The fog was
grudgingly giving way to the blue above.
radioed their intentions in short, clipped sentences over the
frequency for uncontrolled airfields as they taxied the little
plane into position and then left the ground with a lawnmower
roar. As usual, once they were at altitude and on the correct
bearing, Sweazy took the yoke and simply kept them pointed in
the right direction while Manchuk checked their maps to plan
their attack on the little farms scattered below.
Sweazy gazed dreamily out at the horizon, thinking about anchor
chains and hurricanes.
He undid his seat belt, took off his headset and hung it
carefully on the yoke, unlatched the door and wedged himself
through. The slipstream clutched and caught him and instantly he
was free and clear, pointing his arms in front of him and his
feet behind, and he soared and flashed like a rocket with wings
headed straight for the brilliant, blazing, burning core of a
galaxy of adventure.