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Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution Paperback – June 16, 2005

3.6 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Jack Kirby is arguably the most influential comic-book artist of all time: In the early 1940s he cocreated Captain America and drew dozens of other superheroes, essentially creating the template for the genre. But his best-known work comes from the 1960s, when he and writer Stan Lee created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and most of the rest of the innovative Marvel Comics cast. Kirby's rough-and-tumble Lower East Side childhood and maverick approach to his art must have seemed a promising subject to Ronin, whose previous books have been on rap music. He paints a colorful portrait--the real-life analog of Kavalier and Clay--of the comic book's early days, and his accounts of Kirby's acrimonious split with Lee and battle with Marvel over ownership of his original drawings show that the industry remained cutthroat. Ultimately, Ronin's treatment is more dutiful than inspired (oh, for some of Kirby's fervor!) and marred by minor errors. The definitive Kirby biography is yet to come; until it arrives, Ronin's is a useful, readable stopgap. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Compellingly depicts the codependent relationship between the charismatic Lee and the rough-edged Kirby.The story packs as much pathos as any of the duo''s signature supersagas." (Entertainment Weekly )

"Ro cleanly lays out Kirby''s story.He does well by the facts." (The Onion )

"Ro deftly handles Kirby''s relationships.Tales to Astonish celebrates the stubbornness that kept Kirby, a superhero of comic books in his own right, creative as if against his will." (San Francisco Chronicle ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (July 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158234566X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582345666
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,080,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
While Ronin Ro's book also provides a history of Stan Lee and Timely/Marvel Comics (among others), its main thrust and chief attribute is a biography of comics legend Jack "King" Kirby. This is certainly not the worst volume I've ever read, but I have to place myself in the camp of the (so far) two Amazon.com members who have posted negative reviews regarding this book.

From a personal taste standpoint, I really don't appreciate Ro's writing style. As other reviewers noted, it is overly simplistic at times in addition to being awkward. Another already mentioned critique is the lack of ANY illustrations or photos save for the Kirby cover drawing. Granted, there's a lot of Jack Kirby art reproduced within many other resources, but some key art reproductions would have been a nice touch. Even more appreciated would have been photographs of Kirby, his family, and other celebrities from the Golden/Silver Age of Comics that are mentioned in the chapters. Such photographs might not have been easily attainable, but a modicum of effort would have dug up some pictorial history.

I don't think I'm imagining this, but it appears that many of Ro's quotations by comics celibrities (including Kirby, Stan Lee and Joe Simon) are simply taken from already published interviews and biographies (e.g., "Excelsior! : The Amazing Life of Stan Lee" by Stan Lee and George Mair, and "The Comic Book Makers" by Joe Simon and Jim Simon). Not exactly the coolest thing to pay money for a book that regurgitates information I've already read.

What's even worse is that the book does contain some inaccuracies, and these could have been prevented by simple fact-checking and basic editing. Some of Ro's subjective observations also go against the generally accepted opinions of comics historians.
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Format: Hardcover
From some of the reviews I had high expectations of "Tales to Astonish" by Ronin Ro. Those hopes were also bolstered by Ro's writing credits on the back flap of the dust jacket. According to it, Ro has written for Rolling Stone, Harpers, and other high-end publications.

Essentially, the book is a biography of comic-book artist Jack Kirby with excursions into some of the other major characters in comic book production from the '30s to the '80s, with the focus on the Golden and Silver Age artists, writers, and editors. Stan Lee is one of major players Ro includes.

The writing is less than mundane. Ro backs into quotes that seem to make no sense since the person you think he is quoting turns out to be someone else entirely when the attribution takes place as the end of the quote. It's a most annoying writing quirk that takes place throughout the book.

There are also points within the book where Ro seems bored by the content and the writing devolves down to vapid reportage.

Ro exhibits stylizations in his construction that seem like those of an 8th grader, ending paraphrasing of people with "quiped" and "opined" that are wrong for the subject.

His writing also lacks a sense of context. Within the first 10 pages, he introduces, by name, more than 20 people, most of whom are unimportant to the sense of story. You'll need to keep a scorecard.

Ro also makes some serious mistakes in who people are and what they do. In one paragraph he writes at length about Kenner wanting to license comic book characters and for some out-of-context reason mistakenly writes "Mattel" in the middle of the piece. Either he or his editor should have caught that. There are similar errors throughout the book.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is written like this. This is how Ronin Ro writes. "This guy reads like an eighth-grade book report," I quipped to my wife. She laughed. The whole damn book. Written exactly like this. Don't buy it.
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Format: Hardcover
"Tales to Astonish" by Ro provides an account of the creation of the modern comic book. Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Stan Lee, John Romita, Steve Ditko and other great comicbook writers/artists all contributed to this unique American artform. Ro's book provides a pretty comprehensive look at the forces that drove the industry and drove the men that changed the industry to shape the comicbook world we have today.
Ro's book, though, lacks an important part of the story--illustrations of the art form itself and pictures of those who played key roles in this ongoing story. Kirby's cover art gives a sense of his work but it doesn't provide context; we don't really know (except by Ro's description)what the early comicbooks looked like prior to Kirby's arrival. Some examples to contrast the change in storytelling over time might have been helpful as well. There are enough of these "classic" comic books that must be in the public domain by now so that he could have included them as examples for readers not as familiar with the changes these giants of the industry created.
Ro's book comes across as pretty accurate although there are a few minor errors and omissions that crop up. Still, with as large a canvas as he's working with, he's done a very good job of summing up what made the comic book world tick from the 30's through today. Comic books were America's attempt at creating a cultural context, in a sense its own mythology and legends that so many older cultures have. Their enduring popularity has as much to do with the snapshot they provide of life or what they reflect from the real world as their value as escapist entertainment.
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