As Batman co-creator Bob Kane (with writer Bill Finger, finally being credited by DC in 2016, more than 40 years too late for the long-deceased Finger) doing less and less artwork, Batman's art gets progressively better because frankly, Bob Kane sort of sucked when he wasn't swiping other people's art. Jerry Robinson is on-board for the Joker, a character he co-created, while also supplying a much more pleasingly cartooned, detailed, and often funny Batman and Robin. George Roussos supplies his usually capable inks, complete with his ever-present giant moons.
The stories, most written by Finger, are at their best when they pit Batman against his growing rogue's gallery. Batman vs. mobsters is sort of boring. Batman vs. a mind-reading scientist, the Joker, or the Penguin is pretty great. One of the things to note about the early Batman is how text-heavy and panel-heavy it is. Kids were much faster readers in 1941! One wishes at times that the art was allowed to breath at times with fewer panels per page, but it would be years before this was true in the superhero comic book except in rare exceptions drawn by the Eisner or Simon&Kirby Studios. Recommended.
The Boy Commandos Volume 1 (1941-42/Collected 2010): written and illustrated by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby: Terrible, muddy colour reproduction caused by somebody who doesn't know how to use a colour scanner makes for some tough pages in this collection. Still, it's rewarding to read one of the first 'kid gang' comics. And what a gang! Co-writer-artists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby basically serve up Our Gang with Heavy Weaponry in the Boy Commandos, as a bunch of prepubescent boys run around Europe and Asia machine-gunning the crap out of the Axis powers.
And they're sanctioned by the Allied military!
The Boy Commandos are a multi-national group nominally led by adult Captain Rip Carter. Their adventures are wild and woolly, and a lot more fun than those of most adult WWII comic-book characters. One can see how the 'kid gang' comic became a popular one in the 1940's before fading out around the end of WWII. Recommended. Boy, this needs to be colour-adjusted, though.
Essential Fantastic Four Volume 2 (1963-1965/Collected 1995): written and illustrated by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; inked by Chic Stone, George Roussos, Vince Coletta, and Frank Giacoia: The Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Fantastic Four (the stretchable Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Human Torch, and super-strong Thing) starts to become a more recognizable, traditional superhero comic in this second collection of the FF's 1960's stories, in glorious B&W because this is an Essential B&W collection. They fight fewer monsters and more traditional super-villains. They also fight the Infant Terrible in a story that whoever wrote the Trelayne episode of the original Star Trek may have prior to penning "The Squire of Gothos."
The FF's goofiest, funniest enemies from their first volume of adventures -- the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes (!!!) -- do appear here in all their ridiculous glory. The Watcher, the Blue Area of the Moon, Doctor Doom, Prince Namor, the Super-Skrull, and the Mole Man return; Dragon Man, the Hate Monger, Mr. Gideon, the Frightful Four (including yet-to-be-revealed-as-Inhuman Medusa), and Franklin Storm debut.
Team-ups with Doctor Strange, the Avengers, the X-Men, and a brief Peter Parker cameo sell the interconnectedness of the growing Marvel Universe to the reader. There are many stand-out stories here. Probably my favourite pits the mighty, wise-cracking Thing against a maddened, more-mighty Hulk for page after page of terrific superhero combat. The Thing's later pummeling of Dr. Doom is also a personal favourite, drawn with succinct power by Jack Kirby.
Stan Lee is typically bombastic and melodramatic throughout, with the slapstick antics of the eternally bickering Thing and Human Torch to add humour. The inking of Kirby's pencils starts off rough with George Roussos, who's a terrible fit with Kirby. It picks up with Chic Stone. Joe Sinnott's masterful inks of Kirby on the FF are still a year or so away by the end of this volume. Highly recommended.
Thor: Godstorm (2001-2002; collected 2011): written by Kurt Busiek; illustrated by Steve Rude and Mike Royer: Fun homage by Busiek, Rude, and late-career Jack Kirby inker Mike Royer to the sort of story normally found in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's run on The Mighty Thor in the 1960's. Thor's battle with the sentient thunderstorm Godstorm occurs in three different eras as depicted in the story.
Busiek does that thing he does in which his writing is both homage (to Stan Lee) without being overly imitative of Lee's melodramatic verbiage. Steve Rude gives us his own action-packed, sometimes cartoony pencils, made to look just a bit more Kirbyesque than usual by Rude and inker Royer. My only complaint here would be that I'd like more of Busiek, Rude, and Royer's Thor. It's swell. Highly recommended.