By the very beginning of the 1980s, what we now know as the Direct Market for comic books–specialty shops devoted to the product who would buy new issues on a non-returnable basis, thus eliminating the enormous amount of waste the Newsstand consignment system generated–had grown to the point where it looked as though there might be enough accounts to generate sufficient orders to make titles directed exclusively at the Direct Market possible. And there was a bit of a gold rush, as new companies sprouted up attempting to tap into this new marketplace, while mainstays Marvel and DC tried to work out how to leverage it to best advantage.
One of the earliest entrants into this burgeoning marketplace was Pacific Comics, owned by the Schanes brothers. They had been distributors for comics into the Direct Market, and they saw an opportunity to make the transition into publishers themselves. Theirs was among the earliest product directed at the Comic Book Specialty Shops whose package mirrored that of Marvel and DC–most earlier trailblazers, such as WaRP Graphics or CEREBUS or THE FIRST KINGDOM or Eclipse tended to be publishing either in a magazine format or in black and white. But Pacific Comics would field comic books that looked and felt similar to those of the major publishers.
Pacific Comics didn’t last long, only a couple of years–they overextended themselves financially and after a few reversals they were forced to go out of business–competing firm Eclipse Comics wound up putting out a few of the last remaining unpublished Pacific Comics products. Still, in their brief time on the stands, they released new series by Mike Grell and Steve Ditko, created a new short-lived renaissance for horror with Bruce Jones’ TWISTED TALES, unleashed Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer onto the world–and published some of the last original concepts created by the King of comics himself, Jack Kirby.
Upon embarking on their venture, the Schanes Brothers approached Kirby about contributing their initial offering. Kirby at this point had left the world of regular comics–he was employed in animation, where he was making better money and receiving health insurance. But one aspect of the Schaneses offer was intriguing to him: they intended to allow the creators of their books to retain ownership of the material . This was a necessary step for the industry and something that Kirby had been pushing to accomplish for years–it was this lack of creator ownership that saw him lose creative and financial control over the characters he had originated for both Marvel and DC over the years–characters that had gone on to generate millions of dollars in profits (and would thereafter generate billions more.)
Having a day job, and with Pacific Comics not yet possessing any sort of a track record, Kirby could ill afford to devote a lot of time to this venture. But as it turns out, he didn’t have to, not immediately at any rate. Because a few years earlier, he had been approached by backers for a similar venture: they wanted to fund a new company called Jack Kirby Comics, and while the deal had ultimately fallen through, Kirby had generated a decent amount of material for what would have been their launch title, CAPTAIN VICTORY AND THE GALACTIC RANGERS.
CAPTAIN VICTORY was inspired in part by the success of the movie CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, which postulated that contact with beings from another world would lead to them benevolently welcoming humanity into the intergalactic community and sharing their wonderous technology with us. Kirby felt that this was fairy tale thinking. He knew from history that when two cultures come into contact with one another, the technologically superior of the two tends to wind up dominating and subjugating the lesser. So he thought that the message of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS was flawed, and intended to put forward his own rebuttal in the pages of CAPTAIN VICTORY.
As with much of his work in the 1970s, on the surface CAPTAIN VICTORY looked like a super hero series. But it wasn’t, not really. Nor was it, strictly speaking, science fiction, though it contained a liberal use of super-science and far-out technology. But really, when you looked under the hood, CAPTAIN VICTORY was really a war comic, depicting the struggle between the Galactic Rangers, sentinels of civilization throughout the cosmos, and their enemies the Insectons, who would infest a planet and consume it from within. Earth was the setting for this intergalactic war (much as it had been during Kirby’s NEW GODS saga) but the terms and the turf were interplanetary.
I can remember how exciting it was to have a new comic book company debuting when the initial promotion for CAPTAIN VICTORY AND THE GALACTIC RANGERS reached the public. The Pacific Comics titles cost more than either Marvel or DC–this first issue would set one back a whole dollar, as opposed to the 50 cents that most comics were retailing for. But the Schanes Brothers put more expense into their package as well. They printed on better paper (which would get even better as time went on) and used more expensive full process color as well. I do think that the color here, by Steve Oliff, is a bit garish and overpowering. But these were early days–Steve got a lot better at this as he went.
Because it had mostly been prepared earlier, this first issue of CAPTAIN VICTORY was inked and lettered by Mike Royer, Kirby’s inker of choice for most of the 1970s, who always rendered the King’s work faithfully and with precision. Later issues, though, didn’t benefit from Royer’s touch as he had a day job of his own that he needed to devote himself to. So the quality of the rendering diminished as the series went along, with less skilled inkers taking their brush to Kirby’s work.
Ultimately, CAPTAIN VICTORY was only a middle of the road success, and ended after 13 issues and a Special. But along the way, Kirby made the choice to link this series to his earlier NEW GODS mythology by implying that Captain Victory was himself the son of Orion of the New Gods. In this way, CAPTAIN VICTORY becomes the third act of a godly saga that beings in THOR in the 1960s, moves into NEW GODS in the 1970s, and then wraps up in CAPTAIN VICTORY in the early 1980s. One of the reasons that Kirby was able to get away with this, I expect, is that he did it so stealthily. There isn’t anything in the first 7 or 8 issues to suggest such a connection, so by the time he went for it, anybody who might have objected seems to have stopped paying attention.
CAPTAIN VICTORY was also one of the last projects Kirby worked on before health issues began to impact on his vision, and his work, always abstracted, began to distort in unflattering ways. Kirby kept much of his heath problems under wraps, fearful that he would lose his position in animation and by extension his health benefits. But it means that CAPTAIN VICTORY was one of the last major works produced by him.
(On a more personal note, I had a fan letter printed in the second issue of CAPTAIN VICTORY praising this initial outing. It was, I believe, the only fan letter I ever had published–and my name was misspelled, a common pitfall.)