A Monumentally Unimaginative Movie
Fathers, sons, and Kubrick
In 1976, Marvel Comics released their adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jack Kirby wrote and penciled the comic, because editorial control over the adaptation, and a ongoing follow-up series, was one condition of his return after a five-year stint at the competition.
Kirby was a popular writer/artistin a time when comics stardom was confined to the pages of the comics themselves, independent fanzines, and small conventions. But 12-year-old Ricky was aware of Kirby because of Fantastic Four reprints, Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth, and a Manhunter one-shot that should have been a series, goddammit.
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Marvel included promo artwork for the 2001 : A Space Odyssey adaptation in one of their Bullpen Bulletin pages. I was hooked.
Sorry for the inferior quality, but this image I found online is scanned from the comic, and was roughly 2” x 4” on the page.
I never got my hands on the adaptation or the ongoing series. It was a "Treasury Edition," a special 10" x 14" format that was hard to find on the newsstand, and I never found an ad to order the book by mail.
What I did find was a few issues from another Kirby series called The Eternals.
The Hulk appeared in this title. All it took to sell a comic to 12-year-old Ricky was the Hulk on the cover, and the Hulk in a Kirby comic was gold.But we didn’t have social media or even Usenet in the 1970s, so 12-year-old Ricky confused Kirby's 2001 comics with The Eternals.
2001: A Space Odyssey was re-released to "select theaters" in 1977. These theaters needed equipment to show the special 70mm print and have the right sound gear.One of those theaters was near home, and my dad was a big fan of science fiction and 2001.
By the time I was thirteen, I had read all or most of Asimov's I. Robot stories. Fahrenheit 451 was an easy "A" in Junior or Senior High. I have no idea when I was supposed to have read it, because by the time it was assigned in school it was ancient history for me. I’d not only read the book but knew that many of Bradbury’s short stories were better. All this was because of my dad. So, when 2001 was showing in a nearby theater, it made perfect sense that we'd go to the cinema.
I'm pretty sure I managed to stay awake.
2001: A Space Odyssey is the hard stuff. I mean that in two ways. It's the hard liquor kids think is yucky until they're older, and it's a movie that takes work to understand. Pauline Kael called it a "monumentally unimaginative movie." She didn’t want to put in the work. Call it boring. Call it overblown. Call it impenetrable. But unimaginative? She must have had a tight deadline, or maybe she was waiting for the Hulk to show up.
So, 13-year-old Ricky wasn't ready for 2001: A Space Odyssey. I picked up on the brave ape-man learning to use weapons. I figured out that HAL was IBM shifted left a letter. I understood that HAL lost his "mind" because he was ordered to lie to his crew.But the gods that sent the Eternals never showed up, much less anything like a cosmic Hulk robot.
For years, I thought I let my dad down. He was excited and loved the movie just as much as he thought he would. He hadn't been able to see it during its initial release, because my parents were broke in 1968. They had a new house and 4-year-old Ricky to care for. I was underwhelmed and didn't have much to say when it was over.
A few years later, I enlisted in the Army and was stationed in Germany. My dad sent me VHS tapes because men didn’t write to each other: they shared videos and memes, even in the 1980s. That's how I saw the first few seasons of Moonlighting and many excerpts from Night Flight episodes. And one day a high-quality copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey arrived in the mail.
That tape meant a lot to me. More than I ever told him, because of fathers and sons and our inability to communicate competently. It said I hadn't disappointed him, and he knew I'd appreciate a copy.
No, I won’t delve into the Lee/Kirby "who really created what" quagmire. This isn't a newsletter about comics, and I'd rather chew glass.
Guess which 1950s pop star from New Jersey I'm named after?
It turned out the Hulk was a "cosmic robot." I'm still annoyed about that.
Feel free to correct me on the details movie or Kubrick nerds. Is that the same thing? Something makes me think it's not the same thing.
Yes, I know this is still debated. That's the theory 13-year-old Ricky liked, and it's the right one.
2001 first came out in 1968
I love this piece.