Recently, President Donald Trump said he would direct the Pentagon and the Defense Department to create a “Space Force” as a separate but equal branch of the U.S. military. But Space Force has popular roots at least as far back as the American midcentury — harking back to the era of Trump’s childhood.
That was when the “Space Force” was launched onto the newspaper comics page.
The Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 not only ramped up the space race but also helped fuel the cultural appetite for new space-oriented entertainment. So the following year, Jack Kirby — who had co-created Captain America nearly two decades earlier, contributing to the Golden Age dawn of superhero comics — was eager to help start a syndicated sci-fi comic strip that he could ride into the Space Age.
The title of the short-lived strip: “Sky Masters of the Space Force.”
The comic, featuring Major Sky Masters as the levelheaded hero whose missions include work on Earth’s first manned space station, was thoughtfully scripted by brothers Dave and Dick Wood and gorgeously illustrated by Kirby and inker Wally Wood — legendary artists at the peak of their powers. Artist Dick Ayers would later be brought aboard.
“Sky Masters” is celebrating its 60th anniversary this summer — it was launched Sept. 8, 1958 — but though the strip was syndicated to hundreds of newspapers, the feature’s run ended after just three years.
Part of the problem: The strip was beset by legal issues over payment percentages and royalty cuts, as Kirby and National/DC editor Jack Schiff battled in court; Schiff prevailed.
Now, in timely fashion, editor-designer Ferran Delgado, working with the Jack Kirby Museum, is publishing to the American market “Sky Masters of the Space Force: The Complete Sunday Strips in Color (1959-1960)” (Amigo Comics).
Besides collecting the beautifully reproduced color strips, the archival collection also offers essays that raise the intriguing question: If Kirby hadn’t had a falling-out with the publisher National/DC — leading to his blacklisting there — would the Kirby-fueled Marvel Universe juggernaut have been born in the ’60s?
Delgado, who has worked as a letterer for Marvel, first discovered “Sky Masters” in 2000, when the editor in chief of Spain’s Marvel Comics publisher showed him a “Sky Masters” book published by Pure Imagination.
“He was interested in publishing [the feature], and he wanted me to reletter it and design it. I was absolutely shocked when I saw the masterwork,” the Barcelona-born Delgado said, “and I couldn’t understand [how] a work so spectacular like this one, by two geniuses like Kirby and Wally Wood, was almost unknown to the general public.”
Inspired to spread appreciation of the comic, Delgado began devoting much of his energy to publishing collections of “Sky Masters.” He produced two books compiling the dailies, but “a series of unfortunate events” made him take nearly 10 years to compile a complete set of the Sunday versions and then painstakingly remaster the color art. He self-published an edition in Spain, paving the way for the U.S. market.
Now, Delgado says he’s working on “the definitive book compiling Wally Wood’s ‘Sky Masters’ dailies shot from a newly found set of printer’s proofs.”