Markley’s Fevered Brain: 100 Years Ago Today

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

Fantastic Four #1

Fantastic Four #1


Perhaps the biggest event of 2017 has been the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby. Both Marvel and DC have done special projects to celebrate this anniversary (which I will discuss later in this blog) and there are a number of other books and magazines and tributes to the man who is known as the “King,” a term Stan Lee gave Jack as Stan would often give his co-workers nicknames. I think it is fair to argue the Kirby is one of the greats of the comic industry and his contributions over the years are monumental. Kirby’s career ran from the 1940s through the 1990s and it still is going today with a number of his creations or co-creations still going strong.

Captain America Comics #1

Captain America Comics #1


Kirby’s career can generally can be broken down to a number of segments. Early in his career he joined forces with Joe Simon and together they created Captain America for Timely Comics (later Marvel) and over at DC they created the Newsboy Legion (one of my personally favorites and it was loosely based on Jack’s childhood as a paperboy), the Boy Commandos, they revised The Golden Age Sandman and Manhunter and did much more. They would later go on to do their own comics as well as working for a number of other publishers, such as Prize, Harvey, and many others. Simon and Kirby are also credited as creating the genre of romance comics.

Challengers of the Unknown

Challengers of the Unknown


In the 1950s Simon and Kirby went their separate ways and Jack landed up back at Marvel (then known as Atlas Comics) and started his long term relationship with Stan Lee. (Although they knew each other at Timely when Stan Lee was just breaking in back then and Simon and Kirby were established). Throughout the ‘50s Kirby did almost every type of story imaginable with Stan, but most of these stories were about monsters (as discussed in a previous blog when I looked at the two Kirby’s Monsters Omnibuses). He also did westerns and occasional other stories here and there. In the late ‘50s Jack was also working for DC, doing short stories for The Unexpected, My Greatest Adventure, and perhaps one of his best creations, the Challengers of the Unknown (another one of my favorites by Jack). DC will soon be printing a trade collection of the long out of print hardcover collection they did years ago collecting all of Jack’s Challengers stories. Jack did not stay on the Challengers long, just for their debut in Showcase (four issues) and the first eights issues of their own book. Also from 1958-1961 Jack did a newspaper strip, Sky Masters of the Space Force, which was a great space strip that in the early run was inked by Wally Wood. Hermes Press will be issuing the complete run of this strip in one hardcover this fall. Jack had made a number of attempts to get a newspaper strip going as in the early days of comic books. Comic strips payed substantially better than comics so it was many artist’s goal to get a successful strip going. Alas, after three years Jack left Sky Masters and returned to Marvel.

Sky Masters of the Space Force

Sky Masters of the Space Force


In the early ‘60s Jack returned to Marvel where Stan and Jack would team up to form perhaps the greatest collaboration in comics, if not in fiction. Together, they would create The Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, Avengers, X-Men, Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, Black Panther, Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, and many, many more. By this time they were known as Marvel Comics and they would lay the groundwork for what has become a billion dollar empire, including publishing, movies and TV shows. While there have been debates for decades as to how much Stan contributed and how much Jack contributed and who created what, I would argue it really does not matter as together they are the founders of modern superhero comics. They created characters and told stories that were unlike anything else being published at the time, the early ‘60s, and they not only found an audience, they built the foundation of what we all know and love.

Kamandi

Kamandi


Kirby stayed at Marvel through the early 1970s when he went to back to DC. Here once again Kirby would make his mark as he unleashed a swarm of new titles that still resonate today in the DC Universe. What was significant here was Jack was writing and drawing all of his books, not working with a writer like Stan Lee. At first Kirby took over Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. This was an odd pick as it continued the numbering of the book at the time and Kirby went in a direction completely alien to DC. He introduced the early elements of what would become his magnum opus for DC, the Fourth World series. In Jimmy Olsen you first saw the New Gods and more importantly, Darkseid. Plus he brought back the Newsboy Legion and the Guardian! Shortly thereafter Jack released the first issues of the New Gods, the Forever People and Mister Miracle. At the time these books were groundbreaking as they brought the Marvel style of epic and sweeping storytelling to DC. Sadly none of the books lasted more than two years. Kirby would also go on to create post Forth World material, with more classics such as Kamandi (my favorite book in my youth), OMAC, the Demon, new versions of Sandman and Manhunter, (characters he worked on in the 1940s) and more. He also did a run on DCs war book, Our Fighting Forces Featuring the Losers (sadly replacing the late great John Severin, in a rare instance where Kirby was a letdown). Kirby also did a number of smaller projects, such as Sandman and a number of one-shots including Atlas and Manhunter. It is also notable that when he first returned to DC he did a couple of magazines, Spirit World and Tales of the Mob. At this point, Marvel had done a few magazines in the late 60s, such as Adventures of Pussycat and two Spider-Man specials. But these were DCs first forays in comics in magazine format, sadly, both of them only lasted only one issue. Fortunately DC did reprint both magazines in deluxe hardcovers a few years back.

Devil Dinosaur

Devil Dinosaur


As Kirby was prone to do, he left DC and returned to Marvel in the late 1970s, where he once again created titles that would influence the Marvel Universe for the next thirty plus years. With his return to Marvel he took over Captain America, ending Steve Englehart’s great run on the book. He also created the Eternals, which have become a central part of Marvel’s galactic stories, as well as a comic inspired by the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey, which has never been collected. Sadly. But out of the pages of 2001 came both Machine Man and Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur (also available as a nice trade collection, as is Jack’s Eternals series). And in turn that led to one of my favorite current titles, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Eventually Jack would leave Marvel again and work in animation and eventually make one last try at creating a new universe with Pacific Comics, with such titles as Captain Victory. Unfortunately, this new universe never caught on although a number of publishers have tried to keep the characters and universe alive.

True Believers: Kirby 100th - Nick Fury #1

True Believers: Kirby 100th – Nick Fury #1


A few quick notes. To mark Kirby’s 100th anniversary, Marvel has issued 12 different True Believer comics. True Believer are Marvel’s comic reprints for a $1. The 12 titles Marvel has released all reprint critical moments in Kirby’s Marvel career. They include such classics as Avengers #4,(the return of Captain America in the Silver Age), Eternals #1, Devil Dinosaur #1, Groot, Journey into Mystery #79 (first appearance of Thor), Strange Tales #135 (first Nick Fury, Agent of Shield) and six more. I really like that Marvel has given people who may not be familiar with the King’s work an opportunity to see some of his most important work at a dirt cheap price. DC on the other hand has done a couple of things. They are currently in the middle of the Kamandi Challenge. This was supposed to be a challenge where the creators of each issue end their story on a cliffhanger and the following team (and there are 12 different ones) have to solve the cliffhanger and tell a new story and then end with a new cliffhanger. This is a great concept that sounded great prior to its publication, but so far it has been a real disappointment. On the other hand DC has also published six Kirby specials where a variety of creators did all-new stories based on classic Kirby creations. Most of these books have two new stories and a small dose of reprints of classic Kirby material. These have all been great. The titles include the Newsboy Legion (where they team up with the Boy Commandos) by Howard Chaykin. Plus there is a reprint of an original Simon and Kirby Newsboy Legion story where the boys decide to publish their own comic. There is Manhunter, which is a fun take where Manhunter meets Sandman and Sandy, written by Keith Giffen and drawn by Nick Bradshaw. Plus there is a brand new Demon story by Sam Humphries and Steve Rude. There is a Black Racer special which features the harbinger of death from the New Gods. This is written by Reginald Hudlin and drawn by Denys Cowan. There is also Darkseid special that that has a very good lead story by Mark Evanier and Scott Kollins. And there is a great OMAC back up story by Paul Levitz and Phil Hester. The Sandman special is written by Dan Jurgens and Steve Orlando and drawn by Roberto Flores and attempts (and succeeds) to tell a very entertaining story tying almost all of the various Sandman’s over the years together. There is also a New Gods special by Walt Simonson and Shane David. This was also very good. Actually, all six of these specials were great reads and showed the creator’s love for Kirby’s material. Also in each of these specials there is an essay written by Mark Evanier about that issue’s character and what Kirby did in creating the book. While Marvel choose to showcase Kirby’s own work at a great price, DC choose to do all new material based on Kirby’s creations. Two very different approaches, but I think both work for different reasons and all 18 of these books are worth your time to find and read.

Newsboy Legion and The Boy Commandos Special

Newsboy Legion and The Boy Commandos Special


Finally, I would like to point out two more books that are not by Jack Kirby but are about Jack Kirby. The first is from TwoMorrows and is called Kirby 100: 100 Top Creators Celebrate Jack Kirby’s Greatest Work. This is a massive book, over 200 pages, devoted to Kirby’s work by his peers. 100 comic book artists discuss their favorite work from Kirby from across his entire career. It is a very informative read that points out not only how influential Kirby was on comic books, but also offers insight from other artists why Kirby is great. I should note Kirby is not an artist in the vain of Hal Foster (who was a big influence on Kirby) or Alex Raymond (reality based) and Kirby’s art can be argued is almost as far from reality based as you will find in comics, but there is a dynamic aspect of his work that has never been duplicated, although many have tried. He was a one of a kind talent whose art style evolved over the years, but was always uniquely Kirby and this book does a great job of explaining the Kirby mystique. I learned a lot reading this book, not only from a historical point of view, but from a technical one. (The book is a co-effort of John Morrow and Jon B. Cooke, the editor of the Jack Kirby Collector, a magazine that is a must read for any Kirby fan.) There is also a deluxe hardcover of this book that has extra pages and pin-ups. The second book is called Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier. Evanier, aside of being one of the smartest men in comics and the writer of Groo, was also Kirby’s assistant in the 1970s. This book is a great and insightful look at all of Jack Kirby’s career and I consider it must reading. It was just recently issued in an expanded and updated edition and in softcover. Go buy a copy.

Kirby: King of Comics SC

Kirby: King of Comics SC


This blog was more of a history lesson than an overview of books, and there are a ton of books that collect Jack Kirby’s work that I would gladly recommend as they are that good, and maybe I will do that soon. I am thrilled to see what Marvel and DC have done to celebrate Jack’s contributions to comics over the years. I should also point out that both Marvel and DC have gone out of their way to reprint all most all of Kirby’s work for them in a variety of formats. There are also two collections of Simon and Kirby’s romance comics published by Fantagraphics, called Young Romance. Also worth checking out.

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137


This is it for this time. Next time I will return to the traditional reviews I normally do. What is your favorite Kirby character? Book? Are you not familiar with Jack’s work? I would like to hear from you. I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. Nothing I have written here reflects the thoughts Westfield Comics or their employees. Yes, all this is my thoughts. So as so many others have said so much better than me, Happy Birthday Jack Kirby!

Thank you.

 

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