Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jack Kirby: the Greatest There Ever Was

When it comes to the medium of comic books, one man is the King. It isn’t Stan Lee, it isn’t Frank Miller, it isn’t Alan Moore, and it even isn’t Will Eisner. The man I’m talking about is Jack Kirby; a creative mind that contributed more to the medium than probably anyone else ever had in the years before and since his passing. Today is August 28, 2011; which would have been King Kirby’s 94th birthday, but alas, the King isn’t here to celebrate it himself, so out of respect to the legendary artist/writer, let’s have a chat about just what all the man contributed to the comic book realm.

What Kirby is most notarized for is helping shape the Marvel universe as we know it today. He created Captain America with Joe Simon, and later with Stan Lee helped create other Marvel icons like Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, Black Panther, Uatu the Watcher, the Inhumans, Nick Fury, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Magneto, and the original X-Men lineup just to name a few. He also made numerous contributions to other characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil among others, before leaving Marvel after feeling he had been treated unfairly and poorly compensated.

In 1970, Kirby joined rival comics publisher DC Comics in a much publicized event, and immediately began churning out characters and stories that, like he did with Marvel, made a profound impact that still resonates to this very day. He created the “Fourth World” saga, which introduced The New Gods, including classic characters like Darkseid, Orion, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Metron, and plenty, plenty more. He took Superman in new and different directions, while also creating a new take on the Sandman character, as well as other titles including “The Forever People”, “OMAC”, “Kobra”, “Kamandi”, and my own personal favorite, the character of Etrigan the Demon in “The Demon”. Most of these titles were fairly short-lived, as Kirby still didn’t get the degree of creative control he had yearned for, which led to a return to Marvel after only a few years with DC.

While back at Marvel, Kirby returned to writing and drawing “Captain America” and “Black Panther” while also creating the classic “The Eternals”, as well as the short-lived series’ “Devil Dinosaur” and “Machine Man”, before once again giving Marvel the finger due to the fact they didn’t want to provide him with a little something called health insurance. From that point forward Kirby dabbled in TV animation, book covers, and more besides while occasionally returning to DC for a “Fourth World” revival in the 80s, and created his own characters for Topps Comics in the early 90s, before passing away at 76 in 1994.

While big comic industry figures like Neil Gaiman, Alex Ross, Kurt Busiek, Grant Morrison, and plenty more openly acknowledge and pay homage to Kirby’s works, mainstream audiences sadly don’t know all that much about him. Stan Lee gets all the credit in the world for the Marvel icons we all know and love, but were it not for Jack Kirby, half of those characters would have never existed and the industry as a whole would not be what it is today. The sad part is that Kirby’s name doesn’t resonate with people like Lee’s does and sadly never has, making it all the more heartbreaking to know that Kirby died practically penniless. While Kirby’s family and estate have taken Marvel and various film companies that own the film rights to Marvel properties to court in an effort to regain control of various characters, Marvel as an entity pulled through victorious like they always do, and continue to make money off of Kirby’s name anytime they release a collection of his work (not a penny of which is seen by his family or estate mind you).

With all this in mind however, today is a day to celebrate the life of a legendary comics author. Jack “King” Kirby, you were undoubtedly the best in the business by far, and those of us who love and respect your work appreciate you all the more with each passing day. So happy birthday Jack, and it’s a shame you’re not here with us today, and if you were, you’d still be the greatest talent the medium would ever have…and you still are the greatest and most missed talent the medium has ever had as well.

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