Remembering the king of the comic books
Duos. When I was growing up in the Sixties, I depended on Huntley and Brinkley for the news, Flatt and Scruggs for bluegrass music, Rowan and Martin for topical humor and Stan and Jack for four-color thrills.
“Stan and Jack?” you ask. Surely you remember Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby, the core creative forces of the Marvel Comics “bullpen.”
Stan is still remarkably active at age 94. Alas, Jack died at age 76 on February 6, 1994. Even after the passage of 23 years, his influence looms so large that this month DC Comics is issuing brand-new special issues of some of his creations to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth (August 28).
Hardcore comics collectors will undoubtedly mark the occasion; but as a writer with one foot in fandom and one in the mainstream media, I wanted to use my weekly space to make sure the general public knows about the centennial.
The world would be much poorer without the characters Kirby shaped. With Lee, he co-created The Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, The Inhumans (soon to be an ABC series), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Silver Surfer, The Black Panther (coming soon to a theater near you), the original X-Men, the Avengers, Groot and Ego the Living Planet (both currently in “Guardians of the Galaxy”) and much more.
Like “Star Trek,” the Lee-Kirby collaborations held out hope for mankind and the triumph of good over evil.
But that was just the middle part of Kirby’s career. Before the U.S. entered World War II, he and partner Joe Simon created Captain America. After the war, they created the wildly popular romance comics genre and numerous other projects.
Although most of his post-Sixties creations for various publishers weren’t as iconic as the so-called “Silver Age” Marvel heroes and villains, they remain properties with enduring appeal.
Besides working in comic books, Kirby also made his mark in newspaper comics and TV animation.
During his long career, Kirby managed to be both prolific and quality-conscious. He innovated and brought depth to his masterpieces, but there was an unpretentious meat-and-potatoes aura about his epics. The stories made sense.
Kirby’s works were accessible to those who would become lifelong comics-collecting geeks, those who would follow him into the comics profession and the millions who “outgrew” comics but nonetheless needed those precious years of escapism while dealing with deceased pets, dictatorial teachers or childhood illnesses.
The Kirby Awards, the Jack Kirby Museum and “Kirby Collector” magazine all attest to the place Kirby holds in the hearts of comics fans.
At the time of his death, Kirby was both a creative force-to-be-reckoned-with and an elder statesman helping comics creators gain more control over their creations in negotiations with faceless corporations.
Kirby was unleashing his boundless imagination in the comics medium long before there were comic book shops, comic book conventions or comic book price guides. Now that comics are experiencing a cultural resurgence, I hope you will honor Kirby’s memory by checking out reprints of his work at your favorite comics shop or bookstore. Relive past glories or experience the Kirby magic for the first time.
If the blues are getting you down, just look them squarely in the eye like that Lee-Kirby creation The Thing (“the guy made of orange rocks”) and shout, “It’s clobberin’ time!”
©2017 Danny Tyree.