Practitioners 49: Jack Kirby (Part 3)

In November 1961 The Fantastic Four #1 hit the newsstands across America. The story of four uniquely powered individuals related to each other as relatives, in friendship and purpose, revolutionised the industry. Although clearly reminiscent of hundreds of Sci-fi books before this had a comparative naturalism to it that hadn’t been seen before blended with a cosmic purview informed by boundless imagination. It was powered by Marvel Editor-in-chief Stan Lee and seasoned comics artist Jack Kirby.

For almost a decade, Kirby provided Marvel’s house style, co-creating with Stan Lee many of the Marvel characters and designing their visual motifs. At Lee’s request he often provided ‘new-to-marvel artists ‘breakdown’ layouts, over which they would pencil in order to become acquainted with the Marvel look. As artist Gil Kane described:

‘Jack was the single most influential figure in the turnaround in Marvel’s fortunes from the time he rejoined the company … It wasn’t merely that Jack conceived most of the characters that are being done, but … Jack’s point of view and philosophy of drawing became the governing philosophy of the entire publishing company and, beyond the publishing company, of the entire field … [Marvel took] Jack and use[d] him as a primer. They would get artists … and they taught them the ABCs, which amounted to learning Jack Kirby. … Jack was like the Holy Scripture and they simply had to follow him without deviation. That’s what was told to me … It was how they taught everyone to reconcile all those opposing attitudes to one single master point of view.’

Highlights from the House of Ideas other than the Fantastic Four include: Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, the original X-Men, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Galactus, Uatu the Watcher, Magneto, Ego the Living Planet, the Inhumans and their hidden city Attilan and the Black Panther – comic’s first black superhero – and his African nation Wakanda. Last year and 2010 Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men grossed worldwide ($1,425,062,845) One Billion, four hundred and twenty five million, sixty two thousand, eight hundred and forty five dollars (A combination of $623,933,331 for Iron Man 2, $448,512,824 for Thor and $352,616,690 for X-Men: First Class). This was begun by two men, one of which was Jack Kirby. They cemented the concepts so clearly that while developed, the core values remain. All of them have the best writers, directors and actors vying to be a small part in the development of these ideas formed 51 years ago. Decades of the most talented artists have looked to Kirby for inspiration. His ideas as only presented more clearly, barely changed from the original concept design – perhaps drawn, in one case, on a table in Brooklyn many years before – with thoughts of war he hadn’t yet been called on to fight in his mind.

In March 1964, Simon and Kirby’s Captain America was also incorporated into Marvel, Kirby approving Lee’s idea of partially remaking the characters as a man out of his time and regretting the death of his partner. The suit returned almost exactly as it had been 23 years before. Last year, Captain America made $368,608,363 at the box office as Kirby’s suit stepped, again almost unchanged close to 70 years after the day it was designed on the back of Chris Evans.

In 1968 and 1969, Joe Simon was involved in litigation with Marvel Comics over the ownership of Captain America, initiated by Marvel after Simon registered the copyright renewal for Captain America in his own name. According to Simon, Kirby agreed to support the company in the litigation and, as part of a deal Kirby made with publisher Martin Goodman, signed over to Marvel any rights he might have had to the character.

Kirby continued to push the industries boundaries, devising photo collage covers and interiors reminiscent of ’80s artists in England playing with sellotape and photocopiers. Developing new drawing techniques such as the method of depicting energy fields known as ‘Kirbydots’ and other experiments. Able to handle high detail, explosive composition, emotion, perspective, conceptualisation and design – it was Kirby’s sense of scale that blows many artists away. Alien engines dwarf figures in certain panels, coils, springs and rivets collected together in such ways that they seem to be an optical illusion. Perspective twists in some of his environments such as Mr Fantastic’s lab in a way that somehow bends the eye. Many generations of artists have dismissed Kirby as dated or unsophisticated until presented with his depictions of machinery and the Silver Surfer.

A character of incredible simplicity, divinity and … just … cool. The concept of a humanoid riding the waves of space at incredible speeds highlights the natural beauty and associations with divine advancement incorporating the universe around it and the increased simplicity it brings. But none of that is said. But all of it is inherent. A perfectly formed, universally accessible character made even more interesting by Stan Lee by being a good man acting as herald to a being of unimaginable power. Again, the genius of the character is that it is a perfect template that can be adapted into anyone’s style. Much like any Kirby character you can mention. The simplicity and intuitive details he applies are often so universal that they are only more interesting with each new reinterpretation. While Iron Man had to inevitably change as technology developed, Thor still carries the same Hammer and wears the same white riveted top, Captain America still has his Red, White and Blue, the star on his chest and the skull cap design applied to him in the newest incarnation, the Ultimates, by Bryan Hitch is a throwback to Kirby’s original design, Hulk remains Green (as he was in his second appearance) and even had a Grey countenance as Peter David’s Joe Fixit in the ’90s – a nod to the original design. Black Panther, Magneto, The Inhumans and Attilan have also only ever been refined – never redesigned. This is the testament to the lasting influence of Kirby. Even the X-Men have retained the yellow and blue of their original uniforms for more than 45 years. Somehow Kirby just knew. Wiser than the rest of us what he put down on paper worked and generations of artists have never cracked how to improve on his original designs.

Yet, Kirby grew increasingly unhappy at Marvel. The reasons given for this included resentment over Stan Lee’s increasing media prominence, a lack of full creative control, anger over breaches of perceived promises by publisher Martin Goodman and at Marvel specifically for lack of credit for his story plotting, character creations and co-creations. He began to both script and draw some secondary features for Marvel, such as “The Inhumans” in Amazing Adventures, as well as horror stories for the anthology title Chamber of Darkness, and received full credit for doing so; but he eventually left the company in 1970 for rival DC Comics, under editorial director Carmine Infantino.

Spending nearly two years trying to negotiate a three year contract with the option of staying on a further two additional years. In 1970, at the age of 53, Kirby joined DC and immediately started creating a ‘Fourth World’. A trilogy of New Titles – New Gods, Mister Miracle and The Forever People. He took on Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen because the series was without a stable creative team and he didn’t want to be responsible for losing anyone their job. The central villain of the Fourth World, Darkseid, and some other Fourth World concepts appeared in the pages of Jimmy Olsen before being launched as their own series, giving greater exposure to potential buyers. Jack Kirby remained an incredibly shrewd operator, still demonstrating the guile and forward thinking that is expected of great creative directors. Though here he was without a company, working as he had always wanted to. As a creative.

Kirby had a lasting effect on DC too, leaving characters that have recurred or consistently remained in the DC Universe, though not as centrally as the Marvel Universe. These included OMAC (seen in the Final Crisis crossover of 2009), Kamandi, The Demon, The Losers, Dingbats of Danger Street, Kobra and together with old partner Joe Simon for one last time, a new incarnation of the Sandman.

But it had to be said that rather than Kirby having Marvel blood in his veins, Marvel ran on Kirby Engine Oil and the company would always have taken him back. In 1975, Stan Lee used a Fantastic Four discussion panel to announce that Kirby was returning to Marvel. Ever the showman, Lee wrote in his monthly article ‘Stan Lee’s Soapbox’ that “I mentioned that I had a special announcement to make. As I started telling about Jack’s return, to a totally incredulous audience, everyone’s head started to snap around as Kirby himself came waltzin’ down the aisle to join us on the rostrum! You can imagine how it felt clownin’ around with the co-creator of most of Marvel’s greatest strips once more.”

Back at Marvel, Kirby both wrote and drew Captain America and created the series The Eternals, which featured a race of inscrutable alien giants, the Celestials, whose behind-the-scenes intervention in primordial humanity would eventually become a core element of Marvel Universe continuity. Kirby’s other Marvel creations in this period include Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man, and an adaptation and expansion of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as an abortive attempt to do the same for the classic television series, The Prisoner. He also wrote and drew Black Panther and did numerous covers across the line.

Still dissatisfied with Marvel’s treatment of him and with the companies refusal to provide health and other employment benefits, Kirby sadly left Marvel to work in animation. In that field, he did designs for Turbo Teen, Thundarr the Barbarian and other animated television series. He also worked on The Fantastic Four cartoon show, reuniting him with scriptwriter Stan Lee. He illustrated an adaptation of the Walt Disney movie The Black Hole for Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales syndicated comic strip in 1979-80.

In the early 1980s, Pacific Comics, a new, non-newsstand comic book publisher, made a then-groundbreaking deal with Kirby to publish a creator-owned series Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, and a six-issue mini-series called Silver Star which was collected in hardcover format in 2007. This, together with similar actions by other independent comics publishers as Eclipse Comics (where Kirby co-created Destroyer Duck in a benefit comic-book series published to help Steve Gerber fight a legal case versus Marvel), helped establish a precedent to end the monopoly of the work for hire system, wherein comics creators, even freelancers, had owned no rights to characters they created.
Though estranged from Marvel, Kirby continued to do periodic work for DC Comics during the 1980s, including a brief revival of his “Fourth World” saga in the 1984 and 1985 Super Powers mini-series and the 1985 graphic novel The Hunger Dogs. And in 1987, under much industry pressure, Marvel finally returned much of Kirby’s original art to him.
Kirby also retained ownership of characters used by Topps Comics beginning in 1993, for a set of series in what the company dubbed “The Kirbyverse”. These titles were derived mainly from designs and concepts that Kirby had kept in his files, some intended initially for the by-then-defunct Pacific Comics, and then licensed to Topps for what would become the “Jack Kirby’s Secret City Saga” mythos. Marvel posthumously published a “lost” Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four story, Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure (April 2008), with unused pages Kirby had originally drawn for Fantastic Four 108 (March 1971).
On February 6, 1994, Kirby died at age 76 of heart failure in his Thousand Oaks, California home. He was buried at the Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park, Westlake Village, California.

Kirby’s legacy is enormous. Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis crossover hinged on Kirby’s Fourth World – specifically Darkseid himself – inflicting themselves on Earth, Captain America still leads the Avengers / Ultimates in colours picked out for him by a man he could have fought in the war with. The Hulk continues to smash, the Surfer continues to glide through the Marvel Universe. Artists around the world look to Kirby’s example of steadfast, unfussy iconography, simple, effective design and dizzying compositions. A generation of Marvel artists were trained by him. But more important than that, Jacob Kurtzberg of Suffolk Street, New York City built dreams others could build upon while simply building his own. He has influenced and inspired thousands of creatives (including this one) and built a House of Ideas that millions of people continue to enjoy. Kirby is a true legend to those who know, possibly the greatest comic book artist who ever lived. Responsible for the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Mr Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and The Human Torch. If they existed, all of them would have visited the grave of Jack Kirby. The Hulk would have stood in the rain over Kirby’s resting place, a giant over a small guy’s crypt and simply said ‘Goodbye Dad’. With that, the broad shouldered goliath would turn and launch himself up into the sky, disappearing into the distance. If Kirby, lying where he was could see it he’d have thought ‘Good angle, but perhaps it could be just a little tighter…’

Practitioners 37: Peter David (Part 2)

Peter David is an American writer of comic books, novels, TV, Movies and Video Games. In part One we looked at how Peter David came to arrive in comic books, in Part Two we arrive at how he changed the fcae of comic histories most prominent characters.

Peter David made his name on - and a legend of The Incredible Hulk with 12 Years as writer


Having been given an unpopular and derided title like the Hulk David discovered that he had greater creative control so far away from the central, more popular titles. This enabled him to investigate and test out his storytelling with impressive results. Within his first 12 month run on Hulk, David had reintroduced his estranged wife, destroyed the Hulkbuster base, sending several characters turn-coat and on the road with Bruce Banner (trying to contain his other persona), introduced X-Men – for a rematch with Wolverine, and X-Factor (who he would write for in the mid-nineties), effectively kill Hulk and have him return as the more cerebral Joe-Fixit, a figure in contention with the less intelligent Green persona. David concentrated on the recurring theme of the Hulk/ Bruce Banner’s multiple personality disorder, his periodic changes between the more rageful and less intelligent Green Hulk and the more streetwise, cereral Grey Hulk, and of being a journeyman hero, whicxh were inspired by Incredible Hulk 312 (October 1985) in which writer Bill Mantlo (and according to David himself Barry Windsor-Smith)had first established that Bruce Banner had suffered childhood abuse at the hands of his father. These aspects of the character would later be used in the slightly misaligned but well-intentioned 2003 film adaptation written by Michael France and directed by Ang Lee. In his 12-year run as writer of Incredible Hulk, in which he worked with luminaries and upcoming talents as Todd McFarlane (there when he got there) Gary Frank, Liam Sharp and Adam Kubert he developed the character further, revealing a third, and potentially less engaging Hulk. Banner and the Hulk merge in a more balanced character, retaining the intelligent characteristics of Bruce Banner and the strength and power of the Hulk. The effect was impressive. The now intelligent Hulk found a new relationship with his former wife Betty Ross and along with friends Rick and Margot found himself in control of a secret cabal of immortal heroes known as the Pantheon. David gave Hulk everything he wanted, access to his intelligent mind, strength and access to a private jet and technology bordering on magic. This is where David excels. He puts no limitations on the potential for change in his characters in order to explore possibilities in the story and is fearless in progressing the story at a break neck pace. He also listens to his artists, asking the newly signed Liam Sharp, fresh from success in the UK and US with Marvel Uk’s Death’s Head 2, what character he would like to draw. Gary Frank’s first comic book project with Marvel Uk was drawn upon as well, as the Marvel UK characters Motormouth and Killpower arrived in the pages of Hulk. Using the newly empowered Hulk as a platform to deal with difficult issues such as AIDs, false political imprisonment and homophobia. Not forgetting who was reading the book however, he soon brought the furious, sub-intelligent Hulk back to the pages of Hulk, leaving him lost and alone in the Everglades, effectively restarting the story of the only journeyman struggling with his own demons. Not to say he didn’t throw in Swamp-Thing and Speedfreak for good measure.

And was after he had been freelancing for a year, and into his run on Hulk, that David felt his career as a writer had been cemented and he began to make approaches to DC, being offered a four issue mini-series of The Phantom by Mike Gold. Finally – and astonishingly given that he had been employed on a Marvel title for a year, David only then left his sales position to become a full time writer.

Dreadstar (DC Comics)


David took on Dreadstar during its First Comics run, with issue 41 after Jim Starlin left the title, and remained on it until issue 64 (March 1991), the final issue. David’s other Marvel Comics work in the late 1980s and early 1990s includes runs on Wolverine, the New Universe series Merc and Justice, an excellent run on the original X-Factor, including issue 92 (with Joe Quesada), as part of the Fathers and Sons crossover which incorporated X-Men 25.
Peter David launched the future universe of Marvel with Spider-man 2099, a beautifully realised, dystopian tale of Miguel O’Hara, a futurist scientist who develops powers comparable to a spider in the corporate-run streets of a monolithic New York. Intelligent, witty and deliberately referential of the original without touching directly on its predecessor thematically or literally, Spider-man 2099 helped launch the entire 2099 Universe which lasted for the better part of a decade and took in almost every character in the Marvel Universe and redeveloped them. David set the tone for it all.

At DC Comics in 1990, David wrote an Aquaman miniseries, The Atlantis Chronicles, detailing the history of Aquaman’s home city Atlantis. This has since been cited by David as one of the works he is most proud. His following Aquaman mini-series Aquaman: Time and Tide and the subsequent run of 46 issues on the ongoing series gained notoriety as Aquaman lost a hand early in the series, which was later replaced with a harpoon, a feature of the character that lasted David’s full tenure on the book. He also wrote DC’s Star Trek comic books (though openly opined that Star Trek is better served in novel form as they’re not particularly visual), as well as Supergirl and Young Justice, the latter cancelld in order to transfer the assembled characters to the newly reformed Teen Titans monthly.

David’s work for Dark Horse comics has included the Spy Teen Adventure, SpyBoy, which appeared between 1999 and 2004 and a 2007 mini-series. Other independent work includes Soulsearchers and Company, which is published by Claypool Comics and the Epic Comic’s Sachs and Violens, which he produced personally with co-creator George Perez.

David returned to Marvel with Heroes Reborn: The Return for Marvel, in which the Marvel Universe’s lost characters that had disappeared in an event a year before returned to the Marvel Universe as well as a run on a new series of Captain Marvel, which was critically acclaimed.

David and his Second wife, Kathleen. wrote the final English-language text for the first four volumes of the manga series Negima for Del Ray Manga. In 2003, David began writing a new creator owned title , Fallen Angels, for DC Comics, using material left from development of the now-defunct Supergirl title as well as writinga Teenage Mutant Nija Turtles Mini-series for Dreamwave that tied into the animated television series broadcast that year. After Dc cancelled Fallen Angels, David relaunched at IDW the same year. He went on to produce Spike: Old Times one-shot and Spike Vs Dracula mini-series, based on the character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel Tv series.

X-Factor 92 (Peter David, Joe Quesada, Marvel Comics)

In 2005, David briefly returned to the Incredible Hulk but only lasted for 11 Issues due to work pressures. He also developed a new title Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-man, beginning witha 12-part ‘The Other’ storyline in which Spider-man discovers he is dying, lost a fight during a traumatic fight with Morlun, underwent a metamorphosis and developed new powers and greater understanding of his abilities. Yet again whenever experimental alterations are made to popular characters, this proved controversial with readers, who were bemused perhaps by the extended stingers coming out of Spider-man’s arms and the association of a Spider totem from which his powers were derived. David’s run ended with issue 23.

Following on from David’s original and successful run on X-factor in the early 90s, he wrote a successful MadroX (Multiple Man) title for Marvel the same year which led to the reintroduction of the X-Factor title, using characters from David’s original tenure Multiple Man, Strong Guy, Wolfsbane) working as private investigators in a detective agency of the titular name. David’s work on the title proved popular with Ain’t It Cool News and David found that the new Opt in/ opt out policy on Crossovers and greater forward planning on titles made his second tenure much easier. However, his decision to create a homosexual storyline between established characters, Shatterstar and Rictor (a confirmation of clues that had been established in X-Force years earlier) drew criticism from Shatterstar’s Co-creator Rob Liefield, though Editor-in-Chief and former creative partner on David’s original run on X-Factor supported the story. The title eventually won a 2011 GLAAD Media Award for outstanding comic book for his work on the title.

Peter David announced in 2005 that he had signed an exclusive contract with Marvel, his independent works Spike, Fallen Angel and Soulsearchers and Company ‘grandfathered’ into the agreement. David wrote the dialogue for The Dark Tower: A Gunslinger Born, a comic book spin-off from Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, bringing his career full circle. He then wrote Marvel’s Dark Tower comic book adaptations as well.

David took over She-Hulk after Dan Slott left, from Issue 22 to 38, a run which won praise. He also wrote Halo: Helljumper, 2009 Ben 10: Alien Force Manga book published by Del Rey, Ben Fold’s Four, a ‘Little Mermaid’ story in Jim Valentino’s Fractured Fables anthology that won more praise from Ain’t it Cool News, an adaptation of the 1982 film Tron to tie in with the 2010 sequel of the same name and a John Carter from Mars prequel to the film due out next year.

Peter David is a genius. His methodology is to block out different days for different projects, allowing him to be prolific in his work. Assured, well liked and professional, Peter David is a quiet voice in a creative industry but one with an enormous fan base exclusively based on the enjoyment of his work. His writing conveys his enthusiasm, wit and humour as well as never losing grip on issues close to him. Unafraid of controversy and generous in his plotting and pacing, David is a joy to read. A clear reason as to why his works are reprinted through Marvel, available as Masterworks collections and including full runs of his writing.