For Your Consideration: Marvel’s King-Size Kirby Slipcase

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

I think we’ve run out of superlatives to describe Jack Kirby’s artwork and influence throughout the comics field. He has awards named after him, his credit has been restored to the comic books, movies, and television series he helped populate. We focus on Kirby as a pioneer of formats, notably teen gangs and romance, or as a superb collaborator, first with Joe Simon and later with Stan Lee. Rarely, though, do we get a chance to survey his contributions through the decades, watching him experiment, grow, and evolve, earning him the nickname “King”.

King-Size Kirby

King-Size Kirby


With the legal entanglements settled last year, Marvel is giving us an opportunity to appraise Kirby’s output from 1940 through 1976 in King-Size Kirby, an 800-page slipcased collection in their Adamantium-sized format.

Red Raven Comics #1

Red Raven Comics #1


Thankfully, Marvel is not concentrating solely on his super-heroic works so we can see just how versatile he was through the decades, which is clearly one of the reasons he lasted so long. When he was just starting out, an artist working for multiple firms, Kirby began showing us his spark for action-packed storytelling from the outset beginning with “Mercury in the 20th Century”, from Red Raven Comics #1. This story, written by Martin A. Burstein, foreshadows his more cosmic stories here and at DC as this turned the Greek god of speed into a modern day super-hero. Similarly, one of his earliest partnerships with Joe Simon resulted in “Enter the Vision”, from Marvel Mystery Comics #13. This alien, Aarkus, Destroyer of Evil, is brought to Earth and begins a series of escapades.

Captain America Comics #1

Captain America Comics #1


Of course, their partnership was made immortal with the creation of Captain America, arriving just as America was forced into World War II. Stories from issues Captain America Comics #1 and 7 are here, which begins to show his talent for pacing and experimenting with page layout. After a dispute over royalties led them to depart for DC Comics, it seemed Kirby was gone for good but as time proved, he and Marvel would remain inextricably linked.

When Kirby returned, he had already helped introduce romance comics as the heroes dimmed in popularity and other genres rose to the fore. The next batch of stories display a flair for clear, solid storytelling and you can see his work begin to mature. Allowed to write and pencil Yellow Claw, Kirby took the pulp-inspired Yellow Menace and reflected the 1950’s Communist paranoia. Here, from issue #4, John Severin’s inks bring forth a nice atmosphere missing from earlier work.

Rawhide Kid #17

Rawhide Kid #17


He also excelled with westerns and helped introduce Rawhide Kid and the origin from issue #17 is here, with the first pairing with long-time inker Dick Ayers, whose softer line rounded out Kirby’s figures. From several years later, there’s also “The Beginning of the Two-Gun Kid” from issue #60 and you can see both men grow as artists.

Strange Tales #89

Strange Tales #89


Kirby had also briefly left Marvel for DC in the later 1950s and when he returned he was drawing countless monster stories and would be amazed at how many have been integrated into the Marvel Universe. Several of these forgettable tales are here including “I am the Fantastic Doctor Droom!” from Amazing Asdventures#1, released six months prior to Fantastic Four and his next act. Droom, of course, was repurposed later as Dr. Druid. There’s also the dragon-like “Fin Fang Foom”, from Strange Tales #89. Then there’s “I Was a Decoy for Pildorr’ The Plunderer from Outer Space!” from issue 94, an early pairing with Joe Sinnott.

Fantastic Four Annual #5

Fantastic Four Annual #5


In 1961, everything changed when the offbeat FF #1 debuted that summer. With Stan Lee, Kirby found an energetic collaborator and after years of working together on short genre works, now they could really cut loose with longer stories that heaped on soap opera characterization along with science fiction and horror motifs. Look at the stories pulled from issue #1, #48-50, and #57-60 along with the lead from Annual #5 and you can see Kirby take his storytelling to another level. He’d been at the drawing board for over 25 years and he was still growing as an illustrator, adding in impressive collage work and taking Lee’s ideas and embellishing them with fantastic devices and inspired new characters. He’s paired with many inkers here and you can study them to see what each brought to his work. But as Kirby peaked, the science fiction element in the series was firmly entrenched and when Sinnott climbed aboard as the regular inker, his solid, weighty line tamed Kirby and added a shine that made it the standard that’s been imitated ever since. The annual story not only introduces Psycho-Man and the molecular universe, but is brimming with the fruits of the Lee/Kirby team: the FF, and several Inhumans including Crystal, Medusa; Karnak; Black Bolt; Triton; Gorgon; but also villains Live Wire and Shell-Shock; and of course, Alicia Masters and the Black Panther.

Kirby is also pressed into service for a fun short from Amazing Spider-Man #8, when “Spider-Man Tackles the Torch!” with inks from Steve Ditko.

Love Romances #103

Love Romances #103


While Kirby was establishing the foundations of the Marvel universe, he was still dabbling with the other genres as seen in these offerings from Teen-Age Romance #84 and Love Romances #103, both inked by Al Hartley who dolled up his women and brought a different look to Kirby.

Thor #156

Thor #156


Increasingly, Kirby was pulled off the softer selling titles and assigned more and more super-heroic titles, from The Incredible Hulk to Thor. In the former, from issue #3, he and Ayers bring a brutish look to the green-skinned giant as he avoids the army in the American southwest. It’s the latter title, though, that shows his fantasy leanings as he and Lee retelling the Norse sagas intertwined with cosmic elements. There’s the High Evolutionary sage from issues #134-136 followed by the Odinsword tale from issues #154-157. Vince Colletta’s inks are so well suited to Kirby’s fantasy work and it’s fascinating to see how Kirby looks as he does fantasy and science fiction each month, continuing to evolve and excel. No other artist at the time had anywhere near this much versatility.

Tales of Suspense #59

Tales of Suspense #59


With super-heroes firmly entrenched and the Sub-Mariner successfully revived from the Golden Age, it seemed inevitable that Kirby’s first major creation would be revived. Lee teased it with the silly “The Human Torch Meets…Captain America” from Strange Tales #114, only to reveal it was the Acrobat in disguise. This set the stage, though, for Avengers #4 and Cap’s star-spangled return to action. Once the fan reaction was heard, Lee quickly found a home for the time-tossed hero and his solo debut from Tales of Suspense #59 is also included.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #13

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #13


Cap’s influence in two eras is emphasized by one of the two stories included from the entertaining war title, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. From issue #13 comes the heretofore unrevealed tale of when Cap and Bucky fought side by side with the soldiers. But to demonstrate how deftly he channeled his wartime experiences, there’s also “The Fangs of the Fox!” from issue #6.

X-Men #9

X-Men #9


The Avengers, with Cap, can also be found challenging the Marvel Universe’s premier mutant team in a story from X-Men #9, which allows us to see how Chic Stone handled inking Kirby. And another longtime inker, Frank Giacoia, can be found in the FF Annual and the highly amusing lead story from Not Brand Echh #1, satirizing Marvel’s first family.

Unfortunately, two things happened in the late 196s that forever changed Kirby’s storytelling. First, he was growing resentful over Lee’s rising public profile and lack of improved compensation. He began withholding new characters and concepts, hoarding them for himself. Also, the printing requirements changed, leading the artwork to go from twice the printed size to one and a half times and Kirby struggled to adjust his bombastic storytelling, resulting in a different look to his work.

Amazing Adventures #1

Amazing Adventures #1


In an effort to keep him, Lee offered Kirby a shot at writing once more with the Inhumans feature that helped launch a revived Amazing Adventures in 1970. It didn’t work out and he was gone to DC once more.

Marvel Treasury Special: Captain America's Bicentennial Battles

Marvel Treasury Special: Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles


Just in time for the nation’s bicentennial, Kirby was back and given his cocreation to steer. This included the 70-page time traveling Marvel Treasury Special: Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles with inks by a new generation: Barry Windsor-Smith, Herb Trimpe, and Dan Adkins along with John Romita, and John Verpoorten. There’s also the tale from Captain America #200 in partnership with Giacoia.

Eternals #7

Eternals #7


Kirby’s writing may have been stilted and out of step with Marvel’s second generation of writers but his mind continued to churn out fresh concepts as seen in the cosmic Eternals and prehistoric Devil Dinosaur. By now, he was being inked by men like Mike Royer who followed his pencil work without embellishing or adding much to the work and it was beginning to look a little stale.

What If? #11

What If? #11


On the other hand, the book closes out with another offbeat story, pulled from What If? Which asked the question “What if the Fantastic Four Were the Original Marvel Bullpen?” Here, Lee, Kirby, gal Friday Flo Steinberg, and production chief Sol Brodsky wind up with the cosmic powers. Royer inks and is assisted by yet another generation of rising talents: Bill Wray; Scott Shaw (many secondary figures and background); Dave Stevens (many secondary figures and backgrounds).

Kirby may have left Marvel after this last gasp, but his influence continues to be felt to this day. His stories, characters, and concepts are the fuel for this summer’s Avengers 2 and Ant Man along with ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. His work continues to be collected and justly remains in print in myriad formats and varieties, not only from Marvel but everywhere he worked. The Marvel Universe took shape from Lee’s typewriter and primarily from Kirby’s drawing board (not to diminish the contributions of Ditko, Don Heck or the others of that era).

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King-Size Kirby

Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.

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