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READ MY LIBRARY Entry 55: The King is Dead, Long Live the King!

Last month marked the 20th anniversary of comic book innovator Jack Kirby’s passing.  Coming a little late to celebrate, Max nonetheless takes a blog entry to remark on the importance of Jack Kirby on the medium and several ways to honor the “King” of comics, Jack Kirby today—or even discover his art for the first time!  And where else to start your own Kirby reading list but right here at Super-Fly?!?

Super-Fly Comics & Games’ plucky sidekick Max Lake has embarked on a journey to read his collection of comics! Join Max every chance he gets as he takes on his Library! Titles reviewed by this blog do not necessarily reflect what the store has in stock, but you can always email the store to special order something that you’ve seen here at superflycomics@gmail.com. You can also call Super-Fly at (937) 767-1445 or just ask someone at the store next time you’re there for special orders. You can read past entries of the blog here. Any questions or comments for Max should be sent to maxdlake@gmail.com or feel free to comment in the comments section below. Check out @maxdlake to follow Max on Twitter. Most entries deal with Max re-capping what he’s read in detail, so be aware that there is a SPOILER WARNING for this and all entries, though Max usually leaves out the big spoilers/shockers/moments and leaves those for the reader to discover. The things Max writes do not necessarily reflect the views of Super-Fly Comics & Games, and Super-Fly Comics & Games is not responsible for what Max says—especially anything that bugs you.

 

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well!  With February now behind us and March here with spring on its way before too long, I got caught up in several things (including working on the blog) and totally missed somewhat of a landmark a few weeks ago: namely, the 20th anniversary of the death of Jack Kirby, one of the comics industry’s most beloved, inspirational and prolific creators.

King Kirby

Jack Kirby late in life, a true King of Comics!

Working at first as an animator and then going onto comics, Kirby’s art gathered quite a following with two long term collaborators, first Joe Simon and then later Stan Lee, before striking out on his own to do some wonderful crazy things with comics. I know I said last entry I had trouble getting through Jack Kirby’s The Demon comics, but they sure were amazing to look at! Over the years, Kirby developed a signature style but never stopped experimenting, making each line stand out, energy crackle alive with a frenzy of dots, making scenes dynamic and exuberant like nothing since before or since—but oh have the imitators tried! Working on numerous characters and creating dozens more, Kirby stands out as a true legend in comics history.

I remember (kind of) where I was when I found out about Jack “King” Kirby’s death.  My brother and Mother and I had accompanied my Dad on one of his many scientific conference business trips.  Which meant staying in a hotel; which meant a pool and room service; which meant also watching a lot of cable TV (which we didn’t have growing up).  I don’t remember exactly where our travels had taken us, but I remember what I was doing: watching cartoons. Now I was 17 at the time, but still, being the geek I was, went out of my way to watch the X-Men animated cartoon that the 90s had to offer (and it was pretty good) and it was some episode where Magneto and/or Professor X were in the Savage Land, and after the episode aired, it cut to a black screen saying “In Memory of Jack Kirby, co-creator of X-Men, 1917-1994.”  Even though I wasn’t the full blown comic geek I am now, I knew it was still a monumental passing and the end of an era.  After all, Jack Kirby was the guy who had drawn just about every single Marvel Comics reprint worth a hoot that I had ever owned!  His style was impossible to miss as a child, with all its crazy dots and lines, and over detailed expressions on character’s faces.  In fact, I remember actually not liking Jack Kirby’s art as a kid (call me crazy, I know) because it was just so jarring, so different, so unique to any other style out there. It stood out on its own, and I thought it was bad because it did.  But as I grew up, I began to realize how really wonderful it is. Now with this twenty year anniversary of his passing, I thought I’d take an entry of the RMLB and dedicate it to Jack and his works, going over some of my favorite pieces I’ve come across, or things I’m planning to read in more detail soon. As always, these selections don’t represent what Super-Fly has in stock, but should all be available for special order, so if you’re interested in any of these ask Tony, Jared & the crew at Super-Fly to help you out!

Fantastic Four #1 cover

The Fantastic Four, the first true comic of the Marvel Universe, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby!

As many of you know and many more of you may not, the Marvel Universe proper began in the November 1961 with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s first super hero collaboration, appearing in their own magazine, Fantastic Four #1.  Comprising of four friends, the Fantastic Four were a group who had gained powers after being bathed in cosmic rays after taking an experimental space ship ride and subsequently used their powers to fight crime together. Their leader was the super genius Reed Richards who could stretch his body long distances or into different shapes as Mr. Fantastic; his girlfriend and later wife, Sue Storm, who could turn invisible and create invisible constructs, such as force fields as Invisible Girl (and later Woman); her brother Johnny Storm, who would had the power of fire and became a literal Human Torch; and finally Reed’s college friend Ben Grimm, who was mutated into a strange, super strong, ultra resilient looking being known as the Thing.  These four characters sparked off the Marvel U in a big way, and introduced characters that were different than any other characters around: the Fantastic Four (and the heroes that followed them) had struggles all their own, and could lose a battle just as much as win it.  The Thing for example, wrestled with the inner torment that he looked like a monster no matter how much he proved himself as a hero.  This was the basis of many of Stan Lee’s characters, but Jack Kirby certainly had an influence on the stories as well, not the least of which was visually creating the architecture of the worlds that would make up the Marvel Universe, such as creating the Skrulls early in the Fantastic Four comic run. A great way to read a great big chunk of Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby is the Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol.1, as a new printing just came out last year.  It’s a pricey book, but it collects a ton of the first issues of Fantastic Four and unlike other Marvel Omni you’ll find Kirby’s work in, the FF Omnibus Vol. 1 is Kirby doing the complete run instead of starting the series and then farming it out to other artists like he did with The Avengers and The Incredible Hulk (though those are great Marvel Omni too!).  The Marvel Omni are pricey ($100 a pop) but well worth the investment. If you want to get a massive dose of Kirby at the ground floor of Marvel history, then look no further than The Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol. 1, or heck, start out smaller with a Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Vol. 1 which are half the price, but about a third of the content.  Either way, it’s Kirby goodness!

Avengers #4 cover by Jack Kirby

Here’s the cover to Avengers #4, the legendary issue where Kirby’s co-creation Captain America returns and joins the team!

Of course, not everybody likes the Fantastic Four.  Some people prefer the Avengers.  And after their stellar 2012 movie, the Avengers are a group that need little introduction.  Any casual comic fan could tell you Stan Lee wrote the original Avengers comic book, but not everyone realizes it was Jack “King” Kirby’s pencils that brought Marvel’s premiere super team to life.  Then in issue #4, Kirby and Stan Lee brought back the character Kirby had created with his longtime collaborator, Joe Simon in the 40s, Captain America, with Kirby agreeing to Lee’s idea to have Cap be a man out of time, who was mourning the death of his sidekick Bucky (we can all see how that turned out in the upcoming Captain America: Winter Soldier film!).  There’s a lot of other great stuff including from when the Hulk was a founding member to where he teams up with Sub-Mariner to take on the team! You can get a huge dose of King Kibry’s Avengers run in Marvel Masterworks The Avengers Vol. 1 or The Avengers Omnibus Vol. 1—though the Omni goes on to include a good portion of Don Heck’s run on the book after Kibry left the book.  These are classic stories that are still being retold or used for inspiration in some way, shape or form so it’s great to see these books available in any form!

The Adventures of the Fly

The Fly, who would become one of the Mighty Crusders later, was a character Jack Kirby created with Joe Simon before creating the characters he is most famous for over at Marvel.

The Adventures of the Fly – This is a  little known trade paperback, but worth hunting down and maybe not as hard to find as I think, as it was just re-solicited in December 2013’s Previews.  The Adventures of the Fly TPB collects the first few issues of Archie’s The Fly series from the late 1950s.  Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the Fly is a character I talked a little bit about before in Read My Library Blog Entry #53.  He’s an original Mighty Crusader and went on to become Fly-Man and spawn a sidekick Fly-Girl who is still in comics today.  Created well before Stan Lee got the inkling for Spider-Man, Joe Simon alleges that Jack Kirby reportedly told Stan his original ideas for Spider-Man sounded like a rip off of his and Joe Simon’s Fly character!  (Though to be fair, when Fly became Fly-Man, he was borrowing pretty heavily from the playbook of Marvel’s Ant-Man/Giant-Man—though this was long after Kirby was involved).   The Adventures of the Fly is a pretty neat book, after all, the Fly was the character that hooked me into the whole MLJ/Mighty/Red Circle/Impact! line of heroes in the first place and he’s a pretty neat hero.  In one of the first stories, he faces his constant arch nemesis, the Spider (who isn’t as lame as he would later become).  The only weird thing about the Fly is that he starts out as a little boy, Tommy Troy, who wishes he would become the Fly, a la Captain Marvel/Shazam, to change identities.  But then in later issues (not in this volume), he’s all grown up attorney Tommy Troy and dating Fly-Girl.  Well, whatever; the story here is the Kirby art, and it’s great, especially how heroic the Fly looks and how creepy the Spider looks.  Kirby even does some cool layout design, doing some pages sideways which were experimental at the time create a very cinematic effect.

Kamandi #3 cover by Kirby

Kamandi was one of Kirby’s creations for DC. Often compared to Planet of the Apes because of its Animal Men apocalyptic world setting, Kamandi was a pretty awesome book… With admittedly silly dramatic phrases before the title each and every Kirby issue.

Kamandi tells the story about one of the last remaining humans at the end of the world. Widely compared to Planet of the Apes, Kamandi is indeed similar in that it has anthropomorphized animals in control of the Earth, but not only apes! There are dog people, tiger people, bat people, even an intelligent killer whale and practically a whole zoo of animal men!  Kamandi is one of the last remaining survivors of mankind in a world of animals and mutants and strange artifacts of the world that existed before the war that caused the world to fall into its current state.  Kamandi is very cool in how action packed it is; Kirby keeps things coming at his protagonist and doesn’t often let up on poor Kamandi.  But Kamandi is pretty tough being one of the last free survivors, as many humans are unintelligent and slaves to the animal men.  I’ve only read the first DC Archives Edition of Kamandi, Kamandi Archives Vol. 1, though DC has taken it one step further and released two Omni collecting (I believe) all of Kirby’s compete run—which he wrote and drew!  The other fun thing I want to point out about Kamandi is the covers.  Just google “Kamandi covers” sometime and look at the phrases that go above the “Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth” title. Then imagine those phrases read in a booming voice. They are a gas.

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Volume Two

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omni (this is Volume Two) are fantastic displays of visual storytelling and create some of DC’s most interesting characters.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga is something I sadly have not read yet.  It is on my short list of things to get to soon, but I just haven’t picked it up yet. My wife Maureen has read a chunk of it though, and she was thoroughly impressed.  I asked her for a couple words to describe what she’s read and she literally gave me two: “Pretty creative.”  I too have looked through it enough to appreciate the art, and because we both like it so much, and it’s Kirby, we have decided to invest in and order the recently solicited Jack Kirby New Gods Artist’s Edition from IDW.  This looks to be a MASSIVE volume, as indeed all the IDW Artist’s Editions are, scanning the original art and making the book as big as the original art was.  My wife Maureen was saying that seeing the original art in the original size would be “like seeing the handwriting of god.” While I’ve never been tempted to get an IDW Artist’s Edition before, there’s never been one by Jack Kirby before.  Of course, you don’t have to go all out to check out the story of the New Gods.  The Jack Kirby Fourth World Omni are available in softcover (and if I’m not mistaken I think Super-Fly may have one or two of them on the shelf) and available for special order.  Again, I haven’t read very much but the very beginning (where Jimmy Olson’s comic was used to launch Jack Kirby’s Fourth World stuff) but the Fourth World saga is epic and gave us such memorable characters as Mister Miracle, Granny Goodness, Big Barda and of course, Darkseid—possibly the scariest comic book villain ever, as he commandeers a whole planet with armies devoted to him.  At any rate, while the Fourth World saga is quite an undertaking to read, it is most certainly a worthy one.

Silver Star by Jack Kirby

Silver Star is one of Jack Kirby’s little known gems that I read at a very early age and hope to get the hardcover edition from Image Comics soon!

I also want to mention Silver Star  – Silver Star is a series I got a hold of in comic form when I was just a very little boy.  My friend had the set of six of them and somehow I talked him out of them.  It’s a crazy story about the emergence of homo superior, somewhat kind of like the emergence of mutantkind in the X-Men or the metagene in later superhero comics.  It’s been years since I’ve read it so my details are hazy, but since it was just released in hardcover a few years ago by Image and is available for special order, I may have to add it to my collection sooner than later.  In Silver Star a select few people start emerging as homo superior including the main character, Silver Star, who is called that because of the protective suit of armor he wears to contain his powers.  Simultaneously, an evil homo superior known as Darius Drumm starts planning the destruction of everything—starting with any other homo superiors that emerge.  So it’s sort of a race between Silver Star and Drumm to recruit or destroy each homo superior respectively.  It’s an insane story, and the art is fan-freaking-tastic!  Jack Kirby also wrote this super saga along with drawing it, and it’s one of his little known gems.  It’s really interesting because it asks the question of “What would people really do if they had superpowers?” with the emerging homo superior characters. Thanks to Image Comics, it’s now widely available again, so don’t miss out on your chance to own this fantastic addition to any collection.

Simon and Kirby Crime Library

There are a few Simon and Kirby Library books highlighting their work in and out of the super hero genre, including science fiction, crime, super heroes, and just released this month and currently on the Super-Fly shelf: horror!

Lest you think that the “King” was limited to super heroes, there is a line of comics that proves that Jack’s career was as varied as the comics’ varying subject matters as well.  From Sci-Fi to Horror to creating the format of Romance comics, Jack Kirby truly was the King of Comics!  There’s a great line of Libraries collecting Kirby’s work with his other longtime collaborator besides Stan Lee, Joe Simon.  There are Simon & Kirby Libraries for Crime, Science Fiction, Super Heroes, and just out this month and available from Super-Fly right now: Horror.  These are all treasure troves of Kirby goodness when he was doing some great stuff in many different genres of comics, so look for these to special order as well.

It's Devil Dinosaur

Devil Dinosaur by Jack Kirby: The Complete Collection has just been solicited this month, giving fans a chance to get the complete saga of one of Kirby’s most destructive characters outside of the Hulk!

Finally, with this blog entry coming in late and going up much later than anticipated due to things being busy around the store (which is always good!), I thought I’d take the opportunity to add just one more entry to this list, thanks to it appearing in March’s Marvel Previews!  The “it” in question is Devil Dinosaur by Jack Kirby: The Complete Collection TPB which has just been solicited this month.  I don’t know much about Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur other than he had a tag-along character named Moon Boy who was an ape-like man child who Devil Dinosaur would protect and the two of them would go around prehistoric times (I think?) and Devil Dinosaur would wreck the heck outta everything, or so I’ve been led to believe.  Therefore, I can say without question I will be ordering Devil Dinosaur by Jack Kirby: The Complete Collection TPB just to get the scoop on this wonderfully drawn, completely destructive character.  I believe this collection will retail for $24.99 and comes out this June.  So if you want one of Kirby’s most offbeat stories, as well as one of his final projects for Marvel, give Devil Dinosaur a try.

Of course, these are only a few suggestions out of many things Jack Kirby has worked on over the years prior to his death in 1994, and it’s hard to point out really any “Bad Kirby art” as so much of it looks so well done, crisp and polished.  However, these are some books that are on my horizon or that I have had some experience with and would wholeheartedly recommend as good sources of Kirby goodness.  While this wasn’t a detailed look at something I’ve read in my Library per se, some of these are books I own or are planning to own and have read or are planning to read (or read more of).  But all the same, I thought it was important to take a minute (or in this case, a blog entry) to honor Jack Kirby and his passing twenty years ago, as the comics medium would certainly not be the same—or at least be anywhere near as interesting and cool—without him ever being in the business.  So RIP Jack Kirby!  Long live the King!

I’ll be back as soon as possible (hopefully next week) with a fresh book from the Library.  See you then!

NOTE: For those looking for the Aquaman Death of a Prince Entry that was briefly online, it was not yet finished so will appear in full next week. Sorry for the mix up!

Past entries of the Read My Library Blog

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