Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby

A comic review article by: Michael Deeley

Reprinting stories from: Red Raven Comics #1, Marvel Mystery Comics #13, Captain America Comics #1, Yellow Claw #3, Rawhide Kid #17, Amazing Adventures #1, Strange Tales #94, Hulk #3, Amazing Spider-Man #8, Avengers #4, Sgt. Fury #6, Fantastic Four #48-51, Thor #134-136, Fantastic Four Annual #5, Amazing Adventures, Vol. 2, #1-2, Captain America #200, Eternals #7, and What if, Vol. 1, #11.

This hardcover collection gives us a sampling of Jack Kirby’s prodigious output for Marvel Comics. Included are such classic stories as Captain America’s Golden Age origin and his Silver Age return; the Fantastic Four’s battle against Galactus; and the fan- favorite “This Man…This Monster” from FF #51. Also included are some of Kirby’s rarely-seen pre-marvel work for Timely, including his first story for Timely, his first collaboration with Stan Lee, and couple of strange sci-fi stories. 

I like the idea of a hardcover collection of Kirby’s work. I especially like seeing them on pages larger than the Marvel Masterworks. But I can’t help feeling this collection fell a little short of its potential. First of all, there’s no comprehensive biography for Kirby. The introduction is woefully thin and glosses over Kirby’s years working for other companies. Now this could be forgiven because such articles aren’t included in other volumes in Marvel’s ‘Visionaries’ series. But for a tribute to the man who practically created Marvel Comics and the modern superhero, I think a little more attention is due. 

Second, there is a large gap in the book’s “history”. Except for ‘Captain America Comics’ #1 and ‘Yellow Claw’ #3, there’s nothing form the 1940’s or 50’s. Granted, Kirby was doing work for other companies during those decades. That work included creating the first romance comic, boy’s team, and creating the Challengers of the Unknown. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t still working for Timely/Marvel. I bought this book to see more of Kirby’s work from that period. I’m disappointed it wasn’t included.

Third, how were these stories chosen? Did the editors review interviews with the late Kirby to find issues he mentioned as his favorites? Did comics historians, like Greg Theakston, who wrote the introduction, select stories that they felt best represented Kirby at different points in his career? Or did they just throw together the cheapest, easiest stories to collect? 

Finally, this presentation of “Meet Captain America” seems to be lacking certain shades of grey. It also looks as though enlarging the images have blurred the lines. In short, it doesn’t look as clean or sharp as my Marvel Milestone Edition of ‘Captain America Comics’ #1, though it is better colored.

What we do have is 10 short stories and 14 full-length stales on thick, glossy paper in a large, easy-to-read size, bound in hardcover, for 30 dollars. That’s a hell of a deal! And these are great stories. The first coming of Galactus is legendary. Thor brings his first love, Jane Foster, to Asgard to be made a god. But he learns she doesn’t have the courage. A human scientist witnesses the awesome power of the Celestials, and awaits their terrible judgment. A teenaged boy avenges his uncle Ben’s death and becomes The Rawhide Kid. A doctor travels halfway around the world, faces terrible monsters, and becomes the sorcerer Dr. Doom.

Some are more revealing than they were intended. ‘Yellow Claw’ mixes old-fashioned oriental prejudiced with Cold War paranoia. “Mercury” concerns the mythical God disrupting the war plans of Pluto, (disguised as a thinly-veiled Hitler parody). When soldiers don’t get any orders to attack, they make peace with their combatants and bring an end to the war. The story, drawn in 1940, depicts WWII being fought much like WWI; by men in trenches. In truth, machines like tanks, airplanes and missiles determined how battles were won and lost. Most heartbreaking is ‘What if’ #11. This story sees the original Marvel Bullpen of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Flo Steinberg, and Sol Brodsky transformed into the Fantastic Four. During a fight, Kirby, as The Thing, cries, “what IS this?! Why is everyone so Uptight when I get the chance to do my stuff?” “You always do it at the WRONG TIME, that’s why”, his teammates reply. “Well, good fights don’t grow on TREES, ya know! This one could be a CLASSIC, if you’d only stay out of it!” Maybe Kirby was expressing his frustrations over editorial interference. 

Fans of Kirby’s work would enjoy seeing some of his work printed at this larger size and high quality. Fans of Marvel history can get a glimpse of some of the company’s long-lost pre-hero stories. The rest of us can just enjoy a good, sturdy book of good comics. Highly recommended.

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