Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby v2

A comic review article by: Michael Deeley

Marvel has published a second collection of comics written and/or drawn by Jack Kirby. Captain America is featured prominently. Another story from ‘Captain American Comics’ #1 is included, as is Cap’s first solo story from ‘Tales of Suspense’; a Cap/Sgt. Fury team-up from ‘Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos’; and the Human Torch fights a Cap impersonator before the real deal returns. We’re introduced to Fin Fang Foom, Devil Dinosaur, and the Two-Gun Kid. The Vision and Yellow Claw return from volume one. Two romance stories are reprinted for the first time in decades. And for all you superhero fans, there’s the legendary X-Men/Avengers fight from ‘X-Men’ #9; the menace of Mangog from ‘Thor’ #155-157; ‘Fantastic Four’ #57-60, where Dr. Doom steals the Silver Surfer’s cosmic power; and the story’s parody from ‘Not Brand Ecch’ #1.

This collection, more than the first, accurately represents Jack Kirby’s comics career with Marvel/Atlas/Timely. Although the emphasis is on Kirby’s Marvel heroes work, we do get rare glimpses of his work on westerns and romance-a genre he created with Joe Simon in 1947. These stories display Kirby’s talent for drawing real-world situations. The lead character in “The Summer Must End” looks and moves like the glamorous debutant she is. We can feel the longing and pain of Doris in ‘The Dream World of Doris Wilson’. And the ‘Two-Gun Kid’ is a fast-paced gun fight with rugged men in the classic Kirby style! You can find these qualities in almost any Kirby-drawn comic, but they’re usually overshadowed by the superhero action. The reader also gets a better sense of Kirby’s evolution as an artist. From the loose, lumpy Golden Age stories, to the realistic, noir-like ‘Yellow Claw’, to his stylized cartooning in superhero comics, we see Kirby experiment and adapt as the story demands.

As for the stories themselves, most of them are written by Stan Lee in his usual melodramatic, bombastic, alliterative, pseudo-Shakespearean style. Always a winner! When the Fantastic Four realize Doom is too powerful to defeat, they trick him into a trap set by Galactus. Outsmarting the villain was a classic Silver Age quality that has sadly vanished from today’s comics. Asgard is terrorized by the embodiment of an alien race of dictators. The threat is ended by Odin who admits he created the beast to imprison the race. So all the death and destruction was ultimately his fault! I can’t believe no one ever called him on it! The romance stories show an unusual degree of originality. The debutante in “The Summer Must End” learns a bitter lesson in pride and prejudice. How often was the story narrated by someone who didn’t get their lover? And Doris Wilson refuses to compromise herself just to get male companionship. She holds out for the kind of man she’s read about in romance comics. And gets him! She even becomes a comics character in the end. What a meta-textual fairy tale.

‘Devil Dinosaur’ is a surprise as it comes from a time when Kirby was considered past his peak. The concept of a primitive boy and his bright red T-Rex makes for a good cartoon series, but might have been considered too simplistic or outright odd when published in 1978. (A modern remake could work with a subtle interracial relationship subtext.) 

This book focuses less on classic Marvel superhero stories and more on Kirby’s art. Because it is a better representation of Kirby’s career, and because it includes a broader array of stories, I give this book five stars, ½ more than Vol. 1. This is THE must-have book for Jack Kirby fans everywhere!

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