Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The World's Greatest Comic Magazine! By Jack Kirby!

Now that I've pretty much completed my collection of Steve Ditko's The Amazing Spider-Man, I'm going to focus my attention on Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four. I have a long way to go on this one, since Kirby wrote and illustrated a tad over 100 issues of FF. He created it in 1961 and wrote and penciled every single issue until #101, and one more issue after that. The Fantastic Four was his first stab at creating a superhero team for the nascent Marvel Comics. Later, he would create the Avengers and the X-Men, but that first time out of the gate he concocted the FF.

It is true that Kirby did not create the Human Torch. The teenaged hothead alter-ego of Johnny Storm was his, but the super powered hero was the brainchild of Carl Burgos. But, at that time, Martin Goodman wanted to exercise his claim on the character and so it's been said that he sent down word (through his nephew, the editor) that Kirby should include a character with the name "Human Torch". This Kirby did, teaming him with the learned Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic--akin to Plastic Man in abilities), Susan Storm (brother to Johnny Storm whose powers would cause her to be named the Invisible Girl), and Benjamin J. Grimm (also known as the Thing).

Kirby laid out a unique superhero team with the Fantastic Four. These guys were no Justice League of America. They were combative and argumentative and were alive with personal problems and faults. This was something new, and it was all Kirby.

I'm going to have a good time filling in the gaps in my collection.

America was really changing around Kirby as he wrote the stories for his comics. This tale was one of the last he would pen in his old style of writing. He was beginning to open up to the idea of the anti-hero and the outsider, and to the theme of revolution. Just around the corner was a rising tide that Kirby would incorporate into his Marvel Universe.

Kirby was hitting his stride as a power to be reckoned with in modern comics. Here he was introducing new characters at a tremendous pace. Alone, he was creating the basis for a company that became the powerhouse for the entire comic book industry. Nobody could compare to Kirby for sheer imaginative reach and his explosion of ingenuity and energy. The Inhumans would become an integral part of the Fantastic Four series for decades to come.


MarkGelbart said...

My wife mentioned to me the other day that it was Stan Lee's 90th birthday. That reminded me of you. I told her about that guy who always commented on my blog and how he didn't like Stan Lee because he took credit for Steve Ditko's and Jack Kirby's work.

She asked me who Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby were?

My favorite FF villains besides Dr. Doom, were those space apes who also gained their powers from gamma ray radiation. I forget what they were called.

James Robert Smith said...

Yeah, the 90th birthday of a thieving asshole.

Of course people don't know who Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby are. That was the point of what Lee and Goodman were up to. Give 'em some partial credit on the opening page and then claim ownership for the corporation through a shill--this particular shill being the owner's nephew. Stan Lee: mission accomplished.

The apes belonged to a dude named The Red Ghost, so named because he was a Soviet scientist. He and his team of super-powered apes gave the FF a tough time of it. I always liked the issue in which Kirby introduced them (Fantastic Four #13) because it was inked by Steve Ditko. Ditko didn't ink Kirby all that often, but when he did I really enjoyed the resulting artwork.

Kirk G said...

I was thinking over the first two dozen FF adventures, and comparing them to the Monster books TTO, TOS, ST and JIM and seeing how many elements remained or were re-engineered as an FF story. It became pretty clear to me that the are are lots of monster-type stories up to just about the point that you cite, FF #13 and the super-apes. I can lump the Skrulls, Planet X/Kirgo, Impossible Man and to some extent, The Hulk and The Thing himself as all stories drawn from those same monster books... but the originals, the Submariner, Dr. Doom, Hulk,and Ant-Man, Thinker, Watcher, Red Ghost and others seem to be the fresh air that harolds in the Marvel Age of Comics as new.

James Robert Smith said...

Kirby was rehashing a lot of the stories he did for the monster books. Part of it was, I think, intentional so that he didn't alienate the loyal readers who had been following the company's books before he created the Marvel Universe. Even Ditko did a monster story for Spider-Man with the backup tale in Amazing Spider-Man, "The Terrible Tinkerer".

And Ant-Man was a retooling of a character from one of Kirby's monster stories in Tales to Astonish. He just gave the guy a costume to go with the power to shrink to the size of an ant.

Kirby was more locked into that kind of story than Ditko was. One more bit of proof that Kirby and Ditko were writing the books and not the company shill who was taking the credit (and paycheck) for writing.