Sunday, January 27, 2013


A theme that Jack Kirby kept going back to in his stories in FF dealt with Ben Grimm going rogue and facing off against his comrades. It seemed a natural tack for the series, since Grimm was so unbelievably powerful, pretty much dwarfing the abilities of his teammates.

But why would he use the theme so relatively often in this book? It first manifested itself in issue #30. Then again in a three-story arc in FANTASTIC FOUR #41-43. But Kirby didn't stop there. He used it again in issues #68-69. Here was Ben Grimm, easily the most intimidating member of the team becoming an opposing force again and again within the storyline. It could be seen as just a natural line to take--Frankenstein's monster, Jekyll and Hyde. But I tend to think there was something more sub-conscious going on with these stories.

Kirby was THE driving force at Marvel comics. He had created virtually everything that the company had used to rebuild its position and reputation. Without Kirby there would have been no Marvel Comics. There never would have been Fantastic Four; no Incredible Hulk; Iron Man would not have been created; the Avengers would never have appeared; Thor would have remained a god in mythology books; the X-Men would never have seen the light of print. And Ditko would never have been given the opportunity to create the Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

So of course the company's entire rehabilitation rested solely on the shoulders of Jack Kirby. And here Kirby was used and betrayed by his employers: his direct boss (an editor), and that editor's uncle, the publisher. Jack Kirby was being raped, his creations being used by men who didn't know how to write or illustrate; all they knew how to do was promote and steal.

Since I've always thought of Ben Grimm as a kind of comic book version of Jack Kirby's own personality, it's no wonder that he would write stories in which his alter-ego would become enraged over his position as a yoked slave. And thus the recurring theme of rebellion.

My copies of FANTASTIC FOUR #41 and #42.

The following are pieces of an interview for The Comics Journal. The interview was conducted by Gary Groth with Jack and Roz Kirby:

KIRBY: Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the stories just like I always did.

GROTH: On all the monster stories it says “Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.” What did he do to warrant his name being on them?

KIRBY: Nothing! OK?

GROTH: Did he dialogue them?
KIRBY: No, I dialogued them. If Stan Lee ever got a thing dialogued, he would get it from someone working in the office. I would write out the whole story on the back of every page. I would write the dialogue on the back or a description of what was going on. Then Stan Lee would hand them to some guy and he would write in the dialogue. In this way Stan Lee made more pay than he did as an editor. This is the way Stan Lee became the writer. Besides collecting the editor’s pay, he collected writer’s pay. I’m not saying Stan Lee had a bad business head on. I think he took advantage of whoever was working for him.


GROTH: Can you tell me give me your version of how The Fantastic Four came about? Did Stan go to you…?
KIRBY: No, Stan didn’t know what a mutation was. I was studying that kind of stuff all the time. I would spot it in the newspapers and science magazines. I still buy magazines that are fanciful. I don’t read as much science fiction as I did at that time. 1 was a student of science fiction and I began to make up my own story patterns, my own type of people. Stan Lee doesn’t think the way I do. Stan Lee doesn’t think of people when he thinks of [characters]. I think of [characters] as real people. If I drew a war story it would be two guys caught in the war. The Fantastic Four to me are people who were in a jam — suddenly you find yourself invisible, suddenly you find yourself flexible.

ROZ KIRBY: Gary wants to know how you created The Fantastic Four.

GROTH: Did you approach Marvel or —
KIRBY: It came about very simply. I came in [to the Marvel offices] and they were moving out the furniture, they were taking desks out — and I needed the work! I had a family and a house and all of a sudden Marvel is coming apart. Stan Lee is sitting on a chair crying. He didn’t know what to do, he’s sitting in a chair crying —he was just still out of his adolescence. I told him to stop crying. I says. “Go in to Martin and tell him to stop moving the furniture out, and I’ll see that the books make money.” And I came up with a raft of new books and all these books began to make money. Somehow they had faith in me. I knew 1 could do it, but I had to come up with fresh characters that nobody had seen before. I came up with The Fantastic Four. I came up with Thor. Whatever it took to sell a book I came up with. Stan Lee has never been editorial minded. It wasn’t possible for a man like Stan Lee to come up with new things — or old things for that matter. Stan Lee wasn’t a guy that read or that told stories. Stan Lee was a guy that knew where the papers were or who was coming to visit that day. Stan Lee is essentially an office worker, OK? I’m essentially something else: I’m a storyteller. My job is to sell my stories. When I saw this happening at Marvel I stopped the whole damned bunch. I stopped them from moving the furniture! Stan Lee was sitting on some kind of a stool, and he was crying.

GROTH: Now did the success of The Justice League of America over at National have anything to do with creating The Fantastic Four? Did that prompt you to create the F.F.?
KIRBY: No. It didn’t prompt me. I felt an urgency at the time. It was an instinct. Here you have an emergency situation — what do you do? The water is pouring in through a big hole in the wall — you don’t stop to put adhesive bandages around the wall to shore it up. You get a lot of stuff together and slam it against the wall and keep the water out. That’s what I did.

GROTH: Who came up with the name “Fantastic Four”?
KIRBY: I did. All right? I came up with all those names. I came up with Thor because I’ve always been a history buff. I know all about Thor and Balder and Mjolnir, the hammer. Nobody ever bothered with that stuff except me. I loved it in high school and I loved it in my pre-high school days. It was the thing that kept my mind off the general poverty in the area. When I went to school that’s what kept me in school — it wasn’t mathematics and it wasn’t geography; it was history.

GROTH: Stan says he conceptualized virtually everything in The Fantastic Four — that he came up with all the characters. And then he said that he wrote a detailed synopsis for Jack to follow.

ROZ KIRBY: I’ve never seen anything.

KIRBY: I’ve never seen it, and of course I would say that’s an outright lie.


GROTH: Did you sort of see it coming in the ’60s when Stan was putting his name all over the place? Did you see this kind of— ?
KIRBY: Well, you don’t have to see a thing like that coming. It was happening, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Stan Lee was the editor, and Stan had a lot of influence at Marvel, and there was nothing you could do about it. Who are you going to talk to about it, see?

GROTH: Was Stan your basic contact with Marvel? He was the one that you — ?
KIRBY: Yes. I’d come in, and I’d give Stan the work, and I’d go home, and I wrote the story at home. I drew the story at home. I even lettered in the words in the balloons in pencil.

ROZ KIRBY: Well, you’d put them in the margins.

KIRBY: Sometimes I put them in the margins. Sometimes I put ’em in the balloons, but I wrote the entire story. I balanced the story…

GROTH: How long were your discussions with Stan Lee when you were discussing the next Thor or the next Avengers or the next Fantastic Four? How long would you talk to Stan about it?
KIRBY: Not much. I didn’t particularly care to talk to Stan, and I just gave him possibly some idea of what the next story would be like, and then I went home. I told him very little, and I went home, and I conceived and put down the entire story on paper.


Michael Hill said...

Good call.

James Robert Smith said...

The truth is always a good call. Thanks.

MarkGelbart said...

The Thing's abilities didn't dwarf all the other members of the FF.

There's one issue within which the Invisible Girl bests him.

She puts a forcefield around his head and suffocates him.

James Robert Smith said...

He let her win 'cause she's a girl.

Kirk G said...

I have to agree with MarkGelbart...I think Sue became the most powerful, due to her versatility in the forcefield use.

I was exploring the possibility that Ben was supposed to go beserk battling HIM in FF #67, and wondered if Sue would have/might have had to subdue him in this manner, so that Reed could attempt to "cure him" in what became #68... but I think the flow between #66-67-68-69-70-71 and Annual #5 has been disrupted. I think the story in Annual #5 was supposed to be a regular issue and lead to Ben's 'betrayal' as a result of PyschoMan tinkering with his emotions. He blasted him twice in the Annual with something like a fear/rage/hate/doubt ray. Wonder if any research has been done about this?

James Robert Smith said...

There were later post-Kirby issues in which Sue was a very dangerous character. Not so much when Kirby was around, although she was often formidable after he introduced the force-field ability. As you guys likely recall, initially all she could do was become invisible. It was only later that it was revealed that she could produce a force field.

Kirk G said...

Yeah, somewhat remarkably in FF #22 when the mole man surrounded them with a radioactive wall that needed to be surmounted! Surprise, Sue can do that now! I especially liked Doctor Doom's reaction to it in #23...freaking out like a little kid, caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He never underestimated her again after that.

James Robert Smith said...

Yep. It was something that Kirby hit on. If you look back in the very early issues of FF, it was as if Kirby was constantly apologizing for how lame a character Sue was. There was one where the rest of them couldn't have gotten out of a trap if not for Sue's "little fingers". That's how desperate they were for an excuse for her to be around. Giving her the added power of the force field...stroke of genius on Kirby's part.

Kirk G said...

I recall about half of FF #11 "The Impossible Man" was devoted to a defense of having Sue in the group.