Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Forget about the lies and propaganda you've heard over the years about how the Marvel Universe was created. Set aside the legend of the company shill who put his name on everything so that the family-owned business could steal the intellectual property of the two men who actually did almost all of the creative work at Marvel Comics.

Fact: Jack Kirby created the lion's share of the characters at Marvel Comics between 1961 and the time he left the company to travel over to DC Comics. The characters that Kirby didn't create were manufactured by Steve Ditko. They had no co-creator, despite what you may have heard and read.

Which brings us to the two-story arc of FANTASTIC FOUR #68-69.

Kirby was an intelligent fellow. He had been reading the works of Ayn Rand and was mystified why anyone would be attracted to that dreck. So he set about writing a story based on the idea of men out to create the perfect human--an impersonal, objectivist human.He had definite ideas about what he wanted to do and say with the story.

But there was a fly in the ointment, that fly being his editor, Stan Lee, the company owner's nephew. No creator himself, all Lee could do when the art and scripts arrived from Kirby and Ditko and Heck and Ayers and the other artists/writers at Marvel was to punch up the dialog and alter the captions. As a rule he tended to do a decent job with this simple task. But, for some reason, on this story, he decided to take it a step further and completely change the temperament and direction by mainly ignoring Kirby's dialog and switch the impetus of the story.

It was bad enough that Kirby was creating books that were selling tremendously on the stands and not getting to enjoy that success beyond his page rate. It had to be infuriating to see his characters turned into toys and TV shows and yet not be involved in the licensing of those characters. And to write stories only to have another man take credit for that writing...I cannot imagine having to endure that.

But the total altering of the HIM storyline in FANTASTIC FOUR #66-67 was a new and terrible blow. To have the story wrecked by clumsy dialog that did not fit the theme of the tale...a new low.

And I think the insult of that experience resulted in the two-issue story arc of Ben Grimm going quite mad and rebelling against his comrade, Reed Richards.

In the past I've stated that, to me, Ben Grimm was Jack Kirby's alter-ego in comics. Some point out that Reed Richards bears a physical resemblance to Kirby, and that's true, but it was the spirit of the man that I saw in Ben Grimm that's the most important. Richards was from a well-placed family and college educated. Grimm was poor and had been brought up in the rough and tumble world of a tenement neighborhood in New York...just like Kirby had. In later years, when I saw the illustration of Ben Grimm dressed in tallit, yarmulke, and studdying Torah (by Kirby) I knew that Grimm was indeed Kirby's alter-ego.

So I've looked upon the "By Ben Betrayed" storyline as an exhibition of Kirby's righteous anger at being used and abused by Goodman and Lee. Here they were making millions from his creations, and not only was he not being suitably rewarded for that, he was being further insulted by having the intent of his work blunted by the manipulations of an editor.

I will assume that the only way he was able to put up with this state of affairs was that he wanted to keep drawing comics and making enough money to support his family. It was always the immediate needs of his wife and children that were his biggest concern--not a battle to capture the rights to his own property.

Grimm: Humiliated, used and abused.
In the very issue in which this story appeared, Kirby had to see an ad for a Saturday morning ABC Network cartoon show based on characters he had created, written, and illustrated. But not his to sell. Not his from which to profit.

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