Jack “King” Kirby created Captain America with Joe Simon in 1941. By 1970, Jack negotiated a deal with DC Comics to create the Fourth World series of books that showcased hero Orion along with the Forever People and Superman facing off against new villain Darkseid of the planet Apokolips. Kirby’s Fourth World is collected for the first time in affordable paperback from DC Comics, and continues to be at the top of the list for timeless superhero adventures. The King didn’t merely innovate comic book storytelling and create all of our long lasting heroes, Jack Kirby is why there is a comic book industry today.
Born to the Kurtzberg family in 1917, Jacob (Jack) roamed the Lower East Side streets just like all the other kids. There were fist fights, days at the picture shows and New York City itself developing it’s own industrial urban sprawl of a personality.
His mother found him scraps of butcher paper to draw on and trace his favorite Flash Gordon newspaper strips.
I picture the young boy with a pork-pie hat and cable-knit sweater sticking his tongue out while he draws on the floor.
The boy grew and so did the talent. The artist as a young man was accepted to Pratt, and even went for one afternoon before realizing that his family could not afford the formal training of a high end art school. In animation, artists were hired to draw the in between cells of a character moving. Jack got a job inbetweening at the Max Fleischer Studios (Superman) working on Popeye. Labor unrest forced Kirby out of that job before landing a cartooning job at a newspaper. Cartooning regularly led to more strips, longer comics and eventually teaming up with partner Joe Simon.
Simon and Kirby create Captain America, Cap punches Hitler and the rest is history.
Almost…I’ll tell you more about Jack and Joe in future installments. We fast-forward to the 70s, as if we are frozen in ice! Jack and Stan Lee have created the Marvel Universe and Fantastic Four. Jack is known for working at least 12 hour days filling pages with masterful ink strokes, action scenes and monsters derived from the depths of his imagination. The pages sometimes were experiments in collage with Kirby-dot energy fields and gigantic space ships.
As is the case with most extreme talent, Kirby was undervalued and underpaid.
He smartly made moves to get over to DC Comics where editor Carmine Infantino offered him a three year deal. Kirby seized this opportunity to create his own mythology and integrate his personal observations of the world blossoming around him. The Forever People are reflections of hippie culture—and how he as a World War II veteran respected the changes in the world. Jimmy Olson and the members of the Newsboy Legion were each facets of his youth, fighting alongside Superman with his kid gang.
Orion and The New Gods reset the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses by creating a new history replete with epic age-old grudges across time and space. Good vs. Evil. SuperGood vs. SuperEvil.
The villain called Darkseid with his Anti-Life Equation finds his way to Earth. Is he the devil? No, he’s scarier than that, he’s an dark unstoppable alien force. Mister Miracle is the son of Izaya of the planet New Genesis. Now, as circus escape artist Scott Free on Earth, he must get out of the worst trap of all—his fate as the catalyst of a war between Apokolyps, New Genesis and Earth!
The Omnibus is in four volumes, the hardcover is expensive and out of print. To really understand how beautiful, cerebral, bizarre and fun comics can be for an adult or teenager, please look into these affordable master works. Volume 2 hits bookshelves today but take your time with the pages because the stories will stick with you for years.
Please consider supporting the Jack Kirby Museum or reading more at their site if you are interested in the legacy of Jack Kirby.
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