Born August 28th, 1917, one of the most prolific and important creators in the world of comics is Jacob Kurtzberg also known as Jack Kirby, the King of Comics. A writer/artist from New York, Kirby is responsible for a huge majority of the modern Marvel/DC superheroes and characters that we love, especially at Marvel where they’re still celebrating the success of last year’s blockbuster film the Avengers, which was originally created by Kirby (along with some guy named Stanley or something, I forget). Kirby’s creations range far and wide, and while they aren’t all just at the two most popular publishers of comics, it’s almost impossible not to find yourself a fan of his work and influence due to the sheer creative output he was capable of.
In honor of Kirby’s birthday, we’re going to take a look at some of our personal favorite creations of his that still find a home or some form of influence one way or another in our medium, because while the King is gone his presence never leaves us. Long live the King.
10. Devil Dinosaur
Devil Dinosaur is maybe the weirdest pick on this list. Like, not for nothing but all of the other picks? You’ll probably see them and say, “Oh, yeah, that makes sense.” But I would wager that for Devil Dinosaur it’s a little different; it’s not that he’s any more obscure than anyone else, but just that for whatever reason this brilliant character and his adventures with Moon-Boy have been relegated to a place not even accessible to back issue bins.
But that’s so unfortunate, because he’s such a fun character — where others on this list relish from mythology and ethos, Devil Dinosaur is jut kind of weird. Just looking at the concept alone gives off certain expectations in which other works of his possibly couldn’t, and when you get down to it the stories Kirby told with the character are wild, action-based adventures through a strange landscape of wild imagination and giant Kirby monsters. It’s great and absolutely inimitable. And, yeah, he pops up every now and then in random things, but it’s never as fun as Kirby’s stories with him and it always seems to rely too heavily on the audience just understanding that he is a dinosaur who has a weird ape friend. Which isn’t the point.
You’ll never find better Devil Dinosaur stories than what Jack told, and that’s the cold hard truth of the matter. If you can happen across the Omnibus Marvel released a few years ago, it’s well worth a grab. –Matthew Meylikhov
Arguably the biggest name on this list (despite being relegated towards the back), Magneto is one of Kirby’s most fantastic creations for two reasons. The first reason is that with the creation of Magneto as a villain to the X-Men, a new bar was raised between what a villain in comics represented. The line in the sand created by the differing ideologies of Xavier and Magneto leads to some of the most interesting analogies in comics to date, because everything about the characters and their relationship is built off of a metaphor about tolerance.
The second reason, though, is that Magneto has gone on to have one of the most impressive and enthralling legacies in comics. And for me, Magneto would go on to be a character in comics that I would find the most personal attachment to. He’s a moody character for sure, but he represents what is ultimately so fascinating about villainous characters to begin with. Magneto may be “evil” and he was certainly created as a primary antagonist, but time would build upon these initial inklings of ideas inserted into earlier X-Men comics that turned into one of the most complex villains to date based on where his villainy essentially comes from; he’s the primary example of a good person being thrust into bad circumstances and coming out the other end a changed man.
He’s classic in every way. –Matthew Meylikhov
8. Silver Surfer
While I have never been on a surfboard, as a young lad I instantly identified the Silver Surfer as a “cool” character, and one I wanted to know more about. Visually, the character is incredibly streamlined, simple, and elegant – but then again, he’s riding a surfboard through space. There is, perhaps, no character in comics with a weirder juxtaposition of look and activity. Imagine Daredevil riding a skateboard, or Batman on roller blades.Continued below
But the Surfer is compelling far beyond just his look. Introduced as a villain’s aide, more or less, his interaction with the Fantastic Four caused him to rekindle his relationship with good, and he became a hero. However, there is always a sadness inherent to the character, represented by both his ravaged world, and his new, metallic exterior. While Norrin Radd may still be inside there somewhere, the Silver Surfer, not Radd, is who he is now.
If I was in the mood to be hyperbolic, I’d call Galactus the greatest villain in comics. Not because he is so nuanced, like Magneto, or such fun to read, like Lex Luthor, but because his motivation is so simple and terrifying: he just eats worlds, yo.
Sure, you could make an argument that he isn’t really villainous, but tell that to the guy who is about to have his world devoured. It is such a simple concept, but one that is truly scary, and one that has managed to work, with little variation, for almost 50 years now.
Arguably my favorite genre as an adult is post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s a morbid fixation I realize, but some of my favorite stories result from a post-human landscape where the world is being re-shaped by those who survived and what is left of them. As such, Kirby’s “Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth” is one of my favorite Kirby series, and at the center of it all is young Kamandi himself. It’s a mix of Kirby’s heady take on science-fiction with this strange jovial sense to it (whether intended or not, I suppose) that I find wildly entertaining, and the key element to it all is the presence of this young warrior who puts up with it all in name of adventure.
A decidedly all-ages hero living in a crazy imaginative landscape full of adventure and wonder the way only Kirby could do it, Kamandi is one of the most fascinating of Kirby’s creations because in so many ways he’s not “special.” Yet, he’s also the most special; he’s not a god and he doesn’t have any abilities but he doesn’t let that stop him from growing into a great hero. And in turn, Kamandi essentially becomes this template for young boy adventurers put into impossible situations and battling their way through it without turning it into a morbid or bleak exploration. Kamandi certainly has the benefit of being created before all the modern genre tropes existed, but it’s nice to look back at this adventures and see all the potential that this genre has if only people would realize how fun the post-apocalypse can be. –Matthew Meylikhov
5. Etrigan The Demon
While he’s in my list of top creations, there’s just something about Etrigan the Demon that I find so fascinating yet can not actually put my finger on. I’m honestly not sure what it is; perhaps it’s my early love of fantasy fiction as a child that endeared me to the character, but looking at the book as an adult, I think what really sells Etrigan to me is the art. See, I’m fine with admitting that all my favorite Kirby books are ostensibly science fiction of one form or another, but “The Demon” and Etrigan himself are based in horror. As such, Kirby takes a different approach to the page here than he does in some of the other more requisite favorites that we all share, and while Kirby is known for broad and powerful characters, Etrigan himself is slightly more diminutive, with an arched back and most of his time spent low to the ground. While other picks on this list show a clear love for sci-fi in the creation of the characters and their world, Etrigan stands unique amongst the other picks presented here.
Although humorously enough, apparently Kirby himself wasn’t a big fan of horror or the character, so reading the book as an adult does give off a different impression.-Matthew Meylikhov
It isn’t often that you get to create something, and then gloriously mess with it years later. Originally co-created by Kirby and Joe Simon as a poor man’s Captain America (which, coincidentally, was another Kirby/Simon creation), nearly thirty years later, Kirby brought the character back as a clone, created by Project Cadmus, which was run by the former members of the Newsboy Legion, a gang of delinquents turned heroes, led by the (now Golden) Guardian.Continued below
After Kirby left DC, the Guardian has had a lot of ups and downs, sometimes a part of great stories (like his role in the James Robinson/Greg Rucka/Geoff Johns ‘New Krypton’ saga, or as part of the Young Justice TV series), and at other times not so great (“The Dark Knight Strikes Again,” for instance), but what makes him deserve a spot on this list is the fact that Jim Harper, the Guardian, is living embodiment of Kirby’s maturation. Once run of the mill, his character grew to be a high concept, potentially confusing, but ultimately rewarding character.
3. The Celestials
“The Eternals” was Jack Kirby’s version of the New Gods from DC over at Marvel. Kinda sorta. That’s the easiest way to sort of lightly discuss what the book was and what their story is, anyway. One of the things that Jack Kirby spent a lot of time over his career exploring was the mythology of gods and their impact on the universe, and while “the Eternals” saga is not one of the series he is particularly remembered for over others, its impact throughout the shared Marvel universe is still something that is elaborated upon to this day — specifically in the creation and use of the Celestials.
An almighty group of god-like beings who stood in judgement of Earth and the universe in general, the Celestials are one of the most monumental creations that Kirby gave to the Marvel universe. From their creation do we see the implementation of theology into the Marvel universe as various threads were eventually pulled together over time to connect some of the looser and stranger aspects of Marvel’s diverse characters. The Celestials became the ties that bind, as it were, and their presence is one still revered and celebrated by the headier modern Marvel stories.
The Celestials are also absolutely classic Kirby science fiction in their design, almost as a pure id version of the character design Kirby had established throughout his career with “Fantastic Four” or “The New Gods.”
2. Fantastic Four
There is something simply magical about the Fantastic Four. In fact, they may be the most perfect pure idea in the history of comics. There is no period of adjustment with this property – they emerged, more or less, fully formed. Sure, great things have been done with the characters since their creation, but of all of the Silver Age characters out there, none came out as close to what they are right now as the Fantastic Four.
The concept is so simple: the egghead, his wife, the hot-headed teenager and the brute, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and how they manage to deal with the consequences. The line is often blurry where which parts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creations actually come from, but there can be no denying the absolutely perfect design work by Kirby of the Fantastic Four’s costumes which, more or less, remained the same from issue #3 until Jonathan Hickman took the team into a whiter direction when Johnny Storm “died.”
Such a perfect concept led to a treasure trove of incredible stories and, in my humble opinion, established Marvel as the publisher of the ’60s, creating the best stories of Marvel’s early years, and helping the company become something more than just a DC knock off brand. This small write up, of course, didn’t even tough on their incredible villains, home, allies, and neighborhood, all of which are essential to their greatness as well. Kirby is felt strongly in every single panel he drew of the Fantastic Four, and the work he did with those characters reflected his heritage, his hometown, his family, and his immensely creative brain with every stroke of his pencil.
1. The New Gods
When I was growing up, one thing I always found fascinating was mythology. It’s pretty much the one thing that informs my thoughts on the existence or lack thereof of a God, not for anything cynical but just as an evolution of these fantastical and fascinating stories told throughout various cultures that inform their way of life.Continued below
With that in mind, this is why I’ve always gravitated towards the New Gods when it comes to Kirby’s work in comics. It’s the same kind of reverence and writing that makes Greek mythology or the diverse pantheon of ancient Egypt so fascinating; what Kirby did with the New Gods, the relationship between Orion and Darkseid, the atrocities of Desaad, the adventures of Mister Miracle and the teachings of Metron… it’s incredible. It’s truly something else, something indescribable and massive and awe-inspiring in the creation of not just a universe but a series of inner mechanics just as diverse and complex as any of histories greatest fictions.
To put it simply, the New Gods are the stuff of legend — and I mean that literally. There will never be another book like what Kirby did in the Fourth World Saga because no one is capable of telling that story, to take those risks and really build a world in that way. And because of this, the New Gods in their entirety are the greatest gift Jack Kirby ever gave to the world of company-owned comics. –Matthew Meylikhov