Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.
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We all know Stan Lee, but who is Jack Kirby? Jack Kirby is co-creator and a founding father of the Marvel Universe.
No one really can say with certainty what was the nature of the creative discussions between him and Stan Lee, but no doubt they (with the help of Steve Ditko) came up with one of the best comic book franchises in history. It is important to see what Jack worked on before his work with Marvel that would strongly suggest his contributions went beyond simply just drawing, and that he brought many important ideas and concepts into his collaborations with Stan, co-creating Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Ant-Man, the X-Men, Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Galactus, Modok, villains such as Rama-Tut, the Lava Men, Skrulls, Impossible Man, Magneto, the Sentinels, Puppet Master, MODOK, Ringmaster, and Immortus.
The Mighty Thor was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1962 in Journey into Mystery 83.
Although this Thor is the most famous, Jack worked on a couple Thor’s before this version. Jack had a long relationship with the norse God’s and reportedly loved their stories as a child.
Read below and/or click to view the video:
His first Thor was for the company later known as DC Comics after leaving Timely Comics found in Adventure Comics 75, 1942, “The Villian from Valhalla.” He would then return to the character in 1957 for DC Comics in Tales of the Unexpected 16, 1957, “The Magic Hammer.”
The Magic Hammer story in 1957 is interesting because we get a prototypical Mjolnir held in Thor’s hand which would be the same hammer held in 1962. Here’s a recolored image from the Kirby Omnibus volume 1.
Another cool precursor from this issue is that Thor’s hammer is tested against a tree in this 1957 DC issue.
Jack Kirby would have the Marvel Thor do the same thing in his first appearance in JIM83, 1962.
The plot of the 1957 DC issue revolved around Loki stealing Thor’s Hammer.
This same plot would be used in Journey Into Mystery 92, 1963 where Loki would steal Thor’s hammer causing a great deal of mischief.
Another fun fact is that the first villains to fight Thor are the Stone Men from Saturn, and that these Stone Men have origins in Jack Kirby’s fascination with the Easter Island Stone Men which he first used for DC in House of Mystery 85, 1959, then later in 1961 for Marvel’s Tales to Astonish 16. Jack would bring the same Stone Men into Journey into Mystery 83, 1962 to fight Thor in his first appearance.
Another interesting thing about the Thunder God’s first appearance in Journey into Mystery 83’s Stone Men were that they were from Saturn. So why Saturn? Well JAck Kirby and Joe Simon worked on a similar plot for Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Adventures 1, 1941 where Captain Marvel was referred to as the “Thunder God” as he fights aliens from Saturn. The image below has the title of JIM 83, 1962 and a panel from 1941’s Captain Marvel by Kirby and Simon.
A key plot point in the old Thor comics from the 1960s was the love that Thor had for Jane Foster, and this romance point also appears to have a fun precursor in Young Romance 14, 1949 where a woman fantasizes about a handsome viking lover and note the headdress on the bottom of the first panel.
Iron Man has a very interesting set of Jack Kirby precursors. The first Iron Man story was credited to Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby.
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Jack Kirby was said to have drawn the cover which then was added on with interiors by Don Heck.
The key plot point from Iron Man’s first appearance is Tony Stark’s heart problem contained within his iron suit.
2 years before this, Jack worked on a story with Stan Lee called “The Thing Called Metallo!” in 1961 in Tales of Suspense 16. In this story, a man is in a strong Iron Man-style suit with a similar heart problem.
There was a Metallo precursor to this in Action Comics 252, 1959 the first appearance of the famous DC villain Metallo who is a criminal in an iron body with a kryptonite heart written by Robert Bernstein. Note the facial similarity to Tony Stark.
There was an account where Robert Bernstein and Jack Kirby discussed this story together when Kirby was working at DC before leaving for Marvel, which could make Metallo a literary ancestor to Iron Man. Another feature in Iron Man’s first appearance in 1963 was that Tony Stark was forced into making weapons for his Asian captors during his time being trapped during the Vietnam war.
Jack Kirby worked on a similar story with Dave Wood in 1958 for Adventure Comics 255 during his Silver Age revamp of Green Arrow in “The War that Never Ended!” when Oliver Queen was trapped by Japanese and forced to make weapons for them while he was in captivity. This image is from the DC Kirby Omnibus volume 1.
As far as Ant-Man, he first appeared in Tales to Astonish 27, 1962 as a one shot sci-fi character, and was brought back as a super-hero in issue 35 by Kirby and Lee. Hank Pym explored the microscopic world, as well as demonstrates that he retains his full human strength concentrated in a smaller body.
Kirby used the shrinking man and sub-atomic universe idea before his work with Marvel in his “The Menace of the Micro-Men” story he did with Joe Simon for Archie Comics in The Double Life of Private Strong #1, 1959.
Kirby has an Ant based strength precursor in Black Cat Mystic 60, 1957 which he made with Joe Simon for Harvey Comics called, “The Ant Extract.”
In 1956, Jack Kirby wrote and drew Yellow Claw 2 for the company later known as Marvel Comics where he shows the villain’s army of men that were made ant-sized by a shrinking machine.
Going back even farther to 1940, we have one of the early Joe Simon Jack Kirby collaborations in Blue Bolt where the hero of the series is shrunken with a ray that compresses his atoms to a smaller soldier.
Yeah, I know. That goes waaaaay back. but it can always go farther. As far as the Hulk, created in 1962 in Hulk 1 by Kirby and Lee, he was more an extension of the monster comics tradition that Marvel had before its Superheroes.
However there were a few precursors that Jack worked on, and it appears he brought with him or inserted into Hulk 1.
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One key point from the first Hulk issue is the initial setup in the army base with the impending gamma bomb explosion. As the military men including Dr. Banner are huddled up and watching from far away through the bomb shelter window, Bruce notices a young man in the field and runs out to save him. This sets him up to be blown up and irradiated by the Gamma bomb, turning him into the incredible Hulk.
Oddly enough, this is the same set up from the February 18-22, 1960 daily strips of Jack Kirby’s Sky Masters Of The Space Force when Sky Masters is testing a bomb with the same construction as Hulk’s gamma bomb and runs out into the field to save a boy who unwittingly walked into the blast radius. check out these parallels:
Of course in the 1962 Hulk issue, there was a different conclusion than in Sky Masters shown here:
This facial reaction to “Gamma Rays” is very similar to a Gamma gun shooting a “Gamma Ray” at a victim in Kirby’s Captain 3D issue 1, 1953.
As far as the X-Men, there are a great many of Jack Kirby precursors, considering Jack did mutant stories well before Uncanny X-Men 1, 1963.
In X-Men 1, Kirby and Lee get it off to a strong start introducing the concept of being a mutant, born with a superpower that sets them apart from other humans. Professor X gets 5 mutants together to form a team.
In 1957, Jack Kirby worked on a story in Black Cat Mystic 59, 1957 involving 5 mutants who were born different with powers, abducted and raised by the government for research, in which they get together and escape the government at the end of the story.
Going back further to Yellow Claw 2, 1956, we have an even earlier mutant story where the word “mutant” is clearly stated and a group of 6 gifted mutants are used and abused by the villainous Yellow Claw against the world with a very powerful reality-bending effect.
Here are the 6 mutants. Yeah I know, we’re missing costumes.
Even the X-Men artificial intelligence robots, the Sentinels created in 1965 for issue 14, with the cover design by Jack Kirby has a precursor in 1957’s Showcase 7 in their Ultivac story. Ultivac was an artifical intelligence robot that was getting smarter and more aware similar to Mastermold of the Sentinels.
Magnetism is an awesome power for any character to have, and this was the distinct power of the X-Men’s first and most famous villain, Magneto who premiered on their first cover shown on the right below. Magneto in 1963 was a mutant, and would have a Jack Kirby Stan Lee precursor in Strange Tales 84, 1961 about a monster with magnetic powers called Magneto with image in the center below. Jack’s work with magnetic monsters goes farther back than this however to his time at DC Comics in My Greatest Adventure 21, 1958 in “We Were Doomed by the Metal-Eating Monster” with its image on the left below.
That leads into the Fantastic Four part of the discussion which is the largest and most important, considering it started off the Marvel Silver Age in its first issue, 1961.
There are many aspects to this first Fantastic Four issue so dissecting it for its Jack Kirby precursors has to happen in different levels.
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The first level will be in discussing the group characters, the group transformative experience, the cosmic radiation in space creating unknown side effects, alien interactions, and a couple villains. As far as group characters, there are astounding similarities between Jack Kirby/Dave Wood’s Challengers of the Unknown created in 1957, and Jack Kirby/Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four created in 1961. Roy Thomas actually said in an interview in Collectors Dream 5, 1978 that Jack brought over the spirit and group dynamic from the Challengers and put it into Fantastic Four. Here is a clip from the interview:
Roy was an Editor in Chief at Marvel in the early 1970s after Stan left the position to be publisher, and was also a writer at Marvel when both Jack and Stan were in the middle of their fantastic four run. It is also important to note that Roy Thomas wasn’t there during the early 1960s when the FF were created, but his input is still very interesting. He was also very well read in Golden to Silver Age DC comics up to the point of him starting work at Marvel, and has been writing Comics history for decades. That very same Roy Thomas is shown here as crediting Jack’s group dynamic from Challengers of the Unknown series as being critical in forming, with Stan, the Marvel knack for depicting various personalities and depth. Now lets examine the group dynamic between Challengers 1957 on the Top and Fantastic Four 1961 on the bottom:
Both teams have a Professor/Doctor type, both teams have a Rocky strong man, both teams have a blonde pretty person (yes, some gender reassignment here from Ace to Susan), and both teams have a red guy (Red Ryan and the Human Torch). Both Doctors even have the same characteristic pose in their introduction to the story.
Susan appears to have the blonde element of Ace Morgan, along with the passive female element from the Challenger’s female co-star, June Robbins who has a strong resemblance to Susan Storm.
As far as both team’s origins, both the 1957 Challengers and the 1961 Fantastic Four both start as a primordial mundane group that go through a near death transformative experience, where they vow to stay together and take on a large range of possible adventures. In the Challengers, the near death experience causes them to take a vow of adventurism, and overcome all superhuman conflicts as a team. The Fantastic Four take a similar vow after the cosmic rays that created the crash are shown to give them super powers. This near death group transformative experience is clearly evident in both stories shown in this image which has the 1957 Challengers panels from Showcase 6 on top and the Fantastic Four panels from FF1 1961 on the bottom.
Of course, alot of people say, well what about getting affects or getting powers from cosmic rays, or from a trip to space? Afterall, thats the main take home point for Marvel’s first Silver Age superhero comic right? Didn’t Ben Grimm scream this?
Well, that does happen in some stories worked on or created by Jack Kirby before Marvel. In 1959, Jack Kirby’s Sky Masters of the Space Force have some strips specifically about the unknown effects of “Cosmic Radiation” on humans in space travel. In this case, Jack was going for a realistic take on space travel and here shows that Cosmic Radiation induced personality changes in this astronaut.
In 1958, Jack Kirby worked on Challengers of the Unknown #3 where Rocky takes a trip through space and comes back with Super Powers.
This 1958 issue is really worth reading because the powers that Rocky comes back with are very similar to the powers harnessed by the Fantastic Four including Flame, Super Strength, Body reshaping, and Invisibility. Here are those panels side by side with the 1958 Challengers on the left and the 1961 Fantastic Four on the right.
As far as Superpowers being called “Fantastic” as in Fantastic Four, in Double Life of Private Strong 1, 1959 by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, they describe having a superpower as “Fantastic” in bold writing.
Reed Richards wasn’t the first stretching character of a fantastic foursome type team that he co-created, he did the same in Adventure Comics 84, 1943 with the character, Stretcho.
The main difference is that this old fantastic foursome were villains, look at Stretcho rob a bank!
Lets go even farther back though on our journey through Cosmic Rays to the year 1940 when Jack Kirby and Joe Simon worked on their Sci-Fi Space Fantasy character, the Blue Bolt, there was a villain, Marto who expanded his mind powers through cellular augmentation through Cosmic Radiation bombardment.
On top of the similarities in their origins, the two comics held quite a few others. Compare this opening splash page in Showcase 11, 1957 and Fantastic Four 7, 1962. Both sets of aliens have similar methods of transporting themselves and their guests, our heroes from one point in their base to another.
Also check out the similarities in plot from Challengers 1, 1958 “The Human Pets” and Fantastic Four 24, 1964 “The Infant Terrible.” Both stories are about a green advanced superior alien child that kidnapped our four heroes, and was lectured by its parents to leave them alone.
Even the Puppet Master, a villain who premiered in Fantastic Four 8, 1965 has a Jack Kirby precursor in Black Magic 4, 1951 for Prize Comics.
Green shape changing Aliens was common in the Silver Age, and in the Fantastic Four they presented in issue 2, 1962 as the shape changing Skrulls and in issue 11, 1963 as the Impossible Man. Jack Kirby made a green shape changing Alien years earlier in 1956, Fighting American 7. This next image has the 1956 sequence on the left, and the Skrulls on the top right, and the Impossible Man for the center right and bottom right.
On top of the green shape changing Aliens, the Fantastic Four also fought the Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android in Fantastic Four 15, 1963, and this scientist with his semi-living android servant has a Jack Kirby precursor in his 1950s newspaper tryout strip, Chip Hardy. The scientist’s name was Gideon Challenger, and his android was called The Child. Here are the Chip Hardy images on the left, and the splash page showing the Mad Thinker and his Android in FF15, 1963.
What about Time Travel? Wasn’t that a Fantastic Four thing? There actually was a Jack Kirby precursor to the Fantastic Four time travel adventures which presented in the Challengers story of using said Time Travel machine to go back to ancient Egypt in Challengers 4, 1958. Ths same set up was used in Fantastic Four 19, 1963 to go to a similar time and place. Here is the Time Travel Machine in the Challengers story on top and the Fantastic Four story on the bottom.
Its very cool how they are both glowing yellow objects in a square shape. It gives the two stories a sense of Jack Kirby continuity, even though they’re in different companies. As mentioned before both teams went back to ancient egypt in these two issues, and both teams were subject to Egyptian captivity.
An interesting side note on the villain in the Challengers 1958 issue; he is called the Time Wizard and he has the same costume design as another Marvel time traveling villain named Immortus who premiered in Avengers 10, 1964 with the cover done by Jack Kirby. On the left of the following image shows the Time Wizard from 1958 Challengers, and on the right shows 1964’s Immortus. Same costume!
When the Inhumans premiered in Fantastic Four 45, 1965 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, their origins were further explored by them in Thor 146, 1967. In the origin it shows that ancient man, after having been evolved by the Kree aliens, took refuge from other cave men on their island of Attilan. Something neat here, is that Attilan was referred to as the Island of the Gods in Caveman times in Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s Tuk Caveboy, in Captain America Comics 1, 1941.
As far as a sneak peak, there is a small mention that “Tuk” means “Avenger.” The Avengers, whose individual members from the first issue we’ve already discussed here, first appeared as a unified team in issue 1, 1963.
In elaborating the Avengers motif, Captain America reappeared in comics in Avengers 4, 1964 with a 4 panel flashback of jumping on a dropped bomb from an airplane to prevent a disaster causing his 20 year suspended animation.
This is very similar to Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s Double Life of Private Strong 2, 1959 depicting the patriotic hero doing the same or similar thing. My buddy Wiley found this one:
These established heroes would go on to fight interesting villains and there were a good number that would have Jack Kirby precursors.
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We already mentioned Immortus above, but there are a few others. The Lava Men in Avengers 5, 1964 have a Jack Kirby precursor in his Volcano Men from DC’s Tales of the Unexpected 22, 1959.
The RingMaster was another villain that fought the Hulk in Incredible Hulk 3, 1962 shown on the right and he also has a precursor by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in Captain America Comics 5, 1941 shown on the left.
One of the Avengers, Captain America would fight and meet MODOK in Tales of Suspense 94, 1967, who is astoundingly similar and likely based on or runs in a similar creative vein as the aforementioned Marto, villain from Blue Bolt 1940 by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.
Detective Comics 64, 1942 Jack Kirby and Joe Simon left Timely Comics and one of their comic books was Boy Commandos about a WW2 fighting force of young men who fought the Germans in some relatively gloriously violent scenes. Jack Kirby would bring this magic and plotting in co-creating the comic Sgt Fury and the Howling Commandos 1, 1963. Note they both have the same introductory splash page. As Kirby grew ~20 years, so did his characters in this apparently same or similar story.
Now that we’ve checked out the Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and some villains, the Howling Commandows, lets take a last look at Kirby’s influence on Spider-Man. Now to be clear, the Peter Parker Spider-Man was a clear product of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, especially Ditko’s art design, costume, web shooters, Peter Parker look, etc with Stan’s sense of comedic dialogue. Often times in Silver Age Marvel, Jack Kirby would create a costume or look on a comic book cover like he did with Iron Man or Immortus, etc, then the dialogue and interior art would be done by other people. In the case of Spider-Man’s cover to his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy 15, 1962, this was definitely done by Jack Kirby.
So does this mean that Jack Kirby designed this costume? No, it was all Steve Ditko and he even had his own comic book cover proposal which has been shown many times, and here is a scan of his pencils from a fanzine.
I consider this costume and character to be Steve Ditko’s visual Mona Lisa, however does this mean that the idea for Spider-Man was entirely all Ditko and Lee? Not exactly, Steve Ditko states in his essays that Jack Kirby had worked on the Fly with Joe Simon for Archie Comics in 1959, and had proposed a Spiderman character to Stan. Ditko pointed out to Stan that it was too similar to his Fly character, so Stan gave the character to Steve Ditko to gestate. There are other blogs online that catalogue the history of Joe Simon with a theoretical Spiderman character that he wanted to create that translated into the Fly with Jack Kirby in 1959. Looking at his first appearance in Adventures of the Fly 1, 1959, and Spider-Man in 1962, there is very little comparison because most believe that Spider-Man is incredibly much better. However, that being said, there were a few interesting elements that did carry over shown in the below image.
Spider-Man was an ostracized orphan named Peter Parker, raised by his Uncle Ben, gets bitten by a Spider and then can climb walls, and lift an incredible amount of weight. The Fly was an ostracized orphan named Tommy Troy, adopted by a man named Ben, sees a Spider, shortly before getting the powers of a Fly, and now can climb walls and lift an incredible amount of weight. There were more differences than similarities, but the bare bones are oddly similar.
Well this has been a fun episode of CBH, one can’t really study comic book history without running into Jack Kirby. Jack was there at the ground floor of comic books and with Joe Simon, then Stan Lee, and then himself, contributing greatly to various genres including Superheroes, Romance, Horror, Crime, Westerns, Science Fiction, and newspaper strips. He had 20 years of incredible comic book creativity and financial success before he joined up with Stan Lee and jointly created many key factors in Marvel’s Silver Age starting in 1961. What are all of the things they created together versus alone? No one can really say for sure, there are interviews that aren’t consistent so who really knows, but when looking at the above examples, I think Marvel in the 1960’s wouldn’t have been anywhere near the same or nearly as good without him, and it makes complete sense when reading alot of current Marvel Comic books that it will clearly display:
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Adventure Comics ©DC, Tales of the Unexpected ©DC, Journey Into Mystery ©Marvel, House of Mystery ©DC, Tales to Astonish ©Marvel, Tales of Suspense ©Marvel, Adventure Comics ©DC, Double Life of Private Strong ©Joseph H. Simon, Yellow Claw ©Marvel, Incredible Hulk ©Marvel, Blue Bolt ©Joseph H. Simon, Sky Masters and the Space Force ©Original Materials Public Domain, Captain 3-D ©Joseph H. Simon, The X-Men ©Marvel, My Greatest Adventure ©DC, Strange Tales ©Marvel, Fantastic Four ©Marvel, Challengers of the Unknown ©Marvel, Showcase Presents ©DC, Fighting American ©Joseph H. Simon, Avengers ©Marvel, Captain America Comics ©Marvel, Amazing Fantasy ©Marvel, Adventures of the Fly ©Joseph H. Simon, Fantastic Four credit ©Marvel, X-Men credit ©Marvel, Avengers credit ©Marvel, The Mighty Thor ©Marvel, Captain Marvel Adventures reprint from The Shazam! Archives vol 2 ©DC, Roy Thomas Interview from Colectors Dream 5 ©G&T Publications, Photos ©Their Respective Copyrightholders