Monday, 28 September 2015


Image copyright DC COMICS

Back in 1974, "The World That's Coming!" had
been and gone a mere eight issues later.  With the exception
of KAMANDI, none of JACK KIRBY's mags for DC managed
to stick around for long.  Had he lost the magic touch he'd had at
MARVEL, or had STAN LEE played a bigger role in the success
of their collaborations than Jack gave him credit for?  I know
what I think on the subject - how about you?


Graham said...

I think Kirby was ahead of his time with the Fourth World concept. The folks at DC didn't understand it and didn't know what to do with it. It was so different from what he did at Marvel. Sure, his dialogue was pretty cheesy and hokey at times, and it was pretty complicated to get all of it (at least for me when I was eight or nine years old), but the ideas he had were pretty amazing, as evidenced by the fact that DC is still using a lot of the original ideas he had. I really would have liked to have seen what his final outcome would have been with it if he had been allowed to see it to its completion.

Kid said...

I'd have to say that the fact that DC are still trying (and usually failing) to exploit Jack's ideas is more evidence of nostalgia on the part of today's writers for the comics they read when they were young, than it is for any inherent worth in the material itself. Jack lifted his ideas from many sources and routed them through his own storytelling sensibilities, but he had no self-restraint when it came to knowing what to leave out. Although a competent plotter and pacer, his dialogue and captions usually let the whole thing down. (In my humble estimation of course.) He really needed Stan to rein him in from time to time, and, of course, he especially needed Stan's mastery with words. Jack eventually did complete the Fourth World saga with a new New Gods story in #6 of the mid-'80s reprint limited series, and then in the Hunger Dogs, but he was restricted for space and is unlikely to have been exactly as he originally intended back in the early '70s.

Phil said...

That cover always freaked me out. And yes. Jack needed Stan to translate his ideas into English as spoken by humans. Stan didn't create most of the characters we know that, but he gave them voices. Jack gave them form, they got the best out of each other.

Graham said...

Yes, he definitely needed an editor to rein him in, as you said. It's pretty obvious what Stan Lee brought to Lee/Kirby when you read Kirby by himself. I know nothing lasts forever, but it would have been nice to have them collaborate for a few more years before falling out.

As a kid, I loved Kamandi and Mr. Miracle, but I picked the latter up pretty late in the game on a regular basis. I think Kamandi was more suited for my nine-ten year old tastes. The early issues I did get of Fourth World were from Jimmy Olson, New Gods, and Mr. Miracle and I just had problems keeping. I have managed to go back and catch up with it a few years ago and even read the Hunger Dogs, though it just felt like it was rushed to completion.

Rip Jagger said...

No doubt that Kirby was better at high concepts than the particular applications sometimes. That said, the evidence suggests the Fourth World was selling better than DC reckoned and its demise was premature. When Kirby was at long last able to return to it, he was unfortunately past his prime and the difference is glaring. While certainly Stan Lee added a bit of melodramatic oomph to the scripts, the big ideas of Galactus, Silver Surfer, Inhumans, Him, and so many more are from the core of Kirby, they wear his stamp as supported by his later work. As diminished as many find post-Marvel Kirby (and I'm not in that group) the work of Lee is even less impressive. Marvel was a brew, and Lee was the head cook for sure, but without the raw and exceedingly tasty ingredients that Kirby, Ditko and others added it would've been a listless gruel indeed.

Rip Off

Kid said...

I think it's still a little unclear as to who created what between them, Phil, as even Mark Evanier concedes, but they were certainly a great team.


The Hunger Dogs was a major disappointment I thought, G. I think my favourite mag out of Kirby's DC output was Jimmy Olsen (followed by Mister Miracle), as Superman and Jimmy were established characters. I felt that most of Jack's characters came across more as supporting ones who'd been undeservingly elevated to starring roles.


I know it's since been claimed that the Fourth World series sold respectably, Rip, but that's maybe by today's standards rather than those of the time. Carmine Infantino said in answer to that claim that he wouldn't have cancelled any mag that was making money. However, regarding Galactus, I'm not convinced that Jack created him without Stan's directive to have the FF meet 'God'. After all, Stan always readily conceded that Jack had introduced the Surfer all on his own, and Norrin seems to have been Stan's favourite character at one time. If he'd so readily admit that the Surfer wasn't down to him (Stan), I'm skeptical that he'd claim credit for Galactus if he hadn't suggested the idea. There's no doubt that Jack would have filtered it through his own creative viewpoint 'though. And don't forget that Stan continued to write Spidey, Thor and the FF for a good while after Steve and Jack departed, and I wouldn't say that the quality dipped in the slightest under Romita and Buscema. In fact, sales are said to have increased after Ditko and Kirby departed.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Well it's a tricky question, if you interpret collaboration as referencing their creative work together, my answer would be that Stan Lee's contribution was significant but limited in scope and maybe not always beneficial in regard to Kirby's intentions. If you take a wider view and take Stan Lee's contribution to Marvel's success as a publishing concern and his work promoting the efforts of its creative contributors, then you have to say that without Stan Lee, there is no Marvel. Without the medium, the FF issues on the new-stands going out every month, who would've heard of Kirby, he'd be another out of work illustrator, albeit a talented one with the potential for a unique vision. That's how it works, Kirby was the talent, Stan gave him the scope for expression of that talent and the chance to develop it.

Stan Lee is a unique phenomenon, he's what I would call a gifted editor and if you've ever tackled with editors, you'll realise that gifted is not a word to bandy around in that context. He's gifted through dint of his wit and capacity for work, his skills with language and narrative, his insight into the market and his ability to exploit talent to a high level of productivity.

In regard to Kirby's stint at DC, that's the moment when Kirby's vision comes into its own without compromise. In terms of the realisation for Kirby's creative goals, it's level of exponent above what he achieved at Marvel but, as I said, without compromise. That's the problem for those not on board with Kirby's expansive vision, it lacks the trivial relation to the mundane world, there's no Sue Storm griping about her periods or having a bad hair day to relate narrative to reality. Kirby's concerned with bigger things, the stress and anxiety that weighs on people in extraordinary circumstances, the implications of ethics and morality for actions within those circumstances, it's a world away from, 'I'm worried about Johnny'. Even at DC though, there's room to ascribe some small credit to Stan Lee because it's Stan's role at Marvel that gave Kirby the chance to develop his vision.

Was Kirby ahead of his time at DC, remote from the readers expectations, I'm not so sure about that. DC's published sales figures are ambiguous in that regard, there's room for speculation for those who claim that cancellation of the Forth World titles was motivated by an editorial agenda. I have no opinion myself, the truth will come out in the wash eventually, whatever it is. In terms of creative success, it's a bit of mixed bag, you see the effect of Kirby's talent being tasked over too broad a scale in instances, projects start with an explosion of enthusiasm and novelty, then lose the thread a bit, I suppose you could make that a case for the intervention of an editor like Stan Lee, myself I see it as a result of the slightly inept utilisation of Kirby's contribution at DC, he was just given too much to do.

You might surmise that my particular bias leans in favour of Kirby's DC work and you'd be correct. Kirby at DC is Kirby on steroids, you get the artist and his vision much closer to the itent behind it. Sure it's not everyone's cup of tea, that's understandable for an artist who had an established legacy of work.

Kid said...

Trouble is, DSE, I don't think Kirby's vision, free and unfettered, was necessarily a good thing - or at least, not the BEST thing. His ideas were like his art, which was better when filtered through an inker who diluted his artistic idiosyncracies and added something of their own style. Mike Royer is a good inker (as well as being a talented artist in his own right), but as Kirby's art deteriorated, his pencils, when inked faithfully to what was on the page, were not Kirby at his best. Kirby at his purest perhaps - but not his best. When Jack was still at the height of his powers, his art, inked by the likes of Wally Wood (as an example) was fantastic. One only has to look at the difference in finished quality between his Challengers Of The Unknown strips inked by Wood and those by another hand.

It's the same with his 'writing'. Jack was never short of ideas (he was an avid reader and picked up a lot of his ideas from various magazines and books he read), but it's what was done with those ideas and how they were presented that counts. Jack's DC work, in the main, although presented "without compromise", was seldom (if ever) as entertaining and captivating a read as his Marvel collaborations.

And although I agree with your assessment of Stan's skills as an editor, I think he was far more than that. At the very least, even if you restrict Lee's contribution to that of editor and scripter, his input had a disproportionate effect on the high quality of the result.

Unknown said...

I have to say I never liked OMAC it was a good idea but like many of Kirbys later 70s ideas/comics it just never (ihmo) took wings and always looked like a rushed idea he should have taken a bit more time on. I just found some of his DC books hard work to read as a kid /teenager without Stan Lee on board. OMAC is one character that has been reworked to death by DC over the years and although most are pretty awful I would point to Keith Giffens version (one of the very few good "New 52" titles) for a good read. Kirby's "Losers" was a good comic (along with Jimmy Olsen and Kamandi) .

That cover looks a bit like someone giving birth very strange amazed it got published.

Kid said...

Apparently, Omac was Jack's take on Captain America, but set in the future, McS. I sometimes wonder if some of Jack's DC work were ideas he first presented to Marvel, but Stan rejected them? It would explain why they never quite took hold. The closest Jack ever came to replicating the 'Lee & Kirby' flavour was Jimmy Olsen, I feel. Yeah, that Omac cover is a bit bizarre.

Dougie said...

I had loved the Fourth World titles - the ones I could lay my hands on- as a kid but I remember finding them unsettling too. I was just shy of my teens when Kirby returned to Marvel but after Eternals 1, I didn't find much that was compelling about them. Cap/Falc and 2001 were incomprehensible and too wacky. I never read any colour issues of Devil Dinosaur or Black Panter and only became aware of them through Marvel UK reprints in the very early 80s. Spotty distribution certainly didn't help. Certainly, there seemed to be far fewer memorable characters: no equivalents of Orion, Kalibak or Scott and Barda.

My very favourite Bronze Age title was Kamandi: itself a weird take on Planet of the Apes that could veer from tragedy to comedy to the bizarre. It seems to be the strongest concept Kirby delivered at DC and yet it's the New Gods to which everyone returns!

Kid said...

I had a few issues of Kamandi when I was a teenager, Dougie, but it was probably my least favourite DC Kirby title. I just couldn't get into the adventures of a boy with hair like a girl and blue shorts. It must've had something going for it 'though, 'cos it was Jack's longest-running '70s DC mag.

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