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cic2008-03-25.jpgNow, in my continuing commentary on Mark Evanier’s Kirby: King of Comics, published by Harry N. Abrams, I arrive at the peak of Jack Kirby’s career: the 1960s, in the Silver Age of Comics, when Kirby collaborated with Stan Lee in creating the Fantastic Four and so many of the other classic characters of the Marvel Universe. As Mark Evanier reminds us in this book, Lee and Kirby launched a “revolution” in heroic fantasy comics with Fantastic Four #1, which he rightly says “changed the rules” more than any comic book since Action Comics #1, in which the superhero genre was born (Evanier, Kirby: King of Comics, p. 122). Fantastic Four #1 marked a true renaissance of this genre, which has not only thrived ever since in comics, but found new popularity in film and television.

But this is also the period in Kirby’s career that stirs the most controversy. As Evanier explains, Marvel’s editor and principal writer, Stan Lee, collaborated with Kirby and other artists in what was then an unusual way. Burdened with the duty to write so many comics, Lee devised the “Marvel method” to draw upon the considerable talents of artists like Kirby and Steve Ditko to create story ideas. Typically, Lee and Kirby would hold a conference to devise the basic plot of a story, then Kirby would draw the story, elaborating upon and adding to that plot, and then Lee would script the dialogue and captions.

But what actually happened during those plot conferences? What elements of the plots were Lee’s and which were Kirby’s? Which man first conceived of which of the scores of characters who emerged at Marvel during this amazing period of creativity?

In his book Mark Evanier carefully attempts to be fair to both Lee and Kirby in treading through this mine field. At one point Evanier sagely assets that “Among those who worked around them at the time, there was a unanimous view: that Fantastic Four was created by Stan and Jack. No further division of credit seemed appropriate. Not on that, nor on all the wonderment to come” (Evanier, p. 122). That strikes me as correct. It is the combination of Lee and Kirby’s individual talents, the synthesis of the words and the pictures, that made these characters and series so successful, both commercially and creatively. We have seen plenty of work that Stan Lee has done with other artists, and entire series that Jack Kirby both wrote and drew himself. It’s hard for me to imagine that a Fantastic Four by either man without the other could have achieved the heights they reached in that series together.

Yet in the 1960s and 1970s Kirby’s role in co-plotting–and in some cases, entirely plotting–his collaborations with Stan Lee was known to very few. (As a Marvel reader during those years, I was certainly unaware of it.) Kirby understandably felt unjustly deprived of both his rightful credit for co-creating a stable of such commercially valuable characters and the financial rewards that should in a more just world have been his.

So the question of who did what did become an issue. As Evanier recounts, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby each claimed to be the one who first came up with the idea for the Incredible Hulk. Lee asserted that he originated the idea of doing a series about the Norse god Thor as a superhero; Kirby contended that it was his own idea. Lee says he first conceived of the X-Men; Kirby contended that the credit belonged to him instead. And so it goes. Lee and Kirby each had notoriously bad memories, and they were trying to remember who came up with which idea decades ago.

And there are no witnesses and no physical evidence to settle the disputes. Nobody made records of the plotting sessions at the time. That suggests that, at the time, nobody thought it was important to do so. After all, back then there was little money in comics and no prestige, and no one could have anticipated that Marvel would grow into a multimillion dollar media empire.

Reading this section of Evanier’s book set me wondering about many aspects of this controversy. Is it possible that in the early 1960s not even Kirby or Ditko fretted about getting more credit or compensation for their work with Lee? Evanier states that it was “later” that Kirby and Ditko would claim that Lee contributed little or nothing to the plots. “Since he received the total writing fee and (usually) the total writing credit, that would be a sore point in years to come” (Evanier, p. 112).

Did Kirby, Ditko and the other artists ever confront Lee about this? If they did, how did he respond to their arguments? Or did they just stew in silence, believing that Lee should have known enough to give them money and credit for writing without their asking him? Ditko eventually was billed as sole plotter on his later Amazing Spider-Man work. Why did Ditko get credit when Kirby did not?

What was Stan Lee’s position at the time? Lee has always praised Kirby and Ditko as artists, and certainly in recent years he has acknowledged their plot contributions to his collaborations with them. When Lee and Kirby co-plotted as a story, did Lee assume that Kirby’s fee covered both drawing and co-plotting, and that his own covered co-plotting and scripting? Was Lee somehow blind to the reasons for Kirby’s growing resentment? Or, again, did the subject never come up at the time? Evanier suggests that was the case, writing that “But at the time, everyone was happy just to have work and the ‘Marvel Method,’ as it would come to be known, produced some fine comics” (Evanier, p. 112).

Surely if Lee and Kirby had realized at the time there would have been such a mess over who did what, they would have tape recorded their plotting sessions or had someone transcribe them!

(I know what this is like. Looking back at entries for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe in the 1980s, I sometimes find myself wondering if I wrote the entry or the series’ editor and creator Mark Gruenwald did. Mark probably kept records, but where are they now? Complicating the problem is the fact that I often revised and expanded entries that Mark had originally written. But how can one tell twenty years later which sections of an entry are Mark’s and which are mine?)

Indeed, no one kept proper records of what one day would be regarded as significant history. Evanier recounts the “industry legend” that Marvel publisher Martin Goodman learned about the sales of Justice League of America from DC’s Jack Liebowitz during a golf game, but Evanier then points out that Liebowitz denied he ever played golf with Goodman.

In any event, Goodman instructed Stan Lee to start a new superhero book to compete with DC’s Justice League, and Fantastic Four #1 was the result.

I was surprised that Evanier claims that the FF discovered their new super-powers on the moon in their first issue (Evanier p. 114), though he has corrected the mistake at his website. Once their spaceship was hit by the unexpectedly intense radiation, they turned back and returned to Earth, where their powers first manifested. Furthermore, it’s a common error that in their origin story the FF were heading to the moon. The story actually states they were journeying “to the stars”; hence, the real-life moon landing in 1969 hasn’t dated the origin story.

The most revolutionary creation among the members of the Fantastic Four was Ben Grimm, the Thing: the monster depicted as semi-tragic hero. I had assumed that Kirby and Ben Grimm’s personalities had much in common, but Evanier quotes Kirby spelling it out: “the Thing is really Jack Kirby. . . .He has my manners, he has my manner of speech, and he thinks the way I do” (Evanier, p. 122).

But wait! Even if Kirby made notes in the borders of the original art pages, suggesting what the Thing was saying, it was Stan Lee who wrote the Thing’s dialogue. As Evanier points out, sometimes Lee followed Kirby’s border notes and other times he didn’t. Certainly Lee reworked Kirby’s suggested dialogue, and as Evanier acknowledges, Lee is superb at depicting characterization through dialogue.

So is the Thing really purely an expression of Jack Kirby? Did Stan Lee think that in scripting the Thing, he was portraying a version of Kirby? Or is it more likely that the Thing we see in the Lee-Kirby FF issues expresses parts of both creators’ personalities?

The biggest puzzle is who came up with the idea for Spider-Man. Evanier reports that Stan Lee claims that, inspired by the pulp vigilante called the Spider, he came up with the idea to do a character called Spider-Man. Kirby claimed that he and Joe Simon had devised the name Spider-Man (or “Spiderman” minus the hyphen), and that he–Kirby–suggested doing a character by that name at Marvel.

Evanier notes that Simon contends that his “Spider-Man” was a different name he had devised for his character the Silver Spider, but that Kirby had nothing to do with its creation. Simon and Kirby had reworked the Silver Spider into the Fly, an orphan boy who used a magic ring to transform into an insect-themed adult superhero, for Archie Comics.

So Kirby began drawing the first Spider-Man story for Marvel, in which the title character was a young boy who used a magic ring to transform into a spider-themed adult superhero. After he’d finished the first few pages, Lee decided to reassign the story to Steve Ditko. Lee has long claimed that Kirby made Spider-Man look too muscular and traditionally heroic. Evanier casts doubt on this story, pointing out that Kirby could easily have redrawn the few pages to make Spider-Man look less muscular, and that, after all, Kirby drew Spider-Man on the cover for Amazing Fantasy #15, his first appearance (Evanier p. 126).

This is true, but I wonder if Stan Lee’s explanation still points to the real reason for the change in artists, even if it wasn’t perfectly phrased. I’ve heard John Romita, Sr. say that when he took over drawing Spider-Man from Steve Ditko, he initially attempted to draw Spider-Man in a Ditkoesque style, but proved unsuccessful at it; instead, Romita followed his natural tendencies as an artist and made Peter Parker/Spider-Man a much more handsome figure than the one Ditko had drawn, and Stan Lee went along with this. Lee may well have recognized that Kirby’s natural tendency was to draw superheroes with heroic builds, and that whatever their original intentions, a Lee-Kirby Spider-Man would inevitably evolve away from the concept of a normal-looking guy with super-powers. Even on Kirby’s Amazing Fantasy #15 cover, Spider-Man looked more massive and conventionally heroic than the typical version drawn by Ditko.

Besides, the difference between Kirby and Ditko doesn’t just lie in how muscular they make their superheroes look. Kirby and Ditko portray very different visions of the world. Think of Jack Kirby’s superhero art, and you imagine godlike heroes in spectacular action scenes set against fantastic landscapes. On the other hand, Steve Ditko’s strength is in depicting ordinary-looking people in mundane, everyday settings (or else sorcerers in hallucinatory, surrealistic environments, but that’s another series). By saying that “Jack could never draw Spider-Man the way I wanted him to look” (Evanier p. 127), maybe Stan Lee was referring not just to the way Kirby drew Spider-Man the character, but the way that he drew the entire environment of the Spider-Man series–the supporting cast, the neighborhoods,

Moreover, it wasn’t just that Lee changed the way Spider-Man was drawn; he also tossed out the original concept of who Spider-Man was. In the revised origin story that Ditko drew, Spider-Man was no longer a small boy but a high school student, there was no magic ring, and he did not transform into an adult but was an adolescent superhero.

Evanier convincingly argues that the Spider-Man concept was radically revised in order to make the character different from the Fly. That would also provide another reason for taking Kirby off the series, since Kirby had drawn the Fly. As Evanier states, Marvel would have wanted to avoid a lawsuit from Archie.

Furthermore, was it fair to Joe Simon for Kirby to be recycling elements of The Silver Spider into Marvel’s new Spider-Man series? I’m going to assume that Kirby had no bad intentions in this case. Rather, I wonder if this recycling is simply a sign that in 1961 and 1962, comics professionals simply didn’t care as much about issues of originality and credit as they would later on. There wasn’t that much money in comics back then, and comics writers and artists rarely got their names on a story; Stan Lee pioneered regularly giving writers (including himself, of course), artists, and even letterers credits.

Moreover, for decades Lee has stated that in 1961 he was frustrated with comics and was ready to quit, but his wife urged him to start writing comics he would want to read himself; that suggestion inspired the Marvel revolution. It’s clear from looking at these early Silver Age Marvel stories that Stan Lee was consciously breaking new ground. He must have taken pride in this radical new direction he and his collaborators were setting for the superhero genre. As Evanier notes, it was Ditko who informed Lee about the resemblances between the Kirby version of Spider-Man and the Fly. I wonder if it was a matter of pride for Lee, now that he was attempting to raise the level of the superhero genre, not to be seen as imitating another comics character.

Or was it that, once he had embarked on the process of creating a new kid superhero, Lee began to envision ways of making him as different as the Fantastic Four were from previous superhero teams. As Evanier points out, the original version if Spider-Man also resembles the original Captain Marvel–a little boy who magically turns into a superhero. Isn’t it possible that once Lee saw Kirby’s first few pages, he realized he wanted to go in a different, more realistic direction, one for which Ditko’s grittier, quirkier art style would be more appropriate?

The Lee-Ditko Spider-Man is older than the previous Lee-Kirby version, has a different costume, and has nothing to do with magic (at least not until J,. Michael Straczynski recently established that Spider-Man draws his power from the “spider-totem”!). Evanier reports that Kirby “felt he’d at least contributed something” to Spider-Man’s creation, “for which he received neither pay nor acknowledgment” (Evanier p. 128). But the two versions are so different that I wonder if it’s credible to claim Kirby was one of Spider-Man’s co-creators. Rather, it seems that Kirby contributed to a proposed “Spider-Man” character that Lee ended up rejecting. Even if it was Kirby who proposed the “Spider-Man” name, that was based on Joe Simon’s Silver Spider. And certainly one thing that Marvel has shown is that there is a lot more to a superhero character than his name.

Evanier reveals that Kirby disliked another early Marvel super hero, Ant-Man, asserting that “No one fantasizes about being the size of an ant” (Evanier p. 128). “Years later,” Evanier goes on, “Jack would be both incensed and amused by a scholarly article that suggested that because he was not tall, the Marvel hero with whom he most closely identified had to be Ant-Man” (Evanier p. 128). I fear that as comics increasingly receive academic and critical attention, we’re going to see many more cases of scholars and reviewers making these sorts of unfounded assumptions. A proper critic would probably steer clear of committing the “intentional fallacy” in any event. But now asserting that people will doubtless speculate that Kirby hated being short and that’s why he so disdained Ant-Man–and joined with Stan in turning him into Giant-Man, as if overcompensating!

The character with whom Kirby did identify strongly was Nick Fury, saying that the invincible war hero turned superspy “Nick Fury is how I wish others saw me. Ben Grimm [The Thing] is probably closer to the way they do see me” (Evanier p.131). Does that mean Kirby thought others regarded him as bad-tempered? Or comical? Or monstrous? And again, did Stan Lee think of Nick Fury as an avatar of Jack Kirby? Or did Stan put some of his own personality into Fury? And did Jim Steranko think of Fury as an idealized Kirby surrogate when he took over the Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD series?

You might think that today’s comics pros might have already figured out that Fury has a lot in common with Kirby. But considering that Marvel’s Ultimates line depicts Nick Fury as a lookalike for Samuel L. Jackson, perhaps not. Think of Fury as Kirby’s idealized self-portrait, and Fury’s use of profanity in Marvel’s MAX line becomes even more offensive. But the writers who really don’t get it are the ones who, over the decades, insist on portraying Fury as a Machiavellian spymaster, defending an authoritarian reestablishment. What does this have to do with Jack Kirby’s idealized self-portrait? Or with the running theme of Kirby’s career, in which he struggled against corporate power rather than aligning himself with it?

Evanier describes how Kirby participated in the creation of Iron Man: even though it was Don Heck who drew the original story, Heck was following “some concept sketches” and a cover that Kirby had done. To my surprise, Kirby even had a hand in the genesis of Daredevil, apparently contributing plot ideas to Daredevil’s early issues and even coming up with the design for his billy club. Kirby drew the first Daredevil covers: does that mean he designed DD’s original yellow-and-black costume? “Often, on a comic where he did not do the interiors,” Evanier states, “he’d draw the cover and, in so doing, design a villain or other new character who’d appear within” (Evanier p. 133). Is there any way at this point of compiling a list of how many Silver Age Marvel characters Kirby thus designed, whom comics historians have presumably been crediting to other artists instead?

How much compensation did Kirby get for this helping to create characters in series and stories that he did not draw? It doesn’t appear that anyone at Marvel kept official records of Kirby’s contributions to creating characters in such circumstances. Again, it seems that in the early 1960s, before anyone realized that someday this would be of historical and financial importance, there was a much more lax attitude about apportioning credit for creating characters and series or contributing to plots. No one was getting royalties in comics back then, and it was assumed that the companies owned everything. Why would Kirby design characters for series he did not draw, and got no credit for, even a lead character like Iron Man, unless he thought at the time that it wasn’t a matter of importance?

Perhaps Kirby’s dissatisfaction with the status quo grew as Marvel became more successful and the commercial value of the characters grew considerably. Evanier writes that “Almost nothing about Jack’s working relationship with Marvel was on paper–not even, at the time, any delineation of what rights he had or was giving up to the material. Jack didn’t much like that, but he didn’t see an alternative” (Evanier p. 136).

Evanier doesn’t think much of Lee and Kirby’s revelation in Avengers #4 that Captain America had been in suspended animation, frozen within a block of ice, since the end of World War II: “The science was ridiculous,” complains Evanier, adding that “Stan and Jack would each later blame the other for it” (Evanier p. 131). But regardless of its scientific validity, Lee and Kirby concocted a brilliant image: Captain America as the blonde sun god, trapped in the realm of winter (and symbolically death), until he is resurrected by the warm waters of life. This may not make sense in terms of science, but it makes perfect sense in the metaphorical language of myth, and that is far more important to the superior genre.

Evanier disputes the familiar notion that Lee and Kirby’s “Galactus trilogy” in Fantastic Four #48-50 was founded on the premise of the FF fighting God: “it’s hard to see how Galactus, who consumed life instead of creating it, resembled either’s notion of the Almighty” (Evanier p. 138).

But Lee and Kirby had already done stories about evil “gods,” notably Loki in Thor. Kirby would go on to create The New Gods and his other “Fourth World” series at DC, in which the most memorable figure is Darkseid, the evil god who rules the hellish planet Apokolips and seeks the “anti-life formula.” in the 1970s Kirby returned to Marvel and created The Eternals, which featured the “space gods” known as the Celestials who might annihilate the Earth in fifty years for reasons that are utterly inscrutable to humanity. Lee and Kirby may have believed in a more benign God, but that doesn’t mean they could not imagine a malevolent or destructive deity.

Moreover, as I’ve argued in my column here (see “Comics in Context” #184: “Clobbered Again”) and here (“Comics in Context” #185: “Get Off of My Cloud”), the Galactus trilogy can be read as dealing with three different aspects of God. Galactus is the God of Wrath, who has sentenced all living beings to inevitable death, and who cares nothing for inferior beings like humans. Uatu the Watcher is a benevolent, fatherly God, who nevertheless ordinarily refrains from intervening in human affairs, preferring to help mortals to succeeded through their own efforts. Then there’s the Silver Surfer, who, whether or not Lee and Kirby consciously intended it, acts as a Christ figure, sacrificing himself to save humanity. Ultimately the good aspect of God–the Watcher–makes it possible for humanity–Reed Richards–to assert their right to exist, overcoming the destructive aspect of God.

Evanier contends that Kirby thought of Galactus as a metaphor for “corporate raiders” who would “drain” a company of “its assets, and move on, “leaving a hollow, inert shell” (Evanier p. 138). Might Kirby have subconsciously expressing a fear that Marvel or the comics industry in general was draining his own creativity, leaving him a “hollow shell” without either credit or sufficient compensation? Indeed, Evanier reports that Kirby was concerned about his own health, and was seeking “health insurance and maybe a pension” from Marvel at this time, but in vain (Evanier p. 138).

Stan Lee has repeatedly acknowledged that when he received the original art pages for Fantastic Four #48, he was surprised to see the Surfer for the first time. He and Kirby had not discussed the Surfer beforehand; Kirby got the idea to give Galactus a herald and inserted him into the story. So now the Silver Surfer is generally regarded as having been created solely by Kirby.

But is that quite right? In the BBC documentary In Search of Steve Ditko (see “Comics in Context” #208: “Creative Differences”), Stan Lee explains that since he came up with the idea for a superhero called Spider-Man, then he should be acknowledged as the character’s sole creator. For the sake of argument, let’s assume here that Lee’s memory is correct and he did originate the idea. But comics is a visual medium. and Ditko devised the visual aspect of Spider-Man. Shouldn’t Ditko then be credited as Spider-Man’s co-creator?

Now let’s apply a similar argument to the Silver Surfer. Kirby introduced the character into Fantastic Four #48, designed his visual appearance, and gave him the role of Galactus’s herald: Kirby plotted the Surfer’s role in the first comic in which he appeared. But the Galactus trilogy is a three-part story. Once Kirby had introduced the Surfer, did Stan Lee co-plot the Surfer’s scenes in FF #49 and 50, including his meeting with Alicia Masters and his rebellion against Galactus, both of which defined the Surfer’s characterization? Does anyone know? Even if we assume that Kirby is solely responsible for plotting the Surfer sequences throughout the entire Galactus trilogy (And why should we?) and did border notes suggesting what the Surfer was talking about, it is still Stan Lee who wrote the Surfer’s dialogue throughout the Galactus trilogy. And one of Stan Lee’s greatest talents is the ability to delineate characterization through dialogue. Lee is ultimately responsible for creating the way in which the Silver Surfer speaks, and in defining his personality through that dialogue, in his initial appearances. Doesn’t Lee therefore merit credit as the Surfer’s co-creator? If Kirby created the pictures, Lee created the words.

Evanier draws a distinction between Kirby’s vision of the Surfer as a truly alien being, to whom human emotions are new concepts, and the origin that Lee gave him–without Kirby’s participation–in Silver Surfer #1 (August 1968) as a being who had once been a man like ourselves, but had vowed to serve Galactus in order to save his home world and the woman he loved. “That may have been the Surfer that Stan had been writing,” comments Evanier, “but it wasn’t the one that Jack had been drawing” (Evanier p. 141). That’s an interesting way to phrase it. It suggests that Lee and Kirby were indeed co-creators of the Surfer as he had appeared in previous stories in Fantastic Four, with Lee endowing the Surfer with a personality that contradicted Kirby’s intentions for the character. Since Lee was in charge, his interpretation of the Surfer’s personality won out. (Was Lee even aware that Kirby interpreted the Surfer differently? Had they discussed the subject? I’ve seen Lee recently say that Kirby considered the Surfer a “throwaway” character, and that he therefore adopted him. So it seems that even nowadays Lee is unaware of what the Surfer meant to Kirby.)

The Surfer’s origin was perhaps the most blatant case of Lee overruling Kirby’s intentions for a character or story. By the end of the 1960s, Evanier states, Kirby was completely plotting the stories he did with Lee, but “Sometimes Stan would deviate wildly from what Jack had intended. . . . [Kirby] loved the stories he developed. and would often feel that Stan’s word balloons stripped some issue of its meaning or inverted a key concept” (Evanier p. 147). It’s easy to see why Kirby would feel frustrated by this. He had obviously reached the point at which it was necessary for him to break off his collaboration with Lee and, if he could find the opportunity, either write his own stories or find a scripter who would more closely follow his ideas.

But I find myself sympathizing with Lee, as well. He was not only the credited writer but also the editor, the boss responsible for the entire Marvel line of comics. I imagine that Lee regarded his role as not simply to follow Kirby’s instructions in the border notes, but to mold the material in ways that he felt would make it better and more appealing to readers. Lee and Kirby weren’t equals in their collaborations in terms of their roles at Marvel: Lee was the editor, so that meant he had the final word.

Marvel recently published Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure #1, containing one of the final FF stories that Kirby drew, which Marvel had not previously published in complete form. The original artwork is reproduced with Kirby’s border notes; then you can read the “restored” version of the story with new dialogue by Stan Lee. And you can see for yourselves that Lee’s scripting consistently improves upon Kirby’s suggestions in the borders.

By the late 1960s Marvel was making money from merchandising superheroes that Kirby had co-created, putting his artwork on toys and such, there was a Fantastic Four TV show in 1967, and the year before there was a Marvel Super Heroes television series that reproduced Kirby artwork on screen. But Kirby wasn’t seeing any money from any of this.

Evanier reports that around this time Kirby learned that Bob Kane, the officially credited creator of Batman, had just made a “million dollar deal” with DC, but that DC had just fired a number of its veteran writers, including Bill Finger, who had written most of the early Batman stories and conceived most of the character’s basic mythos (see “Comics in Context” #94: “Back to Brigadoon”). “The lesson was not lost on Kirby,” Evanier writes: “Bob Kane, who’d been recognized as the creator of a successful property, had gotten rich. Bill Finger, who hadn’t, had gotten fired” (Evanier p. 150)

But was that the real lesson? Wasn’t it not just that Kane was recognized as Batman’s creator, but that DC wanted to make sure that Kane didn’t claim ownership of the copyright on Batman and take this valuable property away from them? Having been employed by Kane to write Batman, Finger presumably couldn’t pose that kind if threat to DC, so the DC Comics administration of that period obviously felt they could get away with treating Finger like dirt.

Did Kirby have any legal claim on the Marvel characters he co-created? Apparently Marvel didn’t think so back in the 1960s. Kirby kept hoping that Marvel would give him a better deal out of a simple sense of fairness. But the corporate mindset doesn’t believe in giving money better deals unless its forced to do so. Evanier writes that “All he [Kirby] wanted was a little more money, some kind of long-term financial security for himself and his family and an official acknowledgment of his status as co-creator” (Evanier p. 153). These are miniscule prices to pay for everything that Kirby had done for Marvel in the 1960s.

But Marvel’s new corporate owners saw no reason to pay for what they already possessed. Rewarding loyalty isn’t a reason that made sense to them. Unlike Kane, Kirby had no leverage, or did not think he did. All that Kirby could do is threaten to quit, depriving the company of his talents.

But, according to Evanier, Marvel’s new owners in 1970 believed that Stan Lee, presumably since he was the writer and editor, generated all the creative ideas at Marvel, and that the artists were interchangeable and simply implemented Lee’s ideas. Marvel had gone corporate, and the new bureaucrats were characteristically willfully blind to any reality that conflicted with their preconceptions. They apparently neither knew about the “Marvel method” of creating characters and stories, nor cared to find out, nor felt any need to learn enough about the comics business to discover why Jack Kirby was an irreplaceable creative resource. Back in 1970 it’s likely none of them considered comics to be anything more than crap to sell to kids. Marvel’s owners did not feel threatened whatsoever by the prospect of Jack Kirby quitting.

And so in 1970 Kirby did quit rather than suffer further mistreatment. He went to DC, where he created a masterwork, his “Fourth World.” But beyond that lay an astonishing downturn in his career, as we shall see next time.

ADDENDUM: Speaking of copyright challenges, as I was above: shortly after I finished writing this installment of my column, I discovered this March 29, 2008 article in The New York Times revealing that the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel–including his widow Joanne, the model for Lois Lane–has just been granted partial ownership of the character by a federal court. Well, well, well. I didn’t realize just how formidable Lois Lane can be. . . . .


Here’s a new feature that I should have thought of long ago. From now on, I’m going to supply links to Amazon for any books or DVDs that I review in my column. Here’s where you can go to order a copy of Mark Evanier’s Kirby: King of Comics for only $26.40, discounted from the list price of $40 (CLICK HERE TO ORDER).

cic2008-03-31.jpgNot only that, but I’m going to start rotating links to my own books at Amazon. com. The proper place to begin is with my most recent book, The Marvel Comics Travel Guide to New York City from Simon and Schuster (CLICK HERE TO ORDER). This is a handbook to the real, fictional, and fictionalized locations in stories throughout Marvel history: everything from the United Nations complex (site of appearances by Magneto and the Sub-Mariner) to the Daily Bugle building (both the comics and the movie versions, which are in very different sections of town!). If you’re a Marvel fan and you’ll be visiting New York City, this book will serve as your guide both to the Manhattan of real life and the Manhattan of the imagination, where superheroes swing high among the skyscrapers.

-Copyright 2008 Peter Sanderson


2 Responses to “Comics in Context #220: The King of the Silver Age”

  1. Peter b. gillis Says:

    Three things: 1) When First Comics started up, they used terminology that cleared things up by using the term ‘designer’. Thus on my Black Flame strip that nobody remembers, Tom Sutton (an amazing talent) was credited as the designer of the strip. The concept was mine pretty much start to finish, as were the characters–except for the way they looked and the way the world looked.
    This doesn’t, of course, solve the question of who was a ‘creator’ and who wasn’t–but crediting the role of designer would go a long way to making the issues clearer.
    2) Let’s remember that Stan had instituted credits at Marvel, which was definitely not the case at DC (I wondered at the time how letter writers to DC could talk about ‘Carmine Infantino’ or ‘Gil Kane’, whom I’d never heard of.) I don’t want to presume too much, but that was a major shift in the business, and Stan probably got a lot of goodwill from that.
    3) I just have to pass along Roger Stern’s Great Untold Daredevil Moments, of how Daredevil appears in his yellow and black costume and says “How do you like my costume? Doesn’t its red color remind you of the devil?” It may have been told before, but your mention made me think of it.

  2. rodan57 Says:

    “Moreover, it wasn’t just that Lee changed the way Spider-Man was drawn; he also tossed out the original concept of who Spider-Man was. In the revised origin story that Ditko drew, Spider-Man was no longer a small boy but a high school student, there was no magic ring, and he did not transform into an adult but was an adolescent superhero.”

    He may have tossed out the Kirby version only to replace it with the Rawhide Kid origin from issue #17 — and who knows how much Kirby contributed to that issue.

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