10 Greatest Jack Kirby Creations
Jack Kirby – alone or with the assistance of other comic book luminaries – created some of the most (if not THE most) enduring comic book icons. How many? Numerous. Like, a lot. So, because we’re talking a lot – like, perhaps hundreds – I’ve reduced the list to an economical and digestible selection of 10 creations.
Does the order imply a greater or lesser degree of greatness? Not at all – they’re all equally great/influential and stand shoulder to shoulder upon the non-debatable neutral zone regarded by outsiders as “The 10 Greatest Jack Kirby Creations.”
And yes, this list is completely debatable and based entirely on my opinion, so feel free to throw tantrums in the comments section below. Oh, wait – there isn’t one.
The Black Panther
Co-created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Black Panther was the fist black superhero to appear in American comic books. After debuting in Fantastic Four #52 (1966) and handily walloping the quizzical (minus Johnny) quartet, he reappeared in several more comics before landing his first standalone feature in Jungle Action #5. Immediately afterwards, he received his first solo series.
The Black Panther is a super-powered warrior-king who, through ritual and heredity, rules over the technologically advanced nation of Wakanda. Granted super-powers through the “heart-shaped herb,” T’Challa wears an advanced cat-suit woven with Vibranium, an impervious, energy displacing metal found only in Wakanda. Besides the heightened physical attributes and the extreme technology rendered in indestructible material, he’s super-duper smart. So, he’s practically unbeatable. Just ask Reed Richards.
Before Marvel was “Marvel,” it was Timely. And when Marvel was Timely, the little-known writer/artist duo of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America – his first issue debuted in 1941, and one of his first haymakers decimated Hitler’s noggin.
Yes, Captain America was/is the walking epitome of American values. With a sturdy costume flying the colors of Old Glory and an invincible shield used as an eerily accurate projectile, Cap represented the clenched, invincible fists of America pummeling the hell out of its collective fears and paranoia.
And, it was the ultimate male fantasy – a weak, ineffective, innocuous young man (Steve Rogers) seeking glory for self and country was granted a dangerous chemical cocktail and subjected to mysterious radiations (Vita Rays). Surviving America’s attempt to manufacture superhumans, the formerly limp Steve Rogers emerged as a super-strong (and handsome) avatar of America’s unabating ambitions!!
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Thor, the self-described “god of thunder,” debuted in Marvel Comics’ Journey into Mystery #83 (1962). Thor was apparently the Norse god of thunder made manifest, but beyond the mythology and oddly Shakespearean dialog, there was a nagging sci-fi element emboldened by Kirby’s infusions of alien super-tech.
Yep, it seemed Thor, Asgard, and all other elements of Norse mythology were the result of grand cultural appropriation – Thor and his ilk were incredibly advanced alien beings simply taking the forms of an early pantheon worshipped by, well, Vikings.
Now, this little tidbit was never confirmed, but it was certainly theorized by other Marvel characters and accepted as fact by those who refused to acknowledge the godliness of Viking-obsessed aliens and their advanced warp technology, aka “the rainbow bridge.”
Anyway, regardless of his origins, Thor is a mead-chugging admirer of love and war. Just be thankful he’s on our side.
The Incredible Hulk
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Hulk debuted in his very own aptly-named title, The Incredible Hulk, in 1962. Originally gray, the Hulk was a cautionary tale – the terrible result of mankind’s dabbling with new, untested technologies and the volatile energies of creation’s infinitesimal building blocks. So, in the interest of brevity, the Hulk represented America’s fear of “science gone awry.”
When young super-scientist Bruce Banner tried to save doltish teen Rick Jones from a detonating Gamma Bomb, he failed/succeeded – Jones was spared, but Banner absorbed the bomb’s exotic radiations.
Did Banner die? No, but his good intentions granted him a more horrific fate – during times of extreme stress, Bruce Banner transforms into a massive, incalculably strong and destructive super-beast devoid of intelligence and filled to the brim with anger. He’s the poster child for collateral damage brought about by scientific tom-foolery occurring during the Atomic Age.
Created by – you guessed it – Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Marvel’s not-merry-at-all-Mutants debuted in the pages of Marvel Comics’ X-Men #1 (1963).
Once again dealing with the potential repercussions of the Atomic Age, Stan and Jack envisioned a group of mutated humans – children, really – afflicted/blessed with powers relegating them to a significantly frowned-upon social group. Reflecting America’s newly emerging focus on racial inequity, the X-Men were repeatedly marginalized, hated, and feared because of their unique power-projecting DNA.
If you were ever self-conscious, regularly alienated, or incapable of adapting to expected social norms, you picked up a copy of X-Men and watched Professor Charles Xavier mentor his volatile students struggling to find identity in a world that flat-out hates (and fears) them.
The Fourth World
During his golden age at DC Comics, Jack wrote and drew four interlinked comic series detailing the eons-long war between two groups of space gods – the aptly named NEW GODS dwelling on the planet New Genesis, and Darkseid – a will-crushing dark god dwelling on the fiery planet Apokolips.
So, from 1971 to 1975, Jack wrote the exploits of godlike beings dwelling in a higher dimension known as “ the Fourth World.” Taking place in the pages of New Gods, The Forever People, Mister Miracle, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, the Fourth World Saga dealt with the same blending of technology, mythology, and cosmology Kirby explored in The Mighty Thor. But, like, times a thousand.
With Jack handling the writing duties, this space-god-focused opera allowed Jack to truly flex his creative muscles. With battlefields cut across galaxies and living, utterly psychedelic technology, the Fourth World Saga was a sci-fi masterpiece that presented a truly grand creation myth.
The Silver Surfer and Galactus
Look, they’re so damn dependent on one another I’m granting them a singular entry.
Created solely by Kirby, the ‘silver sentinel of the spaceways’ debuted in the pages of Fantastic Four #48 (1966) – this was during the beginning of the vaunted “Galactus Trilogy” which introduced the world to Galactus, the world-devourer, and his willing/unwilling herald, the Silver Surfer.
You see, Galactus is a massive space god (seeing a pattern, are we?) who subsists on planets. The Silver Surfer scouts ahead and directs Galactus to worlds boasting the appropriate…uh…nutrients. Galactus, in turn, eats them.
The Silver Surfer Surfer directed Galactus to Earth. Galactus tried to eat Earth. The Fantastic Four and a newly concerned Silver Surfer repelled Galactus. WHEW!
The Surfer was formerly Norrin Radd, a scientist from the planet Zenn La. To spare Zenn La from Galactus’ infinitely grumbling tummy, Norrin agreed to become Galactus’ herald. Fused with infinite cosmic energies and a reflective, invulnerable integument, the Silver Surfer searches/searched for planetoid foodstuff while whining about it in iambic pentameter.
Kamandi – The Last Boy on Earth
DC tried acquiring the rights to Planet of the Apes but failed. Beseeching Jack to come up with something similar, Kirby bore upon this undeserving world the tragic tale of Kamandi. Running from 1972-1978, Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth detailed the adventures of a teenage boy trying to survive a post-apocalyptic world made so by “the Great Disaster.” And, thanks to the ominously referenced Great Disaster, human civilization was decimated, humanity itself survived in small, scattered tribes, and intelligent, bi-pedal animals ruled the Earth and hunted said scattered humanity. YAY!
Throughout Kamandi, the young man survived perilous death traps, occasionally befriended enslaving, human-hungry animal-people, and uncovered the last/lost vestiges of Earth’s greatest heroes. Good grief. This series was an absolute experience.
Written by Stan Lee and drawn/co-plotted by Jack Kirby, this title initially included all of Stan and Kirby’s creations with a few new additions – Ant-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and The Wasp. (Although Jack had less to do with creating Iron Man, he still contributed conceptual art for the Armored Avenger.)
Debuting in The Avengers #1 (1963), this team-up book solidified Marvel’s “shared universe” approach where all characters under the Marvel umbrella inhabited the same world, and in some cases, the same city block.
Before they became the multi-member Avengers machine they are today, they started as individual heroes pitching in to help Thor deal with his
asshole disagreeable brother, Loki. Apparently, he set off the Hulk, and that became everyone’s problem. Thankfully, Iron Man, Ant-Man, The Wasp, and Thor ironed things out and decided to team up indefinitely.
In Issue #4, they thawed out Captain America. And after sharing a few adventures with someone far more dependable than the Hulk, they offered him “founding member” status.
Anyway, they’re certainly a great and formidable team, but they ain’t the greatest.
The Fantastic Four
DC was having a lot of success with Justice League of America, so Stan Lee and Jack Kirby stepped up to the plate with Fantastic Four #1 (1961). Did they succeed? Continuing the baseball metaphor, they knocked it out of the @#$#ing park.
Yes it focuses on four people with extranormal abilities, but their extraordinary circumstances were grounded by realism – the intense realization that their bodies were no longer theirs. When Johnny Storm suddenly burst into flame, he was terrified. When Sue could no longer see herself, she was terrified. When Reed could no longer maintain his physical form, he was terrified. When Ben Grimm noticed his body was made of rock, it was utterly terrifying. Basically, they’re still dealing with modest cases of PTSD.
Expanding on this realism – or naturalism – the four were a dysfunctional family that spent a lot of time arguing. Johnny insulted Ben’s irreversible and somewhat grotesque form incessantly, and Sue was constantly trying to lure Reed away from his insatiable scientific experimentation.
So, the Fantastic Four – a flawed superhuman family – went forth into the uncharted cosmos and dealt with other-dimensional overlords, warring alien races, and mind-bending technologies that reflected the psychedelic initiatives of America’s youth culture.
This paradigm-mutilating book expanded the Marvel Universe by introducing the Skrulls, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, the Inhumans, Dr. Doom, the…uh…Mole Man, and several other heroes/villains featured prominently in today’s Marvel Universe.
Yes, there are certainly more awesome Kirby creations, but these are by far the finest. YAY! Thanks, Jack!