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Greatest Comic of All Time | Thor #160

Welcome to Greatest Comic of All Time, a new weekly column spotlighting great comic books that don’t appear on the bestseller charts or canon lists or big-box bookstore shelves.  They are the property of the back issue bins and thrift store crates and swap meet hawkers of America, living like the comics medium itself in the unremembered crags and pockets of publishing history.  It is a testament to the form’s strength that overlooked and forgotten work as potent as the celebrated masterpieces exists, and it is a testament to comics’ true devotees that these diamonds still emerge from the rough to shine once more for those who seek them out.

Thor #160, composed and illustrated by Jack Kirby, inked by Vince Colletta, dialogued by Stan Lee.  Cover-dated January 1969.  Published by Marvel Comics/Perfect Film & Chemical Corporation.

How acquired:  Thrown in on top of a box of late-’80s/early ’90s superhero comics given to me by a guy who worked at an iron furnace company whose building I used to hang around. “This one’s actually good,” is the quote I remember.

Best single drawing:

Full effect.

The history lesson:  By 1969 Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, probably the most famous and influential artist-writer team in the history of comics, were a  partnership in little more than name.  Lee, famed as the imagination that built Marvel Comics’ then-new superhero empire, had been pulled away from the workaday world of comics writing by mainstream media notoriety and the possibility of professional advancement, while Kirby, the real font of ideas at Marvel, labored on in an increasing state of creative solitude dissatisfaction, composing whole comics that Lee would later come in a dialogue from notes provided by the artist.  That Lee is the one who got famous and became a household name is nothing too remarkable — show me the successful man whose climb used no human bodies as its footholds — but the historical fallacy that Lee was the wellspring of Marvel should be pointed out as just that.  It’s hard to hold anything against Lee, especially given the breathtaking viciousness with which Kirby, his descendants, and the rest of his era’s creative class were treated by the companies they worked for.  Really, it’s rather incredible that anyone who’s done work in corporate comics has had as much success as Lee, and if it weren’t for that success he would just be another aging, passed-over creator in the raft of them that Kirby was eventually consigned to.  But especially at this moment in time, with a film featuring Kirby’s creations raking in unprecedented amounts of money under the name “Marvel’s The Avengers”, a Stan Lee executive production, it’s important to remember where the ideas really came from.

Though this comic has been reprinted a few times, it’s never been widely available in a satisfactory form: readers can choose from a stupendously overpriced version with a poor recoloring job, a black and white reproduction, or a ruthlessly edited compilation of this and a few other Kirby issues featuring the same characters.  Get the original.

Why it’s the greatest comic of all time:  There’s no better example of Kirby’s particular genius out there, really.  Though he’s justly lauded for the sweep and vastness of his visions, the broadness of the strokes he painted his worlds with, the form Kirby was master of was a concise, even abbreviated one: the 20-odd-page single comic book issue.  Though his long, arching storylines have a grandeur all their own, Kirby is most effective in a single, thinly jacketed dose, like a bullet.  His stories are more presentational than narrative, with a logic unique to their artist and perfect for comics.  The individual drawings on the average Kirby page are dangerously disconnected from on another, compositions that stand alone and only flow smoothly because of the titanic amount of movement put into each one.  Similarly, Kirby most often put forth ideas without developing them beyond what they were introduced as, even if they went on to inform hundreds or thousands of pages of story.  The novelty and imaginative zeal of the raw archetypes that were Kirby’s characters, his settings, his cultures and his technologies, have enough to them on the surface that there is little need for further exploration.  And when different Kirby surfaces clash against each other like tectonic plates, the earth moves.

There isn’t much to the plot of Thor #160, and there doesn’t need to be.  Kirby simply dogpiles idea onto world-beating idea for 20 pages here, each one so impressive that it stops mattering whether or not they coalesce into something greater than the sum of their parts.  The sheer number of fabulous characters the comic displays would be story content enough by itself, transforming the fairly simple chronicle of a team of heroes traveling outer space seeking a villain too powerful to be allowed to live any longer into a modern-day fairy tale, in which every personality is something far beyond human, every line spoken by someone strange and wonderful.  It operates far above the human plane that was Lee’s main contribution to Marvel.  This is pure Kirby, gods and monsters and things somewhere in between fighting unfathomable wars with undreamed of weapons in realms no human eye has ever seen.  In addition to the lusty, purehearted God of Thunder, readers are introduced or reintroduced to Odin, the stormy patriarch of the Gods; the Colonizer Tana Nile, a psychic alien who once sought to enslave the earth but now comes to Thor beseeching him to help her people; the robotic Recorder, created to observe and store data but possessed of uncannily human feelings; Ego, the Living Planet; and the character who best embodies the often-named Kirby virtue of Power — Galactus, world mover and world ravisher.

Galactus is a fascinating creation, one whose simultaneous simplicity and complexity isn’t often found outside religious text or myth.  The spontaneous creation of a cosmic catastrophe, he scours the universe searching out new worlds to destroy, not because of any inner evil, but simply because he must do so or perish. Galactus is Destruction personified in the best costume Kirby ever drew, the inevitable result of all the power his comics unleashed on the page, the balancing force to everything in the universe that was designed to create, including Kirby himself.  Kirby seemed to sense that in Galactus he had created his own antithesis, and tread carefully around the character, literally giving him space — the full-page headshot above being only one example of the muralistic treatment he receives in the issue.  Though the next ten issues of Thor would go on to relate Galactus’ origin story, the real truth of what he is lies in that one drawing, and in Lee’s pitch-perfect dialoguing of it: something so great and powerful that it is incapable of comprehending the misery it wreaks, and uncaring for it.  He is more idea than character, and though Kirby would go on to create a God of Evil in Darkseid, nothing that sprang from his mind was ever as frightening as the iconic reading of Galactus we get here, a pure, emotionless, unexplained unmaker of things.

On these pages Galactus finds a worthy foe in Ego, the Living Planet, but more interesting yet is Kirby’s introduction, late in the game, of the Wanderers, an alien race whose planet was Galactus’ first conquest.  Here the cosmic saga takes a twist both personal and Biblical: the Wanderers’ nameless leader recalls no one more than Moses, who led his people on an age-long journey after barely avoiding destruction.  The Wanderers themselves recall nothing more than a band of intergalactic Jews, without a homeland and sentenced to an endless search across the spaceways.  Kirby himself was Jewish, and it’s impossible not to read the story of the Wanderers as a fascinating statement of cultural identity from the King of Comics.  In classic Kirby fashion, however, the Wanderers journey not toward respite, but revenge, and when Thor challenges Galactus, they follow.  The subtexts here are nothing short of electric — the distinctly Semitic Wanderers using a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Norse god as the instrument of their final revenge is a stone jawdropper — but in the end it’s more compelling to follow the story as what it is than what it hints at.  When Galactus and Ego finally clash, the immediacy of Kirby’s searing drawings supersedes all else, and it becomes useless to compare art so vigorously alive with tales of civilizations long passed on.  Printed in garish ink on yellowed, brittle paper, this is the rare superhero comic that actually lives up to the genre’s billing as “modern myth”.

Kirby made his stories for the world he lived in, and allowed his ideas to stand tall as they were.  This comic is certainly more than its pages and drawings and words, but the artifact of Thor #160 alone tells a fascinating story: one of a man who was crushed beneath the heel of industry, but whose blood burned so hot that his service to the overlords who treated him so ruthlessly left behind paper objects more powerful and compelling than anything hundreds of millions of dollars and a small army of filmmakers are capable of producing.  Like the gods whose stories he continued from the ancient myths that birthed them, Kirby will outlive us all.

Cover price: 12 cents.

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Comments

37 Comments

Jake Earlewine

May 9, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Great column, Matt! I’m in agreement with everything you said about Kirby. Thor #160 was indeed a great comic book — though I don’t know how much better it was than the thirty issues that preceded it! With Thor, Kirby was at the peak of his genius non-stop for about five years! Hitting it out of the ballpark every month! The second comic book I ever bought was Thor #147, and I blame Kirby for my lifelong comic book addiction.

It breaks my heart to see this Avengers movie carrying the title “Marvel’s The Avengers” when it should be called “Jack Kirby’s Avengers.” There’s no justice in this world. Without Kirby, there would be no Captain America, no Thor, no Iron Man, and no Hulk — NO AVENGERS. Hell, without Kirby, Marvel would have dried up and blown away in 1959.

Good luck with your new column, Matt — If you choose to simply write about Kirby comics every week, I’ll be content! Kirby’s greatest comics could keep you busy writing columns for YEARS!

Great article.
Kirby is King. His work will live forever.

“The Wanderers themselves recall nothing more than a band of intergalactic Jews, without a homeland and sentenced to an endless search across the spaceways.”

You just made me think of this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAZhtT-dUyo

David Scholes

May 10, 2012 at 4:39 am

This brought back great memories. Thank you very much.

I started reading Marvel Thor when he was first introduced in the JIM of August 1962. In fact as a kid of 13 at the time I had already become somewhat conversant with norse mythology – ever before Marvl Thor was introduced.

Thing is I just forgot to stop reading Thor.

As an Aussie sci-fi writer: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/david_scholes1
I’ve even tried to recreate just a little of those halcyon days with a solid collection of (mainly) Thor fan fiction, why not check it out? http://www.fanfiction.net/u/1276881/David_Scholes

My greatest regret was that Marvel never gave us a decent Odin/Galactus clash – I don’t think Fraction’s recent effort counts. However you definitely will find a classic Odin/Galactus clash in the Battle for Asgard – among my fan fiction.

Cheers

I guess this could be a prime example of why Jack (so I have read) was relatively unconcerned with who inked his drawings. Vince Colletta, sure, why not; someone like Joe Sinnott would spend far more time on careful, respectful rendering, but with images like these that was ultimately going to be a matter of putting the Mona Lisa in a solid gold frame vs a merely gilded one. The work itself is so good that while it probably deserves the extra respect but doesn’t actually need it in order to awe. Even just fairly basic, competent reproduction of most of the lines and shapes in black ink will still leave something that will knock you over.

Has Galactus ever looked more alien and imposing than in that drawing above?

Here’s the original art for that splash.
http://www.whatifkirby.com/gallery/comic-art-listings/mighty-thor-issue-160-page-13
Note Kirby had drawn Galactus so you can see his eyes. Kirby’s note reads: Scouted it before, but now sees nothing, except he feels waves of thought present.
The origin of Galactus as presented in Thor is one of the most bastardized of all Kirby’s stories. As shown in Kirby border notes as early as FF #49 Galactus and the Watcher were of the same race, and knew one another.
KIrby was completely unaware Lee had been running a feature called TALES OF THE WATCHER, which began in TALES OF SUSPENSE #49 (Jan’64). The 2-part “origin” story was in TOS #53-54 (May-Jun’64) The credits I have actually say Stan did the plots, Larry the layouts, pencils & dialogue.
Kirby origin of Galactus story was so different it had to be scraped, there are ten or more pages which had to be set aside including this splash of The Watcher.
http://books.google.com/books?id=eHM3vW6ogDsC&pg=PA144&lpg=PA144&dq=KIrby+Unleashed++The+Watcher&source=bl&ots=CHK8ho4CES&sig=gNtGF4awIAYVJlrjF-1Nj14s1Z8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=rg6tT-LkG6Xc0QHxo-XzCw&ved=0CFwQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=KIrby%20Unleashed%20%20The%20Watcher&f=false

I’m supposed to skip the Avengers movie for this?

Um, regarding credits for the Avengers film, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye are Don Heck creations. Not Kirby.

Wow, great article.

Both mainstream movie watchers AND modern comics readers are dumbfounded when I try to push the classic Kirby/Lee material on them. Some have said its “insulting” to adults to recommend this stuff. Adults should stick with the newer, more ‘realistic’ comics.

Thank you for clarifying why they have it backwards!

That Kirby artwork is majestic

Hey Matt–wow, what an incredible piece on Thor #160!! Beautifully written and expounded upon! Thought I’d take this occasion to patch in, for you & the other readers here, the intro Marvel hired me to write for the Masterworks volume that contained your issue here (#153-162); it’s posted on the comic book history sub-page of my site, but here it is in full:

After Thor’s creation in 1962 as more or less Marvel’s Superman—dressed as a Viking, yes, but with the same primary-colored costume, cape, and powers as DC’s flagship superhero—artist and storyteller Jack Kirby and writer Stan Lee gradually transformed him, by the mid-1960s, into an iconic warrior-king with a stature that befitted his title of god. With their backup feature, Tales of Asgard, providing the ample historical background and mythological gravitas to their lead characters—Thor’s fellow warriors, cosmic beings, deities and demons—Kirby and Lee began to produce truly awe-inspiring adventures beyond Earth, into Asgard, and throughout the universe. They reached their apex, perhaps, in the artwork, stories and themes found in this volume, which bounds Thor #153 (June 1968) to #162 (March 1969).

“I began to realize what a wonderful and awesome place the universe is, and that helped me in comics because I was looking for the awesome,” Kirby said in a 1993 interview. “I found it in Thor.” Awesome indeed and terrible to behold was Mangog, a hellspawn behemoth Kirby unleashed in Thor #154, setting off a four-issue epic saga that is undeniably definitive in Kirby’s oeuvre of epic sagas. An unholy amalgam of minotaur, devil and dinosaur, Mangog was, in Lee’s best hyperbolic prose, “possessed of the strength of a billion billion beings” and on a single-minded mission of mayhem, vengeance, destruction and death—not only of Odin (whom Mangog blamed for the death of his entire race) and all of Asgard—but of all life everywhere, for Mangog wanted to bring on the dreaded “Ragnarok—the death of all thy universe!”

Ragnarok, the Asgardian Armageddon, was a concept Kirby and Lee had bandied about in Thor for years prior, most prominently in a Tales of Asgard installment (Thor # 128, May 1966, its splash page echoed in the background of the cover of #157, one of Kirby’s greatest masterpieces, a perverse Pieta, with Mangog’s humongous claw cradling a fallen Thor), but never had it come so close to actually happening until this Mangog multi-parter reached its climax: after laying waste to everything in his path, including Thor and all of Asgard’s best and brightest, Mangog begins to unsheathe the sequoia-sized Odinsword, thus initiating Ragnarok.

But just then, in a bit of a deus ex machina, Odin awakens from his “life-giving Odinsleep” and stops Mangog dead in his tracks, literally, with a wave of his hand; for it turns out Mangog was in reality an illusion, part of a spell Odin cast on his entire race ages before, in penance (for crime or crimes never revealed, strangely)—“a living prison.” Once Mangog fades away, Odin brings the “billion billion beings” to life again, “…to dwell in peace…fore’er!” Thor and company all hail Odin as the curtain falls, and Lee adds a final burst with the Latin “Dum spiro spero,” which means, “While I breathe, I hope.”

What was this Mangog epic about? Not in a literal, surface-reading sense, but rather, given everything we know about Kirby’s background, his upbringing, his life experiences—especially his World War II duty—in a more between-the-lines, under-the-skin analysis; a deconstruction, as it were, of Mangog.

To begin with, the name Mangog was probably derived from the biblical Magog, a grandson of Noah, but is more commonly associated with an apocryphal biblical story of Gog and Magog, in which Gog, one of the fallen angels of a nation called Magog, represents an apocalyptic coalition of nations arrayed against Israel. In other biblical traditions, Gog and Magog are variously presented as supernatural beings like giants or demons, and even in the Koran they are described as “evil and destructive in nature” and causing “great corruption on earth.” A Georgian tradition compares them to “wild men with hideous faces and the manner of wild beasts, eaters of blood.”

With this portentous provenance of Mangog’s appellation established, it would appear clear that such a monstrous being, swathing a path of total destruction across Asgard, could only represent, to a war veteran of the European theater like Kirby, the Blitzkreiging Nazi war machine as it stormed over Europe, annihilating all who stood in its terrible path. If so, then are the “billion billion” brethren of Mangog the German people that Kirby, through Odin, figuratively forgives for their collaboration with their Nazi countrymen? It seems unlikely that Kirby, a proud Jew born Yaakov Kurtzberg from European immigrant parents, would ever forgive the German people—indeed, issues of their passivity, responsibility, ignorance or awareness of the extent of Nazi evil are still being debated today—so perhaps Odin, in a more general way, stands for the victorious United States, “forgiving” the Germans (or, in this analogy, the Japanese) after a horrible war by rebuilding their country and turning them into an ally. Either way, the Mangog epic demonstrates that, like the greatest American genre storytellers in westerns (John Ford) and science fiction (Kubrick), Kirby’s superheroic sagas operated on two levels: the one you read, and the one you read into.

Like the Thor three-parter that ends this volume, the awesome showdown between two of Kirby’s greatest cosmic creations: Ego, the Living Planet and Galactus, the planet devourer. Though Galactus had, up ‘til then, only been seen in the pages of Kirby’s Fantastic Four from whence he arose, it seemed natural that he would have to eventually crossover to Thor and meet Ego, the ultimate planet on the menu. While those two engage in a battle royale that lives up to any and all expectations of Kirby’s pulse-pounding power on the page, he introduces a legion of alien nomads called the Wanderers, who were the first victims of Galactus ages before, and who have been wandering through space seeking revenge ever since. To see them as wandering Jews in a cosmic diaspora (minus the revenge), in light of the previous Mangog exegesis, is fairly overt.

Especially when, at the climax, the Wanderers are left stranded on a triumphant Ego, though the planet itself is barren and incapable of sustaining life—until Ego (God?) transforms the planet into an Edenic paradise. This parallels the situation of the wandering Jews of the post-Holocaust, who settled in a desert wasteland and transformed it, relatively overnight, into the desert oasis Israel is today. And to complete the Judeao-Christian symbolism, Ego/God takes human form and bequeaths his planet to the Wanderers, telling them “…make of me your home…forever! Until the end of time.” Sound familiar?

Sandwiched between these two bombastic classics is a most interesting interlude, a retelling and revision of Thor’s origin that forecasts the post-modern approach to superhero origins, in which heretofore minor and simple plot points are retroactively illuminated and expanded upon, given backstory and exposition. In this case, Kirby and Lee not only explained how Dr. Donald Blake first came to find Thor’s hammer years before, but more saliently, extrapolated the nature, duality and coexistence of Thor’s and Blake’s true identities.

Kirby always made time, in between Asgardian adventures and star-spanning sojourns, for Thor to gambol on earth and interact with its denizens, both human and superhuman. Often these mini-exploits were more lighthearted in tone, and the one in issue #154 is one of the best, both funny and profound. After dispatching a typical band of Kirby suit-and-hat bad guys called Muggers, Incorporated, Thor happens upon a trio of hippies, who Lee has speak in dialogue as pseudo-hip as his Thor dialogue was pseudo-Shakespearean:

Hippie: “I dig the hair and the guru getup—but that hammer’s from nowhere, man!”
Thor: “Thou deign to scoff at enchanted Mjolnir?”

Yet, just when you think their exchange will degenerate further into broad comedy, Lee issues, through Thor, a challenge to the hippies—and by extension, Marvel’s sizeable 1968 college-age readership—to turn off, tune out, and drop back in to society: “’Tis not by dropping out—but by plunging in—into the maelstrom of life itself—that thou shalt find thy wisdom! Yea, thou mayest drop out fore’er—once Hela herself hath come for thee! But, so long as life endures—thou must live it to the full!” As subtle as Thor’s hammer those words might seem—and as charmingly dated—they nevertheless reflect accurately Lee’s overwhelmingly successful Marvel formula of the 1960s: dynamic superhero action in the panels kids could revel in, sophisticated dialogue and witty repartee in the word balloons an older audience would gravitate to.

As for the dynamic superhero action in this volume, it’s on bountiful display throughout, with all manner of battle scenes, both on earth and in Asgard and beyond, interspersed with monumental full-pages (mostly of Odin’s many regal headdresses) and even a handful of Kirby’s patented photo-collages, usually seen in Fantastic Four. The art by Kirby and his longtime Thor inker, Vince Colletta, reaches multiple apogees herein, including perhaps the greatest single, iconic image of Thor ever illustrated: the statuesque full-page figure in issue #161. The scratchy, thatched, thin-line inking of Colletta, often maligned in a debate among Kirby aficionados that has never ended, still seems to suit the rough and tumble, rock and mountain mise-en-scene of Thor’s world best; an ideal example would be his rendering of the Storm Giant on the cover of issue #159—you can’t imagine any inker other than Colletta capturing the gargantuan’s grizzled skin and organic textures so perfectly. Yet even the more high-tech and outer space scenes, like the full-pages of both Ego and the Wanderers’ spaceship in issue #161, are delineated by Colletta with the same degree of detail and slickness as is often credited to Joe Sinnott, Colletta’s counterpart on the more high-tech Fantastic Four, whom many of those same Kirby aficionados consider his greatest inker (this writer among them).

Great artwork, great stories=great comics. This collection contains nothing but, and therefore has to be judged as not just some of the best Thor comics Kirby and Lee produced during their eight-year run on the title, but as some of the greatest comics produced in the history of the medium itself.

Jack Kirby’s Avengers? I know you are on a mission, but ascribing everything to Kirby’s “genius” ends up slighting all the other worthy creators at Marvel including, yes, STAN LEE.

Great article and very interesting commentaries. Patrick Ford, thanks for the information – I never knew that Kirby envisioned the Watcher and Galactus to be of the same alien race. I also appreciate the retrospective on Thor himself. The fact that the character was able to be the canvas on which Kirby realized his cosmic aspirations makes the underpowering of Thor in the present Avengers movie that much more irritating.

Arlen Schumer, thanks for your analysis and history lesson. Kirby’s weaving of Jewish myth into these stories is interesting. However, it does underscore an interesting point – if Kirby was drawing on Jewish history and uses the Wanderers’ settling of Ego as a metaphor for the creation of Israel, it also underlines his own ignorance of the fact that the land that is now Israel was occupied by another people when it was settled. This is hardly surprising-many American Jews did not even know that Palestinians existed in 1969 (and many still deny it today), but it underlines how difficult it would be to write this kind of story today. At the very least, the story would, of necessity, take on very different meaning.

I understand that Kirby was treated unfairly but I believe in your zeal to shine light on the treatment he received, you treat Lee just as unfairly. Lee may not be perfect but he is talented and should not be so easily dismissed for the creative things he did do.

I think Vince Colleta has been unjustly been ripped on regarding his inking of jack Kirby. Vince Colleta gave a softer touch to Kirby and gave a different feeling to Thor than Joe Sinnott gave to Kirby on Fantastic Four. Joe Sinnott’s style would not have worked for Thor, because he used thicker lines and cleaner lines. In my view Joe Sinnott was Kirby’s best sci fi inker and Vince Colletta was jack Kirby’s best fantasy inker. and above all else The Mighty Thor was a fantasy superhero comic-book. I really think most inkers who inked Jack Kirby after Vince Colletta and Joe Sinnott were way too faithful to Jack Kirby’s art and didn’t add anything of themselves to it. Jack Kirby was and always will be the King of comic artists, but just tracing his work, I think was doing a discredit to the man and his work.

Jake Earlewine

May 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Bruce, I agree that Colletta’s inks contributed a more “fantasy” quality to Thor. I’m glad Joe Sinnott inked the Fantastic Four, and I’m glad that Colletta, not Sinnott, was given Thor to ink. As de facto Art Director, Stan knew what he was doing.

The big complaint that we Colletta-bashers have is how much of Kirby’s pencils Colletta erased because he was in such a hurry. I believe that if Kirby took the time to draw something, then by golly, the inker should have respected that and inked what was on the page.

If anybody is reading this who has the power to make it happen, people like me would pay good money for digital omnibus-style presentations of certain artists, including this stuff by Kirby. I love my omnibuses but it’s not like I can take them anywhere with me and I’m not even sure this issue is in the Thor ones.

A very impressive and thoughtful column. Bravo. And I, for one, appreciate your discussion of the treatment of Kirby in relation to this particular masterpiece. Yes, maybe the Avengers movie itself isn’t full of his characters, but the point is that, more often than not, in the Lee-Kirby partnership is was Kirby from whom the concepts sprang, with Lee adding the words and details afterwards. Yet Lee, generally speaking, remains the one who is perceived by the public as the strongest creative force behind Marvel’s early years. Which is just not the truth, or anyway not the whole truth, as evidenced by things such as Thor #160.

I’ve read a number of articles over the years that have subtly (and not so subtly) bashed and diminished the role of Stan Lee in Marvel’s ascendancy. I guess the question I have is, if Lee wasn’t a part of Marvel whatsoever, would there still have been a Marvel Age of Comics?

I mean, from what all the experts and armchair quarterbacks say, he really was of such little significance compared to the genius of Kirby, Ditko, etc, that Marvel would still have had the great success whether he was there or not. Right?

The Lee/Kirby Thor was always my favorite take on the character. And yes, Kirby should get more credit for his amazing talent, but I think you’re being unfair to Stan Lee for his contributions to the “Marvel Age of Comics.” Kirby was an awesome talent, and a bottomless well of ideas, but he was not a writer. I think he needed a good writer to focus his ideas. Just look at the stuff he did by himself over at DC (New Gods) and Captain America in the mid-70s… interesting ideas and concepts, but painful to read. The final product was no where near as polished and interesting as the Lee/Kirby stuff. Stan was a perfect complement to Jack and the two of them made magic together.

Robert Bradley

May 12, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Jeff – I think the rush to credit Kirby with success Marvel enjoyed in the ’60s certainly undervalues the others there at the time, including Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers, Don Heck and the many other contributors who followed (such as John Romita, Jim Steranko, John Buscema, Roy Thomas, etc.) .

Lee was able to write in a manner that connected with the fans, his stories and columns made the readers feel they were part of something bigger than the comics themselves.

Kirby was a artistic dynamo and contributed many of the ideas which became the foundation of the Marvel Universe. But he wasn’t the only one – Steve Ditko (Spider-Man & Doctor Strange), Don Heck (Iron Man) and Bill Everett (Daredevil) all deserve credit.

Kirby worked in an industry that didn’t reward it’s creative talent outside of a regular paycheck, but he knew that going in. He operated his own comic company under identical circumstances, so it’s hard to argue he didn’t fully understand.

And to compare Lee’s financial compensation is somewhat pointless. In addition to being the company’s top writer Lee served as it’s editor and art director, and was their public voice both with the press and during his college Q & A sessions.

Sure, Stan doesn’t deserve all the credit he’s gotten over the years, but that credit should be spread around, not just given to Kirby or Ditko.

The suggestion to call them “Jack Kirby’s Avengers is a curious one – considering how Lee had a hand in creating all of the characters except Captain America and Kirby had nothing to do with the creation of Hawkeye and the Black Widow and his contributions to the creation of Iron Man are limited at best. (and besides, the courts have already concluded that Marvel holds the rights to the characters, not the individual writers and artists.)

I read that some of the younger generation of artists complain that they don’t get a fair shake for taking so long to produce their artwork because unlike during Kirby’s time, their artwork is “more detailed and just takes more time to do.”

Please: Kirby was doing several books a month on top of non-comics work. As someone here said, the man was a “creative dynamo.” He was that in more ways than one — he was an illustration machine. I mean, just look at that artwork; he was probably producing 60 pages a month at that level of quality!

Plus, he didn’t have Photoshop or other software that the artists today have to help him complete his work.

It was just really a different era; Kirby’s family wouldn’t be able to make ends meet if he didn’t work the way he did. There weren’t that many distractions — or if there were, he must’ve had to tune them out. That’s why it just pisses me off when we see all these younger artists belly-aching. Nowadays, everything’s set-up to enable them to meet deadlines — and Marvel and DC still need fill-in artists every 4 issues!

Lastly, I think John Buscema needs to be on the list of under-appreciated artists too because you can see the influence of his art (and Neal Adams) on plenty of the best artists today; a lot of the visual grammar of superhero comics owes itself to Kirby, Adams and Buscema.

What’s so special about Kirby’s artwork?

I have seen artists whose illustrations are much more elaborate and majestic by comparison. Esad Ribic for example.

Almost inevitably, this has descended into a Lee versus Kirby fight. Sad. They were two genuises who did their best work together.

The Recorder character who features in #160 is an interesting case.

He was introduced at the end of #132, if memory serves. Kirby’s incredible images gives him a dignity and, dare I say it, a “soul”. I think Stan is responsible for the distinctive way that the Recorder annouces the type of statement he will make. But there’s more to it than that. There’s a panel in the next issue, as Thor rescues the Recorder from a pile of rocks. The Recorder, rather surprisingly, expresses gratitude. I have not seen a scan of teh original art so have never seen Kirby’s margin notes, if there are any. However, there’s nothing implied in the panel about this twist. It reads like pure Stan to me.

In other words, the character is a product of both.

Even if Stan did nothing but the speech, he added so, so much.

Nobody can beat Kirby’s sense of design and speed. Esad Ribic is an amazing artist though!

I’m only twenty-six, but this is one of my favorite books. Beautiful stuff.

You made me pull my Marvel Masterworks off the shelf to look at this. Mind-blowing stuff.

ALL HAIL KING KIRBY!

Mr V….. show me an artist today that could do 2 or 3 books a month like Kirby did. With Ribic, yes he’s good. But it would have taken years for him just to turn out this Galactus arc.

But I don’t like the tone of this article in that Kirby alone was responsible for the Avengers though. It was probably one of the books that he’s had the least influence on since Don Heck and John Buscema did far more issues back then. From most accounts, Stan was like the director/producer that kept everything running, coming up with the plots, assigning artists and inkers,etc . If Stan had nothing to do with the writing, why was Kirby given stuff to redo? This was also a source of frustration for Kirby but it shows that Stan was collaborating and sometimes overruling on the story.

“What’s so special about Kirby’s work?”

Ayo shuts off computer, throws comic books into dumpster and burns down every comic book shop in North America.

You dishonor Esad Ribic by putting him in the same breath as Jack Kirby. That guy drew an Uncanny X-Force arc that looked pretty. Jack Kirby INVENTED MODERN SUPERHEROES, get outta here.

revised: Kirby invented the grammar and language of modern North American comic books. We all eat the fruit from the tree of Kirby’s genius. Esad Ribic never created nothing. Never innovated a thing. Never changed anybody’s experience with an entire mode of art. Never.

The nerve of this guy.

Bryan Grantham

May 14, 2012 at 10:27 am

When I was much younger, the first Kirby artwork I ever saw was the oversized publication of 2001: A Space Odyssey (movie adaptation). I HATED it. However, the story pulled me in, and I found myself revisiting those pages many times. I also eventually read early issues of Fantastic Four, and even though the style of art made me scratch my head, something about it was so raw and iconic. The word “iconic” is so overused now, but Kirby’s artwork seems to seep into the readers soul. Yes, human fingers frequently resemble candy bars (forced perspective), and sometimes females look bulky, but there’s just no denying that the storytelling skills are solidly there. I sympathize with casual readers, especially anyone born after 1975 that barely picks up a comic, but give yourself a chance. Read more than just a handful of Kirby’s and Lee’s collaborations. Take the stories and sagas as a whole, without judging out-of-context panels, and you’ll see what I, and many others, mean. YOU WON’T REGRET IT.

Kirby is one of, if not, THE greatest comic book artists of all time in my opinion. But again stop undercutting Lee’s contribution’s to Marvel’s success. In addition to dialogue, Lee was initially the plotter of all the books. He would right a detailed outline (approx two pages, single spaced) for the artist to elaborate from. Some of those original outlines have been released to the public. The artists did add important details to the stories and can be credited as co-plotters. I don’t if Lee was still plotting by the time Thor 160 came around because of his increasing editorial duties, but certainly, in the early stories that established the classic characters, Lee created the storylines. Again, I LOVE Kirby as an artist, but as a writer, he was brutally bad. Read any of his stuff from the 70s. The only reason why those characters have endured is that DC and Marvel passed the characters along to much better writers. Do I think that Kirby was mistreated by Marvel (and DC)? Of course. Let’s just be realistic in our worship of him. All the people who criticize Lee will line up to praise him when he passes. Acknowledge his contributions while he is still around.

at some point were just going to have to recognize how Both contributed to the success that marvel is having…and in someways you can consider lee/kirby to be marvels mccartney/lennon.

but heres something we also fail to realize.

sometimes, a figure head has to be established. a leading man.

you can say lee is the axel rose to kirbys slash (or insert lead singer/guitarist of your choice)

also a generation of fans grew up listening to stan lees voice overs on certain cartoons.

at some point, its ok to acknowledge both with out relegating the other, but know that stan lee is the face of the marvel universe…and nothing is going to change that…much like steve jobs was the face at apple. Ives mayve designed most of the stuff, but when you think apple, the common man will think jobs….thats just the way it is…

personally, i thnk for both and the rest of the crew at marvel during thier formative years…their all equally important in my eyes

Matt–
I join with others above in both praising the majority of this piece, but also chiding you for diminishing Stan Lee’s contributions. Whether they were getting along at this stage or not, it was still a high-functioning partnership, with Lee able to polish Kirby’s pages into gems (and yes, occasionally changing Kirby’s original intent for the characters or plot, for better or worse). Taking nothing away from Kirby’s ideas, dynamics and pacing, a significant part of what makes the issue–and the pages you include here–is Stan’s dialogue, the sort of faux-Shakespearean tone that Kirby alone could never do as well. It’s quite possible to praise Kirby to the rafters without kicking Lee.

Seneca accurately describes the working relationship of Lee and Kirby. Seneca also praises Stan’s dialogue here. Read the article.

Kirby was fast but Colletta was faster. Look at that splash page with the space ships. Most any inker would need a week to complete that page. Without Vince, and many of the other inkers who strove to keep up with the king, these comics would have had no chance to come out on time. Think of there only being half as many FFs and Thors as were produced. Had a Neal Adams or Mike Grell created those books, that’s what we’d have. Half as many books with half as good artwork in them. Inking is a precision craft – unlike penciling. As far as I’m concerned, comic book fans, especially the “experts” on inking are as blind as bats when it comes to Colletta.

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