JACK KIRBY's Most Fantastic & Uncanny MARVEL Creations1 of 12By Lucas Siegel, Newsarama Editor
Happy Birthday to the King! It's Jack Kirby's birthday today, August 28th, so that's as good a time as any to revisit this countdown celebrating some of his greatest creations for the House of Ideas.
Original Story posted August 3, 2011: Jack Kirby's estate recently lost a lawsuit with Marvel, having sought ownership of several characters at the "House of Ideas." The venerable artist co-created many characters for the company across the span of several decades, but according to the judge's ruling, did so under work-for-hire, and thus has no claim to ownership or copyright.
Regardless of the legal proceedings (which are far from over, as appeals are promised), we thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the contributions Kirby made to Marvel Comics, and celebrate the uniquely Kirby ideas that are permeating comics, movies, TV, and more today. It's impossible to fit everything into one of these little countdown spaces, so we chose 10 that have special meaning in broader senses; this list easily could have been a five part series otherwise.
Click "start here" in the upper-left corner to take a look at our list of 10 Fantastic and Uncanny Kirby Marvel Creations, and hop over to Facebook and Twitter to let us know some of your favorites, on and off this small list!
UATU THE WATCHER2 of 12The Marvel multiverse, an infinite number of alternate worlds where things can be anywhere from a slight change in one character to a completely different or backwards world, wouldn't be the same without this enigmatic bald giant.
Uatu is a Watcher, one of a race that does exactly what they sound like, watch and observe the entire universe, noting all the major things that happen. Through his history since his introduction in 1963's Fantastic Four #13 from Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, he has been an observer, a warning sign, and occasionally, a rule-breaking interloper who decides humanity is worth stepping in to help out.
Uatu narrated the multiverse hopping What If? series, and has appeared in nearly every major event book for the last several decades, including 2011's Fear Itself. He has appeared on at least six different animated series, in a handful of video games including Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and is often the first one around before our next entry shows up...
GALACTUS3 of 12The devourer of worlds was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, again in Fantastic Four. Seeking a character that held as much more power over the superheroes as they did over regular humans, Kirby and Lee looked to the Bible to create a godlike figure and his "fallen angel," the first herald Silver Surfer.
Galactus is indeed larger than life, and became a regular foil of the Fantastic Four, though his apparently evil purposes have been frequently revealed to have much deeper meaning than just feeding his near-endless hunger. Galactus has appeared in several television shows and video games, and controversially appeared as, well, a cloud in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the second feature film starring the family of superheroes. There was meant to be a Silver Surfer spin-off that would re-introduce Galactus as the purple-helmeted galactic giant, but as the franchise is being rebooted, those plans have likely been scrapped.
ETERNALS4 of 12Created exclusively by Jack Kirby in his latter period with Marvel Comics in the mid-1970s, The Eternals were originally meant to be a new group of superpowered characters that were as old as humanity, and existed outside of the regular Marvel Universe. Future writers and artists would fall in love with the characters, however, and Roy Thomas and Mark Gruenwald would fold them into the MU.
Created by the godlike Celestials and doing constant battle with their counterparts the Deviants, this was a true modern mythology built from the ground up by Kirby. Some similar designs were shared in the DC Universe's New Gods (also Kirby creations, of course) and Kirby's own "Kirbyverse" characters, who have recently begun to be explored by Dynamite Entertainment, but in the Marvel Universe they've remained unique.
While the Eternals and their godly pals haven't appeared in other media, they've been pivotal to events in and out of the regular Marvel Universe, with the Celestials as the main focal point of Alex Ross and Jim Krueger's Earth X series, and the Eternals themselves drawing award-winning comic writer, novelist and screenwriter Neil Gaiman back to the Marvel Universe for a 2006 limited series re-introducing them, with art by John Romita, Jr. Outside of Galactus and our next entry, these are definitely the most recognizably "Kirby" creations on this list, and a great example of how he built entire worlds for his characters to live in.
GROOT5 of 12"I AM GROOT!" It's a familiar phrase to fans of the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe, as re-developed in recent years by the writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. But many of those fans may not know that Groot, the Monarch of Planet X who shares similarities with the Tolkien tree-people the Ents, is actually a Kirby creation.
Brought into the marvel Universe by Kirby, Stan Lee, and Dick Ayers in 1960's Tales to Astonish #13, Groot was originally a straight-up villainous alien invader. He was destroyed, but restored multiple times throughout the ensuing five decades, battling Hulk and working with the Howling Commandos before eventually joining the Guardians of the Galaxy. Since the Guardians disbanded, Groot has been journeying with his pal, fellow fan-favorite Rocket Raccoon. It was also revealed that his singular line of dialogue actually meant different things every time he spoke; it is the unsophisticated ears of other beings that keep hearing the same thing.
Groot is a great example of the "Kirby Monster" and how they could grow into unique characters on their own, even if they initially seemed one-note.
BLACK PANTHER6 of 12The first mainstream black superhero, Black Panther is another character to come out of the team of Kirby and Stan Lee in Fantastic Four. (Are you sensing a theme? Can you see who this countdown might be building to?)
Not only did Black Panther display superhuman abilities, he also bucked the trend of what was expected of black characters. He was a strong African man, immensely intelligent (portrayed on a level with Reed Richards and Henry Pym), controls the world's reserves of Vibranium, and oh yeah, leads an entire super-advanced nation, the fictional Wakanda.
While Black Panther, like most comic characters, has gone through many changes, he has always been a true power in the Marvel Universe. He's been a member of several Avengers teams, the Fantastic Four, and married the X-Man Storm. T'Challa has been in several animated series, including the currently running Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and in the animated film Ultimate Avengers 2. While he hasn't had a feature film yet, he did reach #4 on our list of 10 Avengers We Want to See on the Big Screen.
CAPTAIN AMERICA7 of 12Most people credit Joe Simon primarily with the creation of Captain America, and rightly so, but that shouldn't diminish Jack Kirby's contribution to the character's origins.
Before pretty much any other Marvel hero, and over 6 decades before he'd be on the big screen in Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America punched Hitler in the face in 1940's Captain America Comics #1.
That cover remains one of the most iconic American comic book images of all time. Kirby liked the character from his collaborative partner Simon so much, he insisted on penciling the entire first issue despite tight deadlines. After a decent run and some false restarts, Captain America would return once and for all in another Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creation, The Avengers, where he would soon become team leader.
Captain America has seen many revamps as writers and artists continue to update him to the times, usually reflecting the political situation of the nation he represents, just as he did at his inception. Several people have carried the mantle of Captain America, but Steve Rogers, the original, always seems to come back, just as he did in July 2011's Captain America #1. The character has also been in a multitude of animated properties (yes, including the current Avengers: EMH), video games, and a couple (yes, a couple) live-action films, though only one of those will likely be talked about by Marvel in public. He'll also be appearing in 2012's film The Avengers, presumably leading the movie's lineup of heroes.
THOR8 of 12When you want a hero who is stronger than the modern-day versions of godly heroes, who better than one of the original gods himself? That was the thinking that drove Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and his brother Larry Lieber to bring Thor, god of thunder out of Norse Mythology and into the Marvel Universe.
Premiering in 1962's Journey into Mystery #83, Kirby said Thor was simply brought in to be stronger than the Hulk, who was "the strongest person." Thor didn't come into the Marvel U alone, though, he brought along his father Odin, his trickster brother Loki, and dozens of other Asgardians. Loki, in fact, was instrumental in the formation of The Avengers, as it seems he will be in the film of the same name.
Thor is another that has appeared in several games, animated series (again, currently on Avengers: EMH), and of course the big screen live-action adventure from spring 2011.
IRON MAN9 of 12Rounding out the "big 3" of the Avengers, Iron Man isn't just a major Kirby-collaborated creation, he's the cornerstone of the Marvel Studios movie universe.
Created by Kirby, artist Don Heck, and writers Stan Lee and Larry Lieber in 1963, Tony Stark, Iron Man was meant to be a symbol of military industrialism that was at the time largely hated by the general public. Kirby created the costume, at first a literal iron suit of armor, while Heck, the interior artist, designed Tony Stark. The character wound up being a quintessential example of the 'flawed' Marvel hero, with much more literal shortcomings, from an actual broken heart to a fierce battle with alcoholism.
The character of Iron Man has seen several redesigns to his armor, with artists like John Romita, Jr., Bob Layton, Sean Chen, Adi Granov, and most recently Salvador Larroca contributing to one of Kirby's most lasting and well-known legacies. He has appeared in two highly successful live-action feature films, not to mention an animated direct-to-dvd movie, appearances in others of the sort, several animated series (yup! Avengers: EMH again!), video games; pretty much any medium you can stick a comic book character into.
X-MEN10 of 12One of the most well-known teams in comics, Marvel's Mutants, created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1963 (it was a busy year for them, huh?) were unlike anything else seen in the superhero world. These superpowered men and women weren't loved or celebrated as heroes; instead they protected a world that hated and feared them.
Beginning with Professor Xavier, Cyclops, Iceman, Marvel Girl, Angel, and Beast, the original Kirby designs can still be felt today, both in the comics and in the most recent (FIFTH) film in the popular franchise, X-Men: First Class. Kirby's longest-lasting design, however, came in their arch-nemesis Magneto, who despite a couple of attempts, has always gone back to the same basic costume he was seen wearing in the pages of X-Men #1.
In addition to the aforementioned live-action franchise, they've had several animated series, video games on virtually every major console since Nintendo, and even original prose novels. The stable of characters has grown from six to thousands, but the original cast has endured as mainstays throughout. The list of well-known comic creators that have worked on the tales of the various X-teams and characters is astonishing: from Lee and Kirby to John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Frank Miller, Warren Ellis, Chris Bachalo, Rob Liefeld, Jeph Loeb, Joe Madureira, Grant Morrison, Matt Fraction; it's a list of award-winners, best sellers and controversies, but ultimately it's a list of folks that comic fans quite simply know, and it all stemmed from Kirby and Lee.
FANTASTIC FOUR11 of 12Only one group could be #1, and that's clearly the first family of comics, and the arguable start of the Silver Age (or at least the Marvel Age) of comics: the Fantastic Four. Born of the desire for a superhero team comic and America's burgeoning love affair with space travel, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee teamed to send four explorers into space, bombard them with cosmic rays, and make them the premiere super team of the Marvel Universe.
1961's Fantastic Four #1 isn't the only notable bit of this cosmic team-up by Kirby and Lee; the two would remain on the book for the first 102 issues. They also pioneered the "Marvel method" of creating comics, where Kirby would draw the book off a basic plot by Lee, which Lee would then script over, offering a higher level of collaboration. The book would generate much of the early Marvel universe, including 3 entries on this list plus the Inhumans, the Kree, the Skrulls, Silver Surfer, the re-introduction of Namor, Doctor Doom, and many more. The Marvel Universe simply wouldn't exist without the Fantastic Four.
In addition to two live action films, the team has appeared in several animated series and a handful of video games, with Kirby's original designs rarely and barely tampered with for the majority of their five decades.
If there's any doubt that the FF are #1 on this list, we point you to Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo's Fantastic Four #511. In the story, the team travels to Heaven to recover Ben Grimm (The Thing); when they meet God, he looks just like one Jack Kirby, complete with drawing board.
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