I wrote this appreciation a few years ago when a friend asked me who my favorite Jack Kirby characters were. Today would have been the 96th birthday of Jack Kirby who passed away almost 20 years ago. For anyone following this blog who is unaware, Kirby created the visual language of what makes up superhero comics as we known them today. While most superhero comics on the surface are visually a 180 from the surface art of Kirby, whose drawing style was uniquely his, his way of staging action, his dynamic perspectives, and ability to convey drama is imitated to this day. During his lifetime, he gave readers a multitude of characters and concepts that fans of superhero comics are familiar with to this day. Kirby’s characters continue to stand the test of time and here’s a list of six characters that I continue to enjoy to this day.
5. Ego the Living Planet
This guy is one of Kirby’s weirder ideas and one that shows off Kirby’s logic when it came to storytelling. Stan Lee had Galactus show up again in the pages of Thor and Kirby’s response to when Stan Lee needed a threat for Galactus was simple; a sentient planet. Many artists have drawn Ego over the years even Kirby himself like here.
But I’ve always found this version of Ego on the first page he appeared to be even creepier. This is one of many photo collages that Kirby often experimented with throughout his tenure at Marvel in the 1960s (they showed up a lot in Fantastic Four). His photo collages were eerie and I thought really hammered home Kirby’s ability to convey the strangeness of the universe his heroes inhabited.
I love that the ultimate foe for Galactus, Kirby’s greatest force of nature, was a planet that could fight back.
4. Black Bolt aka Blackagar Boltagon
I’ve researched this and Black Bolt’s name really is Blackagar Boltagon, more Kirby logic for you there. Kirby was great at creating characters that weren’t just people, they were forces of nature. Black Bolt is a great example of this along with being visually impressive. His costume design is one of Kirby’s greatest but what I love about Black Bolt is that as the most powerful of the Inhumans, Kirby never draws him as being anything but solid. He’s basically is a wall and full of rigid poses. Black Bolt always appears like he’s a wall that can’t be torn down.
To compliment this, Black Bolt has an ingenious super power; his voice is a weapon. It’s a clever commentary on the nature of a leader’s word (Black Bolt is leader of the Inhumans). Here’s a man whose very words literally level kingdoms. He only speaks when it’s absolutely necessary and even then it’s never to its full power.
3. The Thing aka Ben Grimm
As with any of these characters, I could talk about Ben Grimm all day. Of any of Kirby’s characters, Ben Grimm is really his most straight fowardly autobiographical. Many of the elements that make up Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew were taken directly from Kirby’s own life. He’s Jewish, had an older brother who died at a young age, and grew up in a relatively rough neighborhood (Ben Grimm’s Yancey St. is a stand in for the Delancey Street where Kirby himself grew up). However the quality that always sticks out for me is that Ben Grimm is a character that never gives up.
He’ll get his ass kicked by the Hulk, clobbered by Galactus, or get his ass handed to him by any number of foes but he never gives up. Ben Grimm may not be the prettiest person in the Marvel Universe but man is he one of the bravest and toughest much like the man who created him.
2. Mister Miracle
My appreciation for many of my favorite characters in comics came out of reading Grant Morrison’s JLA run in the mid-Nineties because Morrison has a way of looking at characters that makes you appreciate them. There were several great moments in the book and one of them came towards the end where the JLA is about to face a huge galactic level threat and someone invades the Watchtower with ease. That someone? Mister Miracle, the man who can get out of any trap, who nonchalantly tells Steel “You guys better beef up your security.” It’s that moment that just perfectly defines a character and in this case, one Scott Free. It made me go back and try to learn more about the character ultimately coming across various issues of Kirby’s Mr. Miracle run.
Mr. Miracle was another character directly inspired by Kirby’s life; Scott Free and Big Barda’s relationship was based around the one Kirby had with his wife Roz, who inspired Barda. He was the show man and she was the firebrand. The two complimented each other just like Scott Free and Barda. I don’t know if they were the first superhero couple to start out married but it made for an interesting dynamic in comics.
The thing I’ve always liked about Mr. Miracle is his superpower; he has a mind that knows how to escape from any trap. The idea of being able to escape from anything probably came from his own freedom from Marvel and certainly inspired by his friendship with former escape artist Jim Steranko. It’s a unique idea and something that allowed Kirby to use his artistic talents to good effect. No matter how ridiculous or how dangerous something was, Scott Free could get out of it.
It’s hard to write about Scott Free without also writing about his wife Big Barda. The two are interconnected and writing about one does a disservice to the other. Also it does a disservice to what might be Kirby’s greatest and most dynamic female character. Big Barda is a rarity in superhero comics; a female character who is portrayed as a complex individual.
In classic Kirby tradition, Barda is a study in dualities. At her core, she’s Scott Free’s wife. She’s a beautiful woman who has no problem showing off her figure or helping her husband out with his escape performances. She’s supportive in a way that’s familiar to a male audience.
She’s also a warrior though. She aids her husband but she stands on her own. She is never subservient to him and it says something that in the relationship, Barda is the most physically powerful. She doesn’t hide the fact that she has a temper or that she could crush things in her bare hands.
However, the relationship between Big Barda and Scott Free is complimentary. They’re both individuals who have escaped the world Apokolips and its influence. His mental prowess compliments her physical one. They fight and have their disagreements like any couple but in the end they know each other better than anyone else. It’s a ying-yang relationship indicative of healthy relationship that you don’t see too often in comics.
1. The Demon aka Jason Blood
The classic Kirby character trait is that every character is a juxtaposition of two opposites. The Thing is a man trapped in a body he doesn’t want. Reed Richards has to live with the fact that it was his genius that mutated his whole family. Mister Miracle lives with the fact that he was raised on a world that is in opposition to his own beliefs of freedom. The character for me that best embodies the Kirby duality is Jason Blood the Demon
A man who during the Kirby run shares a body with a demon though later writers seem to think he’s merely possessed by a demon. He’s one of the great anti-heroes of comics. A monster who tries to do good but in the end wants to do evil. There is a constant struggle between Jason’s human side and Etrigan who has no desire to return to the human form that was put on him.
He’s also one of the great designs of characters in comics (even if he’s lifted wholesale from a Hal Foster Prince Valiant comic).
In many ways, I think The Demon is Kirby’s most autobiographical. He was a man that was extremely intelligent, cultured, and aware of the world around him. Yet he was also still the street tough from Brooklyn. He was a man constantly trying to reconcile his artistic side with the fighter that was inside him, a struggle epitomized by Jason Blood and Etrigan. For me Jason Blood Etrigan are one of the all time great characters in comics by one of the all time greats.