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Jack “King” Kirby is a legend in the comic book world. For the uninitiated, he was the biggest artist working when Stan “The Man” Lee wrote virtually everything to come out of Marvel Comics. He was part of the creative team behind the X-Men, Captain America, The Avengers, Thor and so many other amazing characters that are part of the pop culture zeitgeist today. His signature pirate boots and the “Kirby Crackle” are deeply woven into the comic book story.
Kirby’s accomplishments weren’t just limited to Marvel Comics, however. After years of turmoil in the House of Ideas, Jack Kirby made the move to DC Comics. There he replicated several of his favorite characters to continue the stories he had been working on.
Ka-Zar and Kamandi
Kirby created Ka-Zar for Marvel in 1965 as the human lord of the Savage Land, a land of intense jungles populated by prehistoric creatures. The setting was frequently used as a setting for X-Men stories, and Ka-Zar was often allied with Marvel’s mutants, although he sometimes worked against them. Ka-Zar and the Savage Lands was an odd yet effective hybrid of two imitations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creations: Tarzan in The Land That Time Forgot.
In 1972, Kirby created Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth for DC Comics. Same long blond hair on a shirtless white guy. The name begins with the same letter. However, instead of putting Kamandi in a different setting of prehistoric creatures, Kamandi is set in a post-apocalyptic future. Don’t worry, there’s another pastiche. Kirby’s creation was in part a failure by DC to acquire the rights to Planet of the Apes. As if the Statue of Liberty on the cover of the first issue wasn’t a dead mark.
The characters, while a bit different, are just enough not to get DC in trouble for copyright infringement. The characterizations are almost identical and the set pieces can easily be swapped out. Kirby was able to continue his work from Ka-Zar with Kamandi.
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The Fourth World
Jack Kirby’s greatest creation, both in scope and influence, is The Fourth World. The Fourth World is the combined powers of the New Gods and Apokolips. While few of these characters have appeared outside of comics, names like Darkseid and Steppenwolf have jumped to the big screen. There are so many more characters to be released today: Highfather, Orion, Big Barda, Granny Goodness and so many more.
These characters appear to be completely original from all Marvel Comics, but Kirby actually created them to continue the stories he had been working on with Marvel’s Norse characters. Odin is featured in Highfather. Sif can be seen in Big Barda. The Warriors Three become The Female Furies. However, contrary to popular belief, Darkseid is not an imitation of Thanos. Kirby created Darkseid in 1970. Jim Starlin created Thanos in 1973 partly inspired by Darkseid.
“I had all these different gods and things I wanted to do that became Thanos and the Titans. Roy (Thomas) took one look at the guy in the Metron-like chair and said, “Open it! If you want to steal one of the New Gods, then at least tear down Darkseid, the real good guy!”
With Fourth World, Kirby has greatly expanded his Marvel Nordic work. He established powerful characters with biblical confrontations. What started out as a continuation of Marvel’s Norse mythology grew far beyond that. The Fourth World established a new mythology for DC Comics and brought to the fore a host of great characters, good and bad. Jack Kirby’s was only four years with DC Comics, but his work is still fundamental.
Forever People and the Eternals
Jack Kirby briefly returned to Marvel Comics in 1976. There he founded The Eternals. Say what you will about the recent MCU film, the characters are intriguing and played a big part in the recent crossover event AXE: Judgment Day. What I find fascinating about this group is their similarities to another group Kirby created as part of The Fourth World: The Forever People.
forever people? eternal? You can see the resemblance, right. Yes, the Forever People are technically new gods and the Eternals are alien constructs. Their powers, abilities, and character designs bear little resemblance to each other. But there are numerous similarities in their characterizations and team dynamics. Both teams were constantly in conflict between trying to connect with mortals while maintaining emotional distance.
The Beatles were only together for ten years and changed music forever. Jack Kirby was only at DC Comics for four years and created an entire mythology. Am I saying that Jack Kirby is better than the Beatles? I’m just saying four years is less than ten. You decide what that means.