Jack Kirby Collector Edited by John Morrow Jack Kirby Collector celebrates the life and career of the "King" of comics through interviews with Kirby and his contemporaries, feature articles, and rare & unseen Kirby artwork. Now in tabloid format, the magazine showcases Kirby's art at even larger size.

Kirby Fans' Wackiest Causes?

by & © Adam McGovern

From Jack Kirby Collector #21

Silver Surfer, Galactus ™ & © Marvel Entertainment, Inc. Art © Jack Kirby.

Without dialogue, we see Jack's version of the Surfer as a creation wholly of Galactus, in the SS Graphic Novel.

This issue's affectionate look at Kirby's "warts and all" - regardless of his oeuvre's vast disproportion of "all" to "warts" - is a suitable occasion for remembering not to let our acknowledgment of his general genius cloud our recognition of his occasional fallibility. Specifically, higher-ups' reversals of Kirby were almost always folly, but two of the ones most hotly contested by Kirby fans were actually well-advised. They involve those two legends of Kirby's canon, the beloved Silver Surfer character and the aborted Prisoner adaptation.

First of all, though I love The Prisoner and I love Kirby's work, he was not the right artist for the comic book version. Kirby's known pencils for the book look stiff and un-nuanced, as if he's struggling with material all too unidealized for the artist he had long since become. (This is an assessment which Stan Lee accurately made as early as Spider-Man's debut - from which Kirby was legendarily pulled for too heroic a portrayal of Lee's envisioned "super schnook" - though not years later with The Prisoner.) The starkness and surrealism of which a Jim Steranko or Paul Gulacy was capable (literally, in the case of Gulacy's visuals for Don McGregor's Prisoner-esque Sabre graphic novel) would have been most suitable (even though Steranko himself championed Kirby's cause at the time). The book's shelving was not the misfortune many see it as.

Secondly, whatever frustration we all may feel over the disproportionate credit Lee has gotten for characters and stories co-created with the King, not nearly enough appreciation is given to a Lee-devised conception of the Silver Surfer character which is frankly superior to Kirby's. Lee's admission that Kirby solely created the character is axiomatic, and no doubt a reason for Fox TV's Surfer cartoon series being the first Marvel product to bear a "Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby" line in quite some time. But the two men's conflict of ideas for the character's development is equally well known. Lee, of course, saw the Surfer as a restless soul who bargains his freedom for his own planet's survival; Kirby saw him as a full-blown creation of the planet-threatening Galactus, against whom he eventually rebels.

Lee's version had epic pathos in its tale of Norrin Radd's sacrifice, tragic symmetry in the would-be adventurer's getting what he wished for while losing all he had, and narrative tension in the trials that followed. Though perhaps melodramatic to contemporary eyes, it set the standard for the "serious" super-hero comics which would follow from the likes of McGregor, Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin - and arguably Kirby himself.

In comparison, Kirby's version seems a facile, fairy tale-like contrivance, and makes the Surfer's (re)turn to humanism in defying Galactus look somewhat arbitrary. To be sure, Kirby's idea of the character is intriguing and novel in its implications: On a metaphorical level it appears to heroicize generational rebellion and disobedience of deities (the former an interesting inversion of what many people Kirby's age were then feeling; the latter a compelling contradiction of the Genesis story all Westerners are taught). But there is little reason to assume that he would have emphasized or expanded upon these themes had he been at the helm of a Surfer series, while in fact the generational perspective was well explored in his Fourth World books, and the theological one in The Eternals' Forgotten One character.

So the re-creation of the Surfer in Lee's image is another Kirby reversal not to mourn. Both this and the Prisoner affair should rather be appreciated as two of the few exceptions proving the rule of a career with a remarkable percentage of right moves.

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