Jack Kirby: A to Z
This Week in Marvel host Ryan "Agent M" Penagos celebrates the King with an alphabetical look at Kirby’s creations, ideas, and legacy!
First things first—this is not a comprehensive list of all the things Kirby ever did. After I put this together, I realized I could easily do this every year, for multiple years, and make different lists. So maybe we’ll do that!
Second—this is about Jack Kirby. He worked with SO many amazing collaborators over his career—Stan Lee, Dick Ayers, Joe Simon, etc.—but I won’t really be mentioning them much in the context here. I make a point of saying that because, especially with Stan, there’s so much here that’s because of their work together, and I don’t want y’all to think I’m neglecting anyone.
A is for Atlas Comics
...the pre-Fantastic Four, pre-Marvel Comics era of the company in the ‘50s and beginning of the ‘60s in which we did lots of genre comics, including so many rad monster books. And in some of those monster books, Jack Kirby TORE! IT! UP! Strange Tales was bonkers: the Colossus, Grottu king of the insects, Gorgolla, Taboo, Dragoom, so many others including Fin Fang Foom, y’all! MAGIC.
B is for Black Panther
...who first appeared during Jack’s landmark Fantastic Four run, in issue #52. That’s in maybe the strongest era in all comics, and Panther’s intro is right there in the mix. BUT, I’d say better yet is to dive into Black Panther #1 from 1977. Kirby returned to Marvel after a few years away and produced some of the coolest stuff of his career. He only did 12 issues of Black Panther, but he immediately reminds everyone he’s the King. There’s a two page spread, pages 2 and 3, of the first issue. It’s the dopest.
C is for Captain America
1941! The world is at war! And here comes the Star-Spangled Avenger, along with Bucky. The cover of the dang issue has Captain America punching Hitler in the face. CAPTAIN AMERICA DON’T PLAY. And look at the lasting impact of the character. What he means to people, nearly 80 years later. INCREDIBLE. And then Kirby did WORK with Cap in the ‘60s, be it in Avengers, Tales of Suspense, or Cap’s book. MAGIC.
D is for Devil Dinosaur
...BECAUSE HE’S A BIG RED T-REX-LIKE DINO WITH A LITTLE DUDE RIDING ON HIS BACK. Remember when I mentioned Jack’s return to Marvel in the ‘70s? Devil Dinosaur is right in there—1978. It’s big and fun and weird and bold and I loved dinosaurs so much growing up. Probably in some part because of Devil Dinosaur.
E is for Eson the Searcher
...one of the Celestials. GIANT SPACE GODS WITH THE COOLEST DESIGNS. I ride HARD for Celestials. Why Eson, of all the Celestials? My dude gets properly introduced in Eternals #9—1977—in Miami, where I was born. He’s also got a cool universal eye in his palm that lets him search and learn about things. He’s one of many Celestials of the Fourth Host Jack created in Eternals—which is a series full of absolutely bombastic and incredible ideas. But maybe you’ll recognize Eson’s look from a certain movie about galaxy guarding? Maybe in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2, a game in which I appear? Maybe fighting the Final Host with the Avengers in the current series? ESON!
F is for the Fantastic Four
...because I know it’s the obvious choice, but it’s the right damn choice—whether we’re talking about the series or the team. There is no Marvel as we know it without the Fantastic Four. And there is no Fantastic Four without Jack “King” Kirby. We could talk about the familial aspects, Ben Grimm’s tormented yet heroic heart, the exploration and aspirational aspects, the villains, the supporting characters, the machinery, Jack’s occasional use of mixed media, or any number of incredible aspects of the FF that Kirby helped bring to life, but we ain’t got the time right now!
G is for Groot
Yeah, GROOT! Big G dates back to 1960, in the pages of Tales to Astonish #13. Another Atlas Comics-era treasure! Groot’s had a renaissance since being reintroduced in our cosmic comics boon circa 2008, then into films and beyond. Groot starts out as a conqueror and kinda tree herder and he gets washed by a regular dude, but I’m really into the fact that we’re getting back to some of that OG Groot personality in what Gerry Duggan is doing in Infinity Wars.
H is for Hela
This whole list probably coulda been all Asgardian and Thor-related, so it was hard to limit, but I just Love Hela. And she first shows up in Journey Into Mystery #102 as just a small part of a Tales of Asgard story. Jack tweaked her design a bit and helped give her gravitas because when she showed up, it meant death was at hand. We wouldn’t have one of the coolest villains in comics, or on screen, without Jack!
I is for Iron Man
This one is neat because Kirby didn’t draw the first Iron Man story in Tales of Suspense #39. But he drew the cover, and designed Iron Man’s suit. And then you see him handle Iron Man like a boss in Avengers!
J is for Jones
...specifically Gabe Jones and Rick Jones. Gabe was a member of one of my favorite squads—Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandoes, and a veteran Agent of SHIELD! And Rick Jones is one of the reasons we have a Hulk! That dang kid was just hanging out in the desert, at a gamma bomb testing site—like ya do—and would have been blown to smithereens were it not for the timely intervention of one Dr. Bruce Banner. But, well, you know how the story of the Incredible Hulk goes.
K is for Kirby Krackle
...the signature way Jack Kirby depicted energy. It’s essentially how Jack drew groups of dots around people or objects or in backgrounds or really wherever—showing that buildup of power. It sounds simple, but there’s such potency and intensity in the effect. I’m no history scientist, but in doing a little research, I read a neat bit of background by Harry Mendryk at kirbymuseum.org, tracing the origins back to a 1940 comic called Blue Bolt that Jack worked on. And now, you can see Kirby Krackle every month in at least a few books. Thank you, Jack!
L is for Lockjaw
...the greatest pup in the Marvel Universe! (Sorry, Thori.) A giant, teleporting dog who is part of the royal Inhuman family? THE BEST. Jack gave him a face that made it look like he had a moustache. This look I wear should be called the Lockjaw! I have pins and plushes and action figures of Lockjaw, which tells me that the world isn’t all bad.
M is for M.O.D.O.K.
I hereby announce that M.O.D.O.K. is the greatest character in fiction. He was an A.I.M. scientist who science’d so hard he became a super powered science villain with a big science head and a science chair and I love him so much. M.O.D.O.K. is such a weird design, but it works so well because Kirby had the gift for weird cool.
N is for Nick Fury
...the coolest army vet turned CIA agent turned super-spy agent and later head of S.H.I.E.L.D. My Agent M moniker is a nod to secret agent Nick Fury, as my first Marvel.com blog was called “A Spy in the House,” and I used various versions of Nick Fury art as my avatar for years. We can look at how Fury has changed and evolved over the years, yet he remains NICK FRIGGIN’ FURY. A true icon, thanks to Kirby.
O is for Odin
I mentioned the Tales of Asgard stories a bit earlier, and those are great places to see Kirby rip it up with stories of Odin and the world around Thor. Those stories begin in Journey Into Mystery #97, but issues 98 and 99 have Odin facing off against Ymir and Surtur. Being a total badass, charging down the rainbow bridge, riding his winged horse, looking majestic—that's so Odin. And that space Norse look we attribute to Marvel’s Aesir is all Kirby, and oh so cool.
P is for Pym Particles
...which were first introduced (along with Hank Pym himself) in Tales to Astonish #27 in 1962. Ah, but they weren’t actually called Pym Particles at first. Hank Pym wasn’t even the astonishing Ant-Man in that first story! He’s just a science dude. In the initial story, Hank develops a serum to help shrink things. For many years on, it’s a serum or a gas that he and many other characters use, and is only later, in the ‘80s when the name Pym Particles is coined. But, ya know, without Jack’s work on that first story, ain’t none of it there!
Q is for Quasimodo
...who appears in Fantastic Four Annual #4. And he’s right there on the first page, this weird and wonderfully angular Kirby face with the text burst introducing him: “And the electrifying entity known as QUASIMODO!” Quasi-Motivational Destruct Organ (later Organism, I believe) is a computer with sentience who just wants to help out Mad Thinker, y’all. He’s actually a super sad character who gets a body from the Silver Surfer’s cosmic power, only to turn into a jerk and Surfer’s like, “nah, son,” and turns him into a statue. Poor Quasi.
R is for Ronan the Accuser
Jack liked drawing big dudes with cool hammers and awesome costumes and Ronan is PRIMO! A powerful member of the Kree, Ronan shows up in NYC to throw down with the FF in Fantastic Four #65. Bathed in Kirby Krackle, Ronan’s been a huge deal for Marvel cosmic shenanigans ever since. I know I keep going back to things from Fantastic Four, but it’s like the eternal wellspring. For example...
S is for Skrulls
...some of the oldest foes the Fantastic Four would face—going back to FF #2, and one of our longest standing alien races. Soon we’ll see them on the big screen, but Skrulls have been tied to two of my favorite things in Marvel Comics history—the epic event Secret Invasion, in which the shape-shifters nearly took over the world, and getting turned into cows. The Fantastic Four beat the group of Skrulls in their first appearance, then as punishment, cold-blooded Reed Richards tells them to change into cows so he can hypnotize them and make them forget their previous existence. BRUTAL.
T is for Thor
...who’s been the star of many of my favorite comics over the years. Every design and redesign for the Odinson always stems from what Jack Kirby established starting with Journey Into Mystery #83. And then you look at everything else around Thor—Asgard, Loki, all the Norse-inspired elements—it's pure magic in my mind.
U is for Unus the Untouchable
...an evil mutant whose origins go way back to the original X-Men #8, with the power to project a nearly invincible force field around himself. I’m also a big fan of professional wrestling, and Unus found a career inside the squared circle.
V is for Volstagg
Okay, one more Asgardian on this list because he’s my favorite member of the Warrior’s Three. Ever hungry. Wonderfully bearded. Some may call him Volstagg the Voluminous, or as he’s referred to by Thor in Journey Into Mystery #119, his first appearance: Volstagg the Enormous or Volstagg, the Blustering, Boasting Giant of a warrior. He’s comedy relief in many stories, but within him lies the heart of an epic warrior. Because of Kirby’s incredible design, he always stands out, whenever you see him.
W is for Warren Worthington III
You thought I’d get through this list without a proper member of the X-Men, didn’t you? NAH! One of the original five X-Men introduced in their first issue, Warren is the winged Angel of the team. One of my favorite aspects, especially of the classic stories Kirby drew, was how Kirby depicted Angel binding his wings down while he was being regular ol’ Warren. Comics are awesome!
X is for Xemnu the Titan
Of course! I couldn’t imagine any other option for X! One last Atlas-era character here, Xemnu has one of my favorite Kirby creature designs—like a Monsters Inc furry beast, but with robot parts. And mental powers. And they called him the Hulk! This was a few years before the Incredible Hulk! Check out Journey Into Mystery #62—it's neat!
Y is for Young Allies
...because I love a good team of kid sidekicks! The first issue, from 1941, has Bucky punching BOTH the Red Skull AND Hitler! Plus Toro, the young sidekick to android Human Torch. HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE THAT.
Z is for Zabu
...the saber-toothed tiger who prowls the jungles of the Savage Land with Lord of All Abs, Ka-Zar. Another character from the early X-Men days—issue #10—he's a dad-gum giant cat!
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of Jack Kirby’s influences and creations. Long Live the King!