Jack Kirby is one of the most important and influential people in comics history as a whole, who, alongside his friend and constant collaborator Stan Lee, co-created or designed some of the most important and varied characters throughout Marvel Comics, many of whom are still so popular they lead their comics and movie franchises to this day.
As it was his birthday yesterday, it seems like a good time to look through the history books and pick out some of his biggest and best creations, some of which are important for many reasons, including diversity, representation, and more.
Seems fitting to include Marvel’s First Family at the start of this long list, as the family debuted in Fantastic Four #1 in November 1961, and was the first of many collaborations between Kirby and Lee, something they went on to repeat many times, to great effect.
Both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby took credit for the initial idea, character creations, names, and designs, but whichever of the two started the idea, by the end they were both to thank for Mr. Fantastic, the original stretchy man Reed Richards; Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman; Johnny Storm, the arrogant and cocky brother of Sue, The Human Torch and finally Ben Grimm, the poor man turned into a walking, talking rock, The Thing.
One of the biggest (literally) villains of the Fantastic Four, Galactus is a cosmic force, determined and dependent on sating his hunger by eating entire worlds. For such a gigantic villain with an infinite hunger, so far between the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and more, he’s yet to succeed with the main timeline Earth.
Appearing in Fantastic Four #48 in March 1966, Galactus was another co-creation between Kirby and Lee. With Galactus they wanted to “introduce a character that broke away from the archetype of the standard villain… operates without regard to the morality and judgments of mortal beings”.
Kang the Conqueror
A relative and upcoming MCU villain, Kang the Conqueror has been a mainstay in his various variants throughout the years since his debut in Fantastic Four #19 as Rama-tut in 1963, before his full Kang debut in The Avengers #8 in 1964.
Unlike some on this list, Kang hasn’t had his full MCU debut yet, appearing as ‘He Who Remains’ in the Loki finale, and due to appear in the upcoming Ant-Man: Quantamania. A big problem for the Fantastic Four and The Avengers throughout the comics, he’s bound to be a huge thorn in the hero’s side in the MCU.
You can’t have Fantastic Four without having Doctor Doom. Featuring in Fantastic Four #5, Doctor Victor Von Doom is the leader of the fictional country Latveria, a man as intelligent and adept as Reed Richards, and as cunning and forward-thinking as Loki, Doom has withstood the test of time and is considered one of the top supervillains in Marvel history to this day. Speaking about Doom, Kirby said “Doom is an evil person, but he’s not always been evil. He was respected…but through a flaw in his own character, he was a perfectionist.”, showing an understanding for the character only himself, Lee and a few writers since have had.
Thor & Loki
Kirby had a hand in designing and creating essentially the entire Norse mythology side of Marvel comics, from creating the looks of Loki and Thor to Odin and many more. Kirby’s unique art style is why we have the red cape-wearing, long-haired, Shakespearean Thor, and the polar opposite Loki. He’s also the chief reason Asgard is so damn magical to look at in the early Thor comics.
With Kirby’s unique art style a huge influence on Thor: Ragnarok, even if you’ve never read a comic, you’ll know what he brings to the table. Bold colors, contrasting scenery, and in-your-face, larger-than-life characters. Kirby in a nutshell.
One of the most important teams to grace our comic pages, the X-Men was another collaboration of the Marvel duo Kirby and Lee. Tackling racism, prejudice, classism, and more, the X-Men are one of the biggest teams and house some of the most popular characters to this day. Taking the chance to make their primary villain in Magneto a sympathetic, relatable human with understandable motives was a hit, and from their debut in The X-Men #1 1963 until today, the X-Men seems to be able to bring light to important topics, whilst also entertaining us at the same time.
The first black superhero and an important step in representation, T’Challa aka Black Panther appeared in Fantastic Four #52. Another character with a conflicted history, both Lee and Kirby took credit for the sole creation of the superhero, Kirby saying that the lack of black superheroes at the time meant creating the character “made sense for human reasons”, and Lee stating his desire for “for more African and African-American superheroes” being the sole motivation. Either way, together they created a much-loved and renowned character that lives on today, most recently played on the big screen by the late Chadwick Boseman.
One of the only characters on this list not to have Stan Lee involved, Captain America predates the others here by a couple of decades. First introduced in 1941 in Captain America Comics #1, Kirby created Captain America with cartoonist friend and co-worker Joe Simon.
Created during World War 2, there’s no denying that Captain America was as much a morale-boosting idea as it was a creation for kids to idolize and root for, but the character’s morals, search for justice, and always doing the right thing means that what could have been a boring character that disappeared after the war, instead he’s carried on for some eighty years till today, becoming one of the most popular characters under the Marvel banner.
The Incredible Hulk
Debuting in 1962 in his first of many solo runs The Incredible Hulk #1, the character was a surprisingly complex one for its time. Suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, the character was split between the Hulk, a huge, green, muscular monster with little impulse control and anger issues, and the intelligent, weak, and small Dr. Robert Bruce Banner.
The DID took a back seat over the years, only returning full force in the recent comic series by Al Ewing, The Immortal Hulk. Kirby famously cited his inspiration for the character as seen firsthand “the hysterical strength of a mother lifting a car off of her trapped child”, which certainly bares a poignant image to one’s imagination.
Lastly, and what now seems such an obvious creation, the team-up of their greatest heroes didn’t come as quickly as you may think. Debuting in 1963 in The Avengers #1, the original team consisted of Iron Man, Wasp, Thor, Ant-Man, and Hulk, with Captain America joining the team in issue #4, after being found frozen in ice after his sacrifice in World War 2.
Created primarily to cross-promote and sell Marvel Comic characters to a new audience, the books quickly became regular publishing for the comic giant and garnered record sales over the years. Featuring massive stories, villains, and crossovers you wouldn’t get elsewhere, fans were desperate for the next Avengers story, which is still a feeling and need present today.
Honestly, for a man as talented as ‘King Kirby’, this list could have gone on for another fifty entries, and along with Stan Lee, fans around the world owe their fandom to one of the most influential people in the artform. Taking a less public backseat to the always cameoing Stan Lee, many casual fans of the films may not be aware of the influence of the man. Forever a legend and an innovator, Kirby deserves the recognition and love Lee gets, and hopefully one day, he will too.