The Kirbyverse began in the first issue of Captain America, back in
1941, in a backup story about mankind's prehistoric past. The boy called
Tuk was the first Avenger. He was in search of Attilan, home of the
gods. Later Kirby would introduce us to other Avengers, and Attilan
would be developed within the pages of the Fantastic Four and then Thor.
Like Thor, Tuk thought he was an ordinary person until later he learned he was a man-god all along. This can be seen as the theme of Kirby's epic: the links between gods and men.
Attilan is beyond the city of Atlantis, which is itself beyond the city of Crete: all three locations feature in the same story.
Let us look closer: Attilan, meaning "home of the gods" could be a
variant pronunciation of Atlant, meaning "bearer of the heavens" (hence
the Greek name Atlas, and Atlantis meaning daughter of Atlas). The
historical Atlantis was probably the island of Crete. The ancient Greeks
culture to Minoan Crete, but it was destroyed by a tidal wave caused by a
volcanic eruption. This gave rise to the legend of Atlantis sinking
below the waves. In Greek, Crete is spelled with a "k". Its inhabitants
the Kree-tee. Kirby later referred to the space gods as the Kree. The
first Kree representative, the Sentry, was on an island which was then
destroyed, reminding us of ancient Crete.
Throughout his life, Kirby created stories about men seeking for the unknown, and challenging the gods. Perhaps the best known example is "Challengers of the Unknown". Created for DC comics, it features a team of four adventurers who risked their lives to discover "what's out there?"
When Kirby left DC he continued his Challengers stories with Marvel,
and just changed names and minor details. This is from a legal deposition by his son, Neil Kirby:
Q What information, if any, do you have concerning the creation of The Fantastic Four?
A In discussions with my father The Fantastic Four basically was a derivative of the, from what he told me, basically he came up with the idea just as a derivative from the Challengers of the Unknown that he had done several years earlier.
This is obvious when we compare the two titles: both concern a team of four adventurers in purple flying suits (see FF issue 1) with a similar origin, similar adventures, similar opponents, similar powers, etc. Except this time Kirby added a woman, Sue Storm, who could be one of the women we see on the first page of the first Challengers story.
Through the Fantastic Four we meet Attilan, and then Galactus. These stories continue in the pages of Thor. In Thor, Kirby focused in more detail on the gods, by retelling the old Norse legends.
In 1967, Kirby wrote a story about scientists creating their own citadel, their own version of Attilan, in order to create their own gods:
The scientists were heroes. The story was not about good versus bad, but
about mankind's yearning for something greater. But Stan Lee, Kirby's
editor at the time, changed the dialog so it became a simple "bad guy
scientists" story. From that point, Kirby held back his best ideas from
Marvel, and looked for a chance to continue his stories elsewhere. He
had the FF retire, and wound up his Thor stories with Ragnarök,
the death of the gods. Of course Kirby still had to make a living, so in
the comics they immediately came back, but the stories from that point
were simpler and less impressive.
In 1971, Kirby left for DC again. Here he continued his Thor stories
with what happened after Ragnarök: the death of the old gods led to the
rise of new gods.
Of course for legal reasons he had to change the names, but just
compare the stories: it is clear that one leads directly into the other.
This is how the Marvel story ends:
This is how the DC story begins:
And in case there is any doubt, we have this little scene. When sifting through the wreckage of
the old gods, in Forever People 5, they find the unmistakable helmet of Thor.
Kirby was prevented from finishing his New Gods as planned: Kirby wanted a definite ending, then the story could move forward, but DC wanted them to carry on unchanged forever. This and other frustrations caused him to return to Marvel, where he created The Eternals. Here we get the history of gods and men, and we clearly see the higher gods for the first time, returning to judge the Earth, much as the Sentry expected his own masters to return.
The same year that the Eternals came out, 1976, Kirby began writing the next stage in the saga, Captain Victory. But he didn't add the art and finishing touches until 1984.
The origin story in issues 11-13 reveals that Captain Victory is the son of Orion, and hence grandson of Darkseid. Here we see the captain on Orion's iconic transport:
Captain Victory is a story about the nature of immortality. It finally brings
the epic to a close: man seeks the gods, man fights the gods, man
becomes the gods. And in the final issue, man is only happy being man,
play-fighting with his friends.
That final issue plays with a classic novel, recalling the epic nature
of Kirby's own work, and his earliest work adapting classics before he
hit the big time with Captain America 1. Thus the story comes full
And what is Kirby's vision of the long term?The eventual future of mankind?
After writing New
Gods, Kirby produced Kamandi, about the world after a future disaster,
where animals once more rule. Kamandi is like Tuk once more: again, we have come full circle.
told to make Kamandi like Planet of the Apes, a movie Kirby never saw,
it is closer to Kirby's earlier story, pre Apes, called "The Last Enemy!"
Kirby wrote many kinds of stories, but his epic of gods and men is a
single story. Tuk, the first Avenger, sought for Attilan. The
Challengers became the Fantastic Four and they found Attilan. This
merged with Thor, which led to New Gods, which led to Captain Victory.
Men sought the gods, found the gods, became gods, and learned in the end
that the nature of men is to be men.