The Great American
                Novel Act 1:
                the danger Act 2: rising action Act 3: the ball Act 4: crisis Act 5: triumph the Franklinverse part 2, act 1:
                the new danger

THE KIRBYVERSE

The single epic story, from 1941 to 1984


Overview: the epic of mankind

The thesis: continuity of ideas
Jack Kirby's major works, no matter what the publisher, all take place within the same universe of ideas.

True, each character (or team) is alone in their world (unless editors insist on crossovers, which Kirby resists - e.g. see the Eternals). But look at the ideas and themes! Each is essentially the previous character (or team), but taken to the next level. The names and costumes change, but it is the same evolving idea.

Overview: from Tuk to Captain Victory
Captain America in 1941 introduced us to Tuk, the first "Avenger", to the island of Attilan, and the past. This takes us to present: the Fantastic Four in 1961, and thence to Thor. Thor take us to the near future: the New Gods in 1971. The New Gods take us to the infinite future, Kirby's final epic, Captain Victory, the son of Orion. Kirby was endlessly asking questions, and told stories about what he found. This naturally led him from the simple to the complex, from the past to the future. In this way his stories became the story of mankind.

Kirby on rebirth
Am I reading too much into this? No. Because in his final work, Captain Victory, we finally see Kirby's attitude to death and rebirth. To paraphrase his radio interview, his characters do not die: or if they do, they are reborn. Kirby does not believe that people die, but they are reborn through their influence in others. The example he gives is that a parent lives on through his children. This is a very ancient belief, and one that is literally true. In Kirby's case, he also lives on through his work. And in the case of his characters, Orion lived on through his son Captain Victory, Darkseid lived on through Blackmass, and so on. The surface features do not matter, it is the soul that counts.

Enough introduction: onto the epic story!

The three ages of Kirby

Kirby's output can be divided into three ages: stories about the past, present and future. Or pre-Marvel, Marvel, and post Marvel.

The past
The first era deals with mankind growing up. It deals with humans in their young, formative state: first the distant past, then childhood, then romance, then adulthood and learning about the world. These stories are set in the distant past, in small towns (or small areas of cities), or in the early days of America. In this era the gods are distant: they are the rules and ideals that we follow, and our mythical past. In this era life moves relatively slowly: change takes a lifetime, or sometimes thousands of years. This era is on the scale of the individual human, then the community and then the nation.

The present
Kirby reached his mature peak at the same time as America: the 1960s. His 1960s stories are about the real world as it was then. They were about the real technology that first put man into space in 1961: the Fantastic Four, though it appears to have futuristic technology, is firmly grounded in the technology of the era. Anything extra comes from limited Skrull technology, a symbol of our new discoveries that can take any shape, technologies we barely understand. The Fantastic Four is the American family in the 1960s. In this era the gods are present on Earth, and at least half of them are benevolent. In Thor we see the old gods come to Earth. It seems we can coexist, with the gods are benign, and mankind knowing her place, But this is an illusion: Ragnarök approaches. In the Fantastic Four men see how technology can make themselves into gods. This era only exists for a brief moment, in the 1960s. it is unstable and cannot last. This era is on the scale of the planet, bursting to expand further.

The future
The New Gods is the near future, when mankind has rejected all gods. This is the war we have entered in the 2000s: the war (so far a cold war, and let's hope it stays that way) between the one percent and the rest,  between old gods and new atheists, between left and right. At first it seems obvious who is right and who is wrong: each side sees the other as the obvious bad guys. I am Orion, you are Darkseid! This is man versus gods, on a scale of two worlds.

The second and final stage expands to the scale of the galaxy. Now man himself is immortal. The gods are now just voices, and we are in world of ideas. What law should prevail? Will we let ideas defeat violence, or will we always love war? Will we truly understand the infinite scope of what is out there? What began with Captain America ends with Captain Victory. What began with Tuc, the cave boy, ends with Silver Star. The story of mankind is complete.



Era 1: when the human race was young



1941: Captain America issue 1

Captain America

Captain America: the archetypal hero
Captain America is the overarching symbol of mankind: a lone hero, fighting for freedom. He starts weak, like homo sapiens, but uses technology to become strong. He is really captain human, but Kirby noted (as he said in a late interview) that the name Superman was already taken. Besides, superman was an alien, and Kirby is about ordinary humans. The Kirby universe does have aliens, symbols of powers greater than ourselves. But Kirby's genus, his realism, is to recognise the real world. Lesser writers see aliens as benevolent, or they see humans as strong enough for a lone group of heroes to beat any aliens. But Kirby is more realistic. He has seen real war. He understands the scale of what's out there. He knows that our only hope is not to rely on our illusory strength, but to constantly ask, "what's out there?" And never to worry bout our own life but to see the bigger picture.

Tuk: the first human
Kirby's story of mankind begins here. Tuk is the first Avenger. All these concepts and words were later claimed by Marvel comics, but Kirby invented them first. Kriby begins his epic with our distant past: "Stories from the Dark Ages". Mankind is in search of the island of the gods. That. in nutshell, is the story of mankind.

Attilan

Attilan 2

Attilan, the Kree-tan island of the gods
In the real world, the Greeks invented science. They in turn looked back to their cultural origins in Minoan Crete. Hence Zeus, head of the gods, was born on Crete. The most likely explanation of Atlantis is that it refers to Crete, but the distances got confused in translation so Plato assumed it must be beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Crete was destroyed by a great tidal wave at the eruption of Thera c.1420 BC. This island of the gods was the mythical origin of scientific man. In Greek, Crete is spelled with a "k". Its inhabitants were called the Kree-tee. With Kirby they became the Kree. Plato's mythic version of this island was in the Atlantic, so he called it Atlantis. In the Kirbyverse it is Attilan. The exact names do not matter, as each civilisation gives these myths different names. but it is the same story.

By 1967 Kirby was frustrated that he could not move the story forwards. When he would attempt to write about mankind and the gods, such as his Enclave story (FF 66-67). Stan Lee would re-write it to be simplistic heroes and villains. And the mysterious, ancient godlike Kree became just a race of roughly human-level spacemen. So the story lost its mythic power. So when Kirby returned in 1976 he used Eric Von Danken's modern reworking of the mythology. The Kree became Celestials, and the advanced humans they created became Eternals, not Inhumans. Kirby resisted attempts to mix these stories with what had become of the Marvel Universe. But his stories fell on deaf ears, and so he left Marvel for good.

1940s-50s: the history of conflict and discovery

1942: Boy Commandos
Kirby's next major work after Captain America was Boy Commandos. Like Tuk, these were children, mankind at its simplest, fighting to survive in a world they barely understood. Though based in the present day, is is the same story that mankind has lived since before the dawn of history. It is mankind's beginning state.

Boy Commandos

1947: Young Romance; Young Love
What stops us simply killing each other until nothing is left? The need to procreate. Masculine violence is restrained by feminine love. So the story of mankind, after it starts with children endlessly fighting, must progress to the story of romance. Romance of course is a word with a double meaning: in classical literature a romance is not a desire for sex, but a journey, a desire for a better world out there somewhere. Jack Kirby invented the entire romance comic genre. he had to, as it was the unavoidable step in his story of mankind.

Young Romance

1947: Justice Traps the Guilty
As civilisation grows (and as young men grow up and get responsibilities and children) we moves from a state of primitive war and reproduction to a focus on law. How do we build a good society? How to we stop bad people destroying it? These are the themes of the true crime genre, under the masterful hands of Kirby.

Justice Traps the Guilty

1950: Boys' Ranch
As societies grow they spread. They expand into new territory. We enter the era of colonialism. Once again humans are like children, discovering the unknown. Boys' ranch is about American colonialism, children finding themselves on the frontier. Unlike the earlier stage of war, that was unavoidable, this is war from choice. Kirby's work asks the hard questions, and shows the Indians in a favourable light. Kirby always sees both sides of any cionflict, plus the third and bigger side, the underlying causes. Kirby knows that both the ranchers and Indians are just people trying to survive, and heroes and bad guys are as likely to come from both sides.

Boys Ranch

1950: Black Magic
As men expand into new lands they come across new and strange ideas. Ideas about what life has value, or how the universe works, or who harms who. Cherished assumptions are overturned. Anything sees possible. So along with the colonial stories, Kirby explores stories of magic. His book "Black Magic" should not be confused with the shlock horror that caused the backlash against comics a few years later. Kirby's stories are never about gore, but about ideas. They are about mankind's quest to make sense of the unknown out there.

Black Magic

1952: Strange World of Your Dreams
As we learn more about the outside we become re aware of ourselves as part of that world. Human science naturally leads to psychology: what exactkly are we? What are our real motivations? "Strange World of Your Dreams" was no science fiction book, but explored real life dreams in a serious, adult (but entertaining) way. Kirby's story of mankind has grown up, leaving the childhood stage behind.

Strange World of Your Dreams

1954: Fighting American.
Now that mankind is self aware he moves into a higher stage of morality: questioning everything. Fighting American began as comics' first anti communist hero, inspired by Joseph McCarthy. As with romance novels, Kirby was always breaking new ground. But when it quickly became apparent that McCarthy was wrong, Kirby (and Simon) turned the story into a satire of McCarthyism. Whereas in issue 1 the commies were a deadly threat, from issue 2 they were turned into bumbling clowns. The message was "these people are not a threat to us, McCarthysim is a joke". This naturally follows from the focus on psychology, looking inward and looking at your own motivations. McCarthy's red scare only existed in his head, like so many of our nightmares.

Fighting American

1958: Challengers of the Unknown
Having covered psychology (a new science in the early 1900s), and applied that to politics (the major concern of the 1930s-1940s), mankind is ready to turn his attention beyond the confines of this Earth. Kirby's next book was about te question "what might eb out there?" Aliens? magic? Strange biology? Different kinds of politics? What are the possibilities?

Challengers



Era 2: the 1960s in real time


The 1960s was possibly the pivotal moment in human technology, and thus in human history. It began with the first man in space, and ended with the first man on the moon. Yes, white men: so it also saw the explosion of civil rights including women's rights. It saw the hydrogen bomb and almost anded civilisation in nuclear war. It saw the rise of computers in everyday use (in businesses at least). It saw the rejection of the past, "God is dead", the triumph of youth culture, and everything was changing at breathless speed. This is the moment when Kirby's history of mankind became about adults in the present day.

1961: The Fantastic Four

In April 1961 a human left planet Earth and returned, for real, for the first time. That same month Kirby planned The Fantastic Four (to be on sale in August, cover dated November). The Fantastic Four is about the 1960s, and how science turns men into gods, and the danger that brings.

FF1

Most people assume that the Fantastic Four is unrealistic. This web site argues otherwise: it simply reflects the 1960s, as this web site tried to show. Later writers tried to continue Kirby's approach, until the effort was abandoned when the cold war ended in 1989. The FF is about he real world. Take technology for example. The initial space flight did exactly what a flight could have done in 1961, barely reaching above the atmosphere. In the same issue Reed uses a real world device used at the time to detect underground nuclear tests. The only advanced technology appears later, a small amount of material discovered in an abandoned flying saucer (as aliens noticed we have left Earth), material Reed struggles to understand (full details here).

This is the only Kirby title about us, in real time, which makes it the heart of his story of mankind. This is why I call the Fantastic Four The Great American Novel.

1963: Tales of Asgard

This bibliography focuses only on Kirby's most important titles. Right in the top rank is Thor, Kirby's exploration of godhood in the modern world. The title began as a second rank title, just to pay the bills, as Kirby focused on the Fantastic Four. But once the FF hit its stride Kirby looked more closely at the Norse legends, and created an industry-changing backup strip, Tales of Asgard issues.

Tales of Asgard

Until that moment the Thor stories looked like stories produced by Lee on his own. But from this moment Thor's plots had Kirby all over them. Tales of Asgard  forced readers to take comics seriously for the first time. That changed everything.

Previously Thor had referred to Crete and the Greek gods, but all ancient mythologies tell essentially the same stories, reflecting the rise of mankind. The Norse gods were especially close to Kirby's heart because they were about battles that ultimately neither man nor god can win: ultimately the gods will fall in Ragnarök. Thor tells of a couple of years when it seemed like gods and men could live in harmony: the gods helping the men, the men knowing their place. But Kirby knew that was not how power works. The gods would want more power, and he men would want to be gods. Thor is about a reality in the 1960s, when most people still respected hierarchies and tradition, yet the younger generation rejected both. The situation could not last.

1966: why would the gods be on our side?

Kirby's stories always move forwards at a rapid pace. They have to: Kirby was an explorer, not  farmer. So by 1966 the pace of discovery leads to Galactus (called by Maximus, provoked by mankind now posing a threat). While most writers naively think the gods will exist for our happiness, that is not how power structures work in the real universe. Kirby fought against higher powers his whole life, He knew what would really happen.

FF 49

1967: men become gods

To many scientists, our only hope is to become gods ourselves. Kirby wrote this story in 1967, about a beehive full of scientists struggling to create the perfect human of ultimate power. This scene is in their Citadel of Science:
Citadel

1967: Marvel was not ready for the future

By 1967 Kirby began to move into the future. But Marvel did not like this. While stories involving the Negative Zone (FF 61-63) and the Kree (FF 64-65) might be sold to kids old as just crazy alien stuff, stories about well meaning men creating mankind's replacement (FF 66-67), families breaking up (FF 68-71) and drugs (FF 74-75) had to be radically watered down by Stan Lee. Lee changed the dialog, making it a simplistic story about evil scientists trying to take over the world. This was the last straw among a series of frustrations for Kirby. it was clear then that his writing would never be appreciated at Marvel, and he would never be paid it. To Marvel he was just an artist, and his art was too abstract for their tastes. From that moment Kirby began treading water, withholding his best new ideas, looking for an opportunity to tell his story elsewhere. From 1968 to when he left in 1971, Jack trod water, recycling old stories and copying whatever ideas he saw on TV and movies, until he was able to move forwards at DC.

But Kirby's ideas proved too advanced for DC as well.

In 1976 Kirby give Marvel another chance. He returned to Marvel and tried to fix the damage done to his story. For example, the Kree, originally space gods, had been reduced by lesser writers to almost human level, and the Inhumans, their other creations, had been reduced to just another group of nondescript superheroes. So Kirby re-created them as the Celestials and the Eternals (with the Deviants taking the place of the Skrulls). But readers could not keep up, so the return was short lived. 

So in 1978 he found an outside source of income (cartoons) and took a four year break to ensure his financial security. Then he created a new industry: creator owned comics using the emerging direct market. This enabled him to finally tell complete his story with no interference: with the aptly named Captain Victory.

How Kirby ended the Fantastic Four

This web site uses some mental gymnastics to join Kirby's work with the later Fantastic Four. but in reality the story ended with issue 71. Or rather, they took on different names and their stories continued at the breathtaking Kirby pace. But that is a topic for another time. SInce this web site is about the Fantastic Four, let's take a closer look at how Kirby's Fantastic Four ended.

  • FF 67: Kirby sees he cannot continue his story of men and gods. But it might take a couple of years to line up a suitable replacement job.

  • FF 71: by the time FF 67 was published Kirby would have been plotting FF 70 or 71. Kirby saw what Stan did: despite what John Romita later joked, clearly Kirby did read the finished comics. At that point Kirby was writing a story about how Ben Grimm (who represents himself) was betrayed by a naive Reed Richards (representing Stan Lee, well intentioned but not seeing the whole picture), and decides not to take it any more. But instead of this leading to Ben leaving (the natural result), in FF 70 Kirby has Sue save the team, and 71 is entitled "And So It Ends." Reed and Sue decide to leave the team. This forms the natural end to Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four. Everything was accelerating to a crescendo until this point. Everything is wrapped up here, as far as Stan would allow it. From now on Kirby bides his time.

  • FF 72: the attempt to move forward literally hits the breaks: Reed and Sue are leaving on a train, but it hist the brakes and they come back. From this moment until Kirby leaves we just get old plots repeated, or plots based on movies and TV shows

  • In FF 98, mankind finally makes it to the moon without outside help. This might seem a coincidence, but is not: Kennedy made clear that they had to get to the moon before the 1960s was out. From its beginning with the first man in space in 1961, the Fantastic Four was always leading up to the end of the 1960s and this moment. Note that the space gods (the Kree) are not benevolent: a theme that will explode in the following story, New Gods. At this point Kirby must have had a date for starting at DC, so his last few issues become his farewell, leaving the Fantastic Four comic in a "happily ever after" state.

  • In FF 99, Johnny and Crystal are reunited at last. If Stan allowed it, they could have taken over the team at this point. But nobody except Jack had any idea how to move stories forwards in interesting ways, so on the first page of the first arc after Kirby left (FF 105) they dump Crystal and her implied threat of families growing up and having kids.

  • FF 100 is a retrospective of their greatest foes

  • FF 101 is the end. The cover shows the FF as if dead, in coffins. They are buried at sea, finally defeated by small minded business dealings (a dig at Marvel?). But inside: we see them live happily ever after. They are in civilian clothes, Ben is dancing with Alicia, Johnny and Crystal are happily in love, Reed and Sue spend time with Franklin, and they move out of the Baxter building.The End.
    FF101

  • FF 102 is an overview of the message of the book. Kirby planned a story reflecting the history of mankind, how science can now create gods who can be good or evil, and the choice we must face. Perhaps fittingly, this grand ending was also butchered by Stan. He literally cut it into pieces, rearranged some parts, throwing out others, turning it into a run of the mill hero versus villain story. he then withheld it until FF 108, to coincide with the month when Jack's work appeared for DC, to make readers think Jack was still somehow at Marvel.

    A little art criticism
    Here is the splash page, which serves as a symbol of the entire Fantastic Four story. Every Jack Kirby picture is a work of art, and deserved to be studied as such, and this is a good example. At the center is the ancient statue of the god Janus, who looks both backwards and forwards, representing the past (the FF, good) and future (no FF, bad). He is ancient, representing mankind's eternal choice good versus evil. Before seeing that, between the title and the statue, is Reed, the enigma. As our eye moves it ends at the largest figure, Sue: apparently quiet and subservient, but in fact the only one acting. She is the one who always quietly moves the big story forwards. Crystal and Franklin are in the background, representing the future. Ben, the symbol of Kirby, is no longer present. Instead we have an archaeologist, a student of the past. The FF at this point is now in the past, represented by their all wearing civilian clothes. Being at the left of the picture he serves as the human link to this greater than human family.

Janus

About that final story
Kirby's final story is about one scientist trying to heal his legs (note the symbolism!), yet creating an identical scientist who lacks any moral restraint. Clearly this is a symbol not just for Kirby's own work being hobbled and corrupted, but for mankind throughout history: in an attempt to move faster we compromise our morality. In the modern era of god-like science this threatens the entire world. But the metaphor was lost on Marvel. So in FF 108 Stan renamed Mega-Men to Nega-Man (a reference to the Negative Zone, even though the Negative Zone was probably sealed for good in FF 70: Kirby had moved on). Kirby's mythic story became just another run of the mill hero versus villain story that recycled previous ideas (lost in the Negative Zone! Yawn.). Eventually the story was pieced again in 2007 using Kirby's notes. But they got Stan Lee to do the dialog again, and he ensured that the title was squashed very small (to make space for his comments) and changed the crucial ancient statue into a modern one, made by Alicia, merely a souvenir of another forgettable adventure. We cannot know what else was changed, as many of the marginal notes are cut off, and some of the original art is still lost.

  • In FF103 the internal pages are by Kirby, his last consecutive work on the FF. Kirby has the splash page showing Ben Grimm (who always represented Jack) feeling sick and being forced to take the medicine. We then have the team looking out of a raining window saying this is all a very bad omen for the team.

  • 'nuff said.

In the FF 70s, when Kirby moved to recycling old themes, he left a time bomb in last "great" FF story, a double sized story, annual 6. In it Kirby recycles the Negative Zone for one last blast, and introduced his last major creation for Marvel: Annihilus. Kirby felt his spirit was being crushed. That Lee was feeding off his ideas. Is it just me, or does Annihilus' chrome dome look a little like a pre-toupee Stan Lee? Either way, he can only survive through controlling others. He crushes Ben (representing Kirby) under a gigantic boot. But Annihilus lost his cosmic control rod, just as Lee lost Kirby's ideas. Of course he regained it, but could not prevent the FF from leaving his realm first.

Kirby's last gift to Marvel was a little time bomb called Franklin. The departing message from the King was "You don't want change? You are going to have to live with this child growing up. Enjoy." Franklin's inability to grow up over the past fifty years has become the thorn in Marvel's pretence of realism. They daren't kill the child off (though John Byrne wanted to) but he is a constant reminder that Marvel does not move forwards, while Kirby's next stories leap into the future, leaving Marvel far behind.





Era 3: the future (including our present)



1971: The New Gods

New Gods

The New Gods follows from Thor. Thor was inevitably headed for Ragnarok, and would have reached it circa 1968 if Kirby had his way.

Ragnarok

This leads directly to New Gods 1.

New gods

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.

Forever People

One day I hope to have time to examine the New Gods and the whole magnificent Fourth World in more detail. But a person could spend a lifetime studying Kirby, just as scholars can spend a lifetime studying Shakespeare (who produced a tiny fraction of Kirby's output). I ill just note the most obvious message of the epic: those who live by the sword die by the sword. And so we come to the end of the human story. What began with Captain America ends with Captain Victory

1976:* Captain Victory

Captain Victory

Kirbys story moves forward in time, each chapter being bigger than the last. I began with a lone prehistoric hero Captain America 1, in search of the mythical island of the gods. moved forward through the past to the present, then the near future, and finally the future of our grandchildren and beyond. It grew fro an individual to the community, the nation, the world, the star system... and now finally reaches the final stage we can comprehend (right now at least): humans become immortal, and range across the galaxy

The origin story in issues 11-13 make it clear, in case we did not pick up the earlier hints: Captain Victory is the son of Orion, and hence grandson of Darkseid. It is all the same story. (In this picture we see the captain on Orion's iconic transport.)

like Orion

* Although published between 1981 and 1984, Captain Victory was plotted in 1976, America's Bicentennial, and was intended as a movie script, a direct response (according to Steve Sherman, Kirby's screenplay collaborator) to Arthur C Clarke's naively optimistic "Rendevous With Rama". Captain Victory is surely Kirby's most underrated work. It is his crowning glory, a showcase of the world's greatest story teller completing the world's greatest story, the story of mankind. I plan to review each issue in great depth on other pages, so will say no more.


Kirby's message:  "What's Out There?"

In conclusion, what is Kirby's story about? Kirby's entire opus can be summed up in three words, perhaps his favorite phrase: "what's out there?" On the surface his stories are all about fighting. but he knows enough about real fighting to now that only one thing is stronger than the gun: the idea. Kirby was hungry and thirsty for ideas. He knew that the world is bigger and more dangerous than we can imagine, and our only hope of survival is to find out what's out there before it destroys us.

Kirby is the only real comic writer, because he is the only one who understands reality. Alone among comic writers, Kirby actually fought the Nazis with his bare hands. He grew up in the Great Depression, a short Jewish kid who had to fight street gangs to survive. As an adult he lacked a silver tongue, and was constantly robbed of the value of his work. So he did the only thing he could: worked harder, and put his mind in to overdrive, to understand things are as they are. Other comic writers are armchair philosophers, but Kirby understood the real world. Other comic writers write either power fantasies or nihilism. Most superhero comics are power fantasies. They imagine that the planet Earth is super special in the universe, and a lone band of misfits can beat any alien threat. A minority of writers are nihilists: they realise that the power fantasies are dangerous nonsense, and that the universe is very dark. But they do not have answers. They think that even pretending to have answers is dangerous. Both positions are luxuries that only sheltered armchair theorists can afford. In the real world you know that yes, dangers are far worse than you can imagine, and you had better find answers if you want to survive. You had better recognise the Hitlers and the atomic bombs BEFORE they arrive, and you had better understand them or you are dead. Only Kirby had that understanding. Only Kirby writes about the real world.

Kirby, the greatest of all writers

Kirby's story was not consciously planned. It arose directly from his experience. As Kirby evolved and learned, so did his story. Kirby is probably the most intellectual of all comic writers, because he is the least pretentious, and loves truth the most. He is like Socrates, whom Apollo called the wisest of all because he knew that he knew nothing, and simply asked questions.

That is all Kirby does. He asks questions, about "what's out there?" and "given our technology, what could happen next?" he then tells stories about what he sees. Listen to any lengthy Kirby interview, such as this one. And at first you hear a very humble man, not used to talking, far more used to listening. When asked he just talks about the things he has seen, tempered by the wisdom of ages (what he learned from his culture and from his mother). Like all the greatest sages, at first he seems like just a small man concerned with small things. But listen for longer and he becomes more and more profound. This is the man who foresaw the helicopter and the atomic bomb, who spotted Hitler before others did, who solved the problem of life after death. This sums up Kirby perfectly. If you just glance at his work (especially his later work) you see something very simple. But the longer you stay, the more you re-read his work, the more you slow down and ponder each frame, the more impressive he becomes.

As with Shakespeare, Kirby's work reveals more depth the more you read it. but unlike Shakespeare, Kirby was original. Practically all of Shakespeare's plays were simply more polished versions of existing plots. But Kirby produced multiple new "plays" every month, and they were all original. As for Kirby's dialog, that is probably his greatest strength, but that topic will have to wait for another time.

A footnote: Kirby's name

Kirby's name is so perfect that I have to mention it here. From "kirk-by" it means "by the church": a perfect name for somebody who is the epitome of his Jewish heritage and being persecuted, a man who concerns himself with the biggest of all questions. Kirby's birth name was Jacob Kurtsberg. Jacob means the lowest. Kurtz is Swedish for short, so Kurtz-berg would be short place, or in 20th century slang, "short-house". Jack was early English for "ordinary man". Kirby's short stature gave him his humility, his need to learn to fight. His whole life, from his childhood on the streets of depression era Brooklyn, to fighting the Nazis, to having corporations refuse to pay him, was an experience that the universe really is bigger than we are, and it id not friendly. But Jack had two eyes and a brain, so he looked, and he thought. He faced the reality that the more sheltered of us choose to ignore. What is out there? Do we really think it's friendly? And what are we going to do about it? become like it, trapped in a never ending cycle of mutual destruction? Or understand it and move forward?




The Great American Novel