Let’s be clear: Jack Kirby was a god among men. Along with creating or having a hand in creating most of the superheroes you can think of, he’s considered one of the medium’s major innovators, his four-color forays offering up a treasure trove of templates upon which almost every comic artist who came after him have built their own flights of fancy.
Or, as a Sunday op-ed piece in the New York Times said in 2014, two decades after his death:
“He created a new grammar of storytelling and a cinematic style of motion. Once-wooden characters cascaded from one frame to another—or even from page to page—threatening to fall right out of the book into the reader’s lap. The force of punches thrown was visibly and explosively evident. Even at rest, a Kirby character pulsed with tension and energy in a way that makes movie versions of the same characters seem static by comparison.”
So what I’m saying here is: I’m a fan. The man is a major figure in the comic industry, Marvel’s Silver Age would like have never happened without him, and it’s no accident that DC and Marvel have made billions off the products of his immense imagination.
That last bit was a sore point for Kirby. In the 1940s, his Captain America and Boy Commandos comics (among others) sold in the millions; in the ’50s, his Young Romance and true-crime comics helped keep the industry afloat through lean times; in the ’60s, his titanic tableaux turned a second-rate outfit into the second-biggest (and soon to be No. 1) comic publisher in America. And all the while, he continued to get paid only for the pages he produced. Reprints, special editions, paperbacks, lunchboxes, board games, Halloween costumes, cartoons, buttons, posters, pyjamas, and anything else that ever sported a character created or co-created by him netted him — to use the technical accounting term — zilch.
That’s the way it was done in those days. Writers and artists were seen as contractors, and everything they created while under contract to the company was considered company property. If your last big idea for a character made millions, you might see a bonus if the boss was feeling generous, but that was it. Royalties or any claim of ownership on the characters was out of the question. So you can imagine how that felt for a guy like Kirby, whose ideas literally made millions for Marvel in the ’60s (it didn’t help that the outside world saw Stan Lee as the face of Marvel and media stories were crediting him for creating all the Marvel heroes).
Kirby left Marvel for DC in 1970, and at first DC’s editors were thrilled to have him. He was promised free rein to write and draw his own books… but he later saw them cancelled one by one, and again he didn’t own any of the rights to Darkseid, Kamandi, Etrigan the Demon, or any of the other characters he created at DC. Returning to Marvel, Kirby worked on books like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Devil Dinosaur and Captain America (which he co-created with Joe Simon but couldn’t refer to himself as such) before packing it in.
Meanwhile, some enterprising fellows felt it was time for a change in how things were done. Pacific Comics was a San Diego comic shop that grew into a chain of stores; near the end of the ’70s, owners Bill and Steve Schanes decided to take advantage of the growing direct market by becoming publishers. To entice big-name creators to sign with them, they offered artists the chance to produce comics in which they would retain full ownership and copyrights (Pacific would only ask for publishing rights). This appealed to many artists who were tired of working under the old work-for-hire system, and Pacific Comics was soon publishing titles like Neal Adams’ Ms. Mystic, Sergio Aragonés’ Groo the Wanderer, Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer… and Kirby’s Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers.
Groo and the Rocketeer went on to become huge successes for their creators, while Captain Victory was… just plain weird. Captain Victory (whose adventures ran for 14 issues, from 1981 to 1984) was either an intergalactic lawman or a military officer, and he and his gang of do-gooders chased the villainous Insectons around the galaxy. Any time the Captain or one of his crew died, a new clone was cranked out to take his place. Oh, and he may or may not be the grandson of a certain galactic despot that Kirby couldn’t directly mention because said despot was wholly owned by DC Comics.
There were some interesting concepts and the layouts were vintage Kirby action, but as far as dialogue went… well, let’s put it this way: Kirby was a genius at coming up with memorable characters and concepts, and his dialogue was… ah, equally memorable.
Want proof? Don’t say you weren’t warned:
1. “It is strange and oddly unique that the many forms of man would collide among galaxies in manners shocking to those yet uninitiated in the diverse courses of human development.
2. “Still think you’re tougher than an evolved baboon, eh?”
3. “And you, tough and handsome, are bucking for a court martial!”
4. “The Earth trembles and cracks open in new and unexpected perimeters — spewing out the living armor that is born for conquest… and lust for subjugation!”
5. “This is the night of the Insectons. They’re like an angry sea, whipping itself into a raging murderous storm!”
6. “The huge drainer, activated by Captain Victory, begins to seek out and consume all sources of energy in its path!!!”
7. “Electric cables hidden beneath the abandoned streets of Spartanville burst into view and writhe like serpents shedding their inner powers!”
8. “Whether fighting for planets or peanuts — victory is sacrifice!”
9. “Victory is sacrifice — BUT! — SACRIFICE IS CONTINUITY!!!”
10. “You can bet your rootie toot tooties I’m a real alien!”
11. “The dread galactic condition known as — COSMIC DIARRHEA!”
12. “We grow in your image!! — Please translate us into penal section!”
13. “The prelude to battle is an eternal stimulus to disciplined warriors.”
14. “Time is a TRAP! Time is a prelude to DYING!”
15. “Who can reason with the children of hell? Who can say, ‘Let us both thrive… let us both survive!’ There are none who can say this to an Insecton without hearing the song of death!”
16. “Finarkin kills with a devious brain!”
17. “What in the name of natural variation is that thing?”
18. “The slow undulation of the universe becomes an exotic dance!”
19. “This is a great way to go — death at the hands of an unborn fetus!”
20. “HE’S ALIVE! He’s reacting to monumental surges of anti-death!”
21. “If I didn’t love you all, I would gladly stay! But in time you’d be bored, nervous, and prone to bladder trouble!”
22. “I’ve been known to bug barons and bring beggars to a slow boil!”