Monday, July 19, 2010

Jack Kirby's Back: FOOM 11 and Captain America 193 covers

In 1975, the word was given: Jack’s Back.  We read it first in Stan’s Soapbox on the Bullpen Bulletins page, then it re-echoed through fanzines like the Comic Reader.  Fans that also read the Distinguished Competition (DC Comics for you young uns), knew that Jack was leaving, as evidenced by his decreasing role over there.  Marvel die-hards who also subscribed to FOOM got an advance preview of what was to come…

Foom 11 Jack's Back cover by Kirby and Sinnott, 1975

Jack Kirby, super-hero warrior of the pencil, was returning back to the bosom of Marvel.  This issue detailed Kirby’s plans for Captain America as well as a special adaption of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  And they hinted at a future collaboration with Stan Lee on the Silver Surfer.

I had a mixed reaction hearing this news.  I loved Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, New Gods and Mister Miracle over at DC.  What I knew of Kirby’s Fantastic Four and Thor came from reprints like Marvel’s Greatest Comics—I had started reading Marvel at precisely the time Kirby jumped ship.  While I loved those classic FF stories…as time progressed, I came to admire a slightly deeper level of writing from guys like Steve Englehart, who wrote Captain America from issue 153 to 186 (1972-1975).  Three years of the greatest Captain America arc ever written in my eyes: the racist doppelganger Cap\Bucky of the 1950s, the Secret Empire headed by Richard Nixon, the Nomad arc, topped off by the Red Skull’s return.  Ed Brubaker has been mining this material since he started his Cap run.

Yes, Kirby was back—but wait a minute—that meant Steve Englehart was not coming back! 
Shit!  That was my feeling.  Looking back, it was like a hostage swap.  Marvel got Kirby, DC got Englehart, who worked on Justice League and his famous Batman/Detective run with Marshall Rogers.

This is a weird way to begin a 1970s Kirby tribute.  I still bought his 70s era Marvel comics: Cap, 2001, Eternals, Black Panther, and yes—Devil Dinosaur.  I thought they were bizarre and funky and definitely not as hip as the work produced by Englehart, Don McGregor, and Steve Gerber.  They weren’t as good as his DC Comics work or the old FF run.  I’ve appreciated this material more as time has progressed.  I think Kirby produced some great covers during this period, which I am going to feature here over the next few days. 

Captain America 193 Kirby and Romita 1975

Jack Kirby’s cover to Captain America 193 was iconic.  Even better, it was inked by John Romita.  I know a lot of you guys are gonna say that Romita’s inks overpowered Kirby on this cover.  But I think it’s the perfect blend, a great Kirby pose followed with Romita detailing.  I think this cover is just as good as Captain America #100 (the first silver age issue).  You have to love that cover blurb: King Kirby is Back—And Greater Than Ever!

Jack Kirby kicking back returning to Marvel 1975 Foom 11

The back cover to FOOM #11 featured Jack Kirby sitting back and dreaming up the covers to Cap 193 and 194.  I don’t know who did this one, if I had to guess, I would say it was Marie Severin.
I am curious if anyone else alive in the 70s had the same reaction to Kirby’s taking over Captain America?  Or did you say, throw that bum Englehart out?  Let me know your thoughts.  Nuff Said!

Update: Comments from my old MT blog...


It always irked me that Marvel didn't actually use a Kirby drawing on the cover of FOOM but had John Byrne do a pastiche of his style.
I never realized that it was Byrne who did the FOOM cover before now! DUH!
I remember the Kirby return very well it nearly turned me off Marvel in general and Captain America in particular, just like the equally retrograde move when the execrable Frank Robbins came back to take over Cap.
It seemed like marvel didn't have the self confidence and belief in it's more subtle artistic creations and was going back to Zap! Pow! type material. It would be enlightening to know what the age profile of Kirby readers was compared with Englehart etc. It might have been Marvel was worried about the age profile of the books.
Kirby was clearly a creative man but his ideas were at odds with his artistic execution, the Eternals for example were a story and background rich creation but the cartoonish visual style made them look ludicrous and to me unreadable, compared with the recent Gaiman makeover for instance.
I assumed that Stan Lee had a soft spot for Kirby and wanted him back to recreate the new frontier atmosphere of the early Marvel FF Hulk work being himself slightly uncomfortable with the direction of the new guys like Gerber and Engelhart.
Either way I nearly stopped buying but it actually did me a great favour by getting me to crossover to DC and other publishers and appreciate the work going on there.
Jack Kirby coming to Marvel was the greatest thing ever! By this point it was clear Englehart was gone--he hadn't done the book for a while--and what followed was pretty weak tea so Jack was a godsend. Yes, it was crazy stuff but it was insanely inventive and wildly entertaining! I was hooked hard.


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