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Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution

by Ronin Ro

Pub Date: July 2nd, 2004
ISBN: 1-58234-345-4
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Hip-hop author Ro (Have Gun Will Travel, 1998, etc.) considers the frisky comic-books industry in a history of the people of Marvel and DC Comics.

His subjects might well have sprung from the fiction of Tom De Haven and Michael Chabon or the Bristol Board of Will Eisner and Ben Katchor, though one particular genius gets much of the author’s attention. With sincere admiration, Ro relates the life of Jack Kirby (1917–94), considered by comic-book connoisseurs to be king of the art form. With his sometime colleague, sometime nemesis, the ubiquitous Stan Lee, looking over his shoulder, Kirby penciled thousands upon thousands of pages filled with superheroes, puissant villains, and aliens from strange worlds, all bursting their panels. Occasionally with others, but mostly alone and chomping on his Roi-Tan stogie, King Kirby created, among others, The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, Spiderman, Silver Surfer, The Hulk, Dr. Strange, Sgt. Fury, and Capt. Victory (forget Elasti-Girl and Negative Man). At Marvel, Lee shared bylines while tending to the marketing; Kirby created characters and dialogue. When the relationship seemed untenable, Jack moved to DC, Superman’s home, where the characters lacked inner life. Despite their primary colors, the Marvel heroes Kirby created had flaws, doubts, and personalities. Concentrating heavily on descriptions of character and plot, Ro offers less material on the basic production of comic books as the plot was made palpable in pencil, inking, coloring, and lettering, then passed on to production and distribution. (Presumably, fans know all they want on this aspect.) Ultimately, it’s the story of Kirby, his family, Stan Lee, the inkers, and the suits, not to mention purloined artwork and threats of lawyers. With Kirby’s passing, it may also be read as a tale of the twilight of some of yesterday’s superheroes as they are recreated in the movies.

A chronicle of people, who, bit by bit, 64 pages for a dime, influenced our culture greatly. Too bad there aren’t any illustrations.