Hoberman on Jack Kirby

Article00_2 In bookforum, J. Hoberman on Jack Kirby:

Though he lacks Will Eisner’s urbane, insouciant spirit and Jack Cole’s sensuous, ever-surprising plasticity, comic-book artist Jack Kirby (1917–94) more than deserves the royal sobriquet with which he’s been crowned. King Kirby embodies the drama of his medium as well as the drama of its history—how, starting on the eve of World War II, a bunch of mainly working-class, first-generation Jewish kids created a garish, subliterary mythology of fantastic supermen. Kirby’s first such creature, created with Joe Simon, was Captain America: The premiere issue, which appeared nearly a year before Pearl Harbor, has the masked and star-spangled hero using his shield to deflect Nazi bullets even as he knocks Hitler off his feet with an explosive right hook to the kisser.

In a general sense, Kirby’s is the saga that Michael Chabon mythologized and made literary with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). In his author’s note, Chabon acknowledges his “deep debt” to Kirby, not just in this novel but in “everything else I’ve ever written.” Most likely, Chabon was thinking less of Kirby’s wartime comics than of the pop deities the artist drew and/or invented twenty years later for Marvel Comics—the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the uncanny X-Men, the Mighty Thor, and the Silver Surfer—or the even crazier characters that he would develop for Marvel’s rival DC in the early ’70s.

These hallucinations flowed from an unlikely source. A feisty five-foot-two-inch fireplug, the artist was born Jacob Kurtzberg in a Lower East Side tenement.