The King’s Gambit. Comics legend Jack Kirby invented the villains of Justice League in one of the wildest experiments in superhero history.—Abraham Riesman, The Vulture
“Y’know,” the late Jack Kirby told his assistant, Steve Sherman, “I’m competing against myself.” It was 1970, a little over three decades after Kirby stopped being Lower East Side street brawler Jacob Kurtzberg and became a professional writer-slash-artist under his percussive nom de plume. In that period, he had dreamt up much of the visual vocabulary and dramatis personae of the American comic book. His art style was explosive: foreshortened punches smacked into the reader’s eyeballs, and impossibly detailed sci-fi machinery littered his scenes. His genius for superhero storytelling was unparalleled: Along with Joe Simon, he had created Captain America in 1941; along with his frenemy Stan Lee and scattered others, he had spent the 1960s dreaming up stories that introduced and developed most of the Marvel pantheon, including the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Nick Fury, Doctor Doom, Black Panther, and even the anthropomorphic tree-creature Groot.
But Sherman recalls the so-called King of Comics feeling dissatisfied at age 52. “I’m competing against myself because I did all these characters and stories,” Kirby mused, “and now I need to come up with something different.”
So he did.
“It would be nice if I could just say, ‘Go back and read the original Mister Miracle. But if you straight read it, it’s like sticking your head into the id of the country. It’s like you get drowned under the ideas of it. Jack Kirby’s writing is not the subtlety of Hemingway, it’s the scream of myth.”