All Hail the King: 97 Reasons to Love Jack Kirby on His 97th Birthday

Legendary comics creator Jack Kirby would have been 97 today if he were still alive, and for some in the comics community, "The King's" birthday is something of a holiday. 

We figured, like we did when Stan Lee turned 90, it might be fun to list off 97 reasons to love The King.

1. He's the anti-Stan Lee

Look, we will not be indulging in the whole "hate Stan Lee" thing in this story. Both Stan and Jack brought something utterly irreplaceable to the table and both of them deserve recognition. 

What's interesting is the way that, for the most part, Jack went about his business fairly quietly and didn't do the same kind of shameless self-promotion that Stan is famous for. Becuase he was key to Marvel's early success, he was "The King," and he had a character to the fans, but he wasn't reveling in it the way Stan was and so when you look at the two, they're like a buddy cop movie just waiting to happen. It created an interesting dynamic that resonated with fans.

2. Captain America

Jack was the co-creator, with Joe Simon, of a number of great Golden Age characters, not least of all Captain America.

One of the few characters to become a household name during the Marvel Age of the 1960s in which Stan Lee had no hand, Captain America has been, to varying degrees, a wildly popular character since he was introduced nearly 75 years ago.

3. Nick Fury

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, one of Jack's war comics, later set the stage for its lead, Sgt. Nick Fury, to be the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., a super-spy agency you might recognize from the movies and TV.

4. The New Gods

A whole family of characters, the boundless imagination of Jack Kirby's Fourth World made Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen a must-read. Just think about that for a minute.

And, of course...

5. Darkseid

We'll count him separate from the rest of Kirby's great New Gods and Fourth World characters since he's widely regarded as DC's best, baddest villain and the odds-on favorite to be the antagonist in  the Justice League movie.

6. Kamandi

A great object lesson in what to do when you're faced with adversity, Kamandi is a beloved and enduring series that legend has it was created, in part, becuase they couldn't get the rights to Planet of the Apes.

7. Absorbing Man

A ridiculous character? Sure. But like fellow Kirby co-creation Batroc the Leaper, there's hope yet for him to be redeemed in the eyes of the mainstream as he becomes a villain on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this year!

8. Ronan the Accuser

9. The Fantastic Four

The team that kicked off the Marvel Age and changed superhero comics forever.

10. Superheroes as Metaphor

At the time he and Stan Lee started pursuing the "mutantkind as the oppressed people" metaphor, mainstream American comics were seen as disposable, popcorn entertainment for kids. Not really the perfect stage for the kind of story that would become so wildly popular later.

11. New York, New York

Grounding the Marvel Universe in New York City meant giving fans familiar scenery and places they could actually visit, rather than the more fanciful tradition of creating a fictional city for your hero to protect. It also made the city a very dangerous place to live, with all those supervillains hanging around.

And of course Jack drew it all beautifully.

12. The Shared Universe

It's hard to imagine DC Comics or Marvel Comics at a time when there wasn't a "shared universe" and continuity to worry about, but while characters often shared the pages together, there was no really coherent drive to make any kind of unified world or timeline until Lee and Kirby did it with Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and The Avengers.

13. That one time he was God

During Mark Waid's run on Fantastic Four with artist Mike Wieringo, they needed some divine intervention to bring Ben Grimm back from the dead. Enter...Jack.

14. Virtually Every Villain You've Seen in a Movie

Jack had a hand in creating Magneto, Doctor Doom, Ronan the Accuser, Loki and lots, lots more. The Marvel movies that are making hundreds of millions of dollars at the theaters might exist without Jack Kirby...but it's unlikely, and they'd have a distinctly different face if they did.

15. Thor

Yes, he didn't technically "create" Thor, who is descended of Norse myth, but not only did Stan and Jack pluck Thor out of the relative obscurity of a dead religion, but Marvel's version of Asgard is identifiably Kirby.

16. The Power of Myth

The Marvel Universe would be a decidedly different place today if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby hadn't brought in dozens of characters they DIDN'T create--but reinvented to suit the Marvel Universe. Thor and his fellow Asgardians, Ares, Hercules and the rest are just the beginning--characters from mythology and public domain stories have always popped up in Marvel Comics, and usually enhance wherever they happen to be.

17. Groot

I am Groot. I am Groot, I am Groot I am Groot. I am Groot.

I am Groot.

18. Ant-Man

19. Devil Dinosaur

20. Challengers of the Unknown

21. Sharon Carter

22. Peggy Carter

23. Jillian Kirby

Kirby's teenage granddaughter is already involved in charitable causes, using her family name and her father's profile to create goodwill and help the comics industry.

24. Franklin Richards

The first of his kind, Franklin was the son of major, popular characters who headlined their own comic book all the way from prior to his conception through his birth and beyond.

25. Black Panther

26. OMAC

27. Galactus

Of all the villains in the Marvel Universe, few look more Kirbyesque than Galactus.

28. The Incredible Hulk

29. Helping to save the superhero

It's hard to imagine a world now where the superhero comic was nearly extinct in favor of other types of stories, but it was in no small part thanks to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that the superhero lived to fight another day after being nearly wiped out by Frederic Wertham.

30. Potentially the coolest wife in comics

Everybody loves Roz Kirby.

31. Dabney Donovan, Dubbilex and the Newsboy Legion

The CADMUS crew, who would not only inform years of Silver Age insanity but then recur as major players during the fan-favorite '90s Superman titles, were all created at least in part by Jack.

32. Ego the Living Planet

33. Avengers

Marvel's answer to the Justice League had to be done by the biggest stars they had in their stable, so Stan and Jack hit it again, not long after their creation of Fantastic Four.

34. Bucky Barnes

35. Crazy Quilt

36. The Inhumans

Very much a Marvel-flavored version of a lot of what Jack did best at DC Comics, The Inhumans have managed to endure for decades in spite of many writers having a hard time figuring out just what to do with them in the Marvel Universe. They're expected to appear on the big screen soon.

37. A legacy of imagination

For many of Kirby's most devoted fans, many of whom work in comics to this day, his greatest accomplishment isn't anything he did on the page but his seemingly boundless imagination and his never-ending supply of big ideas.

38. The Danger Room

One of the many great settings of the Marvel Universe, the Danger Room was a real revelation in its time. Likely informed by military boot camps, the room became a staple of X-Men storytelling.

39. Service to his Country

After having Captain America punch Hitler, Kirby served in World War II himself, notably arriving in Normandy not long after D-Day. Kirby recalled that a lieutenant, learning that comics artist Kirby was in his command, made him a scout who would advance into towns and draw reconnaissance maps and pictures, an extremely dangerous duty.

40. The breadth of his work

Even if you don't look at the variety of weird and wonderful superhero and superhero-adjacent characters that Jack created, his romance, fantasy and other comics show off an artist who's capable of a whole lot of things.

41. Uatu the Watcher

42. Funky Flashman

One of the great "eff-you" moments in comics history has to be when readers started to realize just who Funky Flashman represented...

43. H.E.R.B.I.E. 

44. MODOK

45. The X-Men

Kirby co-created nearly every major X-Men character used before the major reinvention in Giant-Size X-Men #1. And he and Lee helped to shape the premise of the X-Men's world and the central conflicts that drive them.

46. High Evolutionary

47. Klarion the Witch Boy

48. Rick Jones

49. Immortus

50. Alicia Masters

51. Manhunter

A less sci-fi and more down-to-earth version of the character will appear on Arrow this year!

52. Machine Man

53. Lockjaw

54. Glorious Godfrey

55. Iron Man

56. Mole Man

57. Willie Lumpkin

58. Annihilus

59. Loki

60. The Thing

This character gets special mention becuase in spite of the fact that we already mentioned the Fantastic Four above, he was a huge success with fans and has headed up his own stories, tonally very different from just being another FF story, on and off for years.

61. Baron Zemo

62. Arnim Zola

63. Super-Skrull

64. Adam Warlock

65. Silver Surfer

This character really opened up Marvel's cosmic world in a way that was important and meaningful; in the past, there would be missions to space, or villains from space, but really everything eventually came back to New York. Surfer made that unnecessary.

66. Thunderbolt Ross

67. Radioactive Man

No, not THAT Radioactive Man!

68. Bolivar Trask

69. Dan Turpin

70. Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman

71. Tigra

72. Fly

One of a number of the classic Archie superhero characters who remain in circulation to this day under the Black Circle Comics banner.

73. The Warriors Three

74. Scarlet Witch

75. The Yancy Street Gang

These guys remain some of the most unique supporting characters/antagonists/all-purpose cool kids in comics.

76. Charles Xavier

77. Wonder Man

78. Wasp

79. Quicksilver

80. Rawhide Kid

81. Two-Gun Kid

82. The Red Skull

83. Jasper Sitwell

84. Morgan Edge

85. Etrigan the Demon

86. Executioner

87. Fighting American

88. Fin Fang Foom

89. Klaw

90. Kobra

91. Juggernaut

92. Eternals

93. Jane Foster

94. The Forever People

95. The Dreaming Celestial

96. DESTROYER DUCK!

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97. Creator's rights

Jack wasn't the first to be screwed by the comics industry, and he wasn't the last. Hell, he wasn't even the one to get screwed the worst. But Kirby was one of the first people to really fight back against the way writers and artists were treated by the publishers, and his high profile made it impossible to just make him disappear when he was a pain in the ass.