As 2017 draws to a close, so do the many celebrations of what would have been Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday. Publishers, news sites, and fans have spent the year honoring one of the most important comics creators of all time - a man who reshaped the medium, the American industry, and more than one genre. Yet for many readers there’s still a question as to where they should begin. All comics fans know Kirby’s creations, and most have encountered at least one of his comics, but it’s a bad assumption to believe everyone is familiar with “The King’s” massive catalogue.
In order to help new readers or those who have simply gone uninitiated, we’ve prepared a list of the five best collections available to celebrate Jack Kirby’s centennial. These aren’t the best individual stories or the best collections ever; these are the books that could provide potentially anyone an entry point to appreciate the work of a true master of comics. In order to help our readers we’ve selected this list using a few key criteria:
- All collections must be readily available for purchase in print or digital formats and affordable.
- All collections should comprise a different era or genre of work to provide different entry points for different tastes.
- All collections should comprise a notable collection of issues, either a complete run or long span, to offer a thorough sampling of the work.
We hope these recommendations will help new Kirby fans discover what the hype is about and, perhaps, allow older ones to rediscover a favorite set of stories.
Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby
Issues: Mister Miracle #1 - 18
There’s more than one good reason to start with Mister Miracle, collected here in its entirety. The Fourth World Saga is Kirby’s magnum opus, an epic entirely written and drawn by Kirby after being given carte blanche at DC Comics. Of the four series composing the saga, Mister Miracle is easily the most accessible. It starts with an origin story and slowly weaves itself into the grander conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips. The core of these tales is recognizable for its elements of adventure, superheroes, and romance.
There’s also the revival of Mister Miracle occurring today, and it’s no surprise that this character attracted the eyes of rising stars Tom King and Mitch Gerads. If you’re a fan of what is occurring in DC Comics’ most acclaimed new title, there’s a lot to be learned in its origins. Kirby’s tone and style are radically different, but almost all of the elements being utilized are pulled directly from this series. In spite of the Kirby’s relatively short run (only 18 issues) on Mister Miracle, after reading this it’s obvious why the character has remained a favorite of creators across the years.prevnext
Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine
Issues: Fantastic Four #1 - 18
This collection must come with a word of warning. It is the birth of the Marvel universe, the foundation of the Jack Kirby and Stan Lee partnership, and the start of one of the most acclaimed comics runs of all time. It also represents a massive learning curve for both of the creators involved. There is no doubt that Fantastic Four #1 is brilliant within the context of its time. The issue provided characters who were ugly and human in ways that no other superhero was, and Kirby’s artwork was already bold and confrontational.
Yet across these initial 18 issues of Fantastic Four, a massive change occurs. The book grows towards the style and stories that would define it a few years later. Looking at issues #1 and #18 represents an exponential growth in storytelling. There’s no better collection to understand how Marvel Comics was founded, but some context helps make this collection much more appealing too.prevnext
The Demon by Jack Kirby
Issues: The Demon #1 - 16
The Demon is a truly unique example of Jack Kirby’s work. There are no other examples in his enormous library of horror comics, and that makes sense given Kirby’s attraction to optimistic themes regarding humanity, technology, and progressivism. His invention of Etrigan is in direct conflict with all of those ideas, and the results are truly fascinating.
This series goes back in time and digs into yet another mythos, that of King Arthur, as Kirby focused on medieval horrors to populate DC Comics. Etrigan is a compelling design infused both with dark humor and rage-fueled power. Kirby’s gothic settings are every bit as detailed and engrossing as his futuristic Fourth World landscapes. The Demon serves as both a wonderful counterpoint to much of Kirby’s work and an enthralling story that exists perfectly within only 16 issues.prevnext
Thor Epic Collection: To Wake The Mangog
Issues: Thor #154 - 174
If the Fantastic Four collection is meant to show Kirby growing into himself at Marvel Comics, then these Thor stories show Kirby at his apex before leaving the publisher. The various tales collected as Kirby’s time on Thor drew to a close are as epic and experimental as anything he would go on to create at DC Comics. They range from the space epic in which Thor encounters Galactus to the creation of Mangog.
What really makes these issues stand out is how unique they are even from the decades of superhero comics to follow. Kirby’s use of fumetti and experimental layouts have sometimes been mimicked, but never to the same success. His use of scale makes these stories of gods feel as if they truly have the weight of the heavens, and his linework has never been more distinguished. For all of the praise that Fantastic Four receives, this is the best collection of any superhero comics made by Jack Kirby at Marvel Comics.prevnext
Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C.: One Man Army Corps.
Issues: O.M.A.C. #1 - 80comments
While this collection of O.M.A.C. is the shortest on this list, it might also be the most relevant today. Part science-fiction odyssey, party dystopian epic, and part war story, O.M.A.C. is packed with ideas that seem frighteningly prescient today. Kirby’s conception of an Earth overrun by consumerism and war included visions that mirror modern drones and sex dolls. While the stories remain enjoyable reads, the ideas contained within are insightful and often dark.
There may be no better example of why Kirby continues to be treated with such deference than O.M.A.C.. It is a comic that shows his sunning style and storytelling chops. Each issue displays incredible inventions and new visual concepts. And at the heart of every new story are ideas and themes that have only become more relevant in the years since their publication. O.M.A.C. is not simply a great example of Kirby’s comics, but one of the best comics of the 20th Century. If you can only try one collection from this list, then this is the one that must receive the absolute highest recommendation.prev