Jack Kirby – Superheroes and Supergods

Posted: July 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

Where are all the Jack Kirby inspired films or television shows?

One of comicdoms greatest artist and writers Jack Kirby is seen by comic readers as one of the most creative, recognisable and iconic creators of our time, influencing not only the medium of comics but produced work that has inspired music, art and modern literature, however when it comes to a wider ‘geek’ audience the awareness of just how influential Kirbys work is seems to be lacking. While Stan Lee has managed in some ways to ascend above comics to tackle other media Kirbys work has never seemed to work out of the medium of comic books into the wider spectrum of cross-media, television and film. The ‘kings’ vast body of work goes in many ways un-noticed but yet holds so much un-tapped potential and an entire universe of ideas that could no doubt make superb cartoons, shows, films or computer games

Comics that line the shelves also proudly sport the titles, ideas and inspiration from his work with books like Godwar, and Astro City being two great examples that tap into his style and visual storytelling. Indeed his unused work is being re-done by Kurt Busick and Alex Ross in the excellent ‘Kirby Genesis’ but for the man who created icons like the Fantastic 4’ (whose iconic first issue front cover is pure ‘Kirby’ style’ of a huge green monster roaring out of the ground) and then from this an entire line of superhero titles created by the pair that included books starring characters such as The Hulk, X-men, Daredevil, Ant Man and many more the lack of awareness of his influence is a wider spectrum of ‘geek’ culture is shocking.
It is not hard not to find one or two passing Kirby’s influences in today’s comic book shops, but these for the most part are homages to his work, from the obvious album covers Joe Satrianis ‘Surfing with an Alien’ or American geek-punk band Kirby Krackle, or a T-shirts that shows one of the characters he created there are legacies of his work is evidence but once you have left the comic book shop it won’t matter that you knew Kevin Smith’s character in Daredevil is called Kirby his work for the most part has not had the impact that really it should have.

And to me that’s a huge shame for once you did a little deeper you get into the fantastical realms, innovative visual designs, and stunning characters creations that made up the ‘body’ of his work you realise just how brilliant his work is and that really he is are very few people to have had such a massive impact on the comic industry – think of it a ‘adult’ style HBO show based in The Eternals, (in the style of say Tru-Blood), or Kamandi as a post-apocalyptic dystopian future min-series that could give ‘The Walking Dead’ a run for its money.

Along with the more iconic and bombastic Stan lee Kirby helped create numerous a weird and wonderful places and characters that are ripe for further development for both for DC and Marvel, indeed the house of ideas has had its eye on the television market for a while and some of Kirby’s creations would sit very well next to the proposed ‘aka Jessica Jones’, Hulk or Power Pack. Imagine a show set in the mythical mountain of Wundagore (home of the High Evolutionary) where strange beasts battle for power a la or a Kung-Fu esque show starring Iron Fist based in the mythical eastern city of Kun Lun or even a political thriller / West Wing show focusing on the African nation of Wakanda where the Black Panther rules.

Keeping in the current Marvel Universe secret agents of SHIELD such as Ant-Man and the Wasp, or ATLAS led by Jimmy Woo could week by week do ‘a Stargate’ and take a peek into Kirby’s parallel worlds ruled by demons or monsters in the Micro-verse, a sub-atomic dimension filled with creatures like Blastaar and the insect like Annilhius- how would that look as a film designed by the comic-focused eye of Edgar Wright or mo-capped by Robert Zemekis a la Tin-Tin? The potential for visual fun of giant ants, microscopic monsters and liquid universes filled with bug-like critters could be fantastic.

What about a medical drama/supernatural show featuring a student named Stephen Strange tacking the dark corners of the universe using magic against Dormammu or Baron Mordo overseen by Guillermo del Toro?. These other-worldly concepts of course would have to be filled with Kirby’s unique style of drawing and character design, with pages being crammed with ‘Kirby Machines’ – giant futuristic technology filled and detailed with chrome pipes, odd angles and cracking with unknown energy in the form of ‘Kirby dots’ (a method that the artist used to portray energy)

Now think about this – the super-powered equivalent of ‘Game of Thrones’ featuring the Inhumans, Taking Kirby’s trademark ideas, namely superhuman secret civilisations that lived alongside man these secretive beings hailed from the secret city of Attalin and have in the past fought and been allies with some of earths mightiest heroes. But think about a show where the political machinations or royal life, external threats like the Kree or Supreme Intelligence or internal vying for power by Maximus go hand in hand with the personal stories of characters Medusa, Gorgon, Karnak and there mute leader Black Bolt.
Layering another aspect could be the fact that bio-diversity being the main key to Inhuman life each character has to go through the ‘Terrigen Mist’ a mystical substance that through science could unlock their genetic potential. This gave all the Inhumans superhuman powers such as the ability to breathe under water (such in the case of Triton) or to have vocal cords that could shatter mountains (as in the case with Black Bolt) but also in some cases mutations that are next to useless like San who became a dough like rabbit creature, a show that tackles diversity as its main key point, change, mutation and lifestyle choices could all add up to a show that could rival anything seen on television at the moment.

Even if this show proved too costly – what about another a fictional superhuman race, the Eternals first appeared in 1976. Similar in a lot of ways to the Inhumans the Eternals consisted of generically altered proto-humans who had been experimented on by the Celestials, huge skyscraper sized alien gods who wore suits of bizarre stone armour. Seeking to judge earth the Celestials developed the Eternals to help the evolving humanity and to test whether the species was deemed worthy to exist. Therefore characters such as Kronos, Sersi, Ikaris and Makkari assisted humanity in things like architecture, farming and transport. Again these characters names after mythological creations was Kirby’s way of saying that these comic characters were seen by the first civilisations as gods due to there great knowledge. Living side by side with humans these secret super-powered heroes could protect the earth from deviants, aliens and the dark corners of the universe such as the mad god Thanos recently seen in the end credits of the Avengers.

These mind-expanding ideas of secrets, super-gods and aliens are pure Kirby and are ripe for cross-platform development. This idea of giant space gods, superhuman assistance and alien races were greatly influenced by the work of Erich von Danikens book from the 1970s, ‘Chariots of the god’ in which the author surmised that humanities knowledge was given to use by aliens and that we worshipped then as gods. – Taking this idea of alien races, ‘space based ‘supermen’ and higher beings would not just work in Marvels favour as across at DC Kirby explored the idea of cosmic characters even further under the banner of ‘Jack Kirby’s 4th World’ The first titles from the series consisted of three titles, New Gods, Mr Miracle and The Forever which were originally intended to be huge mega-series with all the titles linking together in some way and for the books to have a finite lifespan.

The books main themes once again revolved around hidden civilisations and god like creations. With only one book set on earth ‘The Forever People’ the books main role was to tell internal stories of giant alien gods and the battle between good and evil, represented by two planets, the goodies coming from the paradise like New Genesis and the bad guys coming from the industrial hell-like Apokolips. Using advanced technology such as the sentient computers called Mother Boxes and teleport systems called Boom Tubes the comics covered the evil lord of Apokolips Darkseids quest to find the anti-life equation,

Filled with weird and wonderful characters such as Kalibak, Lightray, Big Barda, Granny Goodness and Scott Free aka Mr Miracle the books were off the scale when it came to high-concept sci-fi, intergalactic action and vast space battles that would put Star Wars to shame –and while the high concept would never make it to a live action scenario imagine a interpretation of this in the style of ‘Clone Wars’ – a beautifully rendered GC cartoon that could bring Darkseid and the rest of the residents of the fourth world to life.

Then of course there are his lesser known books and ideas. For every ‘success’ Kirby had he also produced numerous concepts that fell by the wayside but seem so full of potential that it would be a shame not to develop them. Ideas such as Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers for the relatively small publisher Pacific Comics is a great example and with Marvel moving forward with Guardians of the Galaxy the notion that studios will once again be looking up and into space for their next big franchise could be a great excuse to dust off these lesser known characters and tweak them for the big screen. Think about a kid-focused set of movies w with the same feel as Spy-Kids and have Robert Rodriguez to do the honours for this one (In 3D of course) and what about his other ‘Also Ran’ characters like, Machine Man? Well that honour could go to Seth McFarlane to produce s crude, offensive animates superhero show based on NEXTWave in which the introspective pondering robots was tweaked to be a hard drinking, angrier version of Bender from Futurama.

Finally there are of course the vast archive of non-produced concept of nearly 600 ideas that Kirby created in the late 1970s and early 80s for Sid and Marty Krofft and Ruby-Spears Productions. Ideas such as the magical themed Warriors of Illusion or the sci-fi ‘Bodyguards’ would all make ideal Saturday morning television shows – think Power Rangers only with a much higher concept overseen by Genndy Tartakovsky

For more concepts check out

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/04/12/arts/20100413_KIRBY_SLIDESHOW_index.html

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