Jack Kirby (August 28, 1917 – February 6, 1994), born Jacob Kurtzberg, was an American comic book artist, writer and editor. Growing up poor in New York City, Kurtzberg entered the nascent comics industry in the 1930s. He drew various comic strips under different pen names, ultimately settling on Jack Kirby. In 1941, Kirby and writer Joe Simon created the highly successful superhero character Captain America for Timely Comics. During the 1940s, Kirby would create a number of comics for various publishers, often teaming with Simon.
After serving in World War II, Kirby returned to comics and worked in a variety of genres. He contributed to a number of publishers, including Archie Comics and DC Comics, but ultimately found himself at Timely’s 1950s iteration, Atlas Comics, later to be known as Marvel Comics. In the 1960s, Kirby co-created many of Marvel Comics‘ major characters, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk, along with writer-editor Stan Lee. Despite the high sales and critical acclaim of the Lee-Kirby titles, Kirby felt treated unfairly, and left the company in 1970 for rival DC Comics.
While working for DC, Kirby created his Fourth World saga, which spanned several comics titles. While these and other titles proved commercially unsuccessful and were canceled, several of their characters and the Fourth World mythos have continued as a significant part of the DC Comics universe. Kirby returned to Marvel briefly in the mid-to-late 1970s, then ventured into television animation and independent comics. In his later years, Kirby received great recognition for his career accomplishments, and is regarded by historians and fans as one of the major innovators and most influential creators in the comic book medium.
As with Will Eisner, it can’t be overstated how important Jack Kirby is in the history of American comics. In a career that spanned seven decades, Kirby created hundreds upon hundreds of characters, worked in almost every conceivable genre and produced tens of thousands of pages of comic art.
And yet, over the course of that career, Batman was a character Kirby rarely tackled. In fact, most of DC’s most well-known characters were hardly, if ever, depicted by The King.
Kirby’s most notable DC stints were in the 40s and 70s, respectively. Both of those periods saw Kirby (and during the 40s, his creative partner Joe Simon) mainly creating new characters rather than working on pre-existing ones. In the above cover for Detective Comics, Simon & Kirby creations The Boy Commandos appear alongside Batman & Robin, but only the Commandos were drawn by the pair. Batman artist and Joker co-creator Jerry Robinson handled the dynamic duo.
It wouldn’t be until the early 70s, after his revolutionary work for Marvel in the 60s, that Kirby would actually draw Batman. Strangely, this initial depiction was featured on the cover of The Comic Reader #100, alongside Captain Marvel, Superman and his own creation, Captain America.
By the 1980s Kirby was doing a lot of work in animation, and the comic work he was doing was creator-owned, thanks to fledgling indie publisher Pacific Comics. But in the middle of the decade, Kirby returned for what would be his last period of work for DC.
DC made a deal with toy manufacturer Kenner to produce a line of action figures in the wake of He-Man’s massive success. Dubbed Super Powers, Kirby’s Fourth World antagonists (like Darkseid and Desaad) were chosen as the line’s villians. According to the Super Powers article on Wikipedia, Kirby’s redesign work he did for the line on the characters he created led to some of the only royalties he received during his career.
As a tie-in to the Super Powers toys and Saturday morning cartoon, DC approached Kirby to work on mini-series based on the concept. This was the only time Kirby drew not just Batman, but also Green Lantern, The Flash and other DC icons in actual comic stories.
Although Kirby’s work on the series was perhaps not his best, due to worsening eyesight and old age in general, it still contained the unmistakable energy he was known for. Still uncollected, the Super Powers miniseries have long been clamored for by Kirby’s most devoted fans.
And, as a bonus, here’s his take on The Joker and The Penguin, too.
Jack Kirby: The once and future King.