Jack Kirby was a genius, one of the forefathers of the entire comic industry and a man with limitless imagination. He was also kind of insane. Besides creating Captain America, the X-Men and countless other heroes and villains, he produced some of the weirdest comics ever made. Here are only a few of Kirby’s craziest ideas.
1) Captain 3D
Co-created with Joe Simon in 1953, Captain 3D was made to capitalise on the 3D comic trend. You’d expect a hero with 3D glasses would be able to see special things, or shoot lasers or something, right? Well, Kirby also managed to include a race of cat people who ruled the Earth 50,000 years ago; somehow the cats are now disguised as gun-toting mobsters, but still planning on eradicating humanity, and only a teen with a pair of mystical 3D glasses can see them, They Live-style. There’s also a prophetic Book of D, which if the teen looks at with his special glasses, brings forth Captain 3D to fight the cat people mobsters. This lasted one issue.
2) Crazy Quilt
This eventual Batman rogue was actually created by Kirby in 1946 as a foe for the Boy Commandoes (an elite group of teenagers who were of course allowed to fight the Nazis). Quilt was a painter by day, master criminal by night, although he had the bad habit of leaving clues to his crimes in his paintings. In his first appearance, he’s accidentally blinded by one of his minions and undergoes surgery, which only restores his ability to see bright colours. Quilt, perhaps poorly, then chooses to wear a helmet that emits bright, coloured lights to distract his foes… which very quickly drives him insane. Note: The craziest thing about Crazy Quilt? He never, ever, ever had anything to do with quilts.
3) Devil Dinosaur
One of Kirby’s odder creations at DC was Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth, which featured the title character in a way-way-past-post-apocalyptic world ruled by talking anthropomorphic animals. DC was apparently in talks to make it a cartoon when Kirby went back to Marvel for a third time, and they instructed him to make another series like Kamandi. Kirby responded with Devil Dinosaur, a giant, intelligent red dinosaur and his primitive ape pal Moon-Boy, who lived on Dinosaur World, an alternate earth where dinosaurs and primitive men lived together. It lasted nine issues.
4) Master Computobot and the Cavebots
A concept Kirby drew but never used, this is… well, it’s a giant robot computer in control of several robot cavemen who clearly want to destroy humanity. It is awesome.
5) Vagabond Prince
Kirby created (or co-created) countless heroes and villains during his time in the comic book industry. Some, like Captain America, were instantly iconic; some, like Crazy Quilt, were just bizarre. And then there were the designs that were so baffling that it seemed like only a person who had never read a comic book could have thought of them. In this latter category, I preset the Vagabond Prince, who for no reason whatsoever dressed like a member of a marching band. A writer for a greeting card company in regular life (seriously), he dons his outfit and grabs a teenager to be his Chief Justice to fight crime. Although the Vagabond Prince and his posse had three adventures, they only make his choice of outfit more baffling.
6) Monster At My Window
Look at this cover to 1962’s Tales To Astonish #34. Does it even matter what the details of the actual story are? I say thee nay.
7) Black Racer
Kirby created Silver Surfer for Marvel. Normally, a shiny chrome alien who cruises the galaxy on a cosmic surfboard would be considered weird, but such is Kirby’s genius that he’s become a very normal, intrinsic part of the Marvel universe. When DC hired Kirby, he gave them a somewhat similar character. Instead of being an alien, though, he was originally a paralysed Vietnam vet named Willie Walker; instead of a surfboard he had flying skis; and instead of being a herald for a giant, planet-eating alien like Galactus he was DEATH ITSELF. Yes, before Neil Gaiman created the Endless, technically a dude on skis was DC’s god of death, who would show up — I feel I need to keep pointing this out, on skis — when your time had come.
8) Fin Fang Foom
Kirby created a ton of enormous monsters in the Silver Age, whether it was for Marvel’s new superheroes to fight or just to torment regular humans in more generic titles like Strange Tales, in which FFF debuted in issue #89. But he only gave one of these giant monsters underpants. This honour goes to Fin Fang Foom, whom Kirby also managed to design in a way completely unique to all other dragon illustrations. In Kirby’s story, a Chinese teen woke up Foom, led him to a Communist camp and basically let him raise hell. Please note that a giant dragon with underpants is arguably the most normal item on this list.
9) Satan’s Six
Such was the imagination of Jack Kirby that even Satan decided to make a super-team, although he waited until Kirby was making his “Kirbyverse” comics at Topps in the mid-’90s. Satan’s crack agents included: An ex-medieval knight named Brian Bluedragon; an African warrior named Kuga the Lion-Killer; Dr Mordius, who could turn into a monster; a mobster from the ’30s named Hard Luck Harrigan; an ancient Babylonian lady named Dezira; and Frightful, a demon Satan put in charge of the team. Shockingly, these satanic agents were actually quite incompetent, and basically foiled themselves each issue.
10) The Cassette Man
Another unused Kirby concept, and one that, no matter how much you look at it, is completely incomprehensible. Is he good? Bad? A robot? An alien? What does he want? What are the cassettes for?! No man can say.
This one-shot villain from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen illustrates how Kirby was never, ever out of ideas. A scientist made a tiny planet and put tiny people on it, like you do. As an experiment, he showed the planet only horror movies, which turned all the tiny inhabitants into a race of classic movie monsters and made the planet itself grow demonic horns. It’s science, people. After more insanity than I can possibly describe, Superman and Jimmy saved the planet from the scientist, and switched the movies over to Westerns. Seriously.
12) Basically Everyone In Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey
Did you know Jack Kirby did the comic adaptation of Stanley Kubruck’s acclaimed science fiction masterpiece 2001? It’s pretty weird. Did you know he somehow managed to make a monthly 2001 comic, based ostensibly on the movie, but incorporating his own ideas? It’s fucking insane. Kirby starts by trying to replicate the movie by beginning each adventure with cavemen, followed by a sci-fi story connected by imagery of a primitive artefact turning into a spacecraft of some sort. Then the astronaut meets a monster, gets saved by a monolith and turns into a space baby, as per the movie.
He starts going off the rails pretty quick. Above is the star of the prehistoric half of issue #2, Vira the She-Demon; by issue #7, Kirby was bored and decided to make a space-baby, the “New Seed”, the new star of the comic (no pun). Then #8 is about an android who gets the monolith treatment, only to become sentient and turn into the hero named Machine Man, who is actually now part of the official Marvel universe. This bizarre series ended at issue #10.