MADISON AVENUE TO DESOLATION ROW
Eve: “Your friend is positively Earthly. And I was so intrigued by the incredible rumors. The bulletins are still flashing about last night. Stories of super-beings, and monsters.”
Orion (turning to show his true face): “Oh yes Madame. There were monsters.”
Later while Orion sleeps.
Eve (gently touching Orion’s cheek): “There is something in that fierce and mangled face
beyond anything I’ve ever written about. The sleeping monster. The raging heart. A vessel of fire—which consumes—even love.” (Eve starts as Orion’s eye opens, focused on her hand) OH!”
Orion: “You’ve withdrawn your soothing touch madam. A pity—all that flowery crud ripped off—by untimely fright.
Stan Lee: “He did his most important writing with his drawing.”
Jack Kirby caustically summed up his own opinion of Stan Lee the wordsmith in TCJ: “I mean, he could barely spell.”
Nat Freedland in New York magazine, 1966 described Kirby this way:
“The King is a middle-aged man with baggy eyes and a baggy Robert Hall-ish suit. He is sucking a huge green cigar and if you stood next to him on the subway you would peg him for the assistant foreman in a girdle factory.”
“I think that is part of life. It’s instinctive in the cop, as well as the crook. In time we become our own monster. There will be things you will be ashamed of, and yet you’ve done it. And it’s on you like a scab.
You suffer a little, you get humiliated a little, you see people die, and I’ve seen plenty of people die. In seeing them die, you see yourself die. It’s a strange experience, seeing it, and participating in it is very strange.
There were times when I felt just great. It was almost like having sex. You feel about ten feet tall, if you can live through it.”
Examine the work of an artist and you can generally identify the ideas which concern them most.
Jack Kirby was interested in masks, the carefully constructed persona, the suits of skin we all wear, and what is under the veneer.
In Kirby’s work that theme is explored. Kirby looked at the two faces of man. The Janus-like duality of psychological and physiological identity. The skin of a monster, which might hide a gentle heart. And the potential or realized monster, which might lurk under a human skin.
Kirby’s was born, and grew up in a ghetto on New York’s lower East side. Kirby was a short man, didn’t have a formal education (he never graduated from high school), spoke with a street accent, was Jewish, and as a comic book creator felt he wasn’t respected by publishers. In short Kirby was in position to see he was often judged, not based on the man he was, but by his off the rack “Robert Hall birthday suit.”
In an interview with Will Eisner Kirby recalled a shift in his work, which began to slowly emerge while he was still living in a lower East side tenement building on Suffolk Street:
“I found myself intellectualizing. I was trying to get at the guy, who was trying to get at me.
I began to remember people from my own background, and I began to subtly realize they were important, and that I wasn’t ashamed of them. I was no longer afraid of myself, and I began to see them as I should have seen them from the beginning
This was a long way from Long Island. I was still trying to get to Brooklyn. I heard they had a tree there, and the tree was different.”
In Kirby’s eyes the “soul” of a man is the possibility a man can become reflective, and self-aware. A man can learn to recognize the instinctive urges that can overwhelm his rational judgment.
Kirby described his own inner battle in the story “Street Code.” In the story the neighborhood boys engage in a primitive ritual (rubbing the hump of a hunchbacked boy named Georgie) to bring good luck in a street fight, it’s only part of a larger street code which the young Kirby is disgusted by, and wants badly to leave behind.
“It was my turn. I stared at the terrible thing nature had done to Georgie’s back.
Something inside me was spilling…Something the Street Code couldn’t touch…Something only god and my parents knew about.
I bobbed and weaved among the backyard gravestones…But I was hurting–Hurting for Georgie and me–And the lousy things we had to do for the Street Code.”
“All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame”
“Well, we’ve made quite a jump.
From Madison Avenue to Desolation Row.”
Kirby mentioned Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in several interviews. The Quasimodo theme (a misunderstood suit of skin) is found going back to even Kirby’s earliest work which is already populated by grotesque or impaired characters with exceptional intellect or other abilities.
Kirby identified Frankenstein, a film about a misunderstood monster, as his favorite movie.
Kirby: I created the Hulk, and saw him as a handsome Frankenstein.
Mark Herbert: That’s the first impression I got, but most people saw him as a monster.
Kirby: I never felt the Hulk was a monster. Because I felt the Hulk was me. Being a monster is just a surface thing.
An article on Kirby’s unpublished novel THE HORDE was featured in The Jack Kirby Collector #50. A major player in the novel is a black man, Hardy Jackson. In Kirby’s synopsis Kirby describes Jackson as having such a degree of self-loathing that he describes his own skin as a “Gorilla suit.” Jackson’s expressed desire is for a suit of “shining golden armor,”
A self-described “student of science fiction,” Kirby was also a student of human nature.
There are any number of stories by Kirby where he explores the theme of A.I. a common theme in science fiction since Karl Capek’s R.U.R introduced the term Robot.
Capek's play explores what it is that makes a man. As the play develops Capek's robots learn to become more human.
Damon: To be like people, it is necessary to kill and to dominate. Read the history books. Read the books written by people. To be like people it is necessary to dominate and to murder.
Alquist: Ah, Domin, there’s nothing less like mankind than his image.
In Machine Man Kirby uses X-51 to explore his fascination with the suit of skin we all wear which has such an influence on how we are perceived.
At one point X-51 has a nervous breakdown when his artificial “human” face is taken from him.
Kirby (Silver Star #5):
"Two personalities in the same body. By creating the illusion of Drumm's face on the crowd below I stopped the "Angel of Death" who carried the truth inside him."
STANLEY KUBRICK: “...the question must be considered whether Rousseau's view of man as a fallen angel is not really the most pessimistic and hopeless of philosophies. It leaves man a monster who has gone steadily away from his nobility. It is, I am convinced, more optimistic to accept Ardrey's view that '...we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels...”
Jack Kirby (1969 interview with Mark Herbert):
"I felt wouldn't it be great if I could show a kind of Fallen Angel, which the Silver Surfer is."
Kirby felt that violence was the foundation of a predatory architecture; to recognize and suppress that impulsive infrastructure required a conscious, contemplative effort.
Violence as instinctive nature is rooted in man being descended from as author Jared Diamond puts it, “The Third Chimpanzee,” or as Kirby put it “Killer Baboons." Film director Stanley Kubrick listed the five common explanations for man’s predisposition towards violence. Notice #5, which Kubrick identified as his prime suspect. Kubrick felt the computer HAL in 2001 had developed a protective/predatory nature by way of being programmed by humans.
1. Original sin: the religious view.
2. Unjust economic exploitation: the Marxist view.
3. Emotional and psychological frustration: the psychological view.
4. Genetic factors based on the ‘Y’ chromosome theory: the biological view.
5. Man, the killer ape: the evolutionary view.
Kirby observed it was in a predator’s instinctual programming to mark territory, protect it, and if possible to expand it’s domination. He wrote of the “road-map” to our galactic doorstep included on the Pioneer Plaque:
“I would have included no information other than a rough image of the Earth and its Moon. I see no wisdom in the eagerness to be found and approached by any intelligence with the ability to accomplish it from any sector of space. In the meetings between “discoverers” and “discoverees” history has always given the advantage to the finders. In the case of the Jupiter plaque, I feel that a tremendous issue was thoughtlessly taken out of the world forum by a few individuals who have marked a clear path to our door. My point is: who will come knocking — the trader or the tiger?”
Kirby also spoke of blood rituals on a grand scale.
“I quoted Hitler in the Forever People. Glorious Godfrey’s looking at a crowd and says,’ the entire crowd while I was talking to them had the same expression, it never wavered.
If you watch baboons you’ll find the leader jumping up and down pounding on a rock shrieking, and the tribe gathers around him, they won’t move a muscle, like Hitler at theNuremberg rallies, at his signal they will go out and kill.”
It wasn’t only primitive human ritual where Kirby saw man’s instinct for violence, he saw violence as such an elemental component of man’s nature that it was equally present in places of supposed sophistication, like the world of business,
“I wouldn’t want to be in a position of leadership where I could hurt somebody, because I feel that I’m capable of it. A lot of people in my generation are capable of it. It’s done all the time in business… That’s what competition means: One man symbolically killing another.”
In issue number three of The Forever People Kirby’s creation Darkseid says:
“I am the revelation. The tiger-force at the core of all things.”
“Orion is a hunter. A hunter, and a killer. He’s trapped in an environment he never made. Can you imagine a guy with that kind of frustration? A guy who’s his own monster. He can’t go against his environment, but inside him is something basic and primitive. Orion was so ashamed he used a mother box to build a good face.
We always try to fix our faces. Don’t we look great today? Do we look like the people who built Dachau? No we look as if it never happened. Do we look like the people who committed atrocities in WWII and all the wars before that? No we don’t look like those kinds of people.
I think we are living in medieval times. It’s only 40 years ago we cooked people in ovens. How sophisticated is that? We can pat ourselves on the back, and say we’re living in a high tech age, but I think we’re still medieval."
Well, I don’t know. I’m usually in a room about this size, but I feel I see a lot because I analyze a lot. I see the same things you do but maybe I get more time to analyze it whereas you might not. So I sit and think and it’s as simple as that. If you can sit and think for 20 years, you can come up with quite a bit.