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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 12:46am | IP Logged | 1 post reply

Okay, listen. Every once in a while, I come across this here little site when researching the early days of the Fantastic Four and the Lee/Kirby working relationship. It’s like a rash on my Google searches.


To say that it’s an obsessive analysis which is full of mind-reading, personal biases, and wild suppositions is...putting it mildly.

Well, I just discovered a 300-page e-book (in PDF form) which has been added to the site: THE CASE FOR KIRBY. I started skimming through the book out of morbid curiosity, and ending up skimming all the way to the end. Almost couldn’t believe what I was reading.

It’s full of the typical “Kirby was a genius whose credit was stolen by that greedy hack, Stan Lee” type of rhetoric. The author goes so far as to say that Stan’s main “contribution” to Kirby’s stories was vandalizing them by dumbing them down for kids, and that he so often wrote against Kirby’s brilliant, adult-themed art because he didn’t understand the complex stories Kirby was telling. Even things like lettering errors (such as the “Thorr” at the end of the very first Thor story) are also blamed on Stan.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be inclined to give such a deeply-biased and crackpot-type manifesto like this publicity. In terms of my own take of the Lee-Kirby-credit debate, I still believe that both men played their role in the success of the FF and the other classic Marvel books. Lee’s dialogue and captions were crucial to giving the characters their personalities and the books their respective tones. He didn’t just slap corny jokes atop Kirby’s brilliant art. It’s not a black-and-white case. Take away one man or the other, and you don’t have the Fantastic Four. At least, not as we know and love them.


However—however—there are certain elements of the e-book which are strangely, frustratingly, provocative, and even have a certain tinge of truth to them. Such as the surprisingly reasonable observation that Kirby was actually referencing then-current sci-fi films like THEM! in his art at the end of FANTASTIC FOUR # 2, with Stan misunderstanding the art (or ignoring Kirby’s intent for the sake of a meta-joke) and instead calling them clippings from Marvel’s monster comics in the dialogue.

The thing which got my jaw to drop, though, is the rather shocking assertion that the second story in FANTASTIC FOUR # 1 actually began as a Kirby-created CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN riff, with the superpowers (and the Thing) being added into the artwork after the fact so as to turn it into a FF story. Of course, the author of the e-book also claims that Lee took Kirby’s brilliant story, misunderstood it, then dumbed it down for kids. The “original” story being that the Mole Man went underground after being rejected by the surface world, was blinded by an underground atomic test explosion, then used an army of irradiated/mutant monsters to strike out against facilities conducting other such atomic tests as an act of revenge. The pseudo-Challengers/FF proceed to track the atomic explosions on Reed’s seismograph to determine the site of the next monster attack. As they investigate Monster Isle and fall below the surface, Reed and Johnny are given radiation suits by the Mole Man to protect them from underground radiation (rather than to protect them from the Valley of Diamonds). The Mole Man then destroys the island by triggering an atomic device stolen from one of the wrecked installations.

That’s quite a claim.

There’s also a reiteration of the oft-repeated claim that the FF # 1 story synopsis document, said to have been discovered in Stan’s old desk during the late-80s, is actually a forgery. The central conceit of the e-book is that Kirby was the sole creator and writer of the Fantastic Four (and, by extension, most of the other classic Marvel heroes), and that Lee vandalized his work and took all the credit.

Again, I hesitate to give this sort of thing publicity that it probably doesn’t deserve, but I am strangely curious to see what the learned members of this forum think, especially in regards the idea that the published version of FF # 1 was actually a modified version of an existing story that Kirby had done as a CHALLENGERS riff. 


Edited by Greg Kirkman on 14 May 2018 at 10:04am
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John Byrne
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 4:54am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

I've long thought the opening pages of the Kuurgo story came from somewhere else, perhaps a Challengers tale, or just an unfinished Marvel or DC sci-fi story. The dramatic change in Kuurgo's appearance lends credence, methinks.
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Paul Kimball
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 7:04am | IP Logged | 3 post reply

that site has it's bias but it makes for entertaining reading.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 7:59am | IP Logged | 4 post reply

There’s also a reiteration of the oft-repeated claim that the FF # 1 story synopsis document, said to have been discovered in Stan’s old desk during the late-80s, is actually a forgery. The central conceit of the e-book is that Kirby was the sole creator and writer of the Fantastic Four (and, by extension, most of the other classic Marvel heroes), and that Lee vandalized his work and took all the credit.

•••

To touch on this for the umpteenth time...

It was Roger Stern who found that plot, tucked in a corner of a drawer, when he took on an editorial position at Marvel, and was given Stan's old desk. Roger is no dummy. He would have spotted a fake.

Such a forgery would have required an astonishing degree of prescience on the part of the forger, to anticipate the "debate" over who really did the work -- and to even include elements that were not present in what Jack drew.

Very much a GET A LIFE situation.

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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 8:09am | IP Logged | 5 post reply

 John Byrne wrote:
Such a forgery would have required an astonishing degree of prescience on the part of the forger, to anticipate the "debate" over who really did the work -- and to even include elements that were not present in what Jack drew.

Yes, that's some Jigsaw-style foresight (SAW movies for anyone who may not have seen them) required there! 
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Robert Bradley
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 9:03am | IP Logged | 6 post reply

I find is somewhat amusing when I see some of the arguments used to support his claims - such as the "Kirby issues" (#1-102) showing a much more empowered Sue than the "Lee issues" (#103-125) portraying her as a weak captive.

The covers he used as examples did not include the countless early FF stories that showed Sue as a captive, "helpless female" or prize for Namor and Reed Richards to fight over.

This was just one of the typical themes that ran through comics in the 1960's also used in Avengers stories (with the Scarlet Witch and Wasp), X-Men Stories (with Marvel Girl) and with just about every female supporting character in most other titles at some point.

I think most neutral fans would agree that Lee has some input in the creation of most of the early Marvel characters (with the exception of Doctor Strange), but as time went by more and more of the creative process fell on the artists (be it Kirby, Romita, Ditko, or whoever).  Kirby in particular chafed under this arrangement and slowly started contributing fewer characters and ideas beginning around 1967 or 1968.

Is Kirby's involvement in the Challengers of the Unknown and the vague similarities with the Fantastic Four evidence that he created the FF?  No, I think it indicated that he had a lot of input (which I don't think anyone would deny), but this article takes it and runs with it as though it's a fact beyond any questioning.

The article also repeatedly claims that Lee "vandalized" the Kirby's "brilliant" stories in order to dumb them down for children, ignoring the fact that Lee was the editor of Marvel's entire line and the main purpose in creating the stories was selling a product, not creating an art portfolio.

The tearing down of Stan Lee's contribution in order to elevate Kirby needs to stop.  I think most informed fans know how important Kirby was to the process and Marvel did reach a settlement with the Kirby estate.  That should pretty much be the end of it.  "By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby" should be enough for everybody.


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Michael Penn
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 9:07am | IP Logged | 7 post reply

Case dismissed.
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Adam Schulman
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 9:42am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

Kirby didn't help his case when he told Gary Groth in an interview in the COMICS JOURNAL that he created Spider-Man. 

As if Spider-Man's costume looks like anything Kirby would've created. I'll admit that I don't know how much Spider-Man was "mainly Ditko" or "mainly Lee."
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 10:08am | IP Logged | 9 post reply

Such a forgery would have required an astonishing degree of prescience on the part of the forger, to anticipate the "debate" over who really did the work -- and to even include elements that were not present in what Jack drew. 

+++++++

Exactly. There are elements in that outline which are far too specific for an after-the-fact forgery, such as Ben being in love with Sue (an idea played with early on, but quickly dropped). 
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 10:09am | IP Logged | 10 post reply

I find is somewhat amusing when I see some of the arguments used to support his claims - such as the "Kirby issues" (#1-102) showing a much more empowered Sue than the "Lee issues" (#103-125) portraying her as a weak captive.
++++++++

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that—the notion of Kirby The Genius empowering women in his art, and Stan The Sexist ruining it all with his dialogue.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 10:15am | IP Logged | 11 post reply

As if Spider-Man's costume looks like anything Kirby would've created. I'll admit that I don't know how much Spider-Man was "mainly Ditko" or "mainly Lee."
++++++++

At the very least, it’s pretty clear that by the end of their run, Ditko was totally plotting and drawing the book, with Stan then having to puzzle things out when adding the dialogue and captions. The big example being Stan describing Doctor Octopus’ henchmen in ASM # 31 as the Cat’s (the villain of the issue) henchmen, because he wasn’t aware that Ditko was setting up the Master Planner arc for the next two issues.

As for the early issues, that’s trickier. But, again, Peter Parker’s dialogue, personality, and trademark self-doubt—important elements in the identity and success of Spider-Man—are all Stan.
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Rebecca Jansen
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 10:17am | IP Logged | 12 post reply

The human brain's capacity to obsess over and get creative with minutia seems limitless. Kirby had solid ground for some grievances (like many pioneering comic book professionals), some were addressed I later found out, but I think some were exacerbated by certain 'friends' (and Gary Groth perhaps too and that self-righteous crowd, I never understood the venom aimed at Image which seemed to be the exact kind of creator's taking control thing they'd advocated ad-infinitum for so long.. I have bought a total of six Image comics ever by the way, those Alan Moore 1963 things) and his family's/wife's needs at times too played a big part. I hope there can be lasting peace soon about a lot of this. Stan Lee was very boosterism for everyone really and it could rub the wrong way. He did give a lot of credit to Jack Kirby at times for Galactus and the Silver Surfer and other things, but maybe it wasn't always the exact right time or place? In a way nobody could pay back Jack Kirby what he was really worth. :^(

I think Jim Shooter and some people at Marvel at the time Kirby needed money and wanted his art returned were pretty awful. I think some things were made up a little later. I think that is the real source of the people who have joined in the Kirby created everything conspiracy thing... they probably see it as balancing the scale to go extreme in their direction, I went through a little of that when I was a regular reader of the Comics Journal, maybe it helped me be immune to later propaganda type 'news' in general though? Jack Kirby was not much of a writer of dialogue though, that's for sure, and the Stan Lee carnival barker promo character that had a lot to do with selling stuff staring in the '60s was also pretty much absent.

I'm being pretty blunt here, I hope that's okay. There are a lot of these bad taste type things festering that probably keep comics as a form or business a bit, well, retarded in the dictionary definition of that word. I think Neal Adams saw that when he came in and did a lot of good, opened a few windows to a larger outside even. :^)
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Karl Wiebe
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 11:18am | IP Logged | 13 post reply

Hi Greg - interesting post... about a month ago (pure coincidence) I read the entire book you mentioned (all 300 pages) on an 11-hour flight and found it fascinating.  Your take on it was exactly the same as me—I was skeptical and then (frustratingly) I couldn't put it down, and some of the claims were very persuasive.

I really liked in the book how the author made very specific references to pop culture, dialogue and the timing of the release of certain stories.  I'm not saying it is all true, but I definitely found it a captivating read! 

I definitely think it is important to hear other people's opinions (and the author definitely has some opinions!) and I learned a lot about Jack Kirby (like other titles he worked on and some of the skills behind layouts, composition, etc).  I also love conspiracy stories so I do admit it was a guilty pleasure to read on vacation.


Edited by Karl Wiebe on 14 May 2018 at 11:19am
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Jason Czeskleba
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 3:05pm | IP Logged | 14 post reply

 Greg Kirkman wrote:
Again, I hesitate to give this sort of thing publicity that it probably doesn’t deserve, but I am strangely curious to see what the learned members of this forum think, especially in regards the idea that the published version of FF # 1 was actually a modified version of an existing story that Kirby had done as a CHALLENGERS riff.

I am assuming the author cites no evidence for this claim, and is instead passing off speculation as fact?  That is unfortunate.  It is certainly quite plausible that elements of that story could have come from an old Challengers story idea... obviously, Kirby had the Challengers on his mind when they were creating the FF, given the similarities in their origins.  But it's too bad that it's not enough for the author to present his ideas as speculation, but he instead has to portray them as facts.
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Karl Wiebe
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 3:20pm | IP Logged | 15 post reply

Jason you seem to be saying that it is unfortunate that the author has presented his ideas as fact, but you also just admitted that you haven't read the book.  You can agree or not on the arguments in the book itself (as would be expected), but the author states they are "making a case" for Kirby.  They are presenting what they see as evidence.  (The evidence is of varying degrees of quality, much of it circumstantial)—but they are not presenting their case as fact, and I don't believe they ever claim to.   

The very title of the book is "The Case For Kirby".  The author is presenting his ideas as speculation.  Not sure why you are disappointed in something you assumed (and is not the case)?  There are enough "real" issues in the book to disagree with, there's no point in making up new ones!
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Eric Jansen
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 7:29pm | IP Logged | 16 post reply

I don't want to take sides on Lee vs. Kirby--I love them both...and Ditko too!  But, just from a reader's point of view, some things seem more likely than others--

1. Stan was the company man and he was the editor overseeing the comics department and the main writer, where the ideas usually started (at least).  It just seems unlikely that a freelance artist like Kirby would have the carte blanche to start a whole new direction/approach for the struggling monster comic company.

2. The FF just has a lot of "Lee-isms": Timid Sue seems to be cut from the same cloth as Betty Ross, Jane Foster, and Betty Brant.  (Unfettered Kirby seems to lean more toward strong-willed amazons like Big Barda.)

3. Teen Johnny goes along with Peter Parker and Rick Jones (all about 16).  (Solo Kirby seems to concentrate on heroic men, but, if he brings in a kid, they're usually younger, maybe 12 or 13.)

4. The Thing's crush on Sue and bad attitude reminds of Prof. X's crush on teen Jean and the Hulk's bad attitude.  True, Kirby worked on those too, but I've seen these personality traits in too many Lee stories.

5. "Reviving" a Golden Age concept like the Human Torch also seems more like Lee.  True, he brought back Captain America and Sub-Mariner with Kirby, but he also gave us a Daredevil, Iron Man, the Angel, Ka-Zar, Black Widow, the Destroyer, the Falcon, Jack Frost, and probably more.  Not complaining about Stan rescuing defunct names, but it does seem more of a Stan thing than a Jack thing.  Kirby's names were often new, wild, and/or majestic.

6. Speaking of recycling, was Reed a re-do of Marvel's Thin Man?  And Sue of the movie version of "The Invisible Woman"?

Sure, it looks like Lee gave a lot of story control over to Kirby (on FF) and Ditko (on Spidey) pretty early on, but I don't think he did that with Don Heck and John Buscema on AVENGERS, IRON MAN, or SILVER SURFER which were all pretty entertaining as well!  Or with Gene Colan on DAREDEVIL or the SUB-MARINER feature either.  (Maybe he would have liked to have handed DAREDEVIL over to Wally Wood too; that would have been great as DD was a bit shaky for a while after Wood left.)  All the books worked together to create the Marvel Age of Comics, and they all had the same "spirit" which was personified in the snappy Stan Lee scripts on all the books, including the ones that Kirby and Ditko plotted.  Nobody should ever call Stan Lee a hack.

But I will also give credit to Kirby and Ditko.  Their DC work--without Lee's scripting--is pretty amazing too!  But not as successful as their work with Stan, and the scripting was not as good.  Stan proved himself with SILVER SURFER with Buscema and SPIDER-MAN with Romita.  But I love anything Ditko does, and Kirby proved his solo genius to me with his 70's run on CAPTAIN AMERICA, a personal favorite.

They're all geniuses and legends.  It's ridiculous to form camps.




Edited by Eric Jansen on 14 May 2018 at 7:33pm
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Christopher Frost
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 8:09pm | IP Logged | 17 post reply

"They're all geniuses and legends.  It's ridiculous to form camps."

That's the problem with the mentality of a lot of folks these days. People tend to have a viewpoint that if someone is successful, then it *must* have come at the expense of someone else rather than looking at it as both parties being successful (albeit to different degrees). It's all "us vs. them".



Edited by Christopher Frost on 14 May 2018 at 8:10pm
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Steven Myers
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Posted: 14 May 2018 at 8:16pm | IP Logged | 18 post reply

I'm currently reading the Challengers of the Unknown  Showcase collections. I'm surprised at how LITTLE I find it similar to the Fantastic Four. Sure, there are four adventurer exploring strange things. But the Challengers have pretty much interchangeable personalities. I don't even have a favorite. Whereas the success of the FF and the Marvel Age was largely due to characterization.

And Kirby's art is MUCH better on FF!!!
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John Byrne
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Posted: 15 May 2018 at 8:31am | IP Logged | 19 post reply

Much as I love EVERYTHING Kirby did on the FF, my preference is for the early work, the time when I was an active reader. Heavily influenced by nostalgia, no doubt, but that was when the characters and stories felt "real" to me.
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Joe Zhang
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Posted: 15 May 2018 at 8:40am | IP Logged | 20 post reply

Nevermind Stan Lee. Jim Starlin's Thanos is the biggest Kirby rip-off ever. Thanks to the success of Infinity War, audiences around the world will mistake Darkseid, one of Kirby's greatest characters, as the copy of Thanos. 

Edited by Joe Zhang on 15 May 2018 at 8:42am
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Nathan Greno
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Posted: 15 May 2018 at 11:16am | IP Logged | 21 post reply

Well, I read CASE FOR KIRBY. While I found some of the claims very extreme (Lee added NOTHING??), I was quite surprised by his "FF#1 was actually a repurposed story" argument... I thought he made some good points and called attention to details I'd never noticed before. 






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Jeff Scott
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Posted: 15 May 2018 at 11:55am | IP Logged | 22 post reply

JACK KIRBY created the FF, somewhat influenced by Stan Lee...THE END!
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Jeff Scott
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Posted: 15 May 2018 at 12:00pm | IP Logged | 23 post reply

John Byrne, FF #232 1981, recreating the FF greatness, highly influenced by Kirby/Lee
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Darin Henry
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Posted: 15 May 2018 at 1:21pm | IP Logged | 24 post reply

My own theory for how the Lee/Kirby/Ditko collaboration worked is that Kirby issues which used a lot of panels to tell a story were plotted to a larger extent by Lee.   As the panel count decreased on FF, so did Stan’s involvement with the plotting.  With Ditko, I feel it was the reverse, the panel count got higher the LESS Lee was involved in the plot, especially the non-action scenes. 

And though I wasn’t born until after Lee and Kirby split, I also prefer the earlier, plottier FF issues. Sometimes a single page contained three or four scenes so even though there were always lots of words per panel, the story still seemed to move quickly. 
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John Byrne
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Posted: 15 May 2018 at 2:29pm | IP Logged | 25 post reply

As the tale is told, the shrinking number of panels came about from Kirby asking for a raise, and the bean counters telling him to draw bigger panels so he could produce more pages at the same rate.
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