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Jack Kirby Week: The Mighty Thor

Jack Kirby Week: The Mighty Thor

On Sunday, August 28, anybody who has ever enjoyed a Marvel comic, movie, TV show, or character should take a moment to wish a happy 99th birthday to the one and only Jack Kirby, one of comics’ all-time greatest creators and a pillar of the House of Ideas. All-week long to celebrate, Marvel.com will be featuring the best of “The King,” with interviews, art, stories, and more!

Also be sure to check out and support Kirby4Heroes, a special campaign to raise money in Jack’s honor for the Hero Initiative founded by his granddaughter Jillian! Visit kirby4heroes.com and Facebook.com/Kirby4Heroes!

Mythological Monuments

Like a resounding clap of thunder, he appeared…

It may seem like the Mighty Thor descended onto our mortal coil out of nowhere, but in truth, the themes and motifs that endowed the Marvel character with everything that made him a superstar gestated for a while in the mind of Jack Kirby. He illustrated tales spotlighting other versions of the legendary thunder god as early as 1942 and 1957, but in collaboration with Stan Lee at the dawn of the Marvel Age of Comics in the 1960s, he co-created what stands today as the most successful melding of comics and myths.

“Being a teenager at the time, I have to say Thor was my favorite,” notes Neal Kirby, son of the famous creator. “Three things I loved, as did my father: science, history, mythology. My father’s book shelves in his studio were filled with books on these topics. The elements of Thor’s character--honor, devotion, duty--were all very important to my father.”

“With this Hammer…”

In 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby took an anthology title, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, and used it as a vehicle to introduce their latest creation: The Mighty Thor. Based on classic Norse legends, this thunder god sported something new to the mythological mix--a secret identity. As Lee and Kirby explained in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #83, Doctor Donald Blake found the famous mystical hammer of Thor in a cave while on a European vacation and with it transformed into its powerful owner.

“Thor is one of the foremost characters that demonstrate how Jack Kirby was intentionally using the comics medium to create mythology for the modern world,” explains comics historian Peter Sanderson. “Throughout his work in super hero comics, Kirby was clearly fascinated by the relationship between gods and mortals. With Marvel's version of Thor, Kirby and Stan Lee took the rich heritage of Norse mythology and created a new version of it for contemporary readers, integrating the characters of Asgard with the modern world of urban America.”

Over the course of the next few years, the duo wove a tapestry illustrating their thunder god’s world, one rich with Kirby detail and pageantry as well as the hallmark Marvel pathos that the company swiftly became known for. While Thor could move mountains and bring down torrential storms with a wave of his hammer, his alter-ego struggled with his secret love for his nurse, Jane Foster, and his unquenchable desire for acceptance from his father, Odin, king of lofty Asgard.

Kirby’s incredible workload in the early- to mid-60s forced him to come and go throughout Thor’s first several stories, but by the end of 1963 he joined with Lee to kick off one of the longest and most fruitful collaborations of their careers, a near-unbroken multi-year run of the thunder god’s adventures on Earth and in the heavens.

Cast of Hundreds

Lee gifted Thor with a diverse cast of supporting characters, both friends and foes, but until Kirby settled down into the title it featured more terrestrial challenges than cosmic. Once the two men forged ahead together, the thunder god’s rich universe expanded and exploded with wondrous features.

First and foremost among the cast came Loki, god of mischief and Thor’s step-brother, who would go on to become the title’s preeminent antagonist. More Asgardians followed, both culled from actual Norse mythology and Lee and Kirby’s fertile imaginations. The hallowed halls of Asgard seem to spark the artist’s interests as he lovingly detailed every sconce and buttress of the fabled realm’s architecture and denizens.

“I think my dad just really enjoyed drawing Thor--majestic scenes, battles, costumes--it just really shows in the artwork,” says Neal Kirby. “This is very evident in IDW’s Artist Edition, where the original work can be seen in its full format, every line, every detail. This is what I saw on my father’s drawing board as a kid. It’s still awe-inspiring to me."

Large-scale epics also began to flow from Kirby’s pen, involving no less than immense conflicts across the cosmos and, of course, the ever-present threat of Ragnarok, the so-called Twilight of the Gods. Readers thrilled at the book’s rich tales and looked into each introduced character, wondering if their origins lay in actual Norse myths or in Lee and Kirby’s creative brains.

"I love how Jack Kirby's work is brimming with imagination, especially the characters and environments he designed--they're incredible,” notes current THOR artist Russell Dauterman. “Look at those headdresses on Odin! The spectacle and grandeur in Kirby's designs work perfectly for the world of Thor. Jane's story [today] plays a lot with the juxtaposition of that over-the-top fantasy world and the very real, very human world Jane belongs to. I try to inject the fantasy elements with that Kirby sense of wonder to help heighten the two sides of Jane's life."

In early 1966, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY transformed into a proper THOR title, and with Lee and Kirby on a roll, they kept right on spinning fantastic yarns to further develop Thor and his mythological milieu.

Thunderous Legacy

Jack Kirby left Thor and the rest of the Marvel Universe behind in 1970, but not before illustrating a true epic in THOR detailing not only a new Galactus saga, but the origins of the infamous world-devourer.

“Kirby would continue to explore the concept of godlike beings in other series such as The New Gods for DC and ETERNALS at Marvel in the late 1970s. It is significant that Kirby's Thor was both a god, the warrior son of Odin, and a mortal, Doctor Don Blake, a healer, who lived both in the mythic ream of Asgard and in the everyday world of New York City. For Kirby, there was godlike potential within ordinary humans, and the world of modern reality and the world of ancient myth were connected.”

Read More »

Jack Kirby Week: The Mighty Thor

Jack Kirby Week: The Mighty Thor

On Sunday, August 28, anybody who has ever enjoyed a Marvel comic, movie, TV show, or character should take a moment to wish a happy 99th birthday to the one and only Jack Kirby, one of comics’ all-time greatest creators and a pillar of the House of Ideas. All-week long to celebrate, Marvel.com will be featuring the best of “The King,” with interviews, art, stories, and more!

Also be sure to check out and support Kirby4Heroes, a special campaign to raise money in Jack’s honor for the Hero Initiative founded by his granddaughter Jillian! Visit kirby4heroes.com and Facebook.com/Kirby4Heroes!

Mythological Monuments

Like a resounding clap of thunder, he appeared…

It may seem like the Mighty Thor descended onto our mortal coil out of nowhere, but in truth, the themes and motifs that endowed the Marvel character with everything that made him a superstar gestated for a while in the mind of Jack Kirby. He illustrated tales spotlighting other versions of the legendary thunder god as early as 1942 and 1957, but in collaboration with Stan Lee at the dawn of the Marvel Age of Comics in the 1960s, he co-created what stands today as the most successful melding of comics and myths.

“Being a teenager at the time, I have to say Thor was my favorite,” notes Neal Kirby, son of the famous creator. “Three things I loved, as did my father: science, history, mythology. My father’s book shelves in his studio were filled with books on these topics. The elements of Thor’s character--honor, devotion, duty--were all very important to my father.”

“With this Hammer…”

In 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby took an anthology title, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, and used it as a vehicle to introduce their latest creation: The Mighty Thor. Based on classic Norse legends, this thunder god sported something new to the mythological mix--a secret identity. As Lee and Kirby explained in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #83, Doctor Donald Blake found the famous mystical hammer of Thor in a cave while on a European vacation and with it transformed into its powerful owner.

“Thor is one of the foremost characters that demonstrate how Jack Kirby was intentionally using the comics medium to create mythology for the modern world,” explains comics historian Peter Sanderson. “Throughout his work in super hero comics, Kirby was clearly fascinated by the relationship between gods and mortals. With Marvel's version of Thor, Kirby and Stan Lee took the rich heritage of Norse mythology and created a new version of it for contemporary readers, integrating the characters of Asgard with the modern world of urban America.”

Over the course of the next few years, the duo wove a tapestry illustrating their thunder god’s world, one rich with Kirby detail and pageantry as well as the hallmark Marvel pathos that the company swiftly became known for. While Thor could move mountains and bring down torrential storms with a wave of his hammer, his alter-ego struggled with his secret love for his nurse, Jane Foster, and his unquenchable desire for acceptance from his father, Odin, king of lofty Asgard.

Kirby’s incredible workload in the early- to mid-60s forced him to come and go throughout Thor’s first several stories, but by the end of 1963 he joined with Lee to kick off one of the longest and most fruitful collaborations of their careers, a near-unbroken multi-year run of the thunder god’s adventures on Earth and in the heavens.

Cast of Hundreds

Lee gifted Thor with a diverse cast of supporting characters, both friends and foes, but until Kirby settled down into the title it featured more terrestrial challenges than cosmic. Once the two men forged ahead together, the thunder god’s rich universe expanded and exploded with wondrous features.

First and foremost among the cast came Loki, god of mischief and Thor’s step-brother, who would go on to become the title’s preeminent antagonist. More Asgardians followed, both culled from actual Norse mythology and Lee and Kirby’s fertile imaginations. The hallowed halls of Asgard seem to spark the artist’s interests as he lovingly detailed every sconce and buttress of the fabled realm’s architecture and denizens.

“I think my dad just really enjoyed drawing Thor--majestic scenes, battles, costumes--it just really shows in the artwork,” says Neal Kirby. “This is very evident in IDW’s Artist Edition, where the original work can be seen in its full format, every line, every detail. This is what I saw on my father’s drawing board as a kid. It’s still awe-inspiring to me."

Large-scale epics also began to flow from Kirby’s pen, involving no less than immense conflicts across the cosmos and, of course, the ever-present threat of Ragnarok, the so-called Twilight of the Gods. Readers thrilled at the book’s rich tales and looked into each introduced character, wondering if their origins lay in actual Norse myths or in Lee and Kirby’s creative brains.

"I love how Jack Kirby's work is brimming with imagination, especially the characters and environments he designed--they're incredible,” notes current THOR artist Russell Dauterman. “Look at those headdresses on Odin! The spectacle and grandeur in Kirby's designs work perfectly for the world of Thor. Jane's story [today] plays a lot with the juxtaposition of that over-the-top fantasy world and the very real, very human world Jane belongs to. I try to inject the fantasy elements with that Kirby sense of wonder to help heighten the two sides of Jane's life."

In early 1966, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY transformed into a proper THOR title, and with Lee and Kirby on a roll, they kept right on spinning fantastic yarns to further develop Thor and his mythological milieu.

Thunderous Legacy

Jack Kirby left Thor and the rest of the Marvel Universe behind in 1970, but not before illustrating a true epic in THOR detailing not only a new Galactus saga, but the origins of the infamous world-devourer.

“Kirby would continue to explore the concept of godlike beings in other series such as The New Gods for DC and ETERNALS at Marvel in the late 1970s. It is significant that Kirby's Thor was both a god, the warrior son of Odin, and a mortal, Doctor Don Blake, a healer, who lived both in the mythic ream of Asgard and in the everyday world of New York City. For Kirby, there was godlike potential within ordinary humans, and the world of modern reality and the world of ancient myth were connected.”

Read More »

The Greatest Films of the 21st Century

I suffer from chronic list fatigue, initially eager to scroll through the latest re-ordering of greatest hits, but inevitably collapse into a heap before I ingest the whole thing. Enter the BBC to test my illness. Yesterday they unveiled the results of their mammoth “Greatest Films of the 21st Century” poll, in which 177 critics submitted […]

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