Kirby: Genesis

Kirby: Genesis

(pop culture)

Jack Kirby was, arguably, the most prolific and imaginative creator of new characters and concepts in the history of the superhero genre. But he did not own the most celebrated characters whom he created by himself or in partnership with others. Instead, in the cases of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and the original X-Men, they are controlled by Marvel Comics or, in the case of the New Gods, DC Comics.

Kirby’s situation changed, late in his career, with the rise of independent comics companies in the 1980s. One of the first independent publishers, Pacific Comics, commissioned new comics series from Kirby and allowed him to retain ownership of his creation. As a result, Pacific published the new series Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, written and drawn by Kirby, whose first issue had a cover date of November 1981. Captain Victory was the leader of the Galactic Rangers, a team of law enforcers operating in outer space. One unusual aspect of the series was that Captain Victory was, in a sense, immortal: if he was killed in combat, he was replaced by a clone of himself. Kirby hinted in the series that Captain Victory was the son of Orion, the leading hero in The New Gods series he had created at DC.

At Pacific, Kirby also wrote and drew another series, Silver Star, whose first issue had a cover date of February 1983. Like The X-Men and The Eternals, which he had done at Marvel, and The New Gods, which he had created at DC, Silver Star was a series about a race of superhumans. Scientist Bradford Miller genetically engineered a new species of humanity, Homo geneticus, designed to be capable of surviving some future worldwide disaster. (The mutants in X-Men are known as Homo superior.) One of them is his son, Morgan Miller, whose superpowers emerged when he was a soldier in combat in the Vietnam War. Hence Morgan became known as Silver Star, after the military medal for valor in battle. His nemesis is another superhuman, Darius Drumm, who is determined to wipe out not only Homo geneticus but also all life on earth.

Silver Star was the last new comics series that Jack Kirby created, wrote, and drew. His final comics project that he completely wrote and drew was The Hunger Dogs (1985), a graphic novel that brought his New Gods saga to a conclusion.

In the 1990s, Topps Comics licensed Captain Victory, Silver Star, and various characters that Kirby had developed but not yet published. The result was Topps’ short-lived “Kirbyverse” line of comics, which debuted in 1993. Jack Kirby’s Secret City Saga revealed that a civilization known as the Ninth Men had existed before recorded history. Three of the Ninth Men emerged from suspended animation to become superheroes in the present, each starring in his or her single issue comic: Captain Glory, the female NightGlider, and Bombast. A band of superpowered teenagers starred in Jack Kirby’s Teenagents, and a team of villains serving the devil were the title characters of Satan’s Six. There were also revivals of Captain Victory and Silver Star, which lasted only one issue each.

The Kirbyverse comics were written and drawn by such comics veterans as Roy Thomas, Kurt Busiek, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and Keith Giffen. Jack Kirby passed away in 1994 at the age of 76.

Recently, Dynamite Entertainment licensed the rights from Kirby’s heirs to all the characters he had created but not sold to Marvel, DC, or others. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross then co-created and co-plotted the comics series Kirby: Genesis, which Dynamite began publishing in 2011. Busiek scripted the series, Ross did layouts for the art, and Jack Herbert and Ross did the finished art. Kirby: Genesis includes Captain Victory, Silver Star, and a revamped version of the Teenagents. But it also introduces many characters that Busiek and Ross developed from character designs and notes that Kirby had made throughout his career. As a result Kirby: Genesis presents an entire “universe” of characters either created by Kirby or based on his concepts, that is grander in scope than Topps’ Kirbyverse was.

Busiek and Ross’s most celebrated previous collaboration was on the acclaimed 1994 limited series Marvels, which presented characters and events from Marvel Comics from 1939 to 1973, as witnessed by an “ordinary” person, photojournalist Phil Sheldon. Busiek and Roger Stern wrote the 2008 sequel, Marvels: Eye of the Camera, which again focused on Sheldon. —PS