Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Avengers, or Jack Kirby Conquers the World

Now do you understand?

I've burned a lot of bandwidth on this blog --maybe too much, in some people's eyes-- obsessing on Jack Kirby, the visionary madman who unwittingly changed the face of popular culture. He did so by laboring in the ignoble comic book field, where he spent the last couple decades of his career bombarding his increasingly disaffected fanbase with his various obsessions, such as UFOs, ancient astronauts, the occult, psychic power and psychotronic warfare, conspiracies, secret societies and armies of alien gods.

Me, I soaked it all up- in fact, the weirder his stuff got the more passionately tuned into it I became. And sure enough, Kirby concepts that died on the newsstand in their first incarnation would be recycled by other Kirby diehards and become canon.

The ultraviolent rhythms and the sleek, techie fetishism of Kirby's work had an enormous impact on Hollywood (and video games), by way of comic book geeks turned movie moguls like George Lucas and James Cameron. Kirby's vision is deeply embedded into the DC Tooniverse via Executive Producer Bruce Timm and his coterie.

And now Jack Kirby's vision-- in a shockingly pure and undiluted form-- has conquered the entire world.


The big story in entertainment this year is the stunning success of The Avengers, which has topped a billion worldwide in receipts already and is storming up the list of all-time highest grossing movies. It built on the blockbuster success of the Iron Man movies and the more modest but still impressive success of Captain America and Thor, both of which raided Kirby's 70s weirdness canon for their plotlines (Thor is just as much an Eternals movie as anything else).

Ironically, The Avengers themselves-- while filled with characters Kirby created with Stan Lee-- are the kind of concept Kirby would have shied away from. The Avengers were Marvel's Justice League, and were almost certainly created on orders of Marvel founder, Martin Goodman.

Kirby only drew the first 10 issues of The Avengers (though he continued on as cover artist), choosing to concentrate on his passions; The Fantastic Four, Thor and Captain America, as well as the early Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD stories he and Stan whipped up a bit later.

Marvel Studios knew this film was going to be a pivotal feature, not only for the studio but for the future of superhero movies, which some wags still think are just a fad. They hired Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly) to write and direct, since he has experience in film, TV and the thorny continuities of superhero comics.

This too seemed a gamble; Whedon's sensibility is the total opposite of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Whedon's canon is feminist, fannish, talky, gay-friendly; how would he handle the macho archetypes of The Avengers: Nick Fury, Thor, Captain America (Kirby alter-egos all)?

Well, aside from his trademark fannish banter-- the kind of nervous, self-effacing chit-chat more suitable to an elevator at Dragon*Con than a military situation room-- Whedon went straight for the Lee-Kirby canon. 

Kirby's original design of the SHIELD helicarrier

The aliens, the ultra-violence, the tech, the vision-- that's all Jack. The self-sacrifice, the superteam as bickering family, the old New Deal liberal morality-- that's all Stan. This Whedon guy knows his stuff and knows it well enough to translate from the sunny, optimistic Sixties to the grim, dour Twenty-Teens. Not an easy task.

Some writers have claimed that The Avengers is about avenging 9/11, but all of that goes to show their terrible grasp of comics history.
9/11 was shocking to everybody, but maybe a bit less so to longtime comic book fans who had seen Manhattan blown up so many times it got to be a cliche. I think we're past all that now-- The Dark Knight was the last act in that psychodrama as far as I'm concerned.

Lee and Kirby's original Nick Fury

No, The Avengers was about comic books and their effect on the culture at large.
It was about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, sitting in a room filled with cigar smoke, dreaming up concepts that would change the world while they were simply trying to keep their jobs.

And it was about the lonely, isolated fans who soaked it all up, who joined in Stan's crusade and the imaginary clubhouse he created and went on to make movies, computers, video games, you name it.

Now that Kirbyvision has conquered the world, can it keep it? Will audiences grow numb to the kind of carnage we see in these films? Will superhero films have to learn to tell other stories besides apocalypse? Superheroes have outlasted any number of premature obituaries so I wouldn't bet against them. 

It's not like Hollywood has a lot of options at this point, either.


  1. Hey chris,

    What I particular like about Jack Kirby is his artistic rendering of technology. Its very retro-futuristic with a sprinkle of late 1800's Nickola Tesla, Edison, Bose inventions and their appearance. I don't know why but I really like the way he depicts them in the comics.

    It seems all his comics are a gateway into his mind. The mind of a creativity unlike I have seen so far. Original.

    I guess in some ways the advent of internet has deprived us of this creativity. We don't have any more imagination. We don't fantasize. We don't create worlds in our minds any more.


    1. There is a specific secret Kirby Krackle and Kirbytech:

      he based it on old cameras.

      The strange loops and whorls of metal surrounding each box are the viewfinders.

      When, in Fantastic Four, he pioneered the use of photographs in comicbooks, he was doing no more than telling those with eyes to see what his visions had come from.

      Flicker, film, photography - fantasy made flesh.

      If it's in a photograph it must be true, right?

      If it's in a comic it must be fantasy, right?

  2. Hey Chris,

    I finally saw The Avengers last week and, man, I loved every moment of it! Back when it was first announced that Whedon was attached to direct, I knew it would be a massive success. Because, despite the recent failure of Dollhouse and the cancellation of Firefly, I knew Whedon would go straight for the Kirby-Lee canon just as you highlighted.

    I knew he would do his best to craft a machine that was witty, fun and engaging whilst honoring the source material.

    I'm ashamed to admit but not really that I'm a massive Buffy fan. My sister mercilessly converted me, and then I did the same with my girlfriend. Whedon is sharp as a tack and I hope he can sustain this success with the inevitable sequels.

    I think the movie was a success for various reasons - because of the genetic-memory allure of Kirby's Cauldron, and because it tapped into the current desire for synthesis and community. I think, as you say, the 9/11 psychodrama is done...and now people are searching for a 'new path' whether they know it or not.

    It's interesting to me that the most talked about scene in the movie is when Hulk pounds the shit out of Loki after the villain declares that he's a god. "Puny god," is Hulk's reply. The audience gasped and then cheered in the theatre, and I was grinning from ear to ear.

    If we view Loki as a charming, almost likable Plantation owner, then Hulk is the emancipated slave who aint gonna turn the other cheek. But also there's a kind of semi-conscious AAT connection in the audiences minds. Loki represents 'bad aliens' or more accurately an Archon - and Hulk is the unfettered sense of humanity's rage at being so controlled since our earliest times. It's almost like Hulk is saying, "How's that for Disclosure, motherf**ker?! I see you, and I'm not afraid."

    Ok, so...can you tell I loved The Avengers?!


  3. i haven't seen the movie but i take great pleasure in Avengers being such a success, Jack and Stan's work inspiring it, and for you being in on it before practically everyone. The whole thing is an Avenging, validation, whatever anybody wants to call it.

    Sometimes its overwhelming since theres so much injustice to avenge but i felt synchronicity yesterday because i'm about halfway thru Our Gods Wear Spandex and i went to an appointment with my therapist and she called ME an "Avenger." Coincidentally or not my grandpa was a big part of my hour session and he was a Free Mason and also one of my Super Heroes.

    Thank Chris,
    From a lonely and isolated fan soakin it all up.

  4. Chris,

    Regarding the scene of confrontation between Loki and the old man in Germany in The Avengers - this is an obvious reference to to those who would have stood against the Nazis. But I suggest a hidden subtext.

    *** SPOILER ALERT ***

    The old man is standing defiant against an old god returned, and tells him (and us), "There have always been men like you." He is saved from Loki's wrath by Captain America, who later in the film vocally refutes Loki's divinity and affirms his monotheism - we assume Christianity, but hey, who knows?

    Prior to this, Cap expresses his doubt that he will be accepted in the modern world, that his beliefs are antique, and is told in reply that the world is in need of his sense of ethics.

    This has the feel of a cultural data injection, inoculating the populace against the plans of the Shemsu Hor and their reversion to the Zep Tepi. The most popular movie of the year, whose views and memes will reach even those few who don't see it, is encouraging group defiance against submission to the ancient and the alien, reinforcing traditional American value sets, and promoting inclusiveness, showing strength not only in numbers but in variety (providing counterpoint to the classic divide-and-conquer tactic).

    Resistance is not futile, its all we have.

  5. Chris,

    Check this out. The Cosmic Cube is a concept that is older than the comic books. Here is a vedic version of the cube. This cube is the ATOM of the temple builders of the hindu culture.

    The Cube

    The Cube Literature

    an excerpt of this science.

    12. The free space is packed with cubical atoms of energy. They are building blocks of the structure of the universe.
    13. The cube is micro-abode called Sittravai/ Chittrambalam (mini hall in Tamil).
    14. Within the hall there is a vertical luminous shaft called Brahma Sutra (Oli nool).
    15. This Olinool/Brahma Sutra is a shaft of consciousness also called Moolathoon/ Moolasthambham.
    16. This shaft of consciousness vibrates in a particular order called rhythm. This is the order of nature.
    17. This rhythmic vibration of the shaft of consciousness is the dance of Shiva, the Space.
    18. The micro space, in the cubical shape is foetus, Garbha or Bindu. This is known as Vinkaru in Tamil.
    19. This micro abode is the repository of light and sound.
    20. The free space is Light and the Light is Moolam or source of the universe and universal forms. Light is Brahman, Atman, Vastu Brahman – Nun porul in Tamil.



  6. I saw a trailer for
    "The Dark Knight Rises" when I went to see "Iron Sky" last night and it sure looks good.
    By the way has "Iron Sky" come out in the States yet?
    It's a bit hit and miss,but it is worth watching,in my opinion...and it sure is original.

  7. Wot --no mention of Thanos in the first end credits' scene?? :P

    I agree with Raj: the Hulk scene was not only pure fanboygasm that caused the audience to cheer and rave; it had also this veiled Rosicrucian vibe of how the common man uses modern Alchemy to accomplish its personal apotheosis, which culminates with the overthrowing of the old controlling gods to which humanity used to vow down.

  8. Christopher,

    I can't speak for others, but I can see no reason to believe there can be too much Kirby here.

    Also, I wonder if this new, bigger success for his themes is a symptom of a maturing of the species. Maybe a little?

  9. Slightly off-topic, Chris, but I wondered if you'd seen this and what your take on it was. I'm a bit torn, myself.

  10. Have you seen this story at NPR?


  11. Saw the Avengers last night with youngest son back home from college (his 2nd viewing).

    I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this movie. It had me doubled over laughing with the humor elements and never went slack throughout the whole film length.

    My hat is off (if I wore one) to Joss Whedon - didn't think he'd be quite the kind of guy to do this genre. Yet I think he may have just done it better than anybody else. And looks like the proof is in the box office reciepts.

  12. I'm delighted that Josh Whedon was the director of this movie, and I hope amd pray that The Avengers will prove to be a vehicle through which enough consciousness will be raised about the enormity of Jack Kirby's contribution to our world so that his undying wish for fair and just financial compensation for his work will at last be rendered to his beloved family. and that Marvel, the House That Jack Built, will at long last acknowledge their indebtedness to the King of Comics for their fortunes and for their very existence. The current situation is worthy of Dr. Doom, Darkseid and Loki all put together.Where is thy Integrity, O Mighty Marvel? And Stan Lee! Do you really believe you could have even dreamed of doing any of this without Jack Kirby, or that you or anyone has one tenth of Jack's Imagination and Creativity? It seems to me we generally get only one Homer or Michaelangelo at a time in any one field.....Not that I don't appreciate Lee's enormous contribution to the Kirby and Lee work, but, really, Marvel was the cart, Stan the driver and Jack the horse. The cart has been put before the horse for 'way too long.
    Avengers Assemble!

  13. Nice blog with lots of information.I heard alot about vedic astrology yogas from http://youtu.be/o1BmjMah16A

  14. "It was about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, sitting in a room filled with cigar smoke..."
    "Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the stories just like I always did"
    Jack Kirby,1990