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Fit­ting trib­ute A must for any fan of clas­sic su­per­hero comics, this trib­ute to Jack Kirby fiz­zles with en­ergy, pas­sion and amaz­ing art

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We’ve all been in­flu­enced by Jack Kirby, whether we know it or not. Known in the in­dus­try as the King of Comics, the New York artist was re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing or cocre­at­ing some of the best-known char­ac­ters of the 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing Cap­tain Amer­ica, the X-Men, the Fan­tas­tic Four and The Mighty Thor. And to those who fol­lowed he was ba­si­cally a god.

Read­ing his strips as a young­ster, au­thor Mark Evanier was typ­i­cally hooked, de­scrib­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence as “like stick­ing nee­dles into an elec­tric socket”. In a per­fect world, he says, we’d all be able to walk around a huge mu­seum of Jack’s art, but in­stead “you will have to set­tle for this book.” Thank­fully, as con­so­la­tion prizes go, it’s a pretty darned fine one.

A re­vised edition of the 2008 orig­i­nal, part of the rea­son this book works so well is Mark’s unadul­ter­ated joy for his sub­ject. “Jack Kirby made comics move, he made them buzz and crash and ex­plode,” he writes, in an ex­citable tone that con­tin­ues through­out. And his cu­ra­tion of Jack’s art is sim­i­larly in­spired. We’ve seen many com­pi­la­tions of comic art in book form be­fore, but we can’t re­call one quite so packed and full of var­ied and su­perla­tive work.

We can’t re­call a comic art com­pi­la­tion quite so packed and full of su­perla­tive work

There’s a stag­ger­ing amount of clas­sic strips and cover art on show, and most pieces are awarded the full­page treat­ment that they de­serve. The se­lec­tion never gets repet­i­tive ei­ther. We get a host of rare treats, in­clud­ing Jack’s car­i­ca­tures of con­tem­po­rary celebri­ties, from Joan Craw­ford to Henry Ford; a so­cial-real­ist strip called Street Code, about the ug­li­ness of city life; early news­pa­per car­toons; and comic strips about cow­boys, In­di­ans and ro­man­tic love.

But what we’re most in­ter­ested in, of course, are the su­per­heroes, and there’s plenty of that to go round too, from well-known ti­tles to rarer stuff like the wartime Fight­ing Amer­i­can and early 70s cre­ation The New Gods. There’s both fin­ished work and be­hind-the-scenes art. In­cluded in the lat­ter are rough sketches and cover mock­ups, plas­tered in orig­i­nal, scrib­bled notes for im­prove­ment.

The new edition is rounded off with a short chap­ter deal­ing with events since the pub­li­ca­tion of the first book, no­tably Jack’s death and court bat­tles over un­paid roy­al­ties. It’s a bit of a downer to end on, but it won’t last for long, be­cause this is a book you’ll find your­self dip­ping into again and again.

Au­thor Mark Evanier was a friend of Jack, and so had ac­cess to orig­i­nal art­work, such as this panel from The Fight­ing Amer­i­can.

In 1968/69 Jack drew up new As­gard char­ac­ter de­signs. Thor gained a sim­i­lar out­landish treat­ment.

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