The King and I
Kirby's Krazy Karacter Korner
By Desmond Reddick
18 September 2008 — While most, including myself, will view Kirby's legacy as one of dynamic movement and grandiose majesty, there is absolutely no denying the sheer magnitude of iconic characters he created at various comic publishers. Kirby's hallmark, as fully realized in his DC work, is wild and colorful character design. No one creates a character that looks like Kirby's unless they are blatantly ripping him off (RE: Larsen, Erik). In this edition of The King and I, I have compiled a list of the top 10 wildest, craziest and most colorful of Kirby's creations. And, surprisingly, it doesn't include a giant dog with a tuning fork on his forehead!
Sit back, relax and behold Kirby in all his wacky glory!
Klaw. Freakin' Klaw. Interestingly enough, he's a picture of imperialism. He's a Dutchman who tried to rape Wakanda of its Vibranium, and wound up killing a young Prince T'Challa's father in the process. Too bad he looks so ridiculous. He's Joe Chill in a speed skating uniform!
Purple shorts! Keep your eye out for more of these. But this time, it's mixed with cherry red. He essentially looks like Liberace's personal Golem with a giant silver pepper mill as a hand.
Simon Spry has identity issues. Clearly he's a Captain America fan, but he looks like the freakish Spartan from 300. Since he hated The Fly so much, I guess he decided to be Spider instead.
I just love how much he looks like Santa's Little Helper being caught in some weird, kinky sex act: fun and cartoony, but bizarre and creepy. The character is listed as a Simon / Kirby creation, but he has Kirby written all over him. There are some flashes of X-Men and Fourth World stuff here. A great villain unfortunately lost to time. The Fly will be back in DC's The Brave and the Bold, but something tells me he won't be fighting Spider Spry.
Because giants created by Kirby need to draw more attention to themselves, behold Galactus! The Devourer of Worlds comes to a planet, embeds the tendrils of his siphon machine — The Punisher — into the ground and sucks the planet dry until there isn't even enough energy left to keep it intact. That much energy in one being requires a containment suit. A gaudy containment suit. With a helmet that looks like a purple periscope.
Besides this oddly colored helmet, he wears an apron. I suppose if you consider his modus operandi, he is basically a deli worker — that is, if planets could be considered cold cuts and he ate all of the meat himself. But really, are you going to tell him that he dresses funny?
07. Mister Miracle
One of my favorite Jack Kirby designs has little to no grasp of logic. I mean, I have only one excuse for why Mister Miracle's costume is so gaudy: he's a showman. As an escape artist, all eyes are on him, and he must absolutely crave the attention. But, really! The guy is a living traffic light!
He has a red and yellow striped costume, a full mask, green booties and shorts. Add to that a green cape that would put Spawn's to shame — which is attached to his chest by yellow saucers. Need to look more awkward? How about some reflective plates attached to his feet. They help him fly? Aero-disks you say? The guy's so badass, he knows the Anti-Life Equation and doesn't use it! I think he could figure out how to fly without the disks.
06. Fin Fang Foom
This conquering space alien with the name of a Chinese restaurant's daily special came to our planet in the time of ancient China. He put himself in a vegetative state after ingesting an herb (no comment) until he was awakened on occasion. Thought to be a dragon because he looks like one, this standout from Kirby's monster comics days is as relevant now as he was in the 1960s.
Beyond being a clear reference to Communist China and a sly shot at those stoner hipster kids, he also knows kung fu. Foom began a short but impactful penchant for Kirby to create green monsters with questionable tastes in clothing. You see, Fin Fang Foom is a 20-ton, 32-foot-tall martial arts expert who happens to look like a green dragon wearing purple shorts.
05. Arnim Zola
A genetic engineer able to clone and mutate any living creature. His greatest experiment? Himself. I mean, who wouldn't create a robotic body with a holographic image of their face on their chest and an antenna for a head if they could, right?
How could this costume possibly be better than a normal cloned body? I get the transportability thing. But a normal body could be cloned again and again. I get why the antenna is needed. Couldn't he mentally control his mutations with a headband or a wrist-mounted gauntlet or something? The answer is: it doesn't matter. After his stint at DC in the 1970s, Kirby returned to Marvel as a god of comic book art — and he went wild. Logic meant nothing (RE: Mad Bomb).
04. Paste Pot Pete
Let's face it, even Paste Pot Pete knows he's lame. He's one of Marvel's only victims of the "terrible first codename" curse. He would eventually call himself The Trapster, but he never escaped the undying ridicule of the alliterative name.
What do you do with the worst villain codename in the Marvel Universe? Line up a terrible costume cavalcade. Ol' Pasty never really settled on a costume, but each seemed gaudy and awful in their own way. He even got the edgy 90s treatment, yet remained tame and ineffective. Poor Past Pot Pete, Papa Kirby never gave him a fighting chance. He should go pick a peck of pickled peppers or something.
03. Kang the Conqueror
It went something like this:
Stan: "Hey, Jack!!"
Stan: "I want the Avengers to fight a time traveling despot bent on their destruction!!"
Jack: "It'll be on your desk tomorrow."
Stan: "No, this guy's different!! He'll need to be unlike any character we've ever seen!!"
Jack: "Yeah. I get it."
Stan: "He's Doctor Doom's successor from the 40th century, you see?! Remember that pharaoh guy the FF fought last year?! That's him!!"
Stan: "So what are you thinking?!"
Jack: "Will a green blouse, a purple helmet with a blue faceplate and purple and yellow striped yoga pants work?"
02. The Black Racer
One of the few Kirby characters that was toned down soon after his creation, the Fourth World's personification of death is as close to ridiculous a version of Death has ever gotten.
Besides wearing a multicolored suit of armor sure to have him mistaken for a hobo, this Vietnam vet made the most fateful choice of all: use a pair of skis to sail through the universe! It's so obvious! I absolutely adore Jack Kirby, as you know, but here is where he almost loses me. Death is a multicolored knight on skis? That's like Alanis Morissette being God! It's like rai-ee-ain on your wedding day! Ahem. Sorry.
Thankfully, Racer's armor was soon changed from Pride Parade to black.
You know that one thing — the thing you don't advertise — that pushes your geekhood to a level beyond most? Mine's my love for MODOK. I have a copy of the Journal of MODOK Studies and a T-shirt that asks the age-old question: What Would MODOK Do?
Why do I love him so? He's a cross between the ridiculous, the tragic and the badass. A character type Kirby had perfected. He holds the top spot because he's the perfect mixture between costume and body type. He is essentially a man with a massive head. A head so massive he needs an exoskeleton to support it. A yellow and purple exoskeleton. One that doubles as a hover-chair and a tank. An exoskeleton that, on occasion, attaches itself to a massive robot body proportionate to MODOK's head size.
His tragedy? Beyond never being able to wear a ball cap? His exoskeleton not only makes him mobile, it acts as life support. His body is entirely incapable of supporting his gargantuan head. Talk about form and function!
Well, there it is True Believers! I may have made fun. I may have mocked. I may have put my face in my palm a few times. But the truth of the matter is, every character on this list is distinct. And for a man who created hundreds of character for Marvel, DC and several other publishers, each one had a unique look. You can't say that for any other artist in the business.
Disagree with my choices? Notice any glaring omissions? Want to shower me with praise and naked photos of Scarlett Johansson? Email The King and I at Kirby@dreadmedia.net. [Editor's Note: Make sure to carbon copy those photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.]