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Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby
Writers: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Stan Lee, and Larry Lieber
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Al Liederman, Dick Ayers,
Steve Ditko, Joe Sinnott, George Roussos, Vince Colletta, Frank Giacoia,
Chic Stone, and Mike Royer
Published by Marvel Comics; $29.99 USD

With Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby, the publisher has taken up the Herculean task of creating a single volume "best of" book, containing the highlights of Kirby’s long and storied career at Marvel. That the publisher has embarked on such an endeavor is admirable. That the book is not entirely successful is disappointing, but, perhaps, inevitable.

It is clear that the editors attempted a delicate balance when selecting the book’s material. Some of the pieces are exceptional though oft-reprinted ("The Galactus Saga," and "This Man, This Monster"), some are historically significant but somewhat crude (the "Mercury" strip from Red Raven Comics #1, and the first Captain America story), and others are oddities and curiosities (a rare Spider-Man story and "What If the Original Marvel Bullpen Had Become the Fantastic Four?").

The stories appear chronologically and represent each of Kirby’s "eras" at Marvel. A book like this is always going to be guilty of neglecting somebody’s favorite story, but for the most part the editors have done a pretty good job in their selections. It’s just that their task was nearly impossible.

Jack Kirby’s career at Marvel Comics was far too long and unwieldy to have its essence successfully captured in a single volume. The best pieces in the book are the ones that have historically proven most popular. "The Galactus Saga" still sparkles with the wonder and optimism of the silver age of comics, but interestingly it is Stan Lee’s writing and Joe Sinnott’s inking which stand out amidst the other Kirby pieces. This creative team perfectly complimented each other, and achieved a greatness here none of the individual members were able to replicate elsewhere. Jack Kirby is one of my favorite artists of all time, but even I could not help thinking of the book’s latter third, covering Jack’s seventies work, as a portrait of the artist in his declining years. Work like The Eternals and Jack’s solo "Inhumans" stories from Amazing Adventures suffers in comparison to the grandeur of his collaborations with Lee and Sinnott.

The reprint quality is very good throughout most of the book, with the glaring exception of the reproduction of the first Captain America story, which is terrible. Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby is an admirable project, and an entertaining book, but the best of this material has been reproduced elsewhere, in volumes which do a better job of conveying the important contributions of this legendary figure in American popular culture.

-- Pat Markfort



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