Two years ago, for an audience on social media, Chris Tolworthy dissected “everyone’s favourite” Fantastic Four story, “This Man, This Monster!” His goal was to peel back the layers added by collaborators to Kirby’s finished pages to find the genuine Kirby story underneath. The Facebook post was lengthy and split into several parts, but here’s a taste:
The real monsters are often not the ugly people who see their faults clearly. The real monsters are the handsome people who are either unaware of their faults, or dismiss them for the greater goal. In the FF, Reed frequently hurts his best friend and is not even aware he is doing it. In this story, by seeing two other “monsters” lose everything (one is rejected by his best friend and loses his old life, the other who actually loses his life in Reed’s latest experiment – it was Reed’s faulty cable that broke), Reed finally learns to appreciate Ben: it is the climax of 51 issues.
This was not just a cheap parlour trick. Chris, one of the world’s pre-eminent FF historians, has put together a book of such dissections. From the back cover:
- The first origin of Dr Doom
- The lost Hulk #4
- Who really defeated Galactus?
- The original Black Widow
- The first origin of Iron Man
- Xavier before Cyclops
- and many more
…and from Chris’ announcement: “This book began as an appendix to my other book (more on that when it’s ready) and that’s how I think of it: a very big appendix. For years people have asked me to put all my crazy Kirby theories into one place. Some of these theories are from my friend James. A few years ago we were contacted by an individual who was able to confirm that at least one of the theories was correct. I cannot guarantee the others, but they are all based on meticulous forensic work, so judge for yourself.”
For those who contend that in the 1960s Marvel Method books, the individual contributions of the collaborators are unknowable, Stan Taylor had this to say:
We can do what historians, detectives, and scientists have always done: ignore the hearsay, mythology, and personal claims and look at the actual physical evidence, in this case, the original comic books, and contemporaneous documentary evidence from unbiased sources. It has been said, “an artist is someone who pounds the same nail over and over again.” All artists, graphic or literary, have patterns. They repeat aspects, concepts, a style of punctuation, a brush stroke, lines of musculature, anything that separates their style from the hundreds of others. When trying to identify an unknown artist, one can compare the piece in question with other contemporaneous works to match up these patterns. This method has been used to research everything from Shakespeare’s writings to the works of the Great Masters.
The nature of Kirby’s collaboration with Stan Lee in most cases allows us to point to a stage in the process that was thoroughly Kirby: when he turned in his pencilled pages on a story. After that, Lee along with the letterer, inker, and other (sometimes accidental) production staff, swung into action and remade the work into the pages that were published. In recent decades, it’s been possible to study Kirby’s notations and pencilled-in dialogue using original art scans that are available online and in the IDW Artist’s Edition volumes. The Lost Jack Kirby Stories provides a new tool for that toolbox.
Jack Kirby was one of the world’s greatest storytellers. Chris spends 170-plus pages proving that some of the stories Kirby intended to tell can be teased out from the noise layered on top. He then teaches the reader to do it for themselves.
Buy it here.