Jack Kirby may have been a legend in Marvel Comics, but his particular art style didn’t immediately sit well with DC’s editorial staff.
Jack Kirby continues to live on as one of the biggest names in comic book history. Having been involved in creating most of the iconic characters in the Marvel Universe, he has also worked for DC Comics. Although his tenure there saw DC gain perhaps its greatest villain, it also caused controversy regarding its greatest hero.
One of the titles Kirby worked on was a Superman Spinoff book, albeit one centered primarily on the Man of Steel’s friend, Jimmy Olsen. While the artist/writer would “like” the geeky Olsen, his artistic depiction of Superman was so controversial that DC was forced to redraw it. Here’s how poor the proverbial King of Comics got when it came to The Last Son of Krypton.
Jack Kirby’s time at DC Comics has been phenomenal
As mentioned, Jack Kirby has spent much of his comic book career at Marvel Comics, having co-created Captain America with Joe Simon back in the Golden Age of Comics. During the Silver Age, he and Stan Lee brought out fan favorites like the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Thor, and Black Panther. As these properties grow to be a hit with readers, Marvel is quickly becoming a threat to DC’s status quo. This was thanks to a greater sense of realism, both in the art and writing. No matter how outlandish the stories were, Marvel characters were more human than DC’s team thanks to more nuanced characterization and Kirby’s angular, “realistic” faces. Unfortunately, Kirby’s working relationship with Stan Lee increasingly deteriorated and when the new contract proved unfavorable to the artist, he left Marvel for DC.
Due to his popularity, he was given complete freedom over which books he could work on. Not wanting to assign another artist or writer a job, he took the job Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen, a book that lacks a consistent creative team. Kirby began working on bringing all manner of cosmic wonder and his signature “Kirby Crackle” to the DC Universe, with concepts he had begun developing for characters like Inhumans and other Marvel cosmic properties, and turning them into characters like the villainous Darkseid. That’s tempered with some inspiration from his time at Marvel, as Jimmy Olsen transitioned from a wide-eyed kid to a rebellious young man. Kirby’s art style was also known for giving the characters pointed and angular features. While this may have worked for Marvel, it wasn’t very welcome at DC.
Superman Jack Kirby has been redrawn by other artists
The design and portrayal of Superman in DC books at the time is still largely defined by the work of artist Curt Swan. Thus, anything that deviated from this view was problematic, even if the problem was caused by Jack Kirby. Despite striking an appropriately big deal about Kirby moving over to the company, DC Comics didn’t like how their hero plotted. His solid figure and face under Kirby’s pen were very rugged and were very different from Swan’s. As a result, artists Murphy Anderson and Mike Royer came in and cleaned up the art, erasing the faces of Kirby’s drawings and giving Superman a more traditional look.
While it wasn’t ideal for Kirby, such a situation arguably made sense since even Marvel’s most successful properties have eschewed grandiose stories in favor of relatable ones. With his powers waning, Kirby eventually returned to Marvel. Many of his unused ideas for the New Gods would be reborn as eternal The property, which has only recently gotten any kind of notoriety. He was still employed by DC in later years, however, continuing his work on the DC Fourth world Stable while drawing a comic book link to Kenner super powers play line. Ironically, it would be here that his art – including that of Superman – was left alone, giving him a degree of unfiltered legacy in DC’s superhero premiere.