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Hand of Fire

The Comics Art of Jack Kirby

Charles Hatfield

Publication Year: 2011

Jack Kirby (1917-1994) is one of the most influential and popular artists in comics history. With Stan Lee, he created the Fantastic Four and defined the drawing and narrative style of Marvel Comics from the 1960s to the present day. Kirby is credited with creating or cocreating a number of Marvel's mainstay properties, among them the X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, and the Silver Surfer. His earlier work with Joe Simon led to the creation of Captain America, the popular kid gang and romance comic genres, and one of the most successful comics studios of the 1940s and 1950s. Kirby's distinctive narrative drawing, use of bold abstraction, and creation of angst-ridden and morally flawed heroes mark him as one of the most influential mainstream creators in comics.

In this book, Charles Hatfield examines the artistic legacy of one of America's true comic book giants. He analyzes the development of Kirby's cartooning technique, his use of dynamic composition, the recurring themes and moral ambiguities in his work, his eventual split from Lee, and his later work as a solo artist. Against the backdrop of Kirby's earlier work in various genres, Hand of Fire examines the peak of Kirby's career, when he introduced a new sense of scope and sublimity to comic book fantasy.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Series: Great Comics Artists Series


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This one’s been a long time coming: not just the handful of years I’ve spent pushing and pulling at the book’s text, not just the seventeen-plus years since my first professionally published article on Jack Kirby—my first professional publication, period—but much longer, so long, in fact, that the roots of the ...

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pp. 3-19

The wall stands as if in expectation, as if waiting for the man to reach out, to speak out. The man suddenly shouts, shaking his staff toward the wall, flinging his name and his terrible burden outward as if in challenge. Abruptly the wall answers with a deafening WABOOOMM!!—and a hand of fire sweeps across ...

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Chapter 0: Kirby’s Improbable Career

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pp. 20-35

Jack Kirby’s career succeeded by accidents both happy and unhappy, and was scarred here and there by unfortunate or ill-timed decisions and plain hard luck. Biographical accounts paint him—despite his commercial successes, artistic clout, and widespread influence—as a man little used to taking care of his own ...

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Chapter 1: Kirby’s Narrative Art

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pp. 36-77

BAAAAAM!! Kirby’s graphic ferocity, the sheer, brawling kineticism of his style, calls to mind combat: the slugfest, the siege, the riot, in sum the carnal indulgence of raw physicality and untamed rage. Take for example the opening two-page spread, pages 2 and 3, from the first issue of The Demon ...

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Chapter 2: Kirby, Stan Lee, and the Creation of Marvel Comics

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pp. 78-107

In 1985 one of the beloved, sustaining myths of comic book culture came hurtling down: that of the Marvel Bullpen. According to this long-savored myth, the Marvel Comics of the sixties—in the eddies of which the comic book industry still spun, and still spins to this day—was a bastion of collegiality ...

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Chapter 3: How Kirby Changed the Superhero

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pp. 108-143

Thus far I’ve tried to untangle Kirby’s relationship with Marvel, the publisher with which he is most closely linked. Much of the lore and conversation of American comic book fans has to do with that relationship, because the Marvel of the 1960s was pivotal to comic book history and Kirby was pivotal to Marvel. ...

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Chapter 4: Kirby’s Technological Sublime

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pp. 144-171

Kirby and Lee’s The Fantastic Four, on which they worked in tandem from 1961 to 1970, was Marvel’s flagship and, along with Ditko and Lee’s The Amazing Spider-Man, one of the signature superhero comics of its era. It led the sudden surge in creativity which, as we’ve seen, overtook and transformed Marvel ...

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Chapter 5: The Great Bust-Out: Kirby’s Fourth World

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pp. 172-205

Two worlds: the one green and flourishing, overlaid with forests and clean waters, a free-breathing, fertile world orbited by a floating city crystalline in its beauty, where the inhabitants rejoice in an unending dream of peace; the other a metallic husk, its surface scabbed by hideous machines and cratered by huge, ...

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Chapter 6: Kirby at Apogee

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pp. 206-227

Both “The Pact” (New Gods #7, Feb.–Mar. 1972) and its counterpart “Himon” (Mister Miracle #9, July–Aug. 1972) are flashbacks, detours from the forward-thrusting narrative of the Fourth World. Kirby described them as “supplement[s]” and begged his readers’ indulgence. In fact, these stories are the core ...

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Chapter 7: “Unexpected Constants”: Kirby’s Eternals versus the Marvel Universe

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pp. 228-252

Consider likewise the following commentary by letter-writer Larry Twiss during Kirby’s 1976–77 run on Captain America and the Falcon: “When the King returns, he returns. All of the wonder and power of the old Marvel magic is with us once again. It’s really like a step back to what everybody is always calling ...

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Appendix: Kirby and Kirbyana in Print and in Fandom

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pp. 253-261

Though Kirby’s active career tapered off years before his death in 1994, his publication history remains an open book. Kirby publishing is an ongoing affair: the publication record of even his most popular and most studied work remains volatile, with new or revised reprint volumes appearing frequently. ...


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pp. 262-271

Works Cited

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pp. 272-283


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pp. 284-297

E-ISBN-13: 9781604736281
E-ISBN-10: 1604736283
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617031786
Print-ISBN-10: 161703178X

Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Great Comics Artists Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Kirby, Jack -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Cartoonists -- United States.
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