Jack Kirby’s Superman Wasn’t Good Enough for DC Comics

Jack Kirby’s Superman Wasn’t Good Enough for DC Comics

Jack Kirby may have been a legend at Marvel Comics, but his particular art style didn’t immediately mesh with the editorial staff at DC.

Jack Kirby continues to live on as one of the biggest names in comic book history. Having co-created most of the iconic characters of the Marvel Universe, he also had a stint at DC Comics. Though his tenure there saw DC gain perhaps its greatest villain, it also caused controversy concerning its biggest hero.

One of the titles Kirby worked on was a Superman spinoff book, albeit one that focused mainly on the Man of Steel’s pal, Jimmy Olsen. While the artist/writer would effectively “Marvelize” the geeky Olsen, his artistic depiction of Superman was so contentious that DC was forced to redraw him. Here’s how the proverbial King of Comics became a pauper when it came to the Last Son of Krypton.

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Jack Kirby’s Time at DC Comics Was Monumental

The New Gods were one of Jack Kirby's creations at DC

As mentioned, Jack Kirby 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 put forth fan favorites such as the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Thor and Black Panther. As these properties grew wildly successful with readers, Marvel quickly came to threaten the status quo of DC. This was thanks to a greater sense of realism, both in the art and the writing. No matter how outlandish the stories may have been, Marvel’s characters were a lot more human than DC’s cast thanks to the more nuanced characterization and Kirby’s “realistic,” angular faces. Unfortunately, Kirby’s working relationship with Stan Lee increasingly degraded and when a new contract was equally unfavorable to the artist, he left Marvel for DC.

Due to his popularity, he was given complete freedom on the books he could work on. Not wanting to cost another artist or writer a job, he took over Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsena book that lacked a consistent creative team. Kirby got to work bringing all manner of cosmic wonders and his signature “Kirby crackle” to the DC Universe, with concepts he had begun developing for characters such as the Inhumans and other cosmic Marvel properties, morphing them into characters like the villainous Darkseid. This was tempered with some inspiration from his time at Marvel, as Jimmy Olsen went from a wide-eyed kid to a rebellious young man. Kirby’s art style was also known for giving characters angular, pointed features. While this may have worked at Marvel, it wasn’t quite as welcome at DC.

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Jack Kirby’s Superman Was Redrawn By Other Artists


Superman’s design and depiction in DC books at the time were still very much defined by the work of artist Curt Swan. Thus, anything deviating from this look was a problem, even if the problem was caused by Jack Kirby. Despite making an appropriately big deal about Kirby’s move to the company, DC Comics didn’t like how he drew their starring hero. His rigid form and face under Kirby’s pen were too rugged and were wildly different from Swan’s take. As a result, artists Murphy Anderson and Mike Royer went in and cleaned up the art, erasing the faces of Kirby’s drawings and giving Superman a more traditional look.

While it was not ideal for Kirby, such a situation arguably made sense as even the most successful properties at Marvel have eschewed grandiose stories in favor of relatable ones. With his power diminished, Kirby would eventually head back to Marvel. Many of his unused ideas for the New Gods would be reborn as the Eternals propertywhich only recently attained any kind of notoriety. He would still work for DC in later years, however, continuing his work on the Fourth World stable while also drawing a comic book tie-in to Kenner’s Super Powers toy line. Ironically, it would be here that his art — including on Superman — was left alone, giving him some degree of unfiltered legacy on DC’s premiere superhero.

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