This month the Fantastic Four become the first superhero comic in history to pass the #5000 mark, with Jack Kirby once again producing the comic himself - writing, drawing, colouring and lettering the whole thing himself last Sunday afternoon.
Everybody knows that the Fantastic Four became something truly remarkable when Stan Lee choked on his own hyperbole at the first San Francisco comic convention in 1966, with Kirby using Lee’s untimely passing to take full control of the comic.
Kirby’s run proved to be spectacular as he turned down lucrative offers from DC in the early seventies to concentrate on the FF, and he built up the comic into something strange and wonderful.
But even with Kirby’s incredible track record of producing comics, it was still a surprise when the Fantastic Four comic became self-aware under Kirby’s pen with #186 and Reed Richards appeared in the Fantasti-Car above Times Square.
Mr Fantastic managed to convince everybody that he was simply travelling from higher up the dimensional scale, and just happened to appear in a universe where the Fantastic Four only existed in comic book form, but the Fantastic/Kirby court case in 1979 found that as the sole living creator of the comic, Kirby was owed all the material benefits of having the Fantastic Four in the real world.
Reed Richards was only in our continuum for three days, but left behind enough scientific notes and theories to change our technology forever and Kirbytech is now an integral part of modern society, offering Joe Average rocket trips to the moon for a weekend away and free, clean and powerful energy from the perpetual motion machine operating in the Negative Zone. It’s hard to imagine a modern kitchen without a Kirbometer, and Kirbytech chief executive Mark Evanier is promising instantaneous teleportation to anywhere in the universe by 2012.
Jack Kirby was the most obvious benefactor of the leaps in technology over the past 20 years. A heart problem was fixed in a weekend in the early nineties with nano-Kirbys, with Richards's innovations bringing Kirby’s idea of tiny miniature versions of Ben Grimm that clobber cancer and disease into reality.
Now in his nineties, Kirby looks and works like a sprightly 45-year-old, using time dilation technology and various cybernetic implants to produce several hundred issues of the Fantastic Four every year.
The continued innovations that Kirby has literally inserted into his drawing arm has led to some mean-spirited people pointing out that the artist now looks more like Deathlok than the Thing, but there can be few critics of the breadth and depth of his Fantastic Four comics.
In a world where people can go on package tours to the Microverse, Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four comics remain a thing of wonder. By focusing all of his considerable talents into one title – Kirby has turned down offers to do everything from an adaption of 2001 to Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen – he has created a remarkable ongoing story of incredible emotional complexity, intense intellectual evaluation and slam-bang action.
He celebrated the 1000th issue of Fantastic Four by having the Inhumans abandon their corporal form, only for the Invisible Woman to convince the ascended beings to perform at Live Aid in 1985 with a captivating set of Attilan toe-singing. He spent a decade on the Human Torch saga, sending Johnny Storm on a massively detailed ideological search for the self that saw him hurl fireballs at the existential void and finally confront the meaning of life itself on a Manhattan street corner.
Kirby has produced the Greatest Comic Magazine Ever, and continues to knock it out of the park on a regular basis. His Fantastic Four continues to sell more comics than all other comics put together and he remains the patron saint for all comic artists, with the founding and continued funding of the Stan Lee Art School.
Kirby has been reluctant to sit down for any kind of interview in the past decade, choosing instead to let his work speak for himself. And that’s not counting the fact that he has, through sheer force of will and imagination, changed the universe with his comics.
He has helped mankind take the next step up the evolutionary ladder, made everyday life immeasurably exciting for all of us, and produced the most exciting and thoughtful comics of all time. Fantastic Four #5000 is available at every comic shop, book store and news stand on the planet. Buy it and hail to the King.