marvel minus kirby

What would the Marvel Universe look like without Jack Kirby?

Daredevil 7

My rule: all characters commonly credited to Kirby are out.  Furthermore, all characters who debuted in a title created by Kirby (Wolverine in Incredible Hulk 181) or in a spin-off of a Kirby title (everybody in New Mutants) no longer exist.

Titles we simply wouldn’t have:

  • Avengers
  • Capt. Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders
  • Fantastic Four
  • Incredible Hulk
  • Invincible Iron Man
  • Journey into Mystery (The Mighty Thor)
  • Marvel’s Space-Born Super-Hero, Captain Marvel
  • Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos
  • Sky-Rider of the Spaceways, the Silver Surfer
  • Tales of Suspense (Captain America)
  • Tales to Astonish (featuring Ant-Man & the Wasp and the Hulk)
  • X-Men
  • (Several late 70’s titles like 2001, Black Panther, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man and Eternals)

A small handful of Silver Age titles would survive:

  • Amazing Spider-Man (pace authorship disputes)
  • Here Comes . . . Daredevil, the Man Without Fear
  • Strange Tales (featuring Doctor Strange)
  • Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner

It’s the loss of Fantastic Four that really hurts.  No Negative Zone, no Inhumans, no Kree, no Skrulls, no Blue Area of the Moon.  Without the other titles no Asgard or Stark Industries.

You lose female superheroes, at least in the Marvel Silver Age: there weren’t many to begin with, and without Kirby there are none.  The first black superhero wouldn’t be the Black Panther (Fantastic Four 52, July 1966) but instead the Prowler (Amazing Spider-Man 78, November 1969).  Jimmy Woo was among the very first Asian-American leading heroes in comics (Yellow Claw 1, October 1956), but he’s a Kirby character too.

And you lose creators.  Claremont, Byrne, Englehart, Starlin, Gruenwald and Simonson are all best-remembered for their work on Kirby-created titles or spin-offs, and under this experiment their voices would fall almost entirely silent.

what’s left?

By the 1970’s things expand out a bit:

apparently you had to be there

  • Adventure into Fear with the Man Called Morbius, the Living Vampire
  • Beware!  The Claws of . . . The Cat (a/k/a Tigra)
  • Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu
  • The Most Supernatural Superhero of All, Ghost Rider
  • Giant-Size Man-Thing
  • Howard the Duck
  • Iron Fist
  • Luke Cage, Hero for Hire
  • They Came from Inner Space, Micronauts
  • Night Nurse
  • The Man Called Nova
  • Omega the Unknown
  • Red Sonja
  • Rom, Space Knight
  • Savage Sword of Conan
  • Shanna the She-Devil
  • Skull the Slayer
  • Son of Satan
  • To Know Her is to Fear Her . . . Spider-Woman
  • Supernatural Thrillers: The Living Mummy
  • Tales of the Zombie
  • Tomb of Dracula
  • The Power of Warlock (okay, I’m cheating a little)
  • Werewolf by Night

Moving into the 1980’s…

  • Cloak and Dagger
  • Comet Man
  • Dazzler (arguably)
  • Elektra: Assassin
  • Jack of Hearts
  • Killraven, Warrior of Worlds
  • Longshot
  • Marc Spector, Moon Knight
  • Power Pack
  • Punisher War Journal
  • Rocket Raccoon
  • Speedball, the Masked Marvel
  • Team America
  • U.S. 1

put that into a cliche-larded archetypal game setting

In the grey centuries before the dawn of History, men and women fought demon-spawn.  With cultists fleeing the sinking of Atlantis came the Serpent Crown, bringing with it madness, death, and power.  The insidious litany of Set was memorialized in the Darkhold, repository of the foulest sorcery, and from its black pages were created the nosferatu and zuvembies.

These horrors stalked among us for millennia uncounted.  The blood tide of chaos was only cast back through steel and sorcery wielded with desperate courage.  (Welcome to Conan, Red Sonja, and so on.)

That legacy of evil persists even into this very age.  Unearthly things creep through the Nexus of All Realities and strike bargains with the unsuspecting or sire children with the unwary. (Okay, so, our modern day super-horror titles like Man-Thing, Son of Satan, and Ghost Rider.)

Memories of bygone days have faded, and ever anon man yearns to know that which is forbidden to him, prying matter apart to glean its secrets.  No surprise that in these vain experiments have left a mark on unlucky witnesses, who are lauded and shunned in equal measure.  (Spider-Man, Daredevil, Cloak & Dagger, Power Pack, etc.)

Yet this time mankind does not struggle against the darkness alone.  Across cosmic gulfs, alien intelligences–no strangers to the endless conflict between Law and Chaos–have sent strange emissaries to Earth to aid, inspire, and lead.  (Yep, Rom, the Micronauts, and Rocket Raccoon.)

isn’t this pointless?

Yeah, I guess so.  It beat doing real work.  Plus it lets me toss up this cover, which in this hypothetical would not be a sideshow curiosity, but rather  a huge frickin’ deal:

art by Michael Golden



12 Responses to “marvel minus kirby”

  1. May 29, 2011 at 4:14 am

    No machine man? Noooooooooooo!!!!

  2. May 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Oh man, there was a superteam?Legion of Monsters looks awesome. Is all of this part of a Marvel online subscription?

    If Marvel was that desperate for characters, would Lee have tapped Wally Wood more? Would Ditko have gotten more concessions early on? Stan’s leverage would be significantly less, who else would be working there?

  3. May 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Would Marvel even have enough to survive, or would they have been sold to DC?

  4. May 29, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    @Greyhawk Grognard
    For a character created by Jack Kirby (as part of a project inspired by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick), later handled by Steve Ditko, and then reimagined by Barry Windsor Smith, you’d figure Machine Man would have a more prominent place, y’know?

    This might be the time to observe that Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game doesn’t handle gadget-style heroes very well. It’s clear to me that Machine Man (and the Silver Surfer, Iron Man, Thor, Mister Miracle, OMAC, etc.) are basically omni-potent, in the sense that they can have any power the plot requires–it’s not like Kirby had some pre-defined list. MSH might be able to handle this by some modification to the invention rules, but I’d have to think about it.

    Well, they certainly wouldn’t have set the comics world on its ear, that’s for sure. They would have been like Charlton, Dell, or Harvey. In the real world, the super-horror fad receded after a couple years leaving the regular Kirby-created stuff still chugging along. Here I’m assuming that without that infrastructure, the horror stuff becomes far more significant to the setting.

  5. May 29, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    One of the things that that strikes me about this setting (from a gaming perspective) is that a bunch of PCs coming together to form a superhero group would be a really big deal. There are a handful of groups here, but none of them are ‘big-time’ the way that the Avengers and the FF were, and many of them probably operate mainly outside of the public awareness. Also, a lot of the superhero types that remain are closer to the street-level end of the spectrum.

  6. May 29, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Also, would Spider-Woman exist, given that her origin relies heavily on HYDRA?

  7. May 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Knightsky, yeah, the only super-teams here are the Micronauts, Power Pack, and Rom’s Spaceknight buddies. Maybe the gang of vampire-hunters in Tomb of Dracula count.

    I’d be willing to say that Spider-Woman could have come from any of a variety of lame secret societies–by the mid-70’s there wasn’t much distinctive about HYDRA anyway. But maybe that’s cheating too.

    I was really tempted to include Ms. Marvel, since she gains her powers several years after various events in the Captain Marvel title, and her continuity was never very tightly linked to the Kree anyway. If I bent the rules to allow Adam Warlock (massively re-imagined from his debut in the Fantastic Four), Ms. Marvel should probably sneak in there too.

  8. May 30, 2011 at 2:04 am

    I could see a version of the Defenders springing up in this continuity. The original team would consist of Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Sub-Mariner. Later members might include Cat/Tigra, Ghost Rider, Power Man & Iron Fist, and Spider-Woman.

    Of course, this all assumes that without the Avengers and FF to stop him, Sub-Mariner didn’t wind up conquering the surface world after all…

    Some of the old Timely characters could also show up. Captain America may be off the table, but either the original Human Torch and/or Toro could always show up.

    Darnit, the more I think about this timeline, the more I want to run/play in it.

  9. May 30, 2011 at 4:50 am

    Knightsky, that Defenders line-up was staring me in the face the whole time and I didn’t see it. Thanks so much!

    They form, of course, to stop one of Dormammu’s periodic invasions. (Most of the Defenders’ enemies are sort of weird-ass mystical dudes like Cyrus Black, Nightmare, Satan, and so on.) Obviously the Sub-Mariner leaves the team early on, just like in the regular continuity, and is replaced by Howard the Duck.

    You might even be able to run this in something approximating real-time, with guys like Spider-Man and Daredevil aging 20 years or so, getting replaced by folks like Speedball and Cloak & Dagger.

  10. May 30, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    With so few big image heroes, it seems like more villains may consider switching sides and vice-versa. It’s like the whole average hero morality took a giant leap to the midline between hero and villain.

  11. May 30, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Yeah, I mean to write a post about morally conflicted vs. amoral superheroes, once I blow through the Rick Jones stuff.

    I’m kind of intrigued by this “Marvel minus Kirby” idea. It started out as, “Boy, that’s a dumb idea.” But for players who aren’t obsessive comics nerds, I think it might actually work by chopping off huge branches of continuity.

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