Jack Kirby had had enough. After decades of working in the realms of mainstream comics, decades of underappreciation and sales-driven publishers, he decided to call it quits. He was tired of publishers constantly taking advantage of his ideas and milking them for all they were worth. He was tired of his own concepts being cut short before they really had a chance to shine. And he was tired of following orders. So, Kirby walked away from the two biggest comics publishers in America, DC and Marvel Comics, to forge his own path.
What we got was something really special.
A new comics publisher entered the scene in 1981 and lead the way for independent comics distribution. Pacific Comics was an independent publisher who wasn’t subject to the rigidity of the Comic’s Code and could feature any sort of material their creator’s saw fit. They were distributed, not through newsstands, but in specialty shops designed exclusively for comics. And, to top it all off, the creators who worked for them got to keep all rights to whatever they created. To everyone involved, this was a great deal. And when Pacific began calling on popular creators to come and work for them, Jack Kirby was one of the first in line.
Finally given free reign to create whatever he wanted with no fear of editorial control, Kirby set out to finish the epic he had begun so many decades ago. From Thor, to the Fourth World, to the Eternals, Kirby was finally here: Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers.
Captain Victory told the story of the titular Captain in command of his own team of Galactic Rangers as they patrol the universe, protecting innocents from various alien threats. However, over its thirteen-issue run the book begins to tell a darker tale about a suicidal war hero who will do anything to assure victory. As the story progressed, the pieces finally began to fall into place about the true origins of the Captain and his arch-rival, Blackmaas. In true Kirby fashion, Captain Victory was revealed to be the son of Orion, of the New Gods, who had died in final battle with Darkseid many years ago. Darkseid was severely wounded in the battle as well and became nothing but the shadowy form of Blackmaas, his evil never ceasing. Of course, Kirby couldn’t officially call this a Fourth World sequel, but he dropped enough clues throughout that it’s pretty easy to deduce. Unfortunately, Captain Victory was cut short of a finale (also in true Kirby fashion) due to Pacific Comics having to close its doors. Though his story was left hanging, Kirby at least got to give a final send-off to his favorite creations.
Before Pacific Comics closed its doors, however, Kirby would publish a second series called Silver Star. The book was his attempt at a new take on the X-Men, in a sense, with mutant heroes protecting normal citizens from evil. Originally intended by Kirby to be a screenplay, Silver Star was eventually adapted into a comic that, in an odd twist for the creator, had a beginning, middle, and end. Silver Star only lasted six issues, but it was a fast-paced, thrill-a-moment spectacular that warrants attention even today.
During this time, Kirby would go on to break one of his own rules when it came to comics work: he teamed up with another creator. Working with another independent publisher, Eclipse Comics, Kirby would co-create Destroyer Duck with Steve Gerber, a legendary creator from Marvel’s own Bronze Age. Gerber was famous for runs on Man-Thing and the Defenders, but what he has become synonymous with was his fan-favorite Howard the Duck. Unfortunately, due to creator’s rights of the seventies, Gerber retained no creative rights to the character he created for Marvel and was given no residuals outside of his freelance work. So, Gerber attempted to bring a lawsuit before Marvel to try and get his creation back. To raise money for the lawsuit, Gerber and Kirby created Destroyer Duck, hoping the sales would be strong enough to get them the money they needed. Kirby was so excited to get to help stick it to Marvel that he was happy to draw Gerber’s scripts and so, Destroyer Duck was born.
Telling the story of the titular duck, the book was mostly about the Destroyer’s quest to avenge the death of his best friend, known only as The Little Guy (alluded to be Howard himself). Destroyer would go up against the mighty Godcorps conglomerate, his quest for vengeance never sated. Gerber and Kirby’s run only lasted five issues before being handed off to another team, and, while Gerber didn’t win his lawsuit, Destroyer Duck was a fun ride while it lasted.
But, while Gerber didn’t win his battle against Marvel, Kirby, in a way, did. During this time, Marvel and DC had begun returning original artwork its stable of creators had worked on throughout the decades in accordance to new creator rights policies. In this vein, Marvel offered to return 88 pages of Kirby’s original art to him under the knowledge that Kirby was simply housing Marvel’s property and could do nothing with it (such as displaying or selling it). Outraged, Kirby refused to sign any sort of paperwork concerning the return of his art and instead began a long battle with Marvel for the return of all of his work, all 10,000 pages of it. During the drawn-out fiasco, many comics creators such as Neal Adams and Frank Miller spoke out in defense of Kirby and, eventually, Marvel caved and relinquished almost 2,000 pages of Kirby’s original art to him. A paltry number compared to what they had, but it was a heck of a lot more than 88.
Kirby would eventually begin work on what would be his final project, Phantom Force, published by a brand-new independent company called Image Comics. Phantom Force was a bit of a mess, with dozens of inkers muddying Kirby’s pencils, and Kirby himself only involved in the first few issues. Telling a mashed-up story with parts of a team book and Bruce Lee epic thrown together, Phantom Force had its moments but was mostly a forgotten final work for the King.
Jack Kirby passed away from heart failure in 1994, but his legacy lives on even outside of his Marvel and DC creations. His independent work deserves just as much attention as even his greatest mainstream epics.
If you’re wanting to check out any of these amazing Kirby tales, you unfortunately don’t have many options outside of hunting down the individual issues themselves. Thankfully, they don’t fetch too high a price on their own and are easy enough to track down. Silver Star appears to be the only one of his series that is collected in its entirety in a one-volume hardcover that also contains Kirby’s original screenplay, a much-appreciated bonus. So, get to hunting, Kirby fans.
An entire universe of adventure is waiting for you.