Michael Hill’s “According To Jack Kirby” : Cutting Through The Fog Of Lies With A Scalpel

I’ll be the first to admit that a historical corrective in regards to one of mainstream comics’ longest-simmering controversies is hardly what regular readers of this small press-oriented blog come here on any given day (or night) expecting to find — but give it up for author Michael Hill, who’s proven with his new (though long in the making) surgically-detailed work, According To Jack Kirby, that he’s as independent as it gets, foregoing the arduous process of shopping his labor of love around to publishers in favor of self-publishing via the auspices of Lulu’s print-on-demand platform. And I’ve gotta say it’s a wise choice because this is, by its nature, an uncompromising piece of scholarship.

If Abraham Riesman poked a million tiny holes in the big lie that was Stan Lee’s fraudulent claim of being the Marvel Universe’s “creator” in the pages of his much-ballyhooed True Believer : The Rise And Fall Of Stan Lee, Hill lets the (undoubtedly hot) air out of them and sinks the inflatable Titanic — the damn thing is, though, he’s really just letting the historical record speak for itself. It’s neither his fault nor to his credit that the facts are Lee’s greatest enemy, he’s just taken it upon himself to assemble what amounts, by default, to an air-tight prosecutorial presentation. And as a Minneapolis resident, air-tight prosecutions are something I’ve had a front-row seat to of late, so I know one when I see one.

Is there an implicit bias on the part of the author that’s apparent from the outset here? Well, the book is subtitled Insights Drawn From Interviews Of Comics’ Greatest Creator, so no one need wonder whether or not Hill is a dyed-in-the-wool Kirby admirer, but as those of us who have followed the Kirby/Lee drama over the years can tell you — and as Hill catalogues in one blood-pressure-spiking incident after another — some of the sharpest daggers laid into the backs of Kirby, his family, and his legacy have been wielded by those claiming to be “Jack’s biggest fan.” I’d be tempted to say that their words are coming back to haunt them in this work, but that pre-supposes a level of conscience that many of these folks simply and clearly don’t have — for those of us who do, however, one of the more depressing realizations that Hill’s meticulous chronology makes apparent is how few actual defenders and advocates Kirby had all along. Read it and weep, as they say.

And yet righteous indignation — warranted as it is — really is nowhere to be found herein. Hill’s own writing is no more dispassionate or “neutral” than that of Gary Groth in his (in?)famous interview with Kirby for The Comics Journal (or, to flip the coin, Nat Freedland’s atrociously hagiographic “puff piece” on Lee that ran in the New York Herald Tribune and went some way toward alienating Lee not only from Kirby, but from Spider-Man creator Steve Ditko, as well), true, but if you’re searching for vitriol, you’ll be looking for a needle in a very deep and thick haystack. Hill knows that to indulge in such would only leave himself open to even more criticism from the “Lee Legion” than he’s bound to get anyway, and distract from the forensics that are the backbone of his thesis.

Ah ,yes — forensics. That may seem a curious word to use here at first glance, but I assure you it absolutely applies, for it’s not just on-the-record statements that buttress Kirby’s claim to being the creative driving force behind Marvel — hard physical evidence exists that bears it out. The same, however, can’t be said for his former “collaborator,” who — as Hill demonstrates — appears to have even gone so far as to have at least one phony “synopsis” woven from whole cloth (likely, in the best Lee tradition, by somebody other than himself) in order to shore up his own always-shaky grip on auteurship. In fact, so transparently bogus is the edifice of Lee’s entire shtick that by the time one makes it through to the end of this volume, you’re not sure which is the greater mystery — that he got away with it for as long as he did, or that he ever got away with it in the first place.

The one thing Hill does that Lee never could, though, is “show the receipts.” There are literally decades of them. And we should all be grateful indeed that someone has finally taken the time to sift through them all and set the record straight by means of the record itself. The King has posthumously found the champion he always needed and deserved with Michael Hill — but, even more importantly, so has the truth itself.

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According To Jack Kirby is available for $19.99 from Lulu’s website at https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/michael-hill/according-to-jack-kirby/paperback/product-v7dnyy.html?fbclid=IwAR304AV-FZtCnkykeGjYFy0MctX2J6HLHdbioatejx_0zfh_xj7Y65QiOjM&page=1&pageSize=4

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

8 thoughts on “Michael Hill’s “According To Jack Kirby” : Cutting Through The Fog Of Lies With A Scalpel

  1. Roy W. Thomas

    I look forward to getting this book, as I do most books about comics and Marvel. However, I know too much about the inner working of Marvel, about Stan Lee, even about Jack Kirby, to be overly influenced at this stage. Jack Kirby was probably more ‘creative’ than Stan Lee… but that doesn’t mean Stan was less important as the force behind Marvel Comics, and if you think differently, I’ve got a broken rainbow bridge I’d like to sell you. By the way, your judgment that the truly terrible HERALD TRIBUNE piece might have hurt Steve’s relationship with Stan is off. Certainly Stan’s remarks about Steve there were likely to offend… and I was surprised that he made them… but by the time Steve could’ve seen the piece (Jan. 1966) he had long since quit.

    Roy Thomas

    Like

    1. William Byron

      No one is saying that Stan wasn’t crucial or important to Marvel’s success. Stan was necessary for the Marvel we know today. Somehow, people think anyone fighting for Kirby means they automatically are dismissing Stan’s contributions. THIS IS NOT THE POINT. It’s to say, who created this- who was the catalyst for this? Facts and documents will always work against The Marvel Myth. Why, it’s like saying that old interviews from The Comics Journal in 1980 could contradict Roy Thomas. Imagine. Also, Roy Thomas’s omnipresent “Manager” isn’t helping him by claiming Marvel was built on the Lee/Thomas partnership. By saying that, I ALSO am not trying to diminish Roy’s contributions. It’s about a system which took away from the artist and has, for decades, disparaged Kirby who gets begrudging and backhanded credit, if at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ryan C. (fourcolorapocalypse)

        Yeah, I’m as far from focused on the “who did what at Marvel” disputes as one can be — and ditto for the comics mainstream in general, it’s just not where my interests lie — but even I can’t help but notice that Lee’s defenders and partisans don’t focus on what Michael does in his book, which is to say determining who deserves credit as CREATOR, specifically, as accurately as he possibly can, based on what’s a matter of public record. I’m not saying Lee’s dialogue and persona and what have you didn’t play a part in making Marvel what it is, I’m saying it’s important to determine who the CREATORS of the characters were and who WROTE the stories. The so-called “Marvel Method” appears to have VASTLY over-credited the writers and to have given short shrift to the artists. And honestly, I think the fact that these controversies persist can largely be laid at Lee’s feet — instead of being clear about what he did, and the division of labor in the so-called “Bullpen,” he spent decades happily promoting himself as the “creator” of the Marvel Universe, and the historical record offers plenty of evidence that contradicts his claims.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Daniel Greenberg

    “I look forward to getting this book…”
    Translation: I will never read this book.

    “I know too much… to be overly influenced”
    Translation: Facts will never change my well-compensated beliefs.

    “Jack Kirby was probably more ‘creative’ than Stan Lee…”
    Translation: I hope my scare quotes can diminish the tremendous power of “creativity” in the mind of the reader so that hucksterism can appear to be of equivalent worth.

    “…that doesn’t mean Stan was less important as the force behind Marvel Comics”
    Translation: Just not important as any kind of “creative” force

    “I’ve got a broken rainbow bridge I’d like to sell you.”
    Translation: A bridge that would never have reached Marvel if not for Jack Kirby.

    “By the way, your judgment that the truly terrible HERALD TRIBUNE piece might have hurt Steve’s relationship with Stan is off.”
    Translation: Because once a person quits a job, that’s as hurt as a relationship can be. It can’t possibly be hurt EVEN MORE by hideously offensive comments from their former boss.

    tldr: Comics will break your heart, kid.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ryan C. (fourcolorapocalypse)

      Thank you for your expert deconstruction of Houseroy’s word salad, about the only thing I can say for his comment is that it was more creative than most of his risible scripts.

      Liked by 1 person

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