Before I begin, let me address the obvious True Believer argument: “All Marvel was getting were negative letters about Jack Kirby, so that’s all they could publish.”
I think I recall a quote from Jim Shooter mentioning he saw positive letters, so that would debunk that theory, but I’m not 100% sure he said that. I see he’s not doing his weblog any longer so I’m not sure how to contact him and double-check. Putting on my common sense cap though, I suspect Marvel got a few positive letters. If they had just published like 1 or 2 of those over the last year, that at least might have changed the ratio from 5/6 negative to 4/6 negative. I cannot imagine 100% of the letters were negative — I thought Kirby 70s stuff was weird but I loved it. So I’m not buying it — I think the staffers were purposefully running negative letters about Jack’s work because those letters reflected how they themselves felt about it.
Okay, lets look at this column. Now all of a sudden, out of the blue, there’s this huge uproar over Jack’s books not being in the “Marvel Universe.” I guess this is the new tactic the staffers are planning to use to oust Jack? Instead of “bring back “Redwing” or “bring back Nomad,” now they can accuse Jack of not being a team player. He’s not marching in lock-step with Marvel-dumb Assembled who crave guest appearances from Conan the Barbarian or Spider-man or Willie Lumpkin every issue. Jack’s inability to have all of Marvel history memorized like a typical comic book geek means… you guessed it — someone else should be writing the comics? Get Jack to start picking up “Marvel Wolfman plot threads” or kick him out the door? And God forbid Jack should actually have some (gasp!) science fiction in a comic book! Isn’t that what comic books are?
By the way, where was Archie Goodwin during all of this? I’ve heard over the years he was like this really sweet guy, one of the rare class acts in comics management during the 70s. Why was he allowing this to go on? Or did he have nothing to do with this? And where was Shooter? Did he read these things?
I’m reading these for the first time, and after hearing about the fiasco where Jack was forced to include “Marvel continuity” into his books (a la Cosmic Hulk in Eternals), I suggest these letters columns are an interesting glimpse into the way these “staffers” were using these letters columns as a soapbox to put forth their own criticisms of Jack. This seems to be the new tactic: let’s force Jack to turn back the clock and start using old Marvel characters from the 1960s. Of course the irony of that is, thus far, several letters writers complained Jack was still doing books like the ones in the 1960s! But that’s what they want now? Kirby was in a classic no-win situation. He was doomed. It was only a matter of time before these staffers were able to show him the door.
It’s wild to watch this thing playing out in these awful letters pages. Notice especially the long-winded two-paragraph reply from the staffer after the second letter. We’re watching the inmates taking over the asylum here. This is the new guard using so-called “Marvel continuity” to kick Jack out. And as we know, that kind of editorial meddling is one of the reasons Jack did indeed end up leaving Marvel for good. And the double-irony? The comic book itself is one of my favorites of all time. I loved it. It’s a miracle I never read the letters column. I just enjoyed the story and art and had fun.
A side note: I’m reading these letters columns for the first time as I go along, and I just peeked at the column for Cap # 209. It’s unbelievable… I am completely amazed by this stuff. After a year of Marvel staffers loading the Cap letters column with relentless criticism of Jack Kirby, it just keeps getting worse…
You’d think Jack was like Satan or something if you were a new fan and you read these letters pages. At this point, I’m even yearning for Steve Englehart to return… and I don’t even know who that is! And where is Redwing anyway?