Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 9, The End of the Beginning

It has been months since I wrote my last chapter to this serial post so I think I should remind the reader of where I left things off. Jack Kirby met Joe Simon while both were working for Fox Comics. After a few months Joe went on to be art editor for Timely and a short time later Jack followed. Joe’s first job was the launching of a new title, Red Raven Comics, which included work by Kirby. The publisher Goodman must of got a case of cold feet, because Red Raven was cancelled after the first issue, way too early to tell what the sales would be like. Jack would then do the art for a new backup feature for Marvel Mystery Comics called “The Vision”. The Vision would never achieve the prominence of the main Marvel Mystery features (the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner or even the Angel) but Jack would end up drawing it for as long as he worked for Timely.

Prize #9
Prize Comics #9 (February 1941) “The Black Owl” page 6 art by Jack Kirby

Perhaps the most important work he was doing just before the launch of Captain America was the drawing for Blue Bolt. Simon and Kirby would now also do some freelance work for Prize Comics starting with a cover date of December 1940. The work for some already running features, the Black Owl and Ted O’Neil. It is not clear if this was truly a Simon and Kirby gig or just Kirby since the work is unsigned. However the stories read very much like what would be done for The Vision and Captain America so I am inclined to believed that Joe was involved also. All penciling was certainly done by Jack.

The Black Owl is one of those forgotten Golden Age superheroes. With good reasons as far as I am concerned. Obviously a take off on Batman, the creators failed to provide a decent costume. The suit and cape are completely nondescript. The only unique portion was the mask. But while Batman’s cowl might inspire fear in his foes, I cannot see the Black Owl’s mask getting more then a smirk. The Black Owl did have one feature that would have historical interest, his goggles. Similar goggles would reappear many years later in a Simon and Kirby creation that was never launched, the Night Fighter. Later yet Kirby would alter the Night Fighter to create the costume of the Fly (Archie Comics).

Despite the weak material they had to work with Simon and Kirby put together pretty good stories as for example in Prize Comics #9 (see image above). In an effort to thwart a mysterious woman gangster and her jewel robbing minions, a newspaper reporter concocts an article where the Black Owl promises to capture the mob. The article is read by a woman sleuth, the Black Owl himself in his secret identity and the female gang leader. That night while alone the reporter hears a noise. Now I have to admit that what follows is more then a little illogical. The reporter believes that the Black Owl is paying an expected visit, so the reporter turns off the lights and grabs the intruder. Only to find when he turns on the lights that he is holding the woman detective! Now if the reporter was really expecting the Black Owl, would he have tried to capture him? If, on the other hand, he wanted to be sure who the intruder was, would the reporter have turned off the lights? Illogical, but it does make for dramatic scene. They would handle this sort of thing a little better in the future, but it is just the twist that Simon and Kirby would often use later. Anyway the sleuth and the reporter wait it out together but instead of the Black Owl appearing, some of the jewel gang shows up to abduct the pair. It turns out that the Black Owl has observed it all and trails them. The kidnapped pair are brought to the lady crime master who plans to use them as bait to catch the Black Owl before being killed. Of course the Black Owl appears to save the day.

The Kirby art is a step up from what he did for Marvel Boy. You can see Jack beginning to put together elements of his classic style. Although reminiscent of what we will find in Captain America it still does not have quite the same punch. I am not sure about the inker, or possibly inkers. There are some parts that look like Joe Simon’s inking to me. For the most part panel layouts are irregularly sized panels that were typical of the work of both Joe and Jack at this point. However there are some uses of circular panels. One is a duel set (see image) showing a gang member speaking over an intercom to who he believes is another gangster but is actually the Black Owl. This pair of circular panels both shows the two sides of the conversation and also makes a visual suggestion to the Black Owl’s goggles. Another circular panel shows up on the next page, but that one is small and appears to have been added later since it both helps fill in the story while intruding on the existing panels. This use of circular panels is another harbinger of what will come when S&K produce Captain America.

Prize #9
Prize Comics #9 (February 1941) “Ted O’Neil” page 3 art by Jack Kirby

Ted O’Neil is an American pilot in the British Air Force. This is in the days before the U.S. had entered the war. While on leave with his sidekick Hinky, Ted finds himself in an air raid. Without enough time to enter a bomb shelter, the pair retreat to a nearby building. Once inside they hear a suspicious sound as if from a radio set. When they investigate they are knocked out and tied up. Their captors are German spies who are sending information of the position of British warships so that they can be attacked and destroyed. Before the spies can execute them, Ted and Hinky break free of their bonds and turn the tables to capture the spies. After delivering their prisoner to the authorities, Ted and Hinky fly off with their squadron to try to protect the British fleet. A fierce combat ensues which the English eventually win.

The spy angle would of course play an important part in the Captain America stories to come. As would the use of Nazi Germany as the enemy. No circular panels in the layouts, just the variously sized panels that often require arrows to indicate reading order. Kirby pencils throughout but again I am not sure if more then one inker was involved. Parts do suggest to me that Simon was inking at least some of it.

Captain Marvel Special Edition
Captain Marvel, Special Edition (March 1941) bleached page art by Jack Kirby

Coming out the same month as Captain America was a special freelance job Simon and Kirby did for Fawcett’s Captain Marvel. Joe and Jack were effectively ghost artists and as such they are trying to mimic another artist’s style. Still you can easily detect their hand in this comic. Because they were ghosting it really is not fruitful to compare the work to other material they were doing. For this reason I am going to skip any analysis.

Daring Mystery #7
Daring Mystery #7 (April 1941) “The Underground Empire” page 1 art by Jack Kirby and unidentified artist

The next work by Kirby that I want to discuss is a Captain Daring story from Daring Mystery #7. This comic came out in April which is a month after the first issue of Captain America. But there are two reasons I feel it is appropriate to cover it here with the early Kirby work. One is that although this issue has a cover date of April, Daring Mystery #6 was dated September 1940. With such a long period between issues we cannot be certain about when the art was actually produced. The other reason is that Captain Daring is actually a science fiction story and very much related with other early work in this genre by Kirby.

I will give only the barest of outlines for this story. It concerns the attack on the modern day U.S.A. (that is modern for 1941) by a previously unsuspected underground empire. The enemy is resisted and eventually defeated by Captain Daring and Susan Parker, a beautiful female secret service agent. I do not provide more detail because I fear I am just not up to the task of condensing the story. It has so many jumps you almost get dizzy just from reading it. For instance we are introduced to Susan Parker as she is with Captain Daring watching over a futuristic telescope the destruction unleashed by the underground army. Later we suddenly find her with an army mounted on giant dogs that they liberated from some of the underground forces. She is leading a ground attach while Captain Daring fights above in sun powered rockets. At the end of the story she it is said that she was elected queen of the liberated underground masses. This sort of erratic turns occur throughout the story. It makes for a great read but only if you simply do not worry too much about the continuity of the plot.

There is something funny about the whole story. Although it purports to be taking place in America everything looks futuristic. There are a several fight scenes which the captions state are between Americans and the underground forces but the art depicts all the fighters as dressed in the same shorts and all look like the underground race. Actually the whole concept of an underground race is funny since nothing looks like it is taking place below the surface. I am convinced that this story was rewritten from a early version with minimal, if any, art changes. In fact it could of originally been meant for Solar Legion or Comet Pierce. All the references to the underground race, America and the Fuehrer were added later. Was this an early case of Kirby being rewritten by an editor (with Joe Simon taking the place of Stan Lee)? Or did Kirby do the rewriting himself? I cannot be sure but I would guess the latter, it all sounds like Kirby to me.

“The Underground Empire” is unsigned but in this case it looks like the work of Jack alone without much help from Joe Simon. All the penciling was done by Jack and I also attribute the inking to him. The art as well as the panel layouts are good matches for previous science fiction that Kirby had done. Even the inking style is the same. The only significant difference is the modern day references, which as I commented above I do not believe were part of the story when it was first made. But these alterations could be a reflection of Simon and Kirby’s work on Captain America.

I attributed all the art to Jack alone, but there is one exception. The figure of Captain Daring on the splash page (see image above) was neither penciled nor inked by Jack. I am not sure why this was done, most of the rest on the page surely was by Kirby except maybe the dogs in the background. Perhaps an original figure had something that was too clearly identified with its original source. But if that was the case why didn’t Kirby do the rework? I do not know who the artist was but it does not look like Joe Simon’s work either.

The launch of Captain America brought an end to Kirby’s early period. There was a sudden curtailing of freelance work outside of Timely. Perhaps Simon and Kirby realized that Captain America was likely to be a hit. Maybe producing Cap left little spare time for doing other work. Possibly the money they made at Timely plus the promise (unfulfilled) of royalties made the lower page rates of their freelancing unattractive. Whatever the reason S&K even stopped doing their previously most successful job, Blue Bolt. Joe and Jack did not give up freelancing entirely, however what outside work they they did would be limited to covers.

A big change came over Jack’s art as well. We caught premonitions of what was to come in Blue Bolt, Marvel Boy and the Black Owl. You could say the early work laid the foundations. In Captain America these hints blossomed into extraordinary pieces of comic book art. Irregular shaped panels including circular ones, figures extending beyond the panel boundaries, bodies in unusual posses stretched by the exertions of their action, fast pass stories, and so on. With all the comic history in between, it is hard for us to appreciate how startling Captain America was. There was nothing at all like it at the time. Other artists began copying what Jack and Joe were doing. The public eagerly bought up the comic and Captain America became a big hit. Simon and Kirby became a brand name. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

4 thoughts on “Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 9, The End of the Beginning

  1. Stan Taylor

    Hi Harry,

    As usual, great job! The scans are fantastic. The Captain Daring story was originally the second part of the Comet Pierce story that began in Red Raven #1. Much like how the Mercury story in RR #1 morphed into Hurricane when published months later in Captain America #1, Comet Pierce became Capt. Daring. The change from a futuristic sci-fi story to a modern day War story was rather odd.
    I am positive that these were originally planned for Red Raven #2, and when that was cancelled, the inventory was reused and reworked in later comics. There were also second stories of most of the other characters found in Red Raven #1 which appeared in various comics months later. Strangely enough, the only character from Red Raven #1 that didn’t have a second story appear somewhere was the title character.

    As for whether some of these Kirby drawn stories were done as solo work, or Simon/Kirby collaborations, I can’t prove one way or the other, but I wonder if the lettering might provide a clue.

    The 2 titles that we know were done in partnership with Joe, Blue Bolt, and Fiery Mask were lettered by Joe Simon, and in the case of Blue Bolt, the later stories (4-10) were lettered by Howard Ferguson.
    The solo Kirby stories in Red Raven #1 were lettered by Jack Kirby. The Black Owl, and Ted O’Neil stories were lettered by Jack Kirby. The Tuk and Hurricane story were lettered by Jack Kirby. The new Lone Rider strips were lettered by Kirby.
    The Mister Scarlet story in WOW #1 was lettered by Kirby….and the first 5-6 Vision stories were lettered by Kirby, and then Ferguson took over, coincidently the same month as Captain America #1 with inking by Ferguson.

    Joe Simon also lettered the Red Raven story. Have no clue who lettered the Captain Marvel book.


  2. Harry Post author


    As I said in my post, Captain Daring could easily be a remake of a Comet Pierce or a Solar Legion story. So your theory of it as originally being meant for Red Raven #2 is quite possible. Another thing that supports it is there was a small alien in Comet Pierce and in one panel of Captain Daring there was someone of very small size, although he has a helmit on so you cannot tell if he is an alien. However describing Captain Daring as the second part of the Comet Pierce story is a little misleading. The Comet Pierce story from RR #1 was complete. Except for the hero and heroine, which were pretty generic for all Kirby’s early sci-fi, and possibly the small alien, none of the characters from Captain Daring are common to Comet Pierce.

    Many thanks on your take on who did what lettering wise. It was pretty common early in the history of comic books for the artist to also do the lettering. But I think it has little bearing on whether Simon was involved in the Prize stories. I believe that only by comparing the writing itself is it possible to even make a educated guess on who might have been involved in the writing.


  3. Stan Taylor

    Hi Harry,
    I respectfully disagree. 😉 The Comet Pierce story ends with Comet telling the girl ( the rebel Queen) that he will join her army to win her country back from the traitor Golak.
    While Kirby’s woman tended towards sameness, he was very good about their hair. Compare the two women. Same with Pierce/Daring.
    The Captain Daring story ends with, as you mentioned , the girl being declared Queen. This makes sense if it a continuation of the Comet Pierce story, but not as a stand alone story.

    One of the more obvious connections is the use of “sun engines” in both stories. In the Comet Pierce story, the girl rewards Comet by giving him a “sun engine” for his ship, which allows him to speed past the other competitors and win a race. In the Captain Daring, he uses the “sun engines” to manuever around the slower ships of the villain.

    The story was obviously reworked. There are panels with Kirby’s lettering, and some with another hand involved, sometimes in the same word balloon. In one panel, you can see where the name Captain Daring is squeezed into a much too small space.

    As for the lettering, I can’t say one way or the other, but I think it’s a telling pattern. Why wasn’t there a Simon/Kirby credit, or any sign of Simon helping out with the lettering, or at least Howard Ferguson, who Simon was using for Blue Bolt, and Captain America? Doesn’t mean that Simon wasn’t working in other areas. Maybe writing and some inking. I can’t say.


  4. Harry Post author


    I think you misunderstood my comment about it being “misleading” to describe Captain Daring and the second part of the Comet Pierce story. All your arguments are good points to a Comet Pierce story being the source for the Captain Daring story. But they are simply two seperate stories, not a two parter. Comet Pierce was meant to be a continuing feature, as were all the early sci-fi stories that Kirby did. But all are seperate and complete stories. This is not the same thing as a serial story line which is what I find misleading about calling Captain Daring the second part of the story.

    As I said in the early period of comics it was common that the artist would also be the letterer. So I am not at all surprised that Kirby did this. But it then becomes the question of who did the inking or the writing and I do not think that knowing the letterer helps with that. To make a judgement about the inker you look at the inking and similarly for the writing. As my post indicates I feel that at least some of the inking in the Prize stories was done by Joe while Jack was completely responsible for the Captain Daring inking. The writing of Captain Daring seems, even after the rewrites, to be Jack. But for the Prize the writing seems more like Captain America where I believe Joe was involved in the writing.

    I am not at all surprised with the lack of a Simon and Kirby byline for the Prize features. After all they probably did not want to draw attention of Timely to their moonlighting. Sure they do not have Simon and Kirby credits, but they do not have a Kirby credit either. That does mean Kirby did not work on them so why should it exclude Simon?


Comments are closed.