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8 Ways Comic Book Legend Jack Kirby Fought Fascism

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8 Ways Comic Book Legend Jack Kirby Fought Fascism

Jack Kirby—co-creator of the Marvel Universe and big chunks of DC’s—remains one of the most influential writer/artists in the history of comics. Many of Kirby’s works involve the fight against fascism, embodied in characters such as Doctor Doom and the Red Skull. This wasn’t just an imaginary battle for Kirby, who killed Nazis in World War II and was ready to throw down with any fascists he encountered stateside.

Many people have fought for freedom in the military; many others have done it through art. Few have waged the war for freedom on two fronts quite like Kirby. In honor of his doubly heroic life, which feels more relevant than ever, here’s a look at some of the specific ways Jack Kirby fought fascism.
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Captain America Cover Art by Jack Kirby, Marvel Comics

1. He Created Captain America

Alongside longtime creative partner Joe Simon, Kirby created the most successful patriotic superhero ever, and he fought fascists from the start. On one of the most famous covers of all time, Captain America #1, Cap socks Hitler in the jaw. That’s a strong mission statement for Kirby’s whole life.

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Jack Kirby Military Photo Courtesy Marvel

2. He Scouted for the Army

When Kirby joined the army, his reputation as the co-creator of Captain America preceded him—but this talent didn’t get him a cushy job, like many luckier writers and artists. Rather, Kirby ended up serving as a scout, a thankless job that involved sneaking into enemy territory and drawing what he saw to help prepare future missions. This was extremely dangerous. As Kirby put it, “If somebody wants to kill you, they make you a scout.” Before setting off for duty, the auteur cranked out an increased flow of comics, stating that he wanted “to get enough work backlogged that I could go into the Army, kill Hitler, and get back before the readers missed us.”

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Jack Kirby Military Photo Courtesy Marvel
3. He Helped Free Concentration Camps

Kirby saw firsthand the worst of humanity when he discovered a concentration camp during his time as a scout. As Kirby described to Ray Wyman, in “Conversations With Jack,” which was excerpted in Jack Kirby Collector: “There were mostly women and some men; they looked like they hadn’t eaten for I don’t know how long. They were scrawny. Their clothes were all tattered and dirty. The Germans didn’t give a shit for anything. They just left the place; just like leaving a dog behind to starve. I was standing there for a long time just watching thinking to myself, ‘What do I do?’ Just thinking about it makes my stomach turn. All I could say was, ‘Oh, God.’” These experiences would shape Kirby’s work for the rest of his long career.
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Darkseid Art by Jack Kirby, DC Comics

4. He Vilified Fascism in Darkseid and the Anti-life Equation

The Fourth World—Kirby’s post-Marvel group of interlocked series at DC, including The New Gods, Forever People and Mister Miracle—was a sci-fi mythology DC still mines today. Amidst colorful characters and bonkers technology, the Fourth World was all about the struggle between freedom and tyranny. The enemy of freedom was Darkseid, a would-be conqueror who sought the Anti-life Equation, a mysterious formula that would allow him to control the universe. In the DC Universe, the Anti-Life Equation is the Holy Grail of fascism.
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5. He Created Other Demagogues Including the Red Skull, Doctor Doom and, Most Importantly, Glorious Godfrey
Glorious Godfrey Art by Jack Kirby, DC Comics

Kirby created several other villains to embody fascism, most notably the Red Skull and Doctor Doom. But some of Kirby’s lesser-known characters also demonstrate his commitment to free thought. As Elana Levin discussed in The Daily Beast, DC Comics super-villain/evangelist Godfrey is very much a “proto-Trump,” with the ridiculous hair and divisive rhetoric to match. Godfrey’s brainless followers (who are all white, as Levin points out) sound like they could be lifted straight from a Trump rally with statements like, “Tell it, Godfrey! Tell us how our pride is being attacked and dragged in the dust!” and “This is our world! Our world! They have no right to meddle with it!” Kirby was likely thinking of the fascism of the past, but he predicted the American fascism of our present.
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Jack Kirby Military Photo Courtesy Marvel

6. He Was Ready to Fight Nazis Anywhere

Kirby, who grew up in Manhattan’s rough Lower East Side, knew how to throw a fist and didn’t back down from anyone—especially a Nazi. As Mark Evanier describes in his biography Kirby: King of Comics, “…Jack took a call. A voice on the other end said, ‘There are three of us down here in the lobby. We want to see the guy who does this disgusting comic book and show him what real Nazis would do to his Captain America’. To the horror of others in the office, Kirby rolled up his sleeves and headed downstairs. The callers, however, were gone by the time he arrived.” Based on everything we know about Kirby, these Nazi crank-yankers got lucky.
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Fantastic Four Cover Art by Jack Kirby, Marvel Comics

7. He Championed Diversity, an Enemy of Fascism

Kirby’s war experience didn’t just give him a chance to fight fascists, it exposed him to more of his fellow Americans than he wouldn’t have met otherwise. Kirby described these experiences to Ray Wyman, Jr.: “…I don’t think there was one state that wasn’t represented there. The experience helped me appreciate the variety of the country, in the people, the language, and culture. It is incredible to think that we are as diverse as we are and how we have held together as one culture. Really, it is the one clear fact of this country that makes it unique to the world.” Amen.
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Captain Victory Cover Art by Jack Kirby

8. He Blazed a Perpetual Trail of Individual Creativity, Another Enemy of Fascism

The opposite of fascism is individualism, and Kirby’s determination to follow his unique imagination was an inspiration to others throughout his life. Even in the 1980s, long after his most famous characters had been created, Kirby was a trailblazer, this time for creator-owned comics. Pacific Comics published Kirby’s Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers and Silver Star, and these visually stunning works gave creator-owned comics a huge credibility boost. With these comics, Kirby helped pave the way for today’s explosion of individual visions at Image, Oni and everyone else publishing creator-owned work.

Mark Peters is the author of Bullshit: A Lexicon. Follow him on Twitter.

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