Lee vs Kirby ad infinitum

I try to keep out of online squabbles on the subject (though I don’t always succeed), and sometimes I feel like a detached observer when I’m not ignoring them altogether. But really. This Stan Lee vs Jack Kirby ‘debate’ will never end. I actually resent the way it’s framed often as not; if you like Kirby’s work you’re a ‘Kirby Advocate’ or, more insultingly, a ‘Kirby Zealot’. This, because there seems to be a de facto assumption that liking Kirby inherently means being crazy about 1960s Marvel Comics and thinking Stan Lee was a creative & writing genius. If you don’t fit that description you’re some kind of freak.

God by Kirby 3

I outlined my feelings on the Lee-Kirby collaborations last year. Looking at this work today I am not remotely interested in what was most commercially successful. Using sales as a yardstick (or proof) of quality is phoney-baloney. It just happens to fit the argument if you think Stan is a genius. Pick a box-office-smashing movie you hate and see how the argument floats. (Let’s argue, for instance, that Citizen Kane is obviously inferior to Titantic. Duh.)

It doesn’t interest me to argue about the creation of those books. The early Marvel books, mostly, were kind of poor. The actual ideas weren’t particularly good, because whatever was involved they seem to follow a pattern set, I assume, by publisher Martin Goodman, of trying to emulate the DC Comics line. I don’t doubt a lot of Kirby ideas were in the mix, but the enterprise smacks of desperation regardless. How on earth it got off the ground at all seems one of the bigger mysteries to me. And it saw Kirby, at least for a while, involved in material that was creatively inferior to work he’d been doing a few years earlier. So, whatever. When his workload lightened and he started to see the books as a chance to tackle things that were more personally engaging, we get a period (1965-68, I’d say) where Kirby’s on fire, but it didn’t last long—Stan’s ‘genius’ kept getting in the way.

So, incredible as it might seem, some of us just don’t think Stan Lee’s a very good writer. That’s all. He can have his credit for writing the embarrassingly melodramatic dialogue and copy. The credit for engineering the lie of the Big Happy Bullpen goes entirely to him, but who over ten years old gives a damn? All due credit for editing and overseeing the line, interfering with and course-correcting the work & ideas of others to fit his ‘vision’. Steering the ship to commercial success—yep, that was Stan.

But it doesn’t matter to me. It isn’t even a question of picking sides. I’m just not a fan of Stan’s work. It’s like, y’know, PERSONAL TASTE. Funny how that works.

3 thoughts on “Lee vs Kirby ad infinitum”

  1. Your first point is the key to the nature of the arguments.
    I can’t call the Kirby/Lee discussions a debate, because it’s a settled question with the exception of only minor details. Lee very obviously did his part after Kirby was finished with his.
    The trouble is Lee’s fans are under the impression people who like Kirby also like Lee, Marvel comics, and well as super hero comics in general.
    This is a pretty strange assumption since most of Lee’s fans actively dislike Kirby’s work, and go to great lengths to ridicule Kirby the man, most of his work, and many of his fans. Even more strangely Lee’s fans make it a point to seek out places which are advertised as “Kirby” sites mainly to wait and watch for opportunities to ridicule Kirby.
    The fact many Lee fans and many Kirby fans don’t see eye to eye makes perfect sense. The two men were nothing like one another, one really good proof of that is the writing.
    Many of Lee’s fans view Kirby’s writing with a degree of contempt. Kirby’s writing is seen as a joke, as so awful it’s the industry standard for bad writing. This makes perfect sense to me, because I view Lee’s writing as about as bad as writing could possibly be. It’s so bad it reads like something that would created as an exaggerated example of the worst kind of comic book writing.

  2. Chrissie:
    “And it saw Kirby, at least for a while, involved in material that was creatively inferior to work he’d been doing a few years earlier. So, whatever. When his workload lightened and he started to see the books as a chance to tackle things that were more personally engaging, we get a period (1965-68, I’d say) where Kirby’s on fire, but it didn’t last long—Stan’s ‘genius’ kept getting in the way.”

    WELL said!

    Patrick:
    “I view Lee’s writing as about as bad as writing could possibly be. It’s so bad it reads like something that would created as an exaggerated example of the worst kind of comic book writing.”

    Perhaps what Stan was really trying to do was “MAD”, only, he kept pretending it was “serious”.

  3. Well put, Chrissie. It’s not necessary to love Marvel to be a Kirby fan. By the same token, it’s not necessary to hate Stan to be a Kirby fan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *