When artist Jack Kirby returned to Marvel in the late '70s, he chose to steer clear of those titles which readers might have hoped to see him take the reins of again (notably Mighty Thor and Fantastic Four) and instead focus on new projects--which put on his desk six monthly titles, a staggering workload for any artist to juggle, even without taking on the plotting and scripting work for these books that Kirby chose to assume as well. So it was interesting to see him go a step further and pitch in on doing cover work for a number of unrelated titles, including those books and characters he apparently didn't want to return to on a regular basis.
Given Kirby's schedule, as well as the fact that his return to the company turned out to be for only a brief period, the covers of any one title don't number very many; on the other hand, they ended up spanning across six or seven different titles, and were quite the surprise when browsing the comics racks for any given month. In addition, they show a remarkable knowledge of the story material and characters within, accurately representing the events of the story and the stakes involved.
Following are just a few examples of Kirby's "extracurricular" cover work from this period, with some notes and observations after each set.
- Fantastic Four had probably the only set of covers that were a little disappointing, in comparison to those of Mighty Thor where Kirby seemed to have more regard for the character. On the one hand, Kirby is still a master at packing a great deal of imagery into his cover art and having it cover the gist of the entire story; yet the FF are less prominent on the covers, as if they're guest-stars in their own book.
- You'll also notice in his crowd scenes here and in other titles that Kirby, bless him, still rejects the notion that businessmen no longer wore hats in the 1970s. (Yes, even on Counter-Earth, Jack!) To paraphrase the old saying, "you can take the man out of the late-'50s/early '60s, but..."
- I'm really fond of Kirby's Avengers cover art, since there are a variety of characters usually present for him to interpret. His rendering of the Vision always had me intrigued to see how he would handle the character in a story (ditto for Yellowjacket and the Scarlet Witch).
- There are instances here and in his Defenders covers where you'll notice another artist touching up Kirby's work, usually in facial or body features--perhaps to keep the covers coherent and avoid the look of reprints? Unless Kirby "got someone wrong" in a noticeable way, I don't quite understand the need; on the other hand, touch-ups by other artists coming in behind the original work weren't uncommon.
- Avengers #157: I always felt this cover was too cluttered, even though I appreciated the intention of showing a single, unnamed foe having downed the entire team of Avengers with no apparent difficulty. It's a clever way of putting the Avengers front and center, while still making the threat to them clear; nevertheless, it seems the type of cover that would be rejected in favor of another, something else which also happened from time to time.
- Avengers #156, showing Wanda's injured arm--a nod to the gunshot wound she sustained while fighting thugs at the Brand Corporation and which kept her arm in a sling for the duration of the Avengers' battles with Tyrak, Attuma, and Doom. Nice attention to the events of the story arc.
- The last place I was expecting Kirby to show up while doing work on various other covers was The Defenders--meaning only that I can't help but wonder why he would take an interest in the book.
- No doubt "the suits" were happy to see Kirby continuing to feature the Hulk prominently, as it seemed to be the consensus that the Hulk was the book's draw and moneymaker (which may have well been true).
- Speaking of which, how curious that Kirby stayed clear of Incredible Hulk covers.
- It seemed fitting to picture Thor #251 with Kirby's similar rendition of Hela's triumph eight years earlier in #150.
- You may have caught on to the resemblance between issue #249 and issue #434, one of a number of homage covers from artist Ron Frenz.
- Issue #255 was a natural for Kirby to wish to revisit. Were the Stone Men ever seen in comics again?
- I don't believe any of these late-'70s Thor examples were inked by Vince Colletta, which would have certainly brought us full circle.