Welcome to the two-hundred and fifty-sixth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and fifty-five.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Music Legends Revealed to learn the truth behind the women behind “Rosanna,” “Linda,” and “Nadia’s Theme”!!
This week is a special theme week – all legends related to Jack Kirby!!
COMIC LEGEND: Jack Kirby originally drew the Black Panther as wearing a mask that did not cover his entire face, even after the Panther’s first appearance!
As I discussed in the Comic Book Legends Revealed from a few weeks back, when something in Jack Kirby’s artwork was changed at a later stage, he usually did not let that stop him from continuing to draw it the way that he wanted to draw it.
The best example of this is what I discussed in that column, that Kirby drew the Thing consistent in the early years of the Fantastic Four, the character just appeared differently depending on how Kirby’s inker inked him. It was only when the great Joe Sinnott took over inking Kirby that Kirby began to adapt his pencils to become more in line with what Sinnott made the final product appear.
A similar situation happened with the introduction of the Black Panther, the first black superhero in Marvel history (and most likely the first black superhero PERIOD).
Stan Lee wanted to introduce a black character into the comics, but backed off of his initial idea of having the character be African-American (A few years later, Lee WOULD introduce the first African-American Marvel hero in the pages of Captain America). He tossed the idea to Kirby, who came up with the Black Panther, although initially Kirby wanted to call him the Coal Tiger.
In any event, the Black Panther was an African superhero from the fictional country of Wakanda.
He debuted in Fantastic Four #52…
Notice the famous full face mask that the Panther wears.
Originally, that cover was penciled by Kirby with the Panther in a HALF-face mask, basically just like the cowl that Batman wears.
Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about, from one of Kirby’s old sketch books (courtesy of the Jack Kirby Collector and Roz Kirby’s collection)…
However, for whatever reason, most likely because Stan Lee (or even Martin Goodman) felt that the book would be less controversial if they hid that it was, in fact, a black character (after all, the name itself doesn’t really mean much when you already had a Black Widow and a Black Knight), Kirby’s mask was re-drawn as a full mask.
Kirby continued, though, to just keep drawing the Black Panther with the half-mask over the next few years, and Joe Sinnott just kept inking in the full mask (both in the pages of Fantastic Four and also Panther’s guest appearance in Tales of Suspense, which led into Panther taking over from Cap in the Avengers).
Sinnott missed it once, though!
In Fantastic Four #60, the Panther makes a one-panel guest appearance, and he was inked the way Kirby penciled him.
When Panther joined the Avengers, however, John Buscema drew him with the half-mask outfit, at least for the first few appearances…
before the full mask returned, more or less for, good…
I don’t know if it was an intentional thing or if Buscema had just seen Kirby’s pages and figured that that was what the character was supposed to look like.
By the by, Kirby was irritated that Stan Lee was putting Panther into the Avengers, as Kirby had plans for the character, presumably much of which he did (in one form or another) when he wrote and drew the Black Panther’s first self-titled ongoing series…
By this time, though, Kirby was drawing the full mask.
COMIC LEGEND: The Marvel production staff made a change to the end of one of Jack Kirby’s horror story to remove an appearance of Jack himself!
Chamber of Darkness, a late 1960s Marvel horror series, was an early instance of Jack Kirby penciling and scripting a book all by himself.
So it was to great irritation to Kirby that one of the stories that he was most pleased with had its “twist” ending removed entirely!
In Chamber of Darkness #4, Kirby wrote a story called “The Monster,” which opens with two “witches” narrating the tale of woe…
It then goes into the tale of a deformed fellow who is treated horribly by his fellow villagers…
That ending, though, was not the original ending.
In the original story, Kirby reveals just who the “witches” at the beginning of the comic were – they were himself and Stan Lee!!!
Here is the original last page, courtesy of the wonderful The Collected Jack Kirby Collector, Vol. 3 (which you can purchase here – 15% off!)
As you can see, Kirby was going for a sort of meta-fictive thing, where he and Stan “created” this monster and his problems.
Fairly clever stuff, but someone at Marvel (I don’t know who) did not like it and nixed the idea.
This just piled on to the already large pile of things Marvel did to irritate/alienate their star artist at the end of the 1960s, which led to him leaving for DC in 1970.
Thanks so much to Jack Kirby Collector for the page! Awesome!
COMIC LEGEND: Marvel changed Spider-Man’s costume as a preventative matter in case Jack Kirby sued Marvel over his characters.
I get asked some variation of the following question a lot.
Reader Nick wrote a couple of years back:
I had always heard that because Jack Kirby had designed the classic blue and red costume, and was suing Marvel for rights or royalties, that Marvel commissioned a design for a new costume in the event Kirby won.
In specific terms, the question is false because…
A. Kirby never sued Marvel
B. Kirby did not design Spider-Man’s costume, Steve Ditko did
But in more general terms, if Jack Kirby has/had a copyright claim against Marvel Comics, changing Spider-Man’s costume from red and blue to black is not really much of a defense. It WOULD mitigate things, but only very very slightly.
The same with making James Rhodes Iron Man – “Tony Stark isn’t Iron Man, so you can’t sue us over Iron Man! It’s a totally different guy now!” That’s not really much of a defense.
It actually does slightly mitigate it, but only ever so slightly, as the things in common (the name Spider-Man, Peter Parker, webs, swinging, strength of spider, etc.) are a lot greater than the things not in common (black costume, no web-shooters).
So it really just makes a lot more sense that it is the same basic reason that, even today (and more than a few times over the years), Marvel and DC replace heroes or change their costumes – it gets a lot of attention and is a good way to make an event seem “significant,” which was what Spider-Man’s black costume (and She-Hulk joining the Fantastic Four) did for Secret Wars.
So for this one, and all the other “Did Marvel change ___ in the 80s in case Kirby sued?” questions, I’m going with a no.
On an aside, it is interesting to note how much of a big deal the costume change was at the time. I was reading an interview by John Buscema from the time, and even HE was impressed by Marvel’s willingness to change Spider-Man’s appearance, and we all know how little esteem Buscema had for superhero comics, so if he was impressed by the boldness of the move, you know it was a big deal!
Thanks to Nick (and the many other people who have asked if Marvel changed X or Y in case Jack Kirby sued them) for the question!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you likely know by now, last April my book finally came out!
Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…
If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…
See you all next week!