The subject of today’s blog post is probably the best known issue of writer-artist-editor Jack Kirby’s DC Comics title Mister Miracle — or, if not that, at least the most referenced. Its contents are mentioned in most comprehensive histories of American comic books, as well as in the majority of biographies not only of Kirby himself, but also of Stan Lee, Kirby’s primary collaborator at DC’s main rival, Marvel Comics. Most of you out there reading this probably know the reason why; it’s all down to a certain character who, while he doesn’t actually appear on the comic’s cover by Kirby and inker Mike Royer, does have his debut heralded there: “Introducing.. Funky Flashman! Villain or Hero — You Decide!”
And why was — why is — Funky Flashman such a big deal? Because, as Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon so aptly put it in their 2004 book, Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, Funky represented Kirby’s “considered vivisection of his old creative partner.”
But, here’s the thing — back in November, 1971, my fourteen-year-old self didn’t get that. At all.
To be completely honest with you, I’m not at all sure when I did apprehend the Flashman/Lee connection. Or whether, when I finally did — most likely after an interval of several years — it was by way of a “eureka” moment of realization I had all on my own, or if a friend explained it to me, or if I read it in a fanzine. (Probably one of the latter two.) But, in any event, the gulf between how I first responded to this comic book a half century ago, and how I feel and think about it now, is greater than it usually is in these posts. Just something for us all to keep in mind as we proceed.
But first, a bit of recap, and some setup. The last issue of Mister Miracle we discussed here, #4, saw a new character added to the series’ cast: Big Barda, who, like our protagonist Scott Free, had grown up in Granny Goodness’ orphanage on Apokolips — but, unlike him, had chosen to remain to become an elite trooper in Darkseid’s army. Issue #5 found Barda becoming further integrated into the lives of Scott and his Earth-born friend/assistant Oberon, even as the enemies of the young “super escape artist” attempted to use his affection for Barda against him — on this occasion, by kidnapping her to draw Mister Miracle (Scott) into a trap. The particular enemy who’s after our hero this time, the Prussian military-emulating Virman Vundabar, is successful in that specific aim — but our hero ultimately escapes his trap (of course), and rescues Barda.
The story also included the following sequence, which occurs early in the narrative; after Scott and Oberon’s successful rehearsal of a new stunt, the former declares that if things keep going well, they’re going to have “a sensational act!!”
Kirby is responding here to criticisms of the naming conventions he’s used for many of his Fourth World characters — more specifically., the complaint that monikers like “Granny Goodness” and “Virrman Vundabar” are too humorous, as well as less than credible when applied to visitors from a dystopian alien god-world. I’m not certain that the “in-universe” explanation Scott offers Oberon for some denizens of Apokolips having Dickensian names is completely convincing; nevertheless, it’s a clever bit that gives Kirby the opportunity to tip his hat to one of his more significant literary influences.
Of course, the character whose name provides the title to Mister Miracle’s next adventure has a Dickensian handle without benefit of being raised in Granny Goodness’ orphanage. (Hey, I won’t tell if you won’t.)
And on that note, let us proceed to make that individual’s acquaintance…
This opening scene of Funky Flashman and his servitor Houseroy “in the decaying ante-bellum grandeur of the Mockingbird Estates” was completely baffling to my benighted younger self in 1971 — and even a contemporary reader who knows that Funky and Houseroy are based on Stan Lee and Roy Thomas (Lee’s associate editor at Marvel during this era) may need, or at least appreciate, some decoding of it.
The late Colonel Mockingbird is evidently intended to represent Marvel’s founder and publisher, Martin Goodman; Lee was related to Goodman by marriage, and had first gone to work for him when still a teenager. Kirby is implying here that Lee is completely dependent on Goodman for his financial security, as well as that his position has nothing to do with the quality of his work, or, indeed, with whether he works at all (“At least I don’t have to work for it, dope!!“). The Colonel’s having “passed away” is probably an allusion to Goodman having sold his company to the Perfect Film & Chemical Corporation in 1968, a move which put Lee’s own future at Marvel in some doubt. Why “Mockingbird”? That’s been construed as an allusion to Goodman’s well-known penchant for having Marvel jump on existing market trends, rather than innovating (prior to 1961, at least) — for copying other comics publishers, in other words, in the same way that a mockingbird mimics other birds’ songs.
Intriguingly, according to Mark Evanier, who worked as an assistant to Kirby at the time, Funky Flashman wasn’t originally supposed to be a parody of Stan Lee at all; rather, the original target was Don Wallace, the head of the company that ran the short-lived Marvelmania International fan club:
…Steve [Sherman, Kirby’s other assistant] and I had worked for Marvelmania International, a Marvel mail order firm. The guy who ran it was… well, let’s just say that a lot of kids never got the Silver Surfer posters they ordered and a lot of artists and folks who worked for him never got paid. When Jack asked us to come up with ideas for stories, we suggested, “Hey, let’s do him.” Funky Flashman was originally conceived as our version of that guy we’d worked for at Marvelmania. When Jack started doing it, the character started turning into Stan Lee. I don’t think Jack consciously decided, “I’m going to parody Stan.” I think he just sat down to draw this character who was going to be sweet-talking Mister Miracle into working with him and his personal reference points for that kind of relationship led him to start drawing Stan. (The Jack Kirby Collector #6 [Jul., 1995], p.24)
Funky Flashman may have had his genesis in Don Wallace — Kirby himself was one of those “artists and folks who worked for him never got paid”, as Evanier related on his blog in 2002, and thus had his own axe to grind as well as his assistants’ — but it certainly seems that by the time the creator was ready to start drawing Funky, or putting words in his mouth, the identification in his mind between the character and Stan Lee was quite clear. In any event, the story-opening “Mockingbird Estates” business clearly indicates that Kirby had given a lot of thought to working out the details of the parody by the time he composed these pages.
We should probably note here that although it’s common knowledge that Stan Lee wore a hairpiece, the beard that he sported for a few years in the late ’60s-early ’70s was his own.
In Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (Harper, 2013), Sean Howe makes the observation that while Lee didn’t comment publicly on Kirby’s unflattering parody of him in Mister Miracle, he did shave off his beard not long after it appeared. (Though, as we all know, he kept the mustache.)
While, to the best of my knowledge, Lee never did directly address “Funky Flashman!”, Roy Thomas has spoken to the topic on several occasions over the last several decades. Here’s some of what he had to say in a 1998 interview for Comic Book Artist:
Most satires have some accuracy to them. If you’re going to satirize a relationship, at the core is something real and it may get distorted to the point that it doesn’t depict the true relationship. Jack was living out of Manhattan and rarely coming in—the last few years all the way out in California—so he wasn’t seeing us from close at hand. What he saw was me (or somebody else if I wasn’t there) as a flunkie, and what the hell, I was, and anybody in that job would have been one too…
I didn’t see it as particularly personal because the relationship between me and Stan wasn’t totally unlike that, but that’s only to the extent that you consider Jack’s picture of Stan accurate. My character, Houseroy, was only there as a cipher, somebody to talk to, to be a toadie, and eventually abandoned by Flashman. It was kind of mean-spirited and warped out of recognition. I did love the name Houseroy, which was cute, but it hurt to some degree. But I realized that Jack didn’t know what he was talking about and was just putting me in to fit the role…
How did Scott and Oberon manage to score a “NASA Proving Ground” rocket sled, d’you suppose? Was the federal space agency running a surplus goods operation on the side in 1971? Inquiring minds…
Despite his worrying, Oberon follows Scott’s instructions (as he always inevitably does), setting the timer and then scrambling for the bunker. Ignition follows, and then the sled is rocketing along its narrow track…
Not to worry, Oberon — your boss added an ejection-seat setup to the sled when you weren’t looking, just so he could see your honest reaction to his apparent explosive demise. (Wotta guy.) And he’s pleased with what he saw, declaring: “I think the crowds will respond with equal excitement!!” The crowds? That’s correct — Mister Miracle is planning to take their show on the road: “Touring means being constantly on the move, Oberon!! That’s what’s important! We must become mobile!!”
Upon seeing Barda’s strength, Funky immediately dials down the leering condescension; she’s wryly amused, though not at all surprised. After dismissing him as “Ego — ignorance — and hostility!! A real powerhouse!!”, she excuses herself to go take a bath.
Scott and Oberon show up a moment later; and then, while Oberon makes coffee, Funky goes into his pitch:
Interestingly, the preceding scene — which I’m pretty sure my fourteen-year-old self enjoyed more than any of the scenes featuring Funky Flashman — wasn’t part of Kirby’s original plan for the issue. As Mark Evanier explained to interviewer Jon B. Cooke in 1999:
Well, I wrote that page — that’s the one page in the history of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics that Jack didn’t write. He gave it to me to do because he was a page short. Jack was wonderful at many things, but calculating was not one of them. [laughter] … Jack had penciled that issue of Mr. Miracle. He handed it to me for a read-through before he sent it off to Royer, and I said, “Jack, you’re a page short.” He didn’t believe me, but sure enough, he had misnumbered. He’d somehow jumped from page 9 to page 11 or something like that, so he said to me, “Find a place to put a page in. You write it, and I’ll draw it.” … Jack had written a line in the issue wherein Barda said, “I’m going to go take a bath,” but he had not drawn that scene. So, I figured everyone would be disappointed and I found a place where, with a few minor dialogue changes on other pages, the bathtub scene could be inserted. I wrote that page, and Jack drew it, making some changes in the dialogue. I was trying to sound like him as much as I could, because my writing style, I felt, was drastically different.
And now you know.
Sure, Mister Miracle #6 is the “Funky Flashman” issue. But it’s also the issue in which Kirby introduced Big Barda’s once and future sisters-in-arms, the Female Furies. And as far as significance to Kirby’s overarching Fourth World epic goes, these women have it all over Funky; I think so, anyway.
Scott reiterates what he’d said earlier to Oberon, telling Barda: “We’re going to move — and keep moving!!” He’s agreed to let Funky manage their tour (“He’s a transparent second-rater — but he’ll have to do!!”); perhaps they can lose themselves in “hamlets — cities — continents”, at least until their Apokoliptican pursuers give up the chase. Barda isn’t completely convinced — especially about Flashman, whom she considers a megalomaniac — but consents to the plan.
The next day, Mister Miracle puts on a private show for Funky in a rented rehearsal studio. It goes well, leaving the act’s newly-appointed manager duly impressed:
It’s interesting that Lashina make a big noise to alert her prey, when it seems that she could just ambush our hero unawares. A matter of honor, perhaps…
Sister of Desaad? Yikes! Any reader who’s been following Forever People (or Lois Lane, for that matter) will have a pretty good idea what to expect from that quarter.
This little biographical nugget also implies some interesting things about how hierarchy works on Apokolips. We might logically expect that the other members of Barda’s “battle unit” would all be more or less her social equals. But Barda, as we know, was raised in an orphanage, while Burnadeth (talk about your great Kirby names!) presumably comes from the more elite echelon of the Apokoliptican populace. Hmm…
Kirby appears to have had a real-life incident in mind when he introduced the detail of Funky’s listening to tapes of himself on a recording machine. In an interview conducted by Leonard Pitts in 1986 or 1987, when asked why he’d left Marvel in 1970; the creator responded:
Because I could see things changing and I could see that Stan Lee was going in directions that I couldn’t. I came in one night and there was Stan Lee talking into a recording machine, sitting in the dark there. It was strange to me and I felt that we were going in different directions.
A more detailed version of this story comes by way of Steve Sherman, as reported by Abraham Riesman in his book True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee (Crown, 2021):
“The guy was sitting in the dark in his office, all the lights were out, he had a tape recorder, and he was talking into the tape recorder,” Sherman says. “Jack sat down and Stan said, ‘Now listen to this, this is great!’ ” Stan hit PLAY on the device. “And it was just Stan talking: phrases and speeches and ‘Excelsior!’ and this and that,” Sherman recalls. Jack asked what this was all about. Stan smiled his Cheshire-cat smile and said, “I’m going to run for governor.” All Kirby could think to say was “Good for you.”
One aspect of the “Mockingbird Estate” setting we didn’t discuss in detail earlier was the reference to its “decaying ante-bellum grandeur” (emphasis mine). Kirby expands on that idea with Funky’s dialogue in the third panel above, most pointedly with the line, “Happy slaves singing for the family!!” In the context, it’s almost impossible to interpret the line as anything other than Kirby making a comparison between the historical enslavement of Black Americans and the working conditions at Marvel under the Goodman-Lee “family”‘s management. (The insensitivity of this analogy makes us wince today, but probably raised few eyebrows in 1971 — well, few white folks’ eyebrows, at any rate.) Just to underscore the point, the last spoken line Kirby gives Funky is: “A marvel of contrast!”
So endeth “Funky Flashman!” — probably the most baffling installment of Kirby’s Fourth World tetralogy my younger self had yet to read, back in November, 1971. At the time, while I got that Funky and Houseroy were supposed to be funny, they weren’t very funny to me; understandable, as the characters represented the sort of parody that tends to land flat if you don’t recognize the object of said parody, and I didn’t. Per the cover’s blurbed question, I wasn’t sure if Funky Flashman was a villain (though I was damned sure he wasn’t a hero), but I wasn’t the least bit interested in ever seeing him again, in any case. As far as fourteen-year-old me was concerned, virtually all of this story’s interest came from the introduction of the Female Furies. (OK, and from Big Barda’s bathtub scene.)
As for sixty-four-year-old me? Well, it’s complicated. I don’t believe that Funky Flashman represents a completely fair portrayal of Stan Lee, and thus I get a little annoyed with those extreme anti-Lee comics fans who embrace the character as the “real” Lee. But, from another perspective, whether the portrayal is fair is beside the point; this story is satire, and “fairness” isn’t really in satire’s job description. Knowing what I do today, I understand the reasons why Kirby felt such bitter anger towards his former collaborator and editor; I also recognize the skill with which he conducted his “considered vivisection”. Sure, Stan Lee may have survived the cuts of Kirby’s wicked scalpel; that doesn’t mean he didn’t lose a lot of blood in the process. Whatever else “Funky Flashman!” may be, it’s a fascinating spectacle.
I have no way of knowing if Jack Kirby ever regretted having produced this story, but there’s no question that it made things awkward for him within a few years’ time, after his relationship with DC Comics had soured. As related by Roy Thomas in an interview for The Jack Kirby Collector #18 (Jan., 1998):
Despite Funky Flashman, Houseroy, and the whole thing in-between, when I was out there [in California] in the summer of 1974 for the San Diego convention, several people — Jack and their son Neal and probably [Kirby’s wife] Roz and maybe someone else — got together with me to my surprise to talk about the possibility of Jack coming back to Marvel then, about a year before he actually did… And all I could say to Jack was, “The only thing between you really is that Stan was a little hurt about the way you left, but that’s not a big deal. And the Funky Flashman stuff bothered him a little bit, because it seemed, to Stan at least, somewhat mean-spirited.” I said to Jack, “I don’t take the Houseroy stuff that personally, because you don’t know me… And the name ‘Houseroy’ is clever as hell, and I kinda like it.” I’m even a sympathetic character because I got tossed to the wolves. (laughter) But I said, “We can get past that. Stan would love to have you back; he never wanted you to leave.”
Later, in the same interview, Thomas added:
Jack of course said, “Well, y’know, I was just making stories” when I talked to him that time, but we all knew it was a little more than that. But we all do things like that; sometimes we regret them later, sometimes we don’t. I have no idea how Jack came to feel about it later. Stan said he never let it bother him, but the relationship was never quite the same…
That meeting between Thomas and Kirby was in 1974; and while the King’s actual return to Marvel wouldn’t happen for another couple of years, it would come soon enough. Would the Jack Kirby of 1976 have counseled the Jack Kirby of 1971 to take a somewhat different tack with Mister Miracle #6, given the opportunity? If he had, would the ’71 Kirby have listened? We’ll never know.
As with his other DC titles during the 25-cent/48-page format era, Kirby used a few of the pages available to him in Mister Miracle for new content to run a short backup series related to the lead feature. “Young Scott Free” would prove to be the most substantial of these backups, providing readers with valuable insight into our hero’s formative years on Apokolips, and ultimately leading into MM #9’s “Himon”, one of the high points of the entire Fourth World epic.
The initial installment ran in issue #5, and featured Vince Colletta’s last inking job for Mister Miracle. Kirby starts things off with a forthright acknowledgement of his debt to Charles Dickens, echoing the reference in the issue’s lead story that we noted earlier…
“On Apokolips — to disobey a master indoctrinator is close to capital crime!” the next caption informs us. “But Granny chooses to be merciful!!” Said “mercy” is for Scott to be made to run through a gauntlet of his peers — three times:
Afterwards, a battered Scott is tossed into a “contemplation cell” by two guards shouting, “Death to the enemy!” and “Death to New Genesis!” (which, if I’m not mistaken, is the first inkling we’ve been given in Mister Miracle that New Genesis even exists)…
The story continues in issue #6, as Kirby is joined by Mike Royer on inks; some time has passed since the conclusion of the first chapter, obviously, though not much…
As brief as they are, these short pieces not only give us the most substantial look we’ve had yet at what life on Apokolips is really like, but also help us begin to understand why Scott turned out differently from the other orphanage alumni we’ve met, such as Big Barda and Virman Vundabar. What we don’t know yet, of course, is why Metron of the New Gods would have singled out Scott Free for special attention among all the other “deadly little darlings” housed in Granny’s institution.
But that answer would be forthcoming soon — in a little more than a month, in fact — in the pages of New Gods #7, which just so happens to be your humble blogger’s favorite comic book of all time. I hope you’ll come back in December for our discussion of that one.
Bringing up the rear of this issue of Mister Miracle was yet another reprinted story of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s “Boy Commandos”. This one’s kind of special — at least for its first few pages — and so we’re going to spend a little more time with it than we’ve been doing with most of the reprints from this era of DC Comics:
You all recognize the (original) Newsboy Legion, I’m sure. The three “Detective Comics” management-types losing their shit in the bottom tier of panels? According to the Grand Comics Database, that’s Boy Commandos’ fledgling editor Jack Schiff, DC’s co-owner Jack Liebowitz, and editor-of-record Whitney Ellsworth.
Did Kirby, as Mister Miracle‘s editor, pull this particular Boy Commandos story for reprinting in this issue as a way of subtly contrasting his relationship with his original creative partner, Joe Simon, to his later one with Stan Lee? It’s intriguing to speculate.
With the appearance of Sandman, all of Simon & Kirby’s early ’40s features for DC have now been represented in this strip, with the notable exception of Manhunter.
And with that sign-off from “The Authors”, we reach the end of the metafictional component of this 12-page thriller, which becomes a more standard sort of Boy Commandos story henceforth — and thus a lot less interesting, at least to your humble blogger. But just so you don’t wonder about the solution to this mystery for the rest of your life, here’s the short version of “what really happened”: a “wealthy midget” named Milton Small, frustrated by his inability to enlist in the U.S. Army so that he can fight the Axis personally, puts together a team of similarly short-statured rich guys who, accompanied by Small’s (tall) butler Jameson, launch their own military expedition into Germany. They ultimately take out the master spy Agent Axis (coincidentally, the object of a concurrent mission by the real Boy Commandos and their adult leader, Capt. Rip Carter) — at least, they appear to — but are killed by an explosion in the process. It’s their deaths that are reported to the world by the Nazis as those of the Boy Commandos. A sad ending, but in its original wartime context, probably a stirring one, as well.
Here’s one more interesting thing about this story. The villain of the piece, Agent Axis, never reveals their actual face on-panel; we’re shown only a portion of their robed form, as well as their shadow…
… and in the follow-up story, “The Return of Agent Axis” (yeah, Milton Small and company didn’t quite finish the job, unfortunately), the villain is seen covered up in a black hat and cloak — for most of the tale’s running length, anyway. (As the story was reprinted in Mister Miracle #7, we’ll save its big reveal for our post on that comic, coming in January, 2021.)
I point this out because I suspect it may have been the relative anonymity of Agent Axis’ visual that facilitated the character’s suddenly jumping publishers in 1966, via a Captain America story in Marvel Comics’ Tales of Suspense #82 (text by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia):
Today it seems to be widely assumed that Kirby, forgetting which publisher he and Joe Simon had created Agent Axis for back in the ’40s, drew the cloaked-and-hatted apparition into this sequence and then let Lee know who it was supposed to be, most likely by way of a margin note on the art. But it’s at least possible that Lee came up with the moniker all on his own, or so it seems to me; I don’t suppose we’ll ever know for sure, one way or another.
In any event, Roy Thomas picked up on the character some years later, fleshing him out with a new origin and pitting him against Cap and his World War II-era teammates in the Forties-set Invaders Annual #1 (1977). Thomas has been quoted as saying of this act of re-creation, “I don’t know that I’d ever even seen the original story with Agent Axis’ first appearance in BOY COMMANDOS #1…” But while it’s entirely reasonable to believe that Thomas had never seen that vintage issue, it’s a little harder to credit that he wouldn’t be aware of the story’s reprinting in Mister Miracle #6 — though, on the other hand, it’s not that difficult to see how the lead story in that issue could have taken up most or all of his attention as a reader in 1971.
And so we come to the end of our post… still talking about Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. But I guess that’s Mister Miracle #6 for you, all over.
Ah, the first shot in the Kirby vs. Lee conflict. I was blissfully unaware of the whole thing until sometime in the ’80s when it came up in The Comics Journal, which is also where I first encountered Funky Flashman & Houseroy. Admittedly, in the ’70s, I held Lee in adulation, as such that when I was 14, in 1976, given a high school task about writing about someone I regarded as a hero, my selection was Stan Lee! Now, that seems a bit embarrassing, but I was taken with Lee’s wise, funny uncle persona that came through his Soapbox, etc. Obviously, Kirby was upset at how Lee was credited as the genius creator of the Marvel universe, which only escalated after he stopped writing comics regularly, and the publication of the Origins of Marvel Comics and its successors, which for the most part provided more mythic than truthful versions of what went into the creation of various Marvel characters. In 1971, it was a bit of an echo of the potshots Paul McCartney and John Lennon made against one another in their albums released that year, Ram and Imagine. Of course, at the time, while Lee was perhaps the most famous person in the comics field, he still wasn’t really that well known to people who weren’t big fans of Marvel Comics. It really wouldn’t be until the Marvel Studios movies started being massively successful in the 2000s, each with cameos by Lee, that he became really famous to the general public, including people who never read any comics he ever wrote. Kirby was already gone by then, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have been happy about that. Kirby’s depiction of Funky displayed his anger with Lee, although really, IMO, Lee just symbolized the comics industry as a whole as it was at the time. DC wasn’t any better than Marvel in how it treated its creative personnel, and neither did any other mainstream comics publisher.
Anyhow, despite some evident mean-spiritedness, it was somewhat amusing. Regarding Big Barda’s bath scene, I couldn’t help comparing it to Colan’s depiction of the Black Widow’s shower, and Kirby just couldn’t compete — Colan’s Natasha looked ravishingly gorgeous, Kirby’s Barda looked far more cartoonish.
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Let’s agree to disagree about Kirby’s depiction of women. I love how Kirby rendered the female form, and I think that bathtub scene is very sexy.
On the other hand, I totally agree with you that Stan Lee’s behavior was emblematic of the much wider problems in the American comic book industry and the appalling treatment of creators by editorial & management.
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I’ve been trying to remember this morning how much I knew about the whole Funky Flashman thing back in ’71 and how much of it came to me later, and I’m coming to realize that I’ve been very late to the party on this one. Either I missed this issue back in the day or just flat out don’t remember it, because nothing about this story rings a bell. As to the character of Funky Flashman, I’ve heard the name for years, but I don’t think I ever really knew what it was all about until today. I suppose everyone I ever heard speak about this did so assuming I knew what they were talking about and, in my efforts not to look stupid, I never asked for clarification. I’m a little embarrassed to make this declaration, but I do appreciate finally getting an invitation to the party.
As to the story itself, I can’t believe Kirby had the gall to approach Marvel about coming back after this. I can understand his going to Roy first; going to Stan with hat in hand would have been like putting his head into the lion’s mouth, but Roy, and especially Stan, being so forgiving, especially if Stan’s ego was as out of control as Jack believed it was, sort of belies the point Jack was trying to make with Funky Flashman in the first place. Still, as a character, Funky takes up a lot of valuable story real estate for no good reason other than Jack’s on-going vendetta against Stan and the story suffers for it. Because of all the space wasted on Funky, the Furies’ introduction is slap-dash and hardly given the significance it deserves, which isn’t really a surprise given Jack’s tendency to jump down the nearest rabbit hole at the drop of a hat in his story-telling, but isn’t very fair to the Furies, one of his most original creations.
Alan, when we talk Kirby, we talk a lot how he was treated by Marvel, but what about his relationship with DC? Is there any evidence as to what his relationship was with those guys? I know from the outside, they didn’t seem to “get” what Jack was trying to do, but is that accurate? I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything about Jack and DC, except the assumption that Jack went back to Marvel b/c his relationship to DC soured. I’m sure there are stories…I just haven’t heard them yet.
Well, at last the Mystery of Funky Flashman is solved…for me, at least…a mystery that I was only ever really aware of in the most vague way possible. Thanks for inviting me to the party, Alan. I can’t imagine having a “favorite comic of all time,” but I look forward to finding out why MM #7 is yours.
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Quick point of clarification, Don — while Mister Miracle #7 is a swell funnybook, it’s New Gods #7 which hold the keys to my heart.
As for Kirby and DC, at this point there’s not much evidence of friction between them, outside of the redrawn Supes and Olsen heads in JO. But that will change soon enough, and you’ll read about it here when it does. 😉
Yep, I realized that I meant New Gods #7 about two seconds after I hit ‘post.’ Sorry about that.
But then Kirby, with Simon, had initially gone to DC (aka National) when his relationship with Timely soured in the early ’40s, then they had their own company for a while, then after that went under he went back to DC in the 1950s, until that went sour, then on to what would become Marvel, until he soured on them again, and back to DC, which didn’t quite turn out as dreamy as he had hoped, and back to Marvel for one last go round before finding more financially rewarding work in animation and more of the independence he craved in the indie comics field. What he, Lee & Ditko, and others, created with Marvel came about under unique circumstances and for all their differences, I think the mix of their ideas and personalities resulted in something significant that likely would not have come about otherwise. Due to standard comics publishers’ policies of the era and personal frictions, Ditko & Kirby naturally became disgruntled and left but not before they’d helped create an empire which while Lee could not have done it by himself, it wouldn’t have come about without him either. And Kirby likely wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to create and have his New Gods saga published by a prominent comics company if not for what he had achieved at Marvel during the 1960s. Even if Kirby hadn’t had a falling out with one of the bigshots at DC in the late ’50s, would he have had an opportunity to make as significant impact if he had stayed there rather than moving on to a company that seemed on the decline with an editor/writer that was willing to take chances on wild new ideas that might have been rejected out of hand at DC?
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Those are some excellent points, Fred!
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I imagine they were forgiving of Kirby because they recognized he was a goldmine of intellectual property. His return supplied Marvel with The Eternals and Arnim Zola, both used by Marvel Studios — while they’re considered minor Marvel characters, they’re still more than what 95% of other Marvel creators have provided the company since 1975.
Am I crazy, or did the original printed issue give Houseroy blonde hair (like Roy’s)?
No, Houseroy had brown hair in the original printed issue of the comic book.
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I would have sworn I saw him with blonde hair somewhere– maybe it was in a reprint.
So Kirby never bothered with Funky again? I recall the character later in the Secret Society of Super Villains, which was fun.
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This was my introduction to the character as well. I was a kid, having just learned to read, but I got a real kick out of Funky.
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I have this one in my collection – I’ve just checked. I must have bought it in late 71 or early 72 but I’ve no recollection of where or when. I also don’t remember anything about either the original or reprinted stories which is unusual because I can remember stories that I read in the early 70s better that I can ones I read last week! So this issue seems to have made no impression on me whatsoever although somehow I did know that Funky was a parody of Stan. I may be that I came across him later in SSOSV as Fred mentioned above. I probably thought that Funky and Houseroy were just another couple of throw away characters that Jack had created never to use again. Great post and looking forward to the upcoming one on “The Pact”!
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A few comments on Mr. Miracle #6:
When I first read it back in November, 1971, I had no idea that Kirby was parodying his former collaborator at Marvel. I took Funky Flashman to be another outre character in the Mr. Miracle comic book series. The outre was the norm with Kirby as far as I was concerned in the Mr. Miracle comic book. And Funky Flashman wasn’t the most outre thing in Mister Miracle #6. The Female Furies stole the show as far as i was concerned. Violent women!!! God help us!!!
It had to have been decades later, reading an interview Roy Thomas had with Stan Lee where they discussed Jack Kirby, that Funky Flashman and Houseroy were brought up. I had long forgotten about Funky Flashman. I went back and reread Mr. Miracle #6. Yeah, it definitely was Kirby’s take on Stan Lee and Marvel. The most amazing thing about it to me was that it revealed how Kirby’s creative imagination worked, how he was able to incorporate a person into becoming a character in a comic book series. Funky Flashman, for me, was a prime example of Kirby’s creative abilities.
Checking the letters section of subsequent Mr. Miracle issues, it didn’t appear anyone caught onto who Funky Flashman was. One letter in Mr. Miracle #8 made a good observation comparing Mister Miracle #6 to Simon and Kirby’s “Fighting American” comic book in that Funky Flashman and Houseroy were just like characters of the earlier series. Another letter asked “why didn’t Big Barda wear her battle uniform and Mega-rod to fight her Battle Unit?” instead of the bikini. I guess it was young Mark Evanier that responded “Woman’s perogative,…and frankly, we prefer her the way she is!” Things have changed in the last fifty years…
This wasn’t the only time Stan Lee was parodied in a comic book or comic magazine. Joe Simon, Jack Kirby’s old partner, did his own in an Issue of “Sick” sometime in the 1960’s. It was titled “The New Age of Comics”. Simon reprinted the parody in his book “The Comic Book Makers”. He commented “It was believed in the industry that the Sick magazine piece printed here was part of a vendetta to get even. In reality, Stan was shown the script in advance. His comment: “Very funny”. Joe Simon mentioned that Stan Lee was being described as “the Creator of Captain America”. It was obviously something Simon took exception to as he did sue Marvel over ownership of Captain America during the 1960’s.
With regards to Roy Thomas’ meeting with Jack Kirby during the summer of 1974, where Kirby brought up returning to Marvel, some circumstantial facts need to be mentioned. “Colonel Mockingbird” was far from dead in the real world. Martin Goodman was alive and well and in the mood for some revenge against Marvel himself. Kirby’s conversation with Roy Thomas came at a time when Goodman’s new comic book company “Atlas Comics” was starting up and stripping Marvel of many of it’s writers and artists. According the Wilipedia: “Atlas/Seaboard offered some of the highest rates in the industry, plus return of artwork to artists and author rights to original character creations. These relatively luxurious conditions attracted such top names as Neal Adams, Steve Ditko, Russ Heath, John Severin, Alex Toth and Wally Wood, as well as such up-and-coming talents as Howard Chaykin and Rich Buckler.” Atlas didn’t last, but it had to have scared both Marvel and DC. Given the circumstances, Jack Kirby would have been welcomed back to Marvel with open arms like a long lost brother. On the other hand, I read that Stan Lee never spoke to Martin Goodman again after Goodman started Atlas/Seaboard.
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I wasn’t a “Sick” reader (it was “Mad” only for me, at least until Marvel brought out “Crazy” in the mid-’70s), and I haven’t read Joe Simon’s book. But Tom Brevoort shared “The New Age of Comics” on his blog a while back, and I enjoyed reading the piece there: https://tombrevoort.com/2019/10/20/brand-echh-sick-48/
As Tom says in his post, it’s hard to imagine the average “Sick” reader of the time getting even half of the inside references. (I’m sure Simon had a great time writing it, though.)
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I bought some of the Atlas titles in 1975, and remember Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother) being the company figurehead. Years later I had heard of threats from Marvel that any artists who went over to Atlas would find the door closed to return to Marvel. Neal Adams defied them to try it on him, and was correct in calling their bluff. Most of the Atlas artists worked again for Marvel after the start-up folded within a year.
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I thumbed through some of the Atlas comics on the racks but never purchased any of them. I couldn’t even get all the Marvel titles I wanted and while I was intrigued by some of the new titles and may have bought a few if I had more disposable cash funds at the time but such was not the case. A bit later, with an allowance increase, I still stuck with Marvel comics, starting to collect more of their titles that I hadn’t bothered with previously, and also added Mad magazine to my purchases but didn’t bother with the other humor magazines. It wasn’t until the early ’80s, when I was actually earning an income, that I started getting any non-Marvel titles regularly.
Rather funny and sad that Goodman, after decades of stingy practices that poorly treated most of his creative personnel in the company he founded and voluntarily relinquished control of, resorted to more creator-friendly practices not out of a genuine change of heart but out of anger and to try to punish Lee for perceived disloyalty and maybe drive Marvel out of business. He failed spectacularly but inadvertently set in motion a gradual trend both for more independent comics companies but also for greater creative rights and returning of original artwork to the artists. Albeit, that was still many years away, and not entirely resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, but many more top creators saw the possibilities and began striving to make them reality. And even if Marvel & DC remained the top dogs in the business, more alternatives eventually popped up, including those created by creators themselves, such as Dave Sim and Wendy & Richard Pini.
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Haven’t seen it mentioned, but might one hazard a guess that Kirby partly derived Funky Flashman’s name from the “Flashman” books written by George MacDonald Fraser? By 1971 there had been three titles published, featuring the 19th century Harry Flashman, a man feted and revered by the public, but who was actually a devout cad and coward who seemingly rose to the top by a combination of opportunism and accidental advantage.
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That certainly seems a strong possibility, B!
There’s also the initials “FF” which Kirby surely didn’t pick by chance.
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I know it might be considered heresy but I never liked Kirby’s work for DC. To me it just underscores how he and Lee were a great team , not individually brilliant, like Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards. Mister Miracle and indeed the whole New Gods line just strikes me as “cartoony” and overblown.
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Joe, as I replied to a different commenter on a different post earlier today, “different strokes”. I don’t believe in heresy. 🙂
BTW, I appreciate your use of phrases such as “I never liked” and “just strikes me”, as opposed to “it stunk” or “this was crap”. Maybe it’s a fine distinction, but the latter sort of language always seems to me to carry an implied “and anyone who disagrees with me is stupid and has lousy taste”.
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As someone who read little Marvel during the 1960s I found most of Kirby’s 1970s work for either company (post New Gods, at least) underwhelming. Outside of Kamandi and Eternals, I didn’t see why everyone hailed him as a genius. I’m more aware now.
I get the impression that Jack Kirby kept most or all of his frustrations with Stan Lee, and with the outsized, disproportionate amount of credit Lee was receiving for the creation of the Marvel Universe, bottled-up for a number of years, because Kirby’s first & foremost priority was always to make sure he could provide for his family. I can well imagine that when Kirby had finally left Marvel and was at DC in the early 1970s he no longer felt it necessary to hold his tongue, and a great deal of that bottled-up frustration came exploding out in this story. Funky Flashman may not be an accurate depiction of the real-world Stan Lee, but it IS an accurate depiction of just how at this point in time Jack Kirby felt towards his former collaborator, and towards Marvel Comics in general.
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I think Jack never wanted to return to Marvel to begin with, but it was the only place he felt he could earn a real living outside of DC (from who he was blacklisted by Jack Schiff), so he felt like he had two choices — quit the business like his former partner Joe Simon did (he had never worked in another industry, so this probably terrified him as a middle aged man with young children) or work for Marvel / Stan under whatever terms they set.
Once his DC deal was announced in 1970, Jack let it all come out, but there wasn’t the kind of press for comics like there is today, so Jack had to tell his story in little-read fanzines. Here’s some snippets from Jack in 1970, from the fanzine Stan’s Weekly Express #74, and quoted in TwoMorrows’ Stuf Said —
“I can only say that DC gave me my own editing affairs, and if I have an idea I can take credit for it. I don’t have the feeling of repression that I had at Marvel. I don’t say I wasn’t comfortable at Marvel, but it had its frustrating moments and there was nothing I could do about it. When I got the opportunity to transfer to DC, I took it. At DC I’m given the privilege of being associated with my own ideas. If I did come up with an idea at Marvel, they’d take it away from me and I lost all association with it. I was never given credit for the writing which I did. Most of the writing at Marvel is done by the artist from the script.
“[Fantastic Four] was my idea. It was my idea to doit the way it was; my idea to develop it the way it was. I’m not saying that Stan had nothing to do with it. Of course he did. We talked things out. As things went on, I began to work at home and I no longer came up to the office. I developed all the stuff at home and just sent it in. I had to come up with new ideas to help the strip sell. I was faced with the frustration of having to come up with new ideas and then having them taken from me. So, I was kind of caught in a box and I had to get out of that box, and when DC came along and gave me the opportunity to do it, I took it. I believe working for DC can lead to other experimentation and a better kind of comic book, and the kind of comic book that could lead to all sorts of different things.”
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Alan, I think that you and the commenters are way too nice here. Like you, I had no idea in 1971 that Kirby was sending a poison pen letter to Stan Lee (and, maliciously or not, to Roy Thomas) with Funky Flashman and Houseroy. I did have an idea what they really looked like from artistic renderings of them in Marvel’s own mags. (e.g., Stan in Not Brand Ecch and Roy in his Rutland Vt. Avengers issue in 1970). However, not knowing the animus that Kirby had towards Marvel, the fact that it was meant to be caricatures of Lee and Thomas completely escaped me. However, since I found out the truth (I don’t even remember what decade it was–it might even have been in the latter part of the 1970s), I find the whole episode sad and disgraceful, far beneath Kirby’s well-earned reputation as a kind, caring man and a supporter of justice. I think this marks the low point of his career and shows the pitfalls of having enough rope to hang yourself by being your own editor.
Leaving aside the pettiness of doing this at a time when Kirby was earning a great (for the time) salary with D.C. with relative autonomy (except for drawing certain faces) and the uninhibited opportunity to let his imagination and talent run wild, Kirby’s targeting is largely off the mark or exaggerated. First off, while Stan Lee did get his job with Timely (Marvel) partly as a result of his being related to Martin Goodman, Lee never called the shots while working with Goodman. In the 1960s, Lee did get some creative latitude with Goodman because the heroes were making money (note that this helped Kirby get the heroes that he created and/or co-created published), but Lee was always Goodman’s own “Houseroy”. He didn’t make a terrific salary despite being editor. He didn’t have any say over what Goodman paid anyone (including Kirby). While Lee did exercise a lot of control over editorial decisions, he had nothing whatsoever to with decisions regarding the size and pricing of the books (e.g., the size and price changes in 1971). Thus Stan really had nothing to do with Kirby not getting properly compensated with Marvel and for Goodman not seeing (or caring) that his stinginess would lead Kirby to jump to D.C.
Moreover, Lee–certainly in the 1960s anyway–had no say whatsoever on artists getting creative ownership over their work. It just wasn’t done back then in D.C. or Marvel or anywhere. From one of the comments above I see that Goodman tried to use that as a tactic for attracting artists from Marvel to get revenge once his family was ousted from control there, but that economic model crashed quickly. Having writers and artists producing work for hire that was owned by the employer was nothing unique to comic books. It also related to writers employed by magazines or newspapers, researchers at drug companies, inventors at utility companies etc. The theory was that the employer had the bucks to subsidize the creation and distribution of the idea/invention as well as to subsidize ideas that failed and lost money. Not that radical or onerous of an idea when you look at it that way is it? Of course, as the decades went on and artists got more economic power from the switch of the industry from newstands to comic stores, the popularity of collecting and comic conventions, and advances in technology to make production and distribution easier, the shoe was on the other foot. Kirby lived to see MacFarlane Liefeld and Larsen become millionaires off of their work and undoubtedly cursed his luck for being born too early because had Kirby been developing his characters 20-30 years later he might have made more money than them all. In any event, that’ was the state of the industry back then, not the fault of Stan Lee.
Despite this, Kirby was not starving over at Marvel. This is not a true tragic tale like the impoverishment of Superman’s creators Siegel and Shuster who unwisely sold the rights to their creation for $130. Kirby made enough money to move across the country to California with his family. The only reason he got the heretofore unprecedented opportunity he did at D.C. in terms of money and a large amount of editorial and creative freedom was because D.C. recognized how talented he was and, perhaps more importantly, how beloved he was by comic book fans who certainly knew who Jack Kirby was and what he had accomplished even if they weren’t aware how much he had to do with the creation of the characters (by the way, Stan Lee didn’t get extra compensation for creating characters either despite being related to Goodman, so to the extent that Lee took sole credit for creating characters, it was not to get more money from Marvel). I must also point out here that at a time when D.C., Jack Kirby’s percevied Shangri-La, was sometime not even putting ANY writer and artist credits on its magazines or putting the writer and artist names in small print on the first page, Lee made sure that the writer, artist, “embellisher” and letterer all got credits in plain sight in every issue. While Lee always put his name first (and at that time writers always had their names put first at every comic company I know of), it was always Jack Kirby, right afterwards in the same line and in the same size type. Often Lee separately called their issues “a Lee/Kirby production” (or epic, opus etc.) Moreover, the Bullpen Page showered Marvel contributors, Kirby included, with recognition, plugs (sometimes for outside book projects) and praise so that readers knew more about them than D.C. readers knew about their contributors.
Finally, this notion that Lee only cared about himself and threw employees under the bus apparently has contradictions as well. According to Sean Howe in his history of Marvel comics, Lee often tried to come up with ways to prevent Goodman from letting go employees during hard economic times. As noted above, Lee orchestrated the whole Marvel process of raising the profile of the writers, artists and other contributors so that readers knew who they were, thereby increasing their profile and probably their ability to find other work. While Lee wasn’t an intellectual genius, he was no shallow egotistical dummy either. So Kirby caught Lee in his office late at night tape recording notes, what is so weird about that? Lee was writing Stan’s Soapbox, lectures by invitation and promotional copy for the brand. Stan was unquestionably a Grade A huckster, the Phineas T. Barnum of his generation (Barnum would be so proud that Stan could get so many otherwise intelligent bright kids and adults to think that earning an empty envelope was the greatest achievement and most valuable possession in the world) but his selling of Marvel benefitted everyone who worked for Marvel. I close by noting that, unless Stan didn’t write his own soapbox items (please let me know if he didn’t) then he should get full credit for pieces like his classic 1968 soapbox item on race relations. Maybe Stan was recording that when Jack caught him in his office late at night,
In any event, even if what Kirby said about Lee was true, Kirby’s Funky Flashman characterization was childish, petty, mean-spirited (to say nothing of unfair to Roy Thomas) and to me says less about Kirby than it does about Lee. Kirby’s joy in writing his Fourth World books comes out in each issue, particularly in his original books (i.e., not Jimmy Olsen) and he demeaned himself and his reputation big time by taking this bizarre and largely undeserved swipe at Lee.
So, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? Well, I liked No. 5 better than No. 6, let’s leave it at that.
First, I think anyone commentating on this, whether in the Kirby or Lee camp, must consider the fact that we don’t know what happened between Stan and Jack definitively. There’s a small bit of evidence that doesn’t definitively prove anything, then there’s the accounts of the men involved, and no real witnesses — just hearsay from people who worked with Lee and Kirby during the time but never actually sat in on any of the sessions where the characters were created / pitched.
That said, it seems anyone’s opinion of Funky Flashman then comes down to whether you believe Stan’s side or Jack’s side. If you believe Stan, then Funky Flashman seems bitter and tasteless. If you believe Jack, then roasting Stan with Funky Flashman seems like an awfully mild retaliation for stolen wages and credit.
FWIW, Jack was not alone in feeling anger toward his old boss.
STEVE DITKO: “I was publicly credited as plotter only starting with issue #26. The lifting sequence is in issue #33. The fact is we had no story or idea discussion about some Spider-man books even before issue #26 up to when I left the book.
Stan never knew what was in my plotted stories until I took in the penciled story, the cover, my script and Sol Brodsky took the material from me and took it all into Stan’s office, so I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan.”
“Lee started out early with his self-serving, self-claiming, self-gratifying style, of giving credit and then undercutting the giving by taking away or claiming most or all of the credit.”
WALLY WOOD: “I enjoyed working with Stan on DAREDEVIL but for one thing. I had to make up the whole story. He was being paid for writing and I was being paid for drawing but he didn’t have any ideas. I’d go in for a plotting session and we’d just stare at each other until I came up with a storyline. I felt that I was writing the book but not being paid for writing.
“Stan was the scripter, but I was coming up with most of the ideas. It finally got to the point where I told him that if he was the writer, he’d have to come up with the plots. So, we just sat across the desk from one another in silence.”
“Did I say Stanley had no smarts? Well, he DID come up with two sure fire ideas… the first one was, ‘Why not let the artists WRITE the stories as well as draw them?’… And the second was … ‘ALWAYS SIGN YOUR NAME ON TOP …BIG’. And the rest is history … Stanley, of course became rich and famous … over the bodies of people like Bill and Jack. Bill, who had created the character that had made his father rich, wound up COLORING and doing odd jobs.
And Jack? Well, a friend of mine summed it up like this… ‘Stanley and Jack have a conference, then Jack goes home, and after a couple of month’s gestation, a new book is born. Stanley gets all the money and all the credit… And all poor old Jack gets is a sore a**hole.’”
STAN GOLDBERG:“Jack would sit there at lunch, and tell us these great ideas about what he was going to do next. It was like the ideas were bursting from every pore of his body. It was very interesting because he was a fountain of ideas. Stan would drive me home and we’d plot our stories in the car. I’d say to Stan, “How’s this? Millie loses her job.” He’d say, “Great! Give me 25 pages.” And that took him off the hook.
One time I was in Stan’s office and I told him, “I don’t have another plot.” Stan got out of his chair and walked over to me, looked me in the face, and said very seriously, “I don’t ever want to hear you say you can’t think of another plot.” Then he walked back and sat down in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more.
Jim Amash: Sounds like you were doing most of the writing then.
Well, I was.”
Wow, jmhanzo, you’ve been busy today! Thanks for all the lively commentary this morning.
I very much agree with your opening statement that “we don’t know what happened between Stan and Jack definitively”. However, I feel obliged to note that you’ve gone on to stack the deck a bit in quoting just those Marvel veterans who (outside of Kirby) have had the most negative things to say about working with Stan Lee in the 1960s. There are others, like John Romita, who have reported a more positive experience, and who’ve also described Lee having more input into plotting sessions.
I recommend John Morrow’s “Stuf Said!”, which you referenced in your reply to Ben Herman elsewhere in this comments section, to anyone seeking a comprehensive and balanced “in their own words” account of that era at Marvel Comics.
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I have ‘Stuf Said! 🙂
I have indeed stacked the deck for Kirby in my post, as I felt the original post stacked the deck in the opposite direction for Lee, making Kirby seem in the wrong for his Funky Flashman parody of Stan — I just wanted to put forth the possibility that Kirby may have been more seriously wronged prior to the Funky incident, and as such, a satirical take on Lee would seem more understandable.
My main purpose wasn’t to make it seem like all Lee collaborators were disgruntled, just that Kirby wasn’t alone in his complaints, hopefully making one consider the possibility that there is some validity to Kirby’s POV.
My personal take is that Lee must have had some input in story sessions, as he was the managing editor of the line. Forget artists — even writers have story sessions with their managing editors (as the Silver Age Superman writers could attest — apparently, story sessions with Mort Weisinger were harrowing experiences).
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Thanks for the clarification, jmhanzo!
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Also, for the record, when you say “original post” above, I assume you’re referring to Stu Fischer’s comment at the top of this particular comment/replies thread. Let me know if I got that wrong. 🙂
Indeed I was, Alan!
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Jmhanzo, I think that our positions can co-exist peacefully. The way I look at it, my original post on the subject can be distilled down to three questions: 1) Was Jack Kirby’s creations of Funky Flashman and Houseroy childish, mean-spirited and petty?; 2) Was Stan Lee a real jerk who took credit for the creativity of his artists which he demanded? and 3) Even if the answer to question two is fully yes, did Lee’s actions materially damage Kirby, at least by 1971.
My answer to question 1 is clearly a matter of subjective opinion. I think that Kirby’s creations of Funky Flashman, and, even more so, Houseroy (because Kirby had no discernible beef with Roy Thomas), are childish,mean-spirited and petty regardless of whether the portrayals were justified. At the time, Kirby was relatively flying high and obviously enjoying his unprecedented power as a creative force at a major comic book company (although the replacement of his Superman and Jimmy Olsen faces should have been an indicator that this his power was somewhat illusory). He should have stayed on the high road in my opinion and his use of the poison pen here I feel diminishes his stature as a person (at least in 1971).
My answer to question 2 is similar to Alan’s. You point out a lot of testimony from artists who worked under Lee about how he made them create practically all of the stories and took credit for them. Others say differently. We really don’t know how much is true and how much is false. I will grant you that in my adult years, while I greatly admire how Stan Lee engaged comic book readers and promoted Marvel and himself, I consider him to be the P.T. Barnum of the latter half of the 20th Century and would not want to have him too close to my wallet. He’s entertaining, bright, a showman, raconteur, salesman, glad-hander and promoter par excellance. Those traits would not necessarily make him a good boss or friend.
My answer to question 3 is I still don’t see how Stan Lee’s attitude and actions, even if completely true, materially damaged Kirby, at least up to 1971. Despite everything Lee did or did not do to Kirby, Kirby was still thought highly enough for his work at Marvel to be lured to D.C. with great public fanfare, a lucrative for the time financial package and unprecedented creative control at a major comic company for an employee. If Kirby’s accomplishments had been materially buried by Lee, Kirby would have gotten a lucrative contract to be an artist with D.C., but he certainly would not have been given creative carte blanche to write and edit his “Fourth World” on his own. I stand by my earlier comments that in the 1960s, Lee did not have the power and authority to override Goodman on salary decisions or on ownership of characters, the latter of which no artist had at the time at any major comic company I know of. (Now I don’t know how much influence Lee had over Kirby not getting his artwork back in the 1980s during the bitter litigation, but that obviously has nothing to do with Lee’s 1971 creation of Funky Flashman).
So in summary, my original comments were mainly a subjective dislike that Kirby wrote the Funky Flashman/Houseroy story in the first place and the rest is my commentary on what the effect of Lee’s actions or inactions on Kirby were by 1971 even if all the bad stuff is true. Obviously, Kirby’s feelings are his own and his own anger and hurt many will feel justifies his creating the characters and writing the story. My feeling is that he should not have done it and it was beneath him even if he felt it was justified. Just my opinion of course.
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“Jmhanzo, I think that our positions can co-exist peacefully.”
I totally agree! I think just about any conversation on comics should have that mentality — whether we agree or disagree, nothing will change for Stan or Jack or anyone else, so getting all worked up about this kinda thing is pointless. 🙂
“1) Was Jack Kirby’s creations of Funky Flashman and Houseroy childish, mean-spirited and petty?”
Mean-spirited and petty, sure — childish? Can’t agree there, there was some pretty clever “inside baseball” jokes that were pretty clever, as Alan pointed out.
That said, it doesn’t seem like Stan or Roy were seriously wounded by Jack’s roast, so I’m not inclined to feel Jack went way over the line. I think Roy certainly didn’t deserve to be goofed on, he seems to be a bystander to the whole Lee/Kirby relationship, but maybe Kirby had his own reasons for that (Thomas has definitely placed himself on Stan’s side of things and supported his version of events).
2) “You point out a lot of testimony from artists who worked under Lee about how he made them create practically all of the stories and took credit for them. Others say differently. We really don’t know how much is true and how much is false.”
In principle, I agree, and in the end, we weren’t there and we can’t ever truly know. That said, I think all of us can review the evidence and decide what we feel is most likely. If it was just Kirby alone who made this claim, or maybe even just Kirby and one other person, I’d probably lean toward the official story.
But there are so many other collaborators who tell the same story as Kirby — they go into a story session and generate most of the story ideas. And lending credibility to their stories is the fact that, unlike Jack, they stood to gain nothing financially by making these claims as they hadn’t co-created anything of serious value with Stan — Wally Wood, Stan Goldberg, Joe Orlando, etc. Most of them seem to just feel they should have been paid a portion of the writing fees for plotting. And on Steve Ditko’s side, he wasn’t looking for any royalties, fame, or anything like that — hell, he even donated his Amazing Fantasy art, worth millions, to the Library of Congress — his only motivation seemed to be telling his side of things.
Even collaborators who are very friendly to Stan describe situations where they did most of the character creation process, like John Romita: “The only thing he used to do from 1966-72 was come in and leave a note on my drawing table saying “Next month, the Rhino.” That’s all; he wouldn’t tell me anything; how to handle it. Then he would say “The Kingpin.” I would then take it upon myself to put some kind of distinctive look to the guy. For instance, if it’s the kingpin of crime, I don’t want him to look like another guy in a suit who in silhouette looks like every other criminal. So I made him a 400-pound monster; that was my idea. I made him bald, I put the stickpin on him, I gave him that kind of tycoon look.”
“3) Even if the answer to question two is fully yes, did Lee’s actions materially damage Kirby, at least by 1971.”
I find this an interesting perspective if you were to take the idea of Jack being 100% truthful in his version of events as a given — to me, there would be no question that it would be damaging.
1) Hypothetical — let’s take money out of it. Let’s say you and your friend publish a comic in which you created most of the characters and did 90% of the plotting / writing, with your friend only contributing dialogue. Then your friend publicly takes credit for creating the characters and writing the plots. Your friend then receives tons of accolades and press coverage, is invited as a speaker at special events, and then uses it all to springboard to a big Hollywood / publishing career. You wouldn’t feel wronged?
2) Back to reality — when Martin Goodman sold Marvel to the Perfect Film and Chemical Corporation, Stan was treated as the golden goose and made a higher-up in the company. After years of Goodman reneging on his promises of profit participation for Marvel licensing (much of which used Jack’s characters and actual artwork), Kirby hoped to negotiate a more fair contract with better pay. He was ignored as the new company viewed him as merely the guy who drew Stan’s ideas — just a replaceable penciller.
Stan never created another valuable franchise property after Jack left in 1970, but despite not owning the characters either, he was able to parlay that success into tens of millions of dollars over the remainder of his life. Jack spent the rest of his life hustling until the day he died. If he did indeed create / co-create those characters and was publicly recognized by Stan and the company as having done so, he might have been able to get some of the sweetheart deals Stan enjoyed.
“Obviously, Kirby’s feelings are his own and his own anger and hurt many will feel justifies his creating the characters and writing the story. My feeling is that he should not have done it and it was beneath him even if he felt it was justified. Just my opinion of course.”
Of course, you’re definitely entitled to it. But to use your own question from #3 — was Stan or Roy ever materially hurt by this satire? If so, I can’t see how. With that in mind, I don’t personally see it as a big thing, more of a fun oddity in the career of Kirby.
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I think that you missed my distinction about only looking at what had happened to Kirby by 1971 at the time of the Funky Flashman story. I certainly agree that a lot that was financially bad happened to Kirby after 1971 when Marvel was sold off to one corporate entity after another. However, the crux of my comments (indeed the reason we are here) related to where things stood in 1971 when the issue was created and published.
I probably should leave it at that, however I feel compelled to add that, while this does not affect at all any injustices that were done to Kirby by Lee either before or after 1971, the reason why Stan Lee was able to become the face of Marvel and to become so recognizable was mainly because of his huckster personality and ability to promote himself and Marvel (and he certainly did promote Marvel at least as much as himself and Marvel’s people even if he denied them creativity credit). No one in the comic book industry could have promoted himself and gotten the attention and accolades like Lee could, deserved or not. I honestly don’t think that had Kirby gotten the creative credit he felt that he deserved that he would have been able to achieve the financial success and celebrity notoriety that Lee had been able to achieve as a self promoter. Think Hank Aaron compared to Babe Ruth. Aaron surpassed Ruth’s home run total but more people know of Babe Ruth because of his outsized personality.
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Thanks for your even-handed and thoughtful comments, I enjoyed this conversation.
I maintained the 1971 distinction to some degree — Goodman sold Marvel to Perfect Film & Chemical in 1968, so Lee getting a promotion, more fame, and more money happened prior to ’71. I think this was the final straw for Jack — you’ll notice the number of new characters and ideas in Fantastic Four and Thor drop off in ’68. I think this is because Jack finally realized Goodman’s promises to take care of him and cut him in weren’t ever going to materialize, and that Perfect Film & Chemical saw him as disposable. While that’s not necessarily Stan’s fault directly, taking the lion’s share of the credit in the creation of Marvel’s biggest money makers certainly was a factor in that perception by the new owners.
Lee also got the majority of the credit in the press prior to 1971, which became a key breaking point in the Lee / Kirby partnership. Kirby’s portrayal in this 1966 article was apparently devastating to Jack and his wife (and the author later expressed regret and feels he was caught up in Lee’s showmanship): https://slate.com/culture/2021/02/stan-lee-biography-true-believer-excerpt-jack-kirby-marvel-comics.html
“…the reason why Stan Lee was able to become the face of Marvel and to become so recognizable was mainly because of his huckster personality and ability to promote himself and Marvel (and he certainly did promote Marvel at least as much as himself and Marvel’s people even if he denied them creativity credit). No one in the comic book industry could have promoted himself and gotten the attention and accolades like Lee could, deserved or not. I honestly don’t think that had Kirby gotten the creative credit he felt that he deserved that he would have been able to achieve the financial success and celebrity notoriety that Lee had been able to achieve as a self promoter.”
I largely agree with this. Stan is very likeable and was the perfect ambassador to the idea that superhero comics could be appealing to people older than 12 years old. Additionally, even if Jack originated most of the ideas (which I’m inclined to believe), I think Lee’s editorial guidance and ear for entertaining banter added a lot of personality and fun to the books. Jack did a lot of the heavy lifting but I do think Stan created the culture of Marvel Comics that made it seem so much more attractive than DC at the time (and once he left his EIC role, that spirit left as well). Lee is often called a huckster or a carnival barker, but we might forget that hucksters and carnival barkers have a valuable set of skills that people respond to.
Now all that said, Stan had a more important advantage than charisma over Kirby — he was in a position to make his story the official story. He was the EIC and was able to write the credit boxes, letters columns, conduct the interviews, and anything else about the origins of the Marvel superheroes. His collaborators could either go along with the story or find work elsewhere during a time period where work was more scarce and low-paying (by inflation) in comic books than any time before.
Furthermore, as a full-time employee of Marvel and with Jack as a freelancer, it was in the company’s best interests to support Stan’s version of events — after all, anything a full-time employee creates while working for Marvel is safely owned by the company. If a freelancer creates something on his own and then pitches it to Marvel, then they’re on shakier ground.
(In fact, when Lee was asked to testify in 2010 or 2011, he testified that his version of events in Origins of Marvel Comics was a lie designed to “make Kirby feel better” by giving him some of the credit, that he created all the characters by himself — which, by sheer coincidence, would make Marvel’s ownership airtight — and that Jack was merely drawing his characters and ideas. Additionally, both his testimony and his account in Origins contradicts some of the accounts he gave in the fan press and college campuses in the 60s. So forget Kirby — if you believe Stan, you have to choose which version of his story you want to believe.)
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Thanks for your correction to me on the timing of Goodman’s sale to Perfect Film & Chemical. Although I have read Sean Howe’s great book on the history of Marvel, it has now been several years and I did not remember when it happened. I assumed that the sale occurred after Kirby left Marvel because after the sale in 1968 Goodman was still making decisions on issues like creator compensation (or lack thereof) such as with Kirby himself and in the summer of 1971 when Goodman was making his maneuvering regarding the size and price of Marvel comics.
The only thing I would add in response to your reply is that while Stan Lee as Editor in Chief did have the megaphone and tools to control the narrative, I think this is kind of a chicken and egg issue. Had Jack Kirby had a similar megaphone and tools to compete with Lee’s story, did he have the personality and skills to counter it? Carmine Infantino never became a household name with the press and neither did Jeanette Khan despite the success of the Superman and Batman films and they had similar tools to Lee. Stan Lee was able to do what he did because of his marketing skills.
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By the way, given that your next post is about the first appearance of “The Character Formerly Known As Him”, I thought that it might amuse everyone if I brought attention to Jim Stalin’s own evisceration of Marvel and Stan Lee in Marvel’s own pages. https://www.cbr.com/meta-messages-jim-starlin-makes-clowns-out-of-stan-lee-and-john-romita/
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