Celebrating Jack Kirby: A Look Back at His #104s
Jack Kirby was born 104 years ago today, so we're taking a look at each of the issue #104s he penciled across his career at the House of Ideas!
Today marks the 104th anniversary of Jack Kirby’s birth—the origin of one of the architects of not just Marvel Comics, but of comic books as we know them.
It bears repeating at every opportunity: there simply would be no Marvel Universe without the contributions of Jack Kirby. He co-created Captain America, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, the Avengers, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Eternals, and many other Marvel mainstays. He was an unparalleled artist with an imagination that pushed the limits of the medium. That imagination also served Kirby well when he wrote and drew his own projects.
Jack Kirby's legacy lives on in every comic mag, every month at Marvel. To celebrate the 104th anniversary of Kirby's birth, Marvel.com is taking a look back at three times he illustrated an issue #104 within the Marvel Universe, each of which stand as unique time capsules for his work at that moment. Onward!
STRANGE TALES (1951) #104 – January 1963
At the time that STRANGE TALES (1951) #104 was released, the Marvel Universe was still in its early days. The lead story focused on the Human Torch, AKA Johnny Storm, and this was essentially his solo book away from the rest of the Fantastic Four.
For this issue, Kirby illustrated a plot by Stan Lee that was scripted by another Marvel legend (and Lee’s brother), Larry Lieber. It’s also quite a departure from the grand scale of FANTASTIC FOUR (1961). Within the story, Johnny wasn’t yet a celebrity and took measures to protect his secret identity. Additionally, Johnny’s adversary was a fan-favorite—though maybe a bit silly—villain called Paste-Pot Pete. His real name was actually Peter Petruski, and he literally carried around a paste pot filled with his own special glue formula.
Modern readers may know Paste-Pot Pete by his subsequent codename, the Trapster. Yet despite his ridiculous persona in this issue, Paste-Pot Pete ran circles around Human Torch, law enforcement officials, and even an angry crowd of onlookers who tried to take the law into their own hands. At one point, Paste-Pot Pete grew so bold that he tried to steal an advanced missile from the army to sell it to foreign powers. He even glued Johnny to one of the missiles in a bid to snuff out the Human Torch once and for all!
Paste-Pot Pete may not have gotten away with the loot or the missiles, but he did get away. Johnny seemed oddly unconcerned by that turn of events even after his own close call with death. But that’s the Silver Age of comics for you!
JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY (1952) #104 – May 1964
Kirby and Lee’s JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY (1952) #104 was a one-and-done epic in the mighty Marvel tradition. Because Thor, AKA Donald Blake, refused to give up on his love for Jane Foster, Odin went to Earth for the first time in centuries in order to talk some sense into his son. This trip was also made at Loki’s behest, and the God of Mischief used the opportunity to briefly sit upon Odin’s throne and unleash two of Asgard’s greatest enemies: Skagg the Storm Giant and Surtur the Fire Demon.
Only Balder the Brave dared to travel to Earth to warn Odin and Thor before their foes could devastate the realm of mortals. Odin even used his immense Odinpower to freeze time so that the trio of gods could take on their two giant adversaries without interference. Their battle is quite entertaining, and it also allowed Odin and Thor to have some father and son bonding time...even though their conflict over Jane was far from settled.
In the backup story, "Tales of Asgard: Heimdall the Guardian of the Rainbow Bridge!” Kirby and Lee revealed how Heimdall earned his position as Asgard’s ultimate protector. Heimdall’s rivals, Agnar the Fierce and Gotron the Agile, were both formidable warriors in their own right. However, Heimdall’s might isn’t just limited to his physical prowess. Instead, Heimdall convinced Odin of his worth by demonstrating his enhanced senses which could hear a plant growing at a great distance away. Heimdall also spotted an invading army long before it could strike the golden realm of Asgard. In gratitude, Odin gave Heimdall the prestigious position as the Rainbow Bridge’s eternal guardian.
CAPTAIN AMERICA (1968) #104 – August 1968
CAPTAIN AMERICA (1968) #104 is an example of peak Kirby art, and his pages exhibit his signature style with dynamic action and poses as well as a willingness to throw in a few splash pages when necessary.
For this issue, Kirby was once again joined by his frequent collaborator, Stan Lee. Within the story, Cap was plagued by “nuclear tape” that the Red Skull had placed on the back of his neck in mag #103. As long as Cap had the tape attached to him, the Red Skull could induce debilitating headaches in his foe. And if Cap removed the tape, a bomb would take out our nation’s capital.
With no other options, Cap was forced to return to Exile Island and face the Red Skull’s lieutenants in battle. One by one, Gruning, Baldini, General Ching, Iron-Hand Hauptmann, Krushki, and Cadavus tried to put down the Sentinel of Liberty. And yet Cap prevailed over all of them, even the Red Skull.
It should be noted that Jim Steranko, a legendary artist in his own right, guest-inked a single page in this issue that featured an appearance by Nick Fury. The mix of Kirby and Steranko was a thing of beauty, and that page stands out as one of the best illustrations in the issue.
Naturally, the issue ended with Agent 13, AKA Sharon Carter, arriving with S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiers to help rescue Cap and rout the Red Skull’s forces. Fittingly, Cap also vowed to confront tyranny wherever it might resurface.
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