Cosmic Theology: Jack Kirby’s Representations Of God [Art]
Today marks the 95th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby, creator of the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the X-Men. It’s a good day to honor the memory of one of comics’ most legendary imaginations by checking out and supporting the Jack Kirby Museum, or spending some time reading one of his many brilliant works, several of which — like Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth and O.M.A.C. — are available in handsome omnibus editions from DC Comics. You can read more about his comics work here, but right now we’d like to show you another side of Kirby with an exploration of three evocative illustrations of God, which are said to be among the very few pieces of his own that the master displayed in his own home.We know that Kirby grew up in a Jewish immigrant family in the tenements of the Lower East Side in New York, but not much is known about his personal religious theology, despite the fact that he literally created his own New Gods. Taking into account the possible Judaic influences on these images, ComicsAlliance contributor David Wolkin, who holds an M.A. in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary and serves as Executive Director of Limmud NY, offers his own exegesis on Kirby’s very personal and very beautiful creations.
My impression here is that God appears to be sending forth a delegation of divine creatures of some sort. The beings themselves have an indeterminate quality to them, but the fact that several of them have horns emerging from them suggests that they are probably meant to be angels. I’d be inclined to think that it could be inspired by the Book of Revelation, but there are one too many angels.
This second image brings to mind the story of Noah in the book of Genesis. After seeing the evil of humanity on the world that he has created, God decides to go for a “do over” on his creation, washing the people of Earth away in a flood, leaving Noah and his family as the sole survivors. When I look at this, I see a God that is disappointed at the world in front of him, a planet composed of senseless and seemingly violent imagery without community or connection. That said, if there is a Noah to be found in this place, I can’t see it.
As an alternative interpretation, I also came to see this in a more personal light, imagining that the planet is actually made of ideas that he ended up discarding. Inasmuch as we can assume that most of Kirby’s work is divinely inspired (and we should), I like to think that what we’re seeing here is an expression of frustration at the moments when his own creations didn’t live up to his standards.
Here we see God turned away from a planet covered with humanoid beings. He is literally hiding his face as they call out to him. But the call itself does not appear to be a unified one. Some of the beings seem to be pleading, with their hands raised up to the sky or bowed to the ground in seeming acts of prayer. Others are clearly crying out at God in anger, and at least one of them is picking up a rock from the ground with the intention of throwing it. Throwing a rock at God seems like a bad idea.
Just as with the last image, my first look at this one led me directly to Biblical narrative before moving in another direction. At first, I thought about the frustrations of the Israelites while wandering the desert after being freed from slavery in Egypt by God. They complain, they revolt, they build golden calves — typical Silver Age comics stuff. But throughout most of those encounters, Moses is speaking to his people on behalf of God, so all of those encounters are directed at him. What emerges here upon deeper reflection is a sort of reversal of the second image: just as we see that God can become frustrated and disappointed with his creations, they can also do the same right back at him.
There’s a nice little bookend to these images that is inspired by Kirby, but doesn’t come directly from him. In Mark Waid in Mike Weiringo’s Fantastic Four #511, the FF find their way to a direct encounter with God, who is illustrated as Jack Kirby himself sitting at the drawing board. It’s a warm and heartfelt moment and a wonderful ode to Kirby’s creative spirit. (As a personal side note, I was required to craft a “personal theology” in graduate school, and I ended up basing it on this comic).
On the occasion of what would have been Kirby’s 95th birthday, his granddaughter Jillian is spearheading the Kirby4Heroes campaign, whereby select comics shops are donating a portion of their profits to the Hero Initiative, the comics industry non-profit organization dedicated to helping comics professionals in need of financial and medical aid.