The late '50s and early '60s was a time of great upheaval in American culture: the Cold War was heating up, the space race was achieving lift-off, rock and roll was stepping away from its R&B roots and splitting off into teen pop and surf and girl group subgenres, and the nuclear paranoia of fallout shelters and UFOs and atomic-fueled monster movies was a constant presence. The comic book industry was undergoing some major shifts of its own, facing new challenges in the aftermath of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings, the closing of E.C. and numerous other publishers, and a radically lessened readership.

And while the first stirrings of a new superhero revival were happening crosstown at DC, Stan Lee's not-yet-marvelous Atlas Comics was fumbling for market share, and experimenting with a slate of anthology titles filled with largely interchangeable suspense and sci-fi short stories --- at least until Jack Kirby came knocking.

Kirby had stopped working for DC after a dispute with editor Jack Schiff, and arrived at Atlas' door in 1958 with his pencil primed to go, and his imagination itching to be unleashed. Lee immediately signed him up to work on various titles, and the tales that ensued were filled with oversized creatures, earth-shattering happenings, bizarre transformations, and a string of increasingly elaborate onomatopoeic names.

These were the stories that cemented Lee and Kirby's working relationship, and laid the groundwork for the revolution they would launch with Fantastic Four #1 in 1961. In fact, the monster tales continued for a time after the company's fortunes began to turn, until the anthologies were converted to showcases for the company's ere-expanding ensemble of superheroes. Many of the characters were later incorporated into the overarching Marvel mythos, and a couple have even gone on to appear in big-budget film adaptations.

So, in honor of Jack Kirby's birthday, we've compiled the above gallery of some of his finest Atlas-era covers!