Jack Kirby, The Comics Genius Behind ARGO

This Friday, Ben Affleck unleashes his next directorial effort, ARGO, based on a real-life covert operation to rescue six American hostages from Iran in 1980. It’s a taut thriller that may or may not be historically accurate. At least Affleck left in one gratifying detail for comics fans: an appearance by Jack “King” Kirby, played by Michael Parks in the film.

The name should sound familiar, as he was the co-creator of the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Thor and too many others to name here. In 1980, however, he had become disillusioned with comics and gone into storyboard illustration in Hollywood. While knocking around town he worked on designs for a science fiction epic called “Lord of Light.”
That fell through, but when CIA Agent Tony Mendez needed production art to make his false project ARGO seem real, he was easily able to take Kirby’s work and pass it off as this new incomprehensible space epic that required a galaxy far far away to look like the Middle East.

In the film, we see Mendez briefly consulting with Kirby, though the artwork actually shown is nowhere near as imaginative as what “the King” actually created. Instead, Affleck settles for something a little tamer and more in line with modern mainstream tastes. Even in a movie about an operation the CIA thought was crazy, Kirby was too out there.

To fans, of course, Kirby was the guy we wanted to lead us out there. In addition to his better known superhero projects, he created the cosmic Fourth World saga for DC Comics and wrote and drew a wild adaptation and continuation of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Though Star Wars was obviously a huge influence on the idea to fake a sci fi film, Affleck’s movie shows Mendez getting the idea by watching a rerun of Battle for the Planet of the Apes. That series of movies also inspired one of Kirby’s most enduring creations — Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth. But why stop with just apes? Kirby’s post-apocalyptic saga had hyper-evolved tigers, lions, rats, dogs and more.

He kept pushing creatively until his death in 1994. Kirby might not have saved the world like his most famous creations, but it’s cool to know that he did help save the lives of six American diplomats.

By Derek McCaw owner of

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