Forget Kevin Bacon!
It’s Jack Kirby that’s the “Center of the Hollywood Universe.”
You’ve probably heard of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” — the party game where you connect Kevin Bacon to other actors based on mutual film appearances. For instance, Kevin Bacon connects to Elvis Presley via Ed Asner, who appeared in films with both actors. But really, we should be aiming higher than Kevin Bacon … and at the great Jack Kirby himself! After all, with Hollywood dominated by superhero properties that Jack helped to create — in movies like The Avengers, Captain America, Thor, and The Hulk — it’s clear that Jack isn’t just the King of Comics … he’s the King of Hollywood, too!
Playing “Six Degrees of Jack Kirby” is easy — simply connect an actor or filmmaker to Jack Kirby in the fewest possible steps!
Why not start with Kevin Bacon himself? Mr. Bacon played Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class, and since Jack Kirby helped create the X-Men back in 1963, that means Kevin Bacon has one degree of separation from Jack Kirby!
Kevin Bacon with January Jones as Emma Frost … which gives the entire cast of Mad Men a Kirby Number of 2!
Joining Mr. Bacon with a “Kirby Number” of “One” is everyone else attached to some of the biggest movies of the last decade — names like Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson (Avengers), Chris Evans (Captain America), Jessica Alba (Fantastic Four), Anthony Hopkins (Thor), Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class), and Tim Roth (Hulk).
Given that dozens of Kirby’s characters have been brought to the screen, it’s no surprise that some cool names line up quickly when you expand to a Kirby Number of “Two.” Quentin Tarantino arguably deserves a “One” — there’s a Silver Surfer poster on Tim Roth’s wall in Reservoir Dogs, where Lawrence Tierney is also likened to The Thing; and I’ll bet you a dollar that Silver Surfer dialogue for Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide helps account for Tarantino’s uncredited dialogue assist on that picture. But there’s no disputing Mr. Tarantino’s rock-solid Kirby Number of “Two,” thanks to his close association with Samuel L. Jackson in pictures like Pulp Fiction, and we all know that Mr. Jackson is …
… Nick Fury, a character Jack Kirby helped create for Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos back in 1963! That means that Mr. Jackson has a Kirby Number of One!
(And so does David Hasselhoff, but we’ll pretend that never happened).
Some karmic geek symmetries appear at Kirby Number 3. William Shatner is forever connected with Leonard Nimoy, who appeared in the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, where Thor’s Chris Hemsworth played George Kirk — Captain Kirk’s dad!
before he swung the hammer of Thor, Chris Hemsworth was Captain of a Federation starship (for twelve minutes!)
Playing the bad guy in that same picture was Eric Bana, who played the Hulk … who worked with Sam Shepard on Black Hawk Down … who appeared in Days of Heaven for Terrence Malik … which also featured Rockford Files stalwart Stewart Margolin, who in 1968 appeared in a television program with teen heartthrob Davy Jones. That’s right … Jack Kirby is just five degrees separated from The Monkees!
considering Jack also brought us The Forever People, he’s probably closer to the Monkees than we suspect!
Jack’s ripples aren’t confined to the realm of pop art, either. Lawrence Olivier has a Kirby Number of 2 (via Professor X — Patrick Stewart!). Orson Welles is a “three” (via Ian “Magneto” McKellan, through John Hurt in Scandal, who appeared with Welles in A Man For All Seasons). Marlon Brando is also a “three,” by way of appearing with Robert DeNiro in The Score, who is himself a “two” thanks to to his role in Sleepers opposite … Kevin Bacon (who is still pretty handy for stitching together these tortured threads).
The realms of sports, religion, and politics connect to Jack Kirby, too — even Adolph Hitler deserves a Kirby Number of “One,” thanks to the cover of Captain America #1!
OK, that was a bit silly … but it’s a short trip to silly when you work backwards from a base of work as broad as that of Jack “King” Kirby. Jack left us decades ago but his influence is still being felt. In fact, with movies like The Avengers working on it’s second billion dollars in box office, you could argue that Jack Kirby’s influence is greater today than ever before.
All of which serves to underscore why I am still fascinated with comic heroes and their legendary creators here at Longbox Graveyard. Comic books have left us a rich legacy of unforgettable heroes … and even in this golden age of superheroic film actors, directors, and special effects, Jack Kirby remains the biggest hero of them all!
Hail to the King, baby!
And since Jack would have turned 95 (!) on the 28th of this month, please view this video message from Jack’s granddaughter, Jillian, who will tell you how you can celebrate the King’s birthday and benefit The Hero Initiative at the same time!
Give me your own Six Degrees of Jack Kirby (or pose a Six Degrees puzzle for us to deconstruct) in the comments section, below!
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #63 Marvel Two-In-One Times One Hundred!
Avengers: Infinity War has conquered the box office, and it is safe to say that if you have been following Marvel’s movies for the last decade or so, then it all added up to this!
Like many of the geeks reading this blog I fairly came out of my seat when I saw Thanos in the original Avengers end credits. He’s one of my favorite Marvel bad guys (celebrated in a recent Panel Gallery) and the backbone of fondly-remembered Captain Marvel and Warlock runs that were among the first books I reviewed here at Longbox Graveyard.
For the last several years, Thanos has been teased in a host of Marvel movies, and with Infinity War we finally got Thanos himself front-and-center, taking on the Avengers and seemingly every other hero in the Marvel Universe. Now, Thanos is a tough dude, but even he couldn’t take on those kinds of numbers by himself. Fortunately for those of us who love bad guys, Thanos isn’t alone … he had the Infinity Gauntlet. The odds are actually on Thanos’ side!
Fan speculation about the Infinity Gauntlet began even before Avengers debuted. Sharp-eyed viewers spotted the Gauntlet in Odin’s treasure room during 2011’s Thor, and Marvel took an Infinity Gauntlet prop on the road with them to various cons and trade shows.
Put Thanos, the Avengers, and the Infinity Gauntlet together, and it’s small wonder the Infinity Gauntlet graphic novel was “flying off the shelves” as long ago as 2012 when I bought a copy at the cosmically awesome House of Secrets comic shop in Burbank, California. It appears a least a few fans of Marvel’s billion-dollar franchise were eager to get ahead of the curve and soak up all the Thanos and Infinity Gauntlet lore that they could.
I recommend the terrific “Thanos For Beginners” primer that Mars Will Send No More put together if you want to know everything about this classic Avengers villain, but for now it’s enough to note that Thanos is a Death God from Titan, and a superpowered alien obsessed with Death personified in female form, whom he courts as a lover. Unfortunately for Thanos (and everyone else), Death doesn’t much care for Thanos, driving the Titan to greater and still greater acts of murder as he tries to win her favor.
Back in those Captain Marvel and Warlock runs, Thanos threatened to destroy our solar system, leaning heavily on the Cosmic Cube (or “Tesseract,” as they call it in the movies). But for the Infinity Gauntlet limited series, Thanos took his game to the next level, using the Gauntlet to annihilate half the life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. (For starters).
How did Thanos come by such awesome power?
Following one of his many resurrections, Thanos collected the “Infinity Gems,” cosmic MacGuffins affording all sorts of nifty magic powers. Binding them together in a gauntlet, Thanos became a god with power over time, space, and dimension — kind of like Sauron, Darth Vader, and Dick Cheney all rolled into one.
With that kind of power in Thanos’ grasp, the only solution was to create a big, sprawling mini-series, authored by Jim Starlin, and illustrated (for awhile, at least), by George Perez, who made a career out of drawing these every-superhero-in-the-universe team-up books. The six issue series used the entire universe as the setting for the ultimate battle between good and evil.
It’s not just the Marvel heroes that got into the act — Starlin put out a casting call for every cosmic god in the Marvel Universe, too. Odin and the Sky Fathers were stuck in Asgard, thanks to a shattered Rainbow Bridge, but more space gods than you could shake a stick at respond to the call, including Galactus, Eternity, a couple Celestials, and less well-known gods like the Living Tribunal.
It’s this very scope of the book that most undermined the drama. When half the Marvel Universe is wiped out in your first issue, it’s not a matter of “if” — but “when” and “how” — the carnage will be undone. It is a testament to how much we love these characters that their “deaths” still pack n emotional punch (and this applies to the movie, as well). It is fun, in a disaster-movie sort of way, to watch California slide into the ocean and see Manhattan in ruins — but because we know it must all be set right somehow, it’s hard to take the story seriously.
(Though I will admit to some retroactive cathartic glee in seeing Trump Tower among the wreckage)
What we really had here was an apocalyptic wrapper for a bigass superhero beat down, and in this Infinity Gauntlet delivered. The defense of creation was led by Adam Warlock, who rounded up the requisite Avengers and other Marvel heroes to keep Thanos distracted by beating on his head. Warlock maneuvered to checkmate his old foe by playing on Thanos’ weaknesses, such as the hubris that leads the Titan to create a pretty damn groovy outer space floating palace of death.
But even after awarding her with the next cover feature of Tomb & Garden Magazine, Death still wouldn’t give Thanos the time of day. Finally getting wise to Death’s ways, Thanos threw her under the bus for a woman of his own creation — Terraxia The Terrible — who looked like Oprah Winfrey cosplaying Thanos.
Thanos and Oprah
Infinity Gauntlet might span all of time and space, but when the chips were down, it was still about comic book characters throwing haymakers at each other. And that’s fine with me. It’s genre-appropriate — and even kind of comforting — to debate the nature of good and evil with a smack in the mouth.
It’s not all fist city. Even with such a vast cast of characters beating each other up, Starlin found time for some nice spotlight scenes, such as a little Hulk/Wolverine bromance over being the toughest guys in the room.
(With the X-Men still beyond the grasp of Marvel Studios, the above scene is on hold, pending completion of the Disney/Fox deal!)
So Infinity Gauntlet really was quite a traditional comic book event, with a universe-devouring threat, and a bunch of heroes solving things with their fists. Kind of like Secret Wars, without all the angst and cross-overs. It did get a little silly at times, but all is redeemed by a solid ending, which sees Thanos defeated in clever fashion (“spolier,” I guess), and the ol’ re-set button punched in a way that I didn’t see coming. I would have preferred that Jim Starlin both draw and write the book (or that George Perez had done the whole series, rather than yield to Ron Lim half way through), but for the most part I’m satisfied with Infinity Gauntlet, for its high stakes action and an overload of Thanos triumphant!
Of course there would be more “Infinity” series to follow, before the property extended into cash grabs and parodies, first as the Infinity Gems sought to bring my beloved Rune and the Ultraverse into the Marvel Universe, and then later as they became fodder for the Pet Avengers.
When I get an Infinity Gauntlet of my own, I’ll wish four decades worth of Marvel comic book continuity into the cornfield.
In the meantime, I’ll head back to the theater and enjoy Thanos’ star turn one more time! Enjoy the show!
- Title: Infinity Gauntlet
- Published By: Marvel Comics, 1991
- Issues Reviewed By The Longbox Graveyard: #1-6, July-December 1991
- LBG Letter Grade For This Run: B
- Read The Reprint: Infinity Gauntlet
Originally published June 20, 2012