ITEM! A lot of Frantic Fans wonder what working with Jack “King” Kirby was really like. Just like the other great creative partnerships in history, Lennon and McCartney, Sonny and Cher, Fred and Barney... folks want to know who did what and who influenced who. Me and Jack? Due to a debilitating combination of long-term memory loss and having dropped acid in the 60s, frankly I don’t remember much. And other times I just make things up. The whole temporal-lobe trick is to just say something repeatedly for three or four decades and voila! You do remember it! If not as it was, then certainly as it should have been.
But ever since I’ve been taking five-times the prescribed dosage of St. John’s Wort, I’ve been having these memory-burst days where I recall something with crystalline precision. Today’s one of those lucky days, pilgrims, and Smiley’s sizzling synaptic misfires are your gregarious gain! For example, here’s the TRUE STORY of how the Lee-Kirby team came up with everyone’s favorite genetically-manipulated cousins, The Inhumans!
Jolly Jack and I were still meeting face-to-cigar in those days to plot out the FF. One day I suggested to Jack that we might revisit the Frankenstein concept that had served us so well as a template for The Incredible Hulk, and create a new Universally-Inspired Manic Movie Monster to pillage and plague our cosmic quartet. Now you have to understand that although we talked a lot to each other during these plotting sessions, neither Jack nor Yours Truly were ever particularly good at listening. In this case, I said “Frankenstein” and Jolly Jack heard “a family of Frankensteins.” Immediately he started ranting on-and-on about this great new TV show he’d seen called The Munsters, and how we could do our own rift on that comedic concept. The Munsters!?? But by this time I’d learned that when Jack got all wound up like an 8-day-clock over something to just shrug and say, “That sounds great, Jack!” and see what he brought back.
But here’s the thing about the King. He’d have a great idea one minute, and then ten more the next. So it was no surprise to your Uncle Stanley when Jack dropped off the pencils to FF #44 and there was no sign of a family of Universal Movie Monsters in it — just some new ungainly ungulated villain named Gorgon chasing the Frightful Four’s Medusa and Dragon-Man around. No biggie. I dialogued accordingly. Then Jack brought in the next ish (FF #45) and suddenly there IS a family of monsters, albeit more Merry Marvel Mutant than Monster per se. And suddenly Madame Medusa is one of them instead of the Frightful Four? What? Did we skip a few issues?
I spent a whole evening at home with those pencils trying to write the captions before I finally got it. Crystal, the only Inhuman who could pass for a normal human? That was Marilyn Munster. Lockjaw was Spot, the Munsters’ pet dragon. Yvonne De Carlo as Medusa anyone? Somewhere in that cosmically creative cerebellum of Jack’s, he had actually taken the basic idea of The Munsters and turned it inside out, and made it his own... er, I mean Marvel’s.
I never quite worked it all out in my own mischievous medulla oblongata, but such is trying to understand the eclectic creative whims of King Kirby. I did ask him once who Black Bolt was supposed to be, and in his typically dyslexically cryptic way, he said, “I don’t know, Lee, but wouldn’t it be great if we all had a boss that shut the hell up once in awhile?”