A month ahead of what would have been his 100th birthday, Disney and Marvel Entertainment will celebrate the career of Jack Kirby, with the announcement that he will be named a Disney Legend during July’s D23 Expo 2017 in Anaheim, California.
The recognition is an odd one; Kirby will be one of two initial Marvel honorees for the Disney award — Stan Lee being the other; both men will receive the award during the July 14 event, led by Disney CEO Bob Iger, with other honorees recognized being Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oprah Winfrey, Julie Taylor and Garry Marshall, as well as Disney artists Manuel Gonzales and Clyde “Gerry” Geronimi — but, although he is doubtlessly a comic book legend, being responsible for the creation of much of the Marvel line, and a fair number of characters and concepts for other publishers, including DC, he’s not exactly a Disney legend.
In fact, beyond the fact that Kirby’s work for Marvel now belongs to Disney following the latter’s purchase of the comic company in 2009, Kirby’s connection to Disney amounts to little more than a comic strip adaptation of the studio’s 1979 sci-fi movie The Black Hole created for newspapers at the time of the movie’s release, facilitated by his regular collaborator Mike Royer, who at the time worked directly for Disney. His Marvel work — indeed, his entire comic book career ahead of his death in 1994 — predated any Disney connection by a number of decades.
The Disney recognition comes at a strange time for Kirby’s creative legacy within Marvel’s comic book line, as well; currently, many of the characters he created or co-created have been replaced with altered or updated versions, with some of the most iconic — the original Hulk, Iron Man and X-Men‘s Professor Xavier and Cyclops — left for dead as the result of recent storylines. His signature series at the company, Fantastic Four— the series that launched the Marvel universe as it exists today — hasn’t been published since 2015, and the character many fans most closely associate with him, Captain America, has been transformed into a fascist for the purposes of Marvel’s tentpole 2017 storyline.
It’s possible that Kirby, himself a restless innovator who preferred to come up with new ideas rather than rehash old glories, would approve of these changes. If nothing else, it should be noted that the relationship between the Kirby estate and Marvel is healthier now than it has been in some years, following the 2014 settlement of a long-running lawsuit over ownership of many Marvel characters Kirby had created or co-created for the company.
With Kirby’s 100th birthday approaching on Aug. 28, the Disney Legend award could be seen as a well-deserved tribute to the man who was instrumental in building the company that now rules the box office with movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Doctor Strange. (Neither based on Kirby characters, notably; this November’s Thor: Ragnarok sees a return to his contribution, however.) For others, though, the question of how deserved it is underscores the complicated relationship Marvel, and by extension, corporate parent Disney, have shared with Kirby.