Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, and Kumail Nanjiani star in Marvel Studios’ newest film, “Eternals,” which will be released on November 5th. It’s based on Jack Kirby’s 1976 comic book about enormous aliens creating immortals to protect humanity from their other creation, the Deviants. The film serves as a reminder that, while Kirby may not be well-known, he was one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century.

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Kirby, who died in 1994, was a key figure in the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it today, as he was a co-creator of the comics from which it was adapted. No other comic book artist has had a greater influence. 

However, his legacy extends far beyond comic books and superheroes. His signature style, a fusion of pivotal artistic movements such as cubism, avant-garde, surrealism, expressionism, op art, indigenous South American, mid century commercial and futurism, blended into his own visual language, can be found today in virtually all forms of visual media and art, from film to advertising to photography.

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Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg in 1917 to Jewish immigrants from Austria who lived in New York’s Lower East Side tenements and worked in a garment factory. As a 14-year-old Pratt Institute dropout, he found early success when he and studio partner Joe Simon created Captain America for Timely Comics in 1941, selling nearly a million copies per month. 

When the popularity of superheroes faded after the war, the versatile Kirby left an indelible mark on a variety of other genres, including western, horror, space adventure, and giant monsters. His rampaging behemoths paralleled the rise of creature features like “Them!” in the United States and kaiju films like “Godzilla” in Japan, helping to establish them as a lasting genre.  

Kirby not only helped define superhero comics in the 1940s, but he also helped redefine them in the 1960s. Timely was now known as Marvel, and his and Simon’s former office assistant, Stan Lee, was now the editor-in-chief and head writer. Lee hired Kirby for what would become an unprecedented and unrivalled period of manic creativity. They collaborated on the Fantastic Four (1961), Hulk (1962), Thor (1962), Ant-Man (1962), Iron Man (1963), Avengers (1963), X-Men (1963), Silver Surfer (1966), Black Panther (1966), and hundreds of other heroes, villains, cast members, and concepts. Kirby was also involved in the creation of Spider-Man in 1962 and Daredevil in 1964, as well as auteuring solo properties such as the Eternals.