Jack Kirby’s The Prisoner

Jack Kirby’s The Prisoner

Kirby’s own appeal to the proposed series which was rife with the concept of “an individuals stubborn attempts to gain freedom from a faceless despotic ruling body” makes perfect sense within Kirby’s cannon (and his feeling for Marvel)

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By Ryan Brlecic

Given the time period in Jack Kirby’s career, one might expect his adaptation to lack any real passion – but his Prisoner is a fervid, ardent sequential take on the material and an odd fit with Kirby’s 70′s output.

Kirby’s own appeal to the proposed series which was rife with the concept of “an individuals stubborn attempts to gain freedom from a faceless despotic ruling body” makes perfect sense within Kirby’s canon (and his feelings for Marvel). Its paranoiac premise reflected shades of OMAC, his later run on Captain America, Fourth World, and of course his creation Mr. Miracle.

Kirby’s fascination with The Prisoner in fact dates back at least as far as Fantastic Four #84-87, which would have been produced in 1968, the very year The Prisoner was first broadcast in the US. That story focuses on a Latverian village constructed by Dr. Doom to entrap the Fantastic Four, a village in which the falsely-smiling peasants seem just as cowed and evasive as the inhabitants of McGoohan’s village. Stan Lee later (October ’69) acknowledged this story as an homage to/parody of The Prisoner – clearly, the concept lodged itself in Kirby’s brain soon after, or even during, the TV show’s original run.

Jack Kirby shared with McGoohan a similar career thematic disregard for control and oppression in society over the individual. Best embodied by Kirby in his creation Darkseid and his ongoing quest for Anti-Life; dramatizing the struggle between individual freedom versus tyrannical control. As McGoohan used the spy genre to make his similar point, It was Kirby who used comics  to show the ideal version of ourselves. Ones strong enough to stand up to the forces that try to hold us in submission. McGoohan used television as an intellectual vehicle, as Kirby was determined to make the superhero comic a platform for ideas.

You can read into Jack Kirby’s Prisoner as an allegory for his own professional status in the mid-’70s. It is a story about a man who resigns his position “on matter of principle,” only to find that he is once again is in the grip of an indecent power. He left Marvel, then felt frustrated with his ambitions at DC, and then his ultimate return to Marvel which saw him no better. Jack Kirby has been nicknamed “The King”, but I believe secretly he was “The Prisoner”.

Scroll below to view pages from Kirby’s adaptation.

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Further reading via Twomorrows Publishing

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November 15, 2009

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