Jack Kirby's Greatest Superman Covers

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10 Great Superman Covers By Jack "King" Kirby

Superman pin-up by Jack Kirby
Superman #400 pin-up by Jack Kirby. DC Comics

Jack "King" Kirby is the king of Marvel Comics and helped create iconic characters like Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk. But back in the 1970s, after some differences with the company, he jumped ship to DC Comics.

There he created his legendary "Fourth World" and created a new mythology that spanned four comic titles. He created new characters like the New Gods, Darkseid and Mister Miracle.

Along the way, he got to draw Superman and he did an amazing job. One of Kirby's greatest skills was cover design. So here now are the greatest covers with Superman by Jack Kirby.

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Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133

Cover of "Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen" #133 (1970)
"Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen" #133 (1970) by Jack Kirby. DC Comics

Jack Kirby's first cover for Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen (now named "Ex-Pal") #133 has a big title screaming "Kirby is Here!" DC was very proud to have him and it showed. Kirby loved to have objects flying from the cover and, what's more impressive than having Superman getting knocked out by a motorcycle?

While DC was happy to have Jack Kirby working for them they didn't always appreciate his outlandish style. So, often he would submit a design and it would get rejected for a more traditional design. This cover originally looked very different with a more dramatic pose with Superman getting knocked over by the motorcycle and a fierce gun pointed at his face.

While the cover has Jack Kirby's marvelous layout and character design you can tell the cover is much simpler than his usual work. This gallery is a tribute to Kirby's design, but a study in how DC just couldn't handle his style.

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Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137

Cover of "Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen" #137 (1971)
"Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen" #137 (1971) by Jack Kirby. DC Comics

This cover is a perfect example of the looming evil motif. A huge four-armed creature looms over Superman while the kids of the Newsboy Legion cower in terror. Superman strikes a pose to protect them. Classic Superman.

The text promises "the last day of the world"! Who wouldn't want to read that comic?

While DC was happy to have Jack Kirby working for them, they were unhappy with his depiction of established characters like Superman and Jimmy Olsen. So, they frequently had other artists redraw and replace his designs of Superman. They would either do just the head and hands or replace the entire body. This is a good example of this. 

The power in the cover is ruined by the replacement of Superman and Jimmy Olsen. But, on the bright side, it's pretty close to Kirby's style.

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Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138

Comic cover "Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen" #138 (1971)
"Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen" #138 (1971) by Jack Kirby. DC Comics

Kirby had a way with a photo-montages and this is the best example of that. Superman pops out of the page in front of a stylized photograph. Keep in mind, these are the days before Photoshop. They had to do all this by hand cutting pieces of paper and gluing them down in layers! Masterful craftsmanship.

The original pencils have been lost and the drawing of Superman is by Neal Adams. Reproducing Kirby's pose and perspective couldn't have been easy but Adams does a good job.

You gotta love the salesmanship too. Kirby dares the reader not to buy the comic. In true Kirby style, he says, "don't be a chicken read all about doomsday!"

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Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139

Comic cover of "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen" #139
"Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen" #139 by Jack Kirby. DC Comics

Everyone was nuts for the insult comic Don Rickles back in the 1970s and, thanks to Jack Kirby, he shows up in Jimmy Olsen.

They got permission from Rickels and crafted a story about him having an evil duplicate named Goody Rickles. The cover used a photo collage of a Rickle's caricature.  A worm's eye perspective emphasizes the exaggerated jump of Rickle's doppelganger. The four characters have perfect perspective even in the exaggerated forms. Superman's head is replaced, of course, but they left Kirby's hands.

What makes this cover so wonderful is the copy. To emphasize the humor, he puts a caption that reads, “Are you ready for defoliants in your succotash? Are you ready for landmines in your lunchbox? Are you ready for two Rickles?”

What does it mean? I have no idea, but it's bizarre enough to make you buy the comic. And that's great marketing.

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Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141

Cover of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #141
Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #141 (1971) by Jack Kirby. DC Comics

When they imagined bringing Don Rickles into the comics, they planned on three panels but it was Carmine Infantino that suggested making it a two-part story. He saw the potential for something promotable. Infantino said it had to be a two-issue story arc. So, instead of writing two pages, Jack wrote two issues.

This cover uses another photo collage to bring the focus to the center of the page. Kirby usually uses an exaggerated forced perspective of the characters are exaggerated so this is normal.

It’s interesting that Goody Rickles’ pose is even more exaggerated with his foot sticking up in the air. It’s great and intentionally exaggerated for humorous effect. This style is common on Mad Magazine covers but Kirby shows the effectiveness of the style. Superman's head is replaced of course and it's an interesting contrast to Guardian on the right who was left intact.

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Forever People #1

Comic cover of "Forever People" #1 (1971)
"Forever People" #1 (1971) by Jack Kirby. DC Comics

The first issue of Forever People dynamically introduces the new heroes by pushing them right in your face.

One Kirby's most effective cover designs pops right out of the page at the reader. The teenage New Gods - Genesis, Big Bear, Vykin the Black, Mark Moonrider, Beautiful Dreamer and Serifan​ - drive the Super Cycle off the page while Superman tries to stop them. The Forever People all look so excited! It's hard not to get hyped for the comic.

As for the inevitable changes, when he was inked by Frank Giacoia "Super City" was changed to "Super Town". Also, the original pencils by Kirby didn't have Superman, so it's possible he was only added for promotional reasons.

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Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143

Comic cover for "Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen" #143 (1971)
"Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen" #143 (1971) by Jack Kirby. DC Comics

Every Jack Kirby cover pops off the page and this is an excellent one. Superman faces off against looming characters flying over him. Superman is grounded which makes for a surprisingly vulnerable and terrifying visual. Especially his use of color to create a negative image.

The figure of Superman has an uncharacteristically heavy cape that billows around his shoulders. It looks more like Thor than Superman which isn't surprising. Kirby Drew Thor for years.

The original pencils by Kirby are incredibly detailed and used a lot of what's been called "Kirby Krackle". He started using lots of black dots to represent dynamic energy. Of course, this was a nightmare for the inkers, so they left them out.

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Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144

Cover of "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #144
"Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #144 by Jack Kirby. DC Comics

The overall layout has a perfect central focus. All the characters encircle the center in a dramatic fashion. The water rushes across the page and practically splashes into your lap. The sea monster in the center looks large and powerful. You can barely take it in.

Kirby was a master of proportions and you have seven figures each in completely different poses in proportion.

Then, you have Superman gracefully soaring overhead like a bird. Looking at the original pencils of the cover by Jack Kirby, you can see the face and hands were redone by Neil Adams. They do change the feel, but not the spirit.

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Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #145

Cover of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #145
Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #145. DC Comics

As crowded as this cover is, it still feels smooth and dynamic thanks to a strong central pivot.

The original cover was a powerful image of Superman holding up broken beams while two large figures race forward. The new cover uses bold and strong lines as a horrifying creature tries to claw its way out of a door. 

Superman just hangs over them. A good cover nonetheless.

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Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #146

Cover of "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen" #146 (1972)
"Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen" #146 (1972) by Jack Kirby. DC Comics

This is a classic example of the good vs. evil cover. Superman and the Newsboy Legion against Caveman Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy looks like he’s ready to clobber everyone and they all cower in fear.

Kirby was masterful at perspective and this cover is a wonderful example. Most comics before Kirby looked like a stage show. The shots were at eye-level and had everyone standing around. Kirby changed all that. He favored low angles for dramatic effect.

Just look at that perspective. You have eight characters at drastically different depths and it feels natural. The only exception is Superman who’s body and hands match Kirby’s style but who’s head looks ridiculously undersized. Obviously, the head’s been replaced by another artist.

Final Thoughts

Jack Kirby tried to put on a good face, but the constant second guessing of his work left him bitter. While he did a wonderful job and created iconic characters like Darkseid, he soon went back to Marvel Comics. He left behind spectacular work and his mark and legacy lives on in Superman.