Jack Kirby, for those of you who are not familiar with him, was a pioneering artist and storyteller in comic books. While Stan Lee gets most of the credit, it’s Jack Kirby who is largely responsible for this:
Okay, not so much the movie, but he was a guiding force behind the creation of the Fantastic Four, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, the newly cinematic Ant-Man, and even Captain America back in the 1940s, when Marvel Comics was known as Timely. It was this period of time, after he was drawing Captain America punching Hitler in the face and before he drew The Thing facing down Dr. Doom, that Kirby turned his attentions to more esoteric sci-fi and even philosophical adventure stories. As observed by Christopher Loring Knowles in this blog post on The Secret Sun, it was during this period that Kirby started exhibiting some remarkably consistent traits in his storytelling that continued for the rest of his career.
In 1959, Kirby “wrote” a story called “The Face on Mars.”
I say “wrote” in quotation marks because Kirby was not credited as a writer, but it was no secret in the industry that he was heavily (and sometimes solely) responsible for the plotting, drawing, and writing of his comics. What’s interesting about this story is that it involves astronauts landing on Mars and discovering a giant stone face, left behind by an ancient civilization on the red planet.
This story was published in 1959, 17 years before the Viking spacecraft took the infamous “Mars Face” photograph. Ideas of ancient civilizations on Mars made popular by the likes of Richard C. Hoagland and Mike Bara came decades later. In and of itself, this is an intriguing coincidence.
But the Face in Kirby’s story is only the page 1 grabber. What’s really interesting happens on later pages, when an astronaut climbing into the caves inside the face discovers an ancient Martian race under attack by another spacefaring species from a mysterious fifth planet between Mars and Jupiter. The enraged Martians, seeking revenge, then obliterate this planet, creating the asteroid belt. This whole thing turns out to be a hallucinogenic memory recording that the astronaut experiences as if it were real.
The idea of a destroyed fifth planet is a common idea amongst various proponents of the ancient Martian theories, and has been making the rounds since the 1800s. Known today as the “disruption theory” or “Exploding Planet Hypothesis”, it’s the idea that the fifth planet was destroyed by Jupiter’s gravity, planetary collisions, or warfare amongst ancient civilizations. Over the years, this hypothetical planet has been called Phaeton, Tiamat, Astra, Lucifer, and Maldek.
Though this idea makes a certain amount of logical sense, most scientists disagree with this hypothesis, saying that the asteroids are actually remnants of the building blocks of the planets from the early solar system that are still left around in a gravitationally weak spot in the solar system, like cosmic dust bunnies in the corner of the room.
As Knowles points out, Kirby’s idea of an ancient Martian civilization came long before Zechariah Sitchin’s theories of ancient aliens or Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods. However, it did not come before the Contactees. It seems to me, though I have no supporting evidence whatsoever, that Kirby was likely either a fan of the works of many of the mid-century Contactees, or he was a Contactee himself.
Though the Contactee movement got going in 1952 with George Adamski, it was at its peak in 1959. Joining the crowded field of Contactees were George Hunt Williamson, Orfeo Angelucci, George Van Tassel, and Richard Miller. All of these men told tales of ancient civilizations on a destroyed planet, the debris of which became the asteroid belt. Angelucci wrote a book called The Secret of the Saucers, in which he claimed to have taken over the body of a space brother named Neptune, who lived on an etheric plane on an asteroid in the belt that was once part of a larger planet that had been destroyed in war. Richard Miller claimed to have channeled a being who discussed the fate of Maldek, as did Hunt Williamson. Van Tassel also mentioned these ancient aliens in his works, and Maldek is of crucial import to George King’s Aetherius Society, who point out that Maldek’s destruction is a warning that we should be wary of our own destructive tendencies.
In this frame from the story, our main character describes something else that Contactees (and later, Experiencers) have come to call “downloads”, in which large volumes of information are fed directly to their brains. Was Kirby getting this idea from the Contactees, or was he describing this from personal experience?
It’s easy to dismiss all of this as fiction, because Jack Kirby was a master storyteller, after all. But it’s the fact that he kept coming back to these ideas again and again that I find intriguing. (I won’t discuss them here, I’ll send you over to Christopher Knowles to read about them.) Why couldn’t he let the idea of ancient aliens go? It seems like he was dealing with something intensely personal. But what made it so personal?
This idea that Kirby was perhaps in contact with something outside himself is suggested in another post on that same blog, The Secret Sun:
Starting in the late 50s, Kirby began receiving transmissions that seem to transcend the boundaries of time and space. He buried it all in allegory (read: “wacked-out sci fi”), or rather, translated whatever he was picking up.
Indeed, Kirby’s penchant for prophecy was pretty staggering. Is it possible that he was a Contactee? What was going on in the mid-50s that was giving people all these similar ideas? Some might suggest the early days of LSD and various hallucinogens, or the resurgence of the Theosophical Society and its ideas. But one never knows…maybe the Contactees were really making contact.