Jack Kirby: Much cooler than you are.

But to be fair, The King was cooler than anyone. The absurdly talented artist, born Jacob Kurtzburg, co-created Captain America, X-Men, and the Fantastic Four (to name but a few). As a kid, he was a brawler in a NYC street gang. He served as a combat infantryman in World War II. And then comes the most macho part of all: He illustrated the very first romance comics.

And as depicted in the Oscar-winning movie Argo, his concept art was involved in a CIA operation to extract six hostages from Iran in 1979.

Kirby produced the fiendishly brilliant illustrations for a planned film and theme park adaptation of the Roger Zelazny novel, Lord of Light.

Yeah, that’s right—plans were once in place for Science Fiction Land, a theme park based on The King’s artwork. In one of the biggest tragedies ever endured by humanity, it never actually happened.

When not writing Hugo award-winning science fiction novels, Roger Zelazny was studying a multitude of fighting styles, dueling with fellow expert fencers, plus teaching aikido. In other words, he was sufficiently badass to justify Jack Kirby bringing his novel to life.

Lord of Light tells the tale of Earth-abandoning colonists in search of a new home. Set in the distant future, the group’s combing of the cosmos sees them develop the ability to transfer their minds into brand-spanking-new bodies. Galactic reincarnation! Which, along with newly acquired superpowers, leads to them becoming masters of an alien race. And thrusting Buddhism upon them.

Brain-blisteringly bizarre? You betcha.

After purchasing Lord of Light’s film rights, Barry Geller decided that some visual extravagance would help bring his ambitious project to life. Enter Jack Kirby. No longer working full-time in comics, The King made for the perfect choice. A big name among science fiction fans (not least those of the comic book inclination), his peerless sense of design and abundant imagination were exactly what Geller required.

Quote the would-be director:

"Jack and I started with my idea of doing both Lord of Light film sets and Science Fiction Land theme park designs from the same drawings. This would then become a method of preserving his design flow throughout the entire development and production of Lord of Light and Science Fiction Land theme park. In this fashion Jack would remain, 'The General,' my conferred role upon him.”

Alas, like the theme park (which would’ve incorporated Lord of Light’s actual film set), plans for Geller and Kirby’s cinematic odyssey folded. Kirby’s artwork was then used in the hostage liberation before, well, pretty much disappearing from the public radar. The CIA’s declassification of its covert operation didn’t happen until 2007, no doubt one of the main reasons why.

Jim Lee, now co-publisher of DC Entertainment, nabbed the (sort of) lost art at a Sotheby’s auction in 1993. Kirby’s illustrations were billed as concept art for an adaptation of Zelazny’s novel, but of course, their new owner had no idea they were involved in 1979’s political showdown.

A man of fine taste, Jim Lee was happy to snap up Kirby’s designs despite blissful unawareness of their sensational history.

A few months back, Heavy Metal magazine announced it would be printing color versions of this Lord of Light art for the very first time. Mark Englert has absolutely nailed the coloring duties, too. Striking, strange, psychedelic … a perfect testament to Kirby’s epic designs.

Heavy Metal issue #276 is now on sale, and as promised, boasts the art in full-color glory. You can also find out more about Lord of Light right here

Happy birthday, Jack Kirby. If only I could celebrate it by frequenting your theme park….

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