The Palance-Darkseid Connection

Sorry to hear of the passing of actor Jack Palance, a classy presence in an awful lot of movies over the years. I'm afraid I never met Mr. Palance and have absolutely no anecdotes about him.

However, I can't help but mention an interesting sidelight to the man's stellar career. In 1970, the great comic book creator Jack Kirby introduced a villain named Darkseid (pronounced "Dark-SIDE") who has since become one of the great bad guys in the history of the medium. Darkseid has appeared often in the pages of DC Comics ever since and also made it onto TV cartoons and the toy shelves.

The style and substance of this master antagonist were based on just about every power-mad tyrant Kirby had ever met or observed, with a special emphasis on Richard Milhous Nixon. Nixon was kind of the monster du jour for many in 1970 and he's still a fine template for various forms of villainy.

Beyond that kind of thing, it is not uncommon for comic artists to "cast" their creations, using someone they know or have observed as reference, and Kirby used Jack Palance as a model for Darkseid. I don't mean that he thought the other Jack had ever tried to enslave the universe…but Kirby had been impressed by one or more Palance screen appearances. They inspired some aspect of Darkseid…a look, a posture, a gesture, whatever. Most of all, it was probably a voice. When J.K. wrote dialogue for his comic book evildoer, he was "hearing" Palance in some film. (I have no idea which one. Another Kirby scholar has suggested the 1968 TV-Movie, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with Palance in both title roles, but I don't see any points of comparison.) In the same way and in the same series, Kirby based the likeness of businessman Morgan Edge on actor Kevin McCarthy and super-heroine Big Barda on singer Lainie Kazan (right after she was in Playboy) while a villain named Glorious Godfrey was an amalgam of Billy Graham and Arthur Godfrey.

To the best of my knowledge, Jack Palance was unaware that one of his screen images was purloined for a comic book baddie, and no one seems to have thought of voicecasting him for any of Darkseid's animated appearances. And I want to emphasize that Kirby had no negative thoughts whatsoever about the actor. Quite the contrary, he thought Palance had a great screen presence, giving off a power that was worth putting to use in a comic book.

Also to the best of my knowledge, whenever Darkseid scored a triumph, he never dropped to the floor and did one-handed push-ups. But if I'd written more of his adventures, he probably would have.