Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus: Volume One

It seems to be a recurring theme on this blog that I must beg forgiveness for my complete ignorance on a topic.  As much as it now pains me to admit it:

I didn’t really know who Jack Kirby was before this week.

That’s not to say I had never heard of him.  The name was familiar enough, having heard it uttered alongside Stan Lee’s name occasionally (though I’m learning, not often enough).  I knew he was a creative force behind a number of Marvel characters, but I had no idea that he also worked for DC Comics.

I know, I know.  Comic newbie, remember?  If I wrote down all the things I didn’t know about comics, I could probably fill a blog.  Oh wait…

That being said, this Omnibus collection was an entirely new experience for me.  For the first time since I ventured into comics, I was reading about characters I knew absolutely nothing about, and had admittedly never even heard of.  That concept alone felt strange and exciting.

Volume One begins with Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133, originally released in 1970.  This story presented Kirby’s manner of storytelling and artistry right off the bat.  The issue presents a reimagining of Metropolis, in which Morgan Edge is the new head of the Galaxy Broadcasting System, an “intergang” plagues the city,  and Jimmy Olsen is joined by The Newsboy Legion.  Interestingly, the Legion is comprised of the sons of members of the original Newsboy Legion:

wpid-wp-1444065163086.jpgI’m a sucker for nostalgia, and the inclusion of these second-generation characters made me smile more than it should.  Not only are we presented with a new batch of Newsboys, but their fathers make continuing appearances as well, giving us a glimpse into their future lives.  This is a privilege often denied us, as characters tend to remain static and unaging.  Sure, they’re not the main plot of the story by any means, but small details like this can make or break a comic, and Kirby’s inclusion of such details made his stories that much more intriguing.

Continuing in the vein of comics from the era, we also see Superman pausing for a moment of existential self-doubt:

wpid-wp-1444067489548.jpgThis isn’t an idea that occurs often in this trade, but after completing Volume One I can’t help but feel that Kirby included this aside as a subtle hint of the story to come.  As Superman questions his role on Earth and expresses his sense of loneliness, the reader is unaware of the new worlds that are about to be opened up to him.

The collection truly begins as we see the emergence of new worlds, The idyllic New Genesis and the fiery Apokolips.  Kirby does not simply throw the reader into a new universe with a brand new storyline; no, his move is much more subtle.  He plants new characters from these realms on Earth, revealing their backstories slowly, carefully.  In this way I think Kirby was completely brilliant.  Rather than bog down his readers with this overwhelming plot, he introduces characters and storylines over a period of time, letting the stories take hold in the reader’s mind.  Based on this first collection alone, it’s clear that Kirby was bursting with ideas, and the fact that he was able to contain himself enough to let the story develop so slowly shows true talent and self-restraint as a writer.

Attempting to summarize the stories in this trade goes beyond my scope as a writer; they are simply that detailed.  There are so many new heroes and foes presented here that I don’t even know where to begin.  Should I address the oddity that is The Forever People, a group of heroes who morph into a single hero, Infinity Man, when help is needed?  Or perhaps the death-defying mysteries of Mister Miracle, a character whose story has yet to be fully revealed?  There’s always the damnable evil Darkseid, the villainous reason all of the events in these stories are taking place.

That doesn’t even begin to cover the world Kirby created here, and I’m only one volume in.  The sheer scope of his imagination is mind-boggling, even today.  I’ve read nearly 400 pages of his Fourth World comics, and I have absolutely no idea where the story is headed from here, nor do I believe the entire plot has even been revealed yet.

The comics may not be perfect, but it astounds me that these stories weren’t more well-received by the public when they were first printed (I was curious, I did a little research).  I can’t help but wonder at the reasons behind that.  Were these comics not pushed enough by DC when they were published?  Were people just not ready for a brand new story with such a wide scope?  Or maybe the pace of the story didn’t translate well with bi-monthly releases of each comic.  Reading this collection over the span of a few days is vastly different than reading it over nearly a year.  Maybe the gradual development just wasn’t enough to hold the readers’ attention, at least for a new, original story.  It seems a shame though, given how well thought-out these comics were.

On a lighter note, I have to pause to address Kirby’s character design.  His artistic style seems very distinct, especially when it comes to costumes.  One character’s look stood out to me more than any other’s, though:

wpid-wp-1444171920020.jpgIs it just me, or does Granny Goodness look like a cross between Aquaman and Darth Vader?  She even has the baton that eerily resembles a lightsaber.

How does an artist manage to reference a movie that wouldn’t come out for another six years??

I can’t think of an answer.

I guess Kirby really is King.

-Jess

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