Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus: Volume Two

Volume Two of this Kirby collection picks up right where the last volume left off.  The planets of New Genesis and Apokolips are on the brink of war, and Earth is the unfortunate battleground.  The story continues to be revealed slowly to the reader, jumping between various issues and focusing on different characters, with each issue shedding light on a new part of the plot.

In my last post I questioned why these stories were not more popular when they were first published.  A possible reason is starting to show itself.  With a single storyline spanning numerous titles, and each title not being published on a monthly basis, it becomes a bit confusing to keep track of all the characters and storylines presented here.  I found myself having to flip back through the trade to remind myself what last happened when we saw Mister Miracle or the Forever People, since their individual issues are split up by a few months’ worth of other comics.  Being slightly confused by the storyline when I’m reading all of these issues back to back makes me appreciate how difficult it must have been to follow when issues were released so far apart.  These stories work better as a collected trade, rather than sporadic issues.  That’s not a slight to Kirby; his stories are simply so all-encompassing that the reader needs to completely submerge himself in the world, not idly pass through every so often.

Although the progression from story to story can sometimes feel a bit slow, simply because of the order of publishing, the overall story continuously ramps up speed.  New characters are constantly being introduced and help to reveal new information about existing characters.  We slowly learn character backstories, adding motives to the chaos engulfing the world.

I have already mentioned that Mister Miracle was one of my favorite characters to read about in this collection.  That belief was only further cemented with the introduction of Big Barda.  The comic reveals that Big Barda is an armed fighter trained on Apokolips, where it turns out Scott Free (alias Mister Miracle) was also raised.  Scott fled to Earth and Big Barda came searching for him.

I’m always excited when a new female character is introduced, as there are far fewer present here than their male counterparts.  Big Barda does not disappoint.  I always arch my eyebrow whenever I see how a woman is depicted in many of these comics, as she can often be over-sexualized to the point of distraction.  A part of me worried about that with Big Barda.  Kirby certainly doesn’t shy away from putting her in revealing clothing.

wpid-wp-1444258023114.jpgThis is possibly the most revealing outfit I’ve seen on a female character to date.  Not much is left to the imagination, and I’m sure this may have some people up in arms about the sexualization of female characters in comics, etc etc.  A part of me began heading down that road of indignation, but as I kept reading I realized that Big Barda is so much more than that, and to focus solely on her appearance is ignoring her truly remarkable talents.  Yes, she struts around in barely-there clothing, but she’s also perhaps the fiercest female warrior I’ve seen yet, even topping Wonder Woman in how badass she can be.

wpid-wp-1444300613048.jpgShe’s just crushing a pistol with her bare hands, no big deal.  Her facial expressions are terrifying to say the least.  She’s not just a pretty face; she’s tough and strong and incredible.

The fact that Kirby combines two usually-separate characteristics makes Big Barda one of the most entertaining characters in the series.

wpid-wp-1444263455521.jpgShe is single-handedly carrying a Civil-War era cannon, all while rocking a killer bikini.  I’m more than a little jealous.

Big Barda is intriguing not because she’s a beautiful woman who’s fully comfortable with her body, and not because she’s a strong warrior.

She’s intriguing because she’s both.

Kirby creates a healthy blend of femininity with masculine strength, outright defying gender stereotypes and allowing Big Barda to be anything she wants, both strong and sexual.  I’m also glad to see that although her outfit is revealing, her body isn’t overly detailed.  The most attention is given to her abs, of all things.  She’s able to wear revealing clothing without reducing her to little more than eye-candy.  She wears the bikini when relaxing, but as soon as trouble looms, she switches to her battle-ready (and much more practical) armor, eagerly heading into the fight:

wpid-wp-1444263718250.jpgSeriously, she’s so cool.  I want to be her.

Kirby continues his progressive stylings in a much more in-your-face way, making numerous allusions to war and a man’s duty to his country, a topic at the forefront of everyone’s mind in the early 1970’s.  In one story he introduces minor characters who epitomize the opposing viewpoints of the time, those who feel they have a responsibility to serve their countries on one side, and conscientious objectors on the other.  When one dies in the comic, Lightray refers to him as “another faceless hero”:

wpid-wp-1444268070687.jpgI was surprised to see any hint at political overtones in the comics, but I suppose they’re more questions of morality than anything else.  Still, the stories began to take on a more serious tone, with character deaths and real peril, harkening back to earlier comics and straying from the “happily ever after” mentality of the 50’s.

Being halfway through these stories, I’m readily invested in the characters, though I admit I prefer some to others.  The Forever People aren’t my favorite, if for no other reason than that they don’t have very distinct personalities.  I think I prefer character-driven stories, and The Forever People are just a bit too cookie-cutter for my liking.  Still, I enjoy reading about them despite their somewhat bland personalities, which speaks volumes to Kirby’s abilities as a storyteller.  I’m much more interested in Mister Miracle’s storyline, especially when Big Barda is involved.  Their comics feel a bit tighter and leave me constantly wanting to read more.  Luckily, I have two whole volumes ahead of me to get my Mister Miracle fix.

In the meantime, I’m going to go practice looking sexy while lugging a cannon around…

-Jess

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