Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus: Volume Four

As Jack Kirby’s Fourth World came to a close, I was left with a sense of incompleteness (as I’m sure most who read this are).  I knew going into the stories that the comics were cancelled before their stories were completed, but I didn’t expect it to end as suddenly as it did. As I was reading this trade, I came upon two Mister Miracle issues in a row. Curious, I turned back to the table of contents to see when the next The Forever People or New Gods would appear.  As it turns out, I had unknowingly read the final issues of both of these comics.  I was more upset by this realization than I thought I would be.  As I’ve previously mentioned, Mister Miracle is by far my favorite comic in the bunch, yet I found myself upset to not know how the other stories ended.  The Forever People ended quietly with everyone stranded on a distant planet, while New Gods left us on a bit of a cliffhanger, with Orion acknowledging that he is Darkseid’s son and that he must battle him to end the war.  I was eagerly awaiting that confrontation, only to discover that it would never happen.

I was a bit peeved, to say the least.  I was thoroughly invested in these stories, and they just dropped off without an ending, satisfactory or otherwise.

The silver lining was that I had 100+ uninterrupted pages of Mister Miracle ahead of me.  I read on, eager to see what the master escape artist would accomplish next.

As expected, I wasn’t disappointed.  His stories continued on in a similar vein, though I now feel as though they were missing something, no longer being tied together with the other comics.  The issues themselves were very enjoyable, and my love for Big Barda continued to grow with every issue I read.

Her character is insanely awesome, plain and simple.  She personifies the second-wave feminist movement that was  gaining momentum in the late 60’s and early 70’s (Yay history degree! you’re finally useful for something), while still being entertaining.

wpid-wp-1444757222738.jpgKirby’s beliefs shine through in his work, and I think it’s safe to say he was a feminist.  He created strong, independent female characters who were powerful in their own right. Even more impressive is that they are self-contained characters, rather than simply the female counterparts to a male superhero.  Big Barda and the female furies have their own unique powers, and are able to exist completely separate from Mister Miracle.

As though I didn’t love them enough, we even get an entire scene in which Barda and the furies fight off cameramen who were spying on them and making lewd comments while they were trying to swim:

wpid-wp-1444756392911.jpgBarda and the furies kicked some serious butt battling the forces of sexism, and I loved every second of it.

(Side note: I totally call dibs on using “Barda and the Furies” as a band name… just in case I ever actually start a band).

The comics continue with the introduction of even more outrageous villains, the most notable being the lovely (and by lovely I mean terrifying) lady pictured below:

wpid-wp-1444758330757.jpgShe says her name is Madame Crazy Eyes, but personally I think she looks more like Norman Bates’ mom…

I worried that when The Forever People and New Gods were cancelled, Mister Miracle‘s stories would cease to exist within the larger universe Kirby created and would become fully self-contained.  For the first few issues after the cancellation they do take on a more centralized tone, dealing less with Apokolips and New Genesis and existing as individual stories.  You can almost see the gears in Kirby’s mind turning as he tries to reconcile this unexpected change to his story progression with how he is going to continue Mister Miracle’s saga.

Unfortunately the larger universe never seemed to recover.  All the major players in the Fourth World saga reappear, but it is in the final issue of Mister Miracle, and ends with a hopeful but anticlimactic finish.  Mister Miracle and Big Barda are married, with Orion, Lightray, Highfather, and even Metron in attendance.

wpid-wp-1444843606172.jpg

A handful of Apokolips cronies are there as well, including Granny Goodness.  Darkseid himself even shows up in the final few panels, but just as he appears, the heroes from New Genesis disappear, leaving Darkseid standing on Earth alone.  There is no great battle between the forces of good and evil; there is the hint of a major battle to come, but unfortunately Kirby’s comics ended before the stories were completed.

At least for a while…

The final portion of this trade contains Kirby’s graphic novel, written ten years after all the other comics, and tells the story of a major battle between Orion and Darkseid.  A few key players make a dramatic return, and tension is built from page one until the story concludes.

The battle in question is not, it would seem, the definitive “final battle” alluded to in prior issues, but it was exciting nonetheless.  I admit to being a bit disappointed that the New Gods characters were the only ones to make a return; The Forever People and Mister Miracle are nowhere to be found.  Still, I was glad to see Kirby was allowed to complete his story, at least in some sense of the word.

Having completed the entire Fourth World Omnibus, I feel pretty immersed in these early Kirby/DC characters.  Some stories were more thrilling than others, but all tied together to tell a sweeping saga.  Given how much Kirby accomplished with the limited run of these stories, one can only imagine what he could have done if the comics had lasted longer.  His influence on the comic world is evident on every page of these stories.  His writing, his artwork, the sheer scope of his imagination – it all shines through in these trades.  I even learned about a few stylistic devices credited specifically to him, specifically the Kirby Crackle:

wpid-wp-1444585206562.jpg(Kudos to Mistah J for teaching me that.  Honestly, I could write an entire post titled, “Comics Vocab with Mistah J”.  Maybe I will one day…)

As I read a lot of these earlier trades, I sometimes find myself wanting to get through the stories quickly, so that I can get to the more modern comics with more gripping stories and artwork.  I admit to feeling that way once or twice while reading these trades.  Now that they’re over though, I think I’m going to miss reading about these characters. They stick with you long after you’ve finished their stories, and I can only hope that they make a triumphant return to the DC multiverse at a later date.

The legacy Kirby built with these comics is far-reaching, and knowing that his work with Marvel was even more impressive, I am in awe of his abilities.  Moving forward on the shelf, this will be a tough act to follow.  It’s truly a shame his incredible talent was cut short with these comics, but I’m sure his influence is still being felt today, and I expect I’ll be seeing that influence in plenty of comics to come.

-Jess

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