The Death of the New Gods

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What the frack did I just read??

Jim Starlin’s eight-issue mini-series focuses on the final days of Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” characters.  The title of the trade alone was enough to scare me. Okay, it looks like some of these characters are going to be dying off. Hopefully none are any that I’m particularly attached to.  I began reading, and by the end of the first issue I was already extremely angry.

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Barda is killed.

Barda, my cannon-lifting, bikini-clad badass hero was killed off in issue one.  This alone was enough to turn me off from the comic. Even more infuriating though is the way in which it all happens.  Her death is not given any of the heft I would expect for such a character. This was easily the most underwhelming death of any main DC character I’ve ever read. Hell, Sue Dibny’s death was more impactful than this.  Scott Free simply walks into the kitchen, freaks out, and the issue ends with the above image.  There’s no noise, no sense of Barda struggling or doing anything to save herself.  Sure, we eventually learn the reason and who’s behind it all, etc etc, but Barda is a warrior through and through. The fact that she died seemingly so passively is an insult to the character.

As it turns out, it only gets worse from here. Starlin goes on to kill all of the new gods. Every. Single. One.  The bulk of this comic focuses on the new gods trying to figure out who is murdering them.  A handful of names are thrown onto the table, but ultimately it’s revealed that the Infinity Man is committing the crimes, under direct order of The Source.  Ah, The Source, the all-powerful god-like being that the new gods worship and revere.  The Source ultimately reunites with its dark counterpart, and at the story’s culmination we are left with The Source and Darkseid as the last two remaining vestiges of the Fourth World.

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Darkseid had a handy-dandy potion available that made him a million times more powerful than he already was, allowing him to escape death.  Apparently Starlin decided that out of all of these rich, diverse characters, Darkseid was the only one worth saving.

Believing that the Fourth World is flawed and at an end, The Source destroys everyone, and reunites New Genesis and Apokolips into one planet.

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The implication, as Superman so clearly points out, being that there will be a new wave, the “Fifth World”, of gods, who will live on this united planet.  Orion’s soul remains behind to battle Darkseid, as The Source departs our plane of existence and Superman returns to Earth.

What the hell??

I don’t even know where to begin with this comic.  It feels like a giant “F’ you” to Jack Kirby and everything he created with the Fourth World. How else are you supposed to interpret the systematic annihilation of each and every one of his characters?  I expected a few to perish, but to have to watch every single one be killed off as though it was nothing felt unnecessary and cruel to the memory of what Kirby had created.

The storyline alone was enough to turn me off, but I found the writing itself to be frustratingly forced.  Numerous characters provide lengthy exposition on both the characters’ histories as well as what has gone on in past issues. While I can understand the need for this for new readers, I highly doubt many people are going to pick up this trade knowing absolutely nothing about the new gods. If they’ve never heard of them, why would they care that they’re dying?  The dialogue felt archaic and unnatural, constantly jerking me out of the story as I paused to consider how odd a sentence or phrase sounded.

Reading the introduction to the trade, as written by Jim Starlin, only futher angered me. I never read these until after I’ve finished a trade, for fear of spoilers, but now I wish I had read it before, if only to explain his mindset.  He didn’t want to write this story, and didn’t want to make Scott Free the main character, believing him to be the “weakest” of the new gods. Excuse me??  Why this man decided to write this story is beyond me.  It’s a sad and disappointing ending to a massive group of characters.  Even if they never reached the height of mainstream popularity, was it really necessary to kill off each and every one of them? Couldn’t they have been left in comics obscurity, like so many other characters, until another writer came along and decided to have a go with them?  Instead, the hope of that has been completely stripped away as Starlin wiped out virtually everyone.

I still hold out hope that these characters will return.  While some I was never overly attached to, I enjoyed seeing them pop up every now and again in a trade for the sheer nostalgia factor. Plus, I genuinely loved reading about Scott Free and Barda, and their deaths are easily the saddest outcome from this storyline.  I always develop an irrational hope that characters will make a triumphant return during the next “crisis”, especially since I know Final Crisis is right around the corner.  Whether these characters return or not, this felt like a poor addition to their storylines, and one that definitely didn’t need to be written.  Here’s hoping it all gets reversed somehow.

-Jess

Jack Kirby’s OMAC: One Man Army Corps

I’ve reached the last book of Jack Kirby’s collected works on “the shelf”, a collection of the short-lived series “OMAC: One Man Army Corps”.  Containing just eight issues, OMAC is the story of an ordinary man, Buddy Blank, who is chosen for Project OMAC to become a “one man army” in a future world.

The story was imagined as a futuristic Captain America (no spoilers there. That piece of trivia is included in every article about OMAC online, plus the introduction to this trade itself), and the similarities are certainly noticeable.  It is the differences, however, that make OMAC stand out, both for good and bad reasons.

OMAC’s story takes place in a haunting future in which technology has developed to astounding levels, often with poor results.  OMAC is tasked with the evil that has sprung up because of this technology.  The concepts Kirby came up with for this comic were entertaining to read, to say the very least.  Whereas Captain America relied on historical facts (or a facsimile thereof) to power its comic, OMAC’s stories are pure speculation, springing from Kirby’s imagination.

What I found lacking in OMAC, however, was a touch of humanity.  After his transformation, OMAC quickly loses all memory of who he used to be.

wpid-wp-1445360643080.jpgWith the loss of all of his memories, OMAC becomes little more than a machine, serving mankind without remembering what it was like to be a part of it.  His lack of humanity creates a noticeable void within the comic.  This disconnect between character and reader is marked in each issue, and although it doesn’t ruin the stories, it does take away a certain element of the reading experience.

Further supporting this sense of separation is the seemingly omniscient character of Brother Eye, a large eye orbiting Earth that feeds OMAC power and information.

wpid-wp-1445362013084.jpgBrother Eye aids OMAC in whatever way is needed, always there to provide just helpful tip or last minute burst of power OMAC needs to defeat his enemies.  The sense of dramatic tension in the comics was lessened when I kept expecting Brother Eye to swoop in and provide just the right backup to make OMAC triumphant.

I will admit, I found the futuristic, science-fiction stories themselves quite entertaining and inventive.  The most intriguing one I read was in issues 5-6:

wpid-wp-1445362376415.jpg  In this storyline, OMAC is seeking to stop criminals who have developed a way to transfer the brain of elder, high-paying clients into the bodies of young, virile victims.  The entire plot felt like it was out of an old sci-fi movie, and was written and drawn with a keen attention to detail.  This, along with the other issues in this series, held my interest enough that I wanted to keep reading more of OMAC’s adventures.

Unfortunately, OMAC never really got a fair chance, as the series was cancelled after only eight issues.  If Kirby had an overarching story in mind for this series, he didn’t get to develop it before its cancellation.  It’s a shame, because there is great potential in these few brief issues.  Had the series continued, it could have been highly entertaining and original.  The stories that do exist are good, but there is definitely untapped potential in this series.  As with Kamandi, I can’t help but wonder what was going on inside of Kirby’s mind when he was writing and drawing these stories.  I’d be willing to bet that the stories he envisioned were even more epic than what he was able to put on paper.  Even though this series was short-lived, at least we were given a brief glimpse into the genius that was Jack Kirby’s mind.

-Jess

Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth – Volume One

It’s been quite a few days since my last post because I’ve been working my way through all 456 pages of Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth-Volume One.  450+ pages of any comic would take a while, but when you have absolutely no prior background on the comic or the character, it seems to take even longer.

The premise for this series is simple yet profound.  The world has undergone a cataclysmic change, and animals are now intelligent thinking creatures vying for control of land and resources, while humans have degenerated to a lowly animal status, without the ability to reason or even speak.  Kamandi is, as far as we know, the “last boy on earth” in that he is the last intelligent human being alive.  He spent his entire life underground, gleaning facts about the former world through films and his grandfather’s stories.  After his grandfather is killed, Kamandi sets out to find his place in this new, strange world.

The premise alone was enough to get me interested.  After reading the entire Fourth World Omnibus series, I was well immersed in the Kirby lore, and knew that here was another opportunity for Kirby to flex his creative muscles and create an entirely unique world with engaging characters.

It’s unfortunate, but I felt like this attempt fell a little flat.

The concept is interesting, and I was hooked on the story for the first few issues.  As the story continued though, it began to feel less cohesive than I expected it to be.  Storylines continued from one issue to another, but they never seemed to flow easily.  Instead they felt a bit disjointed, as though parts of the story were missing.  What’s more, Kamandi is really the only main character of the series.  Others pop in and out on occasion, but not with any regularity.  Kamandi is the sole constant, and I didn’t find him to be an especially likable character.  he’s not terrible, but he’s not written in a way that I care very much what happens to him.  This made it difficult at times to get through the issues.

While reading, I could certainly get a sense of what Kirby was aiming for with these stories.  There were points where he was allowing his characters to be serious and ponder scenarios that are all too real in our own history:

wpid-wp-1445276419198.jpgThis allusion to slavery was particularly moving, and gave me a glimpse of the sweeping saga this series could have been.

Unfortunately, these moments of introspection are brief, and often replaced with scenes depicting absurd and slightly comical occurrences. A perfect example is KliKlak, the giant grasshopper Kamandi straps a saddle on and rides like a horse:

wpid-wp-1445276753021.jpgDon’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed the brief appearance of KliKlak, but the combination of humor and solemnity didn’t mesh well here.  I’ve seen Kirby combine these two opposing emotions with great success in past trades, so it was surprising that it didn’t flow as well in Kamandi. 

The issues throughout this trade all seemed to follow a standard course.  Kamandi goes to a different part of America, discovers a different race of intelligent animals, gets into a conflict with them, and then must try to escape captivity.  Given how excited I was by the premise of this series, the repeated plotline felt like a bit of a letdown.  The stories were entertaining, but they lacked the cohesion and gripping narrative I had come to expect after the Fourth World collections.

Towards the end of this collection I began to truly wonder if the story was going anywhere.  As I turned the page, I was greeted with the following cover:

wpid-wp-1445298858537.jpgIn which Kamandi discovers an entire civilization of humans surviving in Chicago (and apparently stuck in the 1920’s).

I arched my eyebrow at this. After all, isn’t Kamandi supposed to be The Last Boy on Earth?  I mean, it’s right there in the name of the comic.  How could there be this entire group of people still alive and kicking? (Or Charleston-ing, as the case may be).

Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple, as the comic goes on to reveal that all of these people are, in fact, robots:

wpid-wp-1445299042509.jpgBecause sure, why not?

(Also, that picture reminded me of The Terminator right away. Anyone else?)

The idea that the people were all robots left a sour taste in my mouth. It just felt like Kirby was reaching now to include any possible sci-fi angle he could.

I’ll admit I was happy to see that they weren’t robots being controlled by some strange omniscient being, but were in fact what remained of a bygone animatronic amusement park.  This twist interested me, and made me sympathize with Kamandi’s loneliness moreso than I had in any other issue.

This trade ends without any aplomb or epic cliffhanger.  The issue concludes much the same as all the others, with Kamandi deciding where to go next.  It’s not very surprising, given that this trade is volume one of two in the series.  What is surprising is that the story is halfway over and I still can’t see any discernible plotline.  Kamandi is traveling across vast lands, meeting a host of different creatures, but to what end?  What is his overall purpose?

These are questions that I must wonder about for some time, as Mistah J does not own volume two of this collection.  Luckily I was informed of this before I began reading, so I wasn’t left feeling bereft when I reached the end of the trade and found out I wouldn’t be continuing the story.  A part of me wants to read Volume Two simply to complete the story, but I can’t say I’m in any rush to go out and buy it.  I’m sure I’ll read it eventually, but I’m not dying to see how the story turns out.

A part of me feels like it’s blasphemous to say I didn’t love a Jack Kirby series.  However, it’s a little easier to be critical knowing that he contributed an untold number of hits to the comic multiverse.  I admit I haven’t read nearly all of his work, but even if this is the worst series he’s ever written, it’s still miles above a lot of other stories out there.  Sure, this may not be my favorite comic series ever published, but Kirby set the bar pretty high for himself.  His vision and creativity are there in spades.  Kirby excelled at creating entire universes within themselves.  Even if Kamandi’s wasn’t fully realized on paper, you can still sense the bigger story that lurks just beyond the page, itching to come out.  That’s the story I wish we could read; the one that lived in Jack Kirby’s mind.

-Jess

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.

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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

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus: Volume Three

Continuing into the depths of Kirby’s Fourth World, I find the stories becoming more and more intense.  Generally in major stories like this, comic or otherwise, all of the main players have been introduced by this point.  Not so with Kirby’s Omnibus.  I’m three-quarters of the way into this collection, and there are still new characters and side stories being introduced and developed.  I’ve come to realize that with these comics, Kirby was not simply writing stories; he was creating his own fully realized universe, with details meticulously planned out and overarching themes pervading the series.  The amount of attention given to all of his characters and stories is impressive to say the least, and proves just how dedicated Kirby was to bringing his visions to life.

There isn’t much more for me to say at this point, primarily because there is so much I could say, but want to hold off. I’m leaving my overall impressions of the series for after I complete Volume Four, when I will have the complete story and can make my own conclusions.  That being said, I cannot in good conscience leave this post so brief, so I will instead address one point in the collection that stood out to me:

By this point in the comics, Kirby has already shown that he isn’t afraid of killing off characters.  A handful have already died as a result of the war between New Genesis and Apokolips.  Kirby amps up the drama, however, by depicting the following scene:

wpid-wp-1444412366632.jpgThis panel depicts a number of Himon’s students, guilty of defying Darkseid, hanging from a Magna-Ring after being murdered.   This in and off itself is a startling image, but what (surprisingly) makes it even more powerful is the fact that the students’ deaths aren’t depicted in the comic.  Instead we are left with this single panel, displaying the carnage of Darkseid’s wrath.  The stark brutality of the scene reminds the reader that these characters are at war, and dealing with a truly deadly, unmerciful force.  With a single panel the comic descends into a much darker, more ominous tone than has previously been seen.

That being said, two pages later we are met by an entirely different image of death:

wpid-wp-1444412388433.jpgIn these panels, we see the commander responsible for the students’ deaths meeting his own violent end.  His is an almost comical death.  We’ve all seen cartoons in which an unsuspecting character lifts a serving platter to find a bomb hidden within.  This seemingly light-hearted approach to the character’s death was jarring, considering the main motive of the murder was revenge.  I found these panels to be extremely powerful because they felt human; in a fit of anger and desiring retribution, Himon plants a bomb in a darkly comical manner, reminding us that the players in this war may have god-like powers, but are still plagued by human emotions.  Although it’s not shown in the comics, one can almost imagine Himon’s smile of grim satisfaction after avenging his fallen students.

The sheer scope of these interlocking stories is almost too much to fathom.  It’s clear at this point that they are all adding up to one final confrontation, but I’m still unable to guess how it will play out.  Kirby plays his cards close to the chest, revealing details to the reader only as they are immediately necessary.  There are no extraneous panels here, no open-ended exchanges.  All of these stories tie into one another in a cohesive way, slowly building upon themselves and revealing a deeper message.  Kirby is clearly leaving formulaic, standalone comics in the dust, trading them in for a sweeping saga that touches upon human nature and leaves a lasting impression.

I still have Volume Four to read, but I can already tell that Kirby’s collection will have a lasting effect on me.  His stories support further reflection, and don’t have to be taken at face value.  I find myself thinking about them even when I’m not reading, contemplating a character’s actions or wondering how a storyline will play out.  These stories stay with you, and no matter how they play out in the last volume, I have a feeling I’ll be remembering them for a long time to come.

-Jess

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

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