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.
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.
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.
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.