Friday, August 30, 2013

Celebrating King Kirby and the Fourth World

I missed writing on Jack Kirby's two days ago but still wanted to celebrate.  Earlier this year I went through several of DC Comics' Fourth World Omnibus books, plus the second Omnibus featuring Kamandi.

New Gods 2 New Genesis splash page by Kirby

The Fourth World series was phenomenal and I enjoyed it even more than when I was a kid.  I had read all of these when they came out: Jimmy Olsen, New Gods, Mister Miracle -- but somehow skipped both the Forever People and Kamandi.  Kirby's colorful depiction of New Genesis is shown above.  The first few issues of each series were an explosion of characters and cosmic concepts, probably the release of the King's imagination after feeling mistreated at Marvel.

New Gods 6 Glory Boat climax by Jack Kirby

In particular the New Gods story which made a big impact this time around was "Glory Boat" in New Gods #6.  After doing a quick search on the Internet, I see that I am not alone in my admiration for this story, with a beautiful climax in the splash page featuring Orion and Lightray on top of a giant Source-infused warhead ready to take down Deep Six.  This illustration was also featured in Mark Evanier's King Kirby biography.

Mr Miracle 6 Big Barda meets Funky Flashman

I've read and re-read the Mister Miracle series more than any of the others, as this is probably my favorite Kirby character after the Silver Surfer and the Thing.  I love the whole concept of the character and the origin of Scott Free and how this intersects with Orion and Highfather.  But the series really comes alive with the introduction of Big Barda.  How did Kirby get away with that skimpy red metal bikini?  And my favorite issue #6 featured Funky Flashman (Excelsior!) meeting Barda, who quickly sees right through his massive bullshit.

Forever People 006

There was always one big gap to my Fourth World history: the Forever People!  I only bought one or two issues in the 70s.  Perhaps this was because the first issue had spotty distribution -- it was impossible to find and I gave up since I wasn't there at the beginning.   But this series was equally as wacky and cool, with characters like Big Bear, Beautiful Dreamer, Serafin, and Mark Moonrider.  Finally after reading it now, I understood the power of the Anti-Life equation and also why Sonny Sumo was such an important figure that Grant Morrison referred to him in Final Crisis.  In another Final Crisis link, I always wondered why the Omega Beam transported Batman back in time -- that is answered in FP #6 and #7.  It doesn't always kill!

One thing I noticed in this re-read: for some reason the sixth issue of each series is almost the high point of each one!  New Gods #6 is Glory Boat.  Mister Miracle #6 features Funky Flashman.  Forever People #6 features Darkseid, Sonny Sumo and the Anti-Life equation.

Kamandi 15 splash page

Reading the Kamandi volumes was another joy.  Why, why, why did I not collect Kamandi during this period?  I am a huge Planet of the Apes and science fiction fan.  Nearly every issue of Kamandi is a mind blower in terms of a new concept being introduced.  It's pure single issue fun with little overriding story arc.  And with solid inking throughout the series it seems like pure Kirby.  Incidentally, my theory about issue #6 being the best holds up here -- Kamandi #6 is titled "Flower" about his girlfriend with a shocking ending.

I am sure at the time when New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle were cancelled, that must have seemed like an epic failure to Kirby.  Likewise when his long run on Kamandi ended with Gerry Conway dialoging his last few issues it must have seemed like the final nail in the coffin.  But these stories seem timeless and they endure.  I have heard that parents can read these stories to their kids with no problem.  Can you imagine what a Kamandi animated series would look like, especially if Bruce Timm was involved?  I think this is a hidden goldmine for DC.  Nuff Said.

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