Review: Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Volume One collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Even though I'd never read a Jack Kirby story before, I went through the first volume of the Jack Kirby Fourth World Omnibus with a bit of nostalgia. Here was the Guardian, protector of the Project, along with the Newsboy Legion, Dubbilex, the Four-Armed Terror, the Kryptonite Man, all of it serving to take me back to ... the late 1980s?

Imagine how surprised I was to start reading Kirby's Fourth World stories for the first time, only to find them very, very familiar. Without any frame of reference (and nary a blogosphere to explain it), I had no idea that back around 1988, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway and others recreated post-Crisis almost all the Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen stories found in this first Kirby volume. Sure, I knew these guys didn't create the Guardian or Apokolips, but the way in which these stories riff on Kirby, almost panel-by-panel (they've got Simian and Mokari, for gosh sake!) is just amazing.

And lest I be misunderstood, I'm not accusing the modern Super-team of plagiarism or anything; indeed what they were doing was recreating Kirby's stories for the new DC Universe, and sometimes even filling in continuity gaps (doesn't the Habitat scene in Death of Superman reference Forever People? Or the Roger Stern Toyman story that takes place at the abandoned Happyland?). But amazingly I can't find a lick of information about this Kirby revival on the 'Net--whereas, if this kind of thing were happening now, we'd have a Newsarama interview, press releases from DC, and the inevitable collected edition.

Kirby's stories, of course, are much looser than the post-Crisis Superman stories that I read first, reflecting the simpler comics sensibilities of the time. For this reason, I expected not to like the Kirby stories as much as I did, perhaps because of my unexpected familiarity. I think I was also expecting more of a Bob Haney Teen Titans "Zowie! Groovy!" feel, though the jargon here was at a minimum--or, in the case of the Forever People, their hippie-talk was so perfectly aligned to their characters as not to be distracting.

The first volume of the Kirby omnibus ended up reminding me very much of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory (though the comparison, most likely, should be reversed). We have issues here of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle, all of which read as separate stories from one another, but all of which also interrelate and combine to tell one larger tale. Reading Mister Miracle on its own, one might wait two or three issues to understand that Scott Free's an orphan from Apokolips, but not if one has already gleaned the purpose of a Mother Box from one of the other titles. I found myself eager while reading this story to see the various characters meet, and hopefully such a crossover takes place in the next volume.

I was surprised to find these Fourth World stories published at the beginning of the 1970s, with their overwhelming 1960s "peace and love" vibe; Kirby's protege Mark Evanier writes in his afterward that Kirby was responding in some ways to Nixon and American's general mistrust of government at that time. I'm definitely the wrong one to comment on Kirby's historicity; instead, I took great pleasure in Evanier's note that Kirby actually wrote the Fourth World saga with an eye toward it being read in collected editions much like the omnibuses, believing that bookstore customers were more likely to pick it up that way. As if we really needed proof of Kirby's foresight, there you have it right there.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Grant Morrision, afterward by Mark Evanier, initial Fourth World sketches]

I'm starting on the second Fourth World volume now, and I'll be back soon with more comments. Thanks for reading!
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1 comment:

  1. This book also features the inking of Vince Colletta over Kirby's pencils, an added treat.

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