I'd like to have been in comics shops in 1972 when Jack Kirby's New Gods #7, "The Pact," hit the shelves just the same as I'd like to have been standing outside movie theaters after the first showing of Empire Strikes Back. Now, we take "The Pact"'s genealogical revelations for granted, but back then it must have been astounding.
In his afterward, Kirby apprentice Mark Evanier talks about the stories collected in Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Volume 3 as being reflective of the time where the Fourth World began to slip away from Kirby, but in "The Pact" and others we also find the Fourth World at its most powerful.
"Pact," however, is certainly not the only gem in this volume. The Newsboy Legion explode the Evil Factory and ride around for a while with Angry Charlie strapped to the Whiz Wagon -- in a bit of reverse nostalgia, I remember all of this very fondly from Karl Kesel's later Superboy run which took its cues from Kirby's work.
Ditto the issue where "Terrible" Dan Turpin faces off against Darkseid's son Kalibak, which later became most of an episode of Superman: The Animated Series; I couldn't help but hear Michael Dorn's voice as Kalibak. And Forager makes his debut here, the "Bug" I first encountered in Jim Starlin's Cosmic Odyssey.
I also have to say I enjoyed the Deadman appearance in Forever People. Evanier suggests these were some of Kirby's least favorite stories because DC Comics editorial forced Deadman upon the series, but -- and this may just be the continuity wonk in me -- I liked seeing the Forever People interact with the larger DC Universe beyond just Superman.
I am perhaps too used to tripping over New Gods around every turn in the modern DC Universe, but at some point these stories begin to feel hollow, story-wise; when Mantis leads rampaging hordes of bugs across Metropolis and no one shows up but Orion and Lightray, it felt empty when the Justice League didn't show up. (Nor did I mind the changes to Deadman's character here, benefitting from the perspective of knowing they'd be later reversed.)
Kirby's portrayal of Darkseid also continues to impress me. Far from Darkseid's recent portrayal with sidekick Desaad as a take on Pinky and the Brain -- oft-defeated and spouting Ming-the-Merciless cliches -- Kirby limits Darkseid's screen time, and as such makes his every appearance crucial. And indeed Darkseid's motivations are often an enigma, even from the reader -- he lectures the Forever People on the nature of war, and the the previous volume, takes a philosophical walkabout among an earth amusement park.
Darkseid decries Desaad's lust for violence, and at times seems almost bored by the proceedings around him, so intent is he on attaining the Anti-Life Equation. It's this depth, that Darkseid has likes and dislikes which differ from his underlings or what one might otherwise expect, that makes him so riveting to watch. My hope is that Final Crisis can restore some of Darkseid's stature as something more than just a cosmic villain-of-the-week.
I'm interested in stories and arcs, and what makes a certain event right for a certain story at a certain time. We enter the third Fourth World Omnibus with many of the characters in peril, the right thing for a third act -- Darkseid has dispersed the Forever People with his Omega Beams, Jimmy Olsen has been transformed into a caveman, and Mister Miracle revolves to take his fight to Apokolips. Only New Gods doesn't start with a cliffhanger, but rather sets the tone for this volume with the flashback story "The Pact," followed up with the Mister Miracle flashback "Himon."
If there's a theme of introspection here, we see it again in the Jimmy Olsen story "A Superman in Supertown" which begins the end of the Jimmy Olsen series, and also in "The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin," which solidifies Orion's role as protector of humanity while at the same time suggesting his growing comfort with the more violent, Apokolips-bred violence of his personality (I'm increasingly reminded, say what you will, what a terrible job Grant Morrison did with Orion in JLA, portraying him as a one-sided grump rather than Kirby's noble warrior). These items established, the story then shifts with the appearance of Forager -- not quite of humanity, not quite of New Genesis -- who will seemingly draw Orion into his final conflict with Darkseid. The story, we know, isn't going quite how Jack Kirby wanted it, but I remain enraptured as we move to the fourth volume.
[Contains full covers, introduction by author Glen David Gold, afterword by Mark Evanier]
I reviewed Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus some time ago, and now I'm picking up with volumes three and four as we continue on the road toward Final Crisis. Up next, volume four, and then Death of the New Gods. Stay tuned!