At last, Jack Kirby’s visionary comic books are back...
A few years ago, you could still find Jack Kirby's fantastic comic books about "The New Gods," but only in a black-and-white edition. It's so odd and frustrating that DC Comics would decide to give us Kirby's vision stripped of all its colors.
Now, over the next few months, DC is bringing back the entire Kirby saga, known collectively as "The Fourth World," in several big, beautiful hardcover editions with all the rich colors of the originals. The first of these, "Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, Volume One" (DC Comics: 396 pp., $49.99), has just been published and includes appreciative essays by comics writers Grant Morrison and Mark Evanier.
Here are the first appearances of the warrior Orion from the world New Genesis; the evil Darkseid from the molten planet Apokolips; a heroic, powerful Jimmy Olsen with stories of his own; and the hero known as Mister Miracle who draws his power from new technology and gadgetry. There's also the band of young heroes called "the Forever People," who are straight out of the Age of Aquarius. With names like Mark Moonrider and Beautiful Dreamer and some corny dialogue — "Dig this place! It's got the ingredients of the cake but it needs more baking!" — these super-powered kids seem more suited to hanging out at a Grateful Dead show than battling cosmic evil.
The work presented here shows why Kirby, who died in 1994, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Will Eisner, say, or Alan Moore and Frank Miller. All these comics creators pushed and expanded the genre into new areas. In some ways, Kirby's comics are a rich time capsule — not just for his tribute to the Flower Children of the '60s with the Forever People, but in recurring themes about fallen father figures, the power of young people and youth movements, the tensions caused by unwinnable wars and the standoff between two major powers, New Genesis and Apokolips, which undoubtedly was inspired by the Cold War. "I hear you, Orion!" Darkseid yells as they first confront each other. "The battle begins!"
These Kirby creations came in the early 1970s, after his bitter departure from Marvel, where his style had set the tone and brand for that house. According to Morrison and Evanier, Kirby felt snubbed by Marvel's management, that he was treated as a mere penciller while Stan Lee was given sole credit for some of their mutual creations. "They thought everything good on the pages had come from Stan," writes Evanier, who had worked with Kirby. "One lawyer-type even told Jack he was delusional to think he was anything more than a dime-a-dozen pencil- pusher. It was enough to drive a person to rage. Or at least over to the competition."
Ronin Ro's Kirby biography, "Tales to Astonish," published by Bloomsbury in 2004, describes the artist's bitter struggles. Evanier will publish his own Kirby biography later this year.
In the end, Kirby triumphed — not with vast wealth, but by not being forgotten. The DC omnibuses are evidence of the enduring appeal of his stories. Future generations will come to see Kirby as an exciting myth-maker whose message was life-affirming. In light of Kirby's career ups and downs, the words of Mister Miracle seem to also apply to him: "My enemies think that escape from this is impossible. But they’re in for a rude shock!"
— Nick Owchar