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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #346

Today: Jack Kirby‘s masterwork. (Archive.)

12/12/07

346. New Gods

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When most people think of Jack Kirby, their minds probably gravitate toward the King’s work at Marvel. Not for me, though. When I think of Kirby’s best work, I think of the stuff he did in the ’70s at DC– the stuff that he wrote, drew, and edited. Of those titles, the best one (despite how much I love OMAC) is The New Gods. This series is Jack Kirby’s beautiful, unfinished magnum opus, and one of the best comic books of all time.

“There came a time when the old gods died!” Etc. etc. Then we got New Genesis and Apokolips, twin worlds of lightness and darkness, respectively– the homelands for a warring race of new gods. When Kirby went big, he went big. The New Gods is a cosmic series of epic proportions, a new mythology for a new age. Kirby told a massive, sweeping tale. Many critics have issues with his supposedly overwrought dialogue, but this is far from realistic– this, my friends, is an opera on the page.

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The star of the book, Orion, represents the struggle between light and dark by his very nature. Born on savage Apokolips, son of evil Darkseid, Orion was raised on New Genesis and swayed over to the side of peace. Good-natured but hot-tempered Orion, however, is a creature of war, and brings unholy fury upon his enemies. New Genesis’ mission is not one of destruction, but of change– to peace! Despite this, its denizens are constantly drawn into war; Orion is their weapon, commanding the Astro-Force. Other New Genesisians (Genesans?) include wise leader Highfather and friendly, angelic Lightray. Their Apokoliptan enemies, aside from the tyrant Darkseid, include Darkseid’s other son, Kalibak the Cruel, and the dread lord’s right-hand-man Desaad, aptly-named master of torture.

Darkseid’s after the Anti-Life Equation, and he’s invading Earth to find it. Naturally, Orion’s sent by the mysterious, all-knowing Source to step in, and encounters a band of humans who are quickly swayed to his side once he saves ‘em and all. Here’s where another theme– the difference between man and god– appears.

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Kirby filled the book with his usual array of giant, crazy ideas: the Source! Boom tubes! Mother Box! The Black Racer! The Deep Six! The Bugs! Parademons! Kirby put more new and weird ideas on one page than some creators manage to conceive in their entire careers. He also utilized new methods to tell his story. One series wasn’t enough– in fact, he needed four! And lo, the Fourth World was born– Jimmy Olsen, New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle, all existing separately but all part of the larger tapestry.

My God, the power Kirby put into this! Heck, once Mike Royer came on to ink the book, the New Gods became an unstoppable stampede of excellent stories and huge moments. The Glory Boat and the Pact are two of the finest single issues of the run, and they came back to back! And let’s not forget the Death Wish of Terrible Turpin or even the story of Forager the Bug. All of it’s excellent work.

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Unfortunately, the series was not well-received in terms of sales, and folded after only 11 issues. Those 11 issues, however, stand as the first act in a story that could have been the best thing to ever hit comics. Kirby did wrap it up years later with Hunger Dogs, but by then, it wasn’t the same– a quick cap to his amazing saga. Other creative teams have tried to take the concept and series further, but none of them have managed to live up to Kirby, aside from one Walter Simonson, whose 25-issue Orion series is one of my favorite comics of all time, standing tall right alongside Kirby’s original series.

The New Gods is so good, I own the series in multiple forms. I’m currently buying both the original issues and the magnificent Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibi. I’ve already got the black-and-white collection of the series, and an issue or two of the Baxter reprints, plus some digital versions of the comics. I love this series that much.

This series was a brilliant story about the nature of endless war (remember, it came out in the Vietnam era), and man’s internal struggle. It was a humongous story contained in a short span of issues. Thirty years later, we hold it up as an example of what comics can aspire to. That’s what it’s all about, kids. New Gods was an extremely personal work for Kirby– it was the Kirbiest story ever. DC might be killing all the characters off now, but that does nothing to tarnish Kirby’s magnificence.

For New Gods on the web, visit the New Gods Library. Four years out of date, yes, but the information is does contain is enormous.

18 Comments

I picked up the first Fourth World Omnibus a few months ago. The story doesn’t really kick into high gear in those chapters yet, but it’s already jam-packed with brilliant ideas and crazy concepts. It really shows why Kirby is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) comic creators of all time.

My inability to find the more recent volumes is disappointing, because I really want to read more of these comics. And as much as the current slaughter of these characters annoys me, I am very eager to see Morrison take on the theme (and hopefully characters) and create the Fifth World.

I’ve been collecting comics for years, but only recently have I been diving into the non-Marvel Kirby stuff, thanks to all of the collected reprint books that have been coming out. I plowed through the SILVER STAR from Image and then the Fourth World Omnibuses from DC started coming out.

WOW!!! I’m sooooo digging this stuff. I read volume 2 in a week! I have volume 3 now, but haven’t started it just yet, but I can’t wait! Maybe over Christmas break I’ll dive into it.

ALSO – Great call on Simonson’s Orion! I hadn’t read much of any of those characters, but picked up #5 off the stands and was not disappointed! I had to go back and not only get every issue but collect it from then on out. Truly a great run. That’s another omnibus waiting to happen.

Kirby’s run at DC is my personal lynchpin in the arguement of who created the Marvel characters – Stan or Jack. The King created before he created most of Marvel, left to DC to create the 4th World, then came back to Marvel and created the Eternals. Somehow, Stan didn’t create anrthing before Kirby & Ditko came along, and didn’t do anything after they left. Painfully obvious.

Anyway, Kirby IS just amazing. All he needed was a governor on his throttle. He was just so full of ideas and so eager to get them on the page that they didn’t come over too clearly sometimes. I feel this was the case towards the end of the New Gods run. Then, back at Marvel, he really fell over himself in 2001 & the Eternals.

As you might guess, I loathe giving Stan credit for anything, but he did balance Jack out quite a bit. He really kept Jack “in line” and helped keep the stories fluid.

I still can’t believe that people weren’t buying this in droves. The Fourth World was so dazzling, so exciting, so fresh- I can only imagine someone going to the stands and picking up SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN only to find it had become a high-adrenaline crazy action epic.

Ahead of its time, it was. I actually think of Kirby’s DC work as heralding the arrival of the Bronze Age.

It’s been suggested that the Fourth World books all sold better than the “cancelled due to poor sales” story implies, and that Carmine Infantino would, in general, cancel books before anyone really knew if they were selling well over a steady period. But at this late date, it’s probably the case that no-one really knows. Except maybe Mark Evanier.

Just as an aside, some 4th World love should definitely be saved for Mark Evanier’s New Gods series published in the late ’80′s and early ’90′s. One thing I loved about it was that although it was obviously a love letter to Kirby’s work, it also fleshed out some hidden elements in the original books. Evanier introduced some much needed moral ambiguity to the New Gods, and in keeping with the Vietnam analogy, explored the darkness that tainted a ‘virtuous society’ once it had committed to war. I don’t think it’s collected anywhere, but it’s worth checking out. I only wish that he had more of a chance to finish it.

I’m also a big fan of Kirby in the 70′s. No one has ever been able to capture the original tone of Darkseid as Kirby presented him, a cosmically-weary tyrant given to long philosophical exercises about the nature of myth and reality. When Kirby seemed to be at his most misunderstood, pinging between Marvel and DC every couple years, is when he was at his peak, creating the Fourth World narrative and placing “funnybook” characters firmly into the pantheon of world mythology. Now that we’ve reaped such huge benefits from Kirby’s inspiration, it’s only proper that the New Gods get the respect they deserve.

May the Source be with you!

Why is it that whenever Jack Kirby’s name comes up, someone always has to take a shot at Stan Lee? It’s like the 4th Law of the Comics Internet or something.

I love the concept behind New Gods. there’s all kinds of fun stuff loaded in there, but I’m rarely happy with the execution. (Including from The King; I get that this is an opera, but the florid prose still grates)

Kirby’s Darkseid remains fantastic, unquestionably. I think one of the better follow-ons is probably Al Gordon’s in “The Quiet Darkness”; Gordon seemed to get it, IMHO.

I was going to mention Al Gordon! Totally agree that his Darkseid was spot on.

“Kirby’s run at DC is my personal lynchpin in the arguement of who created the Marvel characters – Stan or Jack. The King created before he created most of Marvel, left to DC to create the 4th World, then came back to Marvel and created the Eternals. Somehow, Stan didn’t create anrthing before Kirby & Ditko came along, and didn’t do anything after they left. Painfully obvious.”

What? Someone attacking Stan Lee on the internet? How original! Yeah, sure, Kirby created some freaking amazing stuff after he split with Lee, but, somehow, he didn’t create anything that really connected with the public the way his Marvel creations did. Stan’s importance, in that regard, seems painfully obvious.

[...] Yesterday, I talked about the New Gods and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. Another comic in that World was Mister Miracle, and it was a groovy book, filled with an equal number of big, awesome ideas as its fellow Kirby comics. Of Jack’s Fourth World line of comics, Mister Miracle would prove to be the most popular, lasting a good seven issues longer than its compatriots New Gods or Forever People. [...]

I’m a Kirby freak, and have been trying to collect all of his work after his initial run at Marvel (basically New Gods on,) but even I don’t get why so many people think if you love Kirby you have to hate Stan Lee. Kirby was the King, and no one will ever top him, but I think even with the New Gods it’s clear that at least an editor would have made the stories a bit better. Art, plot and ideas were Kirby’s strong points. The actual scripts could have used a little help.

Whenever I read Kirby and Lee’s stuff I just take it as LeeKirby- I don’t try to work out where one ends and the other begins.

ROHAN: It’s painfully obvious that you chose to ignore my third paragraph giving Stan credit for improving the overall package. If you read my second paragrapg as well, you’ll notice that I basically said Jack needed a partner to work with.

Before you try to flame anyone, try reading ALL og their post. What you did was take something out of context and try to claim it as the entire point. Read, my friend. Read, THEN respond.

I remember being ten or eleven and reading a friend’s copy of Kirby’s first Jimmy Olsen issue. To that point my comics perspective and taste had been shaped primarily by Curt Swan, the LSH and other DC titles, including the (then) new look of Neal Adams. To me at that time the Kirby look was way too cartoony and bombastic, and I didn’t give his new creations more than a glance (and even the glance was critical, I remember seeing “New Gods” on the comic stand and thinking the title was sacrilegious, a word we had recently learned at Holy Cross School).

My love for Kirby began two or three years later, first with Kamandi and the FF reprints in Marvel’s Greatest. In letters pages I’d read occasional references to the newly-defunct Fourth World books, but I never saw one, even in the bins of battered old comics in the local used books store. When I was fifteen Vancouver finally got a comics shop, and I bought a copy of New Gods #8 (“Terrible Turpin”) out of curiosity. I was utterly stunned by the awesome power of the art and the visceral fury of the fight between Orion and Kalibak, with the hard ass old cop trying to break up the battle and bring the two “super-creeps” to justice. It was definitely the best comic I’d ever read at that point. A week later, I returned with a pocket full of paper route money, and bought most of the rest (they were pretty cheap back then, and I had a big route).

It’s hard for me to be objective about these titles. Even as I first read them I filtered the reading through my anger that the titles had been canceled, an anger that was later stoked when I read the histories of how Kirby had been so jerked around and how the cancellations had been handled. Whenever I read the books I feel a lingering melancholy, a sense of loss, kind of like an archaeologist finding the remains of a glorious civilization dating from just before it was sacked by the Mongols or what have you.

I understand why Rohan and others would say that Kirby’s DC books never caught on in the way his Marvel stuff had, with the implication that the greater earlier success was due to Stan Lee’s involvement. But I honestly don’t think that sales were Kirby’s biggest goal here. At Marvel, he (and Lee and Ditko) had humanized heroes, giving them all sorts of personal foibles and conflicts and weaknesses that made them seem much more real and accessible and intriguing than the standard DC characters. With his new “epic for our time” Kirby was trying to do much more. His new characters were deliberately INhuman, powerful alien beings from worlds very different than ours. I’m pretty sure he knew that Orion and Metron would never make it on to the lunch boxes or Saturday morning cartoons. Of course he wanted commercial success, but he was really striving to create something deeper, more personal and meaningful, than just come up with a new blockbuster super-hero. Unfortunately, new blockbusters and lunch box heroes were exactly what Infantino and DC were hoping for with his hiring. Good sales simply weren’t good enough.

Imagine, if he’d had just another year or two… I’d trade all the Walter Simonson and Mark Evanier and other books for just another few issues of the original New Gods.

Remember Lucien’s library in Sandman,the dream library of books that had been conceived but never actually written? I bet it’s got a whole row of genuine Kirby Fourth World graphic novels, the epic story all complete from the opening epilogue to the final prologue (with inking by Mike Royer and Wally Wood).

Clearly, Stan did a great deal. I think it’s his past (…mostly past) willingness to take credit for absolutely everything, and as loudly as possible, that has for a long time had a lot of readers wanting to deny him credit for anything. Even if all he did was write the dialogue (which seems to have been the case with some of the Ditko Spider-Man work), there’s a wit and verve to that stuff that just isn’t there when you look at other comics of the period. I know much of early Marvel reads cheesy and hackneyed today, but at least you can actually read it; I don’t think you could pay me to plow through some of the Showcase Presents trades. Stan was important. He took that to the bank in a way that wasn’t very fair to his collaborators, I think, but nevertheless.

That said, it’s all about ’70s Kirby — Fourth World, OMAC, The Demon, Kamandi, Devil Dinosaur…as cool and weird as superhero comics ever got.

[...] be consumed in a great, Asgard-destroying Armageddon thanks to Loki, Wagner, and the first pages of Jack Kirby’s New Gods issue [...]

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