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COMIC LEGEND: Jack Kirby’s Fourth World was originally intended as an ongoing series.
It is fascinating how expectations can change how we perceive something as a “success” or a “failure.”
From a critical standpoint, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World series of titles are very well-regarded (just last year it fell JUST outside the top 50 in our Top 100 Comic Book Runs of All-Time poll).
However, the titles are often thought of as a commercial failure at the time because they did not last that long (of the three titles that made up the Fourth World line of comics, Mister Miracle lasted the longest at “just” 18 issues).
Here’s the thing, though, the titles were originally INTENDED to be finite!
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Kirby’s development of the Fourth World, Kirby was looking to do something different with his New Gods characters. First of all, he intended to get better compensated for creating new characters, but that was not the only thing he wanted to do differently from his time at Marvel.
You see, Kirby believed that comics should try a different approach from just the concept of a monthly periodical. Kirby thought that a better idea would be to do FINITE stories that could then be collected into collections that would be sold in different markets than newsstands. He felt that comic books could be accepted into book stores as complete comic book novels.
As you might have noticed, Kirby’s theories have proven to be correct, as that is what a large chunk of the current comic book marketplace is about – collecting stories into collections that can be sold at book stores.
At the time, though, these ideas were still very daring and DC was not inclined to go along with them. Instead, they specifically told Kirby NOT to make his stories finite. They were paying him X amount of dollars for Y amount of work, so they wanted him to do as many ongoing comics as he could.
Mark Evanier explained the situation back in a 1983 Comic Interview interview with David Anthony Kraft:
Folks forget but the New Gods saga was intended to be a limited series … There was no intention that these characters would go on forever. However, after Jack’s books started getting good sales figures, DC demanded that we keep them going and use guest stars like Deadman, which we were very much against doing. So Kirby had this novel he was forever stuck in the middle of – he could never get to the last chapter. … You can spot the issues where Jack kind of gave up trying to advance the story of Darkseid and Orion and was marking time. If those books had been intended from the start to run indefinitely, they would have been done very differently.
Here’s the Deadman appearance in Forever People…
Of course, the irony of the situation was that then the sales went down and DC canceled the whole line, but by this point, Kirby had already moved away from his finite plans and instead had to quickly wrap up all of his plots and was clearly not able to do so.
Thankfully, DC at least gave Kirby the chance to give his story an ending later in the 1980s…
(Of course, the story behind THAT comic is a legend in and of itself. Another time!)
Thanks so much to Mark Evanier and David Anthony Kraft for the information!
Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Did Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory originally have a typical sex drive?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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