Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blogathon 02: Jack Kirby's Comics Work in the '70s (Part 1)

If Tim had pitched this topic to me a year ago, I wouldn't have had a lot to say. I'd read, what, Eternals and the first omnibus of Jack Kirby's Fourth World? In this past year, though, I've read the rest of the Fourth World, OMAC, and... okay, I meant to read his Captain America and Black Panther runs (they're on the middle shelf in the bookcase next to my bed!), but I've been busy. I've flipped through them plenty. So, basically, I haven't improved THAT much over the past year, but I don't feel like such a know-nothing loser.

My favourite Kirby '70s work is OMAC. Before reading that, I didn't quite understand why that concept kept coming back despite it failing every single time. Why was it one of the central pieces of Infinite Crisis? Why the new 52 relaunch (even though I really enjoyed it)? It's because Kirby crafted a genuinely amazing unfinished masterpiece. It ends mid-story after eight issues of all-out insanity. It was actually startling for me to read it, knowing Kirby more as the artist who worked with Stan Lee. Try going from early Avengers issues to OMAC. Jesus...

But, the big split comes down to Fourth World/Eternals. They're not the same concept by any stretch of the imagination, but they're related. They're clearly coming from a similar place inside. Kirby's love and interest in myth and legend -- in how these larger, god-like beings influence the world and, much of the time, deal with conflicts not unlike ours. What amazes me is that, after his experience at DC with the New Gods stuff, that he would try something... similar doesn't seem right... related(?) with Marvel. It's a scaled back attempt, of course. The Fourth World story happened over the course of four comics, including a Superman one, while Eternals was just one comic and originally meant to be separate from the Marvel Universe. And every attempt by Marvel to get Kirby to bring it into the Marvel Universe was rebuffed in some way -- like the Hulk turning out to be a robot. Reading the first issue of Eternals, it's something very different from what he did with the New Gods. Those characters were gods like Thor and the Asgardians -- big fights, bright costumes. Eternals had those, too, but not really in that first issue. It was centred around an archaelogical dig. It was people in regular clothes coming into contact with god-like beings that would determine the fate of the world.

New Gods shared that idea most out of the Fourth World books as Orion gets his own little gang of humans to help him out (for a while, at least). That intersection between myth and humanity is something Kirby was keen on. Earth was the battlefield of the New Genesis/Apokolips war... it was the petri dish of the Celestials... and, in both cases, humans were caught in the middle. But, some got to participate. It could be criminals like Intergang or regular citizens like the people Orion rescues and, then, befriends. There was an agency that Kirby gave to humans that were aware of the conflicts happening around (and above) them. It's a little cheesy at times, but, sometimes, it elevates humanity to level of these gods, these mythic figures. "The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin" is the best example of a human inserting himself into this conflict, unwilling to let these giant forces simply wreck his world. He may stand beside Orion by default, but there's a sense of outrage, of Turpin demanding both sides leave the planet. Threads like these are never the main point of Kirby's work during this time, but they keep coming up in small ways. He was in love with the idea of these mythic stories, of gods and demons, but he also recognised what their impact could be on humanity.

A few weeks ago, I finished the last Fourth World omnibus and couldn't get over how The Hunger Dogs didn't read like anything I had seen by Kirby before. It was so fragmented and poetic. So filled with bombast and, yet, moments of quiet... I know, I know, it's not from the '70s, so I'm cheating. I don't know... it's a sad book.

In 30 minutes, Tim Callahan's post will go up and will be much better than this. Also, my #10 comic of 2012 post will go up at Comics Should be Good.

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