War in the Deep

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Volume 2: written and illustrated by Jack Kirby, Roz Kirby, Vince Colletta, Mike Royer, Al Plastino, and Neal Adams (1970-71; collected 2009): The second omnibus volume of Jack Kirby’s early 1970’s work for DC Comics sees Kirby rapidly fleshing out the war of the New Gods while also tap-dancing his way through Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen with some of the weirdest comic-book work of his life.

Vampires had been absent from all mainstream comic books approved by the industry watchdog Comics Code Authority since the mid-1950’s. So of course, when DC decided to bring vampires back, they got Jack Kirby to do it, in what could only be described as the strangest vampire story ever told. I’m not sure I can do justice to it by describing it.

Suffice to say the vampires are teeny-tiny lab experiments living on a teeny-tiny globe. They face destruction, along with a variety of other micro-races that all look like various horror icons such as the Wolf Man and the Mummy, at the hands of their scientist-creator Dabney Donovan. And then comes…the musical Oklahoma!

Besides the weirdness, the volume also offers an expansion of the war of the New Gods, as Darkseid’s forces continue to land on Earth, to be confronted by Orion, Superman, the Forever People, and Mister Miracle on different fronts.

What Kirby does here with a multiple-level conflict hadn’t been done before in superhero comics, and really hasn’t been done since: four partially integrated books focusing on different aspects and fronts of the same battle, all four of them written and illustrated by the same person. The breadth and depth of it make most superhero comic books before and since look imaginatively impoverished by comparison.

Amidst all this comes one of Kirby’s greatest single issues, the New Gods story entitled “The Glory Boat.” The second half of a story dealing with the underwater invasion of the Deep Six, super-powered terrorists from Darkseid’s Apokolips who are destroying Earth’s shipping lanes, “The Glory Boat” plays off a small-scale human conflict between a conscientious objector of a son and his hawkish, patriotic-gibberish-spouting father against the final battle between Orion, Lightray, and the Deep Six. A moment of hard-nosed poignance is achieved, magnified by the mercy and the vengeance of the New Gods against their enemies. Don’t ask — just buy it! Highly recommended.

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