Man vs. The Gods: The Road to Victory

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Volume 3: written and illustrated by Jack Kirby with Mike Royer, Roz Kirby, and Vince Colletta (1971-72; collected 2008): Jack Kirby’s grand, ahead-of-its-time, multi-title epic moves towards its truncated conclusion with three of the strongest stories of Kirby’s long and distinguished career.

Volume 3 also features a misguided two-parter in which DC foisted C-lister Deadman upon Kirby and The Forever People. It’s interesting to see Jack try to figure out a new direction for the character, but the whole thing shows how DC didn’t seem to have much of a clue in the early 1970’s.

Marvel had finally passed DC in comic-book sales, which didn’t stop DC from imposing its Superman house-style on Kirby and having other artists redraw the heads of the Man of Steel and his significant supporting characters whenever Kirby drew them. Kirby had co-created much of the Marvel universe that had surpassed DC in popularity. You’d think the heads he drew had at least a bit to do with that.

Long-term cross-continuity between four different titles hadn’t been attempted in comic books before. Volume 3 sees DC dialing down the links among New Gods, Forever People, Mister Miracle, and Jimmy Olsen. The galactic war between the planets of New Genesis and Apokolips, fought in part by proxy on Earth, would cool down; decades later, it would become the mythopoeic backbone of the DC Universe, but for now, Kirby’s New Gods would move towards cancellation.

Of those three stories, though. In New Gods, “The Pact” explains the history of the war between New Genesis and Apokolips; more importantly, it explains the forging of the fragile peace that is only now coming apart. It’s one of Kirby’s most consciously mythic tales, like something out of The Silmarillion as filtered through Kirby’s superheroic, day-glo, New-Deal-liberal sensibilities.

Kirby also mythologizes in Mister Miracle‘s “Himon.” But while telling the story of the leader of the Resistance on Apokolips with more than a nod to The Scarlet Pimpernel, Kirby also shines a light on the day-to-day realities of life on the Hell-world of Apokolips. Most of the citizenry have been ground down to a cowed philosophical masochism by the endless oppression and lies of Darkseid, Kirby’s fascistic overlord of darkness. But hope endures: Himon refuses to leave, but he inspires the future Mister Miracle to escape Darkseid and flee to Earth.

Darkseid’s redeemed son, Orion, may be foretold by prophecy to kill Darkseid, but Mister Miracle represents the direct counter to Darkseid’s obsession with control. In Kirby’s cosmology, the Anti-Life Equation that Darkseid seeks to complete, that will give him control over every sentient being, is countered by Freedom — the Life-Equation represented by the being who will become the super-powered escape artist known as Mister Miracle.

The third giant would be “The Death Wish of ‘Terrible’ Turpin,” one of the rare superhero stories of the first 30 years of superhero stories to portray the terrible, humanity-destroying effect that the mere existence of superheroes would have on ordinary humanity. Turpin, a human police officer caught between the warring factions of god-like beings on Earth in the New Gods, vows to take down one of these beings using whatever resources the police department can muster.

Kirby makes Turpin’s quest into a cry of resistance from humanity itself — resistance to the dehumanization that gods and superheroes, light or dark, bring to the world of the normative. The story, just a bit over 20 pages, supplies the sort of ending that an enlightened Hollywood movie about superheroes could really use: human beings, kicking ass, while the gods themselves stand down. In all, for all the stories (even the wonky Deadman story), highly recommended.

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