Never the End!

The Jack Kirby Omnibus Volume 1 (Featuring Green Arrow): written and drawn by Jack Kirby and others (1947-1958; this edition 2011): Collecting most of writer-artist Jack Kirby’s miscellaneous work for DC in the 1940’s and 1950’s, this collection also features a ten-story run on Green Arrow that might have really jazzed the character up had DC editors not named Julius Schwartz not been constitutionally opposed to jazzing anything up in the 1950’s.

The one-and-done stories for DC’s mystery and horror comics (and one Western) are enjoyable. Many play with material that would resurface later in Kirby’s career, most notably a guest appearance by the Norse god Thor and some Easter-Island aliens who look a lot like the creatures from Saturn in Thor’s first appearance at Marvel. Kirby didn’t write the dialogue for most of the stories, at least not officially — DC was also opposed to artists writing their own stories. Weird old 50’s DC!

DC was extremely controlling and buttoned-down during the time of Kirby’s work collected here. That means a certain amount of reining-in for Kirby, especially in terms of panel composition. Still, there’s tons of fascinating stuff here. And the Green Arrow material suggests a science-fictional path for the character that might have lifted him out of years upon years of irrelevance. Cool beans. Recommended.

The Jack Kirby Omnibus Volume 2 (Featuring Super Powers): written and drawn by Jack Kirby and others (1951-1986; collected 2012): This Kirby omnibus collects all of the Jack Kirby stories and story arcs too short to get their own volumes. It spans quite a range. The Black Magic material herein actually comes from the pre-Comics Code 1950’s; DC republished the stories they’d acquired from another publisher in the 1970’s. And the volume ends with Kirby’s last full-length comic book, the final issue of the second Super Powers miniseries, from 1986.

In between are bizarre concepts galore. The 1970’s Sandman series would lead pretty much directly to Neil Gaiman’s award-winning series of the 1980’s. There are one-shots that attempt to cash in on the kung-fu craze (Richard Dragon), the sword-and-sorcery craze (Atlas), revivals of 1940’s heroes (Manhunter), revivals of 1940’s concepts (the kid-gang comic in The Dingbats of Danger Street), an attempt to focus a DC book on a supervillain rather than a hero (Kobra), and the rare air of a story featuring art from both Kirby and the great Alex Toth.

The lengthy volume (over 600 pages) also features Kirby’s last stories of the New Gods, the characters he created when he came to DC in the early 1970’s. Darkseid and company appear in the two Super Powers miniseries. In order to get Kirby royalty money for characters created before royalty provisions were attached, some combination of DC executives Paul Levitz, Dick Giordano, and Jenette Kahn had Kirby do minor redesigns on the New Gods characters as part of their inclusion in the new installment in the Super Friends franchise, Super Powers.

Kirby plotted the first miniseries and drew the final issue, with Joey Cavalieri scripting and Adrian Gonzales drawing the first four issues. The second miniseries was written by Paul Kupperberg and pencilled by Kirby. As the Super Powers team was essentially the Justice League, we get Kirby’s late-career versions of Superman, Wonder Woman, Dr. Fate, and a host of others. Kirby’s failing vision sometimes caused some odd bits of perspective in the 1980’s, but overall it’s a delight to see him pencilling both his own creations and DC’s greatest heroes. His Wonder Woman is convincingly imposing, among other things, and we even get a return to Easter Island, with its alien statues waiting to be reborn.

Greg Theakston does a great job inking this last of Kirby’s full-length works, and Kupperberg’s scripting is suitably clever and bombastic. Technically (and bizarrely, I guess), this is the last work in Kirby’s New Gods saga by Kirby himself. While it’s not ‘really’ Kirby’s end to the saga (which never actually ended), it’s a nice send-off, and also a harbinger of how often Darkseid would be the Big Bad Wolf in so many DC epics to follow.

In all, this is a terrific collection. It concludes with Kirby-pencilled installments of DC’s encyclopedic Who’s Who, um, encyclopedia, many of them inked by artists who’d never had a chance to ink Kirby before, including greats Terry Austin and Karl Kesel. Kirby would live for another eight years after the publication of the stories collected here; his stories and characters will probably live on for decades to come. Highly recommended.

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