I suppose a “best of 2012” post would be appropriate now, after having completed my anniversary post. I looked over all the books I read this year (the advantage of Goodreads, easy to see lists) and the most remarkable things I read were Jack Kirby’s Fourth World stories and Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory. I’ve only read the first half of Kirby’s Fourth World, but I figure now is as good a time as any to write something on it.
That’s because, according to every account, after the halfway point the series gets weird, when DC started to pressure Kirby and all sorts of mess. So, before it possibly gets weird and disappointing (I’m still confident it’ll be great, mind you), let’s talk about it. And first, yes, I certainly think it is the most remarkable thing I read in 2012 for several reasons. Historically speaking it’s very significant.
But it’s also completely insane. It begins in the stupid-as-fuck comic series Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Best Friend. Yes, that comic existed. It was a cavalcade of ridiculous shit, and is where stuff like Olsen as a costume-wearing, cool kid story hound comes from. He was in a new odd situation every month. The legend goes that when DC said they wanted Kirby on several books and asked, Which do you want to do? Kirby said “Give me your lowest selling book and I’ll make it your highest selling book.” That sort of sales spike did happen, but according to his assistants he actually wanted the “lowest selling book” because he wasn’t supplanting a creative team from a book they’d been working on – low selling comics change creative hands constantly.
It starts with Jimmy Olsen and a bunch of irritating kids going into some kind of unpoliced area with crazy bikers and mutants and aliens maybe except not actually. They’re being sent by their new boss to spy on the “hairies,” which are the front for a government think tank messing with DNA and such. Superman shows up, as he does.
After that issue shit gets crazy. That’s when Kirby starts to do his own comics, rather than shoehorning his stuff into an already existing comic. I actually love this in some ways, because it inserts Superman into the story but, two volumes of four in, he’s ancilliary and investigating around the edges. He doesn’t really matter to the story. It could be anyone being accidentally trapped. There is a very cool moment early on when he realizes the New Gods are aliens and that their boom tubes go to their home planet – he suddenly longs to go into space himself, feeling out of place on Earth.
The stars are the New Gods, the heroes from space who fight Darkseid and the villains of Apokalips. This is apparently straight up, Kirby’s take on post-Ragnarok. These people are also simultaneously gods, and they are the gods that survived the apocalypse that destroyed the old ones. I don’t think that literally in the history of DC Thor and Odin were running around (though rumor has it Kirby tried to work this stuff into Thor and Marvel wouldn’t let him), but there was a generation of old gods that are gone and those on New Genesis and Apokalips are the new gods, and their war will bleed over into the human war as god war usually does.
So let me take one example and use it to illustrate how bat-shit crazy this comic is.
The Black Racer.
There’s that motherfucker. He is death. I don’t mean he’s the guy from Apokalips that keeps saying he’s death incarnate. I mean, in some crazy fucking way that only Jack Kirby could do and leave no question of its truth, he is an alien who has never been to earth and also death itself. He instantly knows the name of anyone who is about to die, because he is their master in their death.
In a fight with Orion of New Genesis he is wounded and weakened, and flies through a wall into the room of Willie Walker. You’ll love this: Willie Walker is a comatose black Viet Nam veteran. The Black Racer senses the rage and impotence of Walker and merges with him, saving his own life and giving Willie an outlet. He immediately sets out to hound an urban (read: black) thug working for Intergang, the human organization supporting Darkseid. He hounds the guy pretty much to death, and sets out to Willie’s sick room, becoming a bed-ridden comatose man again.
I have no idea how that logic would work. He submits to purgatory again because his job is done.
Except fuck logic. He’s a god, that’s how he works. This is exactly the shit I want to try to get across to you, because you have to read this comic. I liked this comic well enough until the Black Racer. His issue is when I fell in love with it.
The Black Racer merges with a human – the human race being something strange to him until that moment – because there is a sympathetic link between him and Walker. Rage and a warrior’s spirit. Willie is basically praying in his coma and his god answers him. The Black Racer rides Willie like a vudun loa rides a worshipper. He goes back to Willie’s sick room because there is nowhere else for a god to be when he’s not answering prayers. The new gods – “good” and “evil” – get sucked into the lives of their human “worshippers” steadily. Orion becomes “O’Ryan,” ostensibly as cover, but he’s already undercover (spoiler redacted).
Kirby is one of a very few writers who get mythology right. To use a phrase usually reserved for Kirby’s art – the myth energy in this comic crackles with a life of its own, just like a good myth.
I’ll probably let you know when I finish this series. Or what there is of it. It was never really finished apparently, leaving generations of fans both desperate to read more and afraid to ever see it end. Because the story of a god never ends, right? Somehow Kirby’s story and this comic intertwine and it matters so much because it’s a cycle story frozen mid-cycle.