Comic fans are set for a real treat this year. Originally released in 1971, Jack Kirby‘s most ambitious project is finally getting the deluxe treatment it has always deserved (36 years late).
Collected in oversized hardcover editions (thankfully printed in newsprint as opposed to the shiny stock commonly used), the series of collections will represent the entire Fourth World saga, including the elusive finale, ‘The Hunger Dogs’ graphic novel.
After leaving Marvel Comics in one of the most famous professional rows of comicdom next to the Ditko/Lee bout in the 60′s, Jack Kirby was anxious to move on to the next big thing. A veritable 15 year old youth in the body of a fifty year old man, Kirby was rife with creative energy. Who can blame him? After a record making 100 straight issues of the Fantastic Four with Stan Lee, I’m sure he was anxious to try something new. He wasn’t the only one.
So after he slammed his cigar into his quitting notice to Stan and company (which read ‘I QUIT!’), King Kirby was almost immediately courted by DC Comics, who were desperately trying to enliven their staid image.
The story goes that Kirby had an almost bottomless mental drawer of ideas to draw from. He walked in to talk to DC Editorial with one idea followed by another in such quick succession that he could have easily gone on all day. Here was a sci-fi idea. No? OK, how about a romance series? No? No problem… it went on and on.
Then he unveiled the Fourth World concept.
Kirby had already taken over Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen (in a show that he could take their worst selling series and make it a hit) and introduced the evil Darkseid and the whimsical Forever People, so the stage was already set. But brother what a crowded stage it was!
Kirby had it all worked out in his head.
Four separate series (New Gods, The Forever People, Mister Miracle and Jimmy Olsen) with interlocking themes.
It remains the most ambitious project ever undertaken by a single comic creator… and given the amount of time passed and books published since then, that’s saying something.
Defined by DC Comics President Paul Levitz, The Fourth World is “the first deliberately constructed universe of fiction in comics that was not confined to a single character or a single title at birth. All of that became models for ways that you could develop comics and ways in which comics influenced other media to develop.”
Kirby intended the series to be written and drawn by other creators with himself as a editor in chief, but it was never to be. DC Comics was in love with the idea that they had nabbed one of the fathers of the Marvel Universe and wanted Kirby’s artwork and madcap writing in every issue. The creator of the Hulk, Fantastic Four, Thor, Captain America and the rest was sitting at a DC Comics drawing table.
Given that DC Comics Editorial insisted in redrawing certain any appearance of Superman in a Kirby comic still boggles the mind, but it was the 70′s. People made wacky decisions.
The ideas behind the Fourth World saga were incredibly epic. After the death of the ‘old gods,’ there was the creation of a single world.
What once was one became two, the beautiful and shining New Genesis and the dark pit of evil, Apokolips.
After years of bloody conflict, a pact was formed. High Father, the leader of New Genesis and Darkseid, the despot of Apokolips, exchanged their first born sons. This insured that war could not be waged without one side spilling their own blood.
The two children grew up to be the fiercest opponents to Darkseid‘s quest for cosmic domination, Mister Miracle and Orion.
But after the discovery of Earth, Darkseid found a new battleground and laboratory to renew his search for the ‘Anti-Life Equation.’
This remarkable series ran throughout all four comics for 11 issues per title before an untimely cancellation. A painted graphic novel depicting the final defeat of Darkseid by the very underlings he viewed as his loyal worshipers, The Hunger Dogs, was published in 1985 following a brand new lead in story printed in issue #6 of the New Gods Baxter Paper reprint series.
The New Gods saw print again with longtime Kirby collaborator Mark Evanier at the helm, and again with Tom Peyer, Rachel Pollack and John Byrne writing the series, but the characters ultimately took up supporting roles in the DC Universe.
The New Gods story line was condensed in the stunning 2-parter Superman Animated tale ‘Apopokolips… Now,’ which was dedicated to the memory of Jack Kirby. Animator Bruce Timm has talked at length of his desire to create an animated film version of the New Gods and rumor has it that storyboards and designs hang on his studio walls. With the advent of the direct-to-DVD DC Comics Animated line, that may be more of a possibility than originally thought.
The Forever People starred in a mini series in 1988 before disappearing almost entirely from the annals of comic books.
Mister Miracle became a member of the Justice League in the 1984 series, but in time disappeared into obscurity only to be brought back to life by Kirby enthusiast Grant Morrison as part of a grand interlinking series much like the Fourth World saga called ‘Seven Soldiers of Victory.’
Jimmy Olsen still works a modest job at a major metropolitan newspaper.
After the cancellation of the Fourth World saga, Kirby left his other DC Comics creation, Kamandi, in the hands of Gerry Conway and returned to Marvel Comics. Ironically, he developed a series much like the New Gods for Marvel called the Eternals.
But this new Fourth world Omnibus series is perhaps the best way to experience the Jack Kirby’s extravaganza. One massive sprawling saga told large as life and twice as loud. If you are not familiar with the series, this is the perfect opportunity to enjoy the ultimate comics experience.
Just make sure you have an extra pair of sock ready.
Recommended reading/viewing list:
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus, Vol. 1
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus, Vol. 2
Jimmy Olsen: Adventures by Jack Kirby – Volume 1
Jimmy Olsen: Adventures by Jack Kirby – Volume 2 (Jimmy Olsen)
Kamandi Archives, Volume 1 (DC Archive Editions)
Kamandi Archives, Vol. 2
The Eternals Omnibus
Superman – The Animated Series, Volume Two (DC Comics Classic Collection)
The Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 4
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Vol. 3
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Vol. 2
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Vol. 1