Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Fourth World - Aftermath!

Among the many reasons DC saw fit to bring Jack Kirby back one final time in the mid 80's was not only to finally complete his epic "Fourth World" saga but to do so in such a way as to leave the characters available for future storytelling. Some of that new storytelling happened simultaneously with the development of Kirby's finale and some immediately after. And it weirdly blended the "Fourth World" with the classic Super Friends format to create something which is to my mind still surprisingly entertaining.

The Super Powers was an attempt by DC and Kenner to make the DC heroes successful as a toy line akin to the then wildly successful Star Wars and G.I.Joe toys among many others. To that end Jack Kirby gets to do what he'd sort of wanted to do with the Fourth World heroes so long ago, write a story another artist would draw, though Kirby supplied the action-filled covers. The artist chosen was Adrian Gonzales who is inked variously by Pablo Marcos, Alan Kupperberg, and himself. Joey Cavaleri gives Kirby a scripting hand in this series.

It's typical Bronze Age artwork, sturdy and straightforward which tries to evoke that Kirby mojo, but alas falls short. The story is an oddball one which has a hidden Darkseid (Gonzales does not actually draw any of the classic Fourth World characters in any way that they can be immediately identified) who sends his four "Emissaries of Doom" (four rather bland Apokolyptian warriors sad to say) to go attack the Earth by using four super-villains (Lex Luthor, Joker, Penguin, Brainiac) to battle the Justice League across the world, all of which is ruse to hide the proper invasion of Earth led by Darkseid himself in the fifth and final issue which is vigorously drawn by "King" Kirby himself.

It's a solid superhero action, but doesn't have any of the philosophical depth of the original series. Aside from some hints about the extras-special nature of Superman, this seems mostly to be a rockem' sockem' adventure, diverting but little else.

But there's more after a look at some action-filled Kirby covers.

The next year, after the appearance of "The Hunger Dogs" graphic novel, the storyline properly continues in the second series of Super Powers books, this time a six-issue limited. Jack is tapped not only to write, but draw this series, his final full-blown professional work. And while this is not Kirby at the peak of his powers, it is nonetheless better than most other comics of its time. Kirby supported Greg Theakston is tapped to finish the art.

The story begins with the revolting Hunger Dogs having driven Darkseid from power on Apokolips. This leaves the despot having to take his things and find a new place to conquer. He chooses Earth and rounds up his henchmen the resurrected and slightly altered Desaad, Kalibak, Mantis, Steppenwolf, and assorted Para-Demons to help with that end. The plan is to send five "Seeds of Doom" to Earth, each powered by some part of Darkseid's "Omega Effect" and allow the weird seeds to send their roots down into the core of the Earth, eventually tapping that power and demolishing the planet as we know it making a proper Apokoliptian landscape for Darkseid's purposes. But there's a secret.

The Justice League gathers and in a fantastic shout-out to classic DC super-team dynamics break up into teams of two and three to battle the"Seeds" across the globe. But in a another clever allusion to the seventh issue of Forever People, the "Seeds of Doom" powered by the Omega Effect send our heroes through time where they have to confront a nicely wide assortment of threats and villains from many sources. It's a nicely drawn, rich, and classic superhero adventure with a few surprises, some great Kirby action and a pretty neat finale.

Now it must be said, that despite his direct involvement with this series, this again is a story which lacks the depth of the original Fourth World material. The Darkseid here, while properly evil lacks the subtlety of characterization which makes him so calmly malignant in the original series. He's more the cliche cackling villain here, he is full of anger more often than the cold disdain for others which gave him such a frosty menace before in Kirby's treatments. The henchmen too are just classic baddies, but they might be forgiven since they are literally mere shadows of their former selves.

Again Kirby does some interesting things with Superman, and it makes me wish he'd been able to do more with the classic hero. Clearly he had insights into the character which were colorful and interesting.

A final word after a very handsome cover gallery.

All in all Super Powers is an above-average story told in a DCU which at the time was undergoing its infamous "Crisis". So it's easy to understand why this yarn got lost among all that transforming hubbub, but every Kirby fan needs to check these stories out, and any Fourth World fan owes it to themselves to see the "King's" last fling with these wild evocative characters before he once and for all time left the building.

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  1. My name is Ed Gorman. I write suspense and sometimes horror. My blog is new improved gorman. I was wondering if I could reprint your review of President Fu Manchu. Thanks

    1. I'm familiar with your work. By all means feel free to reprint that article. I appreciate the offer.

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  2. I seem to remember an energetic double page spread of the Justice League battling para-demons. And as a kind of poignant bookend to his mainstream comics career, Kirby reverting back to circular and other odd-shaped panels right out of the golden age.
    And speaking of Fu Manchu, have you seen the wonderfully awful Su Maru film "The Girl from Rio" directed by cult weirdo Jesus Franco?

    1. I don't know that flick. Thanks for the tip. And indeed there are some very ornate panels in the Super Powers story.

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