Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Fourth World - Crucible!

The Fourth World stories in this volume are among my favorites. It was with the awesome fourth issues, those that oddly gave the series its weird sobriquet that I think I fell head over heels in love with the full project. DC switched to a larger format, adding vintage reprints and for the Kirby books it meant some juicy Simon & Kirby goodness from the DC vaults. More than any other set of titles in the DC house these seemed like complete packages, full rich entertainments as the reprints added value. Not everyone felt that way, as sales began to wane almost immediately but for me it never got better than this.

The stories are all mostly centered on Earth, the crucible in which these gods waged their war. We follow the Forever People into the decidedly vile "Happyland", we savor the shenanigans of the "O'Ryan Mob" in New Gods, we follow Scott Free into the Murder Machine, and Jimmy and his best friend Superman must confront the monsters of Transilvane. Vivid wild adventures!

Happyland, the torture garden of Darkseid's henchman Desaad might be the most pernicious place concocted in comics, and a deadly indictment of how we humans interact and entertain and delude ourselves. The truth, the hard truth shambles in full view but we shun our eyes. Darkseid's encounter in Happyland in which a small girl sees the dictator for what he is might be my favorite moment in all the Fourth World series. Kirby pins our ears back with this hard truth about our own natures and the real world around us.

Orion and his "gang" plumb the depths to find a menace which leads him finally to The Deep Six. Slig of the Apokolips is a malignant creation and his brothers Jaffur, Trok, Gole, Shaligo, and Brother Pyron are a motley and typically malignant gang who create a great monster who plunders the seven seas. Orion and Lightray are hard pressed to win the day and need the help of a mere human. All the while Metron and his sidekick Esak roam the byways of time and space, a wonderful spectacle which is a counterpart to the somewhat more mundane Earth adventures. Great drama!

Scott Free gets an ally when Big Barda shows up fresh from Apokolips and the series gets into full swing. Barda adds more than sex appeal to the series, she gives Scott and Oberon something to worry about and something to rely upon. The cast is nearly complete as Virman Vundebarr and Funky Flashman give the whole affair a sense of absurdity. With Flashman Kirby makes his most potent indictment of his time at Marvel and the satire which was totally over my head back in the day rings all too loudly today. Jack didn't mince words.

The tremendous momentum of Jimmy Olsen begins to waver a bit as he first encounters Don Rickles, then some weirdly changed Universal monsters and then a version of the Loch Ness Monster. The series feels a bit more episodic after the fabulous climax of the initial run, but those episodes are still quite entertaining, full of bright characterization and eventually further insights into the nature of the villainy afoot not just in Metropolis but across the globe.

Artistically the series is changing as longtime pro Vince Colletta is replaced for the most part by Mike Royer, a veteran talent who allowed more of Kirby's full pencils to slither through into the final product. Royer produced art which emphasized Kirby's power and energy, but regrettably I've always felt that Colletta's inks created a subtle result which gave Kirby's work an almost ethereal quality.  The art of Royer is potent, but the books lose some indescribable something, something ineffable.

The war between New Genesis and Apokolips is heating up and we will soon leave the crucible of Earth and head for the heavens to finally at last get a close look at these grand and terrible places. But that's next.

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