Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Fourth World - Resurrection!

And almost as quickly as it appeared, the Fourth World went away, not really with a whimper but with far less of a bang than we'd have expected.

With the tenth issues of the three remaining books (Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle --Kirby had already left Jimmy Olsen), we see a transition away from the sprawling storyline to more compact, self-contained storytelling. In fact for New Gods and Forever People the eleventh issues marked the end of their runs. The Forever People end up on the beautiful planet Adonn having exchanged places with the Infinity Man for what seemed the final time as he appeared to die in battle with the implacable Devilance. Orion and Lightray battle Kalibak to the death and in the final panel vow that Darkseid will get his -- it's not to be for a very, very long time.

Mister Miracle alone of the Fourth World books escapes the end of the Fourth World and ironically it is by doing what escape artists do best, adapting to the changing circumstances. The backdrop story of New Genesis and Apokolips is shuttled deep into the background and rarely alluded to, while the escape artist and superhero aspects of the series come forward. The show gets a new manager, Ted Brown, the son of Thaddeus Brown and eventually adds an apprentice named Shilo Norman. The Female Furies hang around for a few issues then disappear without comment. The enemies are properly weird, but not necessarily Apokoliptian, that is until the final issue where Scott Free and Barda get hitched by Highfather with Orion and Lightray and Metron in attendance. Also on hand for a farewell attack are Virman Vundebar, Kanto, Doctor Bedlam, and Granny Goodness. And the whole shebang is sent off into the ether by Darkseid himself and his haunting laughter.

It would be a decade before the concept is at long last resurrected in the hands of its creator. But regrettably by this time the cultural zeitgeist had shifted from a thriving counter culture to a thriving consumer culture in which toy tie-ins were the premium for entertaining a new generation of youngsters. To that end Kirby was forbidden to do what his story had long promised and his theme demanded, kill off Darkseid and possibly Orion as well. Handcuffed by circumstances, but at some level seeking the satisfaction of giving his epic some sort of ending we get a truncated finale which features Orion battling in Apokolips for a final time, at least as drawn by his creator.

Sadly the Kirby of the 80's was not the equal of his 70's counterpart, the artwork lacked the potency and circumstances limited the scope. It was and remains a mixed blessing. The Hunger Dogs as a graphic novel showed that Kirby had been right all along, that new formats were necessary to keep the comic alive. Sadly he was ahead of his time and it is only now, long after his death that his work has found the kind of lasting publication he envisioned so many decades ago. That is the ultimate victory of the Fourth World.

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  1. Great reviews over the last few days, and I've been enjoying these covers!

    1. They are great! I'm glad you've been enjoying the reviews. I've been trying to find new ways to get into the Fourth World and reading them as they were intended, a true graphic novel seemed to work quite well.

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