Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Fourth World - Revelation!


I heard Christopher Lee say in one of his many interviews about The Lord of the Rings that those books were among his most cherished and that he revisited them annually to drink once more from the fantastic brew he found there. I feel the same way about Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" saga produced for DC Comics in the early 70's. I've collected the original series in nearly all its incarnations over the years. I can well remember when the books were discarded, racked regularly in the discount boxes at ridiculous prices, so ridiculous that I'd buy sets of them to give away to friends who might not have sampled the awesomeness of Kirby's great epic.

Then that changed, sometime in the 90's after Kirby's passing. There came to be a greater and greater regard for his work in all areas, prompted by fans and later by the corporations he worked for trying again and again to glean a bit of profit from the fabulous work he'd done for them so very long before. People can properly debate what role Joe Simon and later Stan Lee played in the fantastic creations attributed to them and to Kirby, but no one can dispute who the creator of the "Fourth World" was, and that was the point. Now the work is available in four wonderful omnibus editions and I recently read them through in the manner Kirby most likely intended, as chapters in a vast novel-like narrative.

The saga begins rather quietly in a Metropolis slum when Jimmy Olsen under orders from his new ruthless and even murderous boss Morgan Edge seeks out the second generation Newsboy Legion and the totally off-the-chain Whiz Wagon, an all-terrain, multi-atmosphere, and even aquatic vehicle. They rocket off the the "Wild Area" and discover "The Outsiders" a high-tech motorcycle gang which Jimmy quickly proceeds to become the leader of. The "Hairies" are there too, incredibly bright hippies who live in a gigantic wooden "Habitat". Superman shows up quickly enough, the ultimate representative of adult generation and despite his adult wisdom, the boys keep searching until they find "The Mountain of Judgement" and the intellects behind it. This leads to "The Project"  and its hidden counterpart "The Evil Factory" where we learn that man has cracked the genetic code and is creating wild and sometimes dangerous variations on man, redefining the very meaning what it means to be "human".

All this is just the prelude to Kirby's epic saga.

With the debut of the Forever People we learn of "Supertown", a place where peace reigns though the shadow of war is closing in. We meet four youngsters (Mark Moonrider, Big Bear, Vykin the Black, and Serifan) who have come to Earth to find their fifth member the lovely Beautiful Dreamer who has been captured the arch-enemy Darkseid. And then we get the New Gods and learn that before now the old gods died in a horrific conflagration which created two opposite worlds - New Genesis and Apokolips - which have been under a truce for an indeterminate time but who now are sliding slowly into war themselves. Chief among the New Genesis warriors is Orion who seems out of step with the gentle world he's vowed to protect, different from his close friend the open-hearted Lightray. Highfather has a connection to "The Source" and the word sends Orion to Apokolips to save four humans then to Earth to raise the defense there on the primary battleground. All the while Scott Free roams the Earth until he meets Thaddeus Brown, known as "Mister Miracle" a master escape artist. As a result of conflict with Inter-Gang, an arm of the Darksied forces, Brown is killed and Scott takes up his role helped by the loyal Oberon.

This and more is what we get in the first trio of stories of brand new series which complete the tetralogy that comprises the "Fourth World" saga. There's more mind-blowing stuff in those three issues than in years of some current comics companies output. And it didn't stop there.

Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion along with the stalwart Superman battle genetic monsters like the Kryptonite-coated giant Jimmy Olsen and an armada of mutated Four-Armed Terrors. Alongside them fights a cloned Guardian, a product of The Project and a hero eager to prove himself.

The Forever People battle against Mantis, a ultra-powerful denizen of Apokolips and they encounter the oily Glorious Godfrey who bends the minds of pliable humans in his never-ending search for control and for the ultimate prize - the "Anti-Life Equation", a secret key hidden in some human minds which can unleash the horror of utter slavery for all mankind in the mitts of evil types like Darkseid himself.

Orion battles against himself always, but confronts from the forces of Apokolips and its leader himself the vile Darkseid. We learn of secrets within secrets which might turn the tide of this brewing war. Along comes The Black Racer too, the very emissary of death who seeks both human and god alike.

And the newly minted Mister Miracle confronts his past when Granny Goodness, the woman who raised him turns up to wreak her vengeance for his escape from her clutches. And soon thereafter the mind-bending Dr.Bedlam appears to unleash raw fear in a trap which is deadly and all too human.

The action is heady, the characterization is raw, and the sense of something bigger than the sum of the parts is all too evident. The comics bristle with high adventure which is brightened here and there with social commentary and even a smidgeon of  raw philosophy.  Heady stuff for mere comics. Something all-together different. But then that was the point.

Here are the covers of the comics in the first volume of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus in the order in which they were printed and are presented for reading. It's as close to reading a true graphic novel as we're ever likely to get. It's a revelation.


















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4 comments:

  1. This is something I've always wanted to get, but unfortunately haven't done so. Some pretty amazing stuff.

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    1. Spend your money as you see fit, but I find these volumes well worth the dime. A rarity in the modern comics world.

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  2. I've got all the original issues, but I bought these books as they came out a few years back. I have a nostalgic fondness for the stories because I read them as a teenager, but I think his 15 issues of Jimmy Olsen were the best of all his DC work, followed by Mister Miracle.

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    1. I had mild disdain for the Olsen stories for a few years, as they didn't key into the larger tapestry as closely as the other books, but in more recent times those zany adventures seem to get better and better, the rich humor seems a perfect salt to the danger.

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