Keb takes his final super-serious look at comics, taking a serious look into Jack Kirby's Fourth World.
I recently purchased the first two Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibuses (in paperback) because I’ve always wanted to read Kirby despite having no experience with his work. What I found tough about reading these books is that it was impossible for me to approach them without the “King Kirby” status floating overhead.
While reading, I was able to understand why so many creators hold Kirby in such high esteem. His ideas for the Fourth World concept are brilliant and were so far ahead of their time. I would have trouble understanding someone who hated Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.
When I approached the book, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve read that the Fourth World is “Kirby Unleashed”. I am also not familiar with comics written before 1980, so reading something published in 1970 was going to be very different. What I ended up coming away with after reading the first few issues was something I did not entirely expect at all.
The series opens with three issues of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. As soon as I saw that, I rolled my eyes. Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s lame-ass pal and his lame-ass signal watch, seriously? I was actually annoyed. Truthfully, the Jimmy Olsen stuff stands out from all of the other Fourth World stuff and I gained a new appreciation for Silver Age comics. I was then able to see why the series was a great springboard for the rest of the Fourth World material.
The one thing I love about the Fourth World is the definite balance of good and evil in Kirby’s world that isn’t questioned at any point. Darkseid and his minions are unsympathetic and in no way do they command any sympathy from their reader. Orion, Mister Miracle, the Forever People and the rest of the New Gods are shining beacons of virtue for a world that is completely amoral and balanced. Every element of the storytelling is so clear-cut that it seems easy.
Why can’t storytelling be so easy in our own time? It’s very rare we see this good-evil balance in comics anymore. At some point, the storytelling had to be complex and has always been trying to increase its complexity. The genius of the Fourth World lies in all of its creations. While the elements seem complex, they are really simplified at their core and there is a level of creativity that I don’t believe comics have anymore.
The lack of complexity in the Fourth World begins to expand the imagination, and that makes it so wonderful to read. For example, the Mother Box is a complex computer-like box that helps the characters out but you don’t need to know the inner workings of the box to enjoy the story. It can work in whatever way it wants. Absolute genius from simplicity with no serious overtones involved. A childlike imagination is required, but there are no adult explanations to convolute the storyline. I can really appreciate this method of storytelling and I think this is what makes the medium fantastic. While I love how comics have become more adult-themed over the past 30+ years, the Fourth World has me pining for the Kirby influence.
I have begun to question these writers who claim to have been influenced by Kirby and his peers. It’s easy to say “Kirby was the King and he made great comics.” What really bothers me is that no one seems to translate this greatness into their own books. The only time we ever see the potential for Kirby greatness is in indie comics that go under the radar. In a time where comics are being written by Silver Age fanboys, I fail to see any of that influence in our comics today.
I believe that’s the difference between Kirby comics and what we have today. The level of “seriousness” (or perhaps a lack) we accept with Kirby comics come from his genius and how he forces us to use our imaginations. At the core of everything is fun. I wish it would translate into the comics we have today.
Written or Contributed by Keb Ellis
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