The New God of the New Gods
In the universe of American comic books, there is only one King and his name is Jack Kirby! Roughly four decades after his most ground-breaking period (roughly 1961 to 1973), his influence towers over American comic books like a colossus or to be appropriate, like a planet-eating Galactus.
Kirby (real name: Jacob Kurtzberg, 1917-1994) was active in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s working both with partner Joe Simon and solo on such noteworthy characters as Captain America, Blue Beetle, Newsboy Legion and the Guardian, Manhunter, the Sandman, and the Challengers of the Unknown. Yet, Kirby’s legacy would be eternally based on the awesome achievements of his work with Marvel Comics in the 1960s. Together with writer-editor Stan Lee, Kirby would apply his prodigious creativity and imagination to give birth to an entire universe of heroes: the Mighty Thor, the Incredible Hulk, the Uncanny X-Men, the Invincible Iron Man, and, of course, the Fantastic Four. Yes, they certainly loved their adjectives at Merry Marvel. Kirby with his dynamic poses, wide-eyed expressions, fantastical machines, and alien landscapes presented in innovative full-page and even double-page spreads changed the face of comic book art forever.
However, by the end of the ‘60s, Kirby had grown disillusioned with Marvel and, tempted by an unprecedented offer of complete creative control, Kirby moved over to DC Comics in 1970.
At the height of his abilities, Kirby proceeded to deliver his most ambitious concept: the Fourth World, a story so big that it would be told concurrently over four titles viz. Jimmy Olsen: Superman’s Pal, New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle. Taking the basic theme of good vs. evil to its logical conclusion, the Fourth World-concept revolved around free will, independence, and the right to choose your destiny. In one corner, the forces of good: New Genesis with the Highfather, Lightray, Orion, Mr Miracle, and the Forever People. In the other: the planet Apokolips with the evil Darkseid and his minions whose search for the ‘anti-life equation’ meant the ultimate slavery of all sentient beings.
This my have proven too ambitious or complex for the average comic book reader of the time, as almost all the Fourth World titles did not make it into a second year. Kirby would return to Marvel in 1975 and then, three years later, leave the comic book industry entirely.
Since the original cancellations of the Fourth World titles, there have been several attempts to revive these books but most have been met with public indifference. Kirby’s unfinished opus, which had been intended by its creator to have a proper ending, was left floundering in the quagmire of unresolved plotlines and a prohibitive burgeoning back story.
Enter: Walt Simonson.
Like any comic book artist of his generation, Simonson is a product of the Kirby legacy. To his credit, Simonson has always been able to fuse his Kirby influence with a distinct European flavour and the feel of the French master, Moebius. Simonson’s skills are best evident on his scintillating run on The Mighty Thor, whereby he introduced the compelling alien character Beta Ray Bill, afflicted Thor with a crippling bone disease, and plagued the brave hero even further by turning him into a um frog!
With New God Orion regaining a sense of elevated profile through his membership in the popular Justice League of America, the DC Comics suits figured that Orion would be the best bet for a Fourth World revival. They turned to Simonson to helm it. So, would Simonson be able to succeed where so many before him have failed? In a word: yes!
Within the first issue, Simonson has Orion questioning whether he is indeed the son of evil Darkseid, Darkseid in apparent possession of the ‘anti-life equation’, and Orion heading for the prophesised match-up with the powerful ruler of Apokolips. And, by the end of the fifth issue, the tables are seemingly overturned Orion declares himself the ruler of Apokolips! Simonson certainly has shaken things up!
More than that, Simonson’s characterisation of Orion as the tragic hero is spot on, as he rails against his own dark heritage with the fanatical zeal of a believer and the reckless disregard of an infidel. There is much cosmic bombast to be admired here, Simonson’s dynamic art carries the plot and action breathlessly, especially in the climatic Orion-Darkseid battle. With the critical questions left over by Kirby apparently answered, Simonson asks the crucial query now what? and brings both Orion and the New Gods to previously uncharted territory; the issues of trust, power, politics, and love are given due examination within the context of Kirby’s Fourth World concepts.
Kirby’s Fourth World drew its strength and impetus from the never-ending fight between good and evil. Does this conflict cease in a time of ostensible peace? Simonson considers this meaty matter within the pages of Orion and with aplomb.