As I said a week ago, having reread Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga, I wanted to write a post about how the stories held up almost five decades later. So here it is. With the caveat that as Kirby wasn’t able to finish them, any assessment is probably a little distorted. New Gods, for instance, spent #9 and 10 of an eleven-issue run focusing on Forager, a new character. It’s a jarring break with the main arc, but if the book had run another 30 issues (or whatever Kirby’s vision was) it might have fitted together better.
New Gods was the core of the Fourth World, focusing on the New Genesis/Apokolips war, and on the mightiest warrior of New Genesis, Orion. Born on Apokolips as Darkseid’s son, he’s a savage killing machine, his savagery restrained (most of the time) by years of training on New Genesis. Prophecy says Orion will end the war, one way or another, by a final battle against his father; he’s ready to take the fight to Darkseid now. Aiding him in his fight is the gentle, more strategic Lightray.
Orion is a raging elemental force and the battles are spectacular. Kirby does a nice job with the humans caught in the middle (including several who would probably have played a recurring role if it had continued) too (he’d do even better on his later Eternals at Marvel).
My favorite, though, remains Mister Miracle. Scott Free, son of Highfather of New Genesis, grew up on Apokolips but rebelled and fled. Arriving on Earth, he fell in with Thaddeus Brown, the legendary escape artist Mr. Miracle. When a mob boss kills Brown to avoid paying off a bet, Scott steps into his role. For a man fleeing imprisonment, it’s a natural step, but Apokolips doesn’t let go easily …
Not only is the escape artist angle a great hook (inspired by comics creator and escapologist Jim Steranko) — and who doesn’t love that line “He cheats death! He defies man! No trap can hold him!” — but in place of Orion smashing monstrous adversaries, Scott gets some colorful, strange foes: Granny Goodness, Doctor Bedlam, Virman Vundabar, Kanto. And a stunning ally in the beautiful Big Barda, another refugee. Mister Miracle ran long enough to wrap up the initial arc — Scott returns to Apokolips and wins his freedom — and then, after New Gods got the axe, settled for less imaginative crimefighting stories. It makes me wonder what Kirby had in mind if it had lasted.
Forever People as I’ve mentioned before, is weaker than its siblings. Where Mr. Miracle is actively trying to stay free, the Forever People are hippies, just content to drift (though of course that doesn’t really work out). It does, however, make the strongest use of Kirby’s free will/anti-life conflict, which forms the background of the initial arc. Like Mister Miracle the characters have an unnatural familiarity with Earth culture, from vaudeville to the Lincoln assassination.
Last, and definitely least, was Kirby’s brief and reluctant run on Jimmy Olsen. This is only marginally connected to the rest of the mythos. While Darkseid’s lurking in the background, most of the book focuses on SF stories about cloning and genetic engineering, as well as bringing back Kirby’s Golden Age characters (co-created with Joe Simon), the Guardian (a clone of the original) and the Newsboy Legion (the originals now grown, with their kids stepping up to have new adventures). It’s fun for the most part, and some wildly imaginative visuals, but the adventures largely sidelined Jimmy in his own book.
I definitely gained by reading them in original publication order, as the characters and concepts cross between the different series. If I had to pick just one — Mister Miracle all the way.