Jack Kirby wasn’t known for being subtle in his work. His art leapt off the page with bold proclamations about the world that is coming and the death of old gods, and we love him for it. However, the character of Darkseid remains the most nuanced of all of Kirby’s creations and as such he proves to be a trickier proposition for many creators than a hulking, stone-faced God of All Evil first appears. It’s very easy to get Darkseid wrong, but when a rare creator manages to tap into the message Kirby was trying to convey with the character, we get truly great stories.
Thankfully, Darkseid Special #1 is one of those stories, and it’s no surprise that it’s written by Kirby’s long-time friend, assistant and official biographer Mark Evanier, who is also a celebrated comics and animation writer in his own right. Evanier and his collaborators Scott Kolins, Dave McCaig and Troy Peters do the incredibly simple-but-effective move of telling a Darkseid story where Darkseid isn’t the protagonist, and by shifting focus to the Lowlies of Apokolips, the creative team can truly explore what is so great and unsettling about Darkseid in a more fully realized way.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between Darkseid Special #1 and current political tensions in the United States and around the world, not least because the story is titled “The Resistance” and opening the issue on a giant statue of Darkseid daubed with the word “Tyrant” sets a tone for a kind of Fourth World story we haven’t really seen before. In the past, the only people allowed to rebel against Darkseid and Apokolips have been New Gods such as Mister Miracle, Himon and Forager but this issue shows the small flicker of hope that exists so long as there are ordinary people willing to stand up to their oppressors, and it’s the kind of story you couldn’t tell with a superhero escape artist.
Jack Kirby always recognized the importance of youth culture and the direction the next generation was taking the world in, and this story presents a new generation of Apokoliptians who are unafraid to stand up for what they believe in, even in the face of true annihilation. It’s no surprise that the classic Kirby story reprinted in this issue features the Forever People, because they too represent the future of the Fourth World and an attempt to move away from the conflict that has raged between the two planets all their lives.
Scott Kolins and Dave McCaig are a fantastic team together and they capture the dystopian Apokolips perfectly, rendering the view from the ground as all too recognizably human instead of packing it with high-tech, super-detailed Kirby Machines. Their interpretation of Darkseid literally towers over the normal people of Apokolips, like he is his own living monument to himself and their art captures a pathos and gravitas necessary to tell a street level story on the hell-world of Apokolips, making it one-shot that would not be unwelcome as a regular ongoing series starring the same characters.
The issue also features a back-up story by Paul Levitz, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Dave Stewart and Todd Klein that serves almost as a happy ending for Jack Kirby’s OMAC, the One Man Army Corps. Again, like the Darkseid story and the Forever People story it sits in-between, this OMAC tale revolves around standing up to corrupt and totalitarian forces and making a true life for yourself and for the future of your world. It’s only six pages long, but it captures the kinetic energy of OMAC beautifully and lives up to the spirit and intent of Kirby’s creation in a way that revivals of the character have failed to do.
Darkseid Special #1 is a gleaming tribute to the King of Comics that eschews the obvious path of looking like a Kirby clone and instead goes for the heart of his characters and why they worked, reminding us how ahead of his time Jack Kirby truly was. Above all else, Jack Kirby’s work was about moving forward into the future and making it a better place, something each story in this oversized one-shot presents in its own way, making it one of the more narratively cohesive of the specials and a real standout among DC’s many tributes to the King in what would be his centenary.