346. New Gods
When most people think of Jack Kirby, their minds probably gravitate toward the King's work at Marvel. Not for me, though. When I think of Kirby's best work, I think of the stuff he did in the '70s at DC-- the stuff that he wrote, drew, and edited. Of those titles, the best one (despite how much I love OMAC) is The New Gods. This series is Jack Kirby's beautiful, unfinished magnum opus, and one of the best comic books of all time.
"There came a time when the old gods died!" Etc. etc. Then we got New Genesis and Apokolips, twin worlds of lightness and darkness, respectively-- the homelands for a warring race of new gods. When Kirby went big, he went big. The New Gods is a cosmic series of epic proportions, a new mythology for a new age. Kirby told a massive, sweeping tale. Many critics have issues with his supposedly overwrought dialogue, but this is far from realistic-- this, my friends, is an opera on the page.
The star of the book, Orion, represents the struggle between light and dark by his very nature. Born on savage Apokolips, son of evil Darkseid, Orion was raised on New Genesis and swayed over to the side of peace. Good-natured but hot-tempered Orion, however, is a creature of war, and brings unholy fury upon his enemies. New Genesis' mission is not one of destruction, but of change-- to peace! Despite this, its denizens are constantly drawn into war; Orion is their weapon, commanding the Astro-Force. Other New Genesisians (Genesans?) include wise leader Highfather and friendly, angelic Lightray. Their Apokoliptan enemies, aside from the tyrant Darkseid, include Darkseid's other son, Kalibak the Cruel, and the dread lord's right-hand-man Desaad, aptly-named master of torture.
Darkseid's after the Anti-Life Equation, and he's invading Earth to find it. Naturally, Orion's sent by the mysterious, all-knowing Source to step in, and encounters a band of humans who are quickly swayed to his side once he saves 'em and all. Here's where another theme-- the difference between man and god-- appears.
Kirby filled the book with his usual array of giant, crazy ideas: the Source! Boom tubes! Mother Box! The Black Racer! The Deep Six! The Bugs! Parademons! Kirby put more new and weird ideas on one page than some creators manage to conceive in their entire careers. He also utilized new methods to tell his story. One series wasn't enough-- in fact, he needed four! And lo, the Fourth World was born-- Jimmy Olsen, New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle, all existing separately but all part of the larger tapestry.
My God, the power Kirby put into this! Heck, once Mike Royer came on to ink the book, the New Gods became an unstoppable stampede of excellent stories and huge moments. The Glory Boat and the Pact are two of the finest single issues of the run, and they came back to back! And let's not forget the Death Wish of Terrible Turpin or even the story of Forager the Bug. All of it's excellent work.
Unfortunately, the series was not well-received in terms of sales, and folded after only 11 issues. Those 11 issues, however, stand as the first act in a story that could have been the best thing to ever hit comics. Kirby did wrap it up years later with Hunger Dogs, but by then, it wasn't the same-- a quick cap to his amazing saga. Other creative teams have tried to take the concept and series further, but none of them have managed to live up to Kirby, aside from one Walter Simonson, whose 25-issue Orion series is one of my favorite comics of all time, standing tall right alongside Kirby's original series.
The New Gods is so good, I own the series in multiple forms. I'm currently buying both the original issues and the magnificent Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibi. I've already got the black-and-white collection of the series, and an issue or two of the Baxter reprints, plus some digital versions of the comics. I love this series that much.
This series was a brilliant story about the nature of endless war (remember, it came out in the Vietnam era), and man's internal struggle. It was a humongous story contained in a short span of issues. Thirty years later, we hold it up as an example of what comics can aspire to. That's what it's all about, kids. New Gods was an extremely personal work for Kirby-- it was the Kirbiest story ever. DC might be killing all the characters off now, but that does nothing to tarnish Kirby's magnificence.
For New Gods on the web, visit the New Gods Library. Four years out of date, yes, but the information is does contain is enormous.