Jack Kirby’s New Gods

 This series was originally printed in color. The reprint collection from which this review is written was done in black and white with grey tones added to approximate the original coloring. Because this is the most available format (and particularly since it’s the only one I have) this is what I’m using in this review.

  I carry two decades of baggage into this review. Specifically, two decades of indifference or dismissiveness toward the New Gods. My first introduction to them was back in ‘78 when a few of them appeared in the last issue of Super-Team Family along with the Flash. The balance of my STF subscription was filled with issues of Justice League of America, which I continued to read for a few years… until a three-issue crossover featuring the Justice Society of America and (you guessed it) the New Gods. They didn’t interest me, and (not realising I had it backwards) I figured that names like “Darkseid” and “the Source” showed an obvious derivation from Star Wars. “Oh, please.”

Being older, wiser, and better informed, I no longer blame them for the demise or disinterest I developed in my once-favorite comics. But despite occasional attempts to “get into” the New Gods, and the promptings of the various folks who spoke of them with fond reverence, they just didn’t do anything for me. (In my younger days I would’ve blamed the New Gods for the crossover mini-series Genesis that they starred in, but today I know to blame that travesty squarely on its editor, writer, and artists.)

 Perhaps, I mused, The problem isn’t with the characters, but with the writers. What if I looked at Jack Kirby’s stories about the New Gods? Maybe then I’d get it! DC’s reprint of Kirby’s 11-issue run on that series was a perfect opportunity to do so.

I think I get it now.

Kirby is often praised for doing “cosmic” stories well, and the New Gods’ story certainly qualifies. They arose from the ashes of the old gods of mythology, a noble race on the planet New Genesis, and a depraved race on its sister planet Apokalips.

One thing that’s remarkable about this work is the sheer creative torrent it contains. One issue after the next contains character after character, concept after concept. Orion, Lightray, Highfather, Metron, Darkseid, Kalibak, Dave Lincoln, Victor Lanza, DeSaad, Granny Goodness, the Deep Six, Scott Free, Steppenwolf, Terrible Dan Turpin, New Genesis, Apokalips, the astro-force, the wonder-staff, the Source, energy pits, para-demons, hunger dogs, the mobius chair, boom tubes, the anti-life equation, mother boxes, bam, bam, bam!! Most of that’s just in the first issues, but it doesn’t slow down much after that. It’s like Kirby had all these ideas and was in a rush to get them all out.

The rather liberal use of exclamation marks reinforces this impression. Granted, the use of exclamation marks as the default end-of-sentence punctuation is hardly unique to this work, but Kirby takes it to amazing heights. There are pages in which double exclamation marks are the minimum!! With triple exclamation marks used for emphasis!!! After a while, it gets a bit overwrought and breathless. Likewise, the narration and even the dialog are written with an epic bombast to them.

A few comments about this reprint collection itself. At 300+ pages for $11.95 it’s a fraction of the cost of most comics paperbacks today. Part of the reason is that the material was done ages ago, with (I assume) only royalties to pay to Kirby’s estate. Printing it in black and white (even after adding the monochrome “coloring”) kept the price down. And the paper used is on the cheap, grey end of the scale. Sure, a faithfully recolored reprint on archival paper would’ve been nicer, but making the package affordable was a far better choice. It’s obvious that a lot of people at DC have a fondness for Kirby and these creations of his, and want others to share in that appreciation. After several unsuccessful revivals and an abysmal crossover event that put them on center stage, DC finally found the approach that worked.

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