Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kirby's New Gods 2

[Andy Bentley continues his look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series see the label at the bottom of this post. I write a paragraph at the bottom.]

Jimmy Olsen #134
The Mountain of Judgement!

This issue wraps up the two part story that introduces Kirby to the DC audience and gives a small hint towards The Fourth World Saga. A quick aside: The price of this comic is .15 which even adjusting for inflation is low for what we currently pay for 22 pages of story. I have to wonder if our expectations for a comic book are often too high because of raised prices. But that is a column for another time. We last left Jimmy in Tree City as the new leader of The Ousiders, a band of wild bikers who are intent on traveling towards The Mountain of Judgement. On the sidelines is Superman, who has asked Jimmy and his new friends to exercise caution which has fallen on deaf ears. Superman tries to impose his authority and is rebuked with an amazing stock of weapons including a green K paralysis gun. Before Supes passes out from the gun’s effects, an Outsider explains all the weapons and even the city was built by The Hairies, a group of Wizards who have disappeared. The Hairies seem to be a variation on the theme of modern gods Kirby is toying with. With Superman out of the way, Jimmy and his crew ride off to meet the mountain. Kirby was a movie enthusiast and you can see echos of The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause with his 4-color biker creations. The group rips through the facade of the mountain to find increasingly wild and dangerous roads ahead. We’re treated to a gratuitous under water section just so aqua-newsboy, Flippa Dippa, has something to do and then....things start to get weird.

The following two pages are in black and white despite a caption that reads “a nightmare of Kaleidoscope form and color!”. It depicts the Wiz Wagon still traveling on a semblance of a road with the remaining scenery a pastiche of psychedelia. The Wagon looks almost 3d rendered while the scenery appears to be a amalgam of photos. It’s jarring and an interesting experimentation, however I’m curious for an explanation as to why it isn’t in color. I’d argue that Steve Ditko’s psychedelia in the pages of Dr. Strange are more effective.

Superman regains consciousness and travels at super speed to discover the Wagon is about to be dismantled by the real Mountain of judgement which is revealed to be a giant missile carrier, designed by the Hairies to scare off intruders. The carrier looks like a giant green Chinese New Years Dragon but also harkens back to the many monster designs from Kirby’s past. There’s a quick interlude where Morgan Edge, decides to check in on his sick employee, Clark Kent. A classic silver age Superman misdirection (later used by Ferris Bueller) is used to fool Edge although he’s beginning to wonder about the coincidental disappearance of Kent and Superman’s appearance. Back in the action, Superman rescues the Wagon and the Hairies emerge from the Mountain to begin scanning the Wiz Wagon for a bomb. Superman regains his authority by explaining to Jimmy he’s known of the Hairies and was only trying to protect their secret. One of the Hairies discovers a bomb in the recorder Edge sent Jimmy with and Superman rushed to shield the explosion from everyone. The Hairies invite Superman, Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion into their Mountain for a quick tour and a dinner. They question the source of the bomb which is revealed to the reader as Morgan Edge speaks with his Lord, Darkseid, on a monitor in his desk.

It’s a serviceable issue, but I find myself flipping further in the book to see Orion, Mr. Miracle and the other New Gods. Many of the characters are one dimensional and we’ve yet to discover the motivations of The Hairies and the specifics to Darkseid’s agenda. The dated slang the younger characters use is difficult to ignore. However Kirby is not without a wealth of ideas an concepts. Final note: There was a Superman moment in this issue that made me think All-Star Superman. Post explosion, Jimmy once again becomes Superman’s pal only to have Superman proclaim “Well! It’s about time someone showed a little concern for me!” In this not-so-super moment, the Man of Steel is fallible and mortal which is the how Grant Morrison and other Silver Age fans envision Superman. Knowing that the invincible Superman can sometimes get jealous, angry or upset allows us a human connection to a Kryptonian who can move planets.

[William Blake came up with an absurd bizarre and overly complicated mythology of Gods that were also aspects of the psyche and so on -- but one of the things that makes his poetry so weird is how this meshes with the mundane -- Milton at home, a garden, a political figure clash with OLOLON who is a Dove, a River, and Milton's works personified among other things. Kirby is up to something similar with the New Gods, and I especially like the way they are introduced in a comic book with Morgan Edge and Jimmy Olson -- and Superman. Grant Morrison worships Superman, but the way Kirby handles this material Superman is basically a fancier kind of earthman compared to the New Gods. Kirby is making a move to reduce the DC universe to the mundane by putting them in the context of his New Gods Universe, which is striking particularly because it threatens to overwhelm that universe. Even small appearance, like Darkseid's face on Edge's monitor (the first appearance of Darkseid?) feels dangerous, partly because you can't get a handle on exactly what is going on. WHERE is the Wild Area in comparison to Metropolis? You see maps every once and a while but the geography boggles the mind -- intentionally. The Wild Area is more like Lincoln Street in Blue Velvet -- a metaphor for how right around the corner lies INSANITY. Morrison's New Gods in Final Crisis were just the mortal shells -- he posits that we have never seen a REAL god, only avatars -- and the real thing would destroy our mind. There is something of that here in the photographic pages not in spite of but BECAUSE they are in black and white -- the text says colors explode and then they don't: something is bizarre here, and the comic book is too limited to show you what it really is. It can only gesture toward it, leaving you to feel that the real thing is bigger than anything that COULD ever appear in ANY comic. The New Gods as Hippie Bikers can seem weak, but you have to be amazed that the 53 year old Kirby was so enamored by the power of youth to raise it to a cosmic principle that will hold back the apocalypse of a holocaust of bombs. And Morrison's reading of the New Gods as merely avatars is really persuasive here as well -- the Forever People do seem like Alien Gods trying, and partially failing, to fit in with earth lingo and fashions. They are too big and fabulous to be contained by words like hippie. ]


Mikey said...

I really find it weird and cool how Darkseid is insinuated into the plot, emerging over time (and when he does emerge he's more a Machiavellian figure, using treachery as often as brute force).

Is it stretching it to say Morrison was picking up on this - Darkseid is installed into the plot gradually, a face on a monitor (the "Know Evil" from Final Crisis anyone?) but once he emerges he is everywhere, and affects everyone, just like in Final Crisis.

At this stage, for the first appearance of the arch-villain of the series, it's awfully mute. It's not a splash page full blown reveal - just this banal grey face watching in the background. That's the horror of Darkseid - he's everywhere, but at the point of his first appearance he's basically Edge's line manager (upper management - the worst kind of villain and ultimate enemy).

Andy, you're right about “Well! It’s about time someone showed a little concern for me!” Superman's like your dad or something. This is the Superman that the foolish people who claim "Superman is uncool" have in mind.

And Geoff - great comment on the photo-collage thing (what is is anyway?). It's the same in the FF issues - just something entirely other, heightened by the black and white. I think it's actually much more potent here than in FF actually, for the reasons you specify.

And an interesting note on the Superman treatment. Morrison goes on to elevate Superman beyond all of this again by the end of Final Crisis though. Superman as both human (earthman) and ideal (due to the potency of his fiction) easily transcends the likes of Darkseid.

Come to think of it, at the end of Morrison's JLA story World War III (the last of his run?), Superman - with the help of every human on Earth - once again defeats a foe "more ancient and terrible than Darkseid" - a foe that the New Gods, while playing a part, cannot themselves defeat. ('s to Gnosticism?)

Andy said...

I agree Superman becomes diminished in the presence of the New Gods however I also get this feeling in some other comics when he's surrounded by too many capes. His importance of being the 1st superhero, the template for all heroes, becomes undone. He's just another guy with his symbol on his chest.

I like the idea that the New Gods are something beyond our comprehension because what better way to integrate themselves to the DCU than to appear as superheroes. However for this theory to work, I feel I'd have to see some sort of reveal of their true nature down the road.

Touching on the geography comment, is New Genesis in our solar system? Does the Boom tube bring someone through time or dimension?

James said...

I'm surprised that All-Star Superman would make anyone think Morrison envisions the character as "fallible and mortal".

Geoff Klock said...

James -- yeah, but what about that moment when Superman frets because he does not want to tell Lois he is dying because he does not want to ruin her birthday? And I remember a Morrison interview where he talked about this Silver age superman issue that he loved because Superman spawned a mini superman out of the palm of his hand and got all jealous. I mean I know what you mean about All Star overall -- obviously Morrison makes him literally god -- but still.

James said...

Fair points, I tried to remember if there were any moments of insecurity - clearly I'm due a re-read. Fallible then, but definitely not mortal. Still, Kirby's Superman seems very different to Morrison's.

Off topic: It floored me in that enormous multi-part Newsarama interview when he said Lois's fatal flaw was that she could never love Clark Kent without knowing he was Superman. I mean, I know that's incredibly obvious, but most iterations seem to skirt 'round it, wanting to imply that she's good-hearted enough to love Clark for Clark.

Joe Gualtieri said...

"The Wild Area is more like Lincoln Street in Blue Velvet -- a metaphor for how right around the corner lies INSANITY."

Lovely comment Geoff.