Monday, May 04, 2009

Andy Bentley on The New Gods 5: New Gods 1

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series see the label at the bottom or the toolbar on the right. I make a comment below. ]

New Gods #1
Orion Fights for Earth!

New Gods #1 opens on an epilogue which tells the tale of Ragnarok for the old gods and the subsequent blast of energy which tears their world into two opposing planets, New Genesis and Apokolips. Cut to the present where we first meet Orion, warrior of New Genesis, who commands the astro-force. He has been summoned home to New Genesis by Lightray, a more optimistic and light hearted New God than Orion. The two disagree on the on the ideas of war and destiny, but still remain friends. Together they travel to Highfather, Orion’s father and leader of New Genesis. Highfather brings Orion to the Source Wall, their link to the source which is the eternal life equation. Metron, a fellow New God who is consumed with acquiring knowledge joins the two as the source wall sends them a message: “Orion to Apokolips -- Then to Earth -- Then to war”. Orion heeds this advice and takes off towards New Genesis while Metron and Highfather discuss Orion’s hidden origin. Orion lands on Apokolips and is met with attacks from Parademons, the sentries of Apokolips, and Darkseid’s dog calvary. Orion’s strength and will power help him defeat these forces as he continues to push onward towards Darkseid’s chambers. Orion discovers Darkseid is absent but has left a mass director unit in his stead to transmit his commands. Orion believes this to be what rules Apokolips until he is corrected by Kalibak, the cruel. They approach one another for battle but are interrupted by an emerging Metron who has followed Orion’s adventure through his time traveling Mobius Chair. Metron contains Kalibak and offers his assistance to Orion only to be rebuked. Metron then informs Orion that he’s too late and that Darkseid has not only moved to Earth to enslave the human race, he’s brought humans to Apokolips to experiment on their minds. Orion proclaims Darkseid has broken the rules and by doing so defied Highfather. The humans are freed by Orion who then opens a boom tube for their escape. Kalibak returns, but Orion is able to evade his attack. On Earth, the human prisoners ask Orion questions which fall of deaf ears. Orion proclaims to the sky that he has come to Earth ready to do battle with Darkseid. The issue ends on a prologue with Darkseid sensing the proclamation from Orion and welcoming his threat.

This issue marks the first appearance of many Fourth World characters and concepts and sets the stage and tone for the saga. The opening page depicting the old gods final battle indicates the idea for the New Gods is the next iteration of Kirby’s work in the pages of Marvel’s Thor. The shadows of the old gods have a norse look to them while the New Gods are based in silver age superheroes. Kirby melds mythology from lessons from the bible, to ancient greece, to conflicts of Shakespearean proportions. When Lightray and Orion meet Highfather, he’s listening to a choir of children singing. In one panel, Highfather uses the words “free” “flowers” and “freedom” referring to the children. This continues Kirby’s underlying theme of the potential of 1960’s youth and the idea of free will vs oppression. I look forward to more background on the source wall.

Orion is depicted as very serious and determined but also conflicted and restless. It suits him better than the rabid war dog approach Morrison took in the pages of JLA. He’s a dichotomy who bears the symbol of light and frees the enslaved, however his symbol adorns a war helmet and he revels in battle on Apokolips and is listless on New Genesis. Metron and Highfather hint that Orion is not Highfather’s true son and Orion speaks of being from both worlds to Lightray. Couple that with his salute to the statue of Darkseid and it’s apparent that Orion has some origin to Apokolips though he believes in the ideals of New Genesis.

Although Kirby’s artwork is gorgeous, his dialog still needs work. A principle rule of storytelling is to show, not tell and there’s a lot of telling between Orion and Lightray. To be fair, this was a common staple of comics until at least the mid 80’s, but it comes off amateurish. The pacing for this issue is fast and exciting and we’re treated to just enough reveals and new mysteries to continue on Orion’s journey. The final scene is vaguely similar to Darth Vader sensing Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.

[The Old Gods -- Third World seems like the wrong term -- are often seen as being the Gods of Norse mythology. Seeing them as specifically MARVEL'S Norse mythology of Thor is kind of awesome, especially as Kirby left Marvel to make this project. Old Kirby is Dead and his world is in ruins. Long Live New Kirby playing in this new universe.

Speaking of dialogue -- one of Kirby's most annoying quirks is the number of straightforward phrases that are in quotation marks for no real reason ""What I wouldn't give to possess knowledge of the 'Source'" "Be content with your 'Mobius Chair'". I see that they are introducing these things but they cannot seem to my eye to suggest anything other than irony, irony that does not fit here. ]


Christian said...

Stupid personal anecdote time: The first thing I did when I got my wireless internet up and running and got an iPod was to rename them "The Source" and "Motherbox."

And I always thought Kirby intended the Source Wall to be the panel borders, but Simonson and Claremont fucked that up, when they introduced the actual Source Wall in the X-men/Teen Titans crossover. It's telling that Darkseid wants to break through the Source Wall to attain this hightened sense of being, so that he can use the Anti-Life Equation on a larger scale. He wants to be The God, not just a God, and as a consequence wants to attain the role of the Creators of the comic.

I wish people announced who they were in real life, like they do in Kirby comics.

Matt said...

Oh, I "love" Kirby's "quote marks" -- to me they're a lot of what helps sell the Wagnerian, alien quality of the Fourth World books. Like Andy's comment about how Kirby's collages only seem to approximate the grandeur and majesty they truly describe, the quote marks in 4W do the same in my opinion. They're only the "Source" and "Mobius Chair" because their true names are in a God-speak that would instantly explode our eardrums...

Mikey said...

If I remember rightly, Orion's first words in this comic, and of his 2dimensional life, are: "I have heard the word......and it is Battle!" Appropriate then how Morrison bookends his life, his final dying word in Final Crisis: "Fight."

Matt - It's also a trait that one can find in Golden Age comics - "quotation" marks and Random capitalisation, but I think your explanation is dead on.

By the way, on that note I assume everyone here has read I Shall Destroy All The Civilised Planets, Paul Karasik's anthology of Fletcher Hanks's comics from the 40s. The "sequel" You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation! is out soon.

Christian - Great reading of the Source Wall as well. What that then does to Final Crisis is brain melting.

My iPod is also called Motherbox. There's really No Choice. And there must be moments in life, queues in the post office, stuck in traffic etc. where we all feel like Orion in Morrison's World War III arc: "Motherbox struggles to contain my rage for cosmic destruction!"

Andy said...

I was going to get into the punctuation in a future column, but might as well here.

99% of the sentences are ended with an exclamation point.

Of course this negates any influence the punctuation mark could have, essentially making it a period.

I'm reminded of Elaine's tirade on Seinfeld about use of the exclamation point.

Joe Gualtieri said...

Andy, Morrison's portrayal of Orion during his JLA run was specifically editorially mandated, not his choice. It's something he addressed once the run was over, and brought up again pre-Final Crisis. Apparently, the editor was so hands on, Morrison began to turn scripts in right at the deadline or past it to minimize rewriting.