Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Andy Bentley on The New Gods 14: New Gods 3

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods]

“Death is the Black Racer!”

This issue opens with a cat and mouse game involving the New God Light-Ray and a new Kirby creation, The Black Racer. Clad in red and blue with a yellow high-collar cape and traditional skis and poles, the Black Racer is one of Kirby’s more quirky designs. He appears African American, a tradition for most spandex types that have the ‘Black’ moniker. Black Racer is a grim reaper of New Gods and his target is Light-Ray for reasons unknown. He appears near omnipotent as he avoids every road block Light-Ray throws at him in order to avoid his touch of death. As the Black Racer is about to terminate the young New God, Metron appears and conjures a Boom Tube to derail this specter of death. Metron scolds Light-Ray for his lack of ingenuity and Light-Ray is left to question where the Black Racer has been sent to.

The scene shifts to Earth as Orion’s friends outfit him with traditional earth garb to help blend in. The exposition dialog rears it’s ugly head again, but it does a half-decent job of bringing the reader up to speed on events prior. As Orion leaves to change clothes, an important aspect of his character is revealed. It’s revealed with Orion talking to himself in an empty room, yet it’s revealed nonetheless. Orion’s hunky visage is merely an illusion conjured by his mother box and in actuality his face has the harsh qualities of one from Apokolips. Kirby has valued truth over the lie throughout the series which could mean Orion is destined to fail. Orion pauses, then emerges to the delight of his followers and proclaims their mission is to seek out and destroy all minions of Darkseid that have invaded Earth.

The Black Racer has been conveniently redirected to Earth in the middle of a shootout in an alley. Sugar-man, an Intergang member who resembles an extra on Shaft, has just shot and killed a man for snitching and is about to kill a witness to this murder. The Black Racer crushes Sugar-Man’s gun, temporarily blinding him in the process. Sugar flees the scene and Black Racer enters the room of the witness, former Sergeant Willie Walker. The reveal of Walker’s background, a former cop who’s bed ridden without the ability to move or speak, sets a new standard for clunky exposition. A more eloquent solution would be a panel or two with Walker’s caretakers discussing his accident and current condition. Regardless, the Black Racer feels a kinsman ship with the former cop and offers him his mantle. Walker is suddenly able to speak and rises from his bed. But now all that remains of his benefactor is dust and armor. As Walker examines the helmet, a cosmic awareness washes over him as he realizes that the former Racer’s host has joined The Source and Walker has become the new Black Racer.

Meanwhile Orion and his detective earth buddy Lincoln have come upon Intergang headquarters where Sugar Man is bandaging his head like a mummy to heal his wounds. The rest of Intergang seems to consist of a ’40’s gangster, a beatnik poet, and Teddy Sevalas. The Gang discusses detonating a bomb from Apokolips and this is Orion’s cue. He burst through the wall with one punch and begins to dismantle Intergang. Sugar Man escapes through the back door with the bomb but the new Black Racer quickly descends upon him. The Racer uses his skii pole to to deactivate the bombs detonation and then trigger its anti-gravity circuits that sends Sugar and his truck racing towards the heavens. This is most decidedly not how the swat team handles a bomb. Orion and Lincoln round up the rest of Intergang and witness the Bomb exploding in the air, presumably killing Sugar Man and marking our first implied death in this series. The Black Racer returns to his hosts home just in time for Walker’s caretakers to see he is safe and sound. The issue closes with an ominous voiceover questioning what’s next for this omnipotent being and his new host.

Final thoughts:

Black Racer: His design and mission borrows from The Silver Surfer (a Kirby creation) and DC’s The Spectre. However The Silver Surfer and Specter’s masters are made quite clear unlike our Racer. Maybe it is The Source, but that seems to simple.
Grant Morrison: The Black Racer takes a human host which we saw many New Gods do in Morrison’s Final Crisis. However in the case of the Black Racer, Morrison seemed to merge him with the the Black Flash, a grim reaper for the speedsters invented by himself and Mark Millar. I’m not sure how appropriate that marriage is after reading the Racer’s 1st appearance and reading Flash Rebirth #2.

Jack Kirby: Is an idea man. The Black Racer was a sketch he had before jumping ship to DC. He makes no effort to explain the Racer’s sudden appearance in this issue or how he fits into the grander scheme. The use of cool toned blues and purple in the city scenes were very effective and his sequential storytelling is still a sight to behold.

[Kirby's total lack of explanation for this character, and more importantly for why this story should come in the third issue of the New Gods when we were in the middle of somethings else -- plus the absurdity of a dude with skis and ski polls as DEATH -- make this one of my favorite issues. More than anything else I have read by Kirby this issue suggests that his imagination is so prolific and crazy that is threatens to overwhelm basic story telling conventions -- a style Grant Morrison has spend a career honing, not least in Final Crisis.]


Christian said...

The Truth Vs. The Lie and Orion's predicament brings up an interesting question though; Is self-restraint a lie as well? If we're going for a purely absolutistic truth, is the conscious, regulated, self or is it the primal instincts behind that self the truth?

As far as Kirby is concerned, I'm not sure he ever makes his mind up. As Geoff notes, his greatest flaw is his prolific imagination and Kirby has a tendency to mix up his metaphors, for whatever purpose he needs them to be for the particular issue.

And Kirby was very much trying to catch lightning in a bottle again, as he did with the Silver Surfer. I don't really think he succeeded, but I like the craziness of Death being a dude on skis.

Mikey said...

I quite agree. The Black Racer is totally rad.

Going back to Morrison's JLA, the first person narrative that runs through the final(?) issue of the Rock of Ages arc and is revealed in the closing panels to be the Black Racer (at which point Darkseid sees him and just shits), is the closest the character has come to being profound. As he skis through the narrative each of the JLA encounter him in turn and Morrison uses it to give each of the characters a great moment (as he does throughout the series). When The Ray sees death "like any good scientist, he asks me a question. The answer is 'yes'." Cool.

But for now, Intergang kicks ass, and I love the idea of an avatar of death crushing a pimp's gun before possessing a man in a coma.

In a few issues time Orion will reveal his dark side (ho ho) by beating the shit out of Kalibak and crushing his war club while laughing all the while. However, I will say that I was disappointed reading the original Kirby run that it doesn't reach the levels of cosmic destruction that came later when Simonson did the Orion vs. Darkseid story.

Mikey said...

Did I say The Ray? I think it was The Atom. Oh, DC, how your B-list characters confound me.