Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jack Kirby's The New Gods #6

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods -- and this is perhaps the most famous issue. If you were only going to read one issue of the New Gods this might be the one.]

“The Glory Boat!”

New Gods #6 is a near perfect Fourth Word tale. Kirby uses New Gods, sea monsters, and the roaring ocean to ruminate on the ideals of humanity, war and peace. Although our world often feels like the fire pits of Apokolips, there’s still the dream of living in Super Town within the bright and happy New Gods.

We open on the monster witnessed by Orion in the last issue. In four pages, we learn the power of the monster as it plows through a giant ship with ease. The panels open to full page to depict the size of the destruction. Orion is not far behind, exploding out of the water in front of a trio of humans that are lost at sea. He cannot be bothered with saving these bystanders and only offers to bring them along on his mission. Mother box leads him to an oddly angular craft in the ocean with a lone figure, wrapped in bandages, on top of it. It’s an odd visual, which also appears upon the cover of the book. Orion uses his astro-force to tear away the bandages only to find himself face to face with his friend, Lightray.

The working dynamic between these two characters is interesting and something I’ve been hoping to see since the first issue. Lightray has finagled his way off New Genesis because he is eager to join Orion in battle but his sunny disposition and appearance seem in conflict with this desire for combat. He yearns to be a warrior and respected by Orion while Orion wishes Lightray to remain pure and untouched by the horrors of war.

The three humans “rescued” by Orion add another layer to this situation. There is Farley, the father of the other two who has served in war before and seems willing to join in battle, even if it’s from another planet. Farley is constantly belittling his son, Richard, who is a self-described conscientious objector. Richard is dressed in a long smock witch mostly covers his shorts which makes him often look like he’s not wearing pants (Make of that what you will). Farley also has a daughter, Lynn, who can’t seem to get a word in edgewise. There’s no stereotypical debate between Orion, god of war, and Richard, conscientious objector, mostly due to the chaotic circumstances. Lightray is friendly to the trio and he and Orion work well together despite their obvious differences in demeanor.

Lightray and Orion enter the craft to find a disgusting one eyed creature which is directing the deep six. Orion’s impulse is to destroy, while Lightray’s is to rehabilitate. Lightray displays some matter changing abilities (quite common on New Genesis) which turn the creature into a basic life form and imprint the image of a “caller” which will cause the six and their monster to return to the craft. I’m not quite sure what this “caller” is, but is seems to have some sort of New Genesis back story. The six do indeed turn around and head towards the ship while Lightray and Orion scan for their presence.

Back on the ship, Farley and Richard are debating their situation and the course of action when Jafar, one of the deep six, surfaces and attacks. The call to action causes the two men to reverse their positions on conflict. Farley freezes at the sight of the creature and goes into a catatonic state. Seeing his family in mortal danger, Richard leaps forward and punches the monster. Throughout his travels, Kirby has seen boastful people who are trying to cover their hidden fears and seen other people who are capable of major action when their loved ones are in danger. Unfortunately Jafar is beyond mortal punches. He lifts Richard off the ground, pummels him with one hand, and mutates Richard’s head into and empty metallic mannequin head. This transformation is somehow much creepier than a typical form of violence.

Orion roars in from the reconnaissance mission and unleashes a flurry of asto-force power on Jafar. Jafar explodes in the air as Orion muses: “Complete destruction! Jafar has paid for his vicious act!!”. Lightray takes the body of Richard inside where the basic life form has been evolving in a major way. Orion puts Lynn astro-harness which flies her to safety and the two New Gods wait for the remaining six to approach. Two of the six lunge forth and Orion sends them back into the ocean to regroup. Meanwhile, Lightray has harnessed Farley to the mast he himself was once held to. The craft begins to burn from the attacks and it would appear Lightray has sent the man to his doom. However Lightray has a plan for the impending collision with the remaining six and their monster.

What follows is an amazing 2 full page spread with the remaining six and their monster charging from one end and Orion and Lightray on the other. The New Gods are on top of the the life cube which has evolved into a giant warhead. The two appear to be ready to sacrifice themselves in order to destroy the denizens of Apokolips.

This page could be a summation of Kirby’s fourth world work. The speed at which they travel is equivalent to the speed at which Kirby was creating. They ride on top an amazing creation seemingly created out of thin air which happen often in these books. The attitude of the men is if they succeed or if they fail, they want to do it in a grand fashion which ultimately describes Kirby’s saga.

A huge explosion follows and we can see Lightray has used his speed to rescue himself and Orion at the last second. The explosion has carried Farley safely out to sea and he’s left to drift and think about his actions on this harrowing day.

Final Musings

- The tale taken from the human’s perspective reads like a classic EC horror/suspense title from the 1950’s.

- I’m surprised DC editorial allowed the heroes to kill the six and their monster. Maybe it’s their fish-like visage which makes it ok.

- The art in this issue is great. Very expressive, lots of momentum. The expression of Farley seeing Jafar is absolute horror. Orion doing a flip in the air as he destroys his prey is perfect. I realized that Kirby had a new inker, Mike Royer, jump on an issue ago. Royer has a bit of a heavier line, but the afterword seems to indicate he refines his touch as the series progresses.
Lightray alludes to the fact that most of New Genesis are conscientious objectors. I realized Orion, Barda, and Mr. Miracle who all fight for New Genesis are all Apokolips born. Lightray and the Forever people are the only two major New Genesis born combatants.

- The life cube has typically been the type of plot devices I’ve had issues with, but again the issue was so good it didn’t bother me much. I have to come to terms with the fact that they are gods and will have amazing powers. However the story still has to hold weight.


Matthew J. Brady said...

Yes! Man, I love this issue; maybe my favorite Kirby ever. That might have changed with The Pact though, which I just read. Still: this is awesome, and I love the conflict between war and peace, fighting and protecting your loved ones, technology and monstrosity. Amazing work.

One note: Mr. Miracle isn't technically Apokolips-born, as you'll soon find out. Interestingly though, I don't know if you could say he fights for New Genesis at this point. He's mostly just fighting for himself.

Christian said...

It's worth mentioning that Colletta is considered by people who know what they're talking about (ie. not me) to be the absolute worst of Kirby's inkers.

His stuff was often described (rightfully so at times) to be rushed and lazy to such an extent that Mark Evanier and Wally Wood actually had asked to have him removed from the title.

Ande Parks, one of our greatest modern day inker (to me at least) has been pretty vocal about how Colletta ruined a lot of great work by slacking off, and Steve Ditko flat out refuses to read any Kirby material inked by Colletta.

Mikey said...

This one kicks ass.

This one is the type of thing I always thought of as "Fourth World" before I'd even read any.

Agreed on the inking. Royer the best - no question.