Monday, September 21, 2009

New Gods #8

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. I make a brief comment below, that spoils the end of Final Crisis (I don't think I need spoiler warnings if the thing has gone to graphic novel, right?)]

“The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin!”

The struggle between my preexisting knowledge of the animated New Gods and the original Fourth World comics comes to a head with this, Dan Turpin’s swan song. There was no way to read this comic without the feelings resurfacing from watching Apokolips...Now!, The two part season finale of Superman: The Animated Series. For those who are unaware, Dan Turpin is featured throughout the second season of the cartoon as a Detective of the Metropolis Police Department. He’s also modeled to resemble King Kirby himself and has a sacrifice in these episodes which mirrors the one in this issue. The real life Kirby died right around the time of the episodes so the whole thing becomes a very poignant emotional event for comic book fans. This issue has some strong character moments, but they don’t have the emotional resonance that Bruce Timm and his crew provided on the small screen.

The premise to this issue is not a new one to comic book readers. Villain (Kalibak) cuts a path of destruction through the city (Metropolis) in order to bring out the hero (Orion) to do battle. Orion heads this call, with his partner Light Ray at his side. Again, I’m enjoying the dynamic between the two of them as it doesn’t fall into cliche bickering like, for instance, the DC characters Hawk and Dove. Light Ray is the answer to Orion’s mercurial temper, asking Orion to be cautious or to think things through. However Light Ray also realizes they’re at war and does not cross Orions path during this crucial battle.

Kalibak’s motivations are simple hatred towards all of New Genesis, however in the Superman animated series, they added jealousy for Darkseid’s attention. Orion still fights for New Genesis, but the glee he takes in hurting Kaliback is as apparent as it was taking down Slig in issue 5. During the battle, Orion loses his helmet and Light Ray retrieves it for him. Ashamed of his visage, Orion keeps his head pointed away from Light Ray and yells “You saw my true face!”. Of course Orion had revealed his “true face” long before the Helmet came off.

Kalibak is defeated by then end of the issue, however it takes the intervention of the mortal Dan Turpin to do so. Turpin has been keeping track of the Fourth World invasion of his city/planet and is determined to put an end to it. Like most humans, Turpin is unnerved by the otherworldly or alien, and must make the supernatural fit into his world view. His refrain throughout the issue is that he’s going to put all of the New Gods behind bars, as if a human prison could hold any of them. Despite his officers pleas, Turin continues to jump into the battle with Kaliback, firing weapons and launching grenades while his body endures a tremendous amount of damage. Fighting towards victory without concern for one’s life is something Kirby saw a lot of during wartime. He might have drawn inspiration from wild cowboys and cutthroat soldiers from the movies as well. I also saw the battle as a meta struggle between the early “cops and robbers” comics Kirby started on and the superhero comics of the Silver Age. A guy in a fedora and a gun couldn’t compete with Spiderman or the Fantastic Four with young males in this era. Yet those older comics are where Kirby got his start, so he holds them in high regard. Why else would he bring back characters like Turpin and the Newsboy Legion? I doubt this was a conscious decision on Kirby’s part, but it’s something I saw from my point of view.

It takes the full electrical output from the city to knock out Kalbak - a moment to reinforce the power of humanity. Turpin appears to survive the experience, which is something his animated counterpart does not. Because of this discrepancy, I assumed Turpin would die by the end of the comic. This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the issue, but it does make me realize that my objectivity for this project is ultimately compromised by the interpretation of these characters in other media.

Final Musings

-So Orion is in Metropolis, then? Maybe that’s the reason for all the traveling in the Jimmy Olsen title. I’m hoping for an Orion/Superman team-up down the road.

-Under Kirby’s pencil, people that have been beaten up take on a rocky, cragged look to their faces - not unlike The Thing from the Fantastic Four

-As pointed out in the forward, Kalibak has been on that building, doing his best King Kong impression, since New Gods #5. Not a big error in my book

-There’s some ambiguity in Orion and Kalibak’s shared past. Orion says the two fought when they were young, however Kalibak constantly refers to him as a New Genesis being and seems shocked at the reveal of Orion’s face. Hopefully we’re in for another flashback ala The Pact!

[Dan Turpin takes on a very strange role in Morrison's Final Crisis: he becomes the unwilling human host for Darkseid and dies when he dies (i think) -- from Batman's Bullet or Superman's singing or something. It is a strange fate to give him, especially when you remember that a lot of people thought he was a stand in for Kirby. The human trying to stand against the New Gods, BECOMES the worst of them; Kirby is figured as his most horrible and despotic creation? This reading does not really work for me -- there must be a better way to read Turpin in Final Crisis: who's got it?]

[I have also been thinking about the "Modernization" of Darkseid in post-Kirby appearances and I guess the things that don't ring right with me are just the fact that more than once Darkseid appears wearing a mask, which seems beneath his Satanic grandeur, and the fact that he comes from somewhere, that he was young at some point. Morrison writes him as a cosmic force of nature (Darkseid IS), and I like that. I bet there is a great argument that Darkseid is weaker in Morrison's hands, and I am totally open to hearing it.]


Christian said...

I'll just say that I throughly enjoy these posts and do a slight nitpick: Kirby had been dead for four years (February 6, 1994), when that episode came out (1998).

Oh and I always figured that Kirby-as-Turpin was intended to be more Kirby's work-as-Turpin and not actually Kirby himself. Meaning his work was coopted by evil for evil's gains.

Christian said...

And the term Evil in Final Crisis I always assumed it was meant to a symbol of stagnation in corporate comics.

James said...

I thought Turpin was okay at the end of Finest Christmas?

Andy said...

"there must be a better way to read Turpin in Final Crisis: who's got it?"
Well this is my personal one, certainly not a definitive one. To me, post Crisis (1985 Crisis) Dan Turpin is just another DC universe detective. He ceased being the Kirby Avatar once Kirby stopped writing him. In fact, I honestly feel that way about all the New Gods in other writer's hands. Because Kirby kept them so independent of the DCU proper, I still find it odd to see Orion and Miracle as JLA members. They seem above that. I'm somewhat aware that John Byrne tackles them at some point, but I'm approaching that series with much trepidation.

"Darkseid appears wearing a mask, which seems beneath his Satanic grandeur"
That is true, however there are many instances of "the devil in desguise" in literature.

"the fact that he comes from somewhere, that he was young at some point."
This is something that has crossed my mind frequently, as has the question of race on Apokolips. Most beings from Apokolips are humanoid, however none look like Darkseid. As I mentioned in a previous post, his "family" looks nothing like him with their yellow smooth-skin. Yet he bears two sons - one completely human, the other animalistic. As I travel through these issues, it becomes apparent Kirby kept a loose continuity at best.

Andy said...

"I'll just say that I thoroughly enjoy these posts and do a slight nitpick: Kirby had been dead for four years (February 6, 1994), when that episode came out (1998)."

You're right. Apparently both Bruce Timm and I got a little fudgy with dates. On the commentary, Timm refers to Kirby's passing being recent. I suppose recent is a relative term.

Christian said...

Ahh that makes sense. In defense of it, the episode could very well have been in production up to several years before it aired, so that might be why Timm was wrong about the dates- He could have been working on it a short while after Kirby's death.

Kahanek! said...

Turpin doesn't die at the end of Final Crisis. It's never spelled out in dialogue, but here's how it works. Once Turpin gives in to Darkseid, his eyes glow red as the physical manifestation of his possession. In the last issue of Final Crisis, after the Flashes bring the Black Racer to Darksied, the last panel we see Turpin his eyes are normal colored, and he is muttering in horror "he's in all of us," the same thing Orion told him at the beginning. My reading is the Flashes brought the Black Racer to Turpin/Darkseid, which ripped Darkseid out of the minds of the people he had possessed. Wonder Woman then ropes him up and things go one from there.

Beyond that, Turpin's possession alwasy struck me as shorthand for demonstrating how out of whack the universe had become through Darkseid's victory over the New Gods. Darkseid winning was itself shorthand for Morrison, by his own admission, attempting to capture the despair and powerlessness that was rampant at the time between the financial crisis, the Iraq and Afghani wars, and 8 years of Bush. It's not so much that Turpin falls because Morrison is claiming Kirby has become devalued, Turpin falls because the world has gotten so out of whack that the old virtues that Turpin represents can no longer stand against the all pervasive tide of evil that Darkseid and all that he represents in the real world swamp him with, be it a satanic evil god, insurance companies that cut off your coverage because you were sick years ago, a cynical news media that stirs up fears for ratings, or whatever your particular metaphor is.

Finally, I have a defense of Kirby's treatment of Darkseid versus Morrison's, but this post is already long and in order to fully make the argument I need to discuss stuff that Andy hasn't gotten to yet. What are the guidelines for content in issues that haven't been posted yet? I realize these are comics that are around 40 years old, but I still don't want to be presumptive.

Geoff Klock said...

My rule of thumb is that once the thing comes out in another format spoilers warning are off: when a movie comes to DVD, a comic book to a collection, etc. But then I also forget sometimes. And sometimes i yell spoiler at the top but people still miss it. G

Kahanek! said...

Ok then, here I go. The difference between the two is apples and oranges to me, and entirely dependent on the context you are reading. Darkseid under Kirby is a character with a very specific arc and a VERY specific ending, where he and Orion die by each others hands. Obviously this will never happen now, as Darkseid has been integrated into the DC universe, but it also means his character has been trapped in amber, never able to reach his apotheosis. Regarding Darkseid once being young under Kirby, having a mother, spawning two children and other things that seem at odds with his role under Morrison as unfettered evil, the comparison I draw is to Wooten in Wagner's Ring Cycle (mainly because I just finished P. Craig Russell's amazing adaptation). Wooten is a god, supremely powerful but still with a past, familial strife, and the actions he takes to secure his power eventually bring about his own downfall. I think Darkseid's family and his actions work in the same way in the imaginary completed version of the Fourth World that lives in my head, where Darkseid's actions in the past sow the seeds of his own defeat. In the final issue of New Gods, Darkseid has a monologue discussing how Kalibak and Orion haunt his present the same way their mothers haunted his past. In Hunger Dogs, someone spells out to Orion how the Pact actually did more harm to Darkseid than good. It allowed Orion to grow on New Genesis and become his most vigorous opponent, Scott Free was raised on Apokolpis and was able to prove that Darkseid's control was not complete there over the population, which would eventually lead to the open rebellion we see in Hunger Dogs. Without the family history and the rest of Darkseid's past, that element is lost and the complexity of Darkseid's rise and fall is lost.

Morrison's DARKSEID IS interpretation is the only way to really make him work in a larger superhero context. Divorced of his larger narrative, presenting Darkseid as an unstoppable force of evil is the only way to make him work in the DC universe, but it also deprives him of any distinguishing characteristics beyond being Evil. Darkseid is essentially another version of the Archons from the Invisibles, completely evil and regressively oppressive in every way, until the heroes stop them. The best description of this I have read comes from an interview where Hayao Miyazaki was once asked about whether he would consider spinning off two characters from the Naussicaa manga, and his response was (paraphrased) "These characters are only interesting in their relationship to Naussicaa, in how they are changed in their relationship to her. If I were to do a spin off with them as a prequel, the only way I could see doing it would be to put them in a town somewhere like Yojimbo, which doesn't interest me at all." The same is true for the Fourth World characters minus Kirby, the interpersonal relationships that gave them their thematic power are lost when they are put in the larger DC universe.

Essentially, Morrison's DARKSEID IS works best for the large scale DC stories like Rock of Ages and Final Crisis, but those stories strike me as DC universe stories featuring Darkseid as the villain, rather than as a working character in the story. In Kirby's original, Darkseid is a character working towards his goals in opposition to other characters within the narrative in a dynamic relationship that is completely lost under Morrison's approach. Kinda long and rambly, but that's my spiel.