Over the weekend, me and the New York Red Box gang were talking about Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga, and I figured it would be an easy thing to blog about occasionally.
For people who are not insane comics nerds, the short version is that in 1970 Jack Kirby, who had been the top talent at Marvel Comics throughout the 1960’s, co-creating The Fantastic Four, Captain America, The Mighty Thor, The Uncanny X-Men, and a zillion other characters, got sick of Stan Lee’s bullshit and left to join Marvel’s chief competitor, DC Comics. There he created this weird little self-contained universe, telling a crazed futuristic allegory about super hippies, concentration camps run by Walt Disney, the amorality of man’s quest for knowledge, Harry Houdini, bug people, Jimmy Olsen, eugenics, Viet Nam, environmentalism, our addiction to violence, Satan as Hitler from outer space … and Don Rickles. If you went to Ancient Greece, grabbed Homer, took him to Cape Canaveral to watch the Apollo missions, and got him high as hell, he might produce something like this.
The Fourth World was probably the creative summit of Kirby’s long career, and like so many other phases of his career it ended in disappointment. The idea was to tell this huge tale, through four different comic books, that wound run for a few thousand pages and then end. A self-contained epic for the Age of Aquarius. Then the books got cancelled midway through.
We’ll never get to see how Kirby would have tied things up. When he came back to the titles in the mid-80’s he was pretty obviously in decline, and the end wasn’t satisfactory. Attempts by others to carry on have never been successful.
One of my RPG fantasies, never to be satisfied, is to finish the Fourth World Saga. Start in mid-1973, at the point of cancellation, stat everybody up, and just jam out and collaboratively nail this thing.
Anyway: I’m thinking of summarizing this thing one or two issues at a time, with a lot of art, and maybe some thematic commentary. It’ll last until my “blogging stage fright” returns.
For people looking to get into the Fourth World titles, Jimmy Olsen, The Forever People, The New Gods, and Mister Miracle:
- These series have all been collected into expensive hardbacks. If you have lots of money, you can buy them.
- At various times, each series was reprinted in paperback collections. Some of these were B&W, which sucks IMO, but others were in color. The first Jimmy Olsen collection was in color and might be a good starting point. (Clarification: lots of people worked on Jimmy Olsen over the years; I’m talking about this one.)
- In the 1980s, DC reprinted the one of the titles, The New Gods. Each of the reprint issues contained two episodes of the original series. Ten years ago, these were cheap on the Mile High Comics website and elsewhere. It looks like they’ve since sold out but maybe you can find ’em.
- Various internet downloads for the unscrupulous.