Archive for December 8th, 2011


kirbsday: o’ deadly darkseid

Last time, the warrior god Orion stormed the hell-planet Apokolips.  He rescued four human captives and took them to Earth, where he declared war against Darkseid and his sinister expeditionary forces–all in accordance with the Source’s prophecy.  How will Darkseid react?!

By straight chillin’.  But he unleashes that dude standing in the back there, Brola.


The hand of what?

The, uh, the . . . the Hand of Stone, which apparently is a hand holding a brick.  I want to stress that this is the biggest Darkseid scene thus far in the Fourth World: this is the scene where the mastermind sics Oddjob or Jaws on Bond and just leans back to watch.  But the crazy outer space henchman Brola, taking on a “mad, cosmic animal,” is armed with a cattle prod and a sandy, crumbly-looking brick.   Brola, I’m sorry this fight didn’t work out; I have a cardboard tube with wrapping paper on it, maybe you can use it next time.

Darkseid leaves via “tele-ray” (he’d been waiting in the apartment of one of Orion’s new friends), and it is time for awkward dialogue.

Don’t look at me, James Nostack, for an explanation!  Maybe people in this town, Metropolis, like to speak about themselves in the third person with their full names, e.g. John Q. Public.  But then again, they’ve just been through an Apokolips brain-reader device, maybe they’re still a little woozy.

Speaking of which: more of the same scheme we saw in the current issue of Forever People.  Apparently Darkseid blew his budget on Desaad’s Fear Machine, and couldn’t afford a nice brick for Brola.

Meanwhile Orion uses his Mother Box device (he has one too, just like the Forever People and Mister Miracle) to project images into his pets’ new friends’ brains about the Apokolips invasion.  Then he is surprised that they are frightened out of their wits, and surmises Darkseid must have some sort of Fear Machine.  I think it’s a lucky coincidence.

Orion riding the Astro Force device…

yes of course

After Orion destroys the Fear Billboard, Darkseid reveals that he’s kind of high-strung about this whole thing.  Clearly Darkseid knows that Orion is his son, but Orion and poor Desaad haven’t figured it out yet.

assorted commentary

It’s a sad day when the best thing in a Kirby comic is cosmic hit-man with a brick for a hand.  Similar, of course, to Steel Hand from Mister Miracle 1.  As already noted, the villains’ scheme in this issue is almost identical to the plan in Forever People #2.  It’s not surprising these themes return: Kirby was contractually required to illustrate, write, and edit 15 pages per week, which is like doing 3 people’s jobs.  Charitably, it’s more like emphasis, or an undercurrent, rather than straight self-plagiarism.  It’s a shame that the economics of the industry obliged him to just grind this stuff out so fast: it’s a great product, but it would be even more impressive to see what he could do given all the time he wanted.

This issue is unusual for Kirby because it’s almost parodically formulaic.  In the early 1960’s, the classic Stan Lee super hero story had four acts:

  1. Establishing the threat plus character development for the hero
  2. Hero brashly encounters the threat and gets trounced (or it ends inconclusively)
  3. Hero receives exposition and additional character development
  4. A wiser hero triumphs over the threat

Here we’ve got the basic structure.  I omitted some exposition at the start of this issue where Kirby recaps the whole Apokolips / New Genesis war, and a scene where Lightray unsuccessfully begs High-Father to let him follow Orion to Earth, but otherwise this issue hews pretty close to the formula–there’s even this screeching halt as Orion sends mind-movies to advertise other comic books. Though this formula was used in practically every comic book Stan Lee ever plotted, it’s a little rare for Kirby.  Maybe he chose the structure because it’s an easy way to squeeze characterization in, early in an untested series.

But it’s sort of interesting that the character that’s being developed in those interstitial acts is the Fourth World setting in its own right.  Here’s a shot from early in the comic:

Apokolips is defined by industrial fire-pits the size of continents, around which flocks of demon-creatures swarm.  So obviously New Genesis is defined by a gumball twirly-go-round suspended from an enormous gantry.  As a vision of the New Jerusalem it fails to persuade, but I do wish people dressed like this.

speaking up for the human race

So what are we, Readers of Mule Abides, to make of Orion’s eagerly self-referential helpers, Victor Lanza, Claudia Shane, Harvey Lockman, and Dave Lincoln?  And that’s almost all the characterization we get for these guys.

Kirby’s first story for Timely Comics, Marvel’s predecessor, was “Mercury in the 20th Century,” in which the Roman god journeys to Earth to fight Hitler “that dark rascal Pluto.”  (Page of art and commentary here.)  It’s a theme Kirby turned to about twenty years later in The Mighty Thor, where the Norse god of thunder mingles with the Cold War and the Space Age, and would return to again with The Eternals in the late 70’s.  Ancient mythology banging up against the modern world; the sublime juxtaposed with the mundane; man against the very gods.  (We’ll see this, literally, in several months’ time.)

Kirby clearly loves that sublime, mythological dimension, but he seldom convinces me when engaging with the human half of the dichotomy.  Thor, back in those days, had an alter-ego as Donald Blake, and Blake, despite being a crippled surgeon who could transform himself into a Scandinavian god, was a pretty dull dude in his own right.  In the Thor comics, Asgard is a crazy dimension full of bloodthirsty rock trolls with their apocalypse machines bedecked with goat skulls who fight swashbuckling Teutonic warrior gods.  While Earth is, um, this cute nurse, and Avengers Mansion.  Blake’s hospital doesn’t even have a name.  Likewise The Eternals is long on backstory and exotic locations, but none of the regular humans are especially captivating: they’re basically passive observers.  Over in Jimmy Olsen, Jimmy himself has become relegated to a back-up character despite a strong start, and the Newsboy Legion are intermittently successful comic relief.

It’s tempting to say that Kirby felt obligated to talk about the human half of the gods-meet-humans premise but had little enthusiasm for it.  Maybe it was like eating your vegetables.  Obviously I think all of Kirby’s stuff is about the human condition, but it’s speaking through metaphor.  Addressing human frailty directly–dealing with household finances or emotional insecurities, the way Lee and Ditko did in The Amazing Spider-Man, or say the way Will Eisner did in The Spirit–apparently wasn’t a natural topic for Kirby’s creativity.  Look at Kirby’s favorite Marvel characters: the Thing is an ornery dude who gets transformed into a monster, unable to have a normal life–which he mourns, but at least it leaves him with plenty of time to clobber stuff.  And Captain America, a living fossil who in the mid-60’s found peacetime far more unsettling than anything the super villains ever threw at him.

shouldn’t you have some gaming stuff in this post?

Yes, but I’ll break it into its own post later today.

Seriously, Grant Morrison: I want a 6 issue mini-series about Brola, whose power is the shock-prod and the hand of stone.  People can’t leave MODOK alone, but Brola is just sitting there languishing, trying to choose what to take on his next mission, a pair of blunted children’s scissors or a boffer sword, patiently waiting for the phone to ring…

Past Adventures of the Mule

December 2011

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