Kirby Continued, Part 1

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THE FINAL VOLUME OF Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus has arrived. I don’t have my copy yet, but with the release of the sort-of-ending-but-really-not, it seemed like a good time to dig out follow-ups to Kirby’s Fourth World material and see how well they hold up. I’m not exactly sure how many reviews this will include, since I have to look around for what I have and figure out what counts, but it’ll be at least three.

In part one, Mark Evanier, Kirby’s assistant while he was creating the Fourth World, scripts from some leftover Jimmy Olson plots. It’s a project with a few goals in common to Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure, through probably less historical interest, but is ultimately a more satisfying read.

The American Evolution!
(Legends of the DC Universe #14)
By Mark Evanier, Steve Rude, and Bill Reinhold
DC Comics, 1999 – Saddle-stitched, $3.95

According to Mark Evanier’s afterwards to previous volumes of Fourth Wold Omnibus, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olson wasn’t an assignment that Jack Kirby took a lot of pleasure in, especially with all of the editorial interference he suffered. Nonetheless, he managed to come up with more stories for the series than he ended up fitting in. In his capacity as Kirby’s assistant, Evanier was privy to the details of these stories, and “The American Evolution!” sees him joined by Steve Rude and Bill Reinhold in telling one more story of The Project and its dark twin, The Evil Factory.

Except for the Newsboy Legion, it’s all here: Jimmy, Superman, Dubbilex, The Guardian, Darkseid, Morgan Edge, even the Whiz Wagon. The team captures the feel of Kirby’s Jimmy Olson stories well, despite some differences. Evanier’s plot is a little tighter, though not as full of ideas. It’s less madcap and a little more coherent, likely a product of different standards of pacing between the ’70s and the ’90s, as well as his advantage in having 56 pages (Kirby could take it slower when he had more space, as seen in the 2001: A Space Odyssey Treasury Edition). His dialogue is less earnest, with more schtick, but mostly captures Kirby’s urgent quality. The effort to make the story simultaneously harken back to the Kirby era and not disturb post-Crisis continuity is mildly distracting, establishing an uncomfortable middle-ground when, as a one-shot, it could have ignored present continuity. Being unaware of the circumstances of Superman comics circa 1999, I couldn’t help but notice the differences from the Kirby material, like Clark and Jimmy knowing Morgan Edge but not working for him.

But overall, it feels like a Kirby plot. The Fourth World Saga, for all its focus on raw power, was a product of the Vietnam era, and had a deep ethical concern with the view from the ground, splitting issues between the battles of gods and the dramas of the human characters caught in the crossfire, some of whom only appeared for an issue. It’s no different here, with Superman and The Guardian battling Darkseid’s attempts to devolve Metropolis into apes, while the human drama revolves around Jimmy and Daily Planet doorman, Bernie Sobel, who does his best to not get involved in other people’s problems, even as the building starts to come down around him. His arc has more stabs at comedy than I imagine Kirby injecting, but his discovery of courage under fire fits in with the other human characters of The Fourth World.

Steve Rude does an interesting job pulling off a tough challenge, homaging Kirby’s style while maintaining his own. For the most part, characters have Rude faces and Rude builds, but he pulls off some convincing Kirby-style panel compositions and extreme perspectives, and draws some pretty admirable Kirby-tech. Bill Reinhold’s inking is spot-on, melding Rude’s grace with some Kirby weight and textures, making those chunky lines sit comfortably on Rude’s figures. Together, they do a stellar job of homaging Kirby without aping him.

I’ll be honest: If it weren’t for the Kirby history and homage, I don’t know how interested I’d be in “The American Evolution!”’s somewhat boilerplate story (of all of Kirby’s Fourth World work, I’m not sure if fans were really screaming for more Jimmy and The Project). However, the obvious love Evanier et al have for the material shines through, and touches like Bernie’s transformation, parallels between the fear Darkseid and Edge’s underlings have for them, the many excellent monsters and machines, coupled with great art, push it beyond mere nostalgia artifact to genuinely enjoyable read.

More:

Kirby Continued part 1

Kirby Continued part 2

Kirby Continued part 3

Kirby Continued part 4

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