Sunday, May 22, 2011

31 Days of Comics #22

The New Gods #2
By Jack Kirby

I bought this 1971 comic this weekend in okay condition, and it cost me about the same as a brand new issue of a regular 2011 comic. It’s a shame that nothing on today’s stands has anywhere near the power and energy of this 40-year-old issue.

It’s prime Kirby, in that period where he had almost total creative freedom and was pumping out 20 pages of incredible art every week. There are only a couple of pages in New Gods #2 that have more than four panels, and it has half a dozen splash pages (including one double-page spread), but it’s still packed with action and overwrought drama – you really get a full story that still forms part of a vast ongoing tapestry.

Orion bashes the hell out of Darkseid’s attempt to artificially stimulate fear, flying around with real momentum and leaping into savage battle, and there are the usual flailing arms and hysterical over-reactions from the most minor of characters.

Kirby is still building his mad and beautiful Fourth World at this stage, and it’s interesting to see a Darkseid who isn’t quite the mighty unknowable God he would evolve into – he first appears in this issue chilling in an office chair and even bothers to compliment Desaad on his latest malevolent invention.

This comic has been reprinted several times, but it’s still fascinating to pick up the original comic and see it how it was first presented to the world. I still get a kick out of reading the advertisements in old comics, and they can be a fascinating history lesson. (Of particular interest in this issue is an advertisement for cheesy Woodstock bracelets and pendents, which show that by 1971 the festival had already become an event of mythological proportions for the Love Generation – “No one who was there will ever be the same!”)

Even more interesting is the text page by Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman, who were serving as the King’s loyal assistants at that time. I’ve never seen that published anywhere else, and it’s a fascinating thing to read.

The text page does get a bit caught up in its own hyperbole – “While other artists are doing stories, Kirby is doing pageants” – and has that weirdly obnoxious geek tone – “In fact, if you’re any sort of a comic scholar, you’ve no doubt begun a careful study of this magazine” – but it’s still a peek behind the curtain at the production and thought that Kirby put into this new epic tale, long before the New Gods became stale and over-familiar.

Besides, the hyperbole and sniffy claims of brilliance are warranted, because New Gods #2 is a wonderful comic. It’s arguably Kirby at the very peak of his creative powers and manages to be big and important without losing any of its wit, excitement and humanity.

There wasn’t anything sitting on the new release shelf at my local comic store this weekend that came anywhere near the quality level of this comic that Jack Kirby slugged out in little over a week back in 1971, but that’s why he’s the King, and everyone else who follows is just one of his subjects.

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