Recent Dorkiness

Where Are the Kirbys of Today? (Part One)

Alrighty then. Those Jack Kirby galleries I posted last week got me back in the mood to farm me some nerds, but now I'm kinda hankerin' to discuss some funnybooks published in THIS century. Of course, after steeping myself in Kirby the way I have of late, some of what I've been reading recently feels... Wan. Lifeless. Anemic. Lacking in imagination and power. Now certainly, I don't expect every comic to be a match for Kirby's manic creativity. He's a once in a generation sort of talent, and it took even him a good 30 years in the business to get to the point where he could pour the kind of pure creative spirit onto the page that he evidenced in the 1970s. I mean, co-creating the Marvel Universe was just a warm-up for that dude.

See? Not even workin' up a sweat!

 I also don't expect the current funnybook marketplace to even support the wild creativity and constant invention of Kirby in the Seventies. Hell, the market didn't support it back then, either; very few of Kirby's Seventies projects made it more than 12 issues. Still, there are strong creative voices out there today saying interesting things. Some of them are even managing to say them within the musty, claustrophobic confines of the mainstream corporate super hero comic. So for the next little bit, I'm gonna be taking a look at some of those people (and in the process, clearing out a bit of the backlog of books I haven't reviewed during my blogging hiatus)...

1. Grant Morrison

Of course I was going to start here. Of COURSE. Though he’s not an artist, I tend to view Morrison as the closest thing we’ve got to Jack Kirby the writer, at least in terms of a restless, endlessly creative imagination. Whether it’s on corporate assignments or personal projects, he never stops innovating, never stops expressing his own intensely weird aesthetic. He also has a preoccupation with vast cosmic themes that sometimes go over the heads of his readership, something that haunted Kirby’s Seventies work. That’s worked out rather better for Morrison than it did for Kirby, I think in part because the shrinking funnybook audience has concentrated the weirdos (such as myself) who dig that kind of thing.

I’d even argue that Morrison has done the best work with Kirby’s New Gods since Kirby himself last touched them, grasping better than most the soul-destroying evil of Anti-Life, and the divine nature of the characters. I mean, check out his formulation of the Anti-Life Equation, as laid out over a JG Jones cover for Final Crisis:

Heh. Fiendish. And very much in keeping with Kirby’s view of his master villain, and what he was trying to achieve:

Morrison’s take differs from Kirby’s primarily in that he looks more closely at what being subsumed by Darkseid’s will might mean for the individual, bringing an aspect of personal horror to the character that Kirby’s treatment usually only hinted at. He does this through the character of “Terrible” Dan Turpin, a classic Kirby tough-guy character who is one of many fictional stand-ins for Kirby himself (a meta-fictional habit that Morrison also shares). In Final Crisis, Turpin is possessed by Darkseid, and is slowly but surely, inevitably, overwhelmed. “I tried to show them what humanity’s made of,” Turpin’s narration tells us. “But wrestling with DARKSEID, well… it’s like trying to beat the OCEAN unconscious.”

And, hey… Speaking of meta-fictional things, which we were, at least parenthetically… Having Jack Kirby consumed whole by his greatest creation is a particularly horrific depiction of the entire work-for-hire creative process. The literal dark side (pun not intended, but unavoidable) of Morrison’s quasi-religious belief in the super hero as a fictional god-construct struggling to manifest itself in reality. He talks about it a bit in his Supergods book, in one of the sections where his funnybook history folds down into philosophy folding down into dogma. It’s ugly, he admits, but (in his mind) for the greater good. Amazing, maddening book, Supergods. I really ought to write about it. If I ever work up the strength to wrestle with it (Turpin-like) again…

Anyway. Darkseid subsumes Turpin/Kirby, taking his body and subsequently taking all our bodies when he finally puts together the Anti-Life Equation, leading to one of my all-time favorite lines of Evil God dialogue:

“THIS MIGHTY BODY IS MY CHURCH.” Awesome. If not necessarily a line I could see Kirby putting in Darkseid’s mouth. He and Morrison, in spite of the similarities I’m trying to point out here, are after all very different writers. They were writing for different audiences in different times under different market conditions. And I can honestly say that I don’t prefer either one over the other. If anything, I think the fact that Morrison was able to stick to Kirby’s vision as closely as he did 30 years after the fact speaks to the timelessness of the original. Of course, Final Crisis inspired incredible blind rage in a lot of hardcore DC fanboys, too…

Death! By! Singing!

So what do I know? On the other hand, New Gods only lasted 11 issues back in the Seventies, which some of the same hardcore fanboys have argued was due to stuff like this…

click to embiggen

That’s right! It’s Happyland! Darkseid’s Own amusement park! But Kirby’s willingness to embrace this sort of unselfconscious silliness is one of the Fourth World’s greatest strengths, I think, and in this case it underlines the true depths of Darkseid’s evil. Happyland is actually a torture camp, you see, in which the tormented victims watch the happy customers walk by laughing, the victims’ souls even further crushed because they can’t understand why no one will help them, and the customers made into unwitting pawns of evil! Elaborate? Bizarre? Ridiculous? Yes! A thousand times yes! So maybe Darkseid’s death-by-singing is entirely appropriate.

And awesome, by the way. The ANTI-Anti-Life Equation (or just the “Life Equation,” if you will) is the Music of Creation, math turned toward the beautiful and artistic rather than the brutal inevitability of Darkseid Ascended. I think the King would have loved it. Especially considering the image that started me off on  all this Kirby-worshipping to begin with:

See? Donnie knows the score!

Of course, merely handling Kirby’s creations well does NOT win Grant Morrison a place on this list. Kirby worked, as much as the industry allowed, only on characters he’d created himself. And while the realities of the current funnybook market don’t allow modern creators that luxury (not if they wanna eat, anyway), a certain degree of personal innovation and original creation is part of what I’m looking for here. Morrison’s done a boatload of that, though, especially in recent years, so he’s clear. But I’ve rambled on a bit longer than I meant to about Darkseid, so… We’ll get to Morrison’s own awesome creations next time…

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About Mark Brett (408 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

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  1. Modern-Day Kirbys: Grant Morrison, Part Three « Dork Forty!

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