Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mind = Blown

I just finished reading the first book of the Omnibus collection for Jack Kirby's Fourth World. When my friend lent it to me his words were "prepare for you mind to be blown." I knew it was going to be wall to wall ideas thrown onto the panels but I don't think I was quite ready for what I got.

I love how everything is simply introduced and the reader just runs with it, much like the characters. I was told that the core element of the whole Fourth World stories is that it's basically a passion play. While I can see that I also think there's something a bit more going on. Yes, there's the structure of myths and legends that's found in most religious stories but there's also a blending of ideas.

I think these stories reflect the time in which they were created as much, if not more than their structure as mythical legends and stories of new gods. Jimmy Olsen and the new Newsboy Legion are at odds with the older generation embodied in Superman and the original NBL. The older generations take a patronizing view towards them, even when they're right to worry and protect their general approach to keep information hidden is what really leads to the trouble. As much, if not more so, than the youthful energy and curiosity of the protagonists. These people were once just as impetuous and unflappable that it's frustrating when they don't realize how they're acting in a way that doesn't recognize the same quality in their kids.

Science is at a point where it takes on mythical procedures, raising people from the dead and creating fantastical and grotesque versions of humanity. Light and dark are split along with nature and manufacturing. There is a blending of ideas on fundamental ideas to present very familiar foundations to the viewer. Sure, the details are different but Mohammed still goes to the mountain or the mountain comes to him. I can never remember how that saying goes, but when Jimmy Olsen looks for the mountain, it literally snatches him up. I could sit here all day pointing out how Kirby has taken countless dichotomies to create new synchronies to create a new reality full of dichotomies within which the characters struggle.

All of this reflects the reality that I believe Kirby was seeing around him. Young people and their parents were looking at the world in vastly different ways because of the events that shaped generations. It’s present here, not just in the wars they fought, but in how they carve out a place for themselves in the world. They fail to see the similarities they share because of events that distinctly cut off youth and adolescence with adulthood. The young man volunteers for a war and comes home an adult to a changed place. The current youth are being dragged into a new war and are aware of what happened to their parents so are going reluctantly. Behind all of this is a society that is struggling with its ever increasing secularity. God is dead and science killed him only to end up being worshiped in a similar manner and God won’t wait around to die but marshal forces to come back ever more fervently. Just look to how religion and science co-exist so peacefully today.

I think these are some of the ideas Kirby’s work is revealing. Although you might not get a chance to see it behind all the wonderful crackle that is thrown at you asking you to simply keep up and enjoy the ride. Just wear an explosion proof helmet or your brain may explode if you’re not ready for this.

What I do like though, and I think needs more attention drawn to it, is that even though Kirby is dealing with big ideas here, he’s coming at it with such joy that it just reads as ever more groundbreaking. You can be contemporary without being realistic, without being gruesome and without trying to consciously be adult. In fact, that’s the problem right there. Be contemporary without being immature and you’ll create good comics.


RAB said...

I always enjoy seeing readers' reactions to encountering the original Fourth World stories for the first time, not only for the vicarious pleasure but also because I feel as if I learn something new each time. This time is no exception. Connecting the Mountain of Judgement with the Islamic proverb is definitely one of those "banging my head on the desk for never having thought of it myself" things…and I can't even begin to convey how much I've thought about those stories since they were originally published when I was but a wee sprog of nine. Anyway, this post made me grin.

joncormier said...

I was amazed at just how much fun these comics were. They were an absolute joy to read and I think it's because even though they were dealing with, at times, heavy subject matter they were just infused with a joy at their creation.

It's also refreshing to see Kirby not shy away from the horrors of the real world when making these stories. Particularly in Forever People #3 with the Justifiers. Chilling stuff, but ultimately hopeful.