A while back, I read the black and white trade of Kirby’s New Gods, and enjoyed it, but didn’t fully embrace it. I couldn’t get past some of the goofy writing and dated style. But, I did enjoy it enough to pick up the new hardcover omnibus of the Fourth World stories, and I’m really glad I did. Seen in the context of the overall Fourth World narrative, New Gods itself makes a lot more sense, and I get a whole bunch of other great comics. This book is so full of ideas and pop fun it makes today’s writers, in any medium, just look lazy.
There are four different series collected in the volume, and I’m going to go through them one by one. It’s astonishing to think of Kirby not only writing, but also drawing, four series at a time. I feel like he’d have no time to focus on anything else, all his mental energy must have been expended filling these pages with the succession of crazy stuff we encounter. These comics aren’t like today, where one idea can fill a six parter, each new issue brings with it a new story, new concepts and frequently new characters.
The series that introduced the Fourth World was, strangely enough, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. Reading this series, I can see exactly where Grant Morrison got his inspiration for All Star Superman. While it lacks the cosmic scope of All Star, this series features the same relentless energy of progress, battling against the dark forces seeking to hold back humanity. Throughout all the series, the central thematic idea is progress versus restriction, as embodied in the life vs. anti-life struggle. This is also Morrison’s central theme, and, one could argue, the central theme of humanity’s existence!
All these series emerged directly from a cultural moment that still determines much of our way of thinking, the 1960s counterculture. It’s a shame that Iraq didn’t produce a genuinely forward thinking anti-war cultural movement in the way that Vietnam did. There were definitely some issues with the 60s counterculture, but it was critical in changing the way art and society were perceived. Things have fractured so much that it would be tough for anything to make that same impact. However, at least those people believed in something more than ironically recreating twenty year old fashions.