Can there ever be a measurement for creative greatness?

While perhaps never considered so overtly, there’s certainly merit to the idea that comic book readers—a decidedly judicious lot—at least unconsciously give the credence believability each time they pick up something to read (or by extension, do not). This in turn then, is a kind of involuntary contribution to the medium; one that drives the indomitable weight of an entire industry but more importantly, steers the direction of the artistic process and output of that industry from its contributors and collaborators.

But how then is this greatness graded in comics or art or literature and by what scale? Does a prudent reader—of comics or otherwise—decide inherently to consider something worthy based on some arbitrary criterion? A critical analysis? Word of mouth? Perhaps greatness in any artistic medium is actually just a twofold measurement in time: a comparison to those works passed and the creative enterprise’s own ability to stand up through the years. These, of course, are arbitrary criterion in and of themselves and yet nothing short of the absorptive, all-encompassing idea of time could or should be used to talk about the very best.

And that, of course, means Jack Kirby.

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Monikered “The King” by his contemporaries, no summary, biography, or review could likely do the man or his myth true justice. So it seems fitting then that since his emergence Kirby’s influence, innovations, and ideas have permeated through comic-book literature with near mythological veneration. The creator and collaborator of more distinguishable titles, characters and locales than would seem appropriate to list here, Jack Kirby’s contributions and extensions to the medium are at times tantamount to some kind of primordial substance from which all other comic book and graphic novel life might have sprung forth.

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Worlds even.

Just as well-documented as his contributions and creations to comic book lore, Kirby’s on-again-off-again relationship with major publishers was perhaps as much a driving force in his art as his seemingly borderless imagination. But while there may not be any definitive measurement to the magnitude of Kirby’s influence on comic book culture one of his most prolific and long-lasting contributions to comics still begs modern-day reflection; especially considering the circumstances of its inception.

1970 saw the tumultuous departure of The King from a long and invariably fruitful relationship with Marvel Comics in favor of a rekindled partnership with DC. Part of Kirby’s negotiations saw a triptych of serialized titles—The Forever People, Mister Miracle, and The New Gods—umbrellaed in what came to be colloquially known as Kirby’s Fourth World. Already well-versed by the nature of his industry Kirby (correctly) anticipated that serialized titles—those with determinate storylines—could be a viable future for comic books and structured his new-found creative freedom to tailor his titles as such. With this in mind, the Fourth World saga launched in the prelude to his vision in the pages of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. And perhaps what is most venerable about the Fourth World entire, is this strategic approach of Kirby’s to his unfolding drama. Serving as a vague prologue Jimmy Olsen peppers the groundwork for readers, hinting at an Oz-ian curtain that faithful readers could eventually expect to be pulled back.

When of course it is, readers were introduced to The Forever People a rumble-tumble group of adolescent heroes from an alien world called New Genesis bent on foiling the plans of an imperious overlord known as Darkseid. Kirby concurrently launched a tonally contrasting series, The New Gods, which effectively pulled the expository curtain further back to establish the basis of the Fourth World mythos—a foundation which has rippled through the DC creative pantheon decades subsequent. If Forever People was a 60’s-inspired, playful, tongue-in-cheek, romp through space then New Gods was an over-arching galactic opera that saw the idyllic New Genesis come to repeated odds with its dark sister-planet, the infernal Apokalips in the battle for cosmic control and supremacy.

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It’s certainly telling that both series lasted only eleven issues each. For all their worth and the sheer ocean of creative enterprise that the two volumes envelope—from archetypal characters such as Orion, Desaad, Highfather, and Metron to the science-fiction heavyweights like Mother Box and The Anti-Life Equation—perhaps readers (and editorial bigwigs) were not ready for the creative precipice from which Kirby had propelled readers off. An idea that speaks to the more recognized success (at the time) of Kirby’s third concurrent series, Mister Miracle. Lasting eighteen issues, Miracle dialed back the cosmic heavy-handedness in favour of a grounded title, featuring the nevertheless weird (here’s to you, Granny Goodness) and sanguine adventures of Scott Free—a child of New Genesis traded to Apokalips as part of a truce—and it seems as though this audience familiarity with the tropes super-heroic adventures helped to serve as an access point for readers.

But it shouldn’t have been a hard sell.

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A frothy amalgam of science-fiction, political commentary, comedy, graphic sensibility, and artistic prowess (with just enough of a religious and biblical undertow to pull readers along), what should inevitably draw readers to the Fourth World is the utter charm of the creative smorgasbord that Kirby seems to have devoted to this creation: a seemingly effortless pantheon of heroes and cowards, gods and villains; worlds upon worlds. The tremors of their collective presence as concussive and unforgettable as when they were first put to the page.

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Artwork—indistinguishably Kirby—is bombastic, angular, gaudy, and utterly livid (there’s no shortage of jutting jawlines, all-but-trademarked poses, or mythic costume-work) and the writing—while expectedly of the period—still demonstrates an incomparable range from everything to comedic melodrama to the harkening prose of some biblical interludes. Each storyline (just as each of the titles in and of themselves) is distinctly ripe with the bizarre, wonderful, and divine and often each flirts so intimately and so well with the panel work and artistic design that any distinction in between is virtually erased.

An understated nickname to say the least, “King” Kirby undoubtedly constructs a veritable and cohesive universe within his pages and the secret of this greatness is fused somewhere here also.

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Waiting to be found.

Overall Score
90 %

Colourful, bombastic, and as diverse as it is revolutionary, Jack Kirby's Fourth World is a pillar of the DC pantheon and of comic lore.

Story 90%
Writing 85%
Pencils and Inks 95%

About The Author

Kabir Chauhan is self-professed lover of video games, photography, fine films, and Oxford commas. When he isn't indulging in any of that, he enjoys the occasional comic book or two...or three as well as talking about himself in the third person.

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