Fourth World – Kirby’s Classic Meta Series

Jack Kirby is a comic book legend. He was the co-creator of the majority of the Marvel universe with Stan Lee in the 1960s. At the end of the decade, Kirby wanted to move on. He was ready to go it out alone and prove his true creative genius. Kirby jumped ship to DC Comics, where he created The Fourth World: a saga that would live to be important for the comic medium as a whole as well as other media.
Kirby’s storytelling differed from his earlier work with Marvel. The Fourth World reads more like something akin to the recent television series from HBO than anything else. As soon as you open The New Gods issue #1, you arNewGods1-001e thrown into a
whole new world of ideas and characters. Kirby expects you to be able to come along for the ride and discover some of the secrets in this world as the book continues.
It is not until we arrive at The New Gods issue #7 and the story “The Pact” (a true highlight of the Fourth World series) that we discover more about where these New Gods came from. The ideas that Kirby presented are just remarkable. Some have never been touched on again and others it took decades for any one else to even dare to try.
In Forever People issue #4, we are introduced to Happy Land. Happy Land is a theme park into which the people of Apokakolips (the series antagonists) have taken The Forever People (the heroes of the series) hostage and made them apart of the park. If they do not perform their designated task there, then they will die. The only people in the theme park who can see the reality are children. This plot touches upon the ideas of reality and hyper reality put forward by post modernist Baudrillard (WIKI: It is remarkable to think that such ideas would even be considered for a comic plot in the nineteen seventies, let alone that they be portrayed so beautifully.
The Fourth World has had an impact on so many things in the comic world as well as other media. Before The Fourth World appeared on our comic shelves, there had never been such a thing as a crossover event, something that is now almost an annual occurrence in the comic world. Kirby was also ahead of his time in his storytelling in The Fourth World. Kirby was well ahead of the game; he saw his Fourth World as a book that would be collected together in trade form and would be more likely to be sold in bookshops than anywhere else. It is ironic that this was an oddity at best in the early seventies and yet now is common place.
The Fourth World brought us the first crossover epic with a dense style of storytelling that might not have been seen before. Kirby did not just bring us the first crossover event; he also created the entire universe that these characters would inhabit. They were always a part of the rest of the DC universe (DCU) but at the same time, the only characters to ever really appear in this saga from the rest of the DCU were Superman and Jimmy Olsen. It could be arForever_People_Vol_1_4_002-003gued that this was more to do with the fact that Kirby was given Jimmy Olsen as a book to use by DC’s editors rather than Kirby’s fondness for or desire to include him.
Although the next crossover event didn’t happen for around a decade, Kirby’s experiment was the start of something that has truly revolutionised comic books. Another medium that The Fourth World seems to have had an influence on was film. George Lucas and Jack Kirby often met up and discussed ideas and Lucas was a comic reader. Amongst his influences were science fiction serials like Flash Gordon, and Kirby’s Fourth World. All of these influences led to the production of
a small film you may have heard of: Star Wars. The impact of Star Wars was and still is huge, and Kirby’s Fourth world was a key component in its gestation.
Issue 11 of The New Gods is one that left the reader desperate to see what would happen next. The battle between Orion and Darkseid seems to have reached tipping point: a major (if not their final)battle was on the horizon. Unfortunately, DC decided to cancel many of the Fourth World titles – including The New Gods. After the cull, the only book left was Mister Miracle. This to me is the biggest crime imaginable. It was the equivalent of cancelling Watchmen at issue 11, or deciding that Blackest Night was not doing so well and therefore they would cancel the main book of the event Blackest Night but keep Blackest Night: Flash in publication. Although Mister Miracle was a great book,the crux of this epic is The New Gods. The Forever People, Mister Miracle and Jimmy Olsen all had themes of The Fourth World runnng through it but it was The New Gods where the main arc was going on; where the battle between Orion and Darkseid really started to heat up. Because of this it is my opinion that even if Mister Miracle was outperforming The New Gods, DC should have taken a chance and kept The New Gods instead. It is not that the next few issues of Mister Miracle aren’t good but it does feel that Kirby lost a lot of enthusiasm for the book. A key problem was actually Kirby’s masterful storytelling. The New Gods issue 11 was so good that readers were left feeling lost and with no resolution to the main story of the Fourth World. This must have been horrific in the seventies when this occurred because it was bad enough for me to have to read through the rest of the book, desperate to know what was going to happen next, with the knowledge that Kirby finally had the chance to tumblr_kq8oy8rT3a1qzvw5po1_500write a finale. Kirby was finally allowed to continue The New Gods arc with two final graphic novels: Even Gods Must Die and The Hunger Dogs. Both are really enjoyable stories. However they do not feel like the continuation on from The New Gods 11 that I had hoped for. Instead they feel like a snapshot into this universe. Further, a lot had changed for Kirby in the time it took him to finally pen the end to his epic. He had often stated that the finale would see the end of Orion and Darkseid but at the same time his finale was always in a state of flux. One thing that helped to add to this state of flux was the time it took for Even Gods Must Die to be produced. The final issue of Mister Miracle was released in March 1973, the final issue of The New Gods was November 1972. Even Gods Must Die was published in November 1985, thirteen years since the last issue of The New Gods. Kirby had changed and consequently his story had changed with it. Also DC had just released Orion, Darkseid and their cohorts as toys. Now that they were a success with the kids, DC were less keen with the possibility that the two most intergral characters in the series would be killed off.
It is a bittersweet, yet still a highly enjoyable finish to a fantastic epic that led to so many changes to the comic medium and the main stream without them even realising it.
The Fourth World is available in a series of 4 Omnibus Trades from all good book stores, comic stores and of course Amazon
– Luke Halsal
This article was originally published in our digital Geek Syndicate Magazine. The magazine is our free quarterly publication jam packed with features, interviews, previews and more.Check out the back issues here.

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