The promise of what could have been has always had and will continue to have more appeal than the reality of what is.
That’s what makes the life of Jacob Kurtzberg, aka Jack Kirby, interesting.
The Fourth World: A superhero saga set somewhere in Middle Earth.
Kirby, for the benefit of those who don’t know their comics, is widely considered the king of the medium even today, 14 years after his death.
He was a writer, illustrator, creator or co-creator of dozens of well-known characters, including the X-Men and The Fantastic Four, and a publisher. His work shows the kind of energy (a kinetic sense of movement and direction that endows his two-dimensional characters with the seeming ability to literally fly off pages) that is hard to come by even today. In a way, the SFX sequences in most of this century’s superhero movies are homage to Kirby.
Kirby’s life and his fight to be given his due in a system where publishers have always had more power than creators and writers saw him move from one publisher to another (Marvel to DC and then back again), even try to be one himself.
Comics publishers and creators have, in their own way, tried to recognize Kirby’s contribution to the medium. Marvel recently got Neil Gaiman to do a take on Kirby’s The Eternals. Still, the work this columnist is going to speak about here is The Fourth World.
This work, which Kirby never finished, first came out in the early 1970s. This was after Kirby moved to DC. The Fourth World was Kirby’s own Middle Earth — an entire universe of heroes and stories woven together into one gigantic superhero saga.
Kirby was able to convince DC to try what was then unheard of in comics. He broke the telling of The Fourth World into four parts —The Forever People, The New Gods, Mister Miracle and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.
Each of the four titles would come out as a bimonthly. The result was a bimonthly cycle during which four books, each looking at the same events from the perspective of one set of characters, provided a sort of 360-degree view of a whole story or whole strand of a story that is definitely bigger and better than the sum of parts. Even today, there are few writers and publishers willing to try something as radical.
Sure, the plot itself is simplistic. There is a war and the main battleground is Earth but hey, what did you expect — this was the 1970s and this is a book about (essentially) men in tights.
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