Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Vol I

Jack Kirby Omnibus Cover

"I have heard the word - - it is Battle!" (page 108)

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Volume One
DC Comics 2007, Approximately 400 Page Hardback Book
$49.99 USD Retail

Kirby died in 1994 (Wikipedia article here); but his work keeps going through cyclical revivals. DC Comics thus comes forth with this collection of Kirby's so-called "Fourth World" stories from various 1970's DC Comics (New Gods, Forever People, Jimmy Olson and Mister Miracle). The stories contain that raging Kirby energy (and his impatience with mere short-story plot structures!) and his leaping, charging and always exploding way of drawing. On the downside, the book also unfortunately serves as a time capsule of bygone youth slang and "hip" attitudes, which is played up in the dialogue with such emphasis that it seems like more marketing ploy than legitimate attempt to bridge the "generation gap." Maybe Kirby was pandering to what he supposed his audience was, or maybe he was straining at finding the language of a generation he was simply no longer a member of? I don't know. As an anthropological text, perhaps there's a lot more meaning on these pages, but as comics literature, it is clearly a weakness that distorts the entertainment value into unintended, campy areas.

I began buying comic books on my own (versus selections made by my Mom who tended toward funny animal and Little Lulu books) about the time these Kirby books starting coming from DC, and by 1973 (when I was reading Kirby's Kamandi with much devotion) these only slightly earlier 1970-1971 comics were already dated. Fashion had, as it does, simply rolled over them.

At the core, though, the ageless Kirby is still here in this collection, flinging ideas and other-worldly concepts right and left, and never bothering to bog himself down with much character exposition. These colorful musclemen (and the occasional lady) are archaic and far ahead of their time all at the same time. Action is constantly demanded to solve the myriad problems that are always raining down on the heads of these heroes, and there is always a world, galaxy, or existence itself in peril as evil beings show up in rigid order, one after another to be conquered and sent packing, at least for awhile.

Maybe Kirby is the quintessential comic book artist/writer of superhero tales. He created much of the form with the birth of Captain America (1941) and some of his other characters, and though there is the endless debate about whether Stan Lee or Kirby is more responsible for which billion-dollar Marvel Comics hero from the 1960s, what's clear is that Kirby didn't change much, no matter how goofy his dated hippy dialogue from 1970 sounds today. Kirby was always drawing the compulsion to fight back and defy some oppression or other that came looking for puny humans to subjugate. His heroes are always people with many responsibilities, appetites for combat, and an elusive peace forever beyond their grasp.

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This is a nice volume, but DC Comics has used flimsy-feeling, lightweight paper. Maybe that makes sense because they are shoving 400 or so pages between these covers, and though charging the same price as one of their "deluxe" Archive books, they've got twice the number of pages. Ink coverage is terrific, they get very bright colors and the kind of even-looking blacks and solids that were impossible on the original newsprint comics these stories are from.

The major failing of this otherwise beautifully designed pop-art book is that the binding is so tight (which is good!) but the artwork pages vanish at the inside edges into the middle. This is the same problem DC Comics has with their "Prestige" printing (for example the recent J. Smith Shazam 4-issue series), the page layout doesn't compensate for the actual position of the artwork when the book is laid open. Would it have been such a bother to move these pages to the outside a mere 1/8th of an inch or so? They've got full bleed printing on the front and end paper pages, it doesn't seem like they were prohibited from laying these comic book pages anywhere they wanted - - why'd they have to lay them so that they fall into the glue binding of the center of the book?

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Comics writer Grant Morrison contributes an introduction which is more about him than is about Kirby, as he stands in as the atypical comic book reader of the age when "Fourth World" was shot from the gates at DC Comics. Morrison explains why, at the time, he didn't "get it." But, as an adult comic book reader now, he is bowled over by Kirby:

"...Kirby's work operated at a higher frequency than my pre-adolescent brain was wired up to match; his operatic visions of burning planets and snarling sci-fi deities left me with an inner shudder of the numinous and uncanny. Kirby's dramas were staged across Jungian vistas of raw symbol and storm... "

Mark Evanier has the afterward, and he has analysis of Kirby as a businessperson, a personal friend, and as an artist. It has anecdotes and also Evenier's affection for the subject, along with a general timeline of how Kirby fared (and the comics industry in general) in the 1970s (not always so good).

There are three more volumes planned for this series reprinting Kirby's "Fourth World" material.

Kirby Superman Art

[Below] To view the spread from the book enlarged, click here.

Jack Kirby Spread

More Kirby:

Kirby Cover to Kamandi 4 - Kirby Cover Kamandi no 19

Kamandi 20 - Kamandi 22 Cover


Inside Kirby Book

Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby

Fantastic Four #1, November 1961, Jack Kirby Cover

Fantastic Four #1, November 1961, Jack Kirby page

Amazing Fantasy #15, Aug 1962, Jack Kirby Spider-Man

X-Men #1, September 1963, Jack Kirby cover

Giant-Size Conan, 1975, Kirby cover with Elric

Tales of Suspense #39, March 1963, Jack Kirby and Don Heck Art

Kamandi #9, Sept 1973, Cover

Kamandi #9, Sept 1973, The Murdering Misfit Splash Page

Jack Kirby - Kamandi #4

Jack Kirby - Kamandi #19

Jack Kirby - Kamandi #20

Kamandi #22

Kamandi #23

Kirby - 2-page spread

Jack Kirby 4th World Omnibus

Captain America's Shorts - Jack Kirby Art

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby Superhero Book

Wonder Woman Transformation 1978

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