Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Classics - New Gods #1

I don't think any event in the history of comics shocked me more than the announcement in 1970 that Jack Kirby was leaving Marvel Comics and moving over to DC Comics.

Kirby had been at Marvel through my entire comics-buying life, and (in my mind) he was joined at the hip to writer / editor Stan Lee. Those two built some of my all-time favorite comics creations, including the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk and The Avengers (to name a few).

So I anxiously waited for Kirby's debut - and New Gods #1 arrived like a cannon shot. Behind that fantastic cover Kirby kicked off a new mythology, new characters and amazing creativity.

Imagine my surprise when I finished reading the issue and I realized that I didn't much care for it.

Before you start organizing a tar-and-feathers committee for my heresy, let me quickly add that I eventually "got it." Just not at first.

Some expressed disappointment over the inking by Vince Colletta - I realize his work isn't everyone's favorite. I was always divided on his inking over Kirby - I loved his work on Thor, and didn't care for it at all on the Fantastic Four. Go figure. I thought it worked fine here.

The biggest complaint was that Colletta erased details and backgrounds, and that's supposedly why he was eventually taken off the book - but it wasn't readily apparent to my 15-year-old eyes.

The problem here isn't the artwork (at least not for me) - it's loaded with huge cosmic events, over-the-top battle sequences and incredibly original character designs.

The problem was with the writing. After more than a decade of reading Kirby with Stan Lee's friendly, accessible style, suddenly the dialogue was stilted, heavy-handed, even clunky. No one talked like Kirby's characters.

I would eventually realize that I had to adjust to Kirby's style, and while I would never call Kirby the smoothest writer, he was incredibly inventive (as always), and eventually I came to appreciate and enjoy his style of delivery.

What made each issue of New Gods (and his other comics at DC) well worth collecting was the way he loaded each issue with amazing ideas and concepts - there was enough ingenuity in each issue to fill a modern-day maxi-series.

So how long did it take me to realize Kirby's genius? As much as I hate to admit it, it took seven issues.

That's when Kirby unleashed his masterpiece on an unsuspecting world - and that's what we'll talk about next week in this space.

Grade: A-



Dwayne said...

I NEVER got Kirby when I was young. I wasn't really aware of his Marvel connection or his contributions there. It wasn't until years later, as an adult, that I learned to appreciate his work at DC. Those characters and that mythology resonated for years, and still does. That's why I've never been so offended by anything in comics as Grant Morrison's Death of the New Gods. All the hoopla over the upcoming Before Watchmen mini-series pales compared to killing characters created by Kirby.

Chuck said...

Dwayne, I think part of the reason it was difficult to "get" the New Gods was that it was so different from anything else in comics.

As a longtime fan, it took a while to get used to Kirby's art, too - as editor, he made sure the DC Comics art was true to his pencils, and not the "slicker" version Marvel produced behind Joe Sinnott, Colletta and others.

Dwayne said...

DC, at the time, was home to Neal Adams. His style was the most influential of the time, I think, and Kirby's art was a little "blocky," for lack of a better word, to my young eyes. Those women had large jaws, didn't they?