Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I Am Not A Number!

Last week, the scans_daily community on LiveJournal posted the extant pages of Jack Kirby's unpublished version of The Prisoner.

I love the opening on the first page:

In this age, when the individual can find himself at the mercy of advanced technology welded by an organized and ruthless enemy, THIS BOOK BECOMES IMPORTANT TO ALL OF US!!!

That's something Your Obedient Serpent has said for decades, now: McGoohan's eccentric experiment is an invaluable survival guide to anyone living in the (post)modern world. And Jack just comes right out and says it: this comic book is important. No "subtle themes" or "hidden messages" for Kirby. If he thought something was important, he'd SHOUT IT TO THE HEAVENS, in boldfaced italics.

Somehow, he made it work. Which is why we call him "The King".

And this, dear reader, is why it stokes Your Obedient Serpent's ire to hear Starlin and his sycophants expound on how Jack "never really said" what the Anti-Life Equation was. What they MEAN is, "we never read The Forever People." Kirby wasn't at all mysterious about the Equation: he explicitly spells it out (and yes, in boldfaced italics) over and over -- but he does it in the pages of what too many people consider the goofiest, most dated, most embarrassing installment of the Fourth World saga.

Your Obedient Serpent, on the other claw, read Jimmy Olsen, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People when they came out. New Gods, however, didn't cross my path until almost a decade later, thanks to a friend who dragged me to his college library's restricted-access collection of classic comics, specifically so I could catch up on those chapters of the Fourth World that I'd missed.

Perhaps that skews my perceptions of the Great Unfinished Work. Through the '80s, New Gods was reprinted several times, but the other threads of the saga were neglected until their black-and-white collections from a few years back and the wonderful, wonderful Fourth World Omnibus volumes currently being released. New Gods is grand, sweeping, epic, and bombastic -- but I think it's also the Fourth World title that explains the least about the actual philosophical struggles involved.


Anonymous said...

No offense to the King, but I happen to like Starlin for his own merits.

Your Obedient Serpent said...

Starlin for his own merits is grand; Starlin taking inspiration from Kirby is splendid.

I loved his work on Adam Warlock and Captain Mar-Vell, Thanos and all. Dreadstar was a groundbreaking tale. His recent excursions with Comet, No Longer Captain, were Starlin at his best, at his most Starlinilicious.

Starlin trying to write Kirby? Not so good. Cosmic Odyssey annoyed me so much that even Mignola's art couldn't rescue it.

That's where Starlin hands us the "Anti-Life Entity" and expects us to swallow it. That's where the whole myth that "Jack never really explaned Anti-Life" bore fruit so bitter that Lamont Cranston would recoil.

That's not even talking about the stupid, stupid thing he did to John Stewart.

Every subsequent writer to handle the Fourth World characters has either ignored the Anti-Life Entity, or had Darkseid actively repudiate the idea that the Entity actually was a manifestation of Anti-Life.

Now Starlin is handling it again, and voila, Darkseid repudiates his repudiation. "Hey, my stupid plotline was right all along! Nyah nyah nyah!"

This offends me more than Barda's off-screen death on her kitchen floor.

Richard said...

I agree in the strongest possible terms with everything you said.

(Except to add that there are a few more pages of Kirby's Prisoner that have not been posted online. He did finish pencilling the entire first issue, and they still exist...)