Friday, March 11, 2011


A couple of years ago, I began a little project called Fourth World Fridays, on an earlier (and, to my eternal shame, Livejournal) version of this blog. I wanted to review and analyze the entirety of Jack Kirby's Fourth World books, issue by issue, one a week. Why the Fourth World? Well, up until that point, I had been rather dubious about the supposed talents of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It's not that I didn't think they were talented, and I wasn't denying their massive influence on superhero comics, but as a guy who's always felt that superheroes sometimes get too much of the spotlight in analyses of comics history, I always thought that the monument to Lee and Kirby had been erected overtop of Eisner, Barks, and any number of deserving foreign comics artists and newspaper strip creators. It seemed like the main think L&K get credited with is bringing a new sophistication to superheroes, which they undeniably did, but considering that the other creators I just listed were all so much more sophisticated anyway (in my view), this wasn't the massive achievement that people made it out to be. It seemed like their elevation to godhood had come about due to their domination of a single genre, one which had been unfairly elevated above the others.

Wasn't I such an awesomely rebellious contrarian?

In all seriousness, I do still have some of these reservations about the superhero genre, but I realize I had a pretty superficial understanding of Kirby's work. (I'm still a little skeptical of Stan Lee, who never really produced anything of merit apart from Kirby or the other Marvel artists, but I wouldn't deny he had some good ideas, and was an extremely talented editor and promoter. Anyway, more on Stan in the entries to come.) The work that changed my mind about Kirby was, naturally, The Fourth World, which was indeed one of the most ambitious and visionary works produced in the medium of comics. At a time when superhero comics were beginning to struggle with being "serious" and "deep", and mostly doing a hilariously bad job of it, Kirby launched the first superhero series that had a real thematic depth to it. The characters, in particular, were refreshingly complex, while still being big, bombastic, larger-than-life types (as suited a series about literal gods), and the series had some surprisingly sophisticated things to say about power and authority, self-actualization, the creative process, and the then-current generation (of which Kirby was, obviously, not a part).

Also, it was completely bugfuck insane, in the most delightful way imaginable.

Now, don't get me wrong, it's far from flawless. Very, very far. The plotting is often haphazard, the dialogue is famously clunky--sometimes it seems to go out of its way to be as hilariously awkward as possible--and the whole enterprise is often utterly, majestically silly, from the ridiculous costumes to the general sense of unhipness that was inevitable in a work produced by a middle-aged comics artist attempting to pay tribute to the youth culture of the late 60s and early 70s. But the thing is, the things that often make it silly are the same things that make it great--the sense of complete earnestness, open-heartedness, and commitment to every premise, no matter how bizarre or ridiculous, coupled with the willingness to let imagination lead the way. The result is a series that's an acquired taste, to say the least, and requires a bit of work to really appreciate--but it's also instantly compelling. Even if your first impulse is to make fun of it (I have to admit, mine certainly was) you'll never be bored reading it.

Or, hopefully, reading about it.

I admit right up front, this is a pretty blatant attempt to recycle content for this blog. Fourth World Fridays originally had their own blog, which you can read right here if you're so inclined. I'm doing this again partly because I don't really see the point of having a separate blog and want to amalgamate everything, and partly because I'm quite proud of this series, but I think with a little editing it could be really, really good. Plus, my attitudes have changed--I feel I might have been a little too snarky in the original series, and I want to rewrite them to reflect my renewed respect for Kirby. Sure, you could just click on over there and read the whole thing in rough draft form, but...that...would be...uh...mean?

Anyhow. From now on, Fridays are FOURTH WORLD FRIDAYS here on Phantasmic Blog. GO! GO! GO!!!

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