Of all the self-proclaimed villains in fiction, Darkseid is the one that scares me the most. Take a look at the above picture, I bet he’s creeping you out right now.
This stony-faced monster is the megalomaniac ruler of Apokalips, a planet famous mainly for being an awful armpit of a place to live and its war against the nearby paradise New Genesis. The story is that after the old gods died during Ragnorak, their world split into these two planets. Darkseid himself is a monstrous genius, and while he has a host of terrifying abilities his most notable is his most mundane – he is a an incredibly intimidating man.
Part of what makes Darkseid such a memorable character is that at times he feels like an authentic human being. While the Joker cartoonishly prances around in make-up, Darkseid argues with his best friend Desaad, is unnerved by new technology and worries about his treacherous son. He’s more Stalin than Darth Vader, although with his exotic headgear you could argue that he combines the worst of both.
The reason I’m talking about Darkseid is that I just finished reading the last volume of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus. I’ve had a patchy history with this franchise, reading the second volume, then the third, the first a year later, and this one six years after that. Add that to the fact this Kirby weaves a fantastic world through four different series that are only marginally collected, and you get one confused reviewer. In this particular volume those only three series are represented, eventually whittled down to only one.
That was Mr. Miracle, which tells the story of the titular escape artist and his Amazonian love interest Big Barda as they are confronted with a parade of bizarre villains. My favourite was the head of a criminal organisation, who was literally a head on wheels, a joke also used in the CS Lewis novel That Hideous Strength. There’s an element of romance to Mr. Miracle, made interesting by the fact that the two lovers genuinely enjoy eachother’s company throughout the whole thing.
Another series present in the book, New Gods, chronicles the adventures of Orion and his close friend Lightray as they struggle against Darkseid’s minion. Orion clearly has inherited his father’s anger. Such a berserker he is that I worry Orion is liable to kill an innocent member of the public in a fit of rage. He needs therapy. Lightray, on the other hand, is a ray of sunshine.
I don’t like the Forever People, the last series included in this volume. They’re essentially five bohemians who, like the planeteers, can summon an over-powered superhero to bail them out of whatever trouble they’re in. One of them is a space cowboy, so I guess you could say they’re Jack Kirby’s version of the Village People.
Volume Four wraps up with Jack Kirby’s hasty conclusion to the Fourth World saga. You can feel his frustration at having to present such a truncated ending to his grand vision. The art is gorgeous, though.
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga will be inaccessible to many casual readers due to the frequent changes between narrative streams. I would recommend it to Marvel fans, especially devotees of seventies Thor or Silver Surfer.