Sunday, January 21, 2024

"Glory Boat" Splash Page Goes Up For Auction

A while back, Stuart asked me what original comics art I would like to own.  And the answer to that includes complex math in my head, but for simplicity's sake, I'd cut to the chase and say - probably the Glory Boat splash page from New Gods #6.  See above.

seen here in full color

Starting around 1971, The Fourth World Saga was Jack Kirby's original epic/ opus when he returned to DC from starting Marvel, the work spanning four titles:  New Gods, Forever People, Mister Miracle and Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen.  Unthinkable in the last thirty years, Jack Kirby, then 54 years old, pulled this off by drawing, plotting and writing 4 titles per month, in the process creating a universe on top of the DC continuity that had started, sort of, around 1938, give or take.  

At DC, Kirby's dynamic style, that had exploded at Marvel through the 1960's, reached a fever pitch.  No one was telling him what to do (except for letting someone else ink Superman's face to keep it in DC House Style) - and he spawned characters and a world that DC is still grappling with.  His work's aftershocks created events in the DCU, new characters, team-ups, and endlessly more.  In fact, the entire arc of Zack Snyder's DC movies was trying to bring in The Fourth World, of which Darkseid was the despotic main villain - the Emperor and Darth Vader all in one.*  

Not bad for a few mid-to-low selling series that only lasted for a few years.

Thanks to Brad, owner and operator of my LCS, Austin Books and Comics, and a few other of those amazing connections of the internet, I became aware that the page above is going up for auction in mid-February.  If anyone wants to buy it for me, I'd be most grateful.  I don't know what the price will be, but if there's any justice, it's a lot more than I can afford or have liquidity to purchase.  A lot more.

So, why this weird page for me?  No Superman.  No Krypto.  No Wonder Woman, Captain America or Black Panther.  It's a strange spaceship-y thing in blunt forced perspective.

Look, New Gods is a lot.  I was aware of some of the basics as the Super Friends cartoon and Kenner Super Powers action figure line had started including those characters in the 1980's.  I didn't read Kirby's Fourth World work until the end of college when DC inexplicably reprinted New GodsForever People and Mister Miracle as trades on cheap newsprint and in black & white.  I was going through a phase as I was re-finding superheroes, and suddenly learned what the deal was with Mister Miracle and Big Barda, and really discovered Orion and Light Ray at the time.  

By the way, the two fellows standing on the boat there are Orion and Light Ray.

New Gods, in particular, had the feeling of discovering the myth and lore of a culture adjacent to your own.  Kirby knew exactly what he was doing, and I expect the primordial feel of family drama playing out on a cataclysmic scale, with operatic elements overlaid, is why the story and characters have had staying power unlike a huge portion of the DCU's trial-and-error approach.  

Orion, the fellow in the helmet, is the son of the evil space-tyrant, Darkseid, cruel lord of the planet Apokolips, an industrialized planet that has turned the people not just into slaves, but *willing* slaves, ready to die for Darkseid.  But in a peace treaty with the neighboring sister-planet, New Genesis, Orion was exchanged for the son (Scott Free, aka: Mister Miracle) of the kindly shepherd of that planet's people, High Father.**

So, you can see the high level myth making going on.  

Coming off of working on Thor - which very much influences these books - Kirby gave the characters a sort of oddball, stilted way of speaking, where every dialog bubble is a dramatic exclamation.  No small line is spoke, just as every line in The Ring Cycle has import.  So you tend to get lines like "If we go to The Source -- You demons go with us!!!" twice per panel.

The Fourth World is about the war between Apokolips and New Genesis spilling over to Earth, as Darkseid tries to lay claim to another planet (in his unending quest for the Antilife Equation), despite folks like Superman and Wonder Woman being there to slow him down.  New Genesis, realizing he's up to no good, dispatches Orion - their greatest warrior (and God of War), and his pal, Lightray, a quippy, good natured guy who can kick-ass in a pinch, but who mostly likes to keep an eye on his bud, lest he go full War God.  

By the sixth issue, we're pretty familiar with the dynamic, and unwitting folks are getting wrapped up in this shadow war.  Including a boat attacked by Darkseid's sea-faring minions, The Deep Six.  They've unleashed a Leviathan of their own creation to smash vessels, a la the Nautilus.  In this issue, our normal Earth-folk are a father and his two grown children, one of which is a concerned lefty - addressing Vietnam but not naming it, causing the generational strife of the time to flare both before and after their yacht is taken down.  

The son is killed in a fight with the Deep Six, causing everyone to finally pull off the gloves and the father to realize how he didn't hear his son, didn't respect him, and now he's lost the time he thought he'd have.  Heady stuff.

It's a lot to go into, but Kirby would just make ideas up on the fly, and now they were part of how the comics worked.  For example:  here, Lightray suddenly can transform a horrible mutation of a creature controlling the Leviathan, and make it into a "techno-active" cube of "raw life".  The cube transforms inside the raft they're on into the rocket-boat seen above on the page, which Lightray and Orion drive straight into the Leviathan and Deep Six, ending the threat in a massive explosion.

Panel after panel on 6 panel pages, Kirby is throwing entirely new ideas, character beats, and bizarre concepts into the mix.  And you're either very into this, or you need to run away and fast.  So a splash page breaking that up is like the roaring guitar solo or breakdown you didn't know you needed, but you sure welcome as it brings everything to a head.

Kirby's Fourth World was part of how I stuck with super hero comics, full stop.  When you're already staying with comics because of Vertigo and its, as Morrison would say, "mad ideas" - what's madder than all this?  No one has topped this.  Not for panel-over-panel, four books a month, delivery of whole new worlds where Gods walk among men and fight their private war that will impact everyone.  

And, who speak in DECLARATIVE! SENTENCES!  

This page is, to me, the culmination of the spirit of The Fourth World, this point in Kirby's astounding career, the best in the craziness you can get in the world of sci-fi superhero fantasy comics, and a genuine, moving character moment for everyone involved in this issue.  

The art is pure Kirby, from the Kirby dots to the "techno organic" concept he'd played with since Fantastic Four and Thor, where nothing is tied to any reality of machinery, but everything seems to have a purpose.  Characters pose in aggressive, action-packed stances, yelling way too many words in a world bubble for the snip of a second we're seeing.  You can almost hear the noise that Kirby had to have imagined, via the rushing direction of the ship and action/ motion lines and that Kirby Krackle.  The shine off the nose and the feeling of other-worldly energy flies around the page, driving everything forward - an unstoppable force of grief and righteous fury.  And willing, heroic sacrifice!

Because it's this era of Kirby, not all of the perspective jives, and for fans, that's a feature, not a bug.  I'm good with Orion's hand appearing as large as his head, shoved at the eye of the viewer, or the motion lines not *quite* matching the lines of the boat.  Except where they do.  Kirby had moved from illustration to cartooning his expressions by this point, and the effect is bombastic, but also conveys a tremendous amount in every page, even without the robust dialog.

Some folks might say Jack Kirby knew what he was doing.

And, now, someone out there will be able to have this item in their home.  

scan of the actual page

I'm certainly jealous of whomever gets this, but mostly I hope it's cared for and appreciated, and shown once in a while.  So much Kirby art has been lost, we're fortunate this exists.  

*Kirby thought maybe that Lucas had borrowed from The Fourth World for Darth Vader and the Death Star, but he wasn't going to fight that fight, and it wasn't like he wasn't borrowing from myths and legends for his work
**Noah Hawley straight up took this for Fargo Season 4


The League said...

I just picked up a copy of Kamandi #1 from my LCS!

Simon MacDonald said...

You lucky dog!