Darkseid!! (Authority Post 1)

A revised and improved version of this essay is in my book Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! – hardback, paperback, PDF

Darkseid! from Ambush Bug 2

Darkseid! from Ambush Bug 2

Nearly a month ago, now, pillock asked me to write a post about Darkseid. This has been more difficult than I at first thought it would.

Duncan, in the comments there, mentioned my earlier piece, Darkseid Is (and we could also add my post from last month on the Fourth World characters) but that doesn’t quite fit Pillock’s brief – he wanted us to talk specifically about Jack Kirby’s Darkseid.

(This was partly in response to someone on Geoff Klock’s blog making the claim that the TV cartoon version of Darkseid is better than Kirby’s, and Klock reacting to this as if it were a defensible position in some way. I suspect the reason I was chosen to write this is that this made me start posting on Twitter with a #geoffklocksays hashtag, rather cruelly saying things like “Oasis are better than the Beatles” and “Steve Martin is the definitive Inspector Clouseau”)

And both those posts were about my idea of Darkseid, which actually comes from two sources – Kirby and Grant Morrison. And trying to do the Kirby-only post has led to what looks like being a second series of interlinked posts like the Hyperposts from a month or so ago…

Because the problem for me is that even though I love Kirby’s Darkseid, I came to the character in the late 1980s, This is post-Star Wars.

Star Wars was, of course, hugely influenced by Kirby – in fact everything in it that isn’t from Flash Gordon, Dune or the Lensmen books is from a Kirby comic. In particular, Darth Vader is a bad Darkseid rip-off dressed up as Doctor Doom.

Which meant that when Star Wars became The Biggest Thing In History and singlehandedly destroyed both the medium of cinema and the genre of science fiction forever, and DC Comics decided they wanted some of that – well, they had their very own Darth Vader, didn’t they?

Actually, they had two, because Jim Starlin created Mongul for that very purpose – even giving him his own Death Star, Warworld – but everyone knew that Starlin really wanted to be doing the real Darkseid, not his own copy of a copy.

So very soon we had a ton of bad space opera, by second-rate talents like Starlin or John Byrne, fitting Kirby’s characters – which had been conceived as a self-contained thing, with little connection to the DC Universe (other than the Superman tie-ins forced on Kirby by editorial), and were part of a personal artistic vision – into a massive ‘continuity’ (and we all know what I think about those).

These ‘respectful’ travesties – created by people who thought that it was actually paying tribute to possibly the greatest imaginative artist of all time to create weak, watered-down copies of his most personal work, rather than ever having a single original idea themselves – were, of course, hugely popular, for much the same reasons that the Rolling Stones were more popular than Howlin’ Wolf. Darkseid became absolutely ubiquitous for a time, to the point where his ‘surprise’ appearances were parodied by Keith Giffen, having the splash panel at the end of every issue of the first Ambush Bug miniseries being a ‘surprise reveal’ of Darkseid.

So my first exposure to the character of Darkseid came through London Editions’ UK newsstand Superman title (which reprinted the US comics, starting with Byrne’s run, at magazine size, and usually had either JLI or Green Lantern as backups). But Darkseid, even when being beaten by Byrne’s superyuppie, or being ridiculed in the Giffen/DeMatteis League, still had some of the power of the original creation – to the point where, years before I ever saw any of Jack Kirby’s actual work, I knew he was a comic creator I admired because he’d created Darkseid and Etrigan and Kamandi and a handful of other characters who still had power in inferior creators’ hands.

(The JLI creators weren’t ‘inferior’ in a pejorative sense – they’re better than 95% of mainstream comic people – but everyone’s inferior to Kirby when it comes to superhero comics).

So my view of Kirby’s work is – pretty much necessarily – through the lens of these later creators. I can’t judge HIS Darkseid – the only REAL Darkseid – except in the light of later bastardisations. I think that Morrison’s take on Darkseid is the only one since Kirby himself to actually bear any relation to the character Kirby created – that everything Morrison makes explicit was already implicitly there, and that he’s the only comic creator (with the possible exception of Rick Veitch) who really GETS Kirby’s work, but to go back to an earlier analogy, if Kirby is Howlin’ Wolf, and Byrne is the Rolling Stones, then Morrison is Captain Beefheart. I can see a clear line between Wolf and Beefheart – the roots of the latter clearly visible in the former – but does that make Beefheart covering ‘Evil’ any more ‘authentic’ than the Rolling Stones doing Little Red Rooster?

I’d argue yes, but I’d have great difficulty expressing why that should be.

More on Wednesday.

PEP! Politics, Entertainment And Pthings…

I was going to leave announcing this a little longer, but the Mindless Ones have announced their new format and I didn’t want to look like I’m copying them – or indeed Alan Moore, who is also doing something similar to this…

For about a month now I’ve been planning a new colour glossy POD magazine, which I will be editing, called PEP! The first issue will, all being well, come out before Xmas, and will be a mixture of political comment, short fiction, entertainment reviews and science journalism – a similar mix of content to what you find on this site, but by a variety of writers. There was also going to be a comics section, and I actually asked the Mindless Ones to contribute to this, but since they’re doing their own thing my comics posts will probably stay on here rather than competing with their ‘zine.

Content is far from finalised, obviously, but provisional contributors to the first issue include Pillock, Alex Wilcock, Millennium Elephant, Holly, Sean Witzke and Debi Linton, as well as myself, and possible subjects include a science column, a piece on Margaret Atwood, a piece on The Waltons (possibly the same as the previous piece) and a discussion of Doctor Who continuity. Issue 1 should be out around Christmas, and will be 40 pages for $8.40 in print (I’ll probably release a free PDF version a month or so later).

In other news, my temporary writer’s block has gone, and so I’m about to start a second interlinked series of posts, a la my Hyperposts. A preliminary schedule for next week’s posting is:
Tomorrow – DARKSEID! (Authority post 1 – at the request of Pillock)
Tuesday – linkblog only as off to see Richard Herring live
Wednesday – A Hard Day’s Night full review (getting back to my Beatles posts)
Thursday – Cerebus (Authority post 2)
Friday – Smile 2004 vs Smile 1967 (Authority post 3)
Saturday – And Another Thing… (which I’m going to write about without having read it – Authority post 4)