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.