I dunno — on the one hand, writer/artist Shane Davis seems to “get” Jack Kirby: his recently-released New Gods Special #1 (cover-priced $4.99, which I paid for out-of-pocket) is big, brash, bold, and battle-centric, revolving as it does around a conflict between Orion and his brother, Kalibak, who’s in the business of setting up an “Apokolips Pit” deep beneath the surface of New Genesis and the notice of its residents/protectors, the New Gods. In the worst tradition of his father, the dread Darkseid, however, he’s building his pit utilizing slave labor, and one of his “volunteers,” the ever-intrepid “Bug” known as Forager, escapes to warn the New Gods — who, for the record, have been marginalizing and abusing his people even longer than Kalibak has — that their whole world’s about to come crashing down. I guess he’s just thoughtful like that.
And this is where it starts to become apparent that on anything other than a surface or aesthetic level, Davis doesn’t “get” Kirby at all. There’s no nuance or depth to any of the proceedings in New Gods Special #1 — none of the deep and profound philosophical questions that The King Of Comics was asking with his Fourth World opus (like how can New Genesis be anything other than a deeply flawed “paradise” given that it sustains itself by means of the exploitation of “lesser” races?) are anywhere to be found, no facile nods even thrown in their direction. If you sucked all the actual meaning from Kirby’s work, and filtered it through a distinctly ’90s-Wildstorm-style artistic lens, then what you’d probably end up with is something very much like this. As a result, this comic — even though DC just published it last week — both feels and looks far more dated than any of the original Fourth World books themselves.
Which isn’t to say that Davis, inker Michelle Delecki, and superstar colorist Alex Sinclair didn’t obviously put their “all” into this comic. I contend that the visual evidence, at the very least, is proof positive that they did. It’s just that their “all” isn’t nearly enough to stand in Kirby’s shadow. This is very much an average comic book fisticuffs struggle, albeit one with some cosmic trappings, and while it passes the admittedly low bar set for “competence” by today’s “Big Two” standards, it’s thoroughly devoid of the inspiration that informed every panel that Kirby ever drew and every line he ever scripted. Tonally, Orion, Lightray, Forager, Kalibak, etc. all sound right — but minus the crucial spark of Kirby’s animating genius, none of them feel right. And while it may be inherently unfair to compare anybody to The King, the simple truth is that if you’re going to put out a comic ostensibly intended to honor his legacy, that comic should honor said legacy, rather than merely imitate it.
The legendary Walter Simonson fares somewhat better with his brief backup strip — his lavish art looks as gorgeous as ever, and while the story is also essentially a basic run-around (based on concepts he introduced in his Orion series revolving around New Genesis’ aquatic life), it’s one with at least as much substance as Davis’ much-longer main feature. It’s not a terrific story by any means, or even an especially memorable one, but it’s at least mercifully short and quite pretty to look at.
So — does New Gods Special #1 have anything going for it, then? Well, yeah, it does — buried at the very back of the book are a couple of short-but-oh-so-sweet Young Gods Of Supertown strips by Kirby himself, and while no one’s going to claim that these stories, which originally ran in the pages of The Forever People and feature the character Lonar, were essential components of the overall Fourth World arc, they fleshed out the world of New Genesis nicely and remain prime examples of excellent little adventure yarns.
In fairness, though, those stories are already available in several different reprint collections (and will be in the forthcoming Fourth World Omnibus), and hardly constitute a reason to shell out five bucks for this hollow “tribute” comic.
Story: Shane Davis Art: Shane Davis
Story: 3.0 Art: 2.0 Overall: 2.5 Recommendation: Pass