At their finest, comic books are the ultimate escapist fiction.
One of...if not the...foremost creators from this medium is Jack Kirby. Even if you don't know the name, you are likely familiar with many of his creations, such as Captain America and the Fantastic Four. Last month, I treated myself to a birthday gift and got Volume 2 of The Jack Kirby Omnibus. It's an eclectic assortment from Kirby's work at DC Comics and I was glad to find it. Why? Because I already have Volume 1? No. I actually don't. So what made me want the second volume of series over the others? I'll explain in a bit.
As I said, this is an assortment from Kirby's tenure at DC. It features the suitably weird issues of The Sandman. No, not the Neil Gaiman triumph of literature, but a series very good in its own right. And yes it is weird. Even says so on the cover of the first issue. Sandman leaps towards the reader, proclaiming "Come see what weirdies I've dreamed up for you!" Yes, Sandman is supposed to be the immortal entity of dreams, despite wearing superhero garb. He has two sidekicks named Brute and Glob who are living nightmares released from domed cells. That could be a post in and of itself.
There's a Kirby issue of Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter, symbolic of the same martial arts craze in comics that brought us Iron Fist and The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. My jaw dropped when I saw that the omnibus featured an issue of Manhunter penned and drawn by Kirby. Manhunter has always been a favorite character of mine in its many incarnations (in fact I should probably do a post focused on him one day) and to find one rendered by Kirby is just fantastic. There's even a Challengers of the Unknown story guest-starring Superman. Despite all that greatness, that's not why I wanted Volume 2 of the Omnibus. The real reason? Well, it's something of a guilty pleasure.
Two words: Super Powers.
Super Powers was a line of action figures from the mid 1980s, featuring the major, flagship characters of DC Comics. There was Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Aquaman. To promote the line, DC did a miniseries of simplistic, almost childish really, comic books. They got Jack Kirby to do it...which is a bit like getting David Cronenberg to direct your laundry detergent commercial. But the art is naturally fantastic and the story is actually quite entertaining. The heroes squared off against a combination of Superman and Batman villains augmented by newly given powers granted by Darkseid of Apokolips. This allowed Jack Kirby to bring in characters from Fourth World, that Jotunheim of nigh-omnipotent "gods" that he created and loved.
The toys sold well so that meant a second generation of figures, bringing in characters such as Green Arrow. That also meant a second comics miniseries and Kirby once more graced DC with his talents. In this series, he plays up a classic trope of comics. The heroes split up into different, smaller teams to handle specific tasks in iconic locations of the world and periods of history. In each place/era, they must combat their own set of villains from Apokolips. Trite, redundant, but damn if it isn't. I loved the two miniseries as a kid and I find I enjoy them very much today as well. More significantly, this mini series meant to promote a toy line represents Kirby's only work on the Justice League characters. That alone is worth it.
One day, I might get around to reading the other comics in the Omnibus, too.
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