Posted by: Abhay Khosla on June 30, 2011
KIRBY: GENESIS #1, by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Jack Herbert, Vinicius Andrade, Simon Bowland, with characters created by Jack Kirby, published by Dynamite Comics.
This was just an impulse buy for me. I think there was a #0 issue before it, but I didn’t buy that. I don’t really know what the deal is with this series– I didn’t read any interviews or promotional materials for it; I kinda knew that the pitch was “Kurt Busiek writing about unused Jack Kirby characters“, but that was much as I knew– or heck, still know. I haven’t even listened to the new WAIT, HELLO– IS IT ME YOU’RE LOOKING FOR? podcast where it’s apparently discussed.
I just remember liking a comic with that same “Busiek writes Unused Kirby” premise that he and Keith Giffen had done for Topps’s Kirbyverse, called VICTORY. Do you remember the Kirbyverse crossover VICTORY? It’s understandable if you don’t. Only one issue came out, with a cover date of June 1994.
(Tangent– The Topps Kirbyverse was one of a dozen “superhero universes” launched a week after the success of Image and Valiant, and a week before the entire market went completely to shit. The Topps Kirbyverse, the Milestone universe, Dark Horse’s Comics Greatest World, the Malibu Ultraverse, Bart Sears’s Brutes & Babes-verse, the Quesada-Palmiotti ASH-verse, the second (and better!) Fabian Nicieza-edited Valiant universe i.e. the Birthquake-verse; there was one “universe” that I always wonder if I made up, that I can’t find any hint of on google, where all the superheros got their powers from a lottery…? There were more superhero universes launched in the 90’s than human memory can hold.
Everyone who works in comics now is hellbent on bringing the 90’s back– crossovers, title gluts, gimmick character deaths, gimmick costume changes. But who will stand up and say “I shall be the hero who brings the Brutes & Babes-verse back to comics.” I feel like when that person rises up from our midst, it’s going to be a lot like the final chapter of Frank Herbert’s DUNE.)
Having not read the promotional materials, I don’t know if VICTORY and KIRBY: GENESIS are linked in any way– though there is this Busiek quote from the Wikipedia entry on the Topps series: “Victory was a crossover, bringing together all the established Kirbyverse characters and reintroducing Captain Victory.” Consistent therewith, KIRBY: GENESIS #1 flashes an array of Jack Kirby characters, 99% of whom I didn’t recognize, until finally concluding with the reintroduction of CAPTAIN VICTORY.
I don’t remember anything about VICTORY other than (a) Keith Giffen drew it in that 90’s style of his– the cool PUNX one (Birthquake-verse forever, you guys!) not the less “commercial” TRENCHER one– and (b)(1) that I liked it and (b)(2) that I was super-bummed there was never an issue #2. That is everything that I remember.
Besides the appeal that this may be a book that’s been marinating in some cobwebbed node of Busiek’s brain for the last 17 years, and the curiosity factor that has, here’s what my experience of KIRBY: GENESIS was like:
1) As the comic began, I despised it. I hated the main character. I hated the world the comic was set in. I hated what I perceived it was telling its audience. I hated the storytelling. I thought it was just terrible.
2) As the comic ended, I was totally entertained, and totally on board for more.
I guess how I explain that is that I ultimately enjoyed KIRBY GENESIS because I was receptive to how its structure played to my conservatism. Because it starts with everything I hate about Modern Comics, but as it proceeds, all of that hateful shit gets pushed aside as the better, more colorful, more fun Comics of an Earlier Era invade that awful reality. I like to think this was intentional, maybe even obvious— again, I haven’t done any “due diligence” so maybe this is something about the comic everyone already knows and is taking for granted… But take a look at those first 6 pages:
(1) I spent a long time staring at the main character and asking myself, “Is that supposed to look like Jay Baruschel on purpose?” (Note: Jay Baruschel is an actor from She’s Out of My League, Undeclared, and Knocked Up). This is why I can’t stand most of the “big-name” artists in comics right now– there is nothing about photo-referenced actors in comics that I don’t loathe. I’m sure someday a comic critic will rise that will set forth a sterilng essay defending this practice– but that essay will probably be like Frank Herbert’s GOD EMPORER OF DUNE, in that I will never read it out of total disinterest.
(2) I spent a long time staring at page 3 of KIRBY: GENESIS which featured a lift from the SCOTT PILGRIM comics. I love SCOTT PILGRIM but seeing anything reminiscent of SCOTT PILGRIM in anyone else’s comics, especially anyone older than Bryan O’Malley is… not a good feeling that I want to describe to you using words instead of drawings of frowny faces.
(3) Jay Baruschel breaks the fourth wall to addresses the reader and tell them what a fucking loser he is. Despite being a loser, there’s a female character who loves spending time with him…? I’ve become very suspicious of this kind of material– no other word for it than suspicious. I just spent the first six pages of this comic suspicious that it was presenting this very noxious idea that pretending to be a pretty girl’s “best friend” so that a relationship can somehow be perpetrated onto the poor girl is something that decent guys do, instead of assholes. Internet commentators refer to this move as the “Nice Guy” move and they are not kind about it; see, e.g., XKCD’s depiction of the Nice Guy. Modern comics… I want to say that I can think of recent comics that communicated dull “this hero is a nerd just like you, dear fans” messages in a way that struck me as being pandering. I want to say those exist. But maybe the comics I’m thinking of are like Frank Herbert’s BONER VIXENS OF DUNE, in that they regrettably don’t actually exist outside of my imagination. (Oh shit, man, that’s entirely possible — no specific examples are coming to mind tonight, at least…)
(4) The caption boxes are filled with dull nonsense about school slogans. At the end of the six pages, even the caption boxes are sick of themselves– quote: “I’m sorry, am I babbling? I’m babbling. I do that when I don’t know what to say.”
And (5) NOTHING cool happens for the first 6 pages. Nothing cool at all.
(Tangent– Oh wait, I almost forgot– the 90’s also had the Tangent Universe, if you want to count that one, an “experiment” by DC in giving brand new characters the same names as old, iconic characters, none of which caught on. There’s an analogy lurking here to be made, but … ).
Those first six pages of KIRBY GENESIS are a laundry list of things I am most snide about in Big Two comics right now. Until… until the Kirby characters show up. Then, all that shit stops, and the comic turns into a blast. Because it’s a COMIC BOOK again. Suddenly, there’s no time for Jay Baruschel and his shitty life because some lady is screaming out “You’re in the presence of a Galaxy Green Apprehension Squad.” Yay! And the lady from the Galaxy Green Apprehension Squad doesn’t look like Pam Grier— she looks like a fucking comic book character instead! Yay! No more attempts at pretending to be hip and young just by doing nothing else but imitating SCOTT PILGRIM. Yay! There are still caption boxes but now they have things like “An unknown codex, found in a viking treasure hoard on the Orkney Islands in 1914” in them. Proper comic book bullshit! Yay! Old comics values save us from shitty modern comic storytelling! Yay!!!
I like that the theme is there, on a “tickles the brain” level, though I guess I’m a little embarrassed that I enjoyed it so much, that I was so receptive to it. What I’m describing is too conservative to get much glee out of without any hesitation. The Vaunted Past vs. the Decayed Present is a manipulative meme worth being suspicious of. And… I, uh— I got a little older the other day, and I’ve been… I’ve been anxious about my advancing years lately. Like– just anxious. It’s a silly thing to be anxious about because… It’s not like I have any say, or any control over the whole aging matter. I mean, I’d greatly prefer to say that I try to subscribe philosophically to a “time is an illusion of the senses” philosophy– I think that’d sound way, way cooler than, you know, being anxious about arbitrary dates on calendars invented by people I’ve never met. But nevertheless, the whole time / aging “thing” has been weighing on me, I guess, even though… Even though I think I’m having a good year actually, knock on wood. It’s just– age and time, you know? What a motherfucker that shit is, huh? I guess this review is kind of about that actually because “old styles triumph over new styles” isn’t a theme I’d probably have been okay with trumpeting before, and so it kinda bothers me that I am now and… And yeah, this paragraph’s not one I intended when we started this dance; just started rolling downhill here, guys, but… But shit, 17 years between VICTORY and GENESIS so it was probably going to come up… 17 years, dude…
There’s other reasons to like the comic, though: (1) Jack Kirby sure could make up a character, that fucking guy. KIRBY: GENESIS doesn’t seem to include Skanner or Alexander the Greatest, nor the CAMAFLOUGE CORPS. Not yet, at least, though fingers crossed. None of the characters go to Jack Kirby’s SCIENCE FICTION LAND, the theme park Kirby designed to help free hostages in the Iran Hostage Crisis. There’s a lot a person might hope to see in future issues, with the comic.
If this comic ends with HIDDEN HARRY murdering Jay Baruschel, there will be NO END to our celebrations, you and I. Consult the final chapters of Frank Herbert’s KEY PARTIES OF DUNE, to find out what I have in mind.
And of course, (2) if Busiek & co. reminding people about Kirby could also somehow remind them of what was essential about Jack Kirby, remind them how this type of comic is always going to be at its best when filled with people spitting out as many bullshit ideas as they’ve got in them, if it can remind them not just of the surface of his life’s work but the lessons of it as well, well, hell— maybe that’d be another debt we’d all owe, another debt to the guy we’d never repay.