Saturday, 20 September 2008

Beware -- Cosmic Architect At Work!

The Eternals #1-2
('The Day of The Gods' and 'The Celestials')

Written and drawn by Jack Kirby; Inked by John Verpoorten; Lettered by Gaspar and John Costanza; Coloured by Glynis Wein; Consulting Editor - Marv Woolfman

If you're the kind of person who comes to Jack Kirby comics looking for an abundance of bizarre, reality-defying designs, The Eternals is exactly the comic you're looking for. The first four pages of the series are full of monolithic sci-fi images and very little else, or "outer space technology translated in terms of mythology", as one character puts it. And man does Kirby ever want you to notice how big it all is.

This highlights a potential problem with this series -- there are huge blocks of clumsy exposition strewn across a series of almost abstract vistas, and the personalities involved aren't as instantly well-defined and compelling as those in, say, Kirby's Fourth World comics. But you know what? I love The Eternals, and I love the first two issues precisely because they're so unrelentingly cosmic.

These issues almost reads like a remake of Kirby's first Galactus story in the Fantastic Four, minus Stan Lee's contributions. Which is to say that instead of being a sci-fi soap opera that goes cosmic, it's a monumental and godlike story in which a couple of tiny human figures stop by to shout at the architecture. That description might sound dismissive, but it's certainly not supposed to be -- indeed, I think that this form if perfect for the (thoroughly inhuman) story Kirby's telling! Now, while we're enthusing over Kirby's unknowable grandeur, let's not dismiss his collaborations with Lee either. There's definitely something to be said for the interplay between Lee's chatty, humanised dialogue and Kirby's wonderfully inhuman Galactus, but that's not what I want to focus on today.
Instead, what I want to focus on is this:

Brilliant, ain't it? You've really got to physically see it as a two page spread to get the full impact, but this image gives you the general idea, in the same way that a hissy live recording kinda lets you know how a band sounds live. Those chunky lines that can only really be described as being "Kirby-esque"... the way they zig-zag their way into a series of unlikely shapes, harsh angles that block out the exact point where genre work becomes hyper-personal self-expression... yeah, this is the good stuff. Of course, as Zadie Smith once said, if you want to express yourself you can always go outside and ring a bell. So what else is going on here? What's Kirby actually achieving by drawing in a style that's so thoroughly his own? Quite simply he's making all of this sci-fi sturm and drang seem new again. Specifics of character and plot will become more important as the series continues, but here Kirby seems content to make sure basic set-up announces itself as powerfully as possible. That set-up in brief: alien gods came to Earth and influenced the creation of three forms of life -- the unchanging Eternals, the ever-evolving villainous Deviants, and (of course) those frisky inbetweeners in the human race.
Or, to prove that old cliche about pictures being worth many words:

And what does Kirby want to do with this premise? Well, he brings back the gods (the Celestials) with a view to having them judge the whole damn. How's that going to sustain an ongoing (if never properly resolved!) comic book series? Wait and see, true believer. For now, with these first two issues, all you can really be sure of is that the whole thing scary and exiting and totally beyond our ken. Which is to say that it is ridiculously, unquestionably, Kirby-esque.

Oh, yeah:


And did I mention that it's huge?
These comics are like a doorway into some of the world's biggest, most unweildy, mega-structures. All the madness Grant Morrison summons up through harsh cuts, unlikely juxtapositions and wordy weirdness? Man has to leave so many notes cos he only draws the blueprints. Kirby? Now there was a dude who could build these bizarre constructs with his own hands.

1 comment:

plok said...

Yup!

...Uh, I think I'll have more to say shortly...