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“Darkseid Special” #1

By | August 31st, 2017
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

In celebration of what would have been the 100th birthday of Jack Kirby this past Monday, DC has been releasing some specials featuring his most enduring creations. Kirby’s former assistant and de facto Kirby biographer Mark Evanier joins Scott Kolins for a story about Darkseid, who to this day is considered one of DC’s greatest villains. Check below for the review, and look out for potential spoilers!

Cover by Chris Burnham
Written by Mark Evanier, Paul Levitz, and Jack Kirby
Penciled by Scott Kolins, Phil Hester, and Jack Kirby
Inked by Scott Kolins, Andre Parks, and Vince Colletta
Colored by Dave McCaig and Dave Stewart
Lettered by A Larger World’s Troy Peteri and Todd Klein

Mark Evanier, longtime Kirby associate and biographer (Kirby: King of Comics), tells a tale starring one of Jack’s greatest villains. The latest daring escape from the orphanage of Granny Goodness leaves an infuriated Darkseid determined to capture and punish the escapees. The Lord of Apokolips puts his best hunter on the case, but one of Granny’s students is unlike anyone he’s encountered before. Plus, an untold tale of Omac by Paul Levitz and Phil Hester. This issue also includes the stories “The All-Seeing Eye,” from TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #12, with art by Jack Kirby, and “Raid from Apokolips,” from FOREVER PEOPLE #6, written and pencilled by Jack Kirby.

Over the last 45 years, Darkseid has been established as one of the most powerful, purest forms of evil in DC’s pantheon of villains. Most of that work was done in the short-lived Fourth World books created by Jack Kirby and the few appearances closely following that where he got integrated into the larger DC universe. But most will agree that modern writers have a hard time telling a good Darkseid story. After all, for a character with his pedigree, how do you top what’s already been done? How do you continue to show how evil he is without repeating what previous creators have established?

Likely with this in mind, Evanier constructs his story not around Darkseid himself, but around a group of three Apokolips residents who wish to topple Darkseid’s regime. With this perspective, we see the effect the ruthless ruler has had on these people. They have the same nightmare every night, they wake up every day assuming it will be their last. Almost everybody lives in fear of dying, afraid to speak out or stand up for themselves, except these three. As the characters go about finding new places to hide, we further see how great Darkseid’s influence is on everyone on this world. His presence is all around, even if his actual appearances are brief for most of the issue.

In keeping the titular character offscreen for the majority of this “Darkseid Special,” his appearances have even more weight. When we do see him, he’s performing some ruthless act against a former servant, or murdering a captured resistance fighter for their disloyalty to the fighter’s own cause. Since these scenes are interspersed among those of the resistance team, we see a direct correlation between the man and his negative influence on Apokolips. At the same time, keeping the focus off Darkseid means we don’t have to deal with a slew of cruel events one after the other, which would become needlessly dark and gritty, not to mention boring.

And then there’s Kolins’s art. Highly stylized in a way that bursts with energy, he illustrates everything with a manic quality that would make Kirby proud. Every bold panel jumps off the page to clearly illustrate for the reader what is happening. Darkseid appears as a giant, hulking figure who oozes evil, and Kolins fills Apokolips with small details of destruction, making the world look as terrifying and dismal as the characters act like it is. McCaig also deserves credit for adding some nice dimension to Kolins’s work, applying fields of solid, warm color with accents that follow the lines Kolins laid out. With a world mostly composed of varying shades of dark gray and orange, it looks suitably uninhabitable.

Evanier’s dialogue keeps the spirit of Kirby alive while bringing it into the modern era. It’s definitely not the slick, conversational dialogue you see in most current comics, and that’s okay. “Darkseid Special”’s dialogue is comic-booky in the best possible way, full of hyperbole and bombast. While retaining that classic quality, Evanier also gives each of the characters a distinct voice. One character remains hopeful, another desperate, and each of the villains have a different spin on being evil.

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Levitz and Hester do some solid work on the OMAC backup. It’s a simple six-page story with a focus on action. There’s a clear story here, weaving in some of Kirby’s morality, and having Hester on art calls out the similarities between his work and Kirby’s. Hester, especially when inked by Parks as he is here, has a blocky style that’s nonetheless dynamic, pulling off these action scenes with equal amounts of grace and exhilaration. It’s a simple tale which pays great homage to the King.

There are two other backups in this “Darkseid Special”: a four-page story from the 1971 Fourth World title “Forever People,” written and drawn by Kirby, and a six-page Golden Age mystery story, also drawn by Kirby. The “Forever People” backup is an interesting inclusion in that it shows a group of young people holding their own against invaders from Apokolips, somewhat mirroring the issue’s main story. But it’s more notable for its wealth of ideas: within four pages, we see the invasion, we get introduced to two characters whose personalities are immediately apparent, we get some “thermo-bolt machines,” Boom Tubes, meditation, tree-lifting, a Western character whose hat is lined with “cosmic cartridges” that emit a “shock repelli-field,” and on and on. The man knew how to pack the maximum amount of story into whatever amount of pages he had to work with. The final backup works more to show Kirby’s themes, versatility, and potential inspiration for OMAC, as the mystery story deals with invasions of privacy based on an “eye in the sky.”

Looking at the issue as a whole, it’s like we see Kirby’s development and influence in reverse. First we get something by one of his proteges that firmly takes place in the modern comics world, then a Bronze Age writer and Kirby-influenced artist creating a story straight out of that era, then an actual Kirby story from the era, and then something from early in his career. I appreciated this structure and felt like the cumulative effect of having these stories in this order amounted to a true celebration of the man and his work.

Between the exciting, modern main feature and the variety of quality back-ups representing different eras and influence of Kirby, “Darkseid Special” is a quality read and a great 100th birthday tribute for anyone wondering why the man is so important.

Final Verdict: 8.3 – A fitting tribute to Kirby’s work and all that’s been inspired by it.

Nicholas Palmieri

Nick is a South Floridian writer of films, comics, and analyses of films and comics. Flight attendants tend to be misled by his youthful visage. You can try to decipher his out-of-context thoughts over on Twitter at @NPalmieriWrites.