From up here, maybe we can see what we’ve been talking about this whole time. A world that, from up here, looks like Jack Kirby’s Ego The Living Planet, but instead of its face being a wizened old man, it does of course strongly resemble the robot head of Jack Kirby.
Our parachute opens, billowing, capturing the air of comics and slowly bringing us back to this strange earth. From up here, we get the overview, and descend and decelerate into the details.
From up here, you can only see the geographical details of Jack Kirby’s face. There’s no sense of what weather cut those features into the topography, those lines and trenches and pits.
Since I began writing this, other comics creators have come to me with stories of Jack. Jack the angry man, Jack the wall-puncher, Jack the bitter man, Jack the betrayed. Jack the furious, who never raised a hand to anyone but never left any building he resided in without the pockmark of fist-shaped holes, they say. He was all these things, people tell me. And there’s the thing that is mentioned without being mentioned, if you see what I mean: Jack the killer. When we write that Jack went to war, and Jack was in the field of combat, what we mean is that Jack took a gun and killed people he didn’t know. We make it a small thing, a historical footnote. Particularly us, me, my generation and the generations around mine who’ve lived in what we call “peacetime.” We’ve never been conscripted, we’ve never had to fight a war, particularly not a world war against an evil we have since defused through parody, an enemy safely consigned to a past by defeat and death.
My grandad, my mother’s father, would never talk about the war. Neither would my nan, his wife. Their marriage was forty years of painful, bruised, borderline tolerance. My dad once told me that Nan had said to him, just the once, that Grandad hadn’t come back from the war the same man who left for it. His was one of those cliched changes that becomes a cliche precisely because it’s true so often. Even I, as a kid, could see a fundamental difference between the innocent-eyed, open-faced man of his wedding photo with the gimlet-eyed man in the spiv’s fur coat who I grew up with. And loved. Crazy bitter lying bastard though he was. He wasn’t the same man. He had killed.
And so had Jack Kirby. He had killed the soldiers of a foe that we now forget was this vast and surreal thing. Even their flags were the size of office buildings, and bore only an alien-looking, jagged black symbol upon them. It’s worth watching Leni Riefenstahl’s TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, to grasp exactly how strange Nazi Germany was. My daughter’s great-Nana was German, and she’d speak sometimes of those days in Germany, when Hitler arriving in your German town was the cause of utter hysteria, people losing control to the extent of pissing themselves or (also recalled by sf writer Algis Budrys, who also worked on the comics magazine HELP!) having seizures and literally shitting themselves.
Just from the single sheer presence of a man built up by art as much as politics: a man whose very appearance caused body-wrenching awe and fear, this ultimate villain, this enemy of life who had no compunction about stamping out Jacob Kurtzberg’s life along with that of his entire race.
Someone said to me, during the writing of this book, how does Jack Kirby go from the kid from the Lower East Side — and here’s Kirby –
“It was on the lower east side of New York, and what I mean by active is that anything could happen. There was usually a fight – some guy would come up from the next block and you would fight. If you knocked him out, you and the guys would lay him out near his mother’s door and vice versa. There were a lot of street fights, but we never used weapons of any kind, just our fists.”
– how does Jack Kirby go from the kid from the Lower East Side to the guy who moved inexorably towards drawing nothing but angels and gods?
And yet, here’s Kirby’s Fourth World, featuring Orion, whose ordinary placid human face is a facade of technology hiding a shorter, stockier man who is nothing but fury, an angry man who can kill. And whose ultimate villain, the enemy of life, the actual Dark Side of humanity is a figure of awe and religious terror. The key Fourth World story is “The Glory Boat,” from NEW GODS. It is, in Kirby’s typically blunt, slightly clumsy and off-kilter way as a writer, a rumination on the concepts of heroism, pacifism and sacrifice. It is perhaps notable that someone therein dies as a faceless soldier.
Jack Kirby wrote about angels and gods and vast machines because, from the parachute view from up here and from the view down there in the trenches, it was the only way to make sense of the vast and towering and terrible things that surrounded him.
Check this artist’s story out. He could seriously use some attention from, say, arts reporters or journalists interested in abuse of the legal system. Allegedly. For instance. Yes.
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DO ANYTHING IS © WARREN ELLIS 2009, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.