Sunday, 14 October 2007

Hungry for More

One of the more interesting news stories of last week was DC’s press release about Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Volume 4, which can be found on Newsarama.

It seems that this volume will include both “Even Gods Must Die” from the Baxter paper New Gods reprint series issue 6 (1984) and a restored, 24-page version of what eventually became the graphic novel The Hunger Dogs, newly inked from Kirby’s pencils by his preferred collaborator of the 1970s and 1980s, Mike Royer.

This may prove quite a challenge. As set out in issue 6 of The Jack Kirby Collector (TwoMorrows, July 1995), the sequence of events in the mid-1980s was something like this:

• DC commissioned Jack Kirby to write and pencil a new 24-page story to conclude their new reprint of New Gods.

• DC did not like the story that Kirby gave them (call it “version 1”, though it apparently had the title “On the Road to Armagetto”), supposedly because it was too final, at a time when DC was planning to license out the New Gods as toys. They told Kirby to rework it, and at the same time commissioned a graphic novel to follow it.

• Kirby reworked “On the Road to Armagetto” and sent it to Royer, who inked and lettered it. Call this “version 2”.

• DC now changed their minds, and decided to fold “On the Road to Armagetto” into the graphic novel itself. Kirby reused 23 pages of the earlier story, but not necessarily in the original order, and built another 38 pages around them. Royer was unavailable, so the extra pages were inked by D Bruce Berry.

At the time, DC and Marvel believed that, to be respectable, graphic novels would have to follow the format of the European graphic album (much as they now believe that they can reach the manga readership with Johnny DC and Marvel Adventures if only they shrink the pages to match). Bizzarely, rather than enlarge the Kirby/Royer pages, Kirby and Berry were given the originally sized pages and told to fill in the margins to fit the new format.

The whole package was handed to Greg Theakston to colour. Theakston decided that Royer’s and Berry’s inks were incompatible, and reinked the lot as well. The resulting hodge-podge was published in 1985 as The Hunger Dogs. Call it “version 3”.

Here is the only page that I have in multiple versions: Kirby’s pencils, Royer’s inks, and the final published version. Note how the expanded area of the picture weakens the force of its composition, tips the explosion from "impressive" into "over the top", and turns a crowd into a queue. Note, too, how Royer's inks preserve the thoughtful expression on Darkseid's face, while Theakston's obliterate it.

• Meanwhile, DC still needed something to finish off the reprint New Gods issue 6, so they commissioned yet another 48-page story, “Even Gods Must Die” to fill in the gap, and to lead into The Hunger Dogs.

Which leaves a few questions.

First, which version of “On the Road to Armagetto” will DC be publishing – version 1 or version 2?

Second, “Even Gods Must Die” was written to fit with version 3. Is it compatible with version 1 or version 2?

Third, if DC are planning to publish the 24 pages of either version 1 or version 2 how will they make either fit with the rest of version 3, which will apparently also be in the Omnibus? Are we effectively seeing the creation of a version 4 for volume 4 of the 4th World?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Volume 4 will apparently also feature the entries that Kirby drew of his Fourth World characters for Who’s Who. Ironically enough, several of these are variants he redesigned for the very toy line that scuppered “On the Road to Armagetto”, and which would later form the basis of two mini-series called Super Powers which Kirby would pencil but not write, in possibly the artistic nadir of his entire career.

Super Powers is not included in the Omnibus, leaving those two series as the only stories about the New Gods that Kirby worked on not to be collected. Still, perhaps that's for the best.

Pictures and Panels
The Hunger Dogs, DC Graphic Novel number 4, 1985, cover by Jack Kirby and Greg Theakston

New Gods “On the Road to Armagetto", written and pencilled by Jack Kirby, this page first published in The Jack Kirby Collector issue 6, TwoMorrows, July 1995

New Gods “On the Road to Armagetto", written and pencilled by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by Mike Royer, this page first published in The Jack Kirby Collector issue 6, TwoMorrows, July 1995

The Hunger Dogs, DC Graphic Novel number 4, 1985, written and pencilled by Jack Kirby, inked by Mike Royer, D Bruce Berry and Greg Theakston, coloured by Greg Theakston, Bill Wray and Tony Dispoto, lettered by Mike Royer, edited by Joe Orlando

No comments: