Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Jack Kirby's The Hunger Dogs

In a guest-post on the blog Kirby Dynamics, I lamented how I was unable to read the final chapter of the New Gods - as availability of the hardcover "Fourth World Omnibus Vol 4" was either out of stock, or ridiculously priced. I had to wait until the Holidays - but I finally got my paper-back copy of the book - and I thought I'd give my opinion on the story.

The ending afterword, by Mark Evanier, nicely summed up the various controversies and struggles in getting this final chapter of Jack Kirby's New Gods to print. What struck me the most was the issue of how much time had passed. Politics which inspired certain villains had since faded, and even Jack himself had changed. I was glad to see that, despite the original planned ending - of Orion and Darkseid dying together in battle - that going with that type of ending might not have been called for, since Jack was brining back these characters - and not just so he could then kill them off.

The story had to be expanded, to allow Jack the room to fits all of his various plot lines into coherence. A lead-in story was published in a New Gods Reprint issues - titled "Even Gods Must Die". This part is really integral to the Hunger Dogs storyline - as it helps reintroduce various characters, the current climate of the war between New Genesis and Apokolips, and even the resurrection of many dead villains. (Though not as good as the originals). I think the resurrected villains was in part to allow their use in the "Super Powers" comic series - which continued the New Gods storyline, but only tangentially.

The biggest change to the war on Apokolips was a mandate to change over to murderous machines and technology - instead of warriors and visceral combat. This created unrest and resentment even among Darkseid's top soldiers - but it was for the purpose of Darkseid wanting to seize control of the entire universe. This, though, ultimately proved Darkseid's downfall - as control over the slave population waned - the citizens of Armagetto, specifically, where the so-called "Hunger Dogs" - describing how an occupied and subjugated people would never be loyal to their masters.

Orion faces off against the new machines of Apokolips - as he has come to the enemy planet to rescue a very important person. This person was the soul voice who protested against "the Pact" - which saw Orion and Scott Free traded between Highfather and Darkseid, to forge a temporary truce; Tigra - Orion's mother - is the person he seeks out.

Orion's mission, though, has been in vain - as it was Darkseid himself who spread word of Tigra's location - so an ambush could be made against Orion. It worked - Orion was shot repeated by a firing squad, and fell into a firepit. Even though he orchestrated all of this, even Darkseid doesn't believe his estranged son would fall so easily, especially if a body is not found.

Thats how "Even Gods Must Die" ended. The main storyline of the Hunger Dogs shifts between three different perspectives. Orion, who survived - having been rescued by resistance leader Himon; during his stay with Himon, Orion becomes aquatinted with Himon's daughter, Bekka.

The concealment of Orion's true face, as born from Apokolips, was dealt with nicely between Orion and Bekka. Orion has the facade Mother Box creates dropped, to show Bekka what he really looks like.

The other perspective takes place on New Genesis - where Highfather is preparing his people for the possible end. Lonar, a citizen who had taken to the wilds of New Genesis, was summoned back to the satellite city. It strikes me, considering how this all ended, that from the beginning New Genesis was depicted with a satellite city, floating above the green land of New Genesis; perhaps the ending of the Hunger Dogs isn't THAT far off from what was originally conceived.

The third plotline focuses on Darkseid, who is watching his control over his slaves and soldiers diminishing before his eyes. A new violent campaign is waged against New Genesis - as Darkseid utilizes bio-genetic weapons of mass destruction - sent over to New Genesis, to devour all the land. Devices able to destroy the entirety of a planet are sent as well - thought they are just as dangerous being on Apokolips, as they are on New Genesis.

It struck me that Darkseid's reflections and introspection seemed similar to how we all imagine Hitler lost it, in the waning days of World War II. Darkseid has to make several retreats, as well, from hoards of "Hunger Dogs", who are breaking free from the concentration camps and rebelling.

Darkseid's new technological weapons of mass destruction come from a very unlikely source - a character I imagine no one expected, let alone remembered existed. Esak, a young boy who was shown the cosmos of time and space by the enigmatic knowledge-seeker Metron. Esak appears in issue #4 of New Gods - and I believe if the series hadn't been canceled, Esak's story wouldn't have been as truncated as it is here. It was a very cool revelation, though.

Esak, apparently, had been left on Apokolips - working on the ongoing experiments Metron was known for. Metron, I imagine being above it all, apparently forgot Esak - and over the years he grew ugly and deranged. With the science of Metron at his disposal - the new weapons of mass destruction where given to and utilized by Darkseid. Esak gained a fleeting mercy, when he was dying - Orion prayed to "The Source", to heal what Esak had become -- as Apokolips was never suppose to be his home. When Esak died, his face and body where clear and normal again.

The story ends with a death-blow to both sides - as the biogenetic damage and bombs placed on New Genesis caused the entire planet to explode. This is where the Satellite nature of the New Gods' home came into play - as they where able to simply send the city into space.

Apokolips, though, was not so forward thinking - their entire planet was deeply rooted to the ground, and wreckage falling from the destroyed New Genesis hit factories which where building the planet-destroying bombs. A huge chunk of Apokolips was completely blown away -- though the planet itself survived. Orion was successful in his mission - escaping the planet with Bekka and his mother. Himon sacrificed his life to stop Darkseid from impeding them.

So there Darkseid was left, with his planet destroyed, his subjects rebelling - in short, his world was done for.

At the very tail end of the story, Metron is shown arriving with a whole planet in tow with him - possibly a replacement for New Genesis.

The questions left from this ending are many. What about the Forever People? Mister Miracle and Big Barda? They had both been given quick wrap-up endings in their original series - but their absence here felt noticeable. I did appreciate the reappearance of Esak and Lonar -- two characters, I'd imagine, Kirby was planning to use in the series, but was never able to until given a second chance with the Hunger Dogs.

The art of this chapter was excellent - showing Kirby's skill, despite his age and the the difficulty of being able to draw like he use to.

What is bad about this story, though, is the near incomprehensible dialogue of the characters. Looking back at his original New Gods issues -- they suddenly seem like Shakespeare in comparison. Kirby has never been known as being as good with dialogue as Stan Lee; but this seemed like a new level of incomprehensible reading. Ideas and concepts are conveyed - but only through mentally squinting at what Kirby is actually trying to have characters say. There is obvious meaning behind all of the dialogue - but fully understanding it is far and few between.

Still, this was a wonderful ending to Kirby's Fourth World saga. It might not have been the ending he originally envisioned - or what many fans where expecting - but I came away from it quite pleased to have been able to read it. You can just imagine the number of storylines, if New Gods had never been canceled, that would have existed, but now found life truncated into this final ending story.

There was no finality, or true conclusion to everything - but that actually sort of works for me. What I mean is, the saga of the New Gods still exists in your mind. That, I have to tell you, is the sign of an excellent story - even if it wasn't as complete an ending as originally planned.

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