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The Death of the New Gods #1
posted November 3, 2007
 

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Creators: Jim Starlin, Matt Banning
Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 40 pages, October 2007, $3.50
Ordering Numbers:

There's a certain pleasure to reading The Death of the New Gods #1 for those of us who grew up as kids during the 1970s when creator Jim Starlin was operating at the height of his commercial and creative powers. The comic eases into its story in assured fashion, with a lot of narrative grind to its pages that the Image Revolution taught most of comics to race past, and Starlin's always been pretty adept at portraying old-school hammy superhero acting with enough of a sophisticated core that any modern ugliness they act upon seems as natural as the pages they stand around speechifying or playing cute. After reading a lot of today's breathless junk, reading this comic is sort of like watching an old hand play a part on a television show where all the younger actors kind of defer to that actor's charm and skill.

imageStarlin also brings with him a lot of his narrative and artistic peccadilloes. Starlin's speeches always seem to get stuck on a pieces of modern vernacular that jar the readers right out of the story, and I'm not certain how he does this but his scene work feel less like moments taking place amid in a reality teeming with individuals than something acted in a studio, or people playing with toys against the backdrop of a diorama (this was the singular difference from his superhero work to his Metamorphosis Odyssey serial in Epic a quarter century ago; a lot of those felt like worlds and not stage sets and I'm not sure why). The various Star Trek television shows had the same problem, but they rarely strove for epic, galactic consequence based on 18 dudes in a room somewhere. Jack Kirby's characters were so grand and powerful that you had no problem believing they'd fill up a world; here not so much. Also, about once a page, a figure will deliver his line over his shoulder as if he going to receive a $50 bonus for finding the room's surveillance camera. Starlin additionally shares with same-generation artistic star Paul Gulacy a difficulty in keeping track of the length of limbs, which extend about a foot too far in some scenes and in others make a character look suddenly far shorter in a close-up than he was when seen from far away. In fact, I never noticed this before but almost everyone is over-lean and sinewy-muscled: worlds populated by dozens upon dozens of lost Carradine brothers, with Big Barda more of a volleyball player than bodybuilder, and a few tubs of goo and hulk-like widebodies thrown in for variety's sake. It's almost comforting to see these tics, but that doesn't make them any less distracting.

So, the plot: something is killing the Jack Kirby created New Gods, and something is wrong with the universe, and we assume the problems are related. It's my understanding this extends a plot from one of those DC mini-series between the maxi-series, I'm not sure which one or ones. The fact that an action scene is a throw-in of the kind you might get in a filler issue of a superhero book circa 1978 indicates that book's driving force, like many of those recent mini-series, will be a changing status quo through character positioning rather than hammering out something new through a thrilling story. Does that make sense? Having the deaths take place off panel as they do here reinforces this feeling that all of these characters are being forced to deal with editorial edict more than having to suffer the results of a story whose conflicts are played out on the page. Nothing in The Death of the New Gods #1 feels bigger than the title or suggests a world greater than its role in DC world-positioning; in some scenes it feels like the characters are contracted players showing up to play their best-known roles before retreating back to a show on ABC Family. Even a story about gods should have some sense that the ending hasn't already been decided upon, and I don't get any of that feeling here.

In the end, the art here is almost in how one processes comic book maxi-events than in how the story takes over. The plot lines are introduced in this issues with a certain amount of classic superhero seriousness, and there's even a reference to the Forever People's involvement that might pique the interest of those who know their Fourth World comics. Still my gut feeling was to not take the whole affair seriously. The fact that the New Gods at 35 years of age feel like relatively fresh creative turf compared to all of the heroes that have in some form or another punched a Nazi makes me suspect that they won't die because there's still stuff to do with them, even if it's in New New Gods form or Post New Gods form or whatever. On the other side of it, the impression I get that this is merely one of a dozen company mandated status quo shake-ups makes it feel less serious than it should -- they wouldn't really kill off a bunch of Jack Kirby creations in service to the sixth- or seventh-place event of this half-decade, would they? It's an event comic both too big and too small to do what it promises.

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