Monday, November 20, 2017

Justice League (2017)

At least as far back as 1979, someone wondered what would happen if you put Christopher Reeve, Adam West, and Lynda Carter – give or take some substitutions in the lineup – together in one production. Somehow, thirty-eight years went by before we got this year's Justice League, which doesn't seem to have benefited nearly as much as it should have from all that time and all the intervening lessons as to what works and what doesn't.

One should note, without doubt, there is more than one way to approach the genre. Christian Bale's Dark Knight and Reeve's Superman, to note just two, took paths that both worked, in their way, but were completely, irreconcilably different. It is at the creator's peril that one would try to blend two different approaches in one work; as the saying goes, a camel is a racehorse designed by committee, offering so many improvements to the idea of a horse, you end up with something that can't race.

Justice League, with its six superheroes, is a six-humped camel – eight or nine if you count the Amazons, Mera, and the villain Steppenwolf. It's inherently a tough assignment, with the same number of superheroes that Marvel's Avengers tossed together in 2012, but without the advantage of so many solo movies to introduce the lineup.

Luckily, the three new additions benefit from wonderful performers. Ray Fisher is pitch perfect as Cyborg in a movie that shows only 5% of him and falls even shorter in giving him adequate lines to relate his existential crisis as a superhero who would really rather not be what he's become. Jason Momoa was essential casting to lend gravitas to the Aquaman character who, historically, battles unintended laughs as much as he does underwater villains: The genetic bulk and fury of Momoa immediately defuses the threat that Aquaman would come across as a lightweight. And Ezra Miller's Flash is so likeable, so fun, that nary a fan has complained that his Barry Allen is so from the comics' version.

Justice League takes those strong performances, along with others by returners Cavill, Gadot, and even Affleck, and a dozen or more fan-pleasing moments and puts them together in almost the worst possible way. It looks as though four or so different good Justice League movies were made and then the pieces from them placed in a salad bowl and edited together without much concern. Indeed, and sadly, something like this did happen, as original director Zack Snyder was taken off the project due to a family tragedy with Joss Whedon picking up – and pasting together – the pieces. The result corrects, to its credit, the overly dark and destructive tone of the two previous Superman (and Batman) movies in the DC Extended Universe, which were seemingly hell-bent on showing collateral damage and a world that wasn't sure that having Superman was a good thing. Justice League fixes that, and undoubtedly has some fun. Most of that fun was, unfortunately, shown to us in the form of trailers over the last year, but buyer beware when it comes to watching trailers, I suppose.

In tallying Justice League's other successes, I must compliment it on melding the Amazon and Atlantean traditions, which is a bit of sense the comics rarely touched upon. And to skip ahead to the ending, it worked for me – and I think, the franchise – to have the superficial ending that the big, bad villain is beaten simply because Superman is stronger than him. People like Superman when he is strong, and here he is, and if that's too simple an ending then Superman is too simple for you.

And some subplots pull it off. When Batman tells an intimidated Flash to save just one hostage, it gives Miller's speedster the chance to gain confidence and show us the master manipulator Batman at work. When an enraged Superman manages to track an increasingly terrified Flash, we get a perfect moment where the characters and their powers interact to make a moment powerful.

And there are elements that seem like subtle nods to past comics. I would comment how like a Lazarus Pit is Superman's revival scene, and reminiscent of the Bad Batman Clone who rose from one in Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin. The need of the villain to bring together three artifacts hearkens back, whether knowingly or accidentally, to the demons Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast who are empowered by a bell, wheel, and jar, from a JLA story way back in 1962. And the opening scene with Batman taking down a Parademon is, certainly knowingly, right out of the DCnU's premier issue of Justice League in 2011.

But here's the basic failure of Justice League: Plots and subplots work when there is a complication, a climax, and a resolution. These things need some time and investment to work for the viewer. The complication has to mean something. The resolution has to make sense. Over and over, Justice League gives us a mini-plot complete with a complication, climax, and resolution in less time than we can care about – or even understand – the situation. How does someone spend years working in the film industry without a much better sense of what is required to make a subplot pay off? It's unclear where the blame lies: screenwriter Chris Terrio (who won an Oscar for Argo), Snyder, Whedon, higher-up consultants, or some medley of all of them. Maybe too many cooks ruined the soup even though we know from Avengers that six superheroes aren’t too many for a movie.

And so, we know that Amy Adams can act the hell out of a role, but when she's given just five scenes to show Lois Lane's dark night of the soul (one each for her personal complication, climax, and resolution), there's not enough in the script for her to shine. Amber Heard looks and sounds as good as you could hope, but the rapid-fire dialogue in she and Jason Momoa serve up exposition of their characters' history and mommy issues shortchanges the matter to the point that one must ask why bother? Inescapably, I have to conclude that Justice League began with the outline of a potentially great three (or four) hour movie and the creators collectively decided to streamline, ruinously, several of the subplots while eliminating not enough of them.

And so, we have civilians who need to be rescued right before Superman deals with Steppenwolf, including a Russian family who earn more screen time than Diane Lane's Martha Kent while adding nothing but a rationale for Superman and Flash to race. And so, we have Batman knowingly insult the memory of Steve Trevor in order to shock Wonder Woman into becoming a leader in battle. And so, we have Alfred mysteriously conclude from audio alone that Batman being upset by the lack of a plan that somehow the team dynamic is working effectively. (It's not. The subsequent arrival of Superman is the only thing that prevents Steppenwolf from winning.) And so, we have Batman determined that the risk of Superman being resurrected as a monster was worth it after an entire movie was based on the premise that Batman wasn't sure if normal Superman was something we could trust. And so, the drama in many viewers' minds whether a Green Lantern would show up was executed to no payoff by showing extraterrestrial Green Lanterns during a flashback. And so, we have a villain like Steppenwolf, who lacked the slightest bit of interest in his personality.

And we have plot holes galore. Seemingly every viewer realized that Steppenwolf should have stolen the Mother Boxes before Superman came to Earth instead of waiting for his arrival and death. And that the Justice League should have guarded the Mother Box after using it to revive Superman.

If the final result of waiting thirty-eight years for a Justice League movie could come off this flawed, there was no reason for DC to wait this long – they could have squeezed Adam West and Lynda Carter into Superman III and fared little worse. But what's truly frustrating is that they didn't take a little more caution – a thirty-ninth year if it would have helped – and put all of these strong performances together to make a movie that everyone involved could be proud of.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Twin Peaks: Audrey's Return

Among the original-series characters who returned in Twin Peaks: The Return, one of the last to appear was Audrey Horne, who wasn't seen onscreen until well into the second half of the season. Despite this late reintroduction, Audrey's four scenes stood out prominently in a number of ways, being strange, then increasingly strange, and finally abruptly ending the season's second-to-last broadcast. The Audrey scenes are hard to decipher in any sensible way and because of – not "despite" – this, may be among the most important of the season.

First, I offer a quick overview of the four scenes with Audrey. More details of these scenes and related ones will follow later:

Audrey's four scenes occur near or at the end of episodes 12, 13, 15, and 16. In each of them, she interacts with only one person: her husband Charlie, who has never been seen before and does not appear in any other scenes. In the first three, they are in what appears to be their home, discussing whether or not to go to the Roadhouse to look for a man named Billy. The conversations they have are remarkably bitter and hostile, frequently nonsensical, and include the information that Audrey is having an affair with Billy. They discuss other people, including Chuck and Tina, none of whom clearly links to any characters we can otherwise identify. In their fourth scene, Audrey and Charlie appear at the Roadhouse, where the M.C. introduces a song from Season One as "Audrey's Dance." Audrey dances alone to it, then a fight breaks out, and she suddenly seems to wake up disoriented in an all-white room.

There are many oddities, as stated above, and we must almost certainly conclude that the Roadhouse scene is a memory, dream, or delusion. However, the first three Audrey scenes also contain remarkable inconsistencies that make their reality suspect as well:

• Audrey and Charlie's conversation remains on a single topic, going in circles, while multiple days pass for the other characters in the show. Much is made of putting jackets on or not, and in the transitions between them, jackets are suddenly on or off, while all of the other clothing remains the same. It is hard to explain those scenes as taking place consecutively or on different days.

• The dialogue is very strange in tone and emotion. Charlie seems minimally hurt when Audrey makes exceptionally cruel comments. She seems like a young girl speaking with false confidence about things like contracts as though she is pretending to understand them. She is very aggressive in the first and third scenes, but whimpers defensively in the second.

• The dialogue is frequently illogical on a factual level. Charlie claims that they can't look for Billy because there is a New Moon. This is not only irrelevant to looking for someone indoors, but contradicted by a shot showing a crescent Moon. The third scene begins with Audrey saying almost exactly what she said to begin the first scene. Audrey says that they have already looked everywhere else for Billy, which certainly can't be true (e.g., he could be in another state). Charlie protests that he is too sleepy to look for Billy. Audrey sarcastically asks if Charlie has a crystal ball, and he answers her literally, not understanding the sarcasm. (Remarkably, he says that he does not have a crystal ball, but there is a crystal ball right there on his desk.) Audrey suddenly asks if "this" is Ghostwood. Charlie threatens to end Audrey's story "too." Audrey asks what story that is if it's "the story of the little girl who lives down the lane."

• Audrey's hair is quite different in the final "wake up." If her hair looks like that now, the scenes with Charlie are probably not happening close to the current time, if they ever happen(ed) at all.

• There are numerous references to someone being an unreliable narrator. Audrey says that she has details about Billy from her dream in which he is injured. Charlie suggests that Audrey is on "drugs." Audrey says that she's seeing Charlie as though he's a "different person" and doesn't feel like she is herself.

Suffice it to say, the first three scenes, no less than the Roadhouse scene, are difficult to explain as a real interaction between two married people, and we should suspect that all four of the scenes are unreal, with the final "wake up" showing Audrey's actual situation, which seems to be an institution.

We may also note that in several of Lynch's films since Twin Peaks last aired, main characters dream or imagine their lives to be very different than they are, and the viewers are shown extended scenes that are part of a delusional reality; the viewer, like the characters, face the challenge of realizing what is real and what was the delusion. This pattern holds true in Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. There is also a prominent scene in which Gordon Cole says that in one of his dreams, he is told by Monica Bellucci that their lives are like a dream, but, the question is, who is the dreamer?

It is easy enough to adopt an interpretation, then, that Audrey is institutionalized and her vision of a very unhappy marriage with Charlie and a missing lover named Billy is just a delusion, and that the third scene repeats dialogue from the first because she repeats different versions of the delusion on multiple nights. We may also imagine that she has "Audrey's dance" in her dream because the original version of that scene, from 1990, was stirringly memorable, helping to give Sherilyn Fenn national fame and status as a sex symbol, and this is something that older Audrey may remember fondly as the best moment for her younger self. But then, the fantasy goes wrong and she wakes up. This explains the four scenes adequately.

However, that explanation doesn't go quite far enough. Audrey's scenes can't be merely her internal delusion because other scenes during the season echo things from the four scenes with Charlie. This is most obvious concerning a scene in episode 14, in which young women named Megan and Sophie discuss a group of people with names and biographical details matching the people in Audrey and Charlie's scenes. To be specific, there is a Billy who is bleeding profusely from the nose and mouth, and a Tina and another man who, in Audrey and Charlie's telling, is named Chuck. The last detail provided is when Sophie asks the name of Megan's mother, and Megan answers portentously that her name is Tina, and both characters pause strangely in response to this. It should be noted that this scene occurs in the approximate time slot of the fourteenth episode that Charlie and Audrey's scenes occur in the two episodes before and two episodes after, with the time slot as well as the character names suggesting that this scene is part of the Audrey-verse. They also mention a "nut house," which could match the appearance of Audrey's actual location. So perhaps this fifth scene is also part of Audrey's delusion.

But this, too, doesn't go far enough. Episode 7 ends with a man rushing into the RR Diner and asking for Billy. The music accompanying this scene is the 1959 instrumental song, "Sleep Walk." Perhaps this, too, is a hint that this scene, and all the Audrey scenes, are a dream.

We might, alternately, conclude that the Sophie-Megan scene as well as the "Billy" scene are real and that Audrey, inside the institution, has somehow gathered details of the real world because Megan is, as Sophie suggests, spending time inside a "nut house" and could spread gossip that Audrey hears.

And yet this still doesn't go far enough. There is a fight in the Roadhouse involving a Chuck and this fight leads to Freddie punching someone, and possibly inducing a bleeding nose and mouth. There is also a drunk who is bleeding profusely from his nose and mouth in a jail cell, where he mockingly repeats everything he hears. Moreover, both Audrey and The Arm in the spirit world use the same curious phrase "Story of the little girl who lives down the lane." The Arm says this in Episode 18, after Audrey has said the phrase. Now we require one of several exceptional explanations:

• Audrey is dreaming as much as is needed to explain all of the connections.

• Audrey is dreaming everything. Maybe no part of this season "really" takes place and Audrey is "the dreamer" of every moment of every episode. Note that the bleeding man in the jail cell is present when Andy says that he needs to take everyone upstairs, but is not present when they arrive upstairs. If that very important scene is part of Audrey's dream, it's hard to draw a boundary around her dream and everything else. And if she knows there's a Bad Cooper, then maybe even the second and/or first season of Twin Peaks is a dream, too.

• There is a real world, a spirit world, as well as Audrey's delusion, and something or someone is communicating between all of them.

• The similarities between Audrey's dream and the real world exist but are simply unexplained. In the Twin Peaks reality, we've seen this before. In particular, recall that when Leo was shot, there was also a similar shooting on Invitation to Love. And remember when inhabiting spirits MIKE and BOB's names mirrored high school Mike and Bobby. Probably quite close to why the word "Twin" is in the title, Twin Peaks shows things that align in ways that almost make sense, but not quite.

• Maybe the Audrey scenes work on a metalevel. Note that Charlie threatens to end Audrey's story ("too") and one episode later, the series does indeed end Audrey's story! This isn't explainable as a meaningful connection if she is having a delusion and then her life goes on as before. It would mean that the Twin Peaks show as a piece of fiction is an object within the Audrey-verse. We may further wonder, then, if Charlie is a stand-in for the creative forces on the show, perhaps for David Lynch himself. This would be the first instance, then, of the show breaking the fourth wall and making Audrey not the dreamer of part/all of the show, but as a fictional character aware (even if deleriously so) of her fictional nature.

If the final possibility is indeed true, and the Audrey scenes work on a metalevel, then there is added significance to the two uses of the phrase, "story of the little girl who lives down the lane." This opens the discussion wider to a consideration of what the phrase means in Episode 18, and to what Episodes 17 and 18 mean overall… Here, I will conclude the portion of the discussion that focuses on Audrey and take up the topic again in another post. Suffice it to say, the scenes with Audrey seem deeply significant, far more than those of other characters and may encompass what the show's entire story in fact is.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Kirby's Fourth World

A hundred years ago this week, Jack Kirby was born; it is striking to observe the medium of superhero comics begin to approach its own century mark, something that Kirby and his contemporaries brought about in their early adulthood. In an earlier post, I discussed Kirby's first work at DC, taking over the existing Jimmy Olsen title. Here, I break down Kirby's three original titles that presented his Fourth World.

Kirby's Fourth World work is a case study in extremes. Kirby came to DC from Marvel with a gigantic reputation and a new vision to match. DC practically could not debut his new work fast enough; he was first given control of the poorly selling Jimmy Olsen title. Kirby's ideas expanded in the three new titles he was allowed to launch: Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle. In the span of his first few months (and issues), he introduced numerous characters who have been, individually and collectively, among the most enduring in DC's history. This is a remarkable achievement, and one that virtually no other creator has approached or matched.

And yet, this splendid body of work failed to thrive. The original work itself is not widely read / republished proportional to its creative power, and in its own time was not embraced. None of Kirby's three original titles caught on and two were cancelled before reaching their twelfth issue – an ignominious sign that would normally be interpreted as failure. There is some controversy regarding the reasons for this, whether it was outright disappointing sales, unrealistic expectations, or something else, but amid the brilliance and creativity there is a scattered, unhinged nature to the work itself that asks a lot of the reader's attention. Kirby's original Fourth World work has many qualities of a cult work – adored by a few devotees, but not loved or even liked very much by the masses.

The central fact of the Fourth World is an almost perfect division into two parts, one good and one evil. Two worlds exist opposite one another in both physical space and morality. The good world, New Genesis, is named after a beginning and the first book of the Bible. The evil world, Apokolips, is named after the last book of the Bible (alongside the more popular name in English, "Revelation," are alternate names involving the word "Apocalypse"). Those books, in turn, are not the beginning and end in terms of mere page order, but in terms of a narration of the human race itself, describing its origin and its annihilation. These names alone say a great deal about the Fourth World – the strict binary division, generous inspiration from classical and Judeo-Christian culture, and religious overtones.

Kirby's three new titles, while centered on different characters, also offered different kinds of dynamics. The Forever People acted as one unit, very much like Kirby's jovial, wonderous Hairies from Jimmy Olsen, and though they had distinctive names and appearance, they didn't have much characterization to distinguish one from the other. Fittingly, they were capable of unifying physically into one, nigh-unbeatable hero (though the metaphysical explanation was that they simply switched places with the Infinity Man rather than became him). This was a fitting tribute to the Youth Movement of the time, with a group of individuals becoming more powerful when they acted together. The Forever People's time on Earth memorably began with a guest-starring role by Superman in which his yearning to know other super-people was so evocative that the story earned a place in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told.

New Gods centered on Orion, who went to Earth and formed a small squadron of ordinary people to aid him in his battle against the forces of Apokolips. Subtle hints from the beginning led up to a dramatic and brilliant revelation in flashback that a secret pact between Izaya and Darkseid had them exchange their young sons so that neither of them could tolerate what would otherwise be an all-encompassing destructive war between them.

Among Kirby's Fourth World titles, Mister Miracle was the only one to last more than 11 issues, but it too was short-lived, ending after issue #18. Scott Free, the son of Highfather and raised by Darkseid in the trade with Orion, lives a heroic life on Earth, alternately performing as an escape artist and fighting for his life against various plots launched from his home world of Apokolips. Along the way, he befriends Oberon and begins a romance with Big Barda. Maybe this title outlived the others because Mister Miracle more closely resembled a conventional DC superhero. Maybe it's because he really was the greatest escape artist.

Not long after Kirby's titles were canceled, his Fourth World creations resurfaced in other writers' work, in memorable Justice League and Legion of Super-Heroes stories, a revival series penned by Gerry Conway, a key role in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and many times thereafter, including various animated features, Cosmic Odyssey, the post-Byrne Superman titles, Grant Morrison's mid-2000s work including Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis, the New 52, and soon enough in the upcoming Justice League movie.

Despite the conceptual symmetry, the Fourth World's good and evil beings have endured in different ways. Kirby's three titles were all named for good characters – the Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle – but the most compelling creation of this work is Darkseid, the central evil character. Generally speaking, Darkseid looms large in each title, sending different underlings in various plotlines to menace good people on Earth who are associated with the good New Gods. The overall effect is a stalemate, with the good characters winning almost all of the battles, which serves to neutralize one evil plan after another. In this regard, Fourth World stories are not unlike prototypical superhero comics.

The Fourth World came to belong to DC for contractual reasons, but it easily could have been Marvel's or even some other company's had one business relationship or another turned out differently. Creatively, the Fourth World wasn't very well tailored to fit into the DC Universe. The neo-mythological realm of the New Gods didn't span a Multiverse so much as it endlessly involved plots on Earth (which usually means the United States). Like the deities of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, the New Gods have a privileged relationship with Earth and it is little explained why, in a DC universe with countless civilized worlds, the New Gods are so transfixed with Earth as opposed to Rann, Thanagar, Oa, Daxam, etc. But obsessed with Earth they are. Darkseid has agents at work on Earth, searching for the Anti-Life Equation, but also doing evil for its own sake. Numerous members of the New Gods migrate to Earth and still others are shamelessly obsessed with its culture – cowboy movies, Prussian militarism, the Italian Renaissance, and more. Pragmatically speaking, the characters are obviously intrigued by these things because Kirby was intrigued by them, and they don't cite Thanagarian culture because it never existed. Later writers build on Kirby's slight hints that Earth is a particularly important planet as when Grant Morrison developed the plot line by which the Fourth World came to an end and the Fifth World began on Earth – a suitable backstory explaining their obsession with that one planet out of billions. And so, the New Gods – good and evil ones alike – readily obsess over terrestrial culture and the narrative is richer for it.

Kirby created a new mythology, with the various royal families and their followers engaged in a neverending war akin to similar epics in Greek, Roman, and Norse mythologies as well as the Bible, and akin in other respects to historical struggles between royal families. Darkseid and his following is explicitly patterned on Hitler and the Nazis. Kirby also choose names that pun so bluntly that one must wonder why characters in the story don't give pause frequently to point out the heavy-handed reference to inspirations such as "dark side" and apocalypse, Isaiah and Genesis, the Marquis de Sade, and unapologetic references to figures of speech and Earth culture such as the constellation Orion, the distinctly British phrase "scot-free," the Greek letter omega, and perhaps the biggest groaner of a pun of all – an evil team of underwater beings called the Deep Six. The "Fourth World" is an evocative phrase, inspiring curiosity as to what went before, not only the old gods before this generation but – apparently – two other generations before that; Kirby chose the name by extending the then-common term "Third World" to suggest that his inventions transcend reality in uncanny ways.

However much Kirby provided a big vision that spanned his four titles, the most apparent motif in his work is his wild inventiveness. Virtually every issue contains at least one new character who is weird and worth revisiting. The Fourth World concept allows Kirby to pile up great heaps of science fiction, technology, myth, magic, and mystery in his new characters. He is equally inventive in creating vehicles, disembodied concepts like the Anti-Life Equation and Omega Effect, making almost every issue entertaining to the point of disorienting the reader with a lack of certainty regarding what might happen next.

As an example of this, one Kirby trait is to end an issue with a cliffhanger, usually in the form of expository dialogue by a character in the story or expository text in a caption. But not all cliffhangers are equal. The typical cliffhanger in the 1966 Batman television series showed Batman and Robin in some elaborate death trap, from which they inevitably escaped at the beginning of the next episode. This plot device is notoriously formulaic, and is found even in many of the better comics and other forms of serial storytelling. Kirby's cliffhangers were different, often creating a threat whose true nature was unknown and even unguessable. Darkseid himself was created as such a cliffhanger, which hints at the magnitude and richness of Kirby's inventiveness.

What does Orion face? It has destroyed a god–and threatens the entire Earth! Don't miss SPAWN

What kind of world is it–that spawns gods of evil and lesser beings with horribly hostile hang-ups!!!?? You've seen some of its nasty products!! Now, come along with Scott Free and Big Barda!!–And take a fearful glimpse of– THE APOKOLIPS TRAP!!

It is Desaad's own little domain on Earth–A pilot project of purgatory–where torment is conputer–death is controlled–and escape impossible! Don't miss–Kingdom of the DAMNED!

Besides promising, and delivering, unguessable surprises, cliffhangers show another distinctive Kirby trait: unbridled, and shamelessly promotional hyperbole. Religious overtones and vocabulary of death and destriction permeate the text. Throughout the text of his stories, hyperbole is piled on top of hyperbole, and if I were to offer a fond parody, it would go something like:

To even attempt to imagine surviving the futility of meeting someone who would dare merely to contemplate speaking the name of Darkseid is sheer folly!

Of course, these words have to be backed up action, and Kirby no less than any comic creator offers scenes and entire issues packed with almost incomprehensible kinetic smorgasbords of punches, ray gun blasts, explosions, tumbles, and all sort of superpowers emanating from the hands, eyes, and minds of his characters. The human characters were no less bold, as one issue was devoted to the reckless heroism of normal human cop Dan "Terrible" Turpin going up against malefactors from Apokolips.

This disorienting quality is probably what made his work a cult classic – readers used to the more typically formulaic stories in other superhero titles probably found less of the strident heroism and more need to follow plot details than they were used to, and it would take an older reader to appreciate some of the cultural subtext, while the black-and-white morality of the concept offered less subtlety that such readers might enjoy. The Fourth World was for a particular kind of reader and those readers seemed not to be very numerous.

My comic-reading life began just months after Kirby's titles ceased publication. A few years later, I picked up the revival of New Gods scripted by Gerry Conway and found it memorably unsuited to my tastes. I wasn't aware then of what I see now, that this was the result of a new creative team trying to fill in for a master of his craft. Conway was a very good writer; he produced some of the best parts of the JLA Satellite Era, but DC's star superheroes have been the subjects of good stories from countless different writers. Kirby's work was different, and what makes it stand out is his distinctive style, not the greateness of his characters and his inventions. Many years later, as Final Crisis loomed, I went back and read Kirby's original Fourth World works for the first time, to understand better the villains at the heart of that story. Rarely have I felt so appreciative of the quality and originality of older material, and I now regard it a bit audacious for later writers to use Kirby's characters, because the difference between his handling of them and theirs is so readily apparent. And so, on the hundredth anniversary of Kirby's birth, I bid the great King Kirby a "thank you" from back down here on Earth.