The King and I
In the Beginning, There was Shite
By Desmond Reddick
13 February 2009 — Whether you believe that you need a PhD and an epic dose of LSD to understand Final Crisis or that Secret Invasion was a superheroic remake of Ali / Foreman, you can't deny that they are both better than many events of old. Both of the Big Two are guilty of packaging some high-grade manure and selling it to us. Often, these events are sprung from great ideas, but they're exploited and turned into something too big for editorial to handle. Thus leading to continuity fumbles, and the forcing of characters into stories in which they shouldn't be involved. Other times, they're merely cash grabs. Putting the banner of the big event book on the cover of an ancillary title is, at best, a desperate attempt to boost sales. But when they don't have the story to back it up, it leads to sour grapes. Combining elements of all of these, Genesis might just be one of the industry's worst examples of a company-wide event.
My name is Desmond Reddick and I am a Kirbyphile. In this column, I'll be breaking things down into three sections: the good, the bad and the Kirby.
Genesis was a weekly DC Comics event that ran through the month of October 1997, and crossed into 24 books, including Batman, Green Lantern, Superman and even Young Heroes in Love. The four issue limited series was written by John Byrne, penciled by Ron Wagner and inked by Joe Rubinstein.
The premise: At the beginning of time, the Godwave was sent out. It stretched throughout the universe and created pantheons of gods for each planet. When it hit the edge of the universe it bounced back and created superhumans. It then crashed into itself, and is now making a third pass which disrupts superpowers and causes — what for it — depression. Darkseid wants to wield the power of the Godwave (for reasons that are unclear) and the Apokoliptan invasion of Earth is begun (for reasons that are unclear) before Darkseid faces down the heroes of Earth and the New Gods of New Genesis at the Source Wall (for reasons that are unclear).
The good: Alan Davis drew some mean covers.
In all honesty, when you strip this series down to its core, it isn't that bad of an idea. Finding the source of things like the Green Flame and the Speed Force and tying them to one event is kind of a cool idea. But the Godwave, really?
I do like it when the Fourth World characters are given their due importance in the DC Universe, but too often it comes at the price of shitty stories. This is one of those cases. It's sad because Byrne himself was writing, drawing and inking Jack Kirby's Fourth World at the same time as this event, and though it wasn't great, it was still pretty good. (More on Byrne in a moment.)
Artist Ron Wagner had an interesting jagged take on the characters and some grasp of the New Gods, but the storytelling just wasn't there. The opening issue is literally a pastiche of several scenes that all tie together thematically, but I'm being kind calling it a pastiche; while they are thematically linked, Wagner does nothing to imply a connection. The art is flaccid in that way.
The inclusion of Joe Rubinstein on inks was a valiant attempt to bring some Kirby legacy full circle here, as he was probably the best inker Kirby ever had. Rubinstein has a gift for bringing the best out of pencils while maintaining a close eye on the artist's style, but he was a bad choice if they were expecting him to give Wagner a Kirby-ish look. Because he doesn't. He does, however, maintain a crisp edge to Wagner's sharp style which results in some decent artwork. But a good inker does not make a good story.
One of the better things I've seen in any event book is here: DC listed every title that tied into the story that week, complete with a cover image and solicitation copy. It almost made me want to buy Suberboy and the Ravers #14. Almost.
There's also a shotgun suicide in an all-ages book in 1997. That's saying something, right?
The bad: Sit down. This might take a while. Before the ludicrous plot and dubious or nonexistent motivations, this story has electric Superman. My personal mantra is as follows: if Morrison isn't one of the names involved in the story and the letters "J," "L" and "A" aren't prominently displayed on the cover, then it sucks if it has electric Superman.
Interestingly enough, Byrne is billed third in this series. I have researched and I can't find any controversial aspect to the creation of this series besides the fact that most people just plain hated it for being dumb and unnecessary. Ron Wagner and Joe Rubinstein (the art team) are given first billing over John frigging Byrne! I am not the end-all, be-all of insider knowledge, but I do know that John Byrne is not the kind of writer to allow an artist to be top-billed — unless he is also the artist.
The series really just feels like a bunch of strung-together scenes with half-interesting things going on that I'm sure tied into the ongoing series the related characters were from, but it really distracted from the actual story at hand. I don't need to see Robin, Catwoman and Huntress quoting Hitler to motivate themselves to stop a riot (yes, that happened), or the Young Heroes' powers going wonky in a locker room. (Why Young Heroes in Love crossed into this series is beyond me. Sometimes, crossing into a big event can boost sales, but when your final issue is a DC One Million tie-in, it proves that the opposite is just as common.)
Cardinal sin time: Darkseid's entire horde of generals, Female Furies and Parademons battle our heroes for two issues and it is one of the most boring things I have ever read.
Besides the ending, which we'll get to, the major problem with this series is the fact that it was without heart. There was nothing engaging in the entire series. Byrne, though a legendary creator in his own right, does not have the chops to make something so ludicrous come across as a valid story with conflict. He doesn't have the sensibility for it. Mark Millar, Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction, Joss Whedon and Grant Morrison have all proven they can write big, wild stories with heart.
The ending. Oh lordy, the ending. Despite the face-smashing that should have gone down, Darkseid faces off against the heroes and Highfather's group of New Gods in a battle of poses. Ares shows up and tries to shake things up because (for reasons that are unclear) whoever stands in the center of the incoming Godwave becomes the ultimate God of the Fifth World. Darkseid does his best to prevent this by saying, "Not likely." In the end, the heroes win because Batman shoots Darkseid. No, just kidding. The heroes win because everybody in the world prays for a resolution. Prayer. Everybody prays and POOF!, their problems are embedded in the Source Wall.
This series needed an MC Hammer soundtrack.
The Kirby: There's a mention of Kurtzberg Radiation and the New Gods show up. Joe Rubinstein appears as the inker in what could only be seen as a Kirbyism, but that was clearly the wrong choice. John Byrne's involvement in the Jack Kirby's Fourth World series is a close tie as well, but as we've seen here, this almost sullies my enjoyment of that book.
Final thoughts: Prayer! Want to know why Darkseid is so pissed off as of late? Prayer! He came back just to say, "I. Am. The. New. God." First thing he did? Gave the entire world cool metal hats. Bet your God never did that for you!