Darkseid: Call For Papers

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Geoff Klock’s blog these days: where it has recently been said that the JLA Animated Darkseid is a streamlined and modernized version of Kirby’s Darkseid.

I said, over there: Kirby’s Darkseid seems to me extremely “modern”. So how to modernize the modern? I wanted to say: Kirby’s Darkseid seems to me modern as hell, in fact far more “modern” than just some interchangeable idea of a generic “Big Bad”.

Because Kirby’s Darkseid to me has a personality that I find by turns chilling and admirable…and is that weird? Well, Darkseid is really a kind of comic-book Mussolini, isn’t he? He lets the Forever People go precisely because he is a committed fascist…doesn’t he?

Well.

It is my own personal opinion that even such a great stylist as Grant Morrison misses that thing Kirby nailed, that maybe only Kirby could’ve nailed, being his creator: that Darkseid has a personality. Darkseid is a person. That’s what makes him extra horrible. A lot like Craig T. Nelson’s character in “The District” (callback for longtime readers!)…

…IF HE’D TALKED ABOUT BEING THE TIGER-FORCE AT THE HEART OF ALL THINGS…!

No one really talks about it much: but this is Kirby’s famous “word-jazz” being turned very powerfully towards a purpose, and a subject. This isn’t “Mister Mind has no RANK! And needs to go to a BANK! Because he CAN’K keep BORROWING…!”

No, this is actually deeply-felt and deeply-damaged shit Kirby is saying to us, with Darkseid.

AND THEREFORE I CALL UPON THE SOURCE, THE UNI-FRIEND…!

That I call the Internet…and I call upon YOU, Bloggers…to write an essay on Jack Kirby’s Darkseid. Wait, I will actually NAME you…

David Allison.

The Mindless Ones.

Marc Burkhardt.

Prof. Fury.

RAB. (if Rab is too busy he may designate a pinch-hitter)

Dave Fiore.

And Andrew Hickey.

I know, it’s an old-style way of doing a meme…we ourselves are almost out of DATE, aren’t we? It should properly be organized on Twitter, now.

But let’s make this the last gasp, the last gawp…!

Of our weird world.

If we have to lie, let’s lie in STATE…!

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23 responses to “Darkseid: Call For Papers

  1. I’m tempted to stick Matthew Brady with this in my place, since he’s been doing the Kirby-centric blog posts I enjoy most lately. It wouldn’t be fair to him, though — I’d just keep interrupting with “that reminds me of a story Mark Evanier once told me…Kirby and Bob Bernstein are on the commuter train from Mineola one day, see, and Bob needs a story idea for Jimmy Olsen, so Kirby says hey, how about the Edda of Snorri Sturluson…”

    Anyway! Yeah, I have a thought about this. Not sure yet if it’ll turn into something worth reading, but that’s always the problem with these things, isn’t it? Besides, I think you’ve already nailed the important thing about the character, and one of the important things Morrison missed. Myths work better when the archetypes aren’t all standing around going “Look at me being all archetypey and mythical! Boy, I bet I represent some potent primal drives in the human psyche, I tell you what!”

  2. Forgot to add Jonathan, but somehow I sense he will be making a contribution in any case!

    And Dan — not at all, we still have four months to go before next year’s blogaround! What it’ll be about, though, I still haven’t quite figured…

  3. I could actually make a contribution to this, but technically it wouldn’t be about Kirby’s Darkseid. It’d be about Paul Levitz’s Darkseid. I probably will. You can use it as apocrypha or something, if you want.

  4. Just to say I *will* do this, but probably not for a few days. I’ll have to reread a load of stuff first…

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  6. It is in the nature of things that the Great Leader, once he has taken power and set his secret police as a bridle and spurs upon the populace, will commission an humungous pile of masonry, consecrated to his nobility, his vision and his preeminence in history.

    The shallow of mind may think it nothing more than egotism, but it is far more, as the Great Leader will gladly explain:

    “The people were lost and confused. The corrosive forces of contingency and chaos had them beaten down. They pled for leadership, the assurance of permanent principles, and an unquestionable authority to pronounce them. Without belief, they were at the whim of every temptation and every deceiver; with it, they are united and deliberate. And how can they believe, if their leader is not uncompromising in belief? Hence this monument, this factual and definitive pronouncement, which will outlast me even as it stands as a bedrock of belief beneath the feet of the generations.”

    However, it may happen that in the small hours of the night as the Leader stirs in his imperial bed, enclosed by his great stone walls, his logic will turn against him. If the people go on believing, what was the need of the humungous pile? And if they don’t, what good is it?

    Contingency and chaos are what the Great Leader hates most. He thought he had them beaten, but here they are back again, taunting him. “Where is my own belief?”, he rages. “If I am Betelgeuse the Bequeather, what is my bequest???

    It is then that the Spirit of the Wall will speak to him from out of the wall, saying:

    “But one thing no-one will ever doubt: it broke a hundred thousand mens’ backs to build this. No other man in your time could have caused it to be built, because no other man was so filled with the Will to Tyranny, and the certainty it brings. These walls will stand, staring future generations down, and with a shiver of wonder and fear they will ask, what kind of man could have done this? And they may remember your own vision, or not, and with gratitude or loathing; it matters not to me. Because I am the Will to Tyranny, and this wall is my monument, whether it be yours, or no.”

    The Spirit of the Wall is cynical and sardonic! He is basic and cruel! He indulges the grotesques and dandies who play around his feet … they rise and fall — but Tyranny endures!

    That’s the obvious part.

    Whew. I can sort of fake up Jolly Jack’s diction, but you notice I don’t even try to reproduce Darkseid’s accent. It’s too remote, and doesn’t compromise in the least with smooth oratory. To be candid, Darkseid’s speech doesn’t allow for fine distinctions. It is all but impossible to use it to make a rational argument, or a credible self-accounting.

    Darkseid? A personality???

    Mais oui.

    We remember that Kirby was both in service in WW2, and a big part of the great funny pages patriotic cheerleading effort. Fuhrers to the left of him, fuhrers to the right. And what pompous pipsqueaks they all were! All but impossible to imagine these ninkapoops waving their hands and squadrons of Messerschmidts springing into being, with parades and rallies and secret police, and being the real threat to freedom that they were. If you’re going to cut it down to comic story size, you almost have to say that the human race has a fatal susceptibility to tyranny as such, which would be a real worry.

    But when Jolly Jack breaks out to do his own thing in his own series, he makes the Spirit of the Wall his familiar — and his own personal fright-mask. Yeah, that’s Kirby behind the great stone face, who else?

    And now we can all have some fun.

    Suppose I am the devilish doctor Moreau Manglewang. Of course I’m going to sign on with Darkseid! Consider the advantages.

    I’m just there. I don’t need a second-hand gothic backstory (the good ones are all taken), I don’t need an explanation for my frightful powers — I’m from Apokolips! I can have the best House of Pain ever, with Jack Kirby to draw my surgical racks and instruments, I can have Rhino-Rauders and Leopard Women by the host. If I need a frakin’ army, no problem. On Apokolips, the Will to Tyranny prevails — and provides.

    What’s more, Darkseid is the most liberal uberboss you could ask for. He doesn’t make you wear his uniform, doesn’t cramp your own aesthetic in the least. You aren’t obliged to deal with his concerns, origin or superpower technicalities. All he asks is his own small piece of turf, marked “Absolute Supremacy — Darkseidz — Keep Off”, and that you let him ramble on about his Anti-Life Equation. “Do your own thing” is his word, as long as you have a bit of murder, mass insanity etc in mind, and don’t we all.

    Best of all, he doesn’t nag. When things are going smooth he always has a positive and insightful word; when it’s your wang in the mangle, he lets you go to hell in your own way with no reproaches or I-told-you-so’s. He truly is the Anti-Dad. Far better than Willy Wonka and his anvilweight comeuppances. Darkseid is almost, dare I say it, the Cat in the Hat.

    He is also very decent with the heroes. We have to face it, we are a little bit over the top on the Apokobus. And when a noob skool like the Forever People show up, they’re naturally a bit over the top too. It could all melt down into embarrassment — except that Darkseid will be there, looking like a thousand pounds on two boots, with a portentous pronouncement or two, lending the situation his considerable gravitas. When it’s Scott Free, you notice he stays out of the way; Scott brings his own measure of seriousness.

    It must get to be lonely, being him. We all have our own special manias and he supports us, but by that token, none of us have a sincere handle on the Big Picture, or want one. Highfather is such a Dad, the way he takes every casualty like a knife in the heart, you can see why he and Darkseid wouldn’t have more than an uncomfortable silence between them.

    The only one who really speaks his language is Orion. You should hear him — “It’s sad, Slig! War is terrible and sad! While grinding Slig’s Mother Box into powder, I might add. The old man is so proud of him: he addresses him pretty much like an enemy of equal rank, and when Desaad or anyone tries to belittle him, they get a handsome correction. It’s one of Darkseid’s few prerogatives: Do not diss Orion.

    So what does this add up to? I guess I’ve given a picture of someone remote and self-absorbed; not the chatty kind, not a person to want or offer personal friendship. But it would be a mistake to take that as the remoteness of repression, the fear of opening up, the wounded ego. No, no. Everything about Darkseid speaks of immense confidence, magnanimity, an eagle’s-eye overview, and an endless resilience to setbacks.

    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same.

    Indeed, I could just about take Kipling’s poem couplet by couplet, and capture something of Darkseid with each one, right down to, “And which is more, you’ll be a bore, my son.” But Darkseid is far from boring, because the company he keeps is endlessly varied and entertaining, while he himself is a riddle, both in his emotional reserve and in his cryptic epigrams. You have to keep watching him, just because the next thing he says might offer a clue.

    Why he is not inundated with female fans, is beyond me.

    My final verdict is, Darkseid’s personality is Jack Kirby’s, if Kirby were to roll up all his outrage and frustrations with human viciousness into one Spirit of the Wall figure, and then, cynically, sardonically, make him a Faust entirely in command of his devils, and the majestic ringmaster of the greatest circus act on Earth.

  7. I’m surprised Andrew… I assume he remembers he wrote this, which is rather splendid. Not to discourage, because ‘Andrew Hickey writes. About comics, mostly.’ is one of my fave internet things, yes.

    I might do this, caveats about being the most hapless comics blogger ever notwithstanding; I think Anti-Life and its confluence with Darkseid is particularly interesting.

  8. Duncan, yeah I wrote that, but that’s as much about Morrison’s Darkseid as Kirby’s. While I think Morrison’s take on Darkseid is the only one that actually fits with Kirby’s original version, I still need to go back to the source (as it were). Glad you like it, though…

  9. Is why I asked you, Andrew! It is splendid — a splendid examination of Adrian Veidt!! — but I think the most interesting thing about Darkseid is that he isn’t self-deluding. Wrong, of course: an evil shit as well. But arguably not self-deluding.

    Well, but maybe I better save that for my summation…

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