Forty Years of the Fourth World

Welcome to Jon B. Cooke’s attempt at a year-long blog on (in this writer’s humble opinion) the greatest of Jack Kirby’s creations, the Fourth World, which debuted in the summer of 1970 with the release of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 [cover dated Oct. 1970]. I initially began this project in late September, on the Facebook “community page,” 365 Days of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, and Kirby Museum head honcho Rand Hoppe asked me to share it with all Kirbyheads, so here I am!

As prologue, let me tell you who I am and about my intentions. I am former associate editor of The Jack Kirby Collector, editor of Comic Book Artist magazine, and author/editor/designer of a number of books on the history of American sequential art. I am also co-producer and writer of a full-length feature film documentary, Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist (now available on DVD and Blu-ray! End of plug), and, by day, a graphic designer, husband and father (at night, things change…).

It was picking up JO #133 in a London newsagent shop — I was likely 12, as it was no doubt a few months after its U.S. release — when I instantaneously changed from a comic book reader to a full-fledged “All In Color For a Dime (and a Half)” fanatic. Quite truthfully, my young mind was blown away with the riot of concepts and unhinged energy  exploding from those pages. Up to then I liked the rather sedate and non-threatening style of Mort Weisinger’s line of Superman family titles, as well as Classics Illustrated, Dennis the Menace, various Gold Key titles, and Harvey Comics. The stories they featured were pat, self-contained, geared for children and, well, safe. The Marvel Comics my oldest brother Richie so avidly had collected in the 1960s, were threatening and grotesque to me and, frankly, I despised the “To Be Hulk-inued,” multiple-issue story lines. The Kirby and Ditko art wasn’t slick like Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson (the “Swanderson” team, my faves at the time and just ascending as the official art pairing (Swan pencils, Anderson inks) on the revamped Superman)… Jack and Steve’s work was gritty, bombastic and strange…

(I confess that I did, a few years earlier, pick up an issue of Captain America #108 when it was on the stands and, for some reason, I distinctly recall the day: drinking a bottle of Coke, chewing on Carmel Creams, and picking out that issue by Jack Kirby, with Cap smashing through the Dec. 8, 1941, newspaper front page… that was impressive…)

Before JO #133, blurbs appeared in the DC Books: “Kirby is Coming!” and I honestly had no idea what or who Kirby was. (I was vaguely familiar with his work, but I pretty much found it… I dunno… vulgar or mildly distasteful, and I didn’t link his name to the work.) But, as my interest in the Superman books was on the rise, and I was getting excited  because of the hype. My younger brother, Andy, and I, were on a year-long visit to Europe with our mom, and comics were becoming an important touchstone to help ease the tinge of homesickness we’d have. We were starting to draw and create our own comics (Andy had Mighty Boy and I had Atomic Man), so we avidly read and started to collect American (as well as the British weekly) comics.

So then came that spectacular orange cover of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133. Like I said, it had a profound effect on me, and I was instantaneously hooked. Obviously, I will pontificate at length about why I think the Fourth World is so resonant, thus suffice to say I remain, at 51, as enthusiastic and appreciative of Jack’s magnum opus as I was as a snotty 12-year-old.

My thesis, this blog’s raison d’etre, is to attempt to confirm my suspicion that there are enough unique characters, concepts, notions, etc., to respectively discuss for 365 days, one Kirby Fourth World Koncept, one day at a time. I’ll probably stretch it out by including a synopsis for each issue, but I probably won’t do that to start.

I will be primarily be using the actual comics as canon, aided and abetted by DC Comics’ spectacular four-volume Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus, maybe with limited outside research to start. (I tend to get anal about passions like this, so my delving beyond the actual comics might increase… we’ll see.) I intend to go pretty much page-by-page, zeroing in on the subjects as they come.

I hope 365 Days of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World will generate interest and discussion. I remain in awe of the subject and am still somewhat uncertain exactly why the epic continues to retain such a grip on both my intellect and my id… maybe, with a very close reading of the original series and daily scribing about the subject, I’ll finally get an inkling. Maybe that doesn’t matter. Whatever the outcome, I’m betting this will be a fun drive… Please, buckle up, and come along!

Before I go, just one more thing: As mentioned, I started this examination on a Facebook community page with the same name as our blog. Since I’ve initiated that a few days before starting this Kirby Museum blog, those entries will be unpolished first drafts and, time permitting, I will try to refine and expand them here as needed.

All strapped into the Whiz Wagon? Well, then, off to the Zoomway!

11 thoughts on “Forty Years of the Fourth World

  1. Tom Stewart


    I will come out of the closet right now, I love the Fourth World! There, I said it, let it be on my head. It’s really like nothing else out there, then or now. Here was Jack, working without the net/filter of Stan Lee, just out there being Jack, but writ LARGE.

    Great stuff. I’ll be checking back for more.

    you’ve been warned.


    1. JonBCOOKE Post author

      Thanks, Mr. Stewart! You are a permanent member of MY personal “Newsboy Legion”! The question is, if I’m Gabby, which one are you? I vote for…. Tommy!

      Keep in touch and tell me what’s next for youse, a’ight?

  2. patrick ford

    Very nice to see this, Jon.

    Your articles in TJKC, along with those by Mike Gartland and John Morrow, carried the magazine for years.

    The issues of Comic Book Artist you edited are in my opinion almost perfect examples of how I think a magazine should be structured. Almost every issue had a focus and could easily have been used as an outline for a book on the issues primary subject.

    The only problem with CBA is it resulted in you being a less frequent contributor in TJKC.

    The Fourth World is so rich it could sustain 365 years of commentary.

    Why is the series so interesting?

    Kirby is just in a class by himself, when it comes to mainstream comics.

    Sure I love all kinds of stuff, from Sam Glanzman to Manny Stallman; but Kirby isn’t like anyone else in mainstream comics. He’s that special, and the Fourth World was: Kirby Unleashed.

    1. JonBCOOKE Post author

      Thank you, Patrick. It’s very gratifying to find one in total agreement regarding Jack’s standing in comics. The answer to your question, “Why is the series so interesting?” is my quarry and I’ll be satisfied if merely to scratch the surface… The Fourth World is just so resonant and the older I get, the more obvious that truth becomes. Make Mine Kirby!

      Thanks for the kind words. My engines are getting revved again. Here’s hoping this gets me back on the Zoomway of comics-related study. CBA is not dead, just long dormant, like one of the Red Skull’s Sleeper robots! Do you have any jumper cables? 😉

      I’m thinking it might be time for me to “come home,” if you catch my drift. I’ll have to see if there’s room for me in this lousy economy…

    1. JonBCOOKE Post author

      Just keep up on your nitro pills, my friend. Of course, I’ll tell you what happens if you can tell me what happened in Yellow Claw!

  3. Mike Hill

    Hey Jon,

    This is fantastic. Looking forward to being along for the ride. As Pat says, the Fourth World was The Great Jack Kirby Bust-Out! It’s extremely gratifying to see Jack put all the pieces together himself: plotting, drawing and dialogue.

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