With this third issue of The New Gods and the showcasing of The Black Racer, it becomes obvious Jack Kirby is jockeying to launch spin-offs of his tetralogy. (Actually, I have heard our dark-skinned skiing deity had been created separate from the New Genesis/Apokolips saga, but the DC office, eager to expand the Fourth World should it hit big were looking for characters who could headline their own books, so Jack threw in the ebony harbinger of death.) I confess I have mixed feelings about the character, particularly the visual elements. I mean, c’mon! It’s a dude dressed in a medieval suit of armor painted in garish red and blue, flying through the cosmos on a pair of skis, wielding ski poles! I’ve always thought the appearance of Sgt. Willie Walker’s alter ego a little silly, as if it were a fruitless attempt to replicate an earlier, albeit much more popular creation, The Silver Surfer… And, if true, who could blame Jack? When you think about it, the concept behind He Who Possesses The Power Cosmic is pretty goofy, yet in execution it worked superbly, enough so to become perhaps the most resonate character to soar out of the 1960s. (And we’re not even mentioning the sordid events surrounding Stan Lee’s treatment of Jack in the whole Silver Surfer affair which would lead anyone to try again to better advantage.)
But, putting aside the costuming, The Black Racer does work, I think, and it’s hard not to get wrapped up in lives of Willie, his care-giving sister and her husband, all trying to get by in Suicide Slum. But I really dig the idea of a Grim Reaper, even one on skis, playing a direct role in the epic. Whose side is this personification of death on? Certainly Darkseid and his ilk ultimately worship death — what else is anti-life? — but their fear of The Black Racer (they’re as afraid as their New Genesis adversaries of BR’s mortal touch) shows us he’s neutral, ambivalent even. Very cool.
I’m also a fan of Jack’s (for lack of a better term) “Blaxpoitation” work at early ’70s DC, so I do respond to the Walker subplot. Jack may be off-target now and again, trying a little too hard to be hip and with it, but like his extraordinary romance work with Joe Simon, he remains earnest and empathetic with minority characters. If you haven’t seen his Soul Love work from that era, you’re missing a treat and you must seek out those unpublished stories. Wild stuff.
One could argue from the get-go Jack painted himself into a corner with the broad strokes of Willie Walker’s ordeal — paralyzed, completely dependent on his sister — or never took the chance to expand in the short time left for the Fourth World. In the few appearances to follow, the Vietnam vet’s situation remained the same: him lost in thought, his sister Verna fretting over his fate and brother-in-law Ray comforting the sister… a person might imagine Jack moving The Black Racer to another mortal vessel just to get things jumping!
Anyway, The New Gods #3 is a fine issue and, however clunky he looks, The Black Racer is a worthy addition to the opus. It’s also fun to see a two-fisted, Earthling-attired Orion duking it out in the Metropolis ghetto, and while Sugar-Man and Badger are hardly candidates for membership in the Secret Society of Super-Villains, they are classic if unrefined Kirby bad guys, so no complaints here! Jack is chugging along, gaining momentum, building tension… things are starting to rock!