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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fourth-World Fashions

While I was enjoying my vacation last week, Sean Kleefeld started up one of those memes everyone's always talking about, and while I'm pretty sure I saw someone specifically mention my name, I can't for the life of me find where it was.

Regardless, I'm not one to disappoint, especially considering that this one's all about picking your favorite Jack Kirby character design.

It's a tough one, though: For sheer economy and flat-out awesomeness, it's hard to top MODOK, who manages to be hideous, mildly terrifying, and amazingly goofy all at the same time, while still pretty much embodying the definition of a physically weak but mentally powerful mastermind in a hovering orange chair. Really, the Kirby designs that I like the best are usually the ones that shouldn't work at all.

Take, for example, everyone's favorite engine of destruction from the World That's Coming, OMAC:

That's a seven-foot tall man wearing a blue shirt with an eye on the chest and a golden metal collar with what appears to be a remote control strapped onto his belt, orange tights and bright yellow boots and gloves, and the whole thing's capped off by the kind of hairstyle that haunts Kid 'n' Play's dreams even today. There is nothing about that suit that should work, and yet I can't imagine another costume that would work quite as well.

But surprisingly, that's not my favorite.

For great Kirby designs--especially for someone who prefers his early-70s DC work--there's not a whole lot that beats the Fourth World. From Darksied on down, with the exception of a small handful of characters that includes the Forever People and Virmin Vundabar, those guys have amazing designs. Case in point:

With Orion, it is all about that helmet. The rest of his costume's reasonably generic--once you get past, y'know, the Motherbox and the Astro Harness and all that--but the helmet alone is an amazing streamlined sci-fi version of Thor's Helmet, with a crazy logo thrown in for good measure.

It's the sole element that makes his look really work, and without it--like when he was briefly in an outfit so generic that you'd expect him to be in a poorly animated commercial for a used car dealership--everything that's visually striking about the character falls to the wayside.

Even better? This guy:

Again, Mister Miracle's got one of those costumes that has no conceivable reason to look as good as it does. Try describing it to somebody who's never seen the character before: "Yeah, it's got wide, horizontal stripes down his body in red, yellow, and green, and he's wearing Dr. Doom's cape, but with a high collar instead of a hood. Oh, and he's also got a red and yellow Luchadore mask."

The whole thing sounds like it's the worst costume since Gambit's pink-and-blue body armor, but it all comes together to form an outfit that's almost perfect, whether it's Kirby drawing it, or a guy like the phenomenally talented Kevin Maguire.

Unlike, say, The Black Racer's original armor, which, while totally awesome suffers a bit by being pretty much every color except the one in the guy's name.

For me, though, this one tops them all:

I have no idea why I love Kanto's costume so much, but the idea of a guy rolling around dressed like a sixteenth-century fop who is also the single deadliest assassin in the known universe just thrills me to no end. What can I say? Dude looks good in a jerkin.

As for my least favorite, that one's a lot easier: Kirby's Sandman.

No, the other one.

No, the other one. This guy:

Apparently, being able to turn your body into a living sandstorm also makes you think it's a good idea to wear what can only be described as the worst Oscar the Grouch costume ever, leading to the first time in history that a rugby shirt and a pair of khakis were actually a better super-villain costume than what the guy started with.


Blogger paperghost said...

Despite the fact that Big Bara's legs are poking out from the rubble, you somehow missed citing her costume as "stupid clothing that somehow works".

11/29/2006 2:34 AM

Blogger Richelle said...

I've read Kanto's lines like 30 times now, and I'm still trying to decide if that's witty, sexual repartee or not. I'm not really familiar with him, though, so I may be reading too much into the large, rod-like object in his hand.

11/29/2006 3:35 AM

Blogger Mark said...

And another thing: most of Kirby's designs from his DC period invariably look crap drawn by anyone else (with some notable exceptions - Rude, Mignola, Simonson).

11/29/2006 6:46 AM

Blogger notintheface said...

You're also forgetting ARNIM ZOLA, the headless man with a face on his torso

11/29/2006 7:27 AM

Blogger Nimbus said...

I've read Kanto's lines like 30 times now, and I'm still trying to decide if that's witty, sexual repartee or not.

Or whether he's saying that Barda has a weight problem (hence Big Barda, I guess).

11/29/2006 7:51 AM

Anonymous Brian said...

To be fair, it's not just the Black Racer's costume that a lot of people have trouble with.

11/29/2006 9:01 AM

Anonymous Isaac said...

Chris, Chris, don't hate on the Forever People!

If Kanto's "fop" look is good, then Serifan's "Sci-Fi Kid Cowboy" has to be good, too.

And DAMN if Big Bear's costume isn't the funkiest, shouldn't-work-but-it-does-ingest, "weirdiest" thing ... Big Bear is probably my favorite Kirby design, actually, though Mister Miracle and Big Barda are right up there.

An interesting post could be written, I think, about later artists' total FAILURES in designing Fourth-World characters (I'm thinking of YOU, John Byrne).

11/29/2006 9:36 AM

Anonymous Isaac said...

("Shouldn't-work-but-it-does-iest" is what I meant. I'm sure that his costume ingests some things, too -- squirrels and shi-tzus, from the look of it -- but that's not what I meant.)

11/29/2006 9:38 AM

Blogger SallyP said...


Dr. Doom has the best costume, EVER.

11/29/2006 10:01 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't Sandman debut in Spider-Man with the stripes and khakis? I thought he didn't get the Oscar the Grouch look (great call) until he jumped over to the Frightful Four.

Best part about Sandman's first appearance? Spider-Man beat him by sucking him into a vacuum cleaner. He must have changed costumes due to the embarrassment.

11/29/2006 10:36 AM

Anonymous Rich said...

What, no mention of Kamandi?

11/29/2006 11:42 AM

Blogger Shane Bailey said...

But they even made a Mego Figure out of that Sandman costume.


11/29/2006 12:43 PM

Blogger Evan Waters said...

Orion's helmet is specifically supposed to look doglike- "he's a dog of war", Kirby said at some point. It's a subtle but powerful effect.

The Black Racer did work extremely well in the black-and-white NEW GODS- it's really only the colors what screw him up.

11/29/2006 1:59 PM

Anonymous Matt T. said...

I always dug the Luchadore mask, especially how it perfectly covers his lips. Just works for me in the same way as Mar-vell's sideburn-revealing facemask worked for me. I also liked the old rugby outfit of the Sandman, but I got a soft spot for old-school super-people who don't really wear costumes. It actually makes more sense than, say, Electro's pointy mask or the Shocker's mattress longjohns.

As for the Black Racer, let's not forget the only other not-white person in the New Gods was Vykin The Black. Like Jack thought maybe people wouldn't get that there were two black dudes in that bunch of outer space honkies.

11/29/2006 3:26 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to admit I've never liked Orion's classic threads. Always thought it was a pretty ugly outfit, myself. Now when he joined the JLA for six or seven issues...THAT outfit I liked. It looked very regal and imposing.

Speaking of imposing, look no further than the Jack Kirby-designed Darkseid. Thanos cries himself to sleep at night that he doesn't look as menacing as Darkseid.

I always thought it made sense that Sandman, lacking the resources of say, Reed Richards, had to continue wearing the clothes he was in when the accident that gave him his powers occurred. They're the only clothes that will turn into sand when he turns his body into sand! No "unstable molecules" for this guy. Same principle applies to Hydro-Man. Notice that Sandman only sports new threads when teamed up with the Wizard in the Frighful Four.

As for Mister Miracle, he's really the only guy that Kirby's insane out-of-control designs really make sense on...after all, the guy is a showman and circus performer. Of course he's going to wear something unusual and garish.

The other guys have no excuse, however.

Other classic Kirby designs:

The Warriors Three
Black Panther
The Fantastic Four uniforms
Black Bolt (and most of the other Inhumans)

11/29/2006 3:38 PM

Blogger Bill said...

I made OMAC once in the Create-A-Wrestler mode for one of the WWF games a while back (I want to say Smackdown 2 for the original PlayStation, but I may be wrong), and it ended up working out really well. I don't know what that says about Kirby, wrestling, or video games, or even if it's a positive or a negative, but there you go.

11/29/2006 3:55 PM

Blogger Sean Kleefeld said...

Hey, Chris --

Thanks for picking up the meme. You've picked up on an intriguing idea with the shouldn't-work-but-does notion. I think Galactus is another one that falls into that category -- there's just so many fiddly bits all over everywhere that it should look like a jumbled mess. Stairsteps on his boots? Piping that just runs all over? And the skirt?!? But it somehow works -- and you'll notice that NO ONE has even tried to change it one bit!

Oh, and it was Harvey over at Filing Cabinet of the Damned that tagged you for this meme. Don't look at me; I just started the darned thing! :)

11/29/2006 4:17 PM

Anonymous Jack R. said...

First time commenting; first, just wanted to say that your blog inspired me to do something I've meant to do, buy some OMAC!; picked up #2 & #3 and I loved them.

Second, as to Kirby's designs somehow managing to work despite themselves, another group of designs to mention would be the Eternals. Those outfits just are wrong in ever single way-the only one truly simple is Sersi's, and Ikari and Makkari's outfits are gloriously absurd-yet they work. As a kid, I didn't much like Kirby, but now, I can't imagine why I didn't. Kirby rocks.

11/29/2006 8:31 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

OMAC #2 is one of the most ass-kickingest comics ever printed. It even shattered the grammar of that sentence!

Dr. Doom does have a great design, but if he wore a floppy little beret with a feather in it, he'd be, like, ten times scarier.

Also, I hate the Forever People's costumes. I wouldn't change them, but man. Yikes.

11/29/2006 8:55 PM

Anonymous Jack R. said...

OMAC #2 is one of the most ass-kickingest comics ever printed. It even shattered the grammar of that sentence!

I loved #2, but OMAC destroying an army of 100,000 foes using only the Ejector Seat of Doom and his fists in #3 might just be the best thing ever. Plus he punched out fifteen people at once...truly amazing.

11/29/2006 9:29 PM

Anonymous SanctumSanctorumComix said...

I loves me the ARNIM ZOLA!


11/30/2006 2:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

All this about Kirby character designs that have no business being as awesome as they are and no mention of Kang the Conquerer?

12/01/2006 4:15 AM

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