11. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus by Jack Kirby
They call Jack Kirby the King of Comics, and for good reason. As a precocious young artist, he co-created Captain America with writer-artist Joe Simon; his star-spangled superhero socked Hitler on the jaw a few years before Kirby himself helped liberate a satellite concentration camp during the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe in World War II. After returning to the States, Kirby would pioneer both romance and monster comics in the '50s before work for which he is best remembered: the early-'60s co-creation of the Marvel Universe with his frenemy Stan Lee and fellow artist Steve Ditko. The dynamism of his artwork was miles away from the staid, square-jawed superheroics of Superman, Batman et al., and as the co-writer (and often primary writer) of Fantastic Four and other Marvel mainstays, Kirby gave birth to characters and concepts that essentially preserved the comics industry in North America after the censorious ’50s.
Kirby's true masterwork came when, fed up with Lee's spotlight-hogging and his own lack of creative control, he decamped to rival publisher DC and was given carte blanche to create his own line of superheroes. In genuinely prophetic fashion, the four titles that resulted -- New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Jimmy Olsen -- told one massive interlocking story about a war between rival deities, the evil half of which were led by a granite-faced embodiment of evil called Darkseid, whose son was secretly raised by the forces of good. (Sound familiar, Star Wars fans?) It's not simply the scope of Kirby's ambition nor the cataclysmic psychedelia of his artwork (drawn completely drug-free) that makes the Fourth World Saga, collected in four omnibus editions by DC, so compelling. No, it's this World War II veteran's Vietnam-era conviction that the true source of "Anti-Life" is violence itself, no matter how righteous the cause. Sadly, the epic was cut short by the publisher before Kirby could reach its proper conclusion. Several great superhero works would eventually follow (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All Star Superman, Mike Mignola and John Arcudi and Guy Davis' Hellboy/B.P.R.D. saga), but they all labor in the humanistic, explosively creative shadow of the King.