INFINITY MAN AND THE FOREVER PEOPLE #1, by Keith Giffen and Dan Didio with Scott Koblish on inks, gets off to a promising start: big, blocky splashes of ink in true Jack Kirby style followed by a two page spread of a gorgeous alien landscape. That’s exactly what you want to see when you open up a book like this.
As a piece of comic book art, this thing is beautiful. Though there’s not a ton of action in this issue, what is there captures the energetic, powerful lines and shapes that Kirby used to blur the line between traditional comic book art and something a little more abstract. There’s even a little Kirby Crackle going on here and there, and the artists do a darn fine job of creating those dense, but not quite crowded sci-fi backgrounds that really sold the environments of Kirby’s Fantastic Four and New Gods books.
Artistically, one could criticize the book as being too close to Kirby, to the extent that the artists seem to be needlessly restricting themselves to one very specific illustrative style. One could, but I won’t. I love it, I think there’s room in the world for comics like these just as there’s room for Werner Herzog doing a spot-on Murnau impression for his Nosferatu remake. It does leave me curious as to what Didio and Giffen could do outside of the Kirby template, but I don’t have a problem with their attempt at cloning Kirby while drawing a Kirby project.
On the other hand, the writing being this close to Kirby prevents the book from being a solid winner for me.
Kirby’s writing was Biblical and dense with big ideas. His characters existed on perhaps the most archetypal plane of superhero canon, and though the consensus seems to be that Stan Lee was more vandal than writer, he made Kirby readable.
Kirby could pour passion and imagination into his work, but he had a hard time crafting relatable characters or funny dialogue. As a result, he produced a lot of comics that were great to flip through but a chore to read. Kirby was a genius, but he was very dry, and the way I’ve read a lot of his solo work has been to read a plot synopsis online and then flip through the art. His dialogue was so wooden it could give you splinters.
Infinity Man and the Forever People isn’t quite as dry as Kirby could be, but I found myself wishing that the writing had a bit more of a spark to it. I don’t know that jokey narration that addresses the reader directly would really fit what they’re going for with this series, but I think the dialogue could certainly benefit from a little punching up, a little more humor, a little more risk.
What I mean by “risk” is this: The New 52 writers have generally done a great job at bringing more subtlety into the game. Writers like Scott Snyder are not using “It’s just a superhero comic” as an excuse to create Saturday morning morality plays with one note characters. At the same time, they’re not ashamed to be writing superhero content, either. In an era of dark and gritty reboots, it’s nice to see a more adult approach to writing superheroes that doesn’t completely abandon what makes superheroes special in the first place. That said, maybe subtlety isn’t the best approach to writing when your art style is so aggressively opposed to subtlety. A little more boldness, even at the risk of getting a little corny, could have really set this book apart for me.
Admittedly, maybe I’m judging the series a little too soon, though. If you want to do a Kirby story, there’s a ton of exposition and lore to grind through, and once that’s in place you get to do imaginative fight sequences and some fun character interaction.
Issue one is deeply faithful to Jack Kirby both in story and art, for better and for worse. It’s a gorgeous comic to flip through, and whatever they do with the writing as the series progresses, as long as they keep this art team on board, I’ll keep reading.
The art team does a perfect job at capturing the energy and borderline-abstract style of Jack Kirby.
The writing team does a perfect job at capturing Kirby, too. None of the characters’ personalities really jump off the page, there’s no memorable dialogue, what little humor is there sort of falls flat. This could just be because first issues always tend to be a little exposition-heavy, but I hope the team takes more risks and develops a more distinctive approach to writing in coming issues.
We can debate whether or not the comic is worth reading, but not whether or not it’s worth looking at. This is one of the coolest looking comics I’ve seen this month. Those hand-drawn special effects, that bold linework and the dense backgrounds all scream “COMIC BOOKS!” making for a refreshing change of pace from the more subtle, cinematic look most superhero books share these days.