I wanted to like the new Dynamite series, Kirby Genesis. It’s written by one of my favorite writers, Kurt Busiek. It features covers and art direction by the incredible Alex Ross. And it contains all of Jack Kirby’s crazy creations from late in his career: Captain Victory, Silver Star and so on.
The series started off on the right foot. There was a zero issue which introduced many of these characters to unfamiliar readers through sketches and short bios. We met characters like the Midnight Swan for the first time and caught glimpses of new designs for more-established characters like Captain Glory.
The story also started well. Kurt Busiek introduced us to a trio of normal humans: the slightly awkward teenager Kirby Freeman, his gorgeous next-door neighbor Bobbi Cortez and her father, the former cop, Jake. They were our eyes and ears into this wonderfully weird world.
Plus, Busiek gave us a reason for all of this weirdness. Jack Kirby had once contributed a drawing for a NASA. The drawing was rejected. But Busiek posed a hypothetical scenario. What if Kirby’s drawing had been included on the space probe? And what if all of this weirdness was drawn to our world in response to this weirdness? It was a simple concept that explained the sudden appearance of so many different aliens at once. The unusual earth creatures and cultures were the cherry on top, drawn out of hiding at just the right time.
Unfortunately, the story hasn’t held together. Four issues in and the plot is all over the place. The three main characters are completely separated. One of them, Bobbi, has been taken over by the strange entity of the Midnight Swan and hasn’t appeared as herself in several issues. There have been scenes in space and scenes in the past, scenes without any of our supposed point-of-view characters.
I understand the desire to capture the craziness of Jack Kirby. His mind was full of ideas, overflowing with imagination. But Genesis hasn’t captured it as much as it has become caught up in it. It’s being tossed around like the inside of a tornado and nothing is holding together. We still need a lens through which to view the wild and crazy creations of Jack Kirby. Genesis started out with one, but lost it. It lacks focus. It lacks cohesion. It lacks… unity.
Back in the Golden Age- not the Golden Age of Comics but the original Golden Age of Greece- the philosopher Aristotle wrote a theory of aesthetics known as the classical unities. He argued that drama should be unified in three specific ways: action, place and time. Drama should have unity of action- one main plot with few or no sub-plots. It should have unity of place- all of the action should occur in a single physical space. And it should have unity of time- all of the action should occur within a single day.
Aristotle’s rules for drama can be unnecessarily restrictive. They certainly weren’t followed by all of the authors in his own age. However, the classical unities can be important guidelines for creating a cohesive story.
The unity of time doesn’t have to be confined to a single day or the unity of place to a single setting. Yet a good story will still follow the principles that underlie the unities. For example, the musical Rent restricted its story to a single year rather than a single day. It also took place in one city, New York, and in one neighborhood. Rent had unity of time and place, even though its unity was a little broader than one day and one location. Those unities helped the story hold together. They gave it cohesiveness so that it was one interlocking story rather than multiple stories tacked together.
That’s where Kirby Genesis has gotten off track. There’s nothing holding the story together. The only unity is that the characters were all created by Jack Kirby. That’s not enough. There’s no unity of place- the characters are scattered all over the planet. There’s no unity of time- flashbacks are taking place in the past and plots in the present are moving forward at vastly different paces. There’s no unity of action- there’s no one story! There’s not even a limited set of stories as the series has gotten away from its three central characters. The series is now balancing six or seven separate stories, some of which don’t even have a tangential connection to the others.
A writer might be able to ignore one or even two of Aristotle’s classical unities. But when a writer abandons all three unities, the story becomes a jumbled mess. And that’s the case with Kirby Genesis. It’s not a story. It’s a jumbled mess. And that’s too bad.