The fact that the teaser issue for Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ new collaboration Kirby Genesis is a more effective work than the actual debut isn’t all that odd when you think about it. Kirby Genesis #0 is by its nature confined to a significantly lower number of pages than issue #1, which forced its creators to streamline their story, offering tantalizing glimpses at what was to come with minimal fuss or unnecessary characterization. The first issue unfortunately has plenty of room to spend on awkward pop culture references and attempts at the kind of “hip” characterization Busiek has never exactly excelled at.
And why should he? As a writer, Busiek’s strength has always been in the way he can take Silver Age ideas and make them feel timeless rather than frozen in time, which is a strength that works best when it’s removed from the need to feel simultaneously modern or fresh. By acknowledging the era we live in, the magic is deflated — readers are suddenly awoken from the dream and there’s no going back. For Kirby Genesis this is an especially thorny issue since the reader stand-in, conveniently named Kirby, looks like Jay Baruchel and likes to occasionally speak to the reader a la Ferris Bueller:
Kirby also has the tendency to make terrible references to pop culture and social networking, none more painful than this entire page devoted to a Facebook joke:
The fact that Kirby Genesis is ostensibly a book about the creations of a legendary Silver Age comic artist coming to life would make that kind of characterization awkward enough but throw in Busiek’s style and it’s more unsettling than it would already be. There was really no reason at all for Busiek to attempt to make this character more relatable for modern audiences by shoehorning in these references since it’s arguable that no one who reads Busiek is looking for this kind of writing, never mind the problem of this particular book being ill-suited for it.
Which is a pity because otherwise Kirby Gensis is a strong effort from Busiek, Ross and penciller Jack Herbert, the latter of whom shows off an impressive amount of versatility in this issue. Herbert’s work is typically almost photorealistic but in the otherwise cringe-inducing Facebook page (shudder) he takes on a style that’s equal parts chibi manga and modern Archie, making for a fun contrast to the rest of the book, strengthened all the more by Vinicius Andrade’s similarly flexible coloring. The integration of Herbert and Alex Ross’ work in this debut is cleaner than its issue #0 counterpart as well, as Ross mostly handles the Kirby people who descend from the heavens, an inspired decision as it truly grants those figures an otherworldliness.
Busiek himself gets in some nice tricks too, including some plot points that allow this narrative to take on a shape other than “wouldn’t it be cool to have a bunch of Kirby creations all fight over Earth?” It’s obviously too early to guess what Busiek is ultimately up to but given that the first two Kirby people that show up on Earth are mirror images of Kirby’s Voyager probe artwork, there’s a strong possibility that Busiek is indicating that the Voyager probe inadvertently caused this invasion, either by awakening some space elder gods who adopted the form of Kirby’s creations or by being the spark for its own creation. The triggering of multiple miraculous events around the globe, all tied to Kirby-like designs, hints that the former might be the most accurate prediction.
It may not be a revolutionary plot point but fortunately those are the kinds of plot points that tend to work best for Busiek anyway. That Busiek abandons the Ferris Bueller-style fourth wall breaking also bodes well. Now if we can only get him to do something about those horrible attempts at pop culture relevancy.
Ray Tate also reviewed Kirby Genesis #1. Read his thoughts, too!
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash Dinovic’s Panel Panopticon.