Ava DuVernay Dives Deep Into Geekdom for ‘New Gods’ Research

Let’s take a moment to celebrate Ava DuVernay’s passion for creation.
Mister Miracle
By  · Published on March 21st, 2018

Let’s take a moment to celebrate Ava DuVernay’s passion for creation.

Where do you even begin to prep a movie like The New Gods? The characters have been bouncing around comic book panels since 1971. Creator Jack Kirby fled the confines of Marvel to DC Comics, where the editors allowed him free reign to do whatever he wanted. The result was a whacked-out space opera that inspires deep passions in some, but leaves even the most die-hard fans perplexed.

Frankly, it was the last comic book series on the planet I expected to get the blockbuster treatment. Especially considering how Justice League butchered its villains on screen. I don’t imagine we’ll be seeing Steppenwolf again anytime soon, but it looks like we might actually get to see Darkseid.

To make New Gods work, you need a filmmaker feeding a fury of passion. Learning that Ava DuVernay has these mondo bizarro heroes on tap for her next movie left this geek gobsmacked. It’s my nature, and most geeks’ nature, to immediately question and worry over the individuals tasked to shepherd our precious characters onto the big screen. We need to calm down. We need to relax. We need to get in awe of the possibilities here.

The beautiful thing about our glorious social media age is that filmmakers can immediately start interacting with fans after their project is announced. Despite having just unleashed A Wrinkle In Time upon the box office, DuVernay is already engaging with fellow fanatics about her plans for her next multimillion dollar event. Currently, she has a gorgeous black and white portrait of Jack Kirby pinned to her Twitter feed with a note of appreciation.

I’m sold, and you’re sold, right? She shares our admiration, respect, and love for one of the single greatest imagineers in pop culture. Pinning that image there is a promise. She will not fail Kirby, and in not failing Kirby, she won’t fail us. I believe her. That’s beautiful.

DuVernay understands the gift that she’s been given. She acknowledges the blessing it is to take on characters who have thrived in a zealous niche market. Responding to a fan’s wonder at the jump from A Wrinkle in Time to New Gods, DuVernay quotes her own work to explain how she’ll try to raise to the challenge. She recognizes the power of the imaginary. What more can we ask?

The director is also digging deep into the comic stacks. As noted by Heroic Hollywood, DuVernay has taken to Instagram to showcase the artistry she’s hoping to adapt into her film. She posted (in a now-expired Instagram story) Kirby’s very first page of the very first issue. “There came a time when the old gods died!” From their ashes rose a new legion of deities with the same glorious strengths as well as the same treacherous desires. It’s a big declaration, focusing her efforts on the origins of these super beings, and the cosmic design of Jack Kirby.

The art is as much of the appeal as the characters themselves. There really was no one else out there cranking out work quite like what Kirby produced. As much as we may enjoy where DC has taken these heroes since their inception, the majority of their appeal still stems from the imagery concocted 41 years ago.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Ava Duvernay is doing her homework for the new movie!
byu/tjoryk inDC_Cinematic

Look to Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther. In every suit and every backdrop, Jack Kirby is splattered all over those films. In an era where comic book cinema reigns supreme, we’re only now embracing the textual history of the source material. When we talked to Hannah Beachler, the production designer for Black Panther, she specifically explained how Kirby’s sci-fi details shaped Ryan Coogler’s vision. By embracing the past we’re discovering a wild, new future.

Now it’s DC’s turn to revel in the trippy, celestial style of Kirby. Seeing how it has paid off for Marvel’s Phase Three, how could DuVernay not thrill in his greatest, untapped work? Done properly, The New Gods could be as equally revelatory as anything captured by the competition.

DuVernay can lose herself in Kirby’s art and build off the decades worth of stories concocted by the DC bullpen. As the MCU has proven, by picking a little from column A, a little from column B, the director can craft a story for a modern audience. She’s not trapped to the mechanics of Kirby’s oddball “Murder Missile Trap” storyline from the ’70s. DuVernay has a lot of homework to plough through first, but once completed, the resulting canvas could be AWEsome.

The New Gods Jim Starlin

When I talk to my non-comic book loving friends about their apprehension for diving into the medium, the number one roadblock is always, “There’s just too much. I don’t know where to begin.” Totally understandable. Characters like Batman and Superman have been around for 80 years. “Action Comics” will be celebrating its 1,000th issue in April. You can’t simply jump on board with #999. You need a curator to guide your way.

Let me offer a couple of suggestions for “The New Gods,”

  1. The New Gods” #1 by Jack Kirby – If I’ve made anything clear up above it’s that you have to start with Jack Kirby.  As of this moment, DC Comics has made collecting this series rather pricey with the comprehensive Fourth World omnibus costing you upwards of $150. No need for that. After you’ve become an addict, then you can roll all your pennies together for that purchase. I’d simply recommend ordering the first issue, which you can score on your kindle for $1.99. The dialogue is dated. Duh. However, you’ll seriously appreciate the design work and the mad concepts of Kirby.
  2. “Cosmic Odyssey” by Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola – This is an ’80s classic incorporating the New Gods with regular DC titans like Superman, Green Lantern, and Batman. From the creators of “The Infinity Gauntlet” and “Hellboy,” this space saga forces the diabolical Darkseid to join the heroes of the light to prevent the very universe from shattering. You know, that old story.
  3. “Mister Miracle” by Tom King and Mitch Gerads – Back in December, Ava DuVernay tweeted that Big Barda was her all-time favorite superhero. If you want to understand why, read this series. Scott Free, the world’s premiere escape artist, attempts to conquer death itself with the help of his wife, Big Barda. While the series doesn’t shy away from grand super heroics, the joy comes in how it elevates the internal turmoil of its characters. It has all the Kirby weirdness one should crave, but sticks the landing by embracing the intimate. The series is currently selling in single issues, but the first trade paperback will be available in November.

That should get you off the ground and running. It’s just a taste of the research DuVernay has tackled for this endeavor. I picture her holed up in the DC vault with stacks and stacks of comics threatening to landslide. She’s fighting her way through a colossal mythology that has never been sifted through before. There must be tremendous joy in selecting the right pieces for her interpretation. I am envious for her and for my future self. The New Gods is gonna be epic.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)