Features and Columns

Darkseid is Essential to Understanding ‘The King’ of Comics

Zack Snyder’s latest tweet stoking the fires of The Snyder Cut is a cause for celebration – Hail to the King, baby.
Darkseid Nick Derrington Artwork
Nick Derrington
By  · Published on June 8th, 2020

Welcome to Stapled Cinema, our new ongoing series celebrating the valiant adaptations of one sequential art form into another. Comic book movies are seemingly everywhere. We’re uncovering the beauty in the best (and worst) attempts that tear the staples from comics in a dash to splash their panels upon the big screen.

We’re a grass is always greener society, a forever people hunting for alternatives. How else do you explain the neverending laundry list of Director’s Cuts? They’re the kink of movie maniacs everywhere.

Aliens is good, but what if it was longer? Blade Runner has issues, but if you watch all seven iterations of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi noir, you’ll finally recognize it as genius. What works for Blade Runner also works for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Why buy one blu-ray when you can buy four or five? Let’s not even start with George Lucas and his infinite playlist of Star Wars Special Editions.

We can’t be happy with what we’ve got; we need to see what could have been. Before Zack Snyder‘s Justice League landed in theaters, we knew it wasn’t actually Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Its long, exhausting saga leading to the big screen was plagued by various interferences ranging from the mundane to the bizarre to the deeply sad.

Unlike Aliens, Blade Runner, or Star Wars, Justice League‘s first swing at the plate was an utter whiff with not one redeeming factor tucked away within its runtime. Alright, that’s a little harsh. There’s a smile or two to be had, and a shot here and there that’s kinda rad, but the majority of its content results in dribbling blather.

There had to be a better version of it somewhere, right?

Whether “The Snyder Cut” existed before 2020 or not doesn’t matter. It’s here now. Or, it will be soon. While some of us accepted Justice League as just another shitty movie, many others could not, and after years of hashtag bombardment, Warner Bros. is ponying $20-30 million to cobble it together for HBO Max, due sometime in 2021.

Hoping to stoke the flames of his victorious project, Snyder recently tweeted an image of Darkseid. Dun dun duuuunn.

In the film we got, the Justice League formed in an effort to halt the diabolical Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) from conquering Earth. The demonic denizen of Apokolips dreamed of pleasing his master Darkseid by terraforming our planet in the image of their lava laden homeworld. The villainous brute was meant to be a stepping stone, or better yet, a mini-boss for our heroes to overcome on their way to smashing fists with the big bad of the proposed trilogy, Darkseid.

In the tiny, fuzzy image tweeted by Snyder, we see an imposing figure standing tall on a strip of rock as his army marches and flies toward the camera. If you pinch, zoom, and squint, the red glare and square jaw match the visage of the comic book despot, but he doesn’t look too different from the CGI snore we were given in the original film. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

And yet, I find myself weirdly electrified by the tweet. Why?

Darkseid is often labeled as the DC Comics version of Marvel’s Thanos. Okay. Sure. He’s a tall alien dictator with a bumpy face and a mean grimace. His will matters most, and like all bastards, he aims to impose his will over all. Where Thanos saught the Infinity Stones as magical leverage, Darkseid seeks the Anti-Life Equation. Tomayto, tomahto.

When you put it that way, it’s hard to get excited, but here’s the secret power of comic books: the characters don’t matter. Like Batman, Spider-Man, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Darkseid is only as interesting as the creators pulling strings. These heroes and villains are frames for artists to fill with purpose. Under the care of some folks, Darkseid and Thanos are interchangeable. Under the care of others, Darkseid and Thanos are absolutely singular.

I don’t really care about Zack Snyder’s vision for Darkseid. I’m here to support Darkseid’s daddy, Jack Kirby.

As a company man with a longer lifespan, Stan Lee tends to get most of the credit for the creation of the Marvel Universe. He certainly deserves some, but not all. Jack Kirby was more than Lee’s wingman. Working under a method that required Kirby to construct the entirety of a comic book only for Lee to fill in the bubbles with dialogue and thought afterward, Kirby is the mastermind behind the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and dozens more.

As comic book entertainment emboldens the box office, fans have clamored to see previously unsung artists like Kirby and Batman’s Bill Finger credited alongside their characters. Lee may always have the most recognizable mug in the industry, but at least new fans are given clear pathways for exploration through proper accreditation.

Darkseid has only one master, and that’s Jack Kirby.

When the apocalyptic demon stands on screen, he will be followed by only one creator credit. That’s huge, and it will merely be the first of many as adaptations of Kirby’s The Eternals and The New Gods loom on the horizon. Comic book readers call Jack “The King,” and its time for movie audiences to appreciate his royal status.

Jack Kirby fled the Marvel offices in the early ’70s as a result of a contractual dispute, taking his big brain across the street and into the halls of the enemy. For a time, DC Comics let Kirby’s pen fly wild with imagination, producing The Fourth World, featuring the heroic New Gods and their archnemesis Darkseid. These stories were massive deconstructions of mythology, tackling the accepted tropes of the industry and eviscerating the stale status quo. Simply nothing else on the stands looked like these comics.

The movies have to live up to that standard.

Can Zack Snyder provide? Can Chloé Zhao for The Eternals? Can Ava DuVernay for The New Gods?

I have hope, and I have excitement to see their attempt.

Unfortunately, most folks couldn’t see Kirby’s Fourth World art for the revolution that it was. Kirby’s DC Comics were too weird for most readers, and it would take decades before these stories would find their audience. Snyder, Zhao, and DuVernay have an opportunity to introduce these characters to a whole new crowd of consumers. More importantly, they have an opportunity to introduce folks to Jack Kirby. For the willing, minds will be melted.

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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)