2001: A Space Odyssey

By | Monday, February 12, 2007 1 comment
This weekend, I read Jack Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey series. I happened to catch the original movie on cable, and thought reading the series soon afterward would probably help to make a little more sense to me than trying to recall the movie after not having seen it for several years.

I actually bought the series a few months back knowing that I was going to be doing some research on Machine Man for an upcoming Jack Kirby Collector article. I realized that I could have bought just the last few issues in which the character appears, but I thought reading the whole series might provide a little more perspective. (Not to mention that it's Kirby, for crying out loud!)

The series, as a whole, is interesting for a few reasons. First, it has some superb storytelling in it. It's generally considered well after Jack's prime, but his talents as a stoyteller are still running at full steam. Second, it's absolutely amazing that it was produced -- it was licensed almost a decade after the movie first came out AND Jack wrote it, in effect, as a single graphic novel.

That's what I find most interesting, actually. Each issue doesn't really stand particularly well on its own. Indeed, several of the complaints that show up in the letters pages speak to that effect. But when read as a whole, it makes much more sense. The gap between issues is neglible, and readers aren't required to make as large leaps from one issue to the next. 2001 is not actually story-driven, and a simple plot summary on a per-issue basis would be impossible. Jack spends each "chapter" exploring different aspects of the same theme, and that makes it poor for a serialized format.

I use the term "chapter" because the story doesn't break down into individual issues very well either, as Jack's constructed it. The first two issues are fairly stand-alone, but 3 and 4 are one story, as are 5, 6 and 7. The final three issues, too, are written in a more traditional serial narrative fashion, but still fall under a single storyline. So, over the course of ten issues, readers have five chapters of increasing length.

The work strikes me as one of the most philosophical of Jack's pieces I've ever read. Jack examines not only the evolution of man, but also man's role in creating his own future, as well as what he thinks that future might be. In many respects, it is a very personal vision of what Jack felt the movie meant and, despite some of the action trappings of his typical comic book work, the extensions of where his mind went when he was crafting stories is less opaque than what it is usually evident in those action trappings.

I don't suspect this will be reprinted or collected any time soon (in part for legal reasons and in part for economic ones) so I'd recommend checking out the series if you're a fan of Kirby and his storytelling ability. I would just caution, though, that this is really a graphic novel and should be read in a small timeframe. Don't start on #1 until you've got the other nine issues in hand.
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Anonymous said...

It's definitely hot stuff! Wish I'd picked up more of the issues as they came out...