In perhaps the least surprising development in recent memory, imbued-with-the-power-cosmic Mexican cartoonist Charles Glaubitz has gone “Full Kirby” for Starseeds 2, the eagerly-anticipated sequel to his debut graphic novel (I trust I needn’t drop its name), and the results are pretty damn glorious. Who says the best ideas are necessarily unexpected ones?
Of course, Glaubitz was more than knocking on The King’s door in the first installment of his hopefully-ongoing epic, he was hammering on it — and with this follow-up, he’s smashed it down entirely. But don’t take that to mean he doesn’t have plenty that’s wholly original to add to the mix, because he most emphatically does.
The mythological, cosmological, phantasmagorical, and conspiratorial all collide with passion and vigor in “The Universe According To Glaubitz,” and the end result is a visually-arresting and thought-provoking reading experience well and truly unlike any other, a clash of absolutes that can only play out on the largest scale possible but that is under-written with a deep strain of the personal and idiosyncratic throughout. It’s awe-inspiring stuff, sure — but always intimate, singular, even inviting. A siren call to the stars that doesn’t take “no” for an answer, but more pulls you in than dunks you under at the deep end.
Which, it seems to me, also hearkens back to Kirby, who trusted in the power of his imagination to compel readers forward, no matter the epic scale and scope of the sheer metaphysical grandeur he committed to the page. Jack could scare you with the sheer force of his ideas and the inspired manner in which he expressed them, but he never let them subsume you— “merely” overwhelm you. Few artists who have followed in his wake have understood that key distinction, but Glaubitz surely does, and that may just be the single most important artist lesson he takes from the man Grant Morrison (correctly, it seems to me) referred to as “the William Blake of the 20th century.”
Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t have the superficial trappings — the deliriously “purple” prose, the sweeping interstellar vistas, the “blocky” figures and, yes, the “krackle” — nailed down to a “T,” as two seconds with this book most ably demonstrate that he does, but he intuitively understands that the meaning and the message that his magnificent imagery and neo-mythical text convey are what’s really important. That seems obvious enough as I type it out, but again : how many latter-day cartoonists have used Kirby as a springboard, only to have their finished work belie only the most shallow understanding of both what he did and, crucially, why he did it?
Returning characters from the first Starseeds undergo major transformational “arcs” here, particularly Renato, who wages a hapless internal struggle to fight the evil threatening to consume him, and the villainous Illuminati, who refuse to stay down and end up coming back, bigger and badder and bolder than ever, while intriguing new figures such as The Rainbow Twins add further layers of mystery to an epic already thick with it — but it’s the fulfillment of the time-immemorial prophecy of the seven titular “Starseeds,” and their fated clash with the Great Darkness emanating from, and controlled by, The Lizard King that takes center stage here, as we learn the origins of this inevitable conflagration date all the way back to the so-called “Big Bang” itself and the four cosmic “god forces” that it brought into being in order to balance, and by default guide and govern, our universe.
Is all this big enough for you? I figured as much.
Now, if it all sounds a heck of a lot like Kirby’s take on 2001 : A Space Odyssey, that’s because it absolutely is, but this time out Glaubitz isn’t playing at the margins, he’s jumping right in, drawing a direct line from his “Starseeds” to The King’s “Star Seeds” or “Children Of the Monolith,” to Kubrick and Clarke’s solitary, gigantic cosmic embryo. It’s a logical continuation of a pre-existing story filtered through the unique prism of a different artist and, just as his predecessors did, Glaubitz uses all of this spectacle to address almost every aspect of the human condition and our place in this vast, unknowable universe — where we’ve been, where we are and, most significantly, where we’re going.
None of which means you need to have read Kirby’s or Clarke’s 2001, or even seen Kubrick’s film, to appreciate what’s happening here. There are certainly instances where Glaubitz’ cartooning is more reminiscent of David Sandlin or Diego Lazzarin than it is to Kirby, numerous other times when it’s something entirely new and very nearly incomparable to anything or anyone else — but for those who do understand the direct lineage, this is a richer and more, dare I say it, profound experience.
It’s also an evolution — not only has the color palette changed from first book to second, not only has the implicit become explicit, but the magnitude of Glaubitz’ writing and illustration has been kicked up any number of notches, his control of, and confidence in, his vision literally exploding off the page. I have no idea where he’s going with this next, but my sincere hope — hell, my expectation — is that publisher Fantagraphics will be more than happy to allow him to continue following his muses and influences to whatever conclusion(s) they lead him to. I’ll certainly be along for the entirety of the mind-blowing ride.
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