DC Comics has done the world a great favour by finally collecting the complete Fourth World saga in a durable, hardcover format. Jack Kirby’s magnum opus has never looked better, printed on a newsprint-like paper and sympathetically re-coloured for the digital age. Okay, one could ask for a wee bit more and have the whole thing in the oversize ‘Absolute’ format — but that’s nitpicking: these are lovely books that look wonderful on the bookshelf.

The collection presents all the original comics (Jimmy Olsen #133-148, New Gods #1-11, Forever People #1-11, Mister Miracle #1-18, plus the two finale graphic novels) in publication order, so the reader can experience just how the story originally unfolded. Needless to say, the imagination on display is nothing short of astonishing. Never before, and rarely since, has there been such a sustained level of inventive brilliance on the comics page. Finally freed of the straitjacket of Marvel, the reinvigorated Kirby was firing on all cylinders. Most of the characters used in the saga had been visually created years before, and the concepts and world had been percolating through the keen Kirby brain for some time — he just didn’t want Marvel to have them!

Unfortunately, DC — and possibly the world of comics fandom — didn’t know what it had, and the saga was cancelled a long way from conclusion. Kirby was given a shot at finishing the thing in the mid-80s, and he gave it his best, though it’s fair to say the resulting graphic novels are not Kirby’s finest hour: there was no way he could conclude such a sprawling epic in so few pages. And he probably had no real desire to. Hunger Dogs is a fine read nonetheless, on its own terms it’s actually extraordinary — it only fails as a conclusion to the ongoing story.

One special bonus to this collection is that the Hunger Dogs pages are presented as originally inked by Mike Royer, rather than the Greg Theakston-altered pages that saw print in the original book. Theakston had an impossible task and tried his best, but it’s great to be able to see the work as Kirby intended at last.

What’s it about? At it’s heart it’s a story of good versus evil. When the old gods died, their world was split asunder and reborn as two: New Genesis, where the happy shiny people live, and Apokalips, where evil is given free-reign. Darkseid rules Apokalips and, craving ever-greater power, he seeks the anti-life equation that will allow him total control over everything. The gods of New Genesis stand between him and his goal, with the war being fought on Earth — with mere mortal humans caught in the crossfire!

These are some of the finest comics ever done. It’s been argued — and I might not disagree — that New Gods #6-8 and Mister Miracle #9 are THE best comics of all time. Seriously, if you’re a comics fan, this stuff really should be in your collection.