While the mainstream sites are telling you that Arthur C. Clarke will have a secular funeral - apparently, it's a bit of a slow news day - we here at io9 would rather remember the great man's greatest work: 2001: A Space Odyssey. We'd just like to do it by remembering the little-known comic book version, is all.
Eight years after the release of the movie version of Clarke's novel, Marvel Comics not only released an oversized adaptation of the film by Fantastic Four, Hulk and X-Men co-creator Jack Kirby, but also let Kirby loose on a follow-up series. While the movie adaptation didn't lack for ambition (The cover announced that "The Ultimate Trip Becomes The Ultimate Illustrated Adventure!") and had a weird charm in over-the-top narration like this -
The great Monolith makes a soft sound - - A simple, maddeningly repetitious sound which hypnotizes all who come within its spell. Moonwatcher and his tribe cluster like sleepwalkers before the cube. It is talking to them... and the man-apes are listening - - Moving closer - - Touching - - Responding to communication from the infinite...
Kirby's continuation of the movie has to be seen to be believed. Realizing that a literal sequel to the movie was a bad idea (If only Clarke himself had come to that conclusion, we would've been spared 2010), Kirby decided instead to try a series of thematic replays of the movie's plot, with each story focusing on evolutionary leaps connected in some way to the Monolith and the freaky star-baby at the end of the movie, whom he called the New Seed. Almost stunningly uncommercial, Kirby nonetheless clearly had the idea that he was dealing with Important Themes with the series.
[The New Seed] will always be there in the story's final moments to taunt us with the question we shall never answer. The little shaver is, perhaps, the embodiment of our own hopes in a world which daily makes us more than a bit uneasy about the future ... in the meager space devoted to his appearance, he brightens our hopes considerably. He is a comforting visual, almost tangible reminder that the future is not yet up for grabs. And wherever his journey takes him matters not one whit to this writer. The mere fact that the chances of his making it are still good is the comforting thought.
The result? A comic cancelled in just 10 issues and, because of rights issues, never reprinted or seen since, with even Kirby diehard fans unconvinced of its quality:
I place Kirby's 2001 book in the same category as William Shatner's schlock vanity singing album. Kirby did it because it was something he wanted to do, even though there was no market demand for it.
Maybe when we all evolve into New Seeds, we'll see what he was trying to get at.
2001: A Space Odyssey Comic Book [SciFi Dimensions]