Who's Black Racer?

Who's This? Death on skis!

The facts: In Jack Kirby's Fourth World, he is the avatar of death, in particular when a New God dies. He first appears in New Gods #3 where we discover his vessel is Willie Walker, a paraplegic Vietnam vet chosen by the Source to play this role. Most of his appearances have been in Fourth World comics, but we caught sight of him elsewhere on occasion (notably Captain Atom).
How you could have heard of him: In the 2000s, he appeared in a number of New Gods-related projects including 7 Soldiers: Mister Miracle, Death of the New Gods (where he is violently killed), and Final Crisis. Not all of these appearances correlate. There's a Black Racer in the New52 with a similar function (though he races after the Flash a lot more), but who looks nothing like this (and more like a skiing Terminator).
Example story: New Gods #3 (July 1971) "Death is the Black Racer" by Jack Kirby, with Vince Colletta
Just from that cover, I think you can see the elephant in the room very clearly: He's LITERALLY Death on skis, sporting a garish suit of pseudo-Medieval armor. Hey, didn't something similar become quite popular at Marvel? You tell me at the end of this is the Black Racer is as ridiculous as he first seems, or if Kirby managed some of his magic with this character too. The big question, though, is just what his role is.

When we first meet him, he's chasing Lightray, who couldn't be more alive because destiny has decreed it.
Now, I interpret it as meaning his destiny is to follow Lightray to Earth and bond with Willie Walker (oof, just realized that's a sadly ironic name), NOT to somehow kill the young god. But both characters seem convinced that this will end with Lightray's soul going to the Source. "Prepare for touch!" and "I don't care how old you are!" (paraphrase). Lightray creates obstacles, but the Racer is too agile for him, death is implacable.
They both fly through a star, through asteroid fields, and then, Metro Boom Tubes the Black Racer to Earth. What destiny had in store all along? In any case, it seems the Black Racer's role in the universe is to come and kill you when your (New God) number is up. Gods don't die from natural causes, the Fates decide, so to speak. But as the Racer flies over Suicide Slum(?), he comes upon a gangland shooting and ponders his role in the lives of those "who risk his presence". So are mortals on the menu? Well after Sugar-Man kills a dude in the street, he sees Willie in his bed, back from Vietnam, having lost the ability to move or talk, and he thinks, hey, I'll put this war hero out of his misery. So Black Racer is there to ferry Willie's soul of Fourth World Valhalla, right? Well not quite.
He doesn't let Sugar-Man kill him and instead offers him a deal, again claiming destiny made him do it, and in that moment, Willie can move and speak, and then, a changing of the guard!
So the Black Racer isn't a New God born on either of the worlds, but rather a force that needs a host, and the host "summons" it, perhaps by wishing for death, or because it is somewhere between life and death (as Willie himself puts it). By accepting the power, you become the Black Racer, but the Black Racer becomes you, at least some of the time, in a Dr. Fate Helmet of Nabu type situation where no matter who you are, you'll also be going on and on about destiny's list of chores. And though he spared Sugar-Man's life earlier, now he's claiming he and the crook are linked in a moment of dying, so it's unfinished business for Willie. He also claims Sugar-Man sent many to the Black Racer as if he is also Death as a metaphysical "place", unless he means he was present and invisible at those moments (doubtful, but all aspects of Death may be one, so he's also Neil Gaiman's). So he catches up to Sugar-Man, and uhm, shoots him into space.
The bomb in his truck may detonate before he hits orbit though. The "mission" ends and the Black Racer returns to Willie's home, and the Racer terms him "one of many messengers who make the one entity - the Black Racer", but he's not a gestalt being. Rather, the former host has returned to the Source. And Willie as Willie continues on. It's a secret identity! His sister finds him in bed, as normal. Which is kind of weird given that he has all this power (how about a miraculous recovery) and it's a big universe and destiny must have a big shopping list. YOU might even be on it.
Brrr. Kirby injecting a bit of horror/mystery comics into his Fourth World (which be definition must include all comics genres). And it's poignant. Is this what keeps the Black Racer from being too ridiculous? Or how ruthless he is? Here's where you weigh in.

The big surprise to me is that the Black Racer isn't Death in the traditional sense - showing up at your moment of death and ferrying you on to the Source - but rather Destiny's Assassin, CAUSING the death of people who, what, evaded death one too many times? The Challengers of the Unknown deserve a visit in that case.

As a postscript, the Black Racer shows up in issue 4 to effectively ferry Seagrin's soul to the Source after the gentle aquatic New God is killed by the Deep Six, so he does that stuff too. The ways of the Gods are mysterious indeed.

Who's Next? An evil TV transmission.

3 comments:

ten-cent media said...

Extremely nice graphic inks by Vince Colletta over Jack Kirby's pencils. This art team was also responsible for the THOR books which looked completely different. THOR and Tales of Asgard were as if etched in an old world illustrative style. Kudos to Colletta for having the artistic ability to make sure his inks were appropriate for the material. Jack was great but, admittedly, a one-dimensional artist. The finished product was dictated by the various inkers that worked with him. All of them had only one style of inking. Vinnie could embellish in almost any fashion. From the elegance of his 1950's romance art to the bold, in-your-face style of these pages, Colletta was certainly a man for all seasons when it came to his artwork. All of this done in the fast-paced world of production art. Very impressive!

Siskoid said...

For my money, Mike Royer is THE Kirby inker in this era, being the most accurate as well as given it a certain gloss. Colletta was known to erase pencils to make the drawings simpler and faster to ink, and has gotten a lot of criticism for it. But fast-paced, he definitely was!

ten-cent media said...

Mike Royer is more of a tracer than an artist. In any event, he has only one style which is indeed glossy and thick. Royer inking Tales of Asgard would have been a disaster. What Vince erased was minimal but it is mentioned far more than his talents when his name comes up. People don't respect the boundaries of production art.

 

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