from Amazing Heroes #20, February 1983
It all began a couple of millenia ago, when the old gods made war on each other and destroyed their world, splitting it into two newly-born spheres. One was ruled by good beings, the other was a realm of evil. Inevitably, war broke out again and threatened to devastate both planets until a message from the power that superseded even the "gods" brought open hostilities to a halt. But a cold war ensued and drew a third world into the conflict -- namely, Earth. The good and evil gods made alliances with humans in a secret plot to conquer the universe by finding a weapon that guaranteed absolute domination over all living beings.
That was just for openers.
The paragraph above describes the bare bones of Jack Kirby's New Gods series, which began in 1970 and spawned a horde of mythic heroes and villains that revitalized the DC universe. They've been cancelled time and again, and, while the New Gods have never been headliners for very long, the sheer power of Kirby's concepts has kept them from dying. By now, Orion, Highfather, Lightray, Metron, Mister Miracle, and especially Darkseid are pop legends. As many comics creators have found out, they're superb grist for the myth-mills of Earth One's heroes.
Why? Well, for one thing, the heroes of Kirby's "Fourth World" are literally larger than life in all respects. At a time when Green Lantern/Green Arrow and a less-powerful Superman were contracting their fantasy basis to bring the heroes back to hard, gritty reality, Kirby's New Gods, Forever People, Mr. Miracle, and Jimmy Olsen expanded the imaginative frontier. And, even though Kirby's undisciplined creativity weakened later on through lack of boundaries and puerile scripting, the Earthwar Saga was produced just as Kirby was leaving Marvel and hadn't entirely escaped the influence of Stan Lee's bolt-tightening on Captain America, Thor, and The Fantastic Four. Though Kirby would falter badly later on, his storytelling ability was still at a peak through those early issues of the tetralogy.
The books themselves should tell the story. As it was, the whole convoluted tale began, of all places, in Jimmy Olsen #133 (Oct. 1970). The cover depicted Jimmy riding tandem with a bearded motorcyclist, leading on a pack of bikers as they caromed off Superman's body (Unbelievably, Superman appeared to be staggered by the impact.) The logo was redone to read "Superman's Ex-Pal, the New Jimmy Olsen!" It was bound to offend traditionalists, but it brought on a lot of Marvel readers who formerly wouldn't have touched a Superman Family book with ice tongs.
Within, "Jimmy Olsen Brings Back the Newsboy Legion," scripted and pencilled by Kirby and inked by his old Thor-partner Vince Colletta, saw Superman's best friend teaming up with a crew called Big Words, Gabby, Tommy, Scrapper -- all of them about 14 and the sons of the original Star-Spangled Comics-era Newsboy Legion -- and Flipper Dipper, the black kid who integrated the gang and usually walked around in scuba gear on dry land. Their gimmick was the Whiz Wagon, a variation on the Fantasticar, financed by Morgan Edge, just introduced to the Superman comics as head capo of Galaxy Broadcasting. "I'm proud to be a part of your intrepid group!" Olsen declared. "Intrepid?" piped up Scrapper. "Does dat mean we're somethin' like stupid, wise guy?"
As it turned out, Edge had sent Jimmy and the group to investigate a "sanctuary for wierd motorcycle groups" called the Wild Area, and Clark Kent planned to dissuade Jimmy from the hazardous assignment. (In almost all issues of Olsen, Kirby's Superman figures were redrawn by Al Plastino to make them more consistent with other DC titles.) Edge pulled an uncharacteristic stroke for somebody who employs one of the nation's top reporters. He called up Intergang, an outfit of hired killers, and ordered his top reporter rubbed out. Bad business sense, at the very least. Naturally, since Clark Kent is Superman, a speeding hitman's car fails to do much that jostle his eyeglasses.
Meanwhile, in the Wild Area, Jimmy and the Newsboys ran into a couple of iron-masked motorcycle toughs driving hyperscientific cycles who shelled the Wagon with a "dyna-blast cannon action." The six youths clambered out and beat up their foes in a two-page donnybrook uncharacteristic of previous plot-heavy Olsens, and were then surrounded by a motorcycle gang called the "Hairies." "That's our leader you just zonked, hero!" explained onem helpfully. "So -- according to our code -- that makes you the leader!"
Superman turned up, ran across a longhaired man meditating on a giant mushroom that emitted noxious gas, defused a vigilante squad, and, finally, met Olsen and the Hairies, who encircled him in a ring of cycles and zapped him unconscious with a kryptonite raygun to prevent his interference.
The point of all this? Well, Olsen, the Newsboy Legion, and the Hairies were all looking for the Mountain of Judgment, the habitat of a race aptly called the Outsiders. They found it in the next issue after a cycle-ride across chasms, under the sea, past falling rocks, and through a two-page photo-montage "hallucination trip" that led them all, including Superman, to the Mountain. This proved to be a giant, mobile "missile carrier," customized in the image of a dragon-gargoyle, inside which exist the Hairies, a race of super-scientific hippied. Jude, the leader of the group (apparently named for the Beatles' song "Hey Jude") then deactivated a bomb hidden in the Newsboys' Whiz Wagon. Treachery was afoot, and to underscore this, Kirby flashed back to Morgan Edge. The evil executive stared into a communicator, on the screen of which was a rock-like face, incorrectly colored in flesh tone. "Yes, great Darkseid!" murmured Edge. "I am your servant!"
"Darkseid!" wrote Kirby. "With the mention of that name, the outline of a vast, ominous intrigue begins to take shape!" Vast enough, at least, for one villain to supervise operations in four of five comic books at the same time. The follow-up Olsen sequence, which ran through issues #135-138, gave us more tantalizing cameos of Darkseid, who directed a pair of evil clone-engineers called, appropriately, Simyan and Mokkari. Their business was duplicating hordes of inch-high Superman, Jimmy Olsens, and Newsboy Legionnaires, plus a giant-sized, superstrong Jimmy Olsen clone with kryptonite-impregnated skin (Has anybody ever forgotten that cover where a Hulk-like Jimmy Olsen knocked Superman for a loop?) In the course of the four issues, Kirby introduced the DNA Project, a supersecret government installation experimenting with clones and homemade super-heroesm, reintroduced the original Newsboy Legion, now workers at the Project, and informed us that all the grief Superman was inheriting was emanating from Darkseid's homeworld, Apokalips. But, when the giant green Jimmy attacked, Superman got help from an unexpected source. "Like you men, I can't save the day!" snapped Tommy, Senior. "But, I like you, I know who might!" "Who might" turned out to be the shield-slinging Golden Guardian, a clone of the first Newsboy Legion's mentor who had recently been shot by an Intergang hood. Like his predecessor Captain America, the Guardian leaps into the fray in an impressive full-pager and helped the gang bring the hulking Olsen-clone to bear. (In the middle, we got a toy plane loaded down with inch-high Scrapper paratroopers that hosed down the clone with liquid nitrogen.) Darkseid, who had planned to eliminate Superman thusly, was not pleased, and was even more peeved when Simyan and Mokkari failed to destroy the DNA Project with their creation, "the Four-Armed Terror." (It may not have been the greatest creation in the world, but it was a gas to watch!)
But, by this time, the other three books in the tetralogy were out. And each one hooked into the central mythos of the Fourth World, surpassing the Olsen title and the beginning the godwar saga.
The Road to Supertown
The first Forever People (March 1971) continued the super-technology shtick from Jimmy Olsen by featuring on the cover four futuristic tennagers riding a strange three-wheeled vehicle. They were being pursued by Superman himself, who shouted "Wait! This is my only chance to find my own kind! You must tell me how to reach Supertown!" Big Bear, the large, hairy one, grinned and said, "Try the Boom Tube - if you dare!" Then it was off to the dragstrip.
The story opened wth a screaming ring of light emitting the four riders, Big Bear, Serifan, Mark Moonrider, and Vykin the Black, onto a lonely country road outside Metropolis with a loud explosive noise. They phased through an oncoming car by "re-shifting" their atoms, then saved the drivers by magnetic waves emerging from a handheld "Mother Box." "What Vykin means," explained Moonrider, "is that Mother Box is like a computer-" "Wrong!" snapped Vykin. "Mother Box lives! She talks to us - protects us - we shall need her when the time comes to rescue Beautiful Dreamer!" "I-is that right -" muttered the driver. "- How about that -"
Big Bear, the jovial cycle-driver, had super-strength; Mark Moonrider, the straight-kid leader, possessed an explosive "megaton touch"; Vykin, the grim black warrior, had magnetic powers; Serifan was a pacifist on the thin side who had cartridges in his cowboy hat that had more functions than a Swiss knife; and Beautiful Dreamer, whome they sought, was a illusionist. Before the couple they had rescued left, they took a few pictures of the "Forever People," noting that "Jimmy Olsen will eat this up!" So did Clark Kent, who had just finished talking to a boxer. The pugilist, a champ, was still griped that he was small potatoes beside Superman: "He can put down an army of titleholders! With Superman in the picture, the fight game is a farce!" (Aptly enough, the boxer was named Rocky.) Clark Kent realized his loneliness, and, as fate would have it, Jimmy Olsen walked in with a photo of the Boom Tube in action. At the other end of the Boom Tube, Kent spotted the futuiristic buildings of the civilization the Forever People call Supertown. Kent changed to Superman and went on the search for the foursome.
Meantime, Intergang was on the lookout for them as well, and crossed swords with the Man of Steel. Naturally, they ended up on the receiving end, with a telephone pole rammed through their helicopter. The Forever People encounterd Superman and took him for a "Supertowner." "Joining up against Darkseid?" queries Moonrider. Before Superman can explain, they're jumped by Gravi-Guards, huge bounders with crimson skin and the ability to increase gravity in any given spot a la Star Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Even Superman was brought down by one of the horde. But, not to worry; this is a set-up for the most dramatic scene in the book.
"Release the one who lives outside of all things infinite!" snapped Moonrider. In response, Mother Box levitated into the air, and the foursome placed their hands on each side of it in a quasi-religious ritual. "Send him your signal, Mother Box! Let your circuits carry the word - let it grow loud, until it reaches the winds of infinity!"
"TAARU!" The Forever People and the box disappear in a flare of light. In the next panel, a huge, golden-arm reached down and trapped a startled Gravi-Guard: "I have heard! I am here! I am the Infinity Man!"
And with that, the giant in blue armor mopped up the floor with ever last Gravi-Guard, tossing them into the sky with anti-gravity, pulling off Superman's attacker and slamming him through a line of tree trunks. After this, the Infinity Man and Superman witnessed Darkseid emerge from an underground lair, with Beautiful Dreamer, entranced, on a table under which "radion bombs" are found. "The girl's mind is unique!" said Darkseid. "It will not interpret the equation!" At that, he vanished. It was Superman's first encounter with the prime mover in the entire conflict. Picking up Infinity Man under one arm and Beautiful Dreamer under the other, Superman sped them to safety before the bombs could explode.
The Infinity Man vanished in a "TAARU!", to be replaced by the Forever People. Superman asked them to show him the path to Supertown. They did so, opening a Boom Tube - a transdimensional portal - but warned him that "if Darkseid conquers, there will be nothing - not even Supertown!" Superman disregarded this for a few minutes, until his sense of duty overwhelmed him and he turned back towards Earth, having only glimpsed the towers of "Supertown."
Finally, the story came to a head in The New Gods. Issue #1, released the same month, opened with a scene of devastating battle across an entire world, straight out of "Tales of Asgard."
The battle of the old gods tore their homeworld into two equal, molten halves, seperated by very little space and continuing, twins, in a single orbit that defied all laws of natural science.
Cut to the sight of a lone warrior, streaking through space on a portable flyer, dressed in a red uniform and a metallic mask-helmet, with a grim and unchanging expression. His mission was "to thwart the ultimate destruction!", for he was Orion -- "Orion of the New Gods!"
Escorted by his friend, a cheerful sort with the cognomen of Lightray and the ability to transform into living light waves, Orion found his way to New Genesis, the world called "Supertown" by the Forever People. Its capital city, built on a "floating island" that orbited above an unsullied planet, bore more than casual resemblance to Thor's Asgard. Orion, the unsmiling prime warrior of a world of beauty, came upon Highfather, also known as Izaya, the leader of the New Genesites (Highfather, with the robes, staff and white beard of an Old Testament prophet, could have been played by Charlton Heston. The whole affair was as theological as Shazam's anointment of Captain Marvel!) Highfather, after saluting a chorus of children, directed Orion to the chamber of "The Source," a wall upon which a mysterious hand wrote words of prophecy: "It is eternal! It is the Life Equation!"
Suddenly, Metron, the next member of the primary New Gods cast, phased into view. Cold and less passionate even than Orion, Metron was a Mr. Spock figure who rode a Mobius Chair through time and space. His one passion was scientific knowledge and theory, and he would give his soul for that pursuit -- as he already had.
A hand appeared on the wall of the Source, and wrote the words "Orion to Apokalips -- then to Earth -- then to war!" "But it does not decide!" said Highfather. "The right of choice is ours! That is the Life Equation!" "The Anit-Life Equation was undiscovered until these days," explained Metron. "It means the Outside Control of all living thought."
Highfather turned to Orion. "The universe -- slave or free -- on Apokalips their ruler, Darkseid, has already made that choice!" Orion elected to leave on the mission. As he walked out, Metron spoke the fateful prophecy, "How wonderously wise is the Source! Who is more ready to fight the father -- than the son!"
Orion journeyed to Apokalips, a world whose very substance was being consumed by immense energy-pits, and whose surface was shrouded by polluted air (a big minus in those ecology-conscious days) and covered in grey cities uglier than William Blake's London. There, he battled "para-demons," giant dogs, and the caveman-like Kalibak, his mortal enemy, until he discovered that Darkseid had begun kidnapping humans from Earth. He quickly freed them and, eschewing combat with Kalibak, conveyed his four charges -- Victor Lanza, Claudia Shane, Harvey Lockman, and Dave Lincoln -- to their homeworld. He followed, realizing that the enemy of New Genesis had taken up residence on this new planet. "Darkseid! I have come! The battle begins!" shouted Orion toward a thundering sky. Not far off, Darkseid's head loomed above the edge of a building roof. "I hear you, Orion," replied the lord of Apokalips. "The battle begins!"
The Super Escape Artist
And so it did, but not before another hero joined the fray. The next month, with a cover that proclaimed, "He cheats death! He defies man! No man can hold him!, Mister Miracle was unleashed.
As it was, the new defier-of-Darkseid just assumed the identity. The original Mr. Miracle was a costumed escape artist, one Thaddeus Brown, who burst free from a flaming trap before an onlooker called Scott Free could save him. Just afterward, a party of enforcers from Intergang appeared and tried to stir up trouble, but the plucky newcomer, the old liberationist and his dwarf assistant, Oberon, took out the four hoods. Stuka, one of the gangsters, reported in to his boss, Steel Hand, who proved to have a mitt of metal so strong that it could demolish solid titanium. In case you haven't guessed, he was the villain.
Back at the ranch, Thaddeus Brown explained that Steel Hand had challenged him to escape a certain trap, and had vowed to make it inescapable. Scott Free strutted his stuff by shattering yards of chain to sharpnel with a small magnetic repulsor, then joined with Brown and his crew. The day of the great escape came, and, chained to a post, the original Mr. Miracle had to slip his bonds just before a titanic steel ball rolled down a chute at him. As the ball was released, a rifle shot was heard, and Brown slumped in his chains. Scott Free inexplicably deflected the ball with a burst of energy from his hand; Brown was dying, and realized that Steel Hand's "big trap" was death itself, but Free, taking a Mother Box from his sleeve, eased Mr. Miracle's passage into eternity.
Days later, Steel Hand was visited by the man who now wore Thaddeus Brown's costume as the new Mister Miracle. Tossing his syndicate bullies aside, Miracle challenged the crime-boss to devise a trap for him, with Steel Hand's confession as a prize if Miracle escaped. Steel Hand complied, in a fashion, chaining the masked man to a missile about to be launched into space. Before it could lift off, the world's greatest escape artist burst his bonds with help from the mechanisms in his costume and baged Steel Hand in his lair. A fight ensued, with Miracle's gadgets proving the stronger as he wrapped the villain up for the cops. As they hauled Steel Hand away, Oberon declares "You've got a great act, Scott! I'd be proud to assist you!"
"Done, Oberon!" replied Mister Miracle. "From now on, we're both part of Mister Miracle -- Super Escape Artist!"
So much for the beginnings. There were still origins to be told, but we'd have to wait a year for them.
After stringing the readers along for about 17 months, during which mythic characters were introduced by the carload, Jack Kirby finally got down to revealing the origins of the New Gods in a flashback issue. New Gods #7, "The Pact," told the tale of the Great Clash between New Genesis and Apokalips in one of the King's most majestic stories:
Trying for a scene of tranquility, Kirby depicted a youthful Izaya and his blonde wife, Avia, relaxing in a meadow surrounded by doves and strings of flowers. The idyllic scene was interrupted by troopers from Apokalips under the personal direction of Steppenwolf, the brother of the shadow planet's queen, and her son Darkseid. Steppenwolf killed Avia and Darkseid pretended to murder Izaya, but, instead, had merely stunned him in order to insure his survival -- and a war, which would bring him to power.
New Genesis retaliated, bringing hyper-science and quasi-mystic ability to bear against Apokalips. Bombs devastated cities. "Dragon Tanks" belched flame upon the fields of New Genesis. Warriors engaged other warriors hand-to-hand, and death claimed beings from both worlds wholesale. In the meantime, Metron of New Genesis turned Judas, collaborating with Darkseid on a matter transporter -- the forerunner of the Boom Tube -- in order to gain the necessary element with which to power his Mobius chair. Heggra, Darkseid's mother, cackled in glee. In the midst of the Apokalips invasion, however, Izaya engaged Steppenwolf in personal combat and destroyed him.
The cost of the war proved to be too great. Both planets were laid waste by the conflict. Izaya, sickened by thr destruction, tore off his helmet, armor, and war-staff, rejecting the way of war. He was driven forth, on a quest until he reached a blank wall standing in the midst of the devastation. He raised his arms to the heavens and shouted, "If I am Izaya the Inheritor -- what is my inheritance?"
A burst of energy erupted from the wall. As the smoke cleared Izaya peered forward and saw a fiery hand tracing letters on the wall -- THE SOURCE!
Izaya, converted, became Highfather and sued for peace. Heggra had been killed in the war, but not before she arranged a distasteful marriage between her son and Tigra (no relation to the Marvel heroine). The product of the marriage, who had never known his parents, was a youthful Orion, who took out six guards before they could stuff him through a dimensional doorway. In exchange, Highfather gave up his own son to Darkseid. The handsome youth was given to the tender mercies of Granny Goodness, who ran Darkseid's private military academy. "He may conveniently decide to escape from Apokalips, Granny!" confided Darkseid. "Of course, on that day -- the pact I agreed to will be broken!"
"That fine day will be dear to your heart, sire!" Smiled the hag. "Therefore, in its honor, I shall name the lad -- Scott Free!"
Back on New Genesis, young Orion palmed a knife and burst into a room where Izaya sat. Orion, told that the old man was his father, prepared to stab him. Without touching him, Izaya induced him to lower his hand. Izaya stretched out his own palm to the boy. "The hand or the weapon, Orion! I, too, had to make that choice! Decide!"
Orion dropped the knife to the ground. He is, in a very real sense, Highfather's new son.
That ended the tale of Orion's beginnings. Since no origin material was given for the Forever People -- they remained mysteries to the end -- we must take up the trail of Scott Free's childhood in his own book. The story, which paid its debts to Dickens's Oliver Twist and David Copperfield -- and, probably, to West Point and Kirby's own memories of the Army -- began in Mr. Miracle #5 with "Young Scott Free."
Scott, in the opening sequence, appeared as a shaven-headed cadet up on the punishment block, standing at attention. His crime: letting some prisoners he was to torture overpower him and escape. Granny Goodness, characteristically, belted him with a truncheon and had him run through a gauntlet of upper classmen who drubbed him soundly with billy clubs. In addition, he got some time in solitary for his tenderheartedness. This turned out to be a ablessing in disguise, for Metron, having built his Mobius Chair, wished to do penance and phased in to become Scott's fairy godfather. In the days to come, he would protect Scott Free from Granny's more insidious tortures and help subvert him to the cause of New Genesis.
The "Young Scott Free" series ran for two more issues, until the full-lengther in issue #9, entitles "Himon." This story, the companion to "The Pact," introduced Himon, Apokalips escape artist extraordinare and rebel subversive. Armagetoo, the capital of Apokalips, made even New Jersey seem palatable and served as the setting for the tale. Himon, evading a fiery deathtrap that consumed a horde of proles, phased in to a secret hideaway housing himself. Scott Free (now an underground rebel in his spare time), Zep (an abstract artist), Auralie (a gentle girl from Granny's Amazon corps who created ballet illusions), and two clowns named Bravo and Weldun, plus a nasty character named - and why not? - Kreetin.
A raid ensued, but not before Big Barda, a lieutenant in Darkseid's Female Furies, arrived just in time to rescue Auralie from the mob. Scott Free and his fellows teleported away, but Kreetin, too stupid to build a working teleporter, was captured by the crowd and Himon stayed behind, offering his life for his wayward student's. Metron arrived on the scene, witnessing the capture. It was of little avail; Himon escaped from a deadly acid bath, a brace of explosives, strangulation, and death by falling. Though many times a body is found and displayed, they inevitably prove to be android duplicates.
Finally free, Himon met with Metron near Armagetto. Where Metron is "master of the elements," Himon is "master of theories;" together, the two have designed the Mobius Chair and the Boom Tube and conspired to deliver Scott Free from Apokalips. Scott, meanwhile, saw his rebel friends slain by trooper "Wonderful Willik" and hung from a display, and Barda, standing by his side, was priviledged to see Auralie's body clamped to an electrocution device. Some fun. Nobody gets away with that in a Kirby comic; Willik sat down to dinner only to be killed by a bomb planted in the main course.
Himon met with Scott and Barda, freed from entrapment. When the young trooper asked Himon why Darkseid seeks his death, the old man replies, "I'm a dreamer! A visionary! A think-tank who pioneered the calculating Mother Box and linked it with the Source! I found the X-element and pioneered the Boom-Tube! I dream! I roam the universe! Darkseid wants to own it!"
And own it he could, by means of the Anti-Life Equation. This mental formula, encased in the brain of certain earthlings, could impart control over individual people by the possessor; in the brain of Darkseid, it could enslave a cosmos. "Then Darkseid fears us all!" declared Scott. "He fears what he can't control!" After remembering part of his childhood, Scott returned to his barracks, only to be forced to run for it when parademons tried to take him. He fought his wai free with the help of Barda and some sympathetic Amazons. Still, crushed under artificially-induced heavy gravity, he was forced to crawl toward his goal, an open Boom Tube headed for Earth, beside which stand Himon and Metron.
Behind him, Darkseid suddenly appeared. "He can take it! I'll not stop him now! If courage and bravery took him here, some of it was mine!"
"If he leaves Apokalips, he'll find the universe." stated Himon.
"Let me be Scott Free - and find myself!" yelled Scott, seconds before he plummeted through the gateway to Earth.
This, too, was part of Darkseid's plan, for now he would have an excuse to begin war on New Genesis again. As Himon and Metron phased out, they prophesised to Darkseid, "We shall be in Armagetto when it ends! For it is here where you will face Orion!"
That was how it began. What occurred between Mister Miracle #9 and Mister Miracle #1 remained untold, since Kirby did not proceed beyond this in his Fourth World saga and no one since then has decided to fill in the gaps.
The Forever People, as stated before, remained ciphers. They were of some importance in the "godwar," as evidenced by Izaya himself rescuing them from Darkseid's traps in #7: "Where our greatest warriors have tread in caution - Moonrider and his family unit have wildly vanished!" And a pin-up of Beautiful Dreamer and Darkseid in Forever People #4 stated that "Both hold the key to victory in the strangest war ever fought in comicdom's history!" What was meant by that? Did Beautiful Dreamer hold the Anti-Life Equation, or its antithesis, a Life Equation? Could she, perhaps, be the daughter of Izaya? Who was the Infinity Man, and what was his true connection with the youths of New Genesis? Kirby abandoned the book with its 11th issue, and the Forever People were never seen again. But there's always the future, if DC revivalists are listening.
to be continued...