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New Gods For Old: A Hero History of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Part 2

by Lou Mougin

from Amazing Heroes #21, March 1983

Jack Kirby wasted no time in developing characters, offbeat super-societies, and concepts for his new worlds. Thanks for its links for the Supeman Family titles through Jimmy Olsen, all the action was centered in and around Metropolis. Murray Boltinoff decided to buy into the action too, and started pitting Lois Lane against minions of Darkseid in her own book, without Kirby's supervision. She and Superman coped with the Outsiders from Jimmy Olsen, miniature Justice League clones from the DNA Project, and the evil Morgan Edge before the game was done. Kirby never saw fit to acknowledge the developments in his own books.

Back in the book that kicked it all off, Jimmy Olsen, everybody's favorite 40-year-old cub reporter, Superman, the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion suffered through a two-issue crossover with Don Rickles. It seemed Don had a look-alike named Goody Rickles who worked for the Daily Planet and - well, it's too painful to retell. Along the way, Clark Kent was locked into an Apokalips spacecraft and rescued by Lightray. Afterwards, the team of Olsen and Superman ran across a miniature world created by a DNA Project scientist and populated by miniature vampires, werewolves, and Frankensteinian monsters (By this time, sadly, some of the Kirby corniness that would lose him the adulation of comics fandom was beginning to surface.) At the same time, the Newsboy Legion tracked down and dispatched the thug who murdered the original Guardian. This done, Jimmy and the boys went to Scotland, encounted Loch Ness monsters, went to the Evil Factory and saw Simyan and Mokkari destroyed, and finished it all up by encountering an Earthian villain named Victor Volcanium. Kirby left with Olsen #148, but a different group of creators pitched in for a solo tale of the Newsboy Legion in #150. Finally, in #152, E. Nelson Bridwell and Steve Skeates revealed that the evil Morgan Edge was only a clone, who had been created by Darkseid to infiltrate Galaxy Communications. Darkseid himself ordered the Phony Edge to annihilate his double, but a member of Intergang shot the wrong victim, and that was that. Apokaliptic elements would not show up in a Jimmy Olsen story for years to come (Superman did get to New Genesis, however, in #147, and met Highfather before returning to Earth.)

The Forever People continued with some of the most enjoyable stories in the run, reminiscent of the original X-Men as a teen-aged super-hero group. The Infinity Man saved the Earth from Mantis, an "energy vampire" from Apokalips, in #2. Then, established in a slum area of Metropolis with a crippled kid named Willie for a roommate, Mark Moonrider and company ran afoul of Glorious Godfrey, Darkseid's personal evangelist, who preached Anti-Life life a cosmic Marjoe and uniformed his followers as Justifiers, who thought themselves "justified" in performing any action against their enemies - specifically, their enemies as Godfrey defined them ("Yes, it is his gift to us, friends! The Cosmic Hunting License! The right to point the finger or the gun!" The sequence may have had some bearing on Britain's Judge Dredd strip later on.) This issue also introduced Desaad, Darkseid's sadistic lieutenant and chief inquisitor. In the course of the story, Darkseid delivered forth his best soliloquy:

"I like you, Glorious Godfrey! You're a shallow, precious child, the revelationist - happy with the sweeping sound of words! But I am the revelation! The tiger-force at the core of all things! When you cry out in your dreams - it is Darkseid that you see!"

The next few issues saw Moonrider, Serifan, Vykin, Beautiful Dreamer and Big Bear trapped in Desaad's amusement park where unsuspecting carnival-goers tortured the youths and the Apokalips villain fed on the fear. In a chilling sequence, Desaad even attempted the murder of Mother Box, which phased out just in time and turned up in the hands of Sonny Sumo, an oriental wrestler who, unknowing, possessed the Anti-Life Equation. Through Sonny, the box saved the fivesome and defeated the minions of Darkseid, but the evil one himself saw Sumo control the wills of his assistants. The Anti-Life Equation had been found! Issues #6 and #7 saw Darkseid dispatch the Forever People to different historical eras with the Omega Effect power he possessed, to be ultimately rescued by Highfather's Alpha Effect power. (Sonny Sumo wound up living out his life in peace in ancient Japan.) "The Power!" (#8) unearthed another Terran, Billion-Dollar Bates, who possessed Anti-Life, but he was gunned down only seconds before Darkseid could pry it from him. When the Forever People attempted to taunt him, Darkseid smartly put them in their place by snapping at them: the startled New Genesians stood at attention, cowed by their enemy's aura of command! Big Bear's nose was tweaked by Darkseid's powerful hand just before he phased them out to another part of Metropolis. Clearly, they were not in his league; he walked on a plane above even Dr. Doom.

An execrable two-part crossover with Deadman followed. Then, in their final issue, the Forever People and the long-absent Infinity Man took on Devilance the Pursuer, Darkseid's hunter. The story ended with the Infinity Man and Devilance apparently destroyed and the five teenage New Genesites stranded on an Edenic alien world. There, probably, they still exist.

The New Gods continued the "epic" flavor of the Fourth World story. In #2, Orion found his father, Darkseid, headquartered in an apartment on Earth. Without moving, Darkseid ordered a guard to attack his son, and the conflict was begun. After the monarch of Apokalips left, Orion began organizing the former human captives into an epsionage group to strike at Intergang. In #3, the Black Racer, Kirby's personification of Death, turned up; he was a dark-skinned man on flying skis who approached to claim the life of "gods" killed in battle, but, when not in service, he was a quadraplegic wounded in the Vietnam War. Issues #4 and #5 featured the "Deep Six," a group of sea-dwelling Apokaliptics who were killed one-by-one by Orion. In the second part of this conflict, Orion revealed his true face, a hideous countenance akin to Darkseid's, when his Mother Box failed to protect his handsome false-face. Along the way we met the Promethean Giants, planet-sized aliens floating in the void near the source of The Source, who had tried to discover the mystery of existance and were chained to gigantic asteroids as punishment. In #6, Orion, revealing his "dark side," joyously squeezed the Mother Box of a foe to death: "She's gone, Slig! When she couldn't serve you - your Mother Box chose to die! She loved you, Slig! Hahahaha!" (Wonder if Orion ever read A Clockwork Orange?) Following this, he beat Slig to death. Orion is the hero, mind you.

"The Glory Boat," in #6, reintroduced Lightray into the book; #7 featured "The Pact;" and the eighth issue brought back Kalibak, who turned out to be Darkseid's son by a previous marriage. ("Wail in your warrens! Cower in your holes, Earth-worms! Kalibak is among you!") That villain, his face beaten to a ruin in the fight with Orion, was taken prisoner by the police. Issues #8 and #9 introduced Bug (Forager), member of an insect race on Apokalips, who aided Lightray and Orion in the war against Mantis. Finally, in #11, Desaad freed Kalibak and boosted his power to give him the edge against his half-brother. Darkseid, revealing that Desaad had poisoned Kalibak's mother at the behest of Heggra, destroyed him with an Omega Force blast. Kalibak, heretofore winning his battle, abruptly lost power. The Black Racer swooped into the frey, taking Orion's enemy with him. It was the New Gods' initial run.

Mister Miracle, with a more conventional superhero as the star, fared better. Darkseid's appearances here were few and far between, mainly because Miracle lacked the sheer power of Orion and his cohorts. Instead of being built around a fight scene, each issue was built around an escape scene. Mister Miracle was lashed to a wall with three knives launched at his chest, bound in a box and dropped 14 stories, locked in an iron maiden, sealed in a casket with a bomb and a flame thrower nearing him, padlocked to a rocket sled, chained to a target while robots shot bomb-arrows at him, and came through it all like a superheroic Houdini thanks to the Mother Box and secretive gimmicks concealed in his costume. Issue #2 introduced Granny Goodness, his former governess and right-hand-lady to Darkseid; #3 introduced Dr. Bedlam, a being of living energy who projected his essence into android bodies; and #5 introduced Virman Vundabar, a pint-sized Prussian from Apokalips who had studied under dear old Granny and had a factory of death equipped to doom Scott Free. These three were the major ones, and reappeared time and again in both series of Mister Miracle.

In the meantime, Big Barda made her debut in the fourth issue. A black-haired Amazon from Apokalips, Barda had turned against her former masters and joined Scott Free (as noted in the origin story) and finally travelled to Earth to aid Mr. Miracle with her super-strength and mega-rod truncheon. She had the interesting gimmick of changing her outfit from a red bikini to a full suit of battle armor with a mental command. Later on, she was joined by the Female Furies, her old cronies from Apokalips who first tried to kill her and then joined the band. They were, approximately, Stompa, Lashina, Mad Harriet and Bernadeth, Desaad's sister. By this time, Mr. Miracle's retinue resembled a travelling circus.

Miracle #6 presented one of Kirby's best satires, a con man named "Funky Flashman" who resembled a certain rival comics publisher right down to the wig and paste-on mustache and beard. Flashman, the con man's con man, gave out with epithets like, "By the power and the glory and the pathos that's Funky Flashman, it's true, Houseroy! It's when you little people reach out to me that my spirits soar!" To which Houseroy, the valet, replied, "To know you is to love you, sir!" (Holy Phil Spector!) Funky later turned up as the manager of the Secret Society of Super-Villains, of all things.

Eventually Scott Free grew tired of battling troops from Apokalips sent to retrieve him, and carried the battle back to Darkseid's home planet in #7 and #8. He was captured by Kanto, Darkseid's foppish "Master Assassin," and fought a battle against a monster called the Lump in that monster's ego before winning free. After returning to Earth in #10, though, the "world's greatest escape artist" stayed clear of Apokaliptic menace. The New Gods and The Forever People had bit the dust, and Kirby decided to pit him against more conventional super-villains. From #10-17, Miracle and his company battled foes like The Head, King Komodo, and Mystivac, though Dr. Bedlam did punch in for one appearance. The fans stewed and fretted, wondering when Darkseid would resume his fun and frolics. Kirby injected Ted Brown, son of the original Mr. Miracle, and Shilo Norman, a token black youth, into the framework. Things were growing dire.

Finally, all came to a head in Mister Miracle #18, the final book in the godwar series done by Kirby. In it, Virman Vundabar, Dr. Bedlam, Kanto and Granny Goodness finally succeeded in creating the inescapable deathtrap for Miracle, Barda, Shilo and Oberon: a rocket-powered "clock" with a bomb for a minute hand. At that, the cavalry arrived; Orion leaped in and mopped the floor with the Apokalipsians, followed by Lightray, Metron, Highfather, Himon, and a freed Scott Free and crew. Shilo and Oberon were big goodbye, and Highfather wed Scott and Barda. Just then, a tornado loomed ominously on the horizon, but the New Genesites phased out to their homeworld.

As the winds passed, Shilo Norman and Oberon emerged from their hiding place and saw a new figure standing nearby. It was Darkseid. "Have you been out in the storm all this time, mister?" queried Shilo. "I am the storm!" explained Darkseid, then reflected that not even he could stop a wedding, though he did spoil it a bit. He threw back his head and laughed uncontrollably. Shilo and Oberon broke into a dead run.

This was the end of the first New Gods series. The revival would begin in due time - Mr. Miracle appeared in the very next month, in Brave and the Bold #112 - but the rest would simply be interpretations of and variations of Kirby's mythology, much like the post-Lee-era mainstream Marvel titles.

Kirby's main acheivement on the New Gods series was creating a mythology. His characters were cardboard, but unashamedly so, and constrasted well with each other. The dialogue was oft-times terrible, but seemed to work in context. In retrospect, Kirby seems to have created with the imagination of a child; his work was unsophisticated, perhaps immature, but definitely powerful. And the art, of course, was full-tilt action all the way. Kirby just couldn't draw a panel that didn't emit the energy of an exploding bomb. Full-page and double-page scene dominated every book in the series. Later writers and artists could imitate the form, and sometimes do quite a good job, but they couldn't match the force of Kirby, just as no pastiche-writer can equal Arthur Conan Doyle on Sherlock Holmes of Robert E. Howard on Conan.

Kirby tried new creations to replace the foundered New Gods: The Demon, Kobra, The Avenger, Kung-Fu Fighter, Omac, Manhunter, and the longest-lived of them all, Kamandi. They came and went, and were picked up by other creators in short-lived revivals, but none of them had the seminal influence of the Apokalips War. Darkseid was a direct inspiration for Jim Starlin's Thanos, one of the few classic villains to appear from Marvel in the '70s; not only that, but the Thanos War appearing in several titles simultaneously (Daredevil, Captain Marvel, The Avengers, etc.) recalled the four-book broadside that Darkseid had directed. When Kirby returned to Marvel, The Eternals, probably his best work of the period, carried elements of the New Gods (two warring races, heroes named after mythical gods and the like). The crosspolinization that Kirby inspired proves the power of his work, whatever else one thinks of it.

And eventually, DC made use of it again...

The Revival

After two team-ups of Batman and Mister Miracle in Brave and the Bold by Bob Haney and Jim Aparo, the second of which pitted the heroes against Granny Goodness, the threads began to be picked up anew in Secret Society of Super-Villains. Gerry Conway and David Kraft penned the initial stories, which saw Darkseid organizing a unit of evildoers from Earth-One and Earth-Two to take the place of the defunct Intergang. The bad guys rebelled, and not even Darkseid, Kalibak and Mantis could put them back in line. The Apokaliptics were done before #5.

At about the same time, in 1976, the last First Issue Special featured "The Return of the New Gods." This lukewarm effort, written by Conway and Dennis O'Neil and illustrated by Mike Vosburg, pitted Orion (with a head-mask in place of his old, more fearsome helmet and a red-and-yellow costume replacing his battle armor), Mister Miracle, Barda, and the rest of the New Gods gang against the minions of Darkseid, who had attuned his heartbeat to the pulse of the sun. If he was destroyed, the sun went boom. Ergo, he was protected from attack by his son. This tactic proved too inherently limiting and Conway later had Darkseid show good sportsmanship, disconnecting himself from Sol.

Over a year passed, during which the only appearance by a cast member was a Batman-Mr. Miracle team-up. Then, finally, The New Gods was reinstated with #12 in 1977, and Mr. Miracle, the more impressive of the two, came back with #19 two months later.

Miracle's initial issues were handled by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, who were doing a bang-up job on Batman in Detective at the time, and they brought much of that enthusiasm ti bear on Scott Free's new series. Barda was kidnapped by Granny Goodness and company and taken to the moon as a trap, while Mister Miracle was forced to discard his Mother Box. However, he found that he now had the powers of the New Genesis "gods" within himself - such as the ability to survive in space and fly at super-speed - and no longer needed his mechanical mater. After regaining Barda and Oberon, Miracle travelled to Apokalips to paint himself as a Christ-figure, attempting to liberate the masses from Darkseid. He escaped a "necro-file" trap but found that a frontal assault on Darkseid was totally impossible, and went down to defeat.

The torch was passed to Steve Gerber and Michael Golden with the next issue (#23), in which Miracle entered an allegorical continuum, found that the "true path" was neither the following of Highfather nor Darkseid, and admitted that he was human. Mister Miracle appeared in two more issues, during which he battled a female pawn of Granny Goodness, reclaimed Ted Brown, did some fantastic escape stunts on Earth and got walloped by Big Barda whenever he took himself too seriously. It was a good series, but this was the time of the "DC Implosion." The cover for #26 was drawn and Len Wein was scheduled as the new writer when the axe fell, and Miracle ended up as a guest-star again. He was lucky enough to link up with Steve Englehart again, who collaborated with Rich Buckler for a well-done Mr. Miracle-Superman team-up in DC Comics Presents #12.

The main saga continued in The New Gods. Conway's basic aggregation was Orion, Highfather, Metron, and Lightray teamed with Forager, Lonar (a sky-riding horseman who appeared in some shorts from the Kirby days) and Jezebelle, an ex-student of Granny Goodness with eye-blast powers similar to Cyclops. Together, they sought to keep Darkseid from finding the six people on Earth who had the Anti-Life Equation in their heads. This, alas, they failed to do. Darkseid unleashed Anti-Life loose on Earth in the form of a demonic "Antagonist" that set the entire human race at each other's throats, and then threatened to penetrate the Source and learn the secrets of the universe. New Gods died in the Implosion with #19 and was hastily continued in Adventure #459-460, wherein Darkseid depleted his energy in a battle with Highfather and Orion enough to make him prey to the Source's defenses. Darkseid was turned into a Promethean Giant headed for Apokalips and was blown to pieces by his homeworld's armament, mistakenly. That should've been the end of it.

It wasn't; a Justice League of America trilogy (#183-185) teamed the Justice League and Justice Society with the New Gods against Darkseid and company on Apokalips. It seems that Darkseid's spirit was still strong enough to cause the Earth-Two villains Fiddler, Shade and Icicle to rebuild his body and return him to Apokalips. Darkseid's plot was to move Apokalips into the Earth-Two dimension, thus destroying Earth-Two itself and avoiding contact with the New Gods in his plan to dominate the cosmos. The 15 combined heroes thwarted his plans, needless to say, and Darkseid was destroyed again when his re-creation machine's energy was reversed. This story was well-drawn by George Perez and competently plotted, but too over-crowded with characters.

Along the way, DC found time to tell the origin of Lightray (DC Special Series #10) and team the New Gods with Flash (Super-Team Family #15). These were only small branches of the main saga, though. Final notes should be made to two more loose ends that were tied up: Jimmy Olsen teamed up with the Newsboy Legion to save the Guardian from a renegade DNA project in Superman Family #191-4, and the Evil Factory has turned up as a producer of super-villains in a recent Superman-Dial "H" for Hero team-up in DC Comics Presents.

Very recently, the latest two installments of the New Gods saga appeared, via their primal character: Darkseid. The lord of Apokalips stormed forth in the X-Men/New Teen Titans crossover, handled well by Chris Claremont and Walt Simonson. His ploy was to reconstruct Dark Pheonix, use her to devastate Earth into a new Apokalips, and begin a war of conquest on the universe. In a 64-page spectacular, the two superstar troops brought him to bay and fused Darkseid into Promethean Giant-hood again, though it was never explained how he recovered from the disaster inJustice League, or even if this was the Darkseid of the Earth-One universe.

At the same time, the Legion of Super-Heroes found themselves beseiged by foemen who drained the power of their greatest foes (Mordru, the Time-Trapper, etc.) and delivered the might they held to a mysterious, shadowed master. The "master," of course, was Darkseid, some 2000 years from his own era, and his master plan was to enlist the entire population of Daxam, each of whom had the approximate abilities of Superman, as a juggernaut army. This tale, one of the best Legion opuses of recent years, was constructed by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen, with the climactic chapter still unpublished at this writing. It looks to be a heavy...and it only goes to show that Darkseid, at least, is too good a villain to keep in cold storage, Promethean Giant or not.

And that, in essence, is the history of the New Gods. They covered a crazy-quilt of some 108 comics, though their own series lasted only briefly. They were the last great creation of Jack Kirby and one of his most fully-realized concepts. The mythology may be interpreted erratically in other hands, but the myth still endures.

*fin*

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