By the time DC Comics released New Gods #1 on December 22, 1970, we readers were beginning to get some sense of the scope of the conflict at the heart of the imaginative construct we would eventually come to call Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.
Information had been delivered on a steady, if limited basis since the release of Kirby’s first new comic for DC, Jimmy Olsen #133, back in August. There we’d been introduced to Inter-Gang, a shadowy criminal organization whose insidious reach extended even into the everyday workplace of the DC Universe’s premiere superhero and his closest friends. In the following issue, published in October, we’d learned that Inter-Gang reported to someone called Darkseid; and in November’s JO #135, we’d discovered that this craggy-faced figure was also the boss of a couple of aliens, hailing from a world named Apokolips, who managed an Evil Factory where they conducted sinister experiments with human DNA — with the clear implication that Darkseid shared their extraterrestrial origin. Finally, in Forever People #1, published December 1st, we’d met a group of strangely garbed — and gifted — young folks from someplace called Supertown, who arrived on Earth by a bizarre means of transport called a Boom Tube. One of their number had been kidnapped by none other than Darkseid, who had come to our world in search of an “ultimate weapon” called the Anti-Life Equation — and it seemed clear that while Darkseid himself might not be from Supertown, he and these Forever People were nevertheless connected in some way.
The first issue of Forever People also contained a text page entitled “A Visit with Jack Kirby” by a young writer named Marvin Wolfman, which gave us our first official confirmation of what many readers had likely already guessed — that all four of Kirby’s books at DC would be interconnected:
There is an entire world of imagination awaiting you in the pages of these books [Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle]. What Jack has done is create a new mythology for our times. These three books comprise a trilogy which, along with Jimmy Olsen, form one huge, continuing novel … the likes of which have never been seen. And all this is the product of one man acting as Editor, Writer, and Artist … Jack Kirby.
So, by late December, we fans were well primed for the further unfolding of this “new mythology for our times” within the pages of New Gods #1 — though I doubt most of us expected to have the first of these new revelations presented in the form of an epilogue.
But before we dive into this classic comic’s immortal opening pages, I’d like us to spend a little time with the cover. We’d already gotten a taste of it, thanks to this full page ad which had appeared in books released by DC in November…
…though the black-and-white reproduction really didn’t do the finished product justice at all.
Actually, that reproduction was itself based on an earlier iteration of the cover, as is self-evident when you compare it with the published version; besides the addition of the color and the collage background, the figure of Orion has been tilted slightly, and the text blurb (“An epic for our times…”) has been slightly reworded as well as chopped in two.
The cover appears to have had its genesis in this piece of presentation art Kirby had created (with the inking assistance of either Frank Giacoia or Don Heck, depending on the source you consult) back around 1968:
There’s also another early version of the cover, originally published in the 10th issue of DC’s “official” fanzine, The Amazing World of DC Comics (January, 1976), reflecting the fact that DC originally wanted to launch Kirby’s new features in the “tryout” title Showcase prior to moving them into their own titles (obviously, they later changed their minds):
But that’s probably enough about the cover, I think — except to note that the only thing that disappointed my thirteen-year-old self about New Gods #1 was that Orion’s costume didn’t have the same near-psychedelic color scheme on the comics’ interior pages as it had on the exterior. (I realize now that it would have been just about impossible to execute that kind of coloring consistently in an American color comic in 1970, but at the time, it was a small but genuine letdown.)
And, now to get back to that epilogue I mentioned:
It’s generally understood that the cosmic conflagration depicted here, in which “the old gods died“, should be identified with Ragnarök — the “twilight of the gods” in Norse mythology. Assuming that’s true, this would be the second time that Kirby had visualized this event, having adapted the traditional tale for Marvel Comics in two installments of “Tales of Asgard”, which were published in 966 in Thor #127-128. (His inker on this issue of New Gods, Vince Colletta, had embellished those strips as well, although the scripting was, naturally, by Kirby’s usual writing collaborator at Marvel, Stan Lee.)*
As obvious as the Norse mythological inspiration for this sequence is to me now, in 2020, I have to confess that I’m not at all sure I “got” it when I first read these pages, way back in 1970. That may be mostly because I hadn’t yet read those two “Tales of Asgard” (my own first issue of Thor had been #158); nevertheless, I find my obtuseness rather curious, since I’m sure I had read about Ragnarök in other sources by this time. For this reason, I’m inclined to think that there were other factors at play that helped distract me from the references to the Norse material.
One of those factors — perhaps the main one — is the story’s frequent allusions to the related traditions of Judaism and Christianity, especially as embodied in the ancient texts collected in the various editions of the book we call the Bible.
Those allusions begin to appear as early as the last panel of page 2, which unambiguously references the second and third verses of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis:
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. — New International Version
By the end of his epilogue, Kirby has taken us from the end of one world — its Apocalypse, to use a Biblical term — to the beginning, or Genesis, of another. Now, as his story reaches its proper beginning, he brings his central character upon the stage:
“Orion” is not a Biblical name, of course, but neither is it Norse; rather, it comes from Greek mythology, and Kirby’s appropriation of it for his epic’s central hero is indicative of the breadth of traditional and literary influences Kirby draws on on in building the Fourth World.
The earlier allusion to the Bible’s Book of Genesis is underscored by page 4’s revelation of the name of the “home of the New Gods”: New Genesis. (For the record, this is the first appearance of that name, outside of its inclusion in a Kirby-penned text page in Jimmy Olsen #135.)
As used here and in the pages to follow, “New Genesis” is the name of both the shining city where the gods dwell, and the Eden-like planetary sphere that the city orbits. And though the city is never referred to in this comic (or in most issues of New Gods) as “Supertown”, it is indeed the same place as that which the Forever People call home.
Kirby quickly and efficiently lets us know that Orion, while valuing the peace and splendor of New Genesis, doesn’t feel entirely at home there — in contrast to his cheerful friend Lightray (and, by inference, most of the city’s other denizens). And the duality which will prove one of the major themes of the entire Fourth World saga is here expressly located within the psyche of its central hero.
Lightray himself is probably the most clearly “superheroic” of all the principal characters we meet in New Gods series. When we first see him, he’s flying through space under his own power, manipulating light beams; and his skin-tight, streamlined attire, with its distinctive chest emblem, is the sort of outfit you can imagine helping him blend right in at a meeting of, say, DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes. Then, of course, there’s his name — apparently the only one he’s got, although in any other context it sure would sound like the codename of a costumed metahuman. As for his personality, we don’t get much of a chance to form a first impression before Kirby shuffles him offstage; but besides his cheerful and optimistic disposition, he’s obviously a sensitive and supportive friend to Orion. There’s actually quite a bit more to Lightray than is first apparent, however, as will come to light (if you’ll pardon the expression) as the series progresses.
While this isn’t the first appearance of the name Apokolips — besides being referenced in the Jimmy Olsen #135 text page mentioned earlier, the Evil Factory’s Mokkari identifies it as his and his colleague Simyan’s place of origin in that same issue’s story — the juxtaposition of it with New Genesis adds another layer of symbolic meaning to both names, as Apokolips is, of course, derived from the word “apocalypse” — which, besides generally connoting the end of the world, is, as we’ve already noted, a Biblical term. More specifically, it’s one of the names of the last book of the Christian Bible — the Apocalypse of John, also known as the Book of Revelation. As such, it counterbalances the name New Genesis, which is derived from the first book of the Bible — the one which tells of the beginning of the world.
Highfather, the apparent leader of the gods of New Genesis, offers a fascinating contrast with his equivalent in the Norse pantheons with whom Kirby had worked while drawing and plotting Thor — Odin, the “All-Father”. While both characters are portrayed as white-bearded patriarchs, Highfather is a considerably less imposing and grandiose figure than his Marvel predecessor, both in appearance and in manner; it’s difficult to imagine Highfather ever referring to himself as “power absolute in every manner!”, or as “the word — and the way — and the wonder!“, in the manner that Kirby’s Odin (whose published dialogue was actually scripted by Stan Lee) did on a fairly regular basis (and usually in the third person, at that).
The other thing one might note right away about Highfather is that his general appearance suggests associations with mortal (if holy) figures out of the Bible, such as Moses, at least as much as it does divine overlords like Odin or Zeus. Highfather’s Biblical vibe is perhaps most plainly signified by his “Wonder-Staff“, which, like the crosier of a Christian prelate, resembles a shepherd’s crook; just as does its ecclesiastical parallel, Highfather’s staff indicates authority, but of a pastoral rather than imperial nature, being inspired by such Scriptural passages as the 23rd Psalm.
The Source is one of the most important concepts in Kirby’s Fourth World mythology (and perhaps one of the most influential, as well), though we learn very little about it in this introductory scene, at least not at first. However, Orion’s description of it as “the Life Equation” — the opposite of the Anti-Life Equation, which we learned in Forever People #1 is Darkseid’s main goal — makes it clear that its significance to the New Gods must be great indeed.
I’m not sure that my younger self knew quite what to make of Metron when I first encountered him in December, 1970 — or for some time after that, frankly. Moral ambivalence wasn’t a concept that had a great deal of meaning to me at age thirteen, generally speaking, and in a fictional setup like this one, which I understood to be an epic conflict between “good” heroes and “evil” villains, I assumed Metron must be one of the good guys — if not, why would he be hanging around on New Genesis with Highfather and Orion? If I paid much attention at all to Orion’s line about Metron being willing to “sell the universe into slavery” for “a scrap of knowledge” — or to Metron’s unruffled response to the characterization — I probably just took it as indicating a personality conflict between two characters who were, at the end of the day, allies in the same good cause.
We’ll have more to say about the meaning of Metron in later posts; for now, however, we’ll simply note that with his coming, we’ve now met the last of the gods of New Genesis who will play a major role within the eleven issues of the New Gods series. That makes this an appropriate point, I think, for us to recognize the fact that although females are obviously part of the society of New Genesis (they appear in every scene that features “ordinary” residents of Supertown), we don’t see them in positions of authority, either here or in future issues; indeed, few ever even receive names. It’s not so much that Kirby’s Fourth World mythos is devoid of strong female characters, however, as it is that virtually all such have their origins on the darker of his god-planets — on Apokolips. Whether this dichotomy represents an intentional thematic choice on the writer-artist’s part, or is simply where randomly following his creative instincts ultimately led him, is another discussion we’ll have to reserve for later posts.
In 1970, my younger self — who’d been attending Sunday School at my Southern Baptist church for as long as he could remember — probably felt pretty confident in interpreting the phenomenon of the “moving hand” writing in fire upon the Source Wall as a riff on the Biblical story of “Belshazzar’s feast”, from the Book of Daniel — from whence, of course, comes the familiar expression of “the writing on the wall”. And since I knew that the hand in the Bible story was the hand of God — at least, that’s what my Sunday School teachers had always told me — I figured I had a fairly good idea of how I was intended to interpret the Source. Was I right? Again, that’s a highly complex subject we’ll need to return to in later post.
In addition to the strong intimations it offers concerning the nature of the Source — the Life Equation — the panel above is also important for giving us the clearest and most explicit definition yet of its opposite. Described in Forever People #1 in general terms, as “the ultimate weapon” with the power “snuff out all life on Earth”, we now learn (via the words of the cold, rational Metron) that the Anti-Life Equation “means the outside control of all living thought!” For Jack Kirby, life is all but synonymous with freedom — a point made earlier by Highfather when he bowed to the children’s chorus, and underscored by him again in the very next panel:
As the story leaves New Genesis for the time being, we readers have been made privy to a secret its protagonist, Orion, doesn’t himself know — he is in fact a native not of New Genesis, but of Apokolips. And Metron’s rhetorical question, “Who is more ready to fight the father — but the son!“, strongly hints at an even darker secret involving Orion’s origins (though I’m not sure I picked up on this as a thirteen-year-old reader).
Swiftly crossing the cosmic gulf between worlds, Orion arrives at his destination — and we readers get our first look at the world which lies “in the shadow of New Genesis” — Apokolips:
This is the debut appearance of Darkseid’s para-demons, who’ll be showing up an awful lot in this and the other Fourth World books.
Orion initially attempts to fight these guys hand-to-hand, but simply due to their overwhelming numbers, he’s eventually forced to bring the “astro-force” into play:
Finally making landfall, Orion is quickly beset by more Apokoliptican troops — foot soldiers, this time. He lays his astro-force gear at the base of Darkseid’s statue, knowing that his foes have too much awe for the monument to get too close to it, and then lays into them:
As Orion breaks through the enemy’s defenses, a call goes out for reinforcements…
The giant dogs are as savage and deadly as their riders; eventually, however, Orion wins through, and presses on to his goal — the dwelling place of Darkseid himself. But when he arrives, he find the great halls empty:
Kalibak — whose name appears to be derived from that of Caliban, the monstrous servant of the sorcerer Prospero in William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest — will turn out to be a good bit more important a character than he might first appear to be in this introductory scene, with a significance for Orion that goes well beyond him being an adversary big and powerful enough to give our hero a run for his money.
Though disdainful of Metron’s offer of assistance, Orion listens as the other god informs him that Darkseid is not to be found anywhere on Apokolips — that, rather, he has gone to Earth, where even now he is “paving the way for its complete subjugation!” (This is another instance where Kirby lets the reader be one up on his protagonist — assuming that the reader has already perused Forever People #1, that is.)
Metron’s reference to the old gods’ “bridge to Earth”, and its destruction, appears to be another allusion to the Norse myth of Ragnarök, which describes the collapse of Bifröst, the rainbow bridge between Asgard and Midgard. These panels also reveal that the Boom Tube — so important to the events of Forever People #1 — owes its existence to Metron; and that the forces of Apokolips, as well as those of New Genesis, have access to this technology — and have used it to establish a beachhead on Earth.
Metron tells Orion that his charge is now to return the humans to Earth; then, the knowledge-seeker teleports the warrior’s “power rods” (i.e., his astro-force gear) from the statue where he’d left them, just before he teleports himself away, riding his Mobius Chair to somewhere “outside infinity”.**
Before Orion can explain the situation to the dazed and confused former captives, Kalibak — no longer held at bay by Metron’s barrier, which has vanished with him — charges to the attack:
Knowing he dare not fully engage with Kalibak while the humans remain in his charge, Orion hits his opponent with a burst of astro-force, and while Kalibak is stunned, summons a Boom Tube:
And so this first chapter in the saga of the New Gods, which began with an epilogue, inevitably ends with a prologue — one which finally brings onto the stage the figure who, while dominating the narrative throughout the issue, hasn’t actually appeared in the here-and-now of the story until this very moment. Unsurprisingly, the advent of Darkseid makes for an exceptionally dramatic and ominous moment, with the chilling sense of dread conjured by the Lord of Apokolips’ dark, stony visage only enhanced by the shadowy but intimidating forms of his minions (none of which can be easily matched to characters appearing in later issues, interestingly enough), lurking behind him on the city rooftops.
This was a terrific conclusion to a thrilling first issue, one which left my thirteen-year-old self eagerly awaiting not just New Gods #2, but the next issues of Jack Kirby’s other three DC series as well — and probably none more so than the premiere outing of Mister Miracle, the fourth and final title in Kirby’s ongoing tetralogy. That particular comic book would be showing up on the stands in a little more than three weeks — but when it finally did, I found that it not only defied my expectations, but, if I’m going to be honest, actually disappointed me a little. If you’d like to know all the whys and hows of that unexpected reaction, I hope you’ll check back around the middle of January, 2021, when I’ll be happy to tell you all about it.
*Kirby is believed to have come up with the basic concept for what became the Fourth World while working on Thor, as an exploration of what would follow after the death of the old Norse gods and the destruction of their realm, Asgard. As Ronin Ro wrote in his book, Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution (Bloomsbury, 2004):
The idea of the New Gods had come to Jack years earlier, when he was plotting 90 percent of the “Tales of Asgard” stories in Thor. He wanted to have two planets at war and end with Ragnarok, the battle that would kill Thor’s lucrative pantheon…
Following the demise of the Asgardians, Kirby would introduce a new race of gods to take their place. Supposedly, soon after coming up with this idea, the creator set it aside for a while; either because he didn’t believe Marvel would be willing to implement such drastic changes to the existing Thor character and title, or because he didn’t want to provide Marvel with any more of his best ideas under his current working conditions. But he continued to consider the possibilities, and had at least the rough outlines of his new mythology in place by the time he started talking seriously to DC’s editorial director, Carmine Infantino, about making the jump from Marvel back to DC. The late ’60s presentation art pieces scattered about this blog post are evidence of the imaginative work Kirby had put into developing his “new gods” while still ensconced at Marvel.
Though he [Kirby] wouldn’t ever say it publicly, the New Gods books started right after the gods in Thor killed one another. The first page of Orion of the New Gods showed the same scenes from Thor—a planet torn in half and armored gods holding swords and dying on a fiery battleground.
Other writers in addition to Ro have pointed out the similarities between the “Epilogue” pages of New Gods #1 and the depiction of Ragnarök and its aftermath in Thor #127 and #128. And it’s true; take this panel from #128, which could easily be slipped in right after New Gods #1’s opening splash, with none the wiser:
And this later panel, presenting Kirby’s vision of the civilization which eventually emerges out of Asgard’s embers — the home of “the young, new race of gods” who rise to succeed the old ones — could be a snapshot of a New Genesis street scene:
That Kirby’s conception of the Norse myth of Ragnarök provided the seed for the origin story of his New Gods is, I think, beyond doubt. Nevertheless, your humble blogger would counsel caution to any reader inclined to think of the “Old Gods” of the Fourth World mythos as being precisely identical to Marvel’s Asgardians, or of New Gods as some sort of direct sequel to the Lee-Kirby Thor. For one thing, Kirby was well able to imagine the Norse gods (as well as those of other pantheons) in more than one way. For another, back in Thor #128, when he drew what remained of Asgard after the “monumental explosion” that ultimately destroyed it, he drew one “charred, smoking mass”…
…not “two giant molten bodies”.
Yeah, I know that doesn’t prove anything. But it makes me feel a little better about not recognizing Ragnarök when I first saw it in New Gods #1, fifty years ago; so I’m sticking with it.
**The name of Metron’s mode of transport — another of the Fourth World’s most durable and versatile concepts — is presumably derived from the eponymous strip, although the relationship between the two is rather hard to see in the final version of the Chair; it’s somewhat easier to discern in Kirby’s early presentation art piece depicting Metron, shown earlier in the post.
So much to unpack with this one! Excellent write up, and I look forward to your future retrospectives on the Fourth World issues.
Regarding “the moving hand” on the Source Wall, I have wondered if it might also have been inspired by the yad from Judaism. A yad is a ritual pointer, also known as a Torah pointer, that is used by readers to follow the text on the Torah scrolls, and to ensure the holy parchment is not touched by human hands. The yad is a long, narrow stick which is carved in the shape of a pointing hand at the end. Being Jewish, Kirby would almost certainly have known what a yad was. Here are a couple of websites with information and pictures…
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Ben, thanks so much for sharing this. I was previously unfamiliar with the yad. It certainly seems like it could have been one of Kirby’s inspirations here.
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This is the one. As much as I read Jimmy Olsen and The Forever People and enjoyed them, this is the comic I was waiting for when Jack Kirby came to DC and undoubtedly it was the one he was waiting for as well, because the artwork here, as Kirby finally gets to lay out the building blocks of his “grand epic” are Kirby at his very best; the height of his powers as an illustrator. Each page bristles with energy and life in a way that Kirby’s work hadn’t since his heyday with Stan Lee years before. It was obvious, not just with every page, but every panel that this was a labor of love for Jack and it showed, even to my unschooled thirteen-year-old eyes. Even if Jack wound up repeating himself or aping his earlier work (the Norse and biblical themes you’ve already mentioned, plus how the upcoming Black Racer is a rip-off of Jack’s own Silver Surfer), this was the realization of what comics could be and only Kirby was doing it. Adams wasn’t, Kane wasn’t, Romita wasn’t…only Kirby had the talent, imagination and the balls to even attempt this and a great deal of what comes next in comics rests directly on the doors he opens here. Great stuff.
On a much smaller level, I couldn’t help but notice here (and it’s probably true in Kirby’s other work as well), that the only punctuation Kirby seems to know is the exclamation mark. Every word balloon contains at least one, if not two exclamations and you have to wonder if the New Gods get sore throats from all that shouting.
As with most of what Kirby accomplished in his life, the Fourth World was wildly ahead of it’s time and most people (including the brass at DC) didn’t get it. It’s a shame Jack never really got to see just what he was starting.
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Actually, I think that at this point in funnybook history, exclamation marks were still almost always being used in lieu of periods! (I think I read somewhere once that the convention arose because the lousy printing of the time meant periods often didn’t show up on the page!) But your point is still valid, Don — because Kirby really lathered them on!!!! (See what I did there?!!!)
This is awesome and it shows that blizzard of inventiveness that Kirby had! The frustrating thing is that he didn’t seem to have an overarching plan for how this war story should proceed. We see that with shows like Lost; when it becomes clear that the creators never had an idea as to how things would play out. But he would have had to work it all in with all the other DC characters eventually, since Earth was already jammed with heroes (and villains), and that would have required strategic planning and cooperation from all elements of DC. I’m just surprised how quickly Kirby’s tenure petered out — which I’m sure you’ll be examining in great detail, Alan!
I came to the New Gods years later, long after Kirby had left, and Don Newton was doing the art on an Orion story — a story in which Darkseid uses the Mother Box to show his son’s real face. (I think it was in Conway’s Return of the New Gods.) The first New Gods-related story I ever read, though, was a Steve Gerber Miracle Man, and I had no freaking idea what was going on.
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I feel like Jack Kirby was one of the few creators who could actually make up the story as he was going along and still, the occasional bums in the road aside, make pretty much the whole thing work.
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I meant BUMPS in the road! Stupid typos! Where’s my Mother Box to help with spellcheck?
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I dunno, Ben — I kind of like the image of “bums in the road”. 🙂
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From everything I’ve read, I think that Kirby had a broad general idea of how things would progress and, eventually, end. On a month to month basis, though, he was often flying by the seat of his pants. Sometimes that worked out better than it did other times. But I believe he thought he’d have many years, hundreds of issues, to get where he was going, so it didn’t matter so much if he took the odd detour, hit a dead end and had to turn around, etc. Alas, the project was terminated so abruptly, and prematurely, that we’ll never know.
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Let the klaxons of infinity sound! Let the end of all things be announced in a cosmic melody of rhythmically triggered Boom Tubes and loudly pinging Mother Boxes! The end has passed! The beginning is here! Alan Stewart’s new blog post about Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Saga continues with the advent of….the New Gods! Don’t ask…just read it!
….Sorry, where was I? Was I ranting into my Mother-Mega-Rod-o-Phone again? I usually channel of all that bountiful bombast to my social media posts! Whew, okay, then! Alan! What an appropriately EPIC treatise on the debut of this awesome series! Before I (finally) go, I’d like to add this little barely-formed tidbit to the conversation here: With all of the various mythological (or “religious,” if you insist) sources being drawn on by Kirby here, it brings to mind JRR Tolkien’s mission to create a “unified European” mythology in his Lord of the Rings books. Perhaps here, even subconsciously, Mr. Kirby was trying to create something that would combine all of these supernatural concepts into one? Hmmm….. Once again, thanks for the excellent post!
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Hmmm… hadn’t thought of the Fourth World as a similar sort of enterprise to Tolkien’s legendarium, but it’s a thought! Thanks for sharing that, Max.
Being a real “space nut” in December 1970, I was very excited when this book came out, but also a little uncomfortable. I’m Jewish and went to a Jewish elementary school and therefore felt somewhat scareligious reading a book about “New Gods” from “New Genesis” (being Jewish, at that point I had no idea what Apokolips stood for, as that was New Testament). I was similarly uncomfortable when I started reading Thor in January 1968, but soon rationalized that as Norse mythology. I did not make the Kirby connections with Ragnarok, etc. in 1970 or afterwards until you brought them up here. Anyway, I was familiar with the Old Testament biblical connections here including the handwriting on the wall (I guess you could say that when it came to religious connections, I saw the handwriting on the wall).
While in subsequent years I made the obvious connections between Kirby’s Fourth World and Jim Starlin’s creations of the 1970s, I confess that also until your post I never made the shockingly obvious connections between Kirby’s Fourth World and “Star Wars”, complete with Darkseid/Dark Side, the Source/the Force, the Luke/Orion storyline, among others. As Kirby was notoriously sensitive about actual and perceived ripoffs of his work, I wonder how he felt about missing out on at least inspirational credit for one of the biggest cash cows ever. Interestingly, Kirby was still in his second stint at Marvel when Marvel began publishing its serialization of the movie.
I did not connect Highfather with Moses or even Odin. Now I think of Starlin’s Mentor as a Highfather ripoff. After beginning to watch reruns of the original Twilight Zone a couple of years after first reading this issue, I now think of Highfather as being more like Brother Jerome than Moses. https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-IJwLjYbVUZs/UBW5vRPIPmI/AAAAAAAADRU/D0a-mzuEtlA/s1600/The+Howling+Man.jpg
I didn’t know what a Mobius strip was when I first read this issue so I actually thought there was some kind of connection between Mobius and Morbius when Morbius was introduced in Spider-Man later in 1971 (I probably even began pronouncing them the same, thinking they were the same word). Of course in the Infinty Gauntler and Infinity War days, Starlin pretty much gave Thanos his own Mobius Chair.
I don’t agree with you that Kalibak is necessarily inspired by Caliban. Kirby may have had an afffinity for a “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, but he also wasn’t shy about giving characters the exact name of that play’s characters (more on that of course when your write about Mr. Miracle later this month). As always, I appreciate your comments and memories fifty years on and giving similarly experienced oldsters like me a chance to relive our youth.
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Stu, I appreciate your continued support, and look forward to sharing another year’s worth of funnybook memories with you and the other readers of this blog in 2021.
I wasn’t previously familiar with Twilight Zone‘s Brother Jerome, but I can see where you’re coming from. On the other hand, BJ himself looks to me like someone doing Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments cosplay, so… 🙂
Re: the Fourth World and Star Wars, here’s a pertinent quote from Mark Evanier’s book, Kirby: King of Comics:
“Kirby would not suspect plagiarism, but would fume that he had been unable to get his version made into a movie. Star Wars, he felt, had proven what a good, commercial idea it was.”
New Gods #1 has given me something of a headache! I read it twice before reading your critique, and I’m still at a point of bafflement– Hey ho– I’m about to read it again and see how I feel…
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You can do it, Andrew! I have faith! 😉
Well, I did it! And then I read Superman #234 and wrote about it and felt a lot better!
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My excitement at seeing what Kirby was going to do at DC quickly evaporated with the roll out of his Fourth World titles. It was like looking forward to a new car line that was extremely disappointing upon debut. Kirby was king at Marvel. His 102 consecutive issues of FF was a milestone of quality and talent. When I discovered that at DC we were not going to get another FF or Thor, i tried to enjoy what Kirby was doing. But excruciating dialogue, disjointed storytelling, inability to stick with developing characters already established before bringing in new ones caused the efforts to fizzle (and two titles to expire at issue 11). A shame that the King couldn’t recognize his own limitations and instead resorted to blaming everyone else for his failures. I responded to New God’s # 1 the way I did his Jimmy Olsen and Forever People titles. Extremely disappointed with the rudimentary storyline. It was as if a big kid, with lots of enthusiasm and talent, but little discipline, was allowed free reign to tell his stories with little oversight. Unfortunately, the King never got better in his scripting for the next 15 years, never learned from his mistakes and retired from the medium amidst recriminations and taking credit for contributions Stan Lee had clearly made.
You don’t like Kirby’s solo work. Got it.
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This is where I came in. The earlier books I borrowed from friends and picked up later for myself.
I was coming off a couple of years of not buying comic books, thinking I had “outgrown” them, and a friend had recently introduced me to the comics I *should* have been reading – Steranko’s Nick Fury and Captain America, Silver Surfer, Conan (which had just launched). Good stuff.
And then I saw this.
Now, I’ve been reading comic books literally as long as I can remember. Along with Dr. Seuss, comics – mostly newspaper strips that early, but comic books even then – helped me learn to read, which I did on my own before I ever went to school (the kindergarten teacher was astonished that I already knew how to read, and nobody had ever “taught” me, I just picked it up). Early on it was cousins and friends but when I was six I began getting an allowance – a whole quarter a week! The first comic book I ever bought with my own money was Fantastic Four #5, so I had been a Jack Kirby fan for a long time.
Because I’d been away, I didn’t even know he’d left Marvel. So this was a shock for that reason alone.
Now, it’s true that Kirby was associated in my mind with those comics I had “outgrown.” He wasn’t Jim Steranko or Neal Adams. He was “old school.” But he was the BEST of the old school, and I had first learned of Norse mythology through him (and it’s still a vital part of my intellectual makeup), and … well, I could go on and on about why Kirby was his own kind of exception to the “comics are just kids stuff,” suffice to say I bought it.
Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! WOW!
OK, some of the exposition is a bit clunky. People who fault Jack for that and laud Stan Lee apparently never actually READ a Stan Lee written comic book from the ’60s. Lee could be clunky as hell doing exposition too. True, he would call out his own clunkiness with self-deprecating jokes, but clunky exposition is still clunky exposition. This comic book was, on the whole, as well written as Thor and The Fantastic Four and The X-Men had been, in my opinion, and while I think it’s clear that Stan did more than “lightly edit” dialogue provided by Kirby, as Kirby came to later claim, it’s also clear that while Lee NEEDED Kirby, Kirby didn’t really NEED Lee. Did Lee provide polish and a little pizzazz and a ton of huckster marketing that made the Marvel Universe what it is today? Absolutely. But Kirby told STORIES. He didn’t just invent characters and worlds. He told stories. Good ones.
That became REALLY clear by #7, which was an honest-to-God masterpiece, but we won’t get there for a while …
Anyway, this was my introduction to Kirby’s Fourth World, and nobody I knew had picked up Forever People #1 but I read most of what you’ve been talking about here right away, and bought everything from then on. It wasn’t until a few years later when comic book stores with back issue bins came into existence, and I was finally able to pick up that first issue of Forever People and actually own the rest of them.
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Thanks for sharing that, Stephen.
Re: New Gods #7 — “an honest-to-God masterpiece” is spot on. On the one hand, I can’t wait until I get to write about it this December — on the other, I’m anxious that I’m going to botch the job. Guess we’ll find out in ten months!
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