While I can’t claim to have strong, specific recollections of my thirteen-year-old self’s reactions to the cover of Forever People #2 the first time I saw it, sometime in February, 1971, I’m sure I must have found it at least somewhat startling. Mainly because the five titular heroes — presumably the stars of the book — were relegated to a row of floating heads at the bottom (where they might not even have been visible on the spinner rack), while a brand-new character, Mantis — evidently the villain of the piece — took the front and center spot. Even the Forever People’s ally/secret weapon/kind-of-alter-ego, the Infinity Man, was relegated to the background, completely overshadowed by this “evil power vampire!”
Power vampire? I definitely recall being struck by the use of that latter word in the cover copy. This was likely just because I was interested in vampires, thanks to my enthusiasm for the daytime television serial Dark Shadows. But it may have also resulted at least in part from my subconscious realization of how unusual it was to see that word on the cover of a comic book — at least one published by either of my two favorite companies, DC and Marvel.
That’s because prior to February 1, 1971, the very mention of vampires was verboten by the Comics Code Authority. On that date, the mechanism by which the majority of U.S. comic book publishers voluntarily policed their own content was revised for the first time since the Code’s adoption in 1954. Among the notable alterations to the existing document, which had expressly forbidden the kind of imagined undead terrors that had once filled the pages (and covers) of horror comics across the land, was this statement: “Vampires, ghouls and werewolves shall be permitted to be used when handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high calibre literary works written by Edgar Allen Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle and other respected authors whose works are read in schools around the world.”
I’m not exactly certain how or where Mantis, the evil power vampire from the god-planet Apokolips, fits into the “classic tradition” of “high calibre literary works”, but someone at DC must have thought he would pass muster, since they approved the use of the v-word on the cover of Forever People #2 — a comic that was released on February 2, one single day after the revisions to the Comics Code became official.* I’m pretty sure that that makes this the very first comic to reflect the easing of the Code’s restrictions in ’71 (although I’ll welcome any corrections to, or qualifications of, that claim from comics historians better informed than myself).
Still, as I’ve already noted, while my younger self might have registered the use of the word “vampire” on a DC Comics cover as unusual, I wouldn’t have recognized its full significance, by any means. Though I was obviously familiar with the Comics Code Authority’s seal of approval that appeared on every DC or Marvel cover, I had little understanding of what the Code actually was, or how it worked. Perhaps I’d idly wondered once or twice at the fact that the Gold Key comics I bought didn’t carry the seal at all; but it would never have occurred to me that that publisher’s non-participation in the CCA meant that it could publish a Dark Shadows comic book — an ongoing title which not only had a vampire as its central character, but was also free to refer to his being such a creature on its cover (as indeed it had with the most recent issue at the time of Forever People #2’s release, issue #8 [Feb., 1971], shown at left ) — whereas, prior to February 1, 1971, neither DC nor Marvel, nor the majority of other American comics companies, could do so (at least, not without forgoing the Code’s seal).
But, to reiterate — I didn’t know all that at the time. And if I was thinking about vampires as I perused the cover of FP #2, I probably stopped doing so once I opened the book, at least for the time being. Because the menacing Mantis was nowhere to be seen on the first page — rather, the opening splash put the focus back on the titular heroes who could reasonably be said to have been given rather short shrift by the cover — the fresh-faced, if fairly freaky and far-out, Forever People, themselves:
Like the series’ first issue — as well as all the other issues to date of the group of interconnected comics titles fans would soon come to call the Fourth World — Forever People #2 was largely the product of one man, writer/penciller/editor Jack Kirby, though the inking was done by Vince Coletta. Unlike Forever People #1, however — not to mention every issue of Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen thus far — FP #2’s Kirby-Coletta artwork had not been subjected to selective redrawing of certain hallowed DC characters (i.e., Superman and Jimmy Olsen) by an uncredited artist, as every character in the new issue was a 100% Kirby Kreation.
The “exciting” city in which our young heroes find themselves isn’t named in the issue, but, in consideration of the previous issue’s events, it seems safe to suppose that it’s Superman’s home city of Metropolis.
Big Bear’s brief encounter with the hapless “Mister Corn” is a very funny bit (well, I think so, anyway), though the former’s reference to “ancient vaudeville” is a little puzzling, when you stop to think about it. While issue #1 had been fairly cagey about the origins of these “super-teens”, reader who’d been paying attention to all the other Fourth World books as well, back in ’70-’71 — most especially to the premiere issue of New Gods — would have been able to work out by now that “Supertown” was on New Genesis — one of the two opposing worlds of Kirby’s “new gods”, whose cultures had arisen out of the ashes of the the old gods’ destruction (Ragnarök, basically). But when he drops that vaudeville line, Big Bear sounds more like a time traveler from the future than he does a young alien space-god. Are we supposed to think that New Genesis went through a period in their cultural development that closely paralleled 20th century Earth?
This is merely the first of several such references we’ll run across as the story progresses. Taken in the moment, they help serve to establish the Forever People as being “not from around here”, which is probably all Kirby was after; considered more closely and deliberately, however, they raise more questions than they answer.
This is the first time we’ve seen the FP’s mode of conveyance, the Super-Cycle, pull this “phasing” trick to teleport them to another location; in the first issue, it was only used to avoid a collision by making the vehicle temporarily immaterial.
Before we get to see just where our heroes will end up, however, the story gives us our first look at Mantis since the cover. In its own way, this appearance is even more startling, as Kirby upends our expectations by showing the confident, taunting figure we “met” earlier now screaming in terror:
Of course, the abject fear that the menacing Mantis displays in the presence of his master subtly serves to underscore just how formidable that master — Darkseid, Lord of Apokolips — must be.
There are some interesting nuances in this scene’s dialogue between Darkseid and Mantis that one might easily miss. All of Darkseid’s underlings whom we’ve seen to this point, in any of Kirby’s Fourth World comics, have been plainly and unquestionably subservient to him. Yet Mantis, though clearly frightened of Apokolips’ craggy-faced ruler, has just as clearly been acting on his own initiative — and perhaps even sees himself as independent of Darkseid in some way. Kirby is dropping hints here regarding Mantis’ true nature which won’t pay off for over a year — and even then, in the pages of another Fourth World title, rather than in Forever People. It’s an excellent example of just how deeply interconnected all four titles are.
“Unleash the terrors of the night!” Even if we hadn’t already seen Mantis called a vampire on the cover, dialogue like that — coupled with the concept of the villain needing to sleep within the dark confines of a coffin-like “pod”, itself hidden underground — would begin to get the idea across.
The Forever People may not know Earth very well, but they appear to immediately recognize the economically distressed inner city area they’ve phased into for what it is. Vykin, keeper of the group’s Mother Box, cautions his friends to sit tight until the seemingly sentient device analyzes their situation, to which Big Bear scoffs, “Mother Box can save her advice! We’re no longer children!” The group’s apparent leader, Mark Moonrider, pushes back on that declaration of independence, however:
Vykin is prepared to use Mother Box to resolve this tense situation, but is dissuaded by Beautiful Dreamer, who has her own, gentler means for dealing with it:
In dealing successfully (at least for now) with Uncle Willie’s prejudices, the Forever People don’t actually challenge them; indeed, you could even say that they play into them. Kirby may be making a point here about the intractable biases of the old, and the resultant necessity for the young to work around them; but it’s also possible to see this episode in a somewhat more hopeful light. Perhaps what Kirby is actually saying is that if people — young or old — can only get past surface appearances, they’ll find that relating to one another isn’t so hard, after all.
Having decided that the FP are “nice enough kids”, and hearing that they’re looking for lodgings, Uncle Willie invites them to say with him and little Donnie in “Number 309” — apparently one of many abandoned apartment buildings in the neighborhood. Meanwhile…
Kirby continues to conjure a horror-movie vibe in this second scene featuring Mantis, effectively framing him as a vampire without using the v-word (which only ever appears on the comic’s cover, never within its interior pages).
Mark Moonrider’s remark concerning “early, post atomic, middle class home visuals” is another instance where the Forever People’s perspective on our world seems more that of a visitor from Earth’s own future than of someone newly arrived from an alien god-planet.
“And don’t worry, Donnie! Your first Cosmic Cartridge is free!”
Sorry, but it’s just about impossible to pass by that last page without making a drug joke. (At least it is for someone with as little resistance to temptation as your humble blogger. Or Donnie, for that matter.)
Back in November, 1969, Kirby responded thusly to a question from interviewer Shel Dorf regarding young people and drug use:
I think that drugs are harmful… And I believe that any sort of stimulant or irritant used for any sort of motivation… it’s a kind of a wild thing without guidelines. We don’t know what its guidelines are, and we’re experimenting with it all the time and that’s its most dangerous period. I won’t hang anybody up on a gallows who uses drugs, but I won’t respect them, either.**
Based on those sentiments, as well as everything else I’ve ever read about the man, it seems unlikely that the King of Comics ever partook of any controlled mind-altering substances. But he certainly seems to have been at least intrigued by the possibilities suggested by the hippie subculture’s experimentation with LSD and other hallucinogens in that era.
Quickly reaching the dining area, Serifan delivers the bad news to his fellows. They’re all equally familiar with Mantis, and all are also in agreement that he’s too powerful for the five of them to face. Time, then, to use Mother Box to summon the Forever People’s ace in the hole — the inscrutable Infinity Man:
Meanwhile, the Metropolis police department is bringing all the firepower they have to bear upon Mantis, with little effect — and the marauding menace is quick to retaliate:
Mantis is momentarily rocked by the Infinity Man’s sudden attack, but then…
Converting his stored energy to cold and frost, Mantis quickly has his foe completely immobilized in a block of ice — and then it’s back to making mayhem. Meanwhile…
This is the first appearance of Desaad — one of Darkseid’s most important lieutenants, and one who will go on to play an especially significant role in Forever People‘s eleven-issue run. In early 1971, Kirby’s derivation of this master of cruelty’s name from that of a certain well-known French writer went right over my head; though when I did figure it out, months or (maybe) years later, it seemed entirely apt.
Meanwhile, the citizens of Metropolis watch helplessly as their city burns, wondering if anybody is coming to save them. Unfortunately, Superman appears to be out of town (as he’ll tend to be for any Metropolis-set scenes in the Fourth World books, with the exception of those in Jimmy Olsen). But while the Infinity Man may be down, he’s not yet out:
The Infinity Man quickly engages once more with his opponent, but…
With the coming of the dawn, Mantis retreats to the dark confines of his underground lair — just like a traditional vampire.
As the story reaches its conclusion, the Forever People take a moment to frame the just-ended conflict in terms of the larger war within which it’s a mere skirmish, reminding readers of the greater stakes at hand. But, fittingly, it’s Darkseid who has the last word.
Like our heroes’ initial outing in issue #1, “Super War!” is essentially a done-in-one story, though obviously still a single chapter in a larger epic. We can even see, here, the beginnings of a formulaic approach that might have provided the structure for any number of one-off adventures, going forward. Having established their “base” in Metropolis at Number 309, the Forever People might now have slipped into a pattern which would find them confronting a different menace from Apokolips in each issue, summoning the Infinity Man to fight and beat the baddie, and then returning home at the end of the tale — only to repeat the cycle in two months’ time. Jack Kirby’s imagination could have kept such a formula going quite some time before it began to feel stale, I believe.
Perhaps Kirby did seriously consider taking this sort of approach with the Forever People title; but if he did, the thought evidently didn’t last for very long. With issue #3, the series would veer off into another, much more interesting — as well as more harrowing — direction.
We’ll be back to take a look at that issue’s “Life vs. Anti-Life!” two months from now. Well before that, however — in just two short weeks, in fact! — we’ll be exploring still other new developments in the overall Fourth World mythos, courtesy of the second issue of Forever People‘s sister title, New Gods. I hope I’ll see you then.
*A one-day window may seem insufficient time for the changes to the Code to have been able to affect the publication of FP #2; however, according to Amy Kriste Nyberg’s article “Cracking the Code: The Liberalization of the Comics Code Authority” (Comic Book Artist #1 [Spring, 1998]), revisions had been discussed and approved at a special called meeting of the board of directors of the CMAA (Comics Magazine Association of America) held on December 7, 1970, and then scheduled to go into effect nearly two months later, on February 1. Based on my understanding of the comic-book production process, this would appear to have been enough time for the changes to have influenced the content of FP #2’s cover. (Contrary opinions from folks who have more expertise in this area than me are more than welcome, however.)
**”Innerview”, The Jack Kirby Collector #42 (Spring, 2005), pp. 16-17.
Much as I love me some Jack Kirby, I’ve always considered FOREVER PEOPLE to be the weakest of his DC books and the one that most glaringly showed Kirby really needed to work with a writer to get the best out of his extraordinary concepts. Most of Kirby’s other books such as KAMANDI and JIMMY OLSEN got by just on the avalanche of concepts, characters and visuals Kirby threw at us every issue but FOREVER PEOPLE’s attempt to be hip, cool and relevant just didn’t seem genuine.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I like FP better than you do, Derrick (as is probably obvious) — but as they say, that’s what makes a horse race. 🙂
LikeLiked by 2 people
I was all of 8 years old when this issue came out, so the reality of the whole hippie culture was all around, but I was blissfully unaware of its deeper significance. While I remember picking up a few of the Jimmy Olsen Kirby issues and being suitably overwhelmed enough to want to look for more, I was at least familiar with Jimmy (and Supes, of course) to gravitate to a familiar name. The rest of the New Gods skipped, looking for more familiar faces on the spinner racks. The DC 100-page Super-Spectaculars had started appearing, and my limited funds were immediately drawn to them as a priority. Ah, youth. But I have had a chance to catch up on many since then. Reading them now is a treat. I have to admit that this is one of the rare occasions I don’t find Vince Coletta’s inks incredibly annoying over the King’s pencils. It seems as if he mostly left the pencils in their original state and did his job instead of using his dreaded eraser. As to the story, its backbone does seem to be tending towards the formulaic approach as mentioned, but seen today has its own nostalgic charm while immersing one in sheer Kirby goodness The panel in which Willie holds a cosmic capsule seems to foreshadow Kirby’s later work once he returned to Marvel and did work on his 2001: A Space Odyssey book.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I appreciate the observation re: Kirby’s “2001”, Daniel — that’s a connection I hadn’t made before. (I really need to re-read those books some time soon…)
Another excellent post focusing on what I consider to be a simply fantastic comic book. As for the “problem” of the Forever People referring to Earth in terms of what seems to be its own past and not an equivalent collection of references to the far-gone days of New Genesis’s own history, consider this: How do these space aliens understand and speak English? Sure, the Mother Box may very well be the easy answer, but how else are the FP’s thoughts “translated” for them? What more information has been stored within their minds in order to facilitate their current excursion? Could this type of mental preparation not be commonplace for those who regularly traverse the cosmos itself? From a less metafictional perspective: what if Kirby did have the FP tossing out references to the distant past of an alien world that readers had no understanding of? Would that have helped tell the story at all? Honestly, I see Kirby’s storytelling here as some of the most immediate and dynamic sort of comic book writing ever done. The transfer of ideas is immediate, the nature of the characters is conveyed with equal speed, and the story itself becomes what matters, not the fine, picayune details of a comic book that might pretend that a focus on the New Genesian equivalent of Earth’s concept of “Vaudeville” is something that it’s important to spend time and panel-space on. I fully understand that this style of storytelling is not to everyone’s taste, but it is a deliberate style, and it’s one that has always made these books special to me. Thanks, Alan!
LikeLiked by 2 people
You’re welcome, Max! And thanks right back atcha for the thoughtful comments. You make an excellent point about the references to vaudeville, etc., in terms of Kirby’s storytelling — what indeed would have been the use of having the FP allude to aspects of New Genesis’ past that would have meant nothing to the readership? I think that for me as a 13-year-old reader in 1971, Kirby’s approach probably worked very much the way you laid it out. (So there, 63-year-old me!)
I never had a lick of interest in the Comics Code, even at age 13 when these books came out. I wasn’t aware of what their “stamp” on the cover of my favorite comics meant or where it came from or was inspired by. I missed the whole EC Comics/Frederic Wertham thing and didn’t learn about it for another couple of years when an indulgent teacher allowed me to do a term paper on comics during either my Junior or Senior year of high school. Thus, the significance of the word “vampire” on the cover went completely over my head. I am curious as to why Kirby wanted to refer to Mantis as a vampire in the first place. The character’s name certainly doesn’t suggest it; a mantis in nature has no vampiric qualities that I’m aware of, the costume doesn’t suggest it; there’s nothing of Lugosi or Nosferatu in the way Mantis dresses and we never once see fangs or see him use his powers to drain life or energy from anyone or anything. If it weren’t for his pod/coffin and his whiny conversation with Darkseid at the beginning, we’d have no idea at all. Maybe in future appearances Mantis becomes more vampiric, I confess I don’t remember.
As to Derrick’s point that Kirby was trying and not succeeding in his effort to be “cool and hip” with his writing on the FP, I have to agree. At age 13, I’m sure I had no problem with Jack’s idea of what a hippie was, but judging by the dialogue in this issue, it does seem he misses the point of the movement by a fairly wide margin. The thing that really always bothered me about FP was the whole Infinity Man thing. Kirby went to the trouble to create these wonderfully weird characters with these interesting personalities, but instead of using them to find new ways to tell an action/adventure superhero story, whenever trouble comes, he ditches the FP concept all together for them to change places with this Infinity Man, a character with no personality, no background and no motivation that we can see beyond the obvious need to fight for good. In short, he’s just a super-hero in a book that supposedly takes pride in eschewing what that means. What at the time seemed like a cool story-telling device, now, fifty years later seems like a crutch for Jack’s story-telling abilities; he couldn’t figure out how to put a bunch of fun-loving peaceniks into one violent altercation week after week, so he created a “free pass” for himself, which not only weakened the book, but the FP as characters as well, largely making them bystanders in their own story. Don’t get me wrong, I loved FP back in the day. Like you Alan, it was my favorite Fourth World book at the time, but fifty years of hindsight does change our perception of these things in some surprising ways.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Over the years several people have observed that the Forever People were perhaps a weakly-executed concept because Kirby was constantly shuffling them off-stage and having the Infinity Man deal with the heavy fighting. I definitely agree there’s a validity to that criticism, and I think I mentioned it when I commented on Alan’s write-up of the first issue. The Forever People were definitely interesting characters with wonderful designs, but as a result of having to share the stage with the Infinity Man they did not get as much development as the rest of the “Fourth World” characters, and that is probably why they are the group that is the least-utilized in subsequent revivals of the New Gods.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Uninterested in the Comics Code, eh, Don? Um, you may want to sit out next Saturday’s post, then. Or at least come prepared to do a lot of skimming. 🙂
Funny thing about Infinity Man… Kirby himself seems to have soured on the guy fairly early on, perhaps for the very reasons you’ve elucidated — as we’ll see more clearly in a couple of months, when the blog gets to FP #3. (Why, yes, this reply is 95% “Coming Attractions”, why do you ask?)
LikeLiked by 2 people
Not uninterested in the Code NOW, Alan…THEN. Here and now, I’m all ready to chow down on the silliness and censorship of the CCA. Bring it on!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oops! I had no idea signing up for a WordPress account so I could more fully participate in the conversation would change my user name. I’ll have to fix that somehow. In the meantime, frodo628’s secret identity is still Don. Sorry for the confusion.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Don, I noticed that on a few of your comments last week, but no worries. I recognized you from your photo. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
“In its own way, this appearance is even more startling, as Kirby upends our expectations by showing the confident, taunting figure we “met” earlier now screaming in terror”
I certainly don’t blame Mantis. This is the exact same reaction i have when my cats wake me up at five in the morning demanding to be fed! Poor guy may be a tyrannical energy vampire, but even he needs to get his full eight hours of sleep a night!
AHEM! Okay, on a more serious note, Vince Colletta’s inking has often been criticized, and I do agree there are legitimate complaints that can be leveled at some of his work. But I have always thought he drew / inked / embellished some incredibly beautiful women, and his inking over Jack Kirby’s depiction of Beautiful Dreamer on the splash page is very lovely.
In regards to the Cosmic Cartridges, perhaps they are not so much the equivalent of hallucinogenic drugs as a form of guided meditation? I don’t think Kirby intended Serifan’s devices to be harmful & addictive.
One last note that’s really tangential to this issue, in regards to the use of vampires. It’s interesting that until 1971 the Comics Code prohibited vampires and other horror elements because they supposedly were too frightening or corrupting for young readers. Gold Key was able to freely publish all of their books without CC approval because they were all assumed to be wholesome and innocent… and they went ahead and used vampires anyway, and got away with it, because they didn’t have to deal with the CC! This sort of points out both the stupidity & futility of the CC. I’m sure there’s a much more involved discussion to be had about this, but that’s a topic for another time & place.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Yeah, the irony of how Gold Key (and Dell, who did “Dracula” as a costumed superhero in the ’60s!) got around the Code is pretty rich — it’s like, if you’ve got the Disney license, you must be safe for kids, regardless of what else you publish!
Re: Colletta — you can count me as one of those fans who doesn’t really mind his inks over Kirby (especially for myth-related material) — at least not until you show me where he’s erased details from Kirby’s original pencils. 😦
And per the Cosmic Cartridges (not to mention a “trippy” sequence coming up in Jimmy Olsen later this month), I agree that Kirby had no intention of presenting these experiences as addictive or harmful in any way. I do believe that he was intrigued by the claims of the counterculture’s hallucinogen users, however.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I love the Fourth World and got the 3rd Omnibus for Christmas! I don’t think that Jack’s hippy dialogue is any worse than many comics of that artist time, so I don’t mind. Of course, I’m an artist and pay more attention to the visuals. As for Colletta, his inks aren’t bad but they are light and some lines are lost in the printing. I feel that Mike Royer gave Kirby more depth and power in the inks.
— Marcus Kelligrew
LikeLiked by 1 person
It took me a while to warm to Royer’s inks on Kirby when I first encountered them — but they’ve grown on me quite a bit in the last half-century!
I don’t remember this issue or Mantis at all, although I know that I read the issue when it came out. Despite remembering just about every significant character from books that I first read 50 or more years ago (e.g. Desad from this same issue), even if I haven’t encountered them in decades, my not remembering Mantis is shocking. How shocking? When I first saw his name on the cover reading your blog, my first thought was Steve Englehart’s obviously 180 degrees different Mantis for Marvel, not “oh, I remember this guy!” Even more shocking is that I don’t remember ever making the connection that the names were the same when I read Steve Englehart’s Mantis arc when it first came out in 1973-75, not so long after (even given our time perceptions as kids) or ever. It’s like Dr. Strange did a mind wipe on me or something.
Back in 1971, I wasn’t aware of the Comics’ Code anymore than seeing the seal on the cover of the books. I certainly did not know the history or that vampires and werewolves were forbidden. I suspect that when this issue was originally prepared, Mantis was meant to be another attempt by a comic company to create a character that was at least somewhat suggestive to vampirism without drawing the Code’s attention. When the changes were announced in December 1970 to begin in February, even if there wasn’t time to revise the interior of the book, there certainly was time to slap the word “vampire” on the cover to goose sales or to be first to break the barrier. I should note here that in 1970 or 1971 there was a Flash issue in which the Flash was split up into body parts and left on a wall or something. I found this gross and wondered how the Comics Code could have allowed this. Of course, now that I’m reading books from the early 1990s for the first time, I’m wondering why there even was a Comics Code at that point.
By your comment to Ben Herman, you answered a question I had as to whether you were going to cover a specific issue this month. Looking forward to Saturday so I have another reason to bash Gerry Conway for something that he would do two years hence (although it has nothing to do with what Stan Lee did in this actual issue).
I have nothing else to say other than to repeat that when I see the Forever People turn into Infinity Man, I now can’t help thinking about Jim Shooter’s Psi Force in his New Universe series from circa 1987 which I first read a couple of years ago.
LikeLiked by 1 person
How very interesting that you forgot all about Mantis, Stu! I wonder if you’ll have better recall when we get to his next major appearance. Of course, that won’t be for over a year, so we may have both forgotten about this convo by then. 🙂
I’ve been getting interested in comics again during the Covid era, 20+ years after I gradually lost interest in the medium. I recently found your blog and I’ve been enjoying it. I’d never heard of the 4th world before reading about it here, and now I’ve just finished reading Forever People 1-11. I loved it, and I wish I had another 100 Kirby-penned issues to read. Thanks for the tip!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Wow, that’s great! I’m delighted to have played a part in helping you discover Kirby’s Fourth World, Capt.!