Jack Kirby’s cover for New Gods #2 may be considered of a piece with that of Forever People #2, out earlier the same month. Like its fellow installment in Kirby’s ongoing Fourth World saga, it features a black-and-white photo collage background, a dominant foreground figure, a set of floating heads…
And a whole lot of copy. Even the book’s title acquires a couple of extra words, so that a newcomer to the series might think they were picking up a copy of Orion of the New Gods, instead of the indicia-official The New Gods. It’s a busy cover, you might say.
That’s my sixty-three-year-old self talking, though. Back in February, 1971,when I first saw this cover at the age of thirteen, I doubt that the slightest critical thought passed through my mind. I might not even have done much more than give the cover a glance before buying the comic and bringing it home. I was, after all, already so invested in Kirby’s new epic that all I wanted to do was to open up the book to the first page, and find out What Would Happen Next.
Of course, the King promptly threw me for a loop with a splash page that hearkened back to What Had Already Happened, And Quite A Long Time Ago, At That:
But you can’t really hold it against the King, can you? The Fourth World was still quite new, and it was important to get the concepts firmly established in readers’ minds — especially in this, arguably the central title of the project — not to mention the necessity of getting brand new readers up to speed.
Besides, it was a terrific splash — and a great lead-in to the following double-page spread:
In my posts about the Fourth World books this far, I haven’t written very much about Vince Colletta, who was Kirby’s regular inker on all of his work for DC (at least when the King wasn’t drawing Superman and related characters). I believe I’m probably in the minority of Kirby fans who will cop to admiring Colletta’s inking of the King’s pencil art in any context, but the truth is, I’ve always enjoyed the “look” of it in the Fourth World books, mostly because it reminds me of the two artists’ collaboration on Marvel’s Thor. That’s especially true in scenes such as this one, which, by inviting comparison between the Kirby-Colletta team’s previous rendition of Asgard and their present depiction of New Genesis, strengthens the sense of continuity between Kirby’s old gods and his new.
Of course, this doesn’t excuse Colletta’s erasing some of the details in Kirby’s pencils to make his own job simpler, which he’s known to have done with some frequency. Being aware of that fact as I am now (though I wasn’t in 1971), I can’t find fault with Kirby for insisting DC replace Colletta with Mike Royer (as indeed happened before the end of the year). But even today, unless I actually have my attention drawn to Colletta’s specific alterations on a particular page, I tend to like what I see when I look at his inking.
As the sequence progresses, Kirby continues to refresh our memories (and to orient the newbies in the audience) by re-introducing two of the major figures in the New Genesis pantheon, Highfather and Lightray, as well as one of the most important concepts in the Fourth World mythos, the Source.
It should be noted that Lightray’s visual depiction is oddly inconsistent on these pages; in the first panel of page 4, as well as the splash panel that comprises page 5, he’s shown wearing a mask, while in page 4’s other two panels, he’s not. (A mask appears to have been part of the character’s original design, as shown in concept art created by Kirby while he was still working for Marvel; but there’s none to be seen in New Gods #1, nor in most of the character’s subsequent appearances.)
At this point, we’re five pages in on a 22-page story, and only page 4 has had more than one panel to a page. By the time we reach the end, we’ll find that a full seven pages of our tale have been been consumed by splashes and spreads — a record for Kirby’s Fourth World output to date. (The previous milestone had been set by Jimmy Olsen #136, published in January, which sported six such pages.)
Kirby’s work at Marvel during the last couple of years prior to his move to DC had seen him resorting more and more to full-page splashes and double-page spreads. Some critics and historians have speculated that this was driven at least in part by the artist’s needing to adjust to a smaller standard art board size. Others have theorized that his ever-growing unhappiness at the House of Ideas motivated him to take the occasional shortcut in meeting his monthly quota of pages.
Neither of those theories would seem to apply in regards to Kirby’s Fourth World work, however — his ire at Marvel was now in the past, and his first few books at DC had included plenty of smaller panels without his art seeming to suffer for it — which requires us to consider other possibilities. As of the previous month, the artist-writer-editor had become responsible for turning out four complete comics for DC on a regular schedule; perhaps he was finding it necessary to make some adjustments to his work habits as a consequence. (Or, to put it another way, drawing fewer, bigger pictures allowed him to turn out pages faster.) On the other hand, perhaps Kirby just felt like using a lot of large panels the particular week he wrote and drew New Gods #2. Your humble blogger will not presume to guess.
Having said all that, do the full single and double page images in this comic earn their keep? I believe they do, for the most part; but if there is one that could be considered an indulgence, it’s the one on page 5. This image doesn’t give us any new visual information, and the scene it depicts isn’t particularly dramatic. Besides which, the text it incorporates doesn’t need nearly this much space. (Of course, being by Kirby, it’s still a pleasing picture.)
These criticisms hardly apply to the story’s next full-page splash, which comes up on the very next page:
I suppose that this could be considered a relatively static image as well, as it’s dominated by the still figure of Darkseid, who’s sitting calmly in a chair in what appears to be an ordinary room somewhere on Earth. Nevertheless, it packs a dramatic punch that the previous page’s tableau didn’t, as the posture and expressions of the people entering the room — Orion, the greatest warrior of New Genesis, leading the small group of human beings he’s just freed from captivity on Apokolips — make it quite clear, even for new readers just coming in, that he’s the last person any of them ever expected to find there.
Darkseid is dropping a subtle hint about Orion’s true origins here; before the issue is over, he’ll give us (though not Orion) another, not quite so subtle one.
Brola — whom we first glimpsed standing at attention just inside the doorway on page 6 — has gotten the drop on Orion, who’s left his astro-harness in the other room. Still, the warrior manages to muscle through the energies discharged from his foe’s “shock-prod” — though of course that still leaves his “hand of stone” to contend with:
Looking down through the hole he and Brola have just put in the wall, Orion sees that the latter has vanished. As he explains to his companions, both Brola and his master have made their abrupt exits via something called a “tele-ray“.
Kirby doesn’t stick with this scene long enough for us to hear Orion’s answer, but readers of the previous issue (or of either issue of Forever People released thus far) would know that Darkseid is searching for the Anti-Life Equation — the power to control the thoughts of all living souls, the secret of which somehow resides in the mind of a mortal Earthling. Though he’s now conducting the search on Earth in person, the Lord of Apokolips had earlier had these four seemingly ordinary folks kidnapped and brought to Apokolips for onsite mind-scanning. I don’t believe that Kirby ever explains why these particular people were singled out for such a fate; but the characters obviously have considerable narrative utility within the developing storyline, providing someone for Orion to talk to, as well as to call on for help as he begins to navigate a strange new world (ours). The quartet’s presence also allows Kirby a means for offering an ordinary human perspective (four of them, actually) on the cosmic conflict between the gods of Apokolips and those of New Genesis.
Our attention now shifts to a secret base underneath the city — one of several such already established by the Apokolipticans, as a caption tells us — where Darkseid and Brola materialize. Darkseid promptly dismisses the cowering Brola with a swift kick, then proceeds to check on the status of an important project:
This isn’t Desaad’s first appearance — he’d already turned up earlier this month in Forever People #2, where we briefly saw him relishing the “wonderful waves of raw fear” generated by the destructive activities of another of Darkseid’s subordinates, Mantis. Here, however, he takes center stage in driving the story’s main action.
This is the first time we’ve had any indication that Orion, like the Forever People (examples of those “young of New Genesis” Orion mentions above), possesses a Mother Box. It’s actually the third such device to be introduced in the Fourth World books so far; readers had also seen Scott Free utilize one in Mister Miracle #1 the month before, though that one wasn’t specifically identified as a Mother Box at the time. As we’ll learn over the coming months, these highly versatile pieces of seemingly sentient technology are actually fairly common among the denizens of New Genesis — and among those of Apokolips, as well.
As narrated by Orion, Mother Box’s “movie without film” plays at first as a sort of newsreel, hitting some of the main Fourth World concepts introduced thus far (most notably the Boom Tube), before moving on to preview some coming attractions — such as the Deep Six, who will feature prominently in the storyline that kicks off in New Gods‘ very next issue.
As we’ve already noted (and as the footnote at the bottom of the page helpfully points out), Mantis had already had his initial outing, being featured as the main villain in Forever People #2 just a couple of weeks earlier. So you could say that giving him a full-page splash of his own in this issue of New Gods amounts to overkill; on the other hand, it’s such a nice “pin-up” style rendering of the character — not to mention a doubtlessly effective plug for FP #2 (still on sale!) — that it’s hard to begrudge Kirby this one.
At this point, the newsreel/trailer has morphed into something of a travelogue for the Fourth World, hitting virtually all the main sights with the exception of Mister Miracle’s stomping grounds (which Kirby couldn’t have very well worked into this sequence without playing some cards that, at the conclusion of MM #1, he was still holding close to his chest). There’s certainly enough going on in this Jimmy Olsen-spotlighting page to justify the splash panel treatment, though its focus on the Outsiders of the Wild Area might initially seem a little odd — after all, they’d been conspicuous by their absence in that title since Kirby’s second issue. But, as once again indicated in a footnote, the members of this “bizarre dropout society” were coming back in JO #137 — which, not so coincidentally, went on sale the same day as New Gods #2. (Naturally, that book will be the subject of this blog’s very next post.) The notion that the secret of the Anti-Life Equation might be found among the denizens of the Wild Area was a new one, however; although, to the best of my recollection, it was never followed up on, either in Jimmy Olsen or anywhere else.
Orion, having been “trained to resist all degrees of fear”, is unaffected by the emanations of Darkseid’s infernal machine. So, he fires up Mother Box, setting her to trace those emanations to their source, and then takes off on his astro-harness:
Before the falling Orion can crash into the street below, he fires a blast of astro-force which serves to arrest his descent — luckily, the street is “empty of passersby” when he does this — and… well, that’s it, really. Less than four pages after first becoming aware of it, Orion has decisively ended the threat of the Fear Machine.
Does Kirby give the whole game away with this panel? If so, does he mean to? In the first issue, the artist-writer had been unequivocal in letting us readers in on a fact that’s still a secret to Orion — namely, that our hero is actually a native of Apokolips, rather than New Genesis — while hinting, somewhat more coyly, that over and beyond that, Orion is Darkseid’s own son. With this issue, the writer suggests this possibility even more strongly, though still without coming right out and confirming it. If I recall correctly, my thirteen-year-old self picked up on the hint dropped in this scene (that boldface text made it hard not to, frankly). But at the time, I thought it was also possible that I was reading more into the line than was really there.
And thus ends “O’ Deadly Darkseid” — a story which I think one may fairly deem to be the slightest installment in the Fourth World saga released thus far. In addition to its over-reliance on splashes and spreads, and its build-up of a central menace that’s ultimately defeated way too easily, there are no significant new concepts or characters introduced in New Gods #2. (Not including the Deep Six — whose future advent is merely teased in a single panel, and thus don’t really count — the only new face in the issue belongs to poor Brola, who, despite having scored a floating head-shot on the cover alongside Darkseid and Desaad, never makes another appearance after this issue.)
But maybe that last point, at least, isn’t such a big deal. Jack Kirby had delivered such an abundance of novel ideas in New Gods #1 that it may have made good sense to allow readers some time to grow accustomed to them, before forging ahead into still newer territory. As for any other perceived flaws — well, in 1971 Jack Kirby was at the top of his game, at least in your humble blogger’s opinion; and even one of his lesser efforts during this period still makes for compelling comic-book reading. Especially when the modest advances that are made in his overarching narrative — in particular, the dark hints concerning Orion’s parentage — carry as much dramatic weight as these do.
And in any case, things would indeed begin to heat up again with the next issue, as the series launched into its first multi-issue storyline — even while, simultaneously, Kirby (at DC Editorial Director Carmine Infantino’s request) tossed into the mix a new character creation, the Black Racer, who wasn’t even originally intended to be part of the Fourth World mythos. That story, however, will have to wait for April, when we’ll be taking a look at New Gods #3. I hope to see you then.