The third issue of Forever People leads off with a cover very much in the vein of several of the other covers of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics that immediately preceded it in publication date, including that of FP #2; it’s built around a drawn image, pencilled by Kirby and inked by Vince Colletta, which is then set against a photographic background, and, finally, framed by copy — a lot of it. Based simply on this visual cue, one might expect this issue’s content to be as similar to that of the second issue as are the two books’ covers — i.e., for it to follow #2’s precedent of setting our young heroes from New Genesis against a powerful servant of Darkseid, a foe that ultimately can only be vanquished by summoning the more powerful adult champion Infinity Man to take their place, with everything being set back to the status quo by the end of the issue.
But if that’s what you were expecting, you’d be wrong. Because with Forever People #3, Kirby abandons the formula he seemed to have settled into with the prior issue’s adventure, moving instead into the first chapter of a four-part narrative considerably darker and more disturbing than anything we’ve seen in a Fourth World comic to date. Ultimately, this storyline will prove to be the central arc of the entire Forever People series (which, as most of those reading this likely already know, is doomed to meet a premature end with its eleventh issue), and one of the key narratives of the entire Fourth World project. It’s where Kirby’s great theme of radical freedom versus absolute control — or, in his formulation, Life versus Anti-Life — comes to the fore more fully than it has in any previous chapter.
From the first words that appear on the opening splash page — a quotation from Adolf Hitler* — Kirby lets us know we’re moving into conceptual territory that is perhaps more relevant to our ordinary human lives than the machinations of ultra-powerful space-gods might otherwise be imagined to be:
When I first read this page back in April, 1971, at the age of thirteen, I didn’t have any context for it other than the historical one of Nazism, as suggested by the Hitler quote. Reading it in April, 2021, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the sort of sentiments frequently expressed today by many people involved in right-wing political movements, both here in America and abroad.
In earlier Fourth World comics, we’ve seen the Anti-Life Equation defined as a weapon by which Darkseid may acquire “the outside control of all living thought!” This scene is the first time we’ve seen Anti-Life presented as a creed — with the clear, chilling implication that human beings may be persuaded to surrender control of their own wills to someone else for some perceived gain, without such control being forcibly imposed upon them at all.
Writing in a 2017 post to the “Comic Book Historians” Facebook group, Jim Thompson noted a close parallel between this scene and one in Jimmy Olsen #137, which was originally published six weeks earlier. In the earlier sequence, Kirby began with a splash focused on the individual (Jimmy) officiating over the communal experience, then followed it with another depicting the “communers” themselves; in contrast, the parallel scene in Forever People #3 inverses that order.
But the more important contrasts are in what the musical technology operated (or at least supervised) by the respective officiants does, and how it does it. Jimmy’s “solar-phone” “gathers in the radio-signals from the stars and converts them into mental musical images” which, though harmonized, are nevertheless unique to each individual. Meanwhile, the “sound organ” of Glorious Godfrey catches the audiences’ own words and “finds the wonderful music in them”; but in Godfrey’s tent, everyone ultimately hears the exact same music. In Thompson’s words: “The Olsen gang are the ones actually listening to the music from the heavens, while Godfrey’s inspiration comes from the small hearts of small men.”
Yet another significant contrast is between the evident ages of the respective audiences. Godfrey’s revival-tent congregation is composed of adults of varying ages, while the participants in the Project’s “dance” are. with the exception of Superman, all teenagers or young adults. One of Kirby’s most consistent themes is that the cause of freedom, or “life”, is championed primarily by the young.
While the historical “movement” referred to in the Hitler quote was obvious a political one — and the contemporary analogues to Godfrey’s “right thinkers” would likely think of themselves as patriots, rather than acolytes — the trappings of the “Anti-Life” crusade conducted by Glorious Godfrey on behalf of Darkseid are clearly religious. More specifically, they’re drawn from the American Christian tradition of “revival meetings”, which frequently used to be held in big, circus-like tents (and sometimes still are), and which have generally been presided over by preachers who are often not the pastors of a specific local congregation, but rather travel from place to place as evangelists — sharers of the evangelion, or “good news” — i.e., the gospel of Jesus Christ.
According to his friend, biographer, and assistant during the Fourth World years, Mark Evanier, Jack Kirby had a particular evangelist in mind when he conceived Glorious Godfrey: Billy Graham.
Graham (1918-2018), who first came to prominence in the 1940s, was almost certainly the most successful evangelist of the 20th century, and probably one of the best-known religious figures in the world during his lifetime. While he did utilize tents in his early days, Graham and his “crusades” (his chosen term) soon moved into larger venues, such as civic auditoriums and stadiums, and thence into the mass media of radio and television. The evangelist also soon became a figure welcome in the halls of secular power, including the White House; but though he ultimately took meetings with every United States President from Harry Truman through Barack Obama, his closest relationship on that level may have been with Richard Nixon, whom he first met and befriended when the latter man was Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower.
Jack Kirby was not impressed with Billy Graham. As Evanier wrote in a 2002 blog post:
Kirby was appalled at some of Graham’s apocalyptic sermons which — to Jack — were more calculated to instill fear than faith, and to stampede people into service of Graham’s causes. Jack called the foe [inspired by Graham] Glorious Godfrey, the name being a Kirbyesque pun. The comic book evangelist was “god-free” and also had some of the traits of TV pitchman Arthur Godfrey, though the main reference and the visual came from Billy Graham. Not evident in on the pages he drew was Jack’s belief — which he expressed on several occasions — that Graham and the president he counseled were both virulent anti-Semites.
Evanier went on to note that Kirby’s instincts regarding both Graham and Nixon’s anti-Semitic leanings were proven justified in 2002 when a release from “the Nixon tapes” made public a 1972 White House conversation where the two men had agreed that Jews had a “stranglehold” on the media, which needed to end “or this country’s going down the drain” (Graham’s words).
The second, more minor inspiration for Glorious Godfrey mentioned by Evanier — the radio and television “personality” Arthur Godfrey (1903-1983) — is likely less familiar to the younger readers of this blog than Graham, who died just a few years ago at this writing (and whose “brand” continues to be assiduously promoted by his progeny, for better or worse). He was relatively obscure even in my own 1960s youth, where I’d see him turn up on TV from time to time, occasionally playing a ukulele; but in his heyday of the late ’40s and early ’50s, he’d been a pretty BFD.
Godfrey had first risen to prominence in the 1930s in the medium of radio, where he practiced a more natural and conversational mode of delivery than most announcers of that era. His folksy, next-door-neighbor persona engendered a level of trust in his audience which ultimately made him a preeminent pitchman — an endeavor in which he utilized a shtick of poking fun at his programs’ sponsors while simultaneously extolling the virtues of their products with apparent complete sincerity.
According to a 2010 blog post by Evanier, “Jack Kirby thought performers like Arthur Godfrey were dangerous.” He didn’t elaborate, but it seems likely that Kirby believed that Godfrey wasn’t quite the nice, friendly guy he presented himself to be (a conclusion that a lot of people seem to have reached after Godfrey fired a performer on air during a show in 1953) and that his sincerity as a commercial spokesman was suspect, even if his effectiveness was undeniable. Glorious Godfrey may thus be considered to be, in Evanier’s words, “Jack’s answer to his self-asked question, ‘What if a Billy Graham had the selling power of an Arthur Godfrey?'” (Evanier didn’t mention this, but it also seems likely that Glorious Godfrey’s hair color was derived from that of Arthur, who was nicknamed “The Old Redhead”.)
As I’ve already mentioned, Arthur Godfrey wasn’t much more than a peripheral cultural figure when I was growing up. Billy Graham, on the other hand, was huge — or at least he was in my devout Southern Baptist household. When one of his crusades was broadcast on television, generally over several consecutive nights (and yes, our local station pre-empted prime time network programming to carry them), my family watched every one. And when the man came in person to our town just a few years after this, in 1975. we attended every single night of his “crusade”.
Yet I don’t recall ever making a mental connection between Billy Graham and Glorious Godfrey; not in 1971, and not for years, and even decades, after. (Indeed, I suspect the association remained pretty much opaque to me until I eventually read about it some place.) I have some thoughts about why things worked out that way, which I’ll share later in the post; for now, however, it’s probably a better idea to return to our story, before we all forget that this is, in fact, a comic-book blog…
While it’s possible that at least some of the Justifiers are natives of Apokolips, it seems clear that the majority of them are ordinary human beings who’ve been converted to the cause of Anti-Life. In their anonymous, vicious fanaticism, they’re considerably scarier than the only human servitors of Darkseid that we’ve seen prior to this — the self-interested but rational criminals that fill the ranks of Intergang.
Fortunately for the helpless Donnie, his headlong flight is arrested by the pinging power of Mother Box. Mark Moonrider then scoops the boy up in his arms, and the Forever People make a break for it:
Kirby probably had the Japanese kamikazes and kaitens of World War II in mind when he conceived this aspect of the Justifiers. Nevertheless, this incident seems eerily prescient of the suicide bomber, a phenomenon which wouldn’t fully emerge into global awareness until around 1980.
This is the first time we’ve heard of “omega rays” — but it won’t be the last, not even for this issue.
Kirby had spent a considerable portion of his page count in Forever People #2 getting his heroes ensconced in this “abandoned district of a city in the process of urban renewal” — but with this sequence, he essentially throws that whole set-up away. Perhaps, if their series had lasted longer than eleven issues, the Forever People would have eventually found their way back to little Donnie and his Uncle Willie, though of course there’s no way we can ever know for sure.
Mother Box is able to get a bead on a “reaction signal” which our heroes believe will lead them directly to Glorious Godfrey; as Vykin explains, “Revelationists like Godfrey have strong emotion flows.” (The word “revelationist”, evidently a coinage of Kirby’s, is never defined, but may be taken as a play on the word “evangelist”; it also suggests the Bible’s Book of Revelation, just as the word “Apokolips” does.) Big Bear promptly programs this data into the Super-Cycle’s on-board computer, and the Forever People are ready to roll — or fly, or — whatever…
Who are these ordinary people who’ve been forcibly dragged from their homes and beaten by the Justifiers, and are now being taken away to some unknown location? They do not appear to have been chosen for this fate at random — the Justifiers have come with intent to this specific neighborhood, after all, and they have a list of names. Such factors seem to suggest that the Justifiers’ victims belong to some ethnic, racial, or religious minority, though everyone we readers actually see looks like someone who could at least “pass” for a member of America’s white, Christian majority. In the end, of course, who these people really are doesn’t matter; as far as the Justifiers are concerned, they are merely “swine”, “animals”, “human trash” — they are The Other.
Kirby’s primary inspiration for this scene was doubtlessly the violent attacks upon Jews, and their forced deportation to concentration camps, in Nazi Germany in the years leading up to World War II, supplemented by the more general history of pogroms against Jewish people over the centuries (Kirby was Jewish). But it has an obvious resonance for many other marginalized or repressed people as well. Contemporary readers may be reminded not only of such historic events as the Ocoee (1920) and Tulsa (1921) massacres of Black communities, but also of the the more recent ethnic cleansing campaigns of the Bosnian War in the 1990s — to say nothing of such events in our own current era as the ongoing raids on immigrant communities by ICE personnel, and the June, 2020 arrests of protestors in Portland by unidentifiable federal officers using unmarked vehicles.
Like the Justifiers’ neighborhood invasion that preceded it, this fiery assault on a public library has an obvious Holocaust era antecedent in the Nazi book burnings of the 1930s — though, as before, there are many other instances of attempts to destroy or to restrict access to books and other informational materials of which the reader may be reminded. One important thing to note, however, is that while most attempts of that nature, historically and currently, have been selective — i.e., the would-be censor objects to the content of specific materials on moral, religious, or ideological grounds (and we must in fairness acknowledge in that while the majority of such challenges to materials in libraries and schools have come from the right side of the political spectrum, some have come from the left), Kirby’s flame-throwing Justifier is apparently against all books, regardless of their content: “You need know no more than the proper things!” In this way, his closest antecedent is probably the “firemen” of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, who dutifully burn any and all books they find.
The Justifiers’ vandalism against selected businesses (located, one may presume, in the same neighborhood where other Justifiers have been rounding up the “human trash”) is another reminder of the Holocaust Era, evoking the defacement and damage done by the Nazis to Jewish businesses, homes, and synagogues in the 1930s. Comic book historian Jon B. Cooke notes that the paining of “an ‘S’ for scapegoat” on a store window specifically recalls the painting of yellow Stars of David on Jewish buildings during those years. As Cooke also points out, however, this is a “weirdly un-ironic choice of nomenclature, given a scapegoat is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as: “2. A person or group bearing blame for others,” and if your intent is to blame a group, you’d hardly want to advertise the persecuted are stand-ins for the real culprits and themselves not guilty.” That’s true, but I take the sheer brazenness of the action as an indicator that the true believers in Anti-Life don’t feel obliged to be logical in their behavior; they’re Justified,after all, no matter what they do.
As the scene continues, Godfrey’s viewscreen changes, to indicate that a phasing vehicle is en route to his location. Realizing that the Justifier sent to kill the Forever People has failed in his mission, the revelationist evinces little concern: “I suppose they’re welcome to die here, if they wish!”
We readers have been here before. The Forever People are about to do their “Shazam!” thing — OK, their “Tarru!” (Taruu? Taaru?) thing — and summon a much more powerful adult hero, the enigmatic Infinity Man, who will then proceed to mop the tent floor with Glorious Godfrey and his Justifiers, free their prisoners, and generally set everything straight by the end of page 22. Right?
The already quite formidable IM shows off yet another power that we haven’t seen before, the Vision-like ability to control his density. Is there anything this guy can’t do?
Infinity Man glides like a subterranean ghost under the big tent, then surfaces right next to Godfrey’s pulpit. The revelationist orders his guards to fire on the interloper, but the hero takes control of their weapons’ “omega-shots”, turning the streaking bullets back upon his attackers…
The Infinity Man’s description of how the chords from Godfrey’s organ “stimulate the brute instincts that drive men into your service!” is the story’s most overt indication yet that Anti-Life’s devotees have been subjected to an unearthly mesmerizing influence (though most of us readers probably gathered as much as soon as we saw those blank-eyed faces on page 1). However, I don’t think that Kirby intends for us to cut the Justifiers much, if any, slack on this basis; to my mind, the implication throughout the issue has been that, as regards Godfrey’s “busloads of discontents” (to borrow Big Bear’s phrase from page 14), their “brute instincts” have been simmering just below the surface of their psyches for some time — primed and ready for the right word (or music) to stimulate them. (Besides which, that very “music” is, as we know based on their own spoken words — their declaration of the creed of “Anti-Life — the positive belief!”)
The Infinity Man has faced Darkseid before, in Forever People #1, and come away unscathed; the unsettling implication of the present scene is that the lord of Apokolips simply chose to ignore this “wondrous one” on that earlier occasion (though the fact that IM had Superman standing nest to him at the time may also have had something to do with the inconclusive way that encounter turned out).
And with that “karrak“, the Infinity Man is gone — not to be seen again until the very last issue of Forever People, some sixteen months in the future.
“It is not the first of its kind seen on Earth!” I’ve read commentary on this issue that interprets that statement to mean that Apokolips has been setting up “camp[s] of the damned” on our planet for a while, and this one just happens to be the first to have the diabolical Desaad serving as its director. Perhaps — but I think it’s rather more likely that Kirby had some all-too-real-world precursors in mind.
“The one who seeks believers must be a believer himself!” Such were the words with which Kirby introduced Glorious Godfrey on page 2. But Godfrey’s own belief is qualified, as indicated by his dialogue on page 21; he may be fully committed to Anti-Life as a philosophy, but to believe in the Anti-Life Equation itself — i.e., to believe in Anti-Life as a discrete force or power independent of any individual being’s conception — is beyond him.
Darkseid’s condescending, if vaguely fond, response is one of my favorite of the character’s speeches; Kirby’s scripting is never more potent than when he’s giving voice to his ultimate villain, “the tiger-force at the core of all things!” And it’s accompanied by one of my favorite visual portraits of the Lord of Apokolips as well — one in which Kirby as penciller makes full use of the larger canvas afforded by a full-page splash panel to imbue every crevice in Darkseid’s stony countenance with personality, while inker Colletta and the unknown colorist finish the job in style. I’ve never been any kind of serious artist, but at age 13, even I felt compelled to try to copy this one out by hand.
The narrative ends on a decidedly grim and ominous note, as our young heroes are carried away by aero-van to what we may assume is the same destination to which those unfortunate ordinary human beings back on page 12 were being transported to. But though Kirby’s prose in his final, “next issue”-promoting panel lays it on pretty thick — stoking our sense of dread with phrases like “the most bizarre and terrifying structure ever seen by the eyes of man!” and “a pilot project of purgatory” — my younger self would nevertheless be completely unprepared for what awaited us readers in Forever People #4. I hope you’ll dare to join me back here come June, when our host Desaad will be on hand to welcome us all to… Happyland!
As I wrote earlier in this post, I have some thoughts about why I, as a young reader in 1971, never made a connection between Glorious Godfrey and the real-life personage who was ostensibly Kirby’s primary inspiration in creating him, Billy Graham. One thought is that I may have been distracted by how Godfrey was dressed. Because, despite the fact that some have viewed Godfrey’s attire as having a priestly-vestments aspect (and, sure, that tunic is white, and kind of blousy, I guess, at least in some panels), at the end of the day it’s a supervillain costume. Whereas every evangelist I’d ever seen as of 1971 always wore a business suit.
This is an especially interesting angle to consider in regards to Glorious Godfrey, who — with his ever-timely super-powers of persuasion — has, over the decades, proven to be one of the most adaptable and versatile of Kirby’s Apokoliptican villains, appearing in various guises in different media — including as a psychologist, a TV talk show host, and a radio “shock jock”, as well as as a clergyman — in almost all of which he’s worn ordinary street clothes, at least most of the time. Which begs the question: would I have been more able to see Billy Graham in Glorious Godfrey, if Kirby had simply dressed Godfrey like Graham?
Maybe — but, also, maybe not, because in 1971, and for several years thereafter, I was hearing Graham’s message through the filter of my own worldview as an earnest young evangelical Christian — and what I mostly remember hearing then was a straightforward believe-in-Jesus-and-be-saved message, delivered in a highly compelling manner. Was the fire-and-brimstone element that Kirby appears to have perceived and been dismayed by present in the many sermons of Graham’s I heard? Probably — in the prevailing evangelical reading of the gospel, then as now, the flip side of the call to be “saved” was the admonition that if you weren’t saved, you were definitely going to hell. I don’t remember Graham hitting the “eternal damnation” theme harder than most other Baptist preachers, but in the end, that may not be saying much.
So maybe I wouldn’t have recognized Billy Graham in Glorious Godfrey even if Kirby had traced a news photo of the famous evangelist to create the visual for his Fourth World’s “revelationist”. There’s only so much art can do to pierce the perceptions of a thirteen-year-old boy, after all. But when all is said and done, I don’t think that “exposing” Billy Graham (or Arthur Godfrey, for that matter) was ever Kirby’s primary goal. Rather, Glorious Godfrey and his Anti-Life “crusade” were a means for exploring the theme of fascism, and how readily that ideology can gain converts in a supposedly sane, modern, “free” society, when promoted by the right messenger. In that sense, I believe that my thirteen-year-old self did receive and understand Jack Kirby’s message in 1971 — and also that that message has served me well in the half-century since then.
*From a speech given by Hitler at the 1929 Nuremberg Party Day rally. See Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer: Hitler’s Rise to Power (tr. by Ralph Manheim; Houghton Mifflin, 1944), p. 316.
I agree with you, Alan, in that I didn’t recognize Godfrey as a dark satire of Billy Graham either (certainly not Arthur Godfrey!). I think this has a lot to do with being born into an evangelical home and receiving a daily dose of the same type of fire and brimstone on a weekly, if not daily, basis. For me, the message of Graham and others like him, wasn’t so much about the words as the emotional reaction they engendered. The crowds at these tent revival meetings and church services (of which I attended many) were emotional and overwhelming, always conflated by the personality of the speaker and the force of his message. I don’t think I recognized the darker aspects of the message until I approached college age, because I had simply been conditioned not to find anything wrong with them. The idea that salvation exists only for Christians was deep-rooted in me and if you had asked me to look at the flip-side of that coin and what it meant for non-believers, I’m not sure I would have given a response that sixty-three year old me would be proud of.
As for the prophetic aspects of what Kirby was writing about, that opening splash page of an all-white crowd, aping the hate-speech of their leader certainly had a chilling resemblance to your average MAGA rally and the thinking of the Anti-Life movement would certainly find echoes of itself hiding within the clarion call of the modern political right. What I find depressing is not so much that Kirby was able to look into the future of such movements, but that such movements already exisited back then and that they have changed so little today, save in how much more insidious they’ve become.
As to Kirby’s contention that “In order to seek believers, one must be a believer himself,” well, we know that’s not true, don’t we? Too many evangelists and politicians have preached one thing over the years, only to live a life totally removed from those beliefs in private. Growing up, as the scandals and peccidilloes of the Bakkers and the Falwells, et al began taking up more and more space in the news, I always took comfort in the fact that the evangelist of MY youth, Dr. Graham, at least seemed to be a decent man and a true believer. He may have been a true believer, but as new revelations come to light, I’m afraid he may have been just as human as the rest of them.
Looking at the “funny book” aspects of this story, Kirby’s visual work is pitch-perfect as usual and I agree that full page of Darkseid and Godfrey is something special. This brings an interesting observation to light for me, however, as we’ve all discussed so much recently how DC wouldn’t let Jack draw Supes’ or Jimmy’s faces, that the King was actually quite good at such things. Take a look at the profile of Mark Moonrider on pg 8. If you removed the helmet and told me that was a profile of Superman, I’d have had no complaint with it and would’ve had no trouble believing you. Kirby could do the work; DC just didn’t trust him with it.
The story Kirby was beginning here as well as the themes it contained were unlike anything comics had seen before, which is probably part of why DC had no idea how to market them. Kirby’s Fourth World was a ground-breaking event that was years ahead of it’s time and it’s a shame that Jack didn’t live long enough to be able to enjoy them with us.
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It’s depressing to think that so many of the people you and I grew up with, Don, who had a very similar evangelical upbringing, never moved beyond it. And their kids have grown up the same way, and now that’s how they’re raising their kids.
This is why I don’t expect “Trumpism”, or whatever name it may go by in the future, to die out with the Baby Boom generation, as I know some hope. More’s the pity.
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With the benefit of maturity and hindsight, one can look back upon the span of Jack Kirby’s career and see that his grave concerns about the dangers of fascism, bigotry and blind conformity are repeatedly addressed in his stories. As a Jew who grew up during the Great Depression and who served on the European front during World War II, he witnessed firsthand the horrible results of totalitarianism and xenophobia.
Comic book creator Dean Haspiel has stated the following regarding Kirby’s work: “A deeper dive into Kirby’s catalog made me conclude that a lot of his concepts were the fallout of World War II PTSD, coupled with the struggle for creator rights. In a weird way, Kirby’s superheroes were semi-autobiographical.”
This issue is definitely one of the most overt expressions of Kirby’s concerns. See also “The Madbomb Saga” in Captain America half a decade later, with the Elite subverting America from within through violent anti-intellectualism, demagoguery and scapegoating.
Kirby even addressed these themes in romance comics, a genre typically known for its stock plots and superficiality. “Different” from Young Romance #30 (Feb 1951) by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby confronts small-town bigotry head-on. It was recently reprinted in Jack Kirby Collector #76 (Spring 2019) from TwoMorrows Publishing.
In any case, every time I’ve read Forever People #3 I have found it very unsettling, and seeing so many of the key scenes presented throughout your retrospective prompted the same feelings. It’s definitely a disturbing story.
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I’d never seen that Dean Haspiel quote, Ben, so thanks for sharing. The idea that Kirby was working through his PTSD in much of his postwar output is fascinating.
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Here is the source of the Dean Haspiel quote…
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Ah, the cult of personality: an eternal scourge of the human condition. Surrender your will, your persona, your very ability to make decisions to the cult (or, usually, to the cult leader specifically), and life will become EASY! And, in the end, that is all most human beings actually want, no matter what they tell themselves: for life to be easy. Choices are hard, judgments take effort, and what’s “right” is often a moving target. Living your own life, making your own choices, is frightening, and more importantly, exhausting! Wouldn’t it be nice to take a well-deserved rest at last? If you believe in the absolute authority of the cult, then there are no more choices to be made! No more questions to be asked! You KNOW you are right, because the the cult can never be wrong! Rejoice! And be sure to put some bread on that plate when it’s passed to you! Hey, Kids! Comics! 🙂
Honestly, I have no freakin’ idea why the Forever People gets a bad rap in so many darkened corners of “fandom” out there. This issue alone is enough to be symbolically rolled up like a newspaper from the Source and swatted down upon the noses of the naysayers with a thunderous “smack” like the sound a thousand Boom Tubes exploding at once!
……..Great post as always, Alan! Thanks!
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Glad you liked the post, Max! And thanks for your comments.
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Happy Easter, Alan!
I used to own the Jimmy Olsen comic you shared a few panels from back in the ’70s, but never saw this particular issue of the Forever People. While I loved Kirby at Marvel, his DC writing was odd and clunky. He really needed someone like Stan Lee to handle the dialogue and expositional captions. He had interesting concepts, though.
In the early 70s the Jesus movement was in full swing on both sides of the pond (what was called Jesus music in the US was called Gospel Beat in the UK). All media reacted to it, pro or con. Comics were no exception. I remember the panels in a Captain America (vs. Batroc) issue where Stan Lee is plainly making a (sympathetic) reference to Jesus Christ. You may recall a Robin backup story in an early ’70s Batman where he encounters some “Jesus freaks.” I believe Mike Friedrich scripted that one. And there was Green Lantern/Green Arrow #89 in 1972 where Isaac was clearly supposed to be a Christ figure. Tony Isabella scripted “the Friend” character in a similar manner in several Ghost Rider issues (until editor Jim Shooter changed all that without Tony’s knowledge or approval).
Chick tracts (very polarising, I know) were ubiquitous in those days. With 500 million copies sold and distributed, Jack Chick became the most published author worldwide. Spire licenced the Archie characters in the ’70s and ’80s as part of their Christian comics series. Even Craig Yoe published a “Jesus Loves You” comic with a Rick Griffin cover in the early ’70s. There are sundry other examples in comics, besides television, film, and other media.
Billy Graham had a number of evangelical Christian detractors who were not happy with his liberal affiliations and especially with his ecumenical ties with the Vatican. Nonetheless his preaching was powerful and influential—-enough to even provoke a reaction from Jack Kirby, though not a sympathetic one.
Anyone who is truly a born again follower of Jesus Christ cannot be anti-Semitic without something being really wrong. The Bible plainly states that God gave the Law, the prophets, and the Messiah to Israel first, and from there the Gospel of salvation has gone out to the ends of the earth.
It is fascinating to see reports of the underground church in North Korea, Iran, Vietnam, and China, for example. This is not easy-believism. Their faith comes at a cost, be it torture, imprisonment, or even death. Many attest to signs and wonders following those who belong to Christ. I have heard similar reports in Nigeria, even with children who were miraculously spared execution by Boko Haram.
Sadly, much of the church in the West is apostate—-powerless and relying on gimmickry to gain a following (and their money). In that I have zero interest.
Happy Easter. Chris. And thanks for your comments.
Sadly, Jesus being Jewish *himself* hasn’t ever been a barrier to anti-Semitism for some alleged “Christians”.
As usual, re-reading these books brings back vivid memories of when I first read them 50 years ago and, although I was a bright and unusually cognizant 10 year old then, I certainly have much more perspective now. Growing up Jewish in Pennsylvania I had no clue whatsoever about Kirby’s modeling Glorious Godfrey on Billy Graham (in fact I barely knew who Billy Graham was other than he showed up on syndicated TV specials at times). Re-reading this issue I picked up for THE VERY FIRST TIME that Anti-Life does not mean death (meaning that Starlin did not steal Darkseid doing this when he came up with the Thanos Infinity story which I had always thought) but giving up free will. This is a brilliant concept that obviously escaped my ten year old self in 1971.
I do find it somewhat ironic that Kirby is creating characters with alliterative names (see also, Granny Goodness) which is so Stan Lee.
Coincidentally, last week my wife (not a comic book fan but likes the movies and TV shows) were watching the season opener (actually last season’s delayed finale) of “Supergirl” and Lex Luthor talked of the Anti-Life Equation. When your blog post came out, I showed it to her so that she could appreciate its history. Also, we watched the director’s cut of the JLA movie which, of course, has a lot of Kirby Fourth World stuff in it.
Regarding the use of Scapegoat, one thing that Kirby certainly knew given his background is that the whole concept of a scapegoat derives from the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) when the Children of Israel sent a goat forth from the camp into the wilderness symbolically carrying the community’s sins. So yes, it seems an odd concept for Kirby to use in this context.
I won’t belabor the obvious parallels between Glorious Godfrey and today (although I will note that Godfrey uses a positive sell for his hate and Trump and the far right uses a negative sell). Another reason why I did not get the Billy Graham parallel is because I thought of Evangelical rallies as rather benign affairs in terms of intolerance. I always thought of them more like the Neil Diamond song (“Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”) or, if negative, only because the person in charge was a fraud (e.g. Elmer Gantry).
Regarding the notion of Kirby’s writings being the result of PTSD, I must respectfully disagree. Kirby was from the generation of founders of the super-hero era that, as Jews, were well aware of the immediate and personal threats of fascism in general and Hitler in particular. Simon and Kirby’s Captain America is a direct result of this. Sadly, the play “The HIstory of Invulnerabilty” which shows how the creation of Superman by two teen-aged Jews was in response to Nazism has not caught on (I was fortunate to see it, it is quite good). https://dctheatrescene.com/2012/06/13/the-history-of-invulnerability/
My guess on why Kirby deep sixed the Infinity Man so quickly (which, I confess, I did not realize until you mentioned it) is because he could very quickly become a crutch and a joke. After all, the book is called “The Forever People” and it is kind of a cheat if whenever they get in trouble they disappear and are replaced by an entirely different person. It would be if Marvel had titled the last few issues of its Captain Marvel series “Rick Jones” (Yes, I know, that story is up for your review next).
Finally, I agree with you about the splash on page 21. This is another page that is instantly recognizable in my memory 50 years later. Excellent.
I’m glad to see that, even though you are not going to cover all of the Fourth World books, that you are going to review Forever People 4 in two months.
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Stu, thanks for bringing up the origin of the “scapegoat” concept in Judaism. I knew that, but it completely slipped my mind when I wrote the post.
“The History of Invulnerability” sounds really interesting — I’ll have to check it out.
I also love Kirby’s “tiger-force” dialogue here. I’ve heard other people complain about the somewhat stilted quality of Kirby’s prose, but his scripting in the 4th World in particular just works for me for whatever reason. This scene especially.
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When I began reading these stories via back issues and trade paperbacks in the 1990s it definitely took me some time to get used to Jack Kirby’s scripting. I still find it odd in places, but I think that it’s especially well-suited to the Fourth World stories, with their vast cosmic scope, giving the characters (who are, after all, gods) a sort of operatic cadence. When you think about it a bit, it’s really no more odd than Stan Lee having the Norse gods of Asgard speaking in a pseudo-Shakespearean fashion.
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I agree totally. It has a mythic quality.
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I am honored to be among such fine, enlightened, Kirby-speech appreciators here on this site! 🙂
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Alan, I’ve not much to add, other than to thank you for this deep dive that has enhanced my appreciation of one of my favorite series.
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Scott, you’re very welcome!