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.