With this post, we’re taking a short break from Giant-Size Marvel Month to pay a brief visit to the DC Universe — more specifically, to that section of it known as Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. When last we looked in on the New Gods, our hero Orion had assumed the earthly disguise of “O’Ryan” just in time for he and his ally, P.I. Dave Lincoln, to go into action against Inter-Gang — the human criminal organization allied with the forces of Apokolips — and their plan to take out Earthly communications technology for thousands of miles. While the duo were able to thwart Inter-gang’s immediate plot with the secret aid — or at least the presence — of the mysterious Black Racer, the organization itself was hardly slowed down — as Orion would learn as early as the next issue.
In New Gods #4’s “O’Ryan Gang and the Deep Six”, the war between Apokolips and New Genesis enters a deadly new phase, as for the first time — or at least the first we readers have been privy to — a denizen of the latter god-world falls to enemy forces upon our own Earth. Pulled from harbor waters by police officers, he is recognized by Orion:
Seagrin, a New God who “loved the deeps and all life in it”, has found his death within his cherished ocean waters. Orion knows the killing to be the work of someone from Apokolips, but there’s a mystery here, as Seagrin’s Mother Box — who we see perform one last service for her charge by calling down cosmic flames to carry him to the Source (an event also witnessed by the Black Racer) — should have given him advance warning of an impending attack from an enemy from that world.
But Orion’s own Mother Box soon deduces the answer, which he shares with Dave Lincoln and his other human allies during a meeting at Lincoln’s apartment:
Through Mother Box, Orion identifies a lower-echelon Inter-Gang member, Snaky Doyle, who knows the location of the “instrument that shields all those of Apokolips” from the Mother Boxes of New Genesis. Tailing Snaky to an old mansion on the seacoast, Orion then directs his friends to act as though they’re part of a rival criminal operation — “O’Ryan’s Gang” — on the pretext of trying to horn in on Inter-Gang’s action. The ruse succeeds, and the instrument — the “jammer” — is located and, through a blast of Orion’s astro-force, swiftly destroyed. But the story doesn’t end there — because Seagrin’s slayers are still at large, and Orion, able once again to detect and track them, sets off alone in pursuit…
That brings us, of course, to the primary subject of today’s post — New Gods #5 — which doesn’t open by picking up immediately where issue #4 left off, but, rather, starts off like this:
As had every issue of New Gods since #2, issue #5 begins with a sequence featuring one or more of the titular characters who aren’t named Orion, in a setting remote from our own mortal sphere — sometimes New Genesis, sometimes even farther afield — thereby reminding readers of the cosmic scope of the series, prior to shifting the focus back to Earth, and the ongoing exploits of the book’s central character.
This particular sequence, spotlighting the New God Metron, is graced with a splash page featuring one of writer/penciller/editor Jack Kirby’s imaginative collages;* the page also includes an early use by Kirby of the term “Celestials”, which would take on a somewhat different meaning in his later Eternals series for Marvel Comics.
This is the first appearance of the Promethean Galaxy — a huge concept (in more ways than one) which, in its eventual conflation with the almost-but-not-quite synonymous concept of the Source Wall (aka “the final barrier”) , has proven to be highly durable over the last five decades; in recent years, it’s become one of the cornerstones of DC Comics’ fictional multiverse.
The shift of focus to Earth is accompanied by what might be called a second opening splash, which, in addition to giving us the title of the feature (the story’s title was included in the first opening splash) provides the issue’s credits. And there’s a new name there (“a new celestial”, even, if you go by the credit box copy), for the first time since Kirby’s Fourth World project kicked off a year earlier with Jimmy Olsen #133: Mike Royer.
Prior to New Gods #5, every comic written and drawn by Jack Kirby since his return to DC in 1970 had been inked by Vince Colletta. But Kirby soured on Colletta sometime in 1971 — probably due in part to his having learned that Colletta had been showing his artwork around the offices of Marvel Comics prior to its publication, as well as to his discovery that Colletta had on occasion been simplifying his pencils, omitting certain details to make the inker’s job easier (a practice that extended back to Colletta’s long stint inking Kirby on Marvel’s Thor). As a replacement, Kirby chose Royer — most of whose work to date had been for Gold Key and Warren, but who’d also previously assisted Kirby on projects for the short-lived “Marvelmania” fan club, prior to the King’s leaving Marvel for DC. In addition to New Gods, Royer would take over the inking for Mister Miracle (with issue #5) and Forever People (with #6); meanwhile, Vince Colletta would continue inking Kirby on Jimmy Olsen, (except of course for Jimmy’s and Superman’s heads, which continued to be rendered by Murphy Anderson), though Royer would ultimately embellish a couple of issues late in Kirby’s run on that series.**
There were readers in 1971 who were unhappy with the replacement of Colletta by Royer, and your humble blogger must admit that he was one of them. I was very comfortable with the “look” of Colletta’s finishes over Kirby, which I associated with the artists’ collaboration on Thor, and I had no idea that I’d been missing anything due to the former’s simplifications of the latter’s original drawings. To me, Royer’s work seemed rougher and harsher, and generally less visually appealing, than his predecessor’s. In time, I’d come to appreciate that Royer was more faithful to Kirby’s pencils than virtually any other inker had been, giving us as direct an experience of the King’s art as we were ever likely to get outside of the original pencilled pages; I’d also learn to value the greater power and vigor that came through in the finished work as a result of that fidelity. In August, 1971, however, that time was still some ways off.
This scene — which is, if I’m not mistaken, the first time that the city in which most of New Gods‘ Earth-based action takes place has been specifically stated to be Superman’s home base of Metropolis — is also the first appearance of Metropolis Police Sergeant Daniel “Terrible” Turpin, who’ll go on to play a more prominent role in issue #8 — and, in the process, establish himself as one of the most memorable human characters created by Kirby for his Fourth World mythos.
Leaving the police station, Dave Lincoln returns to his apartment to confer with Orion’s other human allies: Claudia Shane, Victor Lanza, and Harvey Lockman. Not having received further word from Orion since he abruptly left them at the end of issue #4, Harvey and Victor elect to return home for now, leaving only Claudia to keep vigil with Dave.. Meanwhile…
A giant clam? Surely that’s not what was freaking Orion out on the last page of #4…
“Yes,” Slig gloats in response to Orion’s query about the “something huge” he saw earlier (we all knew it couldn’t be the clam, right?), “a masterful creation by the Deep Six! Our contribution to great Darkseid’s campaign to shake up Earthmen!” And then he leaves, confident in Orion’s helplessness.
That assurance turns out to have been unwarranted, however. Once alone, Orion mentally summons the power of his astro-force, transmitting it to circuits embedded in the wrist of one of his gauntlets; then, he proceeds to blast away at the mutated clam-thing trapping his leg:
(I have no idea if “Shark-seed” survived this encounter, but if he did, here’s hoping he was eventually able to look up Nanaue, aka King Shark, with whom he obviously has a lot in common.)
Though anxious to find the remainder of the Deep Six, as well as their creature, Orion knows he first needs to locate his equipment — and once that’s done, to offer “a proper farewell to Slig”…
“Terrible” Turpin was hardly the first Jack Kirby character to wear a derby, of course. He’d been preceded not only by Marvel’s “Dum Dum” Dugan (of Howling Commandos and S.H.I.E.L.D. fame), but also by the much earlier “Brooklyn” of the Boy Commandos, who first appeared in 1942; in fact, though this idea almost certainly never occurred to Kirby, in later years DC would reveal that Brooklyn and Turpin were, in fact, the same person.
Meanwhile, back at Dave Lincoln’s apartment, he and Claudia Shane continue to wait anxiously for news of Orion; Claudia, however, is at least as worried about what their and the others’ involvement with Orion may ultimately bring down upon them all…
With the arrival of Kalibak (who, with the exception of a pin-up page in issue #4, hasn’t been seen since New Gods #1), Kirby has completed setting the stage for issue #8’s “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin!” — a story which, due to the title’s bi-monthly schedule, won’t see the light of day until February, 1972, six months later.
Meanwhile, back in the Deep Six’s undersea cavern, Slig has discovered Orion’s escape. By the time he finds his former captive, the warrior of New Genesis has reclaimed his astro-harness. “Allowing you to live was a mistake, Orion!!!” grouses the Apokoliptican.
We’ve been told in previous issues that Orion is different from others of New Genesis, and we’ve also been made privy to knowledge that he himself doesn’t have — namely, that he is in fact a native of Apokolips. But this is the most savage we’ve ever actually seen him, and it’s a startling, even a disturbing moment. It’s especially unsettling given that we’ve been led to believe that the Mother Boxes are in some sense alive — meaning that we’re watching our hero gleefully kill a living, and perhaps sentient, being. Should the Mother Boxes of Apokolips be considered to be as evil as those who carry and use them? Kirby leaves that up to each reader to decide — though the fact that the only “emotion” Slig’s Mother Box is said to express during her brief appearance is love, lends weight towards the answer being “no”.
I can recall being startled as well back in 1971 by how Orion’s “true face” was rendered in this scene — it’s a rougher, rather more bestial look than the one other time to date that readers had seen it, back in issue #3. At the time, I chalked the difference up to the inking of this new Royer guy; in retrospect, however, I wonder if Kirby actually modified the design in his pencilling.
And that’s it for this installment of the saga. In two months’ time, Kirby and Royer will bring us “The Glory Boat!!”: the first in a trilogy of stories which, though they essentially stand alone in narrative terms, together represent a high point — perhaps the high point — of creative achievement in the entire Fourth World epic.
New Gods #5 was the second issue to appear in the “bigger & better” format DC had inaugurated in June. Like its fellow Fourth World titles, it filled out its page count in part with reprints from the Golden Age, an era when Kirby, in partnership with Joe Simon, had produced a number of features for the publisher.
In New Gods, the Simon and Kirby feature chosen for representation was “Manhunter”, a strip that had originally run in Adventure Comics from 1941 to 1944 (though S&K’s contributions appeared only in 1942). Featuring the adventures of Paul Kirk, a big-game hunter turned costumed crimefighter, these stories didn’t seem like much more than nine or so pages of filler to me when I first read them in 1971 and 1972. Ironically, however, I’d be happy that they’d made me at least passingly familiar with the character when, less than two years later, writer Archie Goodwin and artist Walt Simonson revived Paul Kirk for a backup series in Detective Comics; and then again, some four years after that, during Steve Englehart’s run on Justice League of America, as that writer built both on the Golden Age Manhunter and on Kirby’s own revisiting of that character concept in 1st Issue Special #5 (Aug., 1975) to develop a mythology for “the Manhunters” that imaginatively tied them into the backstory of the Green Lantern Corps — a significant contribution to DC continuity that would birth any number of future storylines, both by Englehart and by others. And none of those stories — nor the much-lauded Goodwin-Simonson “Manhunter” serial — would exist without those old Simon and Kirby strips.
But that’s comic books for you. Everything has to start somewhere.
One thing that I appreciate about Jack Kirby’s comics during the “bigger & better” era more today than I probably did at the time is that they tended to have a few more pages of new content than did most of DC’s other books. That might have been born of necessity — most of the old Simon and Kirby stories ran no more than ten pages, and Kirby needed more material than that to fill his allotted page count — but whatever the reason, it meant that in addition to its 22-page lead story, New Gods #5 also included a second brand-new story — the first in a short-lived backup series about the “Young Gods of Supertown”:
There are no earth-shaking revelations in “Introducing Fastbak!” — but it does enhance our understanding of New Genesis society, especially in regards to relations between the younger and elder New Gods. And it also made putting down that extra dime for a DC comic just a little bit easier — at least, it did for my fourteen-year-old self, back in August, 1971.
*Here is the original, full-color version of the collage, sans text and the drawn figure of Metron:
**John Morrow, with Jon B. Cooke, Old Gods & New: A Companion to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World (The Jack Kirby Collector #80) (TwoMorrows, 2021), pp. 92, 98-99.