Forever People #6 (Dec.-Jan., 1972)

When we last left the Forever People, at the conclusion of their fourth issue back in June, our young heroes were in desperate straits.  Having been captured by Glorious Godfrey and his Justifiers in #3, they had then been handed over to the not-so-tender mercies of Desaad, who’d imprisoned them in his own private “kingdom of the damned” — essentially a torture camp, though presenting itself to the outside world as an innocent amusement park called “Happyland”.  The young gods’ sole hope seemed to lie with their living, sentient computer, Mother Box — and with the stranger into whose care Mother Box had teleported herself: a young man named Sonny Sumo. 

In August, Forever People #5 (Oct.-Nov., 1971) continued the story, written and pencilled as usual by Jack Kirby, and inked by Vince Colletta (also as usual — though, as we’ll see, not for long).  A blurb on the cover promised us readers that within the issue, we’d at last see “the Anti-Life Equation in action!”  Since we’d been told that the Anti-Life Equation was the ultimate goal of Kirby’s ultimate villain, Darkseid — the reason that the war between Darkseid’s Apokolips and the Forever People’s New Genesis had come to Earth in the first place — this was obviously a very big deal.  Surely, however, the first order of business had to be the rescue of our heroes from their present peril — and such a rescue appeared to depend on Sonny Sumo.  But who was Sonny Sumo?

To answer that question (at least in part), Kirby spent most of the issue’s first nine pages on a sequence that set Sonny in close combat against a giant robot named Sagutai:

This combat is a private demonstration, arranged by Sonny’s manager Harry Sharp for the purpose of gaining the backing of promoter Al Fisher.  As Sharp admits to Fisher, what’s on offer represents “more of a circus act than a sport”; the robot has been programmed ahead of the bout, and technicians are standing by with a device that can immediately de-activate it should it start to go rogue.  Nevertheless, Sonny can be hurt during the fight, and indeed is, when his face and body are lashed by flames thrown from Sagutai’s left hand.  But this merely provides an opportunity to show Fisher the act’s special angle: “It’s a kind of Oriental thing,” explains Sharp, “like invoking a mystic power in the mind!”

From a contemporary perspective, Sonny’s ability of “wound rejection“, which goes unexplained save by Harry Sharp’s vague allusion to Eastern mysticism, could be viewed as playing into Western stereotypes about Asian people and culture.  So might the script’s calling Sonny “the mystic type of a vanishing breed — the noble warrior!“, who in earlier times “would have been an honored samurai!”  Seen in the general context of the popular culture landscape of 1971, however — and more specifically in the context of DC Comics, where, prior to the relatively recent introduction of I-Ching in Wonder Woman, virtually the only notable ongoing Asian character for years had been the Blackhawks’ Chop-Chop — I believe that the courageous, resilient and (as we’ll soon see) unselfish Sonny Sumo may, like I-Ching before him, be fairly understood as representing at least some small amount of progress.

Following Sonny’s self-healing, he’s able to attain the victory over his robot foe, thus bringing the demonstration to a successful conclusion.  But as the young fighter returns to his locker room, we readers learn that his wound rejection ritual’s effects are only temporary…

Having freed the Forever People’s leader, Mark Moonrider, Sonny Sumo and Mother Box proceed to similarly liberate Mark’s companions, using a combination of the former’s strength and the latter’s signal-descrambling capabilities to shatter Desaad’s illusions, as well as his physical traps.

The master tormentor, who’s been using his Fear-Siphon to groove on the “frenzied fear-waves” of his victims, doesn’t take this at all well — especially when the contraption responsible for extracting and distilling those raw emotions, the Psycho-Fuge, blows up as a result of Sonny’s and Mother Box’s actions:

Panel from Lois Lane #116 (Nov., 1971). Text by Robert Kanigher; art by Werner Roth and Vince Colletta.

Panel from New Gods #2 (Apr.-May, 1971). Text by Jack Kirby; art by Kirby and Vince Colletta.

In most of his renderings of Desaad to date, Kirby has drawn him with his head covered — but here, with the the Apokoliptican’s hood blown back, we can see that he’s bald except for a single tuft of hair above his forehead.  This probably came as a surprise to artist Werner Roth, who around this same time drew Desaad with a full head of hair in Lois Lane #116… based on Kirby having delineated the villain that way himself on the one previous occasion he’d shown him bareheaded, in New Gods #2.  Maybe the King thought Desaad needed a makeover, but I suspect he just forgot what he’d done eight months earlier.  And, in the end, it doesn’t really matter much — Desaad’s an ugly cuss, either way.

The last of the Forever People to be freed, Vykin, has been held in a location remote from the others, and so has to race to rejoin them.  Unfortunately, by the time he reaches them, he’s no longer alone:

This is it — as promised on the cover, we’re finally seeing the Anti-Life Equation in action.  The human mind that possesses Darkseid’s long-sought prize has been found.  This is a turning point not only for Forever People, but for the entire Fourth World saga — or, at least, it seems like it should be.

Mark Moonrider’s “Aw, where we come from…” comment has the odd effect — perhaps intentional, perhaps not — of downplaying the importance of the Anti-Life Equation, despite the fact that Kirby’s been telling us ever since Forever People #1, both here and in the other Fourth World books, that the universe is essentially doomed should Darkseid acquire its secret.  At the same time, the notion of “many others — almost as awesome!” is rather tantalizing, suggesting the potential for multiple future storylines — though, to the best of my knowledge, Kirby never followed up on the idea.  Perhaps Mark’s statement that these other Equations “merely exist!!” was meant to imply that they’re all dormant, or at least unavailable for exploitation by Darkseid or others?

By George, aren’t you glad we don’t have to wait two months for the next issue?  Rather, we’ll take just a moment to acknowledge the transition in inkers that takes place in the interim, as Vince Colletta yields to Mike Royer (at least for the lead feature), and then leap right ahead into October, 1971 — and onto the opening splash page of Forever People #6:

The one Justifier left behind by the others to destroy the Super-Cycle initially scoffs at his “ridiculous” assignment, but then quickly has to change his tune…

This is the first on-panel appearance of Glorious Godfrey, the evangelist (or “revelationist”, in Kirby’s parlance) of Anti-Life — who, ironically, doesn’t believe in the literal existence of the Equation — since issue #3.

Godfrey wonders aloud if these particular Justifiers, who happen to be new recruits, are up to the job.  His lieutenant assures him that they’re zealots, and thus will do anything.  Geoffrey gives the men the go-ahead, and as they race eagerly to fulfill their charge, one exults, “Yahooo!  We’ll blast that thing into twisted junk!”

The violent destruction of Happyland makes for a very gratifying and cathartic sequence for readers — perhaps especially those original readers of 1971 who, like my fourteen year old self, had read Lois Lane #116 just a couple of weeks earlier, and been thoroughly dismayed when Superman had briefly visited the place and, though managing to save himself, Lois Lane, and a friend from a trap of Desaad’s, had nevertheless left the facility standing, neither taking down the villain nor releasing his captives.

As the police move into the park, explosions rock the central “staff only” complex.  Heading there in response, the officers soon come upon a docile group of Desaad’s minions, all of whom have been instructed by Sonny Sumo to wait quietly to be taken into custody.  At the same time, however, some of Glorious Godfrey’s Justifiers try to make a break for it, using the “aero-van” shuttles they previously used to transport prisoners; but though some do manage to get away, not all are so fortunate:

Big Bear’s dialogue on page 10 gives us more information than we’ve previously been privy to in regards to how his powers work.  (And here you thought he was simply a standard-issue big, strong guy.)

Thanks to Big Bear’s efforts — and those of Sonny, who takes care of some arriving Justifier reinforcements by commanding them to go to sleep — the Forever People and their new ally now have transportation out of Happyland.  But they can’t leave without Vykin, who appears to have gone off after Desaad on his own.  “I wish he hadn’t!!” Beautiful Dreamer frets aloud to her companions.  “Desaad is almost as dangerous as Darkseid!!

In Forever People #3, we’d seen a Justifier attempt to destroy our young heroes with a suicide bomb which, we were told, emitted “omega rays” that could instantly disintegrate human beings.  Later in the same issue, other Justifiers had used guns that fired “omega shots” in a similar assault against the Infinity Man.  But it’s with the preceding sequence that Kirby achieves his ultimate, and most satisfying, iteration of “the total wipe-out.”  The “Omega Effect“, as employed by, as well as originating in, Darkseid himself — visualized as a pair of baleful beams of light which shoot out of the villain’s eyes to inexorably seek their targets, in the way of heat-seeking missiles, until they ultimately find and finish off that doomed prey — would become one of the Fourth World’s most indelible concepts; and this six-page sequence, the template for multiple variations to come over the next five decades.

And with that, the very last of the exhilaration that the reader may have felt some ten pages earlier, as the holocaust came to Happyland, must surely by now have completely dissipated.  Save for one, the Forever People have been done away with, if not utterly destroyed — as has their would-be savior, Sonny Sumo — and though the plans of Darkseid and Desaad may have been temporarily thwarted, the two dark gods hardly exhibit the attitude of someone accepting defeat.  On the contrary, they revel in “the fine spectacle” that has resulted from their “misfortune”.  We’re all but forced to ask ourselves, is it even possible to do more than momentarily slow down the march to victory of the armies of Apokolips?  Or is Darkseid’s ultimate triumph as inevitable as the Omega Effect?

Of course, if we pause to think for more than a few moments about the implications of this episode for how Darkseid may achieve his goals — as my younger self probably didn’t, back in 1971 — other questions may occur to us.  What does Desaad mean when he refers to “the true Anti-Life Equation”?  Darkseid himself certainly seemed to think that he was on the verge of attaining his long-sought prize at the conclusion of the previous installment. when he called for the capture of Sonny Sumo.  But now he’s disposed of Sumo remotely, without ever having confronted him — despite the fact that the only new information we’ve learned about the big man’s ability to use the Equation (if you can even call it new) is that it’s dependent on mental stimulation from Mother Box.  But Apokolips has Mother Box technology, just like New Genesis does — so why should this prevent Darkseid from being able to access and use the Equation as possessed by Sonny?  If there’s something else about Sonny’s “version” that makes it less than “true“, we haven’t been shown or told what it is.

But these are questions we’ll have to set aside for the time being, to be taken up again in a later post.  For now, we return to the last Forever Person standing, Serifan…

This aero-van has been damaged, but Serifan gets it up and running with the help of one of the cosmic cartridges he keeps in his hat-band — and thus manages to fly away just as the police break down the door…

And that’s where we’ll have to take leave of the Forever People — or what’s left of them — for this issue.

Or… maybe not!  Because this issue’s installment of the “Young Gods of Supertown” backup feature that’s been running in recent issues of both Forever People and New Gods — but which has up until now focused on previously unseen characters like Lonar (in FP #5) and Fastbak (in NG #5) — spins a short tale of two of our heroes in an earlier, happier time:

With Vince Colletta was now gone from the front of Kirby’s books (save for Jimmy Olsen), his work on this backup strip represents his last foray into the Fourth World (again, with the exception of JO).

Big Bear responds to this unwelcome incursion from Apokolips by casually tossing his log at the “thermo-bolt machine”.  He yells at Serifan to get out of the way, and there’s a moment of concern when it seems the youngest and gentlest Forever Person might have been caught in the explosion that results when wood meets metal:

But there’s no need to fear — Serifan had time to extract and deploy one of those handy cosmic cartridges of his, and all’s swell.  Even the enemies from Apokolips have come through the experience more or less unscathed…

Compared to the two earlier “Young Gods” shorts, which introduced new characters and showed us aspects of life on New Genesis we hadn’t previously encountered , “Raid from Apokolips” feels rather slight; after reading it, we really don’t know Serifan or Big Bear any better than we did before, nor do we learn anything about their pre-FP #1 lives that we wouldn’t likely have guessed for ourselves.  On the other hand, there’s only so much one can reasonably expect from a four-page story.

As did all other DC comics during this era, Forever People #6 filled out its 48 pages with a reprint…

This issue’s reprint is of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s “Sandman” strip from Adventure Comics #75 (June, 1942), and is of particular historical interest, as it features Kirby’s first professional comic-book story to feature a version of the Norse god of thunder, Thor — though, obviously, a very different version of Thor than Marvel Comics fans would be familiar with.

We’re going to spend a little more time with this Simon and Kirby tale than we’ve generally been doing with most of DC’s “filler” reprints of this era, in part because of its historical significance, but also because it’s just a fun story.

S&K start things off with a scene of Sandman’s sidekick Sandy enjoying a book on Norse mythology, just in case anyone out there in the 1942 audience isn’t already up on their Thor lore:

As luck (and narrative convenience) would have it, that very night a Viking longship sails into New York harbor.  From it emerges a red-bearded, winged-helmeted bruiser who proceeds to smash his way into a bank vault using only a hammer, and then to escape scot-free with sacks full of cash, his bare-chested form seemingly impervious to police bullets.  The next night, he returns — but this time, Sandman and Sandy are on hand to help out their friends on the force:

“Thor”‘s kick is a mighty one indeed, injuring Sandy badly enough that an ambulance has to be called to rush him to the hospital.  A furious Sandman then leads the police in pursuit of the alleged god of Thunder and his crew of “Viking raiders”, and soon…

By 1971, Jack Kirby was using internal full-page splash panels as a matter of course (indeed, we’ve seen a couple in this very post); while I’m not enough of an expert on Simon and Kirby’s 1940s and 1950s output to know how rare an occurrence a page like the one above was during those decades, I’ve read enough S&K stories to feel pretty confident in saying they didn’t turn up routinely.  In any event, however common or rare such splashes may have been in general, the particular one shown above is an undeniable treat.

Ultimately, of course, the “Vikings” are defeated — and their leader is exposed as “Fairy Tale” Fenton, a professor of metallurgy prior to his turn to crime, who invented both the transparent bullet-proof clothing and the electrically-charged hammer to pull off this masquerade.  Smart guy, eh?  But not smart enough to keep himself from getting beaten up so badly by Sandman that the prison hospital’s resources are insufficient for his needs, and he ends up being transferred to City Hospital, where he ends up sharing a room with… aw, you guessed it already…

Fifteen years later, Kirby would revisit the myth of Thor for DC Comics once more in “The Magic Hammer!”, a short tale that appeared in Tales of the Unexpected #16 (Aug., 1957).  Five years after that, he’d be gone from DC and in at Marvel — and hard at work on the heroic (and beardless) re-imagining of the God of Thunder who’d make his debut in Journey into Mystery #83 (Aug. 1962).

That Thor — and that series — are of course beyond the purview of this particular blog post.  But — will wonders never cease? — they’re precisely the subject of our very next post, coming your way in just four days.  I hope you’ll join me then for our look at Thor #195; Jack Kirby won’t be there, naturally, save in spirit (and in the form of his enduring designs for the varied characters, setting, and overall atmosphere of Marvel’s Asgard) — but we will have inker Vince Colletta on hand for his return to the series he’d worked on regularly for half a decade, but hadn’t embellished a single issue of in over a year as of October, 1971.  (It seems some time opened up on Mr. Colletta’s work schedule around then, you see, so he was once again available…)

14 comments

  1. Steve McBeezlebub · 18 Days Ago

    Didn’t Thomas use Fairy Tale Fenton Fenton in All Star Squadron?

    Liked by 1 person

    • crustymud · 18 Days Ago

      Yep. Issue #18, a child hood fave of mine. His “hammer” would later be poached by the Ultra-Humanite for a much longer story arc.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. crustymud · 18 Days Ago

    Maybe the explosion burned off much of Desaad’s hair and then it grew back later? Do I get a No-Prize?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · 18 Days Ago

    I don’t remember whether I was impressed or not when the Anti-Life Equation turned out to be mind control, but I’m not all that impressed with it now. In particular, the idea that not being in control of your life was not really being alive at all doesn’t really track with me, even though I think I know what Kirby was going for. Do we also assume that all the other villains who dabbled in mind control over the years also have control over Anti-Life? I wonder. I will say that the dramatic visual thrill of the Omega Effect never wears off. Something about those eye beams flying around searching for their predetermined prey is always very exciting to see on the page.

    By the way, Alan, you mentioned that Chop Chop was the only current regular Asian character in DC Comics at the time. Was I-Ching no longer featured in the Wonder Woman books at this time? And what about the unfortunately nicknamed Thomas Kamalku in Green Lantern, was he no longer a regular either or does being a Pacific Islander not fit the definition? I know I could look these things up, but I’m lazy and you probably already know the answer anyway, so I’m asking…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alan Stewart · 18 Days Ago

      Don, you’re absolutely right about I-Ching — I somehow forgot all about him, so I’ll need to fix that in the post. As for Tom Kamalku — I originally thought of him also, but it turns out he’s Inuit, thus not Asian.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · 18 Days Ago

    Inuit? Really? When did they establish that? Could have sworn he was Pacific Islander…Hawaiian or Somoan or something similar. You learn something new every day, huh?

    Like

    • Alan Stewart · 18 Days Ago

      Pretty early on, I think — although of course the word they used in the early Silver Age stories was “Eskimo”.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · 18 Days Ago

    That’s right. I remembered it completely the second you said “Eskimo.” Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jeffrey Clem · 17 Days Ago

    After creating T’Challa, the Black Panther, at Marvel, staffer Morrie Kuramoto asked Kirby to create an Asian hero. Years later, Sonny Sumo appeared in Forever People #5. There was a “for Morrie” caption on page one, but it was removed by someone at DC before going to the printer. I seem to remember reading about this in an intro from one of the Kirby/DC collections by Mark Evanier.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I have always figured that the reason why Darkseid, even though he desperately wants to acquire the Anti-Life Equation, uses his Omega Beams to zap Sonny Sumo away is because in the end Darkseid is a coward. He’s terrified of the Anti-Life Equation being used against him, which is why he doesn’t just try to defeat Sonny Sumo, instead teleporting him away. A couple of issues latter we see Darkseid and his forces going through with a really elaborate subterfuge to gain control of Billion Dollar Bates, another possessor of the Equation because, again, Darkseid is secretly frightened by anyone who has the ability to utilize it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Alan Stewart · 17 Days Ago

      That’s a reasonable hypothesis, Ben. I do still think it’s odd that after building up the idea of “possession of the Anti-Life Equation is the key to everything” over multiple months and titles, Kirby basically has it discovered twice, one time right after the other, and neither ends up really meaning anything. It makes me wonder if he was beginning to rethink the whole concept, but wasn’t able to bring his new ideas to fruition before DC pulled the plug.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. slangwordscott · 11 Days Ago

    Not to get too far ahead of your blogging schedule, but I find it intriguing that the Forever People have the only direct interaction with the Anti-Life Equation and they do so in consecutive storylines, where those in posession are virtually opposites: young /old, selfless/selfish, one who can’t access it without Mother Box, one who can. I do think part of what Kirby was going for in this series is that part of Anti-Life is the embracing of it, as emphasized by the scene with Glorious Godfrey. Sonny Sumo is capable, but chooses not to pursue control over others. He can and will do it when needed, with a trusted ally to help. Bates embraces it and needs no help. I suspect Kirby meant to convey that True Anti-Life is intentional and selfish.

    Keeping in mind Kirby’s history serving during World War Ii and that these bookscwere created during the Viet Nam War, it is hard for me not to see this as a general metaphor for serving in combat. Sometimes, a gentle soul is called upon to serve, and it may be justified. Sometimes it is “justified” in the Glorious Godfrey sense, for greed and power, as Bates does. I think the disparate fates of Sonny and Bates are meant to be contrasted.

    Those are my current thoughts, anyway. One of the greatest aspects of these books is that Kirby packed so much substance in them, that spurs thought. I look forward to your thoughts on the upcoming issues.

    Liked by 1 person

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