When we last saw the Forever People, they — most of them, anyway — were in the process of disappearing. In the climactic scenes of their sixth issue, their great enemy Darkseid had wielded the terrible power of the Omega Effect against the young gods from Supertown (as well as their new ally, Sonny Sumo), consigning them all to apparent oblivion — all, that is, save for the youngest of the group, Serifan, who was left to face the tender mercies of Glorious Godfrey’s Justifiers alone.
Now, writer-artist Jack Kirby (aided by inker Mike Royer) continues the story. He opens issue #7’s chapter in a novel fashion, with a character — Highfather — who, while quite familiar to readers of FP‘s companion title New Gods, has only been spoken of in this series, never seen — until now:
The other named characters in this scene, Metron and Esak*, have like Highfather never appeared in the pages of Forever People before, though (again like him) they’d be familiar to regular readers of New Gods. Metron is of course one of the big guns of that title; Esak, on the other hand, had only appeared once prior to FP #7, in NG #4, where he was shown accompanying Metron on the latter’s cosmic explorations.
Esak would appear once more during the original run of the Fourth World titles, in New Gods #8; after that, however, the character would not be written or drawn again by his creator, Jack Kirby, until the 1985 release of The Hunger Dogs. There, readers would learn that in the years between Kirby’s earlier Fourth World stories and this late-period graphic novel, the young scholar had been terribly disfigured in an accident and, driven to bitterness, had defected to Apokolips and Darkseid. Did Kirby have this tragic fate in mind for Esak as early as 1971? We’ll probably never know, but awareness of what lies in store for this avatar of youthful innocence can’t help but cast something of a disquieting pall over scenes like the one above.
“Post-Civil War“? “some kind of theatre“? Oh, we know where this is going, don’t we…
“Be still, girl!” Alas, it seems that reflexive, casual sexism is no more unknown on New Genesis than on our own benighted sphere…
We generally think of Jack Kirby as more of an expressionistic artist than a representational one, but his portrait-in-profile of President Lincoln is entirely convincing; your humble blogger has the feeling that it was important to the artist to get it right.
Having realized what’s about to take place, Mark Moonrider is determined to stop it — but we’ll have to check back later with him and Beautiful Dreamer later to see how that turns out…
“Who are you cats?” Sometimes, Kirby’s young gods talk like the alien visitors they actually are. Other times…
Having temporarily pacified the unruly Britons, “history buff” Big Bear settles back to watch the show:
According to the modern historical consensus, the withdrawal of Roman military power from Britain happened over a period of decades, rather than all at once, as this scene implies. But who’d want to deny Kirby the opportunity for such a dramatic splash?
With the Super-Cycle at his command, Serifan is hardly defenseless (though he’s still badly outnumbered, of course).
A cosmic cartridge from his hatband comes in handy, as well:
A “match cut” from the hand of Glorious Godfrey to that of Highfather provides us with our last glimpse of the former character in the Fourth World books; aside from his entry in Who’s Who #9 (Nov., 1985), Kirby would never return to the Apokoliptican “revelationist”.
Back in December, 1971, Highfather’s prominent role in this story — while completely justified by the plot — also happened to be exquisitely timed by Kirby, considering what he’d be revealing to his readers just a few weeks later in New Gods #7.
Even as the Alpha Bullets fly, Mark and Dreamer race to try to change history in 1865…
As I’ve mentioned here on a few previous occasions, in the early ’70s your humble blogger began to develop what ultimately became a deep and abiding interest in the legend of King Arthur. But I was still at least a few months out from the first stirrings of that fascination when I first read Forever People #7 back in December, 1971, and so I didn’t get what Kirby — or Big Bear — were up to in the scene above.
Working from the widely circulated theory that, if there were a “historical Arthur” (a very big “if”, especially as far as 21st century historians are concerned), that person would almost certainly have had to have lived in the post-Roman era of Dark Age Britain, Kirby has here given us not only his take on the “real” event behind the legend of the Sword in the Stone, but also offered prototypes of two of the Knights of the Round Table — Gawain (“Gwane”) and Lancelot (“Lanslac”) — not to mention the historical Arthur (“Arta”) himself. Meanwhile, the “warlock” Big Bear may safely be presumed to be the inspiration for the legendary figure of Merlin. It’s all pretty damn clever, even if it went over my fourteen-year-old head at the time.
(Of course, none of this stuff would prevent Kirby from coming up with an entirely different, and incompatible, version of Arthur’s realm for The Demon #1, published a mere six months later; that’s just not how the King of Comics rolled.)
I believe that when I first read the above scene, I took the fall of the Spaniards as a comical but non-fatal setback. Re-reading it today, I’m inclined to think that Kirby didn’t intend for any of those guys to ever crawl out of that hole.
As I recall, my fourteen-year-old self finished “I’ll Find You In Yesterday!!” with mixed feelings. On one hand, I thought that the notion that Mother Box had been sitting quietly on a shelf in a Japanese monastery for centuries, waiting for a Forever Person to turn up, was pretty cool. But on the other, I was dismayed at Sonny Sumo’s fate; regardless of Serifan’s assertion that “as no man ever has, he conquered Darkseid’s villainy!”, it felt more to me like the lord of Apokolips had won this one.
Fifty years later, I feel pretty much the same way. And I have to wonder — after spending as much time and effort as he had setting up Sonny Sumo as a new character, why did Kirby abandon him so quickly and thoroughly? It’s a mystery — one that’s only exacerbated by the fact that after introducing Sonny as the one human being we know of that can access the Anti-Life Equation (albeit only with Mother Box’s help), Kirby immediately follows up this story with one about another Equation user in Forever People #8.
As promised in FP #7’s next issue blurb, issue #8’s “The Power!” introduces us to “the strange and true possessor of the Anti-Life Equation!!” — a reclusive businessman known as “Billion-Dollar” Bates, who’s had the power to control others’ minds as long as he can remember, and has used it to amass tremendous wealth. He’s also become involved with a mysterious “Sect” who have promised to help him increase the range of his power, allowing him to establish simultaneous control of every mind on Earth, by use of a weird-looking piece of headgear called a “stimulus hat“.
But unknown to Bates, his Sect has been infiltrated by the forces of Apokolips — and when the hat is placed on his head in a mystical ceremony, the results are not exactly as advertised:
The “invisible force” turns out to be Big Bear, who’s been hidden from the Sect’s view by Beautiful Dreamer’s power to cast illusions. The Forever People have been brought to the scene by their Super-Cycle, and they hope to leave the same way, with Bates as their captive — but getting out might be harder than getting in, seeing as how Bates has his own private (human) army; plus, the hooded leader of the false Sect members turns out to be none other than Desaad…
With Bates’ sudden and unexpected death, the question of who will “possess” him becomes a moot point…
Once again, Darkseid proceeds to rid himself of the Forever People by means of the Omega Effect — though much less dramatically than in issue #6, choosing this time to saturate them “with invisible Omega rays” until they disappear. “But somehow I feel that you’ve spared the Forever People again!” Desaad half-accuses his master, who doesn’t deny it. “Greatness does not come from killing the young!” declares Darkseid. “I’m willing to wait until they grow!!” Then, with “a great surge of power”, accompanied by a flash of light and a POW!, Darkseid and company vanish; meanwhile, the Forever People materialize together on board the Super-Cycle, exactly where they’d parked it. “Grab the electron road!” one shouts. “Instruments lead us wherever we’re needed!” And they’re off again. The end.
As I recall, I enjoyed “The Power!” well enough when I first read it in February, 1972, if not quite as much as the “Happyland” multi-parter that had preceded it in issues #3 through #7. But I was also somewhat confused. Until now, I had assumed, based on statements made in New Gods #1 and elsewhere, that there was only one mind on Earth that possessed the Anti-Life Equation. But in the space of two issues of Forever People, we’d seen its power wielded by two different humans — the first of whom, Sonny Sumo, Darkseid had all but thrown away, while the second, Billion-Dollar Bates, met a violent end that the lord of Apokolips seemed to shrug off as no more than a temporary setback. Re-reading these issues today, and also taking into account Mark Moonrider’s comment to Sonny in FP #5 that the Anti-Life Equation is simply “one of many others”, I get the impression that Kirby was beginning to re-think the Equation and its importance. Along this line, we might also note that while Darkseid’s quest for the Anti-Life Equation had provided the narrative thrust for virtually every issue of Forever People to date, it had been downplayed in New Gods following that title’s second issue; and it would never be more than briefly referenced in Mister Miracle (unsurprisingly, It’s never mentioned in Jimmy Olsen at all). After Forever People #8, it’s never again the focus of a Fourth World story; at least, not one by Jack Kirby.
Of course, my suspicion that Kirby was back-burnering, or even abandoning, the quest for the Anti-Life Equation (at least as a focal point of his storytelling), may well be entirely off the mark. Perhaps he was just retooling a bit as part of his evolving understanding of his epic’s core ideas, and would have come back soon with a whole new variation on the theme. Unfortunately, however, Forever People was about to be diverted to other purposes than Kirby’s for a whole two issues — and after that, the series would have only one more installment prior to cancellation. That meant that even if the King did have a future role in mind for the Anti-Live Equation, he was never going to get the chance to show us what it was.
But now I’ve started talking about comics from April, 1972, and even later — while back in December, 1971, we’ve still got Forever People #7 to finish looking at, beginning with:
This was the second featurette starring Lonar to appear; the first, which ran in Forever People #5, had introduced this particular “Young God of Supertown” as a fellow who generally avoided that city in the sky, preferring instead to wander the surface of New Genesis. In the course of exploring some ruins,** he’d uncovered, and awakened, the living war horse with which he’s just startled Orion…
Lonar is an intriguing addition to the pantheon of New Gods — one whom I think we’d have seen Kirby develop in some interesting ways if the Fourth World project hadn’t come to such a premature end. But, as with anything else the artist-writer might have later come up with regarding the Anti-Life Equation, it was not to be.
Forever People #7 finishes up with another “Golden Age grabber” by Kirby and Joe Simon:
As with other Sandman stories where the character had nabbed the cover spot in Adventure (which in this era was most of them), the cover and splash page feature different takes on the same scene, giving us an insight into Kirby’s creative process (and versatility) it would be hard to acquire by other means.
The only other thing that I have to say about this one is that it reminds me what an impressive number of variations on “sleep” or “dreams” the Simon and Kirby team managed to come up with as thematic hooks for these old Sandman stories.
*Esak’s name is presumably derived from that of the Biblical figure Isaac, from the Book of Genesis. Unless, that is, it’s derived instead from Isaac’s elder son, Esau. Or, hey — could be both.
**Among the artifacts that Lonar finds in his explorations of the mysterious ruins is a rather familiar-looking piece of headgear:
A number of fans are convinced that this must be the helmet of Thor, and point to it as another indication that the New Gods originated as Kirby’s “replacements” for the Norse gods of Asgard whose adventures he and scripter Stan Lee had chronicled for years at Marvel Comics.
Personally, I’m not sure this idea is an out-and-out slam-dunk. Oh, sure, the cataclysm in which the old gods perished is clearly meant to be identified as Ragnarok. But Thor’s not the only Norse-inspired warrior to ever wear a winged hat, y’know? On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine that Kirby would have drawn this panel and not realized how some people would take it. Also, when he brought Lonar back in 1985’s The Hunger Dogs, Kirby had him wearing the helmet, and damn if the guy didn’t resemble a brunette God of Thunder. So, yeah — even if it wasn’t Kirby’s original intent that this chapeau once belonged to the Son of Odin, he seems to have eventually bought into the idea.
Looking at the artwork for this issue, it is apparent that Jack Kirby was at the height of his artistic powers. And his plotting & scripting for this issue is also great, a deft blending of drama, tragedy and comedy.
In regards to Serifan’s statement about Sonny Sumo, “as no man ever has, he conquered Darkseid’s villainy!” I’ve thought about that quite a bit, and I think it ties in with one of the main themes of Kirby’s “Fourth World” saga. Most of us really just want to live our own lives, be who we want to be. Unfortunately the Darkseids of this world and their disciples always want more, and furthermore also want to drag the rest of us down to their own level, to make us as miserable & unhappy as they are. Perhaps they do not realize it on a conscious level, but that is what is going on. Sonny Sumo was given the opportunity to live his own life, and he chose a simple one, helping the poor. Most importantly, he was genuinely happy. And that’s how Sonny “defeated” Darkseid, by living life on his own terms, spreading the message of peace & charity, the antithesis of Darksied and Glorious Godfrey and the other twisted lieutenants of Apokolips.
I think that was what Kirby was trying to get at, that fighting Darkseid on his own terms was, in the end, a fool’s errand, as it would inevitably bring everyone else down to their opponents level. That’s certainly something Kirby touched upon in New Gods #7 so very soon after this story. I’ve heard that in his original conception of the ending to the saga of the New Gods, when Orion and Darkseid fought to the death, both of them would die, because both of them had embraced the path of violence. I think that Kirby felt there had to be a better, more peaceful way of stopping Darkseid.
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Thanks for sharing your thoughtful analysis, Ben. I think you’ve very likely caught what Kirby was going for.
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Like you, Alan, I’m sure I wasn’t too displeased with this one fifty years ago when I first read it. Kirby’s art looks great and the characters pop and the action moves things right along in a timely fashion. Looking back fifty years later, however, I see a story without consequence or point that really doesn’t do anything to drive the characters forward in their fight against Apokalips.
Look at the Forever People’s jaunt through time. Mark Moonrider and Beautiful Dreamer appear at the Ford Theatre on the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Now, one would expect the forces of Apokalips to be involved somehow, to either prevent the assassination and disrupt the timeline or to help John Wilkes Booth and company in their entire assassination scheme (the other two murders they had planned didn’t work, if you’ll recall) and throw the timeline into even greater chaos, but no, we’re only here as sightseers, catching a glimpse of the doomed president and his wife and running into John Wilkes Booth in a stairway before being pulled out again. At least Bear manages to jumpstart the Arthurian legend (I didn’t get that fifty years ago either, Alan) and Vykin manages to teach some of Ponce de Leon’s conquistadors a valuable, if fatal, lesson on the dangers of greed, but we’re never told why Darkseid spared Serafin from the Omega Effect or why Sonny Sumo wasn’t rescued along with the rest of our heroes and was instead condemned to living out his life, however peaceful it may have been, in ancient China, waiting for the Forever People to come and get him. Kinda’ sad, really.
I’m sure it’s just differences in story-telling from the seventies as compared to today, but Kirby seems to have not really known where the fine points of his story were going or how they were supposed to get there. The disappearance of Godfrey and Esak, the sporadic use of Highfather and the rest of the New Gods, and especially the importance and then dismissal of Sonny and the poorly-named Billion Dollar Bates as holders of the Anti-Life Equation as the biggest evidence of this. Sometimes it just seems that Kirby created these brilliant characters and this wonderful conflict, but then had no idea how to pace out the story or what parts would be important along the way. The art was amazing and the action exciting, but that seemed to be a cover for the fact that the over-all story, at least in the Forever People, was lacking…or if not lacking, not really connecting to the over-all plot.
Still and all, if you have to buy a book just for the pictures, anything by Kirby is never a bad choice and my memories of the Forever People are fond ones. Thanks, Alan!
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Thanks again Alan for another fascinating review and a two-fer (FP 7 and 8). I remember both issues quite well. I agree with the above comments. It does seem a shame that Jack created an interesting character like Sonny Sumo, even cover featured him and then tossed him away. But this seems consistent for Jack. He would be interested in a concept or character such as Glorious Godfrey and then move on to something else. I did find FP 8 to be an especially interesting issue, very atmospheric. The way Darkseid was used and the sudden unexpected fate of Billion Dollar Bates were, I thought, very well handled by Jack. Which leads me to some questions for you and anyone else who may have a comment. As you point out, Desaad notes to Darkseid that he has spared the Forever People again. We have seen Darkseid to be quite merciless and pretty scary generally. So it led me to wonder, what is really going on here? Is there some deeper reason Darkseid keeps sparing the Forever People? There was a hint that there may be some connection between Darkseid and Beautiful Dreamer. We may never know the answer, but there is also a hint in FP 8 just before Darkseid transports the Forever People away that he is actually concerned (or afraid?) that they present a danger to him. We have seen how powerful he is so how can that be possible? Jack may have had something in mind, but again, I guess we may never know. If I recall correctly, Darkseid did not appear again in the remaining issues. If I’m wrong please let me know. What is also puzzling is that I read an interview with Carmine Infantino some years ago where he admitted that he was the one who requested (according to others, insisted) that Jack guest star Deadman in FP 9 and 10. That seems a strange request from a commercial standpoint since as much as I liked that character it was never a big success; it would have made more sense to bring back Superman as a guest star. What most people today may not realize is that 50 years ago, Superman was as popular as Batman is today….Thanks Alan.
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After the deafening silence on my criticism of Jack Kirby on Funky Flashman in your recent Mister Miracle post (hey, at least everyone didn’t jump down my throat), I have mostly nice things to say about Kirby here. OK, Lincoln was assassinated at a performance of “Our American Cousin” not “An American Cousin” although maybe this is a parralel universe. Also, given the fact that Moonrider is looking right at a Union soldier, his guess that he and Beautiful Dreamer are in a post-Civil War era kind of accents the idea that Big Bear is the history expert on the Forever People (although Moonrider does kind of luck out–Lincoln was killed five days after the Civil War ended, which I guess makes it post Civil War).
Like others have noted, the artwork here is terrific. Kirby even tops himself on the expressive Lincoln profile and that wonderful splash page on page 13. I didn’t pick up on the King Arthur/Sword in the Stone connection in 1971 either and might not have this time around Alan if you hadn’t brought it up. I could be critical about how this issue doesn’t really advance the plot (I didn’t read the section of your post on Forever People # 8 as I will do that in February on its anniversary), but it’s a fun issue and it’s actually a nice break not to have a whole bunch of new characters thrown in for a change. I was kind of shocked by what happened to Sonny Sumo (completely off-page too, did he ask for an outrageous raise or something and get fired? That’s meant to be a weak joke). I don’t remember that part from when I first read it in 1971. I guess because I did not care very much for the character back then, his somewhat capricious ending did not resonate with me.
Excellent post as always Alan.
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I’ll leave a reply to your post on Funky Flashman in the next half hour. 🙂
I’m writing this after reading all the comments on Avengers 97 (which alas I didn’t buy) relating to how good our memories are about what exactly happened 50 years ago. Unusually for me I can remember exactly where and almost when I bought this issue. The when was sometime in the first fortnight of April 1972 and the where was at Phillips newsagent, in the fishing village of Portsoy on the Moray Firth coast of Banffshire, Scotland.
The reason I can remember it so well is that it was just after my grandmother had died and my dad and I drove to her house so that he could find her will and bank account details to pass on the her lawyer so that he estate could be settled. Dad gave me some extra money and I hightailed it off to the newsagent to see if that had any new comics in. To my delight they had a big stack of DC comics cover dated January to April 1972. I think I bought about 20 of them and Forever People 7 was amongst them. This was also the first issue of the comic that I bought, so I was definitely confused coming in in the middle of a story line. I liked it enough though to chase down the other back issues when I could find them. Amongst the other 20 comics that I bought were also New Gods 7 and another that had a profound impact on me that was published in early 1972 that I’ll comment on after it’s 50+ publication date!
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Something to look forward to, Brian! Here’s hoping that it’s a comic I’ll be blogging about in the next month or so, but even if it isn’t, I hope you’ll still share with us here. 😉