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.
**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.