Today’s post is one I’ve been looking forward to — with some trepidation as well as considerable anticipation — since I first began producing this blog, six and a half years ago. That’s because its subject, DC Comics’ New Gods #7, is without question my single favorite comic book of all time.
Please note that I’m not saying that I think it’s the “best”, or “greatest” comic book of all time. That would be a foolish thing to do, frankly, considering how many comic books have been published over the last century that I’ve never personally read. I’m not even claiming that it’s the best or greatest comic book in my own collection (though I figure I could argue a strong case for it on that score, if the need ever somehow arose) — simply that, of all the thousands of comics I have read in the last 56 1/2 years, it’s the one I love the most. And since love is entirely subjective and personal, I’m not required to justify why I favor it above all others, as I might if I were to declare that New Gods #7 is the indisputable worldwide GOAT, or whatever.
That said, I’m still eager — yes, and also anxious — to share this comic book with you, faithful readers, in the hope of having you understand, to whatever degree possible, just why I love it so much.
Let’s begin by setting the stage for my fourteen-year-old self’s first encounter with NG #7, back in the waning days of December, 1971. To the best of my recollection, I had few if any preconceptions of what to expect from the comic when I first picked it up out of the spinner rack. The cover was frankly enigmatic, referring as it did to “a great mystery”, and spotlighting two characters whom I was pretty sure I’d never seen before. (I was only half right, as it turned out, but I wouldn’t realize that until almost the very end of the story.)
Those of you with good memories for fifty-plus-year-old comics — or maybe just two-month old blog posts — might wonder at that younger me’s callow ignorance. Hadn’t I read New Gods #6, back in October? And hadn’t that comic’s “next issue” blurb (shown at right) been pretty specific about what we readers could expect from “The Pact!”?
It’s true; that blurb had been quite clear indeed in communicating writer-artist-editor Jack Kirby’s intent to reveal the origins of the lead characters of both New Gods and its fellow Fourth World title, Mister Miracle, in the former’s series’ next installment. As had the letters column of Mister Miracle #6, published in November (“…next month’s New Gods will reveal the origins of Orion and Mr. Miracle! Those of you who’ve asked what connection Miracle had with the other books — Here’s an answer like you didn’t expect!!”). And, yes, I’d perused both of those, blurb as well as lettercol. What can I say? I was reading a lot of comics regularly in late 1971, and as much as I enjoyed the Fourth World books, there was too much other good stuff coming out then for the Kirby titles to be at the top of my mind, all of the time. And so, when I finally sat down to read New Gods #7, I didn’t remember what I’d been promised I would find within its pages.
The first page of our story harks back to the first page of New Gods‘ first issue, with its evocation of the cataclysm that ended the world of those older divinities who preceded the titular characters. It also gives us the strongest confirmation yet that those old gods were the same ones (more or less) that Jack Kirby had been telling stories about in the pages of Marvel Comics’ Thor, prior to his decamping to DC to launch the Fourth World — i.e., the gods of Norse mythology. That confirmation comes in the form of a reference to the god Baldr — here spelled “Baldurr” (probably for the sake of creating a little distance between this version and Marvel’s “Balder the Brave”). Some readers have speculated that the unnamed “sorceress” represents a nod to Kirby’s work on Thor, as well, suggesting that she should be identified with that series’ Karnilla, the Norn Queen — an enemy of the gods of Asgard, who nevertheless loves and is loved by Balder. It’s certainly an intriguing possibility, though I have to say it never crossed my mind in 1971, big Thor fan though I was.
Perhaps that’s because I was more attentive to the Biblical allusions, which seemed to me to be at least as significant as those made to “pagan” myths. As an earnest young Christian who hardly ever missed Sunday school, I not only recognized the reference to Genesis 1: 1-2, but also the name “Izaya” as having been derived from that of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.
Of course, my pegging the source of Izaya the Inheritor’s name didn’t give me much of a clue as to who either he or his wife, Avia, were supposed to be; all I knew was that I’d never seen either of them before (though, once again, I was only half-right). Certainly, Izaya didn’t give the impression of having much in common with a Biblical prophet. As a warrior of peaceful New Genesis, he probably had more in common with Orion than with any of New Gods‘ other regular characters; indeed, his being coaxed towards more gentle pursuits by Avia recalls a similar exchange between Orion and Lightray early in NG #1. This parallel between Izaya and Orion will resonate even more clearly by the end of our story.
“Steppenwolf” (which is German for “steppe wolf”, in case you didn’t know [as I didn’t, before looking it up just now] ) has always struck me as one of Kirby’s more unusual Fourth World character monikers. I’d frankly be surprised to learn that the King was a big fan of either the novel by Hermann Hesse or the rock group fronted by John Kay that, between them, probably account for how 99% of Americans know the name — though I suppose anything’s possible. I suspect he just liked the sound of it.
With the turn of the page from 4 to 5, my younger self in December, 1971 was greeted by the first major surprise in a story that had even greater ones to come, as the identity of Steppenwolf’s mysterious nephew is at last revealed:
Immediately following this stunning two-page spread, we see the New Genesis forces drop huge bombs into the fiery “energy-pits” of Apokolips, eliminating them as power sources…
Among the figures at the dinner table within the “royal bunkers”, we see not only Steppenwolf, but also Darkseid’s “good friend”, Desaad; although he doesn’t have any lines in “The Pact!”, Desaad’s appearance here underscores how significant the latter figure was in the Apokoliptican hierarchy, even in these early days.
The excited, near-frantic demeanor of Metron in this scene may not be quite as big a surprise as page 5’s reveal of Darkseid, but it’s still startling to see this most impassive and inscrutable of the New Gods behaving in such a fashion. (Incidentally, Kirby never does explain how the New Genesis resident got into this supposedly ultra-secure bunker on Apokolips — but I’m not sure it matters. Even prior to his obtaining the “X-Element”, young Metron was obviously a clever boy.)
“New Genesis vaulters rush Destructi-Poles against the invaders!” Kirby’s narration breathlessly informs us. “But many fall!! — Even as their weapons are thrown!!”
Thirteen years after this comic’s publication, when Kirby returned to his Fourth World mythos to write and draw a new New Gods story, he chose to resurrect Steppenwolf. Since then, the character has shown up fairly frequently in DC’s comics, and of course he also appeared in the recent Justice League movie. Back in December, 1971, however, his death at Izaya’s hands seemed quite final (and satisfyingly so), at least to this reader.
In his 2012 book Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby, critic Charles Hatfield has this to say regarding the above conversation between Izaya and Metron:
This exchange, a debate over the ethics of using technology to wage war, is surely a post-WWII, post-atomic bomb moment, with Metron standing in for the bombmakers and rocket-scientists of Kirby’s own lifetime. Undermining Kirby’s spewing delight in high-tech invention, and our own delight in his inventiveness, is a grim recognition of war’s technological horrors and of the fact that scientific progress is often underwritten or prodded by military R&D…
The new, “techno-cosmic” phase of the war signaled by Darkseid’s planetoid bombardment of New Genesis — an action which, a caption on the next page assures us, is possible only because of “Metron’s methods” — continues with giant-sized “biological mutations” turned loose by Apokolips to wreak destruction on New Genesis, which “fights back with equal innovation!!!” Then, in an even further escalation, the war “reaches across the universe”, so that “mammoth suns are transformed into cosmic-lasers“, capable of slicing entire planets into pieces.
As the war grows ever larger in its scope, Kirby makes it clear that there’s little moral difference in how the two sides are waging it. Both Apokolips and New Genesis seem prepared to go to any lengths to achieve victory in their conflict; both are willing to engender havoc on an almost incomprehensibly cosmic scale…
The theme of the hero’s journey into the wilderness has resonance across a variety of mythologies and spiritual traditions; though, as we’ll see over the next two pages, its Biblical expressions appear to be Kirby’s primary inspiration here.
In the final panel of page 19, Kirby’s art (as faithfully finished in ink by Mike Royer) approaches the abstract, with the same slashing black strokes representing both Izaya’s face and the wind that whips against it.
We’ve seen the Source Wall before, of course, in New Gods #1. In our discussion of its appearance in that issue, I noted the influence of the story of “the writing on the wall”, from Chapter 5 in the Book of Daniel, while reader Ben Herman noted in a comment that Kirby may also have had in mind the ritual Torah pointer of Judaism, the yad. Both of those correspondences are still applicable here, obviously, but the setting and dramatic presentation of the Wall’s appearance in this scene call to mind even more antecedents from Jewish scripture (the Old Testament in Christian tradition), such as the burning bush of Exodus 3, or God speaking from “out of the whirlwind” in Job 38 – 40.* Still, even in the midst of this fierce and turbulent encounter with ineffable mystery, Kirby is careful to note that the Source comes to Izaya as a “friend“.
Is the Source “God”? I believe so, broadly speaking; although I also think it would probably be a mistake to try to fit Kirby’s imaginative conception, created and developed in the context of a work of fantastic fiction, into the box of any specific religious orthodoxy.
Darkseid disdains to answer Tigra — who, as she’s dragged away by her guards, swears that their son will grow up to kill his father. He then asks another guard if the “dimension door” has been activated, and receives a reply in the affirmative; Granny Goodness is already standing by, the subordinate says, “awaiting the arrival of the child from New Genesis!!!”
The impact of this page on me as a young reader in 1971 was immense; my closest point of comparison is probably the “I am your father” moment from The Empire Strikes Back (which itself may have taken a bit of inspiration from Kirby’s Darkseid-Orion relationship) — another indelible gobsmacker which, like this sequence, cast virtually everything that had preceded it in a new light. This revelatory scene, which provided my younger self with the frisson of intense delight only stories can give us (but which doesn’t come along all that often, nevertheless, even in very good stories) is probably the single most important reason New Gods #7 is my all-time favorite comic book — which begs the question, would it have had the same impact if I’d been a little more alert, and had remembered the advance notice given that this story would relate “the origin of Mister Miracle”? I’d like to think that it would have, since even if I had been waiting for Scott Free to turn up before the end of “The Pact!”, I don’t believe I could have anticipated it happening quite this way; but, of course, I’ll never know for sure.
While Kirby had never come right out in previous issues and confirmed that Orion was the son of Darkseid, he’d hinted at the truth broadly enough so that my fourteen-year-old self had no doubt of the name of the boy introduced on page 23 (even before I got a good look at his bushy red eyebrows). Nevertheless, I still had one more major surprise coming for me in December, 1971, believe it or not. Yeah, I probably should have caught on to the “secret identity” of Izaya the Inheritor before the story’s very last page. But what can I say? I didn’t.
“A great destiny” does indeed await Orion — though, ironically, it’ll find him taking on a role similar to the one held by Izaya at the beginning of our tale — that of the leading warrior in a society devoted to peace.
So ends “The Pact!” — a story which has re-contextualized much of what we’ve read in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World epic up to this point, and which will inform everything that follows henceforth — including the more-or-less direct sequel that will be coming up in Mister Miracle in five months, issue #9’s “Himon!” (And yes, we’ll be discussing that comic on this blog, too. Like anyone had to ask.)
As I noted near the beginning of this post, I don’t consider New Gods #7’s status as my personal favorite comic book of all time to be dependent on anyone else’s opinion of it. Yet I’m gratified that it seems to be well-appreciated by many other readers as well; and even more pleased that Kirby himself reportedly ranked “The Pact!” as his own all-time favorite in his complete body of work.
Of course, when I say that New Gods #7 is my all-time favorite comic book, what I really mean is that “The Pact!” is my all-time favorite feature-length comic book story. The remainder of the comic book’s actual content — which includes another 13 pages of actual comics, in addition to the letters column, ads, and whatnot — is basically irrelevant. Really, all of those pages could have been blank, and I’d still love New Gods #7 every bit as much. Probably.
But as regular readers of this blog know, we like to take a holistic approach here at Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books, at least as far as a given book’s comics-format material is concerned. And the two-page backup strip that follows “The Pact!” deserves better than to be simply ignored as irrelevant, in any case.
This installment of “The Young Gods of Supertown!” — a feature which ran in both New Gods and Forever People during DC’s 25-cent “bigger & better” era, and which in this instance actually stars one of the latter series’ titular heroes — actually complements “The Pact!” by making direct reference to the “Great Clash” — a reference which would have been meaningless prior to our reading the preceding story.
I believe that “Vykin the Black”, as brief as it was, may have been the first DC Comics story to feature a Black superhero in solo action; but even if it wasn’t the very first, it would certainly still have been a rarity in its era. So, while it may not rise to the level of significance of “The Pact!”, it’s still worth taking note of in its own right — and is certainly way better than having a couple of blank pages in its place.
That’s probably a bit more than I can honestly claim for the nine-page “Manhunter” reprint which follows it in New Gods #7. It’s not that t have anything against this Joe Simon-Jack Kirby tale from a 1942 issue of Adventure Comics; I simply don’t have anything to say about it one way or another, save that it made no impression on me whatsoever back in December, 1971. Sorry, Paul Kirk fans, but this guy would have to wait for his 1973 revival by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson for Detective Comics to really catch my interest.
The two-page reprint from Real Fact Comics which brings up the rear of NG #7 fares slightly better, however, at least in my present-day estimation…
Like the similar gee-whiz take on “The Future” reprinted in New Gods #6, this 1946 piece already seemed quaint in 1971; and fifty years later, the disconnect between what was predicted in the mid-20th century and what’s actually come to pass since then approaches the level of absurdity.
A “hydra-armed robot servant” to handle all the housework? I’m sorry, S&K… but Roomba’s just not cutting it.
*In its general size and shape, as well as its solitary positioning in an open landscape, the Wall also recalls the Monolith from the early scenes of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey — a work that Kirby would adapt directly for Marvel Comics some five years later.