Following two episodes set either on the ocean waves or on the god-worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips (the latter also being set many years in the past), in the eighth issue of New Gods writer-artist-editor Jack Kirby brought the action back to the city of Metropolis for the first time since issue #5. In doing so, he was required to pick up plot threads that had been left dangling ever since that issue, published six months earlier, as well as to re-introduce a significant new supporting character not seen since then. Of course, Kirby being the master storyteller he was, he could throw you right into the middle of the action — as he does on the very first page of #8 — and you’d find yourself acclimated almost immediately, even if you’d never read any previous issue of New Gods, let alone remembered the details of issue #5:
These two ordinary humans who’ve suddenly found themselves beset by Kalibak are Dave Lincoln and Claudia Shane — both of whom, as Dave helpfully notes, had been rescued from Apokolips in general (and Kalibak specifically) by Orion of New Genesis all the way back in issue #1.
Dave, being a licensed private investigator, knows how to use his gun, but that doesn’t make his bullets any more effective against an Apokoliptican of Kalibak’s stature. Realizing his weapon is useless, he hurls it at his and Claudia’s assailant, then goes after him with his fists — which, as you can imagine, is even less helpful than shooting at him was…
We first met Det. Sgt. Dan “Terrible” Turpin back in issue #5, when he’d grilled Dave Lincoln about the various combative superbeings newly arrived in town. But if you’re making his acquaintance here for the first time, Kirby gets you up to speed in a
New York Metropolis minute.
Fresh from their adventure upon the “Glory Boat”, Orion and Lightray have arrived on the roof of this particular building so that the former can fix the latter up with temporary digs while he’s on Earth, courtesy of another of the Earthlings rescued by Orion back in #1, Victor Lanza. (Ironically, the reason they’ve come here, and not to Dave Lincoln’s place, is that Orion is already staying there and, we may presume, is being considerate of not taking advantage of Dave’s hospitality by burdening him with a second guest. Of course, if they had gone straight there, the rest of our story would play out rather differently.)
While the two gods of New Genesis navigate what Lightray refers to as a “fantastic curio” providing “hydraulic travel of pre-gravitic vintage” — that’s an elevator to you and me — Turpin races to the scene of the burgeoning crisis…
As it turns out, Victor hasn’t quite gotten around to filling his wife in on his recent escapades with the New Gods, at least not in any detail (“It’s n-not easy to explain a war between New Genesis and Apokolips at one sitting, Orion!”). But Lightray is a natural charmer, and soon Mrs. Lanza is doing her best to make him feel at home — not only offering him a bowl of fruit (“… this nice young man looks famished!”), but also seeing to his entertainment needs…
When the grenades go off, the impact is enough to knock Kalibak off the roof. But Turpin, not hearing his foe hit the ground below, orders his fellow officers to stay back; unfortunately, they don’t listen…
Before Kalibak can strike Lightray, Orion comes up behind him and seizes him by his club-arm. “You underrate what is forged on New Genesis, you dog!!” the warrior declares as wrests the weapon from his enemy’s grasp. “There, too, is power — and purpose!!”
Though Kirby had revealed most of the secrets of Orion’s family heritage in the previous issue’s “The Pact!”, he’d held onto one — namely, what it is that the champion of New Genesis and Kalibak “share“. But despite Orion’s desire to have the whole business of what’s between them over and done with “now!!“, that secret will remain under wraps until the series’ final issue, #11.
Lightray’s dialogue in the last two panels above represents the first time that the theme indicated by the story’s title — “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin!” has been directly addressed within its pages. Up until this point, a reader could interpret Turpin’s actions in a wholly positive light; to wit, Turpin could be seen simply as a brave man dedicated to serving the people of his city, determined to perform his sworn duty as a law officer regardless of the immensity of the odds against him. Lightray’s remark, however, raises the possibility of darker — or at least more self-serving — motivations for Turpin’s behavior, such as “pride — fear — or thirst for immortality!”, and suggests that Turpin is like Orion and Kalibak in this respect.
But no sooner has the issue been raised than it’s set aside: “This question must remain unanswered for now!” Kirby never does answer the question of just what drives Turpin, in fact, perhaps because he didn’t think it was actually all that important; rather, he may have simply been making the point that people are complex beings, driven by varied and sometimes contradictory motivations — positive as well as negative, conscious as well as unconscious.
Turpin tells Lightray that the equipment draws its juice from every generator in the city — “and that’s shock-power, friend!”. Discerning the police’s intent the New Genesian objects: “But you can’t do this! Not even I can interfere in a situation of personal combat!”
Meanwhile, the battle of the gods rages on…
Turpin has clearly ignored Lightray’s objections — his duty is to protect the mortal human beings of Metropolis, and the rules and mores of the “super ‘muk-muks'” are of no concern to him.
If Dan Turpin really has gone into this situation with a “death wish”, either conscious or un-, it goes unfulfilled; though he’s bruised and bloody, he’ll survive.
As the sergeant is carried away on a stretcher, Dave Lincoln and Claudia Shane (remember them?) emerge onto the roof…
Our tale concludes with a quiet, poignant character moment between Orion and Lightray; but there’s no doubt that, overall, this story belongs to the man whose name is in the title — a man of whom his creator would later say:
If he were a real man, he would stand head and shoulders above what a common man of today’s society is like. But still, he is the essential character of all mankind, to stand up against all odds because nobody else would do the job. There’s always one who will, and when we run out of people like that, that’s when we’re all going to be in trouble.*
When it first came out, “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin!” was by no means one of my favorite New Gods stories. There were several things about it that my younger self found somewhat off-putting, most notably the brutality of the violence (though obviously hampered by the Comics Code in terms of being able to fully show that violence’s effects, Kirby was nevertheless able to effectively convey the appalling amount of damage done to Dan Turpin over the course of the story). I also didn’t quite get what Turpin was trying to accomplish; at the time, it seemed to me that things would have worked out fine if he’d just left things up to the “goodies” (as he calls them on page 19), Orion and Lightray. (For the record, I do get it now.) Finally, if I’m going to be honest, I probably also had a hard time fully relating to Turpin as a character — this aging, balding, unlovely man so determined not to go out quietly. (Unsurprisingly, my sixty-four-year-old self finds it considerably easier to identify with Turpin than my fourteen-year-old self could — well, except for the balding part; I’m still doing OK there)
Fifty years after its original publication, I’ve come to realize “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin!” is, like New Gods #6’s “The Glory Boat!!”, a story I needed to grow into to fully appreciate; I count myself fortunate that I’ve lived long enough to do so.
Dan “Terrible” Turpin is one of several characters created by Jack Kirby over the decades whom the King of Comics’ fans have come to feel was something of a stand-in for the man himself. (Other, rather better-known examples are Ben Grimm and Nick Fury.) That’s likely to be the main reason why the character has had a substantial post-Kirby run in the DC Universe — both in the comics and in ancillary media — especially when compared to other minor players from the Fourth World titles (e.g., Dave Lincoln and Claudia Shane).
When writer-artist John Byrne was given charge of revamping Superman in 1986, he wasted almost no time in bringing Turpin into DC’s new post-Crisis continuity, introducing him into the Man of Steel’s supporting cast as early as Superman (1987 series) #7. As the second-in-command to Capt. Maggie Sawyer in the Metropolis Police Dept.’s Special Crimes Unit, Turpin would become a familiar face on the scene in many of the confrontations between the Last Son of Krypton and a variety of “super-weirdos”.
Over the course of the next decade, this version of Turpin even picked up a new backstory. As we noted in our New Gods #5 post last August, he was eventually retroactively conflated with one of the Boy Commandos whom Kirby had created with Joe Simon in the 1940s (and whose vintage adventures were being reprinted in Mister Miracle at the same time New Gods was reprinting old “Manhunter” stories) — namely the derby-wearing “Brooklyn”, the only member of the BCs who’d never been given a real name. (This was a nifty idea which probably wouldn’t have flown in 1972, even if it had occurred to Kirby, as Turpin seems too old in his New Gods appearances to have been a youngster during the World War II era — but it worked well enough in 1996.)
This iteration of Dan Turpin made his last appearance in DC’s 2008-09 Final Crisis miniseries, in which he was temporarily possessed by the spirit of Darkseid (he got better, thankfully); to the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t turned up in any new comics since DC’s 2011 Flashpoint/”New 52″ reboot; but, given how everything old in comic books seems to become new again, given enough time, I wouldn’t lay odds on our having seen the last of him. Meanwhile, we can enjoy his previous exploits in our old comics — and our old cartoons.
Back in the late ’90s, Bruce Timm and his fellow animators followed the lead of that era’s “Superman” comics in including Dan Turpin as a supporting cast member in Superman: The Animated Series; in doing so, they took certain liberties with the character’s design, remaking him in Jack Kirby’s own image as a tribute to the creator. Turpin appeared in twelve episodes during the show’s first two seasons; his last outing, a two-parter called “Apokolips… Now!”, saw the veteran officer meet a hero’s death at the hands of Darkseid. While not a direct adaptation of “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin!”, the animated Turpin’s farewell adventure clearly took inspiration from Kirby’s tale; appropriately enough, its first half aired on February 7, 1998 — almost exactly four years to the date of Jack Kirby’s own passing on Feb. 6, 1994.
Along with its lead story, New Gods #8 also included another 3-page installment of the “Young Gods of Supertown” featurette. Unlike the lead story it bears no credits; obviously, it’s written and pencilled by Kirby, but the usual sources attribute the inking to either Mike Royer (who performed those honors for “Terrible Turpin”) or Vince Colletta (whose last credited work in New Gods appeared in issue #5). Me, I’m going with Royer.
This brief tale features the return of Fastbak, last seen in issue #5, as well as the Black Racer, last seen in issue #4 (at least as far as New Gods or other Kirby-authored comics were concerned; his most recent appearance in any comic would have been Lois Lane #115).
As we learn on the next page, Fastbak has more than the Black Racer to worry about in his drive to locate and recover young Esak (last seen in Forever People #7):
Fastbak eludes both the “terror-bats” and a patrol of para-demons, but he’s still got one more obstacle ahead:
We don’t learn anything of substance about the three main characters appearing in this vignette, or about any other aspect of the Fourth World, either; indeed, it’s not even clear if these events are supposed to take place before the first issues of the Fourth World books (as those in most of the previous “Young Gods of Supertown” shorts in New Gods and Forever People have been expressly shown to), or if they’re concurrent with those of this issue’s lead story. Nevertheless, it’s a quick, entertaining read, and you really can’t ask for much more from a single 3-page comic book story.
New Gods #8 finishes up with another “Kirby Classic” from the Golden Age of Comics. This “Manhunter” adventure by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby originally appeared in Adventure Comics #77 (Aug., 1942)…
… aaannd that’s all I have to say about it, actually.
Coming up in April, we’ll be taking a look at New Gods #9 — the final issue published in the 25-cent 48-page format.** Will I have any more to say about that issue’s “Manhunter” reprint than I have about any of the others? Probably not, but you should come back to check out the post, regardless — you wouldn’t want to miss out on getting acquainted (or reacquainted, as the case may be) with “The Bug!”
*Excerpted from an interview with Jack Kirby conducted circa 1989-92 by Ray Wyman, Jr.; see John Morrow, Old Gods & New (TwoMorrows, 2021), p. 127.
**Yeah, I know it says “52 BIG pages” in that little circle on the cover, but don’t let that fool you. Around November, 1971, DC had upped the number of pages from 48 — but only on the cover. The amount of comic book you got for your quarter didn’t actually change; DC just started including the front and back covers in their page tabulation. (They had already been counting the ad pages, naturally.)