In March, 1972, the lead story of Mister Miracle #8 had ended with a “Coming!” blurb promising that the very next issue would introduce readers to a “lovable old rascal” named Himon — billed not only as the man who’d mentored the series’ titular hero in his craft of escape artistry, but as an updated take on the character Fagin from Charles Dickens’ 1838 novel Oliver Twist. With Ron Moody’s Oscar-nominated performance as Fagin in the 1968 film adaptation of the musical Oliver! still relatively fresh in the pop-cultural memory, readers might have been forgiven for expecting Mister Miracle #9 to be something of a romp — a tale one might read while listening to the movie soundtrack’s renditions of “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” or “I’d Do Anything” playing in the background.
On the other hand, readers who’d been following the “Young Scott Free” back-up feature in the last few issues of Mister Miracle might suspect that such a level of jauntiness would be incongruous (to say the least) in the context of our hero’s upbringing on the hell-planet of Apokolips. But even those readers might not be prepared for the reality of “Himon!” — probably the darkest and most brutal episode of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World epic yet to appear, although one that still ends on a strong note of optimism and hope.
The splash page of “The Pact!” in New Gods #7 (your humble blogger’s all-time favorite comic book, for anyone coming in late) had included a blurb explaining: “From time to time — this kind of segment will supplement the larger tapestry of the New Gods.” That “segment”, set in the time of the “Great Clash” between Apokolips and New Genesis, had explained how, years ago, Scott Free — the son of the New Genesis leader Izaya, or Highfather — had been exchanged with Orion, the son of Darkseid, to establish a truce between the two warring god-worlds. A similar blurb on the splash page of “Himon!” serves notice that this story is the second in the series of “segments” inaugurated by “The Pact!” — in other words, it’s a prequel to the main ongoing storyline that we’ve been following since Mister Miracle #1; one that we can expect to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of our hero’s background in very significant ways.
More than any other location on Apokolips, the slum area of Armagetto epitomizes the qualities ascribed by critic Charles Hatfield to the planet as a whole: “…a blotted, smoking, industrialized hell that makes mythology out of the author’s [i.e., Kirby’s] formative experiences, fusing Lower East Side squalor with visions of a thumping, jackbooted, Nazi-like technocracy.”*
It’s the story’s first moment of stark, shocking violence, as the ironically titled “protector”, “Wonderful” Willik, abruptly orders the summary execution by incineration of the “lowlies” who’ve just professed their complete allegiance to Darkseid and disdain for the “vermin” Himon. And what makes the violence even more appalling is its utter pointlessness; it doesn’t even achieve its only real objective, as we learn at the top of the next page:
Page 6 is the “second splash”, on which Kirby typically banners the name of the comic’s featured stars (having already highlighted the story’s title on the initial splash page). In any other issue’s lead story, we’d see “Mister Miracle” boldly emblazoned where here we see “Young Scott Free!” Kirby is signalling that in addition to being a companion piece to “The Pact!”, this story is also another episode (the last, as it turns out) of the “Young Scott Free” feature that had previously appeared as a 2 to 4-page backup in Mister Miracle #5, 6, and 7.
Whence comes Himon? As we’ve already discussed, Kirby points to Dickens’ Fagin as his inspiration for the character; and, over the decades, many readers have also come to see this “ultimate escape-artist” as a stand-in for the creator himself. But there’s at least one other model for Himon, at least visually; Kirby is known to have based his physical features on those of the founder of the San Diego Comic-Con, Shel Dorf (seen with Kirby himself in the photo shown at right).
Having just witnessed a group of people brutally murdered for no other reason than to flush him out, Himon already seems to have shrugged the whole thing off. Is he really that callous? Or is it simply that this sort of incident has happened so many times before that he’s come to realize that lingering on it serves no useful purpose?
This scene of Himon and his “heroes” is where the inspiration of Oliver Twist is most readily apparent. Like Dickens’ Fagin, Himon provides a haven for youths involved in criminal activities. But where Fagin’s mentoring and sheltering of his gang of child pickpockets was ultimately self-serving, intended to enrich himself, Himon’s teaching and encouragement of his “gang” as they explore areas of imagination and invention forbidden by Darkseid doesn’t seem to have any selfish motive attached at all.
Several of the names of Himon’s young “heroes” — Kreetin, Bravo, Weldun — also have a pronounced Dickensian flair (as of course do many other names of characters throughout Kirby’s Fourth World). “Kreetin” may be the weakest of these, as it’s simultaneously too on the nose (being a homophone of a word with specifically negative connotations) and misleading (the name’s homophone indicates stupidity, and whatever else he may be, Kreetin is obviously not stupid.)
It’s interesting to me that none of the Female Furies that we glimpse in this scene are identifiable as any of the “A” team of Furies we readers first met in issue #6 — Bernadeth, Stompa, etc.. Did Kirby think that including them would pull too much focus from the other characters, or did he have other reasons?
As the mob turns its full attention to Himon, Kreetin slinks away…
The morally ambivalent New God Metron had already appeared in the first two episodes of “Young Scott Free”, in scenes that strongly implied that he — not Himon — was the first to reach out to Scott to encourage him to seek a different path from the one laid out for him by Darkseid.
But it’s just as the promotional blurb at the end of Mister Miracle #8’s lead story promised: “They kill him here! They kill him there! The hunters kill him everywhere! — but he always turns up alive!!” Darkseid’s subordinates dissolve him, blow him up, drop him from enormous heights, and still…
Kirby doesn’t say so, but I think we can assume that the “replicas“spoken of in the last panel above are similar, if not identical, to the “Followers” we’ve earlier seen in Mister Miracle #2 (and will see again in Forever People #10, out in June, 1972).
Kirby describes the location for this scene as “a gutted slag heap” — but there’s still something irreducibly grand, even Olympian about it, as these two New Gods — the “master of theories” and the “master of elements” have their (literal) summit meeting. When the Kirby Krackle of cosmic energy coruscates from Himon and Metron’s clasped hands, we have a sense of more going on than meets the eye — of a significance to this simple action that we mere mortals can’t quite comprehend. In its mysteriousness, the scene reminds me of Lightray’s final preparations of the “Glory Boat” (especially as regards the disposition of the body of Richard Sheridan) in New Gods #6.
There are aspects of the scene that are comprehensible, of course, and they’re at least as important as are the mysteries. For one, we learn in this scene that Metron — whom we’ve understood from earlier stories, especially “The Pact!”, to be the inventor of much of the technology used by both Apokolips and New Genesis — would never have been able to accomplish his prodigious feats of engineering without Himon’s imagination and vision. (By the same token, the gods’ handclasp can be taken as implying that Himon, who’s “eternally grounded” on Apokolips, needs Metron to be able to see his dreams made real; the two of them are thus dependent on each other.) For another, Himon reveals that he considers himself responsible for Darkseid’s rise to power; it’s strongly implied that he could escape, but won’t, as long as Darkseid rules Apokolips: “I fostered Darkseid’s power! I must be here — at its end!”
One of the revelations of “The Pact!” was that Darkseid always intended for Scott to one day attempt to escape. In the earlier story, the impression was given that Scott’s act in and of itself would justify Darkseid’s declaring his pact with Highfather broken, which in turn would allow the war between Apokolips and New Genesis to resume in earnest. Here, however, Metron’s dialogue seems to imply that Darkseid means to kill Scott when he makes his break for freedom, and that that’s the act which will end the fragile peace. It’s all a little murkier than it ideally should be, to be honest.
Kreetin’s unfortunate end could probably be predicted by most readers; but the abrupt, perfunctory quality of his killing is likely to startle many of them, all the same. Still, there’s worse yet to come, as we’ll begin to discover with the very next panel:
Kirby refrains from visually depicting the undoubtedly pain-contorted face of the deceased Auralie, leaving that grim work up to our own imaginations.
The explosive disposition of Willik is about as close as Kirby gets in “Himon!” to giving us the satisfaction of seeing good trump evil — and its blunt presentation, while darkly humorous in its own way, is far from the dramatically choreographed action that usually accompanies such moments in a Jack Kirby production. Call it one more signpost to let readers know that the King of Comics has a lot more on his mind than conventional superheroic thrills this time around.
“I found the X-Element and pioneered the Boom Tube!” Readers first learned of the X-Element in New Gods #7, in a scene where Darkseid, not yet the supreme ruler of his world, showed it (in the form of a small metal block) to his fellow high-ranking Apokolipticans over dinner. At that time, he allowed that he had come across this new scientific discovery while spending “time with our technicians!!” We now understand that Himon was one of those “technicians”, probably their leader.
As in its companion story “The Pact!”, in “Himon!” the critical moment of decision — of choosing a new way forward — must ultimately involve the Source, though here on Darkseid’s Apokolips it must make its presence known to Scott in a more subtle way — through the glowing of the Mother Box on Himon’s arm — than it did years before on New Genesis to Scott’s father, Izaya the Inheritor, when it wrote upon a wall in words of fire.
It’s obviously important to Kirby that readers not miss any of this scene’s references to “The Pact!” Here, he directs us to the very page of that story in which we first saw Scott’s mother, Avia, say the lines beginning with “You know, Izaya…” to his father; though how Scott appears to have a memory of that conversation, at which he wasn’t actually present (at least as far as we know) must remain a mystery.
The transition from the last scene to this new one — the final one of the story, as it happens — is jarring in its abruptness. Perhaps Kirby’s intent was for the reader to feel a sense of disorientation, but one has to wonder if the writer-artist simply miscalculated how many pages he needed to finish his story — despite the fact that, at 26 pages, it’ll still be coming in at 2 pages more than afforded most stories in DC’s new 20-cent/32-page format; pages made available only because Kirby is foregoeing the book’s usual two-page letters column this issue.
For all his determination, Scott soon finds himself boxed in between Darkseid’s infantry and his “dog-cavalry”. Things are looking grim…
Scott and Barda race for Armagetto through a junkyard of ruined old vehicles, hoping that the wreckage will give them cover; but then, danger comes from the air above them, in the form of “inferno-bolts“…
If Metron’s words back on page 18 are to be taken literally, Darkseid’s original plan was for Scott to die attempting to escape. But now, if we take Darkseid himself literally, he’s ready not only to allow Scott to reach Earth alive — but is even interested in having him stay, to become fully a creature of Apokolips, even though that would presumably mean that the truce between Apokolips and New Genesis would remain in place.
We’ve now arrived at the final page of our story, and here, we’ll take a brief detour to take a look at that page’s first two panels in an earlier form that what ultimately appeared in Mister Miracle #9.
In the 35th issue of The Jack Kirby Collector (Spring, 2002), readers were given the opportunity to view a great deal of Kirby’s original pencilled (and scripted) artwork for “Himon!” For the most part, what was on view was merely a rawer, pre-color version of the story as published. But in the two-panel sequence that opens page 26, there’s evidence that someone — presumably the writer-artist himself — had second thoughts about the dialogue of all three characters within, prior to embellisher Mike Royer’s inking and lettering of the final product.
First, here’s the original version:
Kirby’s pencilled-in word balloons are somewhat difficult to read, so here’s a transcription:
DARKSEID: The young fool goes on. He struggles to rise! If he stays with you Himon — I shall kill him when I finally kill you!
HIMON: I still welcome him! He may live with death — but know the universe!
SCOTT: Let me be Scott Free – and first know myself!
Now let’s compare that with the final, published version:
I don’t think that there’s any question that the revised version is much better. Not only is Himon’s encouragement of Scott to leave Apokolips more consistent with his earlier words and deeds than was the first take’s “welcome”, but the repetition of the word “find” in all three characters’ dialogue connects Scott’s ultimate declaration of self-determination to the words not only of his two father-figures here present, but also of his true, absent father, whose own moment of life-changing decision in “The Pact!” was accompanied by the words, “I must find Izaya!!”
When one reads about Kirby’s working methods, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that he generally operated in the moment, with both story and imagery flowing from his mind directly to the page through his swiftly-moving pencil, without much advance preparation or later reflection. Here, however, we can see that Kirby was quite capable of reviewing and refining what he’d done when it really mattered.
Both the rough and finished versions of the page follow that two-panel sequence with the wordless panel of Scott hurling himself into the Boom Tube — though the published version has the additional enhancement of the thicker panel borders added by Royer at the inking stage, which subtly give the image greater weight. It’s a device that the embellisher uses sparingly, but to good effect, throughout this entire issue, as well as in several other Kirby comics published around this same time.
The story ends with the prophecy of Darkseid’s final showdown with his son Orion in Armagetto. That’s a story that Kirby would eventually tell, though not until the 1985 graphic novel The Hunger Dogs — and when he did, Himon would play a major role. It’s an indication of the high significance he accorded the character — a character whose one and only appearance in Kirby’s original, unfinished Fourth World opus of 1970-72 would be in the story we’ve just finished looking at.
For the Fourth World was rapidly nearing its end — something that Kirby may well have suspected was in the offing when he created “Himon!” in early 1972, even if he didn’t actually know for certain it was about to happen. The bottom-of-the-page blurb announcing the next issue’s story — “Mister Miracle — To Be!” — would prove to be prescient — sadly so, as Mister Miracle #10 found Scott, Big Barda, and their Female Fury allies going up against an altogether Earth-bound menace: the “Earth Protective League”, under the leadership of the “Head”. As a follow-up to a story that had furthered and deepened the Fourth World mythos as much as “Himon!” had, this tale, completely free as it was of any connection to the New Genesis-Apokolips war, was inevitably a disappointment.
Still, it might have been taken simply for a brief respite from the larger storyline, especially when the very next issue brought Doctor Bedlam — the only one of Mister Miracle’s hometown foes who hadn’t turned up for the “return to Apokolips” storyline of issues #7 and #8 — back for a rematch. Even with its fellow Fourth World titles Forever People and New Gods having seen their eleventh and final issues published the previous month, Mister Miracle #11 gave fans of the project like my younger self hope that the Fourth World saga would continue, even if in a severely diminished format. Surely, if nothing else, we’d at least see the missing piece of Scott’s history filled in — the story of what happened to him between his empty-handed flight through a Boom Tube to Earth at the end of MM #9, and his showing up at Thaddeus Brown’s place at the beginning of issue #1, carrying a carpet-bag full of “tricks” that he said represented his “inheritance… Things left with a foundling by parties unknown!”
But issue #11 turned out to be the last one that referenced the hero’s New Godly heritage at all, at least until the very end of the series’ run. In the issues that followed it, Kirby would focus on the “super escape artist” aspect of Mister Miracle to the exclusion of everything else that had made the series compelling, as the hero and his companions took on one disposable villain after another. Along the way, Scott Free and Big Barda, and even the Female Furies, were reduced to oddball characters whose otherworldly origins were hardly ever alluded to; even Mother Box was demoted to mere “circuitry” hidden inside Mister Miracle’s headgear. All that might have been enough, if that’s all the Mister Miracle title had been from the very beginning; but an awareness of the larger universe from which the feature had been severed made it impossible to accept this lesser iteration; at least, it did for your humble blogger. I quit buying Mister Miracle during this time, and didn’t come back until the very last issue, #18, in November, 1973.
That comic, which at the time of its publication gave every appearance of being Jack Kirby’s final, formal farewell to his Fourth World, is regrettably flawed — but still pretty special, for all that. Special enough for its own blog post, for sure — which it’ll get, eighteen months from now. I hope to see you then.
*Charles Hatfield, Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby (University Press of Mississippi, 2012), p. 218.