As I previously covered back in June in my post about the first issue of The Demon, sometime in the first half of 1972 DC Comics requested writer-artist-editor Jack Kirby to come up with a couple of new series concepts to complement the three titles already on his schedule. The results were pitches for what ultimately became The Demon and Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth — and DC liked them a lot. Indeed, from Kirby’s perspective, they may have liked them a little too much.
According to Mark Evanier, one of Kirby’s two assistants at the time, his boss had expected to be able to pass both Demon and Kamandi off to other creative hands after crafting the first two issues of the former and the first one of the latter — but that’s not what DC wanted. As Evanier recalled in his 2008 introduction to The Demon by Jack Kirby trade collection:
Soon after that [i.e., the acceptance of both pitches and the request for Kirby to produce the earliest issues] came two disappointments for Jack, one after the other. First, he was told that the New York office loved the two new books, both of them. Some people there, in fact, loved them a lot more than the Fourth World titles. That was not the disappointment. The disappointment was that they didn’t want anyone but Kirby writing or drawing them. Ergo, there would be no “handing off” to other writers and artists. Disappointment #1.
Disappointment #2 was bigger, much bigger. Two of the Fourth World books — NEW GODS and FOREVER PEOPLE, were “temporarily suspended” to enable Jack to launch both KAMANDI and THE DEMON as monthly titles. Kirby had been around comics long enough to know that “temporarily suspended” almost always means “cancelled, probably forever.” Jack loved the Fourth World he was crafting and suddenly, for all intents and purposes, it was over.
In an earlier interview with John Morrow for The Jack Kirby Collector #6 (Jul., 1995), Evanier spoke about where Kirby was in his workflow for the two books when he received the news of their “temporary suspension”:
I think in the case of each book, he found out in the middle of what became the last issue. I remember when Forever People and New Gods were canceled the same day. He was just devastated. He looked like a man who’d been punched in the face repeatedly. He was very, very hurt.
It’s interesting to consider the idea that Kirby began work on both Forever People #11 and New Gods #11 before knowing they’d be the final issues, since, as we’ll see (both here and in a post on NG #11 coming later this month) he ultimately came up with clearly defined wrap-ups for both series — and in the case of Forever People, a seemingly permanent one.
But in the end, I think it’s considerably more important to remember that when Jack Kirby (aided and abetted as usual by inkier-letterer Mike Royer) turned out these stories, he had recently been — and probably still was — feeling “very, very hurt”.
Also according to Mark Evanier, the “research” credit given to him and Steve Sherman (Kirby’s other assistant) for this story was to make up for them accidentally not having been credited in FP #10 for their contribution to the previous two issues’ “Deadman” storyline.
When the Forever People last encountered Darkseid, in the closing scenes of issue #8, he’d had them at his mercy and let them go. Why has he now decided that they need to be captured? We’re never told the reason — though perhaps if Kirby had been able to spin this story out over several issues, he’d have given us one eventually.
Introduced in issue #9, landlady Trixie Magruder had played a pivotal role in the Forever People’s getting involved with the living spirit of slain circus aerialist Boston Brand, aka Deadman.
Giving up on stopping Devilance’s escape, the police turn back to the Forever People — only to find they’ve vanished. Alas, the young gods of Supertown will never return to Trixie’s boarding house… and neither will we readers.
Remember the Infinity Man? The super-powerful guy who mysteriously changes places with our young heroes when they chant the special word
“Shazam” “Taaru”? Not counting a single pin-up page in the fourth issue, IM has been out of sight ever since the dramatic climax of FP #3; if memory serves, he hasn’t even been mentioned in passing since then. Was Kirby already planning for him to return in issue #11, or was he added only after the creator received that fateful phone call from DC in New York? I’m inclined to suspect the latter, although I don’t believe we’ll ever really know.
The impenetrable barrier that violently repels Infinity Man inevitably recalls the virtually identical one Galactus erected around Earth to trap the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four stories Kirby produced with Stan Lee for Marvel Comics.
Devilance lunges at Mark, but then…
The circuits in Devilance’s, er, lance are quickly able to pick up the trail of “directional signals” left behind by the Forever People’s Mother Box, allowing him to follow them to their next — and if he has his way, their final — destination:
Wow, did the Mother Box take our young friends to Easter Island? Seems so although I can’t guarantee that the two sculptures we glimpse in the panel above are dead ringers for any of the roughly 900 actual moai. In any event, such sculptures represent a theme that Kirby visited on multiple occasions over the course of his long career.
Mark Moonrider talks so much in this issue about his “megaton touch” power — even when he’s not using it — that one might easily forget that it had never been demonstrated, or even mentioned, prior to issue #8.
After Mark’s non-megaton punch sends the Pursuer reeling, Big Bear steps up to take his shot. Unfortunately, the enemy’s weapon programming drags the Forever People’s own “magna-waves” vortex towards its master — resulting in the vortex sweeping up Big Bear and spinning him around prior to bursting, at which point it releases the lance as well as the dazed young god…
The Forever People wander away from the beach towards the island’s interior to ponder their next move. Devilance may be momentarily at their mercy, but what can they do to shut down his continued pursuit short of killing him? As Big Bear reminds his friends, “Our creed is non-violence!”
“Oh, yeah, Infinity Man! Gosh, we haven’t thought about him in, like, ages!”
Desaad has been virtually as consistent and prominent presence in this series as his master, Darkseid; it thus seems entirely appropriate for him to be here at its conclusion.
I’m pretty certain that my fifteen-year-old self was completely taken by surprise upon reaching the end of Forever People #11 and realizing that this really was… The End. There’d been no hint of the series’ impending demise in DC’s “Direct Currents” text pages, or in earlier issues’ letters columns (even this final issue’s column made no mention of the title’s “suspension”, as Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman instead encouraged readers to keep mailing those missives in to “Buzzing in the Boom Tube”). And beyond simple surprise, I was also deeply dismayed. Forever People wasn’t my favorite of the Fourth World books, by any means — it may not have even been my second favorite, after the last two issues (which I’d found disappointing on multiple grounds) — but I was heavily invested in the mythos as a whole, and had been assuming that I’d be reading Kirby’s sprawling, epic account of the god-war between New Genesis and Apokolips for years to come. At this point, of course, I didn’t yet know what would happen with New Gods and Mister Miracle — but for one of the saga’s three core books to go belly-up was obviously a bad sign.
Along with being disappointed by the basic fact of Forever People‘s ending, I was also unhappy with the specific way that Kirby chose to conclude his young gods’ story — a conclusion that, in retrospect, probably reflects the creator’s own feelings of despondency in the wake of the Fourth World’s dissolution. Sure, being exiled forever on a paradisaical planet was a better fate than being blown to smithereens (or whatever it was that happened to Infinity Man and Devilance on page 21). But it still felt like a defeat — as well as a fate from which the FP probably wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon.
And that indeed turned out to be the case. In January, 1976 — a mere three and a half years following the effective end of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World (and right on the heels of Kirby’s returning to Marvel Comics) — DC brought back the New Gods as a feature in the 13th issue of the “tryout” book 1st Issue Special; a year and a half later, the New Gods title itself would resume regular publication, picking up the original series’ numbering with issue #12. Meanwhile, Mister Miracle didn’t stay out of sight even that long; just two months after what was left of his title finally gave up the ghost with its 18th issue (published in November, 1973), Scott Free was teaming up with Batman in The Brave and the Bold #112. Then, following a special guest appearance in the aforementioned 1st Issue Special #13 (as well as another turn in BatB), the “Super Escape Artist” was once again be headlining his own magazine, with Mister Miracle #19 reaching stands in June, 1977.
But the Forever People? Through all these developments, they remained out of sight — and judging by the available evidence, out of mind, as well.
What was it that made the young gods of Supertown so unappealing to DC’s editorial staff and creative personnel in the late Seventies? I suspect it had mostly to do with the same thing that made them distinctive (if not necessarily popular) in the early Seventies — their clear affinity with the youth-driven counterculture of those years, and of the latter Sixties that immediately preceded them. Perhaps by 1976-77, the whole idea of “cosmic hippies” seemed quaint, at best — and at worst, kind of dumb.
But it was of course that very affinity with the cultural moment of the late ’60s-early ’70s that would ultimately inspire the title’s ultimate revival in a six-issue 1988 miniseries. Written by J.M. DeMatteis, with art by Paris Cullins and Karl Kesel, this project was conceived as “a kind of superhero version of the movie The Big Chill” (as DeMatteis put it to my friend Ben Herman for the latter’s very informative and entertaining article on the revival, published in Back Issue #104 [Jun., 2018]). Readers learned how the Forever People had aged and changed on the seemingly idyllic planet Adonn in the decade-and-a-half since we’d last seen them — how they’d undergone “yuppiefication”, more or less. But though the miniseries leaned heavily into the changes that come with age (as well as the changes that occurred in American society between 1972 and 1988), by the story’s end the Forever People had been restored to their youthful selves, as well as released from their exile on Adonn — a development that made them available to appear in other, later takes on the Fourth World, including the second and third volumes of New Gods, the second volume of Mister Miracle, John Byrne’s Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, and Walt Simonson’s Orion.
And, ultimately, to be killed off by writer-artist Jim Starlin in the 2007-08 miniseries Death of the New Gods, apparently at the hands of… the Infinity Man. (To which your faithful blogger can only say: Booooo.)*
Of course, even that wasn’t the end of the Forever People, because, you know, Flashpoint. In the universe-wide reboot that followed that particular DC crossover event, the FP were brought back in new incarnations, courtesy of writers Keith Giffen and Dan DiDio (Giffen also drew the book). Infinity Man and the Forever People debuted in June, 2014, ran for nine issues, and… well, I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything else about this one, since — like with so many of DC’s other “New 52” offerings — I never bought or read a single issue. Still, if you’re curious, our old pal Ben Herman can once again fix you up — this time courtesy of his blog — in two posts you’ll find here and here.
With all of the changes that the DC Universe has gone through in the last six years or so, I have no clue whether this post-Flashpoint version of the Forever People — or any version, for that matter — is currently alive and kicking. But even if the group is currently moribund, I have no doubt that the imperatives of Intellectual Property law will eventually decree their return — hopefully in an incarnation that honors the vision of Jack Kirby, though at this point it seems clear that no one else’s version will ever match, let alone eclipse, his. And that’s probably the way that it should be.
In any case, while we’re waiting, we can at least enjoy perusing this “Beautiful Dreamer” sketchbook, featuring the work of a dazzling variety of artists, that has been made available online for all to enjoy by its owner: Ben Herman. (Y’know, I’m beginning to see a pattern here…)
*I continue to be utterly confounded by the fact that Starlin — who drew so fruitfully on the inspiration of Kirby’s Fourth World for his own creations of Thanos, Mentor, Starfox, and the other denizens of Titan at Marvel Comics — could be so lacking in sympathy for and understanding of some of his inspiration’s core themes and characters… but I guess that’s just how it goes, sometimes.