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.
*SIGH!* So much potential, lost just like that. I truly believe that DC did not know what they had with the “Fourth World” titles. And I sometimes wonder if the cancellation of those books was a blow from which Jack Kirby never truly recovered. He invested so much of himself into Forever People, New Gods and Mister Miracle. They were his most personal, ambitious works… and they were so brutally cut short.
The irony, of course, is that half a century later those comic books by Kirby are now considered to be among the very best material DC Comics ever published, and have been endlessly reprinted. Maybe they were just too ahead of their time. Kirby was a prophet and a trailblazer for the industry.
What’s really sad is that when Jenette Kahn replaced Carmine Infantino as DC’s publisher in 1976, she recognized just how great the Fourth World characters were and had them revived… but by then Kirby was back at Marvel, having become thoroughly disenchanted with DC, and thus was unavailable to write & draw the new comics.
Also, the coincidence of this blog post coming out today doesn’t escape me. Warner Bros just announced that they have no intention of releasing the nearly-finished Batgirl movie that cost them $90 million to make. WB’s current fiscally ruthless top management are instead apparently going to write the whole thing off as a tax break. DC Comics has a literal army of incredible characters… but so often the people who have owned & run the company apparently have had no idea what to do with them, and have made a seemingly endless series of baffling creative & business decisions.
Anyway, thank you for the mention of my article for Back Issue and for the links to my blog. I’m glad you enjoyed those pieces.
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Ben, I saw the newsbite yesterday about the Batgirl movie and am as perplexed as you are. 90 mil might not be much for a blockbuster, but to just write off a movie that can easily be streamed on HBOMax without having to waste money on marketing and such seems backwards and counter-intuitive. Then again, much of what WB has done with their DC properties has seemed backwards and counter-intuitive over the years, so I guess they are as “on-brand” as always.
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I haven’t kept up with this particular situation, but I don’t see why they wouldn’t take a movie that’s already been completed and put it up on HBO Max. I must be missing something. (Then again, Warner Bros has done a lot of crazy stuff over the years, so who knows?)
Yeah, I’ve been reading a little more about it today and according to the NYTimes, the movie wasn’t testing well at all and despite the fact that it was a direct-to-HBOMax film in the first place, the new regime at WB/Discovery were afraid it would taint the DCEU brand (as if that hasn’t already happened). Also the new regime is pushing hard for their DC movies to be big blockbuster tentpoles and Batgirl didn’t fit in with that. Of course, it I were WB, I’d be a lot more worried about the nutbox Ezra Miller has become and what that means for the 200 million dollar Flash movie it took forever to make than a little straight-to-streamer, but what do I know? WB’s record speaks for itself.
Ok, so apparently they can write off the full cost of $90 mil, but only if they trash it completely and don’t use it at all. Tax shenanigans. Bleh.
I suck at making hyperlinks, but here’s a link to the Hollywood Reporter story trying to explain what happened with Batgirl. It’s an interesting read:
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Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the movie was not finished, but was in post-production, which can run up multiple million dollars on its own. On the other hand, even if the movie was really that bad, anything can be saved in post. Test audiences hated Star Wars, but George Lucas saved it in editing.
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The first issue of Forever People that I bought was number 4, so I had seen the pin-up of Infinity Man but knew nothing about him. I remember it coming as a surprise when “Taaru” was shouted and the main cast disappeared, to be replaced by him. It was only much later that I was able to pick up the preceding first three issues and fill in the gaps.
I don’t think, back in ‘72 that I initially realised that this would be the last issue of the comic. As you mentioned, there was no indication on the letters page and I think I thought that we would be entering a period where the young New Gods would explore their new home and we would explore it with them. Alas that never came to pass. I bought the first issue of the DeMatteis/Collins mini-series but it didn’t hook me enough for me to follow that up by buying any more.
Probably best just to cherish the 11 issues of the original series that we have.
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Nope, DC had no idea what they had on their hands with Kirby’s Fourth World and had no idea how to market it or how to appreciate Jack for all that he’d done for the popularity of comics in general. And, to be honest, I doubt that I, as a wide-eyed fourteen year old comics fan had any idea either. To me, the Fourth World books were among the many books I purchased at the time and when DC began cancelling them, well, it wasn’t like they were cancelling Batman or Superman or anything, so I’m sure I figured that, while disappointing, it was no big deal.
I’ve said it before, and others have undoubtedly said it better, but it’s a shame that Jack didn’t live to see how revered and treasured his Fourth World creations have become. They’ve never been popular enough to sustain their own books for any protracted length of time, but they’ve made multiple appearances across the DCU over the years and, of course, Darkseid has become the primary force for evil in both the DCU and the DCEU as well.
So…to Jack Kirby…artist…visionary…legend. In a medium that was never meant to last he’s made an impact that will long surpass his short life and career. To paraphrase the poet, a giant has walked here and we shall never see his like again.
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Considering the abrupt cancellation, it’s an even greater shame that Kirby had to get sidetracked with the Deadman storyline, not that I knew the reasons at the time. Kirby left so much unexplained in Forever People, such as who or what the Infinity Man was, why he was linked to the Forever People, and what was the link between these five that they shared a Mother Box.
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Well done! A great review of a comic book! I didn’t buy this 50 years ago, but I have the tpb of The Forever People, and I read it. But the whole context of Jack Kirby writing one of his last comics for DC about the New Gods Saga was gripping and enlightening, I felt like I was seeing version two of Kirby’s Fantastic Four in the negative zone. The melancholy comes when thinking about how this man’s great ideas wound down in the 70s. Everyone has a peak. Few peak so high.
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Bought all the Kirby Forth World books when they came out. Bought them again when the reprints came out. Bought them again when the collected hard covers came out. Bought several of the non-Kirby forth world series that came after. I’m sure I’ll go to the movies they must eventually make (they must, mustn’t they?). I’ll bet I’m not alone in buying them multiple times. I’d say they made a ton off Jack. So short sighted to cancel those books. They were a gold mine of intellectual property.
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Feel rather bad for what Kirby had to go through, having a big comics project that was all his, no one else to have share credit with, and it all gets kicked out from under him with little warning. Of course, Kirby had many significant ups and downs in his decades-long career in comics, probably more than any other significant creative talent in comics history. Even if his Fourth World saga hadn’t panned out quite as had hoped, it at least made a lasting impression and proved he still had plenty of inventive ideas.
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I get sad at these 11s because it’s the last time Kirby really matters to most of us. The late 70s and Hunger Dogs are OK, but we know it’s the 60s Marvel and the 70s DC that is Jack Kirby’s peak.
If I were to introduce someone to comics, I would give them Fantastic Four 41-50. What would you offer a newcomer to comics?
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That’s a good question, Bill B. I think that it would depend on the person, and what their tastes are in other media. For some readers, FF #41-50 might do the trick (though why not go all the way to #60? 🙂 ). For someone else, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s “From Hell” might be a better choice. And so on.