As was related in our post about Forever People #11 at the beginning of this month, Jack Kirby is reputed to have already begun work both on that comic and on New Gods #11 when he received word from DC Comics that those two issues would be the last for both titles. The official word was that the two series were being “temporarily suspended”; but Kirby seems to have known that this was truly the end for both of his cherished creations, at least for the foreseeable future.
While we’ll probably never know just how far the writer-artist had already gotten in plotting, drawing, or scripting either comic, there can be no doubt that he made whatever adjustments were necessary to be able to provide the readers of both Forever People and New Gods with not just one last adventure of the series’ titular heroes, but with an ending for each. In the case of Forever People, Kirby quite literally took his characters off the field, transporting them across the cosmos to an idyllic planet far from the battlefront between the warring god-worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips.
But that approach would hardly do for the core title of the entire Fourth World enterprise, New Gods. The conflict between the series’ primary protagonist, Orion of New Genesis, and his ultimate enemy, Darkseid of Apokolips, was too central to the epic as a whole to be fully resolved in New Gods #11 — unless its architect really did want to make this comic the once-and-for-all finale of the storyline that his fans had followed through four different titles since the summer of 1970. And it seems (at least to this reader) that Jack Kirby wasn’t quite yet ready to give up completely on the most personal project of his career. After all, the last of the Fourth World titles, Mister Miracle, was at this point scheduled to continue; and even if Kirby had been directed by DC to excise virtually every aspect of “Fourth-Wordliness” from the series’ storylines going forward, as appears to be the case, that state of affairs might change in the future. And even if it didn’t — the twenty-two pages allotted to Kirby (and inker Mike Royer) for the final installment of New Gods simply didn’t provide enough room to conclude his complex, sprawling saga in the manner such an occasion demanded.
Still, while Kirby couldn’t provide New Gods with as definite and final an ending as he had Forever People, that didn’t mean he couldn’t bring some important plot lines to a point of climax, and resolve them in a way that felt like, if not the ultimate conclusion to his epic narrative, then at least a satisfying finale to what we (and perhaps he) might have optimistically thought of as “Book One”. And to keep our appetites whetted for Book Two — and to prove, without obvious effort, that he still had plenty of story left to tell — he included a few jaw-dropping revelations in this last-for-now chapter (the cover blurb “A Shocking Secret Revealed!!” was be no means hype) to leave us all with the impression that, even after two years, we had thus far only glimpsed a fragment of the Fourth World mythos — that, like an iceberg, much more remained unknown to us, hidden beneath the surface of the imagination of the King of Comics…
“Darkseid and Sons!” Kirby makes it clear straight from his story’s title (which we’ve also seen on the cover, of course) that he’ll be breaking new ground in this one. While Darkseid’s status as the sire of Orion had been, for all practical purposes, an open secret beginning with issue #1 — prior to being explicitly spelled out in issue #7’s monumental “The Pact!” — this is the first inking we’ve had that he might have other progeny, let alone that we may have already met them.
Of course, it’s pretty clear from the get-go who Darkseid’s other son has to be; even without the broad hints offered by the first page’s opening narration, there really aren’t any other candidates besides Kalibak. But why hasn’t the relationship been acknowledged in the character’s previous appearances — which, like Orion’s, go back to issue #1? That’s the mystery.
While Kalibak has displayed few personal attributes in his previous appearances other than savagery and brutality, the suggestion made here that he has a code of honor (even if only a very rough one) reminds us that, at the end of the day, he is still a god. On the other hand…
Maybe Kalibak honestly intends to take Commissioner Kiernan’s message to “those who fight for Apokolips and New Genesis” some time or another, when he gets around to it. But as we’re about to see, all he’s up for doing right now is heading straight back to the apartment of private detective Dave Lincoln, so that he can resume hostilities with Lincoln’s pal, Orion. That puts the city of Metropolis right back in the jam it was in in issue #8 before Sergeant Dan “Terrible” Turpin took Kalibak down with a massive electrical jolt, and doesn’t make Kiernan look very smart. But, of course, if Kalibak didn’t get free somehow, we wouldn’t have much of a story to discuss in this post…
The previous issue of New Gods had ended with Orion and Lightray in the company of Forager, a “Bug” of New Genesis who’d been introduced in issue #9. But there’s no sign of Forager when we rejoin the two New Genesis “Eternals” (as Forager called them) in issue #11, which could lend credence to the idea floated by some that Kirby had been pressured by DC to shoehorn the “Bug” two-parter into his ongoing storyline. Conversely, it may just mean that for Kirby to give New Gods the kind of finale he wanted within twenty-two pages, he needed to pare away every character and subplot that wasn’t completely essential to that story.
As the scene at Dave Lincoln’s place continues, Orion demonstrates what he’d like to do to Darkseid by destroying an old college athletic trophy of his host’s with his bare hands. (Yeah, he’s not what you’d call a great houseguest.). Then another of our hero’s Earth friends, Claudia Shane, rushes in to tell the guys the news that Kalibak has escaped from jail. (Apparently, Commish Kiernan has opted not to tell the press that he basically let the guy go.) Lightray proceeds to caution Orion that though the moment of action he’s been waiting for may have arrived at last, it should be met “without witless ferocity.”
Pretty chilling stuff all around… but also entirely consistent with what we saw of the Apokoliptican royal court in “The Pact!”
Left unanswered is the question of whether Kalibak himself knows who his father is; my personal guess would be that he doesn’t, since he’s never mentioned it, and he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could or would keep such information to himself.
Speaking of Kalibak… arriving at Dave Lincoln’s apartment building, he announces his presence with a punch to the exterior front wall that sends a tremor through the whole structure. Lightray immediately flies out the window to meet him, despite Orion’s warning that he alone is no match for their foe…
Orion has been watching all this from Dave Lincoln’s window, unable to interfere due to “the ‘combat code’ of warriors” — but once poor Lightray stops moving, he’s free to go into action. As Orion heads out the apartment’s door, Lincoln wishes him luck: “Give that lump of hair and muscle the full treatment!”
This is the first time we’ve seen Willie Walker go into action as the Black Racer in a Jack Kirby comic since New Gods #4, although he’s made an appearance since then in Lois Lane #115, and the Racer showed up sans Willie in the “Fastbak” backup feature in NG #8.
As the Black Racer flies towards the scene, the battle between Orion and Kalibak begins…
Stunned by Kalibak’s unexpectedly potent energy blasts, Orion is unable to resist, or even move, as his enemy proceeds to literally drop a building on him:
Kiernan appears convinced that the Metropolis PD will soon have the situation under control, but Dave Lincoln is unwilling to wait, and so exits the patrol car…
Did Kirby in fact intend for this to be the last we’d ever see of Desaad, perhaps the second greatest villain he’d invented for the Fourth World? Maybe… on the other hand, things weren’t always quite what they appeared with the Omega Effect, as readers of Forever People #6 and #7 would already have known.
Back at the scene of the battle, a familiar arm claws upwards from beneath the rubble of the destroyed building…
Orion has never spoken of his parentage on panel before now, nor has anyone else discussed it in his presence. From the way he speaks here, one might think that he’s known the truth for some time; but, as we’ll see by the story’s end, it’s a bit more complicated than that…
It seems unlikely that, had Kirby been allowed to continue with his epic, he would have opted to reveal the secret of the fraternal bond between Orion and Kalibak, just to kill the latter off a mere fifteen pages later. But as it is, the death of Kalibak provides a suitably significant climactic event on which to close this “first volume” of New Gods, as well as a way to dramatically underscore the thematic importance of Orion’s new self-awareness. New Gods #11 may not be the greatest issue ever of this title — it might not even make the top five — but at this point in Kirby’s storyline, it’s hard to imagine how he could have crafted a better final issue.
Of course, back in August, 1972, my fifteen-year-old self didn’t know that this was the final issue of New Gods — at least, not with iron-clad certainty. There was, after all, no word of farewell at the bottom of page 22; nor was there any notice of the book’s “suspension” given in #11’s letter column. But much as with the conclusion of Forever People #11, it wasn’t hard to infer the truth from the tone of the final story panel; that, and the lack not only of a blurb teasing the next issue’s story hook, but even of the usual “Next issue on sale on or about [date]” bottom-of-the-page slug that appeared in most DC comics of this era. Instead, the book’s very last panel promoted one of Kirby’s brand new titles — in this instance, Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, the first issue of which would be going on sale at the end of the month, just twelve days after the release of New Gods #11.*
Naturally, however, even if I couldn’t immediately be dead certain that New Gods and Forever People were both gone as of their eleventh issues, within a couple of months time, when no FP or NG #12 arrived on stands, the jig was obviously up. Even so, I’m not sure I gave up completely on the Fourth World epic continuing under Jack Kirby, even in a severely truncated form, until the twelfth issue of Mister Miracle rolled around. That issue wasn’t the first to be virtually devoid of content related to the New Genesis-Apokolips conflict (that would have been #10), but as the first such following the disappearance of the other two Fourth World titles, it sent a clear message.
Still, even defining “Fourth World” the way I do (which, to be clear, requires at least some connection to the New Genesis-Apokolips war in the story’s plot, however small), the very end of the Fourth World According To Jack Kirby wouldn’t come along until Mister Miracle #18, which DC published in November, 1973. For that reason, I’ve decided to postpone my comments regarding the overall creative legacy of the entire uncompleted epic until I write my post about that issue, fifteen months from now.
However, I’ve decided to go ahead and share a few thoughts now about how and why the Fourth World “failed” (commercially speaking), since, from a historical perspective, the cancellations of Forever People and New Gods truly did signify the end of the project. I should note at the outset that I have no special knowledge concerning these matters; these are simply my own opinions, inspired by some fifty-two years of experience as a Fourth World fan, and considerably fewer years (seven, as of last month) as a comic book history researcher/blogger.
Plenty of comic book series — more than a few of them fan favorites — have failed in the marketplace over the decades. But the end of the Fourth World seems to generate more consternation, and conjecture, than most others combined. It seems that for at least some of those who love the project, it was so ambitious and special, and showed so much promise, that there just has to be more to its untimely termination than simply “poor sales”. But does there, really?
Let’s start with the notion that DC Comics — or, more specifically, DC’s president and publisher, Carmine Infantino, deliberately sabotaged the Fourth World titles. The theory here is that all Infantino really wanted was to hurt DC’s arch-rival, Marvel Comics, by “stealing” their top creative talent away from them; as far as Kirby’s new DC work was concerned, Infantino was either indifferent or even actively hostile, due to the fact that he didn’t really respect Kirby’s talent. Rather, he (like several others at DC), thought that Kirby’s artwork was “ugly”, or at least not quite up to DC’s supposedly higher standards.
Your humble blogger has to admit there there seems to be something to the idea that Infantino didn’t quite “get” Kirby — at least, not as a visual artist. There would appear to be few other reasons why DC would promote the coming of the King in the summer of 1970 with blurbs in house ads and on the comics themselves that invoked his name — and then, as early as with the second new Kirby comic released by DC, send a book out under a cover by Neal Adams rather than one by Kirby himself. Additionally, there’s the company’s practice of routinely having Kirby’s Superman and Jimmy Olsen faces routinely redrawn by another artist (usually Murphy Anderson).
Still, it’s quite some distance from acknowledging a likely aesthetic disconnect between Infantino and Kirby to concluding that the former wanted the latter’s books to fail. Besides the fact that Infantino himself denied the charge on multiple occasions, it simply doesn’t make any sense, business-wise. Why wouldn’t you want to damage Marvel and sell more of your own company’s comics at the same time? I have to believe that if Infantino had actually been that cavalier about spending corporate money to publish and promote books he didn’t want to see succeed, he would have been let go by Warner Communications a lot earlier than 1976.
A more reasonable theory than “DC killed the Fourth World out of spite” (at least in my view) is the proposition that “the sales weren’t really all that bad”, which has a number of variations. One version of this thesis holds that the Fourth World books, as well as other fan-favorite titles like Green Lantern, were victims of affidavit return fraud, a dishonest practice that had evolved within the old newsstand distribution system that allowed distributors to return unsold copies to the publishers for credit. By the early ’70s, the distributors could simply send in an affidavit saying that they’d shredded their unsold copies, rather than physically shipping them back, as had previously been the procedure. It was an honor system that some distributors appear to have defrauded by claiming to have destroyed comics which they’d in fact sold directly to enterprising comics dealers and collectors. This would inevitably skew the sales reports used by DC and other companies to gauge a title’s success, since they’d be assuming that a certain percentage of their publications’ runs had gone unsold, when in fact the books had been sold and were now either residing in the collections of happy fans, or sitting in a dealer’s inventory at marked up prices, awaiting future resale).
That this practice occurred at least occasionally seems to be an incontrovertible fact; it’s been attested to by at least one veteran dealer who was there at the time, Robert Beerbohm, who has written widely on the topic (beginning with an article in Comic Book Artist #6 [Fall, 1999]). What’s considerably less clear is the extent to which the fraudulent “secret” selling went on, and whether it was widespread enough that it could have directly impacted the decision-making of publishers regarding whether it was worthwhile to continue producing a given title. Based on the research your humble blogger has done (which I’ll admit may be woefully incomplete), it seems unlikely that we’ll ever have a definite answer to that question.
A related theory holds that maybe the sales expectations for the Fourth World titles were simply too high — that DC was expecting numbers comparable with those of Kirby’s books at Marvel, Fantastic Four and Thor, just prior to his 1970 departure. Believing this, they gave the early issues of the books huge print runs, and when the percentage of copies sold was less than they anticipated, they took a bath. The key idea here is that the sales were probably basically fine — comparable to a mid-level DC comic, perhaps — but the print run miscalculations made them look like losers. Again, this theory seems quite plausible; but, also again, with no official sales figures for Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle ever having been released by DC, the full truth will probably never be known.
This is probably a good place to point out that the Fourth World titles were hardly unique among the new DC comics of this era in being cancelled (or in the case of Mister Miracle, forced into taking a different direction) before they’d had even a dozen issues released. Beginning with Carmine Infantino’s ascension to the position of Editorial Director circa 1967-68, the venerable company had shown considerable innovation in its publishing schedule, releasing such offbeat projects as Secret Six, Beware the Creeper, Anthro, and Bat Lash. But then, after having greenlit such risky titles, Infantino routinely seemed to quickly lose faith in them when they didn’t become sales smashes right out of the gate; of the four titles listed above, none lasted more than seven issues. Viewed in that context, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World titles might be considered more fortunate than a number of their boundaries-pushing peers.
The observation that the Fourth World books weren’t alone in ending much sooner than their fans would wish brings me back to the question I asked back at the beginning of these ruminations, to wit: Does there have to be an explanation for why they didn’t last, other than that they didn’t sell well enough to satisfy the powers-that-were at DC in 1972? I touched on this point in my post about the last issue of the Denny O’Neil-Neal Adams Green Lantern back in February, but if you’ll allow me the indulgence of repeating myself: Can’t we all think of examples in other media — movies, TV, record albums, books, etc. — where work that’s been critically lauded and/or found a small but devoted fandom hasn’t met with a commensurate amount of commercial success? Surely, if any project faced a tough challenge in the American comic book marketplace of 1972 — a marketplace that was still dominated by a young, casual readership, rather than the committed and relatively older fan audience that would dominate the comics industry following the rise of the direct market, several years later — it was an interlocking tetralogy of four less-than-monthly titles, all but one of which featured brand new characters (most of whom were alien gods from outer space).
It’s especially interesting to me that so many of the Fourth World’s most ardent devotees (a class to whom your humble blogger likes to think he belongs) find it so hard to account for the fact of the project’s untimely end, given that a segment of comics fandom has never really warmed to the whole thing. There’s a certain class of fan who, while being great admirers of the work Kirby did in collaboration with Stan Lee at Marvel, don’t much care for the Fourth World books; they find the dialogue too stilted or the characters too remote (perhaps both), or they may consider the work to be seriously flawed in some other way. You can find their opinions in comics fan groups on Facebook and in other contemporary online forums, just as easily as you can in the letters columns of the original Fourth World comics themselves; perhaps they represent a minority of those who’ve read the work (and perhaps they don’t), but they most definitely do exist, now as well as then. Personally, I can’t help but feel that those fans are (and were) missing out on something great; but at the end of the day, you can’t make somebody else care for what they don’t like, just because you like it. To each their own, and all that jazz.
So, if I may, I’d like to recommend to my fellow fans of the Fourth World that we collectively spend a little less time mourning the fact that we never got to see Jack Kirby’s greatest work in its fully completed form, and a bit more time appreciating the fact that we got as much of it as we did. Beyond that, let’s be grateful that Jack Kirby himself was able to realize as much of his creative vision as he did; say what else you will about Carmine Infantino, but without him, the gods of New Genesis and Apokolips might never have had a life outside of the King of Comics’ imagination beyond the few presentation boards he put together in the late 1960s.
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World may be an unfinished symphony, but even incomplete, it continues to thrill, move, and inspire new readers in each generation. In my humble opinion, that’s a legacy worth celebrating.
*I hope that no one who has enjoyed my posts about Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics will be too disappointed to learn that I won’t be writing about Kamandi here. As regular readers know, I try to keep this blog focused on the comics I actually bought and read fifty years ago, and I’m afraid I only ever bought one issue of the title (the first one). At the time, I thought it was just OK — well enough written and drawn for what it was, but not compelling enough to bring me back for the next issue. Part of my problem with the book was simply that it didn’t have anything to do the Fourth World (that was of course the point, but my fifteen year old self didn’t know that, and I’m not sure I would have cared if I did). The other part was that it seemed to be a blatant knockoff of Planet of the Apes, a franchise of which I was in fact a huge fan, but didn’t care to see imitated, even by the King of Comics.
I’ve since come to understand that the latter rap wasn’t really fair to Kirby (not that the first one was, either) — that, even though he had indeed been asked by DC publisher Carmine Infantino to work up something in the PotA vein, the material he ultimately produced not only diverged from that basic concept in ways more significant than “other animals besides apes have evolved, too!”, but also incorporated ideas that the creator had had for over a decade, independently of Planet of the Apes.
In addition to that point, I’ve read and heard enough praise of the Kamandi series over the years by people whose opinions I respect to make me believe that I really missed the boat (or should I say life raft?), back in 1972 — an error I intend to rectify by reading the whole series from beginning to end, one of these first days. Unfortunately, none of the above provides me with a time machine I can use to go back and tell my younger self to buy Kamandi, for crying out loud, so that I can write about it a half century later.
In the end, all I can say is: I’m sorry, Last Boy on Earth; it wasn’t you, it was me.
Can’t help but think of this as a sort of obituary for Kirby’s dream. Not his first disappointment but seems to have been the most painful for him, particularly after nearly a decade of launching several successful series at Marvel and earning the nickname “the King of Comics”, even if that was as much due to Lee’s love of alliterative or rhyming nicknames for his collaborators and “King” fit with Kirby so well — if he’d spent the ’60s entirely working for DC, even if he’d been very successful, he likely wouldn’t have gotten that nickname because DC editors simply didn’t do that sort of thing. Joe Kubert never became known as Joltin’ Joe or King Kubert – he was just Joe Kubert. Still, Kirby had built a great reputation and got a lot of attention and high expectations when he switched to DC and had a multi-series epic he wanted to tell, something entirely new and of his own conception. And it came crashing down with little warning. Still, as you said, it could have ended months earlier.
I confess, I only ever got a few issues of New Gods, long after it was first published, and while I liked it well enough, I didn’t feel compelled to seek out the whole thing. And 50 years ago, I was still only getting only about 5 or 6 comics a month and I’d already long since become a dedicated Marvelite, shelling out my coins exclusively for Marvel titles and I didn’t start to purchase other comics companies’ products until 1981, although my brother purchased a few DC & Harvey comics, including Kamandi and OMAC so I read those when he was done with them.
As to which of the possible scenarios may have doomed the Fourth World titles, seems that will remain a mystery with apparently little available surviving evidence to clearly verify any of them. In Mark Evanier’s overview of Infantino’s years as publisher of DC on his website, seems Infantino was under a lot of pressure from both the Warner executives he had to answer to as well as the distributors, which may explain why he felt compelled to axe some series that weren’t doing as well as expected. The comics business could be pretty harsh but particularly in the era before the internet or even magazines devoted to revealing many of the ins and outs of the business, comics fans could only speculate as to why a particular series was cancelled or why a writer or penciller or inker whose work we loved was switched out for someone whose work we liked much less.
As always, enjoy reading your reviews and discussions of these half-century old classics, Alan.
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I feel bad for Jack. Imagine toiling away for years, not getting the credit he felt he deserved at Marvel, only to finally get that credit for his magnum opus at DC and have it whither on the cancellation vine, due to apathy on the part of the suits and lack of sales on the part of many of the readers. I don’t remember exactly how active I was as a comics reader in ’72. I was tied to the spinner rack of the local Jr. Food Mart and whatever I could find there, which apparently wasn’t much, and didn’t really get voracious about reading everything until the arrival of both my drivers license and the brick and mortar comic shops a few years later, but I know I didn’t read all of the 4th World stuff when it came out. I think that wasn’t because I didn’t like it or “get” it, but probably instead that I put a greater premium on the Superman/Batman/Spider-man books I wanted to get as opposed to Orion and company, which in ’72, I found cluttered and confusing. I think this probably had a lot to do, once I decided I wanted to see my own work in print, with my decision to push in more of a “self-published” direction. Jack was a great cautionary tale to any creator who didn’t want to see his work knee-capped by uncaring market forces and economic reality. I didn’t really have much luck in the self-publishing market either, but my failures on that end were my own and not due to anyone else.
Anyway…if the Fourth World had to leave us, at least it went out with a bang! Whatever bitterness Kirby may have felt over losing his passion project, it certainly couldn’t be seen in the story or art. To me, the news that Kalibak was also Darkseid’s kid was anti-climactic and certainly not as shocking as the history outlined in “The Pact,” no matter how much Jack might have intended it to be. When you really parse it out, there’s not much story here at all. The humans have captured Kalibak and then let him go (there were probably some real human rights violations to be discussed about keeping him in that small cage) and rather than do what he promised, he takes off straight to continue his fight with Orion. Kirby doesn’t really tease Kalibak’s new powers enough to make me curious about where they came from and the fact that Desaad is going behind his master’s back seems a little out of character for someone whose been such a lickspittle up to now. Anyway, I was much more shocked by the death of Desaad than I was the parentage of Kalibak. Desaad had been around since issue one, and I cared about him. As far as I was concerned, Kalibak was just another mindless Fourth World villain; cosmic cannon fodder, here today and gone tomorrow, until Kirby decided he needed him again.
Thanks for the thoughful analysis, Alan. Shame on you for not reading Kamandi, though. I agree it initially came across as a Planet of the Apes rip-off, but I enjoyed it and I’m pretty sure I bought every one of them.
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Thanks for another insightful review. Unfortunately I did not buy NG 11 at this time 50 years ago. I believe I finally picked up NG 10 and 11 at a conics convention about 9 or 10 years later. My comments are really more from a historical perspective. I have read several interviews with Carmine Infantino where he is extremely defensive about his decision to cancel the New Gods and Forever People. He claimed that sales of the books were good at first but then the numbers started “trending downwards.” I’m not really sure what that means since I don’t believe he ever quoted actual numbers, just percentages. In another interview, he claimed that the New Gods was selling ok with the over 15 and college age audiences but not with a younger audience. Was Carmine getting pressure from upper management to cancel a certain number of titles in 1972? It is certainly possible. And as you point out, Carmine could pull the plug on books a bit capriciously (as in 1969). I agree with you that Carmine most likely did not act with malice towards Kirby, but I also believe that while he understood he had an important commodity in Kirby, he did not understand what a passion project the Fourth World was for Kirby. It also seems very unfair to have put such high expectations on Kirby’s new books. If you examine closely it took a while for Fantastic Four and Thor to evolve into the successes they became. That did not happen overnight. Carmine did not even give the New Gods and Forever People 2 full years. Were the sales really that bad? I guess we’ll never know. There appear to be 2 additional factors which Kirby had no control over: 1) DC had a different, younger audience than Marvel; and 2) In 1972 and onward, DC was in significant financial trouble. Regarding the first point, most people today would find it hard to believe, but there were different audiences for comics 50 and more years ago (today it seems to be all the same…an older audience). Most DC comics were aiming for a younger audience. There were some progressive DC comics in 1970-1972, but with the cancellation of GL/GA, and numerous other changes, books like Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Superman, Action had simpler (and sometimes sillier) stories. Sorry but it’s true. Stories like in NG 6-8 may have been too rough for a younger audiences and it’s been strongly implied that Mike Royer’s inking good as it was may also have been “not as commercial” as inking by a Joe Sinnott or Vince Colletta. We’ll never know. Regarding the second point, most likely because of the insistence in holding the 25 cent price on their comics into 1972, DC was in trouble. GL had been one of DC’a most popular characters and was cancelled in early 72. The Flash went bimonthly (always a sign of sales trouble) in June 1972. Jimmy Olsen without Kirby also went bimonthly in June 1972. In this month August 1972, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest (where the concept of Superman team-ups was suddenly dropped) and JLA all went bimonthly. By the end of the year Teen Titans would be cancelled and by spring of 1973 Detective Comics starring Batman would go bimonthly. DC made the strange move of spinning off Supergirl into her own book which only lasted about a year. There are probably more examples but the point is, DC was in trouble and Marvel was not only exceeding DC in sales, they were now beginning to add many new titles very quickly to compete with DC. In the early 70s there really was no other place for Jack to go other than DC but it appears to have been a difficult place for him which is a shame. It seems that Carmine just thought that Jack could just plug into 2 other books (Demon and Kamandi) and It would not be a big deal. In the sense that Jack was a total professional that was probably true, but something was lost because we’ll never know exactly where Jack wanted to take the New Gods. It’s too bad Carmine didn’t give Jack another year or so. I’m sorry to say that I missed the Demon entirely; I did find your review of Demon 1 very interesting. As to Kamandi, I “discovered” Kamandi in 1973 and I read the first 7 or 8 issues but while I thought the art was fine I found myself losing interest in the story so dropped it. It does seem that Kamandi worked for younger audiences and does seem to have been Jack’s mot successful book at DC.
One last comment: Happy 40th Anniversary to 2 Darkseid related classics! The Great Darkness Saga In Legion Superheroes 290-294 (LSH 293 came out in August 1982), and The Uncanny X-Men/New Titan teamup which came out in August 1982 and featured Darkseid as the main antagonist. There are not many creators who have gotten Darkseid right since Kirby, but Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, Chris Claremont and Walt Simonson rose to the occasion and those stories are pretty great. If you haven’t read them, you should…they should be available in trades or paperback. That’s a pretty amazing legacy right there.
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“… those stories are pretty great.” No arguments there!
The X-Men/Teen Titans team-up was my introduction to Darkseid and the Fourth World mythos. Great issue.
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The Great Darkness Saga was my intro to the former Big Bad and I can’t be the only one who wishes the Teen Titans/X-Men special had been the last of him. Darkseid isn’t as ubiquitous as the Joker or Thanos but the grandeur he had is long gone. Now he might as well be Mongul, a character who’s been jobbed and overexposed so much you have no doubt he’ll be overcome and rather easily. You don’t believe he could win or at least leave horrifying damage behind in losing as I did when one person believably stood toe to toe with teh Legion and every single ally of theirs.
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I think Evanier or Morrow has said that Levitz looked up the sales for the Fourth World books and reported back that they were about mid-tier sellers at the time.
While I wish Infantino would have given them more of a chance to build an audience (Evanier has pointed out that Conan the Barbarian would likely have been cancelled by Infantino since the sales for the first year or so were weak), to try to see things from Carmine’s perspective — he didn’t bring Jack Kirby over from Marvel, give him unprecedented editorial control for an artist and their highest page rates to get a mid-tier seller. When you roll out that kind of red carpet, you expect boffo box office and unfortunately, the books never provided that level of financial return.
jmhanzo, I take your point about Kirby’s high page rate, but I’m not sure we can say that he had “unprecedented editorial control for an artist”. Infantino himself had been an artist prior to becoming an executive at DC (Art Director, then Editorial Director, then Publisher), and he’d also hired artists as editors in the late ’60’s, e.g., Dick Giordano, Joe Orlando, and Joe Kubert. (I don’t believe that Giordano or Orlando ever edited their own creative work on any substantial level, but Kubert did.) And Kirby’s “unprecedented editorial control” didn’t extend to being able to draw Superman’s face in Jimmy Olsen without alterations being imposed in the New York offices.
Not absolute control, of course, but name another writer / artist who wasn’t on staff, a “hired gun” if you will, that got the kind of control Jack did — an entire line of books, the right to fire and hire inkers, etc.?
If we’re going to split hairs, I’m not sure that three books constitutes a “line”, given how many new titles DC put out between 1968 and 1975. I’m also pretty sure that if Joe Kubert had wanted to fire himself as inker on Tarzan and hire somebody else, Infantino would have let him. 🙂
My larger point (which perhaps I should have made clearer in my original reply) was that your phrase “unprecedented editorial control” needed some qualification. I agree with your overall observation that Kirby had been given a very special deal, and it was natural that Infantino would have high expectations.
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I just realized that Kubert may not have been the best example to use in my last reply, since he was hardly an outsider (or “hired gun”) when he became an editor — though I do believe he was technically just a freelancer prior to then, rather than a salaried member of DC’s staff. (More splitting hairs, I suppose. 🙂 )
In any case, no need to delve into the level of control — just saying that Infantino was expecting Fantastic Four and Spider-Man sales figures and didn’t get them… and didn’t want to wait and see if Jack could adjust and get there.
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I can attest to the proliferation of Fourth World ‘vouchered’ titles,- in fact, that’s how I originally built my collection of these books. Earlier, I had stopped reading comics around the time I met my high school girlfriend (those two things definitely did not mix well back then). I has a Marvel-only reader and a huge Kirby fan. I recall buying Fantastic Four 100 but none past that, and had no idea that Jack had moved to DC until years later when a college friend who was a comics fan told me. By then I had missed out on the Fourth World – the newsstand I went to provided only the second issues of Kamandi and Demon. But a flea market in New Jersey had multiple vendors selling comics with the covers completely or partially removed. I found every issue there except New Gods 1, I believe. That one I later bought from a dealer. I suspected at the time that these defaced issues were somehow illicit, but knew nothing about the voucher system.
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Everyone is talking like this is the last time Kirby touched these characters pre-Crisis, but that’s not the case. When the series was reprinted in the Deluxe New Gods series in 1984, they added a new last issue after #11 in the sixth issue of that series. Kirby did continue the story, including what happened after Dessad was disintegrated (which he was, but he got better). And then the next year had the Hunger Dogs graphic novel (which had it’s own publication problems).
Personally, back in the early 70s, I did get all of Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen’s, as well as New Gods #1 and Forever People #1. But I was one of the people who was not that impressed (I know; sacrilege!). I was in my early teens at the time, and had not followed Kirby at Marvel.
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I didn’t actually forget about Kirby’s later efforts in the Fourth World mythos, Allen — just opted to postpone mentioning them until next November’s Mister Miracle #18 post 🙂. But thanks for the reminder, anyway!
I read a very interesting article in “Old Gods & New: A Companion To Jack Kirby’s Fourth World” that seemed to point out that many of Jack’s likely intended endings to the Fourth World were done in the pages of Captain Victory. Once you see it all laid out, it seems nearly inarguable.
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I missed Forever People and New Gods on the stands, didn’t like the Demon’s 1st issue and never went back, enjoyed post 4th World Mister Miracle having missed it prior, and just loved Kamandi. I have to admit I have never been much a fan of Kirby’s art and aside from Kamandi and the Etrnals don’t like his writing at all. It’s awkward and stilted and honestly, someone else should have been tasked with naming most of the bad guys. The Big Bad was Dark Side misspelled and the Black Racer was just embarrassing. I was a completist back then but dropped Captain America for his run without reading even its first issue and reading his Black Panther never occurred to me. I can’t even explain why I decided to read Eternals and Machine Man. I know he’s responsible for much of the language of stortelling in modern comics, and his creativity made him one of the two most important people reponsible for Marvel’s success but taste is taste. Don’t even get me started on how I feel about Steve Ditko or Neal Adams.
As a non-American, I knew next to nothing about Kirby’s Fourth World books until the late 1970’s. Sure, I knew he’d left Marvel, gone to DC and then returned with accompanying fanfare, but in the North-West of England of 1972 the chances of encountering an issue of ANY four colour comic – Marvel, DC or even Charlton – was hit and miss at best.
The best place to come across them was in the seaside resort towns where, I guess, the newsagent shops had the best chance of selling them to the children of visiting holiday makers. However, I lived in a small town in Cheshire and visits to the coast were few and far between.
In any event, I was Marvel through and through in those days. This was quite simply because the Odhams (reprint) annuals and, evolving out of those, the UK Marvel weekly black and white reprint comics were all we had access to in that long ago (and, increasingly, halcyon) time.
All of this is a lengthy way of explaining that whilst I have read only a few Fourth World comics over the last fifty years, I have nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed your coverage and analysis of this crucial piece of comics history. In all honesty, I cannot claim to have ever taken to Kirby’s writing, but that doesn’t mean I cannot appreciate what he was trying to achieve and, let’s face it, the artwork pretty much spoke for itself.
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Once Vinnie Colletta stopped inking the Fourth World books, the art turned to mud. Jack Kirby lost much of his edge and Mike Royer didn’t have the chops to fix anything, just trace Kirby’s distorted pencil lines.
Wow, I see it as the exact opposite. Kirby with Royer just explodes off the page, while Colletta’s inks subdue the line variety and boldness that give Jack much of his graphic power as a designer / storyteller. Nevermind the omitting details and all the other shortcuts Vinnie takes…
The one thing I’ll give Vince is that Jack’s faces can sometimes be pretty ugly; he was good at making the attractive people actually look attractive. Royer tried to help out in one of the earliest jobs he ever did for Jack, but Kirby scolded him and Mike never changed a face again.
I think the inking was part of the problem with Kirby’s DCand (1975-’78 Marvel) output.
Kirby was upset that Colleta, early on, showed Marvel some of his DC work. Additionally, he had reached a point where he wanted inkers who didn’t modify his art.
However he also appreciated Sinnott for realizing that pencils and inks were different media and “traslating” Kirby’s pencils into inks.
I think Anderson,,Giordano or some of the “Crusty Bunkers” could have done that . . . if Kirby had been in NYS and everyone were doing it around a table somewhere. Wally Wood had experessed interest in working with Kirby on the Forth World in 1971, I wonder if that would have helped? hey did te last Sandman together in ’75 and it was nice work.
Royer was a talented guy (a Manning AND Anderson protegie) but I thought he taended to use heavy blacks for things that Kirby’s original art indicated a more subtle shading. .
Some of Kirby;s better recieved DC covers were inked by Giacoia (Forever People #1 & Sandman #1), I wonder why there was not more of that.
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This was a difficult read. Very clunky writing and bold italics applied to words at random. Kirby should have been relegated to plotter with a capable writer handling the dialogue.
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And so the saga ends – at least for the next 12 years as Allen has pointed out above. As I have commented before, I’ve spent the last 50 years feeling that I hadn’t understood the whole 4th World project because I had come in late, missed issues and read them out of order. The whole thing just didn’t hang together for me and I thought that it was my failing. I’m so indebted to you Alan for, over the past two years, taking me through the whole saga from its beginnings in 1970 with all the additional insights and information that you don’t get from the comics themselves. I’m content now that the things I didn’t understand were as a result of the story telling, that Jack never got the opportunity to expand and complete his great project and that that is where unease with them came from.
brucesfl mentions above that DC may have been in financial problems around this time. I think he is probably right. Around this time they started to publish a series of all reprint comics starting with The Inferior 5 (of all things!) and Wanted, the World’s most Dangerous Villains. By the end of the year they had added Challengers of the Unknown, Doom Patrol, Four-Star Battle Tale, Johnny Thunder (the western hero), Legion of Super-Heroes, Metal Men and Secret Origins. None of these lasted more than 9 issues, some only lasted two or three. It was as if DC was throwing everything against the wall to see what would stick and sell. I was very happy with this as they were all new stories to me and helped me fill in more gaps in my understanding of DC history. The only one that had any lasting effect would seem to be the Legion one as within a year they would receive almost equal billing and then eventually take over the ongoing Superboy comic. I remember from your previous comments that you never got into the legion but see that you acknowledge the Great Darkness Saga above. Did you buy any of the Superboy comics at the time, drawn by great Dave Cockrum? They remain some my favourite Legion stories because of his stunning art.
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Brian, I’m afraid that the Great Darkness Saga is basically where I came in on LSH, so I did miss Cockrum’s run. I do have much of that material in reprint form, though, and one of these days I’ll get around to reading it — maybe before I tackle Kamandi, maybe after. 😉
The cancellation of “Forever People” and “The New Gods” after issue #11 and of “Mister Miracle” after issue #18 was a pretty bitter experience for me at the time.
I had subscribed to all three titles. Then, surprise, surprise, two get cancelled just as my subscriptions were beginning. I was not at all happy at the turn of events.
Unlike other such happenstances, DC did continue my subscriptions, just changed them to other titles like “The Demon” and “Kamandi”. I never read either of them although I still have all the issues I got through the mail.
Quickly looking through them now leaves me unimpressed. Kirby did not put the effort into those titles that he had put into his Fourth World books or into his Marvel titles when he returned to Marvel in 1975. He was meeting his quota of pages, but not much more than that. Not unlike his period at Marvel between 1968 and 1970, which I thought was his most unproductive time at the company.
Cancellation of a title did not mean it’s demise. Marvel cancelled The Incredible Hulk after only 6 issues in 1963 only to revive the character in the Avengers a few months later and begin a new series in Tales to Astonish in 1964. But that was Marvel, not DC.
I am sure there were loud protests when Forever People and New Gods was cancelled. Kirby had a large and passionate following that was quite vocal. Just check on the Stan Lee vs. Kirby controversy all these years as reference.
Prior to his time at Marvel and even at Marvel, Kirby rarely worked on a title for more than ten issues. Fantastic Four and Mighty Thor were departures from Kirby’s previous practice of starting a comic book, doing the first ten or so issues and then handing it off to others. That happened with Avengers and X-men at Marvel. In the case of Incredible Hulk and Sgt. Fury, even fewer issues. Back in the Golden Age, Simon and Kirby only did the first ten issues of Timely’s big hero, Captain America. Then they got fired.
Ronin Ro, in his bio of Kirby, “Tales to Astonish” asserted that Kirby only intended to start up new comics at DC and then hand them over to others (pg. 149) as had been his usual practice before working at Marvel. It is unlikely Kirby would have done much more Fourth World regardless of DC cancelling or not.
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It’s well established that Kirby hoped to create a sort of “DC West” in California, where he’d create and then edit comics that others would actually write and draw — but it’s also well established that DC was never really serious about letting him do such a thing. So I’m not sure we can conclude that he wouldn’t have gone on writing and drawing the Fourth World books for as long as DC would let him, or until he reached the end of his story, whichever came first. Of course, it’s all speculation, either way. 😉
“Of course, back in August, 1972, my fifteen-year-old self didn’t know that this was the final issue of New Gods — at least, not with iron-clad certainty. There was, after all, no word of farewell at the bottom of page 22; nor was there any notice of the book’s “suspension” given in #11’s letter column.”
A search for “New Gods” on MyComicshop.com reveals some surprising results (at least surprising to me). New Gods #11 was NOT the final issue of the New Gods volume one series. There would be a New Gods #12, #13, #14…all the way to #19. Just that #12 would not appear for nearly five years after #11, cover dated July, 1977, and would have a new writer and new artists and a new title “Return of the New Gods”. Evidently, the revived series also ended abruptly and prematurely, a victim of the DC implosion of 1978. These issues would not be included in the republication of Kirby’s New Gods series in 1984 that would include Kirby’s new final issue “Even Gods Must Die”. Kirby might have been through with the Fourth World, but DC wasn’t.
To me the significance of the 1977 revival of “The New Gods” as “The Return of the New Gods” is that the original cancellation of the Fourth World titles was entirely the doing of Carmine Infantino. He wanted Kirby doing other comics that HE, Carmine Infantino, thought had more promise and appeal. Thus we see Kirby doing a 40 issue run on “Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth” and then exiting DC when his contract expired.
Infantino left DC in 1976 after Kirby went back to Marvel. Jenette Kahn took over as DC Publisher and immediately revived the Fourth World with “Return of the New Gods” with a new writer and new artists, something Infantino could have done, but didn’t because Kirby was still working for DC and he didn’t want to alienate him or his following by doing something like that.
Would Jenette Kahn have gotten Kirby to return to doing Fourth World books if Kirby was still at DC? Was she ever asked? Kirby did 48 Fourth World Comic Books as it was, if you include all the Jimmy Olsen comic books that Kirby did. What would another dozen or so have added to the series?
Last thing. The half page panel at the top of page 16 is an incredible work of art by Kirby. Noone could do a fight between combatants with superpowers like Kirby.
If you were unaware of the follow-on issues, then you are probably also unaware of 1st Issue Special #13, published in April 1976, which featured “The Return of the New Gods”, by Gerry Conway, Denny O’Neil, and Mike Vosburg. See https://www.comics.org/issue/29700/ . At the end of that issue, a text article called “The Story Behind the Story” (likely written by Paul Levitz) proclaims that “Now that we’ve baited your breath for more episodes of the New Gods, we’re going to put the burden on you! We want to produce more stories of the star-spanning races at war, but we can’t unless we can prove to the powers-that-be that enough readers are interested. Sales on this issue and letters of comment determine that. So tell your friends — tell your enemies — buy an extra copy for someone you meet on the street! The more you help the more likely it is that the New Gods will be back!”
It must have worked.
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“Would Jenette Kahn have gotten Kirby to return to doing Fourth World books if Kirby was still at DC? Was she ever asked?”
Jack Kirby was already back under contract with Marvel by the time Kahn came on board at DC in early 1976, so she didn’t have the option of putting him in charge of her late ’70s Fourth World revival. Years later, of course, Kirby did return to DC to do his own version of “New Gods #12” for the 1984 NG reprint series; he followed that with the “conclusion” of the Fourth World saga in the Hunger Dogs graphic novel, published in 1985. All of that happened on Jenette Kahn’s watch, and she deserves kudos for it.
Unfortunately, by that time Kirby was well past the peak of his powers (at least in my humble opinion), and I don’t think that many fans consider those late works to be truly indicative of how he would have ultimately ended the Fourth World, had he been allowed to continue the story in 1972.
While I have no doubt that many comics were impacted by the voucher system scams of the 70s, including Kirby’s and Neal Adams’, I don’t think that excuse can shoulder all the blame — after all, other fanboy favorites popular on the secondary market like Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Conan the Barbarian, etc. never faced cancellation due to weak sales.
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Since this is my last chance to speak on the topic given that there won’t be any future issues of New Gods for Alan to review (why, God, why?!?!), I thought I’d give a synopsis of the potential endings Kirby revealed with analogues in the pages of Captain Victory & The Galactic Rangers as summarized in the pages of Old Gods & New: A Companion to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. I’d like to include all the examples they list out over those two pages, but I also want to promote the book, which I think is extremely worthwhile for any Kirby fan… so get it if you want more!
• Apokolips destroyed New Genesis in a final war, achieving victory over its sister planet.
• Orion managed to forge a presumably peaceful life that included a wife and child before he died. It’s not clear whether he perished killing his father, or the two continued their stand-off to the end.
• Darkseid survived after trying to penetrate the Source Wall, but only in disembodied form, still ruling Apokolips indirectly, with his same crew of lackeys (or their descendants) doing his dirty work.
• Orion’s son somehow ended up on Apokolips (mimicking “The Pact”), being raised and abused in much the same way Scott Free had been as a child.
• The Forever People’s communal Mother Box evolved into a giant sentient computer on Apokolips, before helping Orion’s son escape and destroying the planet, using the Anti-Life Equation.
• Mister Miracle (typically) escaped the destruction of New Genesis and survived to old age (although Big Barda perished), and was able to train Orion’s son, thereby continuing the legacy set forth when Jack’s Thor mythology gave way to the Fourth World. Thus, Kirby set up the promise of yet another new generation of gods taking over from the old.
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For whatever reason, I dropped “Captain Victory” after the sixth issue — which meant I missed all this when it first came out, and didn’t realize it existed until I read about it in Morrow’s book. Fascinating stuff!
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Tragically, Jack’s eye problems had worsened quite a bit by this point, impacting his depth perception and his artwork. I also think that while his ideas and concepts were still phenomenal, his panel to panel writing is harder to understand and enjoy as well.
If only he could have done this stuff in his prime. Or if he could have kept his skills until his passing, as Kubert and Eisner did. Alas!
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In some sense, Kirby began the story in the Mercury strip in Capatin America #1 in 1940 and kept telling it through CPT Victory in the 1980s.
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