Today is the anniversary of the birth of Jack "King" Kirby and I can think of no better time to take another look at the series which produced the finest work of his long career. Let's begin.
The blazing heart of the Fourth World saga is here, in the pages of New Gods. It is here that the war is front and center and waged by the most ferocious warrior in New Genesis, the enigmatic and unrelenting Orion. There is a secret at the center of the war between New Genesis and Apokolips and that secret is the twin origins of Orion and Scott Free. Orion fights for New Genesis but we quite soon that he is born of Apokolips. He is a god of two worlds and his nature is torn between them, though not his loyalties. As we see the choices made by Orion are the choices which will determine the outcome of this most cosmic of conflicts.
was originally to called Orion
and that makes enormous sense of course since his story is the center of the action. But the new title does allow latitude for other characters to be explored such as what happened later with the Black Racer. In this issue the fundamental structure of the great war is established with Orion, Lightray, Metron and Highfather being introduced and Darkseid getting a focus, although he is not seen directly. Kalibak gets to do the kudos when Orion invades Apokolips to save four Earth people who have been kidnapped so their minds can be searched for the Anti-Life Equation. When Orion saves them they head to Earth and that sets up the coming issues as Orion is now Earth's primary protector against Darkseid's forces. The most peculiar thing about the structure of this debut story is that it begins with an "Epilogue" that depicts the last great war that destroyed the old gods. It's pretty clearly the other side of Ragnarok shown sometimes in the pages of The Mighty Thor
Darkseid is front and center in the second issue. We see more of him and we all but learn that he has a direct connection to Orion. The scene with Darkseid quietly sitting in a living room chair is terrifying in its own way. It's pretty clear that Orion is Darkseid's son, but that is not directly stated. Desaad, who go on to play a crucial role in The Forever People is on hand and his devious invention to spread fear among the populace of Earth, as a means to ferret out the Anti-Life Equation. Orion is assisted in this issue by the four humans he saved before -- Dave Lincoln, Claudia Shane, Harvey Lockman and Victor Lanza. Dave is a private eye and so used to rough and tumble and Claudia seems to be romantically interested in Dave and so up for whatever comes. Harvey is a hearty youngster and willing to help leaving only poor Victor, an older and settled insurance salesman to seem reluctant. Despite that he pitches in.
In the third issue we get a departure. Kirby was infamous for creating comics not unlike some artists make Jazz, a bright talent able to play traditionally but preferring inspiration and improvisation. So it was with the Black Racer who skis into view as the story of Orion takes a back seat. The Racer is the emissary of death hailing from the Source itself and this enigmatic figure chases Lightray who is saved only by intervention of Metron and a handy-dandy Boom Tube. The Black Racer ends up on Earth and with amazing speed combines with the essence of paralyzed Vietnam war veteran Willie Walker. This black man become the Racer and soon is off to pursue his singular mission. Orion and his hearty band find themselves up against The Badger, another agent of the Anti-Gang and they save the city from a mighty explosion.
The saga really lifts off in the fourth issue (first of the bigger packages backed up by Golden Age Manhunter yarns). The "O'Ryan Gang" is made up of the four humans Orion saved on Apokolips and using their help he able to infiltrate yet another Anti-Gang hideout, but this one proves to be a doorway to an even greater threat from the mind of Darkseid as Orion begins his epic struggle against the "Deep Six". We meet posthumously the New God "Seagrin" at the beginning of this story and we see Metron and his boy pal Esak tripping out on the Mobius Chair amongst some savage pre-humans.
In this first issue of the series inked by Mike Royer, Orion battles "Slig" of the "Deep Six". Slig has two grim looking mitts, one that shocks and another that mutates. He has used this power to transform relatively benign sea life into robust monsters such as an enormous man-eating clam and a humanoid Shark. Orion defeats these altered denizens of the deep and manages to kill Slig as well. But not before learning that the Deep Six have made a behemoth, a monster which will terrorized the high seas. There is also a very short tale introducing the high speed New Genesis scoundrel Fastbak.
We see this behemoth at work in the next issue, one of the best of the Fourth World stories. The oceans are torn apart as this monster destroys ships, subs and anything else that crosses its path. Orion teams up with Lightray, who himself had been captured off page by the Deep Six, to create a weapon that will first lure the Behemoth and then destroy it. But before this they must defeat the remaining members of the Deep Six -- "Jaffar", "Gole", "Trok", "Brother Pyron" and "Shaligo the Flying Finback". As this epic struggle for safety on the seas is happening we also follow a family which is at war with itself, a Father and veteran of WWII who cannot understand his son's commitment to peace and as a consequence seeking Conscientious Objector status. The daughter and sister is caught between these two men. Ultimately the young man's bravery is more than demonstrated when he makes a sacrifice that in many ways presages the outcome of this titanic tale.
"The Pact" has been said to have been Jack Kirby's favorite story of all the hundreds and hundreds that he created over the decades. It's a truly mythic story that happens outside the immediate continuity of the ongoing New Gods narrative and looks back into the deep past to allow us to discover secrets about the struggle between New Genesis and Apokolips. We meet Highfather when he was young warrior named "Izaya the Inheritor" and we meet his wife "Avia". We see Avia killed by Steppenwolf in an attack engineered by a younger Darkseid who is already scheming for his ultimate control of all things. We see "The Great Clash" which means cosmic escalating war between the two worlds until an exhange of children forms a pact which brings a tenuous and ultimately temporary peace. We see the youngster dubbed "Scott Free" given over to Granny Goodness and we meet a young and ferocious Orion as he meets Highfather for the first time. Ironically it is the first time we meet Highfather as well, as he has just been transformed by contact with The Source after he rejects the ways of war. This is potent an dynamic tale that never falters as it runs to its stunning climax. We get secrets and we get majesty. One of those secrets is a mere mention when we learn that New Genesis was comprised of the atoms from "Balduur" and Apokolips was fashioned with those of a "Sorceress", clearly meant to be Karnilla the Norn Queen. As a bit of a wee bonus Vykin the Black from The Forever People
is on hand for a short tale of New Genesis. This issue is a stunner.
"The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin!" is another of the better stories Kirby produced during his Fourth World period. In this one we get to see humans attempt to come to grips with the threats from Apokolips, specifically Kalibak the Cruel who has come to Earth and who holds Dave Lincoln and Claudia Shane hostage in order to draw out Orion for a ferocious battle. His plan works but it also brings him to the attention of veteran police officer Dan Turpin who sees in the Apokolips crowd an enemy akin to the gangsters he battled many years before. Turpin proves to be an implacable foe and it is he who uses the power of the entire city to bring Kalibak low, at least for a time. It was not without great cost. The tempo in this story is rock solid and bounds to its exciting ending. In a bit of a tiny bonus tale the speedy Fastabk is chased by the Black Racer.
In the next issue while Lightray and Orion mend their wounds on the high rise balcony of playwright Eve Donner, the main story switches to New Genesis and the weird population of "Bugs" who dwell in the underground. These insect-like creatures follow the dictates of their Queen Mother and her male counterpart the "Prime One". The focus is on one Bug named "Forager" who we discover is not a typical Bug, but someone who thinks like the more evolved denizens of New Genesis above ground. He takes tutelage from the Prime One, but is stunned when his mentor is killed according to Bug custom. Forager escapes the hive by Boom Tube and ends up in Metropolis, just ahead of a Bug invasion led by the deadly Mantis.
Orion, Lightray, and Forager join forces to battle the invading Bug army led by Mantis and it's a mighty struggle as Metropolis is overwhelmed by the Bugs. Orion takes on the powerful Mantis head on while Lightray plots a way to turn back the tide of the Bug army. He does so using an experimental sonic weapon and his own ability with laser light to transmit a sound which proves toxic to the invading Bugs. While Orion and Forager fend off the Bugs, it is Lightray who saves the day and Metropolis from utter destruction.
But sadly all things must end and so did Jack Kirby's opus The New Gods
. The eleventh issue is the final one in the original one, a mere two years after it had begun the great war between New Genesis and Apokolips is summarily stopped by editorial edict as Kirby is instructed to fulfill the terms of his fifteen pages a week contract with new ideas and concepts, ones the DC mavens feel will be more successful. He will create The Demon
which does have a measure of success and Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth
which is a verifiable hit. But for this final issue he brings the brewing battle between Orion and Kalibak to an conclusion. Kalibak had been stopped by Dan Turpin but he escapes his prison and once more he and his half-brother Orion lock horns. This time the battle reaches its ulitmate conclusion when the Black Racer appears and takes Kalibak leaving Orion to contemplate his eventual confrontation with his father Darkseid who by the way kills Desaad when he is discoverd to be helping Kalibak secretly. We will have to wait over a decade to see how Kirby would have handled that confrontation.
In 1984 Kirby is asked to finally at long last conclude his epic. Sadly he has lost much of his energy and his skills are diminished when he once again showcases the struggle between New Genesis and Apokolips. Trutht old he had already offered up a sequel of sorts to the saga in the pages of the independent comic Captain Victory, in which we are to understand that while the names are different due to obvious concerns, that the New Gods have found both victory and tragedy in the wake of the final confrontation. Now Kirby must tell this story of what happens when Orion at last confronts his father Darkseid with the clear intent of killing him. In the story "When Gods Must Die!" that happens and it is Orion who appears to have been killed, shot down by Darkseid's guards. In the course of the story we see Lightray again briefly and we meet Himon once again as well as his daughter Bekka for the first time. Desaad, Steppenwolf, and Kalibak are brought back to life, though they are mere shadows of themselves. Part of the intent of the story is to bring back some of these characters so that DC can successfully market them in upcoming toy lines. This story also leads into the Kirby finale to the New Gods saga, a graphic novel no less.
I'm going to be blunt when I proclaim that Hunger Dogs
ain't that good. I appreciate that at long last Jack Kirby was given a chance to finish his epic of the New Gods,
but this finale is unfortunately a failed attempt to do so. Part of the problem is that he wasn't allowed to end it really, but had to concoct a ending of sorts that left most of the main players still at large for further exploitation by others at DC. But most of the problem is that by this time in 1985, Jack Kirby is no longer the "King" who ruled during his heyday. His skills have diminished along with his legendary stamina and the artwork in this yarn is a mere shadow of what had come before so many years before. Some of that is also owing to the fact that various pages of the art were done to one scale and later when the story was expanded more was done to a different scale. We have inking in this one from Mike Royer and D. Bruce Berry and touch ups by Greg Theakston, which doesn't help things. It's ironic that when the "Fourth World" began it was touch ups by Murphy Anderson and others which were sore point with fans (me among them) and now it ends with Theakston doing much the same thing, albeit perhaps for better motivations. The story is full of sound and fury but doesn't really add up to much. Eventually we see a revived Orion in some degree of happiness with Himon's daughter Bekka. We see Apokolips largely destroyed by dint of its own bombs which are weirdly called "Micro-Marks" in this story for reasons I never figured out. And we do behold the utter destruction of New Genesis itself because of bombing from Darkseid, though Supertown itself survives and in fact thrives as the final page shows that the long absent Metron has found a new world to fill the void. The tales is a muddle and frankly Ididn't enjoy reading it all that much. A sad note to end on alas.
And that's a wrap of sorts, though there is one more New Gods post this month when I take a look at the final issue of 1st Issue Special. See you then.