Once upon a time, there were two rival kingdoms that fought one another, one side good and the other bad. In the evil land ruled a monster and throughout his court there were many intrigues, as his underlings coveted the throne and vied for the tyrant’s favor.
In a previous era both domains suffered a terrible conflict between them and the monster sought a truce to bide time and rebuild his vast army. So he offered a bargain to the other king and they exchanged sons, each to be raised in the other’s respective kingdom.
Unbeknownst to the monster’s royal court was that the leader once led a secret life and had had a clandestine marriage to a lover, a passionate union which begat a vile son. But the evil queen, mother of the monster (for, you see, this was before he became king), had designs on her own son’s future and saw to it that the mystery wife was poisoned and the queen’s son publicly married (in a loveless arrangement). With the tempestuous new wife, the monster fathered his second son, a righteous boy, who was traded for the rival king’s offspring.
In revenge, the monster had his own mother murdered and insured that neither of his progeny knew of their lineage. Starting in childhood, both the righteous son and vile son would feud, always drawn together in savage combat, a mutual hate for one another fueling primal rage. And so it came to pass that these two, in adulthood, would fight a battle to the death, not for their father’s crown (as they were still unaware, until the very end of this lethal sibling rivalry, of their supremely prominent father), but rather because of a compulsive, lifelong bloodlust of each to kill the other. Indeed, one would not live happily ever after…
Jack’s pin-up of Kalibak states, “In the realm of Darkseid of Apokolips, where all things serve the cause of destruction, there is none so savage as Kalibak the Cruel! His is a never-ending battle with the New Gods for the fate of mankind!”
If you look in the background of that full-page panel, past vain Kalibak (gazing at his own visage and speaking to himself in the second person, “This is a face to fear! Someday, Kalibak, you may supplant Darkseid himself!”), we see withering, half-naked prisoners grasping for freedom behind a glass enclosure, Kalibak’s self-described “torment chamber.” It’s only mentioned here and there, but Kalibak has an official capacity on Apokolips as, it seems, chief torturer. His nickname, after all, is “Kalibak the Tormentor.” (In their final showdown, Orion tells his adversary, “Let the silent shades of your countless tortured victims stand by to witness the finish of their tormentor!”)
The Scourge of Apokolips, looking very much like a super-size Neanderthal caveman, usually dressed only in briefs and boots, sports a high-tech weapon, the Beta-Club, which can be used as a bludgeon as well as shoots nerve beams capable of stopping a platoon. (More on that accessory tomorrow!) We do see the low-to-the-ground thug (Jack describes him: “His body is squat! His breath rasps like a file! And his feet are hammer blows of sound in steel corridors!!”) but Kalibak does possess a bit more intelligence than your typical knuckle-dragger, given his repartee with Police Commissioner Kiernan, where the ugly son of Darkseid admits, “Kalibak is not without a sense of humor!”
But Kalibak’s gargantuan conceit and cosmic hatred for Orion are his Achilles Heel, but as we will learn, the Terror of Apokolips’s rage will transcend death itself.
In our saga, Orion’s first encounter with Kalibak is at the Mass-Director Unit, where it appears the Tormentor is the single defender of the dark planet, apparently the only one of Darkseid’s inner circle not on Earth. The half-brothers briefly tussle and Orion escapes Apokolips via Boom Tube (with some new friends) as Kalibak vows, “This isn’t our last encounter, Orion! When we meet again, I shall deliver your carcass to Darkseid! Rememer that!”
Kalibak appears on Earth and the events of “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin” transpire, when Orion and the Scourge of Apokolips engage in a ferocious battle, incredibly brutal even by Jack Kirby’s standards. Acknowledging their constant antagonism as he chokes Orion, Kalibak screams, “All the pain and torment in the universe can’t stop what drives us!! I’m your equal, Orion!!” To which the Tiger of New Genesis righteously replies through the stranglehold, “But — not — my better –”
Though Orion’s true face is revealed to Kalibak, it is the earthlings who momentarily defeat the Tormentor, by massive electrical shock-power. But the villain is not imprisoned for long, as he is released with a promise to deliver a message to the gods to evacuate Earth. But Kalibak is no messenger boy, not with nemesis Orion but mere blocks away…
Meanwhile, the father of the combatants is distressed at the coming fight. The Master of the Holocaust tells Desaad, “Then there will be fierce battle, Desaad! Those two have fought each other since childhood! But destiny has always kept one from killing the other! However — in the event of destiny’s failure, Darkseid shall intervene!”
“But why, sire?” Desaad pleads. “If Kalibak proves the stronger, we are rid of that wolf Orion! Yet this logic doesn’t seem to please you! Somehow, the thought of Orion’s death stirs your fear and anger!”
Roars the Apokoliptian monarch: “Silence, Desaad! You go too far! Darkseid explains his motives to no one!”
Then we see a side of Darkseid hitherto unknown in the Fourth World epic in this, the last issue of the regular New Gods title. A caption reads: “The moments are few when the shadows of deep concern creep across Darkseid’s granite visage — and the secrets hidden there begin to emerge — as if to retreat before great pain — !”
Bemoans Darkseid, “Orion and Kalibak! How those two names haunt my life and destiny! — Give me no rest! — darken my future as surely as their maternal forebears ruled my past! My mother, Queen Heggra! — Orion’s mother, Tigra! — And the sorceress — Suli!”
Dessad is shocked: “Suli was Kalibak’s mother!? Then before Tigra was chosen for you — there was Suli! It was rumored that you defied the queen’s wishes to court Suli!”
And, finally, the secret is revealed: “– To secretly wed her, you sly dog! Orion and Kalibak are half-brothers! — both are my sons!”
The half-brothers’ rivalry seems endless. Says Orion during the “Turpin” engagement, “We fought when young, Kalibak! We fight fully grown! And we shall fight till death takes one of us!! There’s something we share that’s always driven us to each other! — What it is, I cannot say!! But we shall seek each other out until it’s done!”
And we can feel the end is coming fast, in the form of an armor-clad specter on skis! Lightray beats Orion to the punch and, yelling “Orion has borne the burden of battle too long! Hail, Kalibak! Hail, king of tormentors!” he attacks the giant troll-like warrior, the “veteran of a thousand battles,” who gives the young new god a terrific pounding.
Staying out of the fight because of the “Combat Code,” Orion watches in horror as Lightray is brutalized and their fight is ended. “Then it’s time for me to confront Kalibak… I’ll put an end to that ‘demon’s bond‘ that forever binds Kalibak and myself in a pact of destruction! This blind hatred ends — now!!”
But this time Orion’s half-brother is engorged with vastly increased powers, able now to emit “white-hot blast[s] of crackling energy” from his hands and strong enough to tear an entire apartment building onto Orion the Fierce. But Darkseid receives evidence that the fight is rigged, that Desaad has strengthened Kalibak as much as tenfold! Fearing his long-ago abandoned son may be dying at Kalibak’s hand, Darkseid disintegrates the sadist with the dreaded Omega Beams, the Total Wipeout, and the added power of Kalibak vanishes.
Orion recovers to a fair fight and he realizes their shared bloodline. “We must be brothers, you and I! — Different sides of the same coin! True sons of Darkseid — the essence of his creed of total violence!” Rushing his half-brother, Orion screams, “Die, Kalibak! If we fight as sons of Darkseid — only one may live!” The New Genesis god beats the tar out of the Terror from Apokolips and then arrives The Black Racer, the harbinger of death, who takes Kalibak to whatever Valhalla awaits for new gods…
But Kalibak’s demise has an epilogue, as in the penultimate New Gods tale, “When Gods Must Die!” the Tormentor is resurrected in Darkseid’s Re-orientation Chamber, or at least the shell of Darkseid’s elder son. Yet we learn his mind is mush, singularly obsessed with killing and not even aware of his own name, never mind the fact he is heir to the throne of Apokolips. “Were I on New Genesis, sire,” riskfully speculates Darkseid’s technician, “I would believe that the original ‘personalities’ now reside with that ‘mystery,’ the Source.”