Category Archives: The Forever People #1

The Forever People #1

Cooke Look: “In Search of a Dream!”

“They’re from a place that men have sought, but never found — we’ve seen their like before — in different ages — in different guise — but never like this — Yet, always like this — when man’s civilization faces destruction…”

Thus Jack Kirby introduces his ’70s version of a modern-day kids gang. Coming on the heels of his initial three issues of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, Jack gives us his first true edited-drawn-and-written comic book in that era, and it’s an audacious debut. Again, as he did in JO, Jack presents a flurry of new characters and concepts — The Boom Tube, Forever People, Super-Cycle, Mother Box, Supertown, Infinity Man, etc. — with nare a chance for the reader to stop for air.

And this, the “official” starting point of what we would come to call his Fourth World opus, is a breathless beginning and Jack is expert in adapting DC’s longest-running super-hero to the mythos, as Superman fits in perfectly with the overall scheme of the creator’s immensely ambitious plan. It’s a connection that is still only being periodically recognized by the publishing house, but Jack often thought in such grandiose terms, so it is hard for us mere mortals to comprehend, at times, a glimmering of his overall intent.

I’ve read this comic book at least a few dozen times in my life but only now is it becoming apparent that (despite the presence of The Infinity Man) Jack did indeed have finite plans for this and his other Fourth World titles. In this very first issue, we are given a foreshadowing of the (no doubt cataclysmic) conclusion, of a final showdown that would take place between Darkseid, the Master of the Holocaust and Seeker of the Anti-Life Equation, and timid, loving Beautiful Dreamer, as “Both hold the key to victory in the strangest war ever fought in comicdom’s history!” (or so says the exquisite Darkseid/Beautiful Dreamer pin-up in #4). Ahh, the gorgeous irony…!

Predestination and sacrifice are written all over these kids if we contrast their innocent exuberance and boundless optimism with the savage conflict only just now unfolding. These are the end of their salad days, with the group’s devotion to love and peace about to be cruelly tested, as Darkseid and his “Secretary of Torture,” Desaad, will take special pleasure in attending to The Forever People.

I suspect that while some characters would have tenaciously held on to their certainty of the Good in Man, others might have changed considerably as the saga ran its course. But, alas, this can only remain a suspicion as the gang had a mere two years of life in this title…

There was criticism that The Forever People is an off-key, corny and wonky depiction of super-hippies — they are so goldarned cheerful in those days of Vietnam and social unrest! But Jack is a masterful storyteller, completely self-assured, and I’ll bet you he had plans to incrementally change the tone and characterizations of the team before bringing them to a bombastic finale. After all, he was trying something dramatically new in comics: series with beginnings, middles and endings.

And, if I may, this was one hell of a beginning!

Day 47: Radion Bombs!

And we thought Darkseid was giving up when he released Beautiful Dreamer to Supes and the Infinity Man! The Duplicitous One has placed explosives of his own making, radion bombs, underneath the woman’s platform, set to explode and destroy our heroes!

Well, that’s all that needs to be said about those weapons, folks! Now, let’s get caught up on our story thus far:

The Gravi-Guards attack Superman and are about to tackle The Forever People when the boys levitate Mother Box and transform into The Infinity Man. IM saves Supes from a Darkseid minion and the pair meet up with the Master of the Holocaust himself, who tells them he cannot get the secret of the Anti-Life Equation from Beautiful Dreamer’s unique mind. He rises forth, from underground, a platform with the sleeping figure of the telepathic beauty, under which are strapped what looks like four radion bombs.

Superman, using light-speed flight, saves Beautiful Dreamer and Infinity Man, and IM changes back into the boys who ecstatically greet the revived girl. Supes queries the kids on how to reach Supertown, though they caution him that he’ll be needed on his adopted planet for the coming conflict with Darkseid. But Superman is insistent and flies into the dimensional bridge appearing before him. Yet in flight he begins doubting the timing of his cross-dimensional sojourn. “Am I going the wrong way?” the Man of Steel ponders. “Is Earth the battleground for some strange Super-War? It could be as real as the Boom Tube! — And I may be deserting mankind when it needs me most!” So, while he catches a “glimpse of distant, gleaming towers,” he abandons his trip and, forlornly sitting about a boulder, contemplates, “Perhaps, someday, I’ll try again…”

Coming next: The Forever People #1 wrap-up and then on to The New Gods debut issue!

Day 46: Beautiful Dreamer!

Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull’d by the moonlight have all pass’d away!
Stephen Foster

Though she appears to be the weakest and (aside from physical attractiveness) least envisaged character of The Forever People, Beautiful Dreamer is likely the most potentially powerful player in their battle against Darkseid. Jack immediately sets a stark and intriguing contrast when we first see them together. She, with her beguiling, prostrate form and alluring, serene face, compared to the cut of the Master of the Holocaust’s arrogant stance and butt-ugly countenance. And the pin-up in FP #4, too, hints at her importance with its stunning artistry and caption that reads, “Beautiful Dreamer versus Darkseid! Both hold the key to victory in the strangest war ever fought in comicdom’s history!”

One marvelous aspect of Jack Kirby is his obvious liking of the female gender, a contrast itself with the overall outlook of too many comics creators of his and later generations. Perhaps it stems partly from the necessity to focus almost exclusively on the feminine point of view during Jack’s considerable — and outstanding — work in romance comics (a genre he co-created with Joe Simon), and I also suspect his respect and affection for his devoted spouse, the indomitable Rosaline Kirby, and the fact he had two daughters, are parts of that equation. (I’ll betcha dollars to doughnuts, Jacob Kurtzberg was also a mama’s boy, to boot!)

If you combine, in his Fourth World mythos, Jack’s conceptualization of brutish and bodacious Big Barda, the Female Fury of Mister Miracle, one of the most vivacious and self-assured (hence, downright sexy) characters in the history of the form, with the latent cosmic war-ending power of girlish, apparently meek, most definitely lovely Beautiful Dreamer, there’s a delightful complexity here putting women front and center in this otherwise hyper-testosteronated masculine super-conflict. If you ask me, I reckon Jack Kirby was a feminist!

When first we meet Beautiful Dreamer, we find her unique consciousness (“one of the few whose mind can fathom the Anti-Life Equation! The ultimate weapon!” The Infinity Man tells Superman) is impervious to Darkseid’s probing, and the evil ruler surrenders her to her friends. We learn that Beautiful Dreamer’s power is to create telepathic connections with others to generate illusions, whether making a hallucination that they’re a harmless bunch of earth kids for old Uncle Willie, deceiving a Justifier into believing the gang is one of his kind, or appearing as a haggardly old dwarf to cut short a fashion shoot with Breckenridge the photographer.

(There’s a breathtaking juxtaposition of beauty and beast in Jack’s full-page depiction of a remarkably rendered Desaad, tenderly brushing her comatose figure with a riding crop, appreciating Beautiful Dreamer. “Ahhhh — My vision of beauty! — and a beauty of visions, too, I might add! A mind so sensitive that it makes illusion seem like reality! What my scrambling machine must huff and puff to produce — Beautiful Dreamer can do by a mere thought!” KAH-reepy!)

Despite the fact her physical attributes — buxom and curvaceous — are considerable, Beautiful Dreamer knows that the secret of being human isn’t just in the corporal world, as she explains, “After all, the body is merely a three-dimensional identification vehicle! It’s our ‘total’ selves that beautify us!” (Still, she’s not above having her zoftig form being objectified, whether as a swimsuit model or when Serifan, via a cosmic cartridge, atomically re-shifts an old-fashioned gown the girl is wearing into a oh-so-mod go-go, short-short mini-skirt — replacing the ragged dress she wore for eight issues prior.)

Beautiful Dreamer defines the team for Donnie the invalid in #2: “Of course we’re real! truth is real! Truth lives foreverWe’re the Forever People!” Which remains perhaps the best description for this most original group, said in the simplest and sweetest of terms.

I’ll admit, as a kid, I pretty much dismissed Beautiful Dreamer, thinking her more a burden to the group rather than an equal asset. But I now get a glimmering of Kirby’s intent with the character, something that is now obvious at the very start of The Forever People. That whatever the apparent triteness of her powers of deception, her abeyant abilities loom large in the saga: this woman is headed for some serious business which will take her to her place in the heart of the raging storm between New Genesis and Apokolips.

Day 45: The Infinity Man!

“There is an awesome, indescribable crash of cosmic thunder! Then –”
“Those who summon the Infinity Man — summon justice!

When Mother Box levitates, and the young members of The Forever People place their hands on her and recite the mantra, “TAARU!” they disappear and in their place materializes The Infinity Man.

The conceptualization of The Forever People, that of being a basically non-violent group of young people, however fantastical, might have proven a slight quandary for Jack Kirby, the king of violent, bombastic comics, and it could be The Infinity Man was his clever solution. The character, who bides his time in another dimension until called forth by the super-kids, is obviously a warrior for justice. Sure, you could say, the FP/IM connection has an antecedent with the Captain Marvel/Billy Batson switcheroo, right down to the magic word (Shazam!). But so what? It’s a device that works.

Somewhat unfortunately, I think, The Infinity Man wasn’t used enough — or explained with much depth — as he had but few appearances in the mere 11 issues of The Forever People. A gorgeous pin-up page in #4 is captioned, “From the far reaches beyond space and time, where real and unreal have no meaning, emerges a champion whose powers are not governed by the laws of our universe!” He is a joy to behold, with golden skin (could he be “Him”?) and wonderfully Total Kirby Costume.

Still, why exactly do the kids have this changing-places “arrangement” with The Infinity Man, using a word Big Bear says in #1? Certainly, though they profess peaceful interaction, the group is plenty powerful given Big Bear’s ability to concentrate his atomic structure into almost invulnerable strength, Mark Moonrider’s “Megaton Touch,” Vykin the Black’s “Magna-Power,” and Serafin’s multi-purpose “Cosmic Cartridges.” (Beautiful Dreamer? Well, she can convey scary images…).

Anyway, for whatever reason, Jack omits The Infinity Man from the action in the majority of issues, #4-10, but his reappearance in the final issue (which sports a nifty “Infinity Man Returns!” blurb on the cover) contains a great, old-fashioned slugfest and, let’s just say, IM goes out in style…

His powers? Well, he gained them from “distant regions — where natural laws do not apply,” and they include: He can fly in our atmosphere and survive in space without mechanical assistance; pass through solid objects (a very cool moment in #3 has the character gliding through rock, telling us, “Earth and stone become as fluid as sea waters — and I move through them as does a swimmer in the blue deeps!” I mean, just imagine that ability!); cancel out detection beams; possesses super-strength; has powerful “Infini-Beams” emit from his hands; manipulates the atoms of objects to restructure them… yikes, what can’t this guy do?


Whatever the spelling, with one magic word…

The incantation, exclaimed by The Forever People while they lay hands on Mother Box, that brings forth, in their place, The Infinity Man!

“They may be ready for us! But not for the Infinity Man!

“Mother Box reads you! She rises in readiness for the ‘ritual‘!”

“It is the ritual through which the Infinity Man can come here!

“Mother Box sends out the signal to the farthest reaches of infinity! Mother Box links us with him!

“We’re one with the Infinity Man! As one we say the word of exchange!”

Rise, Mother Box! Send out your signal to the farthest reaches — where even all natural law thins and fades!

“Yet, life exists!”

“Make us one with that life! Let him displace us — let him enter on the power of the word–”

“–Even as we vanish when the word is said–”

Say the word! Say it! — And send it across the vast infinite!”


Day 43: The Mother Box!

It’s difficult to find the proper words to express my enduring admiration for this wonderfully resonant Kirby koncept, the Mother Box. She — never, never “it”! — is a living mechanism, a sentient computer, a machine with a soul who performs many, many tasks for her possessor, among them the abilities to sense danger, relieve torment, create protective barriers, sooth pain, transport her charges to another dimension, make friendships, scold sonically, navigate the cosmos, and being alive, she can be hurt, tortured and killed. But most of all she is capable of love, the power Darkseid fears the most.

In our story at hand, Mother Box is guardian of The Forever People; “The Mother Box protects us all,” are her protector Vykin the Black’s first words in the saga. In this incarnation she is a red rectangular cube, maybe 18-inches high, 10- or 12-inches wide per side, with a lens (or is it a screen?), a carrying handle and she emits sounds, “pings” in various tones, depending on her comfort or distress. (Apparently she can even apologize, or so says interpreter Vykin.)

Her main role in this premiere Forever People chapter is for Vykin to release her to levitation mode, as the Gravi-Guards are closing in, and for the boys to lay their hands on her for what Kirby might have called “The Great Interdimensional Swap!!!” (Oh, fear not, effendi! All will be revealed in the days to come!)

Back to the overarching Fourth World concept of Mother Box. She exists on both New Genesis and Apokolips, most prominently assisting these super-kids, Mister Miracle and Orion, the latter two who possess smaller “shoulder harness” versions, no less powerful or affectionate. (As I recall, I don’t think any version appears in the earthbound tales of Jimmy Olsen.)

Mother Box, we will discover, is the invention of Himon, scourge of Darkseid, roamer of the universe and mentor of Young Scott Free who created the device in the slums of Armagetto on Apokolips (and also, by the way, pioneered The Boom Tube). In the “Great Scott Free ‘Bust-Out'” issue of Mister Miracle, #9, the portly savior explains, in one of the most powerful single pages in the entire opus, that Mother Box is linked to The Source (a Great Good where resides the Meaning of It All). Simply put, Mother Box channels the good that is The Source into her user.

Himon says, “The Source! It lives! It burns! When we reach out and touch it — the core of us is magnified! And we tower as tall as Darkseid!” Scott Free, just beginning to see the supreme power that is love and now understanding his destiny, responds, “Then Darkseid fears us all! He fears what he can’t control!

There is nothing I can add to this magnificent and portentous moment in Jack Kirby’s chef d’oeuvre. The deeper and deeper one delves into The Fourth World, greater and greater rewards are unearthed. We can argue all day about whether his work is genius, perhaps, but we can’t deny he was a Good Soul, Jack was.

Day 42: Darkseid’s Faithful Gravi-Guards!

For, I believe, their singular appearance in the Fourth World opus, up from the underground come the magenta-colored Gravi-Guards, those who “transmit gravity waves from heavy mass galaxies” strong enough to “hold any super-being!” And the particular super-being enduring their crushing weight and obnoxious boasts? Why, Superman, of course!

Our tale thus far: Upon seeing evidence of Supertown and listening to Jimmy Olsen’s description (heard from Bobby the shutterbug) of The Forever People, Clark Kent steers the cub reporter out the door, changes into the Man of Steel and takes to Metropolis skies “…to find those kids!” Inter-Gang agents in a helicopter spot Supes and, sensing a threat to their mission, contact Darkseid, who orders them to attack with their Sigma-Gun.

Just as the super-hero lands to introduce himself to Big Bear & Co., Sigma-blasts zzzaps and zzzaarraaps him and he flings a telephone pole that destroys the chopper. The youngsters think Supes is a fellow Supertownie and explain their intent on rescuing Beautiful Dreamer, and he ponders, “I must gain the confidence of these super-kids — if I ever hope to achieve what I came for!” The Last Son of Krypton senses a trap but the Forever People rush in and poison gas envelopes all. Superman creates a mini-twister, dispersing the vapor, and suddenly the yellow-helmeted Gravi-Guards (clad in fetching gold-and-purple trunks) lunge from out of the ground!

Superman being crushed, Gravi-Guards descending on them, The Forever People call upon a maternal device to unite them as one…

Day 40: Supertown!

What else does one call the residence of the gods of Highfather’s world, domicile of those fantastically-powered humanoids who go about their daily routine doing fantastical things? Word is that Jack originally intended to call the megalopolis floating high above the pristine and virginal planet, Supercity, but the New York office nixed it for the more humble appellation. And that works better, I think, bestowing it a more ironic, playful name that also gives it a more homey, welcome designation, where friends and family reside.

Supertown is the wildly futuristic capital of New Genesis, homestead of the New Gods (the good ones, anyway), including The Forever People. And its discovery by Superman, using his microscopic vision to deeply “enhance” Bobby’s photo of a fading Boom Tube (now that’s some high-definition camera!), gives the Man of Steel pause to consider there just might be a sanctuary of equals for him to feel at home.

Supes sees evidence of a towering golden metropolis and, having just pondered his intense loneliness as a minority of one on earth, he yearns to find out if it really exists. The marvelous conurbation, he will later learn while visiting in a forthcoming issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, is very real indeed, graced with massive memorial statues of departed gods (commemorating the fallen of the first New Genesis-Apokolips war), sprawling council halls, magnificent fountains, rich and fragrant gardens, and spires that reach for the heavens.

Perhaps Supertown represents young Jacob Kurtzberg’s view of the midtown Manhattan of the 1920s and ’30s, Gershwin’s sparkling, glowing urban center, with the majestic, newly constructed Rockefeller Center (with its massive, gloriously gold statute of a Titan), the grandiose heights of the just-built Empire State Building, the Great White Way’s promise of love and riches and happy endings, and the “young gods” toiling in the resplendent edifices rising from littered avenues to better their lives and improve the world in spite of the Great Depression crushing down on the nation.

As the Fourth World unfolds, we’ll be spending more time in the awe-inspiring principality of Izaya the Inheritor, but it’s fun to note our first viewing is a mere glimpse from a microdot in a photograph, a tease and promise of a place where dreams and miracles are made real.

Day 39: Rocky the Champ!

Yikes, it’s been a little over a week covering the characters, concepts and contraptions of The Forever People #1 and we’ve hardly alluded to the actual plot of the comic book. Allow me to play catch-up for those anxiously awaiting an opening synopsis:

The four male members of The Forever People arrive on Earth via Boom Tube aboard their Super-Cycle, in search of the fifth member, Beautiful Dreamer, who has been kidnapped from Supertown by Darkseid’s minions.

A young motoring couple, Bobby and Laurie, swerve to avoid the team, crash through a guard rail and off a cliff, only to be saved by the miraculous technology of Vykin the Black’s Mother Box. Reassured by the New Genesis kids of their peaceful mission, Bobby grabs his camera and takes a picture of The Forever People. Bobby notices an eerie light in the distance, which Vykin identifies as an oncoming Boom Tube, and he and Laurie, sensing a scoop, rush off to investigate, the latter mentioning that their pal “Jimmy Olsen will eat this up!”

Suddenly Serifan, making telepathic contact with Beautiful Dreamer, collapses in an open-eyed coma, as the unwitting crew is in the gunsights of Inter-Gang agents. The henchmen connect with Darkseid, who orders them to follow — and not kill — the kids.

Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, Clark Kent (alter-ego of Superman) is interviewing Rocky the Champ, a stereotypical boxer, one who laments he can never be the best “with Superman in the picture…” and, while we never again see the pugilist in the series, he serves as an important catalyst for the Man of Steel to ruminate about the loneliness being a super human in a non-super world.

Day 38: Inter-Gang!

It’s appropriate that Jack, who had lived in the realm of real-world hoodlums as a kid growing up on the vicious mean streets of New York’s Lower East Side, had his greatest cosmic villain, Darkseid, not only ruling an entire planet of evil, but also serve as head gangster for an earthly crime organization, Inter-Gang. It brings the salient point home that despots and dictators are nothing but puffed-up gangsters, no matter what the fashionable accouterments or lofty-sounding rhetoric. Jack linked a high-tech Mafia to the dark god’s malevolent empire, expressing a fear-filled image that among us lurked an underground Apokoliptian Fifth Column, its rosters filled with thugs betraying their own planet motivated by (doubtless empty) promises of wealth and power from the Master of the Holocaust.

Yes, these are the same scoundrels Jack has portrayed since his beginnings in the art form, whether in Captain America Comics, “Newsboy Legion,” Justice Traps the Guilty, Fighting American, “Green Arrow,” or his innumerable Marvel tales: tough-talking, mean-natured, shallow, and murderous mobsters, a scourge to civilized life, grabbing what is not theirs and killing anyone who gets in their way. In other words, Jack always stuck with the Warner Brothers stereotype and, I strongly suspect, had real-life archetypes to contemplate, as a career in crime was a serious option to young Jacob Kurtzberg and the other youthful denizens of Manhattan’s slums.

Inter-Gang (International-Gangsters? Intergalactic-Gangsters?) was particularly active in the early issues of the Fourth World tetralogy, and as hackneyed and cliché as some of the goons are portrayed, they are all deliciously cruel and (of course) ill-fated in that indomitable Kirby style.

Jimmy Olsen had Ugly Mannhiem and the nameless killer of Jim (the original Guardian) Harper — and don’t forget the Scottish field office with Felix MacFinney and his “daughter,” Ginny; Mister Miracle had Steel Hand and even a secret Inter-Gang missile; The News Gods featured Badger, Sugar-Man, Country Boy and Snaky Doyle; and The Forever People? Well, they had this unnamed squad of Darkseid-connected racketeers, every-ready to to murder the unaware Super Kids and take out a certain Superman.

Want to get an inkling of Jack’s world view, at least a good portion? Load up your Netflix queue with the following Warner Brothers gangster movies (and then go read In the Days of The Mob as a chaser)… it’s all in there, pal:

Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (’31), G Men (’35), The Petrified Forest (’36), Angels With Dirty Faces (’38), They Drive by Night (’38), Each Dawn I Die (’39), The Roaring Twenties (’39), High Sierra (’41), and White Heat (’49).

Non-WB productions, but well within the spirit (and they might have well been released by Jack Warner), include the must-see flicks: Scarface (1932) and Dead End (’37).