Day 36: Big Bear!

Many a Kirby group has a tough macho and/or intimidatingly big man, either a Rocky from The Challengers of the Unknown or the Howling Commandos‘ Dum-Dum Dugan, but none are quite like the jovial, happy, rock-em sock-em, red-headed giant of The Forever People, Big Bear. Think Alan Hale (junior, senior — doesn’t matter) only without a whiff of grouchiness and you’ve got the group’s Super-Cycle pilot to a tee. Picture a good-looking Thing but always in a good mood and never in self-pity mode.

I know, I know: I said the group is non-violent, a statement seemingly at odds when we see Big Bear taking on a Justifier, cordially telling the hapless villain, “Big Bear is my name, sir! — and power is my game!! That’s my bag, sir!! I store an excess of free atoms and send them where they’re needed!!” (Yup, he can concentrate his atoms to any area of his body, giving him, for all practical purposes, super-powers.)

Still, he does fret over his rough behavior, lamenting Highfather’s words of “Violence breeds violence,” and, moments later, telling his fellow Forever Peeps, “Well! I thought you’d never get here!! I’m getting involved in all kinds of violence!!”

Big Bear’s head device, framed by a lion’s mane-like flaming red hair, is equipped with head gear, with what appears to be a paper-thin glass mask and ear circuits capable of “instantaneous translation,” which aids in his time-traveling trip to ancient Briton, where the self-described history buff helps a future King Arthur begin his legendary deeds. Cheerful throughout his visit, he later tells the kids, “Darkseid sent me to a place of violence but I had a nice time!!”

One of the most memorable moments of the series is when Darkseid calls the group to attention, berating them as would a drill sergeant, and in a classic scene, tweaks Big Bear’s nose while urging the “baboon” and “clown” to learn discipline. It remains one of Jack’s most humorous panels.

Finally, I just gotta mention Big Bear’s manner of speech, which, at times, is downright incomprehensible. Take this opening dialogue line in FP #2, when the team is looking over an inner-city neighborhood: “”Dig this place! It’s got the ingredients of the cake — but it needs more baking!”

Pray tell, anyone got “instantaneous translation” for that pearl???

5 thoughts on “Day 36: Big Bear!

  1. Richard Bensam

    I never had a problem understanding that phrase — it means “This place has the potential to be thoroughly delightful, but is still in a primitive and undeveloped state and has not yet achieved its final stage of development.” Many of the observations New Genesis types make of us Earth folk are phrased almost as if they’re time-travelers or archaeologists or even anthropologists — they often refer to objects like television sets or revolvers as “vintage” or “primitive.” The whole perspective of the Forever People is that we could be like Supertown someday, but we’re gonna need help surviving until we reach that stage.

    The other thing about Big Bear, in addition to the excellent points you make here, is his love of sarcasm and irony and needling Mark in particular. He’s got this very mischievous sense of humor. If you’ve ever seen the play or movie 1776, the banter Ben Franklin (as played by Howard Da Silva) directs at John Adams is very much like that. It’s also, to my ears, very Jewish: Mark Moonrider is the “worrywart” who takes everything seriously, and Big Bear the “wiseguy” who can’t resist teasing him for it.

    1. JonBCooke Post author

      Must be a New York thing, RAB!

      You’re right, natch, about the bickering of B.B. and M.M., and I appreciate the Da Silva reference! (The actor, who was blacklisted in the 1950s, lived near where I grew up in Westchester County. Always loved his sing-song, resonant voice…) William Daniels, too, was particularly fine in that musical (plus he played Captain Nice in that inane 1967 teevee show, promoted with J.K. illustrations!).

  2. patrick ford

    Richard makes a good point about the nuanced nature of Kirby’s characterization.

    Jon is pointing this up as well with this series of posts on the individual members of The Forever People.

    Far from being the weakness, some fans have traditionally mentioned characterization is one of Kirby’s most powerful attributes. There is a depth of characterization in his work which in my reading goes far beyond almost any mainstream comics writing I’ve seen.

    Kirby made the connection between his own experience and translating it to comics early on, as Jon writes about in his post on Serafin and the classic “Mother Delilah” story.

    Kirby’s uncanny characterization reached full flower in his long-form work, The Fourth World.

    Jack Kirby: “I suddenly found myself intellectualizing.

    “I was trying to get at the guy, who was trying to get at me.

    “I began to remember people from my own background, and I began to subtly realize they were important, and that I wasn’t ashamed of them. I was no longer afraid of myself, and I began to see them as I should have seen them from the beginning.

    “This was a long way from Long Island. I was still trying to get to Brooklyn. I heard they had a tree there, and the tree was different.”

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