Day 48: The Death of the Old Gods!

Who but Jack Kirby would begin the masterwork of his life with an epilogue, and one that (metaphorically, at least) eliminates his prior legendary characters in a conflagration of death and inferno, closing the book on the myths he created for a certain House of Ideas. Look closely at the hammer-wielding warrior about halfway down and to the left on this page-one splash page of his New Gods #1 and you tell me that doesn’t resemble a God of Thunder. (You want more evidence? Check out the artifacts Lonar discovers, particularly the winged-helmet, in “The Young Gods of Supertown” back-up vignette in The Forever People #5, when he chances upon a city of the old gods.)

Yes, here we finally witness the End of It All: Ragnarok! Warring gods battling for pride and possession and resulting only in their mutual destruction! “An ancient era was passing in fiery holocaust!”

(Allow me a quick aside regarding Jack’s frequent use of the word “holocaust”: It needs to be understood that the term, as we know it today, pretty much singularly refers to Germany’s war against the Jews (and other folk despised by the Nazis). The U.S. Holocaust Museum, for instance, is devoted to the genocidal events on the 1930s and ’40s in Europe. Though frequently a term used to describe the attempted extermination, the connection between the word and the event wasn’t etched in stone until, of all things, the broadcast of a U.S. television mini-series, Holocaust, in 1978. (The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word as “Great or total destruction by fire.”) So please note, the former Jacob Kurtzberg, acutely aware of the Nazi atrocities against his people, the Shoah — as you will see in the allegories to follow — was not using the term lightly.)

Besides the ruins of an old city chanced upon by Lonar and The Source, all that survives the great destruction are the “living atoms of Balduur” and the evil “which was once a sorceress” (Karnilla, Balder’s lover in The Mighty Thor?), which respectively settle upon the two worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips, planets sprung from the split sphere of the dead celestials.

As in the real world, life follows death and the eternal cycle begins again, and so it is from the ashes of the Old Gods rise the New.

6 thoughts on “Day 48: The Death of the Old Gods!

  1. J.A. Fludd

    Yes, I have always connected “the evil that was once a sorceress” saturating Apokolips with Karnilla, as well. It makes a symmetrical kind of sense when you consider the stories that Jack did with these two in Thor.

  2. Richard Bensam

    The first time I saw those hidden connections between the Fourth World and Marvel’s Thor pointed out was an article written by the late Mark Gruenwald in his fanzine Omniverse, just a few years before his own career at Marvel began. (In fact, some of the ideas he proposed in that article found their way back into Thor when he wrote that book.)

    I remember being surprised by the idea when I read that article; you’d would think that winged helmet or the name “Balduur” were obvious enough for the most oblivious reader… but in my youthful naivete, it never occurred to me that a comics story could itself be a metatextual commentary on another comic book, or on the creator’s previous work. But thanks to Mr. Gruenwald — later to be the best boss I ever worked for — I realized these books are loaded with that stuff.

  3. patrick ford

    Mark Evanier explained some of what Kirby had in mind before things went South at Marvel.

    ME: Jack had at one point wanted to do a storyline in Thor that would have involved Ragnarok and would have redefined that corner of the Marvel Universe, essentially consigning Asgard, Odin and everyone but Thor and maybe Loki to a kind of limbo set in the past, possibly continued in a comic called Tales of Asgard or something of the sort. But well before he got near issues #175-177, he’d abandoned that idea, deciding to save the idea of a post-Ragnarok Asgard for a different series… and of course, that idea eventually evolved into The New Gods. (This is not to suggest that what Jack would have done at Marvel would have been very much like The New Gods… but it would have started in the same place.) Anyway, the storyline in #175-177 may have involved some remnants of the earlier idea that Jack had sticking in his head but it was never intended to result in Ragnarok.

    In Thor #177, Jack killed Balder and had planned that the following issue would be about Balder’s resurrection. But then Stan decided to run the John Buscema issue the following month… a story that was already in work and which didn’t deal with Balder’s resurrection. (I don’t recall if Balder was in that story.) Anyway, Stan called Jack and told him to forget about resurrecting Balder and then Stan added that dialogue into the issue so there wouldn’t have to be a resurrection story.

  4. JonBCooke Post author

    Researching the “Orion” entry today, I see that Metron, in NG #1, says to Orion, “When the old gods died, their bridge to Earth was destroyed!” And there’s an allusion to the God of Thunder perhaps when fighting Orion is described thusly: “He rushes forward — striking with the stunning force of a cosmic hammer…” Needless to say, emphasis is in Jack’s original text. Interesting choice of words, eh?

    1. JonBCooke Post author

      And, of course, there’s the veritable “Viking’s funeral” given to Seagrin, the fallen god of New Genesis, by Orion who creates an inferno to engulf the corpse on the Metropolis city docks, yet another allusion to Asgard…

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