This entry is a slight departure in that rather than simply replicate Jack Kirby’s captions and dialogue on a given subject, I’d like to editorialize a bit and simply expound on what an innovative and daring aspect the Glorious Godfrey affair was to mainstream culture and perhaps why it’s concepts like this which sets the Fourth World apart from super-hero comics of that era and today. You might think this better included in the “Cooke Look” issue review, but I insist this is a bona fide Kirby concept and quite worthy of its own entry. So there.
For my 12-year-old mind, reading “Life vs. Anti-Life” was a combustive experience, igniting synapses throughout a tender brain and motivating me to start thinking about mainstream comics as containing concepts deeper, more resonate, vital even than usually seen. As a youth I certainly was familiar with the underpinnings of this particularly dark aspect of the Fourth World — the persecution of innocents en masse to serve the whims of a death-worshipping tyrant — as an extrapolation of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and its war against the Jews and other “undesirables.” That, in itself, was nothing new in comics, where Fuhrer-esque villains and Nazi-like regimes abound, the savagery of World War Two reduced to pulpish melodrama (though the harsh reality of the Holocaust was rarely even hinted at other than depictions of victms being rounded up into concentration camps). But here, with the character of slick, handsome and vainglorious Godfrey, with all his oozing charm, and promotion of an elixir that will solve all of our discontents — Anti-Life, the “Happiness Package” — and the decidedly unpretty implementation of his flowery rhetoric… here Jack was talking about much deeper stuff, things that spoke to his own heritage, his own blood and his own experience.
And today, as a 52-year-old reader, poring over the story again and again, I derive even more nuance, much of it unintentional I’m sure. I note today’s discontent in the American electorate, a good portion being swayed by promises, homilies and affirmations of being told they are “special” and “deserving” — those folks afraid of change and fearful of an unknown fate — and how this story speaks to that contingent. And then there’s the prescient use of a suicide bomber, a fanatical scourge the world now deals with on a daily basis though virtually unknown in the early 1970s…
When we first view the Justifiers descending upon city rooftops, an Aero-Van pilot explains, “This is the part of town we want! The people we’ve chosen as targets live here!” The vehicle unloads its occupants, one ordering the troopers, “Move in swiftly! Before the swine realize what’s happening!” The pilot adds, “Seize as any as you can!” Another says, “Don’t bother to discriminate! The women and children are as hated as the men!” Surging down the building stairwell, one yells, “Break in the doors!” and still another, “Waste no time on mercy! Drag them out! Treat them rough!” Dragging a hapless victim from his apartment — who pleads, “Help! Help! Stop this!” — one armed thug boasts, “Listen to their cries! I’ve been waiting to do this for years!” And his comrade adds, “Get going! We’ll show what we do with your kind!”
Who are the people “chosen as targets” and “your kind”? They all apparently live in a specific neighborhood in the city and, given the women and children comment, seem to share more an ethnic or racial rather than an ideological distinction. As the unfortunates are loaded into the Aero-Vans (with one pleading, “Help! Where are you taking us?” and a Justifier replying, “Shut up! You’re nothing but animals! Get in that van! Stop shouting and get IN!”), we see a bad guy with clipboard and list telling his comrade, “We’ve got all on this list!” What is the common connection of those being rounded up? As the Aero-Van flies off to Happyland, a Justifier says, “Anti-Life works! We’re justified in ridding the city of this human trash! The city should thank us!” Certainly this indicates that a specific minority is being persecuted.
Then there’s the book-burning incident, when a flamethrower-wielding Justifier bursts into a library to order, “Put down those decadent books! Get out of the library! The nonsense stored in this place shall never pollute another mind! You need know no more than the proper things! Who but myself is justified in burning down this library!” Now, becoming a Justifier gives one that “Cosmic Hunting License,” so maybe this ignoramus is just acting on a personal vendetta against literature, but since it’s the second in a series of Justifier acts in the city focused on by Jack, I’m sure it’s an act sanctioned by Apokolips (albeit perhaps to mollify reactionaries in the ranks, which I suspect would be most of ’em!).
Especially mind-blowing is to see Glorious Godfrey, sitting in his hairdresser’s chair, being delicately attended to as the preacher, holding a hand mirror, watches a video screen showing his Justifiers wrecking havoc on city business establishments. “My little legion is doing well, too! There’s one of them defacing a store with an ‘S’ for scapegoat!” Weirdly un-ironic choice of nomenclature, given a scapegoat is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as: “2. A person or group bearing blame for others,” and if your intent is to blame a group, you’d hardly want to advertise the persecuted are stand-ins for the real culprits and themselves not guilty. But though slightly clumsy (and everyone in earshot could possibly be Apokolips denizens who are “in” on the whole scheme, so maybe I’m wrong), we do get Jack’s point and the startling direct allusion to a notorious evening in the late 1930s.
If people had any doubt about Nazi Germany’s intentions regarding the “Jewish Question” before World War Two, when, as cited in The Holocaust Chronicle (Louis Weber, publisher; 2002 Publications International, Ltd.):
November 9-10, 1938: Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) occurs across Germany and Austria. Ninety-one Jews are killed; others are beaten. Thirty thousand male Jews are sent to concentration camps, though most will be released in a few weeks. 267 synagogues are desecrated and destroyed (almost all of the synagogues of Germany and Austria). SS Security Service chief Reinhard Heydrich instructs security agencies to burn the synagogues unless German lives or property are endangered. Jewish businesses are looted and destroyed.
Painted on Jewish businesses were the Star of David and the word “JUD,” German for Jew. One estimate had Nazis and sympathizers shattering 7,500 storefronts — hence “crystal night,” for the glass shards littering the pavement — and we, indeed see a Justifier, breaking a window with a brick. Some 2,000 synagogues were damaged, many destroyed, in the “spontaneous” persecution, and yet it was a relatively mild precursor for the horrors perpetrated against the Jews which was to come…
There’s absolutely no doubt that Jack, himself of Jewish heritage, was making a not-so oblique reference to Kristallnacht with his “‘S’ is for Scapegoat” incident, astonishing for a mainstream comic book and an inclusion that still floors me.