With this third issue of The New Gods and the showcasing of The Black Racer, it becomes obvious Jack Kirby is jockeying to launch spin-offs of his tetralogy. (Actually, I have heard our dark-skinned skiing deity had been created separate from the New Genesis/Apokolips saga, but the DC office, eager to expand the Fourth World should it hit big were looking for characters who could headline their own books, so Jack threw in the ebony harbinger of death.) I confess I have mixed feelings about the character, particularly the visual elements. I mean, c’mon! It’s a dude dressed in a medieval suit of armor painted in garish red and blue, flying through the cosmos on a pair of skis, wielding ski poles! I’ve always thought the appearance of Sgt. Willie Walker’s alter ego a little silly, as if it were a fruitless attempt to replicate an earlier, albeit much more popular creation, The Silver Surfer… And, if true, who could blame Jack? When you think about it, the concept behind He Who Possesses The Power Cosmic is pretty goofy, yet in execution it worked superbly, enough so to become perhaps the most resonate character to soar out of the 1960s. (And we’re not even mentioning the sordid events surrounding Stan Lee’s treatment of Jack in the whole Silver Surfer affair which would lead anyone to try again to better advantage.)
But, putting aside the costuming, The Black Racer does work, I think, and it’s hard not to get wrapped up in lives of Willie, his care-giving sister and her husband, all trying to get by in Suicide Slum. But I really dig the idea of a Grim Reaper, even one on skis, playing a direct role in the epic. Whose side is this personification of death on? Certainly Darkseid and his ilk ultimately worship death — what else is anti-life? — but their fear of The Black Racer (they’re as afraid as their New Genesis adversaries of BR’s mortal touch) shows us he’s neutral, ambivalent even. Very cool.
I’m also a fan of Jack’s (for lack of a better term) “Blaxpoitation” work at early ’70s DC, so I do respond to the Walker subplot. Jack may be off-target now and again, trying a little too hard to be hip and with it, but like his extraordinary romance work with Joe Simon, he remains earnest and empathetic with minority characters. If you haven’t seen his Soul Love work from that era, you’re missing a treat and you must seek out those unpublished stories. Wild stuff.
One could argue from the get-go Jack painted himself into a corner with the broad strokes of Willie Walker’s ordeal — paralyzed, completely dependent on his sister — or never took the chance to expand in the short time left for the Fourth World. In the few appearances to follow, the Vietnam vet’s situation remained the same: him lost in thought, his sister Verna fretting over his fate and brother-in-law Ray comforting the sister… a person might imagine Jack moving The Black Racer to another mortal vessel just to get things jumping!
Anyway, The New Gods #3 is a fine issue and, however clunky he looks, The Black Racer is a worthy addition to the opus. It’s also fun to see a two-fisted, Earthling-attired Orion duking it out in the Metropolis ghetto, and while Sugar-Man and Badger are hardly candidates for membership in the Secret Society of Super-Villains, they are classic if unrefined Kirby bad guys, so no complaints here! Jack is chugging along, gaining momentum, building tension… things are starting to rock!
Cooke Look: “The Big Boom!”
Wow, what a nail-biter this issue is! It’s an unrelenting juggernaut of a story that climaxes the Project story arc that basically started in JO #133. Jack’s depiction of Superman is simply awesome, whether our hero is smacking down the Four-Armed Terror or carrying a rather hefty atomic reactor over his head while in full trot!
When I was a kid, as my brother and I would lay about our shared bedroom leafing through the latest Kirby comics, I distinctly recall when finishing a Kamandi comic book once, I’d snort, “Yeesh, that took me eight minutes to read,” like it was a bad thing. You know, this was when Jack had multiple chapters to an issue, each chapter opening with a full-page splash, never mind the requisite double-pager for the second and third pages… plus the regular pages typically had four panels per. I think I complained — I know I complained — because I wanted to spend more time in the throes of Jack’s imagination and, however brief, I still reveled in the experience.
I bring this episode up because this issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen is almost a “real-time” comic book, starting on page one as it does with 15 minutes to go and ending at second zero on pg. 23 (not counting the epilogue that occurs an hour after the almost-Armageddon). This is certainly one of my all-time favorite Kirby comic books. The Four-Armed Terrors are terrific baddies and it’s a delight to see the old Newsboy Legion in action. The ferocity of the almost-final battle is breath-taking and a reminder of Jack’s great war comics work…
This, in my humble opinion, is the best the series ever got under Jack’s guidance, though there are lots more exciting, engaging adventures to come. Me, I’m a big fan of the Goody Rickels stuff, so you’ll not hear me say the series goes downhill… no, just the pacing changes and, for me, a humorous episode was perfectly timed following these stressed-out, ticking-bomb tales!
Cooke Look: “Life vs. Anti-Life!”
A few of my insights about this issue are featured in the “‘S’ is for Scapegoat” entry but allow me to again marvel at what a turning point this was for the Fourth World and for me, as a young reader experiencing the comics as they appeared on the stands. Jack Kirby has this incredible ability to not only convincingly depict the most cosmic, outer-worldly and fantastical happenings but to simultaneously convey them as relevant and pertinent to real life. His and Stan’s use of New York City as a setting for the Marvel super-heroes was a stunning development connecting not only The Mighty Thor and Ben Grimm together, but it linked we, the readers, with the characters as well. And while he and Joe Simon were likely not the first to use the real-world menace of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime as foils for costumed characters, the Fuhrer’s villainy in Captain America Comics gave the character and his exploits an invigorating urgency in a worldwide battle we were a part of as well. But starting here, in The Forever People, Jack was bringing relevancy to an entirely new level, giving us a profound statement, in the guise of “good” New Genesis and “bad” Apokolips, the yin and yang of human nature writ large, with direct allusions to the horror of the real Holocaust, the threat of technology in dehumanizing us, and how we all can fall victim to our prejudices and selfishness.
There’s also a statement here not only about fascism and race-hatred, but about the risks posed by silky smooth evangelists selling a gospel of death… I mean, there’s a lot going on in this issue, even if a few plot threads here and there seem to evaporate (though I’m confident had the series continued to its rightful ending, some matters would be cleared up). Among the unanswered questions that arise: How precisely did Godfrey attract the discontented recruits and what was his specific criteria? Who were the persecuted folk being captured and what set them apart from the Justifier recruits? Why were they kidnapped and — maybe I’m missing something — what use did they have for Desaad in locating the Anti-Life Equation? Their cries of despair are filtered into peals of laughter… is this just a sick amusement for Desaad?
Frankly, these questions only make the Fourth World all that more appealing — alluring, if you will! And the only negative comments I can conjure are simply a couple of disappointments: The disappearance of The Infinity Man for the duration of the series, except for the last issue; and the relative vanishing of Glorious Godfrey, hand’s down my favorite of Darkseid’s elite. Of all the villains populating the court of Apokolips, Godfrey knows human beings and is potentially the greatest threat short of Darkseid himself, as he wields a marketing savvy and psychological insight that rivals Madison Avenue!
Simply a profoundly great issue! And, believe it or don’t, The Forever People even gets better as we enter the “Happyland Affair”!
Cooke Look: “X-Pit!”
You just gotta love the cover copy on this issue of Mister Miracle: “What is a Follower? Ever wear Aero-Discs? Who is Overlord? Just a few questions on his road to sudden death! Electric tensions means Mister Miracle” and “Also — meet Granny Goodness… she reaches out of this world to make deadly little things like the… X-Pit!”
While the interior story is mildly formulaic, Granny Goodness proves an awesome villain (and so is the freakish Overlord despite the one-shot appearance), and I believe the issue is, overall, a vast improvement over #1. Granny is shallow, vain, greedy and even needy, yet always impressive, and researching her entry, it’s obvious she is as much the quintessential nemesis in this title as Desaad is to The Forever People. Her obsession with Scott Free is all-consuming and, as becomes obvious, she refuses to get over his escape from Apokolips and that will doubtless be the cause of her eventual downfall.
There are a couple of other delightful touches in this story, as well, including the bonding of Oberon and Scott Free — particularly when they shake hands after the assistant plies for background information and Oberon notes, “There’s a haunting look of fear in your eyes — and pain! Say no more! I know you as a brave and sincere, young friend!” Replies Scott, “Thank you, Oberon! You’re a big man — the kind one looks up to!”; and when Mister Miracle holds his pal over his head when the mud rises in the X-Pit. The other moment is when Scott revives his Mother Box who has suffered an attack of Overlord. “I haven’t explained Mother Box to you, Oberon — but she is dear to me — and I must help her!” Scott tells his friend. Oberon retorts, “Y-you mean that thing — is alive?” Scott puts his hands to his forehead and concentrates on his sentient computer: “In a way, she is! But, now, she’s hurt — weak — I must pour out my love — my belief — to make her respond!” Great stuff!
Cooke Look: “The Four-Armed Terror”
This issue, and the conclusion that follows, are two of my favorite issues in the Jimmy Olsen run, probably because the menacing monster, the Four-Armed Terror, still gives me a fright, especially when we turn to the last page in #137 to see dozens, maybe hundreds of Homo Usurpians bursting out of their egg-sacs! Their mindless “AARUKs” and seriously bad skin condition remain effectively chilling and, yeah, I’ll admit it: scary! And, natch, it’s all leading to a tremendously impressive climax — the “Big Boom!” — the highpoint of the entire run! Boy, oh boy, don’t I just love this stuff!
I also dig the Solar-Phone “dance party” sequence, a psychedelic moment that fits with the Hairies’ hippyesque scene, man! Like I said in the previous entry: Sheer wonder.
The boys are trapped in the Four-Armed Terror’s woven egg sac and said monster is about to provoke an atomic reactor chain reaction that just might destroy the city of Metropolis as well as the Wild Area, plus an entire army of yellow beasties are bursting through their shells ready to join their brethren… Jack’s closing caption: “The final countdown is on! It isn’t waiting for Jimmy Olsen, his pal Superman, or for any of us! So stay where you are — on Ground Zero — so you won’t miss the following issue — and the Big Boom!”
The cover blurb ain’t lying (too much) as it screams: “KIRBY brings them all together!! — On the last day of the world!!”
With this issue we get a long, hard look at the Great Villain of Jack Kirby’s opus and, as a kicker, a splendidly vile portrayal of his number two man, the sinister Desaad. Especially resonate too is the overview of this Super War slowly engulfing Earth, as Orion shares with his newfound Earth friends nightmare visions of servitors and monsters roaming our unsuspecting planet. (The creatures of panels two and three on page 14, never seen again in the Fourth World, while relatively generic in Kirby terms, are especially enticing and one can only dream what Jack intended to show of their dastardly affairs!)
The creator is still setting the scene initiated in the debut number and, again, it’s a spectacular vision — the opposing worlds of the new gods on page one (note the para-demons flying above Apokolips!), the idyllic paradise of New Genesis on the double-page spread that followed, the Moses-like majesty of Highfather conferring with Lightray (sporting a one-time only metallic mask that is especially groovy), and Darkseid himself aloof in a chair with an Earthling’s humble apartment before disappearing (Orion says to his allies, staring intently on that piece of Dave Lincoln’s furniture: “As for the arch-enemy of all life — you have seen him –! That empty chair still reeks of his presence!” Will Murphy’s Oil Soap take care of that stench, ya think?)… Too much!
Brola and His Hand of Stone…? Well, not much to brag about but the Fear Machine is impressive! Most of all though, Darkseid is (umm) set in stone as a character here and the hints of Orion’s origin, mayhap as one born on Apokolips, adds a fine texture. Two thumbs of stone up!
Cooke Look: “Super War!”
Jack Kirby starts to loosen up in this second issue of The Forever People, after a somewhat constricted-feeling debut number, but the creator does come dangerously close to formula in having his fantastic characters deal in a mundane setting of everyday Earth (in this instance, the rundown neighborhood of Donnie and Uncle Willie), then encounter a strange new super-villain (Mantis) and combine into The Infinity Man to defeat said baddie, all tied neat in a bow by page 22. Frankly all three of the new titles have a slightly pat air about them but, by the third issues, it’s as if Jack flushed the formulaic, traditional comic-book approach clean out of his system, because by then, pal, all bets are off!
Still, however rote the plotting, it is a great pleasure to have the gang checking out regular folks on our humble planet. The traffic jam episode, chatting with Donnie, moving into the new digs — all these sequences are great fun, and it was again a pleasure when the Super-Kids got to briefly hang out with Trixie Magruder later in the run. As somewhat stereotypical as Donnie is, there is an earnestness I can relate to and it would’ve been a hoot to return to him, too, in the future.
Not too much to expound on here, though it must be said Mantis is an excellent villain and The Infinity Man, as always, is a marvel to watch in action. But the meat of this issue is the foreshadowing with the appearance of that guy we never tire of seeing, Darkseid, and an ominous new bad guy from Apokolips, Desaad. Reading this issue as a kid just made me want more. The storytelling clips along nicely, the action in the usual top Kirby form, and a momentum is starting to build. What I didn’t realize, reading these as they appeared on the newsstand, was that a veritable tsunami was fast approaching with the Glorious Godfrey/Happyland epic, which made The Forever People a transcendental title, one that was dealing with hugely adult and pertinent issues, a transformation that frankly changed me. Obviously, writing about this all four decades later, I still marvel at Jack’s achievements.
Get ready, kiddos, it’s rising on the horizon, so grab some flotation devices, will ya!!!!
Cooke Look: “The Saga of the D.N.Aliens”
I love the introduction to this issue: “It’s true! The Guardian is back! But — he is the Guardian of a new and frightening age! He is a child of ‘The Project,’ a new and far reaching experiment which could change humanity as we know it! For the Big Picture is unfolding, and each segment of it reveals the terrifying pattern of forces, the likes of which have never been seen on Earth! Yes — and the birth of forces which are yet to play their part in this great saga!”
This all is big, big stuff and we need time to process the implications, so it’s worth appreciating the nice balance of action and explication in this chapter of Jack’s big, big masterpiece.
Jack jams a lot into this issue, including a raucous slamfest between Giant Jimmy and The Guardian and the introduction of some particularly awesome Kirby koncepts, especially the Scrapper-Troopers and Dubbilex, the coolest D.N.Alien ever! There’s also tons of exposition expertly weaved in between the action — the Newsboy Legion dads telling the boys the fate of the original Guardian; Mokkari and Simyan explaining The Evil Factory and its connection to Apokolips; and Superman’s chatty, enormously informative tour of The Project with a flabbergasted Jimmy Olsen… (Poor Jimmy! Imagine having to take all that in after the previous issue learning there’s a veritable battalion of clones grown from his own DNA!)
We sense the Kirby juggernaut of hyperkinetic storytelling is about to come barreling at us helter-skelter again, why with the story’s final page depicting Mokkari and Simyan observing one of the “Unknown’s” eggs cracking open and we see, thrusting from the shell, one arm, then two arms, then… four arms??!! Oy vey, time to buckle up the seatbelt again, partners, cuz there’s another Kirby-driven bumpy ride ahead!
If I have any quibble with this issue, it’d be that Giant Jimmy is dispensed with rather quick-like and a tad neatly, encased as he is in a liquid nitrogen coating and plopped in Cryonic Capsule 31570, after the Scrapper-Trooper stealth attack — I guess the build-up had me hoping to see a more involved battle; but the coming “Four-Armed Terror” two-parter, culminating in the breathless, nail-biting suspense of the “Big Boom” and accompanying end-of-the-world (well, their world, for sure!) countdown to nuclear Armageddon… well, let’s just say the climax of Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion’s great adventure at The Project was worth getting to as soon as possible.
One question: Back in JO #135, the captain of the Mountain of Judgment, Jude, emphatically tells Superman, “You are needed at The Project!” Now, did they need the Man of Steel’s powers of deduction to find out who has been rifling their genetic material? Or is there anticipation of an invasion by the “rival Project”? Wouldn’t, maybe, a detective along the lines of Batman be more useful? (I keed, I keed…)
Cooke Look: “The Missile Murder Trap!”
I’ll admit I considered Mister Miracle #1 a slight disappointment when first I cracked open that comic book at the time. The contrivances and coincidences kinda put me off, but I was darn glad the character costume’s color scheme was changed between the time the interior was colored and when tints were added to the cover… I mean, c’mon! Mister Miracle sports a great costume design! And nice as the purple-green-&-yellow is in the story itself, the cover and subsequent series’ red-green-&-yellow is simply the best color combination of any super-hero, beating out the original Captain Marvel’s (sans green) red-&-gold… sigh! And I can’t say enough about the fancy cape and, especially, the superb mask design (particularly when it didn’t indicate Scott’s nose or show his pupils but just the sideways-ankh-shaped motif about the eye-slits)…
But as for the content, the story doesn’t have the same energy and confidence as the other Fourth World debut issues, but in retrospect that makes the series even more remarkable because the title expanded and changed as it went along during its 18-issue run, the longest of Jack’s 4W books. And if we thought Scott Free was a slightly corny character to start, so deferential to old man Thaddeus and seemingly bland and unassuming (with very hip sideburns though!), so apparently simple and average, we would become surprised how remarkably well-adjusted the young man ended up as we learned more about his hellacious background.
Indeed it’s what the title grew to become which endears this particular issue to me. This is Dorothy back at the farm, so to speak, before the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy Gale before Oz and the Wizard; Scott Free before Apokolips and Darkseid. (Not literally, of course, but in the reader’s eye, if you know what I’m saying.) And those coincidences I mentioned raise tantalizing questions in me that delight rather than frustrate. Did Scott choose to be at the fence observing The Great Thaddeus at just that moment when Inter-Gang arrives (as Richard Bensam suggests in a reply on this blog)? Was Scott planning to assume Thaddeus Brown’s identity from the start, albeit likely not as the result of murder, of course! Is Scott in the country, walking on foot with carpetbag in hand — gawd, I love the idea of this super-scientific “eternal” carrying around an artifact from the 19th century, the much-maligned carpetbag! — to get distance from the city and hide from Darkseid’s agents looking to capture him and return to Apokolips? I know, I know, I’ve asked these questions earlier, but they’re fun to contemplate because the series did, indeed and in very short order, started weaving into a delightfully complex and rewarding tapestry, one that still leaves a whole bucket-full of questions. The biggest query of all being what did Jack ultimately intend for Scott Free? That is, the guy is a product of New Genesis, making him a “new god,” and he is one part of “The Pact,” his breaking of which started renewed war with Apokolips and spreading it to Earth… I mean, he’s a huge player and yet he seems like a (deceptively?) simple character, the most Earth-like of anyone from Highfather’s world.
I’ll stop yammering except to say I’m pretty happy that I was underwhelmed with Mister Mister #1. My little brother, Andy, picked this title at the time to be his Fourth World favorite (I liked The New Gods and Jimmy Olsen pretty much equally as my personal fave) and I understand why now: Mister Miracle is simply Jack’s purest super-hero created for the epic. He’s a conventional crime-fighter in some ways, yet refreshingly innovative, given the escape artist angle. He’s a nice guy, a friend to many, and he surrounds himself with people he cares for and who care for him. In other words, he’s a great role model and eminently pleasant character, almost totally out of tune with that era of the emerging anti-hero and yet perfect for that time with his hippy-like attitudes… Jack, you did it again!