Category Archives: Heroes

Day 70: Mister Miracle!

“He cheats death! He defies man! NO TRAP CAN HOLD HIM!”

In our previous post, we’ve had a solid, pretty thorough look at the background of the person called Scott Free; now let’s examine the hero named Mister Miracle!

The original Mister Miracle was Thaddeus Brown, the renowned escape artist also known as The Great Thaddeus, and, as best as can be ascertained, has performed his death-defying act before audiences decades prior to the events of our current episode. Recently he has decided to stage a comeback, divising bigger and deadlier traps from which to escape. But time is catching up with the showman, enough so that his longtime faithful assistant Oberon fears for the old man’s ability. “Be content with your past greatness! — During these years of inactivity — time has passed you by!” But Thaddeus will have none of it.

Mister Miracle is an alter ego created by Thaddeus’ “late” son, Ted (whom we will later learn is quite alive, despite his father telling a visitor Ted was killed in the Korean War), complete with colorful costume and huge cape (looking at the get-up, the visitor speculates “Ted must have been a great fan of Superman!“). Thaddeus explains, “It wall all Ted’s idea! He created Mister Miracle — and brought the art of escape into a new decade!

But Thaddeus Brown’s comeback is cut short by a sniper’s bullet and his mantle is handed over to a newcomer who had just happened to be passing (one would assume) the Brown household the day prior. The young man, dressed in tie and jacket and carrying a carpetbag, was just in time to witness The Great Thaddeus rehearse a dangerous stunt, in full dress as Mister Miracle. Being bound in a metal contraption, Thaddeus tells Oberon, “We must give a flawless performance for that young onlooker!

When things seem to go wrong (things always appear to go wrong when Mister Miracle performs — that’s part of his appeal!), the passerby jumps the fence and intercedes to help, but Thaddeus does escape on his own. Introductions are made. “As for you, my boy,” Thaddeus greets the stranger, “Yours is a rare species these days! My name is really Thaddeus Brown — and I’m in your debt!”

“Surely, you’re joking,” the young man rejoins. “I was quite ineffectual! However, I’m glad you’re safe! My name is Scott — Scott Free!

Thaddeus smiles and says, “Ha –! I don’t believe it! Scott Free, eh? Ha! Ha! Ha! Forgive me, boy! but that name does evoke a reaction.”

Yes, the unassuming stranger is the same Scott Free who has recently fled his adopted world of Apokolips, unwittingly breaking The Pact and reigniting the conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips. The incredible coincidences stretch credulity and one can’t help but surmise that more than fate is in play here, given Scott’s prior tutoring in the escape arts by Himon on Apokolips and need for a vocation, never mind refuge from the agents of Darkseid prowling Earth in search of him… Let’s just say the fact Scott Free is passing by this particular suburban house at just the right moment is fortuitous beyond measure and ya might as well credit destiny. (Me, I still think this is all planned on Scott’s part — he needs a hideout, a new identity, a way to make money using his abilities… now, how he protected the cover of anonymity, well, maybe not so well, but he did start with a plan… or so says I!)

Upon avenging Thaddeus Brown by seeing his killer brought to justice, the young man assumes the role of a master escape artist with Oberon’s blessing, taking sanctuary in Thaddeus’ home and donning the costume of Mister Miracle. No doubt the tiny assistant can see in the newcomer’s bag of tricks gadgets that can perform miracles, as well observe the young man’s charm and wondrous abilities, and decides there might be a good life to be had in this escape game with a performer like Scott Free.

Let’s now have a peek into Scott’s carpetbag: When Scott respectfully suggests that the Great Thaddeus think all of his act through and Oberon surmises Scott might be a genius, he replies, “I’m not a genius, sir, but I think I do have a bag of new tricks!” And it seems there are wondrous items therein and Thaddeus asks Scott from whence they came. “My inheritance, that is all, sir! Things left with a foundling by parties unknown!” The young man tells the old escape artist this is a new era: “‘Gadgets,’ sir! This is an age of gadgets — they work on gases — liquids and solids –”

Among the Mister Miracle gizmos in the series:

    • Intense Magnetic Repulsion device (causing chains to fly apart)
    • Hyper-Sound Intensifiers (breaking metal chains when bound to a missile) and Retro-Jet Back Pack
    • Compact cloth Cocoon Spinner
    • Pseudo-Unit/Follower (artificial human which copies movements)
    • The multi-purpose Multi-Cube (one component is miniature laser beam, another sprays a destructive corrosive, sends out strong electro-sonic signal
    • Laser-jets in boot soles
    • Handy-dandy ejection seat
    • Large Fibroid Cocoon (shock-resistant, heat-resistant, expandable)
    • Anti-Grav gimmicks
    • Ability to create small fission blast from hidden circuits
    • Boot and finger lasers
    • Invisible glove studs (generates enormous electric power to send through walls of house; transmits micro-electric waves through eyes)
    • Beam neutralizes fuse in grenade
    • Circuitry to track subject
    • Circuitry to destroy ordnance
    • Glove delivers violent shock blast

At one point Scott relies on his sophisticated wiring to such a degree, he say, “I can activate my circuitry almost without thinking!”

But two of his absolute coolest gadgets deserve special mention here:

Mister Miracle’s Aero-Discs: Earned by Scott during his training as an Aero-Trooper on Apokolips (“As a former candidate for Granny’s flight troops, I earned these!”), these nondescript metallic cylinders, each a fraction of an inch thick, give the hero the ability to fly through the air standing up, a graceful and imposing sight. It’s obvious, in “Himon,” that Scott took the transport mechanisms with him when he escaped via Boom Tube to Earth, but late in the series, in #15, Mister Miracle makes a curious comment when flying with Barda, she on her own pair:

Barda: There’s more than one way to follow a quarry –! These Aero-Discs are perfect for the job, Mister Miracle!

Mister Miracle: I built these for the act, Barda. Where we grew up, the Anti-Grav vehicle is as common as an Earth automobile.

What’s that all about? (And what’s with the use of the lowly period punctuation instead of multiple exclamation points, eh???!!!)

But the greatest of all devices is Scott Free’s Mother Box, a gift from her creator Himon, and a life-saver throughout the series. (“Well — there’s Mother Box! She HELPS — but she doesn’t do it all! But no one can build her!! She must be earned!!“) As we’ve found in the earlier entry devoted exclusively to the Mother Box, a miraculous contraption held by many of New Genesis and some on Apokolips, Mother Box is a sentient computer who has emotions and rudimentarily communicates via pings, can sooth and heal its possessor, and perform any number of amazing feats. It can also die.

When first we see Scott’s beloved friend, he uses it to ease fatally struck Thaddeus into the hereafter. The original Mister Miracle’s last words are, “What is it — I hear — a sound — a voicecomforting, easing — the pain is — gone –” as Scott’s device softly pings to the dying man. “It looks like a box — but it has a strange power to it –” Scott tells Oberon. Mother Box can also kill, as she destroys Overlord after almost being killed herself, and later, helps her master avoid being impaled when a metal bar is jammed through a trunk where our hero is trapped.

There’s a remarkable occurrence when after she is almost fried by Overlord, Scott performs a ritual to revive her, as he sits cross-legged concentrating completely on her well-being:

Scott: I-I haven’t explained Mother Box to you, Oberon — But she is dear to me — and I must help her!

Oberon: Y-you mean that thing — is alive?

Scott: In a way, she is! But, now, she’s hurt — weak — I must pour out my lovemy belief — to make her respond!

When poor Mother Box is completely fritzed by Doctor Bedlam, Scott duplicates her circuits inside of his hood and tricks Bedlam who is encased in an “electronic web of micro-cosmic atoms.” Unfortunately, from thereon in, virtually no reference is made to her, now just a bunch of wiring and microchips inside the mask of Mister Miracle. An ignoble fate, but she was really something in her day, she was!

Instead of describing the retinue of villains and descriptions of his death-defying escapes (which we’ll all get to anyway if you stick with 365JK4W!), allow me to point out some important aspects of Mister Miracle worth inspection:

Scott and Barda: A Love Story — A wonderfully satisfying development in Mister Miracle is the growing romance of the title character and Big Barda, one of the most effervescent — and originalfemmes ever to grace the comic book page. (Suffice to say, there’s a big entry on this delightful Special Power Force soldier when we get to her!) In the beginning, while we may have sensed a bit more affection between the two than might be usual between military cadets, Scott and Barda were typically shown as comrades, albeit very close soldiers in arms. In a memorable exchange prior to the return to Apokolips storyline:

Scott: More than that, Barda! Living, or dead — you and I are proof to all of Apokolips — that it can fall!!

Barda: Well, then!! Victory before the battle leaves little left but to enjoy it!! Let’s tear the top off Apokolips!

It’s around that time when readers could sense the couple was falling in love, but we didn’t know for sure until the Great Thaddeus’ son Ted boldly asks Barda the question: “Tell me — are you in love with Mister Miracle, Barda?” Barda replies, “Until now — I-I never gave it much thought!” But we knew all along, didn’t we…?

Still, we’d have to wait until the final issue, when the pair are in a veritable foxhole under fire for the big clinch to finally happen. Huddled in a earthen tunnel, their forms up next to one another, the bees start to fly and the birds start to sing:

Barda: Sweet fool! That was a close call! Why didn’t you leave me?

Scott: The answer is simple — now. I love you, Barda — I can’t live without you —

Barda: Strange — I feel the same way about you

Scott: We’ve both been fools, Barda — we’ve wasted precious time —

Barda: Yes. We’ve spent our time on all the things that don’t count! [They kiss]

Scott: Then, let’s do something that does count! Let’s get married! Right away!

This being a Jack Kirby-catered wedding, you can imagine the guests, never mind the agenda! In a beautiful scene, we see our old friends Orion, Lightray and Metron for the first time in many months (as Mister MIracle had basically become a non-Fourth World title beginning a year or so prior, at the time the other titles were cancelled), and Orion says, “Here, in a gathering of our enemies, The Source has decreed that a wedding take place!” Scott Free’s own father is there — Highfather — who officiates:

Highfather: So it must be! … This cannot be stopped! The Source has sanctioned this marriage in words of fire! When I touch you both with the Wonder Staff, The Source shall make you as one!

Barda: I am eternal with Scott Free!

Scott: I am eternal with Barda.

Highfather: Thus, it is done!

What a way to end the series!

What I have so failed to mention is the irresistible charm of Mister Miracle, both as a flamboyant, colorful swashbuckler of a super-hero and as a somewhat atypical personality for comics. Scott Free exudes a sincerity and grace that, for this writer at least, rings especially true, resonantly so. American comic books of the costumed character variety had become accursed with the advent of “camp” — [American Heritage Dictionary: camp n. 1. An affectation or appreciation of manners and tastes commonly thought to be outlandish, vulgar, or banal. 2. Banality or artificiality, when appreciated for its humor. —adj. Having the qualities or style of camp. … To act in an outlandish or effeminate manner. [Origin obscure.] — camp’y adj.] — which had rigid, square-jawed hyper-muscled Boy Scouts mouthing pithy homilies with a vastly out-dated “Aww, shucks” faux humility (“Just doing my duty, ma’am!”). And the mainstream comics’ reaction to the teevee show Batman and its wake of damage, coupled with the iconoclastic sentiment of an increasingly cynical and pessimistic society, was the advent of the anti-hero in the medium, particularly in the form of the former Caped Crusader and now Darknight Detective. But Mister Miracle, for all of his nuttiness in voluntarily facing death time and time again, is authentically humble and quite well-mannered, astonishing attributes for a character who has been raised in what might as well be Torquemada’s persuasion chambers.

From the very start of our saga, Scott Free exudes deference and respect to those who deserve the courtesies: The young man tells Thaddeus Brown and Oberon, “Meeting you both has been a unique experience!” and is especially kind to his new companion, the devoted Oberon. When the assistant quizzes Scott on his alien upbringing and the son of Izaya struggles with the memory, sensitive Oberon kindly tells him, “There’s a haunting look of fear in your eyes — and pain! Say no more! I know you as a brave and sincere friend!” To that, Scott responds to the three-foot-nothing assistant, “Thank you, Oberon! You’re a big man — the kind one looks up to!”

During the pair’s nightmarish experience in the X-Pit, as the rising muck and gunk threaten to engulf Scott and Oberon, Mister Miracle is willing to sacrifice himself for the little person by holding up the newfound friend above his Super Escape Artist head. And yet, as we see in the conclusion of the same episode, Scott can drop his good manners to tell his old jailkeepers a thing or two: Having destroyed Granny Goodness’s beloved Overlord, our hero goes nose-to-nose with the harpy and brashly tells her, “And that brings me to my parting words!!! Dry up and blow away, Granny Goodness!” (Soon after, aloft on his Aero-Discs with his assistant riding his shoulders, Mister Miracle reflects, “Oberon — it took a lot of nerve to say that to a terror like Granny!” Amen to that!)

There are a few other instances of Scott being understandably ill-mannered to his former superiors — giving Virman a veritable Bronx Cheer by barking at the fake Prussian, “What if I tell you to go blow your nose!?!” — and to future allies — after first meeting the Apokolips rebel leader and Himon greets him as a “skinhead,” Scott boasts, “How dare you call me that? I’m an Aero-Trooper of Darkseid’s own elite! — but etiquette is not paramount with the Super Escape Artist. Rather, Scott believes greatly in fairness and honor.

More evidence of Scott’s grace come through with his immediate adoption of Shilo Norman, the kid-sidekick addition to the team late in the series. Not only is Mister Miracle kind and supportive while knowing the boy will be disobedient, but he’s adept at lifting Shilo’s confidence when the youngster needs it most: “You’ve got what it takes, Shilo,” says Scott. Coordination. “Courage. And standards of your own!” Shilo protests, “Have you taken a good look at me?” And Scott replies, “Yes –! I see me — as I once was — trying to escape to anywhere.” Barda adds, “And I helped him do it! I couldn’t fail him! I won’t fail you, Shilo. You see — I once lost a friend who couldn’t — escape!” (A remarkable statement, that last one by Barda, in that it references the torture and murder of Auralie quite a while after the series had been virtually stripped of the Fourth World backstory.)

Scott Free’s courtly manner can be downright comical at times: In his exchange with Kanto the Assassin and, quite a bit later, when the team checks into a sketchy hotel. Scott tells the stoic and somewhat unhelpful innkeeper, “You’ve been very helpful. The gang and I appreciate it…! … The room is comfortable — the service delightful — and now, we bid you good night …!” and Mister Miracle even gives a low bow to the dastardly hotel manager and reffering to him as a “charming fellow”! (Truth be told, the Super Escape Artist does tell the scoundrel what he really think, as our hero bops the innkeeper on the nose, “And now, I’d like to show you what I think of your hospitality!ZOK!)

When Granny’s officer Virman Vundabar snifs at Barda, “Great Darkseid rules Apokolips like a colossus!! His is the creed of destruction! — not fair play!” it is a perfect juxtaposition of just why Scott Free is so very out of place in his adopted world. Y’see, if Mister Miracle is about anything, he’s about a righteous, almost pathological devotion to fair play. The cover blurb on #1, I think, is wrong: The character doesn’t cheat death; he just beats it fair and square, time and time again!

Engaged in a death match, in the Id world of The Lump, rather than boast the usual Marvel super-hero “I’m gonna thrash your hiney” exclamations, Mister Miracle pleads for a peaceful resolution: “Look here, Lump! I’ve submitted to ‘Trial by Combat,’ but the choice of this battleground was not mine!” But the pink-pigmented monstrosity isn’t listening, “This is my world! My world! Here, I live! Here I’m free!!” But Scott persists, “Believe me! I-I understand! Perhaps if we both remain cool we can reach an honorable solution!” But Scott’s rationality does not sway the tragic creature.

Scott Free fervently believes in righteous behavior despite being taught despicable values. His belief system is all about doing the right thing and doing things right. While he grabs Stuka’s gun and boasts to his first adversary as super-hero, “The age of miracles isn’t over yet, Steel Hand!” Mister Miracle doesn’t shoot his enemy (though momentarily strikes a pose similar to the one Jack used in his initial pitch of the character — seen below — when the creator envisioned the character wielding a weapon), and in fact just chucks it away!

And the Master of the Holocaust’s hierarchy knows full well of Scott’s sense of duty and honor, as Doctor Bedlam barks at him, “Scott Free! In the name of the great Darkseid, ruler of all life on Apokolipssurrender yourself for punishment — or die in the trap I’ve been empowered to devise!” And, talking to the bad doctor on the phone, Scott can adopt a pose of military formality, this after he’s already escaped from Apokolips: “Hello! This is Scott Free! State your terms for battle, Doctor Bedlam!

(And Mister Miracle also expects his ex-superiors to adhere to proper rules of engagement: When Bedlam holds forth his diabolical “Paranoid Pill,” Scott declares, “”You cannot tranquilize an adversary! He must be equally aware, to take full advantage of what weapons he possesses!” The Super Escape Artist insists that his friends, too, exhibit righteous behavior, as he tells his companion — about to throttle Granny — “No, Barda! You mustn’t!! … I’ve won my trial by combat!”)

Scott has a code of conduct at home, as well, telling his future wife, who has been bickering with Oberon, “This is a house of friends, Barda! The strong don’t rule here!” And his professional ethics are discussed in an amusing moment with Oberon. When his assistant insists on hearing how Scott escaped a certain-death trap, Scott replies, “I-it just isn’t cricket for Mister Miracle to reveal his amazing secrets!” a declaration immediately followed by a blow-by-blow description of the hero’s efforts under the guise of coy suppositions.

Before we end, allow me to discuss Scott’s healthy self-esteem and ego, remarkable attributes for the former orphan who grew in an emotionally desolate environment. For kicks, here is a collection of his boasts throughout the series:

“Having inherited this escape-act from the original Mister Miracle, I must constantly devise newer and more exciting improvisations!”

“Why, any escape-artist could make short work of those rope! But it takes a master to play it that close and cool! Sometimes the best performances are lost on the wrong audience!”

“It was indeed a time to panic! But was Mister Miracle that type? Suppose he wasn’t! Suppose he coolly inched his bound hands…”

Sorry to frustrate you, Lump! But cheating death is my business!

Never lose confidence in one who knows his trade, Barda!”

“Barda and I are special people! — With special powers!

“You forget, Virman! I’m still the fastest moving target there is!”

While we are privy, upon reading “The Pact” that Scott Free is the son of Izaya the Inheritor — the supreme leader of New Genesis, Highfather himself — there’s never an indication, in the entire series, that Scott knows of his august heritage. Yes, Highfather does perform the marriage ceremony for his son and Big Barda, but ne’er a hint is given that he is father of the groom. And, come to think of it, while each of the new gods on Scott’s birth planet seem to show aptitude for fantastic powers, Scott Free possess relatively mundane abilities. Yes, his timing and physical agility is extraordinary by Earth standards, and his grace under fire exemplary, but couldn’t that fairly be credited to his Aero-Trooper training on Apokolips as well as the brutal tutelage of Granny and her Happiness Home flunkies? Certainly he’s smart, clever and resourceful, but Scott is nowhere near Metron’s class on the intellect scale… No, Scott can’t measure up to the residents of Supertown when it comes to the physical and mental realms. I think, maybe, his is the power of the heart, resolved to live his life in complete defiance of fear and death, loving and loyal to friends, compassionate and caring to whomever seeks his help. For all the horrors Scott has suffered — mother killed, abandoned by his father, a brutal upbringing in Granny’s hellish institution, savagely beaten and ostracized by his peers, finally finding a place to belong in Himon’s sanctuary only to have it destroyed, realizing the implications of Auralie’s ruthless murder (that there never will be no room for individuality, beauty or art in Darkseid’s domain), nightmarish forces snapping at his heels to kill him — for all that, Scott Free remains hopeful, optimistic and a man of the heart, unafraid to show love, unafraid to stand up to evil, unafraid to believe in a better universe. Unafraid.

My love of Jack Kirby the man, as well as the artist, prompts me to search for autobiographical hints and shadows in his work, and I find it in the classic romance story “Different,” in Benjamin Grimm and his tribulations with the Yancy Street Gang, in Orion’s internal fury and external beauty… I discover hints of it everywhere in his endeavors, often minute, sometimes writ large; but the character of Mister Miracle — more properly, Scott Free — strikes me as being the most autobiographical of characters, if you will. Jack escaped from the slums of the Lower East Side and was compelled to be an individual by finding and being himself by his art. Always beset by adversity, as we all are in one way or another, he preservers, consistently striving to be better by transforming the gritty violence and destitution of his youth into exquisite and meaningful self-expression… no mean feat in a commercial field. Coming into this world with nothing and leaving our earthly plane after having given so much. Well, if that’s not a miracle…

Day 69: Scott Free!

Scott Free, the son of Highfather and whose escape from the dominion of Darkseid was catalyst for the Super-War now raging, is arguably the focal point of the entire Fourth World saga. Born on the pastoral paradise of New Genesis and raised in the urban chamber of horrors called Apokolips, Scott has fled his adopted hellhole of a planet and assumed the identity of Mister Miracle, super escape artist, and calls Earth home. He is, it seems, a happy masochist, perpetually placing himself in exceedingly deadly situations, engaging with the most sadistic of villains and always — always — playing by the rules, whether earthly, celestial or deviant, no matter the odds stacked against him. He is indeed a man of miracles, quite possibly the ultimate savior of the two worlds of the new gods and, by saving his own skin innumerable times and defeating world-threatening foes and devices, a protector of Earth itself.

The story of Scott Free begins in the court of Darkseid, undisputed ruler of Apokolips. After years of conflict with neighboring New Genesis in the war called “The Great Clash,” the granite-face monarch needs a cease-fire to rebuild his world and set in motion a plan to not only rule Highfather’s planet, but to have dominion over all life in the universe. To that end, a bargain is struck between the two leaders — The Pact — an agreement that they would trade sons who were to live out their days in the other’s realm. If a son was to leave their new home, traveling to their native world or Earth, that would be a breach and war could likely renew. “Good!” exclaims Darkseid, looking at the rubble of his kingdom. “This exchange of heirs will seal the Pact!!” Referring to Highfather’s former name, the Master of the Holocaust continues, “Izaya wants peace! I — want — time!! — Time to re-define power!! — To make this ‘bombed-out’ waste a meaningful pursuit!!”

At that moment, Granny Goodness, one of Darkseid’s elite and head of the regime’s military academies, carries a bundle. “Hail, great Darkseid!” says Granny. “See what I hold!! See what was so gently nudged through the dimension threshold — from New Genesis!!” Wrapped in a blanket it is a young boy. “Izaya’s whelp, eh?” Darkseid observes. “This will hurt him!! He’s surrendered his prize lamb — for a tiger!!” For, in return, Highfather will become guardian to the feral, fierce son of Darkseid and Tigra, Orion, who would grow to be the greatest of all warriors on New Genesis.

(During his brief trip to Supertown, the satellite city of New Genesis, Superman unknowingly sits with Highfather and laments, “To be frank, I’m a new arrival to New Genesis! And by every rule I should belong here! — Yet, I-I’m finding it difficult to adjust.” The formerly-named Izaya the Inheritor looks over to the troubled Man of Steel and tells him, “There was a fierce young one with your problem! But we found a need for him here!! And it helped him mightily!!”)

Granny shows Darkseid the beautiful, sleeping child in her arms. “He’s been given some mild sedative, I think!!” Granny says. “There is a serene and fragile quality to his features!!”

Darkseid scoffs, “We’ll stamp that out, won’t we, Granny!!? We’ll jam him into that clanking mechanism you call an orphanage!! All the rigors and trials heaped upon the training warrior shall be doubled for him!! His spirit will flag and his bones will ache!! — Until –”

Until — sire??” asks Granny.

Darkseid confides the plan to begin a new age, one that will suit his galactic ambition: “He may conveniently decide to escape from Apokolips, Granny! Of course, on that day — The Pact I agreed to — will be broken!!

“That fine day will be dear to your heart, sire!” she says. “Therefore, in its honor, I shall name the lad — Scott Free!!! Ha ha hah –”

We only learn of this, when young Scott Free is first handed over to Apokolips, over a year after the debut of Mister Miracle and, to boot, in another title, The New Gods. But this arrival of Izaya the Inheritor’s scion is the first of two key, pivotal moments which serve to illustrate the dual core conflicts of the entire Fourth World saga (the second being the other side of the same bargain, the transfer of Orion to New Genesis). For it is Scott Free’s destiny, by machination or fate, to physically — and psychologically — escape the torment of his upbringing and live a life of peace and contentment (albeit fearlessly facing death on a constant basis). For Orion, the son of the most malevolent power in the universe, his raison d’etre is to somehow to resolve the curse of his birthright by rejecting evil and serving good. He, too, has a date with destiny, in the streets of Armagetto, to confront his father…

In the story unfolding in the comic book series, we learn of Scott’s background somewhat obliquely, first when The Great Thaddeus chuckles at first hearing Scott’s full name. “It has a past, sir!” the young man explains. “I was raised in an orphanage, and many of the foundlings were given such names to sort of — well — make them feel as individuals!

(An aside on the name: The American Heritage Dictionary defines scot-free, adj., 1. Without having to pay; free from obligation. 2. Without incurring any penalty; unpunished. [from Middle English scot, tax. See scot and lot.])

Soon thereafter we hear from she who named him and catch another glimpse of his background. Ranting to an underling, the old battle-ax bellows (in the third person, befitting her conceit), “She has lost her patience with rebellious boys! Granny Goodness wants to kill Scott Free! He was the first to run away from her institution!”

(Granny’s use of the word “first” might be a hint that Jack had in mind the inclusion of Big Barda, another escapee of Happiness Home, from the very start of the series.)

Oberon, Scott’s diminutive assistant, incessantly quizzes the young man about his past, giving readers the opportunity to learn more: “You claim to come from an orphanage, Scott — but it must be an incredible place!” The super escape-artist replies, “I came here — through the Boom Tube! … It can be a way of escape! — And I took it! I had to survive as an individual — as myself!

Doctor Bedlam, another Apokolips villain (about whom Oberon coyly asks, “Another visitor from this mysterious home town of yours, Scott?”), begins to reveal the planetary vendetta against the runaway: “And now, to my task! — To subjugate and break the spirit of the young rebel who dared to reject the powers that rule his world — and the master I serve! The great Darkseid, himself!”

While preparing a Civil War cannon act in “Doctor Vundabar and His Murder Machine,” Scott and Oberon engage in an informative exchange:

Oberon: “What is it like — where you come from, Scott –? You said it was a sort of orphanage — run by this old harpy — Granny Goodness!

Scott: “You saw her, Oberon… I’m certain you found her quite impressive! Well, she’s in charge of one of many institutions where the young of Apokolips are raised and trained to develop their inherent powers!! … You’d find the orphanage a nightmarish place!! Barda and I were raised there! When I had enough, it was she who helped me escape! I suppose that’s what I’ve been doing ever since!”

Issues #4 through 8 of Mister Miracle had larger page counts than the rest of the run and they accommodated a particularly fine treat for avid readers who wanted to find out more about this enigmatic super-hero with a mysterious past. Short vignettes titled “Young Scott Free” gave us glimpses into the boy’s military training and how one god from New Genesis took a special interest in the future Mister Miracle.

The first four-pager shows us Scott being punished by Granny and his fellow cadets. She barks at the boy, “Report, Scott!” Standing rigid at full attention, he replies, “I was derelict in duty and a traitor to the tradition! When I was given living specimens for my lesson in prisoner interrogation, I allowed them to overcome me and escape!!” Granny berates him as spineless and, beating him with her baton, she teaches him a lesson about whom Jack would later call “The Hunger Dogs”: “Those living specimens populate Apokolips to Breed for Darkseid — To work for Darkseid! To be killed for Darkseid!!” Still Scott speaks from his empathetic heart, “B-but they look like us! They’re weaponless!! They cry under torment!” Scott is further beaten and thrown into a “Contemplation Cell,” where “a visitor who conquers barriers” — Metron, the Seeker and Wielder of Cosmic Knowledge — introduces himself and begins to prompt Scott toward escaping his life of violence and despair…

The second installment, two pages, is of Scott joining his zombie-like fellow inmates in the dining hall and features this great opening blurb: “Mister Miracles are not made overnight!! Sometimes they are in places where they must be jolted and wrenched and brought to the crossroads of destiny!! For reasons of his own, Metron, the enigmatic knowledge-seeker, began this process — in the realm of Darkseid!! In the iron institution run by Granny Goodness!! — And in another small segment of the early life of — Young Scott Free!” In the bit, Metron urges Scott to not eat the drugged grub (“saturated with ‘brain-drain’ chemical!”) and to stay keen. “Your mind must be clear, boy!! It must be at its sharpest!! You see — it belongs to you!!” Metron (appearing only to Scott, with the others in the crowded mess completely oblivious) continues, pointing his finger at the youngster, “Scott Free owns your mind!! Who is Scott Free?? Would you die for idols before you discovered Scott Free???”

Scott’s burgeoning competence as an escape-artist is center of the last, four-page scenario, which has him training on his Aero-Discs, which comprise a pair of a metallic cylinders on which the user places his feet, giving the ability of flight (Scott would use these as Mister Miracle) and engaging in a mock battle with para-demons.

The introduction of Big Barda of the Special Powers Force (and head of the Female Fury battle unit) gave us a bit more background, right from the get-go of their fateful reunion. Here’s Scott and Barda’s first exchange in the series, when Barda responds to Scott’s remark about her full-dress battle uniform:

Barda: Yes, this is a far cry from our days as pupils of Granny Goodness!

Scott: You should have gone with me — when I escaped from her institution, Barda!

Barda: Yes — perhaps I should have — but I stayed! Stayed — to become… what I am!

A little while later, during a relaxing moment in Scott’s home:

Barda: How about your welcome for Big Barda?

Scott: Maximum is the word for you, Barda! I could never think of you without deep and genuine fondness!

Barda: I helped you in your first great escape!

Scott: Yep, Oberon! If not for Barda, I might have turned out to be a grim, tough product in the Granny Goodness tradition!

Barda: I risked severe punishment to help you bolt Granny’s institution!

From then on, the pair are inseparable, first as comrades, later in a more intimate capacity.

Early on, it’s obvious that Scott’s escape from Apokolips, though details have yet to be revealed to us, has somehow besmirched the honor of Darkseid and his elite. Granny Goodness and her pet Overlord, Doctor Bedlam and his “Paranoid Pill,” Virman Vundabar and his “Murder Machine” — all are sent to Earth in a pathological group-obsession to kill Scott Free for his audacious disobedience of the King of Evil, each setting typically complex, inescapable traps only to be foiled time and again by Mister Miracle’s tenacity, cleverness and seemingly bottomless bag of tricks. And time and again Scott Free takes on all comers. But the edges begin to fray…

By the end of the Vundabar affair, their relationship begins to grow more meaningful after Barda apologizes for having been daunted about Scott’s safety (Barda says, “Scott–!! Scott — forgive me!! I-I was afraid! — for us! I — a warrior–” And Scott replies, “You’re better than that, Barda!! You’re a woman!!” as he flies atop his Aero-Discs, carrying Barda in his arms), the couple becomes closer, more caring, and a deeper bond develops. And as their lives are an endless defense against Apokolips interlopers, Scott begins to contemplate another escape plan, this one far away from home base, apparently ground zero for Apokolips hierarchy and each one with the same beef against Scott.

Enter Funky Flashman, a con man looking for a pigeon, and the Female Furies, Barda’s former command now ordered to kill her and Scott. Funky tries to sell himself as an able business manager to Scott, who despite knowing the scoundrel is a “transparent second-rater,” see the promise of touring as a way to get away from the Apokoliptian hordes. Scott tells his assistant, “Touring means constantly on the move, Oberon!! That’s what’s important! We must become mobile!” And the onslaught of Stompa, Lashina, Mad Harriet and Bernadeth only add to the itch to hit the road.

Scott: Will the hunting dogs never stop coming!?! … Earth isn’t small! Perhaps we can lose ourselves in hamlets, cities — continents –!! Perhaps, in time — the forces of Apokolips will give up the hunt!!

Barda: It’s a delusion, Scott! Only I’ll buy it!

But the attack of the Female Furies and their defeat by Big Barda fatigue the woman warrior and Scott has a change of heart, not to flee but to confront. “This has got to stop! I won’t stand for others being harmed on my account!! It’s time I stopped running!! It’s time I stood my ground!!” And, at the finale of “Funky Flashman”:

Scott: Our battle is with the forces of Apokolips! — and with ourselves!! We had the courage to break free of them! — Do we dare to return — and face them down?!

Barda: If we dare — We die!! Well, I’m a soldier, Scott!! I’m trained to die!! But, you — you’re beautiful inside!! They never got to you!! And now they’ll do things to you —

Scott: Enough Barda! There is NO freedom in running!! I’m going BACK and win it THEIR way!! — in TRIAL BY COMBAT!!

This is a crucial moment in Mister Miracle’s development as a character and Scott Free’s ascension to maturity, as well as a delightful indication how the Fourth World was evolving beyond the usual static-world confines of American adventure comics. Scott is changing, facing his apprehensions and wanting to move on, and not succumbing to the greatest of Darkseid’s powers, fear itself. Whatever his fate on Apokolips, his decision to stop risking others’ safety and to stand his ground for his devotion to freedom and individuality proves a great victory for Scott Free — even if it is an incredible gamble. The introductory blurb in “The Apokolips Trap” nicely spells it out: “Would Scott Free be so foolhardy as to return to the nightmare world from which he escaped?? Yes, good friends! It still has roots that must be cut! Roots that reach to Earth and destroy all that Scott has learned to love — His friends! — His craft! — His new life!! — And besides — Death has the same face — wherever he strikes at Mister Miracle!

And, with that thunderous declaration by a newly invigorated hero, the constant companions prepare a return to the nightmare world of their childhood. First, in a poignant scene, Scott must say goodbye to his faithful Oberon, explaining the situation to the dwarf as would father tenderly explain the complexities of life to a son:

Scott: We must leave, Oberon!!

Oberon: Why must you leave!? Why!? You escaped from Apokolips once! Do you think that Granny Goodness and her creepy pets will let you do an encore??

Scott: No!! But strangely enough — like all organized societies, Apokolips exists by rules!! — Made by Darkseid — and kept by his subjects!! This time I must escape from Apokolips — within those rules!!

(We’ll get to our hero’s sense of honor and fair play in our next entry, part two of the life and times of Scott Free, Mister Miracle, but do take note of his preoccupation with rules.)

“The Apokolips Trap” and “The Battle of the Id,” the remarkable homecoming issues, show us just how much all-consuming fear the elite of Darkseid’s world have of this unassuming young man and to what lengths they go to in their attempts to destroy him. Only Kanto, Darkseid’s personal assassin, gives Scott proper respect. The others, Granny most of all, yearn to be first to tell Darkseid that Scott Free is dead.

After surviving a veritable gauntlet traveling through Apokolips, Scott and Barda arrive at Happiness Home, the notorious orphanage where they once lived. “Tell Granny that I’m back!!” orders Scott to one of the maven’s underlings. “Tell Granny I claim freedom — by Right of Combat!!

Now Scott is speaking the same language as his enemies! Dressed in her Victorian jammies, Granny revels in the return of the young man. “Granny’s been waiting for this day, Scott Free!!” though actually speaking this to herself. “The day you would march back here and flaunt your impudence!! Well, you forget, sir!! — a trap made by Granny — is a trap of the gods!!!

That trap, a psychological war, of sorts, with The Lump, is unsuccessful, though at one point Granny believes Scott has been killed. She tells the marauding Barda, who has arrived to save Mister Miracle, “I should’ve known you’d break the rules again! — for him! Well — you’re too late this time, Barda! Scott Free is dead! Unlike yourself, he understands the rules laid down by Granny — and died an honorable death!! As for you, traitor –” (A sliding scale of honor, Granny has!)

After the dust has settled, Scott, in a sweet moment between the increasingly intimate couple, tenderly soothes a tearfully distraught but now relieved Barda after “The Battle of the Id”… There’s a growing attachment here between these two.

Then comes the true origin tale of Young Scott Free and certainly one of the most important stories in the tapestry we call the Fourth World. Now, with “Himon,” we get the complete story of Young Scott Free’s escape from Apokolips, certainly one of the best single stories in American comics. It is everything we love about Kirby’s work: it’s kinetic, passionate, visceral and unabashedly afire with pure, primal rage… It is dark, hopeful, vicious and profoundly sweet. It is, my friend, not to be missed.

The introduction copy to “Himon” sets the stage: “Thus we are witness to a bizarre incident — the story of it is old! It reaches back to the days of the ‘Great Clash‘ between New Genesis and Apokolips! The battles were fought for total creeds, with total tools — and there were victims of it who survived with new and total arts! This is the story of Himon, the ultimate escape-artist who fostered Mister Miracle by teaching his trade to — Young Scott Free!

(An aside, if I may, on the Dickensian motifs that abound in Jack’s depiction of Apokolips, a world not dissimilar to the London slums of the early Industrial Age (if you were to combine the locale with a Fascist power structure promulgating a society completely dedicated to perpetual war!). As a matter of fact, Jack is rather explicit about the work of English novelist Charles Dickens having an influence on Darkseid’s planet! Early on, Oberon prods Scott for information about this sinister other world:

Oberon: [Speaking of Virman Vundubar] His name is even goofier than yours!! Did all you orphans get tagged that way?

Scott: I’m sure you’ve read Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist!‘ The kids in that situation had such names — ‘Artful Dodger!‘ — Oliver himself!

Oberon: Sure! I get it! There is a similarity!! But it ends right there!! Your orphans are hardly the wide-eyed, helpless type!

Scott: True! The products of Apokolips — wield the power of Apokolips!!

And, in his descriptive captions, Jack references the British author: Prefacing the first “Young Scott Free” vignette with “In the tradition of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield” and, in another, “Given these very same circumstances, in another context, Oliver Twist may well have become — Young Scott Free!!” In the “coming next issue” blurb in Mister Miracle #9: “If you remember Fagin in Oliver Twist — you’ll never forget Himon!” Apparently it’s not unusual for the new gods to read Earth literature, as we learn in The Forever People adventure, “The Power,” both Vykin and Big Bear are familiar with George Orwell’s dystopian vision of Earth’s future, 1984.)

The Scott Free we first meet in “Himon” is rather brash and arrogant, instilled with a militarist’s sense of superiority. When he initially encounters the legendary Himon, thorn in the side of the Apokolips elite and a rebel leader (if you will), never mind all-around genius (who developed the two most significant technological advances in the history of the two worlds, Mother Box and the Boom Tube), Scott sneers, “I was a fool to seek you out! I don’t know what prompted me to come to your filthy den!” Himon replies, “To learn about this Mother Box — to discover Scott Free — to escape!!

A meeting of the two greatest minds of either world in this issue features this discussion of the future Mister Miracle’s destiny:

Metron: Scott Free will play no part in [the Orion/Darkseid showdown in Armagetto]! His destiny is to escape from Apokolips! Darkseid plans to kill him for that and begin a new war! You must help Scott escape unhurt!

Himon: You showed Scott the way to me — and I can teach him to escape Apokolips! But I can’t give him the resolve! Only Scott can renounce what he was here! But a destructive revelation is not a father! — And a slaughterhouse is not a home! — For one born on New Genesis!

Perhaps the most significant catalyst for Scott’s — and, later, Barda’s — breakout from the hellworld is the treatment young Female Fury Auralie receives at the hands of District Protector Wonderful Willik. Auralie is one of Himon’s young prodigies that Scott Free meets during his first meeting with Himon. As the great escape-artist and inventor introduces Scott to his troupe of “heroes,” the future Mister Miracle looks down his nose at a quiet young girl gazing into images of dancers within a transluscent cube. “Show me the value of this female, Himon! She does nothing but stare into that Mind-Video!” Himon gives the girl an affectionate look and retorts, “Auralie’s thoughts are beautiful! She creates beauty! Imagine — doing this on a world like Apokolips! Poor, brave Auralie! — Trying to survive with her inner beauty — in that grim house of horrors Granny calls an ‘orphanage!!’ You’re free to dance here, Auralie — Just like your images in the Mind-Video! You won’t be punished — we’d like to watch you –!”

Just as she is about to perform, Auralie is accosted by young Lieutenant Barda who is hunting with her fellow Furies for the AWOL cadet. (It is here Barda first meets Scott Free.) Later, when Scott and Barda are called before Wonderful Willik, he lectures Barda and says, “You Female Furies are quick to bare your claws! But you did have one among you — a fragile, little failure –” Barda demands, “Auralie! Where’s Auralie? S-she’s — been — missing –!” A smug smile cracking across his face, Willik opens a chamber door, revealing lifeless, thin young legs bound in a sinister, smoldering apparatus looking like mechanized footwear. “We found her!” says Willik. “Dancing like a pretty little doll! — For which we gave her a pair of high-voltage shock boots!” Auralie was tortured to death…

Then, ever closer to his resolve to escape the nightmare planet, Scott is comforted by his new mentor, revealing perhaps why the hierarchy of Apokolips is so singularly obsessed with him after his journey to Earth:

Himon: Yes, Scott! Darkseid fears you, too! Because, you, too, can dream of things beyond Darkseid! What is the dream released inside Scott Free?

Scott: I-I don’t know –! I — think — it’s serenity — embodied in the voice of a woman — I-I cannot see! Always she says — ‘You know, Izaya, — I’ve never heard you sing –‘ I cannot see the woman but I’m filled with the serenity she brings!

Himon: That dream is yours, Scott! Yours!!

Barda: To dream beyond Darkseid!! — On Apokolips, it seems unthinkable!!

Soon Scott Free makes a run for it. “Then, escape finally comes! Scott is stripped of his rank! His mechanisms taken! — All but his Aero-Discs! He bolts!” And young Lieutenant Barda helps him in the breakout.

Scott: Barda! What you’re doing is unheard of here! Why are you helping me?

Barda: Because I like to help fools! — Because I couldn’t save Auralie! I don’t know!

The only way to depict the climax of this poignant, astounding story is to simply transcribe the dialogue. It’s no better way to end an entry on the subject, too, for after jumping into the Boom Tube and traveling to Earth, Scott Free becomes something different, someone grander and more resonant — a man of miracles, escaping an inescapable world completely devoted to fear and the adoration of death. With this he is hope personified, proof as he will later say, that Darkseid’s world can fall:

Scott: I-I won’t be stopped! I-I — I’ll crawl to freedom — come — with — me —

Barda: Not — yet — Scott! I-I’m not ready — perhaps — someday — keep going!

And protected by their own mysterious powers against the forces that bind Scott, two allies await!

Scott: Himon! Metron! You’ve created a Boom-Tube! It’s denied to all but Darkseid’s hierarchy!

Himon: It’s open to you, Scott! An open door to — Earth!


Darkseid: The young fool goes on! He struggles to rise! If he leaves Darkseid, he’ll still find Death!

Himon: If he leaves Apokolips, he’ll find the universe!!!


Next entry: Life After Apokolips: The Life and Times of Mister Miracle, Super Escape-Artist!

Day 68: Oberon!

Oberon was the longtime personal assistant of the Great Thaddeus (a.k.a. the original Mister Miracle) until the showman’s tragic demise and the curmudgeonly dwarf thereafter attended to the “new” Mister Miracle, Scott Free. Little is known of his background other than Oberon’s decades-long dedication to Thaddeus Brown but he remains a constant and useful companion for Scott, always a voice of caution (often exceedingly so) and his loyalty and devotion are important components of the acclimation to Earth culture by Scott — and later Big Barda.

It is with Barda Oberon has a salty though affectionate relationship, bantering mild insults back and forth, and providing a nice comic relief to all the death-defying doings happening with the growing team. Upon the female warrior telling Scott, “I risked severe punishment to help you bolt Granny’s institution!” Oberon snidely suggests to his employer as he turns his back on the pair, “If you ask me, it would have done you a world of improvement if she’d left with you, Scott!” At this, Barda raises her mighty Mega-Rod to strike the dwarf, only to be stayed by Scott, who tells her to steady herself: “Easy –.” And Barda hisses through her teeth, “The little rat — he needs a disciplined tongue!”

Perhaps the most stirring moment in the entire series occurs when Scott and Barda are appearing to return to Darkseid’s planet in the homecoming and a distraught Oberon desperately urges them to reconsider. The Female Fury, in full-dress uniform, sneers at the diminutive assistant:

Barda: Don’t fill this room with sentimental slop! Just say goodbye — and blow!

Oberon: Listen to Big Barda! Look at yourself, Scott!! It’s like that demon’s place, Apokolips, has taken hold of you both!! — and claimed you forever!!!

Scott: We must leave, Oberon!

Oberon: Why must you leave!? Wny!? You escaped from Apokolips once! Do you think that Granny Goodness and her creepy pets will let you do an encore??

Scott: No!! But strangely enough — like all organized societies, Apokolips exists by rules!! — Made by Darkseid — and kept by his subjects!! This time I must escape from Apokolips — within those rules!! [With that, Scott hands Oberon his carpetbag.] Here! My bag of tricks! I leave it in your care, Oberon!! It must never be opened!

Oberon: I-I’ll see to that!!! It’ll be in this closet when — you — get — back!!! Who would want it, anyway!!? It’s a fool’s bag!! — waiting here — for a young fool!!!

Barda: Get out! Get out! — You little sawed-off drip!

Oberon: I’m going!! For just a little while, I-I thought you were really a big, beautiful warm-hearted girl!!

Here, both in tears, Barda crouches down to the floor to embrace the little man.

Oberon: — Instead of a loudmouthed, military, man-killing harpy turned out by those terrible Darkseiders!!

Barda: Oh, shut up! — or I’ll — I’ll — Oh, take-off!! When we get back, I’ll really blister you!! Now march!!

Oberon: I’ll be here! I’ll — always be here!!

Barda: Good old Oberon! There’s a lot of person in that small package!! Oh well!

Oberon is not only attached to Barda, he’s also a little prudish about a single girl living in the same house with two bachelor men, as he tells Scott, “That female ‘Attila the Hun‘ has really taken over here, Scott! If she decides to stay — it may seem very improper –” though Scott tells him not to worry about it.

As a literary device, Oberon provides an audience for Scott’s exposition about the larger forces lurking, whether about his upbringing on Apokolips or the various players in Darkseid’s cadre of evildoers who plague the two. As Jack ever so slowly unravels the background story — it took nine issues of the title to get to Scott Free’s origin — the writer/artist expertly weaves in hints and shadows of a greater epic in play, and Oberon is the perfect human character to help the reader process the fantastic developments and make a earthly response.

As cranky and complaining a sidekick can be, Oberon is also very lovable — and not because he’s the size of a large Teddy bear, but because his affections for Scott and Barda (and later Ted Brown) are always near the surface of his crusty demeanor. He also keeps a lookout for business opportunities for the Mister Miracle team and often participates in the show (sometimes with chip firmly placed on shoulder as he is forced to dress in costume — here as a tiny Civil War soldier; there with complementary super-hero get-up, complete with flowing cape!). When helping Scott with the cannon gag, Oberon says, “But look at me!! How do you think I feel in this Civil War ‘get-up!‘ Besides, if I get laughs from your audience — it could ‘upstage’ your performance!” Mister Miracle answers, “We’re both stars in this act! It needs all the color we can give it!”

When Oberon was forced, at Ted Brown’s insistence (as Ted had become, for a time, the act’s manager), to don a virtual super-hero costume, he complains to himself as he looks into a mirror, “The Great Thaddeus would certainly have frowned on the shenanigans his son has dreamed up! And that flashy uniform and cape I must wear in the act! — Ugh! It’s really something else –! [at the reflection of himself in a mirror] Ahh! There y’are! — The humble, but talented Oberon! — And I must say you look mighty relaxed without the fancy trappings and the frozen grin!”

(I can’t resist mention of one of the truly memorable bits of Kirby humor cartooning is when Funky Flashman, who calls the assistant “Little Pixy,” prepares to kick Oberon behind the little guy’s back — great stuff! And then there’s this exchange when they first meet, when Funky stoops so low as to pinch the dwarf’s cheek!:

Funky: And this fantastic elfin creature can be none other than Oberon, mentioned briefly in your letter!

Oberon: Easy there, buster!

Scott: It’s Oberon’s coffee that’s fantastic!)

As vital and necessary as the character is to the Mister Miracle saga, Oberon is, well, a delightful addition to the mythos and it’s always a joy when he is part of the action. And the assistant is also a catalyst to give us readers a sense of Scott Free’s depth of compassion and love for others, as Mister Miracle is always ready with words of encouragement and terms of endearment for his tiny friend. I mean, the Super Escape Artist is just about the nicest super-hero as ever there was! And Oberon returns the sentiment, telling his boss, “I’m proud to be your assistant, Mister Miracle! You’re the greatest!” Another time, Scott gives his friend an “attaboy” by telling him, “Good work, Oberon! Keep practicing and you’ll be a star performer one day!”

Tears again flow as Scott and Barda do leave Oberon, this time for good immediately after the wedding ceremony. While hoping that he and Oberon (as well as Shilo) will meet again — “Our paths part here. But they may merge again” — Mister MIracle says goodbye to his faithful companion:

Scott: I’ll miss you, old friend. In the face of peril, I’ll always remember that you cared!

Oberon: By daring death, you taught me the value of life. Scott — Scott —

And by both embracing life so fully, Mister Miracle and Oberon instructed us on the importance of friendship!

Day 66: Orion’s Earth Allies!

“On Earth, the home of mortal man, Orion the Hunter moves among strange allies and fearful enemies! Man is only dimly aware of the forces maneuvering, lunging for alignment on his world — for somewhere in man himself is the key to victory for the warring factions of the New Gods.”

Orion, during his Source-directed foray to the sinister world of Apokolips, was fortunate to encounter and rescue four brave Earth humans, who will become, to varying degree, his trusted allies as the Super-War reveals itself on our home planet. Upon Metron temporarily disabling Kalibak and his describing to Orion the stakes in this war anew between New Genesis and Darkseid’s realm, we see that the Master of the Holocaust has breached another solemn agreement with Highfather. Metron tells his comrade, “Darkseid has broken the rule, to bring humans through the [Boom] Tube!” Four Earthings lie recumbent, unconscious and the tops of their heads ensconced in brain-scanning devices. For Darkseid has been, as Metron tells us, “Probing the minds of test humans before he left [for Earth]!”

The king of evil is, you guessed it, searching for the Anti-Life Equation, a secret locked inside the mind of one or more unsuspecting humans, and as Metron transports our hero’s Astro-Harness to Orion’s feet, the Tiger of New Genesis releases the four kidnap victims from Darkseid’s vile contraption. “Proper use of my Astro-Force will dissolve the mechanisms that spellbind the humans!” Orion says to no one in particular. “They awaken unharmed!

And the now-conscious quartet rise to meet their new friend. Who are these three men and one woman? Allow me a description of their participation in the coming battle. In general, it’s safe to take for granted they are all from Metropolis or surrounding environs, given none of the four expresses any distress at being far from home upon their return. There’s no indication any of them knew one another before being awakened and the smart bet is to assume (as Dave Lincoln tells Orion of his abduction) they were individually snatched off the streets and alleyways of Superman’s city by Inter-Gang, “a division of Earth criminals” organized to serve Apokolips, possibly by Badger and his henchmen.

Here’s a look at each of the four Earth allies:

Harvey Lockman is definitely the youngest of the crew (“My parents are probably getting anxious,” he states on his exit), as well as the most irreverent and, apparently, self-important. Doubtless his greatest claim to fame in the series is the lad’s description of himself: “Me, young but cool, Harvey Lockman!” He is also the least-seen of the compatriots, as he disappears from the series shortly after the “O’Ryan’s Mob” affair. While we don’t know Harve’s vocation (probably a student, I should think), we do know he’s snappy with the always-ready apt comparison, a master of metaphor, if you will. Among his sometimes sarcastic quips, oft peppered contemporary slang: “It should be simple — like minnows turning into a shark!” and “[The Mother Box] feels strangely warm — and makes a sort of electronic sound — like a computer!” and “A movie without film! That’s wild! Roll, man, roll!” and “[Orion is] tougher than granite!” and, finally, “Groovy! He looks like he plays pro football!”

The young ally is also a mite… ummm… flamboyant, given Harvey’s fashionable ascot and apparent predisposition at being a bit disrespectful to his elders. During his next-to-last appearance with his friends, the young man calls Claudia “Doll” and addresses Dave by his last name only, never mind referring to the most malevolent personage in the universe as “old granite-puss”! Perhaps he’s compensating for his quaking fear displayed early in the saga — certainly an understandable reaction as this is a war between gods and monsters, after all! — despite his declaration at one point, “Scared — I’m not so scared — with you on our side, Orion!” (Youthful Lockman is quite courageous when fortitude is needed, rushing headlong into the Inter-Gang infested old mansion on that “little-used seacoast road” during the “O’Ryan Gang and the Deep Six” episode.) Despite his limited appearance, the kid is still a memorable character and leads one to wonder if Jack, an admirer of enthusiastic youth, had a plan to return to Harvey Lockman, as he did do with the three remaining allies.

Claudia Shane — who describes herself as “I’m a secretary — not a pawn in some spy game!” — is candid about her fear (“I’m terribly frightened by all that’s happened!”) and loyal to the new god (“Whatever I can do — consider it done!”), if not a bit infatuated, sounding like she has the hots for Orion, as Claudia boldly admires the Tiger of New Genesis out loud: “I must admit he’ll put those fashion ads to shame” and “He’s positively beautiful! Like a living statue modelled [sic] by the ancient Greeks!” She breathlessly holds her opened palm to her heart in admiration and she also exhibits deep concern for the god’s welfare. Orion is an immortal with no time for romance and there’s an intimation in the series that Claudia and Dave Lincoln pair up as, at the least, close friends who may share apartment keys, as the young lady enters Dave’s abode without knocking. In the last half of the series, they are very often in each other’s company.

Claudia is herself beautiful, as well as fashionable and full of derring-do. She appears to be in her mid-twenties and despite confessions of being simple and afraid, this lady has moxie, revealed especially during the O’Ryan’s Mob masquerade. Claudia’s exclamation of “Shades of Bonnie and Clyde!” is spot-on as she and her Earth cohorts disguise themselves as members of a rival criminal organization threatening to move in on Inter-Gang territory. Wearing the requisite beret (this being only three or four years from the release of the Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway gangster flick), she drives right up to armed gangsters and creates a diversion.

(It’s worth noting she is compassionate, especially when attentive to middle-aged Victor Lanza’s state of mind throughout the “O’Ryan’s Mob” story. “Do you feel all right, Mister Lanza?” and “You were just marvelous, Mister Lanza!” Kind person, that Claudia.)

It’s notable the gang has the guts to place their hands collectively on Mother Box when Orion seeks her assist on hunting down the Inter-Gang “Jammer” threat, given their earlier experience doing the exact same thing by Orion’s order. Yeah, it’s a coincidence that Desaad’s “Sonic-Stimuli” beams induced mind-numbing fear throughout Metropolis at the moment the threat of Apokolips is being described by Orion, aided by vivid audio-visuals courtesy of Mother Box, but you’d think they’d at least hesitate the second time! Still, the occasions must have been awesome. Claudia says, “It’s a wild experience! Like watching a movie with your mind!” Jack describes the “trip”: “As Mother Box loudly activates, the entire city outside seems to rush into the room! — Into the mind! — A whirling maze of buildings — streets — lights — cars –”

(Probably not worth noting is her changing looks, but I will anyway! Apparently Claudia has time between arriving back on Earth and joining the crew to meet at Dave Lincoln’s apartment for a visit to the beauty salon, as she sports a whole new hair-do when they greet Darkseid. And, later on, her bobbed hair goes to shoulder-length… but does this really matter?)

Victor Lanza, insurance broker, is the oldest of the bunch but, while apparently the only married member, holds his own admirably during his tenure in the adventure.

(You have to wonder if Dave Lincoln wisely upgraded his apartment insurance with Victor, given his pad is repeatedly a battleground for grudge matches, with shattered furniture and blown-out walls.)

It’s hard to know why exactly Darkseid chose these four. There appears to be a hint that might have possessed elements of the Anti-Life Equation — Victor says to Orion, “You said — I-it was something hidden in our minds!” — but the fact they are not seized again by Apokolips minions seems to indicate they did not have the power.

Though Victor is visibly upset by all the ruckus — “I’m still shaken! I’ve never known such fear!” he states after the effects of Desaad’s “Sonic-Stimuli” beams wear off, he still stands firmly on the side of Orion and New Genesis: “I’m at your service, Orion!” But Victor does need time to screw up his courage. “We’re at the mercy of immensely powerful forces!” says he.

When the team meets in Dave Lincoln’s apartment to discuss the fantastic developments, the following exchange takes place:

Dave: I tell you, I saw it with my own eyes! We’re in a war! It’s hidden — but very real!

Victor: B-but why us? We’re just ordinary people!

Harvey: Orion got us back here! We owe him that!

Dave: We owe him that, Mister Lanza! Such as we are — we may have to tackle super-beings!

Victor: But I’m Victor Lanza! An insurance executive! A family man! My wife makes me carry an umbrella in case it rains! And now, this! New Genesis! Apokolips! And things that would scare John Wayne!

But when called to duty, the insurance broker stands with his comrades. During their scheme to destroy the “Jammer” in the possession of Inter-Gang, Victor is assigned to play the role of money man of a gangster named O’Ryan, looking to make a deal with Inter-Gang. Though he complains to Claudia that “Playing Indians in the woods at night is scarcely my cup of tea, Miss Shane!” Victor takes his direction from de facto leader Dave Lincoln: “Your job is up there, Lanza!” Dave says, referring to the Inter-Gang office on the second floor of the “seaside base,” an otherwise deserted mansion. “You don’t have to play Little Caesar — just his smart business manager! Okay?” (Though later, Dave does confess he too was antsy about the caper, as he tells the other three in their final meeting, “Helping [Orion] crack the Inter-Gang complex was flirting with death!“)

And Victor plays his role with gusto, puffing up a cigar and confidently telling Inter-Gangster Country Boy, “I’m Lanza — I make O’Ryan’s deals! We know about Inter-Gang! But not enough! Frankly, what I’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t spend a penny on!” With his entry, the O’Ryan Mob (spearheaded by Orion on his Astro-Harness) destroy the Jammer and break Country Boy’s criminal division.

But the masquerade takes a toll on Victor and despite the accolades of Harvey on the gentleman’s performance — “Your part in it was a gas, Mister Lanza!” — Victor knows it’s time to go home and get back to his day job. “Sure! Sure! — Playing games with gangsters is a great hobby for an insurance man like myself!” With that, Victor bids adieu, handing Dave his business card to share with Orion. The Tiger-Force remembers the address and he and Lightray visit with the bespectacled business executive during “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin.” Here we get a glimpse of Victor’s home life, meeting his lovely wife and learning of their son in law school, Robert. Mrs. Lanza is obviously smitten by Lightray’s considerable charm and exquisite manner. This is the last time the saga features the Lanzas.

Finally, of “Orion’s little helpers,” we look at the foursome’s most active participant in these stories, Special Investigator Dave Lincoln. Though he cowers in terror by the effects of the Fear Machine, the private eye is certainly the bravest of the group, taking on, at one point, Kalibak the Cruel (though the cop may have been more a little perturbed at, yet again, the destruction of his habitat by another alien god!). Early on, Dave pledges to Orion his loyalty (even if the stepson of Highfather randomly destroys one of Dave’s college athletic trophies!): “But I’ve taken enough! I’m ready to help fight Darkseid!

And Dave proves the most useful in Orion’s secret war for he is an experienced associate of the city’s police force. Assuming the identity of O’Ryan, the new god joins the pipe-smoking officer as they investigate Inter-Gang on the mean streets of Metropolis, Dave sometimes wielding a .45 automatic or .38 Special, other times using his pipe handle as a faux pistol when sticking-up Inter-Gang thug Snaky Doyle. He also resists Detective Sergeant “Terrible” Turpin’s grilling for information on the emerging Super-War and pressure (as “the private eye, ambassador to our city’s super-guests!”) from District Attorney Hartwell.

Dave knows what he and his cohorts have sacrificed in their alliance with Orion. “Claudia — our private lives were probably the first Earth casualties in this war of the gods! We have no choice but to share Orion’s risks!” Maybe, too, they risk their dwellings as, yet again, Dave’s apartment is the site of another super-fight, when Kalibak trashes the place and gives Dave a thrashing himself. At one point, Dave, frustrated by the gods’ “Combat Code,” says, “You New Genesis people sure have hang-ups about fair play! I wouldn’t mind ganging up on Kalibak!” This, even after his fanny is whooped by the Tormentor! Whatta man!

To the very end, Dave stands by his New Genesis friend, wielding a new type of rifle and facing down, yet again, Kalibak, even as it seems Orion is dead. The greatest Earth ally of New Genesis is even there, in the penultimate panel of the last issue of The New Gods regular series, as Orion the Fierce’s comrade-in-arms.

Are these four the only Earth humans to have tread the dark corridors of Darkseid’s nightmare world? Claudia, the “simple but worried secretary,” wonders, “How many just plain folks have been abducted to a weird world like Apokolips!” But this quartet does have an awesome responsibility given them by Orion: “Since Darkseid chose you as his first victims,” says the warrior to his newfound friends, “You must be the first of Earth to stand against him!” And they tenaciously stand with the new god, following the directive he gives them in his very first words to the four: “Have no fear! There is no time to explain! You must trust me!” (Well, the fear they can’t control, but Dave, Claudia, Victor and Harvey do trust Orion throughout the adventure, and what more can you ask of an ally?)

This entry must end where it begins, when Orion and the earthlings jump off the Boom Tube onto Earth soil. Asking Orion what this is all about, the Wielder of the Astro-Force replies, “This ‘game,’ as you call it, is bigger than you think! As large as the universe! — And a battle looms which binds us all! There is a being abroad here with powers beyond your wildest dreams! Darkseid is here!

Then, gazing into the darkening horizon, the sky flashing and rumbling “with the angry voice of an unseen giant,” Orion beckons, “Darkseid! I have come! The battle begins!” And his sinister foe answers the taunt: “I hear you, Orion! The battle begins!” And this, the first installment of Jack’s superlative New Gods title, which cleverly begins with an epilogue, leaves us with: “Prologue — As it was in the time of the old gods — the titanic struggle for the fate of mankind is to rage once again!! The New Gods wield greater power — for in our day, it’s we who live in the dark shadow of the outcome!”

In postcript, it is important to note that there were a good number of other earth people, besides these four, who stood with New Genesis in the war against Apokolips, however unwitting they might have been to the larger conflict at play. The roll call includes Jimmy Olsen, the Newsboy Legion, Oberon, “Terrible” Turpin, the Sheridan family, Dubbilex, Sonny Sumo, Scrapper Trooper, and the laudable efforts of the Metropolis Police Department, often going above and beyond the call of duty fighting back the “super-weirdos” from Apokolips!

Day 56: Metron!

The omnipresent, cold and calculating Metron is the Eve of the Eden called New Genesis, he who has bitten the forbidden fruit of knowledge and seeks answers, whatever the expense, regardless of consequence, to his all-encompassing curiosity. He, the master of time and space and infinity, rides the cosmos and timeways of existence on his Mobius Chair, a miraculous, wondrous vehicle that can materialize on Apokolips, in space, at the very edge of the universe, all in the wink of an eye at Metron’s slightest whim. “Luckily for you,” he tells Lightray, “I am everywhere when needed!”

His loyalty is not to Highfather but to the pursuit of knowledge, and Metron is willing to compromise the very survival of his home world, New Genesis, if Apokolips can help in finding the answers he desires. At worst, you could call him a traitor, a “supreme” meddler at best, but Metron sees himself in the loftiest of terms, justifying his cosmos-shaking intrigues by saying he is a seeker to questions about the ultimate power, The Source. Metron is delusional in believing himself a mere humble scientist.

We’re never quite sure of Metron’s motives as he influences events at key moments in the Fourth World saga. He appears, usually, to be an ally of Orion, Lightray and company; but when the backstory of the epic is revealed, we find the seeker maneuvering players and events that portend cataclysmic repercussions. Frankly said, Metron is a schemer who manipulates people and events to serve his desires, not so unlike his professed mortal enemy (and sometime ally), Darkseid.

Metron is the great inventor (if not the visionary) of both New Genesis and Apokolips, having first developed the “Matter Threshold,” which physically links the two worlds and was later refined as the Boom Tube. He is also incisively involved in seeing prophecy fulfilled, serving as a spirit who prods the son of Highfather at pivotal moments in the life of young Scott Free.

It is obvious that this decidedly non-physical character — his furrowed brow gets the most exercise in this saga (I mean, he sits on his skinny fanny for most of the duration!) — was an essential actor when Jack was planning the opus, given the fact Metron was one of the few characters featured in the artist/writer’s initial presentation to DC. And Mr. Kirby did use the Master of the Mobius Chair for a number of critical moments in the series:

Early in the days of the “Great Clash,” Metron tries to seize the X-Element from Darkseid’s grip and we learn of the Master of Time and Space has been less than loyal to his native world, as the stone-face villain says, “On my conditions do you obtain it, Metron!! You recall our ‘private’ meetings!?” And despite the fact Metron knows the armies of Apokolips will invade New Genesis “in the wink of an eye” if he follows Darkseid’s orders to create the “door to anywhere,” the Matter Threshold, all the seeker cares about is obtaining the “unobtainable” X-Element to build his Mobius Chair.

At this infamous occasion, Metron declares his individuality to Queen Heggra and her son Darkseid: “I have no link with the old gods — or new!! I am something — different! Something that was unforeseen!! — On New Genesis — or here!!”

And Darkseid knows what is in store for those who employ this cosmic double agent: “You’ll betray us all in time, Metron!”

Metron also takes a keen interest in seeing the son of Highfather, young Scott Free, run away from Apokolips, fulfilling Darkseid’s scheme to provide a catalyst to break the Pact and thus renew open conflict — only now a wider Super-War, this time involving Earth — with New Genesis. But while the Master of the Holocaust intends for Scott Free to be killed in the escape attempt, this Master of Elements and his oft-collaborator Himon, the Master of Theories, see that the Mister Miracle to-be flees via Boom Tube and arrive on our planet, safe and sound. (Or is Metron merely an observer… hmmmm…!)

(It’s important in noting, too, that Metron comes to young Scott Free at important intervals during the lad’s nightmarish servitude on Apokolips, appearing as a haunting apparition to prod the boy to have courage and eschew the brainwashing in Granny Goodness’s orphanage — to believe in his own individuality… To be Scott Free and find himself…)

It’s difficult, also, not to see Metron as also a supreme believer in destiny, as the character appears time and time again to help his New Genesis brethren to escape their own predicaments: Metron delays the confrontation between Orion and Kalibak the Cruel, in the half-brothers’ first meeting as adults (quite probably to keep Orion in the dark, until the opportune moment, about his own direct lineage to Darkseid). And immediately thereafter he explains the Apokoliptian threat not only to their home world, but to Earth and the entire known universe, to comrade Orion.

In a memorable exchange, Orion lays out differences between the two new gods. “I feel! I anger! I fight! — and you — You are like your cold machines!” declares Orion the Mighty. Metron cooly replies, “I serve life in my own way! What there is to know — I wish to know! My knowledge is my power! Time and space is my domain!

Metron goes on to hint at his contribution to recent events: “When the old gods died, their bridge to Earth was destroyed! It was I who found the way to create what our young ones call the Boom Tube!” By his own machinations, Metron brings the threat of Darkseid to our unsuspecting, innocent sphere, leading one to wonder just why is the seeker boasting about reuniting gods with humans…

When Lightray is threatened with the final touch of The Black Racer, the bringer of death to the new gods, Metron intercedes by deflecting the cosmic skier to Earth, thereby igniting yet another chain of events, some not so good!

A bit later on, Metron takes on the youngest new god, Esak, as student and travels the corridors of space and time to teach the boy, instilling in Esak a similiar unrelenting thirst for knowledge, one that just might have ferocious consequences at the grand finale of our epic.

We may not quite understand Metron’s motives at any given interval. His ally Orion raves, “For a scrap of knowledge you would sell the universe into slavery!” (To which, the seeker replies, “Who runs the universe matters not! What makes it run is my prime objective!”) He has a deep and abiding relationship with Himon of Apokolips, one that influences the overarching course of events. It is a collaboration we’ll discuss in detail later…

Most of all, perhaps, Metron is the embodiment of absolute conceit and self-aggrandizement, possessing a supreme lack of humility as he believes he is entitled to become privy to answers about the greatest mystery of eternity: the secret of The Source. “What wouldn’t I give to possess the knowledge of the ‘Source’!” In his Mobius Chair, he travels to the Final Barrier, confident he can accomplish what the Promethean Giants could not, and penetrate into the realm of infinity to discover the secret of life itself. In the end, Metron, “the seeker and wielder of cosmic knowledge,” may prove to have been the greatest, most ignorant fool of all.

Day 54: Highfather!

The bearded old gentleman with the “Wonder Staff” is none other than the solemn leader of New Genesis, Highfather, the true father of Scott (Mister Miracle) Free and stepparent of Orion the Wolf. He is the wise and benevolent ruler, seated in the satellite city of Supertown, who carries a great foreboding weight on his strong shoulders.

Highfather’s sister-planet counterpart would like to believe they are commensurate, as Darkseid tells The Forever People, “On Apokolips, my rank is equal to Highfather!! Minions of great might quake at incurring my disfavor!!” But the eminence of New Genesis is far from the flipside of any good/evil coin. To say the least, his backstory is complex:

As we learn in the seminal New Gods story, “The Pact,” there was once a great warrior who is a leader of New Genesis. His name is Izaya the Inheritor and he is blessed with a lovely, delicate wife, Avia. One day, when the loving couple have a romantic respite on the green planet’s bucolic surface, they share a tender exchange:

“Are we made for war, Izaya?” asks Avia. “You know, I’ve never heard you sing!! Sing, Izaya! Let me hear your voice when it’s not a battle-cry!”

“I can’t sing as yet, Avia!!” Izaya answers. “It’s your devotion that feeds my aching spirits!!”

Suddenly the pair are interrupted by an illegal hunting party encroaching from Apokolips, among them Queen Heggra’s brother, arrogant Steppenwolf, and her beloved and conniving son, Darkseid. In the ensuing tussle, Avia is killed by Steppenwof’s radion bolt and Izaya’s unmoving body lays in the grass, apparently a victim of Darkseid. But the Inheritor is not dead.

And so “The Great Clash” began and terrible and woeful violence was perpetrated against both sides, New Genesis and Apokolips, and war expanded exponentially — first air war, then ground war, then techno-cosmic war, the conflict growing until suns are destroyed and planets are hurled in the name of victory. Even the death of Avia’s killer fails to stop the conflagration. Each of the twin worlds pays a terrible price for Izaya’s vengeance and Darkseid’s ambition.

Izaya, in a moment of grim reflection, realizes war is not the answer and, walking through the desolation that was once beautiful New Genesis, he seeks a new place in his world. the Inheritor cries, “Where is Izaya??” — not the warrior! — The general!! — but, the true servant of those he leads!! Not here, in these tortured ruins of war! But Izaya is there! — Somewhere — out there!!

In his lamentful sojourn, Izaya ponders the enemy. “Darkseid’s plan!! Like foolish Steppenwolf, I’ve allowed myself to follow the mad dreams of Darkseid!! — from which no one can survive!!!” Then, raging into the rising tempest winds, the Inheritor screams, “I tear off my armor! I reject this war-staff as a weapon!!! I reject the way of war!!” And still he staggers through roaring gusts and demanding his inheritance from whatever gods there be of gods, suddenly, there is revealed, The Source.

From The Source, in messages spelled out by a mystical floating hand called the “Uni-Friend,” comes the essence of Greater Good, a new life for Izaya, now the Highfather, and his people.

To end the Great Clash, Highfather and Darkseid (now ruler of Apokolips) agree to a pact, trading their respective sons with the promise there shall be an age of peace between the worlds. When savage, feral Orion first meets the man he believes his progenitor, the boy asks, “You!You are — my father??”

Highfather replies softly, “Only if you wish me to be! I am Highfather!! And you — are Orion!! We have need of each other, Orion!! This is a place of friends!! Here is my hand –!!”

An uneasy peace reigns between the worlds for years, until young Scott Free escapes Apokolips (also prearranged by Darkseid, though the boy is not killed as intended), breaking the pact and a prelude to renewed conflict. And now, today, Darkseid is initiating a “Super-War,” one waged with the planet Earth as battleground. Highfather knows the stakes, as he explains, “The universe — slave or free — On Apokolips their ruler, Darkseid, has already made that choice!”

Yes, Highfather is wartime leader of the emerald world, but he still devotes time listening to the lyrical songs of Fastbak and other youthful choral members of Supertown. Highfather and his New Genesis honor the young as a matter of faith. “First, we bow to the young,” Highfather tells his son, “they are the carriers of life! They must remain free, Orion! Life flowers in freedom!

As leader, he is also obligated to answer the queries of The Council of the Young and he is especially attentive to the plight of The Forever People, even as the group disobeyed him by traveling to Earth. When the team is sent via Darkseid’s “Omega Effect” into past eras on our planet, Highfather intervenes by reuniting them courtesy of “Alpha-Bullets” shooting out of his fingertips.

In a poignant exchange, Highfather engages one of the smallest of the new gods, who is asking for his help to rescue the Super-Kids. “Well, Esak!! Is one of the youngest of New Genesis to add his voice against my edicts!?” asks Highfather.

Esak replies, “Not against your edicts, Highfather!! But for our friends!! Is this not a world of friends?”

“Look at me, Esak!” cries Highfather. “Am I not as cold and stern as Darkseid?”

The boy answers, “Darkseid is the fire-pit of destruction!! Highfather is the tranquil green of morning!! The time when the song of life begins!!”

“And what of power, Esak!!? Is this not the naked fist of power??

True! — But power to which the lightning dances!! — On the infinite roads of time!!”

Forsooth, it is the music and song of life for all that Highfather seeks, not only to assuage his own loss. Having never sang for sweet Avia, the former Izaya finds solace in melody. “The song ends — but the beauty of it must never fade! Or die, Orion!

“In this cause,” his faithful and tormented son replies, “I live as well!”

Day 53: New Genesis!

Home world of Orion, The Forever People, Lightray, Highfather, and many other new gods, as well as the birthplace of Scott Free, a.k.a. Mister Miracle, New Genesis counts Truth, Love and Freedom as allies in their great war against sinister Apokolips. The singular municipality, a satellite city the young people call “Supertown” (described by — who else? — Superman as, “It’s Incredible! Beautiful! Majestic! Supertown is truly a place for super-beings!!”), floats above the Eden-like planet, a lush, pristine globe of natural splendor.

“No more glorious sight has ever greeted any eyes than that of New Genesis, home of the New Gods,” trumpets The New Gods #1, “A golden island of gleaming spires that orbits a sunlit, unspoiled world of green forests, white mountains, and bright waters…”

NG #2 proclaims: “New Genesis is a world caught up in the joyful strains of life!! There are no structures on its green surface — except those which serve the cause of well-being… Destiny’s road is charted in the city, massive yet graceful — gleaming on its great platform — a skyborne satellite drawn in endless silence by its hidden mechanisms!”

In the beginning of the saga, we do see New Genesis as the perfect home, a place of love and friendship. When the young gods called The Forever People bid a young Earthling adieu, Beautiful Dreamer says, “Good-bye, Donnie! We leave you what cannot die — Love! Friendship!” And her comrade Serifan adds, “It is so in New Genesis! It can be Here!

Highfather rules New Genesis with a benevolent hand and he regularly seeks the advice of The Council of the Young. (Supertown was indeed a very hip ’n’ happening place, man!) At one point distressed about The Forever People, Highfather proclaims, “Darkseid raises his children to destroy and die!! You know that it’s our duty to provide the alternative!!

In these, the early days of the Super-War, idyllic New Genesis is still physically untouched by the conflict. But only a little while prior, Apokolips attempted a preemptive attack. In The Young Gods of Supertown segment, “Raid From Apokolips,” denizens of Darkseid attempt to use a Thermo-Bolt Machine to take down the orbital city of Supertown, only to be thwarted by Big Bear. The vignette has an ominous epilogue:

“Of course, this incident occurred in the days before Darkseid openly broke the peace and chose Earth as the battlefield!! But, even then, the energy flame-pits burned brighter on the sinister world of Apokolips — as its dark shadow began to crawl across the sun-dappled green of New Genesis!

But to call, as I have in these entries, New Genesis a “virgin” planet is wrong, for the world of gods as we know it reemerged from a terrible, cataclysmic conflict called “The Great Clash,” which started when a ruler of Apokolips, Steppenwolf and young Darkseid, his “obscure and humble” nephew (and son of ruler Queen Heggra), partake in a hunting party on New Genesis. There is an incident (planned by the future Master of the Holocaust) when Steppenwolf kills the wife of New Genesis leader Izaya the Inheritor and the poachers leave Izaya for dead. But (as was Darkseid’s intent) the Inheritor lives and commands his forces to wreck horrific vengeance on Apokolips with massive bombing forays.

A precursor to the Boom Tube, the “Matter Threshold” materializes Apokoliptian death machines (called Dragon-Tanks) onto the surface of New Genesis and repeated raids are made on Izaya’s home world. The Inheritor kills Steppenwolf, both still unaware of Darkseid’s orchestrations, and with the death of Steppenwolf, the son of Heggra has escalated the confrontation into a “Techno-Cosmic War”!

“Techno-Cosmic War produces techno-cosmic machines!! — Machines that draw the debris of space and send it crashing down upon New Genesis!!… Giant biological mutations are bred in Apokolips’ laboratories! — Turned loose to pillage and kill!! New Genesis fights back with equal innovation!!! Wherever the giants tread, the ground beneath their feet cracks wide from seismic shock and swallows them in its deep recesses!!! But the war grows ever larger!! It reaches across the universe and mammoth suns are transformed into cosmic-lasers — designed to cut New Genesis into blazing, lifeless shards!!

Larger! Larger grows the war! Larger grow the ‘God-Machines’!! An impacter, the size of a planet, is sent crashing into an enemy-captured sun!! And inside Izaya of New Genesis, something dies with each such deed!! Where will this end? How can he destroy the cosmos — and yet save New Genesis!?

“‘We are worse than the old gods!’” laments Izaya. “‘They destroyed themselves!! We destroy everything!! This is Darkseid’s way! I am infected by Darkseid!! To save New Genesis — I must find Izaya!!’”

And thus the Inheritor searches for his own identity, not that of a warrior but something… more. He wanders the “ugly landscape, empty of all that was once New Genesis!! It’s soft, green forested lands are gone!!” The former paradise is desolated, smoldering weapons of war replacing the vegetation. “A wasteland!!” grumbles Izaya, “Seared and cracked and gaping with endless pits — in which bacterial monsters fester and play!!!” And amongst such devastation Izaya finds his inheritance, The Source, and the warrior lays down his war-staff and becomes The Highfather, a lover of peace and virtue.

New Genesis, even today, is not quite as serene as initially imagined. Beneath the surface, strange beings — monsters — evolved from germ warfare used in the “Great Clash,” and then there’s the plague of “micro-life” used to infest the planet. In other words, there’s the matter of the “Bugs” and their nests under the ground of the super-world… but we’ll get to those “destructants” eventually, chums.

Let’s leave you with this homily about the “good-guy” planet: “To serve a friend is certainly to serve New Genesis!!

Day 52: Lightray!

Lightray is, according to Jack’s pin-up of the character, “[l]ighthearted and brimming with personable qualities, [and] he is the friendliest of the New Gods! But when battle comes, he is a formidable foe! In the clash between New Genesis and dread Apokolips, Lightray turns the power of light into a weapon of astounding magnitude! Follow his exploits! As goes Orion, so goes Lightray — into domains where even gods are subject to the whims of grim destiny!”

Orion and Lightray are the best of companions, though as contrasting as night and day… or, more aptly said, darkness and light. Orion says, “We are different, you and I… and yet — good friends!” They are compatriots, many times at one another’s side in these opening days of the Super-War.

“I am Lightray of New Genesis, lady!” he tells Eve Donner, “A child of light! — Plunged into war! However, unlike poor Orion — My scars are yet to come!”

Lightray is almost always joyful, telling his friend, “To laugh is to feel the beat of life! Live, Orion! Live!” The young new god is also exceptionally well-mannered, graciously kind to strangers, and a courteous guest, though Lightray is not afraid to berate Orion to mind his manners!

As you can read in the pin-up, Lightray controls the power of light, plus he can fly at (you guessed it!) light speed. “I govern the power of light,” says he. During a fight with Kalibak the Cruel, Lightray emits powerful rays from his hands, called “Solar Thermo-Beams” and “Nova Bursts.”

Even as the New Genesis leader tells our subject, “You are the youngest of those assembled, Lightray! Your time to clash with monsters is not yet here!” Lightray disobeys Highfather and joins Orion’s fight against the Deep Six on our planet, only to be momentarily vanquished, left to die on the Earth ocean, floating on the Deep Six Control Ship, wrapped like a mummy in mutated light-absorbing, steel-fibered kelp.

During that “Glory Boat” adventure, Orion rescues Lightray and lambasts his friend. “Well — well — well –!! So the smiling lamb decided to try his hand among the wolves, after all! Yours is a sorry welcome to Earth, Lightray!! I see your first brush with war — and The Deep Six — has been little short of disastrous!!” The fierce son of Darkseid comments moments later, “It saddens me to see you here, Lightray! Your kind brings an undeserved honor to war!!”

It is during this sea battle when we see a more complex side to Lightray, one that might be allegorical when it comes to civilians waging war instead of generals. On the Deep Six’s Control Ship, in lieu of joining Orion in decimating the mutated “organic director” — a “Sender” — he tells his friend, “It shouldn’t be destroyed!! It should be changed!!” And the young god uses his powers to transform the misshapen creature: “Light! Light! — Not to glisten on swordblades! — But light at play with atoms — to make them sing in other ways!!”

It is reduced to a “white-hot compact core,” a brilliantly glowing cube. “It’s now a living basic life form!! — Stripped of the taint of Apokolips,” says Lightray. Adds Orion, “It will grow again — in the image of New Genesis!” Using his Mother Box housed on the forehead of his facial harness makes the new critter a “Caller,” which will eventually bring the enemy to them.

When next we see the “Caller,” it has morphed from a “Life Cube” into an organic, evolving machine… It has become “Techno-Active.” Then, in perhaps the most climactic — and dramatic — moment in all of Jack Kirby’s enormous body of work, the “Caller” is now the ultimate weapon of New Genesis, “singing and shining and sleek and deadly!!! What Lightray has ‘imprinted‘ on the ‘Life Cube‘ is now fully ‘grown!‘ And it carries on its glistening warhead the living — the dead — and the fiery trumpets of the Source!!!” Like Berzerkers rushing wildly into battle without care for life or limb, the “Glory Boat” careens head-on towards the Deep-Six and their monster Leviathan! “The trumpets blast on impact with the enemy! Thunderous notes! — White-hot, elemental and all-consuming!! A Wagnerian offering to the Source!!

But the complexity of Lightray’s machinations is found in Orion’s distress before the final showdown. “You fight battles like a planner,” Orion screams, “instead of a warrior!! The enemymyself — this dead boy — and his father — We’re all your pawns!!” It’s a curious moment and worth pondering. The look and effect of this, the “Glory Boat,” sure appears thermonuclear, and why can’t I shake the vision of Robert McNamara and his fellow “Best and the Brightest” out of my head? The most noble of intentions…

Nearing the end of the saga as published, after Orion has survived another titanic battle, Lightray beckons the dawning sun to bathe his wounded comrade: “Then, let the coming light be bright and strong — let it play upon those wounds — let it bring things that wash — the pain — with — pleasantries — Then let me aid the light! Let me give my added power where it can hasten all the good things this day may hold for brave Orion!”

There’s a notable moment in The New Gods #3, when The Black Racer is chasing down Lightray. The harbinger of death exclaims: “Destiny has decreed that our paths should cross!” And yet, with the assist of Metron, Lightray dodges that fatal bullet. But it led me to wonder if Lightray, bright, cheerful, full of hope and happiness Lightray, was predestined for an “untimely” demise…

Because, y’see, though I know he appears later in “Wild, Wild Wedding Guests” (Mister Miracle #18), in the final issue of The New Gods, Lightray seizes the initiative of the “Combat Code” to take on Kalibak and embrace, in his words, “the rare shock of battle,” and the half-brother of Orion slams the young god (apparently) to a bloody pulp. But with the Black Racer coming for either Orion or Kalibak, Jack forgets to tell us the fate of Lightray (or did I miss something?). Was Lightray to have been beaten to death by Kalibak the Cruel?

Is Lightray doomed from the start? Is dear, sweet, beautiful Lightray one of the gods “subject to the whims of grim destiny”?

Day 50: Orion!

The titanic warrior of New Genesis, son of Tigra and Darkseid of Apokolips, wielder of the Astro-Force and all-around eternal with the most rage issues, folks, let me introduce Orion, greatest of the New Gods.

Honestly, it’s not easy to conjure up the adequate words for this superb Kirby character, a complex, brooding, angry and (quite literally) two-faced hero of Jack’s Fourth World masterpiece especially because he plays such an integral role in the epic. And Orion’s destiny, to bring an end to the Super-War between New Genesis and Apokolips, is hinted at early on in this chronicle of his cosmic adventures.

“Of all the celestials,” his companion (and opposite) Lightray says, “you are the one most plagued by shadows!” Orion concurs, telling his friend, “I am two worlds — like New Genesis , and that demon’s pit — Apokolips! — One drifting forever in the shadow of the other–”

Highfather explains to Lightray, “He, alone, has been fighting his monsters from birth!” For Orion is “savage offspring” of Tigra and Darkseid, the fruit of a prearranged marriage, and as a boy, the fierce “murderous little monster” is used as barter in the Pact between the Master of the Holocaust and Highfather. Orion is traded for Scott Free, the man-child of Highfather himself. “Our son was raised without knowing his father!!” cries Orion’s mother, and Darkseid replies, “But I know him, Tigra!! He’s like you! — A fighting, snarling killer-cat!!

Orion is raised in New Genesis, and though he doesn’t know of his sinister lineage, he suffers depression and seeks solace on the pristine planet. All we see of his time before the Super-War is an encounter with Lonar and the battle-horse Thunderer, when Orion spooks the living artifact of last monumental holocaust, striking alarm in the steed, which doubtless senses the warrior’s Apokoliptian heritage. Orion laments, “Fear! Fear at the touch of Orion!! Is it not always so?!”

Orion is forever conflicted by his bloodline. His Mother Box gives the illusion that he has a handsome, flawless face, but when Orion is in brutal combat that deception evaporates and we see the true snarling, ugly visage of a merciless warrior. Orion knows that he, at his core, is deeply defective though he has yet to discover the truth. When Orion delays an attack on Darkseid, the demon despot observes “Finish me — and you finish yourself!You hesitate, Orion! You can sense why — but you don’t know — do you?”

We will learn the prophecy that the ultimate battle in this Super-War will be waged in Armagetto, a sector of Apokolips, where father and son will face off in the “Last Battle of the New Gods!” Playwright Eve Donner, Deep Six Slig, half-brother Kalibak, they all sense that Orion will not survive the war because of the conflict raging inside his own soul.

Orion is singular possessor of the dreaded Astro-Force, a powerful, destructive beams which is emitted from his transport device, the Astro-Sled (which also houses his Mother Box). He is also mighty effective with his fists and, of course, is a born combatant. His nicknames include Orion the Hunter and Orion the Fierce. “A free and angry Orion is more than a menace! — He is the ultimate in mayhem!”

In a rare moment of slight levity, Orion takes on a disguise as a Metropolis gangster, cleverly named O’Ryan, with his earthling compatriots, who join in the subterfuge as (what else?) O’Ryan’s Mob.

Nearing the end of the initial run, when Orion and Lightray find some peace on the terrace of Eve Donner, aforementioned playwright, her hand reaching to the brutalized face of sleeping Orion, and she muses, “There is something in that fierce and mangled face beyond anything I’ve ever written about! The sleeping monster — the raging heart — a vessel of fire — which consumes — even love.”

The red-headed warrior awakes and replies, “As for love, madam — I find love in battle hotly fought! — In vengeance fulfilled!!

Before the new gods depart, Eve shares with Orion her fear that “You’ll never survive your war! You’re big –! But not bigger than what’s eating you! Your enemy, Darkseid, will use it against you!”

He joyfully lifts her off the ground and says cryptically, “And, though I pay for victory with death — I shall seek you out in that final moment!”

In the end, with darkness descending, will Orion finally find what he needs most of all, the soothing caress of a loved one…?

Day 49: The Birth of the New Gods!

Their world torn apart in an orgy of self-destruction, the old celestials pass onto Valhalla and make way for the new eternals, as the globe’s violent rendering form two spinning, molten spheres, worlds that will cool to become planets named New Genesis and Apokolips, one a Eden-like paradise, the other consumed with fire and brimstone.

And so Jack Kirby sets the good-and-evil duality of his saga, as these worlds are the respective homes of Darkseid and Highfather, worlds about to be engulfed in a Super-War.

These planets are the homes of the New Gods, and they are the stage where we will learn of the many fascinating and engrossing characters that will be cast in the Fourth World epic. We will meet Orion, son of Darkseid and hero supreme of New Genesis; Scott Free, the soon-to-be Mister Miracle; Kalibak the Cruel, Orion’s half-brother; Metron; Himon; Desaad; the Female Furies; Esak; Granny Goodness; Fastbak; Steppenwolf… Oh, you get the idea! We are in for a fantastic journey, a multi-layered saga of Shakespearean proportions, chock full of Dickensian touches, Faustian lessons and Faulkneresque family drama.

We, my friends, are about to go cosmic…