Category Archives: The Forever People #1

Day 37: Serifan!

ser·aph (sĕr´əf) n., pl. -aphs or aphim (-əfĭm) or aphin (-əfĭn). 1. A celestial being having three pairs of wings. Isaiah 6:2. 2. One of the nine orders of angels. See angel. [Back formation from plural seraphim, from Middle English seraphin, Old English seraphin, from Late Latin seraphim, seraphin, from Hebrew Sərāphīm, plural of sārāph.] —se·raph´ic (sī-rāf´ik), se·raph´i·cal·raph´i·cal·ly adv.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

In 1950, Harvey Comics published the third issue of Boys’ Ranch, Simon & Kirby’s legendary Western comic book, a kind of continuing John Ford movie in four-color newsprint, which featured the exploits of adult Clay Duncan and three adolescent cowboys. Therein contained what Jack later called one of his favorite stories, an episode titled “Mother Delilah.”

“Mother Delilah” certainly is a remarkable tale, focusing on the most original member of the group, golden-locked, ornery orphan Angel, who boasts an angelic visage with long blond hair and itchy, lethal trigger-fingers. (Think the face of Kamandi.) The gun-totin’ melodrama is about saloon “girl” Delilah, who has a crush on Clay, who in turn has no time for fraternizing with lady folk — “Helping the boys run the ranch is a full time job, Del!”

Piqued by Clay’s rejection — there is an intimation that they may have been, umm, initmate at one time; though unspoken in this kids comic, Delilah is obviously a “soiled dove,” a prostitute of the prairie — Del schemes to get back at the rugged cow-puncher by appealing to Angel’s need for a mother figure.

Angel is one angry youngster, described as “that lead-slingin’ imp of Satan,” bitter and unhappy and quick to spew rage, but he does feel a kinship to his fellow Boys’ Ranchers and the kid’s loyalty to Clay is unending. But Del cracks Angel’s tough veneer and, for a time, whore and orphan play their respective roles as loving mother and devoted son (“I’m your maw… You’re my boy,” Del coos, Angel’s upturned jaw in her palm). For a brief spell, Angel experiences a maternal tenderness, a feminine kindness he always yearned for but never experienced…

Angel’s long golden hair is his trademark, a Samson-like source of strength, but Delilah charms the lad, “lulling Angel’s fears with motherly persuasion — using the mother love for all it is worth — knowing it is the one thing that can bend the boy to her will,” and the boy submits to the shears of the “daughter of sin.” In a shocking, wordless panel, jaw open, eyes wide Angel views the haircut’s damage in a hand mirror: a hack-job, cowlicks sticking out every which way. Then Delilah cackles in triumph, having emasculated Angel (and, by proxy, Clay Duncan), laughing manically as the sobbing boy, consumed with shame and hurt, bolts out the door.

Gunplay ensues with badmen, Angel’s hair grows at an unusually fast rate with his marksmanship skill recovering in pace, and, one fateful day at the Last Chance Saloon, Del, in a redemptive final moment, rushes to protect Clay, and (alas) is struck down by a dirty, lowdown sidewinder’s bullet. It is the final, lyrical panels that make the story a classic:

Holding the departed Del in his arms, Angel weeps over her corpse, as the town Virgil (named Virgil), recites: “And, thus it ends. But ever to repeat again and again in reality and rhyme — Love’s ever new — as morning’s dew — and hate is as old as time.”

Okay, so what the heck does a tearful, resonant 1950 cowpoke story with Old Testament allusions have to do with the shortest member of The Forever People? Well, I’m convinced that Serifan is really the Angel of New Genesis.

Jack describes Serifan as a “Sensitive” in the first issue, one who “turns on with fantasies” and drops into an open-eyed coma when making telepathic contact with Beautiful Dreamer. While he doesn’t possess the cowboy’s bitterness or predisposition to kill people — these are the peace-loving Forever People, after all — Serifan does share a similar forlornness and angst with the Old West youngster. While the character certainly has moments of levity, I detect a perpetual sadness about the Super-Kid, one that was never fully explained.

Another clue to the Angel connection is certainly Serifan’s Western garb and predilection for cowboy-and-Indians teevee shows (and use of the word “pardner”). But the New Genesis Kid’s gambler hat is decidedly different from Angel’s in that its hat band contains “cosmic cartridges”… we’ll get into the specifics of those metallic beauties under their proper entry to come, but sufficient to mention, them little pills can lead to mind-blowing experiences!

One final observation: When Darkseid zaps Serifan’s fellow group members with “Omega Effect finder beams,” but reprieves the cowboy copy-cat (out of atypical sympathy?), we see the sobbing boy from the back, as he laments “the fast fading vestige of all that was dear to him!” It is a visual echo of the final panel of “Mother Delilah,” where we observe the back of Angel as he kneels before the still figure of his “mother.”

“And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver. And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.” — The Bible, King James version, Judges 16:5-7

Day 36: Big Bear!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 35: Vykin the Black!

Vykin, somber member of The Forever People, is a “Finder,” one who “has the power to trace and reconstruct atomic patterns,” meaning, I reckon, the guy can sense where things have previously been and is able to detect such earlier presences by zapping beams out of his eyes which create a trace image. Like Mark Moonrider, Vykin also has a latent ability that doesn’t appear until late in the series: Magna-Power, which he uses without so much as a howdy-do against a gunman: it’s a kind of reverse-magnetism force field that repels metal and those that wield same… akin to Magneto, I guess.

Most of all though, Vykin is the loyal protector of the team’s beloved Mother Box (we’ll get to her), a kind of sentient computer that exhibits emotions (via pings) and endowed with the ability to call into this dimension a wonderful, spectacular, immensely powerful being… Fear not, friend, soon you will learn all…

Vykin is also a language major and possesses in his helmet an indicator connected to Mother Box, saying his “mind is so attuned to her waves,” but Vykin can also hear her without the helmet (which also, by the way, contains probing circuits that can detect gold).

The name description: Is Jack really being that blatant, relaying the obvious — Vykin has black skin — or might it be more subtle wordplay off the character’s name, an apparent derivation of “Viking”? I mean, like there’s Erik the Red, Thorstein the Red, The Red Viking (or did I make up that last one as my own comic book character?)… I imagine there’s not too many “…the Blacks” in Norse myth or history…

“Token” black characters were appearing all over network teevee at the time: Bill Cosby in I Spy, Nichelle Nichols’ “Uhura” in Star Trek, The Mod Squad‘s Linc Hayes, a nod by Hollywood towards the civil rights movement, with their otherwise lily-white fantasy world. So, why not comics?

But it’s important to note Jack created the first mainstream black comic book super-hero in this country — The Black Panther in the pages of The Fantastic Four — and he’d go on, in the very pages of The Forever People, to debut the first U.S. Asian super-hero, Sonny Sumo.

Gratuitous? Maybe. I’m more inclined to give J.K. the benefit of the doubt and believe the allusion of color with Vykin the Black is less due to skin pigmentation and more that he was a subterranean dweller on New Genesis before joining the team, from a black world, so to speak. But then, I’m a Kirbyhead, so whaddaya want!

Day 34: Mark Moonrider!

We’ll start off with the roster rundown the (unofficial?) leader of The Forever People, All-American Doug Flutie lookalike Mark Moonrider, whose expertise seems to be to… ummm… lead! (Surnamed for then-Kirby assistant and now J.K. biographer, Mark Evanier? You are the judge!)

Moonrider appears to be Beautiful Dreamer’s default boyfriend (as indicated when Darkseid kindly zapped them together with his Omega Effect finder beams for a night at the theater on April 14, 1865, while other teammates were transported to other dates by their lonesome). He also sits in the foremost seat of their vehicle, barking orders and insults to Super-Cycle pilot Big Bear.

Mark, being head of a nonviolent group, is surprisingly adept at using destructive hand weapons, given his marksman ship destroying Happyland with a “few well placed shots”! He also possesses the “Megaton Touch,” which emanates from his fingertips, an ability with a range that can either cause severe shock or liquefy rock as needed (why Mark doesn’t call on this power in a slew of situations, who knows! And did I miss something or does M.M. suddenly get the Megaton Touch pretty late in the run, with no explanation?).

Mark Moonrider is the calm center of the group, consistently on-task in their quest to beat Darkseid to the Anti-Life Equation, and spokesman regarding their mission of peace. When handicapped boy Donnie laments their leaving, Mark has a lovely bit of advice:

“Donnie — Life is good! Live it for others — not against them! In that way, you will always be close to us!”

Day 33: The Super-Cycle!

The Forever People’s road hog, the Super-Cycle, is a suped-up Supertown Harley Davidson motorcycle — seats fives! — that traverses not only earthly thoroughfares, but also the Boom Tube and the Electron Road, the latter which Beautiful Dreamer describes as, “I-it’s like your jet-stream — only a little more complex!!” (Yeah, right, “a little”!).

But the metal beast, helmed by Big Bear (he with the perpetually giant grin who obviously relishes being the driver), is more than just a mode of transportation: It also can shift, Transformer-like, into “fort mode,” for self-defense. “On New Genesis,” a caption describing the re-arrangement states, “the creed is ‘life!!‘ Programmed to ward off ‘death,’ the ‘Super-Cycle’ defends itself!!!” It is equipped with paralyzer guns to keep evildoers at bay…

Seems to me that the supersonic tricycle actually lives, cares about Big Bear & Co., and has the will to survive, whatever the “programming.” Ya gotta wonder if Jack could have featured a solo story or two just to this vehicle alone had the series continued. This ain’t no “Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch”!

Day 32: The Forever People!

Via the Boom Tube, riding the Super-Cycle, come the kids from Supertown (minus the female member), The Forever People, arriving for their debut adventure on planet Earth. The flower-power young people of New Genesis consist of [from left] Vykin the Black, Big Bear, Serifan, and Mark Moonrider… we’ll meet up with Beautiful Dreamer later in this story, as well as with two other integral “characters” very closely associated with the quintet.

The Forever People is Jack Kirby’s statement about his hope that the young people of his day, the hippies, would deliver the rest of us from a violent, selfish world. It’s remarkable, really, that Mr. Kirby, a middle-class workaday guy with a work ethic that would exhaust the puritans and other zealots, one saddled with a mortgage, home-making spouse, four kids and intensely demanding job, had such obvious affection for the Baby Boomer generation, by 1970 well into their twenties. Hippies were a huge demographic in the U.S., who (to wildly generalize) were virtually united against the Vietnam War, demanded the voting age be reduced to 18, heavily into drug use (particularly pot and LSD) and advocated free love. They also professed non-violence as a creed (though an active minority did engage in radical politics, some preaching the violent overthrow of government) and a curiosity for other world cultures. Nowhere was the hippy movement bigger than in the Golden State, where Jack and his family had recently moved.

Hippies also embraced one trapping of their younger years and seized it as their own: the comic book. Underground comix, originating out of the very heart of hippydom, the Haight-Asbury district of San Francisco, had huge distribution and astonishingly frank and explicit work was being published. And the mainstream work of Stan, Steve & Jack’s Marvel Comics was firmly entrenched in hippy culture, alongside the alternative funnybooks of R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and Rick Griffin. This, the Woodstock Generation, was receptive to Jack and vice versa…

It needs to be said, Jack also personally encountered any number of young people with increasing frequency. His street address and phone number were in the directory and The King (and Queen Roz) would welcome into their kitchen an endless parade of youthful pilgrims seeking an audience with the creator. Plus the fact the San Diego Comic Convention and other shows were being held so, perhaps for the first time, Jack had regular — and ever-growing — larger scale dealings with the longhairs…

Back to our subject: The Forever People may be the first super-hero group who is primarily non-violent (now, I’m not counting a certain infinite personage here, so settle down!). Their mission is to beat Darkseid to the discovery of the Anti-Life Equation and to end the Super-War between Apokolips and New Genesis. Their creed, as is all of Supertown, is “Life!!” and they live to protect and help others. We’ll discuss them as an entity in the days and weeks to come, but suffice to say they are an utterly original grouping in mainstream American comic books and, again, they are testament to Jack’s open-mindedness and empathy for the younger generation.

Mark Evanier has a particularly fine description of the kids in his Kirby: King of Comics biography:

The Forever People featured the teenage gods, patterned after the youths that Kirby was observing all around him. In the midst of the Vietnam era, Jack was wholly on the side of those opposing Richard Nixon and the ongoing military action. He saw idealism, passion and a better future in them and sought to infuse his Forever People with the same hopes, the same sense of responsibility at inheriting a world made dangerous.”

I’ll be dealing with each character in the entries to come, so I’m going to feature an eloquent letter of comment regarding this issue, the first of The Forever People run, that appeared in #3:

Dear Editor:

Just to add a few words to the already awesome mound of praise (one might term it a “mountain of judgment,” had one a way with clever nomenclature) surely deluging you, my compliments on the first issue of Jack Kirby’s The Forever People. In recent memory only Deadman, Enemy Ace and Bat Lash seem to match this strip for innovation and success. Which probably means — if we are use as yardstick, the commercial failures of these high-water marks of quality continuity — The Forever People is too good for the average comic audience.

Its power and inventiveness display the Kirby charisma at its peak. Every panel is a stunner. Potentially, it appears to be the richest vein of story material National has unearthed in years. One hopes Kirby will be given total free rein, that he will be allowed to ride his dreams wherever they take him, for the journey is a special one, and we get visionaries like Kirby only once in a generation, if we’re terribly lucky. To constrain him, force him to fetter himself with the rules and rags of previous comics experience, would be to dull the edge of his imagination.

After the many false starts of National efforts in the past five years, at last it seems you’ve struck the main route. That it should be Kirby — at the top of his form — that worked point-scout, is not surprising. He has long been master of the form, and in The Forever People, it seems he’s found his metier.

Best wishes and prayers for a long, long life for The Forever People. Till now, all the flack bushwack about this being the Golden Age of Comics has fallen tinnily on us; but with Kirby in the saddle and The Forever People casting its wondrous glow, you now have leave to bang the drums.

Harlan Ellison
Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Day 31: The Boom Tube!

Here, on the first comic book story page Jack wrote and drew for his legendary ’70s stint at DC Comics (first, according to the job number assigned to it, X-100), on page one of The Forever People #1 [Feb.-Mar. 1971], is the transportation device he created to get his Fourth World characters from New Genesis and Apokolips to Earth and back again. A kind of hipster “rainbow bridge” [see Thor, The Mighty], the Boom Tube was used by both the children of Highfather and denizens of Darkseid in the Super-War that was only just now beginning between the new generation of cosmic gods, using our small green globe as battlefield.

The Boom Tube (a name coined, I reckon, because it sounds like the contemporaneous derogatory term Americans often used to describe their televisions, “The Boob Tube”) is an inter-dimensional tunnel that appears out of thin air — with a sonic boom heralding the arrival — in our world’s environs and, with its travelers safe on earthly soil, just as suddenly disappears with a thunderclap. It is also used between the two worlds of the new gods.

The question begs an answer: Just where do New Genesis and Apokolips exist in relation to Earth? Is it, indeed, in a parallel dimension or in or around the Promethean Galaxy, which we see Metron (the developer of The Boom Tube, by the by) teleporting to its edge in the opening of New Gods #5? It’s probably a silly question — where does Asgard or Valhalla or Heaven or Hell reside, for that matter? — but the deeper and deeper we read into the Fourth World saga, the more the connections between the three worlds matter…

Oh, never mind. I need to relax and enjoy the new story that’s only just beginning: Who or what is traveling through this Boom Tube and what adventures are in store? Find out tomorrow…