Category Archives: The Forever People #2

The Forever People #2

Cooke Look: “Super War!”

Jack Kirby starts to loosen up in this second issue of The Forever People, after a somewhat constricted-feeling debut number, but the creator does come dangerously close to formula in having his fantastic characters deal in a mundane setting of everyday Earth (in this instance, the rundown neighborhood of Donnie and Uncle Willie), then encounter a strange new super-villain (Mantis) and combine into The Infinity Man to defeat said baddie, all tied neat in a bow by page 22. Frankly all three of the new titles have a slightly pat air about them but, by the third issues, it’s as if Jack flushed the formulaic, traditional comic-book approach clean out of his system, because by then, pal, all bets are off!

Still, however rote the plotting, it is a great pleasure to have the gang checking out regular folks on our humble planet. The traffic jam episode, chatting with Donnie, moving into the new digs — all these sequences are great fun, and it was again a pleasure when the Super-Kids got to briefly hang out with Trixie Magruder later in the run. As somewhat stereotypical as Donnie is, there is an earnestness I can relate to and it would’ve been a hoot to return to him, too, in the future.

Not too much to expound on here, though it must be said Mantis is an excellent villain and The Infinity Man, as always, is a marvel to watch in action. But the meat of this issue is the foreshadowing with the appearance of that guy we never tire of seeing, Darkseid, and an ominous new bad guy from Apokolips, Desaad. Reading this issue as a kid just made me want more. The storytelling clips along nicely, the action in the usual top Kirby form, and a momentum is starting to build. What I didn’t realize, reading these as they appeared on the newsstand, was that a veritable tsunami was fast approaching with the Glorious Godfrey/Happyland epic, which made The Forever People a transcendental title, one that was dealing with hugely adult and pertinent issues, a transformation that frankly changed me. Obviously, writing about this all four decades later, I still marvel at Jack’s achievements.

Get ready, kiddos, it’s rising on the horizon, so grab some flotation devices, will ya!!!!

Day 82: Desaad!

Ahhh, Desaad!

Evil, conniving, sadistic, sinister, elegant, craven, weak and delusional Desaad, master of the Fear Machine and right-hand man to the Ruler of Apokolips!

The spindly creep, who revels in the torment of others and schemes to retain his position as his sire’s top lieutenant, is — during Desaad’s existence in the regime — the second most powerful player in Darkseid’s royal court, one who takes particular delight in torturing the greatest object of his fancy: The Forever People.

Our initial meeting with this mincing rat is in a brief glimpse during The Infinity Man’s battle with Mantis. Darkseid is using the insect god’s rampage to stir up anxiety among the citizens of Metropolis in the hopes of detecting the unwitting human who possesses the Anti-Life Equation in his or her mind. A portion of the city in flames, the Master of the Holocaust looks to the destruction with a growing satisfaction. In his company is a hooded miscreant with wild, sunken eyes and scraggly hair on his forehead. You’d swear this bounder has fangs, his mouth agape in delight! Within his hands is a nefarious-looking device, apparently placed on his jugular veins like some high-tech stethoscope. Both appear to be in a city park and standing behind the maniacal-looking fellow is the great villain of our saga, who asks:

Darkseid: What is the city’s fear quotient, now, Desaad!

Desaad: Spirally to a lovely high pitch, O Darkseid! I can feel them — like crashing surf — Wonderful waves of raw fear!

Then, after the defeat of Mantis, ever-pragmatic Darkseid mulls over his future designs. “Mantis fights hard — and fails hard — he cannot learn to plan! But Darkseid waits like a silent stone… waits and plans to flush his prize from its cover, Desaad — And, if you would wrest the secret from him — give him — to me!” Desaad passionately beholds his beloved sire with such an intensely insane look, we readers just know we’re going to see a lot more of this particular — and peculiar — bad guy.

And we do, as mostly in the pages of The Forever People, Desaad is the villain seen the most frequently in the Fourth World epic besides the Big Guy himself. But the next time we behold this human vermin, it is in the story of Orion, with Darkseid still on Earth seeking the Anti-Life Equation. After Brola and his Hand of Stone have failed to vanquish the fierce new god during the tussle in Orion ally Dave Lincoln’s apartment, Darkseid and henchman travel by Tele-Ray to “one of the secret bases established beneath the city.” Upon disciplining his “whipped Brola,” the leader turns his attention to a huge device of vile appearance being attended by a hooded man. “The battle is far from over — there is still the Fear Machine! How does it stand, Desaad?” asks Darkseid. “It waits only for your judgment, master!” answers Desaad. “I hasten to begin its initial test!” (Then, with apparent impudence, a minion says out loud, within earshot of the two, “Indeed he does! Cruel Desaad hungers like some parasite!” Some of these underlings have moxie!)

Darkseid approves. “Proceed then, Desaad! The Sonic-Stimuli cannot affect one such as myself!” Yet Desaad protests, “But I must have subjects, master! Allow me to summon those wretches in my keeping!” Then Darkseid specifically points to the opinionated servant, standing with cohorts, and says, “Time is short! There are your subjects!” The wretch begs, “No, master! We are in your service! Do not feed us to Desaad’s vile instruments!” (Except for his personal guards, Desaad does not to seem to inspire much loyalty among the folks of Apokolips, and for good reason!). The caption states, as Desaad is saturating the poor fellows, who suffer agonizing distress, “The pleas go unheeded, as invisible beams lash out and wring terror from their screaming targets!!” The victims implore, “Aaaaaa — Save us! Save us!” In stark contrast to the quivering crew, we see an ecstatic Desaad when he removes his mask.

Desaad: See, Darkseid! See how the emotion of fear is stimulated by the waves!

Darkseid: Very effective, Desaad! You’re a genius at your work! Emotional turmoil breaks the dikes of the mind — and releases the flood in which we must fish, Desaad! Perhaps in this very city is the mind which will yield the Anti-Life Equation! The ability to control all free will!

Desaad: Yes! Yes! This time we must strike among larger numbers — ever larger! I have a field model placed in a strategic point of the city! It waits for your approval, great Darkseid!

Darkseid: Strike then, Desaad! Strike fear among those massed minds!

Here we witness the unmitigated joy Darkseid’s old friend derives from inflicting pain and torment on others and how apt his name given, obviously a derivation of the Marquis de Sade, the French aristocrat who gave the world a new word for pleasure derived from the torturing of others: sadism. We do see shades of Goebbels in his appearance and certainly an aspect of Himmler in his methods, but the character does possess a strange and perverse charm, so eager and craven, so delighting and almost tender when attending his victims. In other words, a villain you just love to hate!

By the end of “O’ Deadly Darkseid” (on the cover of which Desaad rates an appearance behind his boss!), when Desaad’s device has failed to extract any hint of Darkseid’s quarry, he tells the ruler of Apokolips, “Orion thwarts us again! He might have tracked us here were it not for my protective shields!” Darkseid is impatient, telling his constant companion, “Forget Orion! It is your Fear Machine that yields nothing! Not the slightest trace of the thought waves we seek!

It is here we see a fundamental aspect to the conflict between these two characters. Indeed, though Desaad mostly believes in his own hide, his conviction is all for Apokolips. But Darkseid (all too often, in Desaad’s estimations) allows familial concerns to intrude on the goal of final victory. Number two in the nightmare planet’s power elite begs:

Desaad: Orion has made a mockery of this test! When we capture him — give him to me!

Darkseid: You’re a fool, Desaad! Blinded by your own mania! We could never take one such as Orion captive! His kind dies in battle! And in death would look greater than a vermin like you!

Desaad: So! The great Darkseid rise quickly to the defense of an enemy!

Darkseid: Orion is an enemy to be respected!

Desaad: Yes, it is strange how very like us he is — in his fierceness and —

Darkseid: Silence, Desaad! Were Orion my own son — he would mean nothing to the purpose of our mission! And in that mission we must not fail!

In this argument is to be found the roots of Desaad’s fall from grace and ignoble fate, as we do eventually learn what is strongly hinted at here: Orion is the offspring of Darkseid and father and son are fated to fight to the death on the littered avenues of Armagetto on Apokolips… well, one is to die, anyway…

Desaad’s tour de force performance and most prominent role in the Fourth World series is as the great tormentor of The Forever People, and nowhere is he more deliciously vicious as during the “Happyland” story arc, when he gives special, customized treatment to each of the Super-Kids. At the conclusion of the “Life vs. Anti-Life” story, after Darkseid banishes The Infinity Man with beams shooting from his eyes which transforms the hero back into the quintet, the super-villain greets them: “Welcome back! The young of New Genesis will be easier to deal with!”

Mark Moonrider: Darkseid! Do your worst! We’re not afraid!

Darkseid: Of course not! It would pain me deeply to deal harshly with you! That is why I keep such as Desaad at my side!

Firing a device at the new-agers, Desaad cackles, “I don’t mind playing games in the slightest! Here! Try this toy! Fun, isn’t it? Ha! Ha! Ha! They yelped loudly before they collapsed! My Nerve Beams inspire such reactions!” Then Glorious Godfrey’s Justifiers gather up the unconscious team and load the bodies into an Aero-Van, one of them explaining, “We’re taking them where we took the others! To the Camp of the Damned!” The Aero-Van driver offers, “It is not the first of its kind seen on Earth! But Desaad is the master of this one! Even as Justifiers make a mockery of life — Desaad plays with death as if it were a fine art!” Another Justifier ponders aloud, “I wonder what sort of masterpieces he’ll make of these brats!”

(Although allusions certainly abound in copious portion, the Aero-Van driver’s comment (obviously about Nazi concentration camps), in combination with the Adolf Hitler quote at the beginning of this tale, are the only direct references to the Third Reich in the series, I believe. Astonishingly few mentions, methinks, considering the reams of inference we can extrapolate from the series about the Holocaust and Jack’s wartime experiences battling the German menace, never mind the overall eternal threat to mankind — and all life — from fascism! While, I think, Darkseid is no Hitler, ultimately a pathetic, self-hating runt who wielded monstrous power to exact revenge and impose will of the most vicious sort on a scale previously unimagined by mankind, his court is not dissimilar to the German High Command of that nightmare era.)

Watching the team being loaded for transport, the Master of the Holocaust comments, knowing his underling derives great pleasure from the act of torture and might forget the process is a means to an end, “I trust this Camp of yours is serving the purpose that overrides all others, Desaad!” The Ant-Life Equation remains the great quest. “If the mind you seek to contact is among those at my camp,” Desaad assures, “it shall soon give up its secret, great Darkseid!

Upon Glorious Godfrey whining to Darkseid and the ruler — “The Revelation! The tiger-force at the core of all things!” — nods for Desaad to do his bidding. “Each to his own methods, eh, Desaad?” Godfrey complains, “You favor him always, great Darkseid! Think of what my Justifiers do in your cause!” Desaad, ever maneuvering for Darkseid’s constant good favor, interjects with a bow, “I beg to depart from this petty situation, sire,” and turning to Godfrey with a malevolent grin and furrowed brow, tells the minister, “You’re a loud, petulant bumpkin, Godfrey! Like all Revelationists, you’ve got imagination — but not finesse! But I, Good Godfrey, have both! I leave now for my ‘camp,’ which Darkseid knows is terror refined to perfection!

The caption at the end of the tale reads:

Desaad is soon on his way — aboard the same Aero-Van that carries his captives — the young Forever People! But their destination is the most bizarre and terrifying structure ever seen by the eyes of man! It is Desaad’s own little domain on Earth — a pilot project of purgatory — where torment is computed — death is controlled — and escape impossible! Don’t miss — The Kingdom of the Damned!

Call it what you will: The Kingdom of the Damned, the Camp of the Damned, Happyland… This is Desaad’s great playground of evil, hiding in plain sight of or planet’s inhabitants. The opening caption reads, “The Kingdom of the Damned is not a far place! It’s not a hidden place! It’s in full view of us all! But, it has been rigged by a malignant force so that its tormented inmates are seen and heard — and ignored!!” The visual, of the true nature of this place, is of a mass of anguished, desperate prisoners screaming for help and mercy, banging on the curved glass window for release. Then, on the two-page spread that follows, we see the outside: a colorful, joyous looking amusement park emblazoned with the most duplicitous of names. Reads the caption:

And who among us would rush to aid the victims of this cruelty — when the sights we see and sounds we hear are bright and joyous? For are we not in “Happyland” — conceived in a world called Apokolips — and built on Earth by the subtle, the clever — the evil — Desaad?

We also see minions fulfilling their master’s command. Says one, “The Master ‘Scrambler’ is working smoothly! The fools trapped in that image little realize that we are distorting their cries into laughter!” And another, “Like us, these humans are serving the needs of Desaad! But I’m certain that he finds them more entertaining!”

Darkseid arrives and is greeted by one of Desaad’s corps, who says with a bow, “Our master, Desaad, awaits you, great Darkseid! He prepares a most interesting feat in your honor!” But the great leader does not share in Desaad’s predilection for base entertainment. “If this involves mere cruelty, I may not be amused!” Nearby, the revived team contemplate their captor: “Desaad!” exclaims Vykin, “We’re in the hands of Desaad! Darkseid has given us to that demon!” Mark Moonrider knows of the villain, as well, adding, “He worships torment! — Refines it to an art!

The head of Desaad’s impressive security force comments, “I see that my master’s fame has spread to your world, New Genesis! — Or do you whelps call it Supertown, now?” And, when Serifan attempts to stun the guards, the hapless team is again rendered unconscious, this time courtesy of Vertigo Grenades. “They’re easier to handle now!” says a guard, “Desaad likes efficiency!” The security head clicks on an intercom, ordering, “Dispatch Unit! Send us transport! These new play toys are ready to be carted off for our master’s pleasure!” The dispatcher replies, “Fine! Desaad is in a frenzy for sport!” A guard speaks to the incapacitated Super-Kids, “Do you hear that, New Genesis dogs? Desaad will soon attend to you! And you would quail if you knew what keeps him busy right now!”

And next, in a horrendous sequence, we see Desaad in his element, accompanied by his master and a technician in a bizarre mask and even stranger devices on his hands which appear ready to penetrate The Forever People’s sentient computer. “The murder of a Mother Box!” thunders Darkseid. “I didn’t think you were foolish enough to attempt it, Desaad! This should prove amusing indeed!” Vykin’s most beloved possession is pinging in great distress. “Bear with me, great Darksied!” Desaad replies. “My technicians have labored feverishly to fashion the protective hood and killing gloves for my executioner! Now, the Mother Box is completely at my mercy — like its companions — The Forever People!

The technician observes, “The thing reacts, master! — As if it registers fear! It does have a certain claim to — life! Listen to it, master! Even as the Electro-Spikes begin to pierce it — it screams!” But suddenly there’s an explosion and the technician is thrown onto the floor! Darkseid says, “The Mother Box has vanished! They always do that!” Desaad is incredulous, “No! It disintegrated! That’s it! I’ve made it commit suicide! Ha ha ha ha ha!

And then we observe another moment in the complex relationship between the old acquaintances:

Darkseid: You crow too soon and too loudly, Desaad! Does the Mother Box vanish — or disintegrate? You don’t really know! Nor do I! A Mother Box is linked to the infinite! And made to plague us!

Desaad: Forgive me, great Darkseid! In my zeal to please you, I may have chosen the wrong subject! But I do hold The Forever People! Perhaps you might join in watching them thrash about in my net!

Darkseid: No, Desaad! I’m leaving! When one campaigns for control of all living creatures, he doesn’t stop to toy with a few!

The ruler of Apokolips then, for perhaps the only time in the series, walks among the inhabitants of Earth, a precious moment in the saga (which be related when the time comes, good friends!). Before he takes his stroll, his top sycophant gushes, “Like all great leaders, sire, you have the ‘common touch!’ Are they not your future slaves?” (I will reveal a telling thought the intergalactic gangster muses over while on his walk through the amusement park: “Darkseid is patient! He wields the power of Apokolips! Its vast resources have built ‘Happyland’ — to indulge vain Desaad! Perhaps even his cruel practices among the humans — will shake out the mind I seek!”)

Then the evil Desaad turns his attention to his colorful captives, first Mark Moonrider, encased in an “unbreakable, transparent cage.” The tormentor delights, “There! Look at Moonrider’s face! He’s beginning to break! Losing hope — ha ha ha –” and continuing, “He’s not ready yet to provide me with a proper show! He needs time to simmer — to feel his emotions tightening into a hard, squirming ball! It will be the moment before he loses all reason!”

Then it’s on to Big Bear, trapped in a “Shoot the Robot Bear” enclosure, desperately trying to escape. Desaad, unimpressed, raises a wine goblet and comments, “Until he’s reduced to a spirit-less wreck, he’s not worth watching! Forever People are rather difficult to deal with! But I shall wear them down!! Now for the girl!

Here, we come to Desaad’s supreme moment in the series, a juxtaposition of tender loveliness and the most vile corruption. In a full-page panel, with Desaad delineated with exquisite detail, his lizard-like visage expertly drawn, the villain, one hand pressed preciously to his chest, the other wielding a riding crop that he delicately, sensually traces over Beautiful Dreamer’s paralyzed and curvaceous form, has saved his finest eloquence for this very moment. “Ahhhh — My vision of beauty! — And a beauty of visions, too, I might add! A mind so sensitive that it can make illusion seem like reality! What my scrambling machine must huff and puff to produce — Beautiful Dreamer can do by mere thought!”

Then, making sure she will will remain comatose throughout the coming tribulation, Desaad explains, “And now, my dear! As your automated couch moves into the next room, we shall play with illusions, eh? The couch stops! The wall rises! And what have we? Why, it’s a glass window! But what lurks beyond it, eh? Monsters! Yes, Monsters! Grotesque! Terrifying! Real! See them! Hear them! How eager they are for that window to open!

Desaad exudes an incredibly creepy sexual interest in Beautiful Dreamer’s dilemma, seeming to look forward to watch the defenseless damsel’s ravishing by innumerable strangers: “Yes, now the window will open — and the monsters will swarm in — to whisper sweet nothings in her ear!” But the super-pervert’s pleasure is interrupted by one of his security corps. “No, master! The youngest of the captives will not cooperate! He’s the one called Serifan! We put him in the chair prepared for him! — But he struggles against us — and we have your orders not to discipline him!”

Indicating he might receive equal satisfaction by torturing boys as well as girls, instead of expressing disappointment at the abeyance, Desaad embraces his next assignment: “What? Touch that angelic boy? We mustn’t do that! Come! He will obey Desaad!” and he’s off to attend to the copy-cat cowboy’s excruciating situation. Serifan, ordered to push a foot pedal as he sits before a view screen, doesn’t understand why he is to perform for his captors.

Desaad: It will be like watching a Western movie, boy! You love Earth Western movies, don’t you? Well, in this one, you shall play the noble hero!

Serifan: W-what do you mean–?

Desaad: There! On the screen! Your good friend, Vykin, the Black sits trapped in the path of that onrushing roller coaster! It’s really happening! Quick! Now kick the foot pedal — or he dies!

Serifan: Vykin!

Desaad: Good work, boy! That kick sent his trap-chair plunging down! Out of death’s path! You saved his life!

Serifan: But, look! His chair is rising once more! It’s happening again!

Desaad: And again — and again — and again! But never fear! You’ll be here, in this chair, boy — kicking the pedal to save his life! Just don’t get tired! It could be fatal to your friend!

This is Desaad in his element, crushing the spirits of innocent, loving youth, afflicting on them horrific nightmares and hoping to inflict the vilest of damage on their precious souls. This is the time of Desaad’s greatest triumph!

Then we are, in the following issue, exposed to another of Desaad’s beloved machines, introduced by one of his faithful as we see the terrified images of each of The Forever People’s faces, “Our honored guests, great Desaad! Each registered on the Psycho-Fuge!” Confirms Desaad: “And each registering his individual reaction to the little arrangements I’ve made for them here at Happyland! The Kingdom of the Damned is a subtle concept! Happyland, the amusement park, on the outside — and behind the facade –” His voice trails off.

Minion: Your reluctant guests, sire!! Your private amusements! As you ordered — I revolve the Psycho-Fuge!

Desaad: Fine! My sensitive “Fear Siphon” is honed and ready to “receive!” Yes! They’re filtering through! The heightened emotions forced out by jolting stress! To ride those waves is an exhilarating experience! Now, as the images of my prisoners merge, so do the waves of raw emotion!! The intensity mounts!

Suddenly, in the whirling pin-wheel of frenzied fear-waves, the images of Desaad’s other captives blend in to form a horrible, grotesque mass of unrecognizable stress visuals!!

A mind-bending scene is before Desaad, an acid trip gone terribly, terribly wrong, and the great sadist is beside himself with delight: “What can equal this for joy? I find it strange that Darkseid would shun this!” But Desaad’s bliss is shortlived, as Mother Box compels Sonny Sumo to save the fantastic five and, puzzling over the stethoscopic device in his playroom of horror, Desaad is alarmed: “Something’s wrong!! My ‘Fear-Siphon!’ — It isn’t functioning!”

Minion: Impossible, sire! To neglect its care would mean to risk your anger!

Other Minion: Master! Master! The “Psycho-Fuge” has come to a halt! Its screens have gone blank!

Desaad: What kind of madness is this? Check it! Re-check it! You fumbling dolts! What’s that sound? I hear a humming sound!

The next caption reads, “In the realm of Desaad’s kind, where forces of infinite variation are harnessed for many purposes — the meaning of this one is evident!”

Suddenly, with a bone-shattering “FWOMM!” the Psycho-Fuge is rendered to metal shards, with Desaad taking the full brunt of the explosion. (Interestingly, though in previous appearances we see him with a full head of hair, albeit with receding hairline, after this conflagration, his hood blown off, the villain is almost completely bald except for his scraggly forward-comb-over, revealing an even uglier face than before!) The servant of Darkseid looks pathetic, lying on the floor, squealing for assistance, “Guards! Guards! There’s an enemy among us! An enemy with a damnable Mother Box!” As his elite corps rush to obey and help him to his feet, Desaad is furious, muttering, “If I destroy the young Forever People — Mother Box will destruct!

Mark Moonrider and the kids, with the aid of Sonny Sumo and Mother Box, rescue Beautiful Dreamer. Her boyfriend tells her, “Only a psychotic like Desaad would subject you to the stress of facing endless fright and horror!” And the professional wrestler, who combined with Mother Box possesses the much-coveted Anti-Life Equation, defeats Desaad’s massive corps of faithful servants with a mere word. Desaad’s murderous playground of evil is finished. And, suddenly, he is very afraid.

In “The Omega Effect,” after the group have destroyed Happyland, and Beautiful Dreamer worries aloud, “Desaad is almost as dangerous as Darkseid!!” and Sonny and Mother Box has immobilized Desaad’s horde, Darkseid cooly contemplates, “Fascinating!! Those young hotbloods of New Genesis have found a way to outwit us, Desaad!” Then Desaad sputters a reply, “Sumo without mind stimulation from the Mother Box can’t use the Anti-Life Equation!! But if they confront us at this moment — even we can become its victims!!! Stop them, sire!!!”

Darkseid: I shall, Desaad!! I shall! But don’t think I shall overlook your cowardice!! Then, all tormentors are notorious for that trait!!

Desaad: How can you say that, noble Darkseid!! My powers are vast, but — but they’re in the realm of technology! Sumo wields the ultimate weapon!!!

Darkseid: Boldness, Desaad!! Risk!! The raw meat of existence!!! I shall strike with these!! — and the Omega Effect!!!

The Master of the Holocaust proceeds to zap the team, Sumo included, but leaves the youngest member untouched, much to his henchman’s dismay. “And now the youngest, Darkseid! Now him!” The ruler is unmoved. “No need!! The threat to us — has passed!!” Desaad is aghast, screaming in his leader’s face, “What!!?? You would leave such a dramatic experience incomplete? No, sire, no!”

Darkseid: I regret to say this, Desaad!! But I don’t have the stomach for your kind of pursuits!!

Desaad: But Serifan should share the fate of the others!! And they no longer exist!!! — Ugh!!

With that audacity, Desaad is literally slapped down to the floor by Darkseid, calmly telling the victim of his open hand, “I do no more than what has to be done!!” And, standing amongst the ruins of an inflamed Happyland, Darkseid seeks to comfort his longtime ally. “Don’t fret, Desaad! We’ll attain our goals without complete victories — or defeats!! See what a fine spectacle misfortune provides for us!! Have we truly lost, Desaad — when the power and resources of Apokolips are barely scratched!!”

Desaad: When great Darkseid finally attains the true Anti-Life Equation — and commands all life with a word — he will not forget the trials of poor Desaad!!!

Darkseid: On that day, old friend — a million slaves shall build a thousand more Happylands for you to play in!!

With that promise of glorious distractions to come, Desaad ends his run as the central villain in the Forever People saga, though he does appear again in “The Power” and in the team’s final story. And in the former tale, Desaad still tempts his master, telling Darkseid after they masqueraded as “The Sect” and, yet again, the heroes’ escape, “But somehow I feel you’ve spared The Forever People again!” Darkseid shrugs, “Greatness does not come from killing the young! I’m willing to wait until they grow!!”

Rest assured, though, Desaad is witness to Darkseid’s final victory over The Forever People, as he observes the team’s permanent exile to the planet Adon. No doubt Desaad would have preferred a more slow and agonizing ending for the new-agers but they are now out of his sparse hair for good. When next we find mention of Desaad, it is in Mister Miracle, where we are introduced to a Female Fury with a striking resemblance to Darkseid’s right-hand man: Desaad’s sister Bernadeth, wielder of the lethal Fahren-Knife, which cooks her prey on the inside! Hot stuff!

In the seminal “origin” story, “The Pact,” Desaad may not rate an appearance, but mention is made as a weapons-maker and personality. After Darkseid appears to inflict a killing touch on Izaya the Inheritor courtesy of the Desaad-designed Killing Glove, uncle Steppenwolf tells the ambitious godling: “It appears strange to me that this friend of yours, who thrives on living victims — would produce a device which kills with such speed!! I don’t trust you, nephew! — or your bizarre companions!”

Call it a showdown, if you’d like, as “Darkseid and Sons,” the final issue of the regular New Gods series culminates not only in the death of one of Darkseid’s offspring but also in an old friend’s demise. It is, in this story, when we learn of the connection between Kalibak, Orion and Darkseid. Fretting over his boys’ rivalry, the Master of the Holocaust bemoans, “But destiny has always kept one from killing the other! However — in the event of destiny’s failure, Darkseid shall intervene!” Again — yet again — Desaad is spontaneously impudent, oblivious to the depths of his boss’s consternation: “But why, sire? If Kalibak proves the stronger, we are rid of that wolf Orion! Yet this logic doesn’t seem to please you! Somehow, the thought of Orion’s death stirs your fear and anger!”

Darkseid: Silence, Desaad! You go too far! Darkseid explains his motives to no one!

Then Darkseid explains the backstory of the half-brothers and, turning controlled wrath on Desaad. he gives the chief torturer a taste of his power, zapping Desaad with eye-beams: “And that little potent Omega Blast is to remind you that I know who poisoned [Darkseid’s beloved first wife] Suli! — At the Queen’s command!!” Whines Desaad as his leader stands on his chest, “I couldn’t disobey, sire! The Queen Mother disapproved of Suli! It was her decision!”

Then we learn son Darkseid had his own mother, Queen Heggra, poisoned in retaliation (and to ascend the throne of Apokolips) by Desaad, who protests, “I — I don’t like to remember it, sire — ! — How I carried your plans — for her–!”

In the titanic battle between half-brothers that transpires, Darkseid is suspicious of the origin of Kalibak’s newly-acquired powers, which appear to get the best of the fierce Orion. Rising from his chair, Darkseid says aloud to himself, “While I’ve watched this battle between combatants of equal strength, another has manipulated it for his own fiendish purposes.” Pulling apart a curtained entryway, Darkseid finds his old friend in ecstatic repose, the Fear-Siphon adhered to his throat. The King of Evil sneers, “I see you’ve enjoyed the battle, Desaad! — At the expense of the warriors!

Desaad: I — I couldn’t help it, sire! The opportunity of absorbing the emotions of Orion and Kalibak through this siphon — was too tempting!

Darkseid: I’ve tolerated you and your twisted mind too long! This time you’ve turned it against my own kin!

Desaad: I strengthened Kalibak, sire! You will glory in his victory for Apokolips! As for Orion –”

Darkseid: Orion may be dying! — Crushed by your meddling, scheming brain! — And his final agonies are coursing through you — feeding your cursed needs — ! Then feed on the greatest fear of all! — The Omega Effect! The Total Wipeout! Feed on this! — Your own last experience!!

Desaad: No, sire! No –!

The next caption reads: “Where the Omega Beams strike, there’s no life — no death — no sign of previous existence! Desaad doesn’t even have time to scream!!”

Darkseid: And this is what you are now! A small, fading patch of light — soon to vanish from sight! Farewell, Desaad!

Thus the angels of New Genesis rejoice! For Desaad is dead, fittingly at the hands of his beloved master. But Darkseid remains fond of his late companion — why? Who the heck knows! — and many years later, in the events of “Even The Gods Must Die,” the ruler of Apokolips laments for a simpler time when flesh ruled machines and not, in the new age of the Micro-Mark, the way it has become, as personality is losing dominance over technology. Illustrating a forlorn-looking Master of the Holocaust, a caption reads: “The eyes of Darkseid betray his strange discontent. He turns to hide his scarred ego! The ultimate flesh challenged by the ultimate metal… and yet, his approval has brought this situation into being.”

Colonel: “Change” is a combustible state, sire! It affects all on Apokolips! It stirs the lower ranks to violence. In your eyes, sire, if I may be forgiven, I see a touch of pain… or is it… loneliness?

Darkseid: I could use a friend. Desaad, perhaps. He was a strange one, but he had the gift of finding humor… where none should thrive!

Colonel: That could be a noble experiment for our machines, sire!

The colonel hands his ruler a high-tech helmet device.

Darkseid: What is that thing?

Colonel: It’s a “Brain Scanner,” great Darkseid. In your brain cells is an accurate image of Desaad! Wear this, sire, and we can track down his atoms… And, though you disintegrated Desaad in a fit of anger, I believe our machines can…

Darkseid: Silence, fool! How easily you forget the power of Darkseid! What I snuffed out… I can rekindle!

The King of Evil transmits his eye-beams to the floor.

Darkseid: See the flames of atomic life gather and expand… and busily boil to achieve “biologic symmetry”! It’s a bit of an ugly process, I admit, Colonel. Well?

Bubbling, oozing like a puddle of putrid muck, a shapeless blob starts to take form until it becomes a resurrected Desaad.

Colonel: I-if that’s your opinion, sire… I would definitely agree! If you would permit an observation, sire…

Darkseid: Yes, yes! Go on!

Colonel: Had you fed our machines the correct data…

Darkseid: I know! He would have “popped out” like fresh candy! It’s humiliating to contemplate it! Rise, Desaad!

Yes, Desaad lives again.

Desaad: I-I-I am y-your servant, great Darkseid!

Darkseid: Welcome back, old friend.

Desaad: Your powers are omnipotent indeed, sire!

Sycophantic as ever, but this is not the same Desaad, for his true essence has apparently gone to The Source and he remains a virtually empty shell of the conniving, devious, perverse master of torture he once was.

Day 81: Serifan’s Cosmic Cartridges!

Okay, let’s see: Beautiful Dreamer has the power to create illusions, Big Bear can concentrate his high-density atoms to the point of being invulnerable, Vykin has Magna-Power, and Mark Moonrider boasts the “Megaton Touch.” Now, what exactly does Serifan have up his sleeve…? Oh right, the copy-cat cowboy’s secret weapon is actually in his hat… Serifan’s hat-band, that is, which has loops to hold his myriad “Cosmic Cartridges,” each one having a specific — and often fantastic — power!

We first learn about the Cosmic Cartridges while The Forever People are setting up house at Uncle Willie and Donnie’s place, #309, as Serifan is apparently shirking work as the others haul about furniture. The youngest Forever Person is fiddling with a teevee set. Mark Moonrider says, “Why, that broken, old television set — it’s a pure representation of early, post Atomic, middle class home visuals!” Adds Serifan, staring at the idiot box, “And it shows Westerns! They’re just too much!” But Donnie is puzzled. “But how can you receive a picture on that set, Serafin? [sic] It’s a mess inside!”

“Oh, I know that!” replies the blond Super-Kid. “The service parts are beyond repair! I’m using one of these things on my hat!!” (Apparently the repair job turns a black-&-white set into a color one, because, kids, no person of lesser means could afford a color teevee back in the day… I know!) Donnie observes, “They look like shiny, silver bullets! Where did you get them?” Taking what looks like a bullet from the loops in his hat band, Serifan replies, “Our point of origin — Supertown — a part of New Genesis — These are sensitizers, probes, — receivers and such — We call them Cosmic Cartridges! They’re sensitive to the universe — to its largest and smallest limits — Here — hold one!” (First one’s always free, kid… heh-heh…)

Donnie admits, “I’d rather hear more about Supertown and New Genesis! — But I’ll try this –!!” Taking a capsule in his hand, the object glows. “I-it feels warm — like it was alive! — Like it was me! — And I-I’m everywhere at once –” Suddenly the boy is having a mind-blowing experience, perceiving the infinite expanse of the universe. “I-I see — everything — and everything moves — and makes a kind of beautiful noise –” Serifan offers, “Harmony is the word, Donnie! — You’re listening to — All there is!

Now, that’s just about as close as mainstream comics ever got to depicting an LSD trip in 1971! (And a tripping pre-teen, no less!) Talk about far-out! So we got a cartridge that will make us one with all existence; how about the other Cosmic Cartridges? Let’s take a sprint through the books and see the different varieties (and note, of course, I’ve made up the names of said items):

    Stun Power Cartridge (which Serifan vainly attempts to use against Desaad’s guards in Happyland)

    Integration Substitution Cartridge (used to start the damaged Justifier Aero-Van during Serifan’s escape from Happyland — “One of my Cosmic Cartridges can do the job!!! It will attune itself to the principle that powers this vehicle! It will integrate with the damaged mechanism and substitute for its function!!”)

    Pattern Signal Cartridge (utilized to have Super-Cycle, which is in self-defense mode, recognize Serifan as a “friendly” — “I’ll have to count on my Cosmic Cartridges to spell out my individual pattern –!! Its signals will register on the cycle’s computer!!”)

    Atom-Shield Cartridge (serves to repel zealots during attack — “Even as the Justifier’s weapon fires, the Cosmic Cartridge generates a shield of atoms — strong enough to repel the shot and cause it to rebound on the attacker!”)

    Mod Couturier Cartridge (creates a hip new ensemble for Beautiful Dreamer, leather fringe and all, by “atomically” re-shifting her original pagan dress get-up!)

    Life-Force Cartridge (reanimates life of the “Monster in the Morgue,” after Doc Gideon steals it and tapes the cartridge to his dead creation’s forehead, makes Miss Trixie’s dolls dance and given to Deadman, the super-poltergeist, for “it will be the heart and motion of your new form!” — “Of course, the cartridges are mostly functional! But this little-used blue has a strange link with the infinite! It transmits something I can only term as a ‘life-force!’ See how it animates those dolls! I’ve trapped this force! But I haven’t satisfactorily traced its origin!”)

    Solid State Energy Cartridge (able to cap a leaking gas-line — “This night is a busy one for my Cosmic Cartridges!”)

    Atom-Compactor Cartridge (makes Deadman, a ghost, fully visible — “This cartridge will compact the few atoms that still cling to you! For a fleeting moment — you will feel reality! We shall see you as you are!

    Glass Cutter Cartridge (able to cut through inches-thick steel-hard glass)

    Heat Induction Cartridge (thaws out a frozen Deadman)

    Heavy Gravity Cartridge (engaged to incapacitate Devilance the Pursuer — “A surge of heavy gravity energy leaps from the cartridge and envelopes Devilance! His weight increases tenfold and he topples forward!”)

    Shock Repelli-Field Cartridge (protects Serifan from exploding Thermo-Bolt Machine (and could be the same as the aforementioned Atom-Shield Cartridge) — “Don’t be alarmed, Big Bear! I’m encased in a shock-repelli-field!! The Shield has dissolved into free atoms!! It’s returned to the object in my hand! A Cosmic Cartridge, you big humbug!”)

It’s telling, I think, that Jack depicts Serifan handling his Cosmic Cartridges as if they were pistols on the cover of FP #7, seemingly ready to fire on the Justifiers attacking him! The kid would have loved to have seen such a heroic old Western pose as Jack drew… And adding up the number of cartridges here, that makes 12, enough for two six-shooters! So, Serifan is a rootin’-tootin’ six-Cosmic Cartridge shootin’ real cowboy, hombre! Cool beans!

Day 80: Donnie and Uncle Willie!

When first we encounter The Forever People in this story, the gang is creating a ruckus on a busy intersection in (it appears) downtown Metropolis, with their Super-Cycle parked amidst a cacophonous traffic jam. The new-agers are merely hoping to “establish proper coordinates,” says Mark Moonrider to a flustered traffic cop, who replies, “Joke’s over, kids! Now find a parking lot for whatever that thing is!”

Passers-by stop to observe the colorful, smiling group, with one wag starting to heckle them. “Doo ya dooty, officers! Why don’tcha bust dose hippies before dey tie up da whole town!” And the smart-aleck doesn’t stop there, as after a young lady suggests the crew be airlifted, the yuckster ripostes, “Yeah! Get dose hippies up in de air, an’ mebbe dey’ll cancel out the smog!

Big Bear takes an interest in the jerk, observing, “The dialect is primitive, brother! But the humor cries out for a straight man! Tell me, Mister Corn! What’s a hippie?” Busting a gut, the man dubbed Corn answers, “Ha, ha — Dat’s easy! All ya gotta do is show him a bathtub — an’ if he runs — he’s a hippie!” Laughing himself, the Super-Cyclist grabs the citizen and gaffows, “Ha ha ha ha! It’s like direct involvement with ancient vaudeville!” And, with that, Big Bear gives a spine-crushing… ummm… bear hug to the monsieur — CRUNCH! — and says, “Thank you for the experience, brother!” The comedian collapses to the ground as Big Bear exclaims, “Even the brother was overcome by this joyous emotional release!”

Well, the fuzz order the hipsters out of there and they “phase out” of “Mad Avenue” and reappear in the more low-rent end of Metropolis, on what Serifan jokes is “Desolation Row,” a place the lovely Beautiful Dreamer still finds peaceful. Mother Box pings distressingly but Serifan says, “But I see nothing that could harm us!” Vykin answers, “He can!” indicating a young boy cautiously advancing toward the group. As Mark Moonrider protests, “But he’s only a child! An invalid child!” the kid inquires, “A-are you guys U.F.O.’S?

That youngster, immediately enamored with the Super-Kids, is Donnie, who gives voice to our questions to learn more about the fascinating five. He’s about ten or eleven and, as Mark notes, is an apparent cripple who uses crutches to get around the decrepit proximity. He also endowed with intense curiosity, an active imagination and appreciation of the bizarre. “I saw that!” the youngster gushes. “A flash — and you guys coming out of — thin air!” The team’s de facto leader then explains the aerodynamics of the Super-Cycle, “We call it ‘phasing’! I hope it didn’t frighten you! It’s just another way to travel!! Here, men build roads from what they see — We build roads from what our sensors see!” The boy is enthralled. “Oh, wow! I’ve hit the jackpot! You’re from outta this world — and you’re real!

As Beautiful Dreamer explains the quintet to Donnie, her hands on his shoulders for emphasis — “Of course, we’re real! Truth is real! Truth lives forever — We’re the Forever People!” — Big Bear parks the cycle, and Vykin and Mark puzzle over Mother’s Box’s anxious signals. There’s obviously danger in the vicinity…

Suddenly an older gent waves a shaky handgun and barks at the newcomers, “Hold it right there, you motorcycle savages! Take your hands off that boy!” This paranoid geezer is Uncle Willie, Donnie’s apparent relative and the slum’s security guard. Sensing the man is distraught with this strange looking group, Beautiful Dreamer begins to use her empathetic powers, creating the illusion for Willie’s perception that they are a wholesome bunch of average teenagers dressed in old-fashioned garb.

Having won over the boy and old man, the crew seek lodging in the run-down neighborhood and Willie offers them a place to stay in his building. Big Bear hauls in musty old furniture as if it were made of balsa — “This is pure camp! It’ll be great in our room!” — and Serifan is mesmerized by the “early, post Atomic, middle class home visuals!” (Willie’s teevee) but Donnie is startled to see the set working as “it’s a mess inside.” The cowboy shows the lad his special Cosmic Cartridges, which can fix broken boob tubes and commence to give the boy a decidedly trippy experience. (More on those pill-shaped beauties tomorrow, sport fans!). Uncle Willie breaks bread with the remaining Forever People when, having seen a news flash about Mantis’s siege of Metropolis, Serifan calls the Super-Kids away to attend to the Apokolips scourge.

While that’s the last we see of Uncle Willie, Donnie appears in the third issue, being manhandled by one of Glorious Godfrey’s Justifiers, who threatens the boy with death — “you little garbage!” — if he doesn’t say where The Forever People are (who are standing right behind the thug). Mother Box saves Donnie after the Justifier flings the hapless cripple and the group grabs the kid and hauls out of the apartment. This zealot is revealed to be a suicide bomber, almost killing the gang with his Omega Ray Bomb and, as he was climbing out the window when he detonated, the Justifier was successful in destroying Uncle Willie and Donnie’s digs. As the smoke clears, the team decides to investigate Glorious Godfrey.

Two of the Forever People take the time to say farewell to their new friend:

Beautiful Dreamer: We must leave, Donnie! We will be back — if we can

Donnie: B-but what will happen?

Mark Moonrider: Donnie — life is good! Live it for others — not against them! In that way, you will always be close to us!

And, to ensure Donnie will be safe from another attack, Mark instructs, “Barrier this place, Vykin! A Justifier may come again!” Holding the protective sentient computer, Vykin replies, “He’ll be a target for deadly micron particles! Mother Box fills the air with them! The particles are computed not to harm the boy!”

Then, as they climb aboard the Super-Cycle, the team has last words for Donnie, who implores, “You must come back! You must!”

Beautiful Dreamer: Good-bye, Donnie! We leave you what cannot die — Love! Friendship!

Serifan: It is so in New Genesis! It can be here!

It’s hard to say if pathetic little Donnie, a handicapped kid living in abject poverty on skid row, is better off or not having encountered his New Genesis acquaintances. In the few days the lad was in their company, he watched his Uncle Willie have a conniption, was exposed to a mind-altering experience, was threatened with death by a gorilla-sized brute, and lived through a doubtless traumatizing suicide bombing that destroyed his place of residence… and here’s hoping Uncle Willie wasn’t in the flat at the time of its destruction! That would really suck!

But given the Cosmic Cartridge view he shared of a completely harmonious universe and the vital words of wisdom about love and friendship given to him by the Super-Kids, it is likely the boy benefited immensely from the short but intense visit, maybe a life-changing event for him…

When Beautiful Dreamer defines reality, truth and The Forever People, and Donnie replies, “You sure sound sorta ‘far out’ — but it isn’t freaky — nothing like that!” it’s an endearing moment, one I could relate to as a kid not much older than the briefly-seen character. To me, the team was “far out”! “Freaky”? Well, I liked freaky but I found that kind of stuff in those intentionally trippy comix…

Day 79: Mantis!

The cover blurb atop The Forever People #2 hollers, “Stop, Mantis! is the cry of a great city — at the mercy of an evil power vampire!” Combined with the Apokolips villain’s quintessential Kirby pose — hands thrust toward the reader, crouched and ready to spring, Mantis is one impressive character, a worthy bad guy joining Darkseid’s growing roster of super-powered lieutenants!

But, still, when we first meet the brilliantly-colored (a sweet complementary mix of yellow-&-green) costumed enemy of The Forever People, he’s shown in vivid close-up, giving out “a scream of awesome terror!!” Darkseid minions are yanking him out of his coffin-like Power-Pod, treating him impudently and with disdain. “Out of your Power-Pod, Mantis!” says one. “Did you think to hide from Darkseid?” barks another. “Don’t rouse me!” yelps Mantis in protest. “It is not time! My body will lose its precious gain of voltage!” Throwing him at the feet of the ruler of Apokolips, a henchmen orders, “Don’t whine! You are in our master’s presence!”

Cravenly cringing before Darkseid, the weak baddie begs Darkseid to concede that Mantis is loyal. “Am I not one with you — and all who live on Apokolips?” The Master of the Holocaust grants, “You are a creature of great power, Mantis! But your biology ever betrays you!” Seems Mantis has prematurely taken the Boom Tube to Earth in the hopes of securing the planet for his own. Like a petulant child, Mantis yaps, “Earth is mine! Mine! I came here first! You have no right –” Before ordering Mantis back to his pod and to “Unleash the terrors of the night! Make man gringe! Make him tremble — Make him fear!” Darkseid tells his underling he can have our planet, for the King of Evil is only interested in extracting the greatest prize of all, the Anti-Life Equation… and Earth be damned!

A few pages later, we are witness to a familiar scene from many a vampire movie, this one expertly atmospheric courtesy of Jack’s artistry: A bell tower clock rings midnight, eerie sounds whistle through cemetery trees and we see an ominous sarcophagus in an underground crypt. Suddenly the lid is opened from the inside and we hear sinister boasting, “It is time! My powers are at maximum charge! — And the city waits — for the coming of Mantis! Here, I shall carve out the kingdom I am destined for! Against all foes!”

Yep, we see Darkseid’s point: Mantis is wildly ambitious and will, I’ve little doubt, become one day a threat to seize the throne of Apokolips itself, and it’s a relentless drive we are exposed in all of his appearances in the Fourth World saga. This vampire “bug” wants it all and then some!

Immediately Mantis shows his terrific power (derived where from, I’m not exactly sure, but he needs time to recharge his batteries and, in this story at least, works best at night), which is to detonate minute anti-matter particles in things and to infuse material with incredible amounts of destructive energy. “AAAA — the power surges inside me — rushing to get out! — And destroys what my fingers touch!” And who needs to use the stairs when he can tunnel through rock in mere seconds! Zowie!

(In fact, in the full-page Jack devotes to Mantis in The New Gods #2, featured during the “Mother Box” sequence when Orion shows his newly acquired Earth comrades the threat Darkseid and his ilk pose to poor old Mother Earth, the character is referred to as “the awesome digger,” and perhaps is responsible for the network of underground tunnels noted by Metron in NG #1: “[Darkseid] and his power elite are now on Earth — creating a tube network beneath its great cities! Soon they will be able to reach any spot on that globe!”)

Watching teevee, Serifan catches a news report of Mantis’s rampage through the city, and the team, knowing full well of the villain and his destructive abilities, beckons forth The Infinity Man to do battle. (The amalgamated hero seems to possess a Sixth Sense, unnoticed until now by yours truly, as he says while flying into action, “This city is besieged! My mind reaches out for the thought waves of the aggressor! … I can sense his fiery hunger for conquest and power!“)

Mantis wrecks havoc in Metropolis and he and The Infinity Man duke it out. We discover Mantis has the ability to also produce fire and ice from his finger tips, as he freezes the sixth member of The Forever People in a block of frozen water and subsequently sends “rivers of flowing heat” cascading down the side of a building, engulfing a city block in flames. Our hero finally figures how to escape the giant ice cube, and then, after touching IM, detonating “Anti-matter blasts through your very being,” Mantis crouches over his prey and brings his hands together in the villain’s classic posture, harking to his insect namesake’s pose just before striking the lethal blow (and there’s a Dracula vibe present in the theatrics, as well!)… Awesome!

But — a-HA! — The Infinity Man, takes advantage of the Apokolips denizen’s vanity and socks him but good. “You hesitated to gloat, Mantis! It was your undoing! Try this Infini-Beam! It will release your stored energy in one vast rush!” Mantis (who has the ability to fly, by the way) careens wildly out of control and, drained of his power (which, he boasted, had the capacity to “shatter star systems!”), he scampers back to his Power-Pod to lick his wounds and hatch another plan to conquer his coveted dominion, Earth!

Before they combine as The Infinity Man to engage the villain in battle, the other Forever People are sitting around Uncle Willie’s dining table when Serifan rushes in to tell them the news report of the riotous Mantis, and Mark Moonrider makes a curious remark, one we won’t fully understand until the villain’s reappearance, late in The New Gods run. “He is feared as much as Darkseid himself,” yelps Beautiful Dreamer’s boyfriend. Sure, we see Mantis as a formidable opponent, with terrific power… but one with equal power to strike the same terror as Darkseid in the hearts of the nightmare planet’s inhabitants? Alas, we finally comprehend Moonrider’s exclamation during the horrific events of the “Bug” two-part epic over in Orion’s comic book quite a few months later…

For, in the closing blurb, trumpeting the next issue’s contents, of The New Gods #9, we read:

If dreams can come true — so can nightmares!!! In fact, they’re coming!!! By the thousands! By millions! — Armies without number! — Led by Mantis!! — with a lust for power! — and a claim to — Earth — the Doomed Dominion

In NG #9, it is revealed that there is a somewhat sinister subculture ruling the underground of New Genesis, one born during the Great Clash, when Darkseid’s forces infested Izaya the Inheritor’s planet with “bacterial monsters” which “fester and play” under the surface. As the issue begins:

War is a process of violent, never-ending beginnings! What once began as the first ‘Great Clash’ between the new gods — also began bacteriological attack!! — The spreading of toxic ‘micro-life’ as a ‘destructant’! This life did not end with the ‘Clash’! It festered! It grew! It evolved! And it was different!!!

We learn these humanoid insects litter the world with innumerable colonies (called Mounds) that are constantly warring with one another over food. When these “Bugs” come to the surface they are at risk of murderous insecticides which are spread by Highfather’s flying Monitors. Each hive is ruled, it appears, by an “All-Widow” and her second-in-command, a dominant male called “Prime One.”

During a particularly intense battle between Forager’s colony and another, Mantis appears to turn the tide in favor of the brood of the unsuspecting new god. “The battle is over! — The enemy beaten!” exclaims Forager, with other voices adding, “But not without the aid of Mantis!” And another, “His arrival decided our victory!!!” Striking his trademark “preying mantis” pose, Mantis bellows, “For the power was in these limbs, my kin –! Power granted to me by a mighty ally! And now, this ally grants to me a new and large dominion! A place of abundance and food! A place where our kind can rule!! Harken to Mantis! — For he can show you that place!!

For, in service to Darkseid and his own lust to rule planet Earth, Mantis has arrived on New Genesis to unite the colonies and invade our world with thousands — millions — of Bugs! “Other colonies have joined me,” he persuasively tells Forager’s colony, “to create a create army!! Join this swelling host! — And see wonder upon wonders!” Mantis leads his hordes into the Boom Tube and they blanket Metropolis, a huge infestation of “bugs” threatening human existence.

Before the great invasion, in the splash page blurb, we get a hint of Mantis’s origin:

Beneath the world of New Genesis are the burrows that support the strange species the gods refer to as ‘Bugs’! Countless numbers of them, savage and restless, are stirring within their great colony, known as the mound! A powerful force has returned among them! He lies now in his Power-Pod — generating and building the immense cosmic charges — with which he will lead his legions against Earththe doomed dominion

Combined with his use of the word “kin” when first arriving on New Genesis, I reckon it’s fair to surmise Mantis is actually born of New Genesis, only now returning to the bosom of his species to seize control and use the Bugs of Orion’s world for his and Darkseid’s evil purposes. “We go to Earth!” Mantis vows, “And there Mantis will make you the masters!! There you shall rule instead of run!” To the cheers, he adds, “Hear further! Hear how this war between Apokolips and New Genesis will end with victory — for us!!” A voice in the multitude cries out, “Great Darkseid of Apokolips is our ally! And when he wins this war — we win!!” Responds the energy vampire, “Yes, you win powers such as he’s given Mantis! Each of you will rule a part of Earth with these powers! Now, follow me! Follow Mantis! To war! To Earth! — To victory!

Good lord, what a sight it is to see Mantis’s swarm enveloping Metropolis! But rather than to describe what transpires, suffice to say Orion and Mantis wage a terrific slugfest — “The entire city is then witness to a battle of titans! Fierce gods, lashing out in terrible fury!” — and Lightray thwarts the invasion with Mantis and his minions forced to travel back through the Boom Tube.

There’s a curious incident in “Even Gods Must Die,” after Darkseid resurrects Kalibak and others from his elite back from the dead. “Steppenwolf is back!” Darkseid notes. “Now… resurrect Mantis!” And, a little while later, we see a relatively mindless Mantis, hands in shackles, craving to do battle. That’s the last we see of the villain and it frankly begs the question: Why did Mantis have to be resurrected as when last we saw, he was escaping into a Boom Tube, very much alive, presumably returning to New Genesis. I don’t think it’s ever explained but I’ll betcha that Mantis might well have gotten too big for his britches and made it to the wrong end of Darkseid’s lethal Omega Effect. I mean, think of it: Mantis has a foothold on both Apokolips and New Genesis, and commands quite possibly the largest army on any of the three worlds. Like the full-pager in NG #2 describes, “Mantis, whose mammoth power rivals that of Darkseid himself…”; ya can’t imagine the ruler of Apokolips would’ve tolerated him for too much longer…

All that said, Mantis is a superb addition to the mythos and one impressive villain.