After Sugar-Man’s execution of Screamer and the unfortunate first encounter with The Black Racer, he makes it to his boss Badger’s headquarters to get bandaged up and receive his next assignment. After hearing enough of the gunman’s kvetching, Badger orders a device into the room but not before announcing, “Inter-Gang must carry out what it’s paid to do!” Carrying a typically complex-looking Kirby contraption, a minion tells the bald baddie, “This ain’t no type of bomb I ever handled, Badger! What does it do?” Cigar in hand, he replies, “The Apokolips people didn’t say! But I’ll bet it’s something wild and nasty!” Another mug says, “Wow! It’s small — but it could be an H-bomb!”
Still holding the weapon, the minion comments, “I hope we got guarantees not to get caught when it goes off, eh, Badger?” The crime boss turns a key in the side of the explosive and replies, “Yeah! It’s all in the getaway plan! There! I turn this key — and now the bomb is activated! And ready to plant!” Then all hell breaks loose as Orion and Dave Lincoln smash into the hideout to capture the baddies and stop the nefarious plot. A battle ensues and Badger orders Sugar-Man not to engage in gunplay. “Stash that pea-shooter, Sugar-Man! Take the bomb! Plant it where the Apokolips crowd designated!” The bandaged assassin complies and scurries out a back door. He loads the bomb in the back of a truck and races to his destination. But The Black Racer is in pursuit and he causes the device to sing a “song of death” — a high-pitched, continuous electronic screech that scares the beegezzus out of Sugar-Man. “The bomb!! I-it’s not supposed to make those sounds!” But The Black Racer demurs, telling his prey, “Yes, it can, Sugar-Man — when its shell is penetrated by transmitted signals — they enter the truck without resistance — as does my ski pole — then, as the signals reach the mechanized heart of the bomb –” The next caption reads, “Suddenly, as the ski pole touches the bomb…” the truck is hurtled into a space-bound trajectory!
Simultaneously, Orion and his private eye friend are cuffing the Inter-Gang goons. Still, Badger gloats, “You cats cooled us, but not our bomb! By now, it’s being clamped on the communications building across town!!” Dave Lincoln responds, “We were too late to stop your man from escaping with the bomb — but perhaps –” Orion eases his ally’s concern. “Don’t worry, Lincoln! Mother Box has intercepted the bomb in transit! And has sent it toward space!” The New Genesis warrior looks to the sky, saying, “Now, the vehicle carrying the bomb is high enough to destruct there! Mother Box sends out her death signal!” Holding aloft Mother Box, Orion is witness to a tremendous explosion.
Orion then explains, “I caught a glimpse of that bomb! It would have melted every bit of communication metal within a radius of thousands of miles — No telephones — no television — not even radios or telegraph! It would have meant chaos!” Sounds like the “Wild and Nasty” Communications Bomb would have activated an electro-magnetic pulse, eh? That wily Apokolips crowd!
We’re not exactly informed how The Four-Armed Terror is transported from the Evil Factory (hidden in the Scottish highlands) to The Wild Area (near Metropolis), as it happens between Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136 and 137, but we kinda assumed it was the Penetrator Beam that did the job, the same device used to land Giant Green Jimmy in The Project. But actually, at least when it comes to multiple Homo Ursurpui, Mokkari and Simyan utilize the Matter-Transmitter to create the Dimensional Threshold to get the buggers out of their hair.
As the grown-up Newsboy Legionnaires, Golden Guardian and DNA Project soldiers are rushing via transports to meet the singular Four-Armed Terror threat in the Wild Area, Mokkari and Simyan, proprietors of The Evil Factory spring into action. The caption reads: “The death game grows more tense! The countermove comes by remote control!” Controlling a view screen, Mokkari blurts, “Project troops!” and Simyan adds, “We must act!”
At an unknown location, the architects of the atomic blow-up work feverishly in the Evil Factory!
Simyan: Those troops could help Superman stop our alien, Mokkari!
Mokkari: Then we’ll arrange to keep them busy, Simyan! — By sending them — more aliens! I’ll activate the Matter-Transmitter!”
With that, the yellow-faced Apokolips denizen fiddles with some dials.
Simyan: Our entire alien brood has hatched — and dissolved their shells!
Mokkari: As soon as the generator builds up the desired charge, we’ll create the Dimensional Threshold — and transmit them across it to the scene of action!
Amidst their cries of “ARUK,” the Four-Armed Terrors are sprayed with magenta-colored gas, perhaps more radioactive vapors.
Simyan: And when they get there, nothing will stop them! They’ll tear into that atomic reactor! The blow-up must happen!
Mokkari: It shall! These brutes will make it a certainty! We must report to our ruler that we’ve done his will!
Suddenly there’s a glowing area in the chamber… the Dimensional Threshold begins to appear!
As Superman is engaged in a slug-fest with the first Four-Armed Terror, suddenly… “It is one minute to blow-up! And it can’t be stopped! As if to nail down this fact to Superman, the glistening Threshold appears — and from it pours an army of D.N.Aliens!”
We’re not exactly privy as to how exactly the musical instrument influences those exposed to its sound, but The Infinity Man’s destruction of the “Demon’s Organ” confirms the device’s sinister intent! After basking in the sound of his hypnotized audience members at the start of “Life vs. Anti-Life,” Glorious Godfrey tells his flock, “I hear you, right thinkers! You’re shouting Anti-Life — the positive belief!” Behind him we see a fellow playing a high-tech organ bellowing out monstrous notes. “Listen,” the preacher beckons, “as the great organ catches your words and finds the wonderful music in them! And what am I, Glorious Godfrey, but another poor instrument that vibrates to your message? And I say, come to me! And I shall give you the power to wield death!”
Later, when The Infinity Man infiltrates the next revival gathering in Godfrey’s big tent, the hero focuses on the musical device. As Godfrey berates him with “You fool! Do you think your spectacular gimmickry can stop this operation? The forces of Apokolips are many! — And mighty!” Replies The Infinity Man, “You secret is wind, Godfrey! An evil wind that rushes from your throat — and this Demon’s Organ! Which must be destroyed!” The amalgamated character’s hand begins a Kirby sizzle as the organist flees and Godfrey protests, “No! No! You can’t!” But, yes, yes, with a “ZZZOWWSSHHH,” he does and the musical instrument is destroyed, as IM tells us, “Its sonic chords will no longer stimulate the brute instincts that drive men into your service!”
I’m betting it’s safe to assume the translated sounds of the “Demon’s Organ” — the rantings of the converted are filtered in and some kind of controlling power comes out of the instrument — are what makes the Justifiers such zealots, though the recruits do appear predisposed to persecuting those they hate…
The ill-fated Overlord created the X-Pit, a trap to ensnare and punish Scott Free, at the behest of Granny Goodness. “[Overlord] needs no discipline like my pouting, jealous soldier boys! Overlord is also creative! He makes things for Granny Goodness! That’s why Granny asked him to build the X-Pit! 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 threatens her underlings: retrieve Mister Miracle or else… “But we know where he is now, don’t we?” screams the old battle-ax. “Get him! Get Scott Free! Bring him to Granny! — Or take his place in the X-Pit!” The minions kidnap Oberon and what they think is Scott Free (it’s just a Follower) and deliver to Granny, and when the real Mister Miracle comes by to rescue his assistant, Granny springs the trap. “I’m here, Granny! But I can’t stay long! Just to pick up a friend!” Granny demurs, “You’ll stay! You’ll stay for eternity! Open the X-Pit, Overlord!” She then pushes a button and Scott and Oberon plunge into the X-Pit!
There is an ominous humming sound! — An eerie flash — as invisible forces rush from a widening gap in the floor!!
Granny: Ha ha ha ha ha –! I’ve got you, Mister Miracle!
Scott Free: My Aero-Discs have been neutralized! I’m falling!
It is a long fall, because the pit is deep! But the mad downward flight of its trapped victims is slowed as they near the bottom!
Scott Free: Don’t panic, Oberon! We won’t be crushed! The hidden force-poles are reversing from attraction to repelling!
At the bottom of the X-Pit is a transparent cage of unknown substance! Its doors close on its hapless prey as they drift within its confines!!!
Scott Free: We’re still alive, Oberon! But prisoners of Granny! And, believe me — this is no ordinary prison!
Oberon: That shouldn’t stop you, Scott! Not you — Mister Miracle!
The pair then brainstorm and Scott ponders what he knows about Granny Goodness and concludes, “She’ll sacrifice anyone and anything — for gifts — rewards! On that premise — and with these studs — we must stake our lives!”
There appear to be 15 tiny buttons — five rows of three — in the transparent container and Scott pushes one.
Oberon: You pressed one of those buttons — and, now, we’re frying!
Scott Free: Hang on, Oberon! I know this for what it is — a Torment-Circuit! Made by the creator of this pit for Granny’s pleasure! [Pushes another button] Steel yourself, Oberon! This is the Electro-Shock Cycle!
Oberon: I feel like I’ve swallowed a thousand hot needles!
Pressing yet another stud, Scott and Oberon are suddenly engulfed in muck.
Scott Free: I must continue the cycle! I must press another of the studs!
Oberon: Do it! No matter what happens next — It’ll be better than this! Whew! This is a welcome break! But I don’t suppose Granny rigged this to last too long!
Scott Free: No! Look about you, Oberon! Look at the quickly-rising mud!
Oberon: Scott! Do something! Before this mud covers us!
Scott Free: It will smother you first! This way, friend!
Using his right hand, Scott lifts Oberon above his head, keeping him out of the rising mud.
Oberon: It won’t help, Scott! Try to press the next cycle!
Scott Free: Can’t — The mud is hardening! Tough to move —
At this point, like Granny, readers think Mister Miracle and his assistant are doomed… but, taa-dah! The Super Escape Artist reappears to explain to Granny how the two got out of the X-Pit! After Granny threatens to kill Scott with her bare hands, she demands, “How did you do this? How?”
Scott Free: Fair enough! Once I knew the Overlord created the X-Pit, I knew the make-up of its structure! Every atom of the X-Pit was linked to Overlord himself! Even the studs of the Torment-Circuit! I activated each terrible cycle —
We see Scott pushing a new stud, telling us, “The mud is hardening fast — holding my arm — but my finger is free — touching the next stud –”
Scott Free: Then the mud was gone — as if it had never been there — because Overlord was transforming its atoms into another form of torment!
Oberon struggles to his feet and asks, “W-what next, Scott? What next?” Scott opens his shoulder access to Mother Box, replying, “Mother Box signals — radiation!” Then, jamming his shoulder into the studs, he declares, “And that makes her strong! Strong! Strike at the enemy, Mother Box!”
Scott Free: I jammed Mother Box into the Torment-Circuits — felt her power race with vengeance toward their insidious source! Somewhere, I could feel the power strike Overlord! Somewhere, I could hear his silent scream — somewhere, I felt him — die!”
Granny: You killed Overlord! You had him killed by a damnable Mother Box!
Scott Free: I earned many things when I left your institution — like these Aero-Discs — on which Oberon and I rose from that now useless pit!
And so the demise of Overlord’s malevolent trap, the ex-X-Pit!
Like a high-tech ticker-tape we see Overlord’s communication with its mistress when the “X-Pit” adventure begins. “–I–AM– OVERLORD — I–CREATE–I DESTROY — NOW — I — DESTROY–! — SCOTT–FREE–DIES! OVERLORD–IN–READINESS–TO KILL! CLOSING-ON-VICTIM — ADJUSTING–SIGHTS RANGE–OF–FIRE–UNLIMITED — OVERLORD AWAITS COMMAND!!! –” Overlord looks mighty big on page four of Mister Miracle #2 after tracking Scott Free as the super escape artist assembles a follower with assistant Oberon. Thank Highfather the bizarre robot-looking device mistakenly targets the Follower in place of the real Mister Miracle (after receiving orders to “Strike, Overlord! Obey!”) and that “stand-in” takes the brunt of a destructive ray shooting from Overlord’s forehead. Scott and Oberon survive the “Explosion! Shock! Flame!” and his Mother Box takes a beating in the attack, prompting Scott to pour out his love and belief to revive the beloved protective device.
We see that at the control of Overlord is a new Fourth World villain, Granny “to know her is to hate her” Goodness, who purrs sweet compliments to her underlings while meting out discipline on their pointed helmets with her truncheon. “Granny communicates with Overlord, boys! Granny must read his words.” Overlord appears on a vidi-screen before her and the read-out reports: “RESULT: NEGATIVE! — VICTIM – LIVES —” One of her boys eagerly asks, “Overlord couldn’t kill Scott Free, Granny! Will you punish Overlord?” Standing up, she begins to unbutton her housecoat. “No! Because Overlord has made up for his failure! He has special gifts.” One of her henchmen notes, “Overlord is Granny’s pet! She keeps him in a warm, safe vault!” Granny throws off her robe to reveal her steel and mail uniform, complete with baton weapon, barking, “Yes, and we talk by vidi-screen! He’s too precious to be exposed to the world!” Whacking the Darkseid out of her boys, she continues to praise Overlord, “He needs no discipline, like my pouting, jealous soldier boys! Overlord is also creative! He makes things for Granny Goodness!”
Granny then tells us about Overlord’s creation of the X-Pit trap and her hatred of Scott Free, ordering her soldiers to kidnap the Happiness Home escapee. Her boys snatch Oberon and the Mister Miracle-adorned Follower, and arriving to rescue his assistant, Scott and Oberon plunge into the X-Pit, where Granny believes the two are destroyed. Granny orders a small box delivered from the vault and it appears to be connected to Overlord, who can grant her wishes. “Granny has earned her rewards too! She’s worked hard! Done all the right things! That’s why great Darkseid gave her this wonderful gift! It reacts to Granny’s every wish!” Suddenly a gemstone suddenly appears from the ether. “I ask it to create a valuable jewel — and behold!” Suddenly the box explodes and before her appear Mister Miracle and his erstwhile companion. Scott reminds her of a gift she once received, “a gift for your old age — A gift named Overlord! — The gift that creates and destroys!”
In alternating moods of despair and rage, Granny is beside herself. “You vicious, young savage!” she screams at Scott. “Look! See what you’ve done! Oh — my heart — I’ll kill you with my bare hands! How did you do this? How?” As is his habit, Scott then explains, “Once I knew that Overlord created the X-Pit, I knew the make-up of its structure! Every atom of the X-Pit was linked to Overlord himself!” and, after torturing the pair with one trap, the device would transform “its atoms into another form of torment!” In the flashback episode we see an exhausted Oberon imploring, “W-what next, Scott? What next?” Revealing his shoulder-holstered Mother Box, Scott exclaims, “Mother Box signals — radiation! And that makes her strong! Strong!” Then, jamming his shoulder into the X-Pit control studs, our hero orders, “Strike at the enemy, Mother Box!” Continuing his explanation before Granny, Scott relates, “I jammed Mother Box into the torment-circuits — felt he power race with vengeance toward their insidious source!” The visual becomes a screaming, agonized Overlord. “Somewhere, I could feel the power strike Overlord! Somewhere, I could hear his silent scream — somewhere, I felt him — die!”
Distraught, Granny tells Scott, “You killed Overlord! You had him killed by a damnable Mother Box!” As Scott opens a smoking box on Granny’s table, she continues, “Granny is hurt! Granny is ruined! Overlord is gone –” Mister Miracle scoffs, “He was an evil fraud! — like you, Granny Goodness!” And, in a startling moment, we see the contents of the smoldering box: a teeny, tiny ashen shell of Overlord. “Little worms can look like sea serpents when cast on a vidi-screen!” Scott says, “This is Overlord! — shorn of power and life!”
It’s interesting to view the life and death of Overlord as a deadly competition with Mother Box — “her power race with vengeance” — revenge for being almost fried at the beginning of this story. Curious, too, how Overlord resembles an infant robot — giant head and all… this is Granny’s baby? Or is Overlord to grow…? A particularly creepy and effective villain, I say!
The Follower is an artificial humanoid used to mimic the precise movements of whoever is (apparently) in its proximity. In the beginning of Mister Miracle #2, when Scott Free and his assistant, Oberon, are being observed by Overlord, they are taking inside packages, containing Follower components, for Scott to assemble. Oberon notes that the “factory people came through on time!” indicating, I would assume, it was manufactured to Scott’s specifications. Dressed in a Mister Miracle costume, it looks to be made of metal and, if I interpret Scott’s statement correctly, is of Apokolips design: “My people refer to this kind of unit as a ‘Follower!‘ — a sort of test-figure!” As Scott finishes the assembly, Oberon responds, “Your people, whoever they are, play with strange toys!” Demonstrating the Follower — Scott swings his arm and the Follower copies him exactly — Mister Miracle tells his small friend, “A ‘Follower’ is not a toy! He is in truth — an extension of yourself! Like a mirror-image — he does exactly what you do! I need the ‘Follower’ in this experiment! We’re working with a volatile explosive!”
Scott jumps on a platform and the Follower does the same, and then they are both suited up in straitjackets. “By duplicating my movements, the follower will tell me how well I’m doing!” Oberon gingerly brings over the explosive just as the Overlord strikes! Luckily, the Follower, mistaken for the real Scott Free, takes the brunt of the attack and the super escape artist says over its broken figure, “The Follower seems beyond hope.”
But later, as Oberon is sweeping up the debris, the Follower suddenly rises. “Yipe! Preserve me! It’s that weird, crawly ‘Follower’ thing! I-it’s come to life — trying to rise –” And, yet again, Apokolips agents believe the Follower to be the real Scott Free and they seize it and Oberon to deliver to the matron of Happiness Home of lovely Apokolips, Granny Goodness herself. But the witch immediately recognizes the fakery. “What!” the harpy screams. “You mindless fools! What have you returned with!!?? Didn’t you notice the dead eyes? This is a ‘Follower!’ not Scott Free!” The last we see of this particular model, it is being thrown across the room by mean ol’ Granny.
But the another version of a Follower arises in the penultimate ish of The Forever People, in “The Scavengers,” when Mark Moonrider and Serifan create a model for the spectral form of Boston “Deadman” Brand to inhabit. The Director of an international heist group (that’s his name: the Director) called The Scavengers is watching a surveillance film secretly shot while the Super-Kids are inspecting their Follower, the spitting image of Deadman. Mark says, “The ‘Follower’ is almost ready, Serifan! It will make a fine vehicle for our friend!” The copy-cat cowboy concurs. As he demonstrates the Follower’s ability to copy movements, he tells Mark, “The ‘Follower’ works smoothly, indeed, Moonrider! He has strength and a good response! Using the body of the ‘Follower,’ our friend will be able to pursue his destined purpose on a physical plane!”
The Director henchmen named Operator Twenty-Four tells his boss: “This ‘Follower’ thing should be studied! These Wonder-Kids blabbed that it can be grown from anything organic! — And re-shaped atomically!” (Interesting shift here though maybe the New Genesis model is organically grown; the Apokolips version manufactured as machine.) The Director, who may or may not have been involved in Boston’s assassination, croaks, “Boston Brand is a ‘Deadman!’ Now — this ‘Follower’ is built — ‘to house a friend!’ Your next job is to steal that ‘Follower!’”
Deadman is grateful for Mark and Serifan’s efforts and looks forward to “possessing” the replica. “And in the body of the ‘Follower,'” Boston vows, “I’ll track [my killer] down! — And bring him to justice!” But, wouldn’tja know it, one of The Scavengers has broken into Trixie Magruder’s basement — in the house where the Forever People are staying — and has run off with the Follower (by having the artificial person copy his every move, so there must be a delay option on the mimicry, huh?) The silent, masked intruder notes, “There’s the ‘Follower’ — unguarded — and ripe for the taking! Uncanny! It’s like a zombie — with reflexes!!”
(Interesting that Jack describes the Follower at this point to be “cooperative and meek,” and on the next page, to quote Mark Moonrider, “The ‘Follower’ is active and strong!”)
The Follower is taken for inspection in the Scavengers’ hidden lair, where a brute wearing a steel glove attempts to “test his hide,” but when the thug throws a punch at the thing, the Follower hits him square in the jaw, knocking him cold. The Director’s henchmen then orders the faux Deadman to stop and says to his boss, “He reacts like a mirror-image! Only — with the power to floor an elephant!” The Director is paranoid about the Follower being made in the late Boston Brand’s image. “– I get the feeling that this thing is a — shell! — A shell — waiting for — ‘something’ to possess it!” And, on cue, the restless spirit of the former circus aerialist takes possession of the Follower and a donnybrook ensues. Deadman — or the Follower he inhabits, to be exact — is struck frozen by a “Frost Beam” while The Forever People deal with the Scavengers attack. After being defrosted by one of Serifan’s Cosmic Cartridges, Boston exclaims, “I-I feel nothing! I’m not the Follower! — Just its tenant! Fantastic! I’m a Deadman — moving an organic machine that looks like — myself!” Boston then swings into action — “This sure beats operating in spirit form!” — and uses his acrobatic skills to get the better of the remaining gang, only after being taking six bullets at point blank range. Seizing the gun from the culprit, Deadman is triumphant before the incredulous assailant: “Don’t look surprised, you rat! You can’t kill a Deadman! The Follower’s body has the self-sealing faculty to absorb and close these nasty bullet-holes!”
The adventure concluded, the resurrected hero turns to the team and says, “I want to thank you for this physical body! — With which I can get the job done!” Serifan then retrieves a capsule from his hat belt and hands it to Deadman, telling him, “And this will help you remain in it! — The Blue Cartridge! It’ll link your spirit atoms permanently with the Follower’s form!”
Thus a dead super-hero is given new life, now inhabiting a Follower, one created by the Super-Kids of New Genesis… Leave it to Kirby!
Ahhh, everything starts out nice and trippy for the gang — Jimmy O., Superman and “that resurrected rat-pack of rollicking rowdies,” the Newsboy Legion — when they attend the Hairies’ Friday night “sing in” at The Project! Unbeknownst to our heroes, Homo Usurpus, the Four-Armed Terror, is about to make a rampaging entry into the vast underground government complex! But, let’s enjoy the Solar-Phone party while things are temporarily nice ’n’ friendly!
The mind-bending episode begins with typical Kirby hyperbole, with the caption reading: “Wild Area! Zoomway! Habitat! Outsiders! Strange names in a strange world which has evolved in a great natural cavern beneath modern America! This is the world of The ‘Project’ — where the secret of the century has been kept! The harnessing of the DNA molecule!!!! The breaking of the genetic code!! Man experimenting with life!! Jimmy Olsen is there! And so is his pal Superman. They’re alive and well among the wondrous DNA denizens! But who can say for how long? — For a mighty, living juggernaut is fast approaching!”
Jimmy is seated and at the controls of a strange device, part keyboard, part image transmitter — and all-Kirby in design! — and he’s sporting a wide grin. “Wow! When the Hairies invited us to their dance, I never imagined they’d let me officiate like this, Superman!” The Man of Steel, standing behind the young reporter, is wearing what appears to be oversize earphones with a type of visual attachment. “The Solar-Phone is their latest invention, Jimmy!”
The there’s this caption: “Among the variety of living species produced in The ‘Project,’ the ‘Hairies’ are amazingly productive! They are mechanical geniuses! — And the Solar-Phone is new evidence of their strange life-style! It gathers the radio-signals from the stars and converts them into mental musical images!” Sitting on the floor before Jimmy and Superman is a horde of hippy-like Hairies, the Newsboy Legion among them, each wearing the same head device as the Last Son of Krypton, most holding hands and eyes closed, ready to embark on a journey into the mindscape! One girl says, “Our minds receive! The ‘dance‘ begins!” A hirsute fellow adds, “We are all together — we hear as one! We see as one! We soar as one!” Then the scuba-crazed Legionnaire chimes in: “Man! This is cool! It’s like a movie musical — and everybody’s in it! Includin’ me, Flippa-Dippa!” Superman tells his friend, “Keep playing, Jimmy!” You can’t do anything wrong! The Solar-Phone arranges all incoming signals into patterns of harmony!”
And then, in three full pages of krazy Kirby kollages, we understand what all the excitement is about! “What the dancers see is a new and wondrous universe of shifting, kaleidoscopic geometric forms!” The group seem to be experiencing what most of us would call a mass hallucinogenic acid trip, perceiving themselves as floating past fantastic images. Gabby is ecstatic, sharing with his fellow travelers, “Wow! This is great! It’s like we’re floatin’ free in Wonderland!” Scrapper is similarly delighted: “It’s a nutty Hollywood set wit’ symphony music all around us!” But Big Words hears something different, telling his pals, “That’s not the music I hear!” Explains an opulently tressed young lady, “Each of us hears the music in the way it pleases him most!” Jimmy puts it best, gushing, “Groovy! This is a real gas!” The Superman looks ahead and observes, “The scene is changing! What lies ahead?”
The panorama switches to an even more fantastical sight — “Soon, the dancers are whirling and soaring past strangely bizarre and beautiful worlds…” Giant flowers, massive planets, Buddhaheads, stone carvings abound. Notes Scrapper, “Dese flowers smell for real — like dey wuz from Kelly’s Funeral Parlor!” Even Superman is impressed, exclaiming, “Fantastic! The Solar-Phone communicates all this!”
Then — BWOM! POW! — “Suddenly, the enchanting dance is brought to a jarring halt!” The walls are quaking. “The shocks that bring the dancers back to harsh reality continue with fearful intensity!” Yup, the Four-Armed Terror is knockin’ on the front door! But that’s another episode…
No doubt about it, the always prescient Jack Kirby envisions virtual reality here, right down to the headphones and goggles, mixed with the Merry Pranksters’ Kool-Aid Acid Test to keep it contemporary. Sure, it’s a diversionary moment, maybe even throw-away, but wondrous awe works superbly well with the pacing and the caption stating the Solar-Phone “gathers in the radio-signals from the stars” certainly opens the doors for some story possibilities down the road.
I love this kind of stuff from Jack because it represents the joyful side of imagination when contemplating future technology. Sheer wonder!
While finishing the Mother Box-assisted presentation to his allies of the threat posed by Darkseid and his minions from Apokolips to our home planet, the show is interrupted when the sentient computer starts pinging wildly. “But wait!” Orion says, “Mother Box detects an invisible beam sweeping this very city — the panic of fleeing hundreds!” The fiwerce new god immediately recognizes Desaad’s hand: “Of course! Darkseid’s second in command plays with his toys!” But his allies are suffering the same fright as others in Metropolis and Orion mounts his Astro-Harness to seek out the malevolent device. “The city is loud with the sounds of hysteria! I must be swift!” Mother Box traces the paranoia-inducing beam to…
“So that’s it!” says Orion. “A Fear Generator disguised as a great billboard! Clever, Desaad! The Astro-Force shall cleanse this foul spot!” The caption then reads, “But the sign is protected! Light bulbs erupt in a deadly fusillade of Cosmi-Force!” Orion is knocked back and starts to fall, but is able to destroy the Fear Generator with his Astro-Force weapon, which also slows his descent for him to recover. “So the battle is renewed!” Orion muses. “The enemy will use new weapons — but I shall find them and destroy them as well!”
When the glorious introduction of Darkseid’s chief inquisitor, Desaad, is made to us in The Forever People #2, the malevolent lover of pain (other people’s pain, I mean!) is grasping a device that appears to be a super-high-tech stethoscope apparently connected to a larger machine. Later, we learn it’s called a “Fear-Siphon,” and what we would call the ear-tubes actually seem to be placed on the user’s neck, around the vicinity of the lymph nodes. In Desaad’s debut appearance his master Darkseid is reviewing the progress of Mantis and that villain’s siege of Metropolis, from an “unseen vantage point” where the the King of the Damned “watches — and broods — and coolly waits…”
For earlier, Darkseid has ordered the bug god to wreck havoc in the city to stir up fear — “Unleash the terrors of the night! Make man cringe! Make him tremble — make him fear!” — in the hopes Desaad and his device will detect the unknown earthling who possesses the secret of the Anti-Life Equation in his or her mind. “Mantis does well, indeed! But he fights for tawdry goals! While I would be the master of all that exists!” Turning to his strange friend, Darkseid asks, “What is the fear quotient, now, Desaad!” The hooded villain, sporting a particularly maniacal look, is gripping the aforementioned Fear-Siphon and replies, “Spiralling [sic] to a lovely high pitch, O Darkseid! I can feel them — like crashing surf — wonderful waves of raw fear!”
Gazing the skyline of the city ablaze, Darkseid observes, “Mantis in inspiring great results! He’ll shake every mind in that city to its very root! Especially the mind we seek to contact — the one that must be made to yield its secret — The Anti-Life Equation!” But the rampage of Mantis fails to uncover the unknown human and Desaad sets about to create a mechanism to artificially induce fear in the masses of Earth.
The result of Darkseid’s top lieutenant’s tinkering appears quickly and is quite an impressive sight: The Fear Machine, cited on this issue’s cover as being “from the blueprint of the weird”! When Darkseid and his humiliated Brola appear in the secret location where Desaad has been toiling, the ruler of Apokolips inquires of its maker what progress to report. “The battle is far from over — there is still the Fear Machine! How does it stand, Desaad?” Wearing a full mask (with ominous non-transparent eye protection), Desaad replies, “It waits only for your judgment, master! I hasten to begin its initial test!”
Darkseid orders the evil inventor to go ahead and not worry for his master’s safety, telling him, “The Sonic-Stimuli cannot affect one such as myself!” Despite their protests, Desaad’s workers are selected as Guinea Pigs and they endure the first testing of the Fear Machine: “The pleas go unheeded, as invisible beams lash out and wring terror from their screaming targets!!” The trial is successful, reducing the wretches to simpering cowards, and plans go ahead to use the device on the populace of Metropolis!
(It’s interesting, the big reveal of Desaad when he removes his mask, showing us that all-too familiar face we now love to hate, in that I wonder if it’s in this issue Jack intended to first present us with the villain. Yeah, I know, the “X numbers,” those digits applied to each of Jack’s work used to invoice production by the home office, tell us The Forever People‘s “Super War” is assigned to X-115 and this, “O’ Deadly Darkseid” of The New Gods is X-117, but the sequence has a dramatic panache about it that leads me to ponder…)
Back in Dave Lincoln’s wrecked apartment, Orion, with the aid of his Mother Box, shows his Earth allies what is at stake in the emerging Super War. But as the audio-visual presentation (actually more like a virtual reality show!) is coming to a close, the sentient computer starts pinging wildly. “But wait!” Orion tells his newfound friends, “Mother Box detects an invisible beam sweeping this very city — the panic of fleeing hundreds!”
Yep, the citizens of Metropolis are in a crazed, irrational panic. Screams one, “I-I’ve got to run — hide!” and another, “Something’s happening! Something terrible! Help!” The fierce tiger of New Genesis immediately recognizes the culprit: “Of course, Darkseid’s second in command plays with his toys!” Noticing Harvey, Claudia, Dave and Victor are shivering in a corner, Orion asks, “What’s wrong, my friends? Why do you cower and cringe — as if to escape some nameless fear? The beam penetrates these walls! You have become its victims!”
Why doesn’t the Fear Machine afflict the stepson of Highfather? “I am trained to resist all degrees of fear! I shall carry the fight!” With that, Orion grabs his now readily available equipment (again, sports fans, if it wasn’t in the flat during the Brola brawl a few moments prior, how did it suddenly appear? Oh, I do quibble…) and goes on to destroy the “field model” that Desaad has “placed in a strategic point of the city.”
But even with the field model’s destruction, the raison d’etre of the Fear Machine — locating the human with the Anti-Life Equation — is unsuccessful. While Desaad tries to focus on the threat of Orion, Darkseid is disappointed with his underling’s work. Poring over a tape read-out, Darkseid expresses his unhappiness. “Forget Orion! It is your Fear Machine that yields nothing! Not the slightest trace of the thought waves we seek!”
Still, the Fear Machine is good at instilling fear. After the adventure Orion returns to Dave’s place and the earthlings are still feeling the after-effects of the invisible beams. “I’m still shaken!” Victor Lanza admits. “I’ve never known such fear!” But the four former kidnap victims, perhaps the only humans to have stepped foot on Apokolips, unite to join Orion’s fight against Darkseid. After each pledges allegiance to this new cause, Orion gratefully responds, “We shall work together, then! Somehow we shall find the means to rally wherever Darkseid shows his hand!”
Looking at his fists, Orion adds, “And I shall strike with these! Though I be of peaceful New Genesis, I shall strike with more ferocity than can be mustered in all Apokolips! And in the end, O Earth — which of the two shall win your domain?”