Alright, I picked a new comic read-along topic. Its the end of the old gods with Jack Kirby’s Fouth World! I’ll be reading it in the semi-official order.
In case you’ve been under a comics-free rock, for context the Fourth World comprises a series of comics created by Jack Kirby when he left Marvel for DC, and it was a relative flop at the time (and unfairly so imo) but has since become a Big. Deal.
Kirby was shaking things up. For perspective, first we see Jimmy Olsen 132, a goofy bowtie boy human cannonballing to fight mobsters drawn in the competent workhorse dc house style, and then the second panel of Kirby’s takeover in 133 with this sprawling sci fi car and hip olsen
He also immediately just starts dropping, with no explanation, new lore such as Metropolis having a ‘Wild Area’ of jungle hippie motorcycle gangs. Metropolis is a weird place.
The issue also includes a short autobiography by Kirby himself and speaking of wild, imagine anyone else fitting this much life story into a single paragraph. “Here are some d-list comics you won’t remember, oh yeah also I got laid and killed nazis” I love Kirby.
Has anyone ever tweeted “Jack Kirby had the most authentic ‘big dick energy’ in comics” before? Because I’m not sure I should be the first to do so, but also I think we need to accept that it is true.
When you log onto twitter dot com
Kirby’s time at DC can be described as “the golden age of splash panels, diagrams, maps and layouts of freaky shit that will barely ever be revisited”
I can’t imagine being a kid or even an adult comic fan back in the 70s and having silver age DC suddenly transform like this
I promise I’ll do actual goofs in this thread and not just keep going “look how good kirby’s splash panels and sci fi set pieces were!” But also...
“I’ve been helping a secret society of science-hippies create a clone army of you, specifically, without your consent” may seem like a dick move, but you have to remember than for roughly 130 issues prior Jimmy was trying to have Superman killed, depowered or turned into a furry
“- is a whole panet’s worth of absolutely undisciplined degenerate backstabbers!”
“Darkseid I don’t think-“
“Thats right you don’t!”
It would be easy to read the ‘Hairies’ as another old misguided sci fi eugenics-fueled utopia if you aren’t hip to Kirby super-metaphors. People “create life” all the time, and an imperfect clone of the previous generation that threatens to go its own way? Thats every generation.
Hello, DC? I have a pitch for you. Superman trying to befriend the Forever People, the young super teens who inherited the perfect super world he never had while struggling alone and hiding his superness, but I frame it as a metaphor for trans generational disco- hello? Hello?
Also George Lucas does not get nearly enough shit for so blatantly taking ‘Mark Moonrider’ and rejiggering it just enough to get ‘Luke Skywalker’
Infinity Man, you’ve only been given coporeal form for two pages, stop making so many “mood” panels!
There is something undeniably charming about Superman going “I’d like to meet other people like me” and these teen space gods going “bitch, why?”
Kirby’s return to DC was ahead of its time, but it landed with a commercial thud. Hopefully these splash pages help show why every genre writer since, from super hero to fantasy to sci fi and otherwise, has been chasing after his style despite it. This is a hell of a first page
“Michaela, don’t just caption every panel with ‘when I log on to twitter’ you’re only allowed one of those per thread.”
Just one more? Please?
Just fuck already
Its cute that Lightray thinks he can be a top.
Metron may be Kirby’s response to any who’d mock his ideals as scientific utopia. He’s essentially the New Gods’ trickster. Their Loki, even. The literal god of knowledge in this new age is amoral, greedy and friendless. Knowledge without humanity is not the source of utopia.
You say Kirby’s version of hell is a planet where industrialization has destroyed it? Where workers are oppressed by bosses who explicitly use the weapons made from their labor to control the means of production? Why this verges on POLITICAL!
Me at the start of getting laid off and looking for work vs me an hour later
That explains everything just fine, thank you Clark
The Forever People are space god hipsters. Moonrider is about to on a monologue about how “analog just has a warmer sound” and Serafin is whatever the immortal-alien-teen-who-likes-cowboys-too-much equivalent of a weeaboo is
Serafin also keeps bullets in his hat that are also psychedelic drugs which he gives to small children.
Jack kirby: what if a villain used advertisements to make people afraid
Nerds in the 70s: woah woah this comic makes no sense, I can’t follow any of it! What could any of it possibly mean!?
Jimmy Olsen is queer file #457: Olsen is really into playing synth music.
I love old comics without any politics
“The Toger-Force at the core of all things” may be Kirby’s best invented phrase ever. Both corny and frightening, and thus perfect for superheroes. What is it? No one can explain it, but everyone knows what it means.
Hey, we’ve all been there
Kirby’s Motherbox is basically a non-evil smart phone 40 years early, and much like our smart phones, Orion uses it primarily to look hotter than he really is to strangers
The New God of death has a neat hook (he’s actually many individual humans who are in comas or worse that can become the Racer as needed) but that tends to get overlooked by the goof-ass ski thing. Its odd how Kirby’s other space sportsman, Silver Surfer, feels so much less goofy
Ok, we’re getting to the most infamous and downright WEIRD part of Kirby’s Fourth World and perhaps the story of how Don Rickles got involved in the fates of universes, new gods and anti-life equations deserves some background...
It starts out simple enough. Kirby’s assistants, including Mark Evanier, were all big Rickles fans, and had the idea one night of the famous insult comic showing up for a quick cameo to zing Superman. Kirby liked the idea, DC liked it and Rickles’ people liked it.
But instead of that promised short cameo, Kirby began weaving Rickles into a larger story, starting with the appearance of Don’s sweet-natured (I guess?) comic relief doppelganger, Goody, who apparently had just been there at Kent’s office the whole time.
Don and Goody let Kirby flex a different kind of writing muscle, and its very, very odd, but also I think it succeeds in being funny, half-sincere homage and half-bizarro parody of 70s insult comic material? “You just have to eat apple pie and believe” could be a recent joke.
I have about ten dozen followers who would see this panel and go “hot”
Ahem. Moving on.
Desaad, Darkseid’s torturerer, has a secret sadism factory on Earth where people are horrifically tortured and despairing in full view of the public who don’t notice because they think they’re at dis[redacted due to legal threat] world
Its easy to write Darkseid as a standard “punch it until it goes away” evil, a humorless detached evil, a petty vindictive evil, a banal or “force of nature’’ evil, or any other generic evil, but kirby’s Darkseid was explicitly a human evil who existed as such without pretension.
Dr Doom, the greatest evil at Marvel during his time there, was Kirby’s take on banal, pretentious evil, whose colossal masculine ego enables him to do great evil and justify it. Evil that comes from vulnerability and fear leading to elitism, jealousy, cruelty and worse.
Doom is a fallen human, who could have done good if not for his frail ego behind the mask. Darkseid, being the “tiger force at the core” has no such ego but rather is the personification of the voice which pushes our frail egos to justify our worst actions.
“Pure Evil (tm)” villains can be bland and boring, as their motivation is just “am evil”, but Kirby worked to give the personification of the source of human evil a human personality. He lacks ego and pretension regarding his evil. but he doesn’t lack motivation, emotion or charm
Agter meeting Goody Rickles, the real Don Rickles shows up soon after. The real Don HATED this whole comic event, thinking he was just gonna appear in one panel and not seeing his presence in a great cosmic epic as a compliment. He thought they were exploiting him to sell comics.
This isn’t the last time Rickles had a sour time with a celebrated nerd media franchise due to assuming the worst possible faith. He was set to appear on The Simpsons fourth season, but when he saw the script he was furious at the Rickles-esque jokes the staff had written him
He shouted at Groening, accusing the writers of spying on him to steal his joke style. Conan O’Brien, who wrote the episode, later said Don was VERY sensitive to negative portrayals, even if they were loving portrayals from huge fans and even tho his persona was “mean insult man”
I imagine that may have been part of why he hated his time with Superman and Darkseid, maybe even more than the gonzo sci fi and Goody parts. Kirby clearly had fun writing a celebratory send-up of the guy and his persona but Rickles may have seen it only as “look at this asshole”
Big Barda showed up. She’s space jesus’ childhood,sweetheart, she rules, and her design is literaly just kirby going “what if my huge beautiful wife was a superheroine?”
We already established that Kirby prophecized smart phones, but here where Desaad unwinds by relaxing to a machine that takes the suffering and anxiety of others and gives it visual form, we also see that he prophecized social media.
turns out the Anti-Life Equation exists, and it is in the sole possession of a Japanese man with the, ahem, unfortunate name of Sonny Sumo. We also see that Anti-Life is not just oppression, fear or manipulation, which we’ve seen darkseid has, but the erasure of will entirely
And in another case of Kirby’s central “the kids are alright” theme, the Forever People find the one with darkseid’s ultimate weapon in his brain, who now has the power to enslave every being, and go “hey, its ok, it doesn’t define you. just do your thing, and we’ll trust you”
“Me when I log on to Twit-“
Michaela stop that!
A complaint that popped up in the jimmy olsen letter columns during this time was that Kirby wasn’t really writing a jimmy olsen comic, but rather as a vehicle for his larger 4th world story, with olsen second fiddle. But this story is 100% in the classic gonzo jimmy olsen mold
Me when two or more men say the ‘evil eye’ is a myth and so will never be beheld by them.
As much as a central theme to the 4th World is “the kids are alright, trust them and listen to them”, every time (sigh) Flippa Dippa speaks, it becomes clear that Kirby never heard much actual teen slang before
And that is the real reason I don’t get pregnant
If you’re wondering “well how IS that vampire bit different?” because it is from a miniature planet created by a mad NASA scientist charged with duplicating alien atmospheres for astronaut tests, who then instead built a tiny alien planet and bombarded it with old monster movies
How do you solve this problem? Naturally,Superman swaps the movies being projected on the planet! So now its a tiny planet of musical, showtunes-singing and dancing vampires, werewolves and frankensteins out there in the dc universe, waiting to be used again.
*Ron Howard voice* They don’t
No goof here. Big Barda shouting “earn your pay, you dogs” at a team of apokalips demon cops sent to arrest her is just really badass.
Say what you will, but Kirby had a good sense of comedic timing
Comics, no matter what genre, are so good a vehicle for comedy because their unique pacing is unlike any other medium. You can basically have multiple kinds of pacing and timing going on at once, making surprise punchlines work before the reader even realizes they’re in a set up
There’s other comics until we get back to Mr Miracle, but when we do we’ll get to see Kirby’s downright mean (tho not unfair, considering) takedown of his old marvel partner, Lee
A lot of later comics mistake anti-life for what darkseid already has. He already forces his will on millions and oppresses galaxies, and he even gets people to do it to themselves and others for him out of mere BELIEF in anti-life. He wants anti-life to cut out the middleman.
True anti-life means no need of godfrey’s hate propaganda, nor of granny’s indoctrination, nor of ANY of darkseid’s war machine. It means efficiency in getting the results he already gets. And when we see the real thing in action its eerie because its NOT “evil”, but is absolute
Two other ventral themes of Kirby’s 4th world summed up: “Don’t destroy, change” and “YEEHAW GET ON BOARD SUCKER, WE’RE RIDING A WARHEAD MADE OF IMAGINATION AND EPIC HEROSIM INTO THE COSMIC HOLOCAUST”
Superman and Jim Harper canonically will show up to your rave if you ask nicely
Supes will not, however, be that into your synths or vaporwaves, so consider playing some show tunes as well.
I regret to inform you that Apokolpis is now threatening us with a good time.
Funky Flashman, Mr Miracle’s would-be agent, was a very UNveiled portrayal of Stan Lee, who at this point Kirby despised. Funky is a phony with fake hair who lives in a crumbling manor he didn’t build and gets a shrinking allowance based on other peoples’ work.
“Houseroy” is Roy Thomas, Stan’s second in command at Marvel at the time, and to his credit he took this not-so-good-natured ribbing well. Stan Lee, however, was reportedly VERY hurt by it.
Me: Jimmy Olsen is a disaster gay
Jack Kirby:
When you finally commission a drawing of your fursona
Christ, Dubbilex, settle down. This is main.
A trip into the new gods’ past shows us some of Darkseid’s life as a scheming prince before he became ruler of apokalips, and more importantly cements Metron as the amoral trickster who plays whatever side gets him closer to ultimate knowledge.
Nearly every post-kirby 4th world revamp portrays New Genesis as old, backward, impotent, dogmatic and stodgy. A hypocritical world as doomed as Apokalips, which is actually directly contrary to Kirby’s vision of it as a NEW world, created to be ever-changing and proactive.
“New Genesis is a fraud” really is a theme of almost EVERY post-kirby 4th world project in some way. Say what you will about his idealistic utopia, but I’ve always thought it sad how even some of his biggest fans had to see Kirby’s vision of a better world humbled and hollowed
Kirby’s idealistic vision can be seen artfully in The Pact, which reveals the surprise twist that Mr Miracle is Highfather’s son and Orion is Darkseid’s, but they were swapped as children as part of a mythic treaty. Yet, neither nature nor nurture define either of them.
Orion was raised by good New Genesis, and while he carries an “apokalips rage” in him, he chooses good. Scott was raised in the worst horrors of apokalips, but its not his “godly” genetic nature that saves him, its his belief in freedom and his shared love with Barda.
Kirby seeminglyy sets up a classic “nature vs nurture” debate with mythic opposites for nerds to pick a winner, only to ignore it completely because good and evil arent in blood or fate, they’re in choices and how we treat others and are treated. Of COURSE both boys can be good.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe idealism should be criticized and challenged! I just also, as a nerd, wish those doing it would get the continuity right. Kirby’s subtext ain’t exactly subtle, so why is it still so much more complex than so many cape comics poaching him?
No joke, this is the most romantic panel in comics and if a tall muscular girl ever asks me out by saying how we’ll go down that old shark’s mouth together then beat it to death from the inside I’ll absoluely go weak at the knees.
Today on “reopen protest sign or apokalips billboard”
When someone says they gotta go fast
Seriously. The best straight couple in comics.
Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboys got a new friend, Angry Charlie the DNAlien who eats chairs. Maybe its not wise to give Jimmy Olsen of all people a powerful mutant, but what do I know. I’m sure it’ll be fine.
I’m baffled at how cute and childlike Kirby draws this monster compared to the actual child present who Kirby has drawn as this horrible rubbery Leisure Suit Larry-looking motherfucker
“Draw your strap, I’ll take you this way too” I regret to inform you that, once again, Apokalips is threatening us with a good time 💦
“Surely, only a good time can come from letting a woman named ‘Gilotina’ put her arms around my nec-“
Barda’s is the cry of everyone raised and traumatized from living in our corrupt system, taught from birth to distrust and hate and buy in to “rules” about “how things are” that are all lies to aid the powerful, and upon realizing the truth is condemned by those who made them.
Meanwhile Scott faced The Lump, a being who can do anyhing they wish within their mind and lashes out at any who enter his perfect controlled realm, to be executed. But like all angry, escapist nerds, Lump can’t face the reality of his limits. Imagination in isolation can’t grow
The Forever People see earth crime dor the first time and immediately go “wait, what could the larger socio-economic forces at play be here?”
On the one hand, its nice that New Genesis doesn’t define worth by one’s physical body and “three-dimensional identification vehicle” is a great phrase, but on the other hand your name is Beautiful Dreamer and you have tits out til Tuesday so that’s easy for you to say, sister.
Also despite all that the boys on your team sure feel immediately entitled to forcibly control over your appearance, huh?
Fuckin’ cosmic hipsters
Shout out to this horny lady in Orion’s apartment building caught between the fact that the super beings call her “female” and the fact that she still wants to ride that astro force.
Forager, and The Bug in general, are an odd part of the 4th World. A warlike insect-people who live below New Genesis and raid it for food, and are thiught of as simple pests to be exterminated by the New Gods. What do they symbolize in Kirby’s vision of a new cosmology?
Are they a black mark against New Genesis, who treats them as non-human? Are they a 3rd party caught between two stronger empires? Are they merely super insects for a super world, as Forager, the only Bug we see the true face of, is revealed to be another lost god and not insect?
Forager being much more of an underdog than the other new gods and their raw cosmic power, and Kirby not hanging an obvious “THE BUGS MEAN THIS” lampshade on things like we’ve seen previously has meant Forager gets a lot of interesting revivals and interpretations down the road.
Darkseid doesn’t actually DO much in terms of running Apokalips. He really just lets it govern itself, so long as the various systems of oppression and dehumanization keep generating potential tools. As I said beforre, the fabled equation would just simplify his anti-life process
Darkseid is not a ruler, nor does he want to be. The Mr Miracle comic in particular gives a lot of examples of just how little practical or direct control over Apokolips Darkseid has, and how little, in theory, it would take to break it...
While also showing that it doesn’t matter how little direct control Darkseid has over his grand machine. On paper, anyone could go their own way on apokalips, but as long as people believe in the system, they’ll kill for it. He’s not a ruler, he’s a symbol, and that is scarier.
Darkseid is, fundamentally, a lazy, lazy god of evil. He doesn’t like getting his hands dirty, so he created a planet-wide hell that trains people to get dirty for him. But that is still inefficient and leaves inconvenient personalities im his tools, so he seeks the equation.
as we’ve seen, its not that Darkseid lacks power or is weak, far from it. He uses this approach because letting people demean and rob themselves of hope works. But Kirby is still fundamentally an optimist. The key to him is that it only works until the first time it doesn’t.
Scott and Barda eacaping, and while Barda doesn’t physically escape she is very much free of darkseid’s system at this point, is explicitly the start of Darkseid’s war with New Genesis, and also the start of his undoing.
At this point the poor sales caught up with Kirby. Forever People and New Gods wre cancelled, leaving the god teens trapped in another dimension and Orion left to wait for the finale in frustration, and the new Jimmy Olsen editor booted kirby to return to the traditional schtick.
Mr Miracle would keep on for another 8 issues under Kirby, while he also launched his second round of DC projects, The Demon, OMAC and Kamandi the Last Boy. Then he’d return to Marvel for awhile before largely leaving the industry for better paying art gigs like animation.
Comics will break your heart, as he famously said. But even when I reach the end of Mr Miracle, we’re not done yet, as he did get his chance to finish the 4th world with a graphic novel in the 80s.
How long do you think this guy was waiting for someone to stumble onto his lair so he could make this joke?
You said it, buddy
With Mr Miracle his only remaining 4th world title, Kirby starts increasing the regular cast. First off, the Female Furies all move in (and I like how the sailors are trying to salute and how Lashina’s swimwear plan is “well I can’t wear ALL my lashes, but I need SOME”)
Followed by Shilo Normon, Scott’s new young ward who later gets his own Mr Miracle title much later. But the remaining issues are devoid of most 4th world fare, focusing on episodic adventures without mention of the new gods.
When the axe comes for this comic, Kirby brings back all the 4th world for a special “wedding issue.” However, the actual wedding only occupies two panels, and Darkseid ends things all but breaking the fourth wall to say “not satisfying? Almost as if they didn’t have time, huh?”
But while Kirby’s DC work undersold, it grew a cult following among future comic creators, college nerds, stoners, and underground artists. This, combined with booming comic sales in the 80s and the growing graphic novel market, gave Kirby a chance to return and finish his story.
To help bridge the gap, there was a special New Gods comic to set up the stakes of the Hunger Dogs graphicl novel, and you can tell Kirby was EXCITED to be back and have less editorial meddling because his page layouts get wilder and jam-packed.
The big change in the status quo is that Darkseid has grown impatient waiting for the anti-life equation, and so thus moved to automation and an obsession with office efficiency to create a less personality-having workforce and empire. It was the 80s, you see.
“Maybe if you millennial zoomers spent more time plotting and scheming and less time leaping at life like a beast of prey, you’d have more money for your avocado toast and free will you love so damn much!”
Kirby also goes into more detail as to the meaning of his story, just in case this has all been too subtle for you, or in case you were wondering if he really talked like that.
And now we come to the end. While I said I felt there was less editorial influence on his drawing and layouts here, there was a BIG one on the story of this finale: Kirby couldn’t kill anyone important. DC wanted the 4th world characters available after.
There is also the problem of his grand saga only making it to year two, and now he had to tie everything up a decade later in 60-70 pages. The result is... muddled. No one involved or buying it was very happy. But its not bad, just hobbled by its lack of space to build.
80s Kirby is more cynical than 70s Kirby, for one thing. Darkseid is tired, having full committed to automation, asymetrical warfare, capitalist expansion, and other forms of evil well suited to his schemes, but now misses the grand myths, epic battles and need for his existence
Orion is still torn between his dual natures off being the god of pure destruction and being a good god, and his main blow against Darkseid is as a mythic inspiration to the perpetual underclass of Apokalips to finally just burn the whole thing down.
Darkseid wins, to an extent, but is left with a burning fuck of a planet, his minions all gone or rendered soulless husks, his enemies abandoning his tired battlefields. Even if he beats the masses back, they’ll rise again later, because his anti-life will always be artificial.
Highfather chooses to allow New Genesis to explode and just dicks off with the new gods of Supertown, deciding that destroying themselves and darkseid the same way the old gods did would accomplish nothing. Better to face and create unknown new myths than endlessly repeat things.
Hunger Dogs is a mess, especially the middle where we see the results of plot points Kirby never had a chance to introduce the first time. It was never going to be a true ending, and even if he had been given more issues, he was a different person now. But it has its moments
Readrrs still struggle to make sense of it, and while 80s Kirby is no more subtle, his bombast is now a LOT more obtuse to compensate. Is terrorism good or bad? Are the old ways better or worse? Is rebellion necessary or pointless? Is it really just all about the comics industry?
But I think more than anything, it is simply a story of anger and rage and frustration that defies easy qualification. The only winner is aloof Metron, whose prize is knowledge and a new, never-defined world, where new stories can finally be told.
With an ending about defeating darkseid by not playing, and the reward being a break from endlessly retold mythic patterns, its kind of sad how ever since dc has largely done the exact same story over and over since. The new gods die, they come back, and they never change.
That being said! The 4th world’s use in Superman TAS is still an absolute blast, and Simonson’s Orion and Morisson’s Mr Miracle and Final Crisis follow Kirby’s lead rather than copying his past.
You can follow @joffeorama.
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