The New Gods Library
Jack's Back and So are The New Gods
By Peter W. Dodds, Jr.
From Amazing Heroes #47 (15 May 1984). © Redbeard, Inc.
Jack Kirby is celebrated for many comic book series over his long career: Captain America, The Sandman. The Newsboy Legion, and Manhunter in the 1940s, his romance comics in the 1950s, and, of course, The Fantastic Four. Thor. The Hulk. The X-Men, and others in the 1960s, to name only a fraction of the total of his work. In the early 1970s he created one, or rather, four, of his greatest series for DC. This was the so-called "Fourth World" tetralogy, which included stories running simultaneously in four different series: Mister Miracle, The Forever People, Jimmy Olsen, and perhaps most importantly, The New Gods. The stories chronicled the saga of a war between the superhuman "gods" of two planets, the paradise-like New Genesis and the grim, ravaged Apokolips. On the side of New Genesis were characters such as its leader, Highfather, the warlike Orion, and the master escape artist Mister Miracle. It was their task to stop the powerful and diabolical master of Apokolips, Darkseid. who had come to Earth with many of his minions to search for the humans who held buried in their minds the Anti-Life Formula, the means by which Darkseid could control the whole universe. The Fourth World stories reached great heights, but then the DC management at that time decided to end the series before it reached the conclusion that Kirby, who wrote and drew all the stories, intended. The New Gods and The Forever People were cancelled. Jimmy Olsen went back to stories unconnected with the Fourth World mythos, and Mister Miracle also did such unrelated tales until it too was cancelled.
But now, after over a decade. DC has brought Jack Kirby back to bring The New Gods to a conclusion, and to go on from there to work on a mini-series and maxi-series. First, DC has already begun reprinting the original Kirby stories from The New Gods in special Baxter paper editions, for which Kirby and inker Mike Royer are supplying new covers. The last of the reprint editions will include an ·all new story written and drawn by Kirby and inked by Royer which will serve as a transition from the original stories to the graphic novel that will bring The New Gods to its conclusion. This graphic novel is called The Hunger Dogs. It will feature Darkseid, Orion, Mister Miracle and his wife Big Barda, Mr. Miracle's mentor Himon, and most of the rest of the major members of the "Fourth World'' cast, and it too will be written and drawn by Kirby and inked by Royer.
Then there will be a five issue mini-series titled Super-Powers, which will be plotted by Kirby, written by Joey Cavalieri, and drawn by Adrian Gonzales: Kirby himself will draw the fifth issue, however. In this series beings called the Disciples of Doom grant super-powers to Lex Luthor, Brainiac, the Joker, and the Penguin. whom they regard as the leading menaces associated with Earth. Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and most of the Justice Leaguers must first battle these four villains, and then the Disciples of Doom, and finally, in the fifth issue, confront the master villain behind the Disciples. The Super-Powers mini-series leads into a forthcoming 12-part maxi-series in which Kirby will also have a hand as plotter; the writer and artists for this untitled maxi-series have yet to be named. Both the mini-series and the maxi-series tie in with Kirby's other work at DC in ways that cannot yet be revealed.
Why has Jack Kirby returned to do more New Gods? He himself replies quite simply, "Because it was unfinished. The New Gods is a novel, and I feel that it's a legitimate novel, and I left when it was unfinished." Now he will bring it to its finish.
Gods and Humans
"I always liked mythology. I gravitate towards it," Jack Kirby says. "I did Thor as early as 1942 at DC." (This is a character who impersonated the thunder god in a Sandman story which DC has recently reprinted.) "I've been inclined in that direction ever since I've been looking for characters other than gangsters. That's how I got Galactus; that's how I got the Silver Surfer. I began to look through the classics, the Bible, any kind of work of that sort. Finally, you get yourself going to the gods, or at least that's what I did."
Speaking of the ancient myths, Kirby says that "I think they were all parallels on their own time," and that each age comes up with its own godlike heroes. "Hercules became Thor, and Thor became Tarzan, and Tarzan became Superman, and we're still going in that direction. It doesn't matter what the medium is; what matters is that it's human to do it." Hence, superhero stories are today's equivalent of legends about gods. "Yes, they are. It's a way of transcending ourselves. It's a way of entertaining ourselves.
"There really are no such things as gods, but there are our own interpretations of things. They're us. They're not just individuals; they're representatives of humanity. The gods are bigger than us because they're all of us. Naturally, being all of us, they have to be presented in a powerful manner." The gods represent our potential for good and for evil; they do on a grand scale what we ourselves are capable of doing for good or for evil. "I've seen it done. I've seen people transcend themselves. I've seen people become mockeries of themselves. We're all capable of doing that. The gods drive us; I think they're our own drives. We're all our own monsters and we're all capable of doing things that we don't ordinarily think of ourselves as capable of doing. But I can tell you frankly that we are capable of doing them, for good or for bad."
So the New Gods represent our own potential and our own drives. They also represent something else to Kirby: "The bosses behind the scenes. The bosses in front of the scenes. Those who we see, and those who we don't see." In other words, the gods represent the powers that control things in our world. The gods also represent "ourselves, and the things that beset ourselves." Hence, Kirby regards The New Gods series as "a parable on ourselves and the world around us."
The dominant figure of The New Gods is Darkseid, the absolute ruler of the planet Apokolips, who is arguably the greatest villain ever created in superhero comics. As he did in Kirby's original New Gods stories, in the graphic novel Darkseid will be searching for the Anti-Life Formula, the means by which he could control the minds of everyone else in the universe. "Darkseid has an ultimate ambition," says Kirby; "he's an ultimate figure. His ambition, unfortunately, is to take your mind." If Darkseid gains the Anti-Life Formula, then, "when he says, 'Go to sleep,' the whole universe has to go to sleep." Darkseid, Kirby states, "will never let go of' his ambition to master the Anti-Life Formula. "Darkseid wants to know all and be all to the entire universe."
Despite the larger than life scale on which the New Gods operate, Kirby bases these characters upon identifiable human realities. For example, he says, "Darkseid is a general.
Darkseid is like Patton. Darkseid would sleep with the troops in a field anywhere. That would never bother him. It's Darkseid's goal that counts, not his person." Yet at the same time, he adds, Darkseid "is a majestic figure. He's dangerous because whatever his decisions are affect all of us. He loves that. He loves being in that position. He wants to make the ultimate decision, and the ultimate decision is to run the cosmos, and that's what makes him a god."
Asked to compare Darkseid with his other great villain, Doctor Doom of The Fantastic Four, Kirby asserts that "Doctor Doom is a perfectionist. A perfectionist is a guy who will find fault with everything, who will drive you mad; he'll drive himself mad. Doctor Doom also is a case of imperfection, because actually Doctor Doom is a handsome guy. His only trouble is that he's got a scratch on his face. And, of course, that makes him imperfect. And he's sore at you for not having a scratch. He wants you to have a scratch just like him. But you don't have a scratch, and, in his eyes, that makes you superior. So Doctor Doom actually has an inferiority complex that he can never rid of, that frustrates him, and that's why he wears a mask." The same principle underlies his hatred of the Fantastic Four's Reed Richards; Doom cannot tolerate the idea that Richards is his intellectual equal or superior. Doom, Kirby says, "has to know more than you; he has to look better than you. He's a competitor, but he's a frustrated competitor, because somehow he's got an imperfection, and the imperfection drives him mad."
On the other hand, "Darkseid is a driver. Darkseid is a ruler and he is a shaker." To Kirby, Darkseid represents all the sinister forces that control things in the world from behind the scenes. "He's the biggest. boss. But you never get to see Darkseid. Nobody does." Darkseid prefers to remain behind the scenes and have his minions act for him. "You· don't know the real scenario of who runs the world, and nobody does. Nobody ever gets to see Senator So-and-So. Nobody ever gets to see the boss of this corporation or that corporation. Nobody ever gets to see them, but they're there, and they're in positions of great power. That power has an effect on all of us. The forces are there, and you never know who decides your fate." These are the people and forces whom Darkseid represents. Just as we do not really know how powerful these people and forces are, so too, Kirby asserts, the exact extent of Darkseid's power should remain a "mystery."
If this is what Darkseid represents, then what about his counterpart, the saintly Highfather, the ruler of New Genesis? "Highfather represents the people we hope are out there. Guys, maybe, with common sense in high places. The positive people who may not set off the bomb, who may say 'Why kill ourselves? ' In the end, maybe they'll say, 'Let's forget about all this. I don't want to be responsible for blowing up the world. If the other guy wants to do it, let him do it, but I'm not going to do it."' (Readers will recall that Highfather was once a warrior who grew sickened by the destruction wreaked in the first New Genesis-Apokolips war, and who became a man of peace.) "Maybe there are guys like that," speculates Kirby, "and they're our hope, because they may convince the other guys" to adopt their ways.
Darkseid's greatest nemesis is his own son, Orion the hunter. As part of a long ago peace pact between Darkseid and Highfather, Highfather's son Scott Free (later to be known as Mister Miracle) was raised on Apokolips, while Darkseid's savage son Orion was brought up by Highfather on New Genesis. Orion became New Genesis's foremost warrior, obsessed with destroying Darkseid. Kirby observes that the conflict between Darkseid and Orion is "very, very heavy territory, the territory they had in the Star Wars movies between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker." (Those films, by the way, all come out after the first publication of Kirby's New Gods stories.) With regard to the relationship between Vader and Skywalker, Kirby remarks, "I think they got themselves into trouble on that one because it takes a lot of maturity, really, to define that kind of relationship. What father would want to kill his own son? And what son would want to kill his father? And yet it's happened, son, against father, hating each other for reasons that are their own." Darkseid and Orion find themselves pitted against each other, but each has qualms about killing the other. "There would maybe be a search for love" in this conflict, Kirby speculates, but, he adds, "that kind of love is lost in ambition" and Darkseid has the "ultimate ambition" of ruling the universe.
Orion's natural face is a savage, even monstrous one. Through the use of a New Genesis device called a "mother box," he can make his face look normal and even handsome, but if he falls into a berserker rage in combat, his face reverts to its natural appearance. Kirby finds .a simple everyday analogy for this: Orion's New Genesis face "represents you telling your mother you're going to school when you're really going to the pool room." In other words, Orion's masking his true face with the handsome one symbolizes any individual's attempt to conceal his evil desires and drives.
But the metaphor can be taken even further. Orion's New Genesis face represents the veneer of civilized behavior that society assumes in order to hide from itself its potential for great evil. "We always try to fix our faces," observes Kirby. "Don't we look great today? Do we look like the people who built Dachau and the other concentration camps? No, we look great! We look as if it never happened. But it happened. Do we look like the people who committed atrocities in World War II and all the wars before that? No, we don't look like those kinds of people." Yet, like Orion, if we let ourselves slip, Kirby believes, we can become inhuman. "Oh, believe me, there are plenty of slips. You can read about them in the papers. You can read the jail statistics. I think we live in medieval times. It's only 40 years ago that we cooked people … in the death camps. "How sophisticated is that? We can pat ourselves on the backs and say that we're living in a high tech age, but I think we're still medieval."
But Orion is not trying to hide his savage side for sinister reasons. There is a side of him that does not want to be a killer as he would be on Apokolips; he was raised on New Genesis and fights for it to preserve its peaceful values. Orion has two faces, two "fathers" — his evil father, Darkseid, and his good foster father, Highfather—and two sides to his personality. "That is very dangerous," Kirby states, "because it makes him totally destructive, because it makes him totally frustrated. He'll find himself going down into the fields alone, and fighting with himself in the end."
In past stories Kirby has often paired Orion with the young, more innocent Lightray. "He's a very positive character and a virtuous character," says Kirby. "He's the kind of a guy who you'd never be afraid of. He's the kind of a guy you would expect a fair deal from. He's the kind of a guy you'd probably have a lot of fun with. But, unfortunately, Orion is a brooder. Orion has been dealt a blow because he's not completely evil and he's not completely good, and that can drive you mad.
"Some of the new elements" in The Hunger Dogs, Kirby reports, "concern Orion and his relationships. We don't think of Orion as having relationships, but he does." Does this mean a love interest for Orion? Kirby will neither confirm nor deny that speculation.
The Hunger Dogs
Who and what are "the Hunger Dogs," the title characters of the New Gods graphic novel, which, by the way, is set not on Earth but on Apokolips itself? "The Hunger Dogs are us," Kirby says. "Ordinary people." They are called "Hunger Dogs" because Darkseid and others in power regard them as "the lowest of the low. You talk to your boss, you talk to a politician, you talk to anybody in an office, and you'll find that you're in a certain category" in their eyes. Would-be conquerors like Darkseid regard ordinary people as being in the category of "Hunger Dogs."
But, Kirby asserts, the ordinary people, the Hunger Dogs, "are the people who really run the world. The Hunger Dogs are a force that all the conquerors always have to reckon with" throughout history, Kirby believes, and are the reason "that nobody's ever conquered the world. In the end the Hunger Dogs are the ones who change things. It's always ended the same way. The Hunger Dogs defeated Napoleon. The Hunger Dogs defeated King Louis of France" in the French Revolution. "You can have the brains of a Darkseid and the power of a Darkseid, but you can't conquer the universe. In The Hunger Dogs you'll find the force that finally overthrows all the gods," both those of Apokolips and those of New Genesis.
In the original Mister Miracle series Himon prophesied that the war of the gods would finally be resolved in a battle on the plain of Armagetto in which Darkseid and Orion personally fought one another. Will this indeed be the denouement in The Hunger Dogs? "Isn't that what the Bible has prophesied?" replies Kirby. "I'm just borrowing from the Book, but I'm doing it in my own way."
Although The Hunger Gods will bring the original New Gods series to its conclusion at long last, that does not mean that we will never see the characters again. "If DC wants to continue them, they'll find a way to do it." Kirby points out. But with The Hunger Dogs Kirby states that he will have said all he has to say about these characters. "I'll have said my piece. If the circumstances arise in which I have to say some more, I'll say some more. But this in essence is complete."
Ultimately, Kirby says, perhaps with reference to The Hunger Dogs, a person cannot be forcibly changed by "written commands or verbal commands or any formula," including the Anti-Life Formula. "You're moved by the things that already shape you. In other words, you're already you, and I couldn't change you for anything. I think that the Darkseids themselves lose in the end because of that." We have already seen an example of this in the early life of Mister Miracle as depicted by Kirby: eventually he fled the Apokolips military school where he was raised. "Scott Free is the kind of a guy who couldn't take the military. He wasn't born to it. So he became Scott Free. He told them, 'Let me alone and let me find out who I really am.' And eventually that's what we all do."
Metron and Himon
Metron, the seeker of knowledge whose discoveries have been turned to sinister ends by Darkseid, is, in Kirby's view, a very different kind of god than the gods of past mythology. "There's never been a god like Metron; there's never been an academic god, but we have him now," since in our time, ·"we're always searching for things and inventing things." Kirby compares Metron to Edward Teller, who developed the hydrogen bomb. "Now, Edward Teller is a scientist of great repute, and probably a very nice guy. Yet he's done something that can wipe out the human race. And who created it? Just an ordinary guy. And there's nothing he can do about it. He had to" create the bomb; "that was his capability, and he followed his capability." So too Metron must keep searching for knowledge regardless of the consequences, and regardless of the fact that Darkseid could use his discoveries for evil, as he has with the "boom tube," a means of transportation. "Metron has his own drives. He wants to know all there is." Eventually, Kirby says, Metron may learn that he's not capable of knowing everything, "and that'll be his eternal frustration." Himon is another seeker of knowledge. It was Himon who encouraged Scott Free—alias Mister Miracle, the son of Highfather who was brought up on Apokolips and trained to be one of Darkseid's soldiers—to break free from his Apokolips training and leave the planet to follow his own desires and beliefs. Himon will return in The Hunger Dogs graphic novel. "Himon is not a mechanic," as Metron, who builds devices that can be misused, is. "Himon is a conceiver. Himon is a survivor in a very, very hard world. He inspires people. He loves beauty. He's the kind of guy who will go through life just trying to make something good out of it. He's not out to find the ultimate knowledge. He's not out to make the ultimate conquest. He's a guy who finds life and treats it just as it is: life.
"He was named after my father-in-law," Kirby reveals. "We used to have wonderful times when I dated my wife. I enjoyed every minute just talking to him. For me he was a real find. Being a street kid, to find people who really give you some attention, makes life become wonderful. Himon represents that to me."
Are there other characters in The New Gods who are based on real people? "Yes. They're all based on real people. I've never created a character that wasn't based on a real person. I think that's why people relate to them. In every story I wrote my westerns, even in my war stories-they were all real individuals. They all had elements of what I experienced myself."
Kirby's Other Gods
Jack Kirby's most celebrated treatment of gods before The New Gods was, of course, in Thor. "Thor is a guy who can hammer down mountains." But "Thor, even as a god, has human traits. He's a human being" with the powers of a god, and would not use them to dominate ordinary humans. Doctor Doom would do it, and Darkseid would do it. But Thor is a hero, and I guess I'm enamored of heroes. He will sacrifice his own feelings to spare others, and I think that's an admirable trait."
After doing The New Gods at DC, Kirby created The Eternals at Marvel. At first glance the two series seem alike, since each deal with the opposition between good godlike beings (the gods of new Genesis and the Eternals) and evil ones (the gods of Apokolips and the Deviants). But Kirby regards The Eternals as "another novel" with a very different theme, a treatment of the gods on "another track." In that series the mysterious "space gods" called the Celestials were sitting in judgement on Earth; if they decided in 50 years' time that humanity was unworthy, they would destroy the Earth. "Here we have the Earth on the brink of disaster: it's five minutes to twelve, and when it becomes twelve o'clock, we'll all be gone." At such a time, Kirby believes, one is faced with certain eternal questions. He says that once he heard a man ask "What the hell happened? What happened?" j st before he died. "In the end, I think, when you die," Kirby says, "you're going to ask that question, whether you die in a hospital or even in front of a car." Kirby does not specify what he means by this question, but it seems to represent to him a summation of all the questions having to do with why we are on Earth, where creation came from, and what its and our purpose and meaning may be. The Eternals, through the enigmatic presence of the Celestials, posed one possible answer, Kirby says: that we may be the creations of a mysterious race with unknowable motives. He even points to the use of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark as an attempt to state this same basic question of "What happened?" "How did we start in the beginning?" he asks. "A clergyman could tell you, but he doesn't know. We don't know. The best thing I think could happen to any person is to be given a chance to answer 'What do you think happened?"' Kirby sees The New Gods as "a parable, really, on ourselves and the world around us," and says that "I think if you ask yourself those questions," such as "What happened?" and "What's it all about?", then "you'll be writing a New Gods."
The Comics Medium
In doing his new New Gods stories, Jack Kirby is picking up where he left off with the series: He will not contradict New Gods stories that were done in the interim by others, but instead will be "just plain ignoring them. I' doing my particular theme. Everybody is an individual, and everybody is entitled to his own version, but I can't do someone else. In the last analysis, you can't do someone else's work. You haven't got someone else's outlook. You can only figure out things for yourself."
Kirby points out that Big Barda, Mr. Miracle's wife, "was just as important as anybody else" in the series, and states that "the women" in The Hunger Dogs "are going to be the big surprise. Women are important to my work."
As noted, although Kirby is plotting the Super Powers mini-series, he is not writing it or drawing most of it. "I'm never going to play in anybody else's ballpark." Even so, he is open to doing more work for DC. "DC is the kind of an outfit I would do it for. Everybody there has been wonderful to me." He "would like" to bring the Forever People and Mr. Miracle to conclusions as well, if he was given the opportunity.
Does Kirby have any plans for doing comics after his current DC work? "That's like saying, 'Are you going to be taking a trip to Italy five years from now?'" he laughs. "I can't tell you. I will, of course," be doing comics "in some way, but it'll always be new ground. I never rule out anything, really," He does intend "eventually" to do more of Captain Victory and Silver Star for Pacific.
Certainly, one reason why Jack Kirby intends to keep doing comics is that he believes so strongly in the medium's artistic potential. "I think that the comics medium has been shortchanged. People can use it to do something very very powerful. It's just as powerful a medium as the movies, or any other entertainment medium. Why can't comics produce a Moby Dick? Why can't comics produce a Treasure Island? There are people in comics who can really do that kind of thing if they're sincere. The rock bottom word is sincerity. The public is going to appreciate anything good.
"I've always respected comics as a medium," Jack Kirby states. "I don't respect people who treat them lightly. I think that if the medium's there, we should have respect for it and use it the best way we can. My reason for being in comics is to tell a good story, and I can do it."
© 1984 Redbeard, Inc.