On rereading Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, post the first (#SFWApro)

When Jack Kirby moved to DC at the dawn of the Bronze Age of Comics, he had a vision. A big, game-changing vision.

Kirby’s New Gods books (the umbrella title became “Fourth World” after New Gods became one of the series) was going to be a trilogy of three books, closely tied together by common characters and concept, all revolving around the cosmic war between New Genesis (good place) and Apokolips (bad. Very bad). It wasn’t just good vs. evil but free will vs. its annihilation: Darkseid of Apokolips sought the Anti-Life Equation which would enable him to erase free will like chalk on a blackboard.

Not only would the concepts be epic and cosmic, but the Fourth World saga would eventually come to an end, the books ending with it. This was years before anyone conceived of comic-book limited series: if something sold, DC and Marvel would keep publishing it, no end in sight.

I recently reread the whole thing for my Screen Rant on Apokolips. This post will describe the publishing side, the next one (when I get to it) will look more at the stories themselves. The Fourth World books were:

New Gods. The heart of the series. As Apokolips’ forces arrive on Earth, hunting the secret of Anti-Life, so do the gods of New Genesis, Orion and Lightray. Humanity is caught in the middle.

Mister Miracle. Scott Free, former prisoner of Apokolips, arrives on Earth and takes up the trade of escape artist. Can he stay free when Darkseid’s agents are constantly hunting him?

Forever People. Following a hippyish band of New Genesis super-beings who’ve opted out of the war. But like Scott Free, they’re constantly dragged into conflict with Apokolips anyway. The weakest of the three, although it also expressed the free will vs. slavery concept most strongly (see here).

Kirby also wound up doing Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen for a while. It never really ties in as closely as the other books, but did introduce a number of core concepts or characters such as Intergang and Darkseid. Not to mention the DNA Project, which became a big deal as Project Cadmus in later books.

Unfortunately all did not work out as Kirby planned. DC wasn’t particularly interested in the story Kirby wanted to tell as much as sticking it to Marvel: DC now had Marvel’s A-list artist, and they hoped his work would crush Marvel sales-wise. They certainly had no intention of cancelling the books if they succeeded that well.

They didn’t. Sales didn’t leave Marvel begging for mercy, and they got worse after DC raised its prices (all DC’s books unsurprisingly suffered). I’ve read differing reports whether the Fourth World hit cancellation level or simply “not the star performer we hoped for level” but Forever People and New Gods bit the dust. Mister Miracle ran a while longer (Kirby simply left Jimmy Olsen, which passed into other hands).

DC largely looked at this as a failed experiment. A few years later, one letter column consigned Darkseid to the ash heap of history. Over time, though, that changed; Keith Giffen, years later, joked that DC editors liked to pass around Darkseid like a bong. Some of the change may have stemmed from Legion of Super Heroes doing a major story involving Darkseid, the “Great Darkness” saga. Or from fans such as Karl Kesel incorporating the New Gods into stories when they became writers.

It seems unlikely the New Gods will be consigned to the ash again, though they’re certainly ill-used in DC’s New 52.

Cover by Kirby, all rights remain with the current holder.

1 Comment

Filed under Comics, Reading

One response to “On rereading Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, post the first (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Kirby’s Fourth World, post the second (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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