Jack Kirby came to DC Comics with big dreams. By 1970, the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs had gone on strike. Frustrated that Marvel Comics had been stiffing him on plotting and scripting credits, as well as cheating him out of some of the profits off the enormously popular characters he’d created, Jack Kirby decided to withhold his best ideas from Marvel, and store them away for a later time. Now, working for Marvel’s only serious rival, Kirby had a chance to bust out all the idea’s he’d been saving up.
The first three Kirby issues of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen are practically exploding with energy: temporary autonomous zones, techno-hippies, and genetic engineering all mingle in Kirby’s psychedelic collage alongside 1940′s legacy characters transfigured by the Space Age. But Jimmy Olsen was only an overture to the three other titles of Kirby’s Fourth World Saga: The Forever People, The New Gods, and Mister Miracle.
And it’s here, with Forever People 1, that the Fourth World Saga really gets going in earnest.
rrraBOOOM, behold four crazy-looking dudes on a . . . Super-Cycle. They have arrived on our planet and scare the hell out of some motorists. It turns out these motorists are friends of Jimmy Olsen’s, which is a plot point. But let’s meet the gang:
From left to right:
- Vykin the Black. Yes. I know. But it was the 1970′s. If DC did a super hero comic featuring radioactive alter ego’s of Bill Cosby, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muhammed Ali, they would have been called “The Black Blacks.” I would like to think Kirby knew better: he didn’t call Flipper Dipper “Black Flipper Dipper,” because that would have been crazy. Vykin is the custodian of the Mother Box, that red thing he’s holding.
- Mother Box is a living computer that communicates in R2D2 language. There’s a lot to say about Mother Box, but for now it’ll suffice to know it’s a sentient, telekinetic Tri-Corder and an object of almost religious veneration.
- Mark Moonrider is to the Forever People what Tommy is to the Newsboy Legion: the handsome, no-personality dud against whom all the other characters are variations. It’s a pity: “Mark Moonrider” is a pretty awesome name. His super power is a megaton touch, but it’s several issues before we see it used.
- Big Bear pilots the Super-Cycle and is popular in certain types of clubs. He also has the power to look kinda cool despite being dressed in yellow, which is an unusual feat in super hero comics.
- Serifan is your basic flower-plucking, telepathic cowboy from another dimension.
- Beautiful Dreamer (not depicted here), as a woman, naturally starts the issue trapped in the villain’s refrigerator, and the boys have come to Earth to rescue her. She has illusion-type powers.
They’ve arrived here through the Boom Tube from a place called Supertown to rescue Beautiful Dreamer from Darkseid. Jimmy Olsen’s friends take some pictures, at a time when Clark Kent is feeling some super-angst:
It is so lonely to be the most beloved guy on Earth. But then Jimmy shows Clark the photos his friends took of the Forever People, the Boom Tube, and a glimpse of Supertown.
Normally I’m a big fan of Kirby’s art and layouts, but these three panels are a mess, and the artist who retouched the faces didn’t do the story any favors. But I love how annoyed Clark is by Jimmy’s prattling.
Eventually Superman rushes out to find the Forever People, and blows up an Inter-Gang chopper that was sniping at them. But the kids don’t believe him when he says he’s not from Supertown.
dang it, Superman
These kids have just told you that they’re searching for their friend, Beautiful Dreamer, who has been kidnapped, presumably by the dudes who were just shooting at you from a helicopter. And your only motive to help is so that they’ll owe you a favor?! Also, maybe the reason you’re lonely is that even when you meet your first batch of Supertowners, you’re like, “These kids are nobodies, just a means to an end!” This ties into Superman’s ethical faults in Jimmy Olsen 135, where it simply never occurs to him to take Jimmy seriously as a person.
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Darkseid’s Gravi-Guards show up out of nowhere and kick everyone’s ass! But the Forever People start acting crazy.
The Forever People are basically tag-team partners with the Infinity Man, who dwells beyond the reach of physical law but not beyond the reach of a good tanning salon, and swaps places with the kids.
The Infinity Man reveals that Darkseid kidnapped Beautiful Dreamer because she can process the Anti-Life Equation, which is mentioned here for the first time and assumes a ton of importance later in this series. Darkseid shows up out of nowhere and says Beautiful Dreamer is too resistant to his influence.
Superman rescues Beautiful Dreamer from Darkseid’s radion-bomb, and the Forever People give him driving directions to Supertown. Moonrider and the others, however, give him grief for running away from the conflict with Darkseid.
Superman doesn’t care: he’s so lonely. But he decides, mid-way through the Boom Tube, that Earth needs protection against Darkseid, the Anti-Life Equation, and “a strange new super-war!“ So the Forever People more or less guilt-trip Superman out of his one shot at happiness.
A few obvious points:
- We’ve already seen a group of weirdly dressed, peace-loving young idealists with advanced technology and an outlandish vehicle who protect a utopia. I don’t know what’s going on with that.
- Superman and Jimmy Olsen are hanging out at The Daily Planet rather than lurking around the DNA Project, so this story occurs either before or after the plot currently running in Jimmy Olsen. Kirby and Lee practically invented tightly-integrated cross-continuity over at Marvel several years ago, so this was a deliberate choice.
- This isn’t a Forever People story: this is a Superman story. (In fact, I first read it in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told.) Superman is the viewpoint character, he’s the one who ultimately saves both Beautiful Dreamer and the Infinity Man from Darkseid, he’s the one with an internal conflict, and the resolution of that conflict is the climax of the issue.
My presumption is that Kirby wanted to use Superman, as DC’s most recognizable and popular character, to introduce readers to this new series, and this publishing objective outweighed sweating continuity concerns.
On the self-plagiarism issue, I suspect Kirby really grooved on the idea of free-spirited kids with weird vehicles: he’s introduced four such groups in four months with escalating power levels (Newsboy Legion, Outsiders, Hairies, Forever People). The Forever People are certainly the oddest: they don’t come from Earth at all. Their extra-dimensional origin means that they’re already involved in a war against Darkseid and his minions, and neck-deep in the Fourth World stuff. But it’s also a little strange to write a series that hopes to tap into the happenin’ youth culture that stars teenagers from outer space. It makes the Forever People easy to idealize, but hard to identify with.
It is common to say that the Forever People is Kirby’s love letter to the hippies. But the characters aren’t pacifists. When they realize their friend was kidnapped, they race pell-mell to the rescue, even if that pits them against Darkseid (who we’ll soon see is one of the most powerful super villains in the universe). Mark Moonrider specifically chides Superman for shirking his duty to fight against Darkseid. And their moral example convinces Superman not to desert. So here hippies are encouraging Superman to go to war–or at least, to be engaged in the struggle against mankind’s true enemy. Superman was pretty self-centered throughout this story, and it’s only after meeting the Forever People that he sees beyond his immediate need.