Friday, October 26, 2007

Mister Miracle #2--"X-Pit"


Mister Miracle #2 begins with a rather startling composition--another Kirby innovation that's left its mark on the comics medium. Instead of "gutters" dividing the panels, the images are mounted in and seperated by a bizarre latticework of Kirbian machinery, some of which has a creepily organic shape that's vaguely reminiscent of H. R. Giger. The images within the panels are those of Scott Free and his new assistant, Oberon, setting up for a new display of death-defiance, but the panels, and an overlying series of captions that suggest a ticker-tape readout, do a nice job of suggesting the looming presence of something called "Overlord". "I-AM-OVERLORD--I-CREATE-I-DESTROY--NOW-I-DESTROY--!--SCOTT-FREE-DIES!"

Of course, he can't literally be watching Scott with the same omniscient POV as we, the readers, are, because if he was he'd see that his imminent attack is about to face a slight hitch. Scott has assembled a series of parts using Apokaloptish know-how (and, presumably, the help of Motherbox) into an android duplicate that he calls a "follower". The idea is that it will ape his moves exactly, allowing him to place it in dangerous situations so that he can time and practice his routines without putting himself in jeopardy. That's actually pretty clever, even though we never see him using followers ever again. Anyway, with he and his double strapped into identical straitjackets and balancing precariously on two seperate platforms, Oberon places some kind of volatile explosive (apparently nitroglycerin) on the follower's platform.

Unfortunately, Overlord chooses that exact moment to strike, with a brain bolt from his oversized mechanical forehead. (This is one of only three panels in which we actually see Overlord, and I have to say, he's one of Kirby's creepiest character designs:)

The Nitro goes kerblooey, catching both Scott and his follower in the blast. Fortunately, since only the follower was dressed as Mr. Miracle, it caught the worst of Overlord's assault. Oberon quickly straps on a fire extinguisher and douses the flames, all the while giving Scott an "I told you so" speech.

Scott, however, managed to get out of his straitjacket just fine; it's the Motherbox strapped to his arm that he's concerned about. "She is dear to me--and I must help her!" "Y-you mean that thing--is alive?" stammers Oberon. "In a way, she is!" replies Scott. "But now, she's hurt--weak--I must pour out my love--my belief--to make her respond!" Jeez, Scott, just call tech support like a normal person.

Motherbox turns out OK, though "the follower seems beyond hope." Mistaking the attempted assassination for human error, Scott immediately goes back to planning another escape. But of course, Overlord sends another blast at him, frying him to a cinder.

...Wait, no. That doesn't happen. Because Overlord was apparently programmed by Wile E. Coyote, and thus is unable to repeat the same attempt twice once it has failed, no matter how unlikely the circumstances that led to said failure.

Meanwhile, things are about to get very goofy as we meet Overlord's master...Granny Goodness. Granny's another of the more memorable villains of the Fourth World series, and in a sense she's Scott's real archnemesis. She's also a very, very weird creation. She's so weird, in fact, that she sort of goes past being dopey and back around into sort of creepy. Mostly you just have to wonder at the demented imagination that would fuse Dickens and DeSade into this evil old battle-axe who's both the head of an orphanage and Darkseid's main military disciplinarian. If you can get past the goofiness, it's thematically logical, but man...

...the goofiness is pretty hard to get past. Adding to it are her dorky, pointed-helmet shock troops, who take great pride in said pointed helmets. No, seriously. They act jealous of Overlord, who they see as competing for Granny's affections, and encourage Granny to punish him, but Granny instead turns her wrath on her men, beating them with a billy-club, all the while berating them in a weird mash-up of supervillainese and the kind of condescending baby-talk mothers use on their young children. This is just SO psychologically messed up I don't know where to begin. And yet the insane part is that it fits neatly with Kirby's themes of power and domination; it's just the kind of bizarre scenario you'd never expect to see outside a comic book.

Anyhow, back at the ranch, Mr. M has apparently abandoned his nitro-balancing act and has moved on to the stunt featured on the cover. Despite Oberon's speech bubble there, Scott does indeed escape just in time to duck out of the way of the flying spears. MISLEADING COVER ALERT!!!

Oberon does his typical, "Oh, my heart! Scott, you'll be the death of me!" act while all this is happening. A word about Oberon: his main job in this comic is to express horror and panic at the various feats Mr. Miracle is going to attempt, the idea being that this will make it seem all the more "miraculous" when he does escape. The real effect is to make Oberon extremely obnoxious, not to mention just a little hard to believe: I mean, he's been an escape artist's assistant his whole life, and he's still gasping in disbelief that someone can pull this kind of stuff off?

Oberon does manage to segue artfully into quizzing Scott about his origins. Along with some other dialogue scattered throughout the issue, what becomes clear is that Scott escaped from Granny's orphanage/training facility on Apokalips via the Boom Tube, and Granny is determined to humble him, get him back, or kill him--preferably all three. While this might seem like a waste of Apokaliptish resources in the middle of what is, after all, a pretty far-reaching attempt at world domination (if not an all-out war), we will eventually learn there are some good reasons to focus on Scott specifically. For now, though, the main idea is that, by escaping Granny, Scott has become a living symbol of freedom and rebellion against authority. Can't have that in the new world order!

Oberon is momentarily satisfied, even if he only understands less than half of what Scott is talking about. Turning to clean up Scott's mess (gee, that's awfully nice of him) Obey is startled by Scott's follower, which despite being "beyond hope" a few panels ago is still apparently possessed of enough life to get up and take some halting steps...JUST in time to coincidentally save Scott's bacon yet again. Granny's "Soldier Boys" are watching outside the window, and apparently see nothing suspicious in the fact that Mr. Miracle is lurching around like Lindsay Lohan on a bender (if that's not redundant). They smash their way inside and make off with Oberon and the android, but Scott himself sees them depart and follows them on his flying "Aero-discs".

Back at the ranch, there's a moment of consternation when Granny discovers the fraud, but luckily for her hapless minions Scott himself bursts in a moment later. Well, I'm assuming they didn't want to be punished, but you never know.

Granny hits a couple of buttons, and voila, Scott's aero-discs suddenly malfunction, sending him down a pit that opens in the floor. Good going, Scott. Seriously, why even bother having the follower start working again? They could have kidnapped the real Scott, for all the good it did him to remain free. Oh, wait, I get it--it's like a symbolic thing, man. Scott Free cannot be caged!

Scott and Obey plummet to the bottom of a very deep pit--that would be the X-Pit--but, fortunately, there's a gravitational reversal at the bottom that stops them from smashing all his bones. Apparently just sending Scott flying down a pit wasn't enough of a triumph for Granny; she has to devise another escape at the bottom. Scott and Obey quickly find themselves trapped within what looks an awful lot like Willy Wonka's Great Glass Elevator, except this one leads to...DEATH! The original Great Glass Elevator just led to pain, humiliation, and dismemberment.

Scott frantically starts racking his brain, trying to get inside Granny's head in order to affect an escape. Not a bad idea, in theory. Unfortunately, this is what they come up with:

MR. MIRACLE: Beneath her iron facade lies a hidden fear! I've seen it!
OBERON: She's no youngster! Perhaps it's just the simple fear of old age--and its insecurities!
MR. MIRACLE: Yes! She'll sacrifice anyone and anything--for gifts--rewards! On that premise--and with these studs--we must stake our lives!

And based on that logic, he proceeeds to start hitting buttons at random.

I guess I don't have what it takes to be a master escape artist and inspiration to humanity, because to me that made no goddamn sense whatsoever.

Anyway, it turns out he's activated a "torment circuit" which sends a gout of flame up beneath the glass cage to roast the pair alive--but a pressing the next button switches it to "the electro-shock cycle". "I feel like I've swallowed a thousand hot needles!" moans Oberon. "I must continue the cycle! I must press another of the studs!" moans Scott. So do it already, jackass! In fact, just press all the buttons as fast as you can! This isn't rocket science!

Alas, the next button unleashes a gout of quickly-rising mud, and in the time it takes him to lift Oberon over his head so he doesn't drown, Scott becomes trapped in the hardening mud.

Granny, in classic comic-book fashion, can't even be bothered to watch Scott suffer, which OF COURSE means that she's about to get a rude surprise when he and Obey come smashing into her living room and destroy a box on the table in front of her. Long and nonsensical story short, Scott did manage to struggle through the mud to press the next button, which unleashed radiation, which restored power to Motherbox, which enabled her to interface with Overlord and explode him, which let Scott and Oberon escape. And now here comes the twist: Overlord was a tiny little guy, only an inch tall, and he was in that box that got smashed! That is kind of cool! And also pointless!

GRANNY: You--you'll pay dearly for this!
MR. MIRACLE: And that brings me to my parting words! Dry up and blow away, Granny Goodness!

His parting words? Is Mr. Miracle Jerry Springer?

The two hop aboard the aero-discs and take off. "Fly faster, Scott!" whines Oberon. "I've got an eerie feeling that she's warming up for the second round!"

Well, gee, Oberon, I don't know. I mean, that was a pretty devastating riposte Scott delivered at the end there. I don't think she'll have the heart to try anything against you directly for several months after that, no sir!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137--"The Four-Armed Terror!"


So maybe you've noticed Kirby has a slight thing for exaggeration. The events contained within this issue do not take place on "The Last Day of the World", and would not, in fact, do so, even if the threatened catastrophe had happened. Yes, you'll be amazed to discover that Superman saves the day. That, like, never happens.

But never mind! Here's that thing that was teased in the last issue: a big, yellow, four-armed rock monster.

Hoo boy. Last time out, Superman fought a dopey version of The Hulk. This time, it looks like he's going to battle a nasty version of The Thing. Kirby was working out some leftover energy from his Marvel days, it looks like.

The Terror, just warming up to its rampage through the vast cavern that holds the Project, comes across our boneheaded goofballs Yango and his friend, who we now discover is named Gandy. "Jimmy Olsen and his pal Superman must have fallen off the map, Gandy!" says Yango. "Put your wheels together and let's split, Yango!" replies Gandy. "They must have run into the Mountain of Judgment! And any cat who's ever done that-- has never been seen or heard of again!"

OK, yeah, that's what these guys were saying a couple issues ago, but now we, the audience, know that the Moutain of Judgment is a gigantic missile carrier filled with friendly genetically engineered hippies under the control of the US Military. I guess I could figure on the Outsiders being too superstitious to have the full picture, but still...what happened to all those people who met the Mountain? Did they get killed? That doesn't seem like the kind of thing the Hairies would do. Are the Outsiders the descendants of Hairies who ran off and have been living wild in the Wild Area? But the Project can't have been at this whole "genetic manipulation" thing for very long. Do the Outsiders get jobs at the Project and just fail to ever go back to inform the Outsiders what happened? That's certainly what's happened to Jimmy, who's apparently too much of a jerk to even call back to his gang--they have radios, for crying out loud--and tell them that he's safe. Sheesh!

Yango and Gandy are basically getting ready to write Olsen off (smart move, boys) when they're attacked by the Four-Armed Terror. The following baffling exchange takes place:

GANDY: Hey! My transistor radio has just switched from country western to "spook" rock! Get that spider sound!

(The Terror rears up behind them.)

YANGO: Man! You hit the bull's-eye without even lookin'! Gandy! Go for your blaster! It's "horror time!"

Indeed it is, Yango. Indeed it is.

The "feature creature", as Yango dubs it a panel later, absorbs the bullets "like a self-sealing tire!" and our two pharmaceutically-altered motorcycling enthusiasts speed off to warn the denizens of Habitat, leaving the Terror to continue its rampage towards the Project.

But Jimmy Olsen has not forgotten the friends that let him get this far! Oh, no! While Yango and Gandy have been searching high and low for their beloved leader, Olsen and Superman have been participating in the Project's research by attaching themselves to the "Solar-Phone", a goofy-looking device invented by the Hairies that enables them to gather radio-signals from the stars "and convert them into mental musical images"! And the Hairies have been using this device to have a great big mental communion...

Oh...uh...OK, I guess Jimmy HAS forgotten about his friends. But who cares? They were the violent, angry kind of hippie. The Hairies are the peaceful, cosmic, all-knowing kind of hippie. And they have a really primo stash.

(By the way, I love how Flippa Dippa feels the need to constantly remind everyone that, yes, he's still there. At least he's not spouting off about Scuba Diving right now. I guess I'd have low self-esteem, too, if that was the only useful skill-set I brought to the group.)

This series started with Superman barging in on the world of early 70s youth culture like a big, blue, square symbol of authority, and his running battle with Jimmy Olsen played itself out as the very embodiment of the generation gap. It seems things are now groovy, with Superman and Jimmy participating in a great big cosmic love-in. They float heedlessly through a mental landscape of Kirby's by-now-familiar paste-up montages, until they're brought back to Earth by a series of explosions. Yep, turns out the Project is under siege again. Good thing Superman doesn't have a city of his own to protect, and can just hang out here until something happens, huh?

Superman tells Jimmy and the Newsboys to wait in the safety of the Project, instead of heading towards the devastating destruction. Apparently this reasonable suggestion, coupled with the fact that he offhandedly calls them "kids", is enough to rekindle the old animosity and have the Newsboys plotting against Superman again. (Jimmy, offended, insists that he's over 21. Really? I guess time wasn't frozen for all those Silver Age adventures.) After a Newsboy huddle that seems to last all of two minutes, they appoint Jimmy as their leader, the rationale being that if he's good enough to be declared the warrior-god of a bunch of superstitious biker-hippie-savages, he's good enough for the Newsboy Legion. Hard to argue with that.

Meanwhile, the Four-Armed Terror has found its way to the massive nuclear piles that power the project, and is somehow causing a series of devastating explosions that rip through the entire Wild Area. Umm...that's not good. Somehow these explosions are non-nuclear, or so I conclude by the fact that the characters don't all lose their hair and die of radiation poisoning in subsequent issues, but they still wreak havoc on the tree-town of Habitat, causing Yango, of all people, to step up to the plate and assume a leadership role in helping people evacuate.

Here, again, we have Kirby saying something interesting, in an offhand manner. You had a gang of anarchists who suddenly find themselves in a position where they need to be led, and a guy who up until now has seemed utterly useless and self-absorbed turning out to be the right man for the job. Again, I think this reflects Kirby's experience in WWII, wherein a bunch of average joes who might otherwise have ended up as a bunch of slackers managed to rise to the occasion in the face of disaster. Kirby is transposing that onto the counterculture kids of the then-present day, which again reflects a generosity of spirit that not everyone of his generation posessed.

I kinda wish this plot thread had gotten a little more space, but we do have a giant atomic monster for Superman to smash, after all. But first he's got to ditch the Newsboys, who in their Whiz Wagon have reverted to their old, suicidal habits of trying to tag along behind Superman. Not to belabour the point, but Supes is headed into a nuclear zone, yet Jimmy and co. don't pause for even a second in their pursuit. Seriously, what the hell do they think they're going to do? Even if they're interested in "the scoop", what's the point of getting THAT close to unfettered nuclear power? To get some really killer pics before their eyeballs melt?

Superman does manage to outpace them, mentally grumbling over their idiocy, and engages the Terror in a typical Kirby-style smashup. The Newsboys do crest the hill, however, and manage to distract Superman just long enough that the Terror gets the drop on them all, encasing them in a giant pink egg. Gee, thanks, Jimmy, your help is always so valuable!

...Wait...a giant pink egg?

Yes, the terror shoots "some strange form of energy particles" at the heroes, which contract and harden into a shell. He tosses the enclosed Metropolans (Metropolitans? Metropolites?) aside and smashes his way through to the central core of the reactor, to feed on the nuclear energy therein...and watching on a monitor that makes the event look amusingly like a close-up of a sperm about to fertilize an egg, are our villains Mokkari and Simyan. They congratulate themselves loudly on sending the monster to unleash this destruction, which will not only destroy the Wild Area, it will annihilate the city of Metropolis, above.

And, it turns out, all this is just the beginning. You'll remember that these guys had a whole tank full of eggs in the last issue--and now they're hatching into an entire race of Terrors, which they cacklingly proclaim to be the new lords of earth, bred to survive a nuclear holocaust--HOMO USURPUS.

That ain't good.

Next time: arcane computers, evil grannies, and POINTED HELMETS! POINTED HELMETS GALORE!

Friday, October 12, 2007

(Orion of) the New Gods #2--"O'Deadly Darkseid"


I remain continually impressed by how much better The New Gods (or, as it's rechristened here, Orion Of The New Gods) is than the other books in the saga. Don't get me wrong, the others are frequently very good, but Orion sees Kirby playing to all his strengths, and synthesizing everything he'd learned in (at that point) 30 years of making comics into something waaaay ahead of its time. It's cinematic at a time when even cinema wasn't anywhere near as bold and Wagnerian as Kirby dares to be here.

I mean, the first three pages of this comic are a splash page and a double-page spread! Kirby, by the way, didn't actually invent the plash page as he's often credited, but he standardized it, and he used it so effectively that it became inextricably bound up with his work. Kirby also does something I haven't seen done before: he spends the first five pages on a "prologue" of sorts, before the title and credits page (which is another splash). With all these prologues and sweeping epic vistas, zooming down into the action from outer space, is it any wonder this comic is often cited as a huge influence on George Lucas?

Come to think of it, that first splash shows Apokalips in the foreground, flame belching ominously in the foreground, as we see it seemingly loom over the green world of New Genesis. Like some kind of body...a star. A star of death. A death star?

In the double-page spread, children are merrily romping in New Genesis, on some kind of bizarre whirlygig that looks like it was spawned by Salvador Dali. Inside the city, though, things are more grim. Highfather is once again confronting the Source Wall for advice: "WAR--FOLLOW ORION". That tears it, I guess. Earth is to become the battleground between New Genesis and Apokalips, and judging from the names, I'm doubting it's going to end well.

"I am one among those assembled, High-Father!" proclaims Lightray unneccessarily. "I am eager to join Orion!" But High-Father's decided Lightray's too young to jump into the fray, so he's going to have to wait another couple of issues.

Back on Earth, Orion has somehow ended up in the spartan pad in which Darkseid has been chilling, and furthermore, he's brought his new gang of followers with him. Darkseid, in typically ultra-cool fashion, lounges casually in a chair as his sworn enemy bursts in and accuses him of kidnapping Earthlings and violating the treaty. "I dare anything! I am Darkseid!" replies the bored-looking ruler of Apokalips, not even bothering to turn his head and look at Orion! Damn, that's cold.

"King of the damned! I can finish you now!" cries Orion. "Finish me--and you finish yourself!" replies Darkseid. "You hesitate, Orion! You can sense why--but you don't know--do you--? But Darkseid is free of mysteries! He can act!" And refer to himself in the third person! By the way, there's some heavy-handed foreshadowing in both this issue and the last one, but this exchange is rather well-done; clearly Kirby had SOME aspects of the overall story, at least, worked out in advance.

Anyway, Darkseid still doesn't bother to so much as turn his head while saying this, and a second later his minion Brola attacks. It's not that much of a surprise, since we did see him lurking behind the door on the previous page. Brola has a supercharged cattleprod in one hand, and the other. Yes, a brick, referred to as his "hand of stone", which he uses to pummel Orion. But Orion fights through the shocks and the beating and throws Brola through the wall, only to see him vanish in midair along with Darkseid, "snatched away by tele-ray" to "one of the secret bases established beneath the city." (Incidentally, we're never told exactly which city this is. I guess it's the same place The Tick hangs out.)

While Darkseid puts the boot to his useless minion and sends him scuttling out of the comic forever, another, rather more competant minion is working on the latest wild Apokaliptian scheme. It's Desaad, making what I believe was meant to be his debut appearance, despite the fact that he popped up in The Forever People #2, which hit newsstands first. Anyway, in typical New Gods fashion, Desaad's name tells you pretty much everything you'd need to know about the character--namely, that he's an insane weirdo who gets off on inflicting pain. However, because this is a Kirby comic, he's less interested in penning controversial novels and being played by Geoffrey Rush than he is building gigantic, convoluted devices with weird functions. The latest of these is "The Fear Machine" which will, in some unexplained way, flush out the mind Darkseid is looking for--the mind that holds the secret of the Anti-Life Equation.

Incidentally, Darkseid also explains, in a throwaway line, what the Equation is. He'd earlier referred to it as having the ability to destroy all life, but in fact, what the Equation does is take away free will...since, as explained earlier, someone without free will is not truly alive.

This is interesting, and I think gets to the point Kirby was trying to make with these comics. Darkseid doesn't want destruction for its own sake, nor does he want raw power. He wants to rule the world--and, I guess, the universe--but on far more terrifying terms than Doctor Doom did. In his quest to eradicate free will, Darkseid is possibly the purest personification of tyranny we've ever seen in comics: a character who literally wants to be the only thinking being left in the universe, or rather, wants every other mind to be an appendage of his own. I think that when you look at the long, sad, history of real-world dictators and tyrants, you'll find there's a lot of truth to that. What made people like Hitler and Stalin so monstrous wasn't simply the sheer number of people they killed and the warped shape into which they twisted their societies; it's that they wanted to impose their will on the world, a will which, no matter what their original intentions, left no room for other people except as mindless drones. I think that's why Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany ended up in much the same place, despite the seeming differences in their basic philosophies. They were solipsists--Hitler didn't want to share the word with anyone but Hitler, Stalin wanted to be alone with Stalin. They wanted pure freedom for themselves, which meant denying it to others.

Meanwhile, Orion has decided to fill his new friends in on what exactly is going on, and to that end, he produces Mother Box and gets them to touch it, in order to recieve a literal infodump of exposition. "A movie without film! That's wild! Roll, man, roll!" enthuses Harvey, the stereotypical representative of today's youth. In 1971.

We then get a three-page montage--two of them splash pages--detailing what's been going on in Jimmy Olsen and The Forever People to date. Earth invaded by the forces of Apokalips, Boom Tube, Mantis, Dropout society, yadda yadda yadda. We do get an interesting bit of foreshadowing with a glimpse at the aquatic menaces known as the Deep Six, who Orion will confront in a couple of issues' time.

The powerpoint presentation...OF THE FUTURE! cut short by Mother Box, who "detects an invisible beam sweeping this very city!" Suddenly, the group of Earthlings are cowering in fear. Orion, conveniently, is "trained to resist all degrees of fear," and thus immune. Strapping on his flight harness, he zips out into the night in search of the source of the beam, which turns out to be this:

So advertising never hurt anyone, eh, you Madison Avenue fat cats?

One brief and anticlimactic battle later, Orion has smashed the billboard o' death and is on his way back to his buddies. Desaad and Darkseid watch him go, bickering in typical supervillain fashion--though, oddly, Darkseid won't hear Desaad's smack talk about Orion.

DARKSEID: We could never take one such as Orion captive! His kind dies in battle! And in death would look greater than a vermin like you!
DESAAD: So! The great Darkseid rises quickly to the defense of an enemy!
DARKSEID: Orion is an enemy to be respected!
DESAAD: Yes, it is strange how very like us he is--in his fierceness and--
DARKSEID: Silence, Desaad! Were Orion my own son--he would mean nothing to the purpose of our mission!

Hmm. HMMMMMM. Think that means anything?

The issue ends back in Dave Lincoln's pad, where Orion has apparently decided to crash for his time on Earth. The Earthlings swear fealty to Orion, and the whole thing wraps up with the traditional monologue.

All in all, that issue was kind of a filler, but it was elevated by Kirby's excellently worked-out vision for this series; the stately pace of the narrative feels epic, instead of belaboured, and the story flows naturally, one event logically following another, rather than the sometimes chaotic stories in the other books. You end the comic with the premise fixed in your mind, and eager to see where the story's going. What are all these hints leading up to? What's being foreshadowed so heavily? What will happen next?

If I had to guess, I'd say it involves splash pages.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Forever People #2--"Super War!"


I have to admit that I don't "get" The Forever People the way I do the other books in the Fourth World saga. Jimmy Olsen was Kirby's window into the DC Universe, the contractual obligation that he used to smuggle in his concepts. The New Gods/Orion was the central book from a plot perspective, detailing the mythology behind the clash of these fantastical beings on Earth. Mr. Miracle was the thematic heart of the series, revolving around a symbolic Christ-like figure who fought for an ideal. But the Forever People? Other than the fact that it was about a bunch of super-hippies, Kirby didn't seem to have the greatest handle on the concept at first. Like The Fantastic Four, it seemed, in some ways, to be his "tryout book" for random ideas before working them into the other, more thematically coherent comics, and the fact that it was the first of the Fourth World books to be drawn seems to reinforce this.

I say this because the groundwork we see being laid in this issue sort of contradicts the later issues. Nevertheless, if you're going to have Kirby doing your comics, you've got to have an occasional book where superpowered beings in zany costumes beat the living hell out of each other, with no particular agenda or deeper meaning. Kirby was constantly trying to be, and occasionally succeeding in being, "profound" with these books. However, TFP #2 is mostly just a mental breather, an excuse to trot out a concept Kirby had dreamed up and set it loose. The concept: MANTIS.

The issue starts with some Komedy as the Forever People park their Super-Cycle smack-dab in the middle of traffic. The Forev Peeps, you see, are eternal innocents, speaking in their own cosmic idiom and living in a Utopia, and thus unable to understand our mundane, Earthbound ways such as our need to get from one place to another without some gigantic, hairy jackass parking his eye-scorchingly psychedelic dune buggy/RV in the middle of the road, thereby creating the mother of all traffic jams RIGHT AT RUSH HOUR, and I was only FIVE MINUTES AWAY FROM GETTING HOME for &*$^#%'s sake, and the season premiere of "Dancing With the Stars" is on and I'M GOING TO MISS IT--

Well, there's some understandable hostility being expressed. One guy cracks wise about "Hippies", causing Big Bear to jump in jovially:

BIG BEAR: The dialect is primitive, brother! But the humor cries out for a straight man! Tell me, Mister Corn! What's a hippie?
LOUDMOUTH GUY: Ha, ha--dat's easy! All ya gotta do is show him a bathtub--an' if he runs--he's a hippie!
BIG BEAR: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! It's like direct involvement with ancient vaudeville! Thank you, for the experience, brother!

Then he crushes the guy's upper body with a bear hug and leaves him dying on the concrete! Ha ha!

OK, we see the cop picking him up a panel later, and I think he's supposed to be alive. I think. The point is that, once again, we have proof that Big Bear is AWESOME.

Anyway, it eventually seeps through the skulls of our pack of heroic stoners that they're not really wanted in this particular location, and they move on via the Super-cycle's "Phasing" ability.

Meanwhile! Darkseid is preparing one of his big guns: the monumentally powerful Mantis, who is a dude in an insect suit. Um. Well, he's really strong and fast, anyway, and has the rather cool ability to regulate kinetic energy--he can either "charge" an object with immense power (rather like Gambit, I guess), shoot beams of pure heat, or drain the energy from anything he touches. All of which are abilities he will put to use in this issue.

His weakness, however, is that he goes through energy pretty fast, and when depowered he has to rest up in his "Power-pod". Darkseid rouses him out of this before his charging cycle is complete, apparently to give him a stern talking-to. As usual with Kirby, the exact chain of events is a little vague, but it seems as though Mantis had snuck down to Earth significantly before any of the other New Gods and was planning on subjugating Earth for himself. Since Mantis possesses all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop, Darkseid is almost amused by his apparent betrayal and bids him continue, as long as he doesn't challenge his power.

"DONE!" yells Mantis.

"Then return to your wretched pod!" commands Darkseid.

"DONE!" yells Mantis.

"Unleash the terrors of the night! Make Man cringe! Make him tremble--make him FEAR!!"

Mantis is already asleep.

The Forever Peeps have meanwhile made tracks to the bad part of town, where they hope to set themselves up in some new digs. Mother Box starts pinging away like mad, but the FPs ignore her, in a snit. They tend to do that a lot, don't they? Makes you wonder why they even brought her along. Vykin's the only one that listens to her, and as a result he tends to be a bit of a drag. But they really ought to listen, because lurking in the shadows lies--

--A crippled child?

OK, so the actual danger source turns out to be the boy's Uncle Willie, supposed security guard, despite the fact that he's casually dressed in a loud orange jacket and purple fedora. He threatens the crew with his old-fashioned revolver, but Beautiful Dreamer manages to cool his jets by invoking her ability to project mental images--in this case, they all take the form of old-fashioned, innocent kids in 30s clothing. Trustworthy kids! Kids from a time when young folks respected their elders, by cracky! These are kids Uncle Willie has no cause to be scared by! (Shouldn't the black guy be invisible, then? Ba-Dum!)

Seriously though, this, along with the hippie wisecracks and Big Bear's reaction on the opening pages, is another interesting look at Kirby's mindset towards the hippies. He definitely seems to be siding with them against the establishment, but at the same time, he doesn't seem to be taking them so seriously that he can't give them a tweak. Here, once again, after an initial mistrust, the older generation--of which Kirby was undeniably a part--comes to trust and respect the young'uns, with their wild clothing and the rock and the roll and whatnot. It's the same subtext as the rather half-baked Jimmy vs. Superman subplot of his first three Jimmy Olsen issues, done in two pages. It's agreed that the Forev Peeps can move in--though I hope they're not planning on getting too comfortable.

Later that night, a clock tower silhouetted against the moon strikes midnight...the wind ghosts through the trees...and Mantis rises from a graveyard!! Seriously, an actual graveyard. A master of comics he may have been, but a master of understatement was something you couldn't accuse Kirby of being.

Despite the late hour, the FPs are apparently up and about, furnishing their new apartment with old junk that Big Bear, with typical joviality, calls "pure camp". Mark Moonrider refers to the old, broken TV as "A pure representation of early, post atomic, middle class home visuals!"

OK, hold up. This is really interesting. Again, going back to Big Bear's comments about "Ancient Vaudeville"...are we supposed to infer from this that the FPs are from the future?!? They're not talking about their alien world, they're referring to stuff from our world as if it was their own distant past. Unless Kirby wants us to swallow the idea that the development of civilization on New Genesis *exactly* paralleled our own, complete with cultural tics, and that they're merely a futuristic version of our own society--which is pretty much directly contradicted everywhere else in the saga--than the suggestion seems to be that the two worlds of the New Gods exist in our future, possibly unimaginably distant. Does this resonate with Kirby's idea that we've seen the death and rebirth of the Marvel Universe? Because if I'm following this, it means that the New Gods are visitors from both a parallel reality (the Marvel U.) AND from the distant future. The Marvel Universe will eventually go down in flames and reform itself as part of he DC Universe.


Tiny Tim, I mean Donnie the crippled boy, expresses amazement that Serafin got the TV to work, but Serafin, in a pointless and bizarre digression, explains to Donnie that he's using a bit of New Genesis technology called a Cosmic Cartridge, which are the things on his hat. They resonate with the universe, you see, and put one in touch with the great cosmic harmony. Serafin gives Donnie one to hold, and away he goes on an acid trip, Kirby style.

For one panel.

Then he snaps out of it and continues to pester Serafin about the Supertowner's mysterious origins. Unfortunately for him, the TV suddenly breaks in with a report on Mantis's destructive rampage. Recognizing the Grasshopper of Grimness (OK, sorry), our heroes do what they always do: call on Infinity Man to help them.

Regular reader "Supersonic Man" over at the BMMB was under the impression that the FPs were "non-violent superheroes"; I started to correct him before realizing that they didn't, in fact, do much fighting--they just conjure up Infinity Man every time things get hairy. So in that sense, I guess they are non-violent, but you can see why they don't brag about it. On the other hand, if Infinity Man is a composite of all the Forever People merged into one being, then...well, that's confusing. So let's drop it.

Even though the comic's only half over, there's not much more to tell, because as I mentioned above this is a good old-fashioned Kirby fight comic. Nobody ever did this kind of thing better than the King, and this particular battle runs on for about 8 pages, with occasional interjections from Darkseid and Desaad. (Desaad, for those of you who don't know, is Darkseid's #1 henchman, and makes his first chronological appearance here, but given how perfunctory it is I suspect that once again we're dealing with a comic that was drawn in a different order than how it was published, and that Desaad's proper introduction is in the next issue. So more about him next week.)

Aaaaanyway, the long and the short of it is, Mantis leaps and rampages through the city, cops shoot at him to no effect, Infinity Man gives him a drubbing, Mantis uses his energy-sucking touch to encase Infy in an implausibly cubical block of ice, Mantis rampages some more, Infy uses his ability to bend the laws of time and space--which is looking more and more like a deus ex machina--to break loose of the ice block, he hilariously grabs hold of those impractical ribbons of fabric dangling from Mantis's back to his feet, drains Mantis's power, and Mantis goes crawling back to his Power Pod. The FPs reappear to give a little soliloquy, and the issue abruptly ends.

Next time: Orion lays it out for us, New Genesis goes to war, and more on that Desaad guy.