Friday, November 23, 2007

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139--"The Guardian Fights Again"


Even Kirby’s #1 fan and bestest friend ever, Mark Evanier, has admitted that Kirby could be a bit on the flaky side. This tendency is illustrated nicely by the two-issue Jimmy Olsen storyline we’re about to endure; the fact that it got so out of control wasn’t entirely Kirby’s fault, but it certainly didn’t help that the guy was so easily distracted. Evanier claims that he and Kirby’s other assistant, Steve Sherman, were mostly used as a sounding board for Kirby’s ideas during the creation of the Fourth World, but occasionally one of their own ideas would slip through, and one of these was to have the then-immensely-popular Don Rickles show up in a brief cameo and insult Superman. Somehow—apparently it had a lot to do with a DC publicist thinking they could reap some major publicity from it—this tiny idea was inflated into a two-issue extravaganza, which was bad enough—but by the time Kirby was done with it, the original idea had been lost, and the whole storyline had gone way off the rails. Most excruciatingly, Kirby had for some reason decided that what the story really needed was to give Rickles an evil twin who was intentionally unfunny. Hence, Goody Rickels (sic) was born, and the moment I’ve been dreading since I started these reviews is upon us.

It starts innocuously enough, back at the Project, where Tommy Sr.—who, you’ve no doubt forgotten at this point, is one of the Project’s doctors—is on the verge of giving the Guardian a clean bill of health and sending him out into the world, the first of the Project’s creations to be thus cleared. The Newsboys arrive to cheer him on and berate Superman in a flurry of clich├ęd dialogue along the lines of “Make wit’ a little “koitsy” , will ya. Muscles?” (Scrapper) and “Coudja lower the flippa for Dippa, soul brother?” (Flippa Dippa. Because he’s black, you see. Oh well, at least he’s not spazzing out over something water-related.)

Jimmy tells off Scrapper, who responds with “AAAAAA, Pish and Tush, Olsen!” Pish and tush? I thought these were 30s style New York street urchins, not 19th century schoolmarms.

The Guardian is given “clearance” (In quote marks. Slow down with the technical talk, Kirby!) by Tommy’s dad, who nevertheless makes cryptic reference to something weird in the Guardians’ brain, something that they don’t understand fully, and which is apparently common to all the Project’s creations. Nevertheless, the Guardian is eager to high-tail it out of there and get back to Metropolis…even though he’s technically never been there.

“I was grown with the memories of the original Guardian intact in my mind,” he explains. Ah, the old Xerox-clone standby. By now, of course, everyone knows you don’t produce exact, fully-grown copies of people by cloning them, and really, most reasonably well-informed people knew it in 1971, too, but hey, it’s a comic book contrivance. I’m sure that the scientist at the Project, who are constantly creating beings that they don’t understand and either sending them off into the world or enslaving them know what they’re doing.

By the way, the Guardian’s claim that he knows Metropolis introduces a fairly major continuity issue. The Guardian’s original name was The Manhattan Guardian, but here he’s portrayed as a resident of Metropolis, not Manhattan (as are the Newsboy Legion). It reminds me of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, which included a new Manhattan Guardian, and explicitly acknowledged that Metropolis and Gotham City were fantasy versions of New York. I guess we can explain this away with the usual “Earth A/Earth B” nonsense (the Golden Age DC characters inhabited Earth B), but that seems to suggest that there is no Metropolis in Earth B. I guess.

Does it seem like I’m stalling? Oh, I am. I dread what’s coming, reader, dread it deep in my soul.

Moments later, Superman is zooming down the Zoomway, with Jimmy and the Guardian in tow in the Whiz Wagon…but without the Newsboy Legion. While musing about how people will someday learn of the wonders of the Project, Jimmy and the Guardian explain their absence:

JIMMY: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! They won’t learn about it from the Newsboy Legion! HA HA HA HA!
GUARDIAN: (Stone-faced) Poor kids! I’m sure they’d find that joke no laughing matter!
JIMMY: Awww…I can’t help laughing, Guardian! Soon after the Doctor approved your leaving he turned “thumbs down” on them!
GUARDIAN: (Still stone-faced, still staring straight ahead) Too bad! One of the boys came down with a cold! Too bad!

Man, is that the flimsiest excuse possible to ditch the Newsboys, or what? I mean, I’d seize on every opportunity to do the same, too, but it’s like they weren’t even trying. You can tell the Guardian feels kinda bad about it. That’s not going to stop him from getting wasted tonight, of course. I hear Metropolis strip clubs are the best. Let’s hear it for no underage accompaniment!

As they emerge into the world above, Superman suddenly puts on a burst of “faster-than-lightspeed” (!) and unsuspiciously races ahead. It’s so that he can adopt his guise of Clark Kent and play dumb about where they’ve been when Jimmy and the Guardian burst into his apartment. (You know, as much as people make fun of Silver Age stuff like Superman having a bunch of robot doubles to cover for him, at least it did allow for this kind of extended absence.)

“Another human original!” Exclaims the Guardian, shaking Kent’s hand. “It’s always an experience to meet one!” Uh, yes, and it’s an experience you’re likely to have many, many times in the next few days, so if you could just keep yourself from saying that every single time, that would realy go a long way towards not creeping everyone out. Thanks, Guardian.

Anyway, Jimmy’s gung-ho to get Morgan Edge based on what happened in the Wild Area. Clark insists that they should have “facts”, which Jimmy seems to implicitly acknowledge…even though they don’t really have any facts. I mean, other than their general dislike of Morgan Edge, how do they *know* he was the one that planted the bomb? Of course, if Superman is listening in with his super-hearing a little later, he’ll hear one doozy of casual confession…but more on that in a minute.

Meanwhile, the Newsboys are stuck back at the Project thanks to Gabby’s apparent illness. (I’m not sure why the Project workers insisted on quarantining the Newsboys but not Jimmy, but again, I’m not complaining.) Being bad sports, the Newsboys are about to reenact the soap-beating scene from Full Metal Jacket on Gabby before Tommy’s dad breaks them up.

“Kids like the old Newsboy Legion get kinda careful when they grow up!” Explains Tommy. You mean, the way they blasted headfirst into a potential nuclear meltdown last issue?

Meanwhile, Morgan Edge has arrived back in his offices at the Galaxy Broadcasting System as if nothing had happened. When his secretary, Miss Conway, expresses consternation over his abrupt departure last issue, this is his reply:

“Well, you see, I learned that Metropolis would suffer an atomic explosion!

Miss Conway’s reaction to this—I swear—is, “Oh, er--Clark Kent called! He said that Jimmy Olsen is back—and they both want to see you!”

“I’d have favored the atomic explosion!” Thinks Edge.

…Seriously, WHAT?!? He just casually admits to this?!? I’ve been defending Kirby’s writing to a degree, but I have absolutely no idea what he was thinking here. Where is the secretary supposed to think he got this bit of info? A gypsy fortune teller?

…And didn’t he fire her last issue?

Anyway, I’m going to assume Miss Conway has gone into a dead-eyed panic and is keeping up the pretense of normal conversation for the rest of the scene, until she can sneak out on this obvious sociopath. She quickly changes the subject to Don Rickles, with whom Galaxy is on the verge of signing some kind of contract, and reminds Edge that “we’ll have two of them now”. When Edge expesses puzzlement at this, she tells him about…Goody Rickels, on their research staff.

Edge gets a glazed look in his eye. “I remember him now! I’m chilled to the bone!” Clearly, Edge is a man after my own heart. He also thinks, “Demons of Darkseid!” which is the kind of thing I make it a habit to say a couple of times a day. But Darkeid cannot save him now. In walks Goody.

So, I think the point is supposed to be that Goody is Rickel’s exact opposite, and thus, well-meaning, idiotic, and unfunny. Having us spend more time with the “unfunny” Rickles may not have been the best plan, but then, the dialogue Kirby (and, I guess, Evanier and Sherman) come up with for the “real” Rickles when he makes his appearance isn’t noticeably funnier, so…

Why is he wearing a superhero costume? Because some guys in the office told him he was up for a TV series. Even though Goody apparently realized this was a gag pretty quickly, he continues to wear the costume for the rest of his appearance. But then, nothing else about Goody makes any sense, why should this?

Edge decides to make use of Goody for a scheme of his to bump off Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen, and after some grating hijinx on Goody’s part, Edge, with teeth-gritted, tells him he’s being promoted to reporter and sent on an assignment.

Meanwhile, Clark and Jimmy are on their way to confront Edge. They know the score now (apparently), and are determined to bring him down. They demand to see him! Nothing will distract them from this mission! Except Miss Conway telling them he’s not in and leaving another assignment for them!

So they go and cover the assignment.

Yes, I’m sure the fact that their boss is a homicidal maniac who’s in with an international crime organization run by a supremely evil being planning to enslave everyone in the Universe is a story that can wait until they’ve checked out this…

UFO landing?!? Are you $^%*&ing me?!?

So, even though they know Edge is out to get them, even though this whole assignment smells incredibly fishy, even though he’s freakin’ Superman and could probably find Edge in about two seconds, Superman decides the best course of action is to go and check out this mysterious object to which Edge has directed them.

Good one, Supes.

The park is bizarrely abandoned if this is supposed to be a real UFO landing—there’s not even police tape or anything, But hey, Goody is there! He’s already been inside the UFO and indicates that it’s empty, prompting Superman to step inside. At which point Goody presses a button, the door slams closed, and the whole UFO disapparates.

I really don’t get Goody. He’s supposed to be harmless comic relief, but this whole scene plays out like he was willingly doing Edge’s bidding in knocking off Clark. Except that once the UFO is gone, Goody sits around, shell-shocked at what he’s done. Tossing out stupid one-liners the whole time. Argh, what an exasperating character.

Suddenly, Jimmy, the Guardian, and Goody are attacked by…dudes. Like, random dudes. OK, they’re goons sent by Intergang, but why are they dressed like football players?

A three-page scuffle ensues, with Goody sitting around moaning and bumbling, accidentally knocking out one of the thugs by sitting up too quickly. Finally, the battle comes to a halt when a grim-faced goon grabs Jimmy and puts a gun to his head. This is the appropriately named “Ugly” Mannheim, who’s about to engage in desperate measures against our heroes. He’s about to FEED THEM DINNER.

Yes, really.

“Meanwhile, in a space-time continuum--far from Earth, the UFO, with Clark Kent inside, drifts in alien space!!!” “Goody was right!” mutters Clark. “There are plenty of buttons!” I have nothing to add to that.

Back on Earth—or under it—we get a quick scene of the Newsboys. They’ve managed to procure one of the miniature “Scrapper troopers” from a few issues back—basically, living versions of the little green army men—and have used him to crawl into the lock on their door and let them out. They head downwards through rocky tunnels until they encounter an underground river, conveniently furnished with a boat, which naturally causes Flippa Dippa to comment on how great water is. Man, that was close! We almost went an entire issue without being reminded of Flippa Dippa’s monomania for aquatic activities!

Did you think I was kidding about Mannheim feeding Jimmy dinner? Because I wasn’t. He’s forcing Jimmy, Goody, and the Guardian to eat a feast, at gunpoint, in what is probably the lamest and most needlessly complicated villainous plot in history. See, the food has been treated with “pyro-granulate” which bursts into flames at the slightest spark. In 24 hours, our heroes are going to go up like Roman candles. Man, that makes so much more sense than just shooting them. At this point, the Adam West Batman villains are rolling their eyes.

And as if that wasn’t enough, they then proceed to let them go. This is the cliffhanger to the next issue, but come on. There are about five million ways this evil plan could be thwarted, many of them involving just getting to a doctor. Or inducing vomiting. It’s like Intergang isn’t even trying anymore.

I’m tempted to say that this issue is a perfect example of all Kirby’s faults and weaknesses, compounded into one: his capitulation to corporate thinking, his nonsensical, half-assed plotting, and his inability to focus. Sorry to say, we’ve got a whole ‘nother issue of this nonsense coming up, folks. But at least we finish off the first omnibus volume with a cracking Mister Miracle yarn…

Friday, November 16, 2007

(Orion of) the New Gods #3--"Death is the Black Racer!"


OK, so I'm late by an entire weekend. I had a very important 3 discs of Samurai movies to watch. Shut up.

I’ve never been sure exactly how well the Fourth World books did in terms of sales when they first came out, and it seems I’m not the only one. The series was, of course, cancelled before its time, putatively due to low sales, but there sure seems to be a lot of anecdotal evidence to indicate that they were both popular and much-discussed at the time. For example, in the afterword to the first omnibus volume, Mark Evanier writes how the publishers reported to Jack that the readers “loved all the new characters in each issue”, which certainly doesn’t sound like a description of a struggling book. This same conversation apparently also led to Kirby inserting a new character into Orion of the New Gods #3, a character he had planned for a separate project. That character was…Death, the Black Racer.

There are so many things wrong with Death, the Black Racer (whom I will hereafter refer to as DTBR) that it’s not even funny. Actually, it is funny. That’s why all those things wrong with the character are actually things right with the character.

That's him on the cover above. First of all, the “Black” in his name doesn’t refer to his costume, obviously, but rather his skin colour. Like much of comics (which tended to follow Kirby’s lead anyway), Kirby was belatedly realizing that he had been unfairly ignoring black people for decades, and attempting to make up for it by awkwardly inserting a bunch of black characters in his work, many of them unfortunately stereotypical or featuring “black” in their names for no real reason.

Secondly…a suit of armour could be a good look for an embodiment of The End of Life, but a garish red, yellow and blue one? And…and…


OK, so Kirby had hit the bullseye a few years before with a cosmic surfer of the starways, and that must have seemed just as unlikely…but…but…


Let’s just get started.

OBLIVION!!! I face oblivion!!! I am the quarry of a power that challenges all power!!” bellows Lightray in this issue’s opening splash page. Not wasting any time, Kirby’s introduced us to DTBR right off the bat, and he’s chasing Lightray for…no reason that I can see. I mean, OK, he’s the embodiment of Death, and he claims all things, and (in a nice bit of metaphor) even the supremely fast Lightray can’t actually outrun him, just outmaneuver him for a while. But…I mean, why is he chasing Lightray at this particular moment? Was Lightray playing with matches or running with scissors moments before? Because I don’t think it’s fair if Death gets to actually cause your death. I thought his job was just to take you away afterwards. Apparently the New God of Death is a more proactive sort.

Anyway, it’s time to check in on Orion, back on Earth. As you may have noticed, this particular comic is falling into a neat little formula: we start with cosmic goings-on back on New Genesis and environs, then cut back to Earth as the story starts. It builds a nice rhythm, with a sense of growing tension, as we wait for these cosmic characters to arrive on Earth and join or hinder Orion.

Orion’s still hanging back at the pad with his disciples. For the record, these are Dave Lincoln, P.I.; Claudia Shane, token female; Harvey Lockman, annoying teenager; and Victor Lanza, perpetually nervous insurance salesman. Quite a posse you’ve got going there, Orion. But at least they’ve been able to procure clothes for him! In only two issues!

Orion goes into the back room to change…in more ways than one. While indulging in a typically Kirbian soliloquy about how he has to hide his true nature and blah blah blah, Orion reveals to us that he’s not actually the good-lookin’ stud that Claudia’s been drooling over; his true face is one that’s just as grim and ugly as a scion of Apokalips. If you haven’t figured out what the deal is with Orion yet, based on all these clues Kirby keeps dropping, you may want to find some new reading material more your intellectual speed, like “Dick and Jane”. Or Spidey Super Stories.

Meanwhile, back in space, Lightray’s prospects are looking dire as he slams into an asteroid—but just as the Black Racer is almost upon him (“It is the end, Lightray! It could only end this way!” Um…how? On a planetoid in deep space, about to be taken by a homicidal renfest reject on skis? Yeah, how could he have not seen that coming?) a Boom Tube opens up and draws the Black Racer off to another plane of existence. Lightray’s rescuer is Metron, natch, who tells Lightray off for not thinking to do this himself. It seems that, in traditional mythological fashion, the only New God who has any brains is the one with “intelligence” as his special purview. Also in traditional mythological fashion, Metron’s kind of a pompous dick about it.

The Black Racer--where is he now? Where has the Boom Tube taken him?” asks Lightray, a question answered by the splash on the following page, where DTBR proclaims, “So, destiny has changed my course and takes me here—to Earth!!! Uh, dude, that wasn’t destiny, that was Metron. What was I saying about this guy being proactive? So first he chases Lightray around space for no reason, then as soon as he’s diverted, he just gives up and starts harassing the locals? DTBR apparently has ADD.

“There, below—a place of black men!” he narrates, referring to a ghetto. Yikes. “Those who fight to live—others who risk my presence!” He watches as we meet to participants in a gun battle: Screamer, dressed in a natty gangster suit, and Sugar-man, who’s straight out of Sweet Sweetback’s Badassssss Song. Screamer is apparently a stool pigeon, and Sugar-man is, you guessed it, working for Inter-Gang. He ices Screamer (“Your last scream won’t be to the law!”) and then notices the presence of an onlooker. This is one Sergeant Willie Walker, Vietnam hero, wounded in the line of duty, who now lies in a bed, unable to move or speak. So Sugar-man decides he can’t leave him alive as a witness. He decides that the guy who can’t move or talk is going to rat him out somehow. Sugar-man is not a genius.

OK, that’s not fair. It also sort of plays out as Sugar-man being a douchebag who can’t resist taking out an easy target, or maybe even thinking he’s doing Willie a favour by putting him out of his misery. Nevertheless, he’s prevented from pulling the trigger by the Black Racer, who causes the gun to explode in his hand and sends Sugar-man running away, clasping his burned face. Um…so why is the Black Racer, who was so happy to arbitrarily kill a perfectly healthy New God a few pages ago, now preventing the death of someone who, we learn in a second, is pretty much crying out for euthanasia?

Well, it turns out, ol’ DTBR is about to give Willie a special gift—by inhabiting his body. First Willie finds his hand moving, stretching out towards the stranger—then he gets up, finding himself able to speak—then he tears away the brace from his neck and, as you’d expect, gets pretty excited. “It’s happened! I’m whole! I’m strong! I’m no longer half-alive!” At which point the Black Racer collapses to the ground and…dissolves? Leaving his armour behind. Willie, after a moment of befuddlement, realizes that he is changing, and…well, it happens between panels, so it’s not clear if he puts on the armour himself or it somehow materializes around him. Either way, Willie now realizes he is now the Black Racer, and passes through the wall to jump on his skis and head out to hunt the doomed.

Got all that? Because the first thing I thought of when I read this was Hermes on Futurama bellowing, “That just raises further questions!!!”

I mean…why does the Black Racer need a body to possess? None of the other New Gods needed to do this to come to Earth (though it might have been cool if they did). The new, Willie-ified DTBR seems to be just as invisible and intangible as his cosmic counterpart, and the old Black Racer was clearly capable of touching and affecting things, based on what he did to Sugar-man’s gun. And on top of everything, in spite of his claims to the contrary, he didn’t actually kill Willie! Or maybe the idea is that he…took Willie’s place…or something…but again, why does Death need a secret identity? I mean, things are dying all the time. This brings a whole new level to the traditional image of the superhero deciding he’s needed and changing into a new form in order to swoop off and do his duty.

I guess you could argue that DTBR is simply the Death of New Genesis and Apokalips, and that’s why he doesn’t bother with non-New God related phenomena. Although that would suggest that no one can die on either of those two planets as long as he’s kicking back on Earth. What a slacker, that Death!

Meanwhile, Orion (or “O’Ryan”, as his minions suggest he should call himself while on Earth) has donned the guise of Dave Lincoln’s new partner and set out to find the people who kidnapped the foursome in the first place. “It is best we do this alone, Lincoln! The others need not risk their lives in this venture!” “They lack the experience, at any rate, Orion!” agrees Dave. “Also, they’re a bunch of obnoxious boobs with no useful skills whatsoever, and I’m happy to get away from them for as long as possible!” OK, so he doesn’t actually say that last part, but you can tell he’s thinking it.

Orion and Dave use Mother Box to find the hideout of yet another branch of Intergang, this one overseen by a human gargoyle named “Badger”, who looks astoundingly like a cross between Telly Savalas and Fin Fang Foom.

He’s sort of mockingly consoling Sugar-man on his horrific facial injuries, then telling him to shut up as they go over the details of their nefarious plot. They’ve been paid to set off an Apokoliptish bomb in the heart of the city—I’m going to assume this is Darkseid’s fallback plan now that Superman stopped the Project from going nuclear, and man, that guy really wants to destroy Metropolis—but of course, Orion and Dave know an opening when they see one. Orion “literally smashes through concrete and metal walls” (as opposed to metaphorically smashing through them) and trashes the goons, despite their Apokaliptish weaponry. Actually, Mother Box just short-circuits them as soon as he enters the room, but they hold them off long enough to let Sugar-man get away with the bomb. He leaps in the van and drives away…but is pursued by DTBR, who’s swifter than any early-70s model truck. Sugar-man sees the Black Racer in his rearview mirror, but can’t get away from him as he passes his ski-pole through the truck to the bomb and triggers its, um, anti-gravity circuits. Of course. Because what city-destroying bomb is complete without an anti-gravity device capable of sending a truck flying into outer space? It’s just common sense, really.

Despite the fact that we just saw DTBR do this himself, Orion takes credit on the next page for levitating the truck with Mother Box, then blows it (and Sugar-man) to smithereens at a safe altitude. Hmmm…so I guess either DTBR is a glory hog, taking credit for other people’s work, or Orion is amazingly lackadaisical about letting people get away with city-destroying bombs. “Say, Orion, didn’t we just let the bad guy get away?” “Not to worry, Dave Lincoln, I’ll use my…um…magic box…to levitate the truck into the air…c’mon, Black Racer, you owe me one!” “Say, that’s neat. Any particular reason we didn’t use that same technology to beat up these goons from a distance instead of risking our lives?” “Dave Lincoln, I find the warrior’s fury growing in my breast!” “Forget I asked.”

A job well d…OK, a job done, the Black Racer returns to Willie’s apartment and changes back to the paralyzed, helpless Willie Walker, just in time for his primary caregivers, his sister and her husband, to come barging through the door, castigating themselves for leaving him alone. Which, yeah, I have to kind of agree, even if Willie’s brother in law mentions that they arranged for the neighbours to check in on him, in a truly awkward bit of retroactive plot spackling. The neighbours didn’t show up because they were busy with “all that trouble tonight!”, which sounds an awful lot like they got drunk and passed out, but let’s let it slide. The issue ends with a creepy closeup of Willie’s eyes—“He now knows his next quarry! Who is it? Him? Her? YOU?!?

I don’t know if the Black Racer reappears anywhere in the Fourth World saga—you’d think he’d show up every time someone died, kinda like the other DC Universe version of Death, the Sandman’s sister. He does seem a bit shoehorned in, which isn’t that surprising given that the comic was apparently planned without him and editorial suggested adding him in at the last minute.



Coming up next: the moment we’ve all been dreading, as Goody Rickels makes his terrifying first appearance…

Monday, November 12, 2007

Guestblogging--The Demon #1

And now, a special bonus feature here on the ol’ LiveJournal. A Mr. Paul Kienetz, known to those of you who frequent the Bad Movie Message Board as “Supersonic Man”, has contributed a look at another comic Kirby dreamed up for DC, the enduring Etrigan The Demon. Take ‘er away, Sonic!

The Demon #1

The sad fact is, Kirby's "Fourth World" titles didn't sell.  And so,
before long, they were canned.  He responded by thinking up a bunch of new characters, and this time, they diverged further from the paths he had worn ruts in at Marvel.  For some of these characters, he reached back to ideas that had felt exotic and exciting to him when he was himself much younger.  The most enduring of these new characters -- not especially popular, but refusing to die off -- has been Etrigan the Demon.  My theory is that he has endured because he is awesome.  When I first encountered this origin story as a kid in 1972 I thought it was one of the coolest comix I'd ever seen... and I still feel much the same way.

It's well known that Kirby was inspired in his design for the Demon by a Prince Valiant strip that had run decades earlier, in which the prince fashions a fake demon mask out of a goose, using the feet for ears.  And the tale of Kirby's demon opens in the same setting: Camelot.  On its final day of existence -- an army is at the gates, led by Morgaine le Fey.  We see a wizard, clutching a book to his chest...

(They shall not take what they are after -- Merlin and his treasured Eternity Book!)

Next we encounter one strong incentive to read these old Demon issues, though there are only 16 of them: a signature of the series was that pages 2 and 3 were always a single gigantic panel.  In this case, they depict the assault on the walls of Camelot.  Men, arrows, towers, walls, shields, horned helmets, battering rams, fire, fire, fire everywhere.  In these pages Kirby the artist did his utmost, and it is something to see.  "The fates were bringing an age to a close!!!"

An explosion rends the walls.  (BAAAAAM!!)  "The new names for [these forces] were not yet born -- and men still called them magic!"  Morgaine, having broken through, sends her men (and other, er, entities) inside.  (And what is the well dressed evil witch wearing in the dark ages?  A golden mask and a headdress bigger and gaudier than that of Galactus... yet pleasingly feminine.)

Her massed troops are thrown back by a single opponent -- "Legend would say it was a demon in the service of Merlin!!"  And at this point, unlike how he is depicted later, or even on the cover, he's got two-tone skin: an orange face and yellow scalp.

The Demon's fight comes too late to turn the tide... Merlin decides it's over and calls him up into a tower, gives him a scrap of parchment from a page of the book, and sends him away.  Then, with a wave of his hand, he obliterates Camelot.  (BAARROOOMM!!)  And the demon's hunched form straightens up... and walks away like a man.
(W-what's happening? All memory is leaving me! -- I - I)

And we jump to modern times and meet "Jason Blood! -- Demonologist!"  So proclaims a gnarled old man named Warly, whom Mr. Blood has sought out as one of the few more knowledgeable in matters of magic than himself.  He shows Warly the parchment, which says "Yarva Etrigan Daemonicus".  It turns out that "Yarva" means "I summon".  They discuss the great effort Jason had to make to track down Warly's well-concealed whereabouts.  And Jason gives his reason:

JB: "A demon haunts my dreams!  A demon
haunts my life!  But to find a meaning in it -- I first had to find ---"

Warly: "The true authority -- a true sorcerer!"

Warly's response to this seeker for knowledge is rather surprising: he uses his magic to animate an empty suit of armor, which then does its best to chop Jason Blood in half.  (KROMP! SHOK! RRUPP!)  He dodges desperately -- he grabs a shield only to have the suit punch its broadsword right through it (KLUNKKK!!) -- and can't understand why Warly has attacked him.

Warly: "You'd better know the demon well, Jason Blood --- or you'll die!"

Jason's answer prefigures the approach that Etrigan will end up taking with a
lot of unsavory supernatural opponents in the forthcoming issues:

JB: "Then let the flame be my reply!  Let the fires of the primal inferno give power to this burning brand!"

He grabs a burning stick from the fireplace and jabs it at the armor's faceplate.  The suit explodes.  (DZZWOMM!)  Jason falls
unconscious.  "Well done, Jason Blood!" says Warly... as he is joined by Morgaine le Fey.  Who reveals what is under her mask --she's finally dying of old age, and the only answer is to find the Eternity Book.  Her plan: to locate the tomb of Merlin by tracking Jason Blood, who will soon be called to it.  How was she able to identify him?

Morgaine: "His loss of memory ever betrays him!  It makes him hunger for his true identity!"

When JB comes to, the Warly mansion is a burnt ruin, and has been for years.  The cop who finds him attests that he's used to hearing weird stories from those he pulls out of there.

Meanwhile, at Castle Branek, somewhere in Eastern Europe, a statue comes to life and walks... a character named Milovic shoots at it with no effect.  He and a mustachioed gent in a goofy uniform resembling that of Kenneth Mars in Young Frankenstein only more colorful, addressed as "Inspector", watch a hole open in the ground and the statue walk into it.  Milovic says they should go in after it and destroy everything they find...

Inspector: "It was tried, years ago [...]  That's how I lost my left arm!!"

JB is at the City Men's Club, with his pals Randu Singh and Harry Matthews.  Jason and Randu are sparring at some martial art resembling judo.  Jason wins -- Randu noting that he seems extra fired up due to whatever happened to him in "Witches Brew, Vermont".  And while later artists tended to depict Jason Blood as a tall, thin, rather effete upper-class gentleman type, Kirby draws him nearly as heavily built as his
alter ego, only with better posture.  Harry's workout regimen consists of smoking a cigar and making wisecracks.  As they towel off, Randu says he's bringing a blind date for Jason to tonight's party.

The blind date is a blonde named Glenda, who is, er, built in classic Kirby fashion.  We'll see her again in later issues.  She is very impressed with the Jason Blood collection of art and antiques.  And... she notices that the paintings of Blood's "ancestors" all look exactly
like the Jason of today.  One is a Rembrandt, and Kirby, in a rather clumsy bit of writing, tries to give her an excuse to say "you referred to
him --- as if you actually knew him!"  But any minor clumsiness of this bit is instantly wiped from your mind by the following classic line, spoken while putting on a record and starting to dance:

Harry: "Let's get off the weirdie jive, gang!  Let's rock it!  Sock it! -- And send it first class mail!!"

Now that is unique and deathless prose.

Fortunately for readers who have sensitivities to prose, the party is then interrupted by a knock at the door... a stone statue.  It's about the size of Shaq, only with a head resembling an oversized gray watermelon.  With shades on.  Which fit perfectly.  It's also wearing a trench coat, dress shoes, and a cravat.  But no hat.  The statue delivers
a scroll, which asks Jason to come to Castle Branek.  Jason is downright eager to go.

Morgaine and Warly see the whole thing.  Not with magic, not with electronic bugs, not with telescopes... they've moved in next door and replaced the whole wall with a one way "trick" mirror.  You'd think JB would notice something like that, given that his pad is not a ballet studio.  I guess he lives a life where he's accustomed to the macabre and unusual, which would give ordinary people pause.

They don't even, like, whisper when they do their gloating over the guy who is still right in the next room.  And they're fully lit.  By weird
mystic smoky candles.

Jason and the statue ride horses through the town of Wolfenstag, people jumping out of their way.  It's the last inhabited town before Castle Branek.  The townspeople know that trouble is coming -- "The inspector
must be told!"  Cold wind, lightning, up a rocky ridge, across a long causeway, to the castle.  They enter the courtyard... and the gate is slammed behind them, and goons with two-pronged pitchforks (?!) jump them en masse.

goon: "The one who summoned you here must make himself known -- or watch you die!!"

JB: "Killing me won't be that easy!"

The statue, who isn't bothered by pitchforks (though they do stick into him somehow) clears the goons away from their target.  And that's when Jason Blood hears the summoning voice, and sees the opening in the ground.  It tells him that it's time for the awakening... and then it does something which would, in the hands of later writers, grow into a permanent un-eraseable contamination -- excuse me, enrichment -- of the mythos of Etrigan.  It speaks in verse.

"Cross the border where man's world ends! ---
Where time and space --- and matter bend!
That which feared --- and that which ran --
Was ne'er the kin of Etrigan!"

Passing stone faces and flaming stone hands, JB comes to a tomb guarded by stone gargoyles.  At the voice's command, they move and advance on him, snarling, then return to their seats...

"Closer --- closer --- Jason Blood!
Let thought run through you like a flood!
Powers that were --- are powers that be...
Like these, you live as part of me!!"

The voice ceases, but JB's eye is drawn to one inscription on the tomb... he knows instinctively that it is meant for him.  He translates it, and reads aloud the words that will remain forever a potent part of the DC universe...and as he speaks, he transforms:

"Change! Change, o' form of man!
Release the might from fleshy mire!
Boil the blood in heart of fire!
Gone! Gone! --- the form of man - !
Rise, the demon Etrigan!!"

Morgaine and her soldiers are right behind him.  She boasts that he's too late, her forces have breached the tomb.  (And what does the well-dressed evil witch wear nowadays?  Her headdress now includes a 'fro wig over a bushel in volume, and golden horns with a span of about 1.5 meters.  And a cape, which appears to be hanging not from her shoulders, but from the 'fro.)  And in the final panel of the book, Etrigan smashes through her men, scattering weapons and bodies willy nilly.  The events of Camelot are repeated in reverse.

"Demons cannot be stopped when unleashed!  What had been Jason Blood explodes with fury into the twentieth century!"

So what we're left with, then, is the loosing of a terribly powerful character whose real motives and desires we know absolutely nothing about.  We have seen him in action only when carrying out the will of another... as a free agent what he might do is unguessable.  All we can be sure of is that it will certainly make a lot of noise.

But Kirby's final narrative box does give us a hint... Etrigan will be "one of the strangest and fiercest heroes ever to battle the horror-cultures that have plagued this world since time began!!"  So, apparently, despite his demonic nature, he's going to function as a good guy. And some say that this is just where the series went all wrong, after such a promising start: in having him, all too soon, take on a conventional superhero role on the side of the good guys.

But, I ask you... when had any previous superhero ever been this wild?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138--"The Big Boom!"


Wow, Superman meets Doomsday? We’re about 20 years early on that particular encounter!

I think it says something about the Fourth World epic that I could manage to grow bored with a storyline that features a secret civilization of hippies living below the Earth’s surface, clones of the Newsboy Legion, a Hulk-Jimmy and a Four-Armed Thing, but bored I have become. The fact of the matter is that, in about half the time it’s taken for this storyline in SPJO, Orion has infiltrated Apokalips and come to Earth, Mr. Miracle has begun his act and escaped his archnemesis, and the Forever People have arrived, moved in, had their apartment blown up, and been captured by religious fundamentalists. Compared to that, even as wild a storyline as this business with “The Project” is going to seem to drag on.

Of course, considering what’s coming in the next issue…

But let’s repress that for a while and pick up where we left off. As you may recall, Darkseid’s minions Simyan and Mokkari had accidentally, but conveniently, managed to breed exactly the kind of life form they needed: a four-armed yellow rock monster who feeds voraciously on nuclear energy. Said four-armed terror had smashed his way into the Project and was on the verge of causing a massive hull breach in the Project’s power plant, thus exploding the entire Wild Area—and the city of Metropolis, above. Superman had zoomed to head it off, and Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboys had followed him for God only knows what reason, given that Superman didn’t want them and they only got in the way. They all ended up trapped in a bizarre molecular pink rubber egg. Obviously.

Meanwhile, on the first of several splash pages, the Newsboy Legion’s dads are demonstrating from whence the Newsboys Mk II get their recklessness and stupidity by piling in after Superman, taking the Golden Guardian and several transport carriers full of troops with them. “The Evil Factory has jammed all communications with our atomic power plant! We can’t warn them!” Proclaims one of the military types as they streak down the zoomway through the underground chasms. OK, but, uh, warn them of what? I mean, it would be nice, I guess, but again, these guys are headed towards ground zero of a massive nuclear detonation (in fact, last issue there were already a bunch of explosions going off, but Kirby seems to have forgotten about those). Superman is there already, and either he’s going to stop the monster himself, in which case their efforts will be unnecessary, or else he’s not, in which case it seems unlikely that a truckload of ineffectual army men are going to make a difference and are fairly likely to just get fried. But hey, this is a Kirby comic, and heroism and reckless endangerment go hand in hand!

Kirby begins a countdown—apparently the events of this issue span a mere fifteen minutes, and you could cut the tension with a knife. Superman is finding that the “big, stupid alien egg”, as Scrapper dubs it, is too flexible and yielding for him to work up the necessary leverage to burst their way out, which is actually a clever way of taking him out of action. The Newsboy’s efforts to break free result in their bouncing back and knocking each other around like pinballs.

TOMMY: Well, that does it! Whad’da we do now-- just wait till we’re hatched?
SCRAPPER: Yeah! Dis is some yolk!
SUPERMAN: Cool it, men! Let’s think--not panic!
JIMMY: I’d rather panic than listen to those jokes!

I mention this exchange because it’s virtually the only memorable thing Jimmy says or does in this issue of his own comic. Not that I’m particularly complaining about a shortage of Olsen.

Meanwhile, on the sixth splash page of what is so far an 8-page story—ah, Kirby—the yellow rock-monster is gouging his way towards a typically ornate power plant. Apparently the monster is smart enough to know to dig up and under the feet of the guards, but the guards aren’t smart enough to be able to tell that the tremblors the monster is causing are coming from directly below them.

Back at the egg, Superman (with, OK, some help from Jimmy) has figured out that the egg’s surface will respond to energy, and generates a blast of static electricity by rubbing his hands together at top speed. That actually almost makes sense, sort of—it even ties into what we saw last issue. Gasp! We’re now seven minutes “to fiery end!” so Supes has to hustle. And we have to—

Check in with Perry White! Wow, hey, another Superman cast member. As you may recall, one of the elements of the current Superman storyline is that the Daily Planet has been bought up by Galaxy Broadcasting, which is apparently a front for Intergang, and its head honcho, Morgan Edge, has been openly conspiring with Darkseid and trying to kill Superman. I’d kind of assumed he’d given ol’ Perry the boot, but, great Caesar’s Ghost! Here he is, still doing the hard-boiled editor bit! And sexually harassing interns!

No, just kidding. He’s having a perfectly normal conversation with Terry Dean, a character apparently left over from the pre-Kirby storyline. She does play a part in the story much, much later on, but I’m not sure what the point is of bringing her in now, when having Lois Lane would have made a lot more sense. But, since all the traditional Superman characters were being redrawn against Kirby’s wishes, I guess he wanted to avoid that when possible, so no Lois. The only point here is to establish that Perry’s suspicious of Morgan Edge, so let’s move on.

The old Newsboys, the Guardian, and the troops burst out into the wild area and locate the Legion’s Whiz Wagon. Watching via one of those omniscient viewscreens that seem to come standard with every villainous characters’ evil headquarters, Simyan and Mokkari apparently believe that these guys pose a threat to their plans, despite the fact that they’re already facing Superman, so they teleport the rest of their four-armed brood over to the Project to wreak exponentially more havoc. Man, these guys can see most of what the heroes do, and can send monsters over to harass them at will? That just makes it all the more pathetic when Superman beats them.

But what of the villainous Morgan Edge? I’m sure you’re dying to know. After a perfunctory demonstration of his eeeeeeevilness--he fires his secretary--Edge gets a call via the secret monitor in his desk, telling him to split for a copter on the roof, because Metropolis is about to go up in a gigantic mushroom cloud. Taking this in stride, Edge heads to the door and then, amusingly, has to act casual while walking past his employees to the elevator.

What? Oh yeah, there’s a life-or-death struggle going on back at the Wild Area. I forgot. “Three minutes to violent eruption!” Proclaims Kirby in his narrative caption. Superman bursts in and tussles with the maddened rock monster, only to be thrown across the room and hit with the power plant’s damper rods, with the monster throws at him. They shatter on Superman’s chest, natch, but the reactor is about to go critical! “It is one minute to blow-up!” Kirby reminds us. I get the sense he was struggling with his vocabulary while writing this issue, because the next box reads, “As if to nail down this fact to Superman, the glistening threshold appears—and from it pours an army of D.N.Aliens!!!!”

And they’re met by the army troops!

Again, Kirby was a WWII vet, and it’s pretty obvious he believed that the army was capable of meeting any crisis, but come on. ONE of these things bested Superman—now they’re facing a whole army of them? Kirby tactfully leaves the “bullets bouncing off them as they charge in and create total carnage” offscreen, but it’s pretty obvious that’s what’s happening.

The Guardian, rather unbelievably, manages to put down a rock monster with his fists—that’s his big contribution to the issue—as Superman kills two birds with one stone. Picking up the overloading reactor (“ thirty seconds to Eternity!”) Superman carried it down the corridor to a series of tunnels that were being built to tap into the core’s geothermal energy, and throws it into a very large, deep pit. Not only does the blast take place a safe distance underground, but the rock monsters, blindly seeking the atomic energy that is their nourishment, hurl themselves down the pit after it “Like maddened lemmings!” Good thinking, Superman!

Returning back up the corridor from this apocalyptic scrape, Superman finds Jimmy sulking over the fact that he’s been sidelined in his own comic. Some sub-He-Man level humour wraps up the issue…

And the Project storyline! Whoo-hoo! Alright! Not only is Supes about to get back to fighting crime on the surface (where, you’d think, Lex Luthor would have pretty much conquered the world by now) but we’re about to leave the Newsboy Legion behind for a long, blessed stretch of time! And begin one of the stupidest, most ridiculous low points in the entire Fourth World saga!

Uh…wait…Simyan? Mokkrari? Got any more monsters to throw at us? Please?

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Forever People #3--"Life Vs. Anti-Life"


You probably don't need me to describe the many and various ways in which comics' growth were stunted over the decades. The long and the short of it is that being confined to disposable kid's entertainment for so long meant that the innovators often weren't quite able to shake off the status quo when attempting to do something "important" and "meaningful" within the comics medium. This was probably most evident in the early 70s, when comics started to enter a true adolescent phase--meaning that they started yearning for "adulthood" (being treated as a respectable medium) but, for the most part, weren't sophisticated enough to know how to go about it. The results were often strange, to say the least. This is the era in which Spidey bucked the comics code by having a friend fall to heroin addiction, Steve Ditko created a string of Objectivist superheroes, and Green Lantern and Green Arrow teamed up for a really heavy-handed commentary on America and everything that was wrong with it. The results fluctuated between "interesting" and "painfully self-important", but the fact of the matter is, trying to shoehorn "serious issues" into what had until very recently been a defiantly juvenile genre was a very ill fit. It would take a lot of tinkering before we started to get superheroes who could mesh comfortably with the "real world" and all its messiness, and some would argue that we never really got there.

Kirby, ambitious scamp that he was, was not immune to this impulse--in fact, he and Stan Lee had essentially opened the floodgates with their original Marvel line-up (which, let's not forget, included a weapons manufacturer who was a POW in Vietnam and a gang of mutants constantly on the run from prejudice). The main difference there, though, was that the politics were just part of the backdrop, spice to stories that were otherwise focused on the important business of long underwear types beating each other up. When superhero comic writers moved political commentary to the fore, they were generally unable to deal with it except in the straightforward, black-and-white, over-the-top manner in which they'd handled alien invasions and world-shattering conflicts.

Kirby was no exception to this; it's just that his world view was so vast, and so bizarre, that the Deep Important Meanings frequently went past self-importance and awkwardness and became just another ingredient in the surreal landscape of Kirby's world.

Frequently, but not always.

In The Forever People #3, Kirby tackles an issue that's proved just a tad divisive over the years: organized religion. Given the countercultural bent I've noted so often in these essays, I don't think you'll be surprised by Kirby's take on the subject. The story starts with a quote by Adolf Hitler, an army of blank-eyed citizens spouting hatred of those who are different, and a freakishly magnetic red-haired cult leader who has them in his thrall.

What? No, it's not Jimmy Olsen! It's Glorious Godfrey, who makes no secret of his Apokaliptish affiliation, his reverence for Darkseid, and his worship of the Anti-Life equation. The only thing remotely subtle about this four-page sequence is that Kirby doesn't outright refer to Godfrey as a religious leader. But come on: the guy's followers meet in a giant tent containing a huge organ, and Godfrey wears white, billowing robes while standing at a pulpit. And his name is God-Free. I'm kind of surprised there wasn't more of an uproar over this comic, but then, this wasn't the 50s, with Wertham and whatnot. This was the 70s, and America had a lot more to worry about than some subversive comics.

"Life has pitfalls! Anti-life is protection!" Proclaim the unsubtle banners toted by Godfrey's followers. "Life will make you doubt! Anti-life will make you right!" And, most crucially, "You can justify anything with anti-life!" More on this in a moment, but for now, you can see how this relates to what I was talking about, above. No real wannabe totalitarian would advertise himself as promoting "anti-life" or honk on about how he was giving you the right to kill and inflict pain. Real-world villains always make it about something else, something that nobody could disagree with, while sneaking in their more pernicious and mean-spirited views in a roundabout way. But because this is a comic, we have to have it spelled out in broad strokes.

But while he may have been unsubtle, Kirby was canny. Godfrey's creating an army of "Justifiers" who do his bidding mindlessly--the name coming from their ability to justify doing anything in the name of Godfrey, Darkseid, and Anti-Life. It's still cartoonish, but that is pretty bang-on. Kirby's point is that a lot of religious fanatics are concerned less about doing whatever's neccessary to save their souls than about using their religion to justify their own violent or hate-filled impulses. I'm having a hard time arguing with that viewpoint, personally...

On literally the next page, we see Godfrey's methods bear bitter fruit for our heroes. With no explanation, a justifier stands in the middle of our hairy, unwashed heroes' new home base, shaking down lil' Donnie--that's the Tiny Tim lookalike from the last issue, remember him?--and demanding to know where the Forever People are, despite the fact that they're standing right behind him. "Motherbox has bent the light around us--scattered the sound vibrations!" Explains Vykin hurriedly. Oh, OK...that explains one aspect of this scene. But how did this guy get in? How did he know the Forever People lived there in the first place? And if his bosses knew, why did they send a single guy, instead of an onslaught of Justifiers?

Well, we get a partial explanation for that last one, as the Forev Peeps rescue Donnie and bail out of the apartment (Big Bear literally goes through the wall.) See, the Justifier is carrying an Apokoliptish bomb, and he's capable of, as Beautiful Dreamer reminds us, justifying his own death. Yes, that's right: the Justifier is a suicide bomber. Ouch. Times weren't so different back then, were they?

The FPs just barely escape by diving into a convenient bulldozer-dug hole, and pause to reconnoiter. Realizing that the Apokolips war/invasion has begun in earnest, and that there'll be no more zany hippie monkeyshines for them, the gang decides to abandon the apartment they spent much of last issue furnishing, and hit the road. Well, the apartment is pretty much a smoking crater by now anyway, but even if it wasn't it would still be the right decision. Having these guys hang around the poor neighbourhood of Genericburg isn't nearly as interesting as having them pull an Easy Rider and take a trek across that weird old America. Which is especially weird when Kirby's drawing it.

This, of course, means they have to abandon Donnie. HOORAY!!!!

Sorry to be so blunt about it, but it doesn't seem like a particularly emotional parting for the FPs, either:

BIG BEAR: On board! On board!
BEAUTIFUL DREAMER: Goodbye, Donnie! We leave you what cannot die--love! Friendship!
SERAFIN: It is so in New Genesis! It can be here!
DONNIE: You must come back! You must!
BIG BEAR: Preparing for phase-out!

And then, in a flurry of really dumb technobabble and paying no further heed to Donnie whatsoever, the FPs blast off into the sky.

Good thing, too, because the Justifiers are about to launch their attack on the city. Declaring that "the people we've chosen as targets live here," the Justies pour out of their flying box in a wave of dickishness:

JUSTIFIER #1: Don't bother to discrminate! The women and children are as hated as the men!
JUSTIFIER #2: Waste no time on mercy! Drag them out! Treat them rough!
JUSTIFIER #3: Listen to their cries! I've been waiting to do this for years!
JUSTIFIER #4: Get going! We'll show what we do with your kind!

Man, dig that naturalistic dialogue. I know I've been wasting entirely too much time on mercy these days. Many's the morning where I'll just sit in my breakfast nook, unable to get going on the day's work, because I'm just feeling too darn merciful.

Seriously though, what "kind" are we talking about here? Nothing's specified, and for once I think that has less to do with Kirby's awkward writing style than the fact that he wanted to tiptoe around editorial and the comics code. The obvious suggestion is that the Justifiers are Nazi-ish, which would make the people they're rounding up Jews (of which, I need hardly remind you, Kirby was one). But like I said above, everything else in the book points to the Justifiers being religious cultists, and the comparisons to totalitarianism aren't helped by the fact that the Justifiers mention repeatedly that they want to avoid the police. Oh, and the quasi-medieval clothing seems more Spanish Inquisition than Fourth Reich, too. Though I guess those guys weren't fond of the Jews either.

There's also a brief nod to Fahrenheit 451, as a Justifier enters a library and torches it with a flamethrower, to prevent the spread of dangerous ideas. That would be somewhat more effective if there weren't thousands of other libraries throughout the country, but OK. Godfrey watches through his dressing room mirror-slash-omniscient viewing device as another one defaces a store:

Well, it's still more logical than "S" for Shakespeare. (Scroll down.)

Godfrey uses the power of technobabble to determine that the Forever People are still alive, and prepares for an invasion of tonight's ceremonies by...well, not doing anything, really. By the way, does it seem like Godfrey's assistants in the panel above are modelled after someone in the real world? I'm guessing some kind of early 70s evangelists or religious leaders. Anyone know?

The FPs land just out of view of Godfrey's revival tent and do what they always do: call on Deus Ex Machina Man, I mean Infinity Man, to solve everything. This month, Infy can pass through solid rock at will, and bend lasers--or rather, "Omega beams"--fired at him by the Justifiers, turning them back on his enemies.

"You fool!" Cries Godfrey to Infy's back. "Do you think your spectacular gimmickry can stop this operation?" Huh, apparently Godfrey likes to compliment people as he's insulting them.

GODFREY: The forces of Apololips are many! --And mighty!
INFINITY MAN: Your secret is wind, Godfrey! An evil wind that rushes from your throat--

Lord, I hope it's from your throat...

INFINITY MAN: --And this Demon's organ! Which must be destroyed!

Ooooooh, I get it. It was the organ all along!

Actually, that's kind of interesting--the Apokoliptians are seeking the Anti-Life Equation, which will make everyone do their bidding, but it seems like Godfrey's organ got them pretty close already. Granted, properly deployed, the Equation can control everyone in the Universe, but still, it seems to me, just follow the Borg model of assimilating everyone into Justifiers, and you've got a pretty good head start. Except Infinity Man just smashed the organ, so back to square one, I guess.

SUDDENLY! An ominous gloved hand lands on Infy's shoulder! "Turn about! Look at me!" Instead of spinning and punching him in the face, Infy looks vaguely up and to the left and soliloquizes. "That voice! It chills the spirit--like the coming doom of all living things!" It's Darkseid, natch...he just happened to be in the neighbourhood, apparently. Or, OK, I guess this is what Godfrey did to prepare for Infinity Man's incursion: called the boss to help him. Fine, fine, whatever.

Anyway, Darkseid shoots cheesy beams into Infy's eyes--through his goggles, yet--and disburses him back into the various Forever People. Apparently the power of cosmic love from beyond infinity is still no match for Darkseid. Or else the plot required him to take a dive.

No sooner have the Forev Peeps reappeared than Desaad pops up and neutralizes them all with a "nerve beam" which, we're told, causes them to yelp loudly before they collapse. We're told this because Kirby apparently couldn't be bothered to draw it, which is weird given that he proceeds to devote the remaining three pages to Darkseid describing the plan he's been implementing for ten issues now, Godfrey jealously vying with DeSaad for Darkseid's favour, and DeSaad cacklingly describing the horror that awaits the FPs in his "Camp".

So, at the end of the day, I'd say Kirby pulls off tackling deeper subjects pretty well, without forgetting to give us a neat comic book. Furthermore, with the FPs leaving their pad behind and hitting the road, the book finds its groove. And on top of that, it's a neat cliffhanger in which Infinity Man, for once, doesn't provide a magic solution to the gang's woes. You can definitely sense Kirby finding his feet and gaining in confidence.

The next couple of issues of The Forever People continue the trend of satire and social commentary. Will Kirby lose his way, or gather steam? Stay tuned, true believers...