Friday, July 25, 2008

The New Gods #11--"Darkseid and Sons!"


If DC was going to cancel all but one of the Fourth World books, why oh why couldn’t New Gods be the one that survived? It was clearly the most crucial of the books, and probably could have carried on and completed the continuity of the Fourth World saga by itself. Of course, that very quality seems to be what made the DC brass uncomfortable, so they “salvaged” the book that could best stand alone—Mister Miracle—and threw out the rest. (Though, years later, The New Gods was the book that DC revived and which led to a sort-of conclusion for the series…but more on that in a few more installments’ time.)

At any rate, this too is the end of one of the Fourth World books, meaning that Kirby now has to fold up a few plot threads faster than he otherwise might have done. We get a taste of this right away as we open with Kalibak, now in police custody. I think it’s pretty clear that Orion’s battle with Big K was cut short at the end of issue #8 because these two form the main connecting narrative between the various issues of this book, and Kirby had a big, rousing, possibly issue-long battle between the two of them planned out for later. (Exactly how long the Fourth World saga was planned for isn’t clear, because Kirby was such a creature of whim, but he seemed to suggest that it would have lasted about 24 issues each—in other words, we didn’t quite get to the halfway point.) It’s a shame that we couldn’t get a few more issues between their first battle and his big return; it would have allowed for a nice lull before the big storm.

But anyway, we’ve got one of the most amusing and, in a way, touching themes of the series spelled out right here in this splash panel…with, as I said, Kalibak in police custody.

They’ve got a god in police custody.

You just know that if this series had been done today—or even in the 70s, but by a different artist, which obviously never would have happened, but anyway—that he’d be under the control of the federal government, possibly buried deep in a top-secret underground penitentiary and patrolled day and night, thus making for an amazing escape sequence later on. But nope, not in Kirby-land. Here beings of awesome cosmic might are nothing New York—excuse me, Metropolis--cops can’t handle.

Granted, as the expositionary cops relate to Commissioner Kiernan, “it does take all of this city’s electrical power to hold him”, but…wait, all of it? Because I’m pretty sure Metropolis wasn’t plagued by massive blackouts in the last two issues. I’m also not sure what the power is doing, exactly, since they’ve got him in a weird isolation tank:

And again, the NYPD…or the MPD…or whatever, is perfectly capable of jerry-rigging a super-powered tank to contain an alien god with superstrength. That’s why they get paid the big bucks!

Well, maybe keeping that juice flowing is costing them too much, and that’s why Kiernan makes the boneheaded decision to let Kal go so they can arrange a truce. Seriously, this is the exchange:

KIERNAN: Do you hear me, whoever you are? Start talking peace, or do your fighting elsewhere!
KALIBAK: I can do neither--in here, Earthman!
KIERNAN: If I thought for one second—that you could be trusted--
KALIBAK: Why not? My war is not with your kind—and I’m willing to carry your message!

Well, I’m convinced! That whole business of you wrecking up downtown? That’s all in the past.

Of course he immediately bursts free of his shackles and blasts through the wall. But he does seem willing to carry Kiernan’s message, so I guess…Yay? I’m sure the monstrous caveman who already trashed half the city will be extremely sincere and effective in delivering the message of negotiation. And Orion seems highly receptive. I’m sure this won’t lead to another block-shattering fistfight.

Oh, look, here’s Orion, practicing the reasoning skills that have made him such a qualified diplomat:

Fortunately, before he can thoroughly re-enact the average Van Halen tour (or possibly the Wyckyd Sceptyre party tape), Claudia Shane bursts in and announces that Kalibak has escaped. Orion crows that this means he’ll have to leap into battle, in defiance of Lightray’s call for patience, but Lightray responds that since Kalibak’s headed this way anyway, they might as well sit back and relax.

Meanwhile, Darkseid is in the Omniscient Master Villain’s Plotting Room, which is standard issue for folks like him. It’s the room in which you stand plotting, and henchmen run up and deliver exposition at you (or, on occasion, you view things via a screen or scrying pool.) The latest bit of news is that Kalibak has escaped, and Darkseid is preparing himself for a final conflict between the two. Desaad is confused over Darkseid’s ambiguity over who he wants to win; Darkseid snaps back that he doesn’t have to explain his motives, then proceeds to explain his motives. See, back when Darkseid was just a little pebble—a chip off the old block, you might say—he was in love with the sorceress Suli…who, as we now learn, is the mother of Kalibak. Darkseid’s mom, Heggra, had arranged for him to marry Tigra, and had Suli poisoned by Desaad, a fact of which Darkseid is apparently well aware. Yet he keeps Desaad around as his close personal confidante, even favouring him over the more effective and less duplicitous Glorious Godfrey. I know they say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but this is ridiculous.

Kalibak has, in the meantime, reached his target, and is shaking Dave Lincoln’s apartment to pieces (that guy’s going to have to move when all this is over.) Suddenly it’s Lightray who’s the impulsive one, diving out the window take on Kalibak before Orion can take the stairs. Lightray charges at Kalibak with a “Nova Blast” which, for some reason, requires him to ram into him full speed instead of just hanging back in the air where Kalibak can’t reach and shooting off energy bolts. Kalibak shrugs off the first one, then grabs on to Lightray and pummels him to a pulp. Uh, good one, Master Strategist.

Orion, you’ll recall, can’t interfere in personal combat, so he’s forced to hang back and watch helplessly. But once Lightray is unconscious, he leaps into battle.

On the other side of the city, an old friend springs into action. Paralyzed Vietnam vet Willie Walker has once again become The Black Racer, and he’s headed out once again to collect the soul of one who’s time has come: “An angry god!” Well, that narrows it down…

The rest of this issue can be summed up in a single sentence: “Orion and Kalibak beat the shit out of each other.”

…OK, there’s a little more to it than that. See, Kalibak seems to be a lot more powerful than he ought to be, which is why he was able to blow off Lightray’s attack earlier. He’s even able to project energy from his hands, catching Orion by surprise and letting Kalibak bring a building down on him.

Darkseid is watching all this on his Hi-Def, and besides being surpised at Kalibak’s newfound power, it’s pretty clear that deep down, he’s rooting for Orion. Suspicious, and tipped off by a minion, who says that the source of Kalibak’s power is emanating from somewhere in his own fortress, Darkseid goes looking and finds Desaad, using that siphon-thing of his to feed of the roiling emotions of the battle, and giving Kalibak a boost. Wait, I thought the siphon fed off fear, not violence?

More to the point, there’s an interesting idea that isn’t spelled out as such. Desaad seems to realize that Darkseid’s sentiment for Orion is throwing things out of whack, providing the one chink in the emotional armour of this otherwise perfect tyrant. So he’s helping Kalibak behind the bosses’ back…despite the fact that this is the kind of thing that you’d think Darkseid would want him to do. This actually plays into the ideas we’ve seen touched on with Barda, where she respects Darkseid as an ideal, but feels that the actual Darkseid doesn’t live up to those ideals, and as a result, she goes against him. Here, though, it’s portrayed simply as Desaad being a weasel. Darkseid, possibly riled up by his recent recollections of what Desaad did to the love of his life, employs The Omega Effect. Unlike the Forever People, however, Desaad is apparently destroyed for good. Apparently Darkseid’s one of those villains who has a free hand when it comes to killing his own men, but is a big softie when it comes to killing people who pose an actual threat. “No, sire! NO--! screams Desaad. “Desaad doesn’t even have time to scream!!” lies the narration. Then, poof, Desaad is nothing more than a fading patch of light.

Orion pulls himself from the wreckage and suddenly finds Kalibak an easier opponent. “We must be brothers, you and I!” announces Orion out of nowhere. “Different sides of the same coin! True sons of Darkseid—the essence of his creed of total violence!” “Were Darkseid my father, he would have but one true son!” sneers Kalibak. “Kalibak! Kalibak!” he clarifies. “Die, Kalibak!” shouts Orion, launching himself at Kalibak’s face. “If we fight as sons of Darkseid—only one may live!” I’m not sure if this is some kind of metaphor, or if they’re somehow spontaneously figuring this out….

The Black Racer swoops in to claim his victim…but WHO? WHO? Could it be Orion? Or is it Kalibak, the guy who’s being pummeled to a pulp, held aloft and helpless?

I’ll give you a hint: it’s Kalibak.

The Racer leaves, taking Kalibak with him. Hey, he never did get around to delivering that message of peace, did he? Oh well, too late now. Anyway, with two panels left in the series, Orion faces forward and declares, “I can deny it no longer!—to others or to myself! I AM DARKSEID’S SON!!--Armed and ready with the heritage bequeathed me!—The ultimate ferocity! When I clash with Darkseid--THE WAR WILL END!

Ah, but nothing ever ends, does it, Orion? Certainly the war between the New Gods rages to this day. Your series, however, does end. Right here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Please Stand By...

As may be obvious by now, there won't be a Fourth World Fridays entry this week. I'm catching up with a major project right now, as well as dealing with some family issues. We'll return next week.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Forever People #11--"Infinity Man Returns!"


So the last two issues have seen the Forever People renting an apartment, getting jobs, and just generally showing signs of giving up their hippie lifestyle. Which may have been timely, given that the 60s had been over for two years at this point, but it did seem to run counter to what made the book interesting. The FP’s weren’t really meant to settle down, as evidenced by what happened last time they tried to do that…and sure enough, more or less the same thing happens this time around. Namely, a minion of Darkseid shows up, trashes the place, and sends them scurrying off.

This time, though, the threat comes not from a suicide bomber or a lone religious maniac. This time the threat is a name spoken in hushed whispers across the Fourth World:

I think it’s the red short-shorts that add that extra soupcon of intimidation.

Devilance is apparently one of Darkseid’s big guns, as we see when Big Bear moves in to grapple with him and he tosses him aside. I would ask why Devilance wasn’t sent in to take care of the FP’s right from the start, but it’s pretty clear that Darkseid mostly just enjoys jerking these kids around, teleporting them willy-nilly and throwing them back in time, even in situations where he has them at his mercy. At any rate, Devilance doesn’t seem to be messing around, and it’s only the timely intervention of the police, responding to Mrs. Magruder’s call, that gives the FP’s time to teleport away. Dev just contemptuously shrugs them off and flies out the window, using the first of many functions he’ll demonstrate on his wonderful lance.

The Forev Peeps haven’t wasted their moment; they’ve teleported, using Mother Box, to an abandoned mine shaft “a vast area” away. Despite the efficacy of their hiding place, and the fact that they can seemingly teleport away anytime they feel like it, Mark Moonrider knows that they’re only temporarily safe. “What’s going to happen to us, Mark?” frets Beautiful Dreamer. “Devilance won’t give up until we’re imprisoned on Apokolips—or dead!” “We’ll keep calm and plan a defense, Beautiful Dreamer!” responds Mark, sort of condescendingly. “It’s all we can do!”

I guess I should mention here that this is the final issue of The Forever People. Like The New Gods, it was brought to a screeching halt by low sales; unlike The New Gods, it wasn’t revived by Kirby later on (there was at least one revival, in 1988, by J.M. DeMatteis and Paris Cullins, about which I know nothing). It’s hard not to see this issue as a compilation of several issues and ideas Kirby probably wanted to run throughout the series. As mentioned, the natural inclination of the comic was to be a travelogue; introducing Devilance, a relentless, Terminator-type pursuer, to keep them moving from place to place, would have been a logical addition to the strip. The ending here also would have been more satisfying if it had capped a storyline covering several issues, but it’s still pretty good.

Which brings me to Infinity Man. What? Yes! Infinity Man! You know, the nigh-omnipotent being that the FP’s used to be able to call upon to get them out of a jam? And whom we haven’t seen hide nor hair of since the above-linked issue #3? Well, as you’ll recall, that issue had Darkseid zapping Infy with some kind of ray that reversed the little Captain Marvel/Voltron-style switcheroo that the Forever People had learned how to do. It turns out that this was actually a permanent thing, which is why the FPs hadn’t been able to call on him since.

And that’s both cool and logical—as I mentioned, it was getting a bit silly that the FPs could just call on this omnipotent being anytime they felt threatened. But, y’know, it might have helped just a tad with the storytelling if Kirby had, I don’t know, told us any of this stuff. As it is it kind of comes off like the FPs just wandered off and forgot Infinity Man even existed. Almost as if they’d partaken too heavily of some kind of chemical substance. Which is clearly ridiculous.

Anyway, Infinity Man was banished by the power of Darkseid to “a corner of the Universe where time, space, and matter change and merge”:

Some kind of barrier prevents him from going back to…wherever it is he normally hangs out when the FPs aren’t using him. Actually, it’s kind of weird that we’re just now seeing the guy “apart from” the FPs, and this seems to confirm that they’re definitely separate entities. But who knows; these are gods, after all. The idea of “taking on an aspect” is one found throughout literature. Um, though I have to admit you don’t usually see multiple people taking on the same aspect.

At any rate, this pocket universe isn’t a complete craphole; in fact, there’s a lush, beautiful, and uninhabited world nearby, to which Infy keeps returning when banging against the walls of the Universe tires him out. This planet is apparently called “Adon”. If you read 52, the recent DC “event” series, you may remember that, near the beginning, Animal Man, Starfire and Adam Strange were all banished to a paradisical planet on the other end of the Universe…where they encountered Devilance the Pursuer. It’s for this reason, and others that will become clear, that I think that Adon was that same planet, and this issue therefore seems to have had a big impact on 52.

Speaking of Devilance, it turns out that he’s tracked down our hippie friends, and they’re soon engaged in further combat. Mark tries his Megaton Touch, but it misses, and Devilance lunges forward—into a pit filled with goopy, comic-book lava. The blast was just a distraction to entice him forward, and Beauty had whipped up an illusory floor for him to step out onto. But Devilance is merely trapped for a moment, allowing them to teleport away once more.

This time they wind up on a remote island in the South Pacific, covered with giant stone heads…that look nothing like the famous Easter Island heads. It’s like Kirby read about Easter Island somewhere and decided to draw his own interpretation without bothering with visual reference:

Anyway, Devilance is on them almost instantly. This time the plan is for Vykin to use Mother Box to separate him from his lance, without which he’s “considerably weakened!” Vykin uses his “Magna-Waves” to tap the lance in a little cyclone, and Big Bear rushes in to pummel him, but once again Devilance cleans his clock when his lance somehow figures out a way to return to his hand. Man, Big Bear’s looking like a chump in this issue. In fact, it’s freakin’ Serifan who rushes into save him, using one of his Cosmic Cartridges to once more pull a convenient, never-before-mentioned power out of his ass and encase him in some extremely heavy metal. And that’s the only time you’ll ever hear “Serifan” and “heavy metal” used in the same sentence.

The FPs, allowed a momentary break in the action, retreat to the jungle to mull what to do with their pursuer. “We can’t kill Devilance!” mutters Beauty. “Our creed is non-violence!” puts in Big Bear.

excuse me?!? Non-violence?!? And it’s Big Bear of all people saying that? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, Bear, but you yourself were doing some pretty serious pounding as recently as a few pages ago. And you’re in a freaking Kirby comic. You really think you’re going to be allowed to be non-violent? Only girls get that option.

What I assume he meant was that they don’t kill. But they waste precious time talking about it, and wishing vainly for news from The Source, and next thing you know it looks like Devilance is free again. Smooth, guys.

The Forever People try to hold him off with logic, pointing out that they can just keep holding him off forever, resulting in a stalemate. Devilance blows that aside by saying that he’s willing to kill, and the Forev Peeps aren’t, so he’s bound to get the upper hand eventually. But just as things look bleak, the Mother Box rises into the air. “Is she calling for the ”contact ritual?”” asks Beauty. “Yes!” responds Vykin, “She strongly senses a contact with Infinity Man!

You see, Infy has been thinking furiously back on Adon. “The young Forever People! They are the key! In the magic word ’Taaru’, which links us as one, destiny shall do what the powers of time and space command it!” He then…thinks very hard at the barrier that blocks him off from the rest of the universe. Back on Earth, Moonrider says that he thinks they can access Infinity Man now, after months of being unable to make contact, and Infy senses their presence.

Oh, Infy. All this time and you’re still a big, walking, omnipotent deus ex machine. It’s a shame you didn’t think of this “thinking hard” trick back when the FPs were trapped in Desaad’s amusement park of doom.

Anyway, the ritual kicks in, and suddenly Infy is standing there, ready to take on Devilance. It’s the battle of the dudes in short-shorts!

The battle mounts as Infy tries to grab Devilance’s lance away, resulting in a series of more and more “energetic” panels, until finally the island itself explodes, leaving only Jack, Kate, Hurley, Sayid and Sun floating on the open ocean. Oh, wait.

Suddenly, we cut to Darkseid and Desaad, watching all this mayhem from…somewhere. “Thus, blind destiny writes an ending well beyond the wisdom of Darkseid himself!” intones Darkseid. With Infinity Man destroyed, the Forever People are now trapped on Adon…forever. But hey, if you have to be banished someplace, this is about the nicest planet you could ask for. Cheerfully accepting their lot, the Forever People walk forward to begin exploring their new home.

“A moment stirs! A moment lives! A moment Passes on! The young Forever People, for this moment, turn their back on Earth and face heir future on this new world! Will they return someday? Destiny will answer this question, too!”

Seriously, thematically, this is a great ending. It’s hard not to mist up a little as you see the fivesome walking off into the lush, pastel-coloured rococo landscape. The sixties were over, and it was becoming clear even to squares like Kirby that the utopian visions the counterculture had nurtured were drifting away, becoming an impossible dream. If the book had continued, it probably would have been forced more and more into a conventional format, with the FPs giving way to and compromising with the forces of mundane reality. With this abrupt ending, the fivesome never has to make that compromise, and can dwell on forever as a platonic ideal, romping amongst fields far beyond our ken. It was a long, strange trip while it lasted, but they were always strangers here, on this place called Earth. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Mister Miracle #10--"The Mister Miracle To Be"


The fourth and final volume of the Fourth World Omnibus collection kicks off, appropriately enough, with Mister Miracle—appropriate, because he’ll be dominating the first 2/3rds of this collection. That is, before we leap forward 15 years and Orion takes center stage again. But more on that as it comes.

If you’ll cast your mind back a couple of issues, you’ll recall that Scott and Barda had returned to Apokolips for some cathartic foiling of Granny Goodness’s plans…though he still hasn’t quite managed to defeat her for good, so I’m not really sure what the point was. But she’s definitely been weakened by virtue of the fact that the Female Furies have seemingly all gone over to Barda’s side, and in fact the “big four”—Stompa, Lashina, Mad Harriet, and Burnadeth—are all returning to Earth with her and Scott as this story opens.

Unfortunately, it seems that (apparently for the first time ever) they’ve miscalculated and sent a Boom Tube to the wrong place—a bland-looking grassy plain that the Furies immediately proclaim to be a dump. Scott, more sensibly, points out that it’s an improvement on Apokolips…which is, of course, a cue for the explosions and ammo. While Barda dodges the fire of an automated machine gun, Scott crawls underneath it and disables it just in time. The other Furies, conveniently, hang back off panel while this is happening.

No sooner has Scott succeeded than a sinister bld fellow in Khakis and his array of goons pop up, guns trained on Scott. “You ’all-nation’ agents are getting increasingly ingenious!” he proclaims. Despite Scott’s proclamations of innocence, the guy prepares to open fire, and Scott is once again forced to kick, dodge, and scurry his way out of the gunfire as he takes out the agents, spouting limp one-liners like “I get a kick out of meeting people I don’t like!” Even Scott admits to himself that this is a horrible cliché once the guys are all rendered unconscious. I guess either Kirby was becoming aware of his limitations as a writer—there are more and more of these self-criticizing moments as the series goes on—or else someone else was poking him about it.

At any rate, the Furies, Barda included, have run off somewhere, and Scott somehow decides that they preceded him down into the hatch from which Baldy emerged. Um, yeah, no doubt, Scott. Just be glad there isn’t a killer on the loose, because that whole “splitting up to wander off down a dark corridor alone” routine tends not to work so well in those situations. Actually, they usually lead to trouble in superhero comics, too.

And indeed, no sooner has Scott emerged from the elevator than he’s greated by…a disembodied head. The Head of the World Protective League, as he calls himself. In classic villain fashion, he proceeds to show Scott around his “Tinker’s Shop”, as he calls it, where his men are preparing an “orbital plague bomb” with which they plan to hold the world for ransom. Yes, that “protective” moniker applies in the sense of “protection racket”. This is standard supervillain stuff, of course, but adding that little flourish is a clever touch. Actually I think it would have been even neater if we’d started off by assuming that they were a bunch of good guys, and then the play on words had shifted our perceptions.

At any rate, the Head has been labouring under the assumption that Scott and the Furies are a bunch of secret agents, sent to disrupt their plans. Because secret agents have a tendency to show up in flamboyant, brightly coloured costumes and set off your evil lair’s defenses, don’t you know. At any rate, Scott helpfully waits until the Head is ready to hit him with a brain beam that renders him unconscious.

Meanwhile, the Furies are waking up in a cell, enclosed by foot-thick glass. Apparently the Head saw fit to render them all unconscious and take them prisoner, while allowing Scott to wander right up to him. Well, you’ve got to give props to the head: he recognized that the Furies are a lot more of a physical threat than Scott. What he failed to notice is that Mad Harriet has secret “power spikes” secreted in her knuckles…

Whoa, “Snikk”? And this was two years before a certain Canucklehead burst onto the superhero comics scene. Oh Kirby, is there anything in comics you didn’t anticipate?

Mad Harriet carves a hole in the glass, and Stomp kicks it out, freeing the Furies and knocking out the guard. Across the room, the Furies find another prisoner, one who starts smarmily demanding they free him. Turns out he’s “Mike McKracken of the All-Nations Agency!”, super-spy and secret agent (though not so super that he can avoid getting captured, it seems.) He immediately pours on the Neanderthal charm with Barda, which gets her to rip the bars out of his cell, at least, though only for the purpose of wringing his neck. McCracken, in case it isn’t obvious, is a parody of the numerous 60s-era superspies with out-of-control libidos who worked for vague UN-like international organizations; pairing him with the Furies is an amusing bit of snarkiness on Kirby’s part. While Kirbs wasn’t immune to sexism himself from time to time, this whole storyline is undeniably a shot fired at the rampant chauvinism of the previous, supposedly enlightened decade.

At any rate, before the Furies can get sufficiently angry at McCracken to polish him off, security shows up, leading to a standard slugfest, with the Furies making short work of the flunkies. Uh, I guess the Head was too busy to knock them out again long-distance?

Specifically, he was busy with Phase Two of the Generic Supervillain Five-Year Plan: put your hero in an elaborate deathtrap instead of just shooting him. This is often sort of elided over in Mister Miracle because the villains have heard of his fame and want to see if he’s Really That Good, but The Head has no idea who he is, so why bother?

Oh. Right. Floating Heads always have an array of random mental powers, so I should have figured on plot-convenient telepathy, too. At any rate, is there really a lot of suspense in seeing Mister Miracle bound hand and foot and thrust into a hyperbaric chamber that is promptly flooded with “death gas”? To no one (outside the comic)’s surprise, the chamber is opened and the empty shackles fall out…and when the thugs peer in, baffled, Mister Miracle comes flying out feet-first into them. Scott grabs the head and takes it hostage, as the villains stand agape at Scott’s ability to overcome his mental powers. The Head, however, has at least figured out Mister M.’s use of hidden gadgets, and calls a penalty in the form of a huge psychic blast that puts Scott out again.

This time, it’s the arrival of the Furies that saves him, particularly Lashina, but the Head still manages to get away…dragging Scott’s limp body behind him on a magnetic tractor beam. Before the Furies can catch up, the Head has arrived at the launch site and throws Scott into the germ-carrying rocket.

Hmmm. This is starting to look a little familiar. Fortunately, there’s a twist at this point: a magnetic pull drags the Head towards the rocket’s hull and affixes it there as the rocket takes up…then explodes in the upper atmosphere.

Damn, Scott, that’s cold. I mean, yeah, he was insane and evil and a threat to the world, but that doesn’t usually stop superheroes from sparing their enemies’ lives. The traditional out is for the villain to somehow be foiled by his own devices and fall down a pit, or be eaten by his own monster, or something. But that was Scott just flat-out executing the guy. Also, I kinda hope that rocket got high enough before exploding that the germs aren’t going to trickle down to Earth and infect everyone.

The Furies catch up to find Scott waiting calmly in the control room, ready to deliver one of his patented expositional speeches about how he escaped (in brief: by using his usual assortment of Deus Ex Machina Gadgets.) Surprisingly, though—possibly because Kirby suddenly realized he had five pages left—we get a little additional drama as they track down Barda’s missing mega-rod, which is in the hands of a leprechaun:

…Or an evil research scientist, whatever.

They catch up with him pretty easily—boy, that was gripping—and, after taking back the Mega-Rod, give him four hours to evacuate the base. Then McCracken sabotages the base to explode and Barda whisks the batch of them away.

But there’s still some pages left, and they’re given over to an epilogue in which we check on the long-absent Oberon. Or rather, the left-behind-for-three-issues Oberon. Left to rattle around Thad-now-Scott’s old house, Obie’s going a bit stir-crazy, so he’s delighted to receive a visitor: Thaddeus Brown’s son, Ted, who is only just now bothering to show up. Seems he’s been walking the Earth, like Caine in Kung Fu, trying to find himself, and possibly running away from his father’s long shadow. However, having received a letter from Oberon some time back, he’s finally realized his calling in life: to be a PR man.

Yeah, I thought that was a little anticlimactic too.

It’s especially ironic given the whole counterculture tone of the Fourth World Saga up until this point…but then, change was in the air for Kirby when he produced this issue. Let me note briefly that Scott, Barda, and the Furies arrive home with impeccable timing, and Ted promptly decides he’d love to help promote their act, thus ending the issue with a new phase in Mr. Miracle’s life about to begin.

Anyway…it’s about this time that Kirby apparently started to learn that the Fourth World books weren’t selling that well. Combined with the brewing economic times affecting America in general and the comic industry in particular during the 70s, Kirby seems to have suddenly realized that the good times of (relative) experimental freedom and personal expression that he’d enjoyed for a decade were about to grind to a halt. DC wanted concepts out of him that could compete with Marvels’ for the burgeoning fanboy dollar, but they weren’t really willing to let the King stretch his creative muscles in a way that would really accomplish this. For their purposes, they were getting Kirby at his least commercial—or at least, that’s how it must have seemed then. As I’ve argued before, I think Kirby was right on the cutting edge at Marvel, but here he was too far ahead of his time. By the late 70s, the cosmic vision of the Fourth World would have been completely suited to comics and pop culture in general, but at the time it was still a slowly-budding market.

That wasn’t good enough for DC, which was only just starting to lose its grip on the #1 spot in the comic book market. A lot of people don’t realize this—for all Marvel’s passionate fans throughout the 60s, they were a pretty small segment of the market compared to that of DC and some of the other giants, like Dell. It wasn’t until after Kirby left that Marvel started to overtake them, and the explosion of fanboy fervour which has been associated with comics ever since has distorted the historical view. It was unfortunate timing on Kirby’s part; he’d been part of a team of underdogs on their way up, but now he was suddenly allied with an industry leader starting to enter a decline. It was the worst of both worlds: he got a nervous, conservative boss that hated to take chances, without the commensurate money and readership that might have counterbalanced it. Though I should note that some blame corporate backstabbing rather than genuinely low numbers for the cancellation of the Fourth World—but more on that later.

The long and the short of it is, Kirby could probably sense that the game was winding down, as this comic not only sets the stage for the future of Mister Miracle, it also seems to reflect a listlessness and a growing lack of interest on Kirby’s part. The next phase of the Fourth World saga is a little depressing, but it does have something that at least vaguely resembles a happy ending….