Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Andy Bentley on The New Gods 4: The Forever People 1

[Andy Bentley continues his look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series see the label at the bottom or the toolbar on the right. I make comments at the end of the post.]

I’m a firm believer in the Marshall McLuhan phrase “The Medium is the Message” and the debate over how one reads comics rages on. There’s the weekly in store customer, the Amazon member who buys the 6 issue collection, and the downloader who reads his issues on a LCD monitor. Reading a piece of a story once a month is a different experience that reading it all in one sitting. Current comic writers are aware of this, however Kirby was probably the first to plot a long spanning series that would ultimately be collected and enjoyed for years to come. With Forever People #1, we get another step closer to a unified and timeless story, but there are still some plot elements that hinder this progression.

The story opens with a literal BOOM as we see our first appearance of the Boom Tube, an extra dimensional point-to-point travel portal opened by a mother box used primarily by residents of New Genesis and Apokolips. Out of it comes the Forever People, four young New Gods searching for their 5th member Beautiful Dreamer who is being held captive on earth. The Forever People have classic Kirby outfits, 60’s hippie style, and ride in a psychedelic ATV, somewhat similar to the Wiz Wagon we’ve seen previously. They crash onto a road heading the wrong way and narrowly evade an accident with a young couple. The cowboy themed Forever Person, Serifan, attempts to calm the couple but is cut short when he faints due to mental contact with Beautiful Dreamer. Intergang thugs are watching all this unfold and are about to attack but Darkseid commands them to not engage.

The story shifts to the Daily Planet where Clark Kent is wrapping up an interview with a champion boxer, Rocky (Quick fact check, the movie Rocky is still six years away). The Boxers inadequacy towards Superman causes Clark to question Superman’s place on Earth. Jimmy Olsen quickly interrupts him with photos from the couple who met the Forever People who happens to be friends with Olsen. This continues the all too convenient plot coincidences involving Olsen and Superman. It’s to the point of distraction, and I question whether editorial mandated their appearance in the book. It also breaks the Kirby continuity. In Jimmy’s book, the two of them are at the Earth Project, not at the Daily Planet. So although we’re reading an overarching story, the continuity is not moment-to-moment between books. Clark uses his hidden X-Ray vision on the photos to see a fantastic city inside the Boom Tube not unlike a Kryptonian urban setting. He hustles Jimmy out, changes and flies off as Superman to investigate. The motivation for the Man of Tomorrow is he would like to visit this Supertown to feel more at home with super people like himself. Although it’s an often-used motivation for Superman in the Silver Age, it seems more like an afterthought here.

The Intergang crew sees Superman approaching the Forever People and with Darkseid’s permission shoots him out of the sky with their Sigma-Blast. Superman reacts by tossing a telephone pole through the helicopter in a fairly deadly maneuver. He has a brief discussion with the Forever People and learns that their target is within the area according to mother box. After a bout with a toxi-cloud and gravi-guards, the Forever People reveal their power. By evoking “the word” to Mother Box, another dimensional portal is opened for the Infinity Man!

The process appears to be the Forever People switch dimensions with the Infinity Man when there’s trouble and once it’s quelled, they revert to their respective dimensions. It’s a device seen in several superhero titles although this is the first time I’ve seen a combined effort for the transformation. The Guards are quickly dealt with and Darkseid seemingly appears in front of them with the unconscious Beautiful Dreamer in his possession. He explains that he was futilely attempting to use her mental powers to discover the anti-life equation with which he will erase life on Earth. He then disappears as quickly as he appeared (leading me to believe he was merely a projection) and it’s up to Superman to save Ms. Dreamer from the radion bombs below her body. Super speed does the trick and Infinity Man and the Forever People return to their original dimensions. Superman is rewarded by the young New Gods with a trip to Supertown, However Superman realizes that if Earth is the battle ground for a “strange super-war” then he must be here to defend it. We’re left with a melancholy Superman hunched over on a rock contemplating his future.

This issue brings about many staples of Kirby’s fourth world including the Boom Tube and the Mother Box. The Motherbox, which I liken to my iphone, [ed note: Morrison calls it the iPod of the Gods, though the iPhone seems better] has many powers but also the connotation that all New Gods that posses one are in tune with one another and their creator. The Infinity Man’s design leads me to the realization that Mattel has Kirby to thank for many of the inspirations for their Masters of the Universe toy franchise. [Something we discussed on the blog a while back HERE] As he tosses 2 grvi-guard into the heavins he proclaims “where the answer to gravity is ANTI-GRAVITY-- and simply done!” You get the sense that although the Forever People are somewhat human and inexperienced, the Infinity Man they conjure is truly a New God. His dialog is one of absolutes and proclamation. This issue also reveals Darkseid’s ultimate goal, that of an equation to destroy life and that Earth is the first to go. Kirby continues to build Darkseid up into a major villain by not allowing anyone to assault or capture the ruler of Apokolips even though his minor plan has failed.

The concepts are getting bigger and bolder each issue and will no doubt continue next issue with New Gods #1, “Orion Fights for Earth!”

[The laptop and the iPod do seem eerily close to Kirby's concept of the mother box, except they do not carry spiritual connotations -- but maybe they should, especially since Mac (surely the company closest to the mother box) takes as its symbol the apple with a bite out of it to remind us of the bitten apple of the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden. (It is not an apple in the bible but it is traditionally imagined to be an apple). 

I would also like to say that the Boom Tube, the Mother Box and the idea of a cowboy "forever person" (nice phrase Bentley) with cosmic cartridges in his hat are totally awesome, and the cycle is pretty cool -- but Infinity Man is absolutely lame. I can see that Kirby loved the eternal principle of youthful energy as Blake did -- even though he was 53 -- as embodied by hippies is very cool in theory (and sometimes in practice) but their ability to summon an ill defined infinity man to fight FOR them kind of strikes me as weak. I always tune out when he shows up]. 


James said...

I had the exact opposite reaction to Infinity Man! I thought ridiculous, slam-bang antics are half the fun with Kirby.

Christian said...


I was walking down Prince Street from the NR train stop the other day, which is always a drag since there are so many people down there, looking in the windows, ambling around like well-heeled extras from Dawn Of The Dead--it's impossible to get across quickly. Over by the Apple store, there were loads of people camped out on stools and little seats, umbrellas and water bottles in hand. They looked a bit like patient refugees waiting for their boat to dock. I figured it must've been some kind of protest or some sort of political campaign--you see that all the time.

Fast-forward--last night I went to a farewell party at The Happy Corp--the place was packed, it felt like a club. The beautiful old brick building where The Happy Corp currently resides is being torn down in order to put up yet another glistening, sterile condo, and that means more slow walkers on Prince Street, more khaki-panted jerks with bad manners who just make you want to leave SoHo. At the party, the Happy Corp's bosses -- Doug and Matt-- both showed me their new phones-- they looked a lot like the usual handheld cel phone, but a little bit larger. There was a little track-ball in the center of the keypad which Doug was caressing with his thumb. "The new iPhone," Doug tells me, and I nod in instant comprehension. I suddenly realized what that line at the Apple store was all about--oh yes, of course. I heard something about this... you're allowed to buy two of them on opening day-- Doug and Matt each had friends picking theirs up for them.

I had a strange sense of seeing a foreign object, realizing I couldn't fully grasp it's significance to my future-self, but knowing one day in the future it would be significant. One day, the iPhone will return to me. One day I would be holding one of my own, never knowing how I ever got along without it before.

Over at the table sits Dean Haspiel, chilling with Heidi MacDonald and JahFurry. Dean and I start talking about Jack Kirby (not the first time). We talk about comics, the glory of them, making them, inventing them, loving them. We talk about science fiction in comics, about Jack Kirby and his particular type of science fiction. "In comics, there's no budget," I hear myself saying, "just your paper and your brush and your imagination."

"Look at all that stuff Kirby came up with, " he says. "Kirby just INVENTED on paper, he didn't bother to build any of it. He already thought of it. It was enough to just think of it -- he was just blueprinting the future..."

"Sometimes I feel like all science is doing now is reverse-engeneering Jack Kirby," I say.

And we sit there in silence a bit. The thought of Jack Kirby's imagination tends to make cartoonists' conversations taper off into quiet introspection. The place was full of people but the noise of Jack Kirby in my head drowned it all out--exploding, psychedelic Kirby visions, weird twisting pipes on Orion's cycle, the chrome curves and jet-exhaust vents on the underbelly of the Fantasticar, Darkseid's Omega Beams, with all their strange, Cubist trajectories, Seriphan and his collapsing Super Cycle, the silent corridors of the Red Ghost's lunar hideaway, High Father's staff, Machine Man's extending arms and dismantleable magenta body parts, his bug-like red eyes, his impassive stare-- the images paraded along an infinite mobius strip of their own, like the marching red ants in the MC Escher print.

"All the iPhone is is a retarded Mother Box," I declare. Dean nods, knowing."

- Paul Pope

Andy said...

WOW. That Paul Pope quote is wild. Paul did a O.M.A.C. story in the pages of his SOLO book for DC. Big fan of his.

So I went back and read the Masters of the Universe post. Now that is all concerning the movie. I was more specifically referring to the design of the characters which was done for the toy line and cartoon. Before the movie, the concepts for these characters were being honed in mini comics that were packaged with the figures. Several of these comics were being drawn by a young Bruce Timm who also worked on the He-Man cartoon. Timm would go on to to run the Batman and Superman cartoons of the 1990’s and has often professed his love of all things Kirby in interviews. I’d like to do a post somewhere down the road about the fourth world in the DC animated universe.

Gary said...

"Sometimes I feel like all science is doing now is reverse-engeneering Jack Kirby," I say.

Wow. What a demeaning comment to make about the people who actually make things work.

Hey, I wrote a story about the cure for cancer. And AIDS. So if somebody manages to cure those, they just reverse-engineered what I came up with.

You can't reverse-engineer Jack Kirby's stuff, because NONE OF IT ACTUALLY WORKED. He only said that it did, because that's what he came up with. You can only reverse-engineer something that was engineered to begin with. Kirby was a superb idea man, no doubt. But to lower the people who actually make things that function in the real world instead of in their imaginations by saying that they're late to Jack's party? That's nonsense. Pure nonsense.

Geoff Klock said...

Gary -- I do not think it has to be read as demeaning. I think it is more a hyperbole designed to attempt to describe the forward thinking reach of Kirby's imagination. Do you have a sense that the team who invented the iPhone or whatever are going to be very offended to see a blog post about Kirby describe Kirby in this way? I for example, as a person with a doctoral degree, am not offended that Dr. Dre calls himself Dr even though he does not really have one. I don't think the hyperbole about what a master he is demeans my accomplishment at all. To be fair though that is just an anecdote. Other may feel differently.

Gary said...

When it concludes with "All the iPhone is is a retarded Mother Box," it certainly comes off as demeaning. It's got the word retarded, one of the grade-A demeaning words of our time, right in there.

I imagine that the people who did design the iPhone are probably desensitized to the criticism that goes on on the internet. There's somebody out there to hate everything, so they probably take it in stride.