[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right or the labels on the bottom.]
Super War involves the Forever People banning together to take on Mantis, a rather peculiar but powerful servant of Darkseid. Mantis name and color scheme iis taken from the insect however his motif is decidedly vampiric as he arrises from an oval coffin to suck the earth dry of power. He also has wings on his costume (like Dracula’s cape) that allow him to glide from rooftop to rooftop. He displays a myriad of powers when fully charged including hot and cold bursts from his hands and atomically charging innate objects with energy.
Before the Forever People can meet the challenge of Mantis, they must first get situated on Earth. We’re treated to a fish out of water scenario as the FP (Forever People) have parked the Super Cycle in the middle of a crowded street. Insults are thrown by frustrated motorists and our FP are first confronted with the earth term “hippie”. They’re unfazed by the accusation because they do not appear to know what it means. However the FP do seem to have a affinity for other earthly designs such as campy dated furniture and the western genre of fiction. They react to the threats peacefully, and phase themselves to a more remote location in the city.
Below the city (which hasn’t been named), Darkseid has awakened a cranky Mantis who begs for more slumber to be at full power. Darkseid gives his approval for Mantis to wreak havoc on the city merely to placate the beast. Back above, the FP discover a boy on crutches who is immediately drawn to the FP’s wild looks and mannerisms. His Uncle reacts oppositely and pulls a gun on them. This continues Kirby’s theme of compassionate youth vs. the prejudiced adults. Beautiful Dreamer solves the conflict by psychically changing their appearance into that which Uncle Willy finds normal. This action is somewhat in conflict with her definition of truth in reality on the page before. However her statement sets up the thematic battle between them and Darkseid: truth vs. lie
Willy and his nephew Donnie invite the FP to stay with them for the time being and the house guests waste little time making themselves at home. They delight in the run down and broken pieces of the apartment. Serafin seemingly watches old Westerns on a broken TV much to the confusion of Donnie. It’s revealed that a white, pill-shaped ‘cosmic cartridge’ that sits on Serafin’s hat expands his sensitivities to the universe and offers Donnie a go with it. Donnie excepts and is treated to the experience below:
Did I just see an adult push a psychological drug on a crippled child in a comic code approved funny book? Albeit a space version, but a stimulating drug nonetheless. The implications here are too numerous for me to cover in this column. I will say Kirby was not reportedly a drug user nor advocate, but this certainly depicts the desired results of drug abuse without any consequence. Our drug trip is interrupted by a news report on TV (the same TV that was broken a page before!) of Mantis’ attack on the city and the FP leap into action. The displacement to become Infinity Man occurs and it becomes apparent that Beautiful Dreamer can also join the Infinity Man swap. It’s also shown that TAARUU! is the word that initiates the change.
Infinity man and Mantis battle over the fate of the city and Mantis appears to have the upper hand when he freezes Infinity Man in a block of ice. It’s then revealed that Darkseid has been watching all along with his servant Desaad (1st appearance). The exchange between Darkseid and Desaad here seems reminiscent of the exchanges seen on Superman: The Animated series. I can hear Michael Ironside, the voice of Darkseid in that series, speaking the dialog as I read it. Darksied’s inquiry into the fear quotient of the city affirms his description in the Superman series that he “psychically feeds on the despair and misery of others”. So Darkseid is also a vampire to some degree.
Back above the city, Infinity Man escapes his icy tomb by manipulating it at an atomic level. His actions and dialog have an air of eastern philosophy to him. Another battle with Mantis ensues with Mantis on the losing end of an Infinity beam. He crawls away to his power pod to lick his wounds and plot another attack. Darkseid scoffs at Mantis’ limited vision and refers to himself as a silent stone. This aptly describes Darkseid’s appearance: grey, jagged and often lifeless.
Next up: Orion and the New Gods #2
[The "cosmic cartridge" is a really strange and complex idea. For one, it is odd that the cowboy, out of all of them, has it -- and this is before we get into a conversation about why New Genesis produces Cowboy themed adventurers. It is fascinating that he keeps them on his hat where I have always assumed bullets are kept (is that right?) -- there is a kind of "exchange weapons for drugs" thing that chimes with the space hippie thing well. If Kirby, it seems, was not a drug user, I wonder if his interest in it is aesthetic, as kind of second hand inspiration -- or justification -- for fantastic surreal visuals. It makes perfect sense in a way -- it matches the place of violence in comics, which in the best ones are just metaphors for other kinds of conflicts, pure style.]