by Andy Bentley
[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods -- and this is perhaps the most famous issue. I was recently called a Kirbyist/Millerist so you can see why I love it. I make a brief comment below.]
Backstory. It is a crucial part of the soap opera that is modern day superheroes. The backstory of The Fourth World has been slowly trickling out in the opening prologues of each title but “The Pact” is the issue where the levee breaks. Whether Kirby was saving this jewel in his back pocket or suddenly hit a patch of inspiration is hard to determine. What is apparent, is the passion and precision with which the story is told. A story that will fuel many artistic efforts in the years that follow.
The story opens on text from Kirby (akin to the text that began the series in the first issue) that explains the nature of New Genesis and Apokolips are dictated by the Atoms of Balduur and the evil of a sorceress, respectively. There has been a time of peace between the planets which is about to end. It begins with a couple sitting in a field, very much in love. A string of flowers and a dove behind them reinforce the emotions. Their nature can be gleamed by their appearances. Izaya wears a warrior’s garb while his wife Avia wears a blue outfit similar to a dove (war and peace). Their bliss is quickly interrupted by a horde from Apokolips, lead by the infamous Steppenwolf, leader of the troops of Apokolips. Izaya and Steppenwolf have it out in the traditional superhero way, except for an oddity in the form of a shadowed figure who looms in the distance. Izaya breaks through the troop and appears to have Steppenwolf dead to rights until Avia interrupts. Steppenwolf wheels around and fires a fatal radion bolt murdering her. Izaya barely has time to react before a mechanical golden hand knocks him unconscious. The next page reveals that the shadowed figure is in fact Darkseid, nephew of Steppenwolf, who struck Izaya with a construct from his “good friend” Desaad. And that’s just the prologue.
With the peace totem of Avia destroyed, the two worlds fall into war once again. The bombers from New Genesis drop belly buster bombs not unlike what planes would have been dropping during WW2. Could the old gods war be analogous to WW1 with this war mimicking WW2? In a bunker below, Darkseid and family are having a mafia style strategic meeting over dinner. The Don is Darkseid’s mother, Queen Heggra, who is unhappy with how the war is faring and blames her brother, Steppenwolf. Darkseid seizes this opportunity by unveiling the X-element to the table. The X-element is destined to be the source for Boom Tube technology and it’s potential is not lost upon the witnesses. The scene abruptly shifts as Metron of New Genesis appears out of thin air in front of the table. The mystery of Metron deepens with every appearance and this one is no different. This Metron of the past is manic and desperate to have the X-element to finish the construction of his mobius chair. Darkseid hands over the element, but only after humbling Metron and forcing him to share his innovations.
The effects of the X-element are seen as giant dragon ships teleport to the surface of New Genesis, burning anything in their path. Steppenwolf follows, with his demon pack in tow when he’s suddenly knocked off his saddle by a burst of energy. He looks up to see Izaya the Inheritor, alive and well, ready to exact revenge for Avia’s murder. Avia destroys Steppenwolf with his cosmic staff which causes the the forces of Apokolips to retreat. Once again, Metron appears and he and Izaya agree that Darkseid is the true reason behind this bloodshed. At that moment, planetoids sent by Darkseid begin to rain upon New Genesis. A montage of war fills the next page. Wild Kirby inventions like techno cosmic machines rain space junk on New Genesis while giant biological mutations attack merely by treading upon the land. Even Mammoth suns are transformed into cosmic lasers. Kirby builds a crescendo of violence upwards and outwards in imagination and scale until we return to see Izaya who literally wears the cosmos upon his shoulders. Despondent, Izaya wanders through the devastated lands of New Genesis, ruminating on what may remain of his soul. He casts his armor and weapon towards the gaining winds and shouts to the heavens, yet still continues to wander until he encounters a wall. A rectangular slab in the middle on nowhere. He calls to it, demanding to know what exactly is the inheritance of Izaya the Inheritor? An answer is given, in the form of a flaming hand which scrolls “THE SOURCE” in flames.
Time passes, and the war is finally ended in a pact. A pact that sends the first born of Darkseid and Izaya to one another as adopted sons. Their identities? Scott Free (Izaya’s boy) and Orion (Darkseid’s progeny). Scott is sent to Granny’s camp to endure the torture we’ve seen in the back pages of the Mr. Miracle while an older Orion arrives on New Genesis, ready to strike like a cornered dog. The first man Orion encounters is an older Izaya, who now goes by the name, Highfather. Highfather subdues Orion by showing authority, but also calling for peace. An uneasy truce is made and the readers are left to fill in the blanks until the present day.
This is the type of material that earns the distinction The Fourth Wold garners from it’s fans. There is war, and no doubt Izaya’s remorse stems from Kirby’s war experience. There is mythology, culled from religions and fables and it feels like a cumulation of Jack’s comic book work. There’s even a bit of Shakespeare thrown in for good measure. But the result is something entirely new due to Kirby’s imagination. Almost every panel is dynamic and as vivid as 4 color printing could offer. New gadgets and creatures turn up on every turn of the page and I was never bored by the dialog. But the most important factor is the backstory. Now I care about Highfather and his mission. His struggles and sacrifices have made me emotionally invested. Before this, he was just some old wizard type of character. To know that Metron was once as mercurial and emotional as his New God brethren has me yearning for more explanation. The story of Darkseid’s rise to power was also interesting, but his character was already well fleshed out before this issue. The reveal of the identities of the sons was telegraphed early on, yet now I anticipate the two meeting their biological fathers even more. The source wall continues to be an eerie entity which intrigues me as does the mention of the uni-friend who is attached to it in some way. Kirby has set the stage for quite the main event, the question is whether it will be waiting for me in that final Omnibus.
Izaya, a New God, shouts to the heavens for an answer, something us mere mortals tend to do. It would appear that even the New Gods have deities they worship.
Izaya evokes Charlton Heston’s Moses during his trek to the source wall. Both wield a staff and bring back answers from the divine on a stone tablet,
Darkseid’s incongruity in appearance with the rest of the family makes me think Steppenwolf and his sister were created for this issue and the family connection was not thought out in advance.
One nerdy tidbit was the bombs were dropped to eliminate the fire pits on Apokolips which power it’s machinery. I always wondered what their purpose was.
Metron’s appearance is out of thin air, not unlike David Bowie’s character Agent Philip Jefferies in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Blog posting synergy, Jill Duffy!
[I always thought it was weird that Darkseid HAS a backstory. Morrison's "DARKSEID IS" seems about right to me. In my imagination he has always been the one true evil in the DCU. The idea that he was young, or took orders, or had a mom just never seemed right to me, although I agree with everyone that this issue is one of the very best comics ever.]