Sunday, 1 August 2010

Jack Kirby's Fourth World #20

Apologies for the lack of interior images, my scanner has let me down by producing wonderful static-filled scans. Gotta love the tech!
The Gods Themselves

Story, Pencils, Inks and Lettering: John Byrne
Coloring: Noelle Giddings
Assistant Editor: L.A. Williams
Editor: Paul Kupperberg
Creator: Jack Kirby
Based on the work originally appearing in Forever People #1 and Jimmy Olsen #149
Cover Art: Walt Simonson
Cover Date: October 1998
Release Date: 12/08/2008

Superman is flying through Metropolis, pondering his unknown alien origins. Flying into the Daily Planet and changing into Clark, he encounters Jimmy Olsen, who tells a tale of his meeting with a group of super people called the Forever People, and their mentions of a place called Supertown. Whilst out driving the previous night, Jimmy was surprised when a Boom Tube opened up and deposited the Forever People, causing him to drive off the road. The Forever People save him, apologise for their error, and let him take pictures of them.

Superman's interest is piqued, and he flies off to find the Forever People. So focused is he that he doesn't register being observed by an Intergang helicopter, which gives chase on orders from Darkseid. Superman locates the Forever People in an abandoned lumber mill. The Forever People can't decide wether Superman is an envoy from Supertown or a minion of Darkseid, but before they can choose, the Intergang 'copter attacks with alien weaponry, stunning Superman. Superman tries to down the chopper by hurling a tree at it, but he is stopped from further action by the Forever People, who tell him that they need to track the helicopter to find out where Darkseid is hiding Beuatiful Dreamer.

Superman offers his help, and by using his x-ray vision he discovers a non-terrestial metal under the ground. As the Forever People move in, Superman helps to defend them from a poison gas attack, but he finds himself pinned down by the Gravi-Guards. Realising that Superman needs more help, the Forever People combine their powers to call the Infinity Man, who makes short work of the guards. Infinity Man then calls out Darkseid who appears. Darkseid returns Beautiful Dreamer, deciding that he can extract the secrets of the Anti-Life equation from other minds, before vanishing. Infinity Man then vanishes, returning the Forever People, who greet their lost comrade.

In return for his help, the Forever People open a Boom Tube to Supertown. Superman flies through it and find himself in a floating city where everyone has superpowers. Seeing a young girl about to be crushed by a falling tower, Superman saves her, but is confused when the girl reveals her own powers, tossing the tower around like a toy. Superman is beckoned over by a bearded stranger with a staff, who tells him that his questions about his origins can only be answered on Earth. The stranger then returns Superman to Earth. Orion then appears to talk to the stranger - revealed as Highfather - and they confirm that Earth will be an important part of the war against Apokolips. Highfather tells Orion that the Source has directed him to Earth, but Orion has decided to stop on Apokolips first.

I'm always wary of retelling prior stories in current continuity. Sometimes it works really well, enhancing the bare bones of the story with material relevant to the concurrent stories. Two good examples of this are the two retellings of Hal Jordan's origin, as seen in the Emerald Dawn and Emerald Dawn 2 miniseries, and the in Secret Origins arc of Green Lantern that served to lay the groundwork for the Blackest Night crossover. At other times, the structure of the story being retold is followed to faithfully, resulting in an old-fashioned story being told for little more than nostalgia purposes. This issue of Jack Kirby's Fourth World pretty much sits between the two extremes, its excesses given structure and form by being very blatantly created as a tie-in with The Man of Steel from 22 years previously.

The caption on the first page references the fact that this story takes places before the final issue of The Man of Steel, and it's elements of Superman's character prior to the revelation of his origins that drive the story here. It's the strongest addition to the story, although having never read the issues in question I am unsure as to what the other additions comprise of. Apart from this character drive, it's hard to understand why this particular story needed to be told. Other than their status as one of the four titles that launched the Fourth World, the Forever People have never exactly been a strong component of the concept, especially in the Post Crisis continuity. The more incredible aspects of the team, such as their relationship with Infinity Man, goes pretty much unexplained, and the Forever People don't really make any impact on the reader. It would have been far more interesting to delve into Darkseid and Superman's history, as it is hinted in the Legends crossover that the two have faced each other before. Simply having the two foes share only two panels just doesn't feel like it's enough.

Byrne's artwork here is , in my opinion, his last great Superman work, as I am very much not a fan of his return to Action Comics in 2005. He shows us why he is such a strong intrpreter of the Fourth World - his Darkseid, although appearing in 3 panels, is imposing and menacing, especially on his physical entrance to the story, shrouded in shadow with the barest hint of the omega power issuing from his eyes. His Superman is both powerful and human, his face conveying his confusion and disappointement over his lack of knowledge concerning his origins.

The postscript to the issue reads awkwardly. This issue was the last of the series, and the scene attempts to round off the series with an Important Scene between Highfather and Orion. Sadly, it's a scene that attempt to be portentious without telling the reader anything they probably have learned over the past 20 issues. Orion's fate is to fight his father in the Armagetto. And Earth will be important. Right. Oh, and there's a great example of early CGI imagery in comic books in the establishing shot of Supertown, all awkwardly lit, stupidly designed, and bearing no relation to the designs of the city as rendered by Byrne.

The Geeky Bits: The Fourth World was a concept created by Jack Kirby and published by DC Comics on his arrival at the company in 1970. Comprising Mr Miracle, The Forever People, New Gods, and the pre-existing Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen, the four titles told the story of the battle between Apokolips and New Genesis, and introduced readers for the first time to Darkseid, one of Superman's most enduring villains.

Jack Kirby's Fourth World was a 20 issue series created by John Byrne that attempted to continue to story of the conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips. The series was followed by Walt Simonson's Orion series, and the two titles represent the most recent attempt by DC to create new, standalone stories for the New Gods without being tied into other titles or events.

Superman would get to know Darkseid more intimately before their first post-Crisis meeting in the Legends crossover. This meeting took place in a pre-Crisis Justice League of America story that has later been defined as 'having happened' post-Crisis. It's a little confusing, I know, but I'll be devoting a whole post to the sticky issue of 'What actually happened to the pre-Crisis stories' in a few weeks time. For reference's sake, the issues comprise Justice League of America #183-185, along with a couple of earlier stories that also fit into this unique category.

Next on World of Superman: The Man of Steel and the World's Mightiest Mortal meet for the very first time!


  1. I LOVED this issue. I was so excited when it first came out. I am of the opinion that the next time they collect MAN OF STEEL they should put this issue in where it fits in the continuity.

  2. There could be a really nice Absolute edition that incorporates this issue and the four Year One annuals to tell the story of the early years of Superman. Comic shops could sit it on the shelves next to the eventual hardcover of Secret Origin, and let the fans decide...