When I first read my four Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus books, I guess I’d have picked The Forever People as the least memorable of the four interlocking titles. Upon re-reading just that one stream of the epic, I guess I have to say that might still be true. But of course, when the playing field is the fertile and slightly overwhelming imagination of Jack Kirby, than that’s not such a criticism. Something has to be the least memorable.
There certainly are valid criticisms to be made. Of all of Kirby’s original Fourth World creations, the Forever People are perhaps the most impenetrable. They are a group of non-violence espousing hippie-types from Supertown of New Genesis who abandon their home for earth when one of their number, Beautiful Dreamer (the sole girl) is kidnapped by Darkseid because he believes he can find the anti-life equation within her. This turns out to be false, and her friends rescue her, and for no particular reason decide to stay on earth.
Part of the challenge is the lack of any sort of clear point-of-view character. The core cast is a colorful bunch but with personalities that are only vaguely delineated and powers that almost go unrevealed. There is no particular dynamic present in their relationships, except for an occasional chiding from Mark Moonrider (remember, this is years before Star Wars) to Big Bear for his poor driving, and a possible romantic connection between Mark and Beautiful Dreamer. And Kirby doesn’t go out of his way to supply anyone else to function as observer and help us get a grasp on these characters. That’s a conceit he never seemed that interested in using (in spite of having Oberon in Mister Miracle, Dave Lincoln and Dan Turpin in New Gods, and Jimmy Olsen in, er, Jimmy Olsen). By and large, in the Fourth World saga, the focus was less on showing the impact that celestial war had on earth, and more on the participants of the war themselves. It’s just a pity that we didn’t get to know the actual Forever People a bit better.
An exception to this no viewpoint character idea is the opening tale, which guest stars Superman. In this tale, the Man of Steel longingly listens to tales of Supertown (the Forever People’s home city on New Genesis) – wondering what it’d be like to be in a place where he didn’t stand out so much for his powers. This desire becomes so strong in him that he almost gives up on life on earth for the opportunity to visit, only to turn back at the last minute because of the prospect of the great danger that Apokolips represents to earth. It’s a cool take on the character which pays off in an issue of Jimmy Olsen, towards the end of Kirby’s involvement with the Fourth World characters.
Many of the stories are essential to the Fourth World epic as it is in The Forever People, more than the other titles, that we really see Darkseid’s quest for the anti-life equation. We even meet a few people who have it (as demonstrated, basically, by their ability to get other people to do things for them). This has the exciting consequences of bringing the group into direct conflict with Darkseid fairly often. But this is also awkward since it is openly clear that the group stand little chance against Darkseid, but for some reason the big baddie always seems ill-disposed to actually kill them. One begins to expect a revelation that Mark Moonrider is actually Darkseid’s other son, but there’s nothing like that. Maybe there would have been if the Fourth World saga had ended up being 4 times as long, as Kirby apparently intended.
But having said all that, the stories are still a lot of fun, and include the snappy pacing and storytelling grandeur we’ve come to expect from the Fourth World. Some are also as influential to the DC Universe as others we have commented upon. Issue 3, for example, introduces Glorious Godfrey (a denizen of Apokolips who can persuade people to act against their will) and the Justifiers (mindless people who have fallen victim to his power, who wear faceless helmets). A quick glance through the history of DC shows us that these elements were significant parts of at least two of the company’s big crossover events. Glorious Godfrey and his mind-altering ability became a central plot point in Legends, plotted by John Ostrander back in the late 80’s, and the Justifiers (and indeed the whole anti-life equation) were at the heart of Final Crisis by Grant Morrison (certainly Kirby’s successor in the big crazy idea department).
Less effective is an odd appearance by Deadman, of all people, in which Kirby attempts in vain to revitalize the character. It’s a clear sign that enthusiasm for the series is winding down, and comes just before the final issue, which contained the most definitive conclusion of any of the Fourth World series that I’ve reread thus far. In it, Darkseid decides he’s finally had enough of the young upstarts and sends a new character called Devilance the Destroyer out to get them. Devilance is defeated by the Infinity Man (the Forever People’s unexplained super-powerful corporate avatar), but the Infinity Man is destroyed in the process, leaving Mark Moonrider and his friends trapped on a semi-idyllic alien world, a relatively happy ending.
Since then, the characters have appeared from time to time – occasionally in Superman (post-Crisis on Infinite Earths) and also in their own miniseries. They were unceremoniously killed off in Jim Starlin’s worldview-revealing Death of the New Gods and rebooted along with the rest of the Fourth World in Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis. And now, DC has announced a new “Infinity Man and the Forever People” series by Keith Giffen and Dan Didio. So the concept continues.
More from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World:
• Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen
• New Gods