Friday, April 8, 2011

Fourth World Fridays: The Forever People #1--"In Search of a Dream"

And here the saga truly begins, in more ways than one, since according to Mark Evanier this was the first Fourth World comic Kirby actually produced. It sounds as though Kirby drew the first few pages--maybe even the whole thing--and was told by the top brass at DC that he had to tackle an existing character first, hence the move to Jimmy Olsen...but Kirby kept the door open by inserting Superman in this issue, which is a little confusing, since it sort of sets the scene for the previous three issues. Sort of.

We start with a bit of impromptu poetry (VERY impromptu) on the King's part as the Boom Tube, another classic Fourth World concept, makes its first appearance. "Hold your ears--it must be coming through--from there to here--on a trip with a infinite [sic] view..."

Well, I did mention Kirby was a little uncertain in his writing at this point, right?

From out of the tube rockets a wild, and distinctively Kirbian, sight: a gang of wild cosmic hippies on a gigantic monstrosity that's part dirt buggy, part clutch of motorcycles all fused together (and with a garish magenta-and-orange paint job, to boot). As someone looking back from 2011, it sure seems like vehicular fetishism was on a cultural uptick in the 70s, from stunt bikers to supervans to trucker movies, and this seems to have worked its way into Kirby’s comics in the form of the Whiz Wagon and this monstrosity, the “Super-Cycle”.

The pilots are, sure enough, the Forever People, consisting of Mark Moonrider (the little guy down front on the cover above), Big Bear (the huge hairy guy steering), Vykin the Black ( guy) and Serifan (the cowboy-hatted blonde wuss on the far right. And I call him a wuss with good reason). They've come from the mysterious "Super-Town" on a mission to rescue one of their number, a foxy babe name of Beautiful Dreamer. To assist, they've got some snazzy Kirbian gadgetry, most notably the aforementioned Super-Cycle and the "Mother Box" that Vykin is toting around.

Materializing in the middle of the road thanks to Big Bear's psychotic driving, the quartet nearly sideswipes a car, but Big Bear (grumbling, "I know what buttons to push!" Gee, that's conforting) activates a doohickey that lets them phase their atoms through the oncoming vehicle. Nevertheless, the understandably rattled driver of the other car drives off the road, but is levitated back to safety by the Mother Box, toted by Vykin. Mark tries to explain away Mother Box to the astonished victims as a type of computer, but Vykin unhelpfully interrupts, "WRONG! Mother Box lives! She talks to us--protects us!" Vykin is apparently unclear on the concept of a “cover story”.

The Forev's now introduce themselves properly. Mark Moonrider is, nominally, the leader. Sort of. Kirby had a tendency, when creating super-teams, to make the leader a really, really bland guy; Moonrider's even worse than folks like Cyclops or Tommy of the Newsboy Legion, barely even registering as a character, let alone the guy in charge. His only real attributes at this point are his dorky outfit (complete with bright yellow loincloth), his dorky name, and his tendency to chew out Big Bear (who rightfully ignores most of his blustering). "Where did you park the Super-cycle?" asks Mark. "On a fat, white cloud!" replies Bear. "Does that make you nervous?" Big Bear is a) extremely weird, and b) awesome.

Vykin the Black continues the ignoble tradition of black superheroes with "black" in their names; he's the keeper of Mother Box and, as mentioned, doesn't seem to care much for assimilating into the local culture. And Serifan? He's the most touchy-feely of the lot, which I guess is natural, as he's telepathic. He tries to calm the driver's female passenger by giving her a bouquet, and astonishingly, it seems to work. "Dear God, we just drove over a cliff after phasing through a vehicle out of Salvador Dali's nightmares, and were levitated to safety by a magic box toted by people who look weird, even for hippies! Jesus, mom warned me about doing drugs! From now on I'm going to straighten up and fly--ooh! Posies! I'm all better now!"

Bobby, the driver, snaps a photo of the gang--turns out he's a friend of a certain red-headed weenie who takes pictures for the Daily Planet. Sigh. Here I was looking forward to an Olsen-free installment of Fourth World Fridays. Anyway, moments after leaving, Serifan swoons from mental contact with Beautiful Dreamer. Yes, using his ability in the most benign way to mentally contact their friend causes him to swoon. Are you seeing what I mean about Serifan being a wuss?

Meanwhil, watching from the bushes is a distinctly ratlike and thuggish individual, with an army of faceless gunmen. It's our mysterious friends at Intergang again, and sure enough, they're working for Darkseid. Their leader makes contact with ol' Stoney Lonesome via a portable monitor, and he directs them nothing except follow them. Ooooo...kay then.

Meanwhile, it's back to the Man of Steel, who, in his Clark Kent guise, is interviewing a boxer named Rocky. Turns out that despite his championship title, the love of Adrian, and his triumphant defeat of Ivan Drago, Rocky is unhappy. Why? Because he's well aware that for all his achievements in the ring, Superman could lick a hundred of him with one hand tied behind his back. Hey, Rocky, Mohammed Ali beat Superman! Quit whining!

Seriously, though, Rocky raises a good point, and one that Clark mulls as he leaves the building. "Poor Super Man!" he thinks (hey, that would make a good name for an avant garde play). "Despite his powers, he is a minority of one in a teeming world of billions!...Do they secretly resent him? Fear him? Hate him? For the first time in many years--I feel that I'm alone--alone!"

This is interesting stuff. Bear in mind that up until this point, angst was as alien to Superman as papercuts. DC's heroes were starting to get a little grittier--Batman had entered the Denny O'Neill era at this point--but Superman had been the symbol of everything noble, pure, and uncomplicated in the world, a beacon in an increasingly confusing and troubled America. Now, thanks to this Kirby guy, even Supes was having an angst attack! Kirby, in these two pages, certainly nailed the crucial dramatic potential of Superman that had gone mostly untapped up to this point. Despite everything he's done, he's still an alien amongst us, and he can never go home and be "normal". Combine that with the average American's growing mistrust of authority figures and people with immense power, touched on in the prior Jimmy Olsen issues, and you've got the basis of good drama even for a character envisioned as goodness and wholesomeness incarnate. It would probably be going too far to say that Kirby laid the groundwork to lead Superman out of the Silver Age...but he does seem to have glimpsed his potential before anyone else, just as Supes glimpses Supertown in the photos of the Boom Tube Jimmy shows him.

What a segue! So, anyway, Supes glimpses Supertown in the photos of the Boom Tube Jimmy shows him. Somehow, he realizes that this might be a place where he could fit in, and makes it his mission to track down the Forever People.

On the way, he zooms past the Intergang helicopter. Despite showing no particular interest in their doings, Darkseid orders them to take Superman out because "I don't want him meddling!" This despite the fact that they're all well aware their "Sigma guns" aren't up to the job of killing Superman. Man, that Darkseid...he's just in the supervillain game to yank his own henchmen around, isn't he?

Sure enough, the Man of Steel shrugs off the ray blasts and takes down the helicopter in full view of the Forev's, leading them to assume that he's a fellow "Supertowner". When he pleads ignorance, they inexplicably turn on him, even after he uses his X-ray vision to uncover a metal plate in the ground. Rushing in mindlessly, the boys spring a series of traps--first a deadly gas that Superman disperses, then a bunch of hot pink goons called "Gravi-Guards" who "transmit gravity waves from heavy mass galaxies" and are thus capable of wrestling Superman to the ground.

It's at this point that things get weird in that special Kirby way. Seeing they're in deep doo-doo, the Forev's levitate Mother Box into the air, raise their arms, and begin "The ritual":

VYKIN: Rise, Mother Box, unite us as one--
MARK: Send him your signal, Mother Box! Make us the door for him to enter--
BEAR: Prepare for the word, Mother Box! Let your circuits carry the word--let it grow loud--until it reaches the winds of infinity!

Well, actually they say "Tarru", but it's "Taaru" everywhere else, so I guess that's just a misprint.

I *think* this is Kirby riffing on the kinds of transcendental meditation and other ritualistic stuff hippies tended to do to "draw people together". The result of this ritual? Infinity Man!!!

It's really not clear whether Infinity Man is some kind of proto-Voltron made up of the Forever People all merged together, or whether he swaps places with them, though the latter seems to be the more likely option. Infinity Man is a very strange character, talking mostly in riddles and avoiding Superman's questions as to his origin. It's also been noted that this is a borderline hallucinogenic re-interpretation of the Newsboy Legion, with Infinity Man as the Guardian, i.e. the adult authority figure who shows up to save the kids whenever they get into trouble. One thing's for sure, though: you'd have to be a being of near-infinite power to get away with that outfit.

Infy...let's call him Infy...makes short work of the Gravi-Guards and starts bellowing out challenges to Darkseid, who rather hilariously makes his appearance grumping, "Don't shout, I am here!" He's wearing a different costume than the even sillier one he adopts later on, and tells them that Beautiful Dreamer is no longer needed. He had been hoping to wrest from her the secret of "The Anti-Life Equation", a big macguffin for the series, but it turns out her brainwaves weren't compatable, so instead he's basically just handing him over to the heroes.

Well...that was a lot of trouble for nothing.

Not really, though, because of COURSE he left her on a booby-trapped table. I have to admit, the fact that Darkseid doesn't even really care that they're here and that he gives back Dreamer of his own volition does make him seem pretty badass. It's like, "Hey, I don't even care enough to try and deprive you of the object of your quest. Here she is, I'm going. Oh, and if you touch her, you die. Yawn."

Superman, of course, is able to grab her off the table and carry both himself and Infy to safety, streaking "at near light speed" away from the explosion that takes out Darkseid's underground complex (which we, oddly, never got around to seeing. Come on, Kirby, this isn't a low-budget movie, you can draw these things for us!) With everything hunky-dorey, Infy disapparates and the Forever People return in his place, vowing to help Superman for his part in their rescue.

Superman asks to go to Supertown, which is easily done, but the Forev's lay a heavy guilt trip on him by mentioning how Darkseid's war is about to get serious, and Superman's help is needed. Despite his assurances he'll be back, the Forev's seem vaguely disgusted with Superman's decision to leave Earth and find suitable companionship for ten fricking seconds. Sheesh. Superman enters the boom tube and gets halfway down it, then succumbs to guilt and zips back down to our end.

Geez, this is supposed to be all poignant and stuff, and it kind of is, but two things:

1) Surely Superman can go visit Supertown for a DAY and not have the Earth be totally conquered by Darkseid--I mean, even putting aside the various New Gods who are already here, and the others who are about to arrive, there's, like, an entire Justice League out there;

and 2) The stuff Superman does back on Earth--if, as I say, we assume this comic takes place before the events of the Jimmy Olsen issues--is hardly so urgent that they couldn't spare him. I mean, he basically babysits Jimmy, the Newsboy Legion, and Don Rickles' evil twin.


Yes, I said Don Rickles' evil twin. That's not a joke. Oh, how I wish it was. It's coming. FEAR IT.

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