Friday, May 13, 2011

Fourth World Fridays: The Forever People #2--"Super War!"

I have to admit that I don't "get" The Forever People the way I do the other books in the Fourth World saga. Jimmy Olsen was Kirby's window into the DC Universe, the contractual obligation that he used to smuggle in his concepts. The New Gods/Orion was the central book from a plot perspective, detailing the mythology behind the clash of these fantastical beings on Earth. Mr. Miracle was the thematic heart of the series, revolving around a symbolic Christ-like figure who fought for an ideal. But the Forever People? Other than the fact that it was about a bunch of super-hippies, Kirby didn't seem to have the greatest handle on the concept at first. Like The Fantastic Four, it seemed, in some ways, to be his "tryout book" for random ideas before working them into the other, more thematically coherent comics, and the fact that it was the first of the Fourth World books to be drawn seems to reinforce this.

I say this because the groundwork we see being laid in this issue sort of contradicts the later issues. Nevertheless, if you're going to have Kirby doing your comics, you've got to have an occasional book where superpowered beings in zany costumes beat the living hell out of each other, with no particular agenda or deeper meaning. Kirby was constantly trying to be, and occasionally succeeding in being, "profound" with these books. However, TFP #2 is mostly just a mental breather, an excuse to trot out a concept Kirby had dreamed up and set it loose. The concept: MANTIS.

The issue starts with some Komedy as the Forever People park their Super-Cycle smack-dab in the middle of traffic. The Forev Peeps, you see, are eternal innocents, speaking in their own cosmic idiom and living in a Utopia, and thus unable to understand our mundane, Earthbound ways such as our need to get from one place to another without some gigantic, hairy jackass parking his eye-scorchingly psychedelic dune buggy/RV in the middle of the road, thereby creating the mother of all traffic jams RIGHT AT RUSH HOUR, and I was only FIVE MINUTES AWAY FROM GETTING HOME for &*$^#%'s sake, and the season premiere of "Dancing With the Stars" is on and I'M GOING TO MISS IT--

Well, there's some understandable hostility being expressed. One guy cracks wise about "Hippies", causing Big Bear to jump in jovially:

BIG BEAR: The dialect is primitive, brother! But the humor cries out for a straight man! Tell me, Mister Corn! What's a hippie?
LOUDMOUTH GUY: Ha, ha--dat's easy! All ya gotta do is show him a bathtub--an' if he runs--he's a hippie!
BIG BEAR: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! It's like direct involvement with ancient vaudeville! Thank you, for the experience, brother!

Then he crushes the guy's upper body with a bear hug and leaves him dying on the concrete! Ha ha!

OK, we see the cop picking him up a panel later, and I think he's supposed to be alive. I think. The point is that, once again, we have proof that Big Bear is AWESOME.

Anyway, it eventually seeps through the skulls of our pack of heroic stoners that they're not really wanted in this particular location, and they move on via the Super-cycle's "Phasing" ability.

Meanwhile! Darkseid is preparing one of his big guns: the monumentally powerful Mantis, who is a dude in an insect suit. Um. Well, he's really strong and fast, anyway, and has the rather cool ability to regulate kinetic energy--he can either "charge" an object with immense power (rather like Gambit, I guess), shoot beams of pure heat, or drain the energy from anything he touches. All of which are abilities he will put to use in this issue.

His weakness, however, is that he goes through energy pretty fast, and when depowered he has to rest up in his "Power-pod". Darkseid rouses him out of this before his charging cycle is complete, apparently to give him a stern talking-to. As usual with Kirby, the exact chain of events is a little vague, but it seems as though Mantis had snuck down to Earth significantly before any of the other New Gods and was planning on subjugating Earth for himself. Since Mantis possesses all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop, Darkseid is almost amused by his apparent betrayal and bids him continue, as long as he doesn't challenge his power.

"DONE!" yells Mantis.

"Then return to your wretched pod!" commands Darkseid.

"DONE!" yells Mantis.

"Unleash the terrors of the night! Make Man cringe! Make him tremble--make him FEAR!!"

Mantis is already asleep.

The Forever Peeps have meanwhile made tracks to the bad part of town, where they hope to set themselves up in some new digs. Mother Box starts pinging away like mad, but the FPs ignore her, in a snit. They tend to do that a lot, don't they? Makes you wonder why they even brought her along. Vykin's the only one that listens to her, and as a result he tends to be a bit of a drag. But they really ought to listen, because lurking in the shadows lies--

--A crippled child?

OK, so the actual danger source turns out to be the boy's Uncle Willie, supposed security guard, despite the fact that he's casually dressed in a loud orange jacket and purple fedora. He threatens the crew with his old-fashioned revolver, but Beautiful Dreamer manages to cool his jets by invoking her ability to project mental images--in this case, they all take the form of old-fashioned, innocent kids in 30s clothing. Trustworthy kids! Kids from a time when young folks respected their elders, by cracky! These are kids Uncle Willie has no cause to be scared by! (Shouldn't the black guy be invisible, then? Ba-Dum!)

Seriously though, this, along with the hippie wisecracks and Big Bear's reaction on the opening pages, is another interesting look at Kirby's mindset towards the hippies. He definitely seems to be siding with them against the establishment, but at the same time, he doesn't seem to be taking them so seriously that he can't give them a tweak. Here, once again, after an initial mistrust, the older generation--of which Kirby was undeniably a part--comes to trust and respect the young'uns, with their wild clothing and the rock and the roll and whatnot. It's the same subtext as the rather half-baked Jimmy vs. Superman subplot of his first three Jimmy Olsen issues, done in two pages. It's agreed that the Forev Peeps can move in--though I hope they're not planning on getting too comfortable.

Later that night, a clock tower silhouetted against the moon strikes midnight...the wind ghosts through the trees...and Mantis rises from a graveyard!! Seriously, an actual graveyard. A master of comics he may have been, but a master of understatement was something you couldn't accuse Kirby of being.

Despite the late hour, the FPs are apparently up and about, furnishing their new apartment with old junk that Big Bear, with typical joviality, calls "pure camp". Mark Moonrider refers to the old, broken TV as "A pure representation of early, post atomic, middle class home visuals!"

OK, hold up. This is really interesting. Again, going back to Big Bear's comments about "Ancient Vaudeville"...are we supposed to infer from this that the FPs are from the future?!? They're not talking about their alien world, they're referring to stuff from our world as if it was their own distant past. Unless Kirby wants us to swallow the idea that the development of civilization on New Genesis *exactly* paralleled our own, complete with cultural tics, and that they're merely a futuristic version of our own society--which is pretty much directly contradicted everywhere else in the saga--than the suggestion seems to be that the two worlds of the New Gods exist in our future, possibly unimaginably distant. Does this resonate with Kirby's idea that we've seen the death and rebirth of the Marvel Universe? Because if I'm following this, it means that the New Gods are visitors from both a parallel reality (the Marvel U.) AND from the distant future. The Marvel Universe will eventually go down in flames and reform itself as part of he DC Universe.


Tiny Tim, I mean Donnie the crippled boy, expresses amazement that Serafin got the TV to work, but Serafin, in a pointless and bizarre digression, explains to Donnie that he's using a bit of New Genesis technology called a Cosmic Cartridge, which are the things on his hat. They resonate with the universe, you see, and put one in touch with the great cosmic harmony. Serafin gives Donnie one to hold, and away he goes on an acid trip, Kirby style.

For one panel.

Then he snaps out of it and continues to pester Serafin about the Supertowner's mysterious origins. Unfortunately for him, the TV suddenly breaks in with a report on Mantis's destructive rampage. Recognizing the Grasshopper of Grimness (OK, sorry), our heroes do what they always do: call on Infinity Man to help them.

Regular reader "Supersonic Man" over at the BMMB was under the impression that the FPs were "non-violent superheroes"; I started to correct him before realizing that they didn't, in fact, do much fighting--they just conjure up Infinity Man every time things get hairy. So in that sense, I guess they are non-violent, but you can see why they don't brag about it. On the other hand, if Infinity Man is a composite of all the Forever People merged into one being, then...well, that's confusing. So let's drop it.

Even though the comic's only half over, there's not much more to tell, because as I mentioned above this is a good old-fashioned Kirby fight comic. Nobody ever did this kind of thing better than the King, and this particular battle runs on for about 8 pages, with occasional interjections from Darkseid and Desaad. (Desaad, for those of you who don't know, is Darkseid's #1 henchman, and makes his first chronological appearance here, but given how perfunctory it is I suspect that once again we're dealing with a comic that was drawn in a different order than how it was published, and that Desaad's proper introduction is in the next issue. So more about him next week.)

Aaaaanyway, the long and the short of it is, Mantis leaps and rampages through the city, cops shoot at him to no effect, Infinity Man gives him a drubbing, Mantis uses his energy-sucking touch to encase Infy in an implausibly cubical block of ice, Mantis rampages some more, Infy uses his ability to bend the laws of time and space--which is looking more and more like a deus ex machina--to break loose of the ice block, he hilariously grabs hold of those impractical ribbons of fabric dangling from Mantis's back to his feet, drains Mantis's power, and Mantis goes crawling back to his Power Pod. The FPs reappear to give a little soliloquy, and the issue abruptly ends.

Next time: Orion lays it out for us, New Genesis goes to war, and more on that Desaad guy.

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