Jack Kirby and The Incredible History of The New Gods

History of the New Gods

Jack Kirby and The Incredible History of The New Gods

Jack Kirby did a lot of things during his time with Marvel. Not only did he help usher in the Silver Age of comics, but he also created or helped to create fan-favorite characters like:

  • Cyclops
  • Doctor Doom
  • Mr. Fantastic
  • Human Torch
  • Invisible Woman 
  • The Thing
  • The Hulk
  • Jean Grey
  • Black Panther
  • Galactus
  • Silver Surfer
  • Thor

However, it wasn’t until he moved to DC and mapped out the history of the New Gods that Kirby really fell into his own.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Jack Kirby had a way with comics that hasn’t been or simply can’t be replicated. From his page layouts, his character designs, and bold use of lines to his never-ending imagination, Jack Kirby has been rightfully dubbed the “King of Comics”. 

There’s no denying the importance of Jack Kirby. His contributions to Marvel Comics are well documented and he has gone down as, aside from arguably Stan Lee, the most influential Marvel creator in history.

However, for everything that he did with Marvel, he wasn’t destined to stay there for his entire career.

Jack Kirby had been with Marvel since its early days. He helped transform the company from a fledgling, barely able to stand on its own two feet outfit into the powerhouse it would become. His work was everywhere. 

Characters. Stories. Art.

During the 1950s and going into the 1960s, it was impossible to not know who Jack Kirby was. 

Or was it?

Creator credit

Marvel Comics rose to superstardom on the backs of many creators. Of them, none were as known as the eccentric Stan Lee. Like Walt Disney before him, Matt Groening and George Lucas after him, Stan Lee was synonymous with his brand. If a product, whether it be a book, toy, or lunch kit, had the name Marvel on it, it belonged to Stan Lee.

It was Lee who was out promoting the company. It was Lee who coined catchy phrases like Excelsior, ‘Nuff said, and True Believers. And it was Lee who stood firmly in the Marvel spotlight. Jack Kirby created, Stan Lee promoted. For the longest time, this made sense. After all, Stan Lee craved the spotlight while Jack Kirby preferred to work under it. 

During the early rise of superhero comics, this was how it was. Creators didn’t get credit for their creations. And it wasn’t just Marvel doing it. DC, Marvel’s chief rival, didn’t give credit and neither did many of Marvel’s other competitors. This is what makes Stan Lee such an anomaly in the comic book world. He was, for all intents and purposes, the only of the creators to actually receive credit for what he was doing.

“Stan Lee Presents”, as each book proudly said.

As Marvel Comics became more and more popular, the number of artists who wanted to work for them increased. Within a few years, eventual well-known artists like Jim Steranko, John Romita, Neal Adams, and Herb Trempe came on board the Marvel machine. Artists and creators became, for lack of a better description, a dime a dozen. 

Marvel was gaining steam and guys like Jack Kirby felt like they didn’t fit the new mould. So, in an effort to regain lost ground and find out exactly what he meant to the company, Jack gave Marvel an ultimatum…raise his salary or he’d walk out the door.

So, when Marvel called his bluff, he left.

For Kirby, it’s wasn’t purely about the money. For Kirby, it was about being recognized for his contributions. Remember, he was responsible or at least partially responsible for some of the most loved and admired characters in the history of comic books. Therefore, he should be recognized, shouldn’t he? Or at the very least, been shown gratitude for his work. 

Apokolips

Of it, he said this, “A lot of ingratitude. It hasn’t left me bitter; it’s just that it shouldn’t work out that way. If there’s anybody who knows Stan Lee, I’m the guy who knows him. Stan Lee as a person is no better or worse than anybody else. I wasn’t competing with Stan. I got along very well with Stan. We were very good friends. And, my God, I came up with an army of characters! I felt that his [Lee’s] plans, somehow, didn’t mesh with mine. Stan was already a publisher at that time and could call the shots. If you can call the shots on somebody…you win.”

Imagine that for a moment. You spend your entire life in a workplace. By the skill of your own hands, you change a medium and usher in an extremely profitable era for your employer. Yet, no matter what you do, create, or think of, you never receive so much as an ounce of credit. Imagine how difficult it would be to go to work knowing that, although your work is relevant, you’re not.

When Jack Kirby packed up and left, DC was all too happy to have him.

More than giving the best comic artist in history a chance to draw some characters he hadn’t drawn before, DC gave Jack Kirby a chance to shine in a way that he had never shined.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World

Certainly, DC has characters like Batman and Superman, both of which Jack Kirby breathed new life into. However, where he shined the brightest was in his own creation, the New Gods. Although, at the time, you wouldn’t have known it.

When Kirby jumped ship to DC, he was asked to do one existing title and given the full control over three new ones. The titles were, to say the least, a giant undertaking that the comic book industry had never seen before. 

The history of the New Gods nearly ran parallel to what was happening in Kirby’s life. Both had little direction and both were starting from scratch. Called The Fourth World, Kirby’s work introduced some of DC’s most prominent and now-known characters. 

  • Darkseid
  • Orion
  • Mister Miracle
  • Granny Goodness
  • Kalibak The Cruel
  • Big Barda
  • Izaya  the Highfather

And so many more. 

The work was bold, beautiful, ahead of its time, and uncharacteristic of the era. Unfortunately, it was also an utter failure. In fact, Kirby had intended it to run for hundreds of issues but it didn’t make it past year three. Kirby’s Fourth World is, without any overexaggeration, the biggest tragedy the comic book industry had ever seen. Understand that its tragedy did not lie in its content. No. Instead, its tragedy lie in the fact that it was never finished. 

In reality, Kirby’s Fourth World began while at Marvel. Having worked on Thor, Kirby developed a great fascination with Gods and Mythology. For Thor, he wrote a story around Ragnarok or the destruction of Asgard. It was his desire to write the story in such a way that as a result of Ragnarok, the Old Gods would die and in their place, New Gods would arise. When he pitched the idea to Stan Lee, Lee liked it but wanted him to incorporate the new characters into existing comics. That is, rather than creating a whole new world with beautiful landscapes and characters, Lee wanted him to roll the idea into something that was already there.

When DC gave him full creative control, Kirby took his Marvel idea and created three new DC titles. 

Kirby had become fascinated with overarching stories that spanned through multiple books. He wondered why, how, and if the idea could translate to comics. Yes, today this is commonplace but remember, during this time stories barely continued through multiple issues in the same title, let alone over multiple issues and titles. 

The history of the New Gods

His Fourth World spanned over Mister Miracle, The Forever People, The New Gods, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. Understand that at the time, Superman’s Pal didn’t really belong in the group. In truth, the only reason he took the title was that because DC asked him to take over one of their titles. Not wanting to step on anyone’s toes, he took a title that didn’t really belong to anyone. 

Mister Miracle

Although it failed as epically as possible, The Fourth World has become one of the most respected and dissected pieces of work in comic history. 

If you haven’t heard of it, or are unaware of exactly what it is, let me explain.

The New Gods are the creation of Jack Kirby and although they didn’t run in publication as long as he would’ve hoped, they laid the groundwork for one of the most fascinating and imaginative worlds ever created.

The history of the New Gods is a little convoluted, so I’ll do my best to explain.

The New Gods came to be after the Old Gods were destroyed. As a result of the destruction, the planet that housed the Old Gods was split in two, reforming as two new planets. These planets, Apokolips and New Genesis, were inhabited by beings called the New Gods. While the planets housed the New Gods and were birthed from the same planet, their similarities ended there. 

Apokolips was a lifeless Hell ruled by a being called Darkseid. New Genesis was a lush and beautiful planet ruled by Izaya the Highfather. Both planets are a part of DC’s world but live outside the Multiverse. This means that the Apokolips of Earth-2 is the same Apokolips and the one for Earth Prime. Because they reside outside the Multiverse, they require a special form of transportation to get them to where they need to go. This form of transportation is called Boom Tubes.

The two planets, Apokolips and New Genesis, house Gods that suit what the planet represents. The Gods of New Genesis are led by Highfather and Highfather is one of the most remarkable beings in DC. Highfather stands for peace, justice, and tolerance. He and his people, while not opposed to war, would rather come to a conclusion without it. With the help of The Source (a giant wall of energy that holds all of known existence), Highfather is considered one of the smartest beings in DC.

The Gods of New Genesis live in a city called Supertown. Supertown is a beautifully constructed city that sits atop, not on, but atop nature below. The inhabitants of New Genesis are some of the most technologically advanced beings inside and outside the Multiverse. In fact, their understanding of technology has yielded them the Mother Boxes.

Not much is known about the Mother Boxes. What we do know, however, is that they enable their user to do practically anything. They can, and I may forget one or two things, act as a weapon, heal their user, provide knowledge and guidance, activate Boom Tubes, manipulate energy, transfer energy, communicate with their user, merge sentient beings into a more powerful singular being, and more.

But that isn’t all that New Genesis holds.

New Genesis also houses the Mobius Chair. I’ve touched on the Mobius Chair and its user in past articles, but for reference, the Mobius Chair and its user, Metron, float in and around the DC Universe collecting as much information as they can. Metron swears allegiance to neither New Genesis or Apokolips but if called upon, typically sides with New Genesis. 

The history of the New Gods can’t be talked about without talking about Apokolips, so…

The mere mention of DC’s Apokolips should conjure up images of its villainous ruler, Darkseid

While Highfather promotes harmony, peace, and justice, Darkseid promotes war, violence, and submission to his will. Darkseid travels from planet to planet and galaxy to galaxy pummeling their inhabitants into serving him. He aims to remove free will and in its place, create beings that will do anything he says. 

Apokolips is a prime example of this. Every creature, being, and thing on Apokolips lives only for one reason…to serve Darkseid. These beings, of course, include those in his armies.

Ranking just above the “commoners” of Apokolips lie the Parademons. The Parademons are winged creatures who make up the bulk of Darkseid’s army. They do whatever is asked of them and do it without any consideration of their own lives. The Parademons, however, don’t represent everything in Darkseid’s army. 

Of the high-ranking officers in the army, none are as important as the Female Furies. The Female Furies are an elite set of Warriors led by the ironically named Granny Goodness. Within the Female Furies lie Lashina, Stompa, Mad Harriett, and most famously, Big Barda. 

Big Barda

Make no mistake, the Female Furies are a force not to be taken lightly. But even they aren’t Darkseid’s most powerful servants. These members, known as Darkseid’s Elite, consist of the aforementioned Granny Goodness, his loyal counselor Desaad, Glorious Godfrey, Kanto, and Steppenwolf. For reference, Steppenwolf is actually Darkseid’s Uncle and General.  

Outside of his military force stand his family, Kalibak, Orion, and Grayven. It’s Orion who is most interesting.

For as long as the two planets were interlocked in war, it wasn’t the fighting that shaped their history. It was a peace agreement…albeit an odd one.

The history of the New Gods was filled with countless wars. After millions of years of war, it was decided that the war benefitted neither side. So, to curb the fighting, a peace agreement was struck. In a gesture of good faith between the two, they (Darkseid and Highfather) exchanged sons. This meant that Orion of Apokolips went to live with Highfather in New Genesis while the aptly named Scott Free went to live on Apokolips.

Orion was the most challenging on Highfather’s children. Because of who his father was, Orion was an angry child. Overtime, however, Orion was taught to control his anger and use it in a more productive way. This, coupled with his natural fighting abilities propelled Orion to becoming the greatest Warrior on New Genesis.

Conversely, Scott Free had a much tougher upbringing. Instead of being nurtured on New Genesis, Scott was tossed into one of Granny Goodness’s Terror Orphanages and tortured everyday. This meant that Scott was subjected to unspeakable horror from sunup to sundown. 

All wasn’t lost, however, through it Scott met, befriended, and fell in love with his eventual partner, Big Barda. Together the two grew to know the power of free thinking and will. With this understanding, they formed a small band and escaped Apokolips. 

Darkseid as Hitler

As a side note, the relationship between Scott Free (Mister Miracle) and Big Barda was an extremely progressive thing for Jack Kirby to do. Understand that in terms of power, capabilities, and combat, it’s Barda that’s superior to Scott and not the other way around. During this era of comics, this was not a normal occurrence. This era often saw the man as superior to the woman. By creating a reverse dynamic, Kirby was not only ahead of his time, but he also set the stage for others to follow.

Anyway…

What nobody foresaw was that Darkseid predicted and patiently waited for Scott to escape.

And why?

With Scott’s escape, the agreement was broken and Darkseid was able to resume his war on New Genesis.

Why it failed

Knowing all that you now know about the history of the New Gods, you’re probably asking yourself why it failed?

For everything that Kirby’s Fourth World was supposed to be, it caused a lot of confusion. Because Jack Kirby was writing, drawing, and creating it in its entirety, it was often messy, hard to follow, and difficult to understand. 

At Marvel, like it or not Jack Kirby had Stan Lee to guide him. Stan Lee was a master narrator and the one who pioneered the “Marvel Method” of writing comics. The Marvel Method, for context, saw the artists create the art without dialogue around a central idea. Once the art was created, the writer came in and filled in the dialogue. 

Kirby wasn’t used to scripting. Due to this, the translation from his thoughts to paper wasn’t as smooth as maybe he had hoped.

But it wasn’t just that. DC became afraid of the slow sales and urged Kirby to pick up the pace. In fact, while he was working on what was referred to as Act 1, DC approached him and asked him to speed things up. Worse yet, while he had intended Orion and Darkseid to kill one another during the final act (4, if you’re counting), DC told him to keep the two alive so that they could use them at a later date.

And it was even more than that.

DC had Jack Kirby and Jack Kirby helped create some of the greatest comic book characters in history. To capitalize on who they had, DC put an order out to Kirby for more. More locations. More characters. And more superpowers. All of this meant that the history of the New Gods grew to accommodate the demands. Locations and ideas were introduced even though neither belonged. Characters began to appear on pages and in stories for no reason. The history of the New Gods became a breeding ground for obscure characters.

And I could go on.

Sadly, Kirby’s Fourth World was destined to fail. It was audacious and inspiring but was destined to fail. Remember, what Kirby set out to do hadn’t been done before. He aimed to create a comic book soap opera that couldn’t be contained in merely one title. I’d argue that if the Fourth World had been created in this day and age as opposed to the time period that it was created in, the results would’ve been drastically different. I’d even say that the title would’ve been a monumental success. Think the Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples, Saga.

Kirby, his Fourth World and the history of the New Gods pioneered an idea that hasn’t been perfectly replicated yet. And in truth, probably never will. 

Only now, after nearly 50 years, is it apparent how epic and amazing the history of the New Gods was. Sure, it’s still hard to read. And sure, some of the ideas are a little too “out there”. But, what may appear as difficult, can also appear as a great and unexplored risk. 

As always, I’m going to leave you with this. Comic books are the gateway to understanding the world just a little bit better.

So, may they be around forever.

Cheers,

Joel

Images © DC

  • I am a family man first and foremost. Everything that I do is for my family. They keep me focused and moving forward. I grew up loving comics, this hasn't changed and on occasion, I wonder if my wife thinks I'll never grow up. I hope you enjoy your stay at comicbasics.com.