Monday, June 29, 2009

The Forever People 1: Old Man Superman

Though I can’t back it up with numbers, I’d say The Forever People is the least popular of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World titles. I base this on the fact that the other New Gods show up in many other comics and cartoons, and just seem to "fit" into the DC Universe better than this group of freaky, superpowered, teenaged hippies. Also, I base it on the fact that the 1999, black-and-white reprint of their series has gone unsold in the comic book store I frequent since it was first ordered ten years ago (even marked down from the outrageous Canadian cover price of 23.50 to 4.99).

I mention this only because it helps my case when I ramble on about The Forever People being a hidden treasure, even though it’s currently available in your local comics shop under the title JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS, and it’s by one of the best-known Cartoonists in the Western World.

The opening narration of the first issue (which is in rhyme, no less) sets us up for the main motif of the Forever People series…that of The Gifted vs. The Rest of Us. The unseen narrator indicates that we, as the reader, are one of a select few to witness the mysteries of the New Gods as a squealing, Kirby Krackling hole is ripped into our reality. This is The Boom Tube, and it spews forth the Super Cycle-riding male members of the Forever People.

Kirby quickly, if somewhat heavy-handedly, defines the relationships between the characters through their dialogue with each other and with the two saps that they almost run down. Big Bear is the smiling, waggish giant. Mark Moonrider is the uptight, diplomatic wang. Vykin the Black (and yes, he is black) is the moderately out-of-it guardian/translator for Mother Box (when Mark tries to wrap the hapless human’s brains around the freakiness of Mother Box by saying it’s "like a – Computer –", Vykin snaps, shouting "Wrong!" at him and the mortal onlookers. He jabbers that Mother Box is a living entity, to which the dude in the car mutters, "I-is that right---How about that---") Then there’s Serifan, a sensitive and romantic lad who starts seizing when he makes mental contact with Beautiful Dreamer, the missing female of their troupe and the reason the kids have come to Earth for their first time.

The iceberg tip of villains reveals itself, with Inter-gang agents stalking our heroes. Acting as human representatives for Darkseid, they hold Beautiful Dreamer prisoner and are instructed to follow the Forever People. Like the reader, they are not yet aware of the cosmic implications of this simple kidnapping.

At this point, the story shifts entirely to Superman,
and though I don’t find his sudden bellyaching about being lonely and yearning for the company of non-mortals very convincing, it does give the story a secondary drive (adding Superman’s search for Supertown, glimpsed from a photo of the Boom Tube, to the search for the missing Beautiful Dreamer). It also thematically reinforces the opposition between the Gifted Individual and the "Teeming millions" as Clark Kent refers to the ant-like commoners.

After deciding Supertown is the only place he can be himself, Superman comes upon the Forever People at a lumber mill, which is an appropriate Dream Symbol for Superman’s impulse of loneliness. Wood can be interpreted as representing an inner void in the dreamer, and can mean he will act without considering consequences. As this story is entitled "In Search of a Dream" (referring to the search for Beautiful Dreamer, Superman’s search for a Utopian city, and to a lesser extent to Darkseid’s search for the Anti-Life Equation), looking for dream symbols is apropos.

After a quick confrontation with Inter-gang (in which Superman drives an oversized stake through the heart of their helicopter), the Forever People mistake Superman for a New God, and immediately get annoyed by him when he explains that he’s not. They then face a gauntlet of traps and foes placed between them and Beautiful Dreamer. This hints at another theme in the series…that of Communalism vs. Conformity. The Gravi-guards work as one, serving Darkseid, coming out’ve the ground and swarming the kids like ants. The Forever People are also able to act as one (literally) when they transform into Infinity Man. But unlike the nameless, indistinguishable Gravi-guards, they are individuals who come together for a common goal.

It’s interesting that Kirby withholds information about Infinity Man till later in the series, leaving the reader, and definitely Superman, puzzled. (When Infinity Man appears to save Superman, Kal has to wonder where the heck the boys went. And when they "return", he has no idea where they came from.) In fact, there never is a definite answer about who Infinity Man is…Kirby gives us tidbits, but leaves it to the reader to figure out exactly what goes on. (I have my own personal definition of who or what he is, but I’ll leave that for later.)

Also interesting is the fact that Darkseid is such an asshole, he denies us a final, climactic battle between himself, Superman, and Infinity Man. He’s had his chance to experiment on Beautiful Dreamer, he didn’t find what he wanted, so he just gives her up and leaves. Sure, he leaves her strapped to a doomsday device, but the ensuing explosion and rescue is no substitute for genuine, dramatic combat. This being the first issue of an ongoing series, I guess an ultimate melee like that wouldn’t make much sense, though.

With the Forever People’s desire line of finding Beautiful Dreamer
concluded, it’s now time for Superman to have his desire fulfilled.
The kids don’t know why Superman would want to go to Supertown when Earth is in such peril, but they won’t stop him. But when Superman enters the Boom Tube, "a sting of apprehension" nags at him, and he makes the moral decision to stay and protect his home. Yet, he’s still left with his self-pitying belief that he’ll only be happy with his own kind.

I should say that this first issue is the weakest of the series. At best, it sets up plot, character, and theme for the rest of the run. At worst, it’s old man Superman whining about being so damn great (and with Al Plastino redrawing his face, he not only acts like a self-indulgent dinosaur, he looks like one, too). Plus, Beautiful Dreamer, the subject of the plot, doesn’t even get a line. That being said, it’s a tightly constructed and incredibly readable comic (which were rare attributes when it came out, and is even harder to find with most comics of today).
My Zimbio
Top Stories