New Gods Breakdown: An Illustrated Guide to Jack Kirby’s Creations
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Back in June, comic book historian Alan Kistler provided ComicMix readers with a Countdown Breakdown, an illustrated guide to the 52-part event that preceded the Final Crisis storyline currently unfolding in the DC Universe. This feature was so popular that we convinced him to flex his creative muscles once again, and provide an analysis of one of the key groups of characters receiving the spotlight in Final Crisis: the Jack Kirby-created New Gods. Where do they fit in and what should you know about them in order to understand Final Crisis? Read on and find out! -RM]
Well, readers, some of you have no doubt been checking out DC’s crossover Final Crisis. Personally, I’ve been enjoying the heck out of it. But I can understand that some of it might not have as much impact if you’re relatively new to the DC Universe.
For instance, a major part of the crossover revolves around those Jack Kirby creations known as the "New Gods of the Fourth World."
So who are these New Gods? How are they related to the Greek gods who speak to Wonder Woman on a regular basis? What do they have to do with that powerful giant called Gog who’s been appearing in the pages of Justice Society of America? Why does Darkseid say he’s from the “Fourth World,” whereas Gog claims he’s from the “Third World?"
Well, look no further, faithful fans! ComixMix is here to oblige! So, because you folks requested it after seeing our illustrated Countdown Breakdown, here are the New Gods in a nutshell:
First, there was The Big Bang — the beginning of everything. It was the creation of planets, stars, gasses, rocks and, among other things, energy fields such as the Source, which helps bind the cosmos together (and on a side note, this was conceived of way before George Lucas thought of "The Force"). As the New Gods consider time, The Big Bang was the beginning of the “First World.”
(I think a better name for it would be the “First Age,” but I’m only mortal — so what do I know?)
The Source Wall also formed — a barrier between the physical universe and direct access to the Source itself. A planet began to form around a star that was in close proximity to the Source Wall. The planet was called Urgund, though later legends would also call it “Godworld.” When the first sentient humanoids emerged on this planet, it marked the beginning of the "Second World."
Ages later, these humanoids began accessing the energies of the Source, becoming nearly immortal, celestial beings. Along with their incredibly advanced technology, this made them incredibly powerful. And so, these beings would in later millennia be known as the “Old Gods” and their godhood marked the beginning of the age of the “Third World.”
Now, for any Green Lantern fans, I would like to point out that the Old Gods achieved godhood about 5 billion years before the birth of the Maltusians, those beings who would become known as the Guardians of the Universe, the Controllers and the Zamarons. (Just in case you were wondering.)
But, despite their power …
“THERE CAME A TIME WHEN THE OLD GODS DIED.”
So the gods went to war. And while they were making weapons they discovered this force that was the anti-thesis of the Source. A force called Anti-Life.
They unleashed the energies of Anti-Life and … KA-BOOM!
That was the end of the Third World.
The only things that survived the destruction of Godworld were the being known as Gog and a weapon known as Mageddon. Gog survived because he refused to participate in the war and was sent hurtling through the Bleed (the membrane between parallel universes), until he finally landed on our version of Earth, where he remained in one heck of a coma until recently waking up in the pages of Justice Society of America.
Mageddon (also called the “anti-sun”) went around bringing about death and destruction and nearly destroyed the Earth a few years ago before it was defeated way back in Grant Morrison’s final JLA story, titled “World War III” (not to be confused with the more recent storyline involving Black Adam).
The release of anti-life forces didn’t just wipe out the Old Gods. The anti-life energies spread outwards, consuming everything in their path. Thousands of surrounding star systems were wiped out before the energies finally stopped. With the exception of Urgund’s sun and the rubble of the planet itself, there was literally nothing left in the entire sector.
Pause and consider this, faithful fans: There was a war between gods and the result was instant death — not only for surrounding worlds that knew nothing about the war, but for so many lifeforms that could have evolved into much, more more over time. Think of what magic could have happened, what wonders might have evolved, if not for this one tragic war …
… Go ahead and think about it. I’ll wait.
And so, an entire sector of space was now completely empty. Conventional space travel between Urgund’s surviving star and the rest of the universe was impractical now. Trying to get there via teleportation or hyperdrive was nearly impossible, because the area was surrounded by an energy envelope that placed it slightly out of phase with the rest of reality. That’s why Green Lanterns don’t regularly drop in on the place.
The energies of the Godworld’s destruction extended across the universe, planting seeds of a sort. These seeds birthed several higher-dimensional beings who would become known as gods, such as the Greek pantheon and the Norse deities.
And meanwhile, the rubble of Urgund began to take shape again. From the ashes of the Third World, came the Fourth World. Though this is a bit of a misnomer.
The “Fourth World” was actually two planets formed from the remains of Urgund. One was full of life and would be called New Genesis. The other was a desolate wasteland and would be called Apokolips.
Eventually, new life formed on both planets. Some of the lifeforms could access the same cosmic, immortal energies that their predecessors had. And so, they became the New Gods. Like their predecessors, the New Gods are more akin to beings of celestial energy rather than physical matter and muscle mass. Still, they can be injured and possibly killed. And it’s known that a substance known as “radion” is highly toxic to them.
When death comes for the New Gods, you often see the Black Racer appear. He’s basically an avatar of death, taking on the form of a man in armor who flies through the air on skis. (This might sound weird, but keep in mind that Jack Kirby also created the Silver Surfer, so he was into that kind of thing.)
The New Gods tend to take on names that fit their nature, either literally or ironically. For instance, Lightray could fly at incredible speeds and was surrounded by a halo. And the sinister Granny Goodness delighted in her own wickedness. She ran the orphanages on Apokolips where she would take children and warp them through manipulation and torture into becoming ruthless soldiers. Despite this, she would always smile and tell her "children" to trust their dear, sweet granny. *shudder*
The people of New Genesis were led by Izaya the Highfather (basically Moses with a cape). And the evil New Gods of Apokolips were eventually led by Darkseid the Destroyer. The two sides fought from time to time. Darkseid not only wished to conquer New Genesis but also desired control over the anti-life force that had once destroyed the Third World.
Darkseid had plenty of baddies at his side. There were the warriors Kanto and Steppenwolf. Granny Goodness and her Female Furies. The psychotic torturer Desaad and the master-manipulator Glorious Godfrey. And Darkseid’s own son, the beast-like Kalibak.
The New Gods developed some remarkable technology. The most famous tech they used were called "Mother Boxes" — living computers connected to the Source. Each Mother Box could manipulate matter and energy on small levels, such as healing wounds or reweaving clothing into armor. They also spoke to their users telepathically (often making a "ping" noise as they did so). The Mother Boxes also had a very maternal/protective attitude toward their users.
Basically, imagine if your iPhone was 1000 times more powerful, could alter your wardrobe, take care of any scrapes or bruises you received and actually enjoyed your company.
Trippy, right? That’s pure Kirby for you.
And these little babies could even help you with your travel plans! You see, each Mother Box was equipped to summon "boom tubes" if the user needed them. A boom tube is an interdimensional star-gate that allows nearly instantaneous travel from the Fourth World planets to the rest of the universe and vice versa. They got their name because they emit a loud sonic "boom" whenever you use them.
WHOA! See what I mean?!
The interesting thing about boom tubes is that they also adjust your size. See, the inhabitants of New Genesis and Apokolips are giants compared to us. When they travel through a boom tube to other places in the universe, it shrinks them down to mortal proportions so that they can better interact with us mere mortals rather than have to worry about stepping on us by accident. This shrinking effect doesn’t decrease their power, though.
This, by the way, is why Gog is seen as a giant compared to Earth people in the current Justice Society of America storyline. He traveled from the Third World to Earth through different means than the boom tube, so his size wasn’t adjusted accordingly.
With the boom tubes, the New Gods could again interact with the outside universe. Eventually, Kanto and Glorious Godfrey journeyed to the planet Mars where a Martian named M’yrn had developed scientific proofs he called “life equations.” Darkseid studied M’yrn’s work and believed that by following the same line of reasoning, he could formulate an “anti-life equation” which would allow him to control the forces of anti-life and rob all sentient life forms of free will if you broadcasted it into their minds.
Grant Morrison once wrote out the anti-life equation, and so I have written it here on my hand-dandy dry erase board for you all to enjoy at home.
After learning what he could from M’yrn, Darkseid then attempted to enslave the Martians. But they were freed by M’yrn’s own son, the warrior J’onn J’onzz, who would forever afterwards consider Darkseid and his warrior Kanto as blood enemies. Centuries later, J’onn would come to Earth and would become the superhero known as the Martian Manhunter.
In his story Seven Soldiers of Victory, Grant Morrison revealed that at some point in Earth’s early history, the New Gods came to our planet and may have influenced the rise of homo sapiens (more details appear in the first issue of Final Crisis). They also saw to it that Earth got its very first superhero, a man called Aurakles.
Years later, Highfather and Darkseid finally brokered a treaty by exchanging their newly born sons as hostages. Darkseid’s young son would grow up on New Genesis as Orion, the “dog of war,” and would often use a mother box to quell his Apokoliptian rage and to alter his features so he looked less like his father.
Highfather’s son became so adept at escaping the traps of Granny Goodness that he was named Scott Free. He later escaped to Earth and became the superhero called Mr. Miracle (a name his apprentice Shilo Norman would also use from time to time when performing death-defying escapes for the public).
Around the same time that Scott Free came to Earth, so did the Forever People (basically New God hippies). By meeting the Forever People, Superman first learned about New Genesis and Apokolips — and he and Darkseid would become enemies pretty quickly after that. Other New Gods who spent some time on Earth have been Orion, Scott Free, Lightray and Barda, all of whom have served on the Justice League.
By this time, Darkseid was beginning to take an interest in Earth, having realized that some human beings were somehow born with the anti-life equation hardwired into their brain. A guy called Sonny Sumo (who helped out the Forever People years ago) actually had the equation buried in his subconscious and the same turned out to be true for the Flash villain Pied Piper. Scott Free and Orion both later learned the anti-life equation themselves.
In a possible future (featured in Grant Morrison’s JLA story “The Rock of Ages”), Darkseid actually did learn the equation and used it to conquer everything. And even though he was defeated in the end, it wasn’t before heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and countless innocents died at his hands.
Recently, it seems that the worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips were coming to an end. Just as had happened before, it was time for one set of gods to die so that a new race could emerge afterwards. The New God scientist Metron has theorized that these new beings will be born on Earth, which he thinks will be the Fifth World.
But Darkseid wasn’t in the mood to just die. He’s somehow figured out a way for him and his followers to survive (albeit seemingly inhabiting human forms). So after millennia of war between the New Gods, with most of the battles raging in a realm just beyond the reach of the rest of the universe, Darkseid finally came out on top.
”THERE WAS A WAR IN HEAVEN AND EVIL WON.”
Darkseid is here, kids. He, along with Kanto, Kalibak, Granny Goodness, Glorious Godfrey and Desaad … walks among us! And the heroes just haven’t noticed yet.
So we just have to wait to see what happens next!
ME: Or is it possible you already know what’s going to happen, Metron? Hmm? Any predictions about how Final Crisis will turn out?
METRON: My Mobius Chair is better than yours.
ME: Now, now… Don’t be hatin’.
Well, I hope you enjoyed our illustrated walkthrough of New Gods history, folks. And be on the lookout for the upcoming ComicMix Illustrated Crisis Annotations!
Final Crisis #3 hits shelves this week. Like what you’ve seen here? If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out Countdown Breakdown: An Illustrated Guide to DC’s Final Crisis.
Alan Kistler has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures and mainstream media outlets as a comic book historian, and can be seen in the "Special Features" sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. His personal website can be found at: www.KistlerUniverse.com.
All art courtesy of Alan Kistler, who is also an artist, apparently.