Thursday, March 14, 2013

Return of the New Gods


DC 1st Issue Special #13 (April 1976)
"Lest Night Fall -Forever!"
Plot and editing: Gerry Conway
Dialogue: Denny O'Neil
Art: Mike Vosburg

Karen: This is certainly an oddity in my collection. I was looking through my old DC books, trying to find a one-and-done to review, since we have an acknowledged lack of DC books here at BAB, and ran into this title. This was my first exposure to the New Gods, and I can honestly say, it was not a memorable one. In fact, although my memory in general seems to be going south these days, I still tend to remember my comic book trivia fairly well, but I didn't remember a darn thing about this book! I imagine I read it once and filed it away, and never looked at it again. So in some ways, it's like a brand new book to me. So let's take a look at this strange offering, shall we?

Karen: First off, I have little experience with Mike Vosburg, but based on his work here, color me unimpressed. It's not terrible artwork, but it certainly doesn't pop. I guess I would call it passable, but it has a rough, almost unfinished  look to it. Particularly if one were to compare it to Kirby, it comes off lacking. Also, after the cool Dick Giordano cover, well, it feels like a letdown. The splash page features Orion, in a less than inspired new uniform (really, a big "O" on his chest?) attacking some Apokolips goons. The truce between the New Gods and Apokolips has been broken, and Orion has come to Earth, where he finds his half-brother, Kaliban, and a bunch of Darkseid's troops. As Orion and Kaliban fight, we get a flashback, with Orion recalling recent events in New Genesis. We see Highfather, Metron, Big Barda, and Scott Free, aka Mister Miracle, although he is not dressed in his standard super-hero outfit. Orion had just returned from a scouting mission to Apokolips and came back with the disturbing news that their long time enemy was preparing for war, and planned to invade Earth. No sooner had Orion shared this information then New Genesis was attacked by parademons. The New Gods fight off the creatures, with Orion thinking, "I cannot help myself! I glory in warrior's work - in violence and destruction!" Metron ultimately uses his Mobius chair to create a boom tube to send the parademons hurtling back to Apokolips. Highfather reluctantly tells Orion to do "whatever is necessary"  and sends him to Earth. Orion takes this to mean killing Darkseid, and heads off for our blue planet, which brings us back to the present.

Karen: Kaliban seems to have the upper hand in their fight, but Orion manages to break free. His brutish half-brother grabs a war club and swings it at his head, but Orion dodges it and uses his astro-force to knock Kaliban through the floor. About two years ago I read volumes one and two of the Kirby Fourth World omnibus, and I have to say, I'm really missing Orion's original look and his whole astro-harness get-up. It was a unique look. Here, Orion looks like any other generic, force blasting hero. He moves on in search of Darkseid but instead finds Granny Goodness. Gotta love these Kirby names. Granny manages to blast Orion and knock him out. 

Karen: Back on New Genesis, Highfather sits in a big comfy chair looking worried next to a gigantic fireplace. That New Genesis really looks like  a nice place to hang out. Suddenly Metron materializes and tells Highfather that the Source has become active,and takes him to see a large wall standing in the middle of a field. It is the Wall of Prophecy, and the Source has written, in glowing letters, "When son slays father chaos reigns." Well that seems pretty obvious, right? Orion has gone off to kill Darkseid, his pop, and this makes it sound like that might not be such a good idea. But Highfather seems mystified by it all. Apparently the New Gods are not immune to senility -or maybe this was just Conway's way of slipping in some exposition. Metron explains to the reader -er, Highfather -that he has used a boom tube to locate Darkseid. It turns out the fiend is not on Earth after all, but back on Apokolips, where he and Doctor Bedlam have somehow attuned Darkseid's heartbeat to Earth's sun in such a way that if Darkseid dies, the sun will explode. After having revealed this shocking bit of news, Darkseid has another surprise: he senses that Metron and Highfather are watching him, and grinning, shuts off their boom tube. Although I thought most of Vosburg's art was rough, his Darkseid here is effective (if a bit lean). Highfather finally gets the meaning of the message from the Source and he and Metron realize they have to stop Orion from finding Darkseid.

Karen: Orion has his hands full with Granny Goodness' thugs, who wait just a little too long to start his beating, giving the warrior time enough t orecover and instead beat the stuffing out of his would-be tormentors. He busts out of a window only to realize he's no longer on Earth but in Apokolips, near Darkseid's palace. He decides to go after him, when he's attacked from behind by Kalibak. Tired of dealing with his half-brother, Orion puts everything he has into his punch and sends the brute flying right through the wooden door of the palace. Orion storms in and demands to see Darkseid, and lo and behold, there he is. After callously dismissing Kalibak, Darkseid strides over to Orion and tells him that if he kills him, he'll also wind up destroying the Earth. Orion angrily accuses Darkseid of lying, and works himself up into a frenzy, building up to unleash his astro-force. But before he can blast Darkseid, Metron and Highfather arrive and stop him, rather anti-climatically I might add -they just tell him to stop, and he does. No struggle, no mad dive to divert an energy blast, nada. With Orion powered down, Darkseid goads him, saying that if he'd killed his father, he'd feel guilty. Orion seems genuinely confused about how he'd feel. The New Gods depart, and return to New Genesis, where Orion continues to brood amongst the beauty and happiness around him.

Karen: My understanding is this was a bridge between Kirby's original New Gods series and a second series that began with issue #12 (July 1977). If it was supposed to be an introduction to the New Gods and the Fourth World concepts for new readers, it fails at that task. Surprisingly there's no recap, no introductions or explanations given. The book assumes you know who these characters are, which seems really odd given how careful writers typically were in the 70s to make sure to include a recap for readers of even the previous issue. There is a brief text feature at the end that has a few sentences that discusses the war between Apokolips and New Genesis, but that's it.  Now that I have read Kirby's New Gods series I had no trouble reading this issue, but back when I bought it? I probably didn't have a clue what was going on, which is why it went unread all these years. I'm not one of those people who thinks that only Kirby can do the New Gods (I thought Starlin had a decent handle on the characters and mythology in Cosmic Odyssey), but this is pretty bland fare.   I'd recommend this issue only for New God completists, whomever they might be (do they exist?). It certainly isn't a great work of comic book art.

25 comments:

Rip Jagger said...

New Gods completist reporting for duty.

To begin, let say that I'm a bigger fan of Mike Vosburg's work here than seems to be case in the review, although I can see the reason for the cool response. Vosburg's strength has always been storytelling and that seems to be on spot here.

What this "Return" of the New Gods reveals though is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Fourth World was about. Transforming the forbidding Orion into a masked superhero is misguided, and having the cold and alienated Metron come across as merely another member of the gang is wrongheaded.

Kirby created characters who were less persons than archetypes, and a writer like Conway for all his virtues approaches this story like most writers would, trying to invest his characters with personality and involve them in a compelling plot. That's good enough for the average comic, but it was not the stuff of the Fourth World.

Kirby's characters are walking talking symbols who do what they do for reasons which sometimes elude those focused on the plot, but make sense to those who try to catch hold of the broader spectrum imbedded in the narrative.

The Black Racer is a good example, on the surface a somewhat farcical creation until you realize that he is meant to be the omnipresent essence of mortality, inherent in all men and only revealed from time to time. He's there, and then he's not. It doesn't really make sense, but then it does. Weird, but that's the wacky stuff Kirby could pull off if you stop trying to make him conform to the rules of traditional comic storytelling.

I think of understanding pure Kirby (and the Fourth World is the most pure)is much like trying to put meaning into a great modern work of art, it's a chore to hold it together in the mind long enough with a broad enough perspective to apprehend the full meaning. It's elusive, like Carrol's White Rabbit, seen out of the corner of the eye but slips away when you stare at it.

This story is pretty decent comics, but pretty weak tea compared to the potent brew of the true and unvarnished Fourth World.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

Never had this issue, but I had some of the revived New Gods series. I remember liking those, but I think that was mostly due to the fact that Don Newton was doing the art. In retrospect, I have to agree with you about the way Orion was turned into a generic super-hero, complete with letter on his chest - not a good move. On the whole, I think the revival of Mr. Miracle at about the same time was handled much better: the stories (by Englehart and then Gerber) were really good, and art by Marshall Rogers and Michael Golden certainly didn't hurt.
On the other hand, I have to speak up in defense of Mike Vosburg. The examples you posted here are certainly unattractive, but he often produced some really nice work. His art on that obscure Starfire series was generally really nice, and he has the distinction of being one of those rare artists whose style meshes well Vince Colletta's inks. I also recall that he drew a Tigra story in Marvel Premiere (#42 I think) which was also quite nice.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

It’s funny that this is a subject of conversation today. After finding this issue in my comic book collection, I went out and purchased all four volumes of Kirby’s 4th World Saga. I bought them in paperback, all available on Amazon. I never got to read the saga in it’s entirety. I think if DC had done the right thing and kept Kirby, he would have been directing the creative direction of this title. What DC did was declare the tiles a failure, then hire other artists to revive the concept under another editors direction. They were wrong on all counts. Like Stan Lee, Kirby wanted to launch characters and have other artists and writers take over them over. Only Kirby was never allowed the opportunity for editorial control. When a company like Marvel or DC had a talent like Kirby there shouldn’t have been any interference from editors to “make it better’. Kirby knew what he was doing when he created this saga and sadly wasn’t granted the chance to finish his saga until the Hunger Dogs graphic novel came out years later.

dbutler16 said...

I love the look on Darkseid’s face as he tells Highfather he knows he’s watching.

I have to wonder, could Orion really kill Darkseid with one of his energy blasts? Darkseid’s one tough hombre, after all. Orion did give up very quickly, but I guess he trusts and obeys Highfather implicitly.

I wish I had gotten into Kirby’s New Gods stuff, but it was a little bit before my time, and for some reason I never collected the back issues, and still haven’t’ really read them. I have me some catching up to do!

This does seem like an odd intro to newcomers, since as Karen mentions, it doesn’t explain what’s gone on before.

Matt Celis said...

I an one of those people who feels only Kirby can do the Fourth World. Everyone else seems to turn in a cheesy kirby imitation or lose the essential character of Kirby's saga. like when Orion was a member of the Justice league. Seriously?

Metron is an observer, not an actor in the scheme
of things. At least that's how I remember him from the originals. Orion couldn't kill Darkseid unless Darkseid wanted him to for reasons of his own. This is Darkseid, I doubt anyone can take him down up to and including Superman. Orion with an O on his chest and a generic super hero costume? Yikes!

Inkstained Wretch said...

I have one of the later issues of the revived series and, yeah, it really gives off a yawn-inducing generic comic book vibe -- but characters whose backstory and relationship were anything but generic. Not a good mix.

I remember thinking at the time that that this version of Orion seemed an awful lot like the later costumed version of Jim Starlin's Vanth Dreadstar although even this version of Orion came first.

Bruce said...

Great review, Karen, and insightful comments from Rip.

I haven't read this particular issue, but I tend to agree that subsequent New Gods stories don't measure up to Kirby's originals. Like Rip says, those characters had a larger-than-life quality that other creative teams haven't been able to match.

I did like the late '80s Mister Miracle series, which cast Scott and Barda in small-town married life. But he always was the most human, relatable member of the New Gods.

Karen said...

Another thing about this story is it doesn't actually DO anything -everything is still status quo at the end, so what was the point? I mean, it doesn't effectively introduce these characters to new readers, and it doesn't change anything about the established characters (other than Orion's costume), so it just all seems rather pointless, other than keeping the characters in front of the readers, so they don't forget them.

I'm sort of curious now to see how the second New Gods series was handled, but I don't know that I actually want to spend any money to find out!

Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with both Karen and Rip about the mishandling of material here. Too bad Rip can't take the Way-Back machine to give Conway a few pointers before he plotted this mess.

I did a quick search, and found that Jeannette Kahn took over from Carmine Infantino as DC's publisher in Jan 1976. I was initially thinking that Kahn may have instigated this, but it looks like it was done on Infantino's watch, judging by dates. I would assume that after Gerry Conway came over to DC, he and infantino, and the editorial staff looked over DC's properties to see if anything could be revived. That would explain why Conway also revived the Justice Society in All-Star Comics.

Orion also shows up in a Flash-centric episode of JLA Unlimited. He's basically Batman's sidekick in it. Great episode, except for the complete mishandling of Orion's character.

First Issue Special itself would be worthy of a BAB post. It was an attempt to do Showcase in the 70's without calling it Showcase. Most of the issues were forgettable-to-terrible. Kirby and Joe Simon both did their share. The one jewel I remember was a Doctor Fate tale by Martin Pasko & Walt Simonson. Some of Simonson's best art ever.

James Chatterton

mr. oyola said...

I am taken aback by the way Darkseid is drawn!

As someone who never got into DC comics, my first exposure to Darkseid was the X-Men/Teen Titans crossover in the 80s.

I think by then Darkseid was being drawn differently - here he seems almost dainty - his body is drawn almost as if he is dancing.

We this how Kirby drew him or is that Vosburg's doing?

Inkstained Wretch said...

Karen,

The Return of the New Gods series was a victim of the DC Implosion of the late 70s when they abruptly canceled a number of under-performing series. So the storyline abruptly ended with issue #19, I believe. I think the storyline was wrapped up in Justice League of America #183-5.

Matt Celis said...

Don't forget the return of the Creeper by Ditko!

Ray Tomczak said...

I'm not a New Gods completist, I'm a 1st Issue Special completist. I have every issue of that short-lived tryout series and have been threatening to write about it on my blog for some time now. However, one time, before I completed my collection of the series, when I was telling a friend which issues I still needed at the time, and I included this one--totally forgetting that I already owned and had read it.
So, you're definitely right about this comic not being at all memorable.

humanbelly said...

One highly notable exception to the generally forgetable 1st Issue Special tryouts is. . . that's where we saw the first appearance of Grell's WARLORD.

True story!

Mike Vosburg was the primary artist for the original She-Hulk series. . . which was uninspired, but okay. I met him around that time at a small comic convention in South Bend, Indiana, and he was a rather gruff fellow. . . didn't seem particularly happy to be there doing drawings and chatting with folks. "Unjustly Unrecognized Artist" was sort of the attitude he seemed to convey. He did want to talk at length about his SISTERHOOD OF STEEL book that he was drawing at that point. He showed me some pages, but lordy I thought it looked very dull. I was politely enthusiastic, of course. Even as a young adult, I realized one shouldn't step on someone's dream. . .

HB

Garett said...

My first exposure to the New Gods was in these later issues, and they didn't grab me either. Vosburg's art doesn't appeal to me--as mentioned, Marshall Rogers was cool on Mister Miracle, and would've been cool here. Neal Adams' New Gods--now that would've been something!

I always like those masks where the hair is showing, like Orion's here, but the original warrior-type helmet is more appropriate.

Good review! Is it harder to make a good review of a mediocre comic?



Tony said...

I had this issue as well back in the day, but I don't remember reading it. I never "got" the New Gods and that whole universe. It's not really something I want to revisit either.

Anonymous said...

I loved the New Gods revival in the 70s! And, I would consider myself a New Gods completist. A middle issue of the seventies revival was my first exposure to the New Gods, and, being a comics junkie with no prior understanding of Kirby's work, I loved it! I loved the serialized nature of the series, where Conway separated the story into parts and chapters. I guess I felt like I was reading some high-brow comics epic! But, I really did like the revival. The story concluded int the first two Adventure Comics dollar-sized issues. That might make it harder to put together a complete collection if you we're so inclined.

Nice to see some DC on here!

Ric

Edo Bosnar said...

Ric, I've often found myself wishing some kind of reprint books were published which collect the post-Kirby Mr. Miracle and New Gods stories from the late '70s. The first because I liked both the stories and art, while the second mostly because, with the exception of this issue, it was pretty much all drawn by Don Newton.

Bruce said...

Agreed re: post-Kirby New Gods reprints. But DC really lags behind Marvel in reprinting Bronze Age material. It's my biggest point of contention with the Distinguished Competition (the few modern titles I've bought are almost exclusively DC and IDW books).

Anonymous said...

I'd buy such a reprint collection in a heartbeat! I loved the Mr.Miracle revival just as much as y'all did! None of it was true to Jack's vision, but they were fun comics!

Ric

Matt Celis said...

Agreed, I am longing for reprints of that era of the Flash and Batman in particular.

Karen said...

Now that you guys mention it, I was looking around for TPBs of the Steve Englehart JLA era and couldn;t find any. Why isn't DC putting this stuff out there? It seems like all they focus on is recent comics.

Edo Bosnar said...

Geez, don't get me started on all the great DC stuff from the '70s and '80s that could/should have been collected and reprinted long ago, but hasn't. You're right about that focus on the (uninteresting to me) modern stuff, Karen. The only cool '70s reprints published recently by DC that I can think of are the Doc Savage series - originally put out by Marvel!

Karen said...

I forgot, I meant to respond to Garret's question, is it harder to make a good review of a mediocre comic?

Garret, you really need to tune in to Monday's column. I think that review may have been one of the most difficult for Doug and I to write. Once you read it, you'll see why.

Comics Bronze Age said...

This one scored a B- from me. I didn't think was terrible, but following in the shadow of the King did it no favors!

Andrew

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