Thursday, January 3, 2008

Characters I Like -- The Forever People

One thing that you can definitely say about the current state of comic book readers -- especially the ones who take the time to blog about it -- is that there certainly is a big heaping helping of Kirby Love out there. While most of Jack's creations were popular right out of the starting block, a good chunk of his later work is only really being fully appreciate now, nearly fourteen years after his death. One of those creations is my focus today, a quintent of adventurers from beyond the stars who didn't fit the normal heroic mold. They fought against injustice, yes, but they just as often preached peace and tolerance, and a greater understanding of just what lay around you. They were the Youth From Space, a perceived threat to the establishment for their age more than their origins, but who desired only the best for all. Unleashed upon the comic world in 1971, the Forever People were doomed to be the least popular stars of Kirby's "Fourth World" opus.

Along with The New Gods and Mister Miracle (plus the already established Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen), The Forever People told part of the saga of the New Gods, a powerful pantheon of alien beings involved in their own mythological struggles. Among this group, we had the "civilized savage" Orion, the wise Highfather, the cruel Desaad, the fun loving Scott Free and his tough-as-nails wife Big Barda, and of course the tyrannical Darkseid. But stranger than all of these were this group of five young Gods, come to Earth on their space-faring motorcycle, in order to find out what this "humanity" thing was all about, and spread their message of tolerance. Think about that for a moment. Was "The King" having a little too much of the Happy Smoke when he concocted this crew?

It all sounds very Hippie-like, admittedly, and that's probably one of the reasons why their title dropped off quickly, sales-wise, once the ball was rolling. But it's an unfair assesment. The Forever People aren't Hippies, they're a Kid Gang, just like the Newsboy Legion or the Boy Commandos before them -- a group of youths operating without direct adult supervision for adventure or what-have-you. They may have been a little older than the Newsboys, but the concept and motivation was the same. Kirby was always intrigued with youth throughout his creative days, and that is most evident to me in the Forever People.

Let's meet our cast, for those of you unfamiliar with them, as I was not too long ago. First off we have our handsome leading man, Mark Moonrider. He's not the most interesting guy you'll ever run into, but he's the closest thing we have to a "by the book" character in these pages. Moonrider can fire blasts of Kirby-energy from his hands, dubbed the Megaton Touch. His de-facto girlfriend is Beautiful Dreamer, who can create illusions and pull other psionic tricks. She's a real sweetheart, one of my favorite "Kirby Girls" in that she seems your typical waif (unlike Barda, who was a powerhouse), but holds her own with just about anything Darkseid throws at them. The brains of the outfit is Vykin, AKA Vykin the Black as he was initially called. The first major Black character in DC Comics, Vykin is well spoken and smart, and also sported magnetic powers as well as the team's Mother Box. (Really quickly, a Mother Box is a living, sentient supercomputer which acts as a sort of mentor and guide to various New Gods.) The muscle of the group comes from Big Bear, replete with his mane of wild hair. In the mold of Kirby's other strongmen like The Thing, Big Bear is not just a one dimensional lunkhead; in his massive frame lurks a joyful and boisterously poetic soul. Rounding out the crew is the youngest and most naive, Serifan, a big fan of Westerns who comes equipped with his mysterious Cosmic Cartridges, each with a different effect.

I'd be remiss not to mention Infinity-Man, the gestalt member of this group. Using the Mother Box, and by shouting the word "TAARU!" (alternately, "Tarru!" or "Taruu!"), the Forever People switch places with the immensely powerful Infinity-Man, older brother of Darkseid and a much more traditional cosmic hero. Infinity-Man has those sort of vaguely defined powers which work so well in the 60s and 70s but rarely fly today. He's the heavy hitter, called in when things are at their darkest and violence is the only resort.

And therein is what makes the Forever People so very interesting to me -- the exact thing which one would expect to turn me off to them. One of the strengths of the Fourth World saga is the sheer number of characters (let no one ever say that Jack Kirby didn't have a lot of ideas) involved in it. This allows both your heroic and villainous characters to come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of motivations and methodologies. Orion was harsh and brutal, while Lightray was free-wheeling and fun-loving; it's also important to remember that Darkseid was calculating and analytical, disinterested in Desaad's malicious and sadistic torture traps. The Forever People were a band of idealists, believing in the power of friends and reason. Their fight was just as much with their words as it was with their fists. This dichotomy makes these characters (as written by Kirby) stand out from a lot of other fare from the era. Kirby recoknized that the youth of the late 60s and early 70s thought they could be a positive influence on the world and make it a better place. But he also knew that words can only do so much, and that to affect change there must always be conflict. And so when the words and deeds of the Forever People are not enough to stop Darkseid's agents, they must call upon Infinity-Man, as even the most peaceful of goals inevitably must be hard fought; it seems that their motto must be "To secure peace is to prepare for war."

Powerful scenes abound in their initial series. Darkseid's agent Glorious Godfrey proclaiming from his pulpit the teachings of Anti-Life, wherein you may enforce your will upon everyone around you; Beautiful Dreamer casting an illusion for an untrusting older man, showing him that they are just kids, and not a threat; Serifan utilizing one of his cosmic cartiridges to demonstrate the depths of universe. This was an off-beat book in a series of off-beat books, a little left of center and all the better for it. It's not one dimensional like a lot of so-called "Hippie Lit" was at this point, raising drugs and music to deity-like levels, but neither is it a jackbooted, "love-it-or-leave-it" creed either. (I mentioned a while back that Moonrider saying that the Forever People could "wage war" freely on Earth was strangley militaristic comment for him, and I still hold by this.)

Wither the Forever People?  DEATH OF THE NEW GODS #4
Like all of the New Gods, the Forever People are currently involved in the Death of the New Gods story (which inevitably will tie-in to Final Crisis), and seem primed to be madeover for the new century. And why not? The concept of these mobilized, active peaceniks is just as relevant today as it was 35 years ago when they were made. Think about your resident angry young left-winger -- couldn't you make something superheroic out of that? I bet you could. And with any luck, maybe the powers that be at DC will realize what made the Forever People special, and not jettison that in the next year.

These are the Forever People, and they are characters I like.


Adama said...

Hey, I resent that remark! I AM NOT ANGRY!!!!!!1111one!

BTW, Happy New Year

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm not so much young, depending on your perspective, but I'm pretty angry and left-wing. Still can't get it up for the Forever People. Nor Hillary or Obama.

I'm going to go mourn the Howard Dean primary meltdown some more...

Luke said...

Dude, read Forever People #3 with Glorious Godfrey rallying his Justifiers to the cause of Anti-Life. I think that will get your left wing anger percolating.