Jack “The King” Kirby (August 28, 1917 – February 6, 1994), born Jacob Kurtzberg, was an American comic book artist, writer and editor regarded by historians and fans as one of the major innovators and most influential creators in the comic book medium. Growing up poor in New York City, Kurtzberg entered the comics industry in the 1930s. He drew various comics features under different pen names, including Jack Curtiss, ultimately settling on Jack Kirby. In 1940, he and writer-editor Joe Simon created the highly successful Captain America for Timely Comics, predecessor of Marvel Comics. During the 1940s, Kirby, generally teamed with Simon, created numerous characters for Timely Comics and for the company that would become DC Comics.
After serving in World War 2, Kirby returned to comics and worked in a variety of genres. He contributed to a number of publishers, including DC Comics, Harvey Comics, Hillman Periodicals and Crestwood Publications, where he and Simon created the genre of romance comics. He and Simon also launched their own short-lived comic company, Mainline Publications. Kirby ultimately found himself at Timely’s 1950s division, Atlas Comics, later to be known as Marvel Comics. There, in the 1960s, he and writer-editor Stan Lee co-created many of Marvel’s major characters, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk. Despite the high sales and critical acclaim of the Lee-Kirby titles, however, Kirby felt treated unfairly, and left the company in 1970 for rival DC.
Thus was born the Fourth World saga, which spanned several comics titles. While these series proved commercially unsuccessful and were canceled, several of their characters and the Fourth World mythos have continued as a significant part of the DC Universe. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story behind the Fourth World here is a brief synopsis:
The New Gods are natives of the twin planets of New Genesis and Apokolips. New Genesis is an idyllic planet filled with unspoiled forests, mountains, and rivers and is ruled by the benevolent Highfather, while Apokolips is a nightmarish, ruined dystopia filled with machinery and fire pits and is ruled by the tyrant Darkseid. The two planets were once part of the same world, a planet called Urgrund (German for “primeval ground”), but it was split apart millennia ago after the death of the Old Gods during Ragnarok. The characters associated with the New Gods are often collectively referred to as “Jack Kirby’s Fourth World”. The New Gods first appeared in New Gods #1 and Mister Miracle #1 (both titles were published concurrently). The other two “Fourth World” titles were Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen and Forever People. Various New Gods, notably Darkseid, went on to interact with other denizens of the DC Universe.
The New Gods have made it into DC’s animated and live-action worlds as well! The AWESOME DC Comics animated TV show, Justice League Unlimited featured the New Gods in several of its episodes, click here to check out a great video about the origin of the New Gods! Warner Premier put out a great movie back in 2010 called Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, which adapted the Superman/Batman comic storyline “The Supergirl from Krypton”, by Jeph Loeb, and is a sequel to 2009’s Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. The New Gods are also featured on Superman the Animated Series, Smallville, Young Justice, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and as far back as Super Friends!
To this day the New Gods remain my favorite DC Comics property next to Batman. In 2007-2008, DC Comics ran the epic storyline Final Crisis in which a mysterious force known as the Godkiller, eliminated the New Gods one by one. Here’s what happened:
Taking place in both the yearlong series Countdown to Final Crisis (2007–2008) and its spin-off, Death of the New Gods, written by Jim Starlin, was a story-arc involving the mysterious deaths of the New Gods across the universe in preparation for the coming storylines in Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, published later in 2008. As elaborated in Death of the New Gods, the mysterious Godkiller turned out to be an agent of the sentient Source itself, which sought to destroy the imperfect Fourth World — compromised by the disruption in its creation by the Old Gods — in favor of a more perfect “Fifth World” by reuniting the Source with the Anti-Life Equation. The Source’s initial attempts to recreate the Fifth World had been hampered by the Crisis on Infinite Earths which unified the Multiverse and forged an impenetrable Source Wall around the Anti-Life Equation. However, subtly manipulating characters like Alexander Luthor Jr, and Booster Gold to recreate the Multiverse made the Source Wall less impenetrable. The Source’s agent is revealed to be the New God Infinity-Man. Darkseid acquires the powers of the Anti-Life Equation and capitalizes on the deaths of the New Gods by using the human Jimmy Olsen as a “soul-catcher” for the Gods, from which he can claim all their powers and recreate the universe in his own image, but he is killed when the Source is able to send Darkseid’s resurrected son, Orion, to rip out his heart. Orion leaves the scene of the fray to die of his own wounds; and, seemingly with success, the Source entity manages to reunite with the Anti-Life entity and merge Apokolips with New Genesis to create the Fifth World, with the New Gods of the Fourth World all deceased.
Throughout the years there have been many incarnations of the New Gods, ranging from Kirby’s original incarnation to the soon to be resurgence of the characters in DC Comics’ The New 52. Hinted at the end of Wonder Woman #12, the death of the Olympian Gods (The Old Gods) have now led to the creation of the New Gods, and on the final page of the issue we see Orion make his way into a “Boom Tube” (the classic way of transportation by the New Gods). Darkseid is not an unfamiliar face in the New 52, as it was his forces we were introduced to first all the way back in Justice League #1, as our favorite heroes found a reason to unite and defeat his Apokoliptian forces! There have been many collectibles produced including action figures in both the DC Direct (now known as DC Collectibles), and Mattel’s DC Universe Classics and Justice League Unlimited lines.
Love for this obscure DC Comics property will always exist and Kirby’s creations continue to live on. I am currently in the process of hunting down and collecting all of the original “Kirby created” issues from the 1970’s, but if you want an easier way of introducing yourself to the Fourth World you can find them all neatly collected in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus: Volumes 1-4 on Amazon at relatively decent prices, I highly suggest you do! So get excited for the return of the NEW GODS in issue #15 of Wonder Woman written by Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) and drawn by the very talented Cliff Chiang! Pre-order it here at TFAW!
Stay tooned 😛