With the New Gods movie in the hands of Ava DuVernay and Tom King, for the DCEU, I’ve been going back through the archives and looking at Jack Kirby’s creations, with one of my favorites being The New Gods.
Let me start this article with the thought: Jack Kirby was a man obsessed with gods. His most seminal works birthed three pantheons. While they all shared similarities, over the decades each has become its own thing, a creation unto itself. Together they have inspired thousands of other writers and artists to take up arms and draw these pantheons, laying claim to part of the godhood that was Jack Kirby.
If you know me, I have a great and abiding fondness for Kirby’s work (See: Jack Kirby’s Centennial salute).
My favorite Kirby creations were always those things off the beaten path. You couldn’t get any further off the path than Marvel’s shining Asgard and her pantheon of mad war gods, Odin, Thor, Loki, Balder, Freya, Sif and a host of other actors protecting the Nine Realms. Then there was his creation in the DC Universe, consisting of New Genesis and Apokalips, with their perpetual battle across the Multiverse, spreading their influence, and protecting against the discovery of the Anti-Life Equation; or hanging with the Marvel’s incredible Eternals, the enigmatic Celestials, and the marvelously divergent Deviants.
Today, we are going to talk about my favorites of Kirby’s creations, the New Gods. But to help you understand what you’re dealing with, I am going to deposit you for a second in the DC Universe to listen in on the Justice League.
In Batman #702, the Justice League is investigating a murder. You might think this is a bit of overkill but the murder weapon is rather unique. Essentially, Batman describes it as a magical bullet. But he clarifies it when he redefines it as a part of the Universe of the New Gods.
This is no ordinary bullet, it is the essence of bullet. The concept of the perfect bullet, with perfect accuracy, striking and killing its target because it embodies the Platonic idea of what the perfect bullet should be. In the hands of the New Gods, it is a bullet not bound by space or even time. It can kill its target, anywhere, or any when.
This is the realm of the New Gods. They are believed to be composed of pure energy, beings of thought, of myth, each a Platonic ideal, embodying a concept. According to Batman, the New Gods are actually incredibly powerful living ideas and their Fourth World is actually an archetypal world of Platonic ideals: Mister Miracle is a physical representation of the idea of freedom, Darkseid of tyranny, Orion is war, Lightray represents joy, etc. with all of the legendary power these concepts embody.
They are, literally and conceptually, Gods in the most essential meaning of the word. Even Superman, the most powerful living thing on our planet must take heed when the New Gods walk the Earth. Now, you have some scale.
Their original backstory in New Gods #1 (1971) sounds a bit like a tale of the Old Gods of Norse mythology who believed there would be a final battle between gods and that clash would lead to their destruction. From the ruins, a new world would rise from the remnants of the old – a world of New Gods.
Springing into life at the very beginning of the Multiverse, The Old Gods were the primal beings of the early DC Universe. Even after the fall of the Old Gods, they were replaced by The Fourth Age of Gods, Kirby’s New Gods who wage a new and endless but relatively cold war across the Multiverse. These beings exist in a higher order universe separate from the DC Universe, and inhabited by DC stalwart heroes on the Prime Earth.
The New Gods are able to see and reach across universal barriers using the unique technology of the Boom Tube. No, it’s not a television wired with explosives, it’s a technology which opens an aperture between their Primal Universe and the DC Universe. A very loud sonic disturbance also takes place, hence the name BOOM! tube.
Kirby’s New Gods are of the period after the Old Gods have fallen, and the remnants of those great armies have retrenched on the shattered remains of their two worlds (which are rumored to have once been one planet, torn asunder in the final cataclysm), New Genesis and Apokalips. Both sides weary of war (or plot to seek advantage over the other) and negotiate a peace, an accommodation which will let each recovery its strength, find new resources or engage in subterfuge. To cement their treaty, the leader of New Genesis, Highfather and his opposite number, the great and powerful Darkseid, would exchange their first sons as a sign of good will.
Highfather’s son, Scott Free, would be imprisoned, treated cruelly, abused, tortured because it pleased Darkseid to have it be so. Scott would eventually discover his true calling, escaping from one prison after the other, directing his physical and mental powers inward, making himself the ultimate escape artist, trickster and master of technology, Mr. Miracle.
Darkseid’s son, Orion, would grow up in the high court, learn and master the arts of warfare with any weapon, any technology or just by using his superhuman capacity as the son of Darkseid and crush his enemies to death with his bare hands. Not one for subtle strategies, he is still versed in how best to utilize troops, but he will not talk about his strategy, he will lead it, thirsting for battle.
New Genesis is a world of technological splendor except no one lives on the surface of the planet any longer. Most of the planet is covered with the overgrowth of the last citadels of the Old World. The skeletons of dead gods lie scattered across this world and have never been cleared away. Where they fell, they lay still, millennia later.
The survivors, live in a floating citadel, high in the sky of New Genesis, in a place they have lovingly called Supertown. It may have other, more formal names, but it has been so long now, no one remembers perhaps save Highfather, the most powerful of the New Gods. It is here that the New Gods prepare themselves for war.
There are many New Gods, Metron, schemer, secret keeper, meddler and one of the most intelligent of them. Moving around in his great library chair, he is never more than a thought away from any knowledge on any subject. Jovial Lightray, a god of beauty, naivete and light, he is the best friend of mercurial Orion and the two travel, having adventures, solving problems and learning about their history together.
The enemy of the New Gods is the power that is Darkseid, who garrisons, his vast armies on the hell-world that is Apokalips, a world turned to only one purpose: to be the seat of power for the lord of these legions.
Vast firepits steal energy from the radioactive core, with cosmic flames soaring into the stratosphere to power the world foundries which create tools, weapons and minions of the highest quality for the reavers Darkseid sends into other Universes.
The Reavers’ hidden purpose is to discover the location of that which Darkseid craves above all other things: The Anti-Life Equation, a technology Darkseid is convinced will give him control over the free wills of every living thing in the Universe. Over the decades, Darkseid would catch a hint of the Anti-Life Equation and in a few of the continuities unlucky enough to exist in that time, Darkseid becomes the master of almost everything in that reality.
As the premiere power in Apokalips, Darkseid has no physical or mental equal among his minions. This isn’t because he surrounds himself with weaklings. His superior physiology makes him a match for even Superman. Powered by the Omega Sanction, he can destroy any target or disassemble it, store it and return it to life as his slave. Darkseid faces off against Superman and the Justice League fairly regularly.
Darkseid’s varied troops include his other son Kalibak, whose raw might makes him capable of holding his own against almost any being in his Universe, and one of Apokalips greatest generals, the acting war-dog of Apokalips known as Steppenwolf. (Yes, this is the same Steppenwolf which appeared in the Justice League movie … so sad.)
A host of other characters populate Apokalips, including Parademons, the shock-troops of Apokalips. Superhumanly strong and fast, blessed with wings and armed with Apokaliptian weapons (deadly in any Universe), they blacken the skies of any world to which Darkseid wants to lay claim. Numbering in the millions, it seems there are always more Parademons available whenever a world needs subjugating.
Among his lieutenants, the most famed are his sycophantic torturer and major domo, Desaad. His other favorite, if Darkseid can be said to have favorites, is dear old Granny Goodness, the creator of all of Darkseid’s non-Parademon elite. Ruthless and cruel, Granny is a formidable teacher and soldier, mastering in the psychological warfare on how to break an enemy in battle.
Her most successful strike team were the Female Furies. Three to five of her best warriors trained in coordination and are fighting perfection. Their lineup was: Bernadeth, Gilotina, Lashina, Mad Harriet, Stompa, and Artemiz (back in Mister Miracle #6; 1972). Scott Free later married the leader of the Furies, Big Barda, and the two eloped to Earth. They would become fugitives from Apokalips and part-time members of the Justice League.
Where can you find some of this New God goodness in print, you ask?
In the crossover series, Green Lantern/New Gods: Godhead, we are treated to the chance to see the New Gods talk about the Green Lantern and the other lightsmith corps, in which we discover their overall contempt for both the rings and their users. They consider them to be little more than children squabbling with toys which shoot rays of light.
The Green Lantern Corps, known for using the most powerful weapons in the DC Universe are no match for the power of the New Gods! Does that even make sense? The rings of the Green Lanterns are one of the most powerful creations of the Guardians of Oa, a species which has existed for almost ten billion years, and capable of doing almost anything the wielder can imagine.
Over the decades, the gods of New Genesis were reputed to be powerful, but writers were reluctant to show them as I imagined them, as I thought Jack Kirby imagined them. In recent years, they have been shown to be far more powerful than they have ever appeared before. And now we are going to get a movie! Can we be so lucky twice?
These were the New Gods I’d been waiting for, where they define them clearly as beings from another earlier reality, where they are defined clearly as a cut above Humans. We learn that they don’t just see the Multiverse, they can travel to any place they can conceive of – even to other Universes, and capable of using technology so advanced that it qualifed as life forms.
That’s right, blessed with bodies of superhuman perfection, they are still capable of being harmed which is why they use a living computer they call a Mother Box. She is a medic in a can, and can alter reality in a number of beneficial ways, including manipulating electromagnetic energy, cloaking, and manipulating machines less advanced than she is. She primarily acts as a transportation system between their Primal Universe and the DC Universe. To those who gain her favor she is capable of even greater feats (see: The Infinity Man).
The two best recent appearances of the New Gods is in the New Gods/Green Lantern: Godhead (2014) crossover, which is 12 issues of pure awesome. We finally get a sense of scale of the New Gods that I think any fan of these legendary beings will enjoy. You can see the Justice League, Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor throw down in Justice League #40-45 (2015), now out in a graphic novel format.
If you are a fan of the Green Lantern Corps and want to see the New Gods done right, these are the stories which will bring them to life. They also give you a great and modernized background for the characters. They reintegrate the New Gods into the Rebirth DC Universe, give them fabulous art, fantastic stories and re-establish them as a premier power in the DC pantheon of stories, where they should have always been.
I love the New Gods. And Darkseid. Thank you, once again, Jack “King” Kirby!
Hail Darkseid! (Just to be safe.)
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.