By April 1971, Nixon’s ‘Silent Majority’¹, the faceless, fatigued, flummoxed, fulcrum that would deliver the President a massive majority in the following year’s elections had had enough of the counter-culture. You can see and hear them in the opening page of Jack Kirby’s Forever People # 3, published 50 years ago today, 1 April, 1971.
Disgusted by the malleable morality of the hippie faithful and bewildered by what they perceived to be a raging, insulting, violent assault on their way of life, they were ready to strike back, to be justified, they were ripe for the words of someone like that ‘striking and vigorous dynamo of belief’, Glorious Godfrey, in his Fourth World debut: “Tell it Godfrey! Tell us how our pride is being attacked and dragged into the dust!” “It’s the others, Godfrey! Those who don’t think right!” “This is our world! They have no right to meddle with it!”
Like any Orthodoxy, left or right, when a dominant power feels threatened, it circles the wagons. It conceives its strength as a singularity, blank, closed, eyeless stares, old, threatened, unthinking, a no longer human mechanism, like extras in a scene from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis film². One ‘lefter/righter-than-thou’ view, one lord, one way of being Right.
Kirby is taking issue with what he perceives as the dangerous demagoguery of people like the Glorious Godfrey real world contemporary 1970s counterpart, the evangelist Billy Graham (check the physical resemblance³), whom Kirby believed to be anti-Semitic⁴ (White House tapes later revealed Graham making anti-Semitic comments in a 1972 conversation with Nixon, Graham would later apologise for the comments⁵). Jacob Kurtzberg/Jack Kirby invokes Adolph Hitler whom he quotes saying “That is the great thing about our movement – that these members are uniform not only in ideas, but, even, the facial expression is the same!”⁶
Glorious G invites his followers to wear metal mitres so they can be ‘justified’ and wield God-free death and pain. Godfrey’s head coverings are unlike those worn by real religious leaders. His cover the face, they deny the individuality. Kirby’s anti-life revelationist is one-part charming child salesman and one part terror pawn. His appeal is the removal of ambiguity, a God-free helper holds up a placard which says “Life will make you doubt! Anti-life will make you right!” When things get difficult and threatening, the simple black and white ‘truths’ of charlatans such as Godfrey are attractive to some people.
Forever People is a comic book about Truth and truth in conflict. Inevitably Godfrey’s justifiers and the Forever People, Mark Moonrider, Vykin the Black, Big Bear, Serifan and Beautiful Dreamer get set to fight for what’s right. The Forever People rescue their crippled child friend when the book-burning, scapegoat-sign-painting, justifiers come for him as the Nazis came for all those who weren’t ‘perfect’ Aryans.
The Forever People realise that individually they cannot hope to defeat the Apokiliptan evil and they join together as the Infinity Man, a pentavalent equivalent of the Trinity, the best of five in one person, Mark Moonrider’s leadership, Vykin the Black’s science and spirit, Big Bear’s strength, Serifan’s hand of friendship, Beautiful Dreamer’s love. Their message is togetherness too but based on openness, celebration of difference, of complexity, values that will sustain their Taaru community of peace. They are brought together as always by a laying on of hands as they blend with the holy Mother Box spirit.
The Forever People are God-filled, they lose their lives to find it, in each other. They are the repudiation of Glorious Godfrey’s arrogant, proud justifiers, they live by a different youthful code and reject the weight of the past:
‘You, who are on the road
Must have a code, that you can live by
And so, become yourself
Because the past, is just a goodbye...
….Teach, your children well
Their father's hell, did slowly go by
And feed, them on your dreams
The one they pick's, the one you'll know by.’
(Teach your Children, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, live version released on the double-album Four Way Street, the week after Forever People # 3).
While Infinity Man easily deals with Godfrey, even the faithfulness of Forever is not enough to beat the ‘Master of the Holacaust’ as Darkseid, along with his left hand of darkness, Desaad, defeat Infinity as the weakness of his complex structure literally undoes him.
Darkseid’s pursuit of and belief in the anti-life equation is then laid bare in what must be one of the single greatest Kirby one-page panels in the Fourth World. Like Mantis before him, Godfrey is just another Apokoliptian Corporal, Darkseid is the Leader, the revelation, the tiger-force, the living nightmare.
In contrast, the Forever People are young, vulnerable, seemingly defeated before they have begun, on the way to Desaad’s (concentration) ‘camp of the damned.’ Yet they are not afraid. They leave behind ‘…what cannot die – love! Friendship!’ They seek not glory or power over others, connected to the Source by the Motherbox, they speak their Truth quietly, intimately, to the weakest and leave them with the strongest message, ‘Donnie, life is good! Live it for others – not against them. In that way you will always be close to us.’
In that Truth, they live forever.
‘When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be,
let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.’
(Let it Be by the Beatles, 1970)
¹Nixon coined the term in a televised November 3, 1969 speech which he wrote himself, as he attempted to name the great mass of Americans who were confused and frightened by loud, counter-cultural excesses and show North Vietnam that most Americans supported him to strengthen his ability to end the War on his own terms. According to PBS, it was his greatest speech and resulted in 80,000 supportive letters and telegrams.
²Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece features in film critic Roger Ebert’s words, “….a workers' city where the clocks show 10 hours to squeeze out more work time, the workers live in tenement housing and work consists of unrelenting service to a machine…”
³Kirby modelled Glorious Godfrey on evangelist Billy Graham. In the words of Mark Evanier who worked with Kirby on the Fourth World, “Kirby was appalled at some of Graham's apocalyptic sermons which — to Jack — were more calculated to instill fear than faith, and to stampede people into service of Graham's causes.” News from Me, March 7, 2002, 9.01pm.
Kirby was not unsympathetic to religion. Kirby’s family were Conservative Jews and he went to Hebrew School. In later life he attended ‘Temple’, Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks, California, with wife Roz. Author, writer, artists’ rights advocate and Vanguard Productions founder, J. David Spurlock, befriended Kirby in 1977 and remembers (Jack Kirby – The King of Comics Facebook group, March 23, 2021) that Kirby became more and more involved and attended regular services. When Kirby died, his family requested donations for just one charity: the Jack Kirby Memorial Fund at his temple, Etz Chaim, to benefit the temple’s Ner Tamid Education and Community Center.
Barry Milavetz (Jack Kirby! Facebook group, March 23, 2021),says Kirby actively participated in services at Etz Chaimand drew bar/bat mitzvah cards for congregation members. Two of Barry’s friends had cards.
⁴Evanier says “Jack's belief — which he expressed on several occasions — that Graham and the president he counseled were both virulent anti-Semites.”
⁵Whitehouse tapes released in 2002 contain anti-Semitic comments from both Nixon and Graham. Graham later apologised for the comments.
⁶Der Fuehrer: Hitler's Rise to Power by Konrad Heiden, 1944.
Research this article:
-Comics Journal # 134, February 1990 (Jack Kirby interview by Gary Groth)
-Mike’s Amazing World of Comics website
-News From Me, March 7, 2002, 9.01pm (Mark Evanier’s blog)
-The Indispensable Kirby & Lee: Stuf’ Said! (Jack Kirby Collector # 75: TwoMorrows).
-Politico Magazine, 21 February, 2018, ‘When Richard Nixon Used Billy Graham’ by Jeff Greenfield
-RogerEbert.com, June 2, 2010, ‘Urban Renewal on a Very Large Scale’
-There’s A Riot Going On (Peter Doggett, Canongate, 2007)
-Uncovering the Sixties (Abe Peck, Pantheon, 1985) .
Michael Mead is a 54-year-old New Zealand comic book collector, who likes to think he can do "contextual" commentary reviews of old comics, asking: "where does this story come from?", looking at the social, political, cultural times it came from, the state of the comics industry, the personal and creative journey of the writer or artist, the personal journey of the reader as a child and as an adult.
As part of this, he is vain enough to think he can bring new insights into Kirby's Fourth World comics and so, on the 50th anniversary of publication of each issue of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods and Mister Miracle, he will publish a contextual commentary. Check out his earlier entries on this blog and tell him to stop talking so pretentiously in the third person for God's sake!