Even as the total number of votes continue to drop, a victor still manages to emerge, and so there are spoilers ahead for…
Super Powers by Jack Kirby
Writer: Paul Kupperberg, Joey Cavalieri, Jack Kirby
Artist: Jack Kirby, Various, Mike Thibodeaux, Greg Theakston, Mike Royer
Cover: Jack Kirby
I had a lot of toys as a kid, I suppose. Fewer than some kids, more than others. Quite a few action figures of various types, with the majority of them tied to popular franchises like the Star Wars movies, G.I. Joe, and Masters of the Universe, with a few odds-and-ends here and there that either weren’t part of the merchandizing for any particular movie or TV show, or just weren’t particularly popular or otherwise notable.
I didn’t have a lot of super hero action figures, however.
This wasn’t by choice; obviously, I would have loved to have had some cool action figures based on my favorite comic book characters. The problem was that, by and large, there just weren’t any to be had.
Eventually I reached a point in my young life at which I decided the time had come to put away childish things, and so, with a certain amount of ceremony, and after one last night of playing with them, I got up on a Saturday morning, grabbed a big box, put all my toys into it, and hauled the box down to the basement.
It’s worth noting that, with a significant amount of anxiety over the thought of it, at around the same time I considered also giving up comic books. Ultimately, it was the letter pages of comics that kept me from doing so, as in those pages I saw letters from people who were in college, and who were even older than that, who still read comics, and if those sophisticated adults could do it…
(Eventually, about a decade later, for various reasons to related to wanting to be a grown up, I did give up comics for a long, long time, but that’s a story for another day.)
Shortly thereafter, the first issue of the new mini-series Super Powers came out, and on the back cover there was an ad for a new line of action figures and toys that tied in to the comic. Superman! Batman! Wonder Woman! Green Lantern! All in action figure form, just as I’d always wanted!
I considered that box full of toys down in the basement, and reflected upon my solemn pronouncement before God and my parents that I was too old to play with toys, and I thought, “Son of a bitch.”
(I had a similar reaction upon seeing that Marvel had released a line of action figures to tie in with their Secret Wars maxi-series.)
I’ve mentioned before that I was rather late to the party in terms of appreciating the work of the King. When Super Powers hit the stands, I was probably still getting ready for the party, so that may have contributed to my lack of interest, at the time, in picking up any of the subsequent issues after the first, but I think the main reason I didn’t have any interest was that I was bitter as hell about the action figure thing.
Reading it now, though, it seems that being more interested in the work of Kirby likely wouldn’t have made much of a difference, as the majority of the work on the first four issues was done by others, with Kirby simply providing the plot.
The scripting chores fell to Joey Cavalieri, with Adrian Gonzalez – doing a poor job of aping Kirby’s style – providing the art. Kirby himself writes and illustrates the final issue, which proves to be better than the issues that precede it, but even so…it’s not great.
Before I picked this volume up, I hadn’t even realized that there had been a second Super Powers mini in 1985. That one was written by comic veteran Paul Kupperberg, but Kirby provided the art throughout.
It’s also not great, and it’s kind of weird in that it doesn’t seem to fit anywhere in continuity, whereas the first one seemed to (mostly) fit right into the then-current continuity.
In fairness, DC’s continuity was in a state of flux at that point, but I don’t think that’s what’s behind the oddness; I think it’s meant to be in its own continuity – despite the connections to Kirby’s The Hunger Dogs graphic novel, that was part of the main continuity – one that hews a little more closely to the universe of the cartoon.
Oh yeah, the cartoon. I’ll have more on that in a bit, but tied in with the comic and the toy line was a relaunch of the long-running Super Friends TV show, which added new characters to the SF line-up, and was called Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show.
In any case, in the first mini, the evil Darkseid sends four “Emissaries of Doom” to Earth to eliminate Earth’s super-powered defenders in preparation for an invasion. After each of the four Emissaries is imbued with a fraction of Darkseid’s power, they travel to Earth to complete their mission.
Except…well, the first one gets the bright idea that as much as he wants to do the job, especially given that Darkseid will kill him if he doesn’t, there are others who are much more committed to the destruction of Earth’s heroes: Earth’s villains.
He seeks out Lex Luthor, and, hoping to benefit from Lex’s monomaniacal obsession with killing Superman, amps up the power of Lex’s alien warsuit, granting Lex a fraction of the Emissary’s fraction of Darkseid’s power.
It’s not clear if there was any sort of consultation between the Emissaries or if each of them hits upon the same idea independently, but the others do the same thing with the Joker, the Penguin, and Brainiac, giving each of them a target to focus on.
For the Joker, it’s Batman and Robin, of course, but Hawkman also gets caught up in the scheme, finding himself trapped with the Caped Crusaders in a “psychoactive dimension” in which anything the Joker imagines becomes reality.
Superman, meanwhile, is engaged in a charity race with the Flash when Luthor attacks with a time distortion power that causes the two speedsters to slow to a crawl relative to the rest of the world (and, more importantly, to Lex).
Aquaman and Green Lantern find themselves the victim of Penguin’s newfound mental might which allows him to take control of birds – causing the birds to launch attacks on cities across the United States – and to disrupt the heroes’ own minds, inhibiting Green Lantern’s control of his ring and Aquaman’s control over the denizens of the deep.
Brainiac, meanwhile, in his endless quest for knowledge, is about to nope on out of the universe in a journey through a black hole to see what he can see. However, the final Emissary approaches the villain with the offer of the opportunity to perform an experiment. He grants Brainiac the ability to bring “racial memories” to the surface, causing people to regress to a more primitive and savage state, and suggests using it on the Amazons and then observing the chaos that results from setting these powerful warriors loose upon the world.
This part is…there are a lot of problems with it, most notable of which is that the Emissary granting the ability to resurface “racial memories” and turn people into savage primitives is black. It’s all just…yikes.
Still, the timing of reading something in which the Amazons are driven to conquer the world just as women were preparing to take to the streets in record numbers across the nation was somewhat amusing.
In any case, Superman and Flash get away from Luthor – Superman uses his heat vision to make Flash hot and excite his molecules in order to get him back up to his superhuman levels of speed and this sounds very much like some kind of slash fiction, Flash gets free of the time distortion, rams into Lex from behind, and it sounds even more like slash fiction – the freed Flash helps out Aquaman and GL, and Superman goes off to answer an outdated Justice League distress signal from an old friend.
This part gets confusing; it’s not clear what “old friend” Superman was referring to, but when he follows the signal to its source, he’s surprised to discover it’s originating from The Daily Planet, sent out by Lois. Lois then berates him for how he’s mistreated him over the years, but then complains that as bad as it’s been having Superman stringing her along, it’s even worse being “strung along” by the Joker, at which point she turns into a puppet, and it’s revealed that Superman is in the Joker’s “psychoactive dimension.”
I’m just confused about the timing. Joker brings Superman into his dimension because the Emissary pops up and tells him to, because Luthor had failed to destroy the Man of Steel. But Superman heard the signal before that happened, so then who was phone?
Anyway, while trapped with the Joker, and the perpetually-falling Batman, Robin, and Hawkman, because that’s the best thing Joker could come up with to do with them, Superman detects another heartbeat. It turns out that Joker brought his therapist from Arkham along for the ride, because why not, and after freeing her, she goes back to analyzing Joker.
(As an aside, the earlier scene with her brings to mind Harley Quinn, as the Joker talks about how the majority of his therapists have ended up being just as nutty as he is.)
She theorizes that Joker is the way he is because his mom and dad were mean and played pranks on him when he was a kid. (We see this visualized with a baby Joker and a Mr. and Mrs. Joker.)
Joker admits that it’s true, is rendered sane as a result, and they all pop back into the normal reality.
Joker gets Boom Tubed away by the Emissary, to join the other failed villains who are going to get their hash settled by the Emissaries later on, and neither Joker nor Penguin is interested in sticking with the program once they learn that the Emissaries plan to subjugate the Earth.
Brainiac begins his experiment by causing an explosion at a nuclear reactor not far from where Paradise Island would be if it weren’t in a different dimension. The explosion pierces the veil separating the island from Man’s World, and the regressively aggressive Amazons view this as an attack by men.
Wonder Woman arrives on the island and is initially attacked by her sisters until she, too, surrenders to the old ways and declares herself their leader in their war against men.
The Amazons conquer a small Central American nation that is home to a missile base and launch their missiles at the US of A. The various heroes – minus Robin, who got stuck on monitor duty on the JLA satellite – show up and mop the floor with the Amazons, and as Superman takes out the missiles and then deals with that pesky nuclear power plant explosion, Brainiac changes tactics and zaps Superman with the regression ray, turning him into the Kryptonian equivalent of a Neanderthal, who then promptly beats the asses of the other heroes, leaving only Aquaman standing.
Aquaman surprises…well, no one, and is about to get crushed by the Caveman of Steel, until Green Lantern regains consciousness and traps Superman in a power ring bubble. Being inside the bubble protects Superman from the ray’s effects, so he reverts back to his usual self.
(There’s an inconsistency here in that when the Amazons regressed they didn’t physically “de-evolve” the way Superman does.)
GL then traces the ray back to its source and transports all of the heroes to Brainiac’s ship, which is where the Emissaries dumped the other villains. They fight, despite the protestations from Joker and Penguin about having a common enemy, and they all get Boom Tubed to an almost-empty Apokolips, where Darkseid taunts them and tells them that this was the plan all along, and now that they’re stuck on his shitty planet, he’s going to begin his assault on their shitty planet.
Some trace of energy was left behind at the scenes of the villains’ defeats when they were Boom Tubed away that makes it easier to open BIG Boom Tubes that will allow Darkseid to transport his troops to each location, from which they will work their way towards each other, conquering everything in their path.
However, after Darkseid leaves, the heroes find an odd device that transports them to multiple, increasingly bizarre locations, until they finally arrive in the presence of Metron, who has a plan to defeat Darkseid’s armies.
He hooks them all – heroes and villains alike – up to a big machine, then uses their energy to redirect Darkseids troops as they attempt to Boom Tube to their insertion points. One group is redirected to the far future, where they are handily-destroyed by Earth’s super-advanced weaponry. Another is sent to the distance past and also zapped with Brainiac’s “genetic regression” ray, as Metron calls it (this one’s written by Kirby, so he probably liked that better than “racial memory”), and in their primitive fury, they all murder each other. Another group is Boom Tubed straight into the ocean’s depths, left to drown just on the outskirts of Atlantis. And the final group is sent to a “psychoactive dimension,” left to spend eternity going mad.
This issue was pretty brutal, frankly. Defeated, Darkseid Boom Tubes back to Apokolips, Metron wipes the villains’ memories of the whole thing and sends them on their way, and the heroes get a good laugh about how those assholes were forced to do something good for once in their rotten lives and won’t even remember it, which is just as well, because they’d be so mad if they knew that they’d been do-gooders!
Metron allows them their levity, but warns them to stay on guard, because Darkseid is going to be so pissed about being defeated, and then sends the heroes home.
I’ll spend less time on the follow-up mini, as it’s even less good, as Kirby had no involvement in the actual story, so it’s lacking some of the big Kirby ideas and the philosophizing about man’s place in the universe and how one day we won’t be subject to the caprice of indifferent and implacable cosmic forces like Darkseid and Metron, or, on a less metaphorical level, our baser instincts and our own cold indifference to the suffering of others. Or something.
Anyway, after being deposed in a revolution, Darskeid flees Apokolips and sets up base – with his underlings DeSaad, Kalibak, Steppenwolf, and Mantis – on Earth’s moon. Craving a world to rule, he sets his sights on Earth, and towards that end launches five strange seeds/pods that begin sending roots down towards the Earth’s molten core. The plan is to release the magma from inside the Earth to reshape the world to Darkseid’s choosing, destroying most of the population, and leaving the remaining survivors beaten and ready to come to heel.
This one adds Dr. Fate, Green Arrow, Firestorm, and the Martian Manhunter to the mix, and as they split up into teams to try to destroy the pods.
Here, they actually refer to themselves, collectively, as “The Super Powers.” This seems like a nod to the cartoon. Prior to this, DC had a comic book version of the then-current Super Friends cartoon – a comic book based on a cartoon that was based on comic books – in which the heroes referred to themselves as “The Super Friends.” This comic also has them meeting at the “Hall of Justice,” which was not a part of the regular continuity.
An additional attempt at tying in with the cartoon is the explanation that after Darkseid and crew use it one last time to escape Apokolips, they can no longer create Boom Tubes. After that, they nstead rely on something new developed by DeSaad called a Stargate, which is what they used on the cartoon.
The presence of Dr. Fate, at a point at which he still, in the main continuity of the comics, lived on an alternate Earth, also suggests to me that this is yet another, separate continuity, specific to the cartoon.
If I recall correctly, the cartoon was on ABC, and unlike previous iterations, old episodes of it weren’t rebroadcast on the CBS affiliate that was the only station we could reliably pull in with our antenna. I don’t believe Green Arrow, Dr. Fate, or Martian Manhunter were on the show, but I do remember that Firestorm was, and I think Cyborg was as well.
(The CBS station would air Super Friends before the regular CBS cartoons started. I would regularly get up at 6 AM to watch it when I was a kid.)
Attempting to destroy the pods sends each team back in time – except Superman and Firestorm, who travel back in time under Superman’s power – in pursuit of a different minion whose task it is to protect each pod.
This includes a particularly dumb story in which Wonder Woman, Dr. Fate, and Green Lantern end up being responsible for the creation of the moai, the giant stone heads on Easter Island.
Oh, and also, Batman, Robin, and Flash travel not to the past, but to the future, a future in which Darkseid was triumphant and rules the Earth.
Turns out that having the heroes travel through the time portals that the pods open up allows the pods to use the heroes’ energy as “fertilizer.” Superman discovers this when he and Firestorm return and find that the pod they were trying to destroy has withered and died. Alas, it’s too late to do any good, as the other pods are ripe and ready to go.
The heroes head to the moon, fight Darkseid’s goons, get captured after facing stone-face himself, only to escape just in the nick of too late, as Darkseid gets into his device, which has an impenetrable force field, which will use his Omega Effect to trigger the pods.
Superman and Dr. Fate manage to stop the beams before they can hit the pods, and it turns out that DeSaad engaged in a bit of not-particularly sudden but completely inevitable betrayal of his master when he built the device, and Darkseid is apparently destroyed by some kind of energy feedback.
Day is saved, hooray.
One thing I find interesting is that while, in terms of his character, Kirby’s Darkseid is terrifying – though not so much here, where he’s kind of Darkseid Lite; he never once mentions the Anti-Life Equation, which is a big part of what makes him so horrific – Kirby’s physical depiction of him is considerably less imposing. He looks kind of buffoonish, what with the bulbous nose and the one bulging eye, in a way that he typically doesn’t when depicted by other artists.
Kirby never really based characters on anyone in a conventional sense, but there were people who served as inspiration for characters. Typically, they had some quality that would serve as a spark. Many people have claimed that for Darkseid, actor Jack Palance provided that spark, though clearly there’s no obvious resemblance between the two.
(In terms of personality, it’s believed that Kirby looked to Nixon when creating Darkseid. Kirby absolutely hated Nixon, which shouldn’t come as any surprise. After all, in his run on Captain America, Kirby had Nixon kill himself.)
Anyway, yeah, it seems I didn’t miss much when I skipped out on this after the first issue 34 years ago.
Despite the brutality of the last issue of the first mini, I think another of the reasons I called it a miss back then was that even then it felt kind of old-fashioned and childish. Which makes sense; it was a tie-in with a line of toys and a shitty cartoon.
That was especially true for the second mini-series, which lacked that brutal ending, and while it was more in line with the somewhat less restrictive standards of comics than of Saturday morning cartoons – people died, for instance – it still felt rather tame, even for a Code-approved book.
This would have been particularly unappealing to me then, given that, as evidenced by my casting aside childish things, I was growing up, or at least taking some initial, halting steps towards playing at being grown up.
Beyond that, whereas for much of my early life I would happily read any comic just because it was a comic, by then I had developed a somewhat more sophisticated taste in comics and had begun to read them more critically, favoring comics with more depth and complexity that were more serious and, well, grown up.
There was nothing here that could compare with the complex story structures and long-simmering subplots of X-Men, or the interpersonal dynamics of The New Teen Titans, or the angst and melodrama of The New Mutants (and there was plenty of angst and melodrama to be had in the other two titles I mentioned).
Hell, by then I was reading Moore’s Swamp Thing.
I’m glad I picked it up now, mostly because I’m glad that DC has put so much effort into bringing some of the King’s work back into print for a new generation to discover (and hopefully be at the right age to enjoy). Ultimately, reading it engenders a kind of bittersweet sense of nostalgia for me, even if the comics themselves aren’t the source of it.
It also reminds me that I am still pretty pissed that the goddamn toys couldn’t have come out a year or two earlier.
FOURTH WORLD BY JACK KIRBY OMNIBUS – In honor of this extraordinary talent’s centennial, DC Comics is proud to present an all-new edition of this towering achievement in graphic literature. THE FOURTH WORLD BY JACK KIRBY OMNIBUS collects, for the first time in a single hardcover volume, Kirby’s complete chronicles from the pages of SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN, THE NEW GODS, THE FOREVER PEOPLE and MISTER MIRACLE, as well as the climactic graphic novel THE HUNGER DOGS. This transformative tome also includes illuminating essays from acclaimed author (and former Kirby apprentice) Mark Evanier and celebrated comics talent Walter Simonson, as well as a special section of Kirby pencils, profiles, pinups and more!
JACK KIRBY 100TH CELEBRATION COLLECTION – Collects The JACK KIRBY 100 THE BLACK RACER AND SHILO NORMAN SPECIAL #1, DARKSEID SPECIAL #1, MANHUNTER SPECIAL #1, THE NEW GODS SPECIAL #1, THE NEWSBOY LEGION AND THE BOY COMMANDOS SPECIAL #1 and THE SANDMAN SPECIAL #1. (March 6, 2018)
We’re that much closer to the end, as Wonder Woman/Conan #5 strides heroically towards the finish line.
It’s cleared up once and for all that Diana is not the Yanna that Conan remembers, as we move forward in time to find that the Amazons have been searching for their missing princess. Discovering that the Corvidae have sent her to the past, a team of Amazons is sent back in time to find her, only to end up in conflict with the Corvidae upon their arrival. Conan and Diana, meanwhile, are still making their way to save the villagers from the wrath of the Corvidae, and to cement their bond, Diana gives Conan the gift of one of her bracelets. “That can’t possibly fit,” Conan says, as she attempts to place it on him. Diana counters, “Then it will impossibly fit.” And it does.
Not long after, they run into the Corvidae, who tell Diana they have what she’s looking for: her golden lasso. Unfortunately, it’s currently wrapped around the throats of her captive sisters. Still, Diana won’t give the Corvidae what they want, so they try another approach: revealing to Conan that Yanna is alive and is their prisoner.
Regretfully, Conan does what he must, and attempts to fight Diana to save Yanna. He doesn’t have a chance, as Diana’s strength has mostly returned. Still, he does all right for himself, though that’s mostly because Diana doesn’t want to hurt him. Distracted by the fight, the Corvidae don’t notice that the Amazons have managed to free themselves, and one of the freed Amazons puts an arrow in the eye of one the Corvidae. The Corvidae vanish, taking Yanna with them, though Conan and Diana know where they’re headed. However, as much as she wants to, Diana knows she can’t go with Conan and that she has to return to her own time with her sisters. She embraces Conan, wishes him luck, and tells him that while she can’t go with him, she’s leaving a piece of herself with him.
In the final panel, we see Conan holding the golden lasso.
That does it for yet another Spotlight Sunday. Come back on Wednesday for the thing. With the voting. You know. The thing.