Kirby's Darkseid Never Threw a Punch

For me, it started when I did a little Darkseid spotlight on the JLI Bwa-ha-ha Podcast. There, I mentioned that Justice League International #21 featured the true Darkseid, sitting in a facsmile of an Earth living room, punishing his minions, and playing the long, long game. I say "true" because that was Kirby's vision for the character, as opposed to more recent interpretations that paint him as "the Hulk with laser eyes". It's an interpretation that probably comes from how cool it was when he and Superman finally threw down in the DC Animated Universe, but as usual, later comics creators/editors completely missed the point as to why that was cool. It was cool cuz it was shocking. It was cool because they built up to it. It was cool because you might always have wondered how strong Orion and Kalibak's bio-dad was, but you were never allowed to see it. Cuz he was above all that. While quite happy to have his underlings commit acts of violence, he himself found it distasteful. He was a MIND. Imagine all that physical power, but it wasn't his greatest asset. In fact, the physical stuff was USELESS to him. That's a Darkseid to be feared.

These days, he's gone from a stocky manipulator to a giant brawler. And we've lost something.

Over at the Fire & Water Podcast Network, we started asking whether Kirby had even ever drawn Darkseid throwing a punch. Fellow obsessive Xum Yukinori and I started scouring Kirby-drawn Darkseid appearances (which means the Fourth World and the Super-Powers mini-series) to try and find one. The closest he ever came, as far as we can tell, is this cover:
Quite correctly, Darkseid is using a gun. He just doesn't like to be touched. But is that a thrown punch? Even if it is, I discount covers as proper evidence, because covers do not happen in story. They are symbolic of the action within, sometimes even fake-outs. They aren't canon. In fact, when you look at his actual battle with Orion, it's all 2nd amendment from him.
Not to say Darkseid doesn't get physical at times, but it's never in the context of a fight. He kicks down minions, or man-handle DeSaad, for example. But this is just him getting angry/disciplining bad employees.
Even when Superman attacks him in Super-Powers, it's eye beams only. So I hereby put to you that showing Darkseid a pugilist is entirely unnatural. It turns him into a miscolored Mongul, and we know Mongul is just a copy of a copy of Darkseid.

So... who wrote and drew the first true Darkseid punch and pushed the character off a slippery slope? It was Gerry Conway with artist Don Newton in Adventure Comics #460, wrapping up the Third World saga with the ultimate battle between Darkseid and Highfather.
Sorry Gerry, but that's bollocks. But at least it's supposed to be the climax to an 8-year build-up. Later writers would just skip to the end, and I just don't think that works. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Disclaimer, I haven't actually read Kirby's original "New Gods" works, so I don't know for sure. But the impression I get is, the Fourth World was something like a morality play, with the minions of Apokolips representing evils in our society today (as opposed to the Four Horsemen, who are SO two thousand years ago). The clearest example would be how Glorious Godfrey was based on Billy Graham.

So much of this metaphor is completely lost today, I feel like what we have today are characters with the same names but very little of the point of the original. It'd be like "Hamlet" where Hamlet is a detective who investigates murders, and his uncle the king doesn't always approve of his methods but respects that he gets the job done.

The central Darkseid problem, as exists now, is that Apokolips can't coexist with the DC Universe. Either Apokolips is such a fearsome threat that the earth is doomed -- like over in nu52's "Earth 2" -- or Batman can defeat Darkseid (as also happened in nu52), in which case Darkseid is a joke. Neither is a good use of the character.

As for good uses of the character, Chris Sims often talks about an issue of "The Forever People", where Darkseid has created a carnival here on earth. This carnival features all sorts of exhibits where people are being tortured, but there's happy music and laughter piped in over it to give a superficial facade of how it's all in good fun ... except that it's set up so that children can see right through the facade. Darkseid expects that most adults will have trained themselves to ignore the horror, and he wants children to learn to do the same. Now that is some serious evil -- and the worst part is, it's not even far removed from what we're capable of today. Here in the United States, there are still 500 or so immigrant children being held in concentration camps, and that's nearly become normalized. Just imagine the metaphors Jack Kirby would have come up with today.

Anyway, Darkseid shouldn't fill the role of Someone Superman Has To Punch Multiple Times To Defeat. Darkseid's role ought to be bringing out the dark side of people -- it's in his name and everything -- and physical confrontations shouldn't EVER happen with him.

Oh, I have to comment on the nu52 yet one more time. There was a "Green Lantern" arc where the New Gods showed up -- Izaya and Orion and so forth -- and they were coming into conflict with the GLC because they were genociding planets or some such. The end of the story was that Hal Jordan talked Izaya into not being a jerk, and it was crap. You know what would have been a good ending? If it turned out Izaya was a victim of one of Darkseid's schemes and had been corrupted, because that's what Darkseid does. Darkseid tempts. Darkseid fills people with despair, and in their desperation they do the unthinkable. Darkseid takes away hope, and the natural cure for that, perhaps, would be one of those Blue Lanterns (one of whom actually appears in that story incidentally, so it's not like the pieces weren't already there for a better ending).

Siskoid said...

I gotta say, I would watch the hell out of that Hamlet detective show.

Brendoon said...

I think any excuse to say "bollocks" is good for the soul.

Anonymous said...

How about a poorly-animated "Hamlet" cartoon? Murder cases would probably be too graphic, so it'd be more like Robin Hood vs. The Sheriff of Nottingham and King John. When fighting tyranny, Hamlet would wear a mask and a costume as "Hyperion Jr"; I envision a Renaissance-Faire-looking outfit with a domino mask and a big "H" belt buckle. Polonius would be his secret Alfred-esque assistant, with the secret door to the Hyperion Jr Cave hidden behind a curtain. And you'd better believe they'd run his catchphrase, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark", into the ground. (I know Hamlet didn't actually say that but allow us just the tiniest bit of creative liberties here.) Ophelia would always be nagging Hamlet about why can't he be more like Hyperion Jr, and wondering why Hamlet smiles and winks at a wall whenever she says that.

Siskoid said...

I may just steal some of that for a short story I'm working on, if you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

I'm honored; by all means borrow away!

if you post it somewhere I'll read it.


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