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Jack Kirby’s New Gods is the twentieth century captured in a bottle. Kirby, also known as the creator and co-creator of legendary characters like the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Mister Miracle, the Hulk, Darkseid, Etrigan the Demon and more, had an uncanny ability to predict the future of human society. Perhaps to a fault, Kirby was an intensely thoughtful man. As a Jewish-American veteran of World War II, he was deeply affected by his experiences in the war. While Kirby was a soulful artist on one hand, he was also a fighter with an indefatigable drive against bullies, bigots and tyrants. His ruminations on fighting Nazis in the Western Front of the war led him to write and illustrate this 11-issue series, which is one of the most original DC stories of all time.

The Premise:

There are two planets in the furthest reaches of the DC Universe called New Genesis and Apokolips, and as you might have guessed, they’re complete opposites of each other. New Genesis is a gorgeous paradise ruled by the compassionate Highfather, while Apokolips is a hellish, cruel place presided over by the tyrant, Darkseid. The two planets had long been at war before they struck a truce with each other. However, this peace came at a price: Highfather and Darkseid traded their young sons. Highfather’s son, Scott Free, would be raised by Darkseid (and would later become the escape artist, Mister Miracle), while Highfather would raise Darkseid’s son, Orion.

New Gods follows the adventures of Orion and his best friend, Lightray. While Orion is deeply committed to fighting evil and tyranny in the universe, his passionate temper puts him at odds with the people and culture of New Genesis. At the same time, Orion learns that Darkseid has kidnapped a group of humans from Earth, because their minds contain parts of the notorious Anti-Life Equation. If Darkseid were to assemble the Anti-Life Equation, he would destroy all free will in the universe. With this at stake, Orion and Lightray head to Earth on a rescue mission.

Let’s Talk Talent:

Jack Kirby wrote and pencilled New Gods, and the story was inked by Mike S. Royer. While Kirby is best known for his work at Marvel Comics in the 1960s, his work at DC in the early 1970s is considered some of his best. New Gods is part of a larger story spanning several of Kirby’s DC books, including Mister Miracle, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen and The Forever People. Together, Kirby’s epic story is called the Fourth World Saga.

At this stage in Kirby’s career, he was beginning to reflect on his experiences in wartime as a young man. The themes of New Gods certainly provide a picture of a master artist trying to make sense of a chaotic period in his life through a science fiction lens.

A Few Reasons to Read:

  • Want to understand Darkseid? Start here. Darkseid is one of the biggest villains in comics and beyond, and almost every adaptation of the character leaves out his complicated relationship with his son, Orion. If you read New Gods, you’ll understand why basing a story around Darkseid and Apokolips, but leaving out Highfather, New Genesis and Orion, provides an incomplete look at the character.
  • Orion is a deeply complex, anguished hero that Kirby himself is said to have related a lot to. There’s a moment in New Gods #3 where Orion looks at himself in a bathroom mirror and uses a Mother Box to reveal his “true face”: an ugly, craggy visage that resembles Darkseid. He then uses the Mother Box to change his face back to his regular handsome appearance, as he asks, “Is this paradox the furnace which fires the heart of Orion the fierce?” It’s a beautiful moment that instantly made Orion my favorite DC character. Orion’s condition is uniquely relatable for anyone who’s ever felt like they couldn’t pass as “normal.”
  • When Orion gets angry in the heat of battle, his face reverts back to his Apokoliptian face. This is such a compelling dynamic, because Orion’s rage is fueled by his rejection of Darkseid’s cruelty. And yet, when he’s directly opposing Darkseid’s ideals in battle, he can’t help but resemble his father. The poor guy!
  • Lightray and Orion’s friendship is one of my favorites, because they’re such an odd couple. As the youngest of the New Gods, Lightray is instantly likable and happy-go-lucky, while Orion is perpetually in a nu-metal music video from 2003 (emotionally). There are some delightfully funny moments on Earth where Lightray has to teach Orion how to properly socialize.

Why It’s Worth Your Time:

To read New Gods is to see a master at work, trying to unpack his wartime experiences from his youth. Jack Kirby was one of the fiercest creative minds in comics, and New Gods, along with the rest of the Fourth World Saga, feels like his magnum opus. New Gods laid a foundation that still impacts DC stories today, considering how Action Comics’ Warworld Saga briefly brought in the Black Racer.

Speaking of Action Comics, Orion can be understood as Kirby’s response to Superman. With his red and blue suit, unwavering belief in justice, ability to pass as human and awe-inspiring effect on ordinary people, Orion has a lot in common with the Man of Steel. That said, there’s an unsettling darkness to Orion that humans are quick to pick up on. His arrival on Earth signals a disconcerting future, as opposed to Superman’s more optimistic effect. If Superman’s beginnings in Action Comics #1 is the central story of superhero comics, New Gods is an essential reflection on how the world had changed between 1938 and 1971. Just like Action Comics #1, I believe New Gods is essential reading for any comic book fan.

New Gods by Jack Kirby is available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and digital retailers as a softcover graphic novel collection. It can also be read in full on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.

Jules Chin Greene writes about comics for DC.com, and his work can also be found at Nerdist, Popverse and Multiverse of Color. You can follow him on Twitter and Bluesky at @JulesChinGreene.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Jules Chin Greene and do not necessarily reflect those of DC or Warner Bros. Discovery, nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.