The Forever People was far and away the weakest of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books. Mister Miracle had colorful foes and Scott Free’s determination to be free of Apokalips (and “He cheats death! He defies man! No trap can hold him!” is a description that can’t be beat). New Gods had Earth caught up in an epic cosmic war. Forever People had … space hippies.
It’s very much a product of the late 1960s/early 1970s zeitgeist. When I reread it a few years ago, I kept wondering why the Earth people they meet label a team in superhero costumes as hippies. Then I remembered that in that era, anyone with hair as long as Mark Moonrider’s or Big Bear’s was automatically part of the counter-culture; squares kept it trimmed. But even for that time period, Kirby’s efforts to capture the hippy spirit in dialog were often painful:
“Truth is forever — and we are the Forever People!”
“We leave you what cannot die — love! Friendship!”
I’ve seen TV sitcoms do hippy parodies that sounded more like real people.
Rereading a few years ago, though, I realized what Forever People did have was the clearest statement about the conflict running through the three books: free will vs. total obedience. Life vs. anti-life. As Moonrider explains it at one point, life is the freedom to choose; if it’s taken away or you surrender it, you’re no longer truly alive. The anti-life equation Darkseid seeks eliminates free will. If someone who possesses the equation says what you’re going to do, you do it. There’s no fighting it, no triumph of the human spirit: you may not like what you’re doing, but defiance isn’t an option.
Darkseid doesn’t have the equation, of course; Apokalips is simply an imitation of what he’s striving for, anti-life induced by training and constant messaging. That’s not possible on Earth yet, which is where Glorious Godfrey comes in.By Darkseid’s standards, Glorious Godfrey is kind of a twit. The “evangelist of anti-life” doesn’t believe the anti-life equation exists; he’s terrified when Darkseid tells him free will can be annihilated completely. Godfrey’s happier believing anti-life is something you have to sell to people, a snake-oil solution to their woes. Life makes you doubt yourself, but with anti-life you know you’re right — isn’t that better? Like the sign in that panel says, “Judge others! Enslave others! Kill others! Anti-Life will give you the right!” Put on a Justifier helmet, accept a life of total obedience and everything you do becomes justified.
That is a horrifying concept, more so because it’s voluntary (the post-Crisis decision to give Godfrey a superhypnotic voice is less scary and much less imaginative). In the story the Justifiers are an obvious Nazi allegory but they apply equally well to 21st century American authoritarians (the audiobook is available in other formats here). Like this scene at an anti-life rally —
The first eight issues of Forever People are one big arc dealing with Darkseid’s hunt for the equation and the Forever People’s efforts to stop him. It doesn’t work as well as Scott Free’s opening arc, rambling way too much; there’s a time-travel issue that feels like pure filler (and would inhabitants of New Genesis know or care about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination?). But moments like those above made it worth rereading for me.
#SFWApro. All art by Kirby.