DC Comics has created all manner of amazing villains. The publisher has everything from lower level villains made for robbing banks and getting beat-up all the way up to world-class manipulators who can challenge teams of the most powerful heroes out there. Of course, DC’s place as the publisher with the first major multiverse in comic history means that they also have many villains who aren’t just universal threats, but multiversal.
One of these has always been Darkseid. Created by writer/artist Jack Kirby, Darkseid was the main enemy of the gods of New Genesis, which along with its dark counterpart Apokolips made up the Fourth World. Kirby’s Fourth World saga was Darkseid’s home for years, but that changed as time went on. However, an argument can be made that he was much better back when he was mainly a villain of the Fourth World. Looking back through DC history reveals very few creators can do what Kirby did with Darkseid.
Dawn Of The Fourth World
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World was a coup for DC Comics. At this point in the Silver Age, Kirby was the most popular creator in comics. A creative dynamo since the 1940s, Kirby’s co-creation of much of the Marvel Universe made him into a tantalizing prospect for DC when Kirby had finally gotten tired of Stan Lee and his very self-centered ways. DC giving Kirby carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in the DC Multiverse was another stroke of genius, especially since Kirby was a person who didn’t want to cost anyone their jobs. Kirby wasn’t going to take Superman from the Superman team or anything like that; he was going to create his own corner of the DC Multiverse to play in. Starting with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Kirby began the work that would give DC its own pantheon of gods.
Darkseid first appeared in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #134, and soon New Gods #1would hit shelves. The New Gods lived up to their names. Jack Kirby was always interested in mythology and human history; he’s the reason why Marvel had Thor and Asgard as part of its cosmology. Lee was famously not really interested in things like mythology, but since Kirby was basically working almost completely without Lee on books like The Mighty Thor, it didn’t really matter. Kirby was an artist known for his unbridled creative energy, and he used all of it to create the Fourth World, populating it with gods that fit his sci-fi superhero aesthetic and played with metaphors that were key to human existence in Kirby’s mind.
The core of the story of the Fourth World was the conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips. The former was a paradise world, populated by the good gods, a world of freedom and delight. The latter was a dark hellscape twisted by evil, a world of oppression where hatred reigned supreme. Each side fought an unending war of dominance, much like the war that went on in the heart of every human being. The two planets represented the light and darkness in every human soul. Kirby created characters that played into that central metaphor. So, a character like Orion represented that no one was born evil. Orion was the son of Darkseid, traded to New Genesis as part of a peace treaty. Orion was nurtured by the New Gods and became their most powerful soldier in the wars against his father. Mister Miracle was the Highfather’s son, the leader of New Genesis, who was raised on Apokolips. He became a master of escaping traps, the light in his soul never extinguished by the darkness of Apokolips.
Mister Miracle and Orion played important roles in Kirby’s cosmology, but Darkseid was Kirby’s idea of the ultimate evil. Kirby referred to Darkseid as the tiger force at the center of creation, a predator who existed in the heart of all things. Darkseid’s hunger could only be sated by one thing – total control. Darkseid was the ultimate figure of evil to Kirby because Darkseid didn’t just want to sit on a throne and rule over the Multiverse, he wanted to take away freewill as a concept. To Kirby, the greatest evil wasn’t just a dictator who used violence and coercion, but that little voice in all of us that wants to control everything around us. Darkseid wanted to be the only consciousness in all creation, using the Anti-Life Equation to control everything. This greed was present all over human history. Darkseid was a fully-formed villain right from the start, the perfect villain, and Kirby did an amazing job using him in the various Fourth World books.
Kirby was using the Fourth World to tell a story about the triumph of individuality in the face of a force that wanted to take control of everything. Anyone who knows Kirby’s history can tell why this is important to Kirby. Lee at Marvel was basically doing what Darkseid did – trying to control the work of everyone else, taking all the power and prestige for himself. The Fourth World was all about fighting against the impulse for homogeneity, fighting against an all-powerful force that wants control over everything. While Kirby did create an actual Lee stand-in for DC called Funky Flashman, a valid interpretation of Darkseid is that he’s also how Kirby saw Lee – a monolithic power that wanted to control everyone and be worshiped by the masses. The heroes of the Fourth World are all beings whose individuality is what makes them heroes, from Mister Miracle to the Forever People. The villains are the ones who have no thoughts of their own, merely following the power of their dark lord and working to destroy the freedom of others.
The Fourth World may seem like a story that is all about the epic battle of good and evil that religions could be formed around, and it is. However, it’s also a very personal story about a creator who was forced to work for the aggrandizement of a person who wanted all the love and adoration, a human shaped black hole who didn’t really care about any of the people around them. Darkseid was created to work in this type of environment, with these types of characters, in this type of story. The prophesied battle between Darkseid and Orion was a war of nature versus nuture, of control and freedom.
The God Of Evil Moves Into The Greater DC Universe
Kirby’s time in the Fourth World ended in 1973, after about three years. Kirby went back to Marvel for a time, but would return to DC in the 1980s. However, even before Kirby’s return, Darkseid was appearing out of the Fourth World, battling against the Legion of Super-Heroes in the far future in 1982’s “The Great Darkness Saga.” In 1984, Kirby would not only get to finish his New Gods story that he started over a decade before with The Hunger Gods graphic novel, but he’d also pit Darkseid against the heroes of the DC Universe in the Super Friends comics, based on the hit Saturday morning cartoon, in 1984. It was this cartoon that introduced Darkseid to the world in 1985, with Darkseid and his son Kalibak getting Super Friends action figures and Burger King Kid’s Meal toys. Darkseid was portrayed as the ultimate big bad of this series, something that stuck with a generation of kids who watched Super Friends and would presage Darkseid’s place in the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe.
The first post-Crisis DC event book, Legends, featured Darkseid in a prominent role, as he set his sights on the superhero community of the Earth. This is a huge deal. Darkseid was the first villain of the first major post-Crisis DC story. This shifted the character in the eyes of the fandom. Darkseid was no longer just the main villain of the Fourth World, but the main villain of the entire DC Universe. With the demise of the Anti-Monitor, Darkseid was the most powerful DC villain, and creators started to use him that way. They treated Darkseid like a hammer; while they kept much of Kirby’s trappings – the lust for the Anti-Equation, the lordship of Apokolips, the mannerisms – the Darkseid appearing in the post-Crisis DC Universe was a generic big bad. Darkseid was still great for many types of stories, but he was no longer Kirby’s perfect vision of total evil.
As with most things DC, Grant Morrison showed the way. Morrison’s love of Silver and Bronze Age DC meant that they also loved Kirby. So, they included Darkseid in their epic JLA. In the classic “Rock of Ages”, readers were transported to an alternate future where Darkseid acquired the Anti-Life Equation and conquered the universe. This was Darkseid as Kirby pictured him, the ultimate dictator, control everything around him. Morrison would bring Darkseid back in their epic superhero opus, Final Crisis, where Darkseid and his servants, having taken over human bodies after their divine ones were destroyed, use the Anti-Life Equation to conquer Earth and prepare to enslave the entire Multiverse. “Rock of Ages” and Final Crisis are the most Kirby that Darkseid had been in years, which is why the stories both work so well.
These were Kirby stories at their core. They placed Darkseid in the role of God of Evil, a force whose only desire is to be the controlling impulse of the multiverse. 2018’s Mister Miracle would do something similar, using Darkseid as a metaphor for the pain and depression that infect Mister Miracle’s life. By the time Darkseid appears in the book, Scott Free has been wrestling against everything Darkseid represents and Scott’s killing of the God of Evil represents going past all the terrible things that Darkseid caused in his life. Morrison made Darkseid stories that worked because they followed the example of Kirby before them. Tom King, writer of Mister Miracle, took what Darkseid represented to Kirby – all the terrors of the world – and put that into the villain inside the story. Morrison and King alone have gotten Darkseid right in his appearances away from Kirby’s work because they understand what Kirby was trying to say with the character. They both told New Gods stories, which is something that too many prior creators failed at. Darkseid is a metaphor as much as anything else, and just using him as the ultimate final boss misses what Darkseid really is.
Darkseid Was Tailor-Made For The Fourth World
Darkseid’s appearances in comics like 2011’s Justice League are fine, but they use Darkseid as an evil conqueror. This is the simplest way of looking at Darkseid; it’s not exactly wrong, but it’s also a waste of the character. Darkseid is an evil conqueror, but he doesn’t conquer by force of arms. That doesn’t give him the control he desires. It’s a pale shadow of what Kirby’s Darkseid wants, which is why Darkseid isn’t constantly conquering worlds, he’s waiting to get the Anti-Life Equation so he can make them all a part of him. Darkseid doesn’t want simple conquest, he wants control. The superheroes of the DC Multiverse are made to battle against run-of-the-mill bad guys, simple conquerors or criminals. This is fine for bad guys like the Anti-Monitor or Lex Luthor, but not against Darkseid.
Jack Kirby’s New Gods have untapped potential in today’s comic industry. Much like the gods of antiquity, Kirby created a pantheon made to have epic battles for the souls of creation. Darkseid is a villain that works best in these types of stories. That’s not to say that Darkseid can’t work outside the New Gods, but even then, the best way to do it is to tell the kind of stories that Kirby did, epics that play up the metaphors at the center of Darkseid – control, uniformity, the tyranny of the masses, the sadness that tells humans to give up and give in. Darkseid belongs in these types of stories and best place for them are his battles against the New Gods.
The mighty Darkseid has appeared as a frequent Superman & Justice League villain, but he actually serves the DC Universe better as a New Gods foe. Read More