It’s the 40th anniversary of the first Jack Kirby comic to introduce his concepts of the “Fourth World” and so we have a special piece for you this week.
In the DC Universe, long before the Maltusians and the Martians, the first sentient race were the beings of the planet Urgund. These people learned to commune with the Source, the energy that binds all life in the universe (and which pre-dates Star Wars, so no yelling “rip-off”). The people of Urgund became what later cultures would refer to as “the Old Gods” and their age of civilization became known as the Third World.
But… there came a day when the Old Gods died. Civil war broke out and it ended with the planet being destroyed. The energies unleashed wiped out surrounding stars while shifting the rubble of Urgund and its surviving sun into another dimensional plane, out of phase with the rest of the universe. Many centuries passed. The rubble of Urgund began to reform, becoming two worlds now orbiting the same star, one full of life that was called New Genesis, the other a dark wasteland called Apokolips. On Earth, the energy shock wave from the death of the Old Gods created other-dimensional beings who came to be worshipped as gods by the ancient Greeks, the ancient Egyptians and others. And on New Genesis and Apokolips, new beings emerged who, like their ancestors, were linked to cosmic forces. They were the New Gods of the Fourth World.
It would be a mistake to consider the New Gods as powerful aliens. They were celestial beings, more energy than matter, whose spirits would directly return to the Source after death. Izaya, given the title of “Highfather,” acted as mentor to the people of New Genesis, while the tyrant Uxas ruled over Apokolips after assuming the title of “Darkseid the Destroyer.” Darkseid psychically fed off pain, corruption and servitude. Highfather spoke of how free will was the essence of sentient life, making “choice” the “life equation” and in turn, Darkseid sought out the “Anti-Life Equation,” a cosmic formula that would rob anyone of free will and make them his puppet. Realizing that certain human beings held parts of the Equation in their mind, Darkseid turned his attention to Earth, now warring with super-heroes as often as he did with the forces of New Genesis. His greatest enemies were Superman, Wonder Woman and his own son Orion, who had been raised by Highfather.
Eventually, the time came for the Fourth World to end. Darkseid found a way to allow his spirit to survive this, intending that he would reshape the Fifth World in his image and gain influence over the entire universe. The paradox of his spirit’s survival forced time and space to begin collapsing around Earth, causing what came to be known as the Final Crisis, and it took the combined might of Earth’s heroes and several cosmic forces to bring him down at last. The Fourth World ended and we know that somewhere in the multiverse the Fifth World has begun with a reborn New Genesis. What happens next is up to fate (and very likely Grant Morrison).
And now that you’re educated on the basics, let’s take a gander at the fashion choices of some of the most prominent beings of the Fourth World. Keep in mind, this is not a complete list because that would honestly take too long in one sitting. So for now, we’re focusing on the main heroes of Kirby’s cosmic mythology rather than the villains and side players. What’s that? Oh, fine, we’ll include Darkseid too. But just because you asked so nicely.
As a young man on New Genesis, Sollis nearly lost his life due to radiation attacks. Metron saved him with advanced science and when Sollis recovered he found he could produce and manipulate light. He took the name Lightray and became known as a brave, if sometimes care-free, warrior.
This outfit though, it’s just so plain. A costume can be simple without being boring, but this is very humdrum to me. You’ve got a funky chest symbol, shorts and a half-helmet. Okay. So what? What about any of that says “light” or “power”?
To me, Lightray was always more impressive when he was causing his entire body to glow. I think his suit should’ve emulated this a bit. Perhaps it could’ve been a reflective gold material rather than white cloth, giving some indication as to what his nature is without having to hear his name. Kieron Dwyer had a redesign in the Elseworlds story Superman: The Dark Side that showed promise.
SCOTT FREE, THE MAN WITH NO NAME
Born on New Genesis, the son of Izaya was given to Darkseid in exchange for Orion as part of a peace treaty. Raised in the deadly “orphanage” of the ironically named Granny Goodness, this boy’s thirst for freedom drove him to be an expert escape artist and earned him the nickname of Scott Free. He later escaped to Earth and met a performer called Mr. Miracle, who then passed his title and costume on to Scott. Thus, Scott was unique among his people, forsaking his godhood so he could live as a man.
I’ve gone on record several times to mock this suit. Feel free to disagree with me, art and fashion are subjective. To me personally, this is one of those designs where I wish Kirby had edited himself a little bit. I don’t mind the mask and I think the colors can work. But having so many sections in this costume makes it too loud and garish to me. I realize that this is supposed to be a circus-style outfit for a person who acts as a performer, but my eyes just don’t know where the focus should be. If you took away the middle yellow section or one of the colors around the arms or toned down that cumbersome looking belt, I might be more into this.
And while I have no problem with the cape for his entrances on stage, in combat it doesn’t really work for me. Scott Free is about stealth, acrobatics, fast dodges. This cape not only goes against that, but the collar of it makes me worry that he’s limiting his own peripheral vision. If he had mystic senses or something, then I’d be okay with it, but he doesn’t.
During some battles against the forces of Apokolips, Scott wore this armored version of his suit. The mask as a helmet is a clever design, but the spiked cape clasps seem out of character. Scott might sometimes understand the need to fight, but he’s always been reluctant to do so and I don’t think would embrace it with adornments that ensure bloodshed. The rest of the outfit isn’t bad and with a tweak here or there could have definite possibilities. Of course, this armor only works when he’s in major battle and not as his everyday gear as a stuntman.
In one adventure, Scott finally accepted his status as a New God and was given great power by the Source. When that happened, he sported this strange take on things. Some elements here I like, such as the gold part of the sleeves extending into full gloves. I think that works better rather than having the red-gold-green gloves look on the arms. But that belt has become even more cumbersome and that sash looks quite heavy and, for an escape artist/acrobat, a bit dangerous. And the spikes on the arm just seem silly to me.
The mask, I don’t know about. On one hand, it’s an interesting redesign by having the gold part extend outward. On the other hand, it keeps reminding me of one of Iron Man’s first helmets.
In the mini-series The Death of the New Gods, Scott Free went a little off the deep end and took on a darker look. Not only did his colors change, but so did the design of the suit, emulating a suit his apprentice Shilo later adopted (and which we’ll discuss in the next section). These colors definitely convey “I’m depressed,” so they achieve the intended goal, but there’s a reason you would never see Scott wearing such a dark look normally.
Early on, Scott took on an apprentice, a young boy named Shilo Norman. After training him for a few years, Scott decided it was time for Shilo to start operating as the third Mr. Miracle and the young man got his own distinctive costume.
One thing I’ll say off the bat is that I like the hood rather than the high-collar. If the hood starts limiting your vision, you can easily just pull it down, no worries. The M design of the shirt is cheesy but it also suits the character. Remember, this guy prefers to act in public performances rather than hunting down criminals in the street. The puffy sleeves though, I don’t know. With the high-flying, death-defying action Mr. Miracle must perform, I prefer the skin-tight outfit where it doesn’t look like you might catch your sleeve on something.
Years later, Shilo developed another costume that he debuted in Grant Morrison’s 7 Soldiers mege-series. And you know, I can actually get behind this. Shiloh has removed the green shorts over the pants and tossed out the cumbersome belt of Scott Free. He’s also altered the yellow on the bottom of his shirt to just be on the sides rather than covering his full lower torso. And the large yellow discs that were below Scott’s knees have been shrunk down to minor decorations on Shilo’s feet. These simple alterations have toned down the suit just a bit and gives it a stronger design sense. And it’s certainly helped by the fact that the cape has been tossed out. A very strong redesign.
Originally captain of Darkseid’s repetitively named Female Furies, Barda (or “Big Barda” as they sometimes called her) later renounced her dark ways and fell in love with Scott Free. As a hero, she worked alongside New Genesis and Earth’s superheroes on many occasions.
Barda’s worn different forms of armor on different occasions. This one, it’s not bad. It gets the job done, clearly. But there’s nothing really to it, is there?
But her classic armor here is very striking and memorable. Strong primary colors, scale mail covering every inch of her limbs. Even her HAIR is armored! There’s a lot going on here, like Mr. Miracle’s design, but there’s a stronger unity in the design here. Each piece complements the others rather than acting as a distraction.
This armor has been tweaked at times by different artists. Sometimes its a skirt rather that shorts. Sometimes the neckline is lower.
Sometimes the costume is given a streamlined, minimalist look. This also works, but I prefer the classic look because the design of it just seems so otherworldly and its a nice reminder that Barda is not from our neck of the woods.
This look was worn by Barda when she was in Hadis, a netherworld for the New Gods. In this place, Barda was entranced to fight forever, without real purpose. The many spikes on the armor emphasize that Barda’s doing her best to cause bloodshed in any way possible. Heck, she could turn her head towards you and slice your throat in the process with that headpiece of hers. And it makes sense for the context of the story. But in the normal state of affairs, Barda tried to temper herself at times and this outfit would have worked against that.
Many times in her early days on Earth, Barda sported this number here. I don’t like it. It’s just a bathing suit with a couple of minor New God style decorations. I don’t think Barda would be shy about her sexuality, but this is just not a very interesting design to me.
The son of Darkseid, Orion was sent to New Genesis as part of the same peace treaty that sent Scott Free to Apokolips. Raised by Highfather Izaya, the boy eventually learned how to curb the lust for violence that was his heritage and be became the “dog of war,” New Genesis’ most fearsome warrior and one of Darkseid’s greatest enemies. Adding to his power was the cosmic “astro-force” that he had learned to manipulate, and his Mother Box (a living computer used by New Gods) would often help soothe his anger if he began to give in to rage.
Orion has a minimalist look. But I don’t really mind it. I would prefer no shorts over the pants, but it’s not a big deal. Orion is not a man who cares for decoration or how he presents himself. He is here to fight and he is here to win. Hence, all he needs is a body suit and a helmet. The helmet not only indicates to us that this is a warrior, especially with its gladiator-like look, but it serves a purpose in the story as well. Normally, Orion uses Mother Box to give him him the handsome features of someone from New Genesis. But when his rage gets the better of him, Orion’s face shifts to its natural form, causing resemblance to his father. So the helmet is both the proud sign of a warrior but also the shield he uses to hide his shame. Very nice touch there.
If I had to change this at all, I’d maybe tweak the gloves a bit so they didn’t look like surgical ones, get rid of the shorts and add some kind of small symbol to his chest or just over his heart.
In the series Return of the New Gods, Orion was given a look more befitting a superhero. Um, okay. This is… well, this is pretty lame. He now looks like “Generic Hero With A Letter On His Chest #5.” The gladiator looks is completely gone, which is sad since the New Gods are supposed to be a cosmic, technological take on classic myths. And that mask is useless. Orion doesn’t have a secret identity, he disguised his face in case it altered to its original form, as I explained. Here, enough of his face is showing that it won’t hide anything if he starts to resemble Darkseid again in the heat of battle. So what’s the point of that mask? Granted, Mr. Miracle doesn’t have a secret identity either, but for him it’s part of being a showman.
Another redesign was adding shoulder pads and some minor tech to Orion’s shirt. Not bad here, actually. I could live with this design.
AH! No. No, no, no. Orion, I don’t care that this is your idea of casual wear for when you’re not in battle, this outfit is ugly and should be removed. I like the chest symbol, but everything else is lame.
Huh. Well, that’s a new take on things, certainly. Okay, the chest symbol isn’t bad. It’s the same as the helmet though, so maybe we could make it SLIGHTLY different? It doesn’t bug me that much since the symbol on the helmet is so small, but it’s a thought. The spikes on the shoulder pad seem like useless decoration to me. And the full-face helmet, that’s a shame. Orion is a person who always expresses his anger and battle-lust. Let’s see that. This makes the character less interesting and emotive on a visual level. Not a good change.
Oh, really, Orion? Being as strong as Superman and as nuts as Wolverine wasn’t intimidating enough, you had to go and steal some spikes from Ghost Rider? And is that a gun on your wrist? Okay, that’s actually kind of cool but seems unnecessary for a warrior who wields the astro-force. But maybe you wanted extra fire-power in case, okay, I can deal with that. But those spikes, how are you supposed to walk through a simple doorway with those things?
Another throwback to the original design with a few tweaks. I think the armor on the arms is a bit much, but the boots aren’t bad and the chest armor I could deal with it if it looked more like armor and less like a harness.
All in all, the classic design seems to work best. There’s a reason artists keep returning to it.
One of my favorite characters in fiction, this one. Though he was heavily involved in the affairs of the New Gods and lived on New Genesis (if he could be said to live anywhere), Metron was not exactly one of them. He was apparently born on neither New Genesis nor Apokolips and by his own admission was something that came before the New Gods and would survive afterward, something unforeseen. Because of his scientific prowess and his insatiable desire for knowledge and understanding, Metron has occasionally been referred to as the New God of Science. Thanks to the ever-changing Element X that he acquired from Darkseid, he was able to create his famous Mobius Chair which allowed him to travel anywhere in space and time.
This outfit is unique and certainly memorable. The design on Metron’s shirt seems to be a circuit of some kind (and later stories confirmed this), but it also resembles ancient, primitive glyphs, something you might find amidst the artwork of Pre-Columbian America or inside a pharaoh’s tomb in Egypt. It makes Metron represent forces that are both very old and very new all at once. The only thing I don’t like here, as many of you have probably guessed, is the shorts that he wears on the outside of his trousers. Looking at Orion, Metron, Lightray and Scott Free, it seems that shorts outside trousers was just a fashion style on New Genesis, much as it was on Krypton.
Later comics dropped the shorts from Metron and this style I just plain like. He’s sleek, stream-lined, unencumbered by anything except his thoughts and what his senses perceive. Despite the complex design on his torso, this costume is actually very simple, lacking any real decoration elsewhere and adhering to a simple color scheme.
In 7 Soldiers: Mr. Miracle, Metron’s shirt and cowl designs acted as a light source. This is a great element, further implying that this is some kind of cosmic circuit. Indeed, we can almost imagine that Metron is actually plugged into the universe itself, surfing its information lanes as we do the web.
We’d known for some time that the New Gods had visited Earth when humanity was in its infancy and in Final Crisis #1 we finally saw this firsthand when Metron approached Anthro, “the first boy.” Here, the scientist god is seen as a shining being, his whole body now a lightsource and with the blues and whites of his outfit reversed. You could interpret this literally or you could take it as “this is how he appears to Anthro’s point of view because Anthro understands he’s a cosmic force,” but either way it’s a very interesting design. And since Metron is a time traveler as well as a scientist, it occurs to me that this may have happened (from his perspective) in the final days of the Fourth World, when he had gained a greater knowledge of the universe and thus had evolved slightly up the cosmic ladder, ready to be reborn into the Fifth World.
Sorry if I got a little cosmic for you. Moving on then.
Darkseid Is… fashion. Okay, sorry, couldn’t resist.
Like his son Orion, Darkseid is not one for decoration or complex fashion designs. He is Darkseid. You can tell that by seeing his face and his evil red eyes. A simple outfit with boots and gloves is all that he also needs. The helmet is a nice touch though and give Darkseid an interesting silhouette. Yet unlike Orion, he displays his face, showing that he doesn’t truly fear injury nor does he wish to hide anything about his true nature. He is, visually, Orion’s opposite number in many ways.
Some artists draw Darkseid with shorts, as he was originally presented. Others draw him as wearing an extended tunic. I personally prefer this look because I think it goes back to giving a Romanesque aesthetic and for the New Gods I think that works in their favor, reminding us that these are not aliens or superheroes but celestial beings of myth. But the shorts don’t bother me in Darkseid’s case (perhaps because he doesn’t wear pants underneath), so I’m good either way.
One thing I do object to is a cape. Kirby had it at first and a few others have drawn it as well and I just don’t think that it works. It seems like a touch of flourish for a guy who wouldn’t be concerned with such decorations. For the same reason, I prefer it when artists indicate that Darkseid has bare arms and legs rather giving them purple shading and implying he’s wearing leotards underneath. The one exception to this is the 90s animated series where they gave Darkseid blue trousers that went well with the rest of his outfit. I was okay with that.
When members of the Justice League traveled to a possible future, they met this version of Darkseid who had taken control of much of the known universe. A few minor tweaks and we have a very interesting redesign. The black instead of blue still works for Darkseid. The shoulder pads give a slightly more authoritative look. And the omega symbol on the helmet is a nice touch. Very nice design indeed.
In Final Crisis, Darkseid inhabited a human body that was then treated to resemble his old form. He was also given a new suit. This is a strong new look. It’s the classic costume but the omega symbol is big and bold yet also very simple. It’s everything you need to know about him: he is master of the Omega Force, keeper of the Omega Sanction, and he is the end for everything if he has his way. The helmet I’m torn on. It doesn’t look bad, but from the from angles it looks almost like a muzzle. I don’t know, I think I would take this suit and the classic helmet. Just my thoughts.
And that’s it for this week, folks. If you’d like us to take a look at other Fourth World characters, feel free to write in. And hey, for anyone who’s going to be at New York Comic-Con, I will be there as well so feel free to say hi. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.