This post is about Darkseid and Jack Kirby and Superman. It may not always remain on topic, though it is my examination of a problem I find inherent in both writers and fans of Superman. I wrote it  after once again having read Mightygodking’s post about Lex Luthor. Examining comic book villains and what works about them is something I find interesting. Hopefully this post is not too disjointed a read.
Kirby's greatest creation, hiding behind a wall.

There’s a lot of fans now who believe that Darkseid is Superman’s enemy. That for whatever reason Darkseid hates Superman and brings out a great side of him. To some degree that is true. Superman the Animated Series’ greatest success was bringing the Fourth World to life and giving a truly terrifying Darkseid to the screen. However every time I read a fan’s opinions on the best Superman villains or who should be in the movie it comes back to Darkseid.

I think it’s either Bruce Timm or John Byrne’s fault. It certainly has a lot to do with Paul Levitz’ Great Darkness Saga. See, I’m a Kirby fan as much as any of those men are. His work was powerful, exciting and he had great design sense. I’m even of the opinion that if you fudge the facts Kirby’s body of work is kind of a tapestry of stories and mythology he created. That works like this; Thor leads into the Fourth World and Eternals would be the next step in the Fourth World. Captain Victory has some undertones of the Fourth World built into it and so does Silver Star. Even Black Panther seems to tie into some of his hidden mythology stuff, secret cities and magic time-travelling artefacts.

This conclusion is based on a small body of his work as I’ve yet to delve into all available work. So I won’t be able to tell you how I view Captain America, OMAC and Kamandi and what I think they add, the point still stands Kirby’s work kind of transcends publishers. Destroyer Duck may not be Kirby’s story but is it worth reading? Yeah, you’ll never quite unsee Kirby’s funny-animal world and exactly what kind of visual quirks were thrown in. Steve Gerber’s script begins absurdly and it’s a very personal work, that first issue. It becomes a little more straightforward from there.

However the point of this is Darkseid and Superman. Now fans will be quick to point out Darkseid first appeared in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #134. It’s a minimal appearance designed by Kirby to gain interest in his new titles. Darkseid counts. Of course it isn’t until Forever People he even shows up and everything kind of goes full force from there. Darkseid does encounter Superman but he’s just another guy to Darkseid. He’s no more in his way than anyone else. See, Darkseid’s more concerned with Orion and his one man war. That’s only natural, Kirby wasn’t writing Superman.

Kirby was writing the Fourth World. He was building a new series of characters who were all Kirby. They didn’t speak like Stan Lee, though I do think Kirby learned some writing style from Lee. He certainly picked up the bombastic prose that through Kirby’s lens becomes even more intense and important to understanding the series. Some may consider Kirby a terrible writer. I would argue his ideas transcend the words and it is difficult to imagine his characters speaking any differently. His constant emphasis just adds to my interest in his work. Darkseid may be Kirby’s greatest creation. This warlord whose calm and sinister appearance just sells the Fourth World entirely. This doesn’t come as a shock, Darkseid was every tyrant Kirby even witnessed. Mark Evanier claims Nixon as a huge influence, along with some physicality from Jack Palance.[i]

Darkseid more than anything however was Hitler. From the torturous world he created, the tyranny on display and the more obvious goosestepping Parademons, Darkseid was a Hitler who had won. Nixon would have influenced Kirby, because Nixon was modern and Jack Kirby clearly let his feelings loose, Funky Flashman[ii] is just proof of that. For whatever reason Darkseid is the ultimate tyrant and nothing is more ultimate tyrant than Hitler having won. This must’ve been relevant to Kirby, he fought in World War II. He must’ve considered it. Certainly Kirby’s comics have utilised a lot of World War II continuing on through some means. The Hate-Monger story from Fantastic Four #21 had the Hate-Monger revealed as Hitler, apparently, having never died. Captain America revived the Red Skull, and before that had told tales of Cap’s war years, something I’m as yet unsure if it was Kirby’s idea or Stan’s. Jack would’ve liked Bucky I think, so I find it easier to believe it was his. Jack did after all create the Boy Commandoes and the Newsboy Legion he clearly liked kid heroes.

I’ve gone off topic a touch. I wanted to explain why Darkseid and Superman are not enemies, not truly. Superman is ultimate optimism. He believes in being able to redeem his enemies, even Lex Luthor can be saved it just takes longer. We’ve certainly see a redeemable Lex Luthor before, but that’s a topic for a different article. Darkseid isn’t an enemy of Superman because that’s not an option. There’s absolutely no hope of redemption. Darkseid is a God of all he surveys and when given a pact that halts his progress he just ignores it and keeps on going. Darkseid throws children into orphanages that literally torture them to make them into his soldiers. Darkseid kills his underlings for failure.[iii]

Without any hope for redemption you may just think, “Well yeah, but he’s not going to redeem anyone else in his rogue’s gallery”. That’s true, Lex Luthor will still be a villain tomorrow. Brainiac certainly isn’t going to apologise for his crimes and not even Toyman is going to retire and start helping kids out. Even Mister Mxyzptlk who some writers turned into a less malicious pest isn’t actually going out of his way to help Superman, that would ruin his game. But reading Superman means you should be able to understand it’s still an option. It’s always an option. Batman has given up on the Joker ever turning sane. He doesn’t believe even Riddler can walk the straight and narrow. Batman wants those things to happen and even when they do, well, he certainly doesn’t trust it to turn out okay. It’s gone wrong too many time for someone as jaded as Batman to honestly believe it can happen.

Superman needs that option, that hope that it can be turned around. He believes even when Luthor spits in his face he believes that he’ll eventually do the right thing. That’s never going to be an option with Darkseid. What you see is what you get. Darkseid was born evil, raised evil and lives and breathes evil. His ultimate goal is Anti-Life, ultimate control of everything. In this regard he shares a few elements with fellow Kirby creation the Red Skull. There’s no sympathy for them, no true redeeming qualities. They are evil and that’s all they can ever be. It makes them perfect for their foils.

Red Skull is the antithesis of Captain America. He’s fighting the super-patriot paragon of justice. Naturally that makes him a warped super-patriot of Nazi ideals. He’s Cap’s equal in a lot of ways. This is probably why Darkseid’s equal is Orion. However Orion is nothing like Captain America. Orion’s a violent man whose nature is Darkseid’s. The reason Orion’s a hero is because he was raised in a utopian society where good is everything. Orion’s nature is shown through his true appearance, one he masks to keep it locked up. Orion’s a berserker waiting to get loose. But the final nail in the coffin on why Orion’s Darkseid’s true nemesis?

Kirby created a prophecy for the two that never was fulfilled. Orion and Darkseid were to die in final combat with each other. They did have an ending in sight and worse, they both knew about it. Darkseid’s search for the Anti-Life Equation was actually a race against time. He knew Orion would kill him, or that he would kill Orion and he wasn’t exactly confident he would win that fight.

But put Darkseid against Superman, something I think has more in common with Kirby’s Super Powers comics than his original ideas and he doesn’t fear that. Pre-Crisis, Hunger Dogs was Orion’s greatest victory. He dethroned Darkseid and made Apokolips impossible for him to live on. Darkseid fled his own planet. For all intents and purposes Superman could never strike that hard. Every time Superman fights Darkseid he only puts a dent in his regime and nothing more. Orion toppled the regime.

To me Darkseid occupies the same space as Red Skull. They are so specifically tied into one idea that they only really change when tied to it. Red Skull doesn’t make sense as an enemy for anyone but Captain America, no matter how interesting the story. Darkseid is the enemy of the entire Fourth World and I surely would’ve loved to have seen what role Beautiful Dreamer was intended to have in the great Anti-Life war, but he’s Orion’s enemy. They are destined to die on the same battlefield. Yes there are great Darkseid stories that don’t include the Fourth World, but it isn’t Superman’s domain. Superman’s a servant to those in need and that doesn’t describe a single resident of Kirby’s Fourth World.[iv]

The Superman Animated Series had a great take on Darkseid. They made him relevant to Superman. Sometimes Darkseid should appear in Superman, but he isn’t Superman’s enemy. He can’t be because he’s only a reminder of a battle Superman already lost. It can never be personal, even mind-controlling Superman only made the point that he can’t win on Darkseid’s terms. The Fourth World having interacted with the rest of the DC Universe has had mixed results but in general works. I don’t believe people should be a slave to Kirby’s vision but if they are to revive the Fourth World, then leave as much out as possible. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman they can’t intersect well with the Fourth World. They aren’t the right mix of sci-fi, philosophy and mythology to actually co-exist with the full Fourth World. They can interact with characters from that world but they can’t influence the actual environments. However reader interest seems to stem from when it does interact so it is a fine line to diluting the property and giving it relevance to the universe that was crafted. And I think it got out of hand when everyone decided to add a New God. Some work, some don’t. The problem is it became an easy excuse for a new villain and then someone would throw a pseudo-Kirby design on it and call it a day. Peter David/Todd Nauck created Rip-Roar whose visual works but the character as a New God? Not so much. He’s just another Kalibak but with extra arms. If he were just another guy? He would’ve worked. The problem was there was no reason for Young Justice to have anything to do with the Fourth World at all, especially that early in. Knockout however seems to have worked out fine so give a point to Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett.

In the future if I feel like examining a character I’ll try and keep it more on topic and shorter, but I needed to write this thing in full. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga is a cornerstone of his work. He created an exciting world and ran with it until its cancellation. Darkseid is his greatest creation and needed this length to explain him properly.


[ii] Funky Flashman is by all accounts Kirby’s stand-in for Stan Lee, a huckster con-man whose only interest in a quick buck. Kirby in 1970 was frustrated with Lee for not being able to garner the credit/creative freedom he desired. This would be why Kirby left Marvel for DC. Subtle Kirby was not.

[iii] A stronger point if Kirby was not asked to restore Steppenwolf, DeSaad, Mantis and Kalibak to life for the Hunger Dogs, but he still killed his henchmen.

[iv] Well, not exactly but Superman can’t help everyone. Apokolips is a doomed planet so long as Darkseid lives. It’s New Genesis’ problem what happens to the Hunger Dogs. Superman can only help so much and he’d succeed if only it weren’t for Darkseid.