Friday, December 07, 2007

Jack Kirby’s Mister Miracle: “HIMON”.

A look at the Fourth World pivotal story…

I first saw Jack Kirby’s work when I was around eight years old and from that moment on I was both hooked on his work and also decided on my career path. I didn’t realise at the time that the guy drawing these wonderful stories was Jack, but as I got older I came to realise that this same guy was drawing most of the stuff I liked.

I was never lucky enough to meet the man himself and hoped to do so when I was working in New York for Defiant comics in the mid-nineties. It wasn’t to be, however, but I will be forever in his debt as he showed me and countless others what could be done with the imagination in between the pages of the four colour comic book, through his marvellous work.

When the Fourth World series came out I was again hooked. I was amazed at the fantastic inventiveness and also the deep and sometimes hidden meanings of the storylines. I have heard some folks speak of stilted dialogue and stories TOO full of throwaway ideas.

That was Jack though, he had so many ideas that sometimes he just used one to hint at or make a point, where others would get an entire year’s worth of stories from it. To me, his dialogue perfectly suited the otherworldliness of the New Gods. They didn’t speak as we do and it was due to this that their power was invoked to the reader.

Back then in the seventies there were no such things as the direct sales comic shops and here in the UK we received sporadic copies of comic books at best. One could wander the seaside resorts and inland newsagents over several years to try and complete the series, oftentimes without success.

The Fourth World series, however, meant so much to me as a reader and student of Jack’s work that I would savour the wandering, accompanied by my best friend Paul, in the hope that by walking several miles, on the off chance of finding an issue, the trip would indeed bear fruit.

When I first read Himon back then, as a schoolboy, I was deeply moved by the story. I saw it as a coming-of-age tale and yet something more. The story takes place in issue 9 of the Mister Miracle comic book and begins with a dramatic cover depicting Scott Free attempting to escape through some metal gates, whilst evading a horde of dangerous Para-Demons.

The cover blurbs were:

“The Great Scott Free BUST-OUT!”


“You’ll Never Read a Story Like HIMON!”

The opening scene on Apokolips, where we witness the arrival of Wonderful Willik and his cohort in Armagetto shows the cruelty of Darkseid’s rein. The Lowlies are about to be saved from “infection”, which is almost a synonymous allegory of the incarceration of the Jews in the Second World War. Willik the District Protector does not give Himon the chance to come forward and give himself up and instead kills all of the lowlies to get at the enemy.

When the sole remaining survivor of the flames, Himon speaks condemningly from within them, he tests Willik’s resolve by taunting him to enter them and rely on his secreted Mother Box, something condemned on Apokolips and which Willik should not have about his person. Here Jack shows us the hypocrisy of wartime and how some like to edge their bets.

Metron over several short stories within the Mister Miracle comic books has been shown to drop hints to Scott Free from within the training academy or rather “orphanage” of Granny Goodness’ that he can escape the confines of Apokolips and shows him in these episodes, things forbidden to even dream of there.

In an earlier story from New Gods issue 7 “The Pact” Jack Kirby set up the plotline for this coming event. He has the two leaders of the warring worlds of the New Gods, Izaya of New Genesis and Darkseid of Apokolips formulate a secret pact, which involves the exchanging of heirs.

This means Darkseid’s son Orion will be brought up on New Genesis as one of theirs, whilst Izaya’s son Scott Free will be brought up on the dreary and desolate world of Apokolips. Yet even as the pact is made, Darkseid schemes and prepares for the eventual escape of Scott Free, on which day the pact will be broken and the war will be renewed.

In Mister Miracle issue 9 the story claims that, this is the story of Himon, the Ultimate Escape Artist who fostered Mister Miracle by teaching his trade to Young Scott Free, a title that will be passed over to Scott, as he becomes in turn the Super Escape Artist. In this issue we are constantly made aware that Scott is trying to discover himself and escape.

Within Himon’s lair we find a series of, as Scott describes them, dregs, or misfits. These characters all possess some abilities which connect them to the Source, the power behind the Mother Box technology and the New Gods of New Genesis. All, save one, is able to connect with the Source, his name is, Kreetin. Zep draws on a computo-stylus (and this in 1972) Bravo and Weldun both command high-tech circuitry, whilst one other Auralie, a member of the Female Furies, a crack battalion of female warriors, creates visions that dance.

Whilst the others all are able to use the modern technology, linked to the Source, Jack shows us something special with the female, as Himon tells us; “Auralie’s thoughts are beautiful! She creates beauty! Imagine…doing this on a world like Apokolips!” Himon, as in earlier short stories, shows Scott that there are things other than what Darkseid allows to be seen on this barren world, much like in Scott’s daydreams.

The Female Furies, under the leadership of Big Barda, find Auralie and take her back to the barracks telling everyone, including Scott that they have never seen her. When a further mob appear outside, the Furies disappear, in a hurry and Himon tells the others to Phase-Out and escape the mob. Himon stays, as he knows the mob will kill Kreetin, as his Mother Box circuits do not work, offering himself as long as they let Kreetin go.

Metron then appears to Kreetin and during a brief discussion that shows him in his true light, allows us to see why the Mother Box will never work for him, as Kreetin explains, “My skin sire, is dedicated to Darkseid and his purposes! But, until he claims it, I prize my skin above false gratitude to Himon!! Farewell, sire!” The response says it all “Farewell, Kreetin! For in that truth, you keep a pelt…and forever lose a Mother Box!”

After many failed attempts to execute him, Himon, the master of theories and Scott Free’s mentor, meets with Metron, the master of elements on a gutted slag heap near Armagetto, where they discuss Scott’s future, for it was Metron that appeared to Scott, whilst his fellow officers thought him mad, as he seemingly spoke to the thin air, showing him things and pointing him in the direction of Himon.

Himon’s attempt to save Kreetin is wasted, however, as Wonderful Willik has him brought before him and promptly kills him. The amazing thing that Jack shows here is that Kreetin despite his inability to connect with the source did have a fine talent for building Mother Boxes.

In this analogy we see that sometimes people have the chance to go beyond what they can see or the norm, but fail to do so for a lack of vision or drive. As the dead body is hung with the others of the group on a rack, Scott and Big Barda are brought before Willik, who observes that Scott has grown his hair, something again forbidden to one of Granny Goodness’ male troopers, and suggests he is capable of anything, perhaps even a visit to Himon.

They are next shown Auralie, whom they caught dancing like a pretty doll, for which she was given a pair of high-voltage shock boots. Both Scott and Barda are about to leap on Willik when a waiter carrying Willik’s meal passes them and suddenly they about face and quickly leave the scene, as they are placed under the influence of a mind-lock beam. Willik thinks they have “finked out”, but the reason soon becomes apparent to him as he is blown to smithereens.

Himon then explains his true purpose in this life, as he sees it. “I’m a Dreamer! A Visionary! A “Think-Tank” who pioneered the calculating Mother Box and linked it with the Source! I found the X-Element and pioneered the Boom Tube!…I Dream! I roam the universe! Darkseid wants to own it!!

Dreams and thoughts of escape are reiterated again: “Yes Scott! Darkseid fears you, too! Because, you too can dream of things beyond Darkseid! What is the dream released inside Scott Free?” To which he replies “I-I don’t know…I…think…it’s serenity…embodied in the voice of a woman…I-I cannot see!”

This theme continues as Scott explains further: Always she says…”You know, Izaya,..I’ve never heard you sing…”I-I cannot see the woman! But I’m filled with the serenity she brings!! To which Himon says, “That dream is yours, Scott! Yours!!” And Barda adds, “To dream beyond Darkseid!!! On Apokolips, it seems unthinkable!!”

The woman of Scott’s dreams is his mother, Avia. Izaya was a warrior although this escalated following his wife’s murder, which was instigated by Darkseid, by having his uncle Steppenwolf accidentally kill her. As a warrior Izaya obviously had no time for the niceties of life, such as singing. Again this mirrors the scenarios with Auralie, who makes time for them, only to have them stopped because the joys of life are forbidden as Darkseid searches for the Anti-Life Equation.

Another comparison and link with the pact-lead storyline is when the Para-Demons are attacking Scott as he makes a bid to escape Apokolips. One of the Para-Demons retorts, “AAA! We can’t hold him! He fights like Orion of New Genesis!” To which Scott replies, “Perhaps we share the same desire! Get out of my way!” This is about to be so true, as we see Orion in the New Gods comic fighting for New Genesis with his Mother Box disguising his true self, as far as looks go, but we see his TRUE self as a warrior fighting for the good of New Genesis.

He has made his choice and fights for the forces of good, as Jack portrays them. Scott is almost ready to do the same, as he has found from seeing things in a different perspective. I feel that Jack wanted us to see that no matter what their background, good or bad, the true instinct to do what is right will be found by those that want to find it.

At the very end of the story we see Darkseid appear behind Scott, as he struggles towards a Boom Tube created by Himon with Metron at his side. Darkseid bellows: “ He can take it! I’ll not stop him now! If courage and bravery took him here!…Some of it was mine!”

He goes on: “Stay warrior! Let me complete the destruction of Scott Free…so you may live with the majesty that is the power of Darkseid!” Then adds: “The young fool goes on! He struggles to rise! If he leaves Darkseid, he’ll still find death!”

Himon then speaks: “If he leaves Apokolips, he’ll find the universe!!!

Jack then gives us his punch line to the gag, as Scott yells: “Let me be Scott Free…and find myself!”

With Scott gone from Apokolips, Himon and Metron phase out leaving with the knowledge that the war will renew again. Darkseid knows he must eventually face his true son, Orion in a last battle in Armagetto, but looks to bring it on as he will, in his eyes, eventually shut down the universe to all except the will of Darkseid.

I think that Himon is a wonderful story, which shows us the beauty of dreaming and the imagination. It is the driving force behind mankind’s creative and technological evolution. We can allude to this that by doing so the possibilities for peace are limitless, but so too are the capabilities of war.

Here in the Fourth World stories, as can be said of many of Jack’s other stories, we see opposites and it is in these opposites that we see glimpses of ourselves. Many of today’s comics stories have no such distinctions and the blurring of good and evil, don’t so much act as a reflection of today’s dangerous world, but in fact condone and promote the might means right attitude that was a major factor in the creation of the First World War. Perhaps Jack’s part in the Second World War showed him the real horrors of true conflict and perhaps as creatives we should do the same and act more responsibly and morally in our work.

Darkseid’s rule on Apokolips is the supreme show of Fascism even down to the jack-booting gait of the troops. We are shown the ultimate conclusion of the Fascist regime and belief system, with the outcome in this Fourth World scenario being, “The Anti-Life Equation”, being sought by Darkseid and his minions.

It is true that there can be no dark without light, big without small, far, without near, good without evil, life without death and in the Fourth World of Darkseid’s madness Life without Anti-Life!

I have often wondered about the origins of Himon being named thus. Was it in respect of Hymen, Greek Mythology’s God of Marriage, or was it in reference to a woman’s virginity, or am I indeed just reading too much into it all? Scott Free’s escape from Apokolips signals a new marriage between he and the Source, whose power he will be able to access when set free.

Something else to bear in mind is the fact that Scott is a virgin to the world beyond Darkseid’s vision and so the name in either case is apt. Jack had used other names like Izaya with it’s biblical connotations as well in the Fourth World stories, so it could be that he wanted to utilise existing names from mythologies and use them in a slightly updated form here with the New Gods.

I think that one of the reasons that it has had such a profound effect on me is due to the meaning I got from the story. The last sentence issued by Scott Free just before he leaps into the Boom Tube to head to Earth “Let me be Scott Free and find myself!” is something that is important to me as an artist, existing alongside another significant quotation taken from James Joyce’s book The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight...I shall try to fly by those nets.”

Both of these have meant a lot to me in my search for my artistic goals and identity. I wasn’t able to think like this until a few years ago when I too decided to take a grip on my life and control it, rather than have it control me. Jack may not have meant the words in the way I have interpreted them, but their effect on me is no less for not knowing if this is the intended meaning or not.

I can only thank Jack posthumously for the insight into my own artistic endeavours through this wonderful piece of work.

Tim Perkins.

December 7th 2007

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