I. The Basics
Who are the New Gods?
The New Gods are are a race of godlike beings. They arose from a Ragnarok — the destruction of all creation and its "Old Gods." After the cataclysmic battle that destroyed the Old Gods and their world, two new planets were formed: New Genesis and Apokolips. New Genesis was formed with the atoms of an Old God named Balduur, giving the planet his "nobility and strength." Apokolips, however, "was saturated with the cunning and evil which was once a sorceress" of the Old Gods. (New Gods v.1 #7) On both worlds, a new race of beings was birthed and they reflected the qualities of those worlds. The gods of New Genesis were brave, noble, and philosophical. The gods of Apokolips were cruel, evil, and violent.
The New Gods evolved to have super-powers and create advanced technology (partially based on their predecessors'). They achieved what they called "godhood" around 28,000 BCE.
They have been referred to as "celestials." (by Lightray in The New Gods v.1. #1), and "eternals" (by Forager in New Gods v.1 #9). The most prominent New Gods of New Genesis include Izaya (Highfather), Lightray, Scott Free (Mr. Miracle), Orion, and Metron. The supreme god of Apokolips is Darkseid.
The characters were created by Jack Kirby for DC Comics in the early 1970s, a new mythology. They were critcally successful, but DC's editors claimed the books failed to garner the sales they had anticipated.
Who were the Old Gods?
There have been conflicting stories about the Old Gods. They were modeled by Jack Kirby on the Norse gods. Kirby never explicitly stated this, but he did refer to one of them being Balduur (who is the Norse god of light and purity). (New Gods v.1 #7)
Later writers did use the term "Asgardians," and even named some of these gods.
In History of the DC Universe (1987), writer Marv Wolfman suggested that the war between the gods of Earth — the Titans and Olympians — unleashed the energy that created New Genesis and Apokolips.
In Cosmic Odyssey, Jim Starlin proposed that the "Old Gods" were a race of super-scientists who dabbled in Things They Were Not Meant to Know, and destroyed themselves in an attempt to probe the Anti-Life dimension.
In Mark Evanier's post-Crisis New Gods, animated corpses of the Old Gods dwelled in the Necropolis beneath Apokolips; they were called the Dreggs. They shambled zombie-like, mindlessly reenacting their days of glory in dark caverns. One flashback scene told a legend of Wotan, who killed an oracle and her heart was consumed by Lokee. Lokee threw the Third World into chaos that ultimately led to its destruction. (New Gods v.3 #7) Thor appeared (#6, 8, 12) and was eventually fully reborn. (#26)
In continuity defined by John Byrne, the Old Gods equated with the "Second World." They were created by the Source (the First World) about 17 billion years ago. Two billion years later, this humanoid life attained "godhood," the Second World. Five billion years ago, the final conflict between factions of the Old Gods was so terrible that it destroyed their very existence. This conflagration was called Ragnarok and it generated a "Godwave" that began sweeping across the universe. When the Godwave passed Earth 40,000 years ago, it sowed the seeds for Earth's own gods (the Third World). Byrne also used Thor. (Jack Kirby's Fourth World #1-4)
Are the New Gods really gods?
Jack Kirby's concept was that the New Gods were beings on par with the Asgardians, or Norse Gods. Kirby's characters clearly considered themselves different from Earth humans, but they never explicitly revealed their ages or any details of their godhood. As literary constructs, like other gods they also serve as metaphors. Still, the matter prompts the discussion: in a fictional universe such as DC, how does one differentiate a "god" from a powerful "super-hero"?
In the letter column of The New Gods #18 (June 1978), Paul Levitz headed off the Christian criticism with this explanation:
"We never said the New Gods are gods. They've just started to call themselves that becasue that's how the humans refer to them. Nowhere in any of our issues (or Jack's) is there an implication that they are in any way a theological God."
However you define a god, John Byrne drew parallels between the New Gods and the DC Comics versions of the Greek pantheon, who are magical, not technological. He also created a timeline that clearly established them as being hundreds and thousands of years old.
Orion said to the defeated and blinded Arnicus Wolfram:
"Gods are not dependent on their worshippers; worshippers are dependent on their gods. And the New Gods? We're as old as time, constantly remade. Constantly reborn with each turning of the wheel.
"No worshippers? Fool!!! Look about you! Each time a mortal turns on a computer, puts a piece of bread in the toaster, opens a door, strikes a match, or wonders at the stars...he worships at the altar of the New Gods.
"… Every living thing that swims or creeps or crawls or walks recent into the forever night … dedicates its life to our service." —Orion #24
Walt Simonson considered them gods, not advanced beings: "Frequently, readers suggest that gods are really (merely) technologically advanced aliens, and maybe some of them are. … I also think that occasionally readers probably take Arther C. Clarke's Third law a little too seriously. "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." … We can look at the magical stuff 'gods' in comics do and say, oh, well, really, Thor or Odin or whomever is just an advanced being. Essentially, we're writing them off essentially in a mechanistic fashion to make them comfortable to us. We may not understand their technology but we understand technology in general and may even have the hope that someday, we'll unravel the technology of these god/aliens. Aliens are not so different from us; we belong to the same class of beings."
Do people shrink and grow when they travel between the Fourth World and Earth?
This concept was introduced by Rachel Pollack in New Gods v.4 #10 (1996). When Highfather summoned Superman to help Orion in battle, Orion revealed the secret of the Boom Tube. It increased a human's size when traveling to the Fourth World — in other words, the gods of the Fourth World were naturally many times larger than most beings:
Orion: "Of course. Your Earth, Superman, is nothing more than a speck in an air pocket."
Superman: "Orion — look at us. We're the same size. If Earth was a speck, I would be a microbe here. And you've been on Earth. You're not a giant there."
Orion: "The boom tube, Superman. It adjusts your size as you travel through it."
Peter David repeated this premise in Supergirl v.4 #29 (1999). When Supergirl traveled to Apokolips on her own power, without the aid of a Boom Tube or Mother Box, she arrived at what seemed to be the size of a mouse in comparison to the gods.
What is the Fourth World?
In the real world, "The Fourth World" refers to the family of DC Comics titles and characters created by Jack Kirby in 1970–71. The term was placed on the top of covers of all Kirby's books circa July 1971: The New Gods #4, Mister Miracle #4, Forever People #4, and Jimmy Olsen #139. Jack Kirby never used the term in his stories. Assistant Steve Sherman claimed he heard Kirby use the term before it appeared in print, while Mark Evanier doesn't recall hearing it. (The Kirby Collector #6, July 1995)
The name stuck with editors and fans, perhaps because Kirby didn't really give the saga an overall name, preferring to call it a tetralogy (or trilogy if you discount Jimmy Olsen). The term was used again in the letters pages of Mister Miracle #7, 16, and 18, and on the cover of Mister Miracle #10.
Writer John Byrne defined the "Fourth World" as a cosmic era in which the denizens of Apokolips and New Genesis attained "godhood" (placed by John Byrne at 30,000 years ago). He defined the First World as the Source; the Second World was Asgard; the Third World was godhood on Earth and other planets; the Fourth World was the New Gods.
Other fan-based theories about the term's origin include:
- It is the fourth "comic book world" created by Jack Kirby: (1) His early 1940s super-hero creations, (2) his later work with Joe Simon , (3) his work for Marvel Comics, and (4) the New Gods.
- When launched, the New Gods line consisted of four comic books.
- It was intended to relate to the naming of DC's parallel worlds (Earth-One, -Two, etc.).
- It refers to the Hopi creation myth of "Four Worlds."
- It's an extrapolation of the geopolitical term, "third world."
—Thanks to "The Jack Kirby FAQ" by Bob Heer.
What is the Source?
According to writings by Jack Kirby, the Source is "God," in our most Western understanding of the concept — the origin and/or creator of all things and basis of the Life Equation which allows sentient life the freedom to choose its own actions. In the Fourth World, it is the ultimate font of knowledge and enlightenment. It's sometimes portrayed as an energy field (like the Star Wars concept of "the Force").
What is the flaming hand that writes on Highfather's Source wall on New Genesis?
It is the Uni-Friend, a prophet/oracle/avatar/angel that serves as a messenger of the Source. It manifests as a flaming hand and conveys messages from the Source to New Genesis. It provides prophesy but never dictates actions.
Izaya first beheld this during the great war against Apokolips, and it inspired him to embrace peace end the war.
Perhaps Kirby considered it Highfather's "burning bush." In the Bible's book of Daniel, a hand wrote on a wall and foretold the destruction of a king's empire.
What is the Anti-Life Equation?
Jack Kirby suggested that the Anti-Life Equation was a cosmic concept which, when solved would give is master absolute mental control over everyone in the universe. It is the elimination of free will, and Darkseid's primary obsession. Some humans held parts of the Anti-Life Equation in their minds, which was one of the reasons Darkseid expanded his war into Earth. The partial owners of Anti-Life Equation knowledge, such as Billion-Dollar Bates, used it to amass power for themselves. Darkseid never solved the equation.
The Forever People found an Earthman named Sonny Sumo who fully controlled the Anti-Life equation. (Forever People #1) Darkseid's soldiers tracked him down, but the Forever People reached him first. They used Mother Box to awaken the Equation within him, and he used it to issue a single command: "SLEEP!!!" With that, an entire battalion of Darkseid's troops fell. Darkseid let loose his Omega Effect on the Forever People and Sonny Sumo, sending them to different points in time.
Glorious Godfrey, a servent of Darkseid, unleashed the Anti-Life upon humans in his guise as an evangelical figure. (Forever People #3) He referred to it as a gift from Darkseid, "The cosmic hunting license! The right to point the finger or the gun!" Godfrey offered humans the opportunity and justification to destroy others without doubt or guilt. This suggests that the Anti-Life Equation can be found partially or fully within various human minds (such as Sumo and Bates).
Jim Starlin presented the Anti-Life as a destructive force and an entity. (Cosmic Odyssey)
What is the Astro Force?The Astro Force is another fundamental natural power weilded by Orion, through his Astro-Harness. Orion said:
"The Astro-Force, the harness, my wristbands are one and the same. They are a part of the Source and cannot be destroyed. Not by mortals. Perhaps not even by gods! A power beyond the comprehension of the flesh. They are the wrath of the Source, Lightray! And I, who alone stand poised between the ferocity of Apokolips, and the compassion of New Genesis, am its wielder. A light that burns in the heart of darkness!" — Orion #24
It has the power to shatter the binding force of atoms or shift worlds in their orbits. It is inferior to Darkseid's Omega Force. The Astro Force is usually lethal and can presents a danger even to it's users. (New Gods v.1 #1)
It is perhaps the same force behind Highfather's Alpha Bullets.
What is the Omega Effect?
The Omega Effect is Darkseid primary god-power. It is released via beams from his eyes and anything it strikes comes under Darkseid's complete control. He can move his targets across space and time, scatter them to distant corners of reality, induce physical pain.
The Omega Effect cannot directly affect the mind — the one power that Darkseid craves most. After someone has been reassembled by the Omega Effect (like Steppenwolf and Desaad), they're left somewhat soulless. For, while Darkseid can recreate the body, he cannot recreate the mind (which goes to the Source upon death).
What is a Mother Box?
The Mother Box is a "living computer" invented by Himon. It is created by an individual and provides a link to the Source, and dispenses knowledge and warnings. It communicates its messages telepathically, and "pings" when active. Users can create their own Mother Box once they have achieved a certain level of mental strength and spiritual purity. It is attuned to its creator's soul. The mindset on New Genesis inhabitants makes them more well-suited to creating and activating a Mother Box.
Darkseid can neither create nor use a Mother Box, though there have been other Apokolips natives who possessed them, but they may be inferior in power. Slig of the Deep Six had one and when he died, in it's grief, his Mother Box allowed Orion to destroy it.
Orion uses his Mother Box to open Boom Tubes, detect various phenomena, and even reshape his facial features. It also calms his rage.
What is a Boom Tube?
A Boom Tube is a limitless teleportational passageway. The "doorway to anywhere" was created by Metron and is powered by the elusive X Element. It manifests with a loud booming sound and a tubular tunnel. Boom Tubes are primarily used by those from Apokolips. They can be created using a variety of devices, such as Barda and Granny's Mega-Rods, Kalibak's Beta-Club, and Metron's Mobius Chair.
Those from New Genesis use Mother Boxes to trigger teleportation — called "phasing out" by the Forever People— but usually without the dramatic boom or tunnel.
Where are New Genesis and Apokolips, the planets of the New Gods?
According to Jimmy Olsen #141, they are in "a strange galaxy never before seen by man!"
If one assumes they were created from the ruins of Asgard/the Third World, then they would reside in a seperate dimension. As Asgard could access Earth only through a mystical bridge, the New Gods can only reach Earth Earth via Boom Tubes.
In Cosmic Odyssey, Jim Starlin asserted that the destruction of the Old Gods created a region of space that became walled off from the rest of the universe.
What is the "Godwave?"
The Godwave was the creation of John Byrne, an energy wave released 5 billion years ago by Ragnarok, the destruction of the Old Gods. Its first pass through the cosmos spawned the pantheons of gods throughout the universe, including those of Earth.
When the Godwave rebounded off the edge of the universe, it made a second pass. This weakened wave planted the potential for power in mortals, aka metahumans. After rebounding again, the remaining energy interfered with those powers it had previously endowed. (Genesis #1-4)