Feature Article

How Darkseid And DC's "Fourth World" Fit Into The Justice League Mythology

And Darkseid said, "Let there be strife"

Even if you're not a fan of DC Comics, chances are you've heard of Gotham City, or Metropolis. You might even have heard of Themyscira--the home of Wonder Woman and the Amazons--too. But names like "Apokolips" and "New Genesis" are probably still a bit vague on associations.

That's OK. In terms of idiosyncratic DC Universe iconography, a map of the Fourth World is a pretty far cry from the comforting black and yellow of the Bat Signal--at least for now.

The release of Justice League marks DC's first attempt at translating the bombast of the New Gods to the big screen. So what does that actually mean? What is the Fourth World, who are the New Gods, and why should you care?

In The Beginning

To call the Fourth World totally arcane wouldn't really be fair--what it lacks in franchise and branding power, it makes up in (admittedly kind of niche) critical acclaim. In the simplest possible terms, the Fourth World is the collective name for a saga created (and when I say "created" I mean created--written, drawn, edited, top to bottom) by the legendary Jack Kirby after he left Marvel for DC in the 70s. The story actually got its start, strangely enough, in an issue of an ongoing book called Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, but promptly spilled out into its own titles like New Gods, Mister Miracle, and Forever People.

All told, the whole Fourth World saga has 59 issues, hopscotching across multiple books to form an endless, cosmic, mythological spine for the DC Universe that's still looked at as a touchstone for heroes and villains even today.

The story of the Fourth World isn't all that complicated. The twin worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips were created when an ancient planet called Urgrund was torn in two by a war between its immortal citizens called--surprise--the Old Gods. The cataclysm on Urgrund was so terrible that it actually forced both new planets into a new corner of space and time--not a new universe, but a place outside the multiverse entirely, a literal fourth world populated by people who called themselves New Gods for reasons that are hopefully pretty obvious.

As you can probably guess by their rather on-the-nose names, Apokolips was an industrialized wasteland--Kirby's thinly veiled interpretation of hell--while New Genesis was a sparkling utopia--the equivalent of heaven. Apokolips was ruled by the tyrannical war monger Darkseid, while New Genesis was ruled by the cold-but-benevolent Highfather.

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The war between the two planets was endless and all-consuming until an unconventional treaty was brokered. Darkseid and Highfather would swap sons--each giving an infant to their sworn enemy to be raised on the opposite planet as a sort of collateral. The son of Darkseid, Orion, would be doomed to forever feel like an outcast in the vain and superficial society of New Genesis, while the son of Highfather, Scott Free (aka Mister Miracle), would be subjected to untold tortures on Apokolips.

It worked--sort of. Nevermind that neither son had much say in the matter. Orion grew to adulthood on New Genesis while Scott scraped by in Apokolips, eventually finding love--a native of Apokolips named Big Barda--and escaping to Earth to be rid of his family tree all together. But eventually Darkseid's lust for power grew too intense for peace and he had his uncle (that's right, uncle, even immortal tyrant gods have to come from somewhere), the elite military general Steppenwolf, assassinate Highfather's wife to reignite the war, and then everything was off to the races once more with both New Genesis and Apokolips consumed by violence without end.

This sort of circular, unwinnable conflict defined much of the Fourth World. Everything from the dueling narratives of two prodigal sons to the nature of war and peace were on the table for exploration--big questions without real or concrete answers, remixed Bible stories that blended in with Star Trek and Lord of The Rings. The New Gods became DC's equivalent of a pantheon, a 70s sci-fi flavored answer to Marvel's super-heroic version of Norse mythology, but with no historical constraints or real world sources to consult.

Into The Future

Now, while the planets of the New Gods were technically isolated from Earth in their own area of space and time, Kirby also invented the technology in fiction to allow them to come and go from the stories of DC's other heroes. Nearly every New God had access to, or carried with them a "living" sentient personal computer called a Mother Box, which were able to (among other things) open and close "Boom Tubes"--point to point extradimensional transportation that would allow a person to travel from New Genesis to Earth, or Apokolips to Earth or--well, anywhere, really.

The barrier between the New Gods and the DC Universe at large became virtually nonexistent, and suddenly heroes like Superman and Batman were able to come face to face with literal immortal superhumans like Orion and Mister Miracle--or even the Lord of Apokolips himself, Darkseid.

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This is how the New Gods really began to dig their heels into the DCU in a way that still matters today. Allowing someone like Darkseid, the immortal embodiment of all evil, to come and go from Earth essentially at will was a narrative booster shot for DC's shared universe like no other. Darkseid became the sort of "final boss" for DC's roster of superheroes; certain death, unstoppable destruction, something that even an all-but-invincible character like Superman couldn't face down on his own.

The same way Marvel has been teasing the arrival of their very own end-game villain, Thanos, in the MCU for years, all roads in the DCEU will eventually lead to Darkseid, and we've already seen the first hints. Justice League's Steppenwolf and his Parademons are remixed from their comic book origins, but the spine of the New Gods ideology is still there: The concept of Apokolips is, very much, a component of this world, as well as the idea of the advanced, alien Mother Box. It's probably best to start paying attention now while their cinematic incarnations are still in their infant stages than try to play catch up down the line.

After all, even when he's not immediately on the screen or on the page, the threat of Darkseid and the armies of Apokolips are a shadow looming large over the DC Universe. The presence of the New Gods may be a subtle one--they can even go completely unnoticed if you don't know what you're looking for--but the eventuality that New Genesis and Apokolips's unending, undying war will spill out into Earth and suddenly become the Justice League's problem is all but inevitable. It's one of the most fundamental building blocks of the DCU's shared universe--and it's already making it's way to theaters.

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Ayato_Kamina_1

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Watch Superman/Batman: Apocalypse if you're interested in this sort of thing. Has quite the badass ending for Batman ;)

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mrougeau

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mrougeau  Staff

@Ayato_Kamina_1: Good rec! Thanks!

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