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Friday, August 16, 2019

SBTU Immortal: Forager -- The Second Life of a Bug

This round of Super Blog Team Up is about characters who never seem to die... or rather, die and come back to life. Now, the obvious choice (if you're a DC comics blog) is to discuss the Death of Superman event, or maybe Jason Todd coming back as the Red Hood, or possibly even the Spectre, Deadman or Resurrection Man. Actually, I'm sure if I looked hard enough, I could find a whole slew of DC characters who have 'died' only to come back several issues later.

However, since I've had a copy of Young Animal's Bug! The Adventures of Forager v1 TPB sitting on my desk next to me for the last 2 months and, since I was planning on reviewing it anyways, I've decided to make Forager the character I'm spotlighting. It's about working smart, people.


So, who is Forager? And why should you care?

Forager is part of Jack Kirby's Fourth World universe (along with Darkseid, Orion and Mister Miracle and all that other cool stuff) and first appeared in 1972's New Gods #9. He's a member of a society of humanoid bugs who live beneath the surface of New Genesis. It's quickly discovered that he's different from the other insectoids in his colony -- he has independent thoughts & feelings that differ from the colony's hive-mind and it's hinted that he may actually have New God lineage.

Panels from New Gods #9 (1972). Pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mike Royer.

On New Genesis, the 'bug people' are considered to be the lowest of the low, and are often being sprayed with pesticides by the New Gods. In reality, they kind of live like cockroaches, scavenging whatever they can for food while defending their colony from invading tribes. It's explained that during the first Great Clash between New Genesis and Apokolips, Apokolips' armies used germ warfare weapons to attack New Genesis and somehow created this race of bug people. I'm sure Jack Kirby was trying to make a statement here about the then-current early seventies, but for the life of me I just don't have the time to decipher it. It doesn't really matter, either way.

Forager's first mission outside the colony finds him teaming up with Orion and Lightray to prevent Mantis (and the army of bug people he recruited) from invading earth.

Something that kinda catches me off guard is that Forager has a human face. I was expecting him to have an insectoid face of some sort:

Panels from New Gods #10 (1972). Pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mike Royer.

After his initial team-up with Orion and Lightray in issues #9 - 10 of Jack Kirby's New Gods, Forager had been relegated to Bit Character status during Gerry Conway's run of New Gods (aka: Return of the New Gods). Since Kirby left DC after issue #11 of the New Gods, it's difficult to guess what he had planned for Forager. Was he meant to become a regular cast member of the Fourth World saga? Or simply a one-and-done? Your guess is as good as mine.

Forager seems to have gone into 'comic book limbo' during the eighties, but eventually made a quick appearance in 1987's Warlord Annual #6.

Forager's last, and arguably most notable, adventure during that decade occurred in 1988's Cosmic Odyssey. Written by Jim Starlin (Thanos Quest, Infinity Gauntlet) and pencilled by Mike Mignola (Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, Hellboy),  Cosmic Odyssey was a four-issue prestige mini-series teaming a few of the DCU's big name heroes (Superman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Starfire, Green Lantern) with a few of the New Gods (Orion, Lightray, Forager) to stop the Anti-Life Entity from destroying existence (or something equally catastrophic). In my opinion, Cosmic Odyssey was one of the BEST things to come out of 1988 -- but we'll get into that some other time.

Starlin's decision to include a lesser-known New Gods character didn't really seem out of place -- the Fourth World was making a comeback, so it only made sense to start re-introducing tertiary characters. Forager is paired with Batman, and the two are tasked with tracking down an aspect of the Anti-Life Entity on earth. Starlin takes great care to reintroduce the reader to Forager, going so far as to recap his relationship with Orion -- which, admittedly, was handy for us who weren't reading New Gods comics in the early seventies.

panels from Cosmic Odyssey #2 (1988). Art by Mike Mignola, inks by Carlos Garzon 

Like most epic DC events, something earth-shattering needs to happen that will forever change the status quo. In Cosmic Odyssey, Green Lantern John Stewart accidentally lets a star system get destroyed, and Forager sacrifices himself to save the earth:

page from Cosmic Odyssey #4 (1988). Art by Mike Mignola inks by Carlos Garzon 

Did Forager's death have an impact? Well, heroes altruistically throwing themselves into the line of fire to save the planet/universe seems to happen quite frequently in the DCU (see: Barry Allen Flash, Kara Zor-El, etc...), so that's kind of a moot point. Forager's death did reinforce the idea that Orion, the biological son of Darkseid, is a ruthless warmonger with no real regard to anyone who isn't a New God (which was kind of a sub-plot running throughout the mini-series).

I suppose his death wasn't in vain -- anything that makes Batman angry enough to take a swing at Orion to defend your honour is probably how you want to go out:

panels from Cosmic Odyssey #4 (1988). Art by Mike Mignola inks by Carlos Garzon 

Cosmic Odyssey concludes with Highfather instructing Orion to take Forager's body back to the bug colony of New Genesis. The story continues in 1989's New Gods v3 #1 with Orion delivering Forager's body and learning 'tolerance'. Most importantly, Forager stayed dead and wasn't re-introduced in a 'whoops, haha, here's what REALLY happened' type-of-deal several issues later. His death stuck.

How important was Forager to the New Gods mythos? Well... not very. The first major story arc in New Gods v3 introduced a *new* female Forager who picks up the mantle and becomes the bug people's new champion:

panel from New Gods v3 #2. pencilled by Paris Cullins, inked by Bob Lewis

Of all of Kirby's Fourth World characters, how much do I care about Forager? Well, on a scale of 1 to Darkseid (who I think is the best villain ever), I care about Forager a smidgen more than the Forever People (who rate about a zero), so figure that one out.

But I DO care about the Bug! The Adventures of Forager six issue mini-series because 1) it's a Young Animal imprint and 2) it's illustrated by Mike Allred -- who is easily one of my top 3 favourite artists. As you may have picked up on some of my previous posts, I am a shameless Young Animal fan and feel that it carries the 'DC with an edge' spirit that the publisher has been lacking for the last -- oh I don't know -- half decade or so. I've been a Mike Allred fan since his Madman comics from the early nineties, think his 2001 X-Force collab with Peter Milligan was one of the best X-titles I've ever read, and really felt that he and Dan Slott renewed my interest in Silver Surfer after reading volumes 7 & 8 (2016 - 2018).

I'd compare Allred's art to 50s/60s pop art: clean strong lines, no hard edges, not overly detailed, vibrant colors, with lots of activity and fluidity in his pages. His comic book characters resemble comic book characters, none of this 'photo-realism' stuff. In a way, Allred's art reminds me of Jack Kirby's -- which makes him a perfect fit to tackle a Kirby-created character.

cover of Bug! The Adventures of Forager #1 illustrated by Mike Allred.

While I don't think any DC comics fans were banging down the doors demanding a Forager revival, astute readers may remember that Mike Allred wrote and illustrated a 2-page New Gods story back in 2004's Solo #7. Forager was visible, alive and well in this story. Was it foreshadowing? Nah, I think it was just Mike having fun -- nothing that happened in Solo appears to be cannon, but it may have brought attention to the fact that Mike likes these characters and would do a great job with them.

panel from Solo #7 (2004). Illustrated by Mike Allred.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to love the art in this book, the real question was if (writer) Lee Allred could make me care about this character by the end of this mini? …or at least write something entertaining enough for me to want to come back for five more consecutive issues?

This is a review article, so I'm going to jump right in. Lee Allred starts the first issue of the mini-series with a strong first-page opening recapping Forager's history. He's pretty much re-iterating what happened in 1972's New Gods #9 and the final chapter of Cosmic Odyssey, which pretty much affirms that he's sticking to current DC continuity.

page from Bug! The Adventures of Forager #1 (2017). Art by Mike Allred.

Forager wakes up from a cocoon and it's up to him to piece together where he is and how he got there. The scene is quickly set and the main and secondary characters are quickly introduced. To my delight and surprise, Lee Allred manages to include Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's Sandman (Garrett Sanford), along with Brute and Glob, into this story. Sandman was a short-lived comic book character introduced in 1974 that lasted about half a dozen issues. He was pretty much shuffled off into comic book limbo after his series ended, and it was revealed in 1988's Infinity Inc. #50 that he committed suicide in a flashback. Suffice to say, I was not expecting to see him in this book.

panels from Bug! The Adventures of Forager #1 (2017). Art by Mike Allred.

Lee did his homework; he incorporates Sandman's magic whistle into the story, and even manages to include two of Sandman's original villains: General Electric and Doctor Spider.

If seeing Sandman in this story caught you off guard, you're in for a ton of surprises -- there are obscure guest stars galore in this mini: The Losers, Sandman (Wesley Dodds) and Sandy the Golden Boy, Blue Beetle (Dan Garret), Jack Kirby's Atlas, Deadman, Manhunter (Paul Kirk), OMAC and the Black Racer. Lee doesn't just add these characters for novelty value, he manages to effectively incorporate some of their mythos into the story (ex: OMAC's Brother Eye, Deadman's hook-hand killer, Atlas' Crystal Mountain, etc...). This demonstrates Lee's respect for the characters and their legacies, and is just gold for a fan like me who loves spotting references to obscure and long-forgotten DC characters.

panels from Bug! The Adventures of Forager #4 (2017). Art by Mike Allred.

The thousand dollar question is... how does Lee Allred handle the return of Forager? In short, he did a fantastic job. Lee takes advantage of the fact that we're never actually shown the complete story in 1989's New Gods v3 #1 -- we don't see what happens after Orion drops off Forager's body to his bug people. Lee makes clever use of this and other gaps in Forager's history and delivers a solution that makes sense and doesn't diminish anything that previous writers did with the character.

While Lee wove a pretty ambitious and intricate tale, a few things in this mini leave me wondering if they're going to 'stick' in the DCU or not (continuity-wise). For example, throughout the mini it is revealed that:

-Chagra, a Jack Kirby Atlas villain from the seventies, was actually just an imperfect copy of Metron (of the New Gods).
-There is an implied kinship between the New Gods' Mother Box and OMAC's Brother Eye (aka: 'Brother Box')
-Deadman actually did find his killer (aka: The Hook), he just mistook him for someone else due to an axis-flipping device called the Omphalos. (I'm sure Neal Adams would have an issue with this one.)

This six-issue mini, while entertaining to look at, reads like a Silver Age DC comic (ex: tons of guest stars, plenty of action, lots of jumps from different locales, never a dull moment) and had me hooked until the final chapter when it became so quasi-philosophical that I got confused and completely missed the bigger message of this book (if there was one). The big take-away from this mini is that I really want to see Mike Allred illustrate an All-Star Squadron or New Gods ongoing series, and I want Laura Allred to color it and Lee Allred to write it.

Between Lee Allred's scripting and Mike Allred's art, Forager is depicted as a limber, hip-talking, good-spirited protagonist who is just trying to do the right thing and discover his true purpose/identity along the way -- which pretty much describes Madman's character from the early nineties Dark Horse comics of the same name (see images below). I actually don't mind this, since Forager was more or less a blank canvas lacking any real personality going into this mini-series. Will I be wearing a Forager t-shirt anytime soon? Probably not, but keep this up and he could develop a cult-like following (similar to Madman).

panels from Bug! The Adventures of Forager #1 (2017). Art by Mike Allred.
page from Dark Horse's Madman Comics #9 (1995). Illustrated by Mike Allred.

Writer Lee Allred is a really cool cat and took the time to chat with us on twitter about his work. "My best guess regarding what Kirby meant with Forager is that he was telling an updated Mowgli* story (human raised by animals) (cf Tarzan) as a basic framework. (My own reading is that Kirby was pretty direct that Forager was an Eternal, not a Bug.) Kirby used the Mowgli framework as a hook to tell a deeper take on the seedy underbelly of New Genesis' up-till-then flawless utopia, much the same way Star Trek: The Original Series did with their floating cities vs. underground menials in 'The Cloud Minders' episode." When I asked why, of all the DC characters floating around in comic limbo, they decided to revisit Forager for a Young Animal mini-series, Mike Allred replied with: "Bug's New Gods debut was in the waiting room of our guitar teacher, James Ray, when we were kids. We could only visit it week after week until Lee talked him into giving it to us. It was a Holy Grail for us." That's the truncated version. Jeffrey Renaud, of, conducted a really thorough interview with the Allred gang about the conception of this mini. Lee and Mike explain that they've been Forager fanatics since they were kids, and that they've always viewed Forager and his struggle as 'the heart and core of the Fourth World books'. Additionally, Mike felt that it was a shame that Forager was given the short straw and introduced in the seventies' New Gods series only to have it cancelled two issues later. It's a great interview, and you can read it here.

*Editor's note: Mowgli is the protagonist of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. You probably saw the Disney cartoon when you were younger.

This wraps up my Super Blog Team Up contribution and review of Young Animal's Bug! Adventures of Forager mini-series from 2017. It was a pleasure and an honor to be included in this edition of SBTU.

If you're interested in reading more articles about comic book characters who returned from the grave (or just don't die), written by comic fans who are just as passionate about the medium as I am, I'm including the links to the other SBTU members' articles below.

Justin F


Super Blog Team Up links:

Comic Reviews By Walt: TMNT and Highlander

The Superhero Satellite: Super-Blog Team-Up Presents IMMORTAL: Peter Loves Mary Jane

Comics Comics Comics Blog: Dr. Fate

Between The Pages Blog: Big Finish: Doctor Who’s Finest Regeneration

The Unspoken Decade: Archer and Armstrong

Black, White and Bronze: What Price Immortality? A Review of Red Nails

The Daily Rios: Arion The Immortal

Chris Is On Infinite Earths: Podcast Episode 26 - Resurrection Man 1997 & 2011

In My Not So Humble Opinion: It Came from the 1990s: Ivar the Timewalker

Vic Sage "...of the upcoming Pop Culture Retrorama site.": I am Legend

The Source Material Comics Podcast: Vampirella “Roses For The Dead”

Dave's Comic Heroes Blog: Multi-Man

Magazines and Monsters: Podcast episode - Kang/Immortus: Avengers-Kang: Time and Time Again TPB (Avengers 69-71, Avengers 267-269)

Radulich Broadcasting Network: TV PARTY TONIGHT - Jupiter Ascending commentary