Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Justice League 23.1: Darkseid, originally released September 4th, 2013. This issue is part of the Villain’s Month event. Click here for our Villains Month coverage.
Patrick: Any time I write about Darkseid, I’m worried that I’m going to misspell the character’s name. This is a fairly unique problem for me — outside of my unfortunate “Kitty Pride” habit (which I kicked after reading like a dozen issues of All-New X-Men), I’ve got a pretty good handle on how everyone’s name is spelled. I put the dash between Spider and Man and I know to double the R at the end of Dex Starr. But when I get to Darkseid, not only to I need to wrestle with internal pronunciation (‘darkSEED’ vs. ‘darkSIDE’), but I have to fight all of my elementary school spelling-training. “I before E, except after C and when sounding as ‘ay’ such as in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh.'” My mnemonic rhyme fails and I’m left with what’s in front of me. There’s an odd parallel to the presence of the New Gods in the New 52 – there’s a lot that we could know about them going in, but none of it is going to do you any good when you try to understand the character that’s in front of you. Ladies and gentlemen:
Justice League 23.1: Darkseid turns out to be strangely titled. Sure, we know that Darkseid will eventually attack Earth-0 and be repelled by the Justice League, but this issue deals more principally with his relationship with his daughter Kaiyo and their eventual invasion of Earth-2. In that way, it’s much more an Earth-2 title or even a Batman / Superman title — the case of the latter is even more compelling when factor in writer Greg Pak as a commonality between them.
But first, there’s the moderately boring business of Where Darkseid came from. One-off stories so often tread in Origin Tale territory — as though this is the only opportunity someone’s going to get to do it and they’re afraid the “why” will be lost to the ages. This one starts with a Mud Grubber named Uxas. A “mud grubber” is… maybe a laborer, maybe a slave driver… it’s unclear. Whatever the case, he’s enough of a blue-collar hero that he took on his world’s gods when they were locked in totally-frivolous warfare. He kills them all, takes their power and becomes Darkseid. The last old god’s dying energy goes to transforming Uxas’ brother Ixaya into the Highfather.
This story takes on all the trappings of a myth. I’m not very well versed in old New Gods mythology, but I understand that this issue represents a departure from what Jack Kirby laid out in the 70s. It’s kinda cool to experience this origin story with only a passing knowledge of the Fourth World mythos – everything feels like a half truth, and the enormous size of the gods works to validate the mythological qualities of the story. It’s like Paul Bunyan or Titans or Jonah in the Whale. Look how big and cool these gods are!
That little silhouette in the foreground is Darkseid. He looks so tiny! Also, look how simply these gods are designed. They’re simply human forms made of different colors and textures. Paulo Siqueria and Netho Diaz don’t ever really top the spectacle of these elemental gods in bombastic battle, but that’s a pretty striking standard.
I really like that Darkseid isn’t motivated to slay the old gods by a desire for their power. It’s not even that he kills them off in the name of survival. Yeah, he’s invested in survival too, but what’s got him so pissed off at the gods that they’re total bullshit. He knows that all they do it dick around and fight all day, with little regard for how their actions effect the mortals that worship them. Kaiyo notes that it was the gods’ laughter that finally drove Darkseid to action. How cool is that? He’s there to get things done, and not to giggle. He has so little regard for them that his only response to the woman that thanks them for sparing her life is “Shut your stupid mouth.” Darkseid is hardcore, yo.
Spencer, I’m going to leave the second half of the issue to you. There’s a pretty clean divide between Darkseid’s origin and this… other half. I don’t really know what to call it: we see Darkseid through Kaiyo’s eyes, and a reversal of that theme of not putting up with frivolity. Spencer, if the point of these issues is to better understand these characters and the threat they pose, what do you think you learned about Darkseid and the soldiers of Apokolips? It sorta explains why he has an appetite for taking on the ultra-powerful, but falls short of exploring why he has a general need for conquest. Any thoughts on that? Or is he just a bad dude, and I should get over my need for motivation?
Spencer: Well Patrick, in the pre-New 52 Universe Darkseid’s motivation was that he wanted to find the Anti-Life Equation and use it to subjugate all of creation, but again, we don’t really know why he wanted to do that. I honestly never questioned it before; he’s a god of evil, that’s why. I mean, the Anti-Life Equation he wants so badly is a mathematical proof of the futility of living; that’s the kind of guy Darkseid is. He is despair and doom and ultimate evil coupled with ultimate power; honestly, does he even need an origin story? I’m sure Jack Kirby gave him one when he first created the New Gods, but I never felt compelled to look it up before. Backstory and character development doesn’t seem all that important when it comes to Darkseid; what I’m interested in is his presence.
When Darkseid shows up on the page you should feel his power and evil seep through. He should be scary. This isn’t necessarily the scariest use of Darkseid I’ve ever seen, but I still enjoy his portrayal in this issue. He slaughters an entire pantheon of gods before he even gains his powers just because they piss him off; he devastates half of Earth 2 with a single glance and destroys entire planets in his wake; he even seems to be able to intercept and intrude upon Kaiyo’s internal narration just because why not.
Oh, and then there’s this:
Nothing screams “bad news” like a pile of dead Supermen hooked into some sort of machine while Darkseid LAUGHS in the background! I’ve got no idea what that machine does, but it is not good news, that much is guaranteed. I don’t know if this issue really taught me anything new about Darkseid, but in the area of getting me pumped for his next appearance it comes through in spades.
But speaking of character development, what exactly was Darkseid’s laughter supposed to mean? The issue explicitly points out the parallel to the laughter of the gods that motivated Darkseid to slaughter them in the first place, so is it supposed to mean that Darkseid has become what he once hated? Honestly, I don’t buy that. He didn’t hate the old gods because they treated the mortals like dirt—honestly, he hated his fellow mud-grubbers as much as he hated the old gods—and if he hated the fact that the old gods allowed themselves to be worshipped, well, then he certainly changed his mind the moment he rose to power on Apokolips. Honestly, I got the impression that Darkseid hated the old gods’ hedonism more than anything; his totalitarian planet and firm stance against free will is a stark contrast to the old gods, who giggled and hugged and danced like children as they crushed their servants beneath their heel. So again, what does the laughter mean? Despite his planet-hopping and Superman-smashing, I don’t see Darkseid embracing hedonism at the end. I think Darkseid laughing works as an omen of future doom, but as a parallel to the gods of old, I’m honestly at a loss as to what it adds up to. Is this some failing on Pak’s part, or am I totally missing something here? I’d love to hear what you guys think in the comments.
The parallelism that I do think works in this issue, though, is that of Darkseid and Kaiyo. Darkseid gained his abilities in the first place because he killed the old gods, but he only managed that by acting as a “sport”, a trickster, turning the old gods against each other with words rather than sheer power. If Kaiyo is indeed Darkseid’s daughter (that’s never actually made explicit, but all the clues seem to point towards it), then she certainly inherited this skill-set from her father. There’s something wonderfully ironic about a sport becoming a thorn in Darkseid’s side just as he was to his gods in the days of old. Of course, when Darkseid acted as a sport he managed to basically commit genocide; for all of poor Kaiyo’s efforts, her tricks just end up playing right into Darkseid’s hands. I guess this goes to show that Darkseid is a more effective god than any of the ones he slaughtered, but then again, didn’t we already know that?
I keep second guessing everything I say about this issue, and I guess that ultimately demonstrates the very mixed feelings it left me with. I don’t think it was necessary to see Darkseid’s origin, but I can appreciate the role it played in this particular story far more most of the Villains’ Month issues I’ve read thus far. I ultimately didn’t learn much of anything new about Darkseid or even really necessarily understand what Pak was trying to say about the character, but I still enjoyed the presence he was given and look forward to seeing where he pops up next. I can see why this issue might not work for a lot of people, but I still had a lot of fun piecing together the behind-the-scenes stuff that connects Darkseid and Kaiyo to Earth 2 and Justice League and Batman/Superman. I guess if there’s one thing I’m certain about with this one, it’s that Paulo Siqueira, Netho Diaz, and colorist Hi-Fi can absolutely nail scenes of giant angry gods blasting away at each other.
Next time you do a big mythological battle, DC, how about you keep these guys in mind?
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