Ever since Darkseid first appeared in the pages of Jack Kirby's SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN, the Man of Steel has been bound up with the Fourth World saga, to the point that Darkseid is often treated as one of Superman's rogues gallery and Supes himself replaces Orion as Darkseid's nemesis. What are your thoughts on Superman's relationship to the New Gods, and how closely do you think he should be tied to them?
He works exceedingly well, for all the reasons Chris Sims goes into here - as Final Crisis showed, the opposite of “Darkseid Is” is “Superman Can,” one of those perfect symmetries that evolves over time. Kirby may have planned Orion to be Darkseid’s opposite number - and Orion absolutely works in that capacity - but Darkseid’s role as a broader DC villain starts to get codified once he’s redesigned by Kirby for the Super Powers cartoon, and really gets in gear for the DCAU beginning with Superman TAS. You probably remember Superman and Darkseid’s slobberknocker fights better than you remember the times Orion fought Darkseid on those shows.
At the same time, reducing Darkseid to “I’m the guy that punches, plus I got Omega Beams” is as reductive as reducing Superman to Guy That Punches, and there is an apocryphal story that Dini & Timm wanted Darkseid as the big bad in Superman TAS because they wanted a more physical foe for Superman than Lex Luthor. So those big fights have probably been as much a hindrance as a help in the broader scheme of things, especially once you factor in Dark Knight Returns Syndrome where attempts to recreate those fights without establishing the context that made them work so well to begin with leads to diminished returns over time, to the point people are more hype about Baby Darkseid than they are about actual Darkseid, since at least Baby Darkseid is a new idea.
But we’re sliding back towards “Darkseid as that itch in the back of your skull that wants you to destroy everything, starting with yourself” thanks to books like the current Mister Miracle, and I think this is a better fit - Darkseid as someone out there somewhere, tempting people towards evil just as surely as Superman inspires them towards nobility. Entire proxy battles between people motivated by their relationship to either one could be fought without either knowing. It’s more subtle than Kirby’s take, but the whole point of Kirby was “come up with your own take.”
So tying it back to Superman: Darkseid works very well as a Superman villain but less so as a consistent villain, i.e. someone who shows up and gets beat down once every few months. Apokalips shouldn’t be a place Superman just swings by from time to time - it’s the final level, not the first level. He works better with a level of buildup to the revelation of “oh, shit, Darkseid’s behind this, things are really bad.” The character with a constant presence in Superman’s world who is a corrupting, controlling bastard is Lex Luthor, who can also suffer from overexposure but can rebound from it with more ease since there’s more variation in his interpretation and how sympathetic he should be.
But building up Darkseid takes time - over a year’s worth of comics, at the least - and that is difficult to reconcile with the modern take on Darkseid as Franchise Villain, where many hands are shaping the direction he’ll take. It’s difficult to quietly build to his latest scheme if he’s gotta show up in Justice League every six months.
One way out, again, would be Mister Miracle, which is relatively self-contained, has little to do with the current storyline with Darkseid, and uses the 4th World quite well. Not every book should be Mister Miracle but takes on the 4th World and its relationship to Superman could benefit from that approach of keeping it relatively constrained to one book and one team’s take.
One final note: I have heard that Highfather is dead and I feel this is an excellent idea, since Orion himself might be a better choice, for dramatic purposes, in the role of the leader of New Genesis. It gives him a different role than Superman that also plays to his essential struggle - a man who grew up in a version of Heaven that never lets him forget he was born in Hell, whose own personal Darkseid is his sense of failure every time he loses his temper - and lets Superman take to the front lines in the role of the hero dealing with Darkseid more directly, as befits a protagonist. It also gives the sense that New Genesis is on the back foot - and while the theme of the Fourth World is that good triumphs, it’s a moral you build up to, and the best way to do that is to show that good can triumph even when it looks like it’s been defeated.
To celebrate Superman’s Silver Anniversary – it HAS been 25 years, after all – Jimmy and Superman’s other pals conspire to create Silver Kryptonite in Superman ‘s Pal Jimmy Olsen
vol.1 No.70. It turns out to be a hoax, just a silver shell, and an opportunity to shower Superman with some silver likenesses of his many friends. That’s nice. It’s nice to have a nice story every now and again, even if Superman spent most of it terrified and confused.