SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Bug! The Adventures of Forager #1, by Lee, Mike and Laura Allred, in stores now.
In a move that likely has something to do with distancing itself from the early days or the end of the New 52, Rebirth has been keeping most of DC Comics' Fourth World mythology at arms length. No parademons, no looming threat of Darkseid, and hardly more than a passing mention of Apokolips or New Genesis. Of course, this is likely in keeping with Rebirth’s methodical approach to reestablishing elements of the DCU, piece by piece. It’s never felt like the classic Kirby characters and continuity were truly removed in the shift so much as shelved, temporarily, waiting for their moment to come.
But don't you worry Kirby fans, because it looks like that wait might finally be drawing to a close. Young Animal’s Bug! The Adventures of Forager #1 begins the first major outing into the Fourth World pantheon since Rebirth took hold -- and it just so happens to pose some major questions about the future of the DCU at large.
A Bug's Life
Forager is a Bug. Forager is also a Forager. His name is both his job and his species. Don’t worry, he knows it’s kind of confusing. For his purposes, he’ll consider Forager his proper name and Bug...well, like a nickname. That's probably the best way to think about it. He’s a humanoid insect from New Genesis and a classic character who appeared in, well, about three or so of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World universe stories before he sacrificed himself to save the universe in the pre-Flashpoint series Cosmic Odyssey -- a brief and tragic lifespan he recaps for us in the first few pages of the book.
Through these bleary recollections, we see our first Rebirth-era looks at characters like Orion, Metron and Lightray, and an indication that Cosmic Odyssey -- which famously saw Green Lantern John Stewart's arrogance lead to the death of an entire planet -- is firmly back in continuity, albeit one in which Forager ultimately survived the explosion that appeared to have killed him as he saved not only Earth, but the entire universe.
It’s basically immediately after that sacrifice that we join Forager, as he's emerging from a mysterious cocoon, something he’s apparently been holed up in for decades. He takes stock of his surroundings and determines he’s at an unknown location on Earth. He’s also surrounded by a slow march of very Young Animal-esque surrealism, like a talking teddy bear, a ghostly child, and a small army of personified nightmares.
Those nightmares in particular are none too pleased with Forager's return to consciousness. They call him “the sleeper” and demand that he does not wake as they attack him without explanation. Forager, to his credit, doesn’t let them slow him down all that much. Instead, he fights them off and finds the ghostly child, who just so happens to be setting up a complicated array of dominoes. Forager immediately recognizes the pattern of the tiles as a motherbox circuit diagram.
And that’s not even the weirdest part.
As you might expect when a character is standing in a room covered in carefully placed dominoes, it doesn’t take long for Forager to make a wrong move and start the tiles toppling into one another.
That’s when things go from strange to downright reality-melting. As the dominoes cascade into one another, Forager is struck by visions -- and not just any visions -- flashes of familiar faces like Deadman, OMAC and The Black Racer encroach on him from all sides in a way that seems to echo the sort of “memory return” that has been happening over in the pages of the recent “Superman Reborn” story arc back in DC’s Superman titles.
And that’s not all; as the dominoes collapse on one another, Forager finds the actual world around him changing in kind. The ghost girl is gone, replaced by yet another set of familiar faces -- Sandman, Brute and Glob -- though these versions of the characters are specifically from the Kirby-created Sandman book of the '70s and not the more well-known Vertigo series of the same name. One of Sandman’s classic enemies, a villain called General Electric, even shows up to make things things even... weirder, as the encounter eventually ends with Forager falling through a dimensional hole to parts unknown.
So... What Does This Mean?
While Bug #1 is a strong showing in and of itself as a self-contained story. The implications it carries for the future of both the main line of DC books and Young Animal are pretty fascinating -- especially, when you take into consideration recent teases from writer Tom King hinting that he’s working on fan favorite Fourth World characters like Orion, Big Barda and Mr. Miracle.
Is this not the true romantic feeling; not to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping you. --Thomas Wolfe pic.twitter.com/Tdtht6DYuu
— Tom King (@TomKingTK) April 12, 2017
I need some older, wiser being to cry to. I talk to God, but the sky is empty, and Orion walks by and doesn't speak. --Sylvia Plath. pic.twitter.com/1HlA9t5bhI
— Tom King (@TomKingTK) April 13, 2017
So far, Young Animal has defined itself as an imprint by keeping an ambiguous and vaguely defined connection to the main continuity of the rest of the DCU. Books are not explicitly related to the greater DCU, nor are they entirely isolated. Concepts and characters like the Wild Dogs have been threaded through both Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and Green Arrow without breaking stride, without actually confronting their relationship head on. It’s a delicate balance that’s been struck and holds with it echoes of Sandman-era Vertigo imprint.
However, the adoption of the Fourth World into Young Animal’s fold may be threatening to tip those scales. Obviously, it’s unclear just how much Bug will intersect with the “Kirbyverse” now that it’s done most of its expository foundation-laying, but if Tom King’s teases are any indication, this is only the beginning of Rebirth’s plunge back into these weird and wonderful cosmic waters.
The question then becomes, if these iconic Kirby characters are placed under the Young Animal umbrella, what does that mean for their abilities to exist in the main line of books? The Sandman of the '70s and Forager are obscure enough to not cause too much of a ripple, similar to the rest of the current Young Animal characters, but former Justice League staples like Big Barda and Mr. Miracle are certainly characters who would force a more extreme blurring of the lines. And what does that blurring of lines mean for villains like Darkseid as we head further down the Rebirth road?