John Byrne took over New Gods (with issue #12) when the title was floundering. Byrne, who had long shown affection for Jack Kirby’s work, was a nice fit for the material. To help attract new readers, DC priced his first issue at 99 cents. Over the course of his initial four-issue storyline, the companion titles Mister Miracle and Takion were cancelled, clearing the way for Byrne to control the entire Fourth World, not simply those elements traditionally associated with New Gods.
Reflecting this, New Gods was relaunched as Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, a title Byrne had reportedly chosen to show respect for Kirby’s work. The title incorporated Takion, as well as characters from Mister Miracle and Forever People. This made a great deal of sense. Kirby’s Fourth World titles had failed to last very long, through relaunch after relaunch. Perhaps combining them would improve this longevity. Also, the Fourth World had long been viewed as a single epic story, and a single title reflected this.
Beginning with issue #2 (Apr 1997), Jack Kirby’s Fourth World featured back-up stories telling tales set in the past, reminiscent of Kirby’s “Tales of Asgard” Thor stories (or how his classic “The Pact,” in New Gods Vol. 1 #7, was a full flashback issue). The back-ups in issues #9-11 and #13 were written and illustrated by Walter Simonson, who provided almost all of the covers for Byrne’s issues. Only issues #1, 12, and 20 didn’t feature a back-up story. These stories might not have been popular with American comics readers (who had long come to dislike back-ups and anthologies), but they were a smart addition to the series.
About halfway through Byrne’s two-year run (including his four issues of New Gods Vol. 4), DC offered the universe-wide crossover Genesis, written by Byrne and flowing out of his Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. Byrne had teased that the New Gods had some connection to Wonder Woman’s Greek gods ever since Action Comics Vol. 1 #600 (May 1988). He now revealed that the same force that was behind the creation of the New Gods and Earth’s various pantheons had also created Earth’s super-heroes. DC’s readers were unconvinced, however, and Genesis (published weekly over the course of a single month) is widely regarded as one of DC’s worst universe-wide crossovers.
In fact, the overall course of Byrne’s tenure pivoted around Genesis. His first year began with the combination of Apokolips and New Genesis into a single planet. This was undone during Genesis, during which both Darkseid and Highfather were apparently killed. Byrne’s second year was defined by the aftermath of Genesis, as both Apokolips and New Genesis struggled in the wake of their leaders’ deaths. During this, Mister Miracle returned to Earth, Takion briefly became the ruler of New Genesis, and questions were raised about whether Orion was really Darkseid’s son. By the end of Byrne’s tenure, both Darkseid and Highfather had returned — although the question of Orion’s parentage was never completely resolved.
This was done at the request of Walter Simonson, who was scheduled to relaunch the title as Orion. That successor series, however, would take some time to appear. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World was cancelled (with issue #20, Oct 1998) over a year and a half before Orion was launched (with issue #1, June 2000).