Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Forever People 11: Your Energized Lance Won’t Help You!

Throughout this series, Mother Box has been the sole focus of the Forever People’s devotion…She connects and "protects" them. But with Devilance the Destroyer, a pink skinned, purple-headed castrator with a phallic, computerized lance, the teens now have a Father Figure to contend with. In this last issue of The Forever People, Kirby puts an end to our heroes by dropping them into an Oedipal battle for control of their own destiny.

The action starts with Devilance trying to kill the Forever People in the boarding house they had moved into. Technically, the boarding house is their first residence since they left New Genesis, so by attacking them there, Devilance is assaulting their independent drive. In terms of the Psychic Apparatus, this home is a representation of the Ego.

Big Bear tries to wrestle the lance from Devilance’s control, but is thrown across the room and emasculated (not literally…luckily for him). Vykin also tries and fails. The Police, a sort of community father figure, show up and Devilance runs, stating that he has orders to avoid Earthlings. Mother Box takes this chance to "phase" the teens to safety.

The Forever People appear in an abandoned mineshaft, a symbol of repression and representing the subterranean nature of The Id. Or, to look at the picture to the left, it may represent a vagina. Devilance "forces" (wink wink) his way in, and it’s here that the kids come closest to killing their dreaded opponent. Mark Moonrider fires a Megaton blast which misses the bounty hunter, but hits the ground, melting the rock and sucking Devilance into a pit of Lava. Beautiful Dreamer, the only female and only member of the group to be concerned about this Father Figure’s condition, asks if Devilance will be destroyed, but Moonrider assures her that Devilance can adjust himself to any circumstance. They "phase" to, what they hope will be, a safer place.

Meanwhile, we see Infinity Man, who had been shunted off to a different dimension by Darkseid a few issues ago, trapped in a paradise. In this Oedipal scenario, the paradise acts as a womb, but no matter how blissful it is, Infinity Man must assert himself and escape.

The Forever People are now on an island, which was obviously the former home to a long-dead indigenous race, as giant stone heads peak out of the vegetation. When Devilance tracks them there, Mother Box is able to generate "Magna-waves" that steal away his lance, castrating him. The teen boys then take turns pummeling their feminized opponent till Devilance gets his weapon back. It’s then that Serifan uses a Cosmic Cartridge to turn Devilance into stone. This island represents the Superego, with the stone head carvings representing the historical social input that the Superego absorbs, forming the basis of Conscience. In turning their Father Figure to a similar stone, they’re attempting to assimilate him into their critical outlook on the world and end their father/child rivalry. But in Oedipal theory, the rivalry will not end till the child represses his feelings for the mother, which they won’t do. In fact, they head towards the heart of the island to get more help from Mother Box. And of course, if the island represents the Superego and Conscience, it makes sense that in the heart of this place, they restate their belief of Non-Violence, rejecting a primitive, Id-derived act.

Devilance revives himself, and Mother Box rises, readying herself for the ritual to bring forth Infinity Man. It’s interesting that, when Deadman was going to go through his "ritual" to enter his Follower, Beautiful Dreamer said that it would "be like a big Birthday Party." Here, the ritual is a difficult birth of sorts, but Infinity Man is born into the world. The metaphorical son and Devilance grapple (for control of the Phallus, natch! Infinity Man even makes a point of saying about the hunter and his weapon that he’ll "break [them] both!") At one point the spear goes limp, but wraps itself around Infinity Man like a snake or a big, fat giant cock. Infinity Man gains control, and the power each of the opponents expel obliterates the whole island.

With the critical facilities of the Superego and the Father Figure destroyed, the teens find themselves Back in the Womb (so to speak) in that they appear on the paradise planet that imprisoned Infinity Man. They "turn their backs to Earth," or turn their backs on Logical Reality. They can now be alone…with Mother.

Now, on just the level of plot…

Why would Darkseid send a bounty hunter after the teens when he’s had so many chances to kill (or at least capture) them on his own? Well, right before Infinity Man reappears for the final confrontation, Big Bear states that their battle with Devilance "must end in stalemate" and Moonrider asks their pursuer if he would be willing to "fight an endless war." That is to say, they are able to fight him off, but aren’t willing to take his life. This may have been what Darkseid wanted…for them to be constantly entangled and out of his way, but still alive. In fact, when the Island goes up with Infinity Man on it, Darkseid seems taken aback that it should end that way, saying that it was "beyond the wisdom of Darkseid himself."

Exactly why Darkseid didn’t want to kill The Forever People is never explicitly answered in the book. The obvious, Meta reason is because he would be killing the story.

By the way, "Taaru" (or at least "Taru"), the word The Forever People say to bring forth Infinity Man, is Finnish for "Story."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Forever People 10: It Meets My Every Attempt to Regain the Initiative!

"There's nothing in the world so demoralizing as money." – Sophocles

With Billion-dollar Bates, Kirby showed us his idea of the "Super-rich"…people who can (and do) buy anything. With The Scavengers, we are shown Kirby’s idea of the "Super-sellers" who will supply billionaires with those items, inventions, or armies that they seek to purchase.

In the introductory sequence of this issue, we quickly move from a futuristic "pollution-free engine" hijacking at high-speed, to a modest office where simple plans are devised to swipe an ancient Egyptian Pyramid. This shows us that the Scavengers are willing and able to steal both our past and our future. Having received reports of strange happenings in Metropolis, a Scavenger agent has obtained video of The Forever People and their version of a Follower (an super-powerful, organic, soulless shell that Deadman will enter in answer to his body-less predicament.) The Scavenger Director, an egg-shaped and wrinkled blob of a man with a hook in place of his right hand, orders the agent to grab the Follower, suspecting it has something to do with the late Boston Brand.

We then shift to The Forever People’s own attempt at gaining money: Beautiful Dreamer has got work as a swimsuit model and Big Bear has become a chauffeur. As they both want "to be present for the ritual" of grafting Deadman’s soul to the Follower, they decide to take time off. This is an obvious counterpoint to the lengths the Scavengers will go to for their money.

The Follower is stolen and after being tested by The Director, he realizes that the creature is meant to house "something," so he orders it destroyed. Deadman is able to take hold of the Follower, and violence ensues when he realizes the Director is (probably) the man who killed him. A gauntlet of symbolistic violence is directed at Deadman and the Forever People in the form of a Freeze-Rifle (representing both the cold and calculated technological extremes the Scavengers go to, and the cold embrace of Death which Deadman has tried to reject) and in a mechanical Circus, specifically the Mechan-Apes who attack Vykin, Big Bear, and Serifan (the computerised creatures literally represent a Primitive Technology that is used to destroy Gods. Also, Deadman was killed at a Circus, so it must have seemed appropriate.)

After defeating the Scavengers, Deadman finds out that the Director (probably) isn’t the guy who killed him, but now that he has a permanent physical body, he’ll be able to eventually find out who did. The Follower is, apparently, the answer.

And it is in The Follower that I find the answer to Infinity Man. In the same way Boston Brand’s consciousness can enter the Follower, The Forever People’s combined consciousness can enter Infinity Man. As I’ve pointed out in previous postings, The Forever People experience what Infinity Man experiences. It’s true that their transformative "ritual" involves Mother Box sending "out the signal to the farthest reaches of infinity," suggesting that Infinity Man is in a far-away place, and he just switches spots with the teens. But infinity doesn’t describe a space…it describes everything. In fact, as the Follower "can be grown from anything organic…and re-shaped atomically," the teens likely aren’t switching places with Infinity Man at all…instead, the five of them are reformatted as Infinity Man by Mother Box.

Throwing a wrench in this theory is the fact that, in the next issue, Infinity Man is independent from the Forever People, acting and thinking for himself, having been separated from the teens by Darkseid in an earlier story. But who knows what sort of freakish things can happen with the Omega Effect, and I still consider my theory to be less lame than having Infinity Man be Darkseid’s brother, or whatever it is Wikipedia says.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Forever People 9: This is it---Atomically Re-shifted!

This is the most conventional issue of The Forever People, with its "Murder, She Wrote" tone and guest-appearance by Deadman. Yet I still find this and the next issue very interesting because Kirby, without explicitly stating anything, reveals the origins of The Forever People.

We begin in that grimmest and least personal of places, the morgue. If nothing else, a morgue represents the institutionalization of a lack of spirituality, where corpses and their organs are treated like paperwork, efficiently filed and stacked in drawers. And in this place, we find another dehumanized-by-the-establishment sort, "Doc" Gideon, a name meaning "feller of trees"…perhaps referring to how his experiments are meant to topple the concept of the Tree of Life. He’s a thin, nervous, Boris Karloff-type, trying to vitalize a patchwork of corpses. He fails, yet his experiment summons the spirit of Deadman, who’s convinced that his mission (to bring his own killers to justice) has not yet been fulfilled.

The story shifts to The Forever People preventing the savings of an old women (who happens to be both Gideon’s landlady, and a former Circus fortuneteller who witnessed Deadman’s slaying) from being stolen. Here, the teens are introduced to the concept of human-level values (both the value of the liberties that the theives not only infringe upon but also risk for themselves, and the value of money).
Gideon has noticed this scene, and tried to avoid it so he won’t have to talk to his landlady. With Deadman following him, he goes to his room to see that The Forever People have moved in next door to him. Here, Kirby gives us two tidbits about The Forever People’s origins. First, when told by the landlady that she should be wearing finer clothes, Beautiful Dreamer wonders why she should bother, saying that her "body is merely a three-dimensional identification vehicle. It’s our ‘total-selves’ that beautify us." To the landlady, this sounds like New Age horse shit…but to these Gods, it might be a literal truth where the body is simply a corporeal instrument of a higher being. Then Serifan, after using a Cosmic Cartridge to reinvent Beautiful Dreamer’s dress, explains that one specific blue cartridge "has a strange link with the infinite" and that "it transmits…a ‘life-force.’" He uses it to animate toys on a shelf. As it’s described, this cartridge seems to have properties similar to Mother Box, yet without the soul to make it communicate. I’ll have more to say on its importance later. Gideon has observed this and devises a plan to steal the blue Cosmic Cartridge to animate his monster.

Trixie, the landlady, performs a séance for the teens and Deadman appears, causing enough of a distraction for Gideon to swipe the cartridge. In the same way that Gideon misused science to bring forth Deadman, Trixie misuses what she sees as a parlor trick to summon Deadman to her. Gideon rushes to the morgue and attaches the Cosmic Cartridge, animating the corpse.

The reanimated monster breaks out of the morgue and toddles through the streets, walking past a movie theater showing The Ghouls (perhaps a mislabeled version of the 1933 movie The Ghoul, starring Boris Karloff as a disfigured Egyptologist who has risen from the grave to find who stole a cursed jewel) and Castle of Frankenstein (which could be a stand-in for House of Frankenstein, wherein Karloff plays a doctor who, in addition to reviving Frankenstein and the Wolfman, finds Dracula at a Circus). The monster’s face is bandaged and stitches appear on the rest of his massive body, giving him a half mummy, half Frankenstein’s monster appearance.

After fighting the Forever People, the creature heads underground where he tears open pipes. Perhaps in a parody of the myth of Prometheus, the monster tries to bring fire to man in the form of an exploding gas main…but the Gods stop him, and he’s crushed under rubble. Deadman takes over the functions of the dying body and tells the teens that he has to find the man who killed him. Serifan makes him visible with a Cosmic Cartridge, and they promise to find him a body and find his killer.

It is Deadman’s new body, introduced in the next issue, that I think is the key to Infinity Man.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Forever People 8: Sassy Kids!!

Billion-dollar Bates, a fat, obnoxious Texan stereotype, is in control of The Anti-Life Equation, and, dressed as members of the Satanic Cult Bates sponsors, Darkseid and his followers are going to try to take the equation from him. But, The Forever People get in the way as yet another example of the Community Vs. Conformity designing principal of this series.

The teens materialize in the nearby town that was bought by Bates so he could practice his art in peace. They run into soldiers rented by Bates and, because they’re forced to by means of the Anti-Life Equation, they go into the caverns below Bates’ estate to wait to be chained.

The billionaire "entertains" four people at his mansion. These four Congress-appointed investigators, examining Bates’ business dealings, seem to represent the Four Estates (one being a lawyer, another being a journalist, the woman being an academic administrator, and, I’ll assume, the other guy’s a politician.) By exercising his power (in such petty and monstrous ways) over these specific individuals who represent something much greater than themselves, Kirby hints at the absolute devastation Bates could bring to the social structure if he is allowed to take control.

During a ceremony with his sect in the catacombs under his house, Bates is given the "stimulus hat," which will be able to "unify…all within range of the ‘power,’" turning everyone in the area into conformed zombies. Later, after Bates is dead, the four investigators inspect the item, calling it a crown. Symbolically, a crown represents the transmitter of the collective consciousness to the individual, not the other way around. It may be that the overload Bates suffers didn’t come from his inability to conform a community, but from the community’s ability to assimilate him.

A, let’s say, interesting scene happens wherein Darkseid sasses the Forever People, treating them like insubordinate soldiers in a line. This is supposed to be a distraction so he can secretly use the Omega Force to get rid of them, but…huh? Why didn’t he just blatantly use the Omega Force? I’m going to assume that this scene reveals not a lack of respect Darkseid feels for the teens, or even a respect, but instead it reveals the pity he feels for them. They keep getting in his way, but they aren’t soldiers and can’t comprehend the horrors of war. And yet again, he doesn’t kill them.

But with this last scene, the main players in this story can be seen as representations of the Psychic Apparatus, with Bates acting as the repugnant, reptilian Id, The Forever People as the organised yet Id-influenced Ego, and Darkseid as the critique-delivering, guilt-inducing Super-Ego. To a lesser extent, the sets on which the action takes place can be seen in a similar light, with the ancient, underground catacombs acting as Id, the organised estate as Ego, and the deserted town as a gutted and rejected Super-Ego.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Forever People 7: Find them in the "Once Was!"

"Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect, as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper." – Albert Einstein

The story starts with Highfather discussing the state the Forever People have found themselves in, and Kirby uses this chance to recap the premise ("A unit of young people has used the Boom Tube to go to Earth and tangle with Darkseid") and reinforces the designing principal of the series ("Darkseid raises his children to destroy and die!! You know that it’s our duty to provide the Alternative!"). With dialogue between Highfather and Esak, Kirby inserts references to beginnings and endings, preparing us for a story involving slow, patient inevitability. Highfather sends out "Alpha Bullets" to rescue the time-displaced Forever People, and the dejected but present-day-stranded Serifan.

Mark Moonrider and Beautiful Dreamer appear in Ford’s Theatre as An American Cousin is about to be performed. They don’t know it, but it’s 1865, and President Lincoln is about to be assassinated. Lincoln is an expeditious symbol of democratic communalism (well, maybe not to Southerners), but also of the struggle involved in an ideological war. Kirby even goes so far as to compare Highfather to Lincoln in the narration, and by giving both characters similar profile shots (Highfather’s expression is one of mock sternness, while Lincoln’s is one of weariness.)

Vykin has ended up in Florida around 1515 and is found by Spanish sailors who have deserted Ponce de Leon’s youth-fountain search party to look for gold. They’re interesting in that they’ve rejected a search for a mythical possibility, not unlike Glorious Godfrey’s disbelief in the Anti-Life Equation earlier in the series. Vykin agrees to take them to the gold they seek as they plot his murder.

Big Bear descends upon a band of Celtic warriors harassing the "pull-out" of Roman soldiers from Medieval England. Big Bear compares the Romans to Darkseid, saying that they "are his children." And to follow that comparison, the disorganized band of ineffective Celts are the children of what the Forever People stand for, as later it’s humorously revealed that these men will be the Knights of the Round Table.

In the Present, Glorious Godfrey and his Justifiers attack Serifan and the Super-Cycle, without much success. They then bomb the hilltop, causing an avalanche that covers the machine (though Serifan is swept away by the Alpha Bullet sent for him.) To dream mystics, avalanches are a symbol of positive change.

The Alpha Bullets find The Forever People at critical points in their time marooned in history. Moonrider and Beautiful Dreamer just miss stopping Lincoln’s assassination, Big Bear has just introduced the Celtics to their new king, and Vykin is about to fall down a collapsed mineshaft and/or be murdered. Both Big Bear and Vykin work under the delusion that the people who’re actually taking part in history are taking their time and place for granted. Big Bear treats the Celtics like rabble-rousers at a movie theater, while Vykin states that he "met some fools in a veritable ecological paradise—And all they wanted was gold!" In this way, they are taking the time and place they went to for granted. But Mark Moonrider is able to realize the gravity of what he tried to do in 1865 when he says, "We tried to save a man from---History." In other words, he wouldn’t have saved Lincoln from an assassin, but from everything in the history of the world that led to that moment.

Finally, Serifan is shown to have ended up in present-day Japan where he collects Mother Box, which has been waiting for centuries in a Buddhist temple for him to pick it up. It appears that Sonny Sumo was not rescued (or perhaps denied himself rescue) so he could live among the poor in ancient Japan. Instead of living the life of a samurai, he became a monk and farmer, fulfilling both his individualist desires and communal needs.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Forever People 6: Violence breeds Violence!!

In the world of story plotting, there’s a step called "The Apparent Defeat." It's just like it sounds, in that the main character will have a major downfall of some sort, but won’t be completely destroyed. This usually follows a point in the story where the character has gone back on his principals, and suffers the consequences for it. Though it’s not quite a perfect fit, this is what happens to The Forever People in this issue.

The story starts with the Super-Cycle being discovered above Glorious Godfrey’s Tents by roaming Justifiers. The narration states that the machine’s "creed is ‘life!’ Programmed to ward off ‘death,’ the ‘super-cycle’ defends itself!" It then transforms itself into a stun-cannon-wielding mini-stronghold. Kirby contrasts the vehicle with the Justifiers as they’ve both been physically "transformed" (one for defence, one for antagonism) and programmed (one for life, and one for anti-life). The real difference is The Justifiers have the option of using Free Will, but they choose to not utilize it. Godfrey reveals that it’s not some science-fictiony mind control making the Justifiers act like they do…it’s that they were given the instincts to destroy "at Birth!! I merely justify their readiness to use them!"

Though they’re willing to use the Anti-Life Equation on the Happyland guards, even when it would seem to go against everything they stand for, The Forever People are disturbed by its zombie-inducing effects. Moonrider seems disgusted by the effect, while a nervous Beautiful Dreamer simply says that it’s "Horrible!" Serifan inspects one of the zombies with a sad face, regretfully describing how their free will has been taken from them. Moonrider starts "a chain of disruption that can’t be stopped" (both for Happyland, and for his team) by shooting a control center which starts a series of explosions throughout the complex. Outside, an oversized Happyland statue, vaguely shaped like Humpty Dumpty in a stars-and-stripes costume, has the back of his head blown out (which probably isn’t a JFK reference, but is a shocking example of a calming figurehead collapsing and revealing a hidden horror.) In trying to capture a ship to get out, Big Bear delineates the cause and effect pattern in this issue by saying, "Violence breeds violence!!"

The police raid the property almost immediately, and are used as a visual contrast with the zombie guards. While the guards stand at attention, the cops dart around on diagonals, yet they all wear uniforms that make it difficult to tell the individuals in each group from each other.

As the façade of Happyland crumbles, so too does the community of the Forever People. Darkseid, in an attempt at self-preservation and to punish the teens for their daring to use the equation, utilizes his Omega Effect to make Vykin, Moonrider, Beautiful Dreamer, Big Bear, as well as Sonny Sumo and Mother Box wink out’ve existence, leaving Serifan alone in the world. This is a dark reflection of the situation that brought The Forever People to Earth in the first place (one member was missing, which stirred gallant action…this time, only one member is left, which brings complete paralysis. Serifan is actually depicted lying down in a heap when he realizes the full ramifications of his predicament.)

Darkseid hasn’t actually killed the characters, but has displaced them in time. He’s once again literally playing the role of Deus ex Machina, cutting off the action of the story, but for his own gain and not for the convenience of plot. Even Desaad mentions this quirk of Darkseid’s character by asking how he could "leave such a dramatic experience incomplete?" Kirby is creating a more interesting villain by not making him completely heartless, but is also side-stepping a difficulty of creating plots with characters who are seemingly all-powerful.

Roused from his grief by the sound of the police, Serifan hijacks a Justifier aero-van and makes his way back to the Super-Cycle. In keeping with its programming, the cycle’s defenses track and shoot Serifan down, representing the breakdown of the communalism the cycle’s been programmed to commit to. Serifan is able to use one of his Cosmic Cartridges to announce himself, and he says that "we two are all that’s left of our unit!!—Just we two!" But a group of Justifiers may put an end to that, as they are seen lurking up the hillside, waiting to attack.

Interestingly, this issue features a backup called The Young Gods of Supertown: Raid From Apokolips, which takes place in the past on New Genesis, and almost appears as a memory that has come to Serifan’s mind. The setup is similar to the end of the last story, which has enemy insurgents sneaking up on Serifan. Yet, unlike the present, Big Bear is alive and there to help him. It reads as a distorted forecast of things to come, ending with Serifan predicting "a time of great trial." He’s speaking of political relations between Apokolips and New Genesis, but the meaning ends up being personal to him.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Forever People 5: It’s We Who Live

Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me and just be my friend. – Albert Camus

Thus far, The Forever People has shown a community fighting a conforming oppressor, with the opponents on both sides using similar tactics. This issue goes even further, yet it also defines how different each side is.

The opening narration of this story gives us a very clear picture of the very cloudy existence of Sonny Sumo, a paid pugilist who discovered Mother Box in his dressing room at the end of issue 4. He is a "noble warrior," adrift in the modern commercial marketplace, clinging to set of values, philosophies, and spiritual practices which the rest of the world chooses to ignore. At this moment, he is about to utilize a series of rare, arcane techniques to beat up a ten-foot-tall robot designed for a sideshow wrestling act.

Sagutai, the robot whose head vaguely resembles a samurai’s helmet, is a walking, talking example of high-tech, state of the art gadgetry. And in his single-minded devotion to his programming, and in the extreme waste of potential he symbolizes as an oversized, overpriced, thinking punching bag, he is meant to remind the readers of the conformity that Darkseid hopes to bring to the world.

Though not an actual Japanese word as far as I (and google) can tell, Sagutai may be a combination of Saguru – To Search For – and Tai – Substance or Reality. Since the robot claims to be Death, his name may refer to his challengers who are searching for a heightened reality that can only be attained by cheating death. However, as another blogger pointed out, it may just be that the name sounded Japanese to Kirby.

Sonny is able to both withstand pain and heal wounds, but only while he can concentrate on the fight. When he gets back to his dressing room, the burns inflicted in the battle reappear and he drops to his knees in pain. Mother Box is able to heal him, and she starts him on a journey that will not only fulfil his desire to be a noble warrior (Sonny calls it "A mission worthy of a samurai!!"), but that will also satisfy his underlying need to undergo a transformation from life as a loner, lost in a commercial wilderness to being an Individual within a community.

Next, Kirby is able to perfectly imagine the horrors of a forced conformity when Desaad hooks his Happyland/ Kingdom of the Damned prisoners, including the Forever People, to his "Fear Siphon". Images of the tortured prisoners are spun and twisted together, forming a green wad of terror for Desaad to delight in. A particular shot shows the Forever People combined, their faces running together, almost as a perverse mockery of their inability to combine as Infinity Man.

Most of the action of this issue depicts Sonny Sumo rescuing the Forever People from their various Happyland traps. Sonny is not only brought to the communalism of the teens through his communication with Mother Box, but in fact the community of the teens has been strengthened by their imprisonment. With Mother Box guiding them, they’re able to find and help each other. In counterpoint to this, the insect-like Happyland guards work in unison to stop them.

Finally, the Forever People and Sonny stand together against the mob of guards, and Sonny uses Mother Box (or Mother Box uses Sonny) to put them to sleep. This is a use of the Anti-Life Equation, which Darkseid’s been searching for. It’s here that the opposition between Darkseid and New Genisis is clearly defined…When Sonny voices concern about holding such an immoral power, Mark Moonrider tells him that "the Anti-Life Equation is one of many" other equations which are "almost as awesome!" The scene then shifts to Darkseid, who’s seen the Equation in action, and states that he wants to kill the Forever People to get Sonny away from them so he can have the Equation. It is this single-minded, robotic mentality to go to such lengths to achieve a goal (that ends up being not particularly important) that separates the Protagonists from the Villains, even though both sides use very similar tactics (uniformity of action, Illusion, violence, and removing free will) to get what they want.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Forever People 4: No, Grandpa! I’m the Real Thing!

"Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us . . . But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements?" — Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)

At the start of this issue, we see disheveled, crazed people begging to be set free from a glass cage. There are people outside the cell, yet they don’t seem to notice the imprisoned unfortunates. They aren’t noticed because one of Desaad’s machines has transformed their screams of horror into the laughter and music coming from the attractions at a theme park. The Park, a Disney-like place called "Happyland", has also perverted fairy tales and nursery rhymes, once the manner in which community wisdom or historical events were passed down to children, for use in a brash commercial endeavor, exchanging wisdom for entertainment. Kirby has set us up for a series of vignettes in which the Illusion of Entertainment hides a horrible reality, and where the illusion of horror hides a benign truth.

The Forever People, who had previously fought as Infinity Man but were disassembled by Darkseid, are stuck in a cell. They’ve been separated from Mother Box. Though it’s not made explicit in the dialogue, their body language suggests that they’re unhappy both with their situation and with each other. Guards come in and knock them out, pulling each of them further apart from one another by taking them to separate tortures.

At this point, the scene shifts to a room where Desaad is overseeing the torture of the Mother Box. It "pings" and squeals in pain before exploding. Desaad assumes that the torture was so overwhelming that he "made it commit suicide." Yet, this may be an illusion, as the observant Darksied points out. Though it may have disintegrated, it could have just vanished.

Darkseid has little patience for anything but the truth, and in leaving the park, he walks among the tourists. He comes upon a little girl who is frightened by him. Her Grandfather tells her that he’s probably just a park employee in costume. Darkseid explains that such people always "hide me with ‘cock and bull’ stories to keep the premises smelling sweet." That is to say, the man ignores the reality that the child recognized because in not being able to distinguish the other horrors of the park from entertainment, he isn’t able to tell Darkseid from some teenager in a costume. In a way, this illustrates a quote by Albert Camus: "Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object. "

The Forever People are each inside separate traps which suit their character.

Mark Moonrider’s trap isn’t exactly torture, but in being fettered in a glass cage with people watching him and not helping, he is subjected to the same impotence he could feel as a leader whose followers have been captured. This might add to a feeling of helplessness from earlier when Serifan was shot by a guard, and Moonrider was tripped when he moved to help him. Also, he’s depicted as a skeleton to the onlookers in a tunnel of love-type ride, which could symbolize that he’s not yet fully developed as a leader (or even as a character, since Kirby hasn’t defined him with any significant powers, though he will in the following issues.)

The trap Big Bear finds himself in depicts him as a literal bear in a shooting gallery. The tourists shoot soundwaves at him, which are magnified and knock him down. Perhaps because Big Bear is such a vocal and sturdy member of the group, the irony of this sound trap makes sense.

We then follow Desaad to Beautiful Dreamer’s trap. She’s paralyzed, but conscious, and displayed in a window as Sleeping Beauty. People crowd around the window because there’s a $1000 prize to wake her with a secret word. But to her, the people seem like monsters. Desaad points out the irony of using illusions on her in basically the same way she’s used illusions on others.

The final trap involves both Serifan and Vykin, and doesn’t feature spectators. At least, not tourist spectators, as Serifan himself becomes a spectator. He is hooked up to a pedal and television screen that transmits images of Vykin’s head in the path of an oncoming roller coaster. He has to press on the pedal to lower Vykin every time a coaster passes. This offers Serifan the detachment of watching a Western on TV (as he’s been shown to do), but with the appalling pressure of having people relying on him for help. This trap is significant for Vykin in that he is the handler of Mother Box, an infinitely complex machine he was able to communicate with easily. The machine he’s locked in now has two simple functions, and he can’t control either of them. As the roller coaster is about to strike, we can see the smiling, happy people, somehow unaware that they’re about to decapitate some guy.

With Happyland, Kirby seems to be saying that with the distraction of entertainment, atrocities can be ignored. Yet, it is fault of the Entertained, and not the Entertainer, if they are ignorant to such inhumanity.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Forever People 3: The "Happiness Package"

If you have to say one nice thing about Hitler (and no, you’ll never actually have to do that), you can say, "He was one heck of a salesman." He not only knew what to sell, and how to sell it…but he knew exactly who to sell it to.

I should probably mention that this issue of The Forever People begins with the following quote:

"That is the great thing about our movement—That these members are uniform not only in ideas, but, even, the facial expression is almost the same!" --- Adolf Hitler

Kirby is not only pointing out the deadening effect conformity has on the people under the rule of a despotic system with this quote…he’s also defining it as a symbiotic movement, wherein the people are just as willing to be sold these concepts as the leader is to sell them.

Glorious Godfrey (half Joseph Goebbels, half The Shamwow guy) has set up a Revivalist tent show to preach the concept of Anti-Life (a system by which you can murder anyone you disagree with, Guilt Free!), and people are arriving by the "busload" to hear what he has to say. One guy in the crowd mumbles that Godfrey is simply "voicing what’s in our hearts." Though Kirby uses the conceit that once they’re there, they are hypnotised by organ music, he is essentially saying that in flocking to the sermons, the people are willing to accept any horrors as long as their egos are stroked and their ids are tickled.

We then move to an example of Anti-Life in action as a Justifier (A nameless, faceless warrior who had presumably been just some working stiff the day before) tries to kill The Forever People via suicide bombing. I guess Kirby was thinking about Kamikaze pilots when he came up with this plot point, as the first modern strap-on-an-explosive suicide bombing didn’t take place till 1980 (at least according to google…so you know that I’m probably wrong).

The Forever People leave the abandoned neighborhood where they took up residence last issue to find whoever sent the Justifier. Donnie, the crutches-sporting kid, doesn’t want them to go, and they tell him a bunch of slogans about Love (for example, Mark Moonrider tells Donnie to live life "for others—not against them!") This is interesting, as we’ve just read a bunch of sloganeering about hate, but this is where Kirby contrasts Communalism with Conformity.

(I should point out that we never see this kid again, and who knows what happened to his "Uncle" Willie? In a way it’s entertainingly heartless to introduce a crippled child to incredibly advanced beings, then not have them even consider healing his affliction.)

Next, we see scenes of Justifiers entering buildings with lists of names, rounding up and beating the people on those lists, as well as a few book and/or library burnings. The purpose of the lists is not given… Do they share a certain faith or political bent? Are they friends or family of the newly recruited Justifiers? Is this just an alphabetical hazing? That there is no reason shows the farcical aspects of any such actions.

The Forever People arrive at Glorious Godfrey’s show with the help of Mother Box, and decide that Infinity Man will be able to handle the situation better than themselves. He drifts into the tent as a ghost and destroys the organ that has supposedly hypnotized the crowds of people (though if that’s true, why doesn’t Kirby give us a shot of the people "coming out" of their hypnotism?) However, Darkseid uses his powers to both shut down the action of the story and force a change in Infinity Man to make the Forever People appear. They are incapacitated and put onto transports to "The Camp of the Damned."

When Desaad tells Darkseid that he will find his master the Anti-Life Equation in the Camp of the Damned, Glorious Godfrey admits that he believes Anti-Life "can only be induced in others by the means of inventive selling." When it comes to salesmanship, selling faith is the faith…not the faith that you’re selling. And like any good salesman, Godfrey is not so stupid as to believe in what he’s selling. Of course, I’m pretty sure Hitler believed in what he was selling…so maybe he wasn’t much of a salesman.

So, if you have to say something nice about Hitler, I guess you’ll have nothing to say.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Forever People 2: Rotting, Dangerous Shells

Progress is a tricky thing to get right, may be the moral of this issue. As a society develops, certain aspects of said society are lost from memory. Part of what this story deals with are the hidden realities of existence which can be dulled by the flash of modernity, and about things hidden inside a society like a forgotten neighborhood or forgotten people or maybe even the forgotten ancient crypt of a power-hungry antagonist.

The issue starts off with The Forever People in the middle of a crowded, mechanized city street. The gawking, milling citizens are confused by the kids…not just because their Super-Cycle is blocking the precious traffic, but because they’ve never seen Hippies on wheels ("Motorized Hippies! How about that?" says one nonplussed asshole.) The sampling of spectators Kirby gives us in one panel all want a technocratic solution to this simple problem…One wants the cops to take care of it, another says he’ll "have to take the subway to cross the street", another wants them airlifted out by helicopter. We’re being shown technology-crazy dupes conforming to a modern standard. Were this issue done today, you can imagine that every one of those suckers would be carrying a cell phone. Gullible mobs appear throughout the series.

As a counterpoint to the up-to-date part of this city, the kids materialize in a decaying neighborhood "where abandoned buildings wait for the coming of urban renewal." This isn’t a slum…it’s simply the heart of a genuine, original city, complete with a Fire Hall, deserted by an innovation-dazzled bourgeois. Here the Forever People find a lame-legged boy and his paranoid old uncle, Willie. Whether they’re actual family or not isn’t clear…Willie may be the boy’s uncle in the same way he’s supposed to be a security guard (which is what the boy tells the teens…Actually, Willie’s no security guard…he’s just got a gun.)

The old man considers the Forever People to be like the gangs who have apparently abused him in the past. Beautiful Dreamer enters his mind to find some old-time images that’ll calm him down, and she disguises the teens as 1930’s-style youngsters and the Mother Box as a beat-up old suitcase. Though harmless, this illusion (or white lie, if you will) is interesting coming from a character who just rambled a speech about The Truth. Later in the series, Kirby shows how dangerous similar simple illusions can be when used by Darkseid’s followers.

Mantis, the villain of this issue, is defined as a disciple of Darkseid’s in a few different ways. First, and most obviously, a mantis is a carnivorous and cannibalistic insect…it’s the perfect name for a dangerous God. However, mantis is also the Greek word for Prophet, and while Mantis doesn’t do any "converting" like Glorious Godfrey will in the next issue, he does preach a doomsday sermon of what is to come. Kirby also connects Mantis to vampire imagery, having him "recharging" in a crumbling, underground tomb and only coming out to destroy the city when a clock has chimed midnight. In the first issue of the Forever People, an Inter-gang agent compares Darkseid to Dracula, and the will-sapping, zombie elements of vampire mythology are apt metaphors for the conformist plague Darkseid is planning.

The communal theme of the Forever People is brought into focus when the teens move into the dilapidated ruins of the forsaken neighborhood (Willie and the boy live in building 309…the Numerological meaning of which is solidity, calmness, and home). The invalid kid, Donnie, asks about, and is handed, one of Serifan’s Cosmic Cartridges and suddenly becomes one with the universe. He says he’s "everywhere at once", and is depicted as transforming into a view of the cosmic (or perhaps the microscopic). As Donnie is brought into "harmony," and the rest of the teens share a meal with Uncle Willie, they discover that Mantis is attacking the city, so they link up with Mother Box to become The Infinity Man. Now, that’s communal!

Infinity Man then roughs up Mantis in a seven-page battle sequence. In a repeat of the public’s earlier reliance on technology, a peace officer says, "these new, heavy-caliber rifles should stop him—but they don’t!" Also, a big-mouth bystander to the destruction yells, "Something has to be done to stop him! They’re going to need planes---tanks—" Though the action of this sequence is beautifully rendered, the dialogue between Mantis and Infinity Man is plenty dull and reveals little about the characters except what their powers are.

After Mantis is defeated and crawls back to his pod, a clue is given to exactly what Infinity Man is. He says his magic word, disappears, is replaced by The Forever People, and Beautiful Dreamer says that they were all "one—and so, shared his experience!" So Kirby’s let us know for sure that Infinity Man isn’t some dude who just shows up…instead their consciousness’ combine within Infinity Man. More hints as to how this happens show up later in the series.

While standing above the spared city, the Forever People contemplate the horrors that are coming in this now-declared war between New Genesis and Apocalypse. As they love the antiques of a recent, yet forgotten world, they have to fear the profound changes that would come to this already changed society under Darkseid’s brand of totalitarianism.

My Zimbio
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