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.

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