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.

My Zimbio
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