Monday, June 22, 2009

Andy Bentley on Jack Kirby's New Gods: The Forever People #4

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series see the tool bar on the right or the labels below.]

The opening forward by Simonson put this series back into perspective and raised my optimism back to the level where I began. By the end of the first volume, my nerves had become raw to the unnecessary dialog and formulaic plot structure of the series, a common syndrome whenever I visit comics from the past. Comic books are an amazing medium which blend images and words to create a visual narrative. They allow artists and writers to create a more personal story than they could in television or film and the experience of reading a comic can be just as personal. Yet comics are still entrenched in their humble beginnings: children’s stories of adventure and humor. In the past, editors ran the production in an assembly line fashion and mandated that characters explained their situations to new or confused readers and that the villain was dealt with by the end of the issue. Jack Kirby in these books is still adhering to many of these comic book staples, yet there is subversive ideas that make these more than just genre fiction. He’s discussing the holocaust, persecution, and the common rights of man in a PG rated superhero narrative. He’s also telling a wide spanning story over several titles in the early 70’s. The X-Men crossovers and Crisis on Infinite Earth are still 15 years away. This doesn’t mean I will ignore the flaws within these books, merely that they must be taken into context. Simonson restored my faith that Kirby does indeed have a purpose and direction he’s heading toward, there are just going to be more bumps along the way than I’m used to.

“The Kingdom of the Damned!”

This issue picks up where the last one left off, with the Forever People captured and placed into Desaad’s twisted version of a WWII concentration camp. Except that this camp isn’t exactly as advertised last issue. On the surface, it looks like a Disneyland attraction for humans. Kirby’s depiction of this faux amusement park is mostly charming with a slight hint of the torment that lies below. Underground, many visitors have been taken prisoner and subjugated to twisted and demeaning torture. The torture is led by Desaad, who is an analog for the infamous German scientists of Hitler’s third reich. Darkseid arrives at the camp and is unamused and uninterested in the details of Desaad’s play land. However Desaad has another experiment which does intrigue his master: the destruction of a Mother Box. The true nature of the mother box is again called into question. Darkseid refers to the destruction as murder and Desaad believes the mother box is screaming in pain as it it bombarded with electro-spikes. The mother box disappears in a cloud of smoke leaving it’s fate, and the presence of a soul, undetermined.

Darkseid soon tires of this and leaves to the surface to walk among the visitors of Happy Land. Here, a key scene between Darkseid and a father and his child is referenced by Simonson in the forward. The child’s innocent and naive eyes are the only ones that see Darkseid is a true terror and not another side attraction in the amusement park. The father has seen the evil that men have done to one another and therefore tries to explain the personification of it which stands before him.

Meanwhile, the FP are treated to a unique form of torment where the torturers are the oblivious patrons of happy land. The cruelest one involves Serifan, the cowboy enthusiast, sitting in a chair with a pedal and a monitor. Serifan can see his compatriot Vykin in the monitor, who is also confined to a chair. However his chair is perpetually rising to place his head above the coaster tracks so it might be ripped off by the incoming roller coaster. Serifan pushes the pedal to save Vykin but realizes he must continue to do so as his chair rises once more.

As the issue draws to a close, the mother box materializes outside Happy Land and into the hands of Sonny Sumo. Little is revealed about Sonny, only that he hears mother boxes’ plea for help and he plans to answer it!

Final Musings

- After a second reading, I believe Happy Land is a veiled reference to the Americans back home that turned a blind eye to the horrors of war, specifically Vietnam.

-Darkseid’s drop in at Desaad’s camp is very reminiscent of the Emperor stopping by Vader’s instrument of destruction, the Death Star, in Return of the Jedi.

-I expect a current writer to take Desaad into SAW levels of torture at some point

-Sonny Sumo marks maybe the 6th Final Crisis character I now have context for

2 comments:

Christian said...

Desaad isn't the only Comics character in the same vein as the Antagonist in SAW; X-men villain Arcade also creates elaborate amusement parks designed to murder our protagonists, called MurderWorld.

Sadly, there's a historical precidence for all three. Aside from the Marquis DeSade inspiration.

H.H. Holmes or Herman Muglett- The first American Serial killer. He was a hotel owner who redesigned his hotel into what he described as his Murder Castle. He had engineers and workers construct various piece of machinery in his building, that when added up, became elaborate death traps, often catering to the victims' (often prostitutes, but always young women) fears. So if you were claustrophobic, he'd trap her in a small room and extract all the air of the room, for example.


It's interesting how many villains in Kirby's Fourth World have misspelt names, that almost add to their sinister nature from Darkseid (pronounced Darkside, but spelt in a way that makes it unclear whether it refers to a Dark Seed or a Dark Side) and Desaad (refering the Marquis DeSade, the man who branded Sadism, but was, on most account, completely harmless.)

Christian said...

Shit, it's Mudgett, not Muglett. I'm sick at the moment, which is why my posts might be slightly more incoherent than usual. (Not that my usual posts are that coherent to begin with.)