Friday, May 27, 2011

Fourth World Fridays: (Orion of) The New Gods #2--"O' Deadly Darkseid"

I remain continually impressed by how much better The New Gods (or, as it's rechristened here, Orion Of The New Gods) is than the other books in the saga. Don't get me wrong, the others are frequently very good, but Orion sees Kirby playing to all his strengths, and synthesizing everything he'd learned in (at that point) 30 years of making comics into something waaaay ahead of its time. It's cinematic at a time when even cinema wasn't anywhere near as bold and Wagnerian as Kirby dares to be here.

I mean, the first three pages of this comic are a splash page and a double-page spread! Kirby, by the way, didn't actually invent the plash page as he's often credited, but he standardized it, and he used it so effectively that it became inextricably bound up with his work. Kirby also does something I haven't seen done before: he spends the first five pages on a "prologue" of sorts, before the title and credits page (which is another splash). With all these prologues and sweeping epic vistas, zooming down into the action from outer space, is it any wonder this comic is often cited as a huge influence on George Lucas?

Come to think of it, that first splash shows Apokalips in the foreground, flame belching ominously in the foreground, as we see it seemingly loom over the green world of New Genesis. Like some kind of body...a star. A star of death. A death star?

In the double-page spread, children are merrily romping in New Genesis, on some kind of bizarre whirlygig that looks like it was spawned by Salvador Dali. Inside the city, though, things are more grim. Highfather is once again confronting the Source Wall for advice: "WAR--FOLLOW ORION". That tears it, I guess. Earth is to become the battleground between New Genesis and Apokalips, and judging from the names, I'm doubting it's going to end well.

"I am one among those assembled, High-Father!" proclaims Lightray unnecessarily. "I am eager to join Orion!" But High-Father's decided Lightray's too young to jump into the fray, so he's going to have to wait another couple of issues.

Back on Earth, Orion has somehow ended up in the spartan pad in which Darkseid has been chilling, and furthermore, he's brought his new gang of followers with him. Darkseid, in typically ultra-cool fashion, lounges casually in a chair as his sworn enemy bursts in and accuses him of kidnapping Earthlings and violating the treaty. "I dare anything! I am Darkseid!" replies the bored-looking ruler of Apokalips, not even bothering to turn his head and look at Orion! Damn, that's cold.

"King of the damned! I can finish you now!" cries Orion. "Finish me--and you finish yourself!" replies Darkseid. "You hesitate, Orion! You can sense why--but you don't know--do you--? But Darkseid is free of mysteries! He can act!" And refer to himself in the third person! By the way, there's some heavy-handed foreshadowing in both this issue and the last one, but this exchange is rather well-done; clearly Kirby had SOME aspects of the overall story, at least, worked out in advance.

Anyway, Darkseid still doesn't bother to so much as turn his head while saying this, and a second later his minion Brola attacks. It's not that much of a surprise, since we did see him lurking behind the door on the previous page. Brola has a supercharged cattleprod in one hand, and the other. Yes, a brick, referred to as his "hand of stone", which he uses to pummel Orion. But Orion fights through the shocks and the beating and throws Brola through the wall, only to see him vanish in midair along with Darkseid, "snatched away by tele-ray" to "one of the secret bases established beneath the city." (Incidentally, we're never told exactly which city this is. I guess it's the same place The Tick hangs out.)

While Darkseid puts the boot to his useless minion and sends him scuttling out of the comic forever, another, rather more competent minion is working on the latest wild Apokaliptian scheme. It's Desaad, making what I believe was meant to be his debut appearance, despite the fact that he popped up in The Forever People #2, which hit newsstands first. Anyway, in typical New Gods fashion, Desaad's name tells you pretty much everything you'd need to know about the character--namely, that he's an insane weirdo who gets off on inflicting pain. However, because this is a Kirby comic, he's less interested in penning controversial novels and being played by Geoffrey Rush than he is building gigantic, convoluted devices with weird functions. The latest of these is "The Fear Machine" which will, in some unexplained way, flush out the mind Darkseid is looking for--the mind that holds the secret of the Anti-Life Equation.

Incidentally, Darkseid also explains, in a throwaway line, what the Equation is. He'd earlier referred to it as having the ability to destroy all life, but in fact, what the Equation does is take away free will...since, as explained earlier, someone without free will is not truly alive.

This is interesting, and I think gets to the point Kirby was trying to make with these comics. Darkseid doesn't want destruction for its own sake, nor does he want raw power. He wants to rule the world--and, I guess, the universe--but on far more terrifying terms than Doctor Doom did. In his quest to eradicate free will, Darkseid is possibly the purest personification of tyranny we've ever seen in comics: a character who literally wants to be the only thinking being left in the universe, or rather, wants every other mind to be an appendage of his own. I think that when you look at the long, sad, history of real-world dictators and tyrants, you'll find there's a lot of truth to that. What made people like Hitler and Stalin so monstrous wasn't simply the sheer number of people they killed and the warped shape into which they twisted their societies; it's that they wanted to impose their will on the world, a will which, no matter what their original intentions, left no room for other people except as mindless drones. I think that's why Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany ended up in much the same place, despite the seeming differences in their basic philosophies. They were solipsists--Hitler didn't want to share the word with anyone but Hitler, Stalin wanted to be alone with Stalin. They wanted pure freedom for themselves, which meant denying it to others.

Meanwhile, Orion has decided to fill his new friends in on what exactly is going on, and to that end, he produces Mother Box and gets them to touch it, in order to receive a literal infodump of exposition. "A movie without film! That's wild! Roll, man, roll!" enthuses Harvey, the stereotypical representative of today's youth. In 1971.

We then get a three-page montage--two of them splash pages--detailing what's been going on in Jimmy Olsen and The Forever People to date. Earth invaded by the forces of Apokalips, Boom Tube, Mantis, Dropout society, yadda yadda yadda. We do get an interesting bit of foreshadowing with a glimpse at the aquatic menaces known as the Deep Six, who Orion will confront in a couple of issues' time.

The powerpoint presentation...OF THE FUTURE! cut short by Mother Box, who "detects an invisible beam sweeping this very city!" Suddenly, the group of Earthlings are cowering in fear. Orion, conveniently, is "trained to resist all degrees of fear," and thus immune. Strapping on his flight harness, he zips out into the night in search of the source of the beam, which turns out to be this:

So advertising never hurt anyone, eh, you Madison Avenue fat cats?

One brief and anticlimactic battle later, Orion has smashed the billboard o' death and is on his way back to his buddies. Desaad and Darkseid watch him go, bickering in typical supervillain fashion--though, oddly, Darkseid won't hear Desaad's smack talk about Orion.

DARKSEID: We could never take one such as Orion captive! His kind dies in battle! And in death would look greater than a vermin like you!
DESAAD: So! The great Darkseid rises quickly to the defense of an enemy!
DARKSEID: Orion is an enemy to be respected!
DESAAD: Yes, it is strange how very like us he is--in his fierceness and--
DARKSEID: Silence, Desaad! Were Orion my own son--he would mean nothing to the purpose of our mission!

Hmm. HMMMMMM. Think that means anything?

The issue ends back in Dave Lincoln's pad, where Orion has apparently decided to crash for his time on Earth. The Earthlings swear fealty to Orion, and the whole thing wraps up with the traditional monologue.

All in all, that issue was kind of a filler, but it was elevated by Kirby's excellently worked-out vision for this series; the stately pace of the narrative feels epic, instead of belaboured, and the story flows naturally, one event logically following another, rather than the sometimes chaotic stories in the other books. You end the comic with the premise fixed in your mind, and eager to see where the story's going. What are all these hints leading up to? What's being foreshadowed so heavily? What will happen next?

If I had to guess, I'd say it involves splash pages.

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