Friday, December 21, 2012

Fourth World Fridays: The Forever People #6--"The Omega Effect!"

The Forever People is becoming quite the saga at this point—it’s the closest of the Fourth World books to the formula Marvel had evolved at that point, of endless, ongoing plot threads that weave in and out of an interconnected narrative. We’re now on our fourth issue that comes in sequence, and this is only made more explicit by the return of Glorious Godfrey and his Justifiers, who as you may recall were instrumental in the capture of the Forever People at the end of issue #3. The FP’s had left their vehicle, the Super-Cycle, on the cliff’s above Godfrey’s revival tent, and now a swarm of Justifiers in goofy flying shoes come across it and attempt to destroy it .

However, as the captions tell us…“On New Genesis, the creed is “life!” Programmed to ward off “death”, the “Super-cycle” defends itself!!!” Kirby, it seems, enjoyed using “quotation marks” for “no reason”.

The Super-cycle does an Optimus Prime bit and morphs into a high-tech self-defending fortress with, as far as I can make out, a radar dish made out of one of the wheels, and a laser gun formed from the chrome headers:

It incapacitates the patrol and earns the ire of Godfrey, who then sends an entire legion of new recruits to take the thing on (I couldn’t help chuckling—and thinking of Anakin Skywalker—as the recruits scream “YAHOOO!!!” with childlike glee on being sent out as cannon fodder.) “What’s the secret, Godfrey?” Asks his bespectacled sidekick. “The helmet? The uniform? The creed??” “Earthmen are given all those things at birth!!” beams Godfrey. “I merely justify their readiness to use them!!” Hey! I wasn’t issued a helmet and uniform at birth! Ripoff!!

Anyway, back to the FPs themselves. As you may recall, in the last few issues the Forever People were captured by Darkseid and held captive in Desaad’s torture palace/amusement park, Happyland, until their Mother Box escaped and found a warrior named Sonny Sumo who came and rescued them. Sonny also turned out to possess the power of the Anti-Life Equation which, when used in conjunction with the Mother Box, could be used to destroy free will, and Sonny is currently using it over the park’s loudspeaker to get the guards to surrender and release the prisoners.

Last time I mentioned that it was a little creepy to see the good guys wielding such a nasty power, and in this issue there’s at least some brief discussion of the morality of this. Obviously I can’t really blame them for making use of this ability when thrust into such a tight spot, but Beautiful Dreamer still comments on how “horrible” it is. Mark Moonrider says that, “as wielder of the power, Sonny Sumo is even greater than Darkseid himself!!” which seems like something you might not want to advertise. I mean, what if Sonny decides he likes using this power so much that he’s not going to give it up? It’s a lucky thing he’s shown himself to be such a noble warrior with a great moral code and all that. Also, what would happen if Sonny was to encounter Darkseid himself and start ordering *him* around?

It’s hard not to be a little frustrated here, since Kirby was trying to make a profound comic in some ways, that he pretty much ditched all these questions as soon as they come up. I guess that, for Kirby, when the urge to make a comic that “said something” conflicted with the urge to make a crazy explosive punch-up, the latter won out. It pretty much gets to the root of what I was saying earlier, about superhero comics being somewhat limited in their addressing of more subtle or complex topics due to their insistence on good guys and bad guys. Oh well.

Moonrider blasts a few bits of machinery, starting a chain reaction that causes Happyland to destroy itself. The prisoners crawl to safety, and the police arrive to arrest the meekly compliant guards (though, somehow, the Justifiers get away in their boxy shuttlecraft). Or, at least, most of them do—Big Bear manages to grab hold of one of them as he’s leaving and starts clowning around with it, thus providing this issue’s requisite Big Bear is Awesome moment:

JUSTIFIER: Mad-dog hippie!! You’re holding back this tonnage with your bare hands!!...
BIG BEAR: My stars, sir!! Can it be that high density atoms flow through, and reinforce my own atomic structure?
JUSTIFIER: You moving mattress!! You’re from New Genesis!!
(He shoots at Big Bear, grazing his skull. Big Bear makes a goofy face.)
BIG BEAR: Oops!! Well, Big Bear is my name, sir! – and power is my game!! That’s my bag, sir!! I store an excess of free atoms and send them where they’re needed!! Here, perhaps!!!

Then he hits the bottom of the shuttle and sends the Justifier flying, cartoon-like, out of frame.

(If they ever make a movie of the Fourth World, Big Bear will have to be played by a young version of Brian Blessed. Or possibly Jonathan Rhys-Davies.)

More Justifiers streak in and start firing before being put to sleep by Sonny’s voice power. “I’m glad you stopped this, Sonny!” proclaims Beautiful Dreamer. “Big Bear could have hurt these men!!” Sonny expresses confusion: “But I thought I was saving him!!” Like Big Bear ever needs saving, Sonny. He’s mostly just ticked off about “getting involved in all kinds of violence!!”

Off in the corner, Darkseid and Desaad are having a petty and slightly pathetic blame-fest of a conversation, in which Desaad whinges and Darkseid verbally lambastes him. “Don’t think I shall overlook your cowardice!! Then, all tormentors are notorious for this trait!!” As Desaad points out that there’s not much he can do against the Anti-Life Equation, Darkseid responds with, “Boldness, Desaad! Risk!! The raw meat of existence!!! I shall strike with these!!...And the Omega Effect!!!” Yeah, that’s right, Darkseid, castigate him for not taking risks, then whip out this heretofore-unseen superpower of yours that will let you destroy them all by remote control, without even leaving the room. That’s risk for you. Douchebag.

Darkseid proceeds to generate “finder beams” that shoot out of his eyes and start swooping around in vast curlicues. They don’t have far to look at first: Vykin the Black, hotheaded as always, has decided to barge in and confront Darkseid alone. This is really, really stupid, as, in traditional horror-movie fashion, the black guy dies first. Or gets eradicated from existence first. Yes, the Omega Effect is “The end—the total wipe-out!”, and now it’s streaking around, seeking the FPs.

Mark yells at Sonny to use the Mother Box to protect them, but Sonny and Mother Box are the next ones to go. One by one the FPs are annhiliated by the beams—Moonrider tells the remaining FPs to split up, but oddly, Beautiful Dreamer declares that she won’t leave him, and they go “foom” together. (That’s a little strange—there’d been a vague assumption on my part that Mark and Dreamer are lovers, but this is the closest thing we get to confirmation. And even this is a little vague, to say the least.)

The only one left is Serifan, who immediately breaks down sobbing and attempts to move into the path of the beam to end it all. What a wuss. Unfortunately for him (?) Darkseid turns off the finder beams, having lost interest in killing them all now that “the threat to us—has passed!!” Desaaad screams at him “You would leave such a dramatic experience incomplete? No, sire, no!” But Darkseid slaps him away. The kicker is that I would have bought it much more easily if he’d simply said that he wanted to keep Serifan alive and tormented by the knowledge that he’d failed—I mean, I agree Serifan doesn’t seem like much of a threat—but Darkseid explicitly says that he “doesn’t have the stomach” for Desaad’s sadism. So he’s decided to act like an idiot instead?

It gets even worse: Darkseid suddenly confesses that he didn’t actually destroy the Forever People: he just removed them from existence…in the present. OK, this makes no sense. It’s the height of convenient “villain leaves the room” behaviour that assures these guys will always be defeated. And besides, he just teleported the guy with the Anti-Life Equation—you know, the thing he’s utterly fixated on finding?—completely beyond his own reach. Smooth, Darkseid!

Serifan pulls himself together for the nonce, piles into the Justifier’s shuttle which Big Bear captured and uses it to head back to the super-cycle. Unfortunately, he manages to arrive just as the Justifiers from before launch their attack on it. (Wait—it took them all day to climb the cliffs?) Anyway, we’re now To Be Continued once more…

But wait! There’s a double-dose of Big Bear awesomeness in this issue, with a short back-up feature about he and Serifan fighting off an Apokoliptish patrol back in the days before the two planets openly went to war. Well, actually, it’s about Big Bear fighting them off, and Serifan whining and almost getting killed. My favourite moment is when Serifan glimpses the gigantic cannon the intruders plan to use to bring down Supertown: “It’s a horribly ugly pollutant!” Um, and it’s also about to wreck your home, Serifan. I’m concerned about the environment too, but geez. Meanwhile, Big Bear shows up carrying a huge log, gets shot at, declares “You’ve destroyed my exercise!” and proceeds to trash the invaders. Both of these guys are delusional and self-absorbed, but only one of them is AWESOME. Guess which.

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