Monday, October 01, 2007

The Forever People #4

I got the second Fourth World Omnibus a few days ago, and after reading one issue, I’m once again in awe of what Jack Kirby’s doing here. Forever People #4 continues the exploration of fascism and societal complacency that began in the previous issue’s story about Glorious Godfrey. It’s a startingly effective critique of society, illustrating how people can be so easily distracted from the awful things going on in the world.

The issue’s conceit is that the Forever People are trapped in an amusement park that’s actually designed by DeSaad to torture people. This sort of concept has produced a myriad of awful stories, like say, every single story involving Marvel villain Arcade. There, the amusement park was just an excuse for goofy visuals and inane death traps. Here, the major reveal of HappyLand is decidedly more sinister. The caption asks “Who among us would rush to aid the victms of this cruelty—when the sights we see and the sounds we hear are bright and joyous? For are we not in Happyland?”

When you look at an issue like this in light of what Kirby experienced in World War II, it becomes almost oppressively sinister. The people are so easily distracted by the attractions here, they don’t notice the screams of their fellow citizens. He uses a sci-fi device, the “master scrambler” as an allegorical representation of the way that we let empty pleasures obscure the darkness around us. Look at America today, no one wants to look at the real horrors of Iraq or Guantanimo Bay, it’s easier to live in Happyland.

The issue is notable for the fact that it spends more time with Darkseid than it does with the Forever People. We’re made to understand his view of things, most notably in the amazing scene where Darkseid walks among the people, at home in the crazy world of the amusement park. The adults have been hardened to sublimate their fears, and just accept his presence without mention. Only a child, who has not yet been numbed by societal coping mechanisms, recognizes the real evil in him. Darkseid understands the way adults have consigned evil to children’s stories, accepting only the surface of what they see.

The rest of the issue focuses on the various tortures of the Forever People, in each case, the fun that the park visitors are having is converted in pain and fear for our heroes. The implicit message is that the distractions we indulge in to avoid the pain out in the world is letting dark leaders pursue their own agendas. One need not stretch things far to connect this story to today’s political situation, and a war that exists in the shadows, deaths happening far away while we’re all in Happyland, giddily unaffected.

It’s interesting to see Kirby’s radical belief in the power of freedom. People today generally write off that generation as conservative believers in a set social order. But, Kirby clearly believes in freedom and change and progress. This issue, and the previous one, are deeply affecting critiques of fascism and the way that leaders can make people oblivious to the awful things going on around them. I used to wonder how people could go along with the slaughter of an entire religious group during the Holocaust, but looking at America today, it’s not that the people went along with it, it’s that a few leaders were deeply committed, and everyone else just didn’t care enough to stop them.

While these issues have some goofiness, I don’t think that should obscure the very real, important points they have to make. This is a perfect example of using genre conceits as a way to illustrate very real world points that would come off as preachy if they were presented in a real world context.

And, amid the darkness, we still have hope, in the form of Mother Box. If the anti-life equation is total control and the loss of individuality, Mother Box is the human spirit, it cannot be destroyed by Darkseid, it will escape and live on, and eventually lead to freedom. That is the direction humanity is moving in, and it is only through our fight against the darkness that we can become strong enough to accept a better destiny.