… for something that isn’t really real.
Cross-posted from Panel/Ferret Press
Let me state up front that any attempt to analyze Jack Kirby’s New Gods is probably doomed to failure. The King was worked too instinctively to submit to a linear analysis. Grant Morrison probably comes closest, but he still falls flat with ideas like “weaponized metaphors” and whatnot. Everyone who follows Kirby sounds like they’re trying too hard.
This won’t stop me from trying, however.
I am referring to the original text, Kirby’s Fourth World saga and the Hunger Dogs, rather than the canon that has built up after it.
I’ve already established that Darkseid is Not So Big; also, he’s Not So Evil. In the original series, he’s the only citizen of Apokalips shown expressing any human emotion, as he openly pines for old friends he’s disintegrated. Although he enjoys messing with people’s heads, he doesn’t enjoy violence. Darkseid refers to war as “the cold game of the butcher.” When we see a younger Darkseid, Steppenwolf refers to him as being meek.
In the original Kirby Konception, he’s one of the more nuanced and sympathetic characters in the piece. He starts out as Space Hitler, moves through Space Nixon, and ends up as Space King Lear by the time of “The Hunger Dogs.” Why does Kirby depict him in such a soft light? It’s possible that, as Kirby spent more time with Darkseid, he became more sympathetic to his great villain. But let me search for a different interpretation.
First, let me zoom out: What is a god? From a late 20th-century perspective, we’re used to a god who is more-or-less a superhero. He is all-powerful, but He also takes a keen interest in people’s lives and their individual situations. He may be vengeful or He may be helpful; it’s His choice.
One premodern view holds that gods are more like forces of nature than rational beings. They fit predefined roles and fight pre-ordained battles. Apollo must drive his fiery chariot across the sky every day. Ishtar’s lover must die every year, and her tears bring the spring rains. Shiva must unmake the world. Jesus must die on the cross. Zeus must turn into a swan and get his freak on.
Humans in Jack Kirby’s New Gods have little ability to fight the gods, but on the other hand, they have free will. They may choose to fight or run away. They may choose sides and switch back. Most New Gods, by contrast, follow their nature. The only New Gods who struggle against their natures are Orion, who follows his warlike nature but channels it to “good” ends; and Darkseid, who at times seems downright conflicted.
In his later depictions as the “end boss” of the DCU, Darkseid is often depicted as the “god of evil.” I believe that gets him wrong. He’s rather the god of ambition. But as one of the less powerful New Gods, that leads him to a life of scheming. He must learn to suppress his hunger for power and take the long view. And the main skill he needs, as a manipulator, is the ability to understand other people.
Once he learns to see the world through other peoples’ points of view, he opens himself up to choice. More crucially, he opens himself up to self-doubt. I would argue he essentially abandons his godhood (and becomes more human) in his pursuit of ultimate power.
That’s dangerous for Darkseid. He is no longer a god, and he must create ever-elaborate monuments to himself to cover it. The incessant displays of power show a creature who is deeply insecure about his position.
My sense is that the other Apokaliptians would be happy to just roll the iron dice and make war forever, but Darkseid knows he can’t afford a protracted conflict. He doesn’t have the stomach for it. In seeking the Anti-Life Equation, he seeks a way to control the universe without bloodshed – before his subjects smell his weakness and tear him to pieces.
Up top there is the very talented Alycia Yates, who portrayed Susan Downs in the two movies. She has new stuff coming out all the time, including the recent “Coathanger.” It’s a wicked, clever piece of business that you should watch immediately.
You gotta push past some douchiness, but Bret Easton Ellis has the best stuff to say about novels vs. screenplays and adapting fiction into movies.
A screenplay is very utilitarian. It’s a blueprint for the movie, which is a collaborative thing. Your job is to give everyone the idea for the movie, hopefully have all the scenes in order, and have dialogue that moves the story forward. That’s bare-bones. Of course, then you can write a good script with good dialogue—it doesn’t all have to be expository. That really is your job as the screenwriter. I would never write a screenplay the way that I write a novel. It’s pretty simple, because it really is all about structure. The director is going to interpret it in a certain way, and the actors are vital collaborators, because they will bring their own essence to each role. The editor will change things, and you might not get that location, so that changes the feel for the scene you wrote that took place in an exterior but because of budget restraints in now an interior.
Comics are very much the same way.
Sidenote: I once read BEE’s “American Psycho” in one sitting, while riding a train from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. I don’t recommend that.
Normal caveats about telling someone a dream apply …
I sometimes have really cinematic dreams that are actually very enjoyable for me to watch. Here’s one:
I dreamt that my wife, daughter and I were vacationing in time, in the early 1990s. We were on some kind of resort island. Just as we were about to get in the time machine and go home, my daughter ran away and I had to chase her. My wife was recalled on the time machine, stranding me and my daughter in the past.
My daughter and I had to make our way in the early 90s, without Mommy. Since this was the early 90s, it was almost impossible for me to find a job without identification. Also, I was used to the internet, and I had a hard time doing my job. My daughter just missed her Mom.
We spent a lot of time trying to leave marks so my wife could find us from the future. It was kind of like losing someone in the mall, but way worse. Also, this was pre-4square, so we couldn’t just “check in” someplace.
I don’t know if it’s a viable story or not. But it was affecting as it happened.