27
Jan
12

kirbsday: the paranoid pill!

It’s still Thursday somewhere, right?

Mister Miracle #3 is a bit like last time: an eerie challenger from Apokolips dares Scott Free to face an inescapable trap.  Doctor Bedlam isn’t as frightfully archetypal as Granny Goodness, but he ain’t bad.

Here’s the deal with Doctor Bedlam:

He takes interior decoration very seriously…


He can project his consciousness into those silver furniture-mover robots…

And he has the super power to know Scott Free’s phone number without dialing directory assistance.

“And now to my task!–To subjugate and break the spirit of that young rebel who dared to reject the powers that rule his world–and the master I serve!  The great Darkseid himself!”

That “and” makes it sound like the powers that rule Scott’s world also rule Darkseid.  I don’t know if that’s the intention.  Reading too much into Kirby’s grammar–is probably a mistake!!

radio bedlam animates the anti-life follower

Let me blither for a quick second about the Doctor Bedlam concept.

I love it that this super villain is basically a state of mind: anybody can become Doctor Bedlam if they’re thinking the wrong thoughts.  (Doctor Doom has a similar power.)

Check out the themes going on with Apokolips, though.  In Forever People #3, “Life vs. Anti-Life,” Glorious Godfrey is using a supersonic pipe organ to obliterate critical thinking skills and lull people into becoming perfectly obedient Justifiers.  We’ve seen in New Gods #2 and Forever People #2 that Darkseid hopes to discover the Anti-Life Equation, the infallible method of destroying free will, by terrorizing the citizenry.  It’s your standard Rise-of-Totalitarian-Dictatorship-by-First-Inducing-Societal-Breakdown stuff, and as we’ve seen repeatedly Kirby endorses that theory in very strong terms.

And now as a direct progression along that axis, you’ve got Doctor Bedlam projecting his brainwaves into the mindless, robotic “animates,” who only exist as extensions of his bodiless will.  For my money, the Doctor Bedlam/animate relationship is the perfect demonstration of what the Anti-Life Equation would actually look like, except starting with a regular human instead of an empty robotic shell.

So here’s a little clue about Scott Free’s origin, too.  He’s been tight-lipped about where he comes from so far, though of course long-time Kirby fans know the deal.  But a hint is that last issue, Scott was messing around with a robot, “my people refer to it as a follower,” which appears to operate on the same principles as the animate-robot here, blindly obeying his psychic impressions.  If this was a deliberate hint, it’s delivered with uncharacteristic subtlety, but I dig it all the same.

(By the way, that expression on Bedlam’s face during the possession sequence reminds me of a similar Kirby character, Psycho-Man.)

shut up and summarize

So dig that.  First, there are formal dueling rules on Apokolips.  When Mister Miracle first sees the paranoid pill, he thinks that Doctor Bedlam is going to sedate him, and is outraged.  “You know the code of combat!  You cannot tranquilize an adversary!  He must be equally aware, to take full advantage of what weapons he possesses!”

While I’m a bit puzzled that a dog-eat-dog world like Apokolips has governing rules for bloodsports, it’s nevertheless a good touch for Mister Miracle as a series.  The deal with Mister Miracle is that he’s a super escape artist.  But that gig requires him to constantly subject himself to super-traps.  Which sort of obliges him to let himself get captured all the time, just like he did with Steel Hand in Mister Miracle #1 by making a bet.  I found it a little strange that a Earthly mobster like Steel Hand would consent to a gentleman’s agreement rather than just hauling him out into the woods and shooting him, but at least with super villains from Apokolips there’s apparently a formal process for these sorts of battles which helps to justify Mister Miracle’s affectations.

Second, it’s simply a cool idea for a trap.  As Doctor Bedlam says, “no metal, no gimmickry, no medieval chan or link for you, my boy!  My world is of the mind!”  The super hero has to fight his way past an army of ordinary people driven berserk.  It kind of reminds me of the whole “we want Barrabas!” bit, where the common people torment and destroy their would-be savior.

Yet even though Doctor Bedlam has forsworn any crude physical restraints, somehow Mister Miracle winds up inside a trunk…

Wrapped up in chains and ropes…

And then thrown down a stairwell straight out of Vertigo.  Cool shot, though–you don’t often get a sense of depth in comic books.  TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE!!!

what else is there to say?

Not  whole lot more about this particular issue.  But let’s take small step backward.

The Fourth World Saga lasted about two years of bi-monthly publication–11 issues in each of the three main series.  A couple more of the monthly Jimmy Olsen title, and a few haphazard Mister Miracles once the other titles had been cancelled.  So we’re now about a quarter of the way into the aborted epic.

What we’ve got, basically, is a trio of titles with extremely strong thematic links, and some looser links via some shared setting elements like Darkseid, Mother Box, and Inter-Gang.  The Jimmy Olsen issues don’t feel quite as strongly connected thematically, but then it’s an on-going series with Kirby jumping on late in the game.  Main themes so far revolve around non-conformity, mass craziness, totalitarianism, and (very lightly so far) parenthood.

We’re also deep enough in that the series are beginning to look and feel different.  A Mister Miracle story begins with a stunt rehearsal, interrupted by the arrival of a super villain out of Scott’s past who challenges him to a match; Mister Miracle cheats death, sometimes literally, with the aid of Mother Box.  New Gods opens with cosmic portents, before downshifting to Orion seething for battle before he launches the Astro-Force to protect his simpering Earthlings.  The Forever People features the title characters reacting to quaint Earth customs, sometimes oblivious to our resentment, heartbreak, or danger, but when they deduce that Darkseid’s around they tag in the Infinity Man.  And Jimmy Olsen these days seems to involve Superman showing Jimmy yet another gee-willikers unsettling aspect of the DNA Project, when Simyan and Mokkari try to wreck everything via rampaging mutants.

I’m being very reductionist here, which isn’t fair to the broader ambitions of Kirby’s project, but I’m highlighting these plot formulas for a reason: things will change up pretty soon.  I don’t know whether that’s due to editorial insistence, reader reaction, Kirby’s long-time intent, or just his restlessness taking the series into new directions.  But we’re at the end of the first act, and all of the major characters and their agendas are known to us.


5 Responses to “kirbsday: the paranoid pill!”


  1. 1 Charlatan
    January 27, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    “No medieval chain or link for you, my boy! My world is of the mind… of these people, who will put you in a stereotypical stage trunk, and then bind it with ropes and chains. You know, like you were a magician.”

    “Come now, Bedlam! Where would these psychopaths get such a trunk in an office building?”

    “In a MAILROOM! An OFFICE mailroom!”

  2. January 27, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    You don’t keep heavy chains and a big wooden stake in your supply room next to the toner?

  3. 3 Charlatan
    January 27, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    We have to fill out a purchase order every time. So wasteful!

  4. January 28, 2012 at 4:39 am

    At Sinai, there is institutional memory of a time when it was really hard to get purchase orders fulfilled when you needed vital daily supplies, so now every time you open a closet Houdini devices spill out from their hoarding place.


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