Soothsayer Kirby

By | Monday, February 10, 2020 1 comment
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is an excellent piece of cinema and it's often hailed as a classic. Interestingly, the comic book adaptation of the movie however came out in 1976, eight years after the movie's initial release. The treasury edition comic was written/drawn by Jack Kirby, using dialogue not only from the film but also from Arthur C. Clarke's novel as well as an early draft of the script that had some notable changes in HAL's speech patterns. Later in '76, Kirby then launched what turned into a ten-issue series by the same name, but it explored the ideas he took from the movie in other directions.

2001 #5 cover
Of interest to us at the moment is issue #5. The issue starts with a green, monstrous-looking alien hunting down the superhero White Zero. The captions inform us that the year is 2040 and the superheroes of comic books have become an entire lifestyle. White Zero continues battling villains through almost half the book before finally rescuing the princess, only to discover she's the wrong princess! He then calls up management to complain...

It turns out that White Zero is just a fake identity for Harvey Norton, who had paid for an adventure with a business called Comicsville that creates artificial environments specifically for people to pretend to be superheroes. It's a similar idea to what's presented in the Westworld movie, which came out a few years before. However, where Westworld focused almost exclusively on the fictional world/theme park itself, Kirby here focuses more on the society that might give rise to such businesses. What might the world look like that people would be eager for that type of experience and simply couldn't get an actual experience of, say, climbing a mountain or camping in the woods?

The world Kirby creates in scarcely over two pages is bleak. The captions read...
New York, like all large cities of the year 2040 A.D., is a vast community sheltered by an astrodome. It is a great shopping mall, stretching for endless miles -- and Harvey Norton is now just another mote among the shuffling masses... The automated subways are efficient, and as always, overcrowded and overused. The automobile has been scrapped. Only politicians buy the few that are left -- as symbols of prestige... Smog is the mast "outside." Years of apathy have allowed it to thicken until it remain to foul the air for centuries to come. Harvey sees it from the windows of his train. He sees it rotting the structures in the abandoned districts. He accepts it like all the others... Harvey finally reaches the housing area, a massive complex in which millions live and ponder upon the direction of their lives in a world of distorted visions...
2001 #5 page 23
And when Harvey goes to the beach the next day, he shows the reader that it's entirely artificial. "Just another hologram projected on the large walls that enclose the beach--and Harvey's life..." Bleak, huh?

That was the world Kirby envisioned would create something like Comicsville. Not a blissful world of unending plenty, but not a desolate apocalypse either. It's actually not entirely unlike a stepping stone to Kirby's ideas about the Anti-Life Equation he used in his Fourth World series a few years earlier. A prequel idea of sorts. The people shown in Kirby's 2001 aren't entirely without their own agency as is suggested Forever People but they are emotionally/mentally ground down almost to the point of giving in to that should a Darkseid type character come along.

With all that being said, here's a promo video from last week touting a new Star Wars themed hotel/experience that Disney is opening in 2021.
I'll let you judge how close we are to Kirby's vision of 2040, a mere twenty years from now.

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