A revised and improved version of this essay is in my book Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! – hardback, paperback, PDF
Well, I’m back… I’ve got a few posts worked up after my absence. Tonight or tomorrow you can expect the second post on Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, tomorrow a post on Master (the first Big Finish I’m going to talk negatively about), and some point soon a look at Final Crisis and its tie ins.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Darkseid recently, partly because of Final Crisis… some of what I’ve got to say here will be familliar to people who’ve read some of my previous writing about the character, but I’m trying to get to the bottom of why I think he’s a great character, possibly the best villain in comics, even though you could count the good stories in which he’s appeared on the fingers of one hand (Kirby’s original Fourth World comics, Rock Of Ages, Seven Soldiers, Final Crisis (and those three are all really ‘Morrison’s DCU story’), possibly The Great Darkness Saga, and that’s about it (I’m not counting his appearances in Ambush Bug here…)).
While I was away in Oxford, I picked up a copy of Michael Bywater’s book Lost Worlds from a remainder bookshop. Bywater’s book is a collection of short humorous essays on things that have been lost from the world, be they meerschaum pipes, Bywater’s maternal grandfather, Proper Doctors or attitudes to life. It seems at least in part to have been inspired by Bywater’s thoughts about the then-recent death of his friend Douglas Adams (who is only mentioned very occasionally, but whose ghost haunts almost every page), and the conclusion it comes to, in so far as it comes to one, is that without loss we would never know true happiness.
That in turn brought to mind a few other things, but it made me think of a book I read a couple of years ago, which I’ve wanted to post a review of ever since, but couldn’t formulate a proper response to – The Singularity Is Here by Ray Kurzweill.
For those who don’t know, the concept of the Singularity has been accurately described as ‘the Rapture for geeks’. The idea is that we are incredibly lucky to live in a time when a bunch of Baby Boomers who are terrified of their own mortality will not have to face it, as somehow just before they would be expected to die according to the actuarial tables we’re going to invent artificial intelligence, life extension and nanotechnology, so they’ll be able to turn into immortal robots and just keep growing and expanding til they become the entire universe.
My first reaction on reading this piffle was “Well, I can see why he wants that, but he’s an idiot”. Immortality and omniscience seem to me like the only rational goals which humanity should be aiming for, long term – to go for anything less would be rather pointless – but Kurzweill seemed both unimaginative (he assumes that ‘intellectual property’ either could or should be protected in a world in which every problem of scarcity had been solved) and, frankly, so blinded by wishful thinking he’s become functionally stupid. In particular, he seems to think that all straight-line trends you can draw can be extended out to infinity, without ever taking account of limiting factors.
But then my second thought (and I *am* getting to Darkseid, I promise) was “WHY do I think this is a rational goal?”
Kurzweill, of course, takes it as read that most people want to become, in essence, gods, but I don’t think it’s true. There are a large number of people – Bywater apparently amongst them – who actually take comfort in the fact that everything is transitory. But in my case, and apparently Kurzweill’s, two realisations caused me quite major trauma as a child. The first was that I, like everyone else, would eventually die. The second – and I can remember exactly where I was when I realised this – was that there was no way I could ever possibly know *everything*. I was about seven, and it horrified me to think that there were things that I could never, ever know.
It’s quite probable that many people have had similar reactions. After all, one of our primary instincts is to survive, and evolution has consistently favoured those organisms that could best process information about their surroundings. But most people have learned to deal with it – either through religion, or through acceptance.
Darkseid, however, (I told you it was getting to him) hasn’t.
To quote from Rock Of Ages – “I will remake the entire universe in the image of my soul, Desaad… and when at last I turn to look upon the eternal desolation I have wrought… I will see Darkseid, as in a mirror… and know what fear is.”
Darkseid has looked at the Second Law of Thermodynamics and thought “fuck that”. Or, more likely, “Bother not Darkseid with your ‘entropy’ and your ‘universal laws’ Obeisance to laws, made by man or nature, is the morality of the slave. The morality of Darkseid is conquest. Darkseid is all.”
Because Darkseid has taken that childish realisation and decided it doesn’t apply to him. He’s going to be everything. Because this, ultimately, is what an attempt to deny entropy means. It is entropy that prevents any tyranny from being absolute – Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety (one of the fundamental scientific discoveries of the twentieth century, but never as regarded as many others) states that control requires as many options open to the controller as there are degrees of freedom in the thing being controlled, so complete control is impossible. This is because entropy always increases – freedom and death are, ultimately the same thing. You can’t have one without the other.
So Darkseid takes this to its logical conclusion. Remaking the entire universe into himself – getting control over every last quark and meson in it – is the only way he can beat entropy, so that’s what he sets out to do. In this way he’s far more direct than the cheap photocopy Thanos – Thanos *sublimates* his desire – he wants to have sex with Death. Darkseid just wants to destroy death, along with the universe itself, and exist alone, changeless and eternal.
(As Woody Allen put it, “Some people want to acheive immortality through their children. I want to acheive immortality by not dying”.)
But of course, existing changeless and eternal, unaffected by time, is the same as death, isn’t it?
Kurzweill talks in his book about how, once the entire universe has been turned into an information-processing machine in service of immortal human intellects, we’ll have to create new universes in order to keep growing.
This is ultimately why Darkseid is such a compelling villain – because he’s so human.
I’m – just about finished – rereading 52, just to really get myself in the DC mood as a preamble to whatever Final Crisis serves next; it’s okay, 52, there’re terrible bits and great bits… anyway, the Space Odyssey stuff kinda veers toward the former but looking at Lady Styx, she does seem incredibly – in operating fashion, particularly in the excellent Captain Comet issue – like a precursor, or preamble or something, to Darkseid’s full manifestation (1/10/08, iirc) and Veronica Cale, on Oolong Is., seems to have the prophecy open to her (“There will be a final crisis.”)
Um, there was a point when I started? I dunno.
Hmmm, I like this a lot. Thanks to Beast’s helpful signposting I’ve read a bunch of non-mindless ones sanctioned rogues reviews over the last few days, and this is the first one that’s actually said anything I’m really interested in. Helps a great deal that what you’ve written doesn’t simply gesture towards a character’s appearances in the funnybooks or on the telly.
That said, gotta own up to the fact that ultimately this isn’t the way I want to read Darkseid. As far as I’m concerned Darkseid isn’t human at all, he just looks a bit like one. In actuality he’s just what it says on the tin: a god. In order for me to properly explain what that means (both to myself and to everyone else) I’d have to do a write up of my own. I’m hoping GM will do the work for me.
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