Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Armageddon 2001 Revisited: Part 1

I've recently been trying to sell a number of items on eBay to clear out some clutter and (hopefully) to make a little bit of extra money to keep my financial head above water in preparation for some expected lean times ahead. One of the auctions that recently closed was something of an experiment. Noticing that comic auctions often tended to end without bids, but not being able to locate a comic shop in my area that buys comics any more, I took advantage of the "Flat Rate" box provided by the USPS to auction off a set of 60 comics, all published by DC, and taking care to include several complete storylines (rather than a random assortment). That way, I hoped to attract buyers with a low-cost auction (even after shipping) containing a large number of books. I'm sorry to report that I only got one bid on the auction, but at least I didn't lose money (even after accounting for eBay and PayPal fees), and the few cents I made is still better than I would have done by throwing the books out!

Going through my old comics to set up the auction, I had occasion to re-read the Armageddon 2001 story that DC published back in 1991. This event was one of a series of summer "events" that comic book companies have been doing for the past couple of decades. Since it attempted to chronicle the events of a "future" that is now in our past, it seemed worthwhile to revisit this tale.

The first issue shows us a dystopian future, somewhere around the 2030's. The main protagonist, one Matthew Ryder, was saved as a child (in 1991) by a costumed superhero. Although Ryder is unable to remember which hero saved him, this pivotal event led Ryder to a fascination with heroes that would last into adulthood. This fragment of a memory would prove especially haunting to Ryder as, in the year 2001, all the world's superheroes were betrayed and killed by one of their own: a figure who came to be known only as "Monarch," who ruled the world of the future with an iron fist.

I'll deal more with the characters of Ryder and Monarch in future posts. For now, I'm going to focus on Armageddon 2001's vision of the future. Of course, there was no way that the writers of this comic book in 1991 could have known that the year 2001 would also be a pivotal point in real history, when the attacks of September 11th took place. One can only remark on the unfortunate parallel, and move on to discuss the impacts of these history-changing events.

In Armageddon 2001, the elimination of the world's superheroes paves the way for Monarch to rule the world as he sees fit. The story portrays Monarch as a "Big Brother"-like figure (if you're unfamiliar with the reference, check out George Orwell's 1984), seen in statues and posters everywhere, but who seldom intervenes in events directly, preferring to allow the police authorities to carry out his totalitarian rule. One particularly intriguing example of this is the use of "preemptives" — police actions designed to take out potentially dangerous criminals before they have a chance to strike. If any legal system exists in the world of the future, it is not seen in the pages we are given. The police strike swiftly and lethally, and civilians sometimes get caught in the crossfire (as evidenced by one incident in which Ryder saves a small child who is nearly struck down during a "preemptive" strike, and is berated by the authorities for his heroic action).

Now, all we get to see of the future of Armageddon 2001 is a point that would still be a few decades away. The story doesn't tell us what Monarch was able to do at intermediate points in time — say, a mere 6 years after that world's history-changing event. The policies Monarch imposes upon his world of the 2030's are undeniably more severe than anything we see in our world today. But as I look at the real world, and some of the policies that the US has taken in the 6 years after the September 11th attacks, I see some disturbing parallels.

I'll have more to say, including some reflections upon Monarch's motives, in my next post.

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