Saturday, January 22, 2011
Issue Eight: Arcadia Part Four: H.E.A.D.
"Arcadia Part Four: H.E.A.D."
King Mob and Boy bring the psychic projection of the Marquis De Sade to an S&M Club in San Francisco, where he quickly makes friends. They tell De Sade that his mission is to design a utopia - one where everyone, including the enemy, gets what they want.
Percy Shelley continues to retreat into his writing as an answer to his grief over the death of his daughter, but, after an imagined conversation with Lord Byron in which Byron tells him that his remaining family is more important that imagining a utopia, returns to his wife.
Lord Fanny is shown to be unharmed after Orlando's attack last issue, and summons the Aztec god of death to drag the fleshless serial killer back to the land of the dead.
Ragged Robin discovers that the head of John the Baptist speaks in glossolalia - "speaking in tongues" - and that whoever hears it hears only what they want to hear. She tells the Cyphermen they can keep it, and has another conversation with the mysterious chess player about the language's use in the coming end of days.
The group comes out of their trances. King Mob is worried that the various interferences with the mission indicate a traitor in the Invisibles. Dane, traumatized by the loss of a finger, declares he is done with the group - just as unseen agents of the Outer Church prepare to attack the windmill.
De Sade, along with a young girl recruited from the club, pick up a young man named Thierry under a bridge in San Francisco. De Sade initiates him into the Invisibles, telling him he is to be nameless, sexless, identity-less - utterly fluid, and that he will help De Sade devise his new, perfect society. They drive off into the night.
Hedonic Engineering and Development
After the grim absolutes of last issue, H.E.A.D. is all about subjectivity. If collective utopias always fail because the push and pull of human needs rips them apart, then it's time, the argument goes, to remove disparate human needs from the equation. Heaven for everybody, tailor made to their needs (even if those needs are, in the case of the poor Cyphermen, orders).
One of the things that used to bug me about the Invisibles is that, as starkly individualistic as its characters can be, one of the overall focuses of the book is on the positive aspects of letting your identity be fluid and malleable. That bothered me, because, well, my identity is ME. I don't want to give that up. As I type these words, I feel fear at the notion that I'm being unrealistic or overly-rigid in my defense of it. But that's De Sade's mission in the 20th century, learning how to increase that fluidity through the absolute pursuit of pleasure. It's a chance for him to act out every fantasy that's ever rattled around in his brain. That's the point, to create a prototype of a world where everyone can do what they want, and everyone can be whoever they want.
And they'll speak a language of utter-subjectivity, as Robin discovers when investigating the Head. (I wonder... is the text we hear the Head say after the Cyphermen wind it up with their big, goofy adventure-game style key what Robin's hearing? Or are those nonsense words and fragments of previous dialogue what WE want to hear?) A new/old language, with everybody hearing exactly what they want to hear, forever. It sounds... lonely. But better than the alternative, I think. Society can't be brought down by compromises and arguments (as the imagined Byron argues with Shelley - while pointing out the importance of small-scale, subjective happiness over the pursuit of utopia) when there's no need for compromise, and no way to hear arguments.
And in the process, we see another magical initiation, right down to the blue smoke, as Thierry is inducted into the order, blending and losing his identity, gaining his blank badge. (And he's standing against a literal shadow wall, painted with the words "Et Arcadia Ego... The last two pages of this issue are a super-compressed version of the whole comic up to this point, now that I look at it - we're seeing the story played out over 59 issues, but versions of it are happening all around us).
Obviously he'd never seen a trannie before
Speaking of fluid identities, we also of course have Lord Fanny, tossing aside the bits of her that Orlando cut off, and then taking on the identities of various Azetec gods and goddesses to dispatch the little punk. (Xipe Totec, the name Orlando throws around, was a real god, by the way, whose priests apparently walked around in flayed human skins. But he's a much bigger thing - not death, but rebirth, transformation, fertility - than the little demon menacing our crew). At the end of the day, it's that fluidity, that willingness to change and be changed, that saves the Invisibles today.
Just a game
Any time you see a chess game in a work of fiction, the tendency is to try to view it as a metaphor. And the mystery of Robin's chess-playing friend at Rennes-le-Chateau still tickles my brain.
He's still only ever moving the black pieces (who win, in the end, with a movement of the black queen (De Sade, being moved across the chessboard to the 20th century?) (And the white King is cornered and defeated by two black pawns before the win... Dane and Fanny defeating Orlando in his pretty white suit? This is what I mean about chess metaphors). So is he playing both sides? Or against an unseen (Invisible?) opponent? Or, as the framing here indicates, is he playing his game with people observing him and all of the events of this comic from a higher order of reality - which is to say, us?
Honestly, I don't know. He says "us" when he describes the future that everyone is hurtling toward. Is the idea that Death is just as much a part of the human experience as anything else? Or am I badly mis-reading this, and his ambiguity is the whole point? That it doesn't matter which side of the conflict he's on, since we're all going to the same place?
Weird shit goes on all the time
Not much more to say, as we finish our second big storyline, except that this issue gives a great spotlight to our central cast. I may make fun of King Mob for his super-spy aspirations, his big gun and his silly hat, but this issue makes it clear that, when he's not being forced into those roles, he's really just a party-nerd. He's willing to do the other stuff (gets off on some of it), but he really just wants to dance and talk about movies and be Grant Morrison.
Boy doesn't get much to do here, but she's dancing as well, along with reminding us that, for all the fun of being a psychic ghost in San Francisco, the body matters too (just like Shelley remembers that there is pleasure and happiness in his wife's arms).
Fanny we've already talked about, and even Dane puts in a good show here, even if he does throw a wobbler at the end. And while I still don't have anything like a handle on Robin as a character, her bored amusement at the Cyphermen's attempts to subvert or harm her is great.
In other words, this issue makes me like these characters... just in time to see them get shot at.
See you tomorrow!
(A few more thoughts on things I noticed while grabbing panels today, which I'm not going to integrate into the main essay because, disorganized mess that it is, I don't want to spend the time to work out where they go. De Sade tells Thierry he is leaving the house of the dead and entering the land of the truly living. Thierry stepped away from the shadows to do so. Meanwhile, the "living" shadow Orlando is pulled back into the Land of the Dead, by a spirit that identifies with an old world, old sun. So, is that the utopia we're headed for? A separation from the shadows that have haunted the entire Arcadia arc? Pulling away from the shadows being cast on the wall of the past, into the living ontic world of the future?)