Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Aftermath

Here's the final installment of Jim Starlin's Metamorphosis Odyssey. The earlier posts in the series can be found here.

"Aftermath (Metamorphosis Odyssey Chapter XIV)"
Epic Illustrated #9 (December 1981) Story & Art by James Starlin

Synopsis: Vanth awakens in a forest, surprised to find that he and Aknaton are alive. Aknaton explains he wrapped them in a mystic bubble that protected them and put them in suspended animation. His astral ego guided them to this world because he sensed Vanth's destiny lay here.

Vanth asks about the others. Aknaton explains that they still live, transformed into beings of pure energy. They are now gods; the Milky Way was sacrificed so that they might live.

It's all gone, and Vanth and Aknaton are in a different galaxy:

Vanth turns angrily on Aknaton. It's all gone--everyone--and they killed them. Aknaton prefers to think of it as sparing them from the Zygoteans. Vanth notes than Aknaton didn't hang around to see his handy work.

Aknaton replies that he had the power to save himself, so he did. He saved Vanth, too, because Vanth's work was not yet finished. His talents are needed:

Vanth doesn't like that:

Aknaton thanks him. He wanted Vanth to kill him. As he dies, he charges Vanth with a task. The people of this galaxy are at a moral crossroads: The can change their worlds into a paradise or spawn a new race of Zygoteans. Vanth must lead them down the right road. If he can't, the Infinity Horn still exists, and he knows where to find it. Vanth must be this galaxy's savior--or its destroyer.

Aknaton dies and Vanth is alone.

Things to Notice:
  • Vanth guns Aknaton down rather than using his sword, which would have had greater irony.
  • The stage is set for Dreadstar here, but with a backstory Dreadstar never really puts to full use.
So in the end, Vanth's story largely recapitulates Aknaton's. He's the last of his "people" (in this case, the entirety of the Milky Way), charged with doing something horrible if he can't set a wrong right. In a sense, his execution of Aknaton passes the burden along.

Starlin has said that Metamorphosis Odyssey was in a sense a meditation on the Vietnam War. All the characters have their own reasons for following Aknaton, the mad architect of the war (with a nose like a caricature of Richard Nixon). I think this on one hand sells the work short, while simultaneously attempting to give its fuzzy allegorical narrative an unearned resonance. It doesn't account for the role grief might play in Aknaton's actions or allow for the consideration he might have made the right choice. Also, it perhaps absolves the others of a bit of responsibility (as the story seems to, honestly) by implying they are dupes rather than the largely willing participants we see them to be.

Looking at it through the lens of Vietnam, what are we to make of the ending? Is it okay to wage a war of annihilation if it's in the name of moral correction? Who gives Vanth the right to make that sort of choice--other than Aknaton whose hands are dirty and whose judgement we must question?


garrisonjames said...

Okay. Now he shoots the mother f*cker. And now he's the one to assume the Last Man's Burden to save these ignorant masses of a new land from themselves using his gift for violence...maybe Starlin saw a lot of Vietnam parallels in this, but really there's a wealth of colonialist fatalism and narcissistic fear-mongering of the 'You're Their Only Hope,' or The Chosen One' sort of self-fulfilling oppressor-prophecy going on. The entire core premise is pretty much a case of 'since we can't deal with it through our superior weapons technology, everyone and everything is doomed, so we had better burn it all down now.' That's not Vietnam; that's a constipated and paternal colonialist-technocrat's failure in the face of other people's success and innovation. The Zygoteans couldn't be dealt with by any means other than wiping out all the galaxy mostly because Akhnaton's people were unwilling to compromise, adapt, change or admit that someone might be in any way superior to them. The horrific part is how in the moment of his people's failure, one lone extremist goes out and destroys everything from spite...all the while promoting his giga-pogrom as some sort of genocidal scorched-earth cleansing on a galactic scale...

Some intense stuff, but it seems to have far more disturbing resonances than simply re-telling the Vietnam experience. Akhnaton out-Hitler's Hitler, and goes on from there. A really rotten bastard that makes Vader look unambitious...

Francis Lee said...

I'd be angry too!

Tom said...

Does Vanth mention the Horn in the Dreadstar series? It's been so long I can't remember, and not having read this before I might have missed it even if he does talk about it.

Trey said...

@Jim - Good points.
@Fran - do have "angry" in your blog name, so that goes without saying.
@Tom - I don't think so, though I haven't re-read it in a while.