Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Astronaut Theology: Jack Kirby, Astro-Gnostic

Hey Kids- A Tech-Gnostic Alien Eden!

Apparently, two 70s titles about ancient astronaut theory were not enough for Jack Kirby. Aside from 2001:A Space Odyssey and The Eternals, Kirby managed to work some alien-based Biblical revisionism into a title that would seem to be completely inhospitable to it. In this case, Devil Dinosaur - Kirby's wildly anachronistic yarn of giant reptiles and proto-humans created for a possible Saturday morning cartoon - became the focus of Kirby's Sitchinesque obsessions.

If you're looking for an entertaining rundown of the entire Devil Dinosaur series, check out Gorilla Daze's review of it here. If not, the short version is: proto-human boy named Moonboy romps around Pangaea with pet dinosaur (named Devil because of his scarred red skin).

Angels and Demons and Gods and Men

It's amazing how many of Kirby's legion of admirers seem oblivious to Kirby's obsession with AAT, since it's at the very core of Kirby's work from at least the early 70s to the end of his career. When astronaut theology is worked into a throwaway book like Devil Dinosaur - most assuredly Kirby's least-regarded 70s title - it's a pretty sure indicator that intervention theory had become one of Kirby's foremost preoccupations at that time. Kirby even worked related themes like aliens, interdimensional travel and genetic engineering into Captain America, much to the consternation of relevancy-obsessed 70's comics fans.

In this context, we can see The Eternals as Kirby's solution to the dilemmas raised by Thor and The New Gods. Kirby seemed to answer the questions posed by his obsession with the gods with astronaut theology- this wasn't magic and these weren't deities. It was alien technology and these figures became mythologized by primitive human cultures.

Indeed, when Kirby returned to the themes of The New Gods in the 80s with Captain Victory (which was meant as an unofficial continuation of the Fourth World saga) and The Hunger Dogs, the obsession with technology as divinity had overwhelmed the concept's original narrative.

Shamanic Visions and Ancient Astronauts

Kirby's lapse into astronaut theology in Devil Dinosaur began with "Object From the Sky," which - true to Kirby form- presaged an alien/UFO story with a psychedelic/shamanic vision (see below), in this case a prophetic nightmare of Moonboy's (note similarity to "Moonchild").

Terrence McKenna would've been proud...

This visionary nightmare is followed by the landing of an alien spacecraft, manned by robotic colonists. They notice Moonboy has speech capability and take him to the lab for vivisection. Meanwhile, two other proto-humans- "Stone Hand," and a tribal elder/ medicine man named "White Hairs"- escape and enlist Devil in their resistance against the aliens. Robotic astronauts are also a central tenet of Kirby's Astro-Gnosticism. Kirby would steer his 2001 adaptation in Machine Man, based on his belief that space travel- at least at the onset- would be performed by machines. At this point we can also certainly assume that some kind of transhumanist cybernetic human is also being considered for space travel.

The second chapter of the tale was titled - wait for it- "Journey to the Center of the Ants." In this installment, Stone Hand, White Hairs and Devil disrupt a nest of giant ants. The ants are then sicced on the robot colonists, who are in the process of destroying all the native fauna. Throughout the story the protohumans call on invisible gods to aid them in their battle, but it's the action Devil that prove decisive.

Adam, Eve, The Devil and the Fall

The cover tantalizingly christens the next installment "The Fall," but Kirby's own title is "Eev." Here, Stone Hand and White Hairs encounter the proto-woman who lends her name to the story's title. While the ants make mincemeat of the robots, Stone Hand manhandles Eev, whom he selects as his mate to create a new tribe. Kirby cuts off that story there and takes us back to the UFO, which is now in ruins. Moonboy escapes and encounters the "Demon Tree," a remnant of the robot's prime computer. Having been separated from the rest of the ship, the computer is now writing its own commands. The story ends with Stone Hand and his companions confronting the Demon Tree, which now claims to be "all-knowing...all-powerful."

Storming the Gates of Eden

In the last act of the story, Stone-Hand, White Hairs and Eev are ensconced in a protective dome by the Demon Tree computer, who is trying to repel Devil at Stone Hand's request. Devil then trundles off to find Moonboy and the proto-humans find their new abode to be both prison and paradise. After White Hairs dies from radiation poisoning, Stone Hand begins to question the beneficience of their alien protector and rebels.

The computer is then again damaged and Stone Hand enlists Devil and Moonboy (who just happen to be wondering by) to destroy the dome and free them from the would-be deity. As Moonboy and Devil and Stone Hand and Eev go their separate ways, Kirby writes: "The tale of the Demon Tree will be told, of course...many times, many ages...and each time it is told there will be slight differences and changes so that the original version will be lost...and remain true only to those who took part in it."

Be Wise as Serpents...

This story has ancient parallels in the teachings of esoteric Gnostic cults. Some sects interpreted the Serpent in the Garden of Eden as Christ, come to liberate Adam and Eve from the Demiurge, or the fallen creator god of this abortion of a world. Of course, Christians often interpet the Serpent as the Devil, though there's nothing about Satan in the text itself.

What the text says is that the Serpent was condemned to crawl on his belly by Jehovah, indicating that prior to the Temptation he had arms and legs, just as the giant reptile Devil Dinosaur does.

So here we have Kirby reenacting the Garden of Eden story according to the Gnostic interpretation, with the Demiurge being the fragment of an alien computer. Just as did the Demiurge, the Demon Tree claims to be omnipotent and all knowing and imprisons his subjects. Note that even the name "Demon Tree" isn't all that far removed from "Demiurge." Was this intentional on Kirby's part?

Kirby was a voracious reader and spent most of his life in the creative pleroma, but this seems extremely esoteric, even for him. This story hit the stands a full year before Elaine Pagels published The Gnostic Gospels, though it's certainly possible Kirby may have encountered these obscure doctrines elsewhere- or through other means entirely. However, Kirby is not only trying to concretize this strange theology, he's also bypassing the supernatural and ascribing the mystical interpretation of this story to ignorance and corruption.

I've been coming to believe that there could well be an ancient astronaut basis to Gnosticism, since the mystical explanations of this belief system simply present us with a different variety of faith. It seems to me that "Knowledge" must be of something tangible, something that can measured in some way and evaluated. If you look at Gnosticism in the context of Astronaut Theology, Gnostic creation myths start to make a lot more sense- they are metaphorical descriptions of an extraterrestrial prehistory.