Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wizards, Workings and Walk-Ins Addendum: Lifeforce

A funny thing happened after I finished the Wizards, Workings and Walk-Ins opus; I started looking through some of Kirby's late-period Marvel work for variations on the themes we explored.

Of course, given The Eternals, the King Solomon's Tomb storyline in Black Panther that obviously inspired Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the Gnostic Eden story in Devil Dinosaur, there's no shortage of truly anomalous themes in his work from that period, but I was looking for that particular mix of UFOs and the occult that we explored in the series. And one storyline in particular stood out...

The 1976 Captain America Annual (which hit the stands in January) had Cap fending off a UFO invasion in a rural community all by himself. In normal continuity, you'd have 10,000 superheroes flying in and destroying any sense of real jeopardy, which is one of the reasons that Kirby was so annoyed by having to deal with the continuity that he co-created in the first place.

But there are a couple of weird clues in this story which are worth looking at.

First of all the very strange orange popsicle-type spaceship design that we saw hit the stands in the issue of Amazing Adventures cover-dated the same month as the Betty and Barney Hill abduction makes a re-appearance.

UPDATE: Here's a freaky sync with Mike Clelland's encounter on The Hidden Experience. Read as soon as you're done here.

Even stranger is that after a bit of bait-and-switch Cap ends battling a space vampire who feeds on "lifeforce," as he tells us repeatedly throughout the story. In other words, very much the same plot as Colin Wilson's novel Space Vampires, which would hit the bookstores a mere two months later.

Now, the two gentlemen may have met and compared notes at some point but I can't find any evidence of that at all right now. Kirby loved to borrow an idea as much as the next guy (he knocked off Rollerball around the same time in Cap's monthly title) but I can't find any evidence that he had seen Wilson's manuscript or vice versa.

Given Kirby's track record, we might have to chalk this up in the weirdness column.

The dialogue in the final page of the story seems to have been given a polish by consulting editor Marv Wolfman but Kirby has Cap meet with some "Majestic-12" types, who basically tell the superhero to keep his god-damned mouth shut about the alien invasion, and that maybe someday (read: "never") they'll tell the whole truth about it to the public.

And it all ends with Cap speaking for Kirby and telling the readers to keeping watching the skies because the Truth is out there and so on and so forth.

A few years later Kirby fan Dan O'Bannon would team up with Tobe Hooper for the Space Vampires film, which was renamed Lifeforce for American release. The film starred a woefully miscast but highly resonant Steve Railsback (who played Manson in Helter Skelter and Duane Barry in The X-Files) and boasted an Oscar-worthy performance by Mathilda May as the Queen of the Space Vampires.

Well, if not an Oscar than an AVN Award, for sure.

Kirby would unleash a whole host of weird ideas afterward, but his final storyline in Captain America also bears a look. In "The Night Flyer" Kirby introduces us to another Lex Luthor (and by extension Crowley) lookalike named Kligger, who heads over The Corporation, an organized crime concern masquerading as a legitimate business. So Kligger's gal friday Veda suggests they hire the Night Flyer, a "ritualist" killer, to deal with a stool pigeon under SHIELD protection.

And here we meet the Night Flyer, who talks on a strange telephone with Death himself, or perhaps the Devil or even some lesser demon. Or maybe an alien posing as Death. Or maybe it's just a jacked-up Malibu Barbie play phone. Who knows? The concept itself is important, since this ties into this whole idea of electronic communication with invisible entities that is such a thruline with this series and Kirby's work in general.

And here we see the Night Flyer take off in his hang glider (I can't seem to find the story, but the boys at DARPA had apparently read this story too since they were talking about outfitting soldiers with identical gear a few years back). Not to belabor a point but the vector-shaped glider and the round head and the big, black goggle-eyes basically bring us right back to...oh, never mind.

The daemonic communication idea seemed to get a hold of Kirby, as did the idea of high technology and the pursuit of perfection being turned against us. We looked at Kirby's run on 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I may have explained that halfway through the series (which was really just a ten-issue gimme tacked onto the deal for the movie adaption) Kirby decided that the Star Child was hogwash, and that humankind will never reach the stars-- we'll build machines to do it for us.

Kirby hated working on other people's ideas anyway so he decided to use the book to launch a new character that would eventually get his own title (Machine Man) when the contract with MGM was up. The covers here are interesting in that they have absolutely nothing to do with the Space Odyssey concept at all, but have Mister Machine (aka X-51) as King Kong/Ape of Thoth figure (which never happens in the story), fighting egg-shaped UFO kind of craft (taking us right back to the Amalantrah Working) and appearing as a John the Baptist-type sacrificial figure.

The origin of Mister Machine is in an underground base in the middle of the desert (cough, Dulce, cough) where X-series androids are being built to explore space. After a Blade Runner-type rebellion by the androids (cough, Dulce, cough), the military decides to nuke the whole damn thing and start from scratch.

I wonder if Anthony Sanchez read any of this.

And those of you familiar with Dulce arcana will be gratified to note that the X-series androids are yet more vaguely Grey-types in the Kirbyverse.

Kirby shoehorns the Odyssey mythos into all of this by having the Monolith appear and grant X-51 sentience or consciousness or something-- I don't know, he doesn't seem a bit different from the other X-series androids at all.

And here's where it gets even stranger- Kirby introduces another of his countless secret societies, the "Brotherhood of Hades," whose goal is "universal mind control." Their means will be the "Mind Monitor," which is essentially the Internet. With the Devil's face via a hologram for you Blue Beam buffs. In 1977.

The leader of this cult is one "Mister Hotline," just to continue to drive home this theme of daemonic communication. He's not entirely un-Crowley-like himself.

Hotline wants Mister Machine for some reason or other (he's referred to as a "virus," in keeping with the proto-Internet meme here) and sends out more round-headed, goggle-eyed types to abduct the android.

Note the very prescient use of a suicide vest.

Of course, Mister Machine beats the bad guys- temporarily. But with his own series in the offing, Mister Hotline and the Mind Monitor are too good as villains to be defeated completely.

And of course, this brings us full circle to the alien channeling/walk-in we looked at back in "I'll Show You How to Bring Me to Your World," which took place in Machine Man's own series.

And what's a walk-in without an interdimensional portal? Not much I'd say. Just goes to show that Kirby's obsessions were still going strong in 1977, a good twenty-plus years after he first started obsessing over these weird ideas. And believe me, fans thought this stuff was all weird as hell. Not your usual geek fodder by any stretch....


  1. Hey Chris,

    Another powerful post. The connections you continue to uncover never cease to fascinate! This idea of electronic communication with unseen entities that you highlight in this series is extremely interesting to me.

    For some reason it brought to mind an old 1989 Gnostic-tinged movie called 'Shocker', featuring X Files Alumni Mitch Pileggi as a serial killer whose spirit becomes pure electricity after being executed. An interesting scene in that movie is how just before his execution Pileggi's character is seen communing with demonic entities through a rewired Television set.

    The film is also notable for a cameo by Timothy Leary, playing a television evangelist! The film is a total B-movie but it also features a very superhero-style climactic battle between the killer and his son that has them bouncing around the airwaves, in and out of television shows and old movies, breaking reality/fantasy barrier with macabre glee.

    I only mentioned it because it seemed in keeping somehow with the themes of this series of posts. Also, Mitch Pileggi's 'Horace Pinker' in that movie is a bald occultist, making him somewhat Crowley resonant. Great work, as ever, Chris.


  2. This AI-worshipping Brotherhood of Hades is quite a revelation for me, thank you for that. I say this because I've had an idea for some time that the internet is evolving into some kind of Satanic superorganism - -that the "Global Brain" is not going to bring some benevolent global consciousness but some kind of Luciferian or Lovecraftian overmind. So I can easily envision a cult like this emerging among the so-called “Singularitarians”; here again, Kirby may turn out to be a prophet.

  3. Wow … Lifeforce … I raced to see it opening day at the Waverley Theatre in Greenwich Village, now renamed this, and just love your connexion with it to the mythic Walk-In archetype.

    Mid-20th century Warlock, Robert Cochrane, who, please note, ended his own life at the age of thirty-five, had reactivated a coven, actually more at a house, seeing that its members aren't limited to merely thirteen in number, that he claimed to hail in lineage from 17th century Scots witches. It was, and is, as it is still active, the Clan of Tubal Cain. Cochrane's premise to gaining magical individual sovereignty was to actually permit oneself to be possessed by a familiar spirit, without whose influence one wouldn't have power.

    Mind you, I wholly disagree with the necessity for this, being a hereditary mys'elf, and not given to renting space to Walk-Ins.

    Wonderful to watch as you plumb these primordial depths, Chris. Remain thrice blessed in your endeavours. Peace …

    From Apple Mountain,
    Anadae ~ Mage, Seer

  4. Hello Chris,
    you mention Dulce, am I the only to think X-51 is a hint to Area 51 instead ? It would be interesting to know if when Kirby published 2001, he could have heard about it. It thought the base became famius in the 80's. Can anyone find an earlier pop culture reference to Area 51 ?

  5. C O R R E C T I O N: Excuse, please, my hyperlinked flub, above … I had meant to say that the Waverley is now known as & is re-appointed as this particular venue. Still looks like fun. Miss that whole neighbourhood. Safe journeys, all.

  6. Hi Chris,

    Thanks a bunch for all the recent Kirby posts. Back in the 70s Kirby was a huge influence on my little mind. I bought anything with Kirby art (still have a copy of Justice Inc. in my collection) and thought OMAC was better than Superman. Looking back on it now, I had no idea that there was anything wild or different about his work - wasn't this the world around me, with In Search Of... (featuring Lenny from the West End), The Exorcist and men on the Moon? Of course there could be a Brother Eye and giants with mohawks, why not!? Time since has seemed to me a long, slow walk towards the Kirbyverse - and the secret struggle between those who would ensure it, and those opposing it (so often it seems they overlap!)