Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Think It's So Groovy Now That People Are Finally Getting Together

One of the articles I've had in mind for a long time is a look at "The Quiet Darkness", a story from LSHv4 #21-24 (in the Five Years Later era of the Legion). This is that article.

The plot, first: two young girls, Lori and Aria, are on the run on Zuun; a lot of dangerous people are chasing them, including (it seems) Lobo. They want to turn Aria over to Darkseid, who is working with Aria's father, Dr. Francis Campbell, on something called the Gemini Matrix. The Gemini Matrix has something to do with Aria and her twin brother Coda, who's in a tank in Aria's father's lab. Furball, which is what the unrecognizably mutated form of Timber Wolf was known as at the time, help the girls run away from their pursuers, and other Legionnaires get mixed up in the story too: Brainiac 5, who was on Zuun with Furball, and Ultra Boy, Celeste, and Kent Shakespeare, who get called in by Brainy.

In the end, all the characters arrive at Francis's lab, where Aria and Coda combine to form the Gemini Matrix, with mysterious results: Coda and Darkseid disappear, and Aria is transformed into a cosmic being called Gemini.

It's unusually enigmatic for a Legion story, and more so because it's illustrated by Keith Giffen in his 5YL style, and because there was some other stuff going on with the plot in the back pages of the comic. (Al Gordon, the regular inker of this title, wrote this story; regular writers Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum took a back seat but wrote some other short backup-story-sized material that shared these four issues; more on that later.)

So first let's try my favourite trick when figuring out what a story is about: look at the title. Sounds trite, but I'm serious; the title of a story will often tell you a lot about what the thing's about. In this case, "the quiet darkness" is a phrase that seems, like Raymond Chandler's "the big sleep" and "the long goodbye", to refer to death. And there is support for this; at the end of the story, when Darkseid is fading into what seems like nonexistence, he says, "I welcome this darkness--this [em]quiet[/em] darkness." Throughout the story, Darkseid has seemed weary of the 30th century; he hasn't been able to get angry or worked up about anything. It's by far the most civilized Darkseid has ever appeared (right down to his wardrobe), and it seems due to his anachronistic nature.

(Even Darkseid's speech balloons are different. In the famous Great Darkness Saga, Darkseid's word balloons were blocky and blue-coloured. Here, his word balloons are just the same as everyone else's, except that when he says Francis's name, it's sometimes rendered in a different font, the same font that Francis's dead wife Carole speaks in in a dream sequence. Look at it carefully, though; it's not at all clear to me that whether this effect was intentional or just a copy-and-paste artifact. It works if it's intentional, though, because Darkseid's treatment of Francis was the most villainous thing about his appearance in this story. No, I'm wrong; it must be an artifact: his name looks the same when Brainy says it.)

There was a trend with the 5YL Legion for the Legionnaires to be on friendly terms, often, with their former enemies. Some examples are Cosmic Boy's dinner with Mordru, Spider Girl joining the Legion, and Element Lad and Roxxas working out their differences. Their civil interaction with Darkseid in this story is another one.

Darkseid is further softened by the object of his quest: the Gemini Matrix, which is also called the Life Equation Matrix. The suggestion here is that the Anti-Life Equation that Darkseid's been searching for throughout his history is just a smaller part of a comprehensive Life Equation.

During this story, the characters are often juxtaposed with each other in pairs. Aria and Lori are a pair, as are Aria and Coda. Brainiac 5 and Francis are both scientists who were recognized as Brainiac-level on Colu. Francis and Carole are a pair. Lobo and Furball are both wolf-themed hunters who aren't what they appear (Furball is secretly Timber Wolf; Lobo is actually a clone of the original, created by Darkseid for this mission.) This duality is of course symbolized by the name, the Gemini Matrix.

Here's what I think: I think the real "quiet darkness" is loneliness. The characters in this story are often lonely for the counterparts in their identified pairs (even Lobo tries to hold a conversation with a severed head that he comes across). Yet all the characters are also able to resist that loneliness through whatever companions they have; Aria has Lori, and the Legionnaires have each other, for instance. Only Darkseid has no counterpart, and no way of defending against his loneliness, which, given his situation, must be profound.

Throughout the story, Darkseid considers himself above all the mortal characters, who are all stumbling around in the dark, bumping their heads and thinking that everything they hear is a rat. (Count up all those examples.) All the characters are united in this ignorance, guard and child and Legionnaire alike. Darkseid, though, with his godlike knowledge and perspective, is above all that, but this also separates him from everyone else.

This is where the Gemini Matrix comes in: it combines Aria and Coda into some kind of cosmic superhuman, "the step between man and god", but one that's manifested as a grown-up Aria, while Coda is only sort of there but is also sort of dead: in the last panels of the story we see Coda and Darkseid meeting in some cloudy pink realm, walking and chatting together very cordially. I'm aware that this contradicts me a bit: Darkseid's embrace of "the quiet darkness" has solved his loneliness, not exacerbated it. Still, it's clear that what Darkseid has found is not oblivion but companionship.

The backup features parallel this story to a certain extent; Bounty and Laurel Gand end up working with Circe, who was an enemy, just as the Legionnaires in the main story were more or less cooperating with Darkseid. Also, the Gemini Matrix experiment that Francis and Darkseid were pursuing was hinted at in issues #21-23 and revealed in #24, as were the Dominators' twin experiments of B.I.O.N. and the SW6 batch of youthful Legion clones. Plus, the story's theme of loneliness between sundered siblings (Coda and Aria) was echoed in the frantic letters Dream Girl sent to try to reconcile with the White Witch.

There's a lot about "The Quiet Darkness" that suggests it to be a very profound story: the title, the ambiguous ending, and the cast of characters, for instance. I'm not sure it achieved that profundity, but it was an ambitious and interesting attempt. I'd like to think that most Legion stories fit this description.

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