Hello earth-dwelling mud worms, I am MODOK ... no, wait, sorry, the air's a little thin this high up in the stratosphere, and it makes me loopy every now and again. I meant to say that I am the super-evolved 2001 Space Baby, not to be confused with the 2001 New Year's eve baby. First off, I am not a chubby cheeked cherub bedecked in diaper and year-bearing sash whose youthful ebullience seems to portend an upcoming year of renewed hopes and dreams. Secondly, I can destroy your brain with my space rays! BAM! SPLAT! Haha, I love that bit.
Anyway, with the closing days of the year upon us, I bring you
one honkin' big monolith of a weird-ass comic. And speaking of monoliths, I've been meaning to tell you - me and the other super-omniscient mysterious
forces of universal inscrutability must've left about a MILLION of those freaking monoliths lying around your planet, all over the place, just waiting for you to stumble across them and get all evolved and shit. And you dirt-jockeys DIDN'T FIND A SINGLE ONE! I personally put on
in the Mall of America with my own two hands, so I don't know what your problem was.
Anyway, 2001's over, so you lost out. Enjoy not being an all powerful Space Baby, I'm off to peek into the girls' shower on Rigel-4 ...
With the last few days of 2001 looming upon us - and no damn monolith in sight yet, screw you for lying to us, Arthur C Clarke - I thought it was a good time to get on to that review of the comic version of 2001 I'd been telling myself to do all year. SO I hunted down the individual issues - briefly puzzled over why I had three copies of the first ish - and set down to read them, coming across my first crisis of conscience in the history of this feature.
But first, to the backstory ... It's 1976, and Marvel releases the first issue of 2001:A Space Odyssey, with Jack Kirby helming the project. Thankfully not a movie adaptation, the series is actually some sort of thematic spin-off, initially telling stories
revolving around human beings who are suddenly and unexpectedly visited by the Monolith, and later telling the story of a purple robot with stretchy arms - which is SO Clarke's vision for the concept, I bet. Vive le difference.
You KNOW that Kirby had to be drooling at the idea of tackling this project, which admittedly fares a lot better than some of his other work for Marvel around the same period (Anyone want to debate for the Eternals? I thought
not). Here we've got a story about an enigmatic and omnipresent force which visits humans in the midst of important turning points in their personal and social evolution, and MAKES 'EM INTO SPACE BABIES! That's Kirby writ large, my friends.
So I read these things, and it leads to my earlier-mentioned
crisis of conscience - specifically, that they're not that bad. In fact, on more than one occasion, while ENJOYING the stories, I had to remind myself that I was reviewing these to lambast 'em on the site.
Such is my burden.
The stories work pretty well, particularly if you look at them as dipping into the tradition of the pulp era of Science Fiction stories and such writers as Ray Bradbury of Arthur C Clarke himself. The driving theme of the book - for most of its run, until Machine Man appeared and the feel of the book changed dramatically - was of human beings driven by desire and a deep sense of destiny meeting the monolith, and thereby becoming space babies. Vive le space babies.
The series is a fun read almost entirely because it's Kirby at the wheel, but this stuff is honestly not his best. Most hampering to the whole project is the fact that the dialogue keeps swinging back to the monolith, and to how human beings chase larger destinies, and then how eventually they change to space babies. In fact, the story keeps kind of changing course every five pages, I guess to simulate the format of the last few minutes of the film which inspired the stories. On top of that, Kirby had a way of using stilted language to emphasize that you were dealing with cosmic forces, and that way was to be fucking bizarre and confusing and to sort of make you feel small in comparison to the universe by the tried and true method of being largely baffling and non-euclidian.
This book was indeed space baby intensive. It was also, despite the fact that I DID enjoy it in the long run, really-hard-to-understand-intensive. And what made it even more confusing was that I started to read that one ad where Spider-Man and Captain America ride giant toy cars through a fakey net to save the president, or something, and I TOTALLY DIDN'T REALIZE THAT WASN'T PART OF THE STORY! Save us, Cap and Spidey! Break the web that covers Washington DC, and touch the monolith, and become space Spider-baby and space Captain America-baby!
Anyway, besides what can be called "occasionally trying dialogue," it also hurts the story a lot to compare it to the original film and book. When I read about Harvey Norton, citizen of New York 2040 AD, and about how he spends his free time pretending to be a super hero in a live action theme
park, then becomes an astronaut after a disappointing day at Coney Island, and rescues a big headed alien lady from big headed alien men and they go to a place where there's a thing, and then she goes far away and he dies, and he becomes a real super hero and then he gets real old and he dies, and then he's a SPACE BABY ... well, it makes me reminisce about Clarke's moralistic epic, and any comparison drawn is not flattering.
2001-the-comic didn't have much in the way of a regular cast, if you exclude the monolith and - you know - space babies. One issue would feature a clever neanderthal (in Kirby-speak, NEO-MAN) who hunted alone from his pack, the next a Bronze Age warrior seeking domination of a world, and the next CAPTAIN AMERICA AND SPIDER-MAN RIDING ROCKET CARS! VROOOM! All seeking the monolith to push them to the next stage of their evolution ... well, except Spidey and Cap, who sought Hostess Fruit Pies with which to beat villains.
Eventually, the book grows its very own recurring character,
just in time to end the series as a whole.
The series both picks up and starts to fall the hell apart around about the point they decide to change the format, switching it from a charmingly incoherent series about people talking to closet doors into a series about ... well, a Kirby hero. With all the glory and gaudiness that represents. God bless
Mister Machine debuts, known better to us now as Machine Man and not known to us at all back then whatsoever. The long and short of the story is that Mister Machine is actually military destroying-things-robot X-51, the last one of his project to be destroyed. They have to be eliminated, you see, because they tend to start questioning their purpose in existing, and then start beating the holy fuck out of everybody, making them dangerous. Indeed, I did the same during my first few weeks of Western Philosophy 101, Freshman year.
X-51 is special and totally-not-apeshit-and-killing-everybody because he was taken into the home of Professor Stack, head super-genius (but not space-baby) of Project Create-Robots-That-Destroy-Shit. Prof. Stack gives X-51 an identity, a warm and loving home, a sense of purpose, and a shiny purple jumpsuit. Despite his not-killing-everybody-and-being-apeshit status (and I think that'll be the last time I use the 'joined by hyphens' gag in this article), the military decides that X-51 better be blown up, but good, and begin pursuing him as he rushes into the real world.
Formula abounds as X-51, now calling himself Mister Machine ("I'm in mechanics," LOL) is sort of adopted by a young boy named Jerry, becomes part of a small family unit, and is pursued by an obese Green Hornet lookalike and devil-worshipper by name of Hotline. In fact, the series SO takes a twist away from the 2001 premise that X-51 actually tells the monolith to go jump in a lake, or words to that effect. Well, by
"to that effect" I mean "Not at all like that," but the message is clear:
"The monolith better go soak its head, Machine Man's on the scene!"
So the monolith disappears, Machine Man takes over the book, and there's no longer any reason to call the book by its current name, but we can't change history (We just become phantoms if we go back and try. And if you get the joke, you're a fucking geek). Eventually, Mister Machine ends up fighting - of all things - SATAN, who wants his ... mechanical soul .. .to learn how to ... subvert everyone's will ... and Mister Machine is dissected ... but his body parts attack his captors ... and ... um ... the ellipses represent that I don't understand what the hell is going on in this comic whatsoever.
And this is 2001:A Space Odyssey, the comic book. Much like 2001:The Real Goddamn Year, it started off fine, then made no sense, totally baffles everyone who lived through it, and sort of makes everybody sad until they realize that irony really isn't all that dead. Or at least, that's how I came out of it, you all may have different stories. And those stories may end with
you becoming space babies, which is great for you, but please resist the urge to share ...
•Your sticktuitiveness is your most admirable quality, Roy.
•The Con turns ugly.
•HUG ME, YOU RAT BASTARDS!