NOTE: The Odinson is on vacation this week, so here’s one from the Vault, circa 2012.
Greetings from the Odinson,
Back in the eighties, when writers, artists and filmmakers looked into the future they saw a bleak outcome. Some called it “Millennium Fever.” The turn of the century was nigh and every generation thinks that they will be the last. This was reflected in our comics, television shows, books, and movies. The funny thing about some of these doom-and-gloom predictions is that the dark future that waited for us was never that far off.
Thundarr the Barbarian, a fantastic sci-fi cartoon from the early ‘80s, featured just such a dystopian future. In the year 1994 a runaway planet passes between the Earth and the moon and causes all sorts of havoc on our planet. Earthquakes, tsunami, and fierce storms ravage the planet and mankind is cast in ruin. 2,000 years later, Earth is reborn. But this is a strange new world inhabited by mutants and a warring feudal societies ruled by malevolent wizards and demon sorcerers.
Yet, 1994 came and went, and luckily there was no runaway planet to destroy our way of life.
Master of Horror John Carpenter painted a bleak picture in his film Escape from New York. This film was released in 1981 but according to the storyline the crime rate in America would rise 400% by 1988, just seven years from the time we were watching this movie. And in 1997, Manhattan Island would be turned into the largest maximum security prison in the world. It is surrounded by a 50-foot wall which was electrified and manned with high power guns, and the water surrounding the island was mined. All the country’s criminals are kept here. No one has ever escaped and no one that is not a prisoner ever goes inside, not even guards. Yet, 1988 and 1997 came and went, and luckily the crime rate has not risen 400%.
Sometimes I wonder if we’ve been lucky or if these dystopian visions of the future are just too farfetched to come to past. Maybe it was the pressure of living under the threat of nuclear war. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union had everyone on edge and left some wondering who would drop the bombs first. I remember in grade school doing drills in case the bombs started to fall. Dark stuff I know, but that’s just part of what we had to live with. And, the world of entertainment was not about to let us forget it. Films like Mad Max, Road Warrior, Steel Dawn, Solarbabies, Robocop and comics like Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Starriors and The Dark Knight Returns did not paint a pretty picture of the days to come. In the dark future of The Running Man, people are so poor that they are willing to risk their lives on a reality TV show where they are hunted down by professional killers. Even cartoons got in on the act with dystopian-depicting-yarns like The Spiral Zone, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, and Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.
Our favorite heroes also have a knack for dodging dystopian futures. In Days of Future Past, when the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants led by Mystique assassinate a senator, mutants and mankind go to war. That is when comic fans see a not-too-distant-future where the United States is under martial law and an army of Omega Class Sentinels patrol the country and hunt down all mutants. Most mutants are killed, but some live out their miserable last days in concentration camps. Only a handful of X-Men remain free to oppose this, and even they are not long for the world. It’s a dark future that can only be avoided by the future Kitty Pryde’s consciousness being sent back in time to her younger self so that she can prevent the senator’s assassination.
The World’s Greatest Heroes also dodged the dystopian bullet. In the classic JLA adventure by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter, Rock of Ages, time-displaced Leaguers witness a not-too-distant-future where Darkseid has conquered planet Earth. The world’s heroes are either captured or dead, and the Dark God’s Anti-Life Equation has enslaved mankind. Only a handful of Leaguers remain to mount a rebellion, but they are severely outnumbered and outgunned. This very dystopian future was narrowly avoided in the pages of Final Crisis.
In Terminator, Kyle Reese tells Sarah Connor about a dystopian future where Skynet, a self-aware super computer, declares war on mankind and tries to eradicate it. In the early part of the 21st Century, Skynet first tries to use the world’s nuclear arsenal to do the job. This would become known as Judgment Day. When some humans are left alive to rebel, Skynet turns to using hunter/killer robots called Terminators. This is similar to the plot in The Matrix. Except instead of hunting down humans for eradication, the machine overlords of this dark future grow and harvest humans in fields like food for energy. They keep mankind in check by enslaving their minds in a virtual reality that reflects our own present day. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, mankind’s first contact with extraterrestrial life is almost thwarted by a malfunctioning A.I. called HAL 9000.
I haven’t even touched on the futures of I, Robot, Blade Runner, and The Planet of the Apes. Just more dystopian fun to look forward to. And, Y: The Last Man doesn’t sound like a future I want to see come to pass either. Oh yeah, the ancient Mayan calendar runs out this year. Some people are predicting major changes, whatever that means. So, could 2012 be the last year of life as we know it? *Spoilers* NOTE (from 2017): No.
Growing up in the eighties, whether by nuclear winter, celestial cataclysm, economic crisis, or a machine uprising, the future seemed very bleak indeed. But guess what, the future has come to pass. For most of these scenarios, what was once a dark future has already come and gone, and mankind is still here, and still going strong.
That is unless this world we live in is all an illusion and we are all now stuck inside The Matrix.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell
NOTE: The Odinson has written a book. It is my love letter to the slasher genre of the 1980s. For those interested, there are still FREE copies available to read online. Just follow this link – The Survivors: A Glen Haven Tale.