Saturday, February 06, 2010

Aku Woo And The Matrix

On the surface planet Aku looks like any other world populated by terran-type humans. The Aku inhabitants have created a super-scientific civilization, suggesting what the planet Earth might become in the future.

But appearances are deceiving. The entities living on Aku's surface are phantoms, thought-images projected from corporeal bodies in suspended animation underground.

Of course, the world Aku isn't real. It only exists in the pages of a Green Lantern comic book story called “The World of Living Phantoms,” published in GL #6 in 1961. Back in the days when a comic sold for a mere 10¢. The price was plainly displayed on the cover with big type. Compare that to today's comics that hide the price in tiny print, outrageous sums like $3.99 / 4.99 / the-sky's-the-limit.

Besides the large price box, there was also a seal stamped on the cover in the upper right-hand corner: Approved by the Comics Code Authority. After parental hysteria in the 1950s that tried to connect comic books with juvenile delinquency, impaired eyesight, sexual deviancy and other evils, comic book publishers formed the CCA to make sure their publications were wholesome (i.e., bland), thus assuring no governmental oversight.

But getting back to Aku and its sleepers with phantom bodies. Now this SF concept sounds familiar. Ever see the movie The Matrix?

Maybe The Matrix was inspired by this story; who knows? If you dug back far enough you might find the sleepers-with-phantom-bodies concept in some old "scientifiction" pulp magazine.

Unlike the humans in The Matrix, the people of Aku have willingly put themselves in suspended animation to live longer, experiencing life through a projected reality.

But one day an alarm goes off. The projected Doppelgangers acquire independent thought, they become evil. The living phantoms set out to destroy the original physical humans but are stopped by a superhero from Earth, Green Lantern.

After defeating the evil phantoms, Green Lantern uses his magical power ring to examine the mental switchboard that creates the thought images. He discovers that two of the sleepers, Cosmo and Alyshha, are causing a short circuit that allowed the phantoms to act independently. Unlike the other sleepers, the Aku couple want physical bodies to express their love, so GL releases them from suspended animation.

As the reanimated couple walks away, hand in hand, GL thinks: "So now there will not only be thought-phantoms moving about the strange world of Aku -- but also a real flesh-and-blood living pair. And who knows... but some day a whole new race -- not of sleepers but of real people -- may spring from this."

Then Green Lantern flies off to take care of a menace on another world.

But wait a minute -- this whole physical body/virtual reality situation leaves open some big questions.

Aku phantoms can't engage in physical contact or at least the simulation of it? With their advanced science Aku sleepers can't add virtual sex to the mental switchboard? Or virtual pregnancy and procreation?

Granted, this GL story was written back in 1961 before terms "virtual reality" or "The Matrix" became common -- but for some reason the whole issue of physical/phantom sexuality was glossed over.

Curse you, Comics Code Authority!


X. Dell said...

I was never relly a comic book fan, but I understand the frustration with the code. In this instance, it really transformed the narrative to the point where it became almost silly.

Actually, I would see both this and The Matrix as a manefestation of the mind/body dualism that originates in many of the mystic traditions of antiquity, and expressed more concretely by Descartes.

Ray said...

Actually I was being a bit sarcastic when I put all the blame on the Comics Code Authority. Even without the code, most comic book publishers and editors wanted to keep the stories simple.

One point I didn't mention in the post was the concept of thought being "sinful." Raised as a strict Roman Catholic, I was told that even having bad thoughts was a sin. Nuns screwing up the mental switchboards of kids.

X. Dell said...

Ah yes, Ray. The tendency of dogma to view the human as anything but what he actually is.

Doug said...

Sleeping humans enclosed in a special environment whose minds control bodies in another world--but where those humans choose to do so, and where those controlled bodies apparently can interact with the corporeal bodies of the sleeping humans, and some of those in the former situation want to choose to join the other? That sounds almost a bit more like Avatar than The Matrix.

(Yeah, I finally saw Avatar.)

Just like GL, Avatar cuts away before showing the sex scene. Except James Cameron dragged that story out for nearly 2 & 3/4 hours, rather than merely a few pages.

And the created turning on their creators. Okay, well there's Battlestar Galactica (let's go with the new one). But that one was limited by what's allowable on basic cable.

The question is: Was there any future sci-fi creator who didn't read this story?