A long while back, I had ambitions of doing a multi-post series on the elements I saw at play in the original, Peter B. Gillis run on Strikeforce: Morituri. At the time, I only did the one. I did get the trade collections of that whole run for a gift semi-recently, though. Mayhap I’ll dig back into that. Even if I don’t, I did enjoy this look, so we’ll use that for my ‘five new posts’ reprint reward of the weekend
I made brief mention of a list of the many things Strikeforce: Morituri is “about.” Said list comes largely from my take on each of the primary characters. Each one has a power and a corny code-name and a gaudy costume, sure, but each one also helps Gillis explore a theme. If I’m not going to start with a proper overview, I can at least start with the first character, then: Harold C. Everson – Vyking.
Everson is our road in. In one of Gillis’ many tricks to cover exposition, Harold is a writer. A writer who wants to write a book on life as a Morituri. So, unlike with any number of other first-person narrators, it makes a certain sense that Harold would fill us in on the events leading up to the invention of the Morituri process, would cover information any average citizen should know. Out of story, he’s writing for people in the past; in-story, he’s writing for people in an uncertain future, whose knowledge of past events will be of indeterminate completeness.
Sorry, I’m already falling into asides. That Harold provides a handy expository tool is probably the least impactful development from making Harold a writer. The thing about the Morituri in general (especially the second generation, those six characters Gillis starts the series with), is that they sign up for the process for both the same and different reasons. Every single one of them has lived four years with an invading alien force, with their world ravaged and plundered and enslaved. All but the most hardened hearts are going to want to do something in that situation. So they sign on first because this is being billed as the best chance to destroy the Horde. But beyond that, they all have some secondary reason, each of which serves to set up their character arcs and set up the particular theme Gillis will use them to explore.
Morituri as embodied by Vyking, then, is the simultaneous gift and curse of intense artistic genius. Whether myth or reality, we’ve all heard it: true genius comes at a cost. Usually, it’s madness or a short, cruel life (or both). Art requires suffering, and thus the greatest art requires the greatest suffering.
Vyking’s powers give him that, to a degree. He has a wider audience than he might ever have had were he to remain Harold Everson. He has the eyes and ears of the planet. He can Make An Impact. His power plays out the archetype, as well. Vyking has two primary abilities: he has an unexplained mental link to the other Morituri and the active ability to redirect energies. The first is an easy fit for an argument regarding collective unconscious. The latter isn’t quite as obvious, but especially given the kind of “change the world” writing Harold wants to do, isn’t “redirecting energies” exactly the sort of thing he’s best suited for?
Like with all the Morituri during Gillis’ run, Vyking’s death is as emblematic of the character’s particular theme as his life and powers. As with the loss of all great genius, Vyking’s death leaves a vacuum which resonates to his peers. That sounds more purple than I mean it: see, Vyking literally leaves a vacuum, because when he dies, he blows a hole in the hull of a spaceship, and his teammates have to pull together to seal the breach.
It works as a metaphor for the “power of genius” argument, especially when you also consider that Harold’s choices wind up influencing his contemporaries. They finish the assault Harold chose to start. Another man, trying to emulate Harold, takes the Morituri process. He’s made his impact; he’s burned through his genius and thus achieved some level of immortality.
Except it’s simultaneously a load of hooey. This, too, comes back to the moment of Vyking’s death. His final plea gives it all away, as he blurts out “not before I’m finished!”
Here’s where Gillis earns his money, I think, in that he manages to both support and debunk the ideology of The Mad Genius. Vyking gets everything he hoped for, but he, as with all those like him, also loses that. As much as Gillis may acknowledge the trade-off, I think he similarly acknowledges that, no matter how you slice, it will never be a fair one. The more intense the genius, the greater the loss when it’s gone. No matter how much you’ve done, when you go, the potential to do more is gone. That fact becomes starkly and unmistakably clear in the hyper-empowered, hyper-condensed lives of the Morituri.
Original version published on Trickle of Consciousness