Day 85: Desaad’s Fear Machine!

When the glorious introduction of Darkseid’s chief inquisitor, Desaad, is made to us in The Forever People #2, the malevolent lover of pain (other people’s pain, I mean!) is grasping a device that appears to be a super-high-tech stethoscope apparently connected to a larger machine. Later, we learn it’s called a “Fear-Siphon,” and what we would call the ear-tubes actually seem to be placed on the user’s neck, around the vicinity of the lymph nodes. In Desaad’s debut appearance his master Darkseid is reviewing the progress of Mantis and that villain’s siege of Metropolis, from an “unseen vantage point” where the the King of the Damned “watches — and broods — and coolly waits…”

For earlier, Darkseid has ordered the bug god to wreck havoc in the city to stir up fear — “Unleash the terrors of the night! Make man cringe! Make him tremble — make him fear!” — in the hopes Desaad and his device will detect the unknown earthling who possesses the secret of the Anti-Life Equation in his or her mind. “Mantis does well, indeed! But he fights for tawdry goals! While I would be the master of all that exists!” Turning to his strange friend, Darkseid asks, “What is the fear quotient, now, Desaad!” The hooded villain, sporting a particularly maniacal look, is gripping the aforementioned Fear-Siphon and replies, “Spiralling [sic] to a lovely high pitch, O Darkseid! I can feel them — like crashing surf — wonderful waves of raw fear!

Gazing the skyline of the city ablaze, Darkseid observes, “Mantis in inspiring great results! He’ll shake every mind in that city to its very root! Especially the mind we seek to contact — the one that must be made to yield its secret — The Anti-Life Equation!” But the rampage of Mantis fails to uncover the unknown human and Desaad sets about to create a mechanism to artificially induce fear in the masses of Earth.

The result of Darkseid’s top lieutenant’s tinkering appears quickly and is quite an impressive sight: The Fear Machine, cited on this issue’s cover as being “from the blueprint of the weird”! When Darkseid and his humiliated Brola appear in the secret location where Desaad has been toiling, the ruler of Apokolips inquires of its maker what progress to report. “The battle is far from over — there is still the Fear Machine! How does it stand, Desaad?” Wearing a full mask (with ominous non-transparent eye protection), Desaad replies, “It waits only for your judgment, master! I hasten to begin its initial test!”

Darkseid orders the evil inventor to go ahead and not worry for his master’s safety, telling him, “The Sonic-Stimuli cannot affect one such as myself!” Despite their protests, Desaad’s workers are selected as Guinea Pigs and they endure the first testing of the Fear Machine: “The pleas go unheeded, as invisible beams lash out and wring terror from their screaming targets!!” The trial is successful, reducing the wretches to simpering cowards, and plans go ahead to use the device on the populace of Metropolis!

(It’s interesting, the big reveal of Desaad when he removes his mask, showing us that all-too familiar face we now love to hate, in that I wonder if it’s in this issue Jack intended to first present us with the villain. Yeah, I know, the “X numbers,” those digits applied to each of Jack’s work used to invoice production by the home office, tell us The Forever People‘s “Super War” is assigned to X-115 and this, “O’ Deadly Darkseid” of The New Gods is X-117, but the sequence has a dramatic panache about it that leads me to ponder…)

Back in Dave Lincoln’s wrecked apartment, Orion, with the aid of his Mother Box, shows his Earth allies what is at stake in the emerging Super War. But as the audio-visual presentation (actually more like a virtual reality show!) is coming to a close, the sentient computer starts pinging wildly. “But wait!” Orion tells his newfound friends, “Mother Box detects an invisible beam sweeping this very city — the panic of fleeing hundreds!”

Yep, the citizens of Metropolis are in a crazed, irrational panic. Screams one, “I-I’ve got to run — hide!” and another, “Something’s happening! Something terrible! Help!” The fierce tiger of New Genesis immediately recognizes the culprit: “Of course, Darkseid’s second in command plays with his toys!” Noticing Harvey, Claudia, Dave and Victor are shivering in a corner, Orion asks, “What’s wrong, my friends? Why do you cower and cringe — as if to escape some nameless fear? The beam penetrates these walls! You have become its victims!”

Why doesn’t the Fear Machine afflict the stepson of Highfather? “I am trained to resist all degrees of fear! I shall carry the fight!” With that, Orion grabs his now readily available equipment (again, sports fans, if it wasn’t in the flat during the Brola brawl a few moments prior, how did it suddenly appear? Oh, I do quibble…) and goes on to destroy the “field model” that Desaad has “placed in a strategic point of the city.”

But even with the field model’s destruction, the raison d’etre of the Fear Machine — locating the human with the Anti-Life Equation — is unsuccessful. While Desaad tries to focus on the threat of Orion, Darkseid is disappointed with his underling’s work. Poring over a tape read-out, Darkseid expresses his unhappiness. “Forget Orion! It is your Fear Machine that yields nothing! Not the slightest trace of the thought waves we seek!”

Still, the Fear Machine is good at instilling fear. After the adventure Orion returns to Dave’s place and the earthlings are still feeling the after-effects of the invisible beams. “I’m still shaken!” Victor Lanza admits. “I’ve never known such fear!” But the four former kidnap victims, perhaps the only humans to have stepped foot on Apokolips, unite to join Orion’s fight against Darkseid. After each pledges allegiance to this new cause, Orion gratefully responds, “We shall work together, then! Somehow we shall find the means to rally wherever Darkseid shows his hand!”

Looking at his fists, Orion adds, “And I shall strike with these! Though I be of peaceful New Genesis, I shall strike with more ferocity than can be mustered in all Apokolips! And in the end, O Earth — which of the two shall win your domain?”