It’s the end of another fatiguing day. Our Hero decides to take the subway home. Not his usual walking routine. He’s obviously on a trip into the subconscious: the underground. He’s lulled to sleep only to waken abruptly to find the other passengers are now monsters and demons. A dream within a dream, perhaps a lucid dream.
They chase him off the subway and through a passageway where a barred gate drops down creating a barrier saving him from the monsters. But he finds himself in the Empire of the Dead with a menacing giant Egyptian statue lumbering toward him. The Empire of the Dead is a reminder “life is now.” We must do what we want to do today before life passes us by.
Hero’s unsure if he wasn’t better off before chased by the monsters. “Which is better being locked in or being locked out?” he asks himself. He is uncertain. He has no choice, he must move on in his journey. The dreaded Egyptian Death Guard turns out to be a wind up automaton chanting, “Beware!” It’s oblivious to everything and just wandering around brainlessly frightening off brainless trespassers. A wind-up message from the past.
Our hero spies an information booth manned by a short little guy in a devils costume. Hero asks, “Where am I?” The little devil blathers some existentialist blather insinuating Mister Hero is in an alternate place, meaning Hell. Hero is then invited to try the entertainment for free. All the entertainment are movies about hellish situations by hellish authors. Choices seem limited here. Hero decides to venture in even though the movie has started. He’s seated among the crowd at the end of an aisle.
A minion devil is moving down the aisle vending popcorn and a mysterious book titled “Dreams.” Hero goes for both since they’re free. He about gags on the popcorn stating that it’s “unreal” with no salt or butter. At the same time, on the movie screen, several 1984ish controlled beings are spewing about reality, time, and waste. A parallelism to the tasteless popcorn which Hero tosses. The real and unreal are woven together. Time, reality, and waste are actually the central theme of the story.
A strange figure enters the theater, a large man-creature with a cat-in-the-hat Dr. Seussian stripped hat. He sits in front of our hero who’s instantly miffed by the oversized hat and requests its removal. And just like the cat-in-the-hat, another bat-like creature appears who removes his hat and another reptilian creature is under it. Hero’s view of the “thinking” movie has gone from bad to worse. The entire screen is blocked. He once again is thwarted in finding meaning and purpose.
He requests a flashlight to read the Dream book in the dark. It’s in comic book format and a story about a human scientist who has the power to see in the dark. In other words, he can see in the subconscious world. He is forced to live underground to avoid the blinding sun (enlightenment.) A brilliant genius, he invents a machine to burrow through solid rock. Rock being symbolic of reality, the opposite of the subconscious. Reality not being just the physical world but the “awake self”; the non-dreamer. He calls himself, “Subterranean”, a symbolic dream name. Subterranean, a Jungian shadow figure, hates his condition and finds it a continual annoyance. He only “lives” in the dark “subconscious.” He never manifests himself in the “light of day.” He wanted a normal life but is very angry he can only venture above ground during “the night.” Anger is his primary motivator and the part most hidden when awake / conscious. Ironically, Subterranean is trapped in the subconscious but has a machine that allows him to bore into reality. What he really cannot escape from is his internal anger that fuels his sacrificial vigilantism. Always hypervigilant not to expose his angry inner self. Self censorship.
Hero is cut off from finishing this intriguing comic because a movie viewer near him growls and barks, “Shut off that light.” Enlightenment-off! Once again denied. Hero complies and high tails it towards the exit. He asks another devilish minion how to get out and is told to follow the, “No exit signs.” “No exits” are boundaries, meaning no escape but in this story they’re actually the contrary. The boundaries are the means of escape. Which he does. Only to find he descends even further into the earth toward his core. He encounters a huge room with a burning center like a funeral pyre. This is where all the anger, negativity, passion, and frustration are eternally burning from generation to generation but never consumed. In the flames, he sees a monstrous human head that has lost control of it’s nervous system and is either hiccuping or laughing. Indicators of a broken nervous system.
The giant head represents hidden thoughts, feelings, and attitudes of the inner self. These are uncontrollable even spasmodic like a twitch.
A small mechanical wind-up dog, Toto, crosses the floor heading directly to a curtain and pulls it open to reveal another robot role playing the Wizard of OZ. We aren’t in Kansas any more, Toto!
Most significantly, the magical controlling wizard is a programmed robot; a mere machine acting without feeling controlling the blooming fires of Hell. Toto reminds us that “Oz” was just a dream in Dorothy’s head. The flames and the robot are stuck in a dream “loop.”
The flame dies and an ugly three-faced, six-eyed moaning beast is uncovered and every eye is weeping. Here is the existentialist monster “Dread” protecting the portal of death lest we all leap in absent mindedly. It’s not an authoritarian Father figure but rather a crippled, bodiless form stripped of it’s senses. Madness. A multifaceted personality uttering the sound of sorrow driving our Hero to run away. (Pain avoidance.) He can’t bear the meaningless, howling expressions. He’s chased again by monsters; the pains and trauma of childhood are still chasing him.
He sees the train starting to leave and jumps aboard. The train races on never stopping. Hero punches the emergency stop button and is knocked out only to be awakened by the conductor in an empty train who informs him he’ll have to catch the next train back. This is the end of the line. We assume Hero has been sleeping and dreaming the whole time except he still clutches the “Dream” book with the Subterranean story in the crook of his arm. He decides to avoid the train and take a taxi home. A second chance to start over fresh.
The closing full-page panel is a world of brick buildings similar to the opening panel of the Cypher Graphic Novel but deserted at night. The mysterious anima woman, from the first episode of Cypher, looks down from a veranda with a side door that says, “No Exit.”
The small white box in the bottom right hand corner of the page says “The End” but it may have been more appropriate to say, “No Exit.” Meaning “The Beginning”. We have come full circle for a new start.
Will Hero open the Dream book again and let Subterranean finish expressing his emotions of anger? It may be the message he needs most where he learns to redirect his Shadow passions to combat evil and find the “No Exit” signs. Free at last.