Inspired by The Book of Revelations in the Bible, the four Horsemen, as presented, are Pestilence, War, Famine and Death. In the comic, they are somehow summoned by a rock singer invoking the apocalypse on New Year's Eve. Astonished at the fact that they seem revered instead of feared, they temporarily retire to a nearby pub to discover one by one, through various interactions with people walking in and out of the bar, that today's world just isn't what it used to be. That there are much more insidious ways of realizing their goals, thanks to the luxury of modern times.
Pestilence, who was the representation of an epidemic or even a pandemic of a virulent and highly contagious disease, came to understand that there are much worse fates than those he was accustomed to bringing:
"Let surveillance and information replace lesions and sores! If humankind now finds solace only in hiding itself, I must reallocate my ressources to invade privacy, not physicality. Destroy intimacy, destroy independence, destroy initiative...can the ultimate destruction be far behind?"
- 4 Horsemen # 3 of 4 (DC: Vertigo comics, 2000).
I believe the scourge he is alluding to is none other than our own personal identity. It's not in groups where we learn to better understand ourselves, but rather the interpretation we give it following the interaction; once we are alone and can reflect on what happened. If aloneness is taken away, then how can we best assimilate these new experiences that come to us? If we are not allowed to define ourselves, we risk making bad choices that we'll regret. Regret is the beginning of guilt. And guilt is the diminishing of our Selves. It has been witnessed within African cultures that sufficient guilt can bring about death...the ultimate destruction, as pestilence mentions.
War, who came to represent destruction through battle and fighting, with his red, bloodstained sword, also came to understand that there are other ways to crush your ennemies:
"What if there existed a weapon powerful men used to subjugate their minions that did NOT inspire fear. Whose reign of terror could creep invisibly across the globe. Whose hegemony would mean the world's utter ruin? (...) Physical warfare is too slow and inefficient.(...)I need to redeploy my energies towards a new kind of warfare. Clean! Ruthless! Insidious!"
- 4 Horsemen # 2 of 4 (DC: Vertigo comics, 2000).
He was of course refering to corporate wars and the "casualties" they leave behind (washed up people left out in the cold, others swallowed whole, due to their lost livelihood through takeovers and buyouts). I am reminded of the recent paper mill closings in our general area. People showed up at the plant at 5am only to find out the gates were locked. Like cattle, they were all directed to the local casino for an "emergency meeting", and well...you can predict the rest. In war, there are conquerers and the conquered. And history is often written by the first ones. Those that lose often fade into the background, unbeknownst or ignored by the higher ups. In our society, so much depends on our livelihood. Our very identities are tied to what we do. Society looks down at some who do less then commendable work, whereas others are irrationally elevated to stardom status simply for putting a rubber ball in a hoop, selling the dream to those lower in our caste system. Because we give so much credit to what we do, is it any suprise that people lose hope in themselves and sink everso lower into becoming a casualty of this "War" when they lose that which supports their very quality of life?
Famine, who came to represent scarcity of food, high prices, all in the face of non essential luxuries, was also dismayed at what he saw:
"This world is vexed by starvation, as it ever will be. But it is more greatly imperilled by its opposite: procreation without cease among those whose stomachs know no want. (...)This threat is so uncanny it has caused humankind to question its own worth, doubt the sanctity of its very claim to life."
- 4 Horsemen # 1 of 4 (DC: Vertigo comics, 2000).
I think what Famine is referring to is, the everincreasing devaluation we give to life in general. When society sees a pregnant woman, she is seen simply as another pregnant woman. Joseph Campbell hinted at this in his book "the power of myth", by saying how, in our society, childbirth has lost its novelty, despite the fact that women in aboriginal societies are seen in the same eye as warriors since they fight, at their own peril, to bring and maintain life in this world. There is also the fact that many people who have kids don't really think it through. The impact they have on a child's life, on their self-esteem, their natural curiosity, the management of their emotions and their love of learning, I believe, stem from the parent-child relationship. Those that ignore this only serve to create people who will be ill-equipped to face life, and thus contribute to making an unhappy person with repercussions on society, and ultimately on our own personal well being.
Death, who came to represent sickness and decay, as the final price to pay for all that came before, even went through his own transformation:
"(...) Yet how much more artful a death in which the body continues to thrive in which the vital corpse is no longer guided by thought but drawn hither and yon by mere sensation. The loudest sounds, the brightest lights. A world of human insects buzzing buzzing but to no purpose and to no effect. I can't believe I never thought of this before".
- 4 Horsemen # 4 of 4 (DC: Vertigo comics, 2000)
I believe Death is refering to a person's existential crisis. The pain of living in a hedonistic way with no sense of meaning. This crisis has been well documented in Tolstoy's "Confessions". It's sort of an autobiography that explains how his inner world shifted from that of an aristocrat's point of view to that of a man bent on realizing Jesus' original teachings through his actions. The sentence that changed his life which was uttered by Jesus: "You have been taught an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and I say differently. Do not fight evil with evil". This sentence alone made him realize that passive resistance is a major key to ending conflict. To living out what is important to the individual even in the face of adversity. To refusing to adopt violent ways, by choosing non-violence to end violence. It has been uttered once that "a man who does not live his Vision is living death". I think there is some merit to this.
The comic ends with the 4 horsemen adopting new names that better represent their adaptation to our society:
Information, incorporation, fecundity and incoherence.
Discussion: How do the NEW 4 Horsemen affect your life?
These were the words of What_I_Believe*