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Category: Comics

The True Superman

Hey, I’m back! For now… I’ve been having lots of trouble connecting to the Internet lately (entirely the fault of the awful campus network I’m on, so there’s not much I can do about it except graduate and move someplace with a good network), and given that I am preparing to graduate in about two weeks, I’ll probably be a bit busy in the near future and so the no-blogging trend may continue. I have lots of stuff to write about, but no time and an uncooperative Internet connection.


Superman stands alone. Superman did not become Superman, Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he is Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red S is the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears, the glasses the business suit, that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak, unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race, sort of like Beatrix Kiddo and Mrs. Tommy Plumpton.

This, of course, is Bill’s monologue on Superman from Kill Bill Vol. 2 (which Quentin Tarantino apparently “borrowed” from Jules Feiffer’s book The Great Comic Book Heroes). This is the most obvious possible interpretation of Superman, and frankly I’m surprised at the number of people I’ve encountered who seem deeply impressed by this allegedly brilliant interpretation. What did you folks think Superman was about?

Actually, I disagree with Bill. Well, certainly he’s right that Clark Kent isn’t the real guy, he’s a character Superman made up so he doesn’t have to be Superman all the time. However! Superman isn’t the real guy either… Superman certainly isn’t his real name, his name is Kal-El. (Or Kal-L on the erstwhile Earth-2.) That’s his Kryptonian name—so is the Kryptonian Kal-El the real guy? But he was never really Kryptonian. Sure, in the pre-Crisis DC Universe (and Bill has us talking pre-Crisis here, the weakling coward Clark Kent is a pre-Crisis artifact), it seems like half the population of Krypton managed to escape, what with Supergirl, Krypto, the bottled city of Kandor, and whatever other obscure Kryptonians were lurking around—but even with all those Kryptonians around, Kal-El could at best get history lessons. He couldn’t ever be part of a living Kryptonian culture. And anyway he certainly didn’t grow up Kryptonian. He grew up American, but his extraterrestrial origin and his superpowers serve as constant reminders that he’s far from a natural citizen. Even his powers aren’t naturally Kryptonian. He’s an emigrant from a place which doesn’t exist and which he never knew, to a place from which his alien genetics always separate him.

Superman has plenty of alter egos, but no natural self. His only nature is alienation from nature. He is, in fact, a metonym of human nature, which is alienation from nature. What Christians call Original Sin, alienation from God. What people are looking for when they give up the hectic bustle of modern life and join a commune or something. The immigrant embodies this alienation physically, and Superman takes immigration to the next level: not only is he from another planet, he’s from another planet that blew up and no longer exists. It’s like Genesis without the moral judgement and without Happy Heaven as a final reward after a life of struggling to get back to Eden. Superman’s only reward for the true selves he tries to cobble together out of the pieces he’s been left with is no more and no less than whatever self he manges to cobble together. His life as Superman, Clark Kent, Kal-El are the closest he’ll ever get to Heaven. (This is one reason I find attempts to make Superman a Christ figure amusing. Or bemusing. He descends from some idealized place and takes on the burden of humanity, right, but then he doesn’t have any Heaven to ascend to! He’s like the first half of a Christ figure, which just means he’s human.)

As long as I’m writing about Superman’s identities I should note that Chris Maka and Ken Lowery are also pondering superhero identities. Ken specifically offers some criticism of the Punisher’s own identity issues, which makes sense but don’t trust me, I’ve never read any Punisher comics.

Hypertime on Infinite Invisible &c.

Did I say I was going to write more about The Invisibles? I may have lied about that… I’d like to reread the whole series before I get into it.

David Fiore’s latest topic is Joseph Campbell’s nefarious influence on some branches of superhero criticism, and further explanation of corporate superhero universes as postructuralist narratives. Here’s my crazy theory for the day: Crisis on Infinite Earths is Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s attempt to mythologize the DC Universe. See David:

Obviously, myths are the products of many minds—but myths qua myths certainly aren’t perceived that way. Mythology is a “homogenous” body of work, the structuralist’s dream come true—it is taken for granted that, given enough time, a rigorous exegete could tease THE meaning out of the canonical writings.

And again:

Joseph Campbell is the ultimate modernist—at war with the “superstructure”/“false consciousness”. There’s only one hero see? And there aren’t many archetypes, either. Just focus kids, that modernist light will see you through the haze of multiplicity.

Just replace “hero” with “universe,” and there you go. I don’t have a lot to add now beyond what I’ve already written, except to note the connections. Of course, Crisis didn’t succeed in its goal of homogenizing the DC Universe even remotely, and it seems to have created the conditions in which Mark Waid and Grant Morrison were able to incorporate poststructuralism into the very textual fabric of the DC Universe with the introductoin of Hypertime. Just look at this, Warren Ellis’s attempt to describe Morrison’s description of Hypertime, taken from the Unofficial Hypertime Website 5.0:

Take a glass sphere studded all over with holes, and then drive a long stick right through the middle of it, passing exactly through the center of the volume. That’s the base DC timeline. Jab another stick through right next to it, but at a different angle, so that they’re touching at one point. That’s an Elseworlds story. Another stick, this one rippled, placed close in so that it touches the first stick at two or three points. That’s the base Marvel timeline. Perhaps others follow the line of the DC stick for a while before diverging, a slow diagonal collision along it before peeling off. This sphere contains the timeline of all comic-book realities, and they theoretically all have access to each other. In high time, at the top of the sphere, is OUR reality, and we can look down on the totality of Hypertime, the entire volume.

Hypertime is a tool for the consideration of fictional reality.

The funny thing about Crisis is that it posits “trying to discover the orign of the universe” as the action which leads to the splintering of the universe into a frightening multiplicity—and then not only must the characters in the story go back to the origin of the universe themselves in order to prevent the disaster which was caused by somebody observing the origin of the universe, but Wolfman and Pérez and all the other creators who built the post-Crisis universe necessarily look to the origin of the DC Universe in “recreating” it and bringing it “back to basics.” According to the mythology of Crisis, it’s practically a cosmological law that John Byrne would come along and fuck everything up with his Man of Steel!

Can anybody who knows more about this stuff than I do tell me if DC still uses Hypertime? Readers, at any rate, seem unaware of it, or at least don’t seem to consider it as an implicit textual explanation for, say, why the Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee Batman is so different from the Brian Azzarello/Eduardo Risso Batman. I know Mark Waid uses Hypertime in The Kingdom. Are there any Morrison comics that use it? Does it come up in JLA ever?

My Minor Faith in Metaphor

No Animal Man tonight, but I am quoting David Fiore, which is practically the same thing, right? At any rate, David was talking about the barrenness of the superhero-as-myth theory and goes into another digression about a thread he began at the Ninth Art forum. Now that I’ve read it, it reminds me again that David should stick to blogging and stay off the boards! Part of the reason I haven’t been on message boards as much for the last two years or so is that I can’t handle the hysterical tone that gets going sometimes, and I would have utterly lost my mind were I a regular member following that thread and not being able to stop the carnage that follows David wherever he goes. I prefer to be slow and thoughtful and considerate whenever possible, but apparently a lot of people find that dull, and perhaps they’re right.

However, David quotes Alasdair Watson, which is what spurred me to write in the first place:

I am not covinced that the a serious dissection of nature of faith, to use my earlier example, is going to be well served when the protagonists must dress in spandex and fire lightning out of various orfices. I’m sure it’s not impossible to do, but I think it’d either come across as a bit of a joke - (see Chuck Austen’s recent religion-based storylines for examples), or kill the franchise, because lets face it, people come to the X-men for costumes and ass-kicking, not existential crises. Which is my point about not being allowed to do certain things with a given franchise.

I think my disagreement with this statement is probably not the same as David’s, though I’ve sort of forgtten the specifics of his response by now anyway. First I’d say that there has to be some combination of ass-kicking and existential crisis to interest most superhero readers, I think, to make things more interesting than a video game. The frighteningly deep emotional attachments don’t just come from being impressed at how much a favorite hero can benchpress.

I realize that my tastes run heavily to the existential crisis side of things, so I don’t read too many mainstream superhero books and read other things instead. And I’m not sure religion was a good example here, because, as with much existential crisis, I wouldn’t blame the editors or the audience but I’ll gladly say that many comics writers, mainstream or independent, aren’t smart or sophisticated to pull it off in a way I’d find satisfying. Subtle writing is a lot more difficult than just beating up various characters, but a good superhero writer probably has to do both.

And that brings me back to my real question, just what was the pejorative uniform term before spandex was a widespread fabric? Ok, not that at all. What I was actually thinking about was Marc Singer’s denunciation of metaphor. As I said in his comments, I think I use “metaphor” the way he uses “metonymy,” but I’m not sure. If a good writer wanted to dissect the nature of faith, what’s the best way to do it in an X-Men book? We’re talking fiction, so straight theology/philosophy wouldn’t be the way to go, and making Mystique disguise herself as an aardvark dreaming about the Pentateuch seems somehow cliched. If you’re writing a corporate property, making up a universe to fit your goals and needs like C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman did doesn’t seem to be an option. So you deal with what I’d call metaphor. You’ve got Nightcrawler, who I believe is now a Roman Catholic priest, already at your disposal. And Kitty Pryde is Jewish. And if you were a writer after my heart you could somehow remove Dust, the Afghan mutant who somehow wears chador instead of a burqa and exists only to make me afraid of what offensive or exploitative thing Marvel writers might do to her next. So you can deal with real-life religion and how it impacts the lives of the X-Men, tying it up in a story. Or you could make the religion more tangential, or make the faith in the story not have to do with religion at all.

When I talk about metaphor I mean that the stories have resonance with various real-life issues in my life or in the larger world. If I were this writer, I don’t think I’d have trouble talking about the nature of faith among the X-Men because they’re a community of idealists. They exist and justify themselves because of the good they think they’re doing. So I’d write about what it means to have a crisis of faith about being in the X-Men. How do you know whether you’re just believing what you’re told? Who decides what’s right and what punishments wrongdoers receive? How right can it be to do painful, destructive things in the pursuit of righteousness? Grant Morrison was getting at a lot of this with his work on New X-Men, and I was annoyed that he didn’t follow it farther. The foundations of the mutant dream were shaking and crumbling, and perhaps it didn’t need to be more explicit, but I thought there were many loose ends. But getting back to my own hypothetical story, I think if I wrote that I’d be talking about a crisis of faith on mutant terms, an existential crisis in spandex. And I’ll never get to write it because I don’t want to and because I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to stage the ass-kicking, but I hope it could be a more sophisticated dissection of religious thought than Chuck Austen’s “Catholics are evil because I misunderstand them” religious comics.

And I’d call it a metaphor because it is its own part of the story on its own terms but I can read it as being about religion or politics or about how my mother and I just can’t come to ultimate agreement about my role in life because our priorities and orientations are too different. I’m not sure if this would qualify for metonym status under Marc’s criteria, but it seemed like a good chance to explain my mindset. “Metaphor” works for me, but I understand the urge to pin things down and to make the connections more literal. Literalism has its weaknesses, but Marc explicitly rejects the sort that equates American military might with a big lunk punching out Bin Laden, as he should. I think he just wants people to be more willing to pin themselves down in doing comics criticism, which I’m afraid I’m not. This is the best I can do for now.

Definite Identity

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about comics and I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about any real comics yet (though do expect the long-promised Animal Man posts to recommence in the next week) but I have been thinking about comic book titles, specifically superhero titles. Specifically I’ve been wondering about the use of the definite article.

Why does Bruce Banner become THE Incredible Hulk when Bruce Wayne is just Batman? Actually, that’s an easy one, because names with adjectives need something more. The same goes for team names, whether The Avengers or The Justice League of America. Now, I haven’t gone anywhere near a statistical survey, but it’s interesting that so many of Batman’s foes are The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin… Tellingly, the definite article seems to attach itself to villains more often than to heroes, denoting a sort of depersonalization. Even more interesting, though, is that it shows up with characters who are heroes but only sort of, problematic types like The Hulk and The Thing and The Martian Manhunter and The Swamp Thing. They’re still heroes, but not exactly human (and neither is Superman, who somehow gets a free ride). To get grisly, Batman became The Dark Knight, and The Punisher could hardly be better-named.

I’m not arguing this system works unambiguously. At best, it’s more a trend than a system at all. I don’t know what’s difficult about The Flash except that just Flash would be a really lousy name. And I guess Wolverine is such a badass that to call him THE Wolverine would be admitting that someone might think there could be another, the utmost heresy. And a lot of animal names take the definite article for no meaningful reasons (beside the already present dehumanizing effect of the animal name), although maybe Janet Van Dyne had to be The Wasp so people wouldn’t think she was just a WASP.

And because Steven’s just going to comment if I don’t say this, I’m not calling The Legion of Super-Pets anti-heroes or problematic protagonists. They’re just uniquely identified, because you there’s no need to have lots of Super-Monkeys running around when you’ve got Beppo. Ditto Ace the Bat-Hound. So there.

Crisis on Invisible Earths!

First, David Fiore has a piece on superhero universe continuity, offering an alternative to the “(non)adherence to past events” axis used by fanboys and anti-fanboy-fanboys of all kinds. More useful to sophisticated readers is “awareness of tradition,” of which “(non)adherence to continuity” is only a part. And we can retire “retcon” in favor of “reinterpretation,” which is all it is. Once we get rid of the comics jargon, we can see that the interesting thing about continuity isn’t history, it’s historiography—it’s not how the account of Captain America’s life in Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America contradicts Jack Kirby’s Captain America that’s interesting as much as how Gruenwald’s interpretation of Cap relates to Jack Kirby’s and those of other creators who’ve worked with Cap. Good stuff.

Now, The Invisibles and Crisis on Infinite Earths. The worlds in Crisis are destroyed by a “wall of anti-matter,” a white wall the color of a blank sheet of paper progressing implacably across the universes. Just behind the wall of white comes a cloud of inky black, the Antimatter Universe itself filling in the void left by the destruction of each universe. Pages 119-120 (of the TPB edition published 2000) is the best demonstration of this. On page 119, in seven panels that stretch entire height of the page, an image of some planets in the universe containing Earth-1 or Earth-2 (it’s not clear) goes from full color to increasingly washed-out blue, and the panels become increasingly narrow, until the seventh “panel” is an absence, without even a panel border, a unmarked field of white paper from the right side of the sixth panel all the way to the edge of the page. Page 120 has nine panels in a regular grid—the first panel again defines a negative space of blank white paper with no panel border, the second and third panels show wisps of gray gas or smoke moving in from the corners of the negative space, and the second and third rows of panels show the space filling with smoke until the final panel is the opposite of the first, a rectangle of black. Well, well, what could all this mean? Let’s let the Harbinger explain the Crisis.

Please, listen to me, for our current crisis began ten billion years ago… The Earth was little more than cooling gases, showing none of the possibilities time would someday offer.

No, the Crisis began elsewhere… on the world called Oa— a world of immorals…

…of limitless hope

…and of endless possibilities.

As Harbinger speaks, her speech bubbles are superimposed on images of the planet Oa and its enlightend inhabitants.

The Oans lived in paradise. Their minds and bodies were things of perfection. In such a world one would expect a winding down… a lessening of continued advancement… but such was not the case. They strove always for improvement of the mind and spirit…

Their science has never been equaled… but there were some who used their powers for their own twisted desires.

Now just wait till you see what those “twisted desires” were…

[Concerned Oan:] “Krona, you know the legends…”

[Krona:] “Bah! Such stories are tales only fools would fear. I seek to learn the origin of the universe!”

[Krona:] “And you talk of the legends of destruction should I learn the truth. You are a dolt!”

Krona’s not much like the other Oans. Sure, he’s blue like the rest of them, but he’s larger, stockier, he looks like he could kick most of their asses, and like he wants to. He’s always sneering, and he’s always drawn in closeup from below, so we’re looking right up his nose and he looks like a pig.

Despite all pleas, Krona continued his ceasless labors…

[Krona:] “An image forming? A shadow… like a giant hand… with something… a cluster of stars inside.”

Then it happened. A terrible cosmic bolt splintered his machine and would have destroyed Krona, too, had he not been immortal…

It was not the end of the universe as the Oan legends foretold… but the beginning of something new…

Something terrible!

Something… evil…

The universe shuddered… and the evil antimatter universe was formed. But more than that—the single universe was replicated. What was one became many. At that moment was born both the antimatter universe and the multiverse.

There’s a “twisted desire” for you—wanting to know the origin of the universe makes you evil! This is an epistemological critique of the state of the pre-Crisis DC universe, as Geoff Klock argues in his book How to Read Superhero Comics and Why:

…by looking into origins, existence is splintered into a variety of mutually exclusive interpretations that have no center. The current state of the DC universe—all of the continuity problems and confusions and paradoxes—Umberto Eco’s oneiric climate—is the retroactive result of looking too closely for a guiding principle (p. 20).

Creators playing in the DC universe constantly reinterpret and build upon the past, and those reinterpretations were actually incorporated into the fictional world through the multiverse concept. Flash with Barry Allen isn’t just a reinterpretation of the Jay Garrick Flash comics, it actually takes place in the next universe over and Barry can vibrate through the boundary and have a chat with Jay. It’s like the theory of temporal physics in which every probabilistic event causes one timeline to split into several timelines, one for each probabilistic outcome. The problem is, how do you know which is the original timeline? How do you distinguish Truth from the countless interpretations of the Truth? Marv Wolfman and George Pérez think they have an resolution to this crisis: don’t look. If you think you know the truth and you look to verify it, you’ll just end up finding all these interpretations of the truth, and how do you know your truth isn’t just another interpretation, and if it is then how do you figure out which one of the needles in this stack of needles is the real truth? Nasty question. So let’s say… this needle is the real one, and all these other needles—let’s just have the Anti-Monitor get rid of those ones, shall we? Tragic to lose all those needles, but at least now we only have one, and that’s much more convenient.

[Insertion, added 9:46 UTC] And obviously, the advancing antimatter wall is encroaching nihihlism. According to Wolfman and Pérez, the inevitable result of a multiplicity of interpretations of the truth is that we are all consumed by nihilism—unless some band of heroes manages to stop the nihilists (usually “postmodernists,” outside of superhero comics) from infecting the rest of the world with their poisonous “There is no truth!” philosophy. The metaphor arguably breaks down when the heroes’ method for defeating nhilism is to punch it a lot… or does it break down? Maybe physical combat is a good metaphor for the epistemological battle to save Truth.

But what does Grant Morrison have to say about all this in The Invisibles? That’s the question for next time!

We love you, Marvel

Marvel solicitations for Kabuki and Powers are probably going to make somebody mad:

“The Alchemy” Pt. 1
It’s a new start for Kabuki and the perfect jumping-on issue for new readers! When you are a former operative for a Japanese agency, how do you start a new life? You’ve heard about all the awards… You’ve heard everyone talking about why Kabuki is so amazing and mind-blowing… Now is the chance to see what all the talk is about! From the award-winning writer and artist of Daredevil that brought you “Parts of a Hole,” “Wake Up,” and “Echo,” this new series marks the 10th anniversary of Kabuki and features a special chronology of Kabuki’s early beginnings, including never-before-published Kabuki art by Brian Michael Bendis.

All-new first issue!! Homicide Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim investigate superpower murders. And with all powers declared illegal, a crime wave has hit the city and hit hard. From the writer of some of your favorite Marvel comics (Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil, Secret War), comes a brand-new chapter from the award-winning book that put him on the map.

Can you believe that? “From the award-winning writer and artist of Daredevil”??? “From the writer of some of your favorite Marvel comics”??? Now all the stupid Marvel Zombies will buy these books for no good reason and the comics industry will drive me to hang myself after slitting my wrists!

Yeah, and does Chris Claremont have a clause in his special X-Men contract that specifies every third cover of a comic book he writes must feature a mysterious villain standing over the fallen bodies of the X-Men? You’d think at some point some villain would think, “Damn, here I am standing over the fallen bodies of the X-Men, why don’t I just kill the bastards and be done with it?” But apparently this never occurs to them, which is why they’re villains—because we all know Good Guys always win, so you must be stupid to be a Bad Guy.

Uncanny X-Men #446

You know this Powerless comic, the one that’s a What If? story but I guess we’re not calling them that anymore?

By re-imagining Marvel’s most popular characters without superhuman powers, this series will strip these heroes to their core, exploring what it means to be a hero in very human terms.

What if Matt Murdock, Peter Parker, and Logan didn’t have powers, would they still be heroes or would they just be like a regular lawyer, a regular student/photographer, and a regular amnesiac Canadian or whatever the fuck Logan is? You know, considering Logan was born about 150 years ago or so, if he weren’t a mutant then wouldn’t he be dead? I bet Wolverine’s subplot in Powerless is that you just get page after page of his tombstone.

No, actually, judging by the cover image below, Logan’s answer to the question “What does it mean to be a hero?” is “Claws!”

Powerless #2

Read more amusing commentary on Marvel solicits from John Jakala!

Hey, wait… Powerless? That sounds an awful lot like Powers… Could it be? It’s another Identity Disc, except this time Marvel is stealing from itself! Will the evil never end? Why does Larry Young even bother publishing good comics when they have to share shelf space with Marvel crap?

I hate work-for-hire too.

Tim O’Neil manages to offend the entirety of the comics community in one fell swoop:

Comic books are the playground of the retarded. Whether your particular retardation is social, physical, sexual or mental, if you care enough to read this you are a retard.

Why, you ask? Well, you see…

The comics field is stronger than its been in years, with kids and women reading Manga, “art” and “alternative” comics racking up critical acclaim and respectable sales totally independent of the direct market, online comics coming into their own after a turbulent adolescence, and even the dead newspaper strip showing faint signs of life. But there are still not enough comics readers to support books like “Wildcats 3.0″ and “Stormwatch: Team Achilles.” This tells me that not only is the average mainstream comic reader functionally illiterate, as well as sincerely retarded, but that we have a deeply unhealthy industry.

OK? Got it? You might think Tim’s insults are pretty offensive, but really I think we all know, even if we don’t like to admit it… we really are a bunch of semi-literate retards, aren’t we? It’s why we read comics—we can’t read them, but we can look at the pictures.

Now, maybe you didn’t get Stormwatch: Team Achilles because you were too busy reading other comics you like. Maybe you didn’t get Wildcats Version 3.0 because you have limited funds and can’t afford to buy every superhero comic that’s “critically acclaimed” and you decided to read New X-Men or X-Statix instead. Maybe you just don’t like superhero comics, or you don’t like military science fiction, or you don’t like stories about corporate politics. Maybe you were too busy reading your “art” comics? Too busy with Persepolis to support Stormwatch? Whatever. We’re talking good, critically acclaimed comics here, and they needed your support! Oh, you didn’t think they sounded interesting to you? I guess you’re a retarded illiterate conservative fanboy, huh? I guess you suck?

You know what else I hate? The fact that Powers and Kabuki are guaranteed to quintuple, if not sextuple, their sales when they move from Image to Marvel. Maybe even septuple. There’s nothing I hate more than Marvel Zombies buying good comics. I’d rather see these comics get cancelled for low sales than see people buy them for the wrong reasons!

Stupid fanboys. Everything is your fault.

(Seriously, though, Tim goes so far over the top that he’s probably as tongue-in-cheek as I am here. You never can tell on the Internet, can you?)

(You may wonder how I managed to type all this, being the illiterate retard that I am. Actually, I’m dictating to a friendly monkey dressed as Beppo the Super-Monkey. Thanks, Beppo!)


“I stopped needing to save the world. Saving is what misers do.”

I just lost a really long post about Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, which probably won’t teach me to save my work as I write even though it should. Well, here’s a somewhat shortened version.

Here’s the difference between Jack and Boy in a nutshell, from Kissing Mister Quimper:

Boy: “…There’s gotta be more to life than running all the time.”

Jack: “Yeah, that’s gotta be it, ey? I don’t know: I just run ‘cause it’s quicker than walking, me.”

I had an utterly brilliant comparison between Boy’s leaving the Invisibles and Cipher’s trying to get back into the Matrix in The Matrix! Alas, alas. It’s a pretty obvious difference, though: Cipher is an asshole who betrays his crewmates, Boy is the first Invisible to really get an important part of what’s going on. Let’s look at some narration from the last issue of Invisibles:

I’m there at the end of the world that was and the beginning of birth into full understanding—fusion with the supercontext. I am part of “nature.” Every airplane, every power station is a result of “Nature’s” process. We never fell. We were never apart from the world. We lied to ourselves.

That applies to humanity as a whole—we thought we were fallen and reaching up toward God or enlightenment (religious people thought so, anyway), but we’re only a fetus trying to be born. It also applies to the Invisibles specifically, who think they’re separate from the normal world. Jack calls the non-Invisible world the “fucking land of the dead,” but he’s wrong. Running may be quicker than walking, but walking gets you moving forward all the same.

But now we’re being born, fully-grown, like insects, like Athena, the Goddess of Truth. Larval consciousness experiences the introduction of necessary inoculating agents from the supercontext as a form of invasion by hostile, bacterial forces. The inoculation is conceptualized by the developing larva as an invasion of threatening “not-self” material… the confronting and integration of “not-self” being a necessary stage in the development of the maturing larva’s self-awareness—”philogeny recapitulates history.”

This is what Boy figured out: you don’t need to be Invisible to help bring the world to birth. As long as the Invisibles stand apart from the world, they’re as much “not-self” as the Lost Ones and other followers of the Outer Church. You want to integrate with the “not-self”? Go talk to your neighbor. Go have sex and have a baby—genetic metaphor of the synthesis of self and not-self. It’s not that the Invisibles are bad, not that all the Invisibles should be like Boy. It’s just that their purpose is not to save the world from the Outer Church or from itself, but to engage in the process of integration. Mr. Six and some others do it by blurring the distinction between Invisible and Outer Church until the whole thing is a hopeless mess of quadruple agents and nobody knows who’s on what side. Jack does it by eating the Outer Church’s King of the new Aeon. King Mob does it by inventing a video game/drug that turns people into Invisibles. Lord Fanny does it with genderbending. Ragged Robin does it by writing herself into the story. Boy, maybe the most radical Invisible of all, does it by going home and living a little life.

Here’s what superheroes like Neo and Friends in The Matrix never quite figure out: you can’t save the world by treating the people in it like helpless cattle. If they really rely on you to rescue them from the Forces of Darkness and Control, the only thing you accomplish by rescuing them is to set yourself as the new Forces of Darkness and Control. Neo’s going to free all the humans from the Matrix? And what gives him the right to make that decision for the entire species? This is part of what Boy means when she says, “I stopped needing to save the world. Saving is what misers do.”

Tomorrow: Philogeny recapitulates history? Spurious biology, memes, and The Invisibles as critical response to Crisis on Infinite Earths!

Red Right Hand

n.b. This was initally posted Monday evening, when we realized things were going wrong with the blog, and this realization arose from the fact that I don’t believe the post ever arrived in a form visible to people other than me. Now that we’ve settled into our piratical new home, I can revive it. Remember this is Monday Me, far less world-weary and generally weary. I’m not sure I agree with myself anymore.

I had a fun weekend, though not a relaxing one, so most details will have to wait until I’m more alert. I must be getting old; this time change has done me in! But I know you want to hear about Hellboy before I toddle off to bed.

First, though, a message for Rick Geerling. I went ahead and bought the Negative Burn collections for the first and second years. So far so good, but I hope to say more later.

Now, Hellboy! We liked it. I thought it was a lot of fun. I haven’t read many of the Hellboy stories, but I think the movie could have benefited from a certain sort of adherence to their mold. I’m just not especially interested in stories where the fate of the world is at stake. This is an ongoing problem with superhero stories in general and particularly in movies. I just think superhero movies would be more fun for me if they weren’t action movies (and I realize there’s no hope for this coming true) and the same holds for roleplaying games. I prefer smaller stakes because that leaves more room for character development, for personal impact. Then again, this could be linked to my peculiar disdain for property damage in standard Hollywood action sequences, too.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m not a purist who was offended by the love story in Hellboy, but I would much rather have seen more of a Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense slice-of-life story, in which a love story would fit, than the way the love story got manipulated by the Bigger Plot into something more trite than special. A lot of things would fit, like more pamcakes scenes, and there would still be fights. But it would be easier for me to get invested if it were just another day, another monster, none of this threat of eldritch horror from another dimension melodrama shit. And I think if this weren’t set up like a video game with a final confrontation with the biggest baddie maybe other people wouldn’t have minded the special effects or the rather standard way in which the threats are resolved. And maybe if the movie hadn’t been set up to culminate in one big magic moment the creators could have focused instead on expanding the characters to let the audience connect with them.

And I’m saying all this as someone who had a great time at the movie. I’d prefer something different, but that’s how I feel after I see many films. And Hellboy featured excellent performances, allowing for plenty of characterization (at least for the good guys) in a fairly small space, so it wasn’t totally lacking. I’m just curious why this is the way superhero movie stories have to work, since it’s the characters rather than the deeds that keep people coming back, right? I realize Superman’s death sold awfully well, but I don’t think people follow Wolverine for years just because they can’t wait to see who he’ll slice next. Or maybe I’m wrong. I’m not in the target demographic for superhero comics or Hollywood movies, but I sure wouldn’t mind a film that catered to me more. But I know what sells best is big explosions in HDTV surround-sound, and that doesn’t interest me. I’d like more cigar-lighting scenes, more stock heroic poses in moments of pain rather than victory, more pivotal Nick Cave moments (or Leonard Cohen, if applicable) and more pamcakes. Definitely more pamcakes.

Messages From Beyond

Yes, it’s part four of a four part series of posts on the grand old comic book From Beyond the Unknown #23! Previous installments:

  1. “Secret of the Man-Ape!”
  2. “Language-Master of Space!”
  3. “World of Doomed Spacemen”

Now we come to the letters column, “Messages From Beyond!”

Dear Editor:
Having been writing letters for quite awhile now, it does not surprise me to see my name pop up in a lettercol every time I turn around. What does surprise me is to find out I’ve gotten a mention, not because of a letter I’ve written, but for one I didn’t write! To remedy the lack of my letters to From Beyond the Unknown, here I am.

The trio of Gardner Fox stories in #21 shows the variety of tales the man can review. “Raid of the Rogue Star” is typical of his tales in the old Strange Adventures wherein some alien menace attacks Earth in one way or another and is defeated by a scientist who notices the flaw in the plan just before it is too late. Bill Travis, like all his predecessors and successors is really the same character with a different name; a man who ends up with his girl friend (or wife) on a picnic or at the beach after he saves the world. No publicity, no parades, no nothing. Just a fadeout back into oblivion.

“The Ghost Planet” is the Fox version of a “Twilight Zone” story. This is the quickie type which relies solely on the surprise-twist ending. As twist stories go, this one was pretty good.

“Will the Star Rovers Abandon Earth?” is the third type of sci-fi story Mr. Fox turns out: the series story. While the Star Rovers stories are the most limiting in terms of basic pattern (i.e. each of the three solving the same problem in a different way), each of them is refreshingly different enough to make them enjoyable. This issue’s tale was par for the course.


So he wrote so many letters that people actually worried when he failed to write in to From Beyond the Unknown—that’s dedication! The neat thing about letter columns is the way they make the readers’ role as interpreters of the text actually part of the text itself, so that the text becomes self-reflexive. Which isn’t to say authors should necessarily listen to their readers (Hollywood studios actually act on the suggestions of test audiences, and look at all the awful movies that result), but giving readers a voice without requiring that they get published in a lit crit journal or something is a great idea. There are probably better ways to do it than a letter column in the book—like the Web, which is sort of a super-letters column for the entire world, to strain an analogy. Anybody who can get hold of an Internet connection can say anything about anything. People are always coming up with new ways of democratizing critcism—like this wiki for annotating and commenting on Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, which contains the entire text of the book (Lessig helpfully published it under a Creative Commons license).

But back to the letters!

Dear Editor:
Finally. I have discovered not one, but two errors in FBTU #21, both occurring in the explanations of the stories. The first, in “Raid of the Rogue Star”, erroneously led people to believe that an unknown element destroyed anything colored green. This may be all right for the alien planet, but to suggest that anything from Earth would likewise be destroyed, is a little far-fetched. If you were to say that just the pigment was destroyed, then the emerald would have turned to clear transparency.

A better explanation is to propose that a peculiar quality of the alien planet required that it must receive the green part of the visible spectrum or cease to exist. This impurity would account for the disappearance of the rogue star, as anything colored green has a green pigment which reflects green light, making it look green in appearance. As far as the planet goes, you could say that the green light must exist at least when other light is present, thereby saving the planet in times of darkness. In this case there could be no red or blue colored light without some green light mixed in, or anything subjected to it would cease to exist. Follow?

Editorial interlude: Follow? An element which destroys anything colored green is too far-fetched. It would be less far-fetched if the material making up this alien planet had such a quality that exposure to non-green light causes it to cease to exist. Apparently the material would need to absorb green light to continue existing, so the “rogue star” would cease to exist because it reflects green light! Got it? Wait, it’s a rogue star—doesn’t that mean it would radiate green light, not reflect green light?

Now, over to the Star Rovers. Obviously, for Karel’s skin to turn blue, something must have entered her bloodstream, taking away her normal pinkish color. To suggest that her hair is modified skin which also should have turned blue is ridiculous, since hair is nothing more than a protective covering, comparable to nails, claws, quills, scales, or feathers, which are all related and which all function and grow in the same manner. These have nothing to do with skin, and therefore are not related in any way.

Anyway, here’s your answer for this one: In between the second and last panels of the last page was a doctor saying the same things I did but trying to save her anyway, which he obviously did. He gave her a blood transfusion every day for two weeks, which enabled the blue poison to drain from her system. However, what they didn’t know was that the condition was hereditary and all of her future offspring were “blue babies”! Ouch!

Greg Coben, New Brunswick, N.J.

So Karel’s skin turns blue because of some poison, and characters in the story wonder why her hair doesn’t turn blue as well. Luckily Greg Coben is here to explain why. How’s this guy so smart? Editor Julian Schwartz notes in his reply to the letter, “A wise guy—eh, this Gren Coben? Could be—the portion of his address that we omitted reads: Rutgers University!” Clearly Greg Coben was a professor of colors.