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Archive: April 2004

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.

Kill More Kill Bill PSAs!

Sean Collins annoyed people this morning by saying that Kill Bill detractors should be ignored because they’re misunderstanding a great movie. I disagree with Sean that any of the characters renounce violence, except maybe the Tiny Yakuza who brings out Beatrix’s motherly side. And if they don’t renounce violence, are they all getting punished? Actually, I realize what he said was that “characters who refuse to renounce violence and deceit are inevitably punished for that refusal.” So maybe Beatrix escapes on a technicality for not managing to tell lies while dosed with truth serum, and limbless Sophie Fatale didn’t become headless too because she’s a coward who squealed. But that’s not what I’m focusing on here.

In an email, he clarified his thoughts on the aspect of sexual violence that had bothered Steven and me:

Anyway, I’d talk about the sexualized and exploitative violence–if, that is, I thought there was any, which I didn’t. Not all violence against women is sexualized, and I didn’t think any of it in Kill Bill was. No fetishizing shots of breasts, nipples, legs, crothces, asses, or even hair, really, just by way of a for instance. At any rate, it’s tough to think of a stronger female character than the Bride, who’s easily the best action heroine ever (depending, I guess, on whether you like her better than Lt. Ellen Ripley).

So maybe it boils down a problem with definitions, what makes some violence sexual and some not. I didn’t mean the violence was problematic because it involved femmes fatales in boob socks, which seems to be Sean’s definition of sexual violence. Well, I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it. Without talking about which “worked” for me as story elements and which didn’t, I’m going to make an incomplete list of categorically grouped sex-related violence from both my hazy memories of Kill Bill Vol. 1 and the more recent volume.

There’s some straight-up sexual violence. Buck has been accepting money to let men rape Beatrix while she’s comatose. I’d argue that the murders in response to this fall in the same general category. Beatrix has no reason to murder these two men except that she’s been their victim, so she’s trying to “right” the power balance because there’s nothing she can do about the sex part, which of course is the point. And Esteban slicing up the faces of his prostitutes, that seems like violence as payback for infractions related to sex and power, though we never learn the details.

Then there’s gender-based or sexist violence. When Gogo slices through the businessman who propositions her, she’s upsetting social norms and doing something unexpected for a woman. She’s penetrating and controlling someone who sought to do the same to her. O-Ren has to do the same thing, beat the men at their game of brutality to lead the Yakuza. If Bill is to believed, Pai Mei is a sexist who makes the women in his tutelage work harder and suffer more to prove their ability.

And there’s no lack of violence in/and romantic or just sexual relationships. Maybe Esteban’s role as a sometimes violent pimp fits better here. I don’t just mean standard intimate violence, but the way sex and violence are intertwined for the characters. Elle kills Budd so she can take credit for offing Beatrix, thinking it will endear her to Bill, not to mention knock out a rival for his affections. And when Elle and Beatrix finally fight, is the extra brutality payback for old hurts or the old girlfriend going after the rival who’s taken her place? Most obvious, though, is that Bill and Beatrix were obviously having sex, and Bill killed Beatrix after she left him. Whether or not it had to do with his jealousy that he was being replaced in her heart and womb, when you kill someone you’ve been sleeping with, it’s intimate violence and it’s not uncommon in our world either.

Objectification seems too subjective to catalogue and was something I didn’t find too problematic, perhaps because it’s what Tarantino understands best. I thought the parallel between the prostitutes in the brothel and Bill’s Assassin Squad was an insightful one that added depth to the story. And I haven’t quite figured out the mechanics, but I liked the way Budd didn’t objectify the strippers he worked with but did treat Beatrix as subhuman when burying her. He treats women who are nothing more than puppets in the movie as characters and belittles (and thus underestimates) the two fully realized women he deals with in the movie.

I’m sure if I spent time thinking about it I could come up with more than this, but there isn’t much of a point. These are issues that hit close to home with me, so I know I’ll be more strongly affected by them than most viewers, but I don’t know how anyone could ignore them all or be unaffected by them. I didn’t think the movie was necessarily exploitative in a porny way, making Uma Thurman some kind of fetish object, but the violence exploited the audience.

Sean also says he’s avoided analyzing Kill Bill Vol. 2 because he likes it too much to have critical distance. I hope he reconsiders, because I think I can see what aspects people would like, but I’d love to hear what they actually are. It’s usually easier to do negative reviews and it can be difficult and self-revealing to talk in any detail about what you like. One of my goals in writing here is to get more comfortable doing both sorts of reviews. I’m still working on that part, but apparently have no qualms about pressuring others to do what I don’t. And Mr. John Jakala, this means you! We who haven’t yet seen Dogville want to know why we should!

Kill Bill Counter Public Service Announcement

Every time somebody says something like this:

It’s really for the best if you ignore the people who didn’t like Kill Bill Volumes One and Two, which taken together comprise one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

It’s really for the best if you ignore them! Sean Collins said that. Why, I can’t imagine. Maybe he’s joking, but he mostly just sounds indignant. I guess he thinks only people who agree with him are worth paying attention to. How boring.

He also says:

I do, however, wish I knew how people can watch a movie in which bad behavior occurs and, because they find the film amusing on some level, deduce that that bad behavior is being endorsed–particularly in an oeuvre like Tarantino’s, in which characters who refuse to renounce violence and deceit are inevitably punished for that refusal.

Now, I personally didn’t find the “bad behavior” (I guess that would include raping a comatose woman, as well as the comotase woman eating off her rapist’s face, both pretty bad behavior) amusing, and I didn’t think the bad behavior was endorsed, so that’s fine. Actually, scratch that, a lot of the Bride’s bad behavior was most certainly endorsed, or at least looked upon with some approval by Tarantino—and members of the audience. Actually, the way Sean puts it here, which isn’t really a way I’d thought about it before, makes the movie seem way more fucked up than I thought at first—it gives us violent setpieces which are filmed in such a way as to entertain and exhilarate us, and then it says “Oh, but this violent which is so exciting and fun to watch is bad! These characters must be punished!”

I wish I knew why Quentin Tarantino and people in the audience Rose and I watched it with find this movie so amusing.

Oh, and pointing out other movies that immorally play gratuitous violence for laughs doesn’t exactly absolve Kill Bill… or maybe Tarantino does it morally?

And really, I came out of the theater thinking Kill Bill Vol. 2 was much better than Kill Bill Vol. 1, which I sort of liked but had lots of problems with, and I thought “Hey, get rid of that stupid Buck chapter and Kill Bill works pretty well,” but it’s such a frustrating movie, and I can’t figure out if it’s good frustrating or bad frustrating. I fear it’s both, and I fear Tarantino didn’t think it was supposed to be frustrating at all.

I do hope we get to hear why Kill Bill is one of the best movies Sean has ever seen. And Sean, I am curious, given your outspoken views on feminism and misogyny in movies like Dogville, to hear your thoughts on the issue of sexual and sexually violent exploitation of women characters for entertainment.

Kill Bill: “You and I have unfinished business.”

Unfortunately, I think Nate Bruinooge over at Polytropos has it right about Quentin Tarantino and Kill Bill:

Another, darker failing of his that has finally become clear to me is this: he finds abhorrent violence terribly funny. One of his strengths has always been the fact that he does not sugercoat violence, or pussyfoot around its most graphic and troubling aspects. He doesn’t allow us to get comfortable. But I’m afraid this may be accidental, because for him the violence we’re talking about — a goon splurting blood from a lost limb, a woman thrashing on the floor after losing her last eye — is already comfortable for him. If this is true it is rather damning of the man, not necessarily his work, though this particular movie seems to be a clear expression of his personal quirks unfettered by editorial critique or high inspiration.

I really only have one thing to say about Kill Bill Vol. 1, I guess (I’d probably have more to say if I watched again): OK, Buck? Who likes to fuck? How the hell did this shit not end up on the cutting room floor? It’s stupid, it’s nonsensical, it’s one of the most repugnant comedic-abhorrent-violence scenes in either volume of Kill Bill. Kill Bill Vol. 2 makes even clearer how wrongheaded the chapter is—it’s totally self-contained, it has nothing to do with the rest of the story (except for mild jokes about the Pussy Wagon), it serves only to dilute the sexualized violent relationship between the Bride and Bill. It turns the Bride from a person who was specifically victimized in specific ways by Bill into a general sexually victimized woman. With the Bride and Bill, you don’t have to read it as some kind of commentary on gendered violence or victimization of women or something, but the Buck chapter pretty well requires a reading pertaining to those themes, since there’s zero characterization of Buck or the trucker rapist or the Bride anywhere to be found and so there’s nothing to think about but the general gender politics. So are we supposed to cheer or something when the Bride eats off her rapist’s face? Jesus. And then we have to say… Well, gee, is the whole movie about violence against women or something? Is it supposed to be some kind of statement about victimization of women in action movies? Or is the Buck chapter just stupid and nonsensical and totally unrelated to everything else?

Is the movie a repugnant statement or is it just badly designed?

Well, anyway, here’s what I think about Vol. 2:

The best scenes in the movie manage to be at once trite and powerful. Most of them involve little B.B. Take the scene in which Bill explains to B.B. how he shot Mommy. The dialogue goes something like this:

Bill: I shot Mommy right in the head.
B.B.: Why, did you want to know what would happen?
Bill: No, I knew what would happen to Mommy when I shot her in the head. But what I didn’t know… was what would it would do to me.
B.B.: What did it do to you, Daddy?
Bill: Well, it made Daddy very sad.

It’s totally ridiculous and trite, but, well, it’s true, in a way. Tarantino uses B.B. to let his characters say things he could never get away with otherwise. They’re talking to a child, so they can talk like children. I said the stuff like this is trite, but also powerful, because it cuts right to the core of a lot of action movie morality, which is often painfully naïve. Take John Woo’s The Killer. Where did I just see something insightful about John Woo? Ah, right, from Dave Intermittent, in an attempt to formulate a taxonomy of martial arts action movies:

The second type [of martial arts movie] is played straight. Which is not to say realistic; but it takes its own absurdities very seriously. It doesn’t wink at the audience. And because it takes itself seriously, it can reach for something beyond simply entertaining an audience. Its lunacy becomes contagious; it can aspire to narrative power. Think about (not a kung fu movie, but the point remains) John Woo’s Hard Boiled. It makes, frankly, no sense at all, either in its narrative or its physics. It’s honor/betrayal paradigm shouldn’t really work, given what its yoked to; and explained to people who haven’t seen the film, it often doesn’t. But as a movie…it works. Oh man, how it works. It works because Woo never doubts that it should work, or lets on that he knows it shouldn’t. Woo never admits that his films are cartoons, and his belief that they aren’t transmutes them from cartoons into something more.

The Killer is another great example of this kind of movie. Woo obviously wants The Killer to be a tragic movie about violent people whose lives and the lives of the people they love end in horrific violence, but the thing is, the violence looks so damn fun! It’s exactly like a bunch of children playing cops & robbers or cowboys & injuns or the simplest, purest version of childhood violent play, the immortal Guns. Do children still play Guns nowadays? Just run around shooting each other, great fun. Kill Bill seems to want to acknowledge the childlike (childish?) quality of play in action movies, most obviously in the toy guns scene. Beatrix has tracked Bill to his home, she stalks through it looking for him, she steps onto the back porch… where Bill and B.B. stand holding toy guns. After some dramatic narration by Bill, B.B. fires her weapon: “Bang bang, you’re dead, Mommy.” Then Beatrix just stands there, looking at her daugher for the first time in both their lives, and this one closeup of Uma Thurman lasts maybe five seconds, and damn if that’s not about the hardest five seconds of film to watch that I’ve watched in a while. And ooh, Tarantino gets it, he’s taken the unconscious childlike-play metaphor of so many action movie gunplay scenes and literalized it. OK, sure, he falls victim to the same childlike ecstasy of violence in this very movie, but really, what an interesting way of dealing with it—put an actual child in the movie and let’s see if we can turn those trite statements about violence into something profound(ish). Maybe. Then I just now thought, “Yeah, but this is the same movie (OK, same two movies) with Buck Who Likes to Fuck, remember?” and that sort of ruins the effect, I have to admit.

I liked the goldfish scene, too, its parallelism with the Elle Driver scene. Elle is the goldfish outside its tank, flopping around after Beatrix pulls her eyeball out. Then Beatrix stomps on the eyeball—just like B.B. stomped on her poor goldfish. Yeah, trite and obvious, but that’s what we’re going for here.

Speaking of Beatrix… Beatrix? Beatrix Kiddo? I didn’t get the “Trix are for kids” joke until Rose pointed it out to me, and now I wish she hadn’t, because damn. Why is “Beatrix Kiddo” bleeped out in the first movie? What’s the allusion (there must be one)? Does it have anything to do with anything other than being an allusion? Some of the pastiche works as part of the text—Rose talks a bit about how the Western stuff works—but too many of the references seem to exist only as references, so that the text becomes sort of a laundry list of movies Tarantino has seen. The name-bleeping may not be the best example, because there’s a lot of reasonably good stuff about names and identities (the Superman speech! another pretty good scene) and the name-bleeping probably ties in to that. Still. Other seemingly pointless allusions apply. Am I supposed to be impressed that Tarantino has seen every single movie ever made? How boring. Why don’t I just watch the actual Once Upon a Time in China and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly instead?

Kill Bill frustrates me, you may have noticed. The more I want it to be a good movie, the more I wonder if it doesn’t want to be a good movie.

It does have some amusing dialogue, though.

Budd: She’s got a Hanzo sword?
Bill: He made one for her.
Budd: Didn’t he swear a blood oath to never make another sword?
Bill: It would appear, he has broken it.
Budd: Well… maybe you just tend to bring that out in people.

The Bride: You good with that shotgun?
Janeen: Not that it matters at this range, but I’m a fuckn’ surgeon with this shotgun!


That thing over on the right that says “goto” is our new linkdump. Links we want to link to but don’t have much to say about go over there rather than over here on the blog. Up to 10 links go on the sidebar over there, old links get bumped off the list. Older links may be found in the goto archive (not yet, obviously). The linkdump has its own RSS 0.91 feed.

Also, we’ve been without a blogroll since we switch hosting services earlier this month. We promise to add some kind of half-assed blogroll soon and then think about how to do a good blogroll.

“No one has succeeded in singing an epic of peace.”

Because I can’t make Kill Bill into the story I wish it could be, I’m open to suggestions. Are there cathartic quest stories about the search for forgiveness? Trite as it sounds, I’ve found forgiving worth the effort and pain, and I doubt that vengeance could be so satisfying (and certainly not for me), but is this a line of thought borne out in anything that isn’t a Lifetime Original Movie?

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?