I Am Getting Published In Hell

I was away last week, but I had a pretty good reason: one so compelling that I actually changed the article that I was going to post up here today.

For those of you who have been following me, you know that I’d participated in the Dark Crystal Author Quest. Unfortunately, I had too many other tasks at the time and I couldn’t deliver on that story beyond the outline and crude introduction that I posted on Mythic Bios a while ago.

What some of you might also remember was that I’d been working on another project at the time. Some months before, Janet Morris–the creator of Heroes in Hell–approached me and asked me if I wanted to write a story for her universe. Of course, I agreed. Not only do I find the world she created captivating, but it would be the first opportunity I’ve had in getting a short story of mine published into print.

Of course, I didn’t want to say anything too soon. There was not guarantee that I was actually going to get my story published. First of all, it had to be accepted first. There were a lot of challenges in even creating this story, and then editing it. Two weeks ago I was going a little crazy: hitting a major learning curve in the collaboration process. This was happening for a while, but in particular almost concurrently after showing off my Twine game and attending the GeekPr0n Third Anniversary Party.

But I was lucky in that there were good people to help me through the process, including and especially Janet Morris herself. So now, let me make it nice and official.

My story WHEN YOU GAZE INTO AN ABYSS has been accepted into the latest volume of Janet Morris’ Heroes in Hell POETS IN HELL.

Poets in Hell

As a bit of background information, Heroes in Hell is a shared universe that operates on the premise that anyone who has had an interesting life will have violated one of the 613 commandments intrinsic to the fabric of a moral universe and will thus find themselves in hell. So imagine hell filled with underworld gods, fallen angels, demons, monsters, mythological figures, historical figures, genii, mass-murderers, thieves, and–well–humankind in general. And make no mistake, my friends. This is literally hell.  If you think our world is bad, and it has a lot of bad qualities, reading this will make you appreciate our world a whole lot more: as all good and intelligent literature should.

My story “When You Gaze Into An Abyss” features Lilith, the apocryphal first wife of Adam, and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche — amongst other diabolical friends.

I look forward to hearing what you think about this story and the volume that it comes in. I can’t reiterate enough that this will be my first short story ever in print. Expect POETS IN HELL to become available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon around June to July 2014. I also believe it will be on Kindle as well along with its other volumes. I will update you all with more images and links when they arrive.

Suffice to say, and considering all the struggle it was to get to this point in time, it feels good to be a poet of hell.

Lost in Books

amaze.me

I am at a loss. I wander down long stretches of bookcase winding into shadow, eternity, and dust. I’ve lost all concept of time. The spine of Alan Moore’s Minutemen with its vintage essential 1930s-style artwork next to his Watchmen does not help me: though it would be interesting to read …

I keep moving. The Twilight of the Superheroes–more Alan Moore–sits there in an alcove but promises no solace. I go deeper. There is a manga section on the other side of me. Tezuka Osamu’s Phoenix: Earth stares at me mockingly whole: completing an incomplete saga and a lifetime’s work. I shake my head and keep going. I keep going past the rest of Moore’s Big Numbers, all twelve issues of them, long since past the time to remember how many steps I have given away to be here in this place.

It gets worse. I find myself at a complete run of Marvelman and it’s hard–so hard–to turn away. It’s as though I’ve come to a dead-end, like the middle of a maze in my mind, like the conclusion of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s Black Tunnel Wall right in front of me.

I begin to run.

David Eddings’ Zedar: The Apostate sits on a shelf in loneliness. Myst: The Book of Marrim makes my heart-ache. There are so many Tolkiens. So many Tezukas. So much Alan Moore. Moore. Moore. More. More. More …

It is in the history section of this labyrinth of the literary bibliophiliac where I stop at Maus III: My Mother Breathes Silence–Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel based off the fragments of his mother Anja’s surviving journals from asylums and concentration camps–that I finally understand.

This place doesn’t exist. This is the place where I want to be.

I’m clutching my head in the darkness as the full implications of all this begin to sink in. Then I see something: something else in the dark. I walk past The Continued Works of Keats and The Will to Power that Nietzsche wrote himself to find a gap in the comics section. It is a small gap and I can barely make out the label on the shelf. When I read enough of it, I smile.

I can’t help it. In the Neil Gaiman section, the story of Morpheus before Preludes and Nocturnes is no longer here. It is somewhere else now. I’m smiling: hoping that the Marvelman section and its remaining additional issues will also disappear from this place sooner rather than later. It is is a small hope.

A transvestite Joker seems to laugh at me from a cover of Morrison’s Arkham Asylum as I slump down exhausted in a place more demented than Batman’s Rogues Gallery and more sad than a watch without a watchmaker: a library without librarians.

It is here, huddled in this dark corner, that I wish for a world that makes sense: a place where Homer existed, Shakespeare wrote his plays, Sappho wrote more poetry, and I–finally–know just who it is I am.

Full Beings and Perfect Forms: Aristophanes and Plato in Miracleman

Before I begin, I would really like to point out that I’m aware of the fact that I’m talking about a comics series that few people have had the opportunity to read: though perhaps there are more readers of Miracleman out there than I assume. In addition, there will be some spoilers in this article, so for those still interested in reading the comics and can get access to them, read them first before reading this article. And for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I talk enough about superheroes here and the philosophy of them to probably be followed. It’s up to you whether you want to read the comics.

Like I say every time I make this disclaimers, you have been warned.

Well before Alan Moore revised or deconstructed the figure of the superhero, people always assumed that even though superheroes have their official crime-fighting identities and their civilian alter-egos they are still ultimately the same person. The same was the said for Marvelman (later named Miracleman and possibly Marvelman again depending on whether or not Marvel Comics releases Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s runs) and his Family: that even though they spoke a magic word to change from human to superhero and back again, they always had the same personality.

Alan Moore challenges that assumption with his revisionism. We see a vast difference between Kid Miracleman and Johnny Bates: the child that he came from. Of course, that has a lot to do with the fact that Johnny switched into his Kid Miracleman persona as a child and let it grow up separately from his human child form. This, along with the event that forced him to hide and the circumstances of how he got his powers, might have warped his mind into two distinct personalities: though both have access to the same memories which is something to consider.

Moore even makes you begin to question if Miracleman and his alter-ego Mike Moran (though they both share the same initials) are in fact the same person. While both begin with a similar morality and are genuinely good people–and they share memories–key differences begin to occur to differentiate them. It’s probably even further complicated by the fact that Miracleman had been dormant for years after a traumatic event, while Mike Moran himself continued to age and live his own life until another traumatic event forced him to remember the key-word to bring his superhero persona back.

Then there is Young Miracleman–or Dick Dauntless–who died and was brought back to life. From Neil Gaiman’s run, or from what exists of it so far, there is no difference between Young Miracleman and his alter-ego at all. Finally, Miraclewoman seems to be the most balanced of the entire Miracle (or Marvel) Family in that as the doctor Avril Lear and Miraclewoman she also seems to be the same person and has learned a lot about her dual nature by exploring both.

As I read the entire series as it was, I began to notice certain elements that Alan Moore and to some extent Neil Gaiman incorporated into their work. In a lot of ways and I have Alan Moore in particular in mind, they brought the idea of the superhero back to its roots: to the mythologies that created it as they took it apart. The secret British government program that was created to make these super-beings is called Project Zarathustra: based off of Nietzsche’s idea of the ubermensch or the superman. The superman is supposed to be a being that has transcended all conventional morality and chooses to create their own code to live by: possessing the power to do so through sheer will. I talked about this a little bit with my Whoever Hates the Man of Tomorrow? article, but this is a theme that definitely plays out with Miracleman.

There are other mythological references in Miracleman: such as the heroes’ home base being called Olympus, the body-switching Qys as the supposedly unwitting genetic prototypes of the Miracle Family being referred to as the Titans or the Primordials that existed before the “superhero pantheon of gods,” and even the battle with the twisted Kid Miracleman supposedly mirroring Ragnarok or the “twilight of the gods.” Moore even creates a nice mythological analogy between superheroes and supervillains: the former being Heroes and the latter being known as Dragons or monsters to be vanquished. We see a lot of Nordic and Greek mythology being drawn on to create this version of Miracleman. But there is more.

As I continued reading Miracleman, I saw another parallel developing. It began when I saw the twisted fused twin skeletons inside of the British government’s secret Spookshow warehouse: where Miracleman and his kind were created. Originally, I was led to believe that these fused skeletons were the remains of Young Miracleman from his own death, but in reality they were the dual remnants of Young Nastyman: another experiment that went insane and died through mid-transformation within a volcano … or so Miraclewoman says.

That grotesque fusion of two skeletons reminded me of Aristophanes’ myth of love. I know how disturbing that may sound, but I didn’t actually start thinking of it that way until Miracleman himself began to explore his own identity and the line between himself and Mike Moran. According to Plato in his Symposium, Aristophanes explained why love existed by telling a story in which once upon a time mortals were larger beings with two-heads, two sets of genitals, and two sets of limbs. They were powerful and they defied the gods so much that Zeus split them into two. This myth was supposed to explain that love is that need for each person to look for the other person split from them or, as we hear it in our own popular culture, each person looks for “their other half.”

That was the resonance I got when Alan Moore really came to the finer details of how the switch between mortal and divine works with the Miracle Family. It’s almost as though Project Zarathustra, in analyzing the bodies and the technology of the Qys–of fluidly intersexual Titan progenitors–tapped into a place of mythical proportions to recreate that “lost existence” that Aristophanes goes on about. One very interesting thing to note about Aristophanes’ myth is that when human beings were once unified, greater beings it was implied that they could defy and potentially challenge the gods themselves: which was one reason why Zeus and Apollo divided and changed them. Therefore, it can also be implied that Project Zarathustra allowed mere mortals to tap into the divine, to a place beyond the divine, to become a lot more than what they already were and challenge the established order around them.

Aristophanes’ myth that was meant to examine the origins of love and humanity’s potential to divine power is argued by scholars to be a comedic or lampoonish idea to reflect its comedian creator. Yet I find nothing particularly hilarious about this, though it is interesting that it was considered a “comic” idea: one that has translated itself so well throughout the ages. There is also another saying in popular cultural with regards to love as reunion: that just as people are looking for their “other half,” there is also in a relationship reference to one’s “better half.”

This is where I begin to wonder, like a few scholars before me, if the myth of Aristophanes wasn’t created by Plato himself to add a nice neat argument to his Symposium. We can argue whether or not Socrates created his own philosophy too until the cows come home, but that’s not the point here. Plato himself had his own theories about reality and the subjects that exist in reality. He believed that there are two worlds: the World of Forms or Being and the World of Becoming. The World of Being is a plane of perfection. You can find the originals or the perfect forms of anything that has ever existed. You can find the ideal object–such as a chair–or subject–such as a man or a woman as well as thoughts, feelings and knowledge–here.

Then you have the World of Becoming, a gradation of said perfect forms into more worn and degraded shapes. They deviate or change from the ideal and ethereal prototypes that they come from. The idea is that we live in the World of Becoming and that we seek the World of Being. You can see here, and I’m sure my high school philosophy teacher would be proud of me at this moment, how this Platonic thought influenced the Western idea of Heaven and Earth, or Heaven and Hell.

When I read Miracleman, I saw an interesting parallel with this Platonic conception. Miracleman and his kind are the perfect forms. When they are not used, the forms are kept in a place of pure energy known as Under-Space: a nice analog to the World of Forms itself. They rarely ever age, they cannot be destroyed through conventional means, they have extraordinary clarity of thought, devastating power, and even their costumes are engineered from an alien material that cannot be destroyed and reflects the moods of their wearers. Their powers and natures are explained as being the result of a psychic field or harmonic around them that they can control. In other words, the Miracle Family practices mind over matter.

My reading of this is that human scientists–degraded imperfect people like the rest of us from the World of Becoming or matter–used a link to the World of Being or the spirit to reverse engineer near perfect forms that mortals can have access to. Even Miracleman explains that he has the same thoughts that Mike Moran does, but he can see them and perceive his world with far more clarity and insight. We can get even more Platonic or Gnostic and say that through science, the Miracle Family gained a greater link to their spiritual, real, celestial selves. It is also no coincidence that Alan Moore, their revisionist, began to embrace further mythological and spiritual elements in his later works and even in his own life.

So it seems clear cut that Miracleman and his Family are their own essential selves having been unified. Of course, it is not nearly so simple as that. Mike Moran, Johnny Bates, Dick Dauntless, Avril Lear and Young Nastyman (or Terrence Rebbeck) did not seek this enlightenment. They were kidnapped, kept in medically induced comas, experimented on, had essentialized clone bodies made for them, had said bodies transferred into Under-Space where their minds would be trained to switch back and forth to by a word command, and were brainwashed to believe they were superheroes in a comic book-like virtual world before being abandoned as too powerful and too dangerous and marked for a termination order which, inevitably, failed.

It all sounds so banal when I summarize their origins like that. In a lot of ways, the Miracle Family are more like the uncanny Freudian doubles or doppelgangers of the mortals which they are linked to. They have great powers and insight, but they do not always relate well to the World of Becoming around them. Some of them are malicious because of this and even the best-intentioned among them have the potential to cause immense and traumatic change to the world.

I personally think that they are all of these things and more. I think that Moore portrayed them as humanity’s need to reach for and become the divine: or to remember its divinity. What happens after the creation of said beings, their own realizations of what they are,  and how the affect and what to share their perspective with the world around and the people who made them is–in mythological retrospect–an inevitable conclusion.

ETA: After writing this article, I’ve realized that you can examine the Miracle Family with a particular focus on identity. Much in the way that Neil Gaiman’s A Game of You really plays with identity, gender and the fluidity and change of self-identity, his and Alan Moore’s Miracleman can also be examined in a similar light. Maybe one day someone will do that … when the damned thing is republished.

Abraxas, legal issues, Abraxas …

Whoever Hates the Man of Tomorrow?

Alan Moore attempts to answer a question originally of his own making when he created Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? years ago. This question has been asked a variety of times since the end of the superhero’s Silver Age and has garnered a variety of creative answers.

But why Superman? Why is Superman still so important? I admit: I have friends who simply don’t see the point to the Man of Steel’s continued existence or, indeed, his creation to begin with. One main criticism that people have with regards to Superman is how unrelatable he is to the reader. I mean, come on now, none of us can generate heat rays out of our eyes, fly, possess X-Ray vision, make freeze-breath, or be invulnerable. Certainly, no one has Superman’s “boy scout” morality without any other very human flaws and failings to match it: if that.

I can understand why Batman is more relatable. He is a human being who has used material resources and pushed all of his human skills to their limits by sheer obsession and utter will. If anyone should be the Man of Tomorrow, gender connotations notwithstanding, you’d think it would be Batman. Certainly, many people have a great love of the vigilante: of the person that goes beyond the law, becoming extra-constitutional, going beyond the polis–the city-state–to become a god or a monster to see that proper justice or vengeance is done. And there are heroes being venerated today–perhaps throwbacks to the ancient literary heroes–who are far more brutal and even more morally ambiguous than Batman.

And Superman? He is a “goody-goody.” He is so much a goody-goody he is too good to be true. Whereas Batman operates beyond the law or within its blind-eye, Superman obeys the law in as much as he can save innocents and capture criminals. Perhaps there is little difference, save that the law seems to like Superman a lot more or accept that he is beyond them: that he is using his powers to uphold the law and safety to a fault. Indeed, you could say that Superman has more a lovable personality: or is more personable and wins all popularity contests through his sheer good nature while Batman fights with fear as his weapon. Fear does not make you popular or loved: but it gets the job done.

But is that the only thing Superman has over Batman and others? That he is more lovable and makes a show of following rules? That he is superhuman and chooses not to obliterate the world? That he ignores or reshapes the reality of the world? Or worse: does he continue to patronize his friends, his allies, his enemies, and the human race by presuming to always save and stop them? Is his alter-ego of Clark Kent, according to Bill in Kill Bill Vol. II, simply a grotesque critique of what he thinks a human being really is?

The truth is, when you look at Superman, you see an incredibly powerful being that could rule and destroy the world. He could rip us apart like insects. Yes, Kryptonite can hurt and kill him but he has enough knowledge to protect himself against it. In fact, the knowledge and intelligence he possesses from the Fortress of Solitude that is his Kryptonian birthright and from his own experiments is enough to dominate and destroy all human kind. There are many people who–if they had his knowledge and power–would do exactly that and have very little qualms about doing so. Some people in the DC Universe already have.

It is already clear that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster based him off of Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the ubermensch: a being that has grown beyond the constraints of morality and limitation to choose their own path, yet they injected “good old morality” into this alien superman and made all of his achievements naturally-born and inherited from the dead.

So why is Superman special? Why do I think he is special? I might have written some of my answers already but–if I had to sum it up–I would have you consider the following.

Imagine finding out that you have the power to crush steel with a punch or even just the touch of a hand. If you wanted, nothing could ever touch you. You can move as fast as or beyond the speed of light. If you jump, you will jump extremely high and eventually be able to fly: but you need to somehow know how to control where to go or how to move given that you still have a humanoid form and it is not built with the instincts for flight.

Now take all of that–never mind the fact that you have to learn how to control your temper, your passions and hold your parents or your lovers carefully so that you don’t crush or hurt them–and then add an alien birthright whose most modest lore could detonate the world many times over and again: possibly taking you and everyone you love with it.

Your merest touch could kill a person and your slightest knowledge could destroy them. It makes for a lonely existence doesn’t it? And yet, somehow deep inside of you, you not only find the will to master all of these powers but you actually want to use what you have to help other people. At the same time, you just want to be like other people: even though deep down you know you never truly will ever be. You don’t want to be thanked, you just want to help and out of all those things you could do, you choose to do so.

In Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come, a horrible calamity happens and Superman gives up on being Clark Kent. We see a person who lived among humans, who loved them, who had friends among them and wasn’t alone become an out of touch and distant Superman who only responds to the dead name of Kal-El from an equally dead and distant world. It is a Superman who still wants to do good and still feels bad over the loss of life, but he can no longer relate to anyone that he wants to save and people cannot relate to a person who looks upon them as so … lesser than he is.

He becomes the genius that cannot relate to anyone and garners misunderstanding and even contempt: because if a superhero, like a genius, cannot relate to those they save or even us readers then they have failed in a very fundamental way.

Unlike Bruce Wayne whose civilian identity is a mask for Batman, Superman is Clark Kent. He was born as Clark Kent and even though he isn’t human, being Clark Kent has taught him control and about life. As Grant Morrison demonstrates with a bright and essential freshness in his Superman All-Star, the power has not mastered Superman as it has so many others.

Superman has mastered the power and like the ubermensch he chooses his morality: which is to help people. At the same time, he is like Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kroger: who can see the dance of humanity around him and even replicate it artistically but is never really a part of it. It is his strength and his sadness and yet he finds the joy in helping others find joy. Very few others in fiction or the real world could ever be like that.

I write a lot of dark and conflicted characters yet once–long ago–Superman was one of my earliest childhood heroes. And in some ways, he still is. I’m glad the idea of him exists. I’m glad he exists.

Thus concludes another episode of Matthew Kirshenblatt writing about superheroes. Up, up and away my friends.

Wrong Genius, Music, and Another Thank You

These past two days and Sarah Howell have been very kind to this Blog. In these past two days I’ve had a lot of traffic, new Followers, and a whole lot of “Likes” for my “Onus of Creativity” and “Ice-Nine Days and Vonnegut Nights” posts. I want to thank you–all of you–once again for finding what I have to say interesting.

This Blog is evolving in ways I didn’t actually anticipate. Like I keep saying, it was supposed to be a Writing or Writer’s Blog with more stories than criticism and opinion. But you know, I really like my opinions. I like taking my experiences and knowledge and making new shapes with them: strange, weird little baubles that really just reveal what I think. Really, my Blog seems random–kind of like me–but I’d like to say there’s some underlying pattern that’s still in the process of making itself known here.

And you know, while I’d really like to think that at least I bring a writer’s sensitivities or sensibilities to my opinions here, in the end I just like to state them no matter what they might be.

There is one thing I’ve been thinking about lately. If you read my “Onus” entry, you’ll know that I referenced a TED Lecture by a writer named Elizabeth Gilbert called “On Genius” or “On Nurturing Creativity” in which she talks about the ancient Mediterranean conception of genius as being a spirit that passes through someone: that may or may not give them inspiration. Gilbert talks about treating modern genius like this: that–as opposed to purely being centred within a particular tormented individual–it can be a force that you can accept or reject on your terms to make your life more balanced.

Yet here is a question that has been plaguing me: what happens when you get the wrong genius?

Let me explain. A few times in my life, but one time in particular, I was asleep and dreaming. And within that dream I heard music. Now, I tend to write my dreams down whenever I’m not lazy enough and it was a very compelling, detailed dream. But here is the thing. I am not a musician. I was not trained as a musician. I do not have many–if any–of the tools to record, pattern, or create music.

So why did I get this sound? I tried copying it down in terms of rhythm. I will admit that I had some background playing the drums in elementary school and I even learned how to sing in a religious capacity. My family is a family of singers too. I also tend to listen to a lot of epic music: Classical, modern, Electric Body Music, video game soundtrack and just very eclectic things. So it doesn’t surprise me that some music has rubbed off in my head. I also admit that I am inspired by music and I collect certain tunes I like on Youtube.

But if we go by the hypothesis of the genius, why would it choose me–a non-musician–to make music in? I mean, seriously, the closest I can get is lyrical poetry which, while not completely removed, is really not ideal for its preservation. So do I tell it to go away when it happens? Do I adapt it somehow?

Today on the subway, I was continuing to plod through Lesley Chamberlain’s book Nietzsche in Turin. At one point she goes into some length about Nietzeche’s influence from Wagner: particularly how his form of opera informed the structure of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. From what I understand, Chamberlain seems to argue that Zarathustra is a philosophical opera in written poetic form. Nietzsche also had musical background and attempted to write music and–I believe–librettos as well. Wagner even called him a “failed musician.” I personally think that Nietzsche was one of the most irreverent but paradoxically serious artistic philosophers that we have in the Western tradition.

But did Nietzsche make something new? Did his attention to archetypes, to written leitmotifs and human cycles, and lyrical turns of phrase and conventions make what some have called “bad poetry disguised as philosophy” or did he make something else entirely: something unique in the nineteenth century? Did he make some kind of prototypical medium just as Wagner changed the operatic one: that branches out over several mediums to make something else entirely?

I suppose that is one way to interpret how a genius of music can influence a writer, but I don’t know. Maybe it was the wrong genius. But then I feel music inside of me too. I think it’s in all of us. ln fact, I think one of the most beautiful things about Musicals is that they are art forms that bring to the surfaces the rhythms and sounds that we hear and feel inside of us. They are tonal equivalents of words or brush strokes that can use to mimic our external and internal environments: and only a few people can capture and manipulate these tones well. I am not one of these: unless you count poetry which I don’t do often.

Still … music, by it’s very name is associated with the muses, the daimon, the genius. Music is also structured by symbols: by written notes that are very eerily similar to how mathematic symbols are structured. They are said to have a very similar rhythm. While I have considerable difficulty with math, at the same time I know that it is a construction of ancient symbolic logic and understanding while music utilizes it but has great intuitive and creative aspects.

I guess I really don’t know what to tell you. Maybe it was my left-brain trying to tell me something in my sleep, or my right and left brain-parts trying to tell me a story in a slightly different way. Or maybe I should have more musician friends who can record down something that I can at least hum before I forget it. It’s just really fascinating and I hope that if that genius didn’t find what it needed from me, it went on to someone else he could … or maybe, it did find what it was looking for. I’ll never really know, but maybe I have yet to see.