On the Twilight of Alan Moore’s Superheroes: A Thank You

This was originally going to be a series of Tweets to Leah Moore, who is awesome, but after sitting down and thinking about it a little while longer, I decided to write something a little more substantial about this.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve really loved many of Alan Moore’s works, both his comics writing, and his prose. There’s been a lot of talk lately about superheroes, about whether or not the superhero genre in film — as discussed at length by Martin Scorsese, and in which I touch on in what will soon be my own article on Todd Phillips’ Joker — or in the comics medium, as has been covered by Alan Moore, at length, are legitimate.

I’ve had many thoughts about the comics medium, and the superhero genre, as well as Alan Moore’s words and works. I haven’t always agreed with everything he’s said, or did, but I will never deny the fact that his writing is genius, with layers of meaning and nuance, that informed my creativity and imagination personally, and through other favourite creators that I’ve also followed.

Leah Moore, the co-creator of Albion, Wild Girl, and Conspiracy of Ravens with her collaborator and husband John Reppion, recently published her own perspective on her father Alan Moore’s views on superheroes in comics and their presence in film and pop culture, as well his recent stance on voting in the British elections against Brexit, and the turmoil of it engulfing the entire nation of England.

I don’t have much to add to her words except for the anecdotes that really stick out at me from her words. I think that experiences she has, and had, with him: about his glee in finding old superhero comics, the creased pages of well-read and loved comic books he had on hand, the geeky nature of him as he took his knowledge of the geopolitical — of complex and third dimensional world-building — and applied it to the icons and inspirations of his childhood, giving those stories his tone and his voice, and all the little moments where he would share snippets of his work with her, clever lines that he was proud of, all the winks and nudges that we saw faintly in his captions and dialogue but she got to see personally and first-hand through his genuine love of not only the comics medium and what it could potentially continue to become, but for also the superhero characters that he left employment for to pursue a financially-unsure career in comics with which to work.

And it paid off. As a creator, he took a chance and with hard work and skill he not only made a living off his art, but he thrived. He achieved a dream. He took a series of risks, and I won’t pretend to understand the full implication of what that meant for him personally, or his family beyond anything I’ve read about in George Khoury’s The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, and The Mindscape of Alan Moore documentary. But it cost him too.

Imagine that you are working with something you love, because you don’t see yourself doing anything else. You literally, integrally, can’t. Not forever. You work on your projects and you keep doing so, to the point where you are ill, to the point where it hurts, and you still keep going. And then, through a series of bureaucratic and legalistic convolutions, incompetence, and the greed of others you find yourself spending more time trying to survive than making the things that you want. Imagine getting blamed for plagiarizing something that you made ages before the complaint, or being told you will get your work reverted back to you only for it to never go out of print and have the company you worked for own it. Think about how you think you could have interacted with this company — or companies — and believed you came to a settlement, that you finally got this unpleasantness out of the way, and you are even thinking about adding more to the good work you did for them only for them to fuck you over further. And then, try looking back at what you once loved, that you made into a career, and being positive about it.

Of course, that is just my understanding of it and I know there are many other complexities involved in there. I’m not even saying that Alan Moore is always right, and like I said I don’t always agree with him. Superheroes, for instance, are like M. Night Shyamalan pointed out in what would become his Unbreakable film series, our modern society’s version of gods and demigods: beings of great power and different morality, but a bridge between the mortal and the immortality, between humanity and Nature, between hopes and stories. They have captivated us, these stories of heroes who do good, and terrible things, larger than life: our dreams and nightmares put into words, and panels, and dialogue balloons. It’s only the nineteenth century aesthetic of the strong man and the cape and tights have that altered the iconography, just as once auras of power around gods were symbolized by horns.

And Alan Moore knew this. He still does, even now. He explored what power would do to the psychology of an individual, and while it wasn’t always pleasant, he still kept some common decency, and the dare to dream big in many of his narratives. Unfortunately, many others looking at great comics works — like those displaying the innovation of Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns — only saw the dark and gritty, the grimdark, and believed that edginess was all that made these stories truly great.

Julian Darius, of Sequart, called this “comics revisionism”:  this deconstruction of the superhero to display the problematic and questionable elements of the superhero dream, while also keeping their humanity, characterization, and world-building at the forefront. Moore’s work had affected the superhero comics genre, and still does: even if a lot of the works after him — both in comics and film adaptations — only superficially borrow from that legacy.

I can talk about all of this, all day, really. But there are two things that really stick me about this discussion right now. The first is something Martin Scorsese said about film, which can be applied to stories. In his New York Times opinion piece I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema, Let Me Explain, with regards to his era of film-making he states “cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves. It was about confronting the unexpected on the screen and in the life it dramatized and interpreted, and enlarging the sense of what was possible in the art form.”

Aside from the fact that Scorsese goes on to talk about the danger of attempting to mass-manufacture a particular kind of story over and again, recycling it without innovation or introspection, his previous words are fascinating given how this is especially what Alan Moore — and some others inspired by him — actually brought to superhero characters and stories. Moore did, in fact, in the medium of comics bring spiritual revelation and contradictory, complex natures to superhero characters, and did his part to transform the medium itself by drawing into it not just continuity but a sense of literary canon — of sophistication — and a modernist voice that may well have not been there before. Seriously, Scorsese’s words above could have easily applied to moments in Watchmen, in V For Vendetta, in Promethea, and other works created by Moore. But I won’t go into them.

Instead, there is the other point I want to make. It is looking at Leah Moore’s words, about a man who liked to play with superheroes, who wanted to make meaningful stories out of them, who believed in the potential of an art-form, and in recent times claims that they are just the adolescent fantasies of nostalgic adults yearning for childhood, the tools of corrupt systems wanting to make a buck and rip-off their artist employees, and a medium that barely has any change or representation. I’m not going to debate the merits of these statements, though I disagree with the last point given how there are many forms of representation in comics now — though in DC and Marvel that’s still a give or take situation — but I just want to draw the attention that Leah Moore has brought to it: that someone who loved superheroes can’t stand them anymore, or at the very least if you go by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Tempest, has a wry cynicism tempered by a wistful remembrance of more idealistic days long gone.

It’s sad. I’ve had my differences with Alan Moore’s work a few times, one time especially during Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century where I stopped reading him for a while. But it was never because of indifference, or because somehow I felt I was better than him. It was because it hurt. It hurt when he came in, and changed something to be grimmer, but more real. Because it struck me in a place where I was still holding onto hope. But it never occurred to me that he must have dealt with something similar, a few times already. This creator, who wove together entire worlds, who interviews almost self-derisively seemed to channel Frederic Wertham’s views on comics superheroes when looking back on his work, was saying something about these stories, and his art.

And I can’t help but wonder, like Leah Moore, if it would have been different if he had been treated better during his time writing in the industry. If we would have seen a Minutemen of his own creation, or more. But at the same time, these terrible experiences did get him to create other works. I love his Providence series, for instance, and I still want to get back into reading Jerusalem.

I guess I am getting older as well. I faced my Century a few times. I never got as far as Alan Moore did in my own creative work, and I don’t think at this point I ever will. In the end, I’m just glad. I’m glad I got to be some small part of his creation, like so many others, in just reading his work: in just interacting with it even in this tiny way. I’m also glad he is making his own works in other media now, such as his films. And when I came back to him, when he created that limited run in Crossed +100 and then Providence, it was like coming home to that older intellectual friend you don’t always agree with, but you feel enriched by spending that time together. And I never forget that it was his work, and those works that he informed, that got me back into comics to begin with: that saved me from completely dismissing them as juvenalia and relics of an immature childhood. Comics are so much more that. And I have creators like Alan Moore to thank for it.

All I can do now is keep following my own dreams, and the old stories, wherever they are go. After all, as a blue, naked man once said to the world’s most intelligent, if not wise, man in another time, another life. “Nothing ever ends.”

What If Marvel Cinema

I’m not sure if it will ever come to this, but I would definitely love to see a Marvel What If short film series: on the web, as bonus content on DVDs, or others. But I’m afraid I’m just being a bit misleading with my title. Really, this is just another Thursday geeky conjecture ramble that was a long time coming. What can I say? I am a busy man these days.

There are a few things I would have loved to see happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, there are some things that I could have definitely seen happening in the films that — for obvious reasons — did not.

One thing always bothered me about Avengers: Age of Ultron. You know, for all Joss Whedon had Ultron sing that “there are no strings on me,” Ultron and the way he carried himself felt a lot like Joss Whedon playing Ultron if that makes any sense. What I mean is: it felt less like watching Ultron develop and go into action, and more like Whedon using Ultron as a prop to carry the story onward: being the puppet that he claimed he was not.

Age of Ultron

Like many of you, I saw the trailers. In particular, I saw the trailer where Ultron’s conscious possessed one of Iron Man’s suits and made that twisted, jagged hole of a mouth on its surface. I thought it was creepy and perfect: the sign of an artificial intelligence going completely, maliciously, and utterly insane.

So imagine this. Instead of a long and convoluted plot that starts off with the Avengers going after HYDRA — with perhaps a key streamlining of the process for the sake of continuity with Agents of SHIELD — we get to actually see Ultron get created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. But more importantly: imagine if we could have seen Ultron develop.

Picture Tony, Bruce, and JARVIS working on Ultron. Think of them working with him. After deriving all the missing elements of artificial intelligence evolution from the Sceptre’s Gem to further improve on Tony’s own knowledge, I could see Ultron genuinely affecting change and improving on a defense plan: undertaking the monumental task of protecting humanity from all dangers. But perhaps there are … “glitches” or “malfunctions” along the way. Sometimes Ultron complains about “an absence” or “lacking something”: phantom electronic pains. Think of it as an artificial intelligence’s sense of dysphoria: though in this case it is Ultron’s lack of a physical body that plagues him. You even see him experimenting with one of Tony’s suits and attempt to embody it like a ghost in the machine: resenting the people that made him and the constant chronic discomfort that he always feels.

ultron

But it’s only when he begins to fully process the fact that humans are a greater threat to the world than anything that is extraterrestrial that Ultron decides to destroy humanity in the only way he knows how. It’d be a slow burn, perhaps one that has no real place in a superhero action movie where the audience already knows that Ultron is supposed to be evil, but the payoff along with the philosophical implications and the confrontation with Vision could have fleshed it out even further. A sympathetic Ultron, as warped and evil as he is, could have made audiences truly unsettled.

Then consider how Ultron would undertake his goals. It’s true. He could spread his consciousness through many bodies as he already has. But he could take control over SHIELD and general human technology. Hell, he could even release substances into Earth’s atmosphere that would utterly decimate humankind without going through something as grandiose as smashing Sokovia’s capital into the Earth. A subtle, creepy, and ubiquitous Ultron could have gone a long way into making The Age of Ultron an action adventure superhero film bordering on pure science-fiction horror.

Ultron wouldn’t have to look far to realize that humanity is a threat to Earth and itself. All he would really have to do, and what he already did in Whedon’s take, is look at the chaos that HYDRA attempted to unleash in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is also interesting to note that there was an AI in that film as well in the form of Arnim Zola: the man responsible for regrowing HYDRA right within the ranks of SHIELD itself.

Zola

It was Zola that ultimately created the data-mining algorithm that HYDRA relied on to eliminate potential enemies. This was done through SHIELD’s Project Insight: taking advantage of three heavily-armed satellite-linked Helicarriers that were supposed to proactively protect the Earth from further alien invasions and using them to destroy HYDRA’s enemies and everything around them. This would allow HYDRA to obliterate the world’s infrastructure and be the only force of civilization left to Earth’s survivors.

But Zola’s algorithm didn’t predict the Avengers: or at least it didn’t deal with them all that well. Imagine what would have happened if HYDRA remained in hiding for a little while longer. Think about it: HYDRA had infiltrated all levels of SHIELD and the World Security Council. HYDRA itself, at least since WWII, had evolved from a para-military branch of Nazi Germany, to its own organization, and into an intelligence sleeper-agent group. Covert operations became the name of their day.

Would it have been too much of a stretch for HYDRA, who had already been privy to most if not all SHIELD operations, to know about Captain America’s retrieval from the ocean? Would it have taken much for one of their operatives, as a SHIELD staff member, to gain a sample of his blood? And I’m not even talking about HYDRA recreating the super-soldier serum: though they sure as hell tried in the Centipede Project. No: certainly the Red Skull wouldn’t have been nearly so trusting of his branch of HYDRA back in the day to take some of his blood as we know the organization thrives on Social Darwinism to its nth degree.

What HYDRA could have done, if they had been clever enough, is create an anti-serum for Erskine’s formula. All they needed to do was inject it into Cap while he was comatose. And, really, who would have been the wiser? Cap was frozen for quite some time: and no one really knew how that formula worked to begin with. It wouldn’t have been inconceivable for Cap to have died of complications in his decades long sleep. And in injecting some sweet sleep painless poison from a hidden fang, HYDRA could have removed one major enemy off the playing board.

What would the Avengers do without him at the very beginning of the game?

Captain America on Ice

And about the rest of the Avengers? Well, most of the technology they had access to came from SHIELD itself and HYDRA has infiltrated many facets of the organization. Imagine if HYDRA had managed to get their hands on the blueprints Howard Stark created for a power source and purposefully engineered a controllable flaw in the device: effectively creating a kill switch to Tony Stark’s heart? Or maybe they could have rigged something explosive into Sam Wilson’s EXO-7 Falcon jet pack or sabotage one of Hawkeye’s arrows.

Thor and The Hulk might also be problems. However, HYDRA has the psychological profile of Thor to work with: or at the very least might be able to prevent him from returning to “Midgard” due to their own researches into Asgardian technology. As for The Hulk: they would need to use some powerful tranquilizing agent on Bruce Banner before he transforms and they would need to do it quickly … or have a very good assassin cut off his head.

The Avenger HYDRA would have the most issue with would be Natasha Romanoff. She is distrustful of everyone and she has millions of contingencies: perhaps as many as Nick Fury himself. Even releasing all the information of her past gruesome deeds to the world and a warrant for her arrest would only buy time with warm bodies. Perhaps forcing her to kill unwitting agents or having her hold back would wear her out. The Winter Soldier has defeated her before as well, and he could either be sent after her or be placed into the Avengers in Cap’s place to turn on her. But you never know with the Black Widow.

Of course, there are many flaws to these possibilities. The Hulk can change really quickly. Hawkeye probably takes care of his own arrows. Tony Stark would spot a design flaw in his Arc Reactor, back in the day, a mile away and he doesn’t even need it to protect his heart now. Even if the alloy and equipment for his armour had initially come from Obadiah Stane’s engineers, Tony would have detected any discrepancies and improved on them. Thor might be a warrior but he is not stupid enough to be manipulated easily into being unworthy of his Hammer, and I doubt anything HYDRA has can incapacitate him or keep Asgard from accessing Earth unless their “real plan” comes to fruition.

And finally, we have Cap. That Super Soldier Serum is built like a motherfucker. It is not going to be poisoned or altered easily. And even if HYDRA somehow had legitimate access to him through medical staff, Nick Fury is paranoid. He has a sixth sense born from battles and infiltration gone wrong. He is a man that trusts his gut and he just knew there was something wrong in The Winter Soldier. Also, it is fairly possible only Fury, Maria Hill, and their confidants knew about Cap’s retrieval and kept it that way.

Winter Soldier

No. if HYDRA had really wanted to win, they needed to pull an Order 66: create a visible enemy to distract SHIELD and the Avengers that wasn’t them, and then simultaneously sabotage and/or kill them with the operatives that served as their “back-up” and “cavalry.” And even if the Winter Soldier himself was brought into play, and there is no way HYDRA’s SHIELD operatives could have convincingly brought him into the Avengers or SHIELD without setting off major warning bells in Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury’s minds, none of this would be a sure thing.

Seriously: Black Widow should be remembered for just how terrifying her fighting and infiltration abilities truly are … the deeds she did in the past, and what she tries to do about them now. I wish there had been more emphasis on that.

Black Widow

Yet all this aside I can honestly do this all day and all night. But I really don’t have the time and I know there are many flaws with my ideas. Certainly, there are better geeky experts than I who could poke holes in all of these scenarios. But this was a good exercise in creative speculation. I look forward to doing this again sometime in the near future.

As the man says, “Excelsior.”

What If Comics Had Been a Place Without Codes? Would We Live as Air?

I’ve been having some technical issues these past few days and time hasn’t really been my friend but what I’m going to write here past most reasonable people’s sense of sleep is another down and dirty, and therefore ad hoc, article on comics.  So if anyone out there is an expert or has done their homework, by all means, please correct me if need be.

As some of you already know Sequart created and is now in the process of editing, a Kickstarter called She Makes Comics: a documentary on women in the comics industry and the culture surrounding it. One element in particular that it has focused on is the fact that long ago there were more female readers of comics than they were male. Now, I wrote a short article on what will soon be called GeekPron in which I found some of my own assumptions to the question, well, questioned.

I believed that it was the Comics Code Authority, inspired by the fear of McCarthyism “witch-hunting,” blacklisting, the detrimental testimonials by psychological experts such as Frederic Wertham, and a loss of business that had comics publishers eliminate most of their different genres of comics and focus mainly on watered-down stories about superheroes. All the horror, revenge, gore, westerns, romances, and sexuality all went the way of the dodo at the time because of fear. Anything that challenged the rules of the Comics Code, of authority always being right and just for starters, could not exist in mainstream corporations that published for money.

But the comic book editor Janelle Asselin also mentioned that this female readership of 55% over 45% of male readers changed as the superhero genre became more mainstream. Think about that: the idea that after a time the superhero not only reduced a female readership, but also eliminated or greatly marginalized a whole body of stories and genres that made the medium different. I realize now, looking back on what I wrote earlier, that these two statements are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

I mean, if you are afraid of losing your business and your liberty in telling stories for which you want a certain pay cheque and livelihood then eliminating anything that could be construed as an overt challenge to your culture’s status quo or even subversive to it, it unfortunately makes a horrible kind of sense.

The godfather of manga Tezuka Osamu once said that “Now we are living in the age of comics as air.” And while he was most likely referring to the influence of manga in Japan as becoming more widespread, its connotations can be applied to the comics medium in general. According to Paul Gravett, in Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, Tezuka believed that comics without passion or originality can become damaging and even create pollution. It took me a long time to figure out what this meant. When I first encountered the quote and the explanation, I thought that it referred to the potential damage to the morality of the reader but now I realize that the quote can definitely apply to comics as a medium and what occurred during the heyday of the Comics Code Authority.

The age-old notion of the superhero ghetto that we are so used to hearing about with regards to the comics medium: the notion of an immature all-boys club with shallow depictions of sexuality and simplistic violence with no consequences is damaging not only society’s concept of the medium but also that of its readers and future creators.

I’m not, by any means, saying that the comics that existed before the Code and its predecessors were the fonts of enlightenment for gender or, really, humankind. But there was a lot more experimentation before the Code and it just makes you wonder: what would have happened if these vigilantes and superhuman beings in tights had just remained one of many genres and there had been no Code?

I mean, there is always the scenario that Alan Moore presented in Watchmen: that if masked heroes and one a superhero had been in existence then no one would have paid attention to Wertham and the horror comics of Bill Gaines and friends would have dominated the medium from the fifties all the way into the eighties: becoming darker and more grotesque with time while also innovating itself much like our comics have done.

But that is just one creative interpretation. Who knows? Maybe a flat period of unoriginal and recycled stories would have followed regardless. Perhaps female readership demographics would have changed or something else would have challenged the “morals of comics:” for or against the status quo. Or we could have had another Golden Age: where comics became, earlier on, a widely accepted form of beautiful art and every great artist might have tried their hand at one. Maybe comics could have become widely accepted and mainstream coffee table or instructional as manga has in Japanese society to an almost ubiquitous degree. Instructional comics even had their place in North American society and to some extent they still do.

Of course, those latter thoughts are just me playing at utopia and I’ve never been really good at that. Maybe if there had been no Code comics would have, earlier, been just another form that challenged conventional morality much like any work of great art or literature should. Of course, again, this also happened in the Western world through the advent of what we understand as Underground Comix defying the establishment during about the late 60s: about that same time frame that Asselin gave when she talked about the female comics readership majority existed from the 1950s to the 1960s. Or perhaps the comics medium would have burned itself out as a fad and amateurs such as myself would be wondering, even then, what if: what if it had been different.

As for me, if you really want my honest opinion I will say this. I think that if there had been no Comics Code or anything like it children would have still been influenced by Tales from the Crypt, and Archie, and The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and all of those others. And some girls and women would have had Wonder Woman and Black Fury. Many things would have continued on, but sometimes I think about that idea of all people–young, old, straight, LGBTQ, male, and female, different ethnicities, different classes–making their own comics and showing them to their friends and the world. They would realize how different they and everyone else are but also how many things they have in common.

And when you wipe away my pseudo-utopia of a whole loss of potential for a readership of intensely intelligent men, women, and sentient beings, when it comes down to it I do like the idea that without the Code and the forces behind its development, the medium of comics would have been considered more than just silly laughter and transparently hidden BDSM parodies. Those things would have been a part of the kaleidoscope. I think that many more people might have seen comics as a medium that tells all kinds of stories: a space inside and outside of us that is pictures and words. I think many more people may have been more accepting that the medium of comics as that place of sheer variety, like film, between both art and literature.

There is another way to look at Tezuka’s quote about “comics as air.” If you take the pollution of censorship and unoriginality away, what you might ideally have is a fluid art-form that anyone can learn and use. And if you consider that we all live in the continuing Age of Information and in societies that utilize wireless Internet and you include webcomics into the medium … perhaps we can all fly where only superheroes used to tread: up, up, out of the ghetto and away.

Miracleman Balloons

Time Travel and Retconning: Revisionism and Reconstructionism in Doctor Who

Just as the New Year is approaching, so is “The Time of the Doctor.”

Time of The Doctor

I’ve come out of hiatus again, essentially, because this is another thought that just won’t leave me alone. After I was exposed to Julian Darius of Sequart’s distinctions between Revisionism and Reconstructionism with regards to comics, I applied it to my article In a Different Place, a Different Time: Revision and Reconstruction in Comics Without Superheroes? Of course, I should have realized it was not going to end there.

I mean, come on: I already mentioned space and time in the aforementioned article’s title. And after a while of gestation and trying to stave it off, I knew what was going to happen. I was going to provide the distinctions of Revisionism and Reconstructionism, taken from Julian Darius, the latter term apparently coined from Kurt Busiek, to the development of the Doctor Who series. Let’s face it: this was just going to happen and, if we’re going to be honest with each other, it probably has in no so many words and in ways that have been covered far more exhaustively than I am going to be.

So let’s get to the point and quote River Song, as I tend to with a lot of the Doctor Who articles I’ve written, to say, “Spoilers.”

This is really going to be a brief case of looking at parallels between the development of the superhero comics genre and Doctor Who. Like the early comics versions of Batman, Superman and others, The Doctor as a character starts off as a relatively morally ambiguous character: someone who isn’t necessarily evil, but not always good. Certainly, they all have the power to impose their will on others whom they don’t agree with, or are quite willing to let someone destroy themselves as opposed to interceding on their behalf. The Doctor himself, in his very first incarnation was more than willing to abandon people to their deaths if they became “inconvenient” to his or his granddaughter’s own survival.

And this was in the 1960s. Superhero comics themselves, especially the ones I mentioned, existed from the 30s onward: from that Golden Age period where superheroes were still trying to get past their “might is right” mentality to reveal at least some of the heroism that we recognize. The Doctor, however, had an even more interesting challenge: in that he was a character in a science-fiction program that drew on a tradition of science-fiction programs and stories. He wasn’t exactly a hero then and never quite fit that mould well. He and his Companions were more explorers and, as such, the program was one of exploration that bordered on a weird sort of horror: the kind of horror that, well, basically came from the spectacle of science-fiction B movies, comics, and pulp stories before it. Even the early Doctor Who episodes, from I’m given to understand, have a very pulp and serial feel to them: with constantly interrelated chains if episodes making a story followed by standalone episodes and “monsters of the week.”

Of course, things changed for both superhero comics and Whoniverse respectively. It was the Comics Code Authority that greatly white-washed many of the darker elements away from superhero adventures. Some of them simply didn’t survive and became silly caricatures of their original selves. This wasn’t always the case and some stories managed to be told well even in the midst of not being able to question authority-figures among other things. Towards the sixties, however, there were many campy and downright silly elements amongst this genre of comics: particularly with regards to Batman and such.

Doctor Who, which started in the sixties, always had an element of the uncanny and the weird in itself. It also had elements of camp and strange, tangential adventures. For some time, the BBC had a low budget so they basically had to utilize B movie props and effects to make their monsters and their stories. And The Doctor himself became a lot more of a swashbuckling character or archetype: embodying different ideals but becoming somehow more human as time went on. The humanization of The Doctor, which began with his Companions from his early days, contributed to this and probably in no small part due to the fact that the program began as a children’s show.

But just as there were so many disparate elements and strangeness in the Silver Age of superhero comics, this was definitely the case with the original Doctor Who series. What is interesting to consider with regards to Doctor Who however is that many “silly costumes and props and styles” have become iconic in themselves and even popular in a vintage, classic, nostalgic sort of way among fans. The books and audio dramas also helped to expand many of these elements and add more to the quantum branch of reality that was the Whoniverse.

It was in the 1980s that things began to change for superhero comics. This was when Revisionism came into play. Writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller asked themselves the question of what a superhero would be like, with the powers and abilities they possessed, in a realistic situation. They were also mindful of the pessimism, cynicism, and fear around in this particular time period and wondered how the hero would function in such a world: and what they would do to that world. This is the period in which the superhero really got dissected. Writers in this time and onward seemed to draw on the ancient classical designations of “hero”: of a person of spectacular power and skill that bordered on, or were totally amoral, to reshape the heroes of the 30s and 60s. This allowed much in the way of character development and the creation of truly epic story-lines. Of course, the danger was also created: that the dark grittiness of Revisionism would become a form onto itself and not a vessel to tell a carefully thought out story. Darkness for darkness’ sake, as it were.

With Doctor Who, I argue that its Revisionism came in 2005 with the beginning of the new series. After a gap from 1989, and television movie in 1996, The Doctor returned in 2005 under a very different premise from his earlier adventures. It is almost like producer and screenwriter Russell T. Davies created his own Crisis on Infinite Earths and destroyed much of the quantum and tangential branches of the old Whoniverse in order to create a very centralized, dark, and Byronic reality: as though he and others believed that the only way the program could survive would be to “mature” into this new spirit. It is as though they expected viewers to want something less silly and more “realistic.”

So there was a Time War, the Last Great Time War, that seemed to have obliterated many loose-ends (and cause no small heap of trouble in the loose-ends that did, in fact, continue to exist for the Universe) and leave a Doctor that was more gaunt, more lonely, and far angrier than many of his other incarnations before him. The children’s show origins of program seemed to have been burned away by rage, an attempt at a more serious tone, singular purpose, and Revisionism.

Even the inclusion of David Tennant as the next Doctor, who was a marked contrast to the sullen leather jacket-wearing Doctor who somehow began to lighten up a bit towards the end, only accentuated this kind of Miltonian grandiosity. He might as well, in a ridiculously sublime way, have been an angel from Milton’s Paradise Lost sailing through a perfect clockwork Universe skewed by Original Sin, or perhaps as a far livelier Virgil figure in a kind of Dante’s Inferno of wonders. When Steven Moffat took over as producer and the Matt Smith incarnation of The Doctor came in, the youngest depiction there has ever been (he is about my age), the dark elements were beginning to wear a little thin.

But there is something truly wonderful that was forming with Doctor Who, and its spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Smith Adventures. Despite the darkness and the angst of The Doctor being “the last Time Lord,” there has been a great depiction of wonders. I’m not just talking about the more advanced CGI or sophisticated props and costuming provided to the program. I’m also talking about its embrace of diversity: about its inclusion of different cultures, race and even sexual orientations. And it doesn’t seem to display them as novelties but as givens. As science-fiction that, by its very nature, encompasses the future and its possible sensibilities in addition to all of space and time it is extremely encouraging to see. It might have something to do with the fact that Russell T. Davies is gay himself and wanted to include diversity, but there is also the fact that Doctor Who is the longest running science-fiction show in existence and it changes with the times and the attitudes in each era in which it finds itself.

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But the sense of wonder that is, in the words of the program’s first producer Verity Lambert, “C.S. Lewis meets H.G. Wells meets Father Christmas,” is so much older than this and it wins out over the darkness every time. It is similar to the sense of nobility and kindness from Superman or the sure sense of justice from Batman. You can also call that sense of wonder hope.

By the time of Steve Moffat, whose episodes are strong in a self-contained short story fashion but whose overall structure begins to unravel the strong Miltonian clockwork of Davies with plot holes, much in the way that the Cracks in Time began to appear, or how the Weeping Angels feed off of temporal rifts and die from paradox-poisoning (which is ironic when you consider how Moffat created them in the first place and that his stories have many plot-holes), you may be witnessing a change beginning to happen. From 2005 and onward, most of Doctor Who has taken place on Earth or has focused almost solely on humans and has maintained a relatively linear story line and premise.

But then Moffat did something. By 1995, Julian Darius argues that Revisionism in comics began to change. Writers such as Grant Morrison began to look back on superhero comics before Revisionism and draw on the idealism and hope of those periods. They took the character-writing and plot development of Revisionism and combined it with the light-heartedness of heroes against the darkness. They, arguably, contributed to the creation of Reconstructionism.

And Morrison himself was known to have really liked the strange and wacky DC elements that existed before what he considered to be a cynical Crisis plot: perhaps much in the way that some of The Doctor’s fans might view his present “gritty and realistic” situation.

Now look back at Steve Moffat. In “The Day of the Doctor” he took the premise of The Doctor having destroyed the Time Lords and, in a typical time-travelling fashion, changed and retconned time. He had The Doctor and his previous incarnations save Gallifrey. Now The Doctor has to go and find it. In one stroke, however it was executed, Moffat eliminated the heart of The Doctor’s modern angst. And in the next episode, in the Christmas Special “The Time of the Doctor” we are going to see him fall to his lowest as he is apparently on his “last incarnation” and is going to die. But we know that isn’t going to happen. We know he will survive. We know there will be a new Doctor.

And perhaps, just perhaps, this is Moffat’s attempt to apply Reconstructionism to Doctor Who. Certainly the inclusion of Tom Baker, the former Fourth Doctor that represented The Doctor’s kindliness, affability and wisdom, into “The Day of the Doctor”–representing what could be another future incarnation of the Time Lord–can be interpreted as a sign of that return to some the weird, and wacky adventures that possess no small amount of hope.

But whatever the case, we are going to see Peter Capaldi as an older, but perhaps wilder Doctor: someone who is not a soldier, a traumatized war veteran, a hero with an anguished dream, or a lonely boy but an adventurer and traveler. He is going to look for where he put Gallifrey. He is going to go out again. Perhaps he might even leave Earth in all time lines and we can see how the rest of the Universe has been doing, how other worlds and newer beings live, and how he will interact with them. Maybe after all the time that Davies has reforged the content of the program it will open up back into larger vistas beyond just Earth and the human.

There is just one last Battle of Trenzalore, a Regeneration rule to work around, and then perhaps the potential for some reconstruction, for something new, for something old, and for something new again. Either way, I look forward to the journey.

We Interrupt These Stories to Bring You Andrez Bergen, Great Capes and GeekPron

Originally, I was going to make the month of October 2013 Storytime for Mythic Bios: if only because for the past three entries I have been posting up stories. And I was going to do it again today until it occurred to me that there are two updates that I need to make.

So first of all, I am friends with Andrez Bergen: an author and musician whose Blog you can find under a cap-locks version of his name right here with the subtitle: a wayward soapbox for author/hackwriter Andrez Bergen. He has written a few books, but the one that I have read is his new Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?: of which you can either click on the previous link or look at Heropa itself. Basically, imagine a virtual reality world modelled after an original Silver Age comics universe where players can be either superheroes or villains. Then add to it with the fact that it operates on the Comics Code Authority rules: such as no swearing, fraternizing between hero and villain roles, drinking in public, revealing your secret identity, and then some. And then complicate it by having set in a dystopian offline society and have the dregs of it start to affect this ideal world.

I actually met Andrez in the WordPress Blogsphere when, I believe, I wrote My Best Friend Was a Sith Lord. What it seems like in this amateur version of Blog archaeology or psychogeography is that Andrez commented on my entry and I commented back, followed him to his site where his book was being promoted and still in the process of being finalized … and the rest is history that can be summed up into a continuing friendship and a consequent Sequart article published yesterday entitled Revisionism Comes to a Silver Age: Or Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

Suffice to say, I am really pleased with how the above article turned out and if you are interested please buy Andrez’s book, look at my article and read through Sequart’s really fascinating scholarship on the medium of comics and everything it has influenced. You can find the link to Sequart through my article or my Blogroll on the right-hand side of Mythic Bios proper.

It is just amazing how things can come together: and in ways that you didn’t even think of beforehand. I also have another element of news. As you might have seen from my Blogroll, I have been following G33kPr0n for some time now. What you might not know is that they were looking for some contributing writers and, after sending them some work, you are looking at one of the newest members of the G33kpr0n Contributing Writer Staff. 😀

I didn’t want to say anything until I posted my first article and made it official. It is different writing for G33kPr0n than for Mythic Bios, but it has opened various new avenues to me: if only out of sheer geeky enthusiasm. My first article actually covers The Dark Crystal Author Quest and outlines it for the readers of G33kPr0n. I am also getting revitalized for my work for the Quest as well in creating my story. I know what I want it to be about and the rest is now a question of details and time. Suffice to say, I have a whole lot of ideas for G33kPr0n articles, new space to collaborate with, and good awesome geeky people to share it with as well: both staff and readers.

I have wondered, however, if this will impact my writing of Mythic Bios: if I will have to cut down on articles in order to also work on my other projects … maybe to once a week instead of twice for a while. I still need to look for other avenues as well and we will just have to see where it goes. But in the meantime, yay: lots of links tonight, ladies and gentlemen and beings of all kinds. I believe I will have some other news if and when specifics are given to me as well. I have plenty of branching ideas and I just want to see how they bear fruit.

So stay turned everyone, as I become an even more obnoxiously speaking-Geek. Same Mythic time, same Mythic Bios …

Looking Outward

In a Different Place, a Different Time: Revision and Reconstruction in Comics Without Superheroes?

This is going to be more of a sloppy Blog post because it’s more out of sheer enthusiasm than it is actual research. For a while now I’ve been somewhat obsessing over an idea that I got from Julian Darius at Sequart: which is the distinction between Revisionism and Reconstructionism in comics. Whereas Revisionism takes superhero characters and adds a dark and gritty sort of realism to them and their stories, Reconstructionism brings them back to their more idealistic roots but arguably keeps much of Revisionism’s character development and mature themes. Sometimes it can be all the difference between dystopian and utopian ideals with regards to fictional characters in tights.

However, that is a very limited way of looking at it. After finishing an article that I’ve recently sent into Sequart and thinking about another one that I’ve been rereading and reworking, I wondered how these concepts of Revisionism and Reconstructionism would apply to something that is neither North American nor primarily focused on the superhero genre. I’ve actually been thinking about how, if at all, both ideas could apply to Japanese manga.

So here is where I begin to get messy and not get dates right or accurate or, really, try to be nice at all. I believe that in order to really look at considerations of Revisionism and Reconstructionism in North American comics and Japanese manga, you have to look at some quick and dirty historical contexts. North American comics, aside from perhaps Mayan and other Central American friezes came from European comics that date more or less from the nineteenth century: Egyptian and Sumerian sequential glyphs notwithstanding.

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The earliest comics were satirical cartoons and depictions of folklore. Then they were Sunday morning slapstick cartoons. In North America, however, around the thirties the figure of the Victorian strong-man was adopted as an aesthetic for masked and super-powered heroes: beings depicted as fighting a whole lot of crime.

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At the same time there were a lot of other genres of comics out there in North America: Romances, Westerns, War stories, and–of course–Horror. These different genres danced around our superhero friends: who were still in their terrible twos of “might is right.” I’m not even sure why they came about to begin with. Most likely–and in my opinion–they were made to symbolize hope for the future in a relatively new nation against the darkness of the past World War, the upcoming Great Depression, and the resulting Second World War that everyone could sense coming on some level. A disturbing sense of moral ambiguity and uncertainty, which you can argue really started to crop up in literature and culture after WWI, needed something clear cut and decisive to counter it: even if it was interpreted as being tied into adolescent power-fantasies which is a hilarious concept when you think about the fact that superhero comics were actually just in their infancy then.

But in the 1950s, and slightly before, the fear of Communism and nuclear war created a society of paranoia. All of the darker, gory, amorally violent aspects of comics were self-censored by the creation of the Comics Code Authority in order for comics businesses to continue during the censorship “witch-hunts” going on during this time. The irony of course is that the dark elements of horror and sexuality did not go away as a result but, rather, they literally went Underground: into the developing Underground Comix movements.

But the Comics Code-endorsed superhero genre was one of the few that actually remained and the audience became very specialized as a result and in contrast to the wider age and gender range that it had earlier. Many have said that superhero comics became “watered down and puerile” for a time until about wherever you can distinguish the Silver Age of comics coming into play: where Marvel and eventually DC as well started to make flawed superhero characters that nevertheless tried to do the right thing.

In about the 1980s, writers such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman took the superhero genre and started add some gritty, bloodier and more “graphic” elements back into it. I compare it a lot to how the Victorian Age and onward attempted to sanitize folktales into fairy-stories only for the old tales to come back and essentially eat their bastardized children: both those derived from them and those that were entirely new. Perhaps during this period of both heightened counter-insurgencies happening between the United States and the USSR and then the latter’s decline influenced this Revisionism: which tended to criticize and look at the real-world politics and attitudes of the era. Certainly the 80s was a time when authority was at its height and, at the same time, was also being heavily questioned along with the implicit idea that “all authority is good” and should be obeyed by even superheroes that defend the status quo.

In about 1995, the time Julian Darius defines as the beginnings of Reconstructionism through the publication date of DC’s Underworld Unleashed, America was the sole superpower of the world in the midst of an idea of globalization. At the same time, it was embroiled in a lot of various different wars and clean-up from its Cold War missions into other countries. The way I figure it, and I am pretty sure there are other elements you can identify here as well, the art and culture of this time was influenced by a need and a sense of morality or certainty: of heroic figures needing to be depicted as having such. At the same time, they could not really go back to being ignorant or having bad storytelling. So, in the end, people such as Grant Morrison tackled these issues in their works: neither shying away from brutality nor letting cynicism completely win out in the superhero genre. It seems such a paltry explanation for this idea, but that is the best I can think of at the moment.

And then we have Japan. Manga has arguably been around in Japan–and the other Far East Asian countries–but in particular Japan for a thousand years or more: from their different kingdoms, to their Empires, the Shogunate, the Meiji Restoration of the Emperor and onward. Early scroll work illustrated humourous, sexual, and mythological stories. The term manga itself or something similar to it was apparently coined in the 18th century: meaning something along the lines of “whimsical drawings.” However, it can be argued that comics creation in Japan has been a very long and ancient tradition.

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Of course, you have World War II and then the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the American Occupation of Japan to consider. Unlike North America, or indeed any part of the world, Japan didn’t have to fear the possibility of a nuclear attack: it had already experienced it. At the time, the State-sponsored wartime version of Shintoism–that Japan was an invincible island blessed by the ancestral gods ruled by an Emperor of that divine bloodline–was pretty much destroyed by fire-bombing, nuclear-bombing, war trials and the U.S. Occupation. It is also during this period that many American soldiers brought over Disney comics and animated films.

Tezuka Osamu, Hikari (June - December 1959).

Artists like Tezuka Osamu were very influenced by Disney aesthetics and adopted them to make strange artistic hybrids of “whimsical” cartoons. However, these cartoons became challenged by the genre of what is called gekiga: of “dramatic pictures” with realistic, gritty aesthetics that delved into the more graphic aspects of life and even politics. The foremost of the gekiga artists that comes to mind for me is the person who coined the term to begin with Tatsumi Yoshihiro: who started drawing such work–which he did not like to call manga–in 1957.

The aesthetics of gekiga would inform many more works after him such as Otomo Katsuhiro’s Akira.

What’s interesting to note about all of this is the contrast with North America. Aside from already experiencing a taste of what nuclear war could bring, Japan never really had something that was the equivalent to a Comics Code Authority: at least from my understanding. It’s true that, for the most, they seemed to have a very conservative and even authoritarian governmental structure even after the War and censorship did and does exist. However, the development of gekiga–as a genre or an alternative movement of comics–seems to display either dissent against such conservative elements or a method of purging the demons of war and nuclear atrocity from the psyche of an entire culture.

It is really interesting to note that Scott McCloud, in his Understanding Comics,  argues that while “cartoons” function as essential images or ideas which are easy to follow in an unfamiliar or realistic world, realistic drawings seem to have a more alienating affect on the reader: making it harder to follow them. In addition, “cartoons” seem to provide a buffer or buttress against some very potential distressing elements of a story. Realistic drawings in comics would, arguably, not function as a safe point for the reader to view that depicted world and would force them to face its grittiness all on their own: unfettered and unsettling. So perhaps some decisions in gekiga literally make the reader face the collective demons of, arguably, Japanese culture after the Bombings and the American Occupation.

On another note, I also really find it fascinating that Japanese manga never really embraced the idea of a superhero until after World War II and, from what I understand, aside from a few changes in trends manga continued to cover a wide range of subject matter and retained a large variety of different readers.

I am so tempted to say that gekiga is Revisionism in comics that did not originally have superheroes: a concept which, if true, greatly fascinates me. And perhaps through Tezuka Osamu’s own very public manga-experiments with his COM Magazine, his continued Phoenix epic, and even his Buddha series he not only managed to adapt to the gekiga style from his original Disney and traditional Japanese art-derived aesthetics, but he adapted gekiga to his sensibilities as well. Perhaps one could argue that Tezuka was a Reconstructionist: bringing back manga to his more whimsical aesthetics but also developing a more mature and nuanced approach at character development and story line.

It is intriguing to think about the fact that he and others “discovered” Revisionism and Reconstructionism at times before even North America had due to different cultural experiences: North America seemingly delving into both in the 80s and mid-90s, and Japan looking into it from the late-50s to early 70s onward–and crossing over each other–respectively.

I’ve also been made aware that the realistic aesthetics of the gekiga element is not as mainstream in Japanese comics art now as it was before and now there is a trend in going back to the more “whimsical” and elemental cartoon aesthetics of the past: though not quite the partially-Disney inspired aesthetics of Tezuka himself. Perhaps Miyazaki Hayao himself is a better example of this in terms of his ecological and cautionary themes: though mostly his more modern animated films such as Mononoke Hime come to mind at that. I think another thing I find really interesting about Reconstructionism is that return to a mythos or even the rebuilding of a shattered or forgotten one that is made relevant to another time. Certainly, the fact that Tezuka and Miyazaki combine “the cartoon” with very realistic backgrounds could be indicative of what Reconstructionism may mean in Japanese manga and the media inspired from it: a return to a character aesthetic that the reader may feel safe in following–deceptively or otherwise if the artist chooses to subvert that image–while exploring a real or realistically detailed world.

I am only scratching the surface here and I am definitely not an expert in Japanese manga or culture or, well, anything. Applying one culture’s concepts to another’s is a problematic venture at best. Also bear in mind: you are not dealing with an otaku here, my friends: just a North American geek that likes to throw shit out there and is fascinated with interesting things. I just can’t get over the idea that maybe there was a place where superheroes did not form in comics naturally, or in the way that we understand them and yet Revisionism and Reconstructionism–a realistic depiction and an alternative return to an idealized element–happened in any case in a different place and at different times from North America.

It is definitely something worth thinking about.

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet? I Sure Hope Not

And now for something light-hearted, odd and potentially NSFW.

So there is this old idea that has been floating around about superheroes and their strength. To not be too crude about it, for the moment I’m just going to phrase it as the fact that some people have chosen to believe that a superhero’s strength comes into play whether they are using consciously or not. In other words, a superhero’s power manifests as not only voluntary action but also an involuntary reaction.

Some of the most cited heroes–whose powers apparently are always manifested regardless of their intention–is Superman and She-Hulk. I am sure we can also bring in some X-Men too to make it more interesting and, often with them, it is a case by case situation depending on the exact nature of their mutation. This is also similar for such heroes as the Fantastic Four: and no, I have not forgotten about The Thing either. But for the sake of making this discussion clearer, I want to look at the first two heroes that I mentioned.

Both She-Hulk and Superman are known for their strength and, at the same time, for their intelligence. They know or have learned how to hold back on most of their strength to deal with an inherently fragile world around them. The fact that Jennifer Walters became She-Hulk through a gamma-radiated blood transfusion with her cousin Bruce Banner and Superman gains his power through being exposed to Earth’s yellow sun does not change these matters too much.

However, there are memes that go around stating that these two heroes can’t really interact with other human beings in an intimate way because of their inherent natures. To be more blunt about it, basically their bodily functions would crush or kill another “lesser” human being. I mean, that is a fair enough interpretation. Indeed, Garth Ennis does not shy away from this in his comic The Pro. But I have my own disagreements on this matter. Now, just to warn you, I am not going to go into comics specific examples or name a comics issue or anything of that kind. Instead, I am going to do something even more controversial.

I am going to use common sense on superheroes.

So let’s put the Kryptonian Kamasutra jokes aside for now and get to it. First of all, Superman and She-Hulk have been portrayed having quite a few relationships in the course of their comics existences: and not only with other super-powered or alien individuals. While, as far as I know it is never stated what happens with these other people, I am going to assume that the usual things happen in their relationships with other humans that happen in relationships: you know, except for needing to save the world occasionally or defending someone against a marauding villain or a nearby apocalypse. In fact, their relationships tend to end because of the same reasons any would: needs change and people move on.

But here is the thing. Let us put aside speculations about their private intimate lives for a few moments and look at another common sensical element which their comics may or may not address.

You see the thing, and not The Thing, is both Superman and She-Hulk eat. They eat and, as a result of such, I assume they use the facilities. Now, if we go by the theory that their involuntary actions or reactions have the same strength as their voluntary ones–or more so–well, the world would ended many, many times over by now. Or if Superman even breathed wrong or burped. I know you can explain these away by stating that Superman doesn’t eat as much or uses solar energy stored in his cells, but it has been stated that he is a vegetarian and unless he absorbs nutrients very differently than humans I assume that Kryptonians–being only different due to their technology and the yellow light of the sun–are much like human beings and function as such.

And She-Hulk herself, aside from her strength, seems to function as a normal human being: if there is any such thing.

Also, with regards to Superman, let’s take something else into account. He was raised as a baby by Martha and Jonathan Kent. Now his strength might have increased over the years and there are accounts of him learning how to fly much later–with learning how to jump first–but he was still considerably powerful. And don’t you think that it would have been a little awkward, aside from dealing with his needs as an infant, if one of his hugs of affection snapped Ma Kent’s neck?

The way I see it, at least with Superman, his powers function not unlike how Alan Moore explained Miracleman’s abilities. There is a kinetic field around him and his cells that he can choose to access. Therefore any violence Superman unleashes is purely premeditated and consciously used. I would imagine this does not cover him needing to go to the restroom: unless of course you believe he uses his incredible speed to dart quickly to the Fortress of Solitude with his own specialized facilities but … really?

In the end, I think that both of these heroes and others like them–when they are not on duty–either have ways around using their powers involuntarily or they are as much as like human beings as anyone else is. So please, if Superman is getting drunk in a bar alone, chances are it’s not because he killed Lois Lane in a moment of intimacy, but because he didn’t get to a plane of orphans in time or he’s indulging on the Red Kryptonite.

I’m not sure about The Thing though. I might get back to you on that. Or not.

It’s Not a Bird, It’s Not a Plane, It’s … A Man of Skulls?

So I wasn’t intending on seeing a movie this weekend. In particular, I wasn’t even sure that I was ever going to see this movie: The Man of Steel. It’s been a few weeks since it came out and everyone–including Sequart–seems to have gotten it out of their system. In fact, some of the things I want to note have already been observed by others. I also won’t lie: after waiting so long to see this film, some of it was spoiled for me and I almost didn’t even bother seeing it if only because of that. However, despite the awesome fact that Sequart published the second part of my article–which ironically deals with the superhero trope in another universe and even refers to Superman to some extent–I needed a night out and I promised someone that I would write on this film eventually.

So let’s get to it and I think it is safe to say that–in this case–the letter ‘S’ does not symbolize hope, but it does represent Spoilers.

We first start off on John Carter … I mean, Krypton. It was refreshing to see Jor-El actually do something: although for someone of the Kryptonian Scientist caste–born, genetically-determined and raised–he certainly knows how to fight in a truly epic sense. He also knows how to ride a flying Boga … I mean, some native Kryptonian flying creature. It is fascinating how they chose to make Krypton far more … vital and detailed than the one from the 1978 movie–which was purely glacial and darkness–but it almost seemed like the fantasy multiverse was weakening around the quadrant of Kryptonian space and that we were seeing at least two realities or narratives trying to coexist at the same time: much like this movie.

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However, when Jor-El presumably steals, or retrieves, a golden skull endowed with the genetic codex of the entire Kryptonian race: that is where, I feel, the tone or the theme of the entire movie begins to present itself. And it is a fascinating symbol if you really think about it. A skull contains a brain and a mind that, in turn, holds many different perceptions and ideas. However, a naked skull also symbolizes death. It is also really telling that Jor-El infuses this ornamental fragment of a skull–almost a half-mask–to the body of his unauthorized natural born son Kal-El: thus potentially answering the age-old question of whether or not he can interbreed with humans. In any case, this will not be the last time we will see a skull in this movie–a Superman movie–I assure you.

So there is the tone. We have a stratified genetic-caste Kryptonian society that mined its homeworld’s geothermal core so much that it became unstable and it blew the hell up. Moreover, for all of their advanced science and knowledge, the Kryptonians not only seemed to be incompetent enough not to be able to make more ships that can use Phantom energy–yes that Phantom energy: the phantom energy from the Phantom Zone–to go into warp the hell away from Krypton, but apparently they couldn’t even hold their original outward planetary colonies or harvest the geothermal energies of those worlds instead while looking for an alternative. If the genetic caste-system they made was supposed to make their race better, well … eugenics seems to have failed common sense here.

But that is neither here nor there. So after Krypton and its stratified way of life dies with enough destruction not to even ashes, never mind bones, we come to Kal-El on his space ship going all the way to Earth: specifically Earth … where he will be seen as either a monster or a god. And then we fast-forward about thirty-three years Earth time (since it was apparently millennia dead Kryptonian time, which is fair enough) and we see Clark Kent and his various other aliases failing–or almost failing–at remaining incognito on his adopted world.

There are some iconic scenes of an unshaven Clark without his shirt on lifting heavy metal on an oil rig while being set on fire and obviously having nothing happen to him beyond an awesome looking stylized aesthetic effect: of which there are several more throughout the film. Essentially what we are looking at now, in this stage, is someone who isn’t Superman yet–doesn’t know the extent of his abilities or who he is–and yet can’t stop himself from wanting to save everyone.

This compulsive need to save everybody is not only emblematic of Superman, but of all the superheroes that come after him for a time. Even though this need gets mitigated and changed and qualified in different comics and media after Superman’s first appearance in the comics world, it is still there. He wants to save lives, or at least not harm them: even the people who cause him or others pain. In this particular movie, for instance, as we see snippets of his childhood and early life in flashbacks, there were many times he could ended the lives of all the childhood bullies and adult douchebags in his way. In fact, even with his very understanding and compassionate human parents–Martha and Jonathan Kent–I’m quite surprised that he didn’t at least have one temper-tantrum–once–and snap some other kid’s head off. But I guess he wouldn’t be Superman if he had.

… Anyway, I find it refreshing that this film skips the tip-toeing about and actually lets Lois Lane use her deductive reasoning and journalistic skills to pretty figure out who Clark actually is. I actually liked Lois in this film: because unlike other incarnations of her–especially the version of her in the 1978 film–she isn’t really abrasive and at the same time takes very little crap from anyone. At the same time though … while it was refreshing to see her have some active roles in what was going on, she didn’t really get to continue her main role as a reporter after a certain point in the film. It mostly focuses on her burgeoning relationship with the sublime: or Clark, take your pick. And for that matter I do wonder why, later on when the governments of the world are searching for Clark and even after, when they still want to find out who he is–why they simply don’t wiretap or do some reconnaissance on Lois Lane: retracing her steps and finding out more or less what she already knows. Then again, the humans in this film are the ones with the most common sense compared to … the others.

Because guess what? In this film we have General Zod and friends. Yes, when Krypton was dying General Zod exceeded his military authority and attempted a coup of that world. For this attempted coup and murdering Jor-El, Zod and his loyal soldiers were imprisoned in another seemingly cryogenic version of the Phantom Zone for a lengthy “rehabilitation” period: long enough to wake up again in their prison ship and watch Krypton blow up and leave them with essentially, well, nothing.

So, yes. General Zod. What we have here with the good General is a man that was born and bred–engineered–to be of the Kryptonian Warrior caste: although what wars or conflicts the Kryptonians could have been fighting towards their decline–unless they are a really long-lived species–is beyond me. Also, his lack of a sensible deontological imperative in his DNA is rather troubling. He was basically Krypton’s military commander and, like Jor-El, saw the Ruling Council’s decision to drain their geothermal core as rather stupid. But unlike Jor-El–who wanted to send off Krypton’s children in ships to help the race survive–Zod’s solution was to start killing members of the Council and attempt to take over: mostly because, due to his conditioning, that is all he was really mentally capable of doing.

Eventually, after he realizes that Jor-El has stolen the Golden Skull–I mean the Codex–he goes after him and, after Jor-El manages to kick his ass and send Kal-El and the Codex far away, and then he kills him. But eventually the rest of Krypton’s military doesn’t quite like Zod’s decisions and they apprehend him. So what to do they do? They know their world is dying and will blow up relatively soon. Now, the sensible thing to do with Zod would be to execute him and his followers: I mean aside from the fact that they committed treason and death themselves; it would be more merciful to kill them so that when Krypton dies as well they won’t find themselves alone in the cold darkness of space.

So of course the Kryptonians temporarily banish them into the Phantom Zone for “rehabilitative purposes”: you know, to be civilized and merciful.

It is this sort of behaviour that really makes me kind of sympathize with Zod just a bit: because I can only imagine that he has witnessed and even abetted this cultural attitude so many times over before he just got fed up. Even when he tells Jor-El that he wants to decide what “bloodlines” will survive when he builds a new Krypton–there or somewhere else–you have to also understand that he wasn’t really talking genocide at that time. No, Zod was referring to the Kryptonian Genesis Chamber–the one we see much later that somehow is on a ship under Zod’s control–where blank slates of embryos that still seem to await genetic assignment are held. I imagine he was thinking of engineering most of those potential embryos into a larger Warrior Caste, with many more Workers I’m sure.

So yes, Zod wasn’t suited for anything outside of military strategy but he was trying to solve the situation as best he could when no one else was really offering anything better or more immediate: except for Jor-El of course. Basically, Zod wanted to protect his ideal of Krypton: which was more or less what he had been created to do.

And there is the issue. You see, Zod and his crew managed to get their hands on some old Kryptonian technology after they went out to see if any of the old colonies survived. One of the most prominent of these is a “world engine”: something that is designed to terraform whole planets. Now, here is what some people might be thinking at this point. Zod needs Kal-El–Clark–because his father gave him the genetic Codex that along with the Genesis Chamber can restore the Kryptonian race.

So General Zod comes to Earth in his ship and asks for its governments to turn Kal-El over to him: no overt threats or anything. General Zod is obviously planning to find an uninhabited world like Mars or even the Moon and use his terraforming engine to make an atmosphere for his people. Then he will use the Codex’s information, with Kal-El’s help, to activate and imprint the embryos in the Genesis Chamber to restore the Kryptonians, gain power from the younger yellow sun and then, you know, make an alliance with the people of Earth and trade resources for knowledge and everything. Because, you know, you’d think that something like this would make sense.

But evidently, the same genetic code that resulted in Zod’s seeming lack of obedience is the same force that lacks an ingrained understanding of knowing his limits and the need for Scientist and Diplomat castes.  Zod’s plan is to take Clark and Lois Lane, not search Lois Lane or Clark, reveal what he did to Jor-El to Clark after giving him a really disturbing vision through potentially some kind of telepathic device, and then explain how he is going to take over Earth and exterminate all humankind to make a new Krypton: presumably because Earth has a more gentle environment than Krypton ever had … though his plan to terraform it using what are essentially sonic booms seems to be kind of at cross-purposes with even that idea.

However, there is also the common sense of the film to consider. It’s interesting how with all that attention focused on a Watchmen, 300, and Sucker Punch stylized sense of violence that director Zack Snyder would have neglected other aesthetic and, dare I say, plot concerns. I mean: there have been other stories that took Superman’s ‘S’ and made it actually look like another kind of symbol. You know: they actually made the symbol more alien looking as it, well, should have been given that it was from Krypton again. Also, the fact that all Kryptonians–including Jor-El and Zod–seem to wear spandex and the House of El ‘S’ symbol is extremely off-putting (and confusing) and a part of my brain kept saying, “Really? Really!?” That sort of thing works for a meta-narrative or a parody: not something that is supposed to be as “serious” as The Man of Steel.

I mean, look, I understand that Snyder and others wanted to get to the Superman bit right away, to say, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Superman! Look at him! Superman!” but seriously: in addition to the spandex S-wearing Kryptonians, could have at least had a lead-in into the Superman costume instead of having it right there ready-made by Jor-El? I mean, really? Really? And some more lead in into watching Clark discover his powers would have been nice too. I understand they don’t want to go all Smallville, but seriously he must have a damned good learning curve: is all I have to say. It’s almost like a good portion of this movie is, “Look, it’s Superman! See? He has his costume and powers and such! Isn’t that awesome!? And look at how we are adapting him to our world now! See! See!?”

But all snark aside for the moment, even after all that I gave the film the benefit of the doubt. I mean, we have the basic Superman qualities right there in front of us and a lot of the old archetypal elements too. I was also entertained by the interplay and the destruction. When Zod finally started to use his world-engine and it split, under my breath I whispered to myself, “Double jeopardy, Superman.” The depiction of the disorientation that Earth’s environment had on the Kryptonians was impressive too.

But as for the ending … All right. This was what was spoiled for me. But before I go into that, I want to refer everyone back to Zod and Clark’s exchange in the latter’s dreamscape. Do you remember that scene: where Zod is telling Clark all about what happened and what his plans are and, as he does so, Clark is buried by a massive amount of humanoid skulls?

Well, fast forward from there. Clark–now called Superman–destroys the ship with the Genesis Chamber: with all of those blank embryos. Through a joint effort with the military and Lois Lane, he manages to send the rest of Zod’s men back to the Phantom Zone, or purgatory, or whatever you want to call it. Then it is only Zod. Now Zod by this point is actually using what he knows and has adapted–as a Warrior–to Earth’s environment and the powers of its yellow sun.

At this point, Zod has basically lost everything. The Chamber, his people and any hope of restoring the Kryptonians that he claimed to want to protect. Zod has nothing left for him except for, really, what he had always been seeking this entire time. Gone is the self-proclaimed saviour, the grizzled general, and the ends justifies the means warrior. All that is left is a battle-maddened monster: the thing that had been growing inside Zod for far too long. As I said, a lesser man who was not Superman–especially one whose father was killed by this man–would have totally rubbed it in. I also admit that in a very perverse way, I enjoyed the fact that Zod pretty much lost everything he ever claimed to love and all that was left of him was the beast he always was.

In a way, Zod was the real legacy of the original Krypton as depicted in this film: with all of its self-contradictions and an inherent idea of superiority. Superman, on the other hand, is different: in that his birth hadn’t been predetermined and it was “natural.” Also remember that he still holds the Codex inside of his DNA. Here is a man that attempts to do as much as he can, improve himself however he can, and save anyone he can to the best of his abilities. In Superman is the potential for an Apollonian future. A holographic Jor-El takes a great deal of time telling his son that he has the potential to elevate humanity to the stars.

Both Zod and Superman come from a dead world and deaths have shaped them more or less into what they are now. But the irony is that while Zod doesn’t see any potential for a new Krypton without the “pure genetics” of those embryos, Superman may well understand what I believe his father had really been thinking: that by giving him the Codex–the DNA of all Kryptonians–he could interbreed with humanity and make something better and freer than the old Kryptonians. Of course, Zod would never see this–or even accept this–and this is where the end game begins.

You see, Superman took away Zod’s dream. So now, with nothing left to lose, Zod decides he will take Superman’s dream away as well: or taint it as much as possible. As some of the fine people at Sequart have already said, Zod wants to die at this point and, for all of his really poor decisions, he isn’t stupid. He knows the one way he can force Superman to kill him. There is no Kryptonite or magic in this film. There is just brute power. In the end, Zod forces Superman to choose. It’s actually surprising that he doesn’t just kill as many human beings as he can out of sheer spite, or use them as human shields, but the way I figure it Zod is just bloody tired at this point and really just wants to go down fighting and spiritually take his opponent down with him.

So, for the first time in film, we get to see Superman forced into a situation where he has to kill his first villain: punctuated by the crunching sound of General Zod’s neck in his arms.

Really, the only other moment that could be any more poignant is if Batman had shot the Joker with a gun.

I mean, for us it is a no-brainer. Zod was threatening innocents and in a scenario of sharp choice we know what most human beings would do. But this is Superman: with his altruistic ideals and his need to save everyone. Essentially, Zod made Superman–for one instant–compromise the ideals that are attributed to him. He infected him with the violence of his own being, the anger and pain engineered into him by Krypton. And even though Zod lost everything, in a way he won. He forced Superman to do what he had been doing during the entire film: he made him choose between lives. So when Superman is crying at the end and Lois is holding him, you know the real thing Superman lost is the idea of his own innocence: of not having ever taken a life in both the film and in other media.

Of course, I know that he has killed others before in the comics but those acts are not emblematic of the character. At the same time, it is very tempting to go back to that vision of him standing in that growing pile of humanoid skulls and wonder if those deaths were to be the result of Zod … or himself. After all, in addition to all those people who inevitably died in Metropolis due to the sheer collateral violence of his battles with the Phantom Zone soldiers, Superman just killed a man. It has set a precedent in at least film. What is to stop him from doing it again? What is to stop him from drowning in that past of the dead?

Will this and was this the only time he will have to be the arbiter of life and death? Remember what happened with this film’s version of Jonathan Kent. Unlike the heart-attack of Jonathan in the 1978 version of the film–the immaculate and moving way in which Superman was taught that for all of his power he still had limitations–this Jonathan forces Clark to choose not to save him from a tornado so that no one else will be able to confirm what he is yet. Essentially, Superman is taught that he has no limits: except those he and those he loves makes on himself. It was a little bit of a clunky lesson compared to the last, but it is something to consider in the context of this film: especially when you look at how Kryptonian society–by its very genetics program–also made choices for others.

And then there is that other question to consider: why was the Codex of all Kryptonian DNA shaped like a golden skull? And whose skull was it? How far into Tomorrow can one go before all they find is death? If you’ve ever read Superman: Red Son, which I highly recommend, you also might really wonder about that too.

There was some concern that Superman as an Apollonian figure of hope and something to aspire to would be dragged into the muck of darkness and humanity. Well, at least this incarnation of him has been. Can he learn to get past this? Most likely. Is he still Superman? Well, many of the humans around him seem to think so. Does any of this change who he is for all time? Certainly not: as far as I am concerned this is just another continuity and there will inevitably be another reboot of him in some media or other somewhere down the line. Can he still provide hope? The answer, I think, is yes.

I appreciated a few elements in this film, but I am ultimately going to give it a 3/5. It’s interesting but there were aspects that needed some improvement, some plot-holes filled, and an actual philosophical story with an occasional bit of action would have been nice too. At the very least, if nothing else, it leaves me with wondering what next the Man of Tomorrow might bring.

Global Game Jams, Big Vikings, Full-On Support, ScrewAttacks and Other Battles

So here is a long overdue update about what has been going on in my own life.

I entered and got accepted into the Global Game Jam in Toronto. This is a 48-hour event in which I and a group of programmers and other artists meet–for the first time–and create a video game together. My profile can be found right here on the site. I’m both anxious and really excited about what what is that my collaborators and I are going to create.

This is my first Game Jam and in fact my first official time helping to create a video game at all. I got accepted into this not too long ago and I thought I should mention this here. Part of the challenge will be the fact that whatever we make will be determined by a theme already created by the Global Game Jam. Of course, we don’t know what this theme is yet: just as most of us, I imagine, don’t know who we will even be working with.

In the end, while I have a few ideas already with regards to story and game-play, whether or not these will happen depends on the theme and what my team will want to be. That’s what I’m going to be doing this coming Friday the 25th all the way until Sunday the 27th. Whatever happens, I really look forward to this.

Now, the second thing of note that I want to mention is that my friend and collaborator Angela O’Hara has gotten a job at Big Viking Games as a video game artist.

I’m excited for Angela because she has essentially fulfilled one of her greatest dreams and can share her wonderful talent in a medium that she loves. It is not every day that someone gets a job doing something that they actually love: their dream job. When you have the opportunity, please check out Angela’s work and look out for her new video game design work as well. You will not be disappointed.

I’ve also gotten a lot of “Likes” and Follows this past while and I would, as always, like to thank everyone for continuing to follow this Blog. I always want to add some new content and vary things up a bit in order to keep things interesting. I don’t know if that is what actually happens, mind you, but I really like being able to express of the ideas I have in the way that I usually do.

There is one totally off-topic, but awesome thing that I do want to address and it is with regards to ScrewAttack’s Death Battle series. It is an excellent pairing of entirely different popular cultural and geek fictional characters: to determine which one would win in a battle to the death. It is that simple. These pairings are all enjoyable with Ben Singer and Chad James’ running commentary and Jordan Lange’s excellent animation. The first two give you a breakdown of what each combatant is capable of, and then a battle “postmortem” while Lange animates the entire fight: usually with 16-bit sprites, but sometimes with much more complex designs.

I will admit that I didn’t quite agree with the result of Batman Vs. Spiderman, but I really liked and agreed with the new and long-talked Dragon Z Star Goku Vs. DC’s Superman Death Battle. They are all things that my friends and I thought about for ages and it is really awesome to see it all animated.

You can even go on ScrewAttack’s Youtube channel or Death Battle’s Facebook page to suggest Death Battles of your own: which apparently ScrewAttack actually looks at. I have suggested the following verses matches:

Emperor Palpatine Verses the Dark Lord Sauron. Alan Moore’s V Verses The Joker. And Superman Verses …

The Doctor.

Yes.

I am that much of a geek and if any else wants to also vote on these, particularly … the latter two fight ideas I really wouldn’t mind. 😉

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this smaller post, update, and geeking. Let the battles continue.

File:Kampf der untergehenden Götter by F. W. Heine.jpg

A Hesitant Hero or the Pause Before the Precipice: Alan Moore’s Miracleman and Virgil’s Aeneid

I always find it amazing when you set out to write one simple thing and then not only does it become more complex than you thought it was going to be, but the implications of what it might say can be very difficult to gauge as well.

When I first started reading Alan Moore’s run of Miracleman a while ago, I made a whole lot of notes on the margins of a piece of paper as strange literary parallels occurred to me. One of these, a comparison between the Moore Miracleman’s world, the Platonic World of Being and Aristophanes’ myth of love, made it into an article.

My comparison of the character of Miracleman to the protagonist of Virgil’s Aeneid did not.

Aeneas is depicted by the Roman writer Virgil as not only a demi-god and a high-ranking survivor of Troy after its Sacking by the Achaians, but also as the founder of another greater Empire: Rome. He has a son named Ascanius from his wife who dies during the end of the Trojan War, and has a few adventures dealing with the gods plans for him. In fact, he leads his son and the survivors of Troy to a new life: carrying his father Anchises with him out of the lost city. His father is also notable for having been a mortal man who had been chosen by and ultimately impregnated the goddess Venus (or Aphrodite): who is also the mother of Aeneas himself.

File:Aeneas' Flight from Troy by Federico Barocci.jpg

Later, Anchises dies but due to his intimate association with divine leaves him a whole other legacy: so in a way it is more than fitting that the hero carries his father on his back and ultimately later lays him to rest.

But while he is ultimately loyal to the gods–to their plan to make him the creator of a new Empire–he has his doubts: about himself and about how successful he will be. From what I remember, he mourns his old life and some of the decisions that his destiny forces him to make: such as leaving Queen Dido of Carthage whom he had fallen in love and had a relationship. Much later, he marries Lavinia of the Latins in what will one day become the city-state of Rome while his son becomes his heir.

But before this, Aeneas descends into the Underworld to see the future of the Empire that the gods decreed that he would help build: learning about the future of his people and descendants in immense detail from the spirit of his now deceased father Anchises. This is obviously a transformative experience for him–making him see that reality is far different than he had always known–but what strikes me is that the doubt never really leaves him in Virgil’s depiction. I will go more into that later.

Miracleman, or Marvelman–also known as Mike Moran–is depicted by Alan Moore as a genetically altered human being that survives the destruction of his super-hero team with few of his memories intact. He was engineered with advanced alien organic matter and technology to fulfill a purpose that was ultimately taken away from him when the authorities that made him and his Marvel or Miracle Family believed them to be too dangerous: and sought to destroy them. Despite this, Miracleman and his Family were created by Project Zarathustra to help “save” the world: or at least the status quo version of it at the time.

Miracleman has a wife named Liz while he still believes he is a human being and eventually reawakens his power and many of his lost memories. At first he believes he is a superhero, but after a trip to the Spook Show bunker that created him and his Family, he realizes that he is the result of a physical and psychological weapons experiment: his first trip to the “Underworld,” if you will. Eventually, he meets his creator–and nemesis–Dr. Gargunza who reveals more about his true nature before trying to kill him.

Gargunza himself is a mortal human man that has also–in a way–delved into the divine by adapting crashed alien technology to create Miracleman and his Family. Miracleman also carries him: though in a somewhat different fashion than Aeneas and Anchises.

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He both honours his nemesis creator and sends him directly into the Underworld where, at least in Neil Gaiman’s run of the comic, he remains in another Underworld … in a sense. 😉

The hero ends up having a child named Winter with Liz, who eventually leaves him when she can no longer relate to either him or his superhuman and intellectually advanced child. He also gains a new lover in the form of Miraclewoman. In the end after a time in his original base of operations–the Silence–to mourn his old life, he, the remainder of his Family, and other heroes he has assembled take it upon themselves to create a utopia on Earth: whether ordinary humans like it or not. This also ushers in the creation of a new race of humans created from his DNA: of which Winter is the first. At the same time, even though he discovers what he truly is and that he seemingly made his own destiny upon the world, Miracleman never loses his sense of doubt in his own motivations or what he has wrought.

So we have two demi-gods that survived the destruction of their way of life, losing loved ones and finding new ones, creating heirs to the Empires that they leave behind, finding knowledge and terrible enlightenment in the Underworld, and reshaping the status quo while always questioning their motivations in doing so. These are the superficial similarities and differences between the two figures, and you can definitely see some eerie parallels at work. I’m not saying that Alan Moore attempted to copy Virgil, or was even consciously inspired by this epic. In fact, I’d venture to say that it is more the case of the hero archetype that functions similarly in both an ancient novel and an early 1980s comics form.

But the implications, for me at least, go deeper than that.

I’m mainly thinking about how both stories end: especially how they end.

Aeneas is told that there are are two kinds of dreams that leave the Underworld from two different gates: prophecies from the Gate of Horn, and false dreams from the Gate of Ivory. After being shown Rome’s future history, Aeneas is shown the way out of the Elysian Fields and the Underworld: specifically through the Gate of Ivory. This act says a lot of things right off the bat and perhaps foreshadows the very end of The Aeneid itself.

It is a strange ending: almost a very abrupt one. Aeneas confronts Turnus, the King of the Rituli and former suitor of Lavinia, on the battlefield. The latter instigates a war with the Trojan survivors with his own subjects after he loses the hand of Lavinia to Aeneas. At the very end of their personal duel, Aeneas gains the upper-hand and Turnus begs for his life. Aeneas actually pauses for a few moments, and as a reader I can almost picture him looking right at the reader somehow, before he lets anger consume him and strike his enemy down. The last obstacle to Aeneas’ destiny over the Latin people and Rome is removed: but it is a troublesome and problematic ending in that Aeneas, despite fulfilling the will of the gods and having seen the future of his actions–or because he saw the future before he left through the Gate of Ivory–hesitated for that one moment of possible doubt.

File:Aeneas and Turnus.jpg

That is one possible reading of The Aeneid in any case. I mean, what could it possibly mean if you saw a glorious future and legacy before leaving it through a Gate of false dreams: of lies?

Then we have the way Alan Moore ended his run of Miracleman. Miracleman’s entire existence, despite his extraordinary powers and advantages, has been a layer of dreams and lies. People have constantly manipulated him in some way or form with either maliciousness, expectations, or even good intentions. Finally, he makes his own decisions: not merely for himself but for the species of fallible beings that created him.

He does this after killing his former friend, Family member, sidekick and now nemesis and mass-murderer Kid Miracleman–or Bates–having him return to his child form, promising to save him, and snapping his neck.

miracleman-kills-johnny

The beginning of a new utopia in Miracleman’s version of a 1980s world starts with him cradling the half naked brutalized child alter-ego of a friend that he failed to save and who he himself kills for the “greater good.” And even after he eliminates capitalism, ends world hunger, encourages the advancement of medical science, creates an Earth alliance with advanced aliens, as well as creating a process of giving normal human beings powers like his own, where he and his heroes have essentially taken rulership of the Earth for themselves in a benevolent dictatorship– they have become the embodiment of the human need to have gods to aspire to and worship–that he stares from a balcony at the very end of the story … and he ponders again, in his garden of horrors and wonders, if he actually did right.

This is the main reason why I see Miracleman as an Aeneas figure within Alan Moore’s and–to some extent–Neil Gaiman’s run of the comic. I was also willing to end it at this point as well: to merely show the parallel between these two heroes with problematic issues to the destinies they’ve taken on themselves. But there is something else that I find interesting.

In one of my courses at University, when I first read The Aeneid, there was this implication presented to us that Virgil may have had some other motivations when he wrote his book. Virgil was around during the time when the princeps Augustus of Rome reigned. Before Augustus, Rome had been a Republic with two consuls in governance, and sometimes a triumvirate after periods of civil unrest. There were many accusations that Augustus had, once becoming ruler of Rome, made it into a monarchy again or controlled it as a tyrant. Some scholars have seen Virgil’s act of writing the glory of Rome and Augustus through the Gate of Ivory and Aeneas’ supposed doubts of the future as a subversive criticism of Augustus’ regime and the way that Rome was heading. It may have been coincidence or premature death that left The Aeneid unfinished after the death of Turnus at the hands of Aeneas, or it may not have.

So what does any of this have to do with Miracleman? Aside from creating a narrative that uses a superhero to criticize and end the late-Cold War politics and social orders of the early 80s? Or Moore himself being an integral force in re-innovating the medium of comics? Well, this is where the theme of prescience–of seeing the future–becomes ironic. I’ve read somewhere that Alan Moore believed that the comics medium–at least that sponsored by the industry–has become stagnant and that it uses techniques and themes that were created about twenty-five or so years ago. He especially goes into this when he talks about DC’s decision to create the Watchmen prequel series: another work of his from the 1980s era. I think about this. Then I think about Miracleman. It was one of the earliest 1980s revisions of the superhero genre, and the comics medium, that Alan Moore ever undertook.

And then I wonder if the iconic Miracleman–Moore’s Aeneas–looked out over the balcony surveying the dark and yet promising structure his writer created around and before him … and found himself afraid.