Friday, 31 August 2012

A Midsummer Tempest VI

In William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck comments on humanity:

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (Act 3, Scene)

In Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975), Oberon comments on Puck:

" 'Forgive him, Prince. Unaging Faerie folk too oft blow rootless on the winds of time, and ripen not to wisdom like you mortals.' " (p. 48)

Puck, as rendered by William Shakespeare, is well answered by his own King, as rendered by Poul Anderson.

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Shakespeare writes A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest for Morpheus, in return for inspiration, and Shakespeare's company first performs A Midsummer Night's Dream before the court of Oberon and Titania shortly before the Fair Folk withdraw from Earth. They might have less reason to withdraw from the alternative Earth described by Anderson? - but I have yet to reread to the end of the novel.

(A Midsummer Tempest 1-V are on the Poul Anderson Appreciation blog.)

Early Hellblazer

I have just reread Hellblazer no 4 by Jamie Delano, a gem of a comic in several ways. It was early days for John Constantine in his own title, fresh from the hands of his creator, Alan Moore, who had introduced him as a major player in Swamp Thing.

John is on the top of his form. We see excellent scenes of a Motorway, London and Liverpool (two Cities on Earth Real but a City and a Metropolitan Borough on Earth DC). We meet John's niece, Gemma, and John meets a new girl friend, Zed. The Resurrection Crusade and the Damnation Army are introduced. Many later story lines are being prepared.

The story expresses childhood alienation from parents, especially parents who join an outfit like the Resurrection Crusade. Within this context, there is a ghost story that becomes a horror story. The Crusade has a vigilante wing, the Warriors of God, whose T shirt shows a long sword pointing downwards. That reminded me of the Kryptonian Sword of Rao cult who carry flaming swords in Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?" - Liverpool and Kryptonopolis being two diverse regions of the vast DC Universe.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Episodic Adventures

In the "American Gothic" story line of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing (1985-'86), the title character plant elemental successively encounters several major horror fiction themes:
a werewolf;
a serial killer, "the bogeyman";

So far, unoriginal but there is a double point to this sequence:

first, the author creatively re-imagines each of these familiar ideas;

secondly, they build up to a horror beyond them all, in this case the conjuring of the Original Darkness that was before the Creation.

Poul Anderson had used the same technique thirty two years earlier in Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977; first published, 1953). The hero of this novel successively fights:

an animated suit of armour;
a dragon;
a giant;
a werewolf;
what else? (I am still rereading.)

And these episodic battles build up to a major attack by Chaos on the Law of which our hero is the Defender.

(In Swamp Thing, the Darkness rises out of the Chaos beyond Hell and advances against the Light, even fomenting civil war between demons preferring the Devil they know and those welcoming ultimate darkness.)

I mentioned the dragon and the giant in "Magic And Science" on Anderson continues his scientific approach with the werewolf:

"...lycanthropy was probably inherited as a set of recessive genes." (p. 83)

Someone with a full set of genes will be killed as a wolf in the cradle.

"With an incomplete inheritance, the tendency to change was weaker." (p. 84)

A woods dwarf can follow the scent of a werebeast in its animal form:

"Holger wondered if glandular secretions were responsible." (pp. 86-87)

And, when the suspects have been reduced to four, Holger applies detective techniques to identify the shape-changer.

(By contrast, Alan Moore uses his werewolf story to raise some feminist issues.)

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Boys II

Garth Ennis credibly and beautifully shows a loving, mutually enjoyable, relationship starting, then snowballing, between two people, Hughie and Annie, who meet on a bench in Central Park. (For Annie, see The Boys no 15 cover. For Hughie, see Simon Pegg.) He then shows how, later, each finds it hard to cope with the other's past and the relationship is tested beyond its breaking point.

But how does the story end? I don't know yet. One or two more issues to go. But:

Annie is a superhero;
Hughie's boss, Butcher, is now trying to kill every superhero;
with all their colleagues dead, it seems that Hughie will have to go up against Butcher but we would not expect Hughie to win against that mad bastard;
will Annie find out, intervene and tip the balance between Hughie and Butcher?

That is my best guess at how the story might end but I cannot anticipate Garth Ennis' scripts.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Boys

I had not known of Garth Ennis' monthly comic book The Boys but found its collected edition vol I in a Public Library and borrowed it. Why? First, Garth Ennis. Secondly, panel II makes clear that this is a comic about superheroes so we know where we stand. Thirdly, panel IV makes clear that our central character, Butcher, introduced in panel I, is antagonistic to at least one of the superheroes so we are in Moore-Miller moral ambiguity territory.

Since then, I have bought the entire series, first in collected editions, then, on catching up with the publishing schedule, in the monthly issues. Garth Ennis, having first worked out a very long and detailed back story, starts his narrative with the reconvening of the CIA covert team, "The Boys," and moves the story forwards from that point with occasional glimpses of the longer story which, by the end, we know in its entirety. Garth likes, and is good at, his war fiction so he fits some of that into this superheroes history, as he did in Preacher.

The Boys has two climaxes, Butcher's showdown with the Seven (parodies of the JLA) and what happens after. As the first climax approaches, we are told that it is Black Noir, the anonymous masked Batman-equivalent, not the Homelander, the powerful, colorful Superman-equivalent, that the Boys need to worry about. Despite this, we are unable to work out what is going on although it makes sense when explained but remains a surprise.

The second climax, not quite completed as I write, is really horrible and maybe a bit of an anti-climax? Butcher does not know when to stop. We were warned that he needed watching. Does it come down to Butcher versus Hughie? Who else is left? Does Butcher want Hughie to kill him? If not, where else has he to go?    

Comic Strip Bibles

All world religions have inspired texts but only one, Manichaeanism, also had inspired images. Is a comic strip adaptation of the Bible a Bible? If all the words in the captions and speech balloons are taken directly from the original, then, by definition, they remain the words of the inspired text but the visual content of the panels does not thereby become inspired. And the text would have to be abridged, to say the least.

However, two translations, the Septuagint and the King James, have come to be regarded as particularly authoritative as though not only the authors but also the translators had been inspired so maybe a comic strip Bible with very good art could come to be regarded in the same way? Imagine if Michelangelo did it.

I used comic strip adaptations of the Bible when working as a Religious Education Teacher. The New Testament was one volume of Gospels followed by one of Acts with some material from Paul's Epistles. One pupil disliked the Gospels volume because it tried, unsuccessfully of course, to merge the four independent narratives into one. I agreed with him. Let us have the Four Gospels as a tetralogy, either with four artists or maybe with one for the Synoptics and another for the Fourth?

And the same for screen adaptations: one actor for Jesus in the Synoptics and another in the Fourth, with actors resembling computer reconstructions of what a First Century Palestinian Jew would probably have looked like. 

Kipling In Comics And SF

Mike Carey's The Unwritten features both Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling as characters and made me seek out a verse I remembered from The Jungle Book. When I emailed the verse to Mike Carey, he replied with another Kipling verse about "...the old grey Widow-maker."

Neil Gaiman described his Sandman story, "Hob's Leviathan," as " doing Kipling..." (Hy Bender, The Sandman Companion, London, 1999, p. 180). "Hob's Leviathan" includes an Indian king who becomes a mendicant as an Indian Prime Minister did in The Second Jungle Book.

Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars Tetralogy names Kipling in Volumes I and III and quotes without naming him in Volumes II and IV and the first quotation is "...the old grey Widow-maker."

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The New Golden Age

DC Comics immediately after the Crisis on Infinite Earths in the late 80's was in what I called, and still call, a New Golden Age. I got back into reading comics because I saw Green Lantern 200, Green Lantern Corps 201 and John Byrne's Superman on a magazine rack at Lancaster Bus Station. Fortunately, American comics were being distributed through British newsagents but, having started, it was then possible to go to an indoor market comics stall and to comics shops in other towns to buy back issues and order new titles.

Alan Moore was writing Swamp Thing and Watchmen. (Eclipse Comics were publishing his Miracleman. I was old enough to remember not only the Silver Age Green Lantern but also Mick Anglo's Marvelman.) Sandman started. Byrne had made Superman credible - but soon messed it up, bringing back Mxyzptlk, Lori Lemaris and (a version of) Supergirl. Marv Wolfman gave us the businessman Luthor who has survived all subsequent continuity changes. Roy Thomas wrote Infinity Inc and The Young All Stars, the latter an extended origin story.

All the monthly titles were renewed although the Batman titles did not live up to Frank Miller's Year One and Dark Knight. Miller's Batman, a masked vigilante, refers to the police as "the enemy." I said in a previous post that there was a Superman trilogy:

Moore's Man Of Tomorrow;
Byrne's Man Of Steel;
Hudnall's  Lex Luthor Unauthorized Biography;

 - and a Batman trilogy:

Miller's Year One;  
Moore's The Killing Joke;  
Miller's Dark Knight.

Some other works of the period deserve to stand alongside these trilogies:  

The Longbow Hunters miniseries;
the Hawkworld miniseries;
the Blackhawk miniseries;
Mindy Newell's Catwoman miniseries;
Byrne's World Of Krypton miniseries; 
Shaman (the first story arc in Legends Of The Dark Knight);  
Superman For Earth;  
Superman: Under A Yellow Sun.

Blackhawk was like: these are the real guys that we only read about in comic books before. The Blackhawk Squadron loses US funding because Janov Prohaska, "Major Blackhawk," was photographed beside a Communist Party member in the Spanish Civil War. While Janov goes on a binge, his men negotiate Anglo-Soviet funding. When told, Janov asks, "Why should Stalin fund us? He kicked me out of the Party as a Trotskyite!" This version of Blackhawk really is an ex-Communist! I could not believe that I had read that.

One of the Blackhawks, "Chop Chop," used to be drawn as a Chinese racial stereotype. Here, he is a regular guy who whispers, when introduced by his offensive nickname, "Janov, we will drop this 'Chop Chop' business or I will make your life hell!" Same characters, different world.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Fenn And Dredd

Fenn, the new character who "raged" at the end of Chapter 2 in Poul Anderson's The Fleet Of Stars has, by Chapter 6, become a police officer on Luna where he quells an anti-cybercosm riot with gun and fists. I was reminded of Judge Dredd although that is hardly a comparison intended by Anderson.

The social situations are similar. Like Dredd, Fenn polices those who, in a high tech civilisation, lack not only employment but also meaning, surviving on citizen's credit but turning to petty crime and violence for want of anything better to do. I suggest that well-resourced education and culture do give meaning but only to those who are actively engaged with them and that condition is lacking in these imagined scenarios. (Now, I would like to be able to read Virgil in the original but did not have such an interest in a Latin epic while being force-fed that "dead language" at school in the 60's.)

Dredd, published continuously in comic strips since the early 70's, has also made it to the big screen twice. Anderson's characters are less well known but worthier of screen dramatisation.

(I borrowed the Dredd collections from the Public Library. One was stolen from the public access area at my work. Incredibly, the Library said I could replace it with any book, not necessarily another copy of the stolen item. I happened to have two copies of the Everyman edition of The Time Machine which has a wealth of introductions and textual notes so the Library lost one fictitious account of future society and gained another!)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Poul Anderson And Neil Gaiman

In Poul Anderson's "The Only Game In Town," the Time Patrol must prevent the Mongol invasion of North America. Kublai Khan and Marco Polo are mentioned. Rereading that reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Sandman story about Marco Polo.

There are other parallels. In The Sandman, Shakespeare writes A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest for Morpheus. Anderson wrote A Midsummer Tempest about a parallel Earth where Shakespeare was the Great Historian, not a great dramatist, thus his characters really existed. That novel features Anderson's inn between the worlds where characters from different universes and fictions meet, as in Gaiman's Inn of the Worlds' End.

Anderson imagines a Roman in the reign of Augustus who speculates that the Empire might either conquer the whole world or, as then current policy suggested, stay approximately as it was. Gaiman shows us Augustus formulating the latter policy and tells us why he did it.

Both quote James Elroy Flecker, including "...the Golden road to Samarkand." Anderson refers to and quotes Kipling. Gaiman described his Sandman story, "Hob's Leviathan," as " doing Kipling..." Kipling has an Indian Prime Minister who becomes a mendicant. "Hob's Leviathan" has an Indian king who becomes a mendicant.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Politics And Dream II

What did Sandman say about the limits of political power?

Augustus' power could not prevent him from wanting the Empire to decline.

Haroun al Raschid's power could not make the fabulous age of Baghdad last forever in the waking world.

Robespierre could not kill a myth.

An Indian king killed his wife and her lover but had not been able to prevent them from becoming lovers.

Prez the Teen President achieved the seemingly impossible but was not President forever.

Shakespeare helped to translate the King James Bible but really worked for the King of Dreams.

The Emperor of the United States wielded no power but captured the popular imagination.

It is better to prevent ecclesiastical and political power from combining.

The story about Haroun al Raschid, "Ramadan" in Sandman 50, is a perfect example of an imaginative writer spinning a story from what seems like an obvious premise when it is stated. If we imagine that the fabulous age of Baghdad once existed exactly as described, then why is it not still here now?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Watchmen And The Dark Knight

Neither of these DC Comics graphic novels influenced the other but, because both reflected the current state of comics in relation to the real world, they developed some parallels.

(i) The Dark Knight Returns is set in a near future where there is a danger of nuclear war. Watchmen is set in an alternative present with nuclear war imminent.

(ii) Each has a US President who is known to us: Reagan in Knight; Nixon in Watchmen. (Near the end of Watchmen, a headline raises the spectre of "RR" as President but a character ridicules the idea of a cowboy actor in the White House. They refer, of course, to Robert Redford.)

(iii) In both, independently operating costumed crime fighters are banned although a masked vigilante defies the ban and a powerful superhero works for the US government.

(iv) In both, the ban is expressed by a diagonal red line across the image of a crime fighter. (In the DC cross-over series, Legends, a temporary ban was expressed in the same way. Super-powered mutants were persecuted in the Marvel Universe.)

(v) In both, a powerful superhero leaves Earth.

(vi) Because both involve a character falling from a skyscraper, they both raise the question of whether such a person would lose consciousness before reaching the ground.

(vii) Watchmen involves an attack on New York; Knight involves an attempt to destroy the Twin Towers of Gotham City: Two Face's clue is that his next target will be twice as big as you can possibly imagine...

Two Batman/Dark Knight Series

It is generally known that Frank Miller wrote a "graphic novel" called The Dark Knight Returns.

A "novel" is a long prose fiction, not necessarily substantial, e.g., novels include War And Peace and Mills and Boon romances.

The phrase "comic novel" can mean "humorous novel."

A "graphic novel" is a long comic strip that is as substantial as (prose) novels can be.

"Comics" were originally humorous, as "novels" were once new.
A better name for "comics" might be "graphics"?

I agree that The Dark Knight Returns is a graphic novel although it was first published not as a single volume but as a four issue mini-series, thus simply The Dark Knight, whose opening and concluding volumes were The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Falls, respectively.

Thus, there is a curious although probably coincidental parallel between the titles of three works by Miller:

Batman:Year One;
The Dark Knight Returns;
The Dark Knight Falls;

and the titles of the films in a recently concluded Batman/Dark Knight trilogy:

Batman Begins;
The Dark Knight;
The Dark Knight Rises.

In both cases, the Batman begins his vigilantism and is later renamed "the Dark Knight" but then he either falls or rises.

At the end of The Dark Knight Returns:

the Batman dies fighting Clark Kent and is identified as Bruce Wayne;
at Wayne's funeral, Kent hears Bruce's heart restart and thus knows that the death had been faked;
on Wayne's orders, Alfred had blown up Wayne Manor, coincidentally dying of a heart attack immediately afterwards;
Wayne and the third Robin lead a survivalist army in the Cave.

At the end of The Dark Knight Rises:

the Batman dies saving Gotham City and Wayne is also believed to be dead;
however, Alfred glimpses Wayne in Europe;
Wayne had bequeathed the Manor to an orphanage;
in a fundamental change to the story, the first Robin now enters the Cave to become a masked crime fighter.

The familiar characters can be put back together in just about any combination.

I have said in previous posts that I do not regard Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again as a valid sequel. A sequel to the film trilogy is possible although improbable - that was probably just a clever ending to The Dark Knight Rises - but I hope that, if such a sequel (Robin?) were to be made, then it would maintain the quality of the trilogy.

Finally, I have not read  Miller's All Star Batman And Robin stories which, apparently, are sequels to his Year One and prequels to his Dark Knight.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Batman Titles

How do titles convey beginnings, endings, returns and new beginnings? The Return Of Sherlock Holmes tells us that it is a sequel, thus that there was at least one previous volume, and His Last Bow tells us that this volume was intended to be a conclusion. (In fact, there were four volumes before The Return and there is one after His Last Bow.)

Batman titles can vary because an alternative phrase, "the Dark Knight," also refers to the central character. Batman comics written by Frank Miller give us:

a beginning, Batman: Year One;
a return, The Dark Knight Returns;
an ending, The Dark Knight Falls;
a second return, The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

I regard ...Strikes Again as a text book case of how not to write a sequel, throwing away all the subtleties of the original and adding content completely out of tune with the original. I really would have liked to read a sequel that simply followed from the Dark Knight mini-series, showing us:

Bruce and his survivalist army getting organized in the "endless Cave";
Gotham City continuing to decline above them;
Bruce spying on the world above but keeping out of sight;
no superheroes, apart from the flawed Kent (they were kept out of the original, which got it just right).

However, since I am here primarily considering titles, it has to be acknowledged that ...Strikes Again, like ...Rides Again, Return Of.., ...Returns, Son Of... and Children Of..., is a recognized kind of sequel title.

The Batman film tetralogy gives us:

a beginning, simply Batman;
a return, Batman Returns;
an on-going title, Batman Forever;
a new beginning, Batman And Robin

- although it would have made more sense if the third and fourth titles had been reversed.

The Batman film trilogy gives us a beginning, Batman Begins, then two titles that look as if they belong to a different series, albeit about the same character:

another beginning, The Dark Knight;
a sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, the exact opposite of Miller's "ending" title above.

However, these films follow Miller's lead in switching from a "Batman" title to some "Dark Knight" titles. When they are explained, the titles in the trilogy make sense. The anonymous vigilante, whose career begins in the first film, has to become the Dark Knight of Gotham City because its District Attorney has failed to be its White Knight. The Dark Knight, having fallen out of Gothamites' favor, rises again in their esteem in the concluding film. Thus, these titles, when explained, are fully coherent.

Trilogies: Final Year?

Certain DC comics are classics, including these three "trilogies" (I am calling them that but they do fit together, as I will show):

The Man Of Tomorrow by Alan Moore;
The Man Of Steel by John Byrne;
Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography by James D Hudnall.

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller;
The Killing Joke by Alan Moore;
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.

The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell;
Green Arrow: Year One (GAY1) by Andy Diggle;
Batman: Rules Of Engagement by Andy Diggle.

(By The Man Of Tomorrow, I mean a collection of Alan Moore's three Superman stories, which include a two parter. Titan Books collected them under this title albeit in black and white.)

The common themes here are high quality writing and art, beginnings and endings:

Moore concludes and Byrne re-creates Superman;
Hudnall writes the origin of the new Luthor;
thus, an end for Superman followed by new beginnings for him and his main opponent.

Miller begins and ends a new Batman;
Moore rewrites the origin of the Joker;
thus, new beginnings and an end for the Batman and his main opponent.

Grell presents a mid-life crisis for the then current Green Arrow and slightly revises his origin;
Diggle presents the origins of a new Green Arrow, the Batplane and Wayne Charities;
thus, a middle age, a retold beginning and a new beginning for Green Arrow and some beginnings for the Batman.

These lists refer to three continuities:

the first began with Action Comics no 1, June 1938, and ended with Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?, 1986;
the second began with The Man Of Steel and Batman: Year One and ended with The Dark Knight Returns;
the third began with GAY1 (many other works are involved but here I highlight a few peaks of quality).

Byrne's Superman, Grell's Green Arrow and the Joker come together with Miller's Batman and Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Returns. Mindy Newell's Catwoman miniseries continued the character of Selina directly from Batman: Year One.

Since Batman: Year One begins the Batman's career and since The Dark Knight Returns describes his return from a ten year retirement, it has been suggested that Miller could also have written a Batman: The Final Year, describing the build up to retirement.

This would have disclosed events only hinted at, like what had happened (something bad) to Jason, the second Robin. In later comics set in current continuity, the Joker brutally murdered Jason but there is no hint in Miller's story that whatever had happened to Jason had been done by the Joker. Also, whatever it was had caused the Batman to cover it up, then retire, while superhero activity was governmentally banned or covered up as in Watchmen, but this did not happen in continuity, except for the temporary superhero ban in Legends, so there is still a different story to be told here. The Dark Knight Returns, no longer a possible future, becomes an alternative timeline.

Batman Continuities

We have learned to live without a single continuity. Not only do the comics, if you read them, change:

Golden Age;
Silver Age;
New 52

+ Imaginary stories & Elseworlds

(please don't worry if you don't understand any of that)

but also there are four screen continuities:

the cinema serials of the 1940's;
the TV series, with accompanying feature film, of the 1960's;
the film tetralogy of the concluding decades of the 20th century;
the film trilogy of the opening decades of the 21st century.

In Greek drama, as in Pantomime, the story was already known but audience interest was in a new presentation. Will this dramatist make better sense of the sequence of events and of the characters' motivations? In the Batman mythology, the characters are already known but their relationships can change.

Usually, Joe Chill kills Bruce Wayne's parents and the Red Hood becomes the Joker but, in the 1989 film, a new character, Jack Napier, played by Jack Nicholson, kills the Waynes and becomes the Joker, thus unifying the film somewhat. In the execrable 1992 film, one new character was Selina Kyle's employer, Oswald Cobblepot's political backer and a business contact of Bruce Wayne, thus unifying that plot even more. In the 1997 film, a Batgirl who is not Gordon's daughter but Alfred's niece keeps the Bat team within the Wayne household.

The Dark Knight (2008) really made me think that Jim Gordon had been killed at an early stage, thus contradicting continuity, but, of course, his death had been faked. Heath Ledger powerfully played a completely different and original version of the Joker. It looked as if he was falling to his death as Jack Nicholson's Joker had done. Of course, the Batman, who does not take life, had to save him but, ironically, the actor died before he could have re-played the part - and I don't think that anyone else will match it.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) made us think that Bane was Ra's al Ghul's son, then revealed that not Bane but Ra's' daughter Talia, helped by Bane, had escaped from literally life long imprisonment. In different continuities, Dick Grayson has become the first Robin either as a young boy or as a teenager. In The Dark Knight Rises, Robin, already a young man and not yet in costume, first appears after Wayne's career as Batman has ended. Since the story is well told and powerful, we appreciate, instead of resenting, these new perspectives on established characters.

Batman Films

We have had a 20th century tetralogy:

Batman (1989)
Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Forever (1995)
Batman And Robin (1997)

and a 21st century trilogy:

Batman Begins (2005)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

However, I found Batman Returns both unpleasant and incoherent so I would prefer it to be dropped from the canon. That would leave us with two trilogies. The proposed 20th century trilogy is quite coherent. The films respectively introduce Batman, Robin and Batgirl, although that suggests that the second and third titles ought to be reversed and, in fact, Batman Forever would have made a good concluding title.

The opening of Batman And Robin had strong continuity with previous films:

Robin was played by the same actor as in the previous film;
Alfred Pennyworth and Police Commissioner James Gordon were played by the same actors as in the two previous films;
Batman was not but his mask concealed the entire area of his face;
Batman referred to Superman who had had a film series;
the reference to Superman reinforced Robin's reference in the previous film to the city of Metropolis.

(Marvel have gone much further in bringing their characters together in films.)

Batman And Robin contained the human warmth that was lacking from Batman Returns:

as far as I can remember, unless I am confusing films, we saw Alfred comforting the bereaved child Bruce;
we saw real affection between Bruce and Alfred, transcending their traditional, formal master-servant relationship;
further family feeling was invoked by introducing (this version of) Batgirl as Alfred's niece and as a welcome addition to the Batman-Robin team;
Batman learned to trust Robin and to cut out remarks like "This is why Superman works without a partner";
one of the villains was persuaded to do something good for someone else at the end - Batman villains are usually irredeemable, as in Batman Returns.

Thus, what I see here is a good 21st century trilogy and, potentially, a good 20th century trilogy.

Dead, Not Really

How often do we think that a hero was dead, only to find out that he isn't? Almost never. We usually assume rightly that he must have survived. We only need to learn how. But we had better be given a good explanation. Dr Who, in one of his less serious periods, once joked, "I'll tell you about it sometime!" That is not good enough.

Three times I have been fooled into thinking that a hero really was dead when he wasn't.

"Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?" by Alan Moore, a "last Superman story," set ten years in the future, in 1997, begins by telling us that Superman died ten years ago. We accept this. A young Daily Planet reporter interviews Lois Elliot for "The Last Days of Superman," the lead feature in a Superman Memorial Edition. Lois says that Superman, whose secret identity as Clark Kent had by then been revealed, relinquished his powers and deliberately froze to death in the Arctic although his body was never found. He had killed an opponent and felt that he could no longer be Superman. Of course, as with Jim Morrison and Bruce Lee, there are rumours that he is still alive somewhere.

When the reporter has left, Lois and her husband, Jonathan, hope that the media will not bother them for another ten years. (What happened in 2007?) Only when Alan Moore wants us to, in the last three panels, do we begin to realise that Jonathan Elliot is, as his name suggests, the son of Jor-El and the foster son of Jonathan Kent. Lois says that they will live happily ever after and Jonathan winks at the reader. Since this version of Superman is ending, a little metafiction is appropriate. The author had begun the story with "This is an IMAGINARY STORY...Aren't they all?" At the end of Lois' story within the story, the Batman had described the scene of death and destruction in and around Superman's Arctic Fortress of Solitude as "like walking amongst the fragments of a legend..." - so let's see how the Batman ends both in a comic book and in a film.

The Dark Knight miniseries by Frank Miller, collected as The Dark Knight Returns and set in a possible future, describes the Batman's return from a ten year retirement. Since this is a limited series and a possible future, anything can happen. Since the four installments are entitled:

The Dark Knight Returns;
The Dark Knight Triumphant;
Hunt The Dark Knight;
The Dark Knight Falls

- we expect a defeat if not a death at the end.

In the collected edition, Alan Moore's Introduction, "The Mark of Batman," prepares us to expect the capstone of a legend, Batman's equivalent of Alamo, Ragnarok or Robin Hood's last arrow, in an "...engrossing story of a great man's final and greatest battle..."

We are not disappointed as the outlawed vigilante, having defeated two old foes and one new one, pits himself against the government agent Kent, dies and is buried, with the world now knowing that Bruce Wayne was the Batman. Except that, at the funeral, Clark hears Bruce's heart restart and winks at Robin... Bruce's new life, "...far past the burnt remains of a crimefighter who's time has passed..." is to train an army of survivalists - reformed criminals, Robin and a one-armed archer - in the endless cave.

In Dark Knight, as in Whatever Happened..., both the superhero identity and the secret identity are over but the man behind them lives on and does something new.

That leaves the film The Dark Knight Rises, which I saw yesterday. We know that it concludes a trilogy so that again anything can happen. Near the end, the Batman, in his new flying vehicle called simply "the Bat," carries an about-to-explode atom bomb away from Gotham City out to sea. I thought, "I hope he does die this time because that would be appropriate." We see a mushroom cloud on the horizon. He cannot have survived.

Civic leaders unveil a statue of the Batman. Bruce Wayne's friends, who knew who he was, commemorate Bruce. They include a young policeman. An orphan raised in a Wayne-funded orphanage, he had been prepared to defend his city without wearing a mask but the Batman had explained that the mask is to protect those you care about. Leaving the police force, he finds his way into the Cave after another character has addressed him by his middle name, Robin.

When Bruce was abroad, Alfred Pennyworth had holidayed hoping to glimpse Bruce happily married, thus never to return to Gotham. At the very end, Alfred holidays again and does glimpse Bruce with Selina Kyle. Impossible. Alfred is seeing a ghost or imagining things. Except that, earlier in the film, Bruce and Lucius Fox had mentioned an autopilot for the Bat...

From Superman in a comic to Batman in a comic to Batman in a film is a neat progression.

Graphic Intertextuality

I compared James Blish's prose fantasies, Black Easter and The Day after Judgement, with the Justice Society, Justice League, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, Sandman and Lucifer graphic fantasies by, variously, Roy Thomas, Alan Moore, Mark Millar, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey (see here). All these works share the fantasy premise of the literal existence of supernatural beings. Such beings may be gods, angels, demons or new fictitious characters, in particular Gaiman's "Endless," who are anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of consciousness. Some of the Endless - Destiny, Death and Dream - have been personified before but never as well as here.

The graphic series listed are of two kinds: superheroes - the Justice titles; dark fantasy - the rest. Further, Hellblazer is not only dark fantasy but fantasy horror. Superheroes is a composite genre incorporating fantasy:

the origin stories of Wonder Woman and of Captain Marvel refer to classical gods;
Superman's origin is extraterrestrial, therefore science fictional, but he coexists with WW, Cap and other characters whose powers are magical, not scientific;
the earlier Hawkman's origin was not extraterrestrial but reincarnational;
the Spectre and Deadman are ghosts. 

In addition, Thomas' Last Days of the Justice Society of America features the Aesir and Millar's Justice League: Paradise Lost features the angelic host which is why these two works are listed here.

In Black Easter, we are told that the demons are winning Armageddon because God is dead. In The Day After Judgement, Satan has become God but offers Godhood to mankind. In Gaiman's Sandman, Lucifer Morningstar retires as Lord of Hell. Thus, both Blish and Gaiman show us the Devil after he has ceased to be the Adversary, although they are different versions of the Devil. Blish shows us the Dantean Satan, albeit in a changed context, whereas Gaiman's Lucifer, especially as developed in the sequel by Carey, is dedicated to self-will, not to malice.

Blish's two fantasies refer to the Bible, Dante, Milton and CS Lewis. Moore and Gaiman also make scriptural and literary references. Additionally, the publishing schedule of comic books generates an indefinitely prolonged narrative that can become merely self-referential. A single company publishes several interconnected monthly titles for many years or, in some cases, decades. In the few works mentioned here, a continuous narrative stretches from the Spear of Destiny, which pierced Christ's side on the Cross, to a new universe with no Hell. Hitler uses the Spear to conjure Ragnarok. The Justice Society, merging with the Aesir, endlessly re-fights Ragnarok, thus indefinitely postponing its expected outcome, the destruction of this universe. Or so they think. That is where writer Roy Thomas leaves them.

Gaiman reveals that the endlessly re-fought Ragnarok, with its versions of Odin and the other Aesir, is a simulation in a transparent sphere held in the hand of the Odin who co-exists with the title character of Sandman, Dream of the Endless. Lucifer has retired, expelled the damned from Hell and given the Key of this now empty realm to Dream. Odin and others want the Key. Odin hopes that Dream will exchange the Key for the miniature Ragnarok. He is puzzled by the intrusion of human heroes into the sphere but hopes that Dream will be interested because one of these heroes is the earlier, very different, version of Sandman.

In Lucifer, the retired Lucifer must cope when God also retires and is succeeded, after some confusion, by his granddaughter who abolishes Hell. Thus, a fictional continuity with three authors - Thomas, Gaiman and Carey - indirectly links the Spear to the new universe. However, it is not necessary that anyone notice this. The reader of Lucifer need not remember or even have read Thomas' story. Events of comparable magnitude, like an attempt to destroy Heaven in Moore's Swamp Thing or the Swamp Thing becoming God in Millar's Swamp Thing, have occurred between the Second World War and Carey's Second War in Heaven but these also need not be remembered. 

Each story is worth reading in its own right and they present an interesting sequence if read successively but that sequence is very much in the background and for immediate story purposes might as well not be there. I have summarised some interconnected narratives that I have valued but they have been left behind by subsequent events that I have not read. Lucifer has gone but there is a new Dream and something else is happening with Swamp Thing. Comics continue and I might revisit them in future but for now I am re-reading Moore, Gaiman and Carey whose stories at least are of lasting value. 

Comics And Science Fiction

Stories can be narrated, enacted or depicted. Adding extra speakers and actions transformed narrative into drama. Sequential art story telling, like the Bayeux Tapestry, the Stations of the Cross, the willow pattern, scrimshaw bracelets and comic strips, developed from static representational art. All religions have canonical texts – scriptures - but one, Manichaeanism, also had canonical pictures, in the “Book of Images.”

Comic strips, like opera, are a composite art form. The former combine pictures with words as the latter combines drama with music. Comics are no longer only comical as novels are no longer new. Comic strips can address any age group and can mediate any genre although they are most closely associated with the one genre that originated in this medium, superheroes. Superman is the transitional character between science fiction (sf) and superheroes as Frankenstein is transitional between Gothic fiction and sf.

Superheroes is a hybrid genre, combining elements of sf, fantasy and action-adventure. Thus, superheroes, powered either scientifically or supernaturally, can meet non-super powered masked avengers or costumed adventurers. Special effects now enable films to present superheroes adequately. Superhero prose fiction has to emphasize characterization rather than fantastic feats.

Mr Hyde and the Invisible Man were pre-comics super-villains. The latter forced a tramp called Thomas Marvel into the non-super-powered sidekick role. Later, Marvel, as the landlord of an inn called "The Invisible Man," secretly possesses but cannot understand the title character's notebooks containing "...the subtle secret of invisibility and a dozen other strange secrets..." 1

Ironically, much later, superheroes included Captain Marvel and Invisible Girl, the latter published by Marvel Comics. No doubt, Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, already incorporating Griffin (the Invisible Man), Cavor, the Time Traveler, Dr Moreau, Wellsian and other Martians, Hyde, Dupin, Holmes, Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, John Carter etc, would be able to link Wells' Marvel to the later Marvels. Are the "...dozen other strange secrets..." other super powers? Griffin says that his formula involves four dimensions (as, in other Wells stories, do the Time Machine, Davidson's eyes and Plattner's reversal) and that:

"In the books - the books that Tramp has hidden - there are marvels, miracles!" 2

After Marvel's death, when someone else can read and interpret the notebooks, a new superhero team, atoning for Griffin's crimes, might meet in the cellar of "the Invisible Man."

Gladiator (1930) by Philip Wylie was a possible source for Superman (1938). Like the earliest published version of Superman, Wylie's Hugo Danner was strong, fast and invulnerable but could neither fly nor see through walls. Like Danner, Superman intimidated a corrupt lobbyist. 3, 4 Danner imagines becoming either a powerful bank robber and murderer or a super-detective dispensing summary justice. 5 His confidante suggests a super-powered group called "The New Titans." 6

Both Gladiator and the first Superman episode refer to weight-lifting ants and high-jumping grasshoppers. Danner's father says of ants:

"Strength a hundred times our own." 7

Siegel writes:

"The lowly ant can support weights a hundred times its own." 8

Siegel seems to have read Wylie. Superman, definitely descended from the Hebrew Judge, Samson, the Greek Hero, Hercules, and the philosophical concept, the Superman, may also be descended from the hero of an American novel, Hugo Danner. The progression from Superman, via Captain Marvel and Mick Anglo's Marvelman to Alan Moore's Marvelman, re-named Miracleman, is a Samsonian-Herculean apotheosis. Moore's Michael Moran (Marvel/Miracleman) neither despairs like Danner nor conforms like Superman but rules like the Messiah, with weapons destroyed, money abolished, the environment saved, energy abundant, necessities free, politicians redundant, super powers shared, Fundamentalists in hiding, civilization interstellar, physical resurrections and Moran worshiped. Thus, Moore's graphic but superheroes-transcending work restores Biblical, mythical themes but in futuristic, technological settings.

James Blish’s earliest sf, published in the same period as the original Superman stories, contains the kind of fantastic elements that came to be refined into a separate genre. Thus, a secret society uses mental powers against extra-solar invaders in “Citadel of Thought.”9 Poul Anderson’s first future history contains the Un-Men and “The Sensitive Man.”10 Julian May and Larry Niven incorporate superhero motifs into sf novels.11, 12
Thus, the link between prose sf and comic strip superheroes may be closer than those who read only prose fiction realize. Also, several works by Alan Moore, including the pre-comics characters crossover and the superheros climax mentioned here, are culminating moments of the comics medium.

1. H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man (London: Penguin Classics, 2005), 150.
2. ibid, p. 89.
3. Philip Wylie, Gladiator (New York: Lancer Books, 1965), pp. 169-170.
4. Jerome Siegel & Joe Schuster, Superman in Action Comics (New York: DC Comics, 1938, 1988), pp. 12-13.
5. Wylie, op. cit., p. 129.
6. ibid, p. 188.
7. Wylie, op., cit., p. 6.
8. Siegel and Schuster, op., cit., p. 1.
9. James Blish, “Citadel of Thought” in Stirring Science Stories (Albing Publications, February 1940), reprinted in Blish, The Best Of James Blish (New York: Ballantine Books, 1979.
10. Poul Anderson, The Psychotechnic League (New York: TOR, 1981), pp. 31-198.
11. Julian May, Diamond Mask (London: Pan Books, 1995).
12. Larry Niven, Protector (London: Futura Publications Ltd, 1974).

James Blish Compared With Graphic Novelists

In Black Easter by James Blish: 

the three superior demons, Satan, Beelzebuth and the Sabbath Goat, never appear;
however, the powerful black magician, Theron Ware, accepts a commission to release forty eight other major demons without restraint;
the demons initiate World War III;
Ware fails to recall them;
the Sabbath Goat does appear, is unaffected by an attempted exorcism and states that Ware has initiated Armageddon;
further, he claims that the demons are winning because God is dead.

That was meant to be a final conclusion but

the Goat said only that the demons were winning, not that they had won;
he may have been mistaken or lying;
demonic conjurations may have been the magicians’ hallucinations, although I will argue further against this last idea (see here).

In the later conceived sequel, The Day After Judgement

the Goat fails to return, as promised, for the magicians;
the world starts to recover from the nuclear exchange;
the white magician sees prima facie evidence for God’s continued existence;
the demon fortress Dis appears in Death Valley;
the Strategic Air Command attacks Dis and is destroyed;
Satan calls the magicians to Pandemonium;
he announces that, since evil is only opposition to goodness, he is now God but does not want the role so offers it to Man;
mankind begins a long development towards Godhood;
Satan/God undoes the effects of the nuclear exchange;
during his speech in Miltonic verse, Satan speculated that God had withdrawn, not died. (1)

Some graphic novelists (adult comic strip writers) address similar themes. 

In Last Days Of The Justice Society of America by Roy Thomas:

the Spear of Destiny has magical powers because it pierced Christ’s side on the Cross;
Hitler in his Bunker uses the Spear to conjure Ragnarok;
World War II superheroes merge with the gods;
they prevent cosmic destruction by re-fighting Ragnarok endlessly;
Ragnarok replaces Valhalla as a cyclical conflict. (2)

In Justice League: Paradise Lost by Mark Millar:

an angel enters the Palace of the Presence to challenge God;
however, the Palace is empty because God is in all things, not in one place. (3)

In Swamp Thing by Alan Moore:

male witches want to destroy Heaven;
so they conjure the Original Darkness that was before the Creation;
a dark tower emerges from Chaos and advances through Hell, fomenting demonic civil war;
the tower is then seen to be the index finger of an immense hand;
however, a hand of Light descends to clasp the hand of Darkness;
the Taoist symbol of interpenetration appears in the eye of the psychic witness to the supernatural events;
light and darkness, life and death, are interdependent;
no part of this polarity is “evil”;
the title character, a plant elemental, asks, “Where is evil in all the wood?”;
this question enables the Darkness to accept and merge with the Light after sweeping aside powerful spirits resisting it as evil.(3)

In Swamp Thing by Mark Millar:

the plant elemental acquires the powers of all the elements;
his daughter reverses the sound of the Word, cancelling the divine agent;
thus, the elemental becomes powerful enough to displace God and destroy mankind;
however, he realises that he has become vast enough to incorporate us. (3)

In John Constantine, Hellblazer by Jamie Delano:

John Constantine, a powerful magician, sabotages the Resurrection Crusade's attempt to prepare the woman Zed to be the new Mary;
a Masonic magician raises the masculine "God of all Gods" to facilitate Masonic regime change in Britain;
however, Constantine, Zed and Marj raise the anima which counterbalances the GOAG. (3)

In John Constantine, Hellblazer by Garth Ennis:

Constantine defies the demonic triumvirate;
then he sells his soul to each in turn;
if he dies, they will fight for his soul, thus dividing Hell and allowing angelic victory;
to prevent this, they cure Constantine’s lung cancer.(3)

In Sandman by Neil Gaiman:

Lucifer Morningstar tires of presiding over pointless anguish;
so he expels the demons and damned from Hell and retires;
however, Hell is a necessary counterpart to Heaven;
so a higher authority returns its inhabitants to Hell;
two angels are appointed to preside over pain that will now be neither pointless nor punitive but purgative;
the Endless - Destiny, Death, Dream etc - are anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of consciousness;
Despair of the Endless persuaded the star god Rao to destroy a planet but to let one inhabitant survive...
gods begin in Dream's realm, become temporarily independent and end in Death's;
thus, the Norse Aesir, the Japanese ka
mi etc coexist with each other and with the Endless;
the cyclical Ragnarok (see above) is a simulation in a transparent sphere held by Odin;
Destruction of the Endless does not want to preside over nuclear war in yet another world;
so he abandons his realm;
however, he is the personification, not the process;
so the realm continues without him;
the Furies attack Dream's realm;
Dream enters Death's realm;
but ideas cannot be killed;
so Dream is replaced by another aspect of himself;
his death causes a reality storm affecting many times, realms and myths;
the storm strands travellers in the Inn of the Worlds' End.

In Lucifer by Mike Carey: 

dangerous primal gods are reactivated; 
the angelic host hires the retired Lucifer to destroy them; 
he is paid with a "letter of passage," an exit from God's universe;
the angel Meleos had created the Basanos, living tarot cards;
the Basanos warn Lucifer that his Gateway to the Void will close behind him, denying re-entry to the universe;
but he seals it open with the divine name;
an agent of the Basanos prevents the jin-en-mok, survivors from a previous universe, from seizing the Gate;
Lucifer's wings, cut off at his request by Dream, had remained in Hell and were traded for souls by Remiel and Duma, the angels now ruling Hell;
needing wings to navigate the Void, Lucifer regains them from the Japanese hereafter;
he places a monster in the Void;
it destroys angels who try to claim the Void for Heaven;
the angel Sandalphon had tried to breed a new host to attack Heaven, using the captured Michael's wounded body as an incubator; 
the new host includes Elaine Belloc, British schoolgirl, Michael's daughter, God's granddaughter, Lucifer's niece;
by releasing Michael's energy in the Void, Lucifer creates a new universe;
the angel Amenadiel of the Thrones adopts the talking serpent role in Lucifer's universe;
he advocates asceticism because Lucifer has merely told his creatures to enjoy;
Lucifer welcomes immigrants through multiple Gates but forbids worship;
Meleos and Elaine help Lucifer against the Basanos who try to kill him and rule his universe;
a jin-en-mok kills Elaine;
Lucifer annihilates a previously unknown realm of the hereafter by passing through it to rescue Elaine;
he lets Elaine and her dead friend become presiding spirits in his universe;
Elaine leads a team to expel immortals who have migrated to Lucifer's universe;
the demoness Lys takes damned Christopher Rudd as her lover;
Rudd rises in demonic society;
Lucifer and Amanadiel duel in Hell;
God leaves;
his universe will disintegrate without him; 

Lucifer helps the host against giants trying to replace God;
Fenris Wolf tries to hasten cosmic disintegration;
he induces Lucifer to shed fratricidal blood, Michael's, above Yggdrasil;
Elaine absorbs Michael's energy;
with Lucifer's advice, she creates a third universe;
Rudd preaches unity in Hell;
Remiel and Duma relinquish power to him;
Rudd stops the infliction of pain and plans an attack on Heaven;
old powers destroy the angelic Silver City to prevent God from returning;
Lucifer had persuaded Rudd to lead demons and damned in defense of the City;
Rudd fights Fenris on the steps of the Primum Mobile;
God lets Elaine and Lilith debate whether his universe should be uncreated;
at Lucifer's suggestion, God gives the decision to Elaine;
by combining the three universes, she prevents cosmic disintegration;
becoming God, she abolishes Hell;
by coupling with Lucifer, the Japanese goddess Izanami becomes the new Adversary;
Lucifer transfers his lightbringer role to his former companion, Mazikeen of the Lilim;
Elaine hires fallen cherubim to neutralize Remiel, now resisting her from the remnants of former hereafters;
God and Lucifer meet and part unreconciled in the Void;
Lucifer flies into the Void. (3)

Because Milton believed that sin caused death, he personified Death as a shapeless monster, begotten on Sin by her parent, Satan.
Because Gaiman believes that death defines life, he personifies Death as a perpetually young woman created by the universe.
Like John Keats, Gaiman’s readers are “…half in love with easeful Death…” but with better reason. We have seen her.
Constantine helped the elemental and Dream.
An anti-material attack on the multiverse initiated the Ragnarok and Darkness conjurations and a revised superheroes history.
Decades of interconnected story lines approach real life in complexity.


Graphic novelists, as imaginative as prose fantasists, can end the world but continue the series, as Blish did in Black Easter and The Day After Judgement.

  1. James Blish, Black Easter and The Day After Judgement (London: Arrow Books, 1981).
  2. Roy Thomas, Last Days Of The Justice Society Of America (New York: DC Comics Inc, 1986).
  3. Swamp Thing, Justice League, Hellblazer, Sandman and Lucifer are or were monthly periodicals from DC Comics who also publish well-known superheroes and allow all their characters to interact. In Moore’s Swamp Thing: Gotham City Police, rounding up suspected prostitutes, arrest the elemental’s girl friend, then detain her because she had earlier been photographed embracing a humanoid vegetable and charged with “crimes against nature”; Swampy attacks the city and its vigilante; able to leave his body, grow another and accelerate plant growth, he seems indestructible so a covert Government agency consults Lex Luthor, an expert in the attempted killing of an indestructible being. Thus, the covert agency is unconcerned that an industrialist is trying to kill Superman. Characters familiar from childhood are presented anew from an adult perspective. They must have been like this all along but we did not realize it before. At Dream's Wake, we learn that Clark Kent and the Gotham City vigilante, though not a lesser known character, dream of being actors in TV versions of their lives. In case anyone does not know, the destroyed planet in the Rao system was Krypton and its survivor was Kal-El who has other names on Earth.
    DC has also collected Moore’s Swamp Thing, Gaiman’s Sandman, Carey's Lucifer and the multi-authored John Constantine, Hellblazer as four series of graphic novels.

The Structure Of Two Series: Sandman And Lucifer

Neil Gaiman's monthly comic book, The Sandman, was collected in ten volumes: three trilogies and an epilogue. Each trilogy is one male point of view narrative, one female pov narrative and one short story collection. The epilogue contains the "Wake" trilogy, its sequel and sequels to the earlier Marco Polo and William Shakespeare stories. There are related volumes, like Sandman: The Dream Hunters, an illustrated prose story, but the collected monthly series is complete in ten volumes. However, an eleventh Sandman comic book collection is P. Craig Russell's graphic adaptation of The Dream Hunters.

Mike Carey's Lucifer, a direct sequel to Season of Mists in Gaiman's The Sandman, is collected in eleven volumes, differently structured. The middle volume, 6 The Mansions of the Silence, is the turning point when it is learned that God has left his creation. That turning point divides the rest of the series into two groups of five volumes. Each of these groups has a mid-point. In Volume 3, A Dalliance with the Damned, Lucifer opens gates between his new creation and every part of God's old creation. Lucifer welcomes immigrants but forbids them to worship him or anyone else. Carey's Lucifer, unlike Milton's Satan, wants not Godhood but freedom from either side of the God trip. A Satanic role as Lord of Hell is in his past but had accreted around him and he had left it in The Sandman.
In Volume 9, Crux, Michael's daughter/God's grand-daughter, Elaine Belloc, creates a third universe. This prepares her to succeed the departed God at the end of the series. Thus, the three turning points of Lucifer are: 

Lucifer liberates; 
his father leaves; 
his niece learns. 

By the end of The Sandman, the title character has entered the realm of his sister, Death, and we do not see him again. By the end of Lucifer, the title character has entered the Void between the worlds and we do not see him again.

These twenty two volumes should be read together with related works by both authors plus Swamp Thing and Hellblazer. John Constantine spun out of Swamp Thing into Hellblazer just as Lucifer spun out of The Sandman into Lucifer. Part of the Dreaming appeared in Swamp Thing before we saw more in The Sandman. Such multi-authored bodies of work are necessarily variable in quality but the particular works summarised here present continents of quality in an ocean of quantity.

Addendum (14 Nov 2010): A damned soul becomes a Duke of Hell in Lucifer Vol 3 and Lord of Hell in Vol 9 and empties Hell in Vol 10. In Vol 11, a fallen cherub says of the angel Remiel, "Former Lord of Hell - - which is something any schmendrick can add to his resume these days." (1) So how many Lords of Hell have there been?

It became necessary to distinguish between Satan in Hellblazer and Lucifer in The Sandman. Each must rule his own Hell or Hellish realm. This is possible because, in this scenario, the hereafter is whatever it is imagined to be. At one stage, Lucifer co-ruled with Beelzebub and Azazel. Later, Lucifer gave the Key to Hell to Morpheus who passed it on to the angels Remiel and Duma. Later again, Duma gave it to Christopher Rudd. After Rudd had emptied Hell, one last human soul gained access to the place, thus becoming sole ruler of an otherwise empty realm: a farce following the tragedy. Elaine's new universe has no Hell but Hell still exists later in Andy Diggle's Hellblazer so the universe has split again. This happens in comics as story lines converge and diverge. However, unless it is stated otherwise, Satan continues to rule the Hellblazer Hell. Thus, there have been nine "Lords of Hell":

Christopher Rudd
Culver Harland

(Insert, 30 Aug 2012: Satan had two co-rulers in Garth Ennis' Hellblazer so maybe the total number is eleven?)

15 Nov 2010: Since the first addendum, email correspondence with Mike Carey has disclosed that Garth Ennis writing Hellblazer called his Lord of Hell "the First of the Fallen" in order to keep alive the possibility that Hellblazer and The Sandman co-existed. They do co-exist somehow but it is clear that their two Lords of Hell diverged. Ennis' "First" remains a malevolent demon whereas Carey's Lucifer becomes an indifferent Nietzchean. The First actively hates Constantine. Lucifer abandons his hate for Morpheus, realising that all that really matters to him is the freedom of his own will. He casually destroys beings who stand in his way but no longer seeks to destroy a former opponent. His role in the "God and Devil" double act has tired him and become clearly pointless whereas Ennis' First remains consumed by hatred both of the divine and of the independent operator, John Constantine. 

(1) Carey, Mike, Lucifer: Evensong, New York, 2007, p. 92.

Superheroes IV

Two more:

(xxxix) James Hudnall's The Unauthorised Biography of Lex Luthor credibly describes the Byrne-Wolfman era Luthor's rise to power, featuring Kent but not Supes.

(xl) Andy Diggle's Batman: Rules of Engagement pits not only the Batman against Luthor but also Waynetech against Lexcorp and accounts for the bat plane with some plausibility.

That brings us up to a round number and maybe we can leave it there.

Superheroes III

(xxxv) Tom Veitch's and Bryan Talbot's The Nazz relates superpowers to yogic powers and superhero art to Indian religious art.

(xxxvi) Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross' Marvels reviews the history of Marvel superheroes from the point of view of a newspaper photographer.

(xxxvii) Frank Miller's run on Daredevil presents Marvel characters realistically.

(xxxviii) Paul Dini's and Alex Ross' Superman: Peace on Earth presents photographic-like painted art and prose without speech balloons. It shows the limits of Superman's powers in relation to world hunger and military dictatorship.

It seems impossible to finish this list as other works recur to memory. The list so far has less Marvel because I have read more DC. It would make sense to sort the list into Alan Moore works, Superman-related works, Marvel characters etc.

Superheroes II

Which superheroes did I miss the first time?

(xxxi) Grant Morrison's Zenith presents superheroes as media celebrities.

(xxxii) Thom Zahler's Love and Capes presents superheroes' private lives.

(xxxiii) A team of DC script writers presented the Death and Return of Superman with subtlety and imagination. Later, they did not too bad a job on the Wedding of Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

(xxxiv) Alan Moore's Captain Britain likened the Marvel Universe persecution of super powered mutants to the Holocaust. It pioneered the annihilation and reconstruction of a superhero. Its Fury who kills superheroes resembled the later Doomsday who killed Superman. It presented, among its multiversal counterparts to the title character, Captain Airstrip One who says, "Capbrit, doubleplusgood usmeet."

(xxxv) Readers can continue the list.