Friday, 31 January 2014

Smallville: Lineage

Family issues in this episode:

Chloe's estranged mother;
Lana's possible father;
Clark's self-proclaimed mother;
Lex's unknown half-brother;
something relevant in the Greek drama that Clark and friends are studying.

The attached image shows the Kents and Luthors traveling together, including the future Superman and Lex Luthor. Lionel went to pieces when he had to handle a human problem.

This is like what used to happen in the old Superman and Superboy comics: we suddenly learn a whole lot more details for the origin story, but here it is done a lot better. The origins of Clark Kent and of the Luthors' involvement in Smallville are inextricably intertwined. How the Kents faked Clark's adoption is explained. Deceit, including Luthor deceit, was basic to the process. There is a good reason for Jonathan's disenchantment with Lionel.

How was the Smallville Sheriff made to look so much younger for his part in the origin story?

Saturday, 25 January 2014

This Blog

On this blog, I discuss comics-related works. The Smallville novels are discussed because they are based on a TV series that is based on some comic book characters. I would discuss the Hobbit graphic adaptation if I had read it whereas I do not discuss the Hobbit film because that, like the comic, is based directly on the novel.

Since I have most of the Smallville Second Season and all of the Third Season still to watch on discs, there will be more posts about this TV series, behind the times though it is.

Comics that I currently have on order are the new Sandman, the re-issued Miracleman and Jamie Delano's John Constantine: Hellblazer collections.

Friday, 24 January 2014

And Also...Astronomy

Clark Kent is from the stars but so are we. Or rather, he is from a planet of one particular star whereas we are from them all. Our bodies are composed of elements that were generated by nuclear fusion inside stars which then exploded, spreading their matter through space where it formed a second generation of stars and planets that were able to produce life.

Clark spends hours looking through a telescope, thinking:

"Who am I? Where do I come from? How did I come to be on Earth...?"

- Alan Grant, Smallville: Curse (New York, 2004), p. 80.

In the unlikely event that any reader does not know that Clark is an extraterrestrial, this would have been a good way for them to find out. The passage continues:

"...where I have superstrength, and supervision, and superspeed?" (ibid.)

That phrase, I think, is less effective because it trades on readers' existing familiarity with super-powered superheroes. In Smallville, everything should be seen as if for the first time.

Superman comics used to avoid references to religion except maybe for the Kryptonian god, Rao. John Byrne said somewhere that Clark Kent had to have been brought up as either Methodist or Lutheran. In Superman For All Seasons, the Kents had a Pastor Lindquist (?) whereas Curse, with a more up-to-date take on the characters, says that Clark's foster parents are not church goers and that Clark has never before been in the Smallville church which, however, is efficiently incorporated into the plot of the novel.

Curse: Conclusion

The solution to the mystery in Alan Grant's Smallville: Curse (New York, 2004) is so understated that the reader might miss it and certainly might not realize its full implications. First, it is learned that the man who had laid the curse had previously faked his psychic powers. Therefore, it is deduced that his curse cannot have worked. Non sequitur. It does not follow.

However, Clark deduces an alternative explanation for the apparent fulfillment of the curse. Thus, when, on p. 6, the omniscient narrator informs the reader that a past evil has stirred, this does not mean that any supernatural entity has been reactivated. Instead, because the minister who reads about the curse believes in the power of curses and is influenced by green meteor radiation, his mind has the power to cause events like a death and a fire in apparent fulfillment of the curse! This is a hard saying...

Happy ending: the minister, advised by Clark, buries his green "(un)lucky charm" with the victim of the fire at the church. The minister and his wife begin to rebuild their marriage and the author makes us feel for them as for the other characters, both regular and one-off. There are quite a few of the latter: the minister and his wife; Clark's temporary girlfriend; the wrestling performers; the drowned grave digger; even the bullies who get out of their depth almost literally when a flooding river interrupts their party.

We often see the cemetery where the Langs are buried but I think that this novel is the only source of information about the First Church of Smallville and its staff.

The novel, also understatedly, describes a turning point for Lex Luthor. After reading a revelatory book:

"His mind was sharper, one hundred per cent focused...
"A man who used this power for good could transform the Universe.
"A man who used it for evil could rule the Universe.
"Lex Luthor had a decision to make." (pp. 272-273)

We already know how he will choose and who will oppose him.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Curse IV

Alan Grant's Smallville: Curse (New York, 2004) is enjoyable and also substantial, certainly by any criteria that can reasonably be applied to a novel based on a TV series. If this had been one of the slighter Smallville novels, then its title theme, the Curse on Smallville, would have been stated and resolved, curtain.

However, Curse is bulkier than some other volumes in the series with more going on:

Pete Ross is alienated from Clark after learning about his alien powers;
Lex, staying in a hotel while his mansion is restored (after damage sustained in the previous Alan Grant Smallville novel?), does some historical research and shares some of his findings with Smallville High sophomores;
Chloe causes an urban panic by publicizing the "curse," which seems to be coming true;
a wrestling show comes to town;
one wrestler, a habitual thief, steals the old journal containing the curse but his thievery is stopped by his manager without any input from either Clark or the police;
another wrestler has business with Clark in the ring and with Lex out of it.

The account of the wrestling show is a particularly good read. Clark, choosing between costumes, turns down a red and blue "S"-suit previously worn by SavageMan.

I am puzzled about the minister's lucky charm, described as a green cross and, just once, as a crucifix. Is it a star-shaped meteor rock or a cross carved from meteor rock? (A crucifix would be a cross with an image of Christ carved on it.)

Superman And Smallville

The earliest Superman story was pre-World War II whereas the earliest Smallville TV episode is post-Cold War. Thus, two historical periods have elapsed between Action Comics no 1 and Smallville, Season 1, Episode 1. This Clark Kent can become that Superman only by time traveling, which is certainly not where the narrative is going!

Because of Smallville's contemporary setting, a decommissioned missile silo and a redundant nuclear air raid shelter are used in two of the novels.

Action Comics told us that SUPERMAN was destined to reshape the destiny of a world! (see image) However, every story in the series ends with the world still exactly as it had been before. Such a powerful "superman" would indeed change the world by his mere presence but, for that to happen in a comic strip, we had to wait until Miracleman was published in 1982.

I am currently rereading Miracleman and catching up with Smallville, two different but excellent conceptual sequels to that original Superman story.

Lex's Talk

In Alan Grant's Smallville: Curse (New York, 2004), pp. 122-127, Lex Luthor addresses Smallville High School sophomores. His performance would need to be longer to be a real talk. It is in two parts.

First, he asks what is the "essence" of business, religion etc. "Essence of..." seems to mean "the single, indispensable feature of..." With some discussion, Lex and the sophomores compile a list:

business - trust (whereas "profit" is the motivation);
religion - faith (= belief without rational proof);
politics - deceit;
law - also deceit (not justice);
IRS (tax collection) - coercion.

Putting together "politics" and "IRS," Lex describes taxation as:

"...a bunch of liars use the threat of force to steal my money..." (p. 125)

- and gets a laugh from his audience.

Secondly, he advises them:

"Think for yourself...The only person you can rely on is yourself." (p. 126)

- and explains why. I fully agree with his second half. Further, thinking for myself leads me to question the source of what Lex describes as "...my money..."!

Jerry Siegel And Mick Anglo

Mick Anglo was to Marvelman what Jerry Siegel was to Superman, the creator of a character later transformed by other writers. There is a difference of scale. MM has had two other writers whereas Superman became an industry:

the multi-media Superman;
superheroes;
Captain Marvel;
Marvelman;
the re-created Marvelman, later renamed Miracleman;
the Smallville TV series that began as a Superman prequel but became a distinct story and also proliferated into other media.

MM and Smallville, both good in different ways, are so dissimilar that it is easy to forget their common origin.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Curse III

Alan Grant once mentioned in conversation that, if an author who has been commissioned to write a novel about DC Comics characters takes too long to write it, then he does not earn enough to make it worth doing. These works must be written well, which they are, but also fast.

Some are short and light. Greed, discussed earlier, is 166 pages of quite widely spaced text whereas Curse (New York, 2004) by Alan Grant is more substantial with 274 pages of slightly smaller and more closely packed text.

Do the narratives show many sign of hasty writing? No. The writers who are given the job know what they are doing. Maybe this sentence could be reconsidered:

"Pete's face flushed red with embarrassment." (p. 16)

This version of Pete Ross is black. Do black people darken rather than redden?

Meanwhile, the plot thickens. The omniscient narrator has told us that an old evil has stirred. The minister reads an old manuscript that describes a dog badly injured by a wagon wheel, then five dogs die in accidents in Smallville. It is perfectly possible that a curse is at work. Superheroes are a composite genre, combining elements of science fiction, fantasy and action-adventure. Clark's extraterrestrial origin can coexist with supernatural phenomena.

Curse II

In Curse (New York, 2004) by Alan Grant, Lex is twenty-five when Clark is sixteen whereas in Greed, discussed earlier, Lex is twenty-two when Clark is sixteen. (Nerd Central here.) However, the overwhelming impression generated by the Smallville novels is of seamless continuity.

"Clark wasn't a human being. He was an alien from outer space..." (p. 15)

As I said when discussing Greed, I do not think that this sort of language is an appropriate way to introduce a character in a novel. Need it even be said? Does anyone read these novels without already knowing where Clark is from? If so, then they can be allowed to realize Clark's significance more gradually and subtly than with stock phrases like "...an alien from outer space..."

I recently mentioned references in the TV series to two Greek myths, Prometheus and Pandora. Cassandra, the Greek prophetess who was always right but never believed, is also referred to both in a TV episode and in Curse, where Lex reads a book called Cassandra's Secret which argues that ancient civilizations collapsed because all their decisions were based on alleged divine messages in dreams, visions or auditory hallucinations whereas social complexity required internal reflection and rational thought which then duly emerged, banishing the "messages."

Civilization comprises cities supported by agricultural production of an economic surplus. I think that agriculture, architecture and administration require reasoned discussion and cooperation, thus that pre-rational consciousness would not cause civilizations to collapse but prevent them from starting. Richard Dawkins suggests that the Neolithic Revolution was caused either by the birth of language or by a linguistic revolution like the creation of conditional clauses.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

TV And Novel Continuities

When prose fiction is based on screen drama, then the prose descriptions of the characters must correspond to the physical appearances of the actors. Thus, Lana Lang was always red-haired in Superman-related comics but not in the Smallville novels because she is played by Kristin Kreuk on TV.

In Alan Grant's Smallville: Curse (New York, 2004), Clark Kent perceives himself as having:

"An honest, intelligent face. Friendly eyes." (p. 7)

- which sounds both like how we would expect a young Superman to look and like Tom Welling.

The authors of the novels fit their narratives in between TV episodes and seasons but do any differences of continuity arise between the stories as presented in the two media?

On TV, Whitney joined the Marines, asking Clark to look after Lana for him. Lana ex'ed Whitney in a video message, then Whitney died in action. (I may have missed something in between because I am way behind with watching the early seasons.) Clark keeps Lana at a distance and she gives up on Clark, except as a friend, because of his persistent evasiveness.

In Curse, Whitney joined the Marines, "...Clark intended to do everything in his power to crowd out Lana's affection for his rival...," then Whitney died. (ibid.) That sounds like a parallel though not identical sequence of events.

Smallville: Curse

In the Smallville TV series, we often see Lana Lang at her parents' grave. In Smallville: Curse (New York, 2004) by Alan Grant, the six page Prologue is narrated in the third person from the point of view of a new character, Cyrus Deen, who has dug graves in Smallville for forty-seven years.

We learn about two important graves:

sweet corn millionaires, the Weighlands, have "...an elaborate tomb topped with a life-size stone angel..." (p. 2);
the Lang's grave has a flower holder with contents replaced every Sunday by Lana who sits on the grass and talks to her parents. (p. 3)

The Langs died when "...a swarm of meteors fell on the town. After a journey through space that had lasted centuries, they arrowed in on Smallville..." (p. 3)

An interstellar journey at a sub-light speed would indeed take centuries or longer but then how does the spaceship that accompanied the meteors contain a three year old child? Maybe it passed through hyperspace, bringing the meteors with it, enclosed in its field? (But Cyrus does not know about the spaceship.)

The Reverend Grindlay says that death is release and peace for the deceased but Cyrus sees that it is misery and pain for the bereaved. Grindlay cares for "...immortal souls..." whereas Cyrus tends to "...mortal remains." (p. 5) Many of us do not believe in souls but can acknowledge the beliefs of church goers and can also accept that souls exist in this fictitious universe. There is plenty of evidence for them.

When Cyrus takes a manuscript found in an old coffin to the minister:

"...an evil from the past stirred in its long, long sleep." (p. 6)

In that concluding sentence of the Prologue, the omniscient narrator steps in, overriding Cyrus' pov. The grave digger does not yet know of any ancient evil.

Greed II

Phrases like "...a visitor from another planet..." and "His spaceship crash-landed..." are blurb, not text. Using them to introduce a character in a novel is an unacceptable short cut, trading on the reader's over-familiaity with terms like "spaceship" from much other already published fiction. See Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld, Smallville: Greed (New York, 2003), p. 7.

Every new writer of Clark Kent needs to convey as if for the first time the mystery of an interstellar journey by someone who looks but is not human - unless maybe cliched phrases are less inappropriate in this kind of writing? These once-published series novels are more like magazine articles - although they are also well written, readable and enjoyable.

For the purposes of this novel, it would have been sufficient to present Clark as a super-powered teenager without having to refer directly to his extraterrestrial origin, although there is one hint that certainly deserves to be in the text. While succumbing to green meteor radiation at the bottom of a lake, Clark sees, beyond a white light, two people in strange clothes...

The novel also refers to the prophecy made in a TV episode that Clark would endure into an indefinite future, surviving everyone he had known. Thus, Clark's entire career as Superman is skipped over as we contemplate both a mysterious origin and a very strange further future.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Smallville: Greed

Greed (New York, 2003) is a Smallville novel by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld:

it is summer;
Clark is sixteen;
he arrived in Smallville thirteen years previously;
Lex is twenty two;
LexCorp has split from LuthorCorp;
Lex and Lionel are now enemies;
Pete Ross has learned Clark's secret;
Clark thinks that he will grow up to inherit the Kent farm;
Chloe is on a Daily Planet internship.

I do not think that this is the best way to introduce Clark to the reader:

"...Clark was no ordinary farm boy from a small town called Smallville, Kansas, but a visitor from another planet. His spaceship crash-landed in a local cornfield, where he had been found by local farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, and raised as their child." (p. 7)

Most of us already know this, of course, but, even if we didn't, such background information, or as much of it as is necessary for the particular story, should be revealed during the narrative, not merely stated.

Having watched an episode of the TV series earlier in the evening, it is good to stay with the characters in a different medium. Drama, narrative and sequential art are the three story-telling media. Superman, having originated in sequential art has, in Smallville, successfully transferred to both drama and prose.

Smallville: Redux

Jerry Siegel said that he based Superman on Samson and Hercules and every other strongman. Thus, Greek myth was one input. Appropriately, Lionel taught Lex a moral lesson based on the myth of Prometheus and now Lex tells Lana the moral story of Pandora.

I thought that the new Smallville High Principal (see image) would turn out to be yet another single episode Wall of Weird sinister customer. Instead, he is just this guy with an understandable grudge against Luthors and is not involved in the mysterious deaths except as a potential victim.

Clark and Chloe are so used to "Weird" that they have no trouble in grasping that the villain of this episode is remaining indefinitely young by stealing youth and life from others. She has an interesting rationalization, that she is saving them as well as herself from aging.

Lana hopes to find her biological father and Clark wants to build a relationship with Martha's estranged father. Jonathan and Martha, having already quarreled with the guy, had an interesting reason for keeping him away from the growing Clark. He might not have kept quiet about Clark's developing powers. So the deception started that far back. Clark, prompted by the new Principal, realizes that he will probably become a journalist because he wants to find the truth.

Realities Collide (Spoilers?)

(If anyone is reading Miracleman for the first time without any prior warning of how the story pans out, then maybe we are moving into spoiler territory.)

As Miracleman proceeds, casual references to then current events, notably to armed conflict in Northern Ireland and to Thatcherite cuts in the National Health Service, strengthen our grip on the real world while, at the same time, we learn what would be the reality if there were beings as powerful as Moran and Bates. Sooner rather then later, these realities, the real world and real superbeings, must collide - not coexist peacefully for decades as in regular superhero comics.

Regular comics neither accurately reflect the real world nor plausibly relate that world to super-powered beings. A super-villain appears above Washington/New York/Metropolis/Gotham City etc and issues an ultimatum with a deadline, thus giving the superhero plenty of time to apprehend him. The city-dwellers might panic for a while but their life soon returns to normal. In fact, an insightful writer might observe that Metropolitans or Gothamites become so accustomed to superhero rescues that they do not even panic. In a Superman novel by Elliot S Maggin, Lois Lane, trapped underground, merely thinks, "How long till Superman gets here?" In Watchmen, because Veidt, in his own words, is not a Republic Serial villain, he does not tell the other heroes his plan, involving multiple deaths in New York, until it has already been implemented.

Bates does not issue any ultimatum but simply destroys London and Londoners with horrific violence for several hours before Moran is even aware of it. Until then, superheroes did not have a public presence with secret identities. They were simply secret. Superpowered beings include the Miracle people, Firedrake, Warpsmiths and Qys (in a sense the equivalents of Kryptonians). The Law of Extraordinary Beings - that, on a planet where there is one extraordinary being, there will soon be many - reflects the fact that, when a company publishes one superhero, it soon publishes others, then brings them together in team ups, teams and crossovers.

Grounded In Reality

Several visual details ground Miracleman in familiar mundane reality before the title character flies into space:

a quiet British motorway very early while it is still dark;
a married couple prepares for a working day (we do not yet know what Liz does);
a railway station announcement and a hurrying commuter;
a train moving through the English countryside;
children demonstrating against the opening of a Nuclear Power Plant in the fictitious town of Larksmere.

The opening page of the second installment has six panels but we only notice the fourth, fifth and sixth and the speech balloons which partly cover the first three. These three panels are long and thin, although of increasing width, showing:

clouds and a star in a night sky;
more clouds and stars;
a building with lights in the windows.

Although we probably miss it, this is what Mike sees as he flies home. We gather that the Morans live in a London flat. Familiar reality persists, for a while, after Miracleman's rebirth.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Death Of God

In recent posts, I have focused on Miracleman, no 1 (New York, 2014). However, having read the entire original run in Eclipse Comics, it is difficult not to reflect on the series as a whole.

Apart from the superman, another Nietzschean catchphrase is the death of God. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, God has died either metaphorically or literally, i. e., has either turned out never to have existed or has literally ceased to exist, I am not sure which. In either case, his death is a problem to which the superman is the solution.

In Miracleman, this sequence is reversed: the public regards the emergence of the Miracle Man as having caused the deaths of all the old gods and annually celebrates this collective divine death, I think on 25 December? (The answer as always is in a box in the cellar.) In a later episode, there is a right hand page on which Moran identifies himself with God, I think ironically, i. e., that he is articulating public perception, not necessarily self-perception. Nevertheless, the facing left hand page displays the chapter title: "Hubris."

Hubris is over-arching pride inviting Nemesis, the Greek goddess of retribution. The original writer ends his run ambiguously - was Moran right to change the world or was Liz right to reject his gift of superhumanity? Nemesis follows in Neil Gaiman's Silver Age which is to be followed by a Dark Age.

The phrase "God is dead" is the turning point of James Blish's two part fantasy, Black Easter/The Day After Judgment.

Who Is The Superman?

Am I finding too much to write about a mere comic book? On the contrary, I am certain that I have in no way plumbed the depths of Miracleman. To consider just one further point, and also one single page in the comic, despite all the copyright problems about superhero names, the writer of Miracleman perfectly legitimately applies the term "superman" to MM. That is because he quotes not Jerry Siegel but Friedrich Nietzsche.

On page 11 of Miracleman, no 1 (New York, 2014), eight panels zoom in from MM's head to the pupil of his left eye. Captions in the left hand column read:

"'Behold...
"'I teach you the superman:
"'He is this lightning...
"'He is this madness!'"

The bottom right hand panel attributes the quotation:

"Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche,
"'Thus Spake Zarathustra.'"

I imagine a film in which that Nietzsche quotation is shouted first in German, then in English, as the camera zooms in not on a smiling MM but on MM as he stands among carnage and flames after fighting Bates.

Later, a former Nazi will accept MM as the superman because he is a powerful blonde giant.

Although I am a philosophy graduate, I am not well informed about Nietzsche and therefore am not equipped either to summarize his philosophy or to discuss its possible connections to Naziism, Superman, superheroes or MM. But such a discussion would be a necessary part of any comprehensive analysis of Miracleman. The "overman," to use an alternative English translation which makes it easier to distinguish Nietzsche's concept from the first superhero, is distinguished not by physical strength or abilities but by transcendence of the herd, of mediocrity and of supernatural morality. He is superior because he creates new values instead of conforming to existing values.

Superman uses his powers to preserve, not to transcend, common humanity whereas MM, when he gains political power, tries to raise humanity beyond itself, thus generating a society that certainly has very different values. Thus, MM might be closer to the Nietzschean superman.

Back Again To 1956

The year 1956 is significant for yet another reason. Although both Marvelman and Young Marvelman had long runs, from 1954 to 1963, the team book, Marvelman Family, co-starring MM and YM together with the newly introduced Kid Marvelman, ran for only three years - but it started in 1956.

Thus, Michael Moran tells Liz:

"In 1956 we were joined by Johnny Bates. He was a little kid of maybe seven or eight. When he said my name he became Kid Miracleman. They called us the Miracleman Family."

- Miracleman, no 1 (New York, 2014), p. 23.

Dates of fictitious events as remembered by Moran exactly correspond to dates of publication. The word "Family" is used rather loosely. There is no suggestion that the three are related. And, indeed, being all male, they could hardly have been a family unit as such. However, it was thought that the young male readership would not have welcomed a Marvelwoman who, of course, was added during the Eclipse run, as Miraclewoman. (And Michael and Liz's super-powered daughter, far from being "Miraclebaby," named herself Winter Moran.)

Marvelman Family stories were rare both because of the relative shortness of the run and because, at least in the annual(s?), I understand that a single Family story was followed by MM solo stories. In the fifties, I did hear of, although I never got hold of, Marvelman Family and therefore imagined that I was missing out on something special whereas it is evident that MF stories were no more special than any of the many solo MM or YM stories.

The Sound Of Thunder

As Michael Moran wakes from his recurring dream of flying:

"The last thing he hears is the sound of thunder..."
- Miracleman, no 1 (New York, 2014), p. 13.

When he whispers "...the word..." (p. 16):

"The whisper is drowned by the thunder!" (p. 17)

To immobilize armed terrorists, he merely claps his hands:

"He swings his hands together, and thunder bursts from between them." (p. 18)

When he describes to Liz Moran his vision of twenty-seven years previously:

"His vision becomes hers...In her vision she hears the deafening peal of thunder..." (pp. 21-22)

Why are there so many references to thunder? The thunderbolt is the weapon of a god. Someone who is not killed but empowered by a thunderbolt must be favored by the god. In Captain Marvel's case, two gods are involved in his transformation, Zeus, who wields the thunderbolt, and Mercury. (Zeus is the Greek name for the chief god and Mercurius is the Latin name for the divine messenger but pantheons are mixed to generate the acronym SHAZAM. Indeed, Solomon, for wisdom, is Biblical although the Greek wise man, Solon, could have been used.)

Back to the thunder: Miracleman, previously Marvelman, was a British adaptation of Captain Marvel who in his very first appearance was named "Captain Thunder," a name that was dropped for copyright reasons, although it was later revived, both by Roy and Dann Thomas (see attached image) and by DC Comics who, having acquired Captain Marvel, then parodied him with a "Captain Thunder" whose magic acronym was THUNDER.

References to thunder in Miracleman evoke both divine power and the earliest form of the pivotal Captain Marvel.

Playing A Game

Caption (Moran narrating): "Time and again we thwarted [Gargunza's] insane plans and jailed him. But somehow he always came back..."

Caption (same): "And yet he never did anything really evil..."

Caption (same): "It was almost as if we were playing a game. A game which neither side took entirely seriously."

- Miracleman, no 1 (New York, 2014), p. 23.

Moran is a character in an adult comic strip written as a sequel to an earlier juvenile comic strip. As yet, he lives in a world indistinguishable from that inhabited by the readers, except for his sudden transformation into Miracleman and his equally sudden remembering of superheroic adventures, including battles with Gargunza.

Two features of juvenile comic strips are:

villains who are always defeated yet always return;
villains who are ultimately evil but who are never shown committing, e.g., rape or acts of graphically depicted violence.

All that is about to change. As a first step, Moran is at least able to reflect on the oddities of the situation. He does not come anywhere close to suspecting that he is a character in a comic strip. After all, such characters are not conscious which we are imagining that he is. However, the writer of Miracleman has devised an ingenious scenario in which the Marvelman Family can both be conscious and inhabit an environment modeled on comic books - until they are deposited into the real world.

Beginnings

In Miracleman, no 1 (New York, 2014), episode 1, "A Dream of Flying" (pp. 11-19), ends:

Moran, flying: "I'm Miracleman...I'm back!!"
Caption: The beginning...
Caption: This story is respectfully dedicated to Mick Anglo and the original Marvelman team. (p. 19)

Episode 2, untitled (pp. 20-25), ends:

An as yet unidentified character: Miracleman! He's back!
Same character, smashing a desk with his fist: Back to SPOIL everything!
Caption: A door slams shut. A T.V. babbles into an empty room. It has begun...
Caption: And may the Lord have mercy upon us all.
Below the panels: TO BE CONTINUED... (p. 25)


So there has been a two stage beginning. Miracleman has returned and has been recognized - apparently by a super- villain? He did mention a "...YOUNG NASTYMAN..." to Liz while warning her not to say a word because she had already laughed twice (p.23). (I know what is happening here but right now I am assessing how much information is disclosed in each episode.)

Now that the beginning has been completed, the story will continue in Miracleman, no 2. There is a very strong narrator's voice here. Who is it that observes and invokes the Lord on our behalf? In fiction, the author does not, usually, address the reader directly. Instead, he speaks indirectly either through a viewpoint character or through an omniscient narrator who in turn is usually less obtrusive than this.

In V For Vendetta, I concluded that the title character was also the author.

1956 Revisited

The original writer of Miracleman (New York, 2014) created a perfect contrast between the PROLOGUE (pp. 1-10) and episode 1, "A Dream of Flying" (pp. 11-19). Each of these short comic strips presents an interaction between the mid-fifties and the early eighties but their perspectives are opposite in every respect.

The first strip, written by Mick Anglo, was originally published in 1956. When the writer of Miracleman adapted it as his Prologue, he revised it verbally though not visually. Thus, in the Prologue, science fiction villains from the future, in the revised version from 1981, invade 1956 and the Miracleman Family counter-attacks in 1981, whereas in episode 1, originally both published and set in 1982, Michael Moran, unexpectedly transformed into Miracleman, suddenly recalls his strange adventures of the fifties although, like everyone else, Liz Moran has never heard of a Miracleman.

Mick Anglo had looked forward to a science fictional future whereas his successor looks back to a simpler time. As I say, a perfect contrast.

1956 is significant year for me because it was the first year in which I remember noticing that we were in a year with a number and that that number would change after 31 December. I was seven. We lived in the Lake District in the North West of England and, in 1956, I began to attend a boarding school, now closed and the building demolished, in a small seaside resort that was also a "dormitory town" of Glasgow. I occasionally read Superman and Marvelman in comics and hard back annuals.

The Miracleman Prologue highlights 1956 and episode 1 mentions "...the Lake District..." (p. 14) so that reading these strips feels like coming home but as an adult.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Syllogisms And Triads

A syllogism is two premises and a conclusion, e. g.:

All men are mortal;
Socrates is a man;
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

A Hegelian triad is a thesis, an antithesis and a synthesis. e. g.:

being;
nothing;
becoming.

Imaginative fantasy is written within a syllogism or triad, e. g.:

the Golden Age of Baghdad, complete with jinns, flying carpets etc, existed exactly as described in the 1001 Nights;
Baghdad is now as we know it from the news;
so what happened?
Neil Gaiman presents a conclusion or synthesis in The Sandman: Ramadan.

Michael Moran remembers that he was Miracleman in the fifties and early sixties;
the world in the eighties was how we experienced it at the time with no knowledge or record of any Miracleman;
so where did Michael's memories come from?

The dialogue in Miracleman, no 1 (New York, 2014), expresses Michael's and Liz's bewilderment -

Liz: ...that's just so stupid!
Michael: I suppose you're right. Actually saying it out loud like that, it does sound...well...pretty unlikely. I never really thought about it before. But I had to believe it, don't you see? I was Miracleman. I was a being of almost unlimited power!!
Michael (later): This may, damn it...This does sound silly in 1982, but in the fifties it made perfect sense. This is how I remember it. This is how it happened. (p. 23)

Two realities meet and interact so what will happen next? The first thing that happens is that Michael shouts, "Damn you, Liz, you're laughing at my life!!" (p. 24) and puts his fist through the solid oak floor and she believes.

Why Collect The New Edition?

I have the Eclipse Miracleman complete either in the original comics or in the collected editions so why buy the current Marvel Comics reprints? Good question. I might have discontinued the order after checking out no 1. However, re-analyzing these early episodes, and comparing them with the Mick Anglo reprints, has enabled me to post quite a lot, which I enjoy doing, and it also helps that some people read the blog. Comments from anyone reading this character for the very first time would be particularly welcome.

I regard Miracleman as a culmination of superheroes as initiated by Superman in 1938 and, of course, Superman had several earlier roots - but I have discussed this earlier on the blog. (See here.) It matters that Miracleman is kept in print in durable editions and whether anyone can surpass it remains to be seen.

1956

In Eclipse Comics and again in Marvel Comics, a 1956 Mick Anglo Marvelman Family story is adapted as a Prologue to Miracleman. As I understand it, the writer of Miracleman changed some of the words but none of the art. For example, the opening words:

"PROLOGUE 1956 An age of lingering innocence, an age of golden dreams for the.. MIRACLEMAN FAMILY" (Miracleman, no 1 (New York, 2014), p. 1..."

- read like a rewrite.

The Marvelman Family story is a hopelessly inconsistent time travel story which, nevertheless, makes perfect sense in this context. (It will emerge that inconsistencies were deliberately built into the Family's early adventures to test their credulity and controllability.)

In the Prologue, the Science Gestapo attacks from 1981 whereas I am sure that, in the original, they came from many millennia in the future. However, this change makes sense because, in the 1980's, Miracleman will recall his adventures of the 1960's.

The story:

in 1981, the United Earth Government prevents Kommandant Garrer's Science Gestapo from enslaving the world;
the Gestapo travels in Chrono Cruisers to conquer instead the world of 1956;
a local compares the Chrono Cruisers to "...space rockets, just like in Dan Dare!" (p. 3), which strikes me as another rewrite;
Johnny Bates, happening along, transforms to Kid Miracleman and fights the invaders but more arrive so he goes at "...atomic speed..." (p. 4) for help;
Kid and Young batter the invaders who, however, recover unexpectedly quickly;
one trooper explains that the atomic storm troopers are arriving in other countries and we see them in Paris and Saigon;
Micky Moran reads stop-press news of the invasion and transforms to Miracleman;
the Miracleman Family and the Army subdue the first landing in Cornwall;
the Family split up to liberate Rome, Washington and Moscow, respectively;
the invaders in Cornwall recover and bombard the Army with "...rare magnetic gases from our secret video rings!" (p. 6) (words are sometimes used with no apparent knowledge of their meanings);
the Family returns to find fighting again in Cornwall;
Garrer orders his men to destroy the Chrono Cruisers, of which more are still arriving, so that he and his men cannot be returned to 1981;
leaving KM to fight in 1956, MM and YM travel "...at atomic speed..." (p. 8) to 1981 when they destroy the Chrono Cruisers before their departure, capture Garrer and hand him over to "...the Commander, Twelfth Area, World Police" (p. 10), who expresses no surprise and says that 1981 can now become a utopia;
ironically, MM hopes that he lives to see it;
in 1956, the atomic troopers fighting KM suddenly vanish!;
then, hearing MM's account, KM accepts instead that they were never there! - while MM jokes that "...that's the way it was...or was it?" (p. 10)

Hopeless:

if the Chrono Cruisers had already arrived in 1956, then destroying them before their departure in 1981 could not possibly prevent them from having already arrived in 1956;
if the Cruisers had not arrived in 1956, then MM and YM would not have traveled to 1981;
and, if the Cruisers had arrived in 1956, then there is no reason why the troopers fighting KM should suddenly disappear at some later time;
please do not tell me that they disappeared in 1956 at the exact same time as MM and YM destroyed the Chrono Cruisers in 1981! (Please don't!)

However, thanks to the ingenuity of the writer of Miracleman, we now know exactly what is really happening here. Gargunza is thinking, "They can even swallow that!"

Kimota!

In Marvel Comics Miracleman, no 1 (New York, 2014), Michael Moran sees:

EREMSEKAL
NOITATS REWOP CIMOTA
LENNOSREP DEZIROHTUA
YLNO (p. 16)

-and whispers, "...Kimota..." (p. 17).

Then, everything changes, for him and, before long, for the world. Something happens that, as far as he remembers, has happened before only in his recurring dream.

For the first five pages of the story (pp. 12-16), he had lived in the same world as you and me. Sure, he later learns of secret events in the fifties and sixties but there are always secret events. Maybe some real world conspiracists could be persuaded that the British government really did grow a superhero family with alien technology in the fifties?

The replacement of Moran's body by Miracleman's involves an enormous release of energy, almost an explosion, so, of course, the terrorist who was dragging Moran past the glass door is burned and blinded. That follows from the premise. Much later, an orphanage bully in even closer physical contact with Johnny Bates will suffer even greater physical injury and Bates, superpowered, will not let him live in any case.

Beings of such power would change the world by their very existence and that is what will happen in this comic book.

From MA To AM

How can we discuss the new Marvel Comics Miracleman series (Miracleman, no 1 (New York, 2014)) without naming its original writer by whom I do not mean the original writer of Marvelman, Mick Anglo, but the original writer of the Warrior Marvelman?

That original writer acted in good faith when he wrote this serial for a magazine that, unknown to him, had no legal right to the character. The re-conceptualized Marvelman/Miracleman is:

his work for which he deserves credits and royalties;
superb and seminal;
like Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, an absurd, pre-existing comics character completely reinvented and made to say something important;
like Howard Chaykin's Janov Prohaska, Blackhawk, and Mike Grell's Oliver Queen, Green Arrow, a character originally written for children but now rewritten for adults;
in this respect, I think, an even greater achievement than Moore's Watchmen because this superhero revival retains but transforms all the absurdities of the original;
in fact, my childhood revisited in adulthood with timely references to "...selling arms to, like, the people..." (p. 12) and "...the alternative press...man. (p. 15)."

MM says, "Eighteen years. Eighteen years, trapped in that old, tired body. It doesn't matter...It's over now!" (pp. 18-19)

Is this wish fulfillment? It can also be reality when, on the first day of retirement, we start to exercise and become more active than ever.

A Dream Of Flying

Fifty years ago, I read Superman and Marvelman but was too young to know of the missing link. Later, I heard of Captain Marvel, then learned of his crucial intermediate role.

In "A Dream Of Flying", Miracleman no 1 (New York, 2014):

trucks drive along an empty British Motorway before sunrise;
Michael Moran dreams, then wakes to a working day;
the, to some of us familiar, Marvelman Family seem to exist only in Michael's recurring dream;
we read prose that was never in the original - "His power courses through his veins like molten silver. His muscles move with precise grace beneath his skin. He knows he is invincible..." (p. 13);
the original comic merely stated that Marvelman was "...Invincible and Indestructible" (p. 42) - he and we are about to learn that he is not;
Liz Moran is a new character but so, effectively, is Michael, bearing no relationship to the original MICKY;
we see Liz naked;
when Michael takes a train, we read references to the Lake District and Oxenholme;
Michael tries to remember "...that damn word..." (p. 14), but I have quoted this before.

What's not to like?

Friday, 17 January 2014

Four Successive Cessations Of Publication

(i) Captain Marvel.
(ii) Mick Anglo's Marvelman.
(iii) The Warrior Marvelman.
(iv) The Eclipse Miracleman.

(iii) and (iv) differ significantly from (i) or (ii).

First, in (iii) and (iv), it was a serial, not a series, that was discontinued. Thus, the readers were left wondering what was to have happened next.

Secondly, it was the same serial, begun in Warrior, then reprinted and continued by Eclipse. Despite their names, the Warrior Marvelman is identical with the Eclipse Miracleman, not with Mick Anglo's Marvelman.

Thirdly, this single serial is of considerably higher quality than either of the preceding series. It deserves to be republished, which is happening, and also to be completed, which hopefully will happen. The original writer, interrupted by the termination of Warrior, concluded his narrative for Eclipse. However, his successor, Neil Gaiman, was interrupted by the termination of Eclipse. After an interminable wait, we might at last learn what happens next and how Gaiman concludes his narrative.

Meanwhile, the original superhero, Superman, has been continuously in publication since June 1938 and his main imitator, Captain Marvel, put out of business by Superman's publishers, was revived by them but neither of these characters has received the same in depth treatment given to Captain Marvel's successor. Mick Anglo's Marvelman has been redeemed as a "para-reality program," thus a fiction within the fiction, of his successor.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

More On Marvel Comics Miracleman no 1

(The attached image is the cover of Eclipse Comics Miracleman no 1. There never was a Marvelman no 1 because Marvelman continued the numbering of the Captain Marvel British reprints.)

Marvel Comics Miracleman no 1 (New York, 2014) contains, after the front cover and a contents page:

the first two short Marvelman episodes from Warrior as they had been republished by Eclipse, on smaller pages, colored, but here recolored, and with the character's superhero name changed;
three black and white Marvelman stories;
a Marvelman Family story that, renamed Miracleman Family, had been colored and re-presented as a Prologue to the Eclipse Miracleman no 1 and is presented thus here;
some art work;
an article explaining the origin of Marvelman, illustrated by pages of Marvelman;
extracts from an interview with the since deceased Mick Anglo, illustrated with photographs.

Thus, this is a combination of a comic book and a magazine. It is good to be able to compare and contrast Marvelman with Miracleman although I would have preferred more of the latter.

A caption in the large introductory panel of each Marvelman story summarizes the fictitious origin of the character, twice referring to MICKY MORAN as "...a Boy...," then referring to MARVELMAN as "...a Man..." The caption informs us that, when MICKY MORAN "...says the Key Word KIMOTA, he becomes MARVELMAN, a Man of such strength and powers that he is invincible and indestructible." (pp. 42, 48, 58).

So it doesn't sound as if he will ever experience any difficulty in defeating his opponents?

The perspective and quality of the writing in Miracleman could not be more different. The adult, married Moran thinks:

"If only I could remember that damn word. Kimono? No. Komodo? No. Krakatoa? No. Jesus, this headache." (p. 14)

We soon realize that we are reading a character who both remembers the old Marvelman stories from the inside and inhabits the same world as us - until, inevitably, he changes that world into something new and strange.

Atomic Superheroes

After reading Tolkien's The Fall Of Arthur, I have started to read The Particle At The End Of The Universe by Sean Carroll about the Higgs boson. This made me wonder about how many atomic-powered superheroes there are.

Captain Atom;
Firestorm, the Nuclear Man;
Doctor Manhattan;
the Mick Anglo Marvelman;
is there a Marvel Comics version?

Captain Atom and Firestorm coexist in the DC Universe;
Doctor Manhattan is a Watchman;
the Anglo Marvelman is a fiction within the fiction of another writer's Marvelman/Miracleman.

The Anglo Marvelman has "atomic strength" whereas the later version has a highly evolved body. Is anyone able to write a convincing account of how, by mentally controlling force particles, gravitons etc, a human being would be able physically to control his environment, thus gaining the powers of flight, teleportation, transmutation etc? This sounds as if it might make some sense.

Marvel Comics Miracleman no 1

(i) Fawcett Comics stopped publishing the original Captain Marvel because of law suits from the publishers of Superman.

(ii) The Mick Anglo Marvelman ceased publication I think because he could not compete with newly imported American superheroes.

(iii) Warrior magazine published a reconceptualized Marvelman, received legal heat from Marvel Comics, then stopped publishing.

(iv) Eclipse Comics re-published, colored and continued the reconceptualized Marvelman, renamed Miracleman, but went bankrupt.

(v) Now Marvel Comics re-publishes both the Mick Anglo Marvelman and the Eclipse Comics Miracleman, the latter recolored, and hopefully will complete the latter.

(vi) Meanwhile, the Superman publishers publish the original Captain Marvel and Marvel Comics have their Captain Marvel.

Moral: a superhero cannot be killed.

Comment: the recoloring is subdued and superb, more like the way DC Comics colored the Warrior magazine V For Vendetta by the same original writer.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Arthurian Tradition

My previous remarks about the Arthurian legend were the tip of the iceberg. Google:

Geoffrey of Monmouth;
Thomas Malory;
Lord Tennyson;
TH White;
Marion Zimmer Bradley;
Sean Connery.

Specifically in comics:

Marvel UK published The Knights Of Pendragon;
Professor X, a fan of TH White's The Once And Future King, compares himself to Merlin;
DC Golden Age superheroes include a time traveling Knight of the Round Table;
the time traveling Swamp Thing visits the Fall of Camelot;
the demon Etrigan is Merlin's half-brother;
the first DC maxi-series was Camelot 3000.


(White's title translates part of Malory's epitaph, Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus, and Camelot 3000 shows Arthur in the future.)

A Missed Connection

In the previous post, I mentioned modern continuations of the Arthurian legend, including Tolkien's unfinished poem and Lewis' and Gaiman's treatments of Merlin. I also contrasted Gaiman's time traveling Tim Hunter meeting the young Merlin with Lewis' space traveling Elwin Ransom meeting the revived Merlin and the undying Arthur. I thought that these were neat connections. To completely tie these three authors together, we can add that, of course, Tolkien and Lewis were friends and that both Lewis and Gaiman reference Tolkien in their fiction.

However, I missed a whole heap of other connections between Tolkien, Lewis, space travel, time travel, "Elwin" and Atlantis. (Tim Hunter also visits Atlantis.)

Lewis and Tolkien agreed that Lewis would write a space travel story, which became the first Ransom novel, and that Tolkien would write a time travel story - the unfinished The Lost Road, which would have taken its hero to Atlantis. A modern character was to have have been called "Elwin, "Elf-friend," whereas Ransom's "Elwin" means "friend of the eldila." Information about The Lost Road and about Numenor, Tolkien's version of Atlantis (referenced by Ransom), are in Volume V of The History Of Middle-earth by Christopher Tolkien.

Gaiman, through the DC Comics Atlantean magician Arion, rightly tells us that there are many Atlantises.

Arthur And Merlin

I am reading JRR Tolkien's unfinished alliterative poem, The Fall Of Arthur (London, 2013), and reflecting on the continuation of the Arthurian legend into novels, films and TV series. Neil Gaiman's time traveling Tim Hunter meets the young Merlin in the past whereas CS Lewis' space traveling Elwin Ransom meets the revived Merlinus Ambrosius on Earth, then joins the undying Arthur on Venus. Gaiman's Neverwhere refers to Merlin's master, Blaise.

Tolkien wrote not a novel incorporating Arthur or Merlin but a poem in modern English though in ancient style:

                             "Time is changing;
"the West waning,  a wind rising
"in the waxing East. The world falters.
"New tides are running  in the narrow waters." (p. 32)

This rhythm recalled to my mind Gaiman's competition between Dream and Choronzon (although I am now less sure of the similarity):

Dream: I am a hunter, horse-mounted, wolf-stabbing.
Choronzon: I am a horsefly, horse-stinging, hunter-throwing. (etc)
- Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Preludes And Nocturnes (New York, 1991), p. 123.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Smallville: Nocturne

Season 2, Episode 5

I thought, and I think we were meant to think, that Byron, chained by his parents in a cellar by day, would turn out to be a werewolf whereas, instead, his condition, changed appearance and increased strength in daylight, results from a medical experiment with no supernatural intervention or even meteoric influence and, of course, Luthorcorp involved.

I am not sure whether Byron has become a permanent new friend of Lana? Each episode continues the emotional difficulties between Clark and Lana even if it does not refer directly to the events of the previous episode.

The major plot development, which could not have been predicted, is Martha Kent becoming Lionel Luthor's executive assistant. Also, Lionel continues to regard Clark as a remarkable young man, a worrying development. I am years behind everyone else with Smallville. Most of these developments are new to me as they happen although, of course, I have had some reports on what is to come.

Lionel, teaching his son moral lessons from the Greek myths, describes Prometheus as a son of Zeus. I thought that Prometheus was a Titan, thus more like an uncle of Zeus? - but the myths exist in different versions.

Smallville: Red

Season 2, Episode 4

The introduction of red kryptonite but with a difference. Originally, green kryptonite weakened and killed whereas red had bizarre, unpredictable physical effects, anything from an animal head to a drastic change in size. Now, less implausibly, green affects a Kryptonian physically whereas red affects him mentally.

For the first time, Pete Ross is part of the Kent team and able to help. He gets close enough to Clark to open a lead box containing green kryptonite so that Clark is incapacitated long enough for his red kryptonite ring to be removed, thus restoring his usually benign personality. Clark apologizes to Lana for his uncharacteristic behavior but cannot explain fully and Lana has had enough of the mystery from Clark. She, Lex and maybe Chloe, if sworn to secrecy, should be brought onto the team, like Pete, but that is not going to happen.

Did I miss something or is there a guy still at large who saw Clark shoot three bullets onto his palm only to have the flattened bullets fall from unbroken skin? This happened in front of the blind Lionel who has retrieved the flattened bullets and who found something interesting in Clark when the latter was under the influence of the red k. Clark almost told Lex what he was really capable of so the secret is always just near the surface.

Life And Art II

In Alan Moore's Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? (New York, 1997):

Bizarro does to Metropolis what Bates does to London but we cannot be shown it in the same graphic detail;
Lois Lane is described as an  "...alien-loving tramp'" (p. 17);
for Lois, falling from a skyscraper while Superman flies to the rescue has "'...all the familiarity of a recurring dream'" (ibid.);
Superman's reds and blues flow together so that he resembles "'...a violet comet'" (ibid.);
the Fortress of Solitude is "'...big and remote and lonely'" (p. 19);
(the Arctic of Earth-1 differs from the Arctic of Earth-Real in being a land mass, not just frozen water);
when Superman says, "I'm glad you came back, Krypto. You're a piece of my life, you know that?" (p. 20), he also speaks for the writer and the readers;
when he says, "...I feel as if all the pieces of my life are finally coming together" (ibid.), he expresses the fact that he is inside a "Last Superman of Earth-1" story;
Alan Moore and Curt Swan put the supposedly dead Superman right in front of us without us recognizing him until they want us to (when we realize that his son has inherited super-strength);
other heroes include "'Those that were almost his rivals...'" (p. 29), in other words Captain Marvel, who was a commercial competitor when they had different publishers;
"magic" lake water is described as "(probable unidentified radiation source.)" (p. 31);
Alan Moore's explanation makes much more sense of Mxyzptlk, who is thus re-conceptualized only to be destroyed (and should never have been brought back);
Phantom Zone criminals mouth obscenities - imagine them not as comic book super-villains but as real people;
the Batman describes the wrecked Fortress "'...as "like walking amongst the fragments of a legend."'" (p. 46)

My point is that superheroes are modern myths. We have grown up with them, we remember them and we appreciate their reconfiguration by creative writers, just as the Greeks attended the theater to see new interpretations of familiar myths. In the Man Of Steel film trailer, we hear a woman's voice say, "I saw what Clark did..." And that is enough to set the whole story in motion again.

Life And Art

Some people point out that there are many instances of sexual violence against women in Alan Moore's works. Moore replies that there are many instances of sexual violence against women in real life and also that popular fiction distorts life by presenting an excessive number of instances of violent killing. This discussion needs to progress, i.e., we do not need more people pointing out that there are many instances of sexual violence against women in Alan Moore's works.

Are current superhero films merely a rehash of fiction created for twelve year olds fifty years ago and do they prevent our unprecedented era from developing a relevant culture of its own, as Moore suggests (see link to interview a few posts back here)? Well, fictions originally addressed to twelve year olds can be upgraded age-wise, as Moore has preeminently demonstrated.

A superhero film can be:

escapist light entertainment;
like any art, a mirror to reality, i. e., while enjoying an imaginary world precisely because it is different from ours, we can simultaneously see ourselves and our society reflected in it.

In Moore's Watchmen, the US is unquestioningly served by a virtually omnipotent superhero and therefore wins in Vietnam. The VC want to surrender to him personally. Another character comments that, if the US had lost that war, then it might have gone a bit mad as a nation...

In Watchmen, the UN is also unquestioningly served by a violent vigilante - and two journalists called Woodward and Bernstein are found dead....

In Moore's Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?... (to be continued here)

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Last Superman Of Earth-1 Comics

The last Superman of Earth-1 comics were:

Superman 423 by Alan Moore (see attached image);
Action Comics 583 by Alan Moore;
DC Comics Presents 97 by Steve Gerber.

The two comics by Alan Moore present a two-part "imaginary story" in which Superman settles accounts with all his supporting characters whereas the one comic by Steve Gerber presents an alternative settling of accounts not described as "imaginary" and therefore in fact constituting the last Superman story in Earth-1 continuity. Gerber's story, some though not all of which I thought was worthy of Alan Moore, was described as an "Untold Tale" but not - important distinction - as an "imaginary story."

I wondered at the time why the Alan Moore story had to be described as "imaginary." Given that a new continuity initiated by John Byrne was to commence the following month, Moore's story could have been regarded as rounding off the old continuity. In fact, that is what it was presented as doing.

One simple answer is that, if Gerber's story was in continuity, then Moore's could not be, and vice versa. However, I now think that it was appropriate that Moore's culminating story was described as "imaginary." It very soon ceased to matter whether a high quality, much reprinted, story counted as being in or out of the now defunct continuity. The very terminology of "imaginary stories" was part of the familiar architecture that was to fade into oblivion along with Earths -1 and -2, so it was appropriate that that phrase, eventually to be replaced by "Elseworlds," was commemorated one last time in Moore's story introduction, which ends:

"This is an IMAGINARY STORY...Aren't they all?" (Exactly. At the end, Clark winks directly at the reader. The author shares a joke with his audience through the character.)

Note that the cover of Superman 423 advertises Frank Miller's The Dark Knight mini-series, which was already showing the less powerful post-Crisis Superman in a possible future.

Meaningful Narratives

Are the DC and Marvel universes "...meaningless..." as Alan Moore described them in his recent interview with Padraig O'Mealoid (see earlier link)? Maybe they are neutral territory but it is possible to create meaningful narratives within them, as Alan Moore himself proved. I used to reflect on the superficiality of superhero fiction which never, for example, deduced any social consequences from its fantastic premises. A friend replied, "They are only comics," but the telling of a story in both pictures and words need not entail that the story has to be simplistic. On the contrary: films do not have to be either insubstantial or uni-dimensional.

I never suspected that someone, namely Alan Moore, would address what I saw as this specific lack in comics. I could not have filled the vacuum that I was all too aware of but was well primed to appreciate the work of someone who could do so and who thereby opened the door to many successors now consistently writing comics at a qualitatively higher level than before. We do not know how much of this would have happened eventually even without Alan Moore but we do know that he did a lot of it and gave a lead. Neil Gaiman came back into reading, then writing, comics because of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing.

I am not taking sides between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. I have had time to read just some of Moore on Morrison and vice versa but not all of it, thank the gods, because I am not setting out to judge this case. They present factually different accounts of their first meeting. This alone warns us not simply to read and accept one of the accounts. In Alan's account, Grant was, at that time, an aspiring writer. In Grant's account, he was already a published writer. He claims that publication dates bear this out. So maybe Alan was not aware of it at the time? Thus, neither of them needs to be lying.

My impression of Grant, only an impression subject to revision in the light of any further information, is that he is at least not as bad as Alan perceives him. But, if he were, then the way to address the issue would be by private talks between them, not in a public forum.

The question implicit at the beginning of this post, what sort of fiction do we need to address current reality, is a weighty matter and I feel privileged to be able to address it in however small a way in a public discussion.

Two Further Points

(i) In his recent interview with Padraig O'Mealoid (See three posts back here), Alan Moore says several times that various people have a right to their opinions. This need not be said. We have no authority to deny anyone a right to their opinions so it is unnecessary to affirm that right. Saying this usually signals dislike of or disagreement with the said opinions so it is better just to proceed directly to the point of disagreement.

(ii) Alan Moore asks admirers of Grant Morrison's works to stop reading his. It doesn't work like that. We read what we want to. I read right wing writers although my views are left wing and I hope that right wing readers do not deny themselves the pleasure of reading the works of leftists. Literature divided into mutually hostile camps who do not even read each others' outputs is unthinkable.

Out of respect for Alan's views as the creator of Watchmen, I have not bought any Before Watchmen and have read only one issue that someone had at a comics group gathering. Alan Moore has moral rights as the creator of these characters but cannot legitimately ask me not to check out anything written by Morrison. I am pleased to see that Marvel Comics are re-issuing Miracleman.

Brief Comments On The Alan Moore Interview

See here.

(i) Does Alan Moore respond adequately to charges of racist stereotyping and misogyny? I think so.

(ii) Can a white man write about black people and women? Of course. We assess how well he does it.

(iii) He can write about murder although he hasn't been murdered. Good point.

(iii) Are middle-aged superhero film fans unable to cope with reality? Alan Moore is right to raise this question. Some of us do try to address reality on different levels and also enjoy seeing it fantastically reflected in fantasy, sf and superheroes. I would like to see Superman addressing real world issues like war, corruption and pollution. Starting from an arbitrary year date, his history would soon diverge from ours, as happens in Watchmen and Marvelman.

(iv) Is Grant Morrison as bad as Alan Moore says? I don't know. I doubt that anyone can be that bad! I enjoyed Zenith, Animal Man and Supergods, although I felt that The Invisibles became incoherent. I have not kept up with Grant's DC continuity stuff because I have not kept up with DC continuity.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Is One Bad Day Enough To Drive You Or Me Mad?

The previous post is a link to an interview in which Alan Moore again puts down the story, not the art, in his and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke. Alan has said elsewhere that TKJ is not about anything substantial; it is only about a guy dressed as a bat fighting a guy who looks like a clown. I disagree.

TKJ is about whether one bad day would be enough to drive you or me mad. The Joker had a bad day but doesn't always remember it the same way. (Metafiction: the character has different origin stories.) He knows that Bats must have had a bad day to make him do what he does. (In fact, does the Joker ask whether it was mob killing spouse, which would be the Punisher's origin?)

The Joker does a song and dance routine (of course he does; why did no one else write this?) about why we are not obliged to be sane and even about why any response to life other than insanity would be crazy. He tries to prove his point by giving Jim Gordon a bad time but fails. Gordon tells Bats to bring the Joker in by the book. Would you or I stay sane and legal like Jim or become criminally insane and homicidal like the Joker?

A fellow comics reader said that the ending made no sense: why should Bats share a joke with the Joker? I took it to be just release of tension. (I once burst out laughing twenty four hours after a difficult situation as a teacher.)

Alan Moore has also said, I think, that his graphic fictions are unfilmable. I think that a good attempt could be made at scrupulous transference to screen but each work would have to be serialized.

Read The Words Of Alan Moore

http://slovobooks.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/last-alan-moore-interview/

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

LEG 2009

In Alan Moore's and Kevin O'Neill's The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 2009 (Marietta and London, 2012), Orlando, who started her fighting career in Troy, meets another "...combat veteran..." (p. 3) or immortal soldier, Colonel Cuckoo, who started later, in the Napoleonic Wars. I did not recognize Cuckoo but he can be identified by googling.

Emma Peel, now Head of the Secret Service, is addressed both as "Mother" and as "Em," which is neat. I think that the James Bond replacements resemble post-Connery actors?

I also think that Norton refers to the film travesty of From Hell. Thus, Alan Moore can incorporate even some really bad stuff into the LEG Universe.

When the Anti-Christ says that he is in a book of the Bible, the unnamed but recognizable Mary Poppins replies that she is on every page. Who is on every page of the Bible? Even God is not. Unless she is Imagination, as in Promethea? (She does mention imagination.)

There is a lot more than this in any volume of LEG but these are the points that have caught my attention on this rereading.

Duplicity II

In the previous post, I summarized what I thought were salient points from Smallville: Duplicity but neglected and even forgot what must be regarded as two important plot developments from a "Smallville as soap opera" perspective (a lot does happen in this one episode, even without involving any meteor powers):

Lana tells Clark that she has ex'ed the absent Marine, Whitney (we saw her start to do this when recording a video message in the previous episode);

Lana's Aunt Nell tells Lana that she has become engaged to the annoying new guy, Dean.

Whitney's ex'ing, Nell's engagement, the blind Lionel Luthor's return to Smallville and Pete Ross's inclusion in the Kent family secret are bound to have major implications for future episodes, although Hamilton's convenient death helps to preserve that secret for the immediate future. Clark clearly does not start to think of developing a relationship with Lana and she continues to resent his obvious reticence about she knows not what. Clark has become too used to lying. This used to concern me a bit in Superboy comics: can all this lying be right? In this version of the story, it is the systematic duplicity that turns out to be the fatal weakness that will make Superman and Lex Luthor enemies in later life.