Friday, July 30, 2010

To be a God (draft #1)

After reading Prince of Power and re-reading Civil War I've had the idea of Godhood on my mind. After all, in both the DC and Marvel Universes there are a plethora of Gods and God-like figures.

Let's count.

In the DCU there are the New Gods (Orion, Darkseid, Highfather, Mr. Miracle, Big Barda, Desaad, et al), The Spectre (God's spirit of vengeance), the Source, as well as the usual Greco-Roman Gods, and Rama-Kushna (some spirit who deadman believes is God)

In the Marvel Universe there are Heroes like Thor and Hercules who both have their own running titles, as well as entire Pantheons of Greco-Roman, Norse, and Egyptian gods who regularly interact with mortals. Asgard is currently located in the Midwest, taking donations from local groups while they rebuild after the events of Siege. The line between man and god is blurred somewhat when they're taking in pie mix and spam from the locals.

The question that I have is where faith falls into the mix in these universes. What's it like to be a Methodist when you're doing a charity drive for Odin? Can you be a young-earth creationist when Vandal Savage is 50,000 years old? Can you be an Atheist and stand next to the Spectre?
There are angels and devils, as well as heaven and hell. Victor von Doom spent a while in hell, before following Thor's hammer back to our dimension. In Green Arrow: Quiver Oliver Queen and Barry Allen were seen in heaven, alongside Martain Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and who I'm pretty sure is Chris Farley.

In short, there is a lot of proof for at least some spark of the divine. There is a great spiritual influence in-universe, regardless of the actuality of said divine spark. One of my favorite pages on this topic takes place during Infinite Crisis, in which the heroes of the world attend a mass. While Blue Devil ( a good catholic) prays as his skin boils, Mr. Terrific and Ragman sit outside and discuss religion. Ragman is Jewish, while Mr. Terrific is a hardcore atheist.

Even after all he's seen, Mr. Terrific still sciences away most everything, but when gods come from doomed planets as babies or emerge from gamma radiation, it only makes things make less sense. Gods walk among these people. They weave among the skyscrapers to rescue us mere mortals from the mythical opponents they face. They are nothing less than divine from our eyes.

Kingdom Come, by Alex Ross, explores this idea in depth. Playing heavily on the book of Revelation and Superman as a Christ figure, it does an incredible job of placing the human perspective on the superhuman. The story centers around Norman Mckay, a minister without faith in the future, and the Spectre, who has been called down to cast judgment on the events that take place.

The story is full of religious overtones, and laden with quotes from Revelations. The story centers around a conflict between ideals, that of the older generation of of superheroes versus the young. The new heroes lack the morals and restraint of the their predecessors, and threaten to sen the world into turmoil. They are lead (no coincidence here) by a hero named Magog. Magog is violent and cruel, as opposed the messianic Superman,

Superman is a definite Christ figure in this story. The line "second coming of Superman" shows up if you missed it. Superman is a God at this point. He is nigh-invulnerable, and has lost most of his "humanity" after the death of Lois. He is no longer the man of steel, but an avenging angel of a bygone era. He returns from his self-imposed exile to fix the world. That's what he does. In an issue of Superman/Batman, Bats makes the observation that, "It is a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then... he shoots fire from the skies, and it is difficult not to think of him as a god. And how fortunate we all are that it does not occur to him."

I mean, people here tell Supes that, "We saw you as gods", and they are. Superheroes, in-universe, are tangible gods of a modern age. They all fall into the "American monomyth" , which is similar to the hero's journey except with more capes.

Danny Fingeroth explores the modern mythology of the superhero in his book Superman on the Couch. People have been telling stories like this for eons, be it Odysseus or Gilgamesh, Hercules or Elijah, these stories have lasted since we first developed culture.

"After all, there have been heroic myths for as long as there has been human communication and story telling. From the Bible stories of Samson and Moses, even the origins and eventual fate of Jesus have many of the trappings of heroic fiction... Yet there are no schoolyard arguments over who's stronger- Gilgamesh or Moses? No internet flame wars over whether Shiva could kick Delilah's rear. Maybe it would be sacrilegious to do so." (Fingeroth, 37)

Perhaps since our heroes belong to us we can claim them and discuss them as we please. Perhaps in ancient times Greeks debated about whether Hercules could beat up Perseus (he totally could). Though all part of the collective monomyth, these specific heroes belong to us, and so we can do what we want with them. I'm sure people called rule 34 on Achilles (not like they had to, knowing Greek myths). I'm sure someone told teamup stories where Theseus and Jason fought a cyclops. We take the central myths and add on to them with our own stories to make them culturally relevant. Consider all the times superheroes have been revamped to make them more modern. Wonder Woman just reached her 600th issue, and with that came a reboot, re-imagining, and a new costume design. There are different versions, different universes, and incarnations.

We have the privilege to re-imagine our gods and heroes specifically for our era, to make them fit into what we want. The stories have barely changed since Gilgamesh. We love to tell tales of Gods on earth and their place in relation to us mortals. I think it would be different if these titans actually walked among us. Part of the majesty of humanity is imagination. Even though we draw from the Jungian story archetype with pretty much every tale we tell, the societal spins we place to make them applicable to our world show true. Superman reflects the tale of a god among mortals, but also the struggle of a Jewish immigrant fitting in in America. Spiderman might draw from the hero's journey, but it entwines the modern context of adolescence and responsibility.

Anyway, as this has been something pieced together at work and late at night, it's disjointed and probably does not make a lot of sense. The point is that every era has it's own heroes. We have ours in superheroes. The represent a great deal of the ideals we as a culture hold dear. In some senses they are like Gods. Perhaps Jesus was simply an orphan child from a doomed planet, or Moses was a Sorcerer Supreme. Hercules might have been real, and could totally whip up on Gilgamesh. All these stories have to come from somewhere, and given as we've been essentially telling the same one since the dawn of man there has to be some grain of truth. Maybe it's late and I'm trying to convince myself that Elijah was actually a Green Lantern and Samson had been bitten by a radioactive spider.

Religion is something that is skirted around in comics. There are deeply religious superheroes, as well as those who could care less. But regardless, there is a religious influence in the Universe, yet people still seem to have faith in a higher power. There are still Christians and Jews, Moslems and Hindus. Green Arrow's son is a zen Buddhist. Despite all evidence one way or the other, despite all the proof of a deity or deities, people have faith.

I think that's an important fact. Everyone has faith, whether in God or Superman, the masses believe in something above them, and despite his efforts Superman is not a man. He is Kryptonian, hiding amongst us earthlings. The citizens of Metropolis see him as a cult god who they can see and praise, a tangible force who can aid them. We place him on the pedestal to worship.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Prince of Power

Prince of Power is the story of Amadeus Cho, the seventh smartest person on the planet, CEO of the Olympus Group, and the hier to the Champion status of Hercules. Yes. This Hercules.

Anyway. Hercules is presumed dead and Amadeus takes over. I have never read any Hercules, but after reading some reviews online I thought, "This sounds awesome", and picked it up yesterday. I also got the new Green Lantern, Flash, and Return of Bruce Wayne, but those stories are still caught and tripping over themselves a bit at the moment and so we will get to them later. Prince of Power really stood out for being something new and different and fun, and, while a bit mired in canon, is not swamped in storyline.

The character of Amadeus is quite interesting. He is a scrawny Korean nerd, wielding the adamantine mace of Hercules and with a penchant for chocolate and a healthy amount of teenage angst and jackass tendencies (in the endearing). The most novel thing about Cho is how he sees the world. Being a hypermind, he sees the world as equations and is able to calculate the action most favorable to him. I couldn't find a good picture of it but it's cool.

In short, there's pantheons and mortals, mythology and math. It's very satisfying to read and I plan on reading more, as well as going back and looking at recent Hercules. Check it out.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Scott Pilgrim: A Retrospective (Part One)

After a great deal of rereading, I have decided Scott Pilgrim is great. That said, I'm going to take the next couple of posts to look closer at the characters, themes, symbols, and all that stuff I hated doing in English class. I'm just going to say this once, so


That is all.

There's a very obvious place to start with such a character-driven story, and that is the titular character: Scott Pilgrim. Scott is 23, plays bass (poorly) in a (terrible-ish) band. He has no job, few possessions, and has a habit of sleeping until noon and playing videogames all day. The story is mostly from Scott's point of view, with a sort of muddle consciousness about it. This is, after all, his story pieced together from his point of view (this is something you should make a note of).

Anyway, Scott Pilgrim has this "Precious Little Life", in which his gay roomate puts him through most of the chores of being a productive member of society and he dates a 17 year old Chinese high-schooler. His life is a strange balance, and while delightfully quirky, is infuriating to pretty much everyone else. As his ex-girlfriend Kim says, "Scott, if your life had a face I would punch it."

In walks Ramona and Scott begins his journey of self-discovery and growth. Unfortunately most of that doesn't happen for a while. A lot of the time I found myself thinking, "Man, what an asshole".

Scott is self-centered, in the sense that he is the protagonist here, and so that anything that is not Scott related is swept away. Scott is so busy in volume 5 that he is completely out of the loop on his friend Stephen coming out. Also, since most of the insight into his romantic past comes from him, we get a one-sided perspective of who he is in a relationship. Scott, in a discussion with another ex-girlfriend argues that he was "totally a paragon" during their relationship, a fact that really isn't true. He doesn't have the best memory for the times he's been a dick.

The point when it becomes obvious that Scott is kind of a self-centered ass is in book two when he breaks up with Knives. This girl is kind of obsessed with him, but in the adorable way. She is 17 and absolutely baffled by this apparent badass. However, Scott is obsessed with Ramona and just sort of ditches Knives. He does not really think about her again.

Scott views himself as this paragon hero who has never done anything wrong and is perfect and awesome and adorable, when in fact he really isn't. Whenever Scott is assaulted by the truth about himself, he fights the "NegaScott" a dark-link style version of himself that represents everything he'd done wrong and buried in his memories. Only when he accepts his past can he move on and face Gideon and become a better person.

In the final showdown, when we finally get some insight into Gideon, there's some pretty obvious symbolism. Scott (who "never drinks") spills booze on his shirt and has to change into one with Gideon's logo on it. Scott and Gideon duel, and it becomes incredibly clear that Scott and Gideon have a lot in common, except for the fact that Scott has the desire to change for Ramona. Once Scott understands his shirt logo changes to the subspace star.

Scott was an asshole. However, he had a reason to be better in Ramona. Once he moved on and got it together could they both move forward without him becoming another evil ex. Scott is a few people's evil ex. He was an asshole and I had good reason to hate him. Once he got a job and some closure did he become sympathetic.

Next up- Secondary Characters and evil exes

A Very Blackest Night Retrospective

Blackest Night was one of the first things I ever read in the DCU. It's a great story, provided you started with Green Lantern: Rebirth, because that's where it all begins. This story has been in motion since 2004, and has just now ended. It really is a great saga, encompassing 50+ issues, plus the Green Lantern Corps series and crossover in Blackest Night. In short. It's a lot.
The problem with Blackest Night is the uncertainty of it. I'm not sure exactly at what level of Armageddon this is. Sure, Nekron might be obliteration all life, but it doesn't seem like he has a very good reason or thesis statement or really a good plan to do so. It seems like he's just gotten fed up with things existing and wants to do something. He's like the Grinch who stole corpses (and then proceded to terrorize Whoville with a zombie army).

It is nowhere near the crisis level of Final Crisis in which the entire multiverse is dragged into oblivion by evil gods and vampiric monitors who leech of the bleed between dimensions. It pretty much involves time dissolving into a singularity in which nothing exists but Darkseid.

Blackest Night just feels like an aftermath in the wake of Final Crisis. Barely any time has passed since FC and Barry Allen has come back. I guess Barry's rebirth is the trigger here, because Nekron is rather pissed about it. To sum things up he's just angry and has zombies. I honestly still don't understand why he allowed resurrections in the first place if he's so anti-life.

I think the message here is that life is hard and but that if you want to truly live you have to fight, but that was the message of Final Crisis. Blackest Night is great for the art and the spectacular full-page displays, but it lacks any actual meaning. The last issue does have some very good points and is quite quotable, but overall it's more of a massive fanboy moment than anything.

There's nothing wrong with that, but Final Crisis and Grant Morrison do a better job of meaning and metaphysics than Geoff. Geoff Johns is a good writer and his whole GL series has been great, but when it comes to dialog he's better with quips and one-liners than moving emotional words.

In short, Blackest Night is great and an important part of the GL mythos, but if you don't care for Hal Jordan, or Geoff Johns, stay away. It's a fun read but a lot of the actual power (which there is) is hidden beneath layers of combat and zombies.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour & Brightest day 5/6

What right does this series have to suddenly become really good?

Seriously! Here I was being all critical and then the finale is way too good to even get into. There is explanation and closure and an actual meaning here. Needless to say I'm pretty thrilled.

I was skeptical at first, scoffing at the ridiculousness of it and generally being a jerk, but damn it got good. I don't know what more to say. It's good. Much better than...

Brightest Day 5&6: Let me sum it up. Each character gets like 5 pages and crawls along through a plot that somehow relates to the White Lantern. I don't really care about Aquaman or the Hawks. Deadman's story seems very good by he is bogged down by the rest of the series. Seriously guys, get to the point.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim, Round Two

In short, I'm still unsure of how much I like it.

Yeah, it's quirky and fun, but at the same time its angst-ridden and full of high-school style drama that just gets annoying after a while.

That's it. This should be set in a high school.

Scott Pilgrim should be chock full of swearing and adult situations, given as it's about "adults", but it isn't. The characters talk like adolescents, and have the same maturity level. Again, it's audience pandering, and I don't really know that I fall into the audience for that. It seems more for kids who like Japanese stuff a little too much and play Final Fantasy with fanatical fervor. The concept of "drama" here is very basic, with love triangles (in reality, that's an oversimplification, given as Scott is romantically linked to every girl in the story who is not his kid sister).

The character of Scott Pilgrim gets on my nerves too. I know that he is supposed to be a lovable slacker, sharing a futon with his gay roommate (they point out that his roommate is gay all the damn time) in a totally hetero way. He has no job, but he's in a crappy band, which apparently makes him awesome. He just sits around and plays bass (poorly) and video games.

Now, generally this can be taken as the affable slacker, a hipster Seth Rogen who, while being lazy and immature, is funny and genuine and makes Katherine Hiegl swoon because he's so different or whatever. The thing is that when it comes to women, Scott's kind of a dick. A good portion of the book is them pointing this out. I don't have a lot of sympathy for Scott here.

The whole evil ex thing is suspect at best too. I guess it will be wrapped up in book 6 but they have taken their time. I mean, without that element it would be just a romance story and then I'd feel even weirder reading it, but it just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I need motive here, and by book 6 we should have gotten there. We are at the peak of our story. This should have been covered in rising action.

I'm going to finish it, mostly out of a desire to get some answers, but I'm still not sure on my final verdict. At this juncture, though, Scott Pilgrim needs to get it together.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Versus Me

Scott Pilgrim is good. I'm going to say that right off. I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea and think that this is not an enjoyable read, because it is. I like Scott Pilgrim.


It's good, not great, and sure I am going to finish the rest of the series because I need a fun read after reading Final Crisis, The Killing Joke, and The Last Will and Testament of Hal Jordan (an amazing and fairly unheard of book that I'll talk about at some point) over and over again. Scott Pilgrim is light and fluffy and has one-dimensional webcomic-style drama that rarely makes you think as well as some very enjoyable action sequences. While these action sequences do tend to leave you with a quizzical look, wondering what exactly happened and how these skinny hipster kids can fight like that.

Be warned that this comic is hip and knows it. There are a veritable asston of videogame references, which grate after a while. It gets old, especially when it seems the book is trying to establish it know more about games than you and was playing Super Mario World when you were in diapers. I love games, but after a while it becomes annoying. We get it. Scott Pilgrim is a nerd. We are all nerds. Let's move on.

I understand that Scott Pilgrim has some manga roots. The art style and the fact that it's tiny and not normal comic book size lends itself more to that (I do not like the fact that this book is small and not in color. I just want to get that out there). This also comes through in the over the top action and general ridiculousness that is Scott Pilgrim. Apparently demon hipster chicks and people turning into coins (yes, we get it, the book is hip) are normal, so the characters barely mention the fact that it's INCREDIBLY WEIRD. The bar for average is very low here.

Anyway, these things aside, it's fun. The less you think, the more you enjoy. I'm going to give more time and see where the story goes, but I'm not holding my breath. I think it can get better and be awesome and turn bunnies into gold robots, but that might just be ridiculous.