Sunday, 30 December 2012

Marvelman/Miracleman

Marvelman/Miracleman by Alan Moore, succeeded by Neil Gaiman, is out of print and might never be republished, let alone completed. How many people have read it or understand references to it? I am fortunate to own the entire published series, partly in monthly comic books and partly in collected editions.

There is a well known tradition of super-strong heroes, starting in mythology (Samson and Hercules), continuing through prose fiction (Hugo Danner in Gladiator by Philip Wylie) and culminating in graphic fiction (Superman, Captain Marvel, Marvelman, Miracleman). I remember from the 1950's that Mick Anglo's Marvelman, some of it recently republished by Marvel Comics, entertained the age-group that it addressed. However, it did not address adults and certainly did not reflect on the tradition that it represented.

Moore more than made up for this. Michael Moran has grown up into a world of Health Service cuts and Troubles in Northern Ireland, has married a commercial artist but not had any children, works as a free lance journalist, dreams of flying, suffers migraines and cannot remember the word from his recurrent dream. Then he reads the word "ATOMIC" backwards in a glass door....

Moore's and Gaiman's contributions, although less well known, are far more significant than anything that has been published under the titles of "Superman" or "Captain Marvel."

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Sandman: The Wake

Can Dream be seen after he has died? Yes. He is seen in a dream. "Sunday Mourning" is a perfect conclusion to The Sandman.

To be appreciated fully, the text of "Exiles" needs to be read aloud. The desert guide says:

"I pray...Also, I hope." (Neil Gaiman, The Wake, New York, 1997, p. 126)

Because of earlier dialogues, I now see great significance in every new instance of the word "hope."

"The Tempest" is an example of what I call a "perfect" comic. That is to say:

the art, beautiful throughout, can be appreciated as such apart from the story being told;
the dialogue flows naturally and is substantial in content;
words and pictures work perfectly together.

The reader does not hurry to turn the page to follow what is being said because the attention is held by:

colourful and detailed sequential art faithfully rendering Shakespeare, his family and their contemporaries in the autumn and winter scenery of Stratford;

dramatic scenes conjured when Will reads from his work in progress;

his interview with Morpheus in the Dreaming

- a fitting celebration in a different medium of the dramatist's life.

Hope II

In an earlier post called "Hope", I summarised an exchange between Dream and a demon in which Dream trumped "entropy" with "hope." What the demon in fact said was:

"I am anti-life, the beast of judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds... ...of everything." (Neil Gaiman, Preludes And Nocturnes, New York, 1995, p. 125)

- but I think that "entropy" summarises this.

This theme is returned to at the end of the series. Destruction, addressing the new aspect of Dream, says:

"Entropy and optimism: the twin forces that make the universe go around." (Gaiman, The Wake, New York, 1997, p. 79)

- and Matthew the Raven, addressing the Wake, says:

" I mean, despair may be the thing that comes after hope, but there's still hope. Right? When there's no hope you might as well be dead." (The Wake, p. 80)

I said in "Hope" that I thought Gaiman had done something similar with the word "hope" in his Miracleman. He did. In the opening story, "A Prayer And Hope...", a man climbs Olympus to pray to the Miracleman. While climbing, he repeats the word "hope" - so he hopes that his prayer will be answered? In comic books, all letters are capitalised so we do not know whether he says "hope" or "Hope." On the summit of Olympus, he asks the Miracleman to save his daughter, Hope, who has been in a coma since suffering brain damage during MM's battle with his Adversary and is about to have her life support unplugged. MM refuses without explanation, the moral, drawn by another character, being that values change with perspective.

At the Carnival, the man, mentioning but not naming his now dead daughter, asks one of the permanently high "spacemen" what happens when we die. The spaceman, oracular as ever, replies:

"We are far more fair sweet sun, from the shores of my love, and it peeled out and I might touch that. Everyone's all envoys from the future too. Old friends." (Gaiman, Miracleman, No 22, Forestville, Calif. 1991, p. 14)

When asked to explain, he adds:

"Hope. What you dreamed. If they asked. You still groove with grief..." (ibid.)

- so he gives us "Hope" and a reference to dream.

The Rotating Cast Of The Sandman

Preludes And Nocturnes:
Unity Kincaid falls asleep;
Dream puts Alex Burgess to sleep;
Alex's lover is Paul McGuire;
Judy, trying to contact Donna, phones Rose Walker.

The Doll's House:
Unity, after waking, contacts her daughter, Miranda Walker, and her granddaughter, Rose;
Rose looks for her lost brother, Jed;
Lyta has been trapped in Jed's recurring dream;
Rose, lodging with Hal, meets two couples, Chantal and Zelda and Ken and Barbie.

A Game Of You:
Barbie lives in the same house in New York as Donna and a woman called Thessaly;
Donna dreams of Judy;
Barbie and Donna realise that they have both known Rose.

Brief Lives:
Dream travels in the waking world, hoping to see a young woman who left him recently.

The Kindly Ones:
Rose babysits for her neighbour, Lyta;
Hal has become the celebrity, Vixen La Bitch;
Rose visits Zelda, dying of Aids;
Rose meets Paul, who keeps vigil beside the sleeping Alex, and Lyta's lost mother;
Thessaly, the young woman who had left Dream, guards Lyta's body while Lyta's soul unites with the Furies to attack the Dreaming;
Rose and Hal attend Zelda's funeral.

The Wake:
Rose introduces Jed to Lyta at Dream's Wake.

Friday, 28 December 2012

How We Know Neil Gaiman Knows What He Is Doing

Interviewed by Hy Bender for The Sandman Companion, Neil Gaiman said that:

(i) he knew that some readers would dislike the somewhat surrealistic art of The Kindly Ones but that this would be more than adequately compensated for by the detailed realism of the concluding volume, The Wake;

(ii) knowing, when writing their scripts, that the later Sandman story lines would definitely be collected and republished each as a single volume, he paced them in a way that would make sense in that format even though it would seem to readers to be too slow on initial publication in monthly comic books.

(i) and (ii) exactly correspond to my experience of reading these works. I had some problems with the art in The Kindly Ones but loved The Wake and found that later story lines dragged to some extent on a monthly schedule but not when reread as graphic novels.

As with Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, the reader of The Kindly Ones comes to appreciate that the art, even if not liked at first, is appropriate for the theme and mood of the story being told.

Dream's Helmet And Other Objects

In the previous post, I argued that readers of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman are powerfully affected by the author's description of the Gates of Horn and Ivory whether the Gates are, as they seem to be, an ancient myth or whether, alternatively, they are an invented story cleverly inserted into the narrative to resemble a myth. Having said that, it is now an easy matter to google and thus to confirm that the Gates are indeed ancient and were first mentioned in the Odyssey (see attached image). Their names are explained. There is a reason why truth comes through Horn and falsehoods through Ivory.

The Gates form a pair with each other and also a triad with Morpheus' helmet because all three are constructed from body parts of gods defeated by Dream. We must by now have entered a narrative solely created by Gaiman. The helmet also belongs to a second triad. The magician who imprisons Dream takes the latter's helmet, ruby and pouch of sand. The magician's assistant then steals these items and gives the helmet to a demon in exchange for an amulet of protection. The assistant's mistress absconds with the amulet, the ruby and the pouch, sells the pouch but gives the ruby and later the amulet to her son.

The son had used the power in the ruby to become a super-villain. Thus, Gaiman retroactively explains the villain of some earlier Justice League stories. The mother, very aged, dies when she parts with the amulet. Dream's first tasks after his escape are to retrieve the pouch from the English magician who had bought it, the helmet from Hell and the ruby from a Gotham warehouse, a classic quest story although the series soon transcended such cliches.

Horn And Ivory

In Sandman: Brief Lives (New York, 1994), Neil Gaiman summarises this story:

three gods tried to control the Dreaming. Morpheus made -

his helmet from the skull and spine of the oldest;

a gate for false dreams from the tusks of the next (ivory);

a gate for true dreams from the horns of the youngest (horn).

But:

"...the truth of it all has not ever been told on this world." (Chapter 9, p. 11)

So will it be told? Late next year, Gaiman will present a prequel to Volume I so maybe after that we can be told more, even older, stories about Dream of the Endless?

In the Sandman story, "August", the Emperor Augustus knows of the Gates of Horn and Ivory so either these gates are a myth that Gaiman appropriately incorporates into this story or he skillfully makes them seem to be such. In either case, he handles mythical and literary materials in ways that affect his readers usually without them understanding how it is being done.

Rereading


I endlessly reread The Time Patrol by Poul Anderson and The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Both refer to ancient temple prostitution.

I am rereading The Sandman between Christmas and New Year before, I expect, reading some newly acquired Anderson novels and commenting on them.

When rereading, it is good to notice details not remembered from previous readings, like:

the alder man's "death traps" are like rope spider's webs in trees and the fact that one is torn tells him that a big death approaches from the south;
Delerium blows soap bubbles of different shapes;
Morpheus addresses the dancer as "Belili" and "Astarte" and each time she corrects him to "Ishtar" (she is really the Goddess);
"Tiffany Watches" is a pun.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

A Comic Reader's Starter Pack

For a "Comic Reader's Starter Pack," I would suggest:

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller;
Sandman: Preludes And Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman;
Watchmen by Alan Moore.

Year One and Preludes are set in very different parts of the post-Crisis DC universe. Preludes mentions the Batman.

The "Watchmen," not called that in the book, are adaptations of the Charlton Comics superheroes who, at the time of Watchmen's publication, were being integrated into the DC multiverse from which they would survive into the streamlined single universe. Watchmen is set in a world where the DC superheroes existed only as fictitious characters and were soon superseded by pirates as superheroes began to appear in the real world.

Year One and Preludes each introduce a series whereas Watchmen, despite later published prequels, is complete in itself. However, the new reader, having been introduced both to comics and to Alan Moore, could follow Watchmen with any other graphic work by Moore - I suggest first his other main superhero series, Marvelman/Miracleman, if this were back in print. In some ways, Marvelman is even better than Watchmen because in it Moore very cleverly adapts an already existent and absurd character to excellent effect. As in Watchmen, Superman was there first but again as a fictitious character.

Next could be Swamp Thing, another series about a super powered being, this one set inside the DC universe - at least the runs by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch and Mark Millar - to be either followed by or read concurrently with Jamie Delano's John Constantine: Hellblazer. Then there is Moore's own work on Superman and his few other DC universe stories. His series featuring the Superman pastiche, Supreme, while relevant, is not among his best works.

Preludes is the first of the ten Sandman collections. These could be followed by Gaiman's several related works, then by his remaining DC universe stories and also by Mike Carey's Lucifer.

Year One is, I suggest, the opening volume of a trilogy which continues with:

The Killing Joke by Alan Moore;
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.

After that, the new reader could be trusted to find new reading directions for himself!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Trials Of Loki

Marvel Comics had published many accounts of Thor as a superhero in Midgard. In Thor: For Asgard from Marvel, Robert Rodi reverted to telling new stories about Thor as a god in Asgard. In The Trials Of Loki from Marvel, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa went further back by retelling some of the original mythical stories about Thor and Loki in Asgard.

We know that stories, including myths, exist in different versions and that retellers of myths can change details for good reasons of their own. Virgil did. Nevertheless, one episode of The Trials Of Loki ends with the dead Balder going to Valhalla (wrong) but the next shows him in Hel (right) and this discrepancy is not explained.

Balder, although a god, was not a warrior, therefore could not go to Valhalla. Balder and Eurydice are two failed resurrections.

Addendum, 26/12/12: Penciller Sebastian Fiumara, Inker Michel Lacombe, Colourist Jose Villarrubia and Letterer Joe Sabino have produced an excellent illustration of the Nine Worlds in the Tree. 

The God Thor II

Robert Rodi's Thor: For Asgard presents a moral question rather casually. Frost Giants attacked by the Aesir use women and children as a living shield. Thor, charged by Odin to maintain order, continues to lead the attack. Afterwards, he argues that, if the Aesir had held back, then every other subject nation would have used this tactic, subverting the empire.

Must the Aesir rule an empire? Could arrows, spears and Thor's hammer not have been propelled above the living shield? The Frost Giants are big enough targets. Could Thor's chariot not have flown above the women and children? There are moral issues about how, or whether, to wage war but I do not think that this story addresses them adequately.

Mythologically, Valhalla should be a place not just where the Einheriar, dead warriors, hang out but where they fight, die, rise and feast cyclically until the Ragnarok.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The God Thor

This is neat. Marvel Comics adapted the god Thor as a superhero, who has come to Midgard as Superman came to Earth. Then some Marvel Comics writers preferred to return to Thor as a god, based in Asgard.

I have just read Robert Rodi's Thor: For Asgard and am about to start reading Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's The Trials Of Loki. In the former, I don't buy Asgard as a city with citizens, running an empire, or the dead Balder residing in Valhalla instead of in Hel.

Marvel Comics have coined the unnecessary term "Asgardian". An "as" is a god. "Asgard" is the enclosure of the gods. So an inhabitant of Asgard is an as or a god, not an "Asgardian". This artificial term would mean "an inhabitant of the enclosure of the gods", in other words just a god.

The plural of "as" is "Aesir", the already familiar term for the Norse pantheon.

Monday, 24 December 2012

What Is Important Long Term

Perceptions At The Time

Very Important: The Crisis On Infinite Earths.
Less Important: The Swamp Thing/Crisis Crossover, dealing not with the main event but only with its spiritual consequences.

Very Important: Justice League of America becoming Justice League International.
Less Important: Morpheus visiting a JLI Embassy.

Longer Term

Swamp Thing led to The Sandman. Both are permanently in print and inspired the Vertigo Imprint. A page about pre-Crisis monitoring of super-beings is edited out of Swamp Thing reprints without detriment to the story.

The Crisis led not to a second fifty years of good individual DC Comics stories but to a pointless annual Company-wide crossover culminating in a mere twenty years with more continuity-changing Crises. The Justice League reverted to "of America" and the JLI is immortalised only in The Sandman.

Hope

The Sandman no 4 is called A Hope In Hell. On entering Hell to retrieve his helmet, Morpheus reflects that he might fail but adds:

"...I have the pouch. I have a modicum of power. I have hope." (Neil Gaiman, Preludes And Nocturnes, New York, 1995, p. 109)

When he plays "Reality" against the demon Choronzon, their exchange, summarised here, is:

Choronzon: wolf.
Morpheus: horse-back hunter.
C: horsefly.
M: spider.
C: snake.
M: heavy footed ox.
C: anthrax.
M: world.
C: nova.
M: universe.
C: entropy.
M: hope.
C: don't know.

So Morpheus wins with a word that was present in the title and repeated on the third page of the story. I will have to confirm this when I retrieve some comics from a box in the cellar but I think that Gaiman does something similar with the word "hope" in his Miracleman.

Swamp Thing And Sandman

At Least Four Ways In Which The Sandman Follows On From Swamp Thing

(i) Cain and Abel appeared in Genesis, then hosted DC horror comics, then appeared in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, then in The Sandman. Thus, although they did not originate in Swamp Thing, I think that their appearance in The Sandman follows directly from their roles in Swamp Thing.

(ii) John Constantine originated in Moore's Swamp Thing, then starred in The Sandman no 3, where he refers to the Swamp Thing as "...the big green bloke..." (Neil Gaiman, Preludes And Nocturnes, New York, p. 89).

(iii) In The Sandman no 4, Lucifer refers to the Swamp Thing/Crisis Crossover when:

"...the Dark, the shadow creature, came forth to challenge Heaven." (p. 116)

(Since the Dark, as Lucifer calls it, was in fact the Original Darkness That Was Before The Creation, I do not think that it is accurate to refer to it either as a "shadow" or as a "creature.")

(iv) The Bogeyman did not attend the Serial Killers' Convention in The Sandman because the Swamp Thing had killed him three years before. The Family Man did not attend because he was fighting Constantine in John Constantine: Hellblazer. The Corinthian, a nightmare who had escaped from the Dreaming during Morpheus' captivity and then inspired serial killers, did attend.

Aeneas And Morpheus

I hope to learn enough Latin to read Virgil's Aeneid in the original. At present, I have read part of the Penguin Classics translation by WF Jackson Knight (Harmondsworth, 1982). The Introduction says that Virgil knew Augustus and foresaw that he would establish peace and order, which we see in Neil Gaiman's Sandman story, "August." It is possible that the poets Virgil and Horace influenced Augustus to rule more mildly in later life - in "August," he says that he has forgotten how many men he has had killed.

The Introduction also tells us that Jupiter and Destiny cooperated to help the Trojans.The early text refers directly to one of Gaiman's Endless and indirectly to a second. Juno hoped:

"...that Destiny might consent to her desire." (p. 27)

the word "...desire...," when written with a capital initial, is the name of another of the Endless as Gaiman told us in issue no 1 of The Sandman. The magician who has imprisoned Morpheus says:

"He had to be one of the Endless...so which one? Not Death. We knew that. Destiny, then? Desire? Dream was the only one that fitted the bill." (Neil Gaiman, Preludes And Nocturnes, New York, 1995, p. 27)

Sandman readers are bound to be interested to see Destiny in the Aeneid. In fact, Destiny is the one of the Endless who was shown to be in the DC Universe before Gaiman started writing The Sandman. He appeared in The History Of The DC Universe just after The Crisis On Infinite Earths and that appearance must have reflected some earlier participation in the then recently collapsed multiverse. DC Comics history assumes that the Greek myths were literally true.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Aquamen

Pantheons include sea gods like Neptune and Lir. Superhero teams include aquatic superheroes like Aquaman or the Submariner. After the continuity-changing Crisis On Infinite Earths, Editor and Writer Roy Thomas retconned Neptune Perkins and Tsunami to replace the Golden Age Aquaman. Such marine superheroes are fascinating but would be even more so if we were told more about their physiology and psychology and about how they function at different depths.

Once, trying to touch the bottom of an artificial lake, I swam down to a level that was suddenly dark and cold with a pain in the ears so I re-ascended as fast as possible. Our heroes would be comfortable at that depth and would be able to descend further.

Poul Anderson describes this process in The Merman's Children (London, 1981), pp. 53-54. In mid-Atlantic:

the halflings wave to wind and sun, then submerge;
for their first breath of sea, they blow out, then widen lips and chest;
water enters and permeates their bodies, activating the merfolk metabolism;
subtle humours decompose water to extract oxygen;
salt is sieved from tissues;
interior furnaces counteract the cold although it is still felt (merfolk are few because they need more food at sea than men do on land);
as they descend, light decreases, then departs;
there is complete silence;
the underwater dialect of the mer-tongue comprises hums, clicks and smacks;
each halfling has an undersea "lanthorn"/lantern strapped to his left forearm (not quite Green Lanterns);
they regularly work chest and stomach muscles to equalise pressure inside and out but still feel the weight of the water;
their leader feels that he nears bottom before uncovering his lantern;
he smells rank flesh and hears or senses the movement of the kraken's gills;
with the lantern, he sees the kraken.

We need this kind of description and more in superhero comics.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Boys 72

Well, Garth gave us the happy ending we wanted for which I am grateful after everything else that had happened. The conclusions of the story seem to be that:

despite the distasteful cover, life and business continue as before;

Hughie has come through it in control - he is even able to speak facetiously of Butcher despite the nasty trick that that nutcase had played on him right at the end.

I am now buying the complete series in the collected volumes because it will be easier to keep and reread in that format.

Addendum, 26/11/12: I do not find Monkey's breaking of Raynor's confidentiality amusing.

27/11/12: Or is she called Rayner? I am abroad without access to the comics.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Kick-Ass

I am rereading the first Kick-Ass collection. It is good and the film was an authentic adaptation. However, I think that the comic cheats on its premise. Kick-Ass would have been killed or at least seriously injured again on his third outing if Hit-Girl had not intervened (and she is implausible as well).

The initial premise was that, if an ordinary guy put on a costume and confronted thugs, he would come to grief. But the premise changes to what if, at the same time, a father-daughter team were doing it properly, training and using effective weaponry? Then the answer is that the team can save the ordinary guy.

The main problem with patrolling the city in costume is simply that you are extremely unlikely to interrupt muggings or robberies in any case. Kick-Ass recognises this when he advertises his services on the internet. And the use of the internet to publicise superheroics is very plausible. So some of Kick-Ass makes sense.

Googling reveals that there are some real life superheroes but they mostly just do good in their communities. They certainly do not challenge organised crime. How would anyone even start to do that?

Give Me Liberty

Written by Frank Miller and drawn by Dave Gibbons, Give Me Liberty is like a cross between Dark Knight and Watchmen. High tech action-adventure in a bizarre near future political scenario where a hamburger company literally wages war to defend its destruction of the rain forest and parts of the US secede, waging civil war. It begins with the heading "1995" but the collected edition was published in 1990 so 1995 is in the future.

The story seems to be complete because the continuing villain is dead in the concluding panel but there is a sequel, Martha Washington Goes To War, which maybe I should get after completing the Boys collection. Not visually but conceptually, Martha, the central character of Give Me Liberty, is like Alan Moore's Halo Jones - a young woman who goes to war and gets to be good at it although the reader knows that the war itself is bad.

Halo spans the galaxy whereas Martha does not go beyond Earth orbit but the sf cliche of easy faster than light interstellar travel is not needed to make points about overcrowded cities, unemployment, political bankruptcy and the reasons for wars.

The action of Give Me Liberty becomes implausible and ends in 2012.

Herogasm

DC Comics had an annual Justice League of America - Justice Society of America crossover for twenty years. The context of the crossovers was the multiverse which was fused into a single universe by the 50th year anniversary Crisis On Infinite Earths. The Crisis should have initiated fifty years of new stories. Instead it started another twenty or so years of Company-wide crossovers. If something works, repeat it till it stops working.

Company-wide crossovers are parodied in the opening pages of Garth Ennis' Herogasm. The heroes of the Boys universe claim to be fighting aliens in space in a sequel to the Chaocrisis while really they are having an organised orgy on an island in the Pacific.

Herogasm is the best of the three Boys miniseries. We see the characters interacting and learn important background details. Herogasm is easy to obtain as it is Vol 5 in the Boys collected series.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Alice in Sunderland

I have read this work and maybe ought to get a copy: a verbal and visual feast. Every possible format is used. You never know what you will see next when you turn the page. One page gives the definite impression of history spread out across the page and would be appropriate for time travel fiction.

The author/artist interviewed a local Community Artist and reproduces the interview as a comic strip. A lot of information is imparted about Carroll and Alice. The work could be studied in detail instead of just read through once.

Having surveyed a lot of history, the author concludes that North East England is rich precisely because of its many historical waves of invasion and immigration and suddenly presents an unexpected but powerful and welcome statement of anti-racism.

Lastly, this work is not fiction so it should be described as a "graphic documentary," not a "graphic novel."

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Script Writing

If a comic book is a faithful adaptation of Alice so that the dialogue in the comic is taken directly from Carroll and if, further, some large panels are almost entirely visual in content with many pictorial details but no speech balloons and minimal or even no captions, then it is obvious that the artist has had a lot of work to do but what have the script writers, in this case, Leah Moore and John Reppion, done?

Almost everything. It is they, not the artist, who have been responsible for the transition or translation from prose narrative to sequential art story telling. They have had to read the text, visualise some of its scenes in far greater detail than the words can possibly convey, then describe their agreed visualisation to the artist in a long, detailed script. For the dialogue, they have had to select and edit since an entire text cannot be reproduced in speech balloons or captions. An enormous task, comparable to directing a film.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

From Comics To Books

Having read science fiction, Jet Ace Logan as well as Dan Dare, in children's comics, I saw adult paperback novels with spacemen and robots on the covers and did not know whether I would like them. Eventually, I bought The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester and The Caves Of Steel by Isaac Asimov in WH Smith's in Penrith, Cumberland (now Cumbria) in 1962. I wanted to get two books by different authors so I did not buy Earth Is Room Enough by Asimov.

In Chapter 2 of the Asimov novel that I did get, the viewpoint character meets Robot Daneel Olivaw for the first time. No one could have suspected that decades later in readers' time and millennia later in fictitious time, Olivaw would still be around after the Rise and Fall of the Galactic Empire. I also did not suspect that another American sf author, Poul Anderson, was meanwhile writing an even longer and much better account of the rise and fall of an interstellar empire.

We also never suspected that, as well as reading prose sf, some of us would still be reading comics fifty years later. Authors who, like us, grew up with the characters have written substantial sequels to the adventures of several of the characters who already existed then.

The Courtyard And Fashion Beast

It is my policy to buy and read any comic written by Alan Moore. I bought The Courtyard and am buying Fashion Beast although these are not comics written by Alan Moore. They are comics written by Antony Johnston, the first based on a prose short story by Alan Moore, the second based on a film script by Alan Moore. The Courtyard was successful. I am not yet sure about Fashion Beast.

Moore wrote a four part sequel to The Courtyard, The Neonomicon. This series reached a very high degree of horror in issue no 3. There were two surprises in no 4, the change of tone and the (to me) unexpected end of the series. The monster that had been subtly introduced in no 3, seen by the characters but not by us, then seen by the heroine but with her glasses off in the last panel, was no longer a mystery and kind of a Sea Thing. One fan told me that the way the story would end was clear from the first page.

We look forward to more Extraordinary Gentlemen but will there also be more Neonomicon?

Dan Dare

2000 AD, a revived Eagle, Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis have all revived Dan Dare in different forms but have any of them done it right? (Maybe Grant wasn't trying to do Dare, just to make a point about power politics?)

I get the feeling that there is nothing left to do with the character. A plan of the original creators was to get him into films. He would have been there before Star Trek and Star Wars. (Another sf series that was meant to be filmed but wasn't was James Blish's Cities In Flight.)

The first Dan Dare story started with the premise that the Moon and Mars had already been visited in the twentieth century. The first story was about the first trip to Venus and the first conflict with the Mekon. (A story in the revived Eagle had the Mekon saying, "Even my escape craft has an escape craft!" Neat.)

There followed some stories set in the inner and outer Solar Systems, then a long trilogy:

(i) an extrasolar alien, a "Krypt," arrives on Earth;
(ii) Dan, Digby and others make the first human interstellar crossing to help the peaceful Krypts against the war-like Phants;
(iii) they return to find that the Mekon has conquered Earth in their absence.

Usually in Eagle, one story ended and another began without any indication of how much time had elapsed between or, more generally, how they were related chronologically but this "trilogy" was a single long sequence. I started looking at the pictures, not yet reading, somewhere in (ii).

Dan encountered a Scottish clan McWho, thus a pre-Doctor Who use of the word "Who" as a surname. After the second conflict with the Mekon, there were some more interstellar journeys. Dan went to Terra Nova to try to find his father but was interrupted by a long paper strike. I would like to know more about what happened in subsequent adventures of this original Dare.

There was an eight page Dare story in each Eagle Annual and sometimes also a separate Dan Dare Annual. A story about an attempted terrorist attack on the Olympics when they were held on Venus was particularly exciting as some of the athletes had to run across the field to the bewilderment of the audience to prevent an explosion. One story in an Annual backtracked to the first meeting between Dan and Digby.

Comics And Comic Books

In those days, British comics differed from American comic books in every respect:

weekly, not monthly;
fewer, larger, unstapled pages;
a comic strip, not a single picture, on the front;
black and white alternating with coloured pages inside;
several one-page serials about continuing characters instead of two or three complete stories about a single character (thus, we read one episode of Dan Dare in each issue of Eagle but three stories about Superman in each issue of Superman);
no shared universe or cross overs;
heroes but no superheroes;
less well known characters, except maybe Dare;
an Annual was a hard back book, not a thicker comic.

Having said that, one exception was Marvelman, a low quality black and white superhero book imitating the Captain Marvel reprints which it had replaced. An early issue of John Constantine:Hellblazer showed Constantine reminiscing about childhood seaside holidays. Appropriately, a montage of memories showed some other British comic and a Marvelman cover. This was doubly appropriate because Alan Moore had created Constantine and re-created Marvelman.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Eagle II

The Eagle was launched in April 1950, just one year and three months after my birth so it had been established for a few years before I became aware of it. Effectively, it had always been there like Superman who was launched ten years and six months before my birth.

One of the Scottish comic creators (I forget which) said that he and his contemporaries had, at the time, grown out of comics because, "We were starting to have girl friends and Dan Dare wasn't getting organised with Professor Peabody."

I wasn't getting organised yet either but it was noticeable that nothing was done with the Prof. She became neither our hero's fiancee nor a character in her own right and simply stopped appearing.

Digby wanted "a bob's worth of fish and chips" so they had a World Government and an Interplanetary Space Fleet but had had neither decimalisation nor inflation of the pound. But they did live in the early twenty first century, like us. Earlier flights to the Moon, misnamed "Lunar," and Mars had occurred in the late twentieth century. The idea of a spaceman having a batman is nonsense from the word go.

A scene of commuters in a bus included a bald green "treen" from Venus wearing a suit and reading a newspaper - an interplanetary immigrant. It is to be hoped that he was not suspected of Mekon loyalty.

The Eagle

I started getting the Eagle in the early 1950's before I could read. I remember being asked what comic I wanted and saying "the Eagle" without knowing how I knew there was such a comic. I must have heard the name but knew nothing about it. I answered the question because I had been asked it.

I liked "cowboys" (Westerns) but realised very early that I preferred men in spacesuits (science fiction). Why? When Dan and Digby returned to the Solar System after ten years to find that their old enemy the Mekon had conquered Earth in their absence, that was my first encounter with the Mekon.

I read the Eagle until the first or second year of secondary school. It had three companion comics, as well as imitators. The companion comics were:

the Robin, for pre-school children;
the Swift, for primary school pupils;
Girl, for secondary school girls.

I borrowed someone else's copies of the Swift. For a while, it featured a couple of space cadet type characters and we thought they might cross over with Dare but they didn't.

The Western, "Riders of the Range," was better than cowboy strips in other comics. It featured historical events and characters. When Pat Garrett killed William Bonney (Billy the Kid), his deputies were Jeff Arnold and Luke, the continuing fictitious characters of the series. When Custer was killed at Little Big Horn, Jeff and Luke were two of his scouts who were elsewhere that day. Sitting Bull was shown joining Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show so Buffalo Bill, meanwhile the title character of a series in a rival British comic, appeared in a single panel of "Riders of the Range." There was also a story line about the outlaw Sam Bass.

Meanwhile, a rival comic featured "Billy the Kid" not as the historical outlaw but as a masked hero whose secret identity was William Bonney, thus modeled on the American comic book tradition of superheroes, masked avengers and costumed adventurers.

At secondary school, another pupil warned me, "The Eagle is a good comic but don't believe anything you read in it. I've heard the Editor is a Communist." In fact, he was a Church of England vicar and the earliest concept for Dan Dare had been as an RAF chaplain. The Eagle was so named because in an Anglican church, the Bible rests on a lectern in the shape of an eagle, the symbol of St John, as if in flight with the book on its wings.

Another regular character was "Luck of the Legion," a British man in the French Foreign Legion. I was concerned when a Marist Brother at my second primary school said dismissively that the strip was "lies." I was being indoctrinated that telling lies was seriously sinful and began to doubt the difference between lies and fiction.

The rules of my secondary school included "Comics and other childish papers are discouraged in boys over twelve." What did they know?

At home and at school, I was guilt tripped about reading:

comics instead of books;
about other religions instead of just about Catholicism;
science fiction instead of something else;
instead of doing something else.

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Boys III


Needless to say, Garth Ennis' The Boys is not ending as I would have guessed. There is still one issue to go but the big showdown between Butcher and Hughie is complete. Cleverly, Garth had them both physically incapacitated so that all that they were able to do for an entire issue was talk to each other. (Other comics showdowns end up as one big fight, of course.)

Butcher, supremely manipulative, got Hughie to do what he wanted by claiming to have committed just about the worst crime possible. And we did not know that he would not have done it.

We also see supreme manipulation going on with the other guys, the company that had been running the superheroes. Garth knows exactly how bad people can be to each other. 

The advertised cover of the concluding issue shows a final end for superheroes. Will that issue also have a happy ending for Hughie and Annie or will Garth give us something else? I really don't know. 

Friday, 28 September 2012

Who Plays Whom?

The Ultimates Vol I (New York, 2005) by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch includes this excellent dialogue -

Pym: Who do you think they should get to play you, Nick?
Fury: Why, Mister Samuel L. Jackson, of course. That's not even open to debate, Doctor Pym.

The version of Nick Fury in The Ultimates is drawn to look exactly like Samuel L. Jackson and Jackson has since played Fury in the Marvel superhero films.

So my question is who should play the Neil Gaiman/Mike Carey character, Lucifer Morningstar? And, looking at the attached comic book cover image, I think the answer is obvious.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Angelic Ecumenicism

We are the heirs of all the traditions. I told a colleague that I would like to meditate in the Hindu Temple but that involves sitting on the floor whereas a Catholic Church provides benches. He looked at me askance. Clearly to him a Hindu Temple was still something strange whereas, in fact, we can now be as familiar with Krishna and the Gita as with Christ and the Gospel.

European mythology provides powerful material for fantasy fiction as the works of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey demonstrate. However, other traditions are equally there to be used.

Michael: Was it not the Buddha who heard a sermon in the thunder?
Lucifer: Actually it's in the Upanishads but I applaud your ecumenical impulse. (1)

Lucifer gets it right but remains unimpressed!

Even more bizarrely, when Lucifer meets his father in the void between universes, God recounts the story of the boastful Monkey King proving himself to the Buddha by leaping to the worlds' end where five columns of white stone hold up the sky - only to be shown on his return that the columns are the Buddha's fingers. Many people know this story but would not expect God to recount it to Lucifer although it has now become appropriate that he should do so. Our imagination need no longer be confined to any one tradition.

Thor shelters overnight in one of five chambers at the back of a large open hall, only to learn the following morning that the hall and its chambers were a glove dropped by a giant. The Monkey King writes on one of five columns holding up the sky, only to learn that the columns are the Buddha's fingers. So - a big hand for Thor and the Monkey King.

(1) Carey, Mike, Lucifer: A Dalliance With The Damned (New York, 2002), p. 149.

Your New God II

Appropriately, both James Blish's Satan Mekratrig and Mike Carey's Lucifer Morningstar refer to damnation when they express their attitudes to Godhood.

Satan:

"I, SATAN MEKRATRIG, can no longer bear
"This deepest, last and bitterest of all
"My fell damnations: That at last I know
"I never wanted to be God at all
"And so, by winning all, All have I lost." (1)

Lucifer:

"Someone has to be the Founder. The preserver. The arbiter. And I was damned if it was going to be me." (2)

However, Satan speaks literally whereas Lucifer speaks colloquially, thus ironically. Lucifer had known for a long time that he did not want the top job and had planned accordingly, preparing another candidate. By contrast, Satan was taken by surprise, winning supreme power only to realise at that late stage that he did not really want it.

This Satan is the conventional figure described by Dante, remaining off-stage until the end, whereas Lucifer, looking like a regular guy except when he manifests his wings, had resigned as Lord of Hell and has had time to develop an independent existence first in The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, then in Lucifer by Carey. He is not malicious but he is selfish, casually destroying billions of beings in a hitherto unknown realm of the hereafter in order to rescue one to whom he felt an obligation.

(1) Blish, James, The Day After Judgment (New York, 1971), p. 162.
(2) Carey, Mike, Lucifer: Morningstar (New York, 2006), p. 188.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Your New God

The Day After Judgement by James Blish and Lucifer: Morningstar by Mike Carey have parallel passages.

In Blish's work, Satan, having won Armageddon, summons to the Citadel of Dis those magicians whose conjuration had initiated the conflict. He hears their advice before informing them in Miltonic verse that he is now God but does not want to be, so Man must evolve towards that role. Four men stand before the huge form of the Dantean Satan, "...five hundred yards from crown to hoof...," with only his upper body reaching above the floor of the great hall of Pandemonium. (1)

In Carey's work, the situation is more complex but there is a similar scene. God is not dead but has withdrawn, leaving others to address the problems caused by his absence. Elaine Belloc, a British schoolgirl but the Archangel Michael's daughter, thus God's granddaughter, has absorbed Michael's demiurgic energy and created a new universe. Controlling such power also enables her to prevent the otherwise inevitable dissolution of the original, now God-abandoned, universe.

At last, Elaine and Lucifer stand before the remnants of the Hellkin, the Heaven-host and the Army of the Damned in a massive amphitheatre of the fallen Silver City where Lucifer announces, "You're looking at your new God," adding to her, "...I was damned if it was going to be me. For what it's worth, I think you'll be an improvement on the old regime." (2)

Like Blish's Satan, Carey's Lucifer doesn't want Godhood but, in this case, an alternative candidate is already in place.

(1) Blish, James, The Day After Judgment, New York, 1971, p. 154.
(2) Carey, Mike, Lucifer: Morningstar, New York, 2006, p. 188.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Graphic Poul Anderson II

There are two further stages in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilisation where it would make sense for a graphic adaptation to involve simultaneous serialisation of different sections of the History.

Maybe the first part of "The Adventures of Dominic Flandry," corresponding to the three "Young Flandry" novels, could be published in parallel with "League and Empire," the latter showing the Avalon colony and the early Empire. In this way, the reader of both series would simultaneously see both Flandry defending the Terran Empire and the events that had led to the founding and earlier history of that same Empire.

Even more appropriately, after "young Flandry" has defeated the McCormac Rebellion, "The Adventures..." would continue to depict his career while a parallel series entitled simply "The Terran Empire" would adapt the plots of the short story and the novel that are contemporaneous with Flandry but that do not feature him as a character.

In this way, the reader has the sense of learning about approximately simultaneous events in different parts of a single fictitional universe. Such a universe could be indefinitely enlarged by employing additional script writers, pencillers, inkers, colourists, letterers and editors but that is not the present proposal. The idea would be merely to adapt Poul Anderson's existing works into this visual medium that differs alike from prose and film.

Both Isaac Asimov's Robots/Galactic Empire future history and the Man-Kzin Wars period of Larry Niven's Known Space future history have been expanded by the incorporation of newly written works by other authors, including in both cases Anderson, but I would expect merely a dilution of Anderson's Technic History if it were to be enlarged in this way. Certainly, I would continue to regard Anderson's works as complete in themselves and would not accept that any newly written sequels or continuations were legitimately parts of the same series.

In fact, I do not accept the validity even of Robert Heinlein's own later additions to his Future History.

The Graphic Poul Anderson?

I am imagining graphic adaptations of Poul Anderson's works. A prose novel can be adapted as a graphic novel but how about this in a monthly or bimonthly comic book format?

The Poul Anderson Fantasy Line would simultaneously serialise:

The Adventures of Holger Danske (Three Hearts And Three Lions);
The Adventures of a Witch and a Werewolf (the "Operation..." series);
The Adventures of Prince Rupert of the Rhine (A Midsummer Tempest);
"Other Universes", which would show:

an alternative timeline ("The House of Sorrows");
travel between timelines ("Eutopia");
the inn between timelines (the two Old Phoenix stories);
Danske, Valeria Matuchek and Rupert meeting in the Old Phoenix (A Midsummer Tempest, xi and xii);
Valeria addressing a larger gathering in the Old Phoenix (A Midsummer Tempest, Epilogue).

One installment of "Prince Rupert" would end with Rupert and Will about to enter the Old Phoenix. The following installment would begin after they have left it. The reader would be referred to the appropriate installment of "Other Universes".

The Poul Anderson Science Fiction Line would simultaneously serialise:

Before the League (pre-Polestochnic League stories);
The Polesotechnic League (stories contemporaneous with van Rijn, including the first two Falkayn stories and the first two Trader Team stories - van Rijn cameos in the first Trader Team story);
The Adventures of Nicholas van Rijn.

The third, fourth and fifth Trader Team stories, two of which are novels, also feature van Rijn so they would be crossovers. The short story, "Lodestar", easily divides into a Trader Team section which would be adapted in "The Polesotechnic League" and a van Rijn section, with him meeting the Team at the end, which would be adapted in "The Adventures..."

Graphic adaptations add visuals, thus are like a continuation of the book covers: van Rijn should look as he does on the cover of Baen Books The Van Rijn Method. Simultaneous serialisations offer the extra dimension of reading connected works concurrently instead of consecutively.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Narratives And Their Conclusions

The nature of a narrative is shown by the kind of climax or conclusion to which it leads. I concurrently reread Poul Anderson's Matuchek/Old Phoenix sequence and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Worlds' End (New York, 1994) because both series have an inter-cosmic inn.

These four Anderson novels each have a foregone conclusion: the triumph of good over evil. Three Hearts And Three Lions does not describe its climactic battle, just the hero setting off to it. Operation Luna ends with a battle against demons. In each individual skirmish, a good guy dispatches a demon until the demonic survivors flee. Hardly surprising. In Black Easter, James Blish simply reverses this conclusion: the demons win Armageddon.

Worlds' End tells different kinds of stories with a different kind of ending. The "handsome cabin boy" ends her story by saying that she will continue to masquerade as a boy as long as she can:

" '...for now - - you can call me Jim.' " (p. 90)

Brant Tucker narrates from the first word and we assume that he directly addresses the reader. To our surprise, on the last two pages, 161-162, he is seen to be addressing a bar maid in an otherwise empty bar. The conclusion is them saying, "Good night," and him walking away down a dark city street. We are left to reflect on their lives.

Worlds' End II

I like Bryan Talbot's art in The Nazz, Alice In Sunderland and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, particularly the framing sequences for Worlds' End (New York, 1994). It is good that so many pages are set inside the Inn of the Worlds' End and also that a few of the pages are split, showing at a glance both the distinctive artistic style of the story being told and Talbot's depiction of the venue for the story telling.

Worlds' End is my favourite among the Sandman volumes. Everything is of a particularly high quality:

the cover;
the style, layout and presentation of the introductory pages;
Gaiman's writing;
the art of the individual stories;
Talbot's art in the framing sequences.

Worlds' End would be a perfect spin off. Gaiman and others would be able to provide endless stories to be told in the Inn. Such stories would not all have to be recounted during the "reality storm", when the Inn becomes particularly crowded - although the knowledge that the storm occurs outside, either because realities are colliding or because " '...an event of great moment and consequence...reverberates across time and space and myth...' ", gives the six part sub-series an immediate significance within the greater framework of the Sandman series (p. 141).

Lost Girls And Before Watchmen

It is my policy as a comics reader to support anything written by Alan Moore by buying and reading it. I cannot guarantee to like all of it because Moore's output is extremely diverse. Lost Girls written by Moore and drawn by Melinda Gebbie is an expensive, high quality, hardback graphic trilogy. It is also pornography which I read without a lot of pleasure. Can "erotica" have the same level of plot and characterisation as other fiction and, if so, does Moore succeed here? I have my boxed set of the trilogy and might reread it.

Before Watchmen is a very high quality production in terms of writing and art. The covers accurately depict the Watchmen characters. I do not necessarily agree with Moore that prequels or sequels to his graphic novel would be dilutions. However, I do believe that, in this case, any worthwhile prequels or sequels would have to be written by the characters' creator. Since he does not want to do this, the matter should rest there. I will not buy any Before Watchmen comics.

Worlds' End

In his Introduction to Neil Gaiman's Worlds' End, Stephen King points out that:

Nei Gaiman tells us a six part story;
in one of these six parts, Petrefax tells a story;
in Petrefax's story, a member of an air burial party tells a story;
in that story, Mistress Veltis tells her story.

King does not mention that:

Brant Tucker tells the six part story to a bar maid;
Mistress Veltis also tells:

" '...a story about a coach-full of prentices and a master, swept away from Litharge by dark magics, who took their refuge in a tavern, where the price of haven was a tale...' " (Gaiman, Neil, The Sandman: Worlds' End, New York, 1994, p. 134.)

- which is where Petrefax and his master are when Petrefax tells his tale.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Between Worlds

When a character moves between worlds, how does the author describe the transition? Sometimes, the character imagines another world, then enters it - and later wonders whether it was real - but usually the other world is unequivocally real. I will mention only a few examples from the works of three fantasy writers, CS Lewis, Poul Anderson and Neil Gaiman.

Lewis' most famous entrance to another world is a wardrobe but there is a better example in a later book. The characters look at a painting of the ship the Dawn Treader until it seems that the waves are moving, then they fall into the sea and are rescued by the ship's crew. Lewis never explains how a painting of a contemporary Narnian ship came to hang in an English house.

The hero of Poul Anderson's Three Hearts And Three Lions, fighting Nazis on a Danish beach, finds himself in the Carolingian mythological universe. Later, mission accomplished in that universe, he returns to the Danish beach with no loss of time, like a returned ruler of Narnia.

In Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975), Puck tells Prince Rupert of the Rhine's companion, Will Fairweather:

"'...to speak of inns and such - My friend, if sorely pressed for shelter, think of this. There is a tavern known as the old Phoenix, which none may see nor enter who're not touched by magic in some way. It flits about, but maybe you can use his ring to find it, or even draw a door towards yourselves...'" (pp. 55-56) (Oberon and Titania have given Rupert a magic ring.)

Sure enough, the ring lights the way to the inn which appears before Rupert and Will although it remains invisible to their Puritan pursuers. A regular of the Old Phoenix tells us:

"Look for it anywhere, anytime, by day, by dusk, by night, up an ancient alley or in a forest where hunters whose eyes no spoor can escape nonetheless pass it by unseeing...you must be alert for its fleeting presence..." (Anderson, "House Rule" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), p. 9).

This regular finds it many times, once unbelievably on ship at sea, another time more reasonably on a country road after dark where he knows that:

"The inn might waver from sight at any instant." (Anderson, "Losers' Night" IN Anderson, All One Universe (New York, 1996), p. 107)

It sounds like Neil Gaiman's Inn of the Worlds' End:

"Up the lane aways is the Inn. You just have to be SURE it's there, though. If you AREN'T sure, then fizzlywinks, it's only goin to be fireflies and treeses" (Gaiman, Neil, The Sandman: Worlds' End (New York, 1994), p. 22.

One Worlds' End guest enters it in stages. Brant Tucker is driving to Chicago at night on the interstate. So far then he is travelling though not as yet between worlds. (However, his Earth is that of the DC Universe where anything not only can happen but routinely does happen.) Then:

he was very tired, so did he dream everything that followed?;
he didn't think it was weird when it started to snow in June;
a large, strange animal ran in front of the car (we see this because we are reading graphic fiction);
the car went off the road, across a field, down a hill and into an oak tree;
"Everything was dreamlike; everything felt unreal..." (p. 21);
Brant, carrying his unconscious co-driver, Charlene Mooney, could not find the road;
he wondered when the hallucinations began (p. 22);
he was directed to the Inn by an apparently disembodied voice (see above - the reader realises that the speaker is a hedgehog; regular readers recognize the speaking hedgehog from Gaiman's The Books of Magic);
Brant finds a country road;
at the end of the road, is a light;
first it is fireflies in a hedge, then it is the Inn.

I think that the transition between realities began with the apparent snow storm which, we learn, was a reality storm, stranding travellers from many realms in the Inn. A sailor's account is different:

"Y'see, there was a storm, come up out of nowhere at midnight - - we were swept onto the rocks where there shouldn't've been rocks neither, nohow." (p. 67)

Brant and the sailor then disagree about whether the date is June, 1993, or September, 1914.

And a Necropolitan says:

" 'A dark thunderstorm arose suddenly, and the brougham in which my companions and I were travelling was washed into a river.' " (p. 42)

Making an ordinary journey seems to be the beginning of the process. 

The landlady explains:

"This place is the Inn at the end of all worlds. None of you were BROUGHT here. Each of you was travelling, and was caught in an unseasonable storm of some kind. You made your way here by luck, and took refuge and advantage of the hospitality offered. And you WILL leave here, when the storm is over." (p. 139)

However, Charlene is allowed to stay to work in the Inn and we see her there in a later series, The Furies by Mike Carey. The characters offer different theories about what causes a reality storm. A common feature of the Old Phoenix and the Worlds' End is the telling of stories and some of these stories offer other routes between worlds:

"...the silver road...glittered and glimmered away beyond a street market." (Gaiman, p. 29)

The man who sees the silver road works in an office in a modern city where gravestones can have "...letters from forgotten alphabets..." (p. 28). That odd touch, if taken literally, means that the modern city is certainly not on any Earth like ours. The narrator of this story asks:

"Is there any person in the world who does not dream? Who does not contain within them worlds unimagined?" (p. 28)

And that is where the other worlds are.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Poul Anderson On Comics

Poul Anderson wrote many works of fiction in prose but not in the visual media of cinema or comic books. I have found three references to comics in his novels.

(i) In There Will Be Time, time traveller Jack Havig comments that, despite Superman's telephone kiosk, the most convenient place in a modern city for a time traveller to disappear is a public toilet cubicle.

Greek dramatists sometimes commented on and corrected errors or implausibilities in the works of their predecessors. In this vein, in the first Superman film, Clark Kent, responding to an emergency, approaches a public telephone that is not even enclosed in a kiosk, realises that it would afford him no privacy for a costume change and instead uses a revolving door at super speed.

Thus, the film, like Anderson, commented on a familiar scene from earlier Superman comics.

(ii) In Operation Luna (New York, 2000), Steve Matuchek remarks:

"It's only comic-book heroes and their ilk who bounce directly from one brush with death to the next, wisecracking along the way. Real humans react to such things." (pp. 158-159)

Yes, real humans in real life and in realistically written novels or comics. There is nothing in the latter medium that obliges that it be written unrealistically.

(iii) Matuchek also speaks against vigilantism even if conducted in "...comic-book costumes" (p. 140). Right. Again, comics comment on earlier comics. Frank Miller's Batman is a vigilante wanted for assault, breaking and entering, child endangerment and, when the Joker's dead body has been found, murder. In Alan Moore's Watchmen, the public demonstrates and the police strike ("Badges, not Masks") until anonymous vigilantism is banned. In Garth Ennis' The Boys, superheroes are untrained and get a lot of people killed on 9/11. So the critique of comic book implausibilities is conducted in comics.

I would like to see high quality film and graphic adaptations of Anderson's works.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Imagining Alternative Histories


(I copied this post from Poul Anderson Appreciation because it also refers to comics.)

Characters in Poul Anderson's Operation Luna speculate -

If Einstein and Planck had not cooperated in 1901, then they might have developed distinct, mutually incompatible, theories of relativity and quantum mechanics instead of the single theory of rheatics.

Next, if Moseley had not released goetic forces by applying rheatic equations and thus degaussing cold iron, then:

fossil fuels and electricity would have been major energy sources;
transport would have been by horseless carriages or dirigibles;
astronomers would have analysed spectra, not spectres;
paranature would have remained Asleep, concealed;
witches and warlocks would have been cranks, not respected professionals;
werebeast DNA would not be understood;
those who had maintained magical traditions (Africans, Australians, Native Americans) would not have had their head start in practical goetics.

Imagining inhabitants of other timelines speculating about our timeline is a way of commenting on our timeline. I have found some comparable examples of this in graphic fiction -

A DC Comics supervillain, traveling between alternative Earths, claims to have found one where no one has gained any super powers. A colleague comments that that sounds unlikely.

Superman flying between parallel Earths passes briefly through the sky of Earth Prime, where superheroes are fictions. A man looking up shouts, "Look, up in the sky, it's...it's nothing!"

Alan Moore's Watchmen universe had real superheroes so their comics were about pirates, then horror, and a comics shop was called "Treasure Island," not "Forbidden Planet."

A Watchmen universe newspaper headline asks "RR for President?" A character asks, "Who wants a cowboy actor in the White House?" We realize that they mean Robert Redford.

One of the "Watchmen" comments that the US would have gone mad as a nation if it had lost in Vietnam.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Ultimates

The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch are what I call a "perfect comic." By this, I mean something highly specific:

Millar's script is very good;
Hitch's art is very good;
the script and art are a perfect match.

I have reread the four volumes - confusingly, The Ultimates, Volumes 1 and 2, and The Ultimates 2, Volumes 1 and 2 - several times. While following the story, we appreciate the full colour detailed art. We are in no hurry to turn the page to see what happens next. In The Ultimates, Volume 1, Chapter Two, the opening conversation between Nick Fury and Bruce Banner takes six pages but none of that space is wasted.

A lot of pages are devoted to quiet conversations and characterisation but, when the fight scenes come, they are spectacular. The Ultimates take twenty three pages, the whole of Chapter Five, to fight the Hulk. But then things quieten down as the consequences are discussed. The Chapter on "The Defenders" addresses the same question as Millar's Kick Ass: what happens if someone without powers, training or equipment dons a costume and goes on the street? It is clear that, for this group, the costumes are the only point of the exercise:

"I'm kind of a female Thor. That's why I've got all the Norse symbolism and stuff going on in the costume." (1)

"Uh, sure. Obviously saving lives is a huge motivating factor in why I wear the costume but..." (1)

It makes sense that the only way that superheroes with superpowers could be funded would be as part of national defence. The government denies it will use persons of mass destruction abroad, then does. The powerful being who claims to be Thor is a former mental patient - and also is literally Thor, although an updated version who is here to oppose war, not to wage it.

The Ultimates version of Captain Britain is, like the American heroes, a government experiment and is one of several such European "Captains." The Ultimates introduces the black Nick Fury, played by Samuel L Jackson, in my opinion preferable to the original.

The four volumes are an extended origin story with the Ultimates realizing at the end that they must go independent. Their invasion of another country had caused more super-terrorism than it had prevented. Since they will be funded by Stark Industries, we could argue that they will still be part of the same military-industrial complex. Nevertheless, serious issues about government actions have been addressed in a spectacular superhero comic.

(1) Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, The Ultimates 2, Volume 1, New York, 2005, "The Defenders."

"Death Is Like This Cute Gothette"

Death is the best of the Endless. In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, the Endless are anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of consciousness:

the elder three (Destiny, Death, Dream);
the twins (Desire and Despair);
Delirium that was Delight;
the prodigal, Destruction.

My second favorite is Destiny. Death and Destiny are like the Silk Spectre II and the Dr Manhattan of the Endless. (Reference: Alan Moore's Watchmen.)

Because John Milton believed that sin caused death, he personified Death as a shapeless monster begotten on personified Sin by her single parent, Satan. Because Neil Gaiman believes that death defines life, he personifies Death as a beautiful young woman created by the universe. Like John Keats, we are "...half in love with easeful Death..." but with better reason. We have seen her. Anthropomorphic personifications make more sense in Gaiman's eclectic cosmology than in Milton's Biblical cosmology.

Despite being Death, she is cheerful, once or twice addressed as "Little Miss Sunshine." She lightens the mood of gloomy Dream. Because Dream is male and dark, "His Darkness, Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming," a darker Death, also male, would have been a bad idea.

One of the people collected by Death is a comedienne who makes a joke about the Batman. Because the DC Universe is a very big place, it is easy to forget that for them the Batman is not a fictitious character but a real person, although not quite a public figure because his identity is unknown. Like everyone else, Bruce Wayne attends Morpheus' Wake in the Dreaming.

This comic book dialogue is literature -

Death: Mostly, they aren't too keen to see me. They fear the sunless lands. But they enter your realm each night without fear.
Dream: And I am far more terrible than you, my sister.

(Neil Gaiman, Preludes And Nocturnes, New York, 1995, p. 227)

Gaiman's Sandman

I used to visit a nearby household regularly. I lent them all my Sandman collected volumes. Those copies stayed there and I bought new copies to have at home. I could thus read The Sandman either when visiting or at home. I said on facebook that, because I had reread the volumes so often, I owed Neil Gaiman another set of royalties. That was ticked "like" by Neil Gaiman.

The single story that I have reread most often is "August" in Fables And Relections but my favourite entire volume is Worlds' End. (Bryan Talbot art in both.) When I told a fellow sf fan that characters are stranded in the Inn of the Worlds' End by a reality storm, he commented, "That sounds like something out of Star Trek," and I then told him that one of the characters says, "That sounds like something out of Star Trek."

Thus, his response to the text was already incorporated into the text because our reality was one of those represented in the Inn.

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.)