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.