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.