Friday, September 28, 2007

Maggin for Congress

This is not an imaginary story: Elliot S! Maggin is running for Congress in the 2008 election in the 24th district of California. Of particular interest to us here at Holy Heroes will be his working out of his religious convictions with the comics experience. This quote says it all I think:

“Truth, justice and the American way” is my personal torah and I'll say so everywhere I go.

Whatever your political beliefs you've got to admit that's just too weird/cool. I wish I lived in California.

Find out more about Elliot S! Maggin's bid for the U.S. Congress

Iron Man Lives Again

It is foolish to judge a movie too extensively by the trailer. I absolutely loved the first trailer for Superman Returns:

And the movie was, frankly, disappointing. Or consider the shock undoubtedly felt by anyone who went into the recent Bridge to Terabithia film (a film I highly recommend, incidentally) with only the trailer to prepare them:

Despite all of this, I want to talk about Iron Man. The teaser trailer to the upcoming Iron Man film is currently available on youtube. It is fairly likely to be taken down soon, but in the mean time, check it out:

In original publication, Iron Man (Tony Stark) was a billionaire industrialist and weapons manufacturer during the Vietnam War who was kidnapped by the North Vietnamese. He was forced to build weapons for them, but secretly and simultaneously built an armoured suit for himself. Calling himself "Iron Man", Stark fought for capitalism against communism in Vietnam. As Marvel began to realize that public support for Vietnam was waning, Iron Man fought less and less for American interests in Vietnam and more and more for his corporate interests against industrial espionage. Most recently, Iron Man has gained prominance in the Marvel Universe event Civil War as Captain America's enemy, leader of the pro-registration superheroes. In the course of Civil War, Captain America was killed. More on that part in a minute.

In this updated version, it looks very much like Iraq has been substituted for Vietnam. I can't help but wonder if this is, on Marvel's part, a subversive move--comparing Iraq to Vietnam and implicitly condemning both, or is it a remarkably shortsighted repeat of the exact error made with Iron Man's first origin story. Is Marvel once again behind the trend of popular opinion, making a hero support a war the American public is rapidly becoming disillusioned with?

On the topic of "Civil War", originally Marvel apparently attempted to impartially portray both sides, to encourage readers to choose a side without either side being "good". As time went on, however, it became increasingly difficult to side against Captain America and the superheroes fighting for civil liberties. Civil War became a commentary on the state of American politics, and the creators of the Marvel Universe seemed to support freedom over safety when forced to choose.

Iron Man was on the wrong side of that fight. As Civil War went on, he and his side of the conflict became increasingly Fascist and increasingly difficult to support. When they killed Captain America (and symbolically the spirit of the nation), it became almost impossible to stay on Iron Man's side.

It is into this context that a new movie is being released: a movie in which Stark proudly manufactures weapons, in which he calls for those weapons to be used "ONCE!", implying that their destructive power is such that they invoke fear in all enemies (remind anyone of any historical weapon?). In the trailer the sadistic glee with which he sprays fire at his enemies (Iraqis? at least arabs) while Black Sabbath (Iron Man, of course) plays in the background makes me wonder, once again, whether this is a subversive and ironic critique of fascism, or a wholehearted approval. We'll see when the movie comes out.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Courageous Princess Reviewed

Princesses and talking animals and dragons, oh my!

Over at The Sci Fi Catholic, I have posted a review of The Courageous Princess, an Amerimanga by Rod Espinosa, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite author/illustrators.

After the picture-book introduction, the narration ceases and the story moves to a more conventional comic book format in which we meet Mabelrose as an adolescent. She's excited because she's been invited to her first ball in another, more powerful kingdom. But when Mabelrose arrives at the ball, none of the princes will dance with her and all the other princesses make fun of her shabby clothes and her freckles. [more...]

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Batman and a Protestant Work Ethic

Batman's origin story is a different kind of origin from Superman's, just as Batman is fundamentally a different sort of hero from Superman.

Superman is the sole survivor of Krypton. When his planet was destroyed, he was sent to earth and raised by Martha and Jonathan Kent. He possesses amazing powers, and uses them to defend Truth, Justice and the American Way. But aspects of his story could be (and have been) changed, and he would still be a hero.

In Mark Miller's Superman Red Son, Kal-El lands in Russia instead of in America, and is as idealistic about communism as the traditional Superman is idealistic about democracy. He makes terrible mistakes along the way, but he remains a hero, doing everything he can to work for the good of all human beings.

Elliot S! Maggin, in The Greatest Green Lantern of All, suggests that had the planet not been destroyed, Kal-El would have been the Green Lantern for Krypton.

In other words, Superman is a hero, in some essential way. He is not the merely product of his circumstances. There is something heroic about his very nature--something ethereal that makes him heroic.

Batman, by contrast, has always been very straightforwardly the product of his circumstances. His parents are murdered in front of him, and he responds by vowing to battle criminals. This is the cornerstone of Batman. As Frank Miller (who for all his faults is probably the writer who best understands Batman) says "no murder, no Bat-Man".

This difference of dependance on circumstance explains why, though both characters have tragic pasts and both have been portrayed as tortured heroes, the tragic history of Batman has always been more palatable and memorable than the tragic history of Superman. Superman, the lone survivor of his race, utterly alone in the universe, somehow doesn't seem to be as tragic or as tortured as Batman, the multi-millionaire philanthopist. It even explains how it is Batman, not Superman, who has a reputation as a loner, even though Batman's Batcave is full of allies (Alfred, Nightwing, Robin, Huntress, Batgirl, Oracle, occasionally Catwoman and more) and Superman's Fortress of Solitude is, well, not.

Batman is not, however, solely a product of his circumstances. Above all, the heroic example of Batman is the ability to better oneself, by hard work and perseverance. Batman is an exemplar of a "protestant work ethic". Batman is not only enabled by grace to turn the evil situation of his parents' murder into good, he is ethically compelled to do so. He works because it is right so to do. Batman's training and work do not constitute a quest for redemption but rather an ethical imperative.

Together these two seminal heroes of the DC Universe encapsulate the paradoxical command of St. Paul: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, to will and to do."

So as Superman is a transcendent figure of divine intervention--salvation we have not earned from we know not where, Batman is a figure of the moral imperative to work out that salvation ourselves.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Åka points out a Canadian graphic novel which is described as one man's "take on the dark fantasy world established in the Holy Bible's Book of Revelations." The title is Therefore Repent.
Let us now observe a moment of silence so that Gabriel and D.G.D. can groan in frustration at yet another incorrect reference to "Revelations." (The 's' is superfluous.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Sacred & the Profane

Over at The Sci Fi Catholic, I have posted a discussion of the comic book classic, The sacred & the profane, written by Dean Motter and illustrated by Ken Steacy. This comic features an interesting take on the time-honored subject of Catholics in space.

The Sacred and the Profane depicts a future in which the discovery of life on another world has swelled religious interest around the globe so that the Catholic Church and numerous other religions are flourishing. Readers will probably recognize this as a sharp contrast with numerous other science fiction works in which the discovery of extraterrestrial life is a challenge to religious faith or even the source of its extinction. [more...]

Jehovah's Witness joke in Countdown #37

I mention this primarily for Elliot's amusement and/or frustration: Countdown #37 contains a jab at door-to-door evangelism when stage-magician-themed heroine Zatanna shows Mary Marvel around her mansion:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Up, up and Oy vey!

The Amazon blurb reads, in part:

From the birth of Krypton in Cleveland to the Caped Crusader, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and more, Up, Up, and Oy Vey chronicles the uncanny story behind the story about the origins of the planet's most famous superheroes. While the Jewish contribution to film, theater, music, and comedy has been well-documented, the Jewish role in the creation of the All-American superhero has not been--until now!

Indeed! There were a lot of Jewish writers and artists involved in early superhero comics, some in pivotal roles: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Joe Shuster, Jerry Spiegel,* Joe Kubert, and Will Eisner, to name just a few. These creators weren't necessarily devout Jews, but their background and values were still reflected in the stories they told. More recently we find people like Elliot S! Maggin, Rabbi Cary Friedman, Art Spiegelman, and Douglas Rushkoff reimagining Jewish history, culture and religion through comics. Rabbi Weinstein's book looks very interesting.

While you're waiting to get your copy, you might want to check out Paul's post on the Jewish roots of Superman.

*Just the other day someone explained the possible Hebrew roots of the name "Kal El" to me.