Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Superman, Christ and Morrison

Superman’s job is to fight for and inspire those who cannot fight for themselves. His job is to make this world a better place and to help all men realize their potential as supermen. Further to this, it’s important to keep in mind the Superman/Christ parallels WITHOUT being obvious and heavy-handed about them. Superman has to think differently from us, and when we see into his head, we should be shocked by the clarity and simplicity of his brilliance and compassion. This is a god sent to Earth not to suffer and die but to live and inspire and change the face of the galaxy by his deeds and reputation.

More on what Timothy Callahan, writer of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years", calls "the essence of Morrison's Superman" and how the recently completed All-Star Superman fits in with Morrison's attempts to reboot Superman in 2000 at Comic Book Resources.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Review: Mecha Manga Bible Heroes #1: David vs. Goliath

I don't get it.

Mecha Manga Bible Heroes #1: "David vs. Goliath," written by Tom Hall and Joey Endres. Illustrated by Thom Pratt and Daniel Bradford. Backup stories by Dean Rankine. JMG Comics (Flanders, New Jersey): Summer 2008. $2.25.

Some time ago, I posted the press release for this. Because I refuse to be a mere advertiser for anything simultaneously Christian and sf-related, I followed that up in private with some (negative) predictions about the series that somehow ended up getting posted at The Sci Fi Catholic. Now the first issue is out and its creators, in thanks for the earlier postings, have generously sent me a copy for review.

First of all, it's only fair to point out that the target audience for this is clearly very young, as indicated by the general tone. The series retells stories from the Old Testament with almost no alteration besides a dumbing-down of the dialogue and the addition of a few sf flourishes, especially walking robots and powered armor suits, apparently for the purpose of convincing young males to read the Bible.

Ten bucks say Goliath gets p0wned.

After reading this first issue, I'm still asking the same question I was asking when I first heard of this project: "Why?" This issue, "David vs. Goliath," follows 1 Samuel 17.1-58 faithfully except for the additions of the aforementioned sf flourishes, which as a result look like intrusions. Truth be told, I don't get it; it would make better sense to me to create a comic that not only tells the Bible stories faithfully but also attempts to faithfully depict the world in which those stories took place, or else to create sf stories that use the Bible as starting points but take greater liberties with the text.

Because the sf elements are decoration and and not an inherent part of the story, I find them jarring and confusing. For example, when young David relates how he has saved sheep from bears and lions, the illustrations depict him tending robot sheep and fighting robot bears and lions. While reading this, I find myself asking, "What is the purpose of a robotic sheep? Where do robotic lions come from?" In a fully developed sf world, I would expect these questions to be answered sooner or later, but in Mecha Manga Bible Heroes, I'm almost certain they never will be, which again leads me to ask what the point is of putting them in at all.

The only answer I can come up with is gimmick. It's a gimmick designed to coax youngsters to read their Bibles. While I'm certainly in favor of encouraging children and youths to read the Bible, I suspect most of them could detect the gimmick of this comic and would take it as an insult. I also suspect it would give them the wrong idea, suggesting as it unintentionally does that the Bible is too dull or unpalatable to read without a few artistic touch-ups.

The artwork, though not great, is good. The writing is competent enough, but the flow of the comic seems to be off; a few inserted jokes are poorly timed, and I found myself having to stare at some pages for quite a while in order to figure out what's going on. On the whole, the quality is good, but this first issue contains nothing memorable. The two backup features by Dean Rankine, "Bee-Attitudes" and "Green with Envy," are nuisances.

Although this first issue of Mecha Manga Bible Heroes is worth a few minutes' entertainment, it contains nothing compelling and nothing to make me want to continue reading the series. I'd rather go read my Bible instead.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Three funerals

My friends, on this mournful occasion, let us begin with a spoiler warning. This post contains spoilers regarding DC's Final Crisis (August 2008), Top Ten, JLA: American Dreams, and the film Stranger Than Fiction.

Still here? All right, Final Crisis: the Martian Manhunter is dead, and issue two gives us this glimpse of his funeral on Mars:
A solemn scene from Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones. Superman says: "J'onn J'onzz was my friend. Always there, always strong, always reliable... He was someone I could confide in. Someone who understood what it was like to lose a world and find another. We'll all miss him. And pray for a resurrection."

"Pray for a resurrection" is strikingly traditional (though Superman was raised by Methodists, after all), but there's a touch of humor about it. It acknowledges that we the readers know that superheroes, like soap opera characters, frequently die, but rarely stay dead for long - Superman being the most prominent example. The implication here is that the superheroes know it, too, adding an odd twist of realism and gravity to the proceedings.

In Top Ten, Alan Moore put a more openly humourous spin on the idea (art by Gene Ha):

The late superhero in this case is Girl One, an android. The Top Ten multiverse is one where pretty much everyone is a superhero and Moore gets a lot of mileage from subtle and not-too-subtle twists on the concept. (Like the exterminator who unwittingly provokes a cosmic continuity-altering Infinite Crisis crossover war between mice and cats... But I digress.) In this context the characters are even more aware of the superhero tropes they live by.

Grant Morrison's run on the Justice League of America predated both of these stories. Here's Superman (during his ill-advised electrical phase) at the funeral of Metamorpho the Element Man:

This is the most frank expression of the theme and includes an interesting twist at the end. Does Superman (and Morrison?) wish that fallen superheroes really could rest in peace? Do they always have to be recycled to drive up nostalgia-induced sales? Witness the current hype surrounding the return of Barry Allen, who's been mostly dead since 1985.

A less cynical interpretation of superhero resurections might go something like this. The eulogy for Girl One also included mention of her "giving of her life so that others might live." Superman says of Metamorpho, "In the end, he gave his life to save his friends." The film Stranger Than Fiction involves a doomed fictional character who gets a second chance at life. His creator muses: "But if the man does know he's going to die and dies anyway, dies willingly, knowing he could stop it, then, I mean, isn't that the type of man you want to keep alive?" Over at SF Gospel, Gabriel's commentary on the movie read, in part:

It's unsurprising for a movie about the ways in which authors manipulate their character's lives to compare the writer to God. What's more interesting here is the messianic tone that this approach then lends to the character in question. Here God, the third person omniscient narrator, can't see the point in needlessly killing his favorite character, so he gives him a second chance. It's an aesthetic theology of the resurrection—Jesus as the character who was too darned nice to have a sad ending. It's also a critique of Vonnegutian authorial cruelty in which the author toys with fictional lives simply because he can. The characters, fictional or otherwise, are in some way alive and worthy of respect—and of a happy ending.

The same might be said of most noble, self-sacrificing superheroes. Of course, maybe the world can do without Metamorpho the Element Man. But once an artist has put enough work into a character, and fans have grown sufficiently attached to him, death becomes just a temporary trauma.

And I do hope the Martian Manhunter returns to us someday.