Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Jesus loves Superman

Warning! The following link may not be safe for work, particularly if you work at the Vatican! If images of grown men passionately kissing one another offend you, especially if one of them is Jesus and/or Superman, this link is probably not for you!

...and apparently Superman loves Jesus right back.

Racy stuff. Or is it? Maybe the artist is actually quite traditional and is suggesting that Superman will betray Jesus.

(Via the inimitable and nigh invulnerable Thomas of Say It Backwards.)

PS: Oddly enough, the preceding blog post on Newsarama features Warren Ellis belatedly trying his hand at the whole crucified super-hero thing. The comic is called Supergod and sounds like it has a few things in common with Miracleman and Black Summer.

Subtle faith in Strikeforce: Morituri

Over at SF Gospel, some thoughts on the overlooked '80s series Strikeforce: Morituri:
The Morituri process gives [Adept] the ability to comprehend anything, from mechanical technologies to complex life-forms to abstract scientific concepts, if given enough exposure to them. She's also a Christian, and though the volume of her faith is perhaps a little bit louder than one usually sees in the real world (witness the cross motif on her costume), Gillis handles it with much more subtlety than most other writers would. It's an important aspect of her character, but it's not the only aspect of it, and it never becomes a punchline.

Read more here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Superhero spirituality at Cornerstone

An announcement: I've been invited to speak at this year's Cornerstone Festival (in Bushnell, Illinois, from July 1-3)!

"But I thought that was a Christian music festival, and as far as I know you're not a musician!", you say? Well, you're correct. But part of the festival is the Imaginarium, which houses seminars on a variety of topics. This year's title is "Make. Believe. Heroes"—in other words, the religious aspects of superheroes. I'll be giving three one-hour sessions on the morality and ontology of superhero universes under the title "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility." The full summary:

Despite the deconstructed superness of Watchmen et al., the original point of superheroes wasn't to make us wish we had superpowers -- though that certainly would be fun! -- but rather to make us wish for the clear moral discernment that allows superheroes to do the right thing. The creators of the most influential superheroes -- immigrants or children of immigrants like Siegel and Schuster or Jack Kirby -- used their creations to imagine a better world where the powerless had a stronger voice. This seminar explores superheroes as champions of the downtrodden, and notions of superhero morality.

Other sessions in the Imaginarium will cover Watchmen, moral grey zones in postmodern superheroics, and saints as superheroes. Check out the full schedule here, and perhaps I'll see you there!

In tangentially-related news, at Comics Should Be Good, Brian Cronin shares his favorite Mid-90s Badass Jesus Comic (to wit: Glory/Avengelyne II: The Godyssey #1).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spiritual Solicitations Backlog Explosion!

I've been tearing pages out of Previews of things I've wanted to post here for four months or so now, but Assorted Factors have kept me from posting them until now. Some of these have been out for weeks or even months now; some won't be out until May. So now, in the order they are piled up on my desk (which is no order at all), here 's another batch of Spiritual Solicitations!

Solicitation links courtesy of Comixology, from whom Diamond could learn a thing or two about presentation!

Jesus Christ: In the Name of the Gun 

Bad Karma Productions
Written by Eric Peterson and Ethan Nicolle, art by Ethan Nicolle

Jesus Hates Zombies. Loaded Bible: Jesus vs. Vampires. Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter. And now, Jesus Christ: In the Name of the Gun. One wonders if the creators of edgy, irreverent comics about a butt-kicking Jesus know about the Christian men's movement, which is basically this minus the "edgy" and "irreverent"? In any event, I blame Garth Ennis. (Garth Ennis has been responsible for a lot of unfortunate things lately...)

Pandora Box Vol. 1: Pride

Written by Alcante, art by Didier Pagot

This is the first volume in a seven-part series about Greek mythology and the seven deadly sins; the "Pride" volume involves mysterious conspiracies, cloning, and the dangers of hubristic technology. I'm intrigued-- but not twelve bucks worth of intrigued, alas.

The Wolverton Bible

Fantagraphics Books
Art by Basil Wolverton; Introduction by Grant Geissman

Now this is exciting. Basil Wolverton, the delightfully deranged mind behind some of the strangest SF comics of the Golden Age and the most grotesque material from the early Mad Magazine, "was also a deeply religious man who over two decades created over 550 drawings illustrating the Old Testament." Awesome. But the real prize here may be 20 images illustrating the Book of Revelation, which must look pretty darned interesting through Wolverton's eyes. (But minus 10 points from Fantagraphics for calling it "Revelations" in their catalog copy!) I never would have guessed Wolverton was a closet Doré, but as someone who's a fan of the weird, the religious, and the weird religious, it's more than welcome news.

Fantagraphics has made the book's introduction available online; you can read it here.

American Jesus Vol. 1: Chosen

Dark Horse Comics
Written by Mark Millar, art by Peter Gross

This is a collection of Millar's 2004 miniseries Chosen, which presents the story of a young messiah as a sort of origin story for a teen superhero. The book was an enormous missed opportunity-- but I can't say why without spoiling the ending. (I will say that "spoil" is an appropriate term when describing this story: the ending completely spoils what should have been a great story. It's still worth reading, but I can only really endorse the first two-thirds.) I've been hoping to write something about it here to expand on what I wrote in The Gospel According to Science Fiction, and now it looks like I may have good reason to-- that "Volume One" in the title makes it virtually certain that Millar will be returning to the young savior soon. I'll hold of saying more for now, but I will have more to say on this soon.

Missing the Boat

Image Comics/Shadowline
Written by Wayne Chinsant and Justin Shady, art by Dwellephant

The subtitle of this cute-looking tale is "The Offered Salvation and Inevitable Demise of the Churamane." The Churamane are a lazy species of animal that are invited aboard Noah's Ark, but arrive too late and are doomed to extinction in the Flood. Sounds fun, right?

Rapture #1

Dark Horse Comics
Written by Michael Avon Oeming and Taki Soma; art by Michael Avon Oeming

The Rapture is about as overused an idea as butt-kicking Jesus (see above). But I really, really like this take: this series, helmed by Powers artist and all-around cool guy Oeming, takes place in a superhero world from which all the superheroes and villains have vanished. After a century of good and evil battling it out in public, just-plain-folks are left to sort out their confusing world. What happens when the gods no longer walk the earth? Yeah, I'll be reading this one.

Absolute Promethea vol. 1

Written by Alan Moore, art by J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray

Promethea is a darned good series. Not only is it Alan Moore's ultimate statement on magic, religion, art, and the nature of reality, it also features some of the best art ever to sport word balloons. (Have I mentioned lately that I own the original art for the Moebius strip page from #15? Sorry-- I periodically need to brag about that.) So I'm pretty excited about the prospect of this series getting the oversized, super-deluxe Absolute treatment. What I'm not pleased about is doing it in three volumes instead of two-- compare this volume (twelve issues and 328 pages) to the first volume of Absolute Sandman (20 issues and 612 pages)-- both with the same $99 price tag. I'd hope for a slightly higher page count-- but it's hard to complain too much, given how great Promethea is going to look in this format. [See also: Absolute Death. Which sounds like a metal compilation, doesn't it?]

I Did It His Way: Classic B.C. Religious Strips

Thomas Nelson Books
by Johnny Hart

How can I put this diplomatically? I've always... been a non-fan... of Johnny Hart's religious strips. (And his non-religious ones, for that matter.) I'm tempted to read this book, if only to try to decide once and for all if their worst crime is being simplistic, offensive, or just plain unfunny.

Neil Gaiman Presents: Votan

Dark Horse Comics
by John James

Not-actually-comics alert! The "Neil Gaiman Presents" series is "devoted to returning to print long-unavailable works... chosen by Gaiman to represent the origins of his views on classic heroic literature." This one sounds like a pretty good satire; it's the story of a traveling Greek nobleman who is mistaken for a Norse god, and decides to play along.

Sword of My Mouth #1

Written by Jim Munroe, art by Shannon Gerard

Like Oeming's The Rapture above, this might be another exception to the general overdonneness of the (did I mention it's not scriptural, but was invented in the 19th century?) Rapture as a plot device. It's a sequel to Munroe's acclaimed-and-I-haven't-read-it-yet-but-I-want-to story from last year, Therefore, Repent! I've made an interlibrary loan request for the beginning of the story; if it's good I will definitely be checking out this sequel.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Still no Confessor review part two

Hey, remember when I posted the first half of a review of Kurt Busiek's Astro City: Confession? And I said I would "continue with an examination of the character of the Confessor in my next post, later this week"? And remember how that was over a month ago? Yeah, sorry about that. It's still coming.

In the mean time, check out my webcomic: Thpam! I'm clearly still finding my feet, but I have plans, oh good gracious do I have plans.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Hey y'all. I have a review of Watchmen-the-movie, here, which touches on some of the existential/theological stuff from the comic; more, focusing on one very graphic scene, here. Thought it might be of interest....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Crucifixion Fixation Redux

Remember my post about Grant Morrison's frequent use of crucifixion imagery? I found another example:

This is from August 2000, Marvel Boy #1, pages 10 and 11. The art is by J.G. Jones. It was a mini-series from Marvel Comics with only six issues.

Noh-Varr, depicted above, is a Kree alien (possibly from a different dimension). Early in the story he's captured for examination and exploitation by a supervillain named Midas, which is why he's hanging there in a force-field bubble. He (of course) gets away and decides to 'fix' our backwards, evil planet, by any means necessary. So for part of the story he sets himself up as a violent, vengeful messiah.

The image is a clear reference to Salvador Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross. Wikipedia tells me that it resides in Scotland, oddly enough, and in 2006 was voted Scotland's favourite painting. Morrison's a Scot; maybe he's a fan.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


If you liked what you saw in the excerpt, you'll be excited to learn that you can now watch all of Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues for free here!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Elliot's Favourites in 2008

Out of the forty-odd graphic novels I read in 2008, these ten were my favourite. Note that they weren't necessarily published in 2008; I just happened to get around to them in that year. I tried not to pick two volumes from the same series (if the other volumes are good I mention it.) Okay, counting down:

10. DC: The New Frontier, volume 1, by Darwyn Cooke. 2004. 208 p.

Cooke re-imagines the origins of the Silver Age DC universe in the Cold War Space Race. Fighter pilots-turned-astronauts jostle with G-men in the shadow of the Korean War and McCarthyism, and everyone's got that hard-drinking Rat Pack style. The art is striking - retro yet not outdated. Some of the storylines are brilliant: Steel, survivor of a lynching, stalks the Jim Crow South slaying members of the Klan; Hal Jordan (later to be Green Lantern) is a hot-shot pilot who refuses to kill ; the Martian Manhunter is endearingly humorous and idealistic. Unfortunately Cooke tries to include just about everyone from the Silver Age. All the old WW2 soldiers, fighter pilots, science-action characters, and murderously ruthless (but basically good at heart!) FBI and CIA agents blur together into one big puddle of square-jawed, buzz-cut testosterone-soaked chest-thumping All-American blah-blah-blah-who-gives-a-crap? This problem becomes unavoidable in the second volume; and the Big Threat revealed therein is kind of lame. So maybe just read the first one.

9. X-Men: Divided We Stand, by Mike Carey, et al. 2008. 136 p.

Ten short stories about individual X-Men, by a variety of authors and artists. The quality varies, but overall it's pretty entertaining. There are some real gems, including a theological-philosophical tale in which Scalphunter is visited by Nightcrawler in both his priestly and demonic guises. I posted a little about the book here and here.

8. The Frank Book, by Jim Woodring. 2003. 351 p.

Plenty of writers and artists try to be surreal. Jim Woodring accomplishes it, maybe because he's not trying so hard. The younger Woodring experienced highly convincing hallucinations, and that's what Frank reads like: a kind of fevered dream that you can't shake off. Frank and his friends and enemies wordlessly wander through a mystical, wondrous and sometimes deeply disturbing (this book is not for kids) dimension that's part Krazy Kat, part early Disney and part oblique parable.

7. Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, by Joss Whedon. 2004. 152 p.

He's not Grant Morrison, but he is Joss Whedon, so he'll do. He picks up the New X-Men where Morrison left them, adds a character, and flings them into one exciting adventure after another. It's typical Whedon, so we get heaps of deadpan, witty repartee, some tough-as-nails women, plenty of relationship issues, lots of violence, and wouldn't you know it - dramatic twists and cliff-hangers! I quite liked the art. All four volumes are good. The drawback is that it's typical Whedon, and if you've seen enough of his TV work this will all start to seem kind of familiar. But enjoyable.

6. Supreme: The Story of the Year, by Alan Moore. 2002. 332 p.

With Alan Moore, the expectations are high. Supreme doesn't disappoint. Having started his career by deconstructing superheroes, Moore has more lately moved on to reconstructing them, to seeing how they work and celebrating what's great about them. With Supreme, Moore revamps a lousy Rob Liefield character (or is that adjective redundant when talking about Liefield's work?) and uses him to do a lengthy and insightful meditation on all things Superman. He plays with the changing nature of superhero stories (all those retcons!) and casts an affectionate eye on the DC Golden and Silver Ages. The style and quality of art varies quite a bit throughout the volume (in part intentionally, to evoke different eras) but the writing is consistently good. (The second volume, Supreme: The Return, is also pretty good and features a wonderful homage to Jack Kirby.)

5. Superman: Birthright, by Mark Waid. 2005. 314 p.

A clever yet sincere up-dating or reboot of the origins of the Man of Steel. It never became canonical but it's still a great new window on the character of Superman, on his compassion and moral power. And it's got a cool vision of the Kryptonians. Click here for the brief review from Say It Backwards that prompted me to read it.

4. The Invisibles, volume 2: Apocalipstick, by Grant Morrison. 2001. 208 p.

The Invisibles is not for those with weak stomachs, and it's bound to offend just about everyone at some point or another. And Morrison admits freely that he was experimenting with drugs while working on the series. He also says that it was designed to be grasped on the second or third read, rather than the first. My first-read impression is that it's a massive sprawling haphazard thing with one big-clever-Morrison-idea piled atop another. They don't always fit together all that well. And I think he's used some of those ideas more effectively elsewhere. But there's plenty of brilliance: from Barbelith to Totep to Triple-U! It's challenging, mystical, cryptical, bad-ass, anarchistic and strange. I think this volume was the most consistently excellent, with a few powerful one-shot tales and with a story arc focusing on transvestite shaman Lord Fanny.

3. Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, volume 1, by Jack Kirby. 2007. 396 p.

It's King Kirby. Of course it's awesome. It's larger-than-life, exploding-off-the-page, primary-colour awesome. You can actually use this book as a sacred relic to destroy vampires, zombies, bankers and other evil creatures. Just hold it up and shout "TAARU!!!" A blinding light, the Astro Force, will come forth, striking the evildoer and blasting it to oblivion with a mighty Kirby Crackle!! BAZOOM!!

Ahem. The other volumes (which I've been reading this year) are even better (if I were reviewing all four, they'd be at number one on this list.) Grant Morrison provides an almost-embarrassingly gushing introduction to this volume, in which he compares the Fourth World saga to the Bible, like, three or four times. I'm not sure I would have at first understood the awesome nature of the original New Gods if I hadn't been primed for it by Morrison's mythic interpretations of them. I might've been a noob and said: "Why is Jimmy Olsen trading quips with Don Rickles? Who are these newsboys? What the- death on skis??" But, really, you'd have to be blind to miss the raw primal creativity, the sheer cosmic wonder of it all: the flaming disembodied hand writing the commandments of the Source, the divine Mother Box, furious tormented Orion, forbidding majestic Darkseid, "TAARU!" and the Mountain of Judgment and... and... GEE WHIZ! Any children I have will grow up in a nursery that has big, brightly-coloured Jack Kirby characters stenciled on the walls. They'll grow up to be hero-artists, awesome, mighty, and strange.

2. Astro City: Confession, by Kurt Busiek. 1997. 208 p.

This book was electrifying. It knocked my socks off. The Confessor! The Cross-breed! The cover! I... wait, just read Paul's review here.

You should also read the first book, Astro City: Life in the Big City, which is very good. And the rest of the series. But Confession was my favourite. And it's got oodles of religious references. One of the most intriguing takes on religion that I've ever seen in a superhero comic.

1. Top Ten, book 1 by Alan Moore. 2001. 208 p.

Ok, I know I'll get flak for rating this above The Fourth World, The Invisibles, and Astro City. Those are classic works. But for humour and deft, quick character development, Top Ten was the most fun I had with a comic book in 2008. It's part of Moore's reconstruction effort which I mentioned above. In a city where everyone has superpowers, who watches the watchmen? The job falls to a motley group of officers at the 10th Precinct Police Station. Moore has a lot of fun with the backdrop, but it's the interactions amongst the police, and between them and "ordinary" citizens that make the book work. It feels like we're catching a glimpse of the diverse lives of some real people. Moore includes some fascinating religious characters, whom he treats with respect.

You should read Moore's second volume, as well as his prequel, Top Ten: The Forty-Niners (from 2006.) Don't bother reading Paul Di Filippo's contribution to the series, Beyond the Farthest Precinct. It's not the worse comic ever, but after seeing what Moore can do with these characters, it's disappointing to have them reduced to idiotic two-dimensional caricatures - the religious ones most of all. And the plot is largely lifted from PKD's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. You may also want to skip Smax, Moore's fantasy spin-off of Top Ten. It's got some good moments, but don't spend any money on it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Superman and the real best of Alan Moore

Two new things from me today: first, a guest post at Superman blog Say It Backwards on Clark Kent, alter egos, and incarnational theology:

Superman disguises himself as Clark Kent. Right? It says it right there in the opening of the George Reeves TV series. "Disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper." Kent is the mask, and Superman is the identity.

Or is he?

Read the rest here.

Second, at SF Gospel, a list of 4 Alan Moore stories that are better than Watchmen. Gods-on-earth abound.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Absolute Kingdom Come

I wanted to point out the cover of the "Absolute" edition of Kingdom Come, which puts the story's religious symbolism right up front. It depicts the Spectre stepping out of a stained-glass window into the church pastored by Norman McCay. (McCay is modelled on Clark Norman Ross, the artist's father and a real-life minister.) Kingdom Come is mostly centered on Superman, but the Spectre is an interesting character in his own right. Created by Jerry Siegel (one of the creators of Superman) in 1940, he has over the years become one of the metaphysical/theological mainstays of the DC Universe. If there's a big mystical story to be told, the Spectre will usually get involved somehow. I mean, c'mon: a guy who can dramatically step out of a stained-glass window without breaking it is pretty cool.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Confession: A review and analysis (with spoilers)--Part One

Kurt Busiek's Astro City is unfailingly excellent. The series tells stories about a city densely populated with superheroes, many of whom are analogues of iconic superheroes in other comics. In Astro City, Busiek creates characters who occupy a familiar iconic space, without necessarily reproducing the powers or character traits of existing heroes. Samaritan, for example, is the analogue for Superman. He is the apex hero, supremely powerful, and unfailingly benevolent and noble. Jack-in-the-Box is a colourful, wisecracking hero, a stand-in for Spiderman. Winged Victory is a Greco-inspired feminist heroine and stand-in for Wonder Woman.

Astro City: Confession is a story about the Astro City analogue of Batman, told by the equivalent of Robin. Brian Kinney moves to Astro City with the hope of making something of himself and ends up as the apprentice and sidekick of the dark, intimidating, "Confessor".

There is a lot to like about Confession. It's clever, and thoughtful, and it's full of insight about the nature of heroism--treading some of the ground later covered in Marvel's Civil War. And because of the way Astro City's characters are mirrors of DC and Marvel characters, a lot of the insights offered about the Confessor hold true for Batman as well. But some of the most interesting things going on here are about religion. Religion in Confession isn't just a motif, it's a major theme, and Busiek's treatment of that theme is worth paying attention to.

There is an aspect, of course, that all stories about heroes have religious undertones, in that they are about good and evil, they are about salvation, they are often about belief. In Confession, all of these undercurrents are present, as are some more obvious and explicit religious concerns. The first heroes Brian meets in Astro City are a hero team called the Crossbreed. They believe that God has given them their power, and that they must respond by doing his service. Secondly and most obviously, religious themes come up the the character of the Confessor--not just because of his name and costume (emblazoned with a glowing cross), or because he makes his headquarters in the abandoned section of an old abbey, but even more because he is a vampire--and vampires always (say it with me now: ALWAYS) carry Christian resonance.

First, though, the Crossbreed. The six member team consists of David, who is a giant, Daniel who is a lion-man, Joshua who has a sonic scream power, Peter who has the power to manipulate rocks, Moses, who can control rain (and possibly weather in general), and Mary who has wings and can fly like an angel. The biblical Daniel, of course, was not a lion, but survived a night with lions. So while a lion named Daniel is an obvious reference to the story of Daniel and the lion's den, it is the antagonist's power and appearance that are manifested in the comic book character. Likewise, the biblical David defeated a giant, but the comic book David is a giant. Biblical Moses built an ark as protection from the rain, but the comic book Moses controls the rain. This suggests something about he character of the God who gave them these powers. Quite apart from the subversion of expectations that allows the most frightening, beastial character (Daniel, the lion) be the group's healer--a trope borrowed from X-Men and Beast--the Crossbreed's explicitly religious context suggests that these characters are about God's redemptive and transformative power. The antagonistic elements from their source stories are re-imagined as heroic. Even more, they are remade in God's service.

Brian's first encounter with the Crossbreed is on the bus into Astro City, as the bus driver expresses both his cynical attitude toward superheroes in general (and this will be an important theme in the comic) and his disdain for the Crossbreed in particular:

"It's the Jesus Freaks. Again. Why can't they pick some other corner, just once? Just once? A different time of day? I am so sick of those jerks..."

We see the Crossbreed evangelising on the street corner, handing out pamphlets and talking about judgment day. Brian is in the process of defending them, in his internal monologue, when Daniel confronts him:

"Have you been saved?
Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?"

Brian stammers uneasily, until he is rescued by a passer-by, who tells him:

"Don't worry. The J.F.'s are annoyin', but they're harmless -- 'less you're allergic to Psalms and Preachin'!"

It would seem, on page 18, that we have seen the character of religion in this comic: it is annoying but harmless. Religious people are the people who accost regular people as they're minding their own business. And too often, that would be the final word. But in Busiek's hands the story is not that simple, and it turns out that the friendly passer-by was in fact picking his pocket. The Crossbreed save Brian and return his wallet, sending him off with:

"Welcome to Astro City, young man. God be with you."

So the street evangelists aren't nuisances after all. They are shown here seeking the bodily, as well as spiritual salvation of the people of Astro City. And the man who is so quick to dismiss them as annoying-but-harmless is in fact the predator.

The Crossbreed turn up twice more in this comic. They are seen being harassed by an angry crowd as anti-hero sentiment in Astro City rises. The crowd turning against their saviours would have been heavily resonant with the story of Christ regardless, but this resonance is highlighted by the explicitly Christian status of the Crossbreed. They are called the Jesus Freaks, and they, like Jesus, are rejected by the crowd.

Finally, the Crossbreed turn up at the climax of the story, swooping in to save Altar Boy from the newly revealed alien menace. They are a sort of Deus Ex Machina, coming out of nowhere with no warning or foreshadowing to save Altar Boy after his mentor the Confessor has died. Now, Deus Ex Machina are a trope of superhero comics, and you could argue that that is how superheroes themselves nearly always function. Still, in this case the Deus is a little more explicit than usual. There are any number of superheroes that could have showed up at the last minute to rescue Altar Boy, but the appearance of the Crossbreed signifies the intervention of God in this world. The Crossbreed, remember, believe that their power is a gift from God. So they are, at the least, a manifestation in this world of a certain kind of religiosity, and possibly even God's agents in the world. As Altar Boy is carried away by Mary, he muses: "I was saved by an angel".

Busiek presents here in minuscule an idea more fully articulated in his Superman story "Superman: Angels", where the suggestion is that God sends his gifts to protect us, and to inspire us: that since Superman does both, he is an angel--the agent of God on earth.

Whew. This is getting a little long. I think that for the sake of readability I'll leave it here and continue with an examination of the character of the Confessor in my next post, later this week.

Sita Sings The Blues

So this isn't exactly a comic. But animation counts too, right? Right. Check out this funky-fresh eleven-minute excerpt from Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues, which is based on the Ramayana. It looks great. I would snap up a DVD of this, but unfortunately the use of old jazz songs has created copyright problems and so the film's distribution has been delayed somewhat. Though it sounds like they're making progress.

PS: Apparently Paley has faced opposition not only from copyright lawyers but also fundamentalist Hindu nationalists, who've threatened to hang her!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

At the Edge of the Mind of God

Whew. DC's epic Final Crisis event has come to a conclusion. I think it has certain flaws, but the main Grant Morrison storyline (laid out in Final Crisis & Superman Beyond) contains so many genius moments that I'll be re-reading it for years to come. One theme was divinity, and all the positive and negative variations of that concept. Morrison laid out some of his ideas in an interview over at IGN. Here are some of the more theological/metaphysical ones:

GN Comics: So if you'd go so far as to say the DC Multiverse is as real and as organic as anything, would you say that the story of Superman is its heart?

Morrison: Yeah, totally. Because it all derived from Superman. I mean, I love all the characters, but Superman is just this perfect human pop-culture distillation of a really basic idea. He's a good guy. He loves us. He will not stop in defending us. How beautiful is that? He's like a sci-fi Jesus. He'll never let you down. And only in fiction can that guy actually exist, because real guys will always let you down one way or another. We actually made up an idea that beautiful. That's just cool to me. We made a little paper universe where all of the above is true.

A bit further on:

IGN Comics: I want to get to the Monitors and their overall role in Crisis and Beyond, especially the role played by Nix Uotan - am I saying that right?

Morrison: It's pronounced "Wotan." Every one of them is named after writer gods from different cultures. So Uotan is named after Odin or Wotan from the Norse/Germanic tradition. Ogama is Ogma from the Celtic gods. Hermuz is after Hermes the Greek god. Tahoteh is after Thoth the Egyptian god. Novu is after Nabu from the Babylonian pantheon…there's a ton of them. The women's names, Weeja Dell, Zillo Valla, were inspired by the greatest lost love of them all, Shalla-Bal from Stan Lee's Silver Surfer.

IGN Comics: So that kind of answers my question, which is that the Monitors all seem like analogs for storytellers. There seems to be this never-ending cycle of the stories affecting the storytellers and the storytellers affecting the stories and on and on.

Morrison: Yeah, it's a bit of that. It's also the idea that they're like angels as well. For me, the cool, essential idea of all stories being real creates this great cosmology to play with. It's the notion that the white page itself is a void, and in the context of the DC Universe, well that's God or The Source. In the white page, or the void, anything can happen, everything is possible. As I dug down closer to the very root of the activity I find myself engaged in as a career, I was thinking "what is the basis of the comic book story? What actually is it?"

In the case of comic book stories, it's the war between white page and ink. And who's to say that the page might want that particular story drawn on it? [laughs] What happens if the page is a bit pissed off at the story that's drawn on it? So I thought of the page as God. The idea being that the Overvoid – as we called it in Final Crisis - of the white page as a space is sort of God. And it's condensing stories out of itself because it finds inside its own gigantic white space, self-absorbed pristine consciousness, it finds this little stain or mark, this DC Multiverse somebody has 'drawn'. And it starts investigating, and it's just shocked with what it sees, with all the crazy activity and signifying going on in there. It then tries to protect itself from the seething contact with 'story' and imagines a race of beings, 'angels' or 'monitors' (another word for angel, of course) to function as an interface between its own giant eternal magnificence and this tiny, weird crawling anthill of life and significance that is the DC Multiverse.

Morrison goes on to talk about dualities (or symmetries) and unity:

IGN Comics: You get into that in Superman Beyond #2 with the Superman and Ultraman dynamic.

Morrison: Yeah. Again, on the very edge of the art and the edge of the mind of God there are these two big concepts fighting – Superman and Mandrakk, Predation and Protection, Greed and Preservation, Ugly and Beautiful, Youth and Age, Good and Evil, Black and White, Is and Isn't and all the others. Beyond that crumbling ledge in Monitor-World, those concepts don't exist and it's all non-dual Monitor mind, or God, or Kirby's Source, in which all contradictions are resolved into unity. It's funny, the more I talk about it, the more I'm getting into it!

It's well worth reading - after you read the comics, of course!
[via Ian]

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Marvel's former president re-translating Genesis

Yes indeed. From the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

To millions of Americans fascinated by comic-book superheroes, Bill Jemas of Princeton is an industry legend who helped breathe life into Marvel Enterprises by pushing the wildly successful "Ultimate Spider-Man" series that rejuvenated the company.

These days, however, Jemas, a high-energy 51-year-old whose controversial four years as Marvel's president remain fodder for comic-book blogs, finds himself engrossed in a task far removed from dialogue balloons.

Each morning before sunrise, for the last three years, the Rutgers and Harvard Law School graduate has labored over the Bible, specifically the Book of Genesis in Hebrew, the language in which it was first written.

His goal is to write an English translation of Genesis that is truer to the Hebrew text than are widely used English translations like the famed King James Version. He already has completed the first chapter, available online and in his book "Genesis Rejuvenated."

Later in the article we hear from a more conventional Bible scholar:

"There are already Hebrew dictionaries, and there are plenty of translations of Genesis," said Bruce Chilton, a religion professor at Bard College in New York. "There are commentaries on Genesis. There are books on Genesis. But what Bill has done here that's innovative is, he's put the materials together in such a way that a beginning reader can see the Book of Genesis as being filled with possibilities of meaning, and not just limited to a single meaning.

"What he is doing here is opening up the world of Genesis so that the reader is encouraged to read word for word, understanding that we're dealing with a major shift of language from Hebrew into English."

Jemas, who was raised Roman Catholic, married a Jewish woman and now attends a Reconstructionist synagogue in Princeton. He said he makes no claim that his translation is more accurate than others. But he wants readers to consider the possibility that decisions of past English translators are not sacrosanct.

Read the whole thing! (via Ian)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

And Dick Grayson's preferred Bible translation is...

In Nightwing #13, Bruce Wayne comes to visit Dick Grayson (formerly Robin, now Nightwing) at his new apartment:

Huh? Nightwing has a copy of the New International Version - with a bookmark in it, even? Why? For research? It's true that some supervillains are not above leaving obscure scriptural references as clues. Personally, I think the Oxford Annotated NRSV would be much better for research purposes, but I guess he's got to be prepared for those conservative Protestant supervillains who insist on using the NIV. Of course, he may be actually reading it himself...

(Found in Nightwing: Rough Justice, 1999. Written by Chuck Dixon, penciled by Scott McDaniel, inked by Karl Story.)