Do Not Multiply Non-Entities

Or, Marvel’s Cosmic Clusterf@*#.

Hello there, Bloggers. Let’s talk comics.

I recently acquired and read Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr.’s six-or-seven issue miniseries Eternals. Some parts of which I had read before, as some of you may remember; and I liked it then, but I like it a lot more now.

Mostly, for the simplest of reasons.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this Eternals, and I understand that I like it a lot more than many others do. Moreover, I think their complaints are mostly well-founded, so let me acknowledge something that bothered me about it myself: in many places it does seem like a rush job. We never do get back to Thena’s remarks about the Eternals liking mountaintops, the most promisingly Gaimanesque meditation in the series; neither the intent nor the frustration of Ajak’s machinations is made particularly clear; and even JRJR’s consistently stellar pencilling falters mysteriously in a place or two. Enabling features of the plot jump in and out a little bit, seeming to owe something to Grant Morrison’s insistence that the reader run faster to keep up better. And in the end, most damningly, it turns out that this is to be neither Kirby’s Morpheus nor Gaiman’s Mister Miracle — because although those expectations most definitely come into play, six issues is not enough for them to come to fruition.

Now I’ll drop in a couple positives, which I think most critics have acknowledged, but underrated. The art, outside of those incredibly strange and un-JRJR-like hiccups, is out-and-out fantastic. Also, the framing of the story of the Eternals within the amnesiac-protagonist scenario is on the surface very pleasant and stimulating, and down a little deeper is just a damn well-chosen approach all around, with a lot more sophistication to it than meets the eye on first reading. The dialogue is of course beautifully-written, and the primary ambition of the series is I think realized very well…so well, indeed, that many who read through it, seem to have found this accomplishment easy to brush aside.

But the simplest thing, though it is far from unconnected to these other things, is this:

Marvel’s worldbuilding sucks.

By which I mean, it may be to your taste, but it isn’t to mine any longer. And it would be easy to blame it all on Jim Starlin’s Thanos — love Starlin, but so sick of Thanos! — honestly, I hunger for new Thanos stories about as much as I hunger for new Star Wars sequels! — except even Thanos isn’t the problem with this taste. Thanos, you see, is only like pepper — and no one just wants to eat frickin’ pepper all day every day either, but there’s a limited amount of damage that overseasoning can do to taste.

More significant than seasoning, you see, is what the food’s actually made out of.

In the great Kevin Bacon game of Marvel’s cosmic characters, the degrees of separation are all going down, down, down, as the parade of anthropomorphized abstracts grows longer and more childishly completist. Heck, I just found out that there’s something called Anthropomorphos, which is the embodiment of the cosmic force that causes cosmic forces to be anthropormorphized! Which as I hope you can see is not like having everything you eat taste like pepper anymore, it’s like having everything you eat taste like mango — mango spaghetti and mango steak, and mango scrambled eggs and mango mashed potatoes! Mango baked beans! Washed down with a big foamy glass of mango root beer!

For Christ’s sake, take it away…!

…The central problem being, that in Kirby’s hands “cosmic” stuff — cosmic power, cosmic energy, as he used to like to say! — stood for something quite specific, in a storytelling sense. In Ditko’s hands, too, the world of magic he created in graphic form was meant to evoke a particular thing, a particular philosophy to be included or referenced in the handling of particular characters. And Stan Lee, for all or any of his other failings, got what all this was supposed to be about, and ploughed it into his own worldbuilding strategies. Those who followed these guys, then, were sufficiently influenced by them in a direct way that they got it too: in my beloved Seventies, they inflected it all in different ways, but they had a firm grasp of the implicit rules of that game.

In the Eighties, this changed a little. New creators came to the fore, who inflected the shared-universe concept, that went all the way from Spider-Man up to Eternity — I’ll return to that in a moment — in yet another way. But too, in the Eighties, new creators came to the fore who did not get the implicit rules of that game, and in the fullness of time they became influences themselves. And that’s when things really started to go off the rails.

The Kevin Bacon game gets vicious on Wikipedia — if you start with the entry on, say, “Eternals”, you’re only a couple of clicks away from concluding that Marvel has just plain lost it, and then just to make sure it never gets found again has covered it in about a thousand tons of the smelliest garbage they could scrape off the bottom of the barrel. The incestuousness of the Cosmic Powers grows and grows, until it takes on a genuinely unsavoury aspect…not to mention, an unsalutary one. And is there no other approach to a shared universe than this one, one wonders, helplessly staring at screen after screen full of unsightly, unimaginative guck? Is there no mystery, no magic anymore? Is there no room to move at all, in this overcluttered attic of a Grade C sci-fi poseable-toy Heaven? Abraxas and Vance Astro stand within spitting distance of each other; Gwen Stacy, Mr. Sinister, and Eternity are practically roommates, close enough to argue about the dishes and the laundry. Between every meaningful worldbuilding concept in Marvel’s universe lies miles of pointlessly stringy connective tissue, good for nothing except making Stan’s Pop Art eat itself…and the original wide-eyed import of the Kirby dots and the Ditko ribbons is left far behind.

For, again, the simplest of reasons: because it seems to have been forgotten, at Marvel, that the cosmic stuff is not sufficient by itself to build anything like a world.

Because all real worldbuilding is local.

I said I’d get back to Spider-Man, so here I am. I think I read it on Warren Ellis’ site, a quote from someone or other that went something like, “all good science fiction is the triumph of character over worldbuilding.” A valuable thought, indeed — who cares about the worldbuilding, if it’s got nothing to do with the character? But of course we might flip this principle inside-out, to have it say: “the only worldbuilding that even really exists, is properly called character development.” Which is something that was never lost on any of Marvel’s more talented creators, from Kirby to Claremont (although Claremont, too, ended his Eighties experiment by going more than a little off the rails). This is the kind of thing that gets you as close as comics can to a Sistine Chapel, or a Jacob’s Ladder: a hidden order to the universe. But the instant you forget it, all you produce is a bunch of bathroom-stall graffiti, that to any outside observer just looks like something that would be better painted over. Not order, at all. Much less beauty, charm, or glamour. The urge to play with the big cosmic pieces of the puzzle has turned Marvel’s cosmic landscape, in my estimation, to a choked stream that carries no water; as a backdrop to character it’s worthless, even counterproductive, and as a springboard for imaginative flights of fancy it’s been thoroughly neutralized. Pretty far from stone soup at this point, it’s more like a big pot of cement — and no one wants to eat cement. It should probably just be thrown out.

Enter Gaiman and Romita.

Much of what Kirby adorned his Eternals concept with is gone from their effort, of necessity. Can’t help that: neither of them is Jack. Over at DC, you can see even more clearly that Kirby’s latter-day work had become so much of a personal statement that an equitable assignment of legal rights in the property was almost superfluous, at least in terms of keeping other people’s hands off it: has anyone but Jack ever written a Darkseid or an Orion that was more than a cipher, when compared with the genuine articles? No, of course not, and it’s no knock on anybody to say so — how could they, after all? They don’t have the same things invested in Orion that Jack did. It isn’t their story. Maybe they just weren’t born in the right time, or the right place…and that isn’t their fault either, it’s just the way things are.

Over at Marvel, the Eternals are similarly too hot to handle — to even begin, you either have to peel them away from their own story, ignoring the concept behind them as best you can (what an indignity!), or you have to jettison the parts of their story that resist anything but an authentically Kirbyesque treatment in order to get at the concept in the first place.

Gaiman and Romita get rid of an awful lot of Kirby’s own handiwork; but they do get back down to the core concept.

More importantly, they blow off a lot of non-Kirby stuff that got glued on to it.

And most importantly, they manage to make me care about the shared-universe concept at Marvel more than I have in decades. Seriously, I’m not joking, in decades: because they offer something as a side-dish to the mango-cement soup of Marvel’s infernal, interminable slurry of worldbuilding.

That is: realizing that all worldbuilding is local, they make it local. By 2007, the “realistic” elements that always provided the unique tension of Marvel comics had been transmuted to the “realistic” elements that operate best in other companies’ riffs on Marvel: super-powers as ubiquitous, superheroes as measurable segments of populations…all the long-underwear stuff taken out of the realm of the psychological, and into the realm of the sociological, with subcultural praxis and governmental juridiction created and apportioned, “as if superheroes were real”. Real, and almost obnoxiously familiar. Quotidian. Which can certainly make for interesting stories…

But perhaps not so much at Marvel, eh? I mean, the sociology of the heroes is bad enough, but when you start getting into the group dynamics of the cosmic folks…!


But note Gaiman’s clever opportunism, here, his casual virtuosity: using the old amnesiac “Nine Princes In Amber”-type F/SF plot, he inverts the whole thing, and I do mean the whole thing. And, sure…I guess that looks like a pretty simple trick, but could you do it as slickly as he does? Maybe we don’t quite get the Eternals out of Neil that we might have, in this case…and we certainly don’t get Kirby’s Eternals…but when critics of this series note that its chief goal seemed to be a simple refurbishment of an old concept, I believe they speak truer than they know: because what’s really being refurbished here is the viability of Marvel’s shared universe itself. And, not before time! My God, how refreshing it is to take the sociological superheroes out of the spotlight, if only for an hour or two! That I’m far more interested in Mark Curry, M.D., and Sersi’s friend Abi, than I am in Iron Man or Yellowjacket, is something I think Gaiman and Romita and I evidently share…all too often this new Marvel, the one that riffs on itself, does so with such a heavy hand and such blunt fingers that it actually becomes rather revolting. Boring, too. But Gaiman and Romita, even operating in what I can only assume was an unusually cramped compositional space, know better than to use a heavy hand. Because they’re aware that all worldbuilding is local, see? And they’re also aware of what the Kirby dots and Ditko ribbons are supposed to be for. Well, those are both the same thing, really…

And so in a way it’s as though they heard my plea: if I must have this neo-Marvel thing that borrows so heavily from Astro City and Ultra and Top Ten and Invincible and all the rest of it that it forgets those things are borrowing from it…then can I at least be permitted to understand how things are structured in it? Can it at least be apparent what things are important in it, and what things aren’t? You may not have liked it as much as I did…you may have felt as though it would’ve been irresponsible for you not to point out its shortcomings…but I endured Mark Gruenwald’s refurbishing of Kirby’s Eternals the first time Marvel tried this, and let me tell you frankly: these are Golden Days, my friend. Golden. DAYS. And I still miss the old familiar super-types of my youth, but Gaiman and Romita have made the Eternals into the superheroes now, at any rate what the superheroes used to be, and so I miss my old days much less: because no matter how sophisticated the storytelling, this kind of thing has a kid’s pure need for identification down at the bottom of it — and how can my inner kid identify with Iron Man or Mr. Fantastic any longer, when they just don’t care about the same things I do? The Eternals, however, do — manifestly, obviously, clearly and concisely. The Eternals are the wise-children here, and it’s their world — the ordinary Marvel superheroes are just grown-ups stuck in their jobs, trying to shake off anaesthesia — perhaps even, amnesia? — long enough to figure out how to navigate this fantasy wish-fulfillment scenario in the first place. Which used to be such second nature to them. But at which they now suck.

The Eternals, of course, have never sucked. But now, they not-suck in a compensatory way.

And I have to tell you: whew, I needed that. Neil and JRJR have worked a wonder, here. They’ve accomplished something I thought was impossible. They’ve made me interested in this game again. So, imperfections aside:

Astonishingly good job, there! And actually, if you think about it for more than ten seconds…quite bloody clever, too.

(Was going to post a GIGANTIC long ramble about Alan Moore here, specifically on Lost Girls and Black Dossier, but it’s so damn huge I don’t know when I’m going to manage to finish it off in good condition. But this one was lighter — as its subject is lighter — so here it is.

Subject, I suppose, to some revision…)


32 responses to “Do Not Multiply Non-Entities

  1. I don’t really want to descend into moaning- seems a bit impolite in someone else’s comments thread- but I think your use of the phrase “grown-ups stuck in their jobs” hits an important point with regard to modern Marvel. They’ve gone and made the tights-brigade the grown-ups who go around telling people what they should do and how they should do it.

    How boring is that? Superheroism reduced to civil service drudgery. Wasn’t Marvel shaped in the 60s as a reaction against DC’s finger-wagging middle-aged men?

    And also, not to bring in any spoilers (but I know we’ve had a good discussion about Dr Jones here in the past), but don’t we also see a similar finger-wagging tendency in Indy IV?

  2. Moaning would be fine — as always in fantasy, it’s the kids who know what’s really important, and the grown-ups all around them who miss it, who concentrate on the wrong things: this is part of what Gaiman does so slickly here, the children end up wagging fingers at the adults. A very neat turning inside-out of all the toys he’s given to play with. In fact it works so well with Iron Man and the backdrop of civil servitude that it almost makes me think they said “look…you don’t have to work in Civil War if you don’t want to”, and he said “no, no…that’s fine! I can use that!” Of course one of the knocks on Eternals is that nothing really happened in it except set-up…but man, who can do anything but set-up at Marvel these days anyway, you know?

    Possibly I didn’t sell this bit hard enough, that in my opinion this problem isn’t just coincident with the cosmic sludge, but identical with it…even hanging out with the big cosmic guns of the MU has been turned into a routine, another day on the job…in Infinity Something-Or-Other I remember seeing a team-up with Dr. Strange, the Scarlet Witch, and Galactus (they were the “cosmic” team, I guess) and I thought wow…someone’s lost a certain kind of perspective on what their own bullshit is supposed to be. So this hanging out with Galactus stuff has turned into what becoming “one with the universe” was towards the end of the Seventies and on into the Eighties: a certain lack of imagination about how things “would” work. Like soap opera writing: as soon as characters enter an office building, it’s plain the writers don’t know what to do with that setting.

    Actually, that’s a kind of a brilliant thing about soap operas, really…

    But yeah. So Eternals does something to correct that, by harking back to the way these stories used to be told.

    As to Indy IV…you know, I’m not sure I’m going to see it! At least, maybe not in the theatre. Hmm, dunno…old Indy…something about that just sounds kind of wrong.

    Depends how much of a sap I already feel like when I walk by the place, I guess. I might go in. But then again, I just watched Temple Of Doom again on TV the other night, and it was BORING, so maybe my sap quotient’s already pretty high…

  3. Once I’ve saved up for The Black Dossier and completed my set of the Kirby hardbacks, what I look forward to next is reading the whole Annihilation cl***ck in sequence. Because it sounds as if it involved a general review of the cosmic threads, some guesses about what still worked, what should be discarded, and where there was still room for new inventions. There seems to be some confidence that worldbuilding is still possible. And they seem to have done it without the Council of Enormous Archetypes showing up to comment either.

    overcluttered attic of a Grade C sci-fi poseable-toy Heaven?

    As you say. I have an issue of The Infinity Gauntlet which is exactly that. It starts with what ought to be the climax of climaxes – about a hundred of Marvel’s mightiest, assembled before the Palace of Death, Thanos about to give it all for love, and all they can do is stand there and explain themselves. It’s so depressing.

    You invited us once to nominate our favourite crossovers, and there wasn’t one I even liked. I experienced just this sense of leveling down to Grade C (while reducing the mean degree of separation to 1.0003) with Contest of Champions, and it’s never gotten better. Well-chosen guest shots are another story – Roy Thomas’s X-Men in the Savage Land was the coolest thing ever, imparting a sense that the whole M.U. hung together, and could kaleidoscope itself into mystery after mystery. And I did still get some of that from Ostrander’s Heroes for Hire, for example.

    But enough griping. Grant these are the golden days, what are my examples of original local worldbuilding which escape the homogeneizer?

    * Adam Warren’s Livewires.

    * Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy

    * Louise Simonson’s Warlock

    * Priest’s Black Panther

    and there are others I should know but never caught up with, like Runaways. Gaiman’s Eternals go here too.

    Actually some of those go pretty far back. There’s usually somebody doing something new, but the average is about one such at any given time.

    But what am I missing, in this line?

  4. “But what am I missing, in this line?”

    I’d drop in the new Iron Fist- plenty of worldbuilding going on regarding the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, not to mention the state of the Marvel Universe internationally around the end of the 19th Century thanks to flashbacks of the previous Iron Fist.

    But as you mentioned, hands down the most audacious (and dense) attempt to this kind of thing was Priest’s Panther. Incredible, from start to finish.

  5. I’ll third the appreciation of Priest’s Black Panther series. He created a dense, tangible, and fascinating world around the title character, but it never felt forced or given primacy over the story. His Wakanda was an amazing creation. He took the bare Kirby sketch and the McGregor enhancements and made it something wholly new.

    Goddamn, that was a great, great series. From its first issue to its last, a triumph of comicry.

  6. I wasn’t wild about the Neil Gaiman/JRJR “Eternals” mini mostly for its lack of a proper climax. The setup was intriguing and the art fabulous, but danged if it didn’t end well. The resolution of the Celestial-and-Sprite conflict, while logical enough, was a fizzle. Moreover, Gaiman wanted to set up a new status quo for the Eternals, allowing for a new series. That’s well and good, but that meant that plot threads dangled. It’s pretty good, but nothing to get in a lather about.

    Out of morbid curiosity, I checked the Wikipedia entry on the Eternals, and wow. I knew most of that stuff from my early days of comic reading and was lucky enough to forget it. You can see layer after layer of forced myth-building and strained interconnections, can’t you? To credit Gaiman, he ignored all of that and stuck to Kirby’s basic idea.

    Building interconnections between semi-similar things, the “Philip Jose Farmer/Wold Newton” bit, is the Nerdly Sport of Kings. Oh, how we love it. Roy Thomas pioneered the sport, I believe, and remains its patron saint. Anybody who shares a last name, or a similar-sounding last name…is related! Different cosmic humanoids in the solar system…have a common root, kinda sorta! Everything connects, everything’s explained. The cosmic universe is thereby made cozy, as everything fits with everything, as though the universe were built by Charles Dickens.

    Cozy, alas, is not a fine quality for a superhero adventure universe. Ragged edges and unsolvable questions provide energy and danger. The temptation for many writers is to tell stories about those edges and thereby hem them. Done repeatedly, you end up with the great mess that is the Marvel Universe.

    For what it’s worth, while the Eternals were never meant to be part of the Marvel U, they do integrate better into it than the Fourth World characters ever did into the DCU. That’s never worked, and I say that as a big fan of the Fourth World.

  7. I won’t pontificate much here.
    (or at least I’ll TRY not to, anyway)
    Everything said, you nailed it all pretty much on the head.

    One of the reasons that I was looking FORWARD to the whole “post” Civil War-era Marvel was because JoeQ hinted that it would bring BACK that “old-school” 1960’s-feeling “DANGEROUSLY unfamiliar” M.U.
    Where the instant friendly team-up was a thing of the past, and the “I don’t know if I can TRUST this guy” feeling would come back.

    It would have brought back the sense of doing what’s right – all “adult” reasoning and justification be DAMNED!
    A teenager knows what’s right, but might do the wrong thing out of inexperience or stupidity. There’s your young hero.

    A 20-something should have his (or her) head on well enough that they’re going to do what’s right (and don’t have the baggage of drudgery/responsibility) to turn them away from the right path.
    That’s your unmarried Spider-man.

    “Don’t trust anyone over 30” is basically, Spider-Man shouldn’t hang out too closely with Hank Pym. and/or as an “adult” you might get pulled into doing the wrong thing for the “right” reason (which is really the WRONG reason), and less-than heroic. Or at least, you’ll find yourself waving a finger at some young hero soon enough.

    But, Civil War came and went and that opportunity was lost.
    Now Secret Invasion promises much the same.

    It immediately LOCALIZES your “world-building”, because you can’t AFFORD to look too far out on your list of friends/contacts/enemies, etc…
    because you HAVE TO stay focused on who or what is RIGHT in FRONT of you.

    But still… they could cock it all up.
    And they probably will.

    The COSMIC stuff was much the same.
    In the “old days”, a meeting with ETERNITY was a rare and truly AWESOME event.
    And I mean “AWESOME” in it’s truest sense of grandeur, and not the new go-to word for “kewl”.

    When Doctor Strange was in the presence of ETERNITY, it was a hushed, hallowed, and fearfully respectful moment.
    You didn’t want to piss him off or make any offense, lest you be turned into primordial ooze or cast away with a gesture, and your quest is lost.

    By the 1990’s hangin’ with ‘Ternity was almost mundane.
    I blame it all on WARLOCK and the INFINITY WATCH.
    Not the title, but the whole Infinity cycle.

    All of a sudden, PIP the f#@%ing TROLL is hanging out with Eternity and wiping his feet all over the cosmic HOLYNESS of it all.

    Oddly enough, even today, whenever Doctor Strange goes to Eternity (which is oddly LESS than characters like Quasar or Gamora), he STILL treats it with a solemnity that it deserves.
    Much like a Priest making a Eucharestic prayer.
    The last such time was at the end of Heroes RETURN.
    He gives Eternity the Blue Ball Universe in a HUMBLE and PENITENT manner.
    Right on.

    There was some old Spider-Man story where a COSMIC entity (wither the WATCHER or ETERNITY, I forget) tells Spider-man that he was DESTINED to become who he is because of his unique central place at the heart of the Universe.
    Right there, I felt that the M.U. had jumped the shark, been eaten, and shat out.
    I think that story has since been abolished, but the fact that it made it to PRINT showed that your statement (80’s creators didn’t know how the pieces of the puzzle should fit) is dead-on.

    But somewhere along the line, ETERNITY was LESS of a COSMIC ENTITY and just a big anthropomorphized DUDE… where he was getting “sick” all of the time, and was always half-dead or dying or whatever…
    it LOST the COSMIC sensitivity.

    A few such instances:

    That last bit in the PRE-Millar F.F., where Doctor Strange, the Panther/StormF.F., Surfer and GRAVITY have to perform surgery on Eternity was a bit of the mark.
    Sure, a million WATCHERS screwed something up and let it all go to hell.
    But even THEY must know that if Eternity dies, they’re OUT of a JOB.
    Unless they’ve lost even THAT small amount of life, that they’d just watch it go down the drain, like a drug-addict. Only half-aware that they’re bleeding out, but not much caring.

    And BEFORE that, in the Giffen/DeMatteis DEFENDERS mini, where UMAR steals the power of ETERNITY was a bit odd.
    I’ll give that one a pass because it was UMAR and DORMAMMU, who before he was treated like an idiot in that tale, was one of two entities to have previously confronted Eternity in a direct manner (in that epic, old STRANGE TALES story).
    But even then, he seemingly “destroys” Etrnity, but it later became apparent that you can’t Destroy Eternity with a frontal assault.

    At least NIGHTMARE lulled him into a state of “sleep” before attempting to keep him hostage (which Doctor Strange later found when he thought he “rescued” Eternity, that for an entity who embodies all of TIME, a little snooze isn’t much of a threat.

    So, after the INFINITY/THANOS b.s., I lost all faith in the Cosmic side of the M.U.
    So much so, that I passed on the ANNIHILATION stories (and heard nothing but GREAT things on that front) AND I haven’t read the Gaiman/JRjr ETERNALS.

    I think I might have to do so.
    I loved the old Kirby version, but was scared away from it all by the 80’s attempt at revamping.
    There’s a NEW ETERNALS series that is spinning out of the mini.
    The artwork looks wonderful.

    Just maybe… it’ll be good.

    On your say-so, I’ll get the Gaiman/JRjr mini, and take it from there.

    Sorry for the multiple tangents.
    They’re all interlinked in my head.
    I can only hope it comes across if someone read it.


  8. Wow.
    Just noticed that my “name” is all screwed up.

    How long have I been “SamctumSanctorumCOmix”?

    Damn typos.


  9. Thanks for your kind words, oh Circumstantial One, but your Uncle Stanley has to give credit-where-credit-is-due. Jolly Jack had a knack for world-building that came from the truest of all creative fonts: a mind hard-wired to tap into the mythic archetypes of humanity’s collective unconsciousness. All the Smilin’ One could do was adapt and do my best to dialog appropriately. But Jack’s ideas always resonated both with readers and with each other because of this simple truth. Jack wasn’t plotting super-hero stories (and as you correctly point out his best stories and characters were intensely personal), he was plotting modern myths. If I brought anything to the table, it was an everyman grounding to the proceedings that helped amplify Jack’s mythology. These guys today (with rare exceptions like Mr. Gaiman and Mr. Moore) are killing themselves making xerox copies of xerox copies of xerox copies of story-telling ideas. To paraphrase another British icon, “I get more original ideas than they have for free with my breakfast cereal.”

    Thus endeth the rant! Thanks again for the stellar examination of Gaiman and Romita’s Eternals!


  10. “Samctum?” I hadn’t noticed that…

    Still haven’t got my hands on issue #7, so I can’t fully judge the fizzle factor at this point, but I have a suspicion I won’t mind it too much. At least I know it wasn’t filled-in by somebody else after Gaiman got booted off the book…!

    Still, it’s possible you may be underwhelmed, P-Tor. My understanding is that most people were. Nevertheless, they talk about big fun summer comics — to me this reeked of that, for whatever reason. I was grabbed. Then again, maybe that was because I went out and got the floppies…man, nothing like reading a bunch of comics in installment form, I mean I like TPBs, but this is the way…

    I knew you were going to bring up Umar, which is why I didn’t bring it up first…I forgive that stuff, even though it’s perfectly obvious to me that stealing the “power” of Eternity…well, just doesn’t make much sense. But what the hell, that comic had some good bits in it, didn’t it? So whatever. It was a G/DeM/MacG book, you always know what you’re getting with those guys, it’s fine. But Dormammu insanely attacking Eternity in Strange Tales was really a whole different ball of wax, obviously — that was theme, this was jokes.

    On the cosmic side, between you and Jonathan you sum it up neatly…dumb and depressing. Oh, and I’d forgotten all about the “cosmic destiny” of Spider-Man…yicch. Marvel, dude…you’ve already got the job f’r Christ’s sake, don’t talk yourself out of this sale…

    Harvey: ha, I knew you’d read the Wikipedia stuff, zut alors, eh? Zut. ALORS. “Hemming” the edges of the Marvel Universe, that’s exactly what the problem is here, somebody came along and said “oh gosh, how untidy! Here, let me sew everything up to everything in a great big ball, that’ll be better…” It’s possible to point to specific Marvel writers and editors and say “it’s their fault”, although I won’t actually be so mean as to do this; some writers were very good at exploring the edges, but of course that’s talent, I mean whaddaya gonna do. Some people can play artfully with the big cosmic pieces, and some can’t. Starlin shocked me with his Infinity Gauntlet stuff, because I thought he was phoning it in! And I would’ve preferred the Eternals to stay outside regular Marvel continuity as well, but…as you say, at least they’re a better fit than the New Gods, even though the New Gods were in regular Superman continuity from the very beginning…! And yet I despair of ever seeing anyone write an Orion like the guy who fell asleep on that girl’s balcony in the issue after “The Death Wish Of Terrible Turpin”…those who don’t like Kirby’s style of dialogue would probably cringe to read it, but in my book those are some fine, fine character-driven words…

    I haven’t read Priest’s BP (I know, I know!), but I’d recommend the new Iron Fist too, since I just got ahold of some of that — see, Internet? I listen — and it’s darn good.

  11. Ooops, sorry Stan, didn’t see you there! Glad you enjoyed the post…but don’t let your famous modesty get the better of you, the frenzied verbal bombast you brought to comics writing in the Sixties made a nifty match for the energy- and tension-filled pages turned in by Jack and Steve — if as a kid I found (say) Thor to be a dizzy, hypnotic read, that was partly down to you, too: you got more than a couple of good dramatic licks in, in service to the story, so you went beyond “everyman grounding” from time to time, I think. Although you certainly were good at that, too…

    But, this “Jack was writing modern myth” thing…you know I’ve been hearing that since I was a little FOOMlet, but every year I find it more and more stunning to realize that that’s exactly what he was doing. What a bizarre project he got into! Comparable to J.R.R. Tolkien idling away the War with scribblings about “The Fall Of Gondolin” — a mad hobby, absolutely insane! And yet…

  12. I think most people were disappointed with Eternals because it wasn’t Sandman. (see also: 1602) I have the 1st 3 issues- can’t find #4, although 5-7 are in the local back-issue bins- and thought they were good, but not wonderful. After Sandman, people expect (or at least hope for) wonderful.

    But, yeah, the Marvel U just doesn’t interest me anymore (except Captain America). It feels like everything has been done and done and done. Competent Spider-Man stories? Read ’em years ago, not interested in new ones. I want to catch up with Greg Pak’s Hulk & Hercules stories (liked Planet & WW Hulk)and Iron Fist… That’s 3 series, all of which operate in their own continuities mostly free from the main MU crap, out of all Marvel’s product.

    DC is just as bad, but I can’t resist Morrison & Jones together again. If only it was for Marvel Boy 2! I don’t buy new comics regularly, but I hope to keep up with Final Crisis (half of #1 was a chore to read, but I really liked the other half).

    Priest’s Black Panther was excellent. It was one of my 2 or 3 favorite comics in the late ’90s.

  13. Plok, if you ever listen to the internet, you can do a lot worse than listen to Priest/Black Panther recommendations. It will blow your mind.

  14. Priest’s Black Panther was indeed excellent, though I’d quibble over every issue being great. I thought near the end that Priest had palpably lost interest in the series and was just using it as a vehicle for another character he was launching. Can’t remember the exact details, to be honest.

    As for Gaiman’s Eternals, it was a good stab at something non-standard, though my first reaction was, “Oh, Gaiman’s taken his own plot from ‘American Gods’ and ported it to a comic book. That’s unexpected.’

  15. Madeley: I’ll try it! (Actually I think I tried a random BP in the long-ago time and didn’t like it much, but what I mean is I’ll try it again and take an actual run at it this time!)

    Clone: Hah! But it was a comic-book plot all along, wasn’t it!

    Okay, since you’re both up: bought Final Crisis #1 today, against my better judgement…thoughts? Have you got this yet? How does the comics-shipping work in the UK these days anyway, what kind of a lag are we talking about? No more than a movie-type lag now, I hope?

    Drinking and struggling with a song, also re-writing a eulogy, holy shit! Advice to myself and any eulogy-writers whose work will see any kind of print, in the paper or on a card or whatever: sit down and work on it once, and stay up all night if you have to, but once you leave it just fucking leave it. There is no such thing as a perfect eulogy, I’ve been reading some Augustan-era funereal speeches lately (common folk, not Caesars), and there’s just no such thing with them either…and I have to say, they were a lot better at it than we are.

    So a Final Crisis distraction would be welcome.

  16. You mean you’re not a fan of Pompeiian trip-hop? Picture the scene: AD79, Pliny the Elder sailing across the bay, Vesusius rumbling, and a portentous Portishead-style dirge thumping from a PA over the heads of the arm-waving populace. If history wasn’t like that, it damn well should have been.

    Now you mention it, American Gods was completely a comic book plot. Right down to the big showdown fight at the end. It may actually have been a Thor plot recycled from 1971 that Gaiman figured nobody would remember.

    Final Crisis? Not even near it yet. I have to read all 52 Countdowns first, if I can find the gumption.

  17. Pompeiian trip-hop?

    History wasn’t like that?

    No, man…I saw it in the second Matrix movie. That shit totally happened. When the machines came out of the volcano and whatnot? Rock on: we kicked their ass.

    I think you might be right about the Thor plot, actually…anyway I was getting very clear mental images of comics panels from about halfway through AG, and at the end…I think I could actaully name the artists Neil was channelling.

    But, what a feeble criticism, for heaven’s sake that was like ten years ago, I wish my first novel had been…

    Oh, yeah.


    Clone, have you read Steve Englehart’s Silver Surfer?

  18. Maybe. You’ll have to give me a clue about the decade. Was that the series that ran for quite a while in the late eighties? Or an earlier one? Or a later one?

  19. Late Eighties? Yeah, must’ve been about ’87 or so. It began with Marshall Rogers art, then switched to Ron Lim. After Englehart left, Jim Starlin took over, and immediately launched the preamble to Infinity Whatever — really terrible Silver Surfer comics he wrote, yeesh. Couldn’t figure it out.

  20. Funnily enough, I think the first issue I read of BP was a random one, and I didn’t have the first clue what was going on in it. It really needs to be read from the start, as it gets pretty complex pretty quickly.

    Clone- you are right, not every issue was perfect, but taken as a whole work I really think it’s one of the most impressive achievement in terms of comics writing I’ve ever read. Unfortunately, as with a lot of Priest’s work, the art wasn’t always as good.

    The controversial final issues of the series, as I recall, were mandated by Marvel because of continually low sales of the book. To be fair, Joe Q. was as supportive of the book as he could be but to be economically viable, and as an alternative to outright cancellation, the always-infamous New Direction tactic was used. The change was far too jarring, and instead of gaining a new audience it lost what few readers it had.

    I rate the New Direction issues very highly, and had they been released in a form separate to the parent title I believe they’d be considered just as classic as the rest of the run. Rather than a mix of 24, the West Wing and Batman, they were far closer in tone and theme to shows like The Wire, with a particular regard to racial politics. Priest dealt with issues of identity that just aren’t dealt with in superhero comics, even though in many ways masked costumes are the perfect iconography for that kind of exploration. So Black Panther got the cut, and the follow-up title The Crew made two issues, apparently cancelled before the first issue hit the street.

    UK shipping dates are pretty speedy, these days- next day, in fact, making our Special Day a Thursday. With one thing and another, though, I haven’t made it to the LCS for over a month, so I’m a little behind and still debating whether to get Final Crisis, or decide on the trade after I’m sure all the canaries are still sucking oxygen.

  21. Speaking of multiplying non-entities, why have my last 3 attempts to post failed to get through?

  22. A footnote to what P-Tor says.

    You’ll remember that Eternity was the best-kept secret of the whole world-wide crypto-collegiate of magicians – dedicated seekers after secrets or keepers of secrets, every one, you have to suppose. So well kept in fact, that only two of them had even heard of it, and that deep down in the labyrinths of their incapacitated minds. The very pinnacle of occult knowledge. And then some fool fumbles with an ultimate annihilator and there he is in the Posable Pantheon for all to see. *** DOOM sees him.

    All right, he’s got a retroactive amnesia field a gigaparsec wide. Fine. In that case there’s an excellent story to tell, where … you know … SHAMROCK wakes with a start from a flashback dream and yells, “Merciful Saints, WHO WAS THAT???” And then word gets around, and you can have a lot of ironic fun with that, and actually Shamrock is just where to start, because she’s in a culture where visions and confessions in confidence are hallowed things, but there is a tripwire built into the mind of every priest, “Yes I know the days of signs and wonders are behind us and a good thing too, but WHAT IF?” But by whatever route, word gets around, and all too soon, entirely practical magicians of both good and evil intent want to be her really good friends. All but writes itself.

    But it won’t work. Not unless it’s a very well-tuned amnesia field which dictates: “Yes, I know that you were oceanically astounded to see me there, and with the whole cosmic thing, really, but you won’t remember anything about it, except that the next time you see me, you’ll know me by name, and that I’m out of your league, and by my presence it will be certified that this a Cosmic Deal.”

    In other words. Not only do certain lazy writers, or commitees of same, know where all the extraordinary beings are on a single, one-dimensional global world-building hierarchy, they postulate that all the characters know it too. Comes with the Avengers Clearance or something. This kind of thing, I gather, gets thrashed out of you in TV writers’ school: They know what kind of movie they’re in, eh? How fortunate. Streamlines the plot no end.

    Now in fairness, you have to do something like this, otherwise every team-up would have to be put on hold for ten pages while the characters put on the kettle and fill each other in. However, you did have the option, not to mix up characters from scarcely compatible mythologies in the first place. Which is only to underline Plok’s point that world-building is local, and forgetting that is why Marvel world-building so often sucks.

    (Commercial tech writers, a community to which I aspire, will notice that my original footnote to a comment to the thesis is here allowed to underline the thesis itself. Ouch.)

    I was going to bring up the first Avengers-Defenders Crossover as a horrible example. But that reminded me … I think it’s a symptom of something that these days one can just go to a text box and type in [wp:Black Lama], and get


    Don’t you want him back? Ultimate Black Lama.

  23. Is problem with embedding URLs. Sorry. Also should notpost when shloshed. Thank heavens for spellchecker.

  24. Ultimate Black Lama?

    Funny you should mention it, I do want him back. Preferably peniclled by Ultimate George Tuska…

    But man was the payoff to that story a letdown…

    Back after I crash out! You’re not the only sloshed one around here, Jonathan…

  25. I missed most of those comics years altogether. Bumming around the world ‘n stuff. Got into ancient ruins, Russian poetry and atypical pneumonia instead.

    Always regretted missing Infinity Watch and McGregor’s second Black Panther series. Much later I caught up with McFarlane’s Spider-Man and couldn’t understand why everyone went Venom-mad. Still don’t understand it, actually.

  26. Jonathan Burns…

    Yeah… that whole “WHAT IS THE SECRET OF ETERNITY?” epic (which has been nominated the auspices of being the “First” American Graphic Novel) introduced Eternity as a “character” and a concept, but also should have DEFINED for all time how secretive and indiscoverable nature of the varied higher echelons of “conceptual beings” truly is.

    Think about it, after Eternity, it took truly apocalyptic events (the release of cosmic/mystic sandcastle-kicking ZOM) to summon forth the Living Tribunal.
    NOW, however sadly, he is almost as readily-accessed via email, fax or carrier pigeon these days as is Eternity.

    The ONLY forgivable way to look at it is that most “super-heroes” are “adventurers” and as such, often leap in whre angels fear to treat.
    Even if it means tracking mud inside the holy of holies, they’re on a mission, damn it. And aint nothing going to get in the way of that.
    So if they stumble across Eternity getting it on with his “sister” Infinitym, and have to butt in, well… they’ve got to do so (lest Thanos’ ultimate martini-jigger get the whole universe plastered).

    But, Doctor Strange is a different type of man.
    Certainly he will leap headling into the very fires of the all-consuming unknown for the sake of the life of a bag-lady, with no hesitation, BUT… there’s USUALLY some knowledge of where he’s headed (or at least what TYPE of peril this might imply).
    KNOWLEDGE, my friends.
    Strange is a perpetual STUDENT, always learning and expanding his mind as well as his consciousness.

    He is also a PRIEST.
    Treating these dieties, powers and agencies with the proper respect (or lack thereof in the case of petty dictators such as Aggamon or Tiboro), and as such treads lightly where respect is required.

    I liked (tremendously) that in the heat of the New Avengers’ battle with the forces of THE HOOD, that IRON FIST would plead for a cessation to the battle raging and destroying the Sanctum Sanctorum BECAUSE it is a HOLY PLACE.

    I guess it takes a character like that (again, of a “priestly” nature) to understand that you can’t bull your way into every china shoppe.
    I can imagine Iron Fist dealing all sorts of damage to foes in a crowded Inner Sanctum, amid priceless and ageless treasures, and while dealing devastatingly bone-crushing kicks to the face he agilely leaps and performs almost ballet-like twists to avoid damaging a single artifact.

    A team-up book between he and Strange can’t come fast enough in my lifetime.
    Of course, that type of teamwork is often hinted at whenever a writer uses WONG in that regard.
    BK Vaughan did so fairly well in THE OATH.

    It was nice to see.

    But, to get back to the matter of HUMBLE SUPPLICATION before the greater forces of the multiverse… that is something that seems to have vanished along with the reverence for same in the real world.

    Churches are often broken into – or bombed.
    Temples are used as military strongholds.
    The varied faithful (of whatever religion or denomination) are killed (which, in a “mystic journey of the spirit” might not be the WORST end, but certainly not an end that is justified coming from a suicide-bomber in a rusted out ’79 Buick).

    And the “priests” or “holy-men*” are revealed as lying, thieving, lascivious (or worse – morally corrupt and degenerate) men**.

    *begin mid-way “footnotes”*
    *I won’t include “Evangelists” in this list (especially of the TV variety, because those are so obviously snake-oil salesmen, selling Heaven like the Bishops & Cardinals of feudal societies sold Indulgences.
    They are the religious equivalent to TV wrestlers.
    So obviously putting on a show for the easily duped and gullible-innocent.

    ** And I have NOTHING against homosexuals. In fact, as an artist, AND as someone who used to LIVE in Greenwich Village (ON BLEEKER STREET – directly across from where the “Sanctum Sanctorum” was to “exist”), I have been good friends with – and workmate to MANY gay men and women.
    I’m fairly sure that it’s been stated that gay men aren’t pedophiles.
    That might not be 100% accurate (nothing is 100% accurate), but I’m not trashing “teh gays” here. Not my beef. Especially not in a post about comic books.
    **end mid-way “footnotes”**

    Strange (and guys like Iron Fist, Brother Voodoo to an extent as well); the “mystic” (although, not necessarily “mystical”) hero.
    While I can’t think of any, right now, that should hold true for at least SOME of the “mystic” VILLAINS.
    At SOME time, someone like Xandu should find it distasteful to destroy a shrine or something, just because he seeks the power that it holds.
    But sadly, Baron Mordo and his ilk treat the majestic in a truly mundane manner. The power is the true goal.
    NOT the LEARNING or humbling experience.

    Mordo treated the entire event with SISENEG/GENESIS as a method to gain power and destroy his adversary, instead of the epic event that it was.
    Blinded by power and selfishness to the awesomeness around him.

    Oddly enough, as of late, DIABLO has been given a more humble and willing nature in his more recent appearances.
    That’s what I’m talking about.
    You can be “eeeevil”, sure, but don’t piss in the chalice.

    Anyway, this all leads back to the “ADVENTURING HERO”, who treats a meeting with Eternity as a way to go “Wow! You sure are big. Now tell me what I want to know”.

    Interestingly enough…
    Steve Gerber dealt with this in an off-hand way all the way back in the very earliest issues of MAN-THING.
    Man-Thing # 1 to be exact.

    THOG (one of the many “satan” figures of the M.U.) is out to destroy “THE GODS” of the multiverse during a collapse of the cosmic axis and crashing together of all the myriad realities.

    Man-Thing and his loose assemblage of friends/heroes (of which Howard the Duck supposedly gives him life in the journey, Gandalf-like falling to his supposed demise, only to fall endlessly to emerge elsewhere/elsewhen, stronger and wiser for his experience) is able to fight him off with their help.
    Until the end, when THOG is defeated due to his lack of understanding of the very NATURE of the cosmic beings.
    He was leading an army (against the meager forces of Manny, Korrek, Jennifer Kale & Dakimh) to lay seige to the PALACE of the GODS.
    All the while, not realizing that it wasn’t the PALACE that housed the dieties, but a thatched-roof shack.

    “THIS is the REAL palace! This humble cottage, surrounded by things of NATURE, things of PEACE. Quiet, simple LOVING things — like the gods THEMSELVES –..”.

    And that the human-looking couple that lived therein were only the CARETAKERS.
    The GODS were a pair of DOGS (or at least Dog-bodied beings).

    It is that simple overlooking of the nature of the divine that is the failing of much of the Marvel characters, and the “world-building” of the bigger “outer” worlds.

    Pandimensional entities, who should be treated as multi-dimensional (not just 3-dimensional, but GOGOL-dimensional) entities are treated as if they were only 2-dimensional, 4-color blobs of ink on paper.

    Sadly, it is truly the fault of the 1980’s/90’s Silver Surfer title and the Thanos-cycle.
    How odd, that two writers like Englehart and Starlin who would normally be the standard-bearers for spiritual understanding, would be the ones to cause it’s overall demise.

    Or merely the Domino-effect of a tragic misstep between the infinite worlds within worlds?

    It needs to be put a’right.


  27. GAH!

    Some typo’s in there.
    Sadly, spellcheck won’t catch them if (like I did) the misspelled word is itself another real word).So, a lot of times; “HIM” should be “HIS” in there.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention that indeed, it is DAKIMH the Enchanter (a MYSTIC) who speaks those words about the nature of the gods.
    He is the enlightened one in that journey, to whom the hidden majesty is not lost.
    He speaks those words to his pupil; Jennifer (herself a fledgling mystic) and to Korrek (a blundering barbarian, who at least SEEMS to want to learn better than to be JUST an “adventurer”).
    How often in literature – the “barbarian” is shown to have more common sense and sense of place than the “civilized” man.

    While THOG, in his blunderbust, cares not for the nature of the infinite, but instead cares only for it’s power and position.

    Man-Thing, of course, senses all, but reveals nothing.
    In that, he is wisest of all.



  28. The Englehart matter is interesting, isn’t it? Because he was one of the scripters who could play delicately with the big cosmic pieces of the jigsaw puzzle: I mean he put Doc into a testing situation where he himself was driven to try to pull the “gee, you’re big, now do what I say” thing to Eternity, only to be, ahem, instructed in how it doesn’t work that way…

    And then in Silver Surfer he did some fancy footwork with his Seventies “magick” side again: the hidden balances of the universe, Eternity saying “it is not my nature to act as a being“, the illuminating secret meeting of Galactus and Eternity…all wonderful, I thought…

    And yet he opened that door, too, for less sensitive writers to come charging through. Starlin I never imagined as sharing Steve E.’s influences — his was a different kind of cosmic. And Starlin was good, but…well, then we get the Infinity Gauntlet Starlin, who I don’t quite recognize from my Dreadstar-reading days.

    The idea of Doc’s Sanctum as “a holy place” — gee, that’s neat, I didn’t know about that scene. Now if someone wanted to revamp Doc a bit, but in a good way, they could do worse than emphasize his “priestly” nature — that could be a rather adventurous kind of Doc story…

    As far as your footnotes…yeah, I took all that as read, P-Tor! Love the televangelists = pro wrestlers connection, by the way…I may have to make another survey of the late-night preachers someday soon, see which wrestlers they match up with…

  29. ThanX, Plok.

    Actually, as you may have picked up from several of my (all too many) Doc-centric posts. I totally think of Doc in that “priestly” or monk-like manner.
    At least… that he SHOULD retain that as an integral part of his being.

    Certainly, the Ancient One would choose a westerner as his successor because he saw the West as “the future” and that’s where a future protector of the Earth Dimension should arise (at least in MY personal theories of the thought process).

    The East is a place that is mentally tied to “the past”, it retains it’s ancient traditions and mindsets.
    But the West is the ever-expanding “new frontier” and grows and adapts constantly.
    Certainly, the Ancient One would have seen this trend and sought out a man FROM that world, who would also be able to adapt.

    I also believe that the reasoning for the selection of Strange (trying to steer WIDE of that whole “chosen one” pitfall) was that Stephen was a LEARNED man, a DOCTOR.
    And AS SUCH, a man whose knowledge would be ever growing and adapting to new practices.
    He would ALSO be a man of HEALING, and that is what the role of Sorcerer Supreme would entail; the HEALING of the many opening “wound-like” apertures that pop open between the dimensional “skin”, fighting off the invading “disease” and stitching them closed again. (sewing the skein?).

    And that would be all well and good.
    A “learned man of the future” is the new job requirement, but you don’t just get handed a book of spells and an amulet.
    No, serious meditation, fasting, study, sacrifice and “prayer” (of a sort – albeit to mystical entities such as Hoggoth, Oshtur or Agamotto).

    So, unless Strange were to completely abandon his learning process (which, I stand fast in my belief needs to CONSTANTLY be occurring, especially for that position) he would need to maintain a monk-like attitude and/or at least center.

    Certainly, the men of the west may be more outwardly “feeling” than their eastern counterparts (at least on the surface). More easily SHOWING their emotions, and perhaps letting them dictate their actions.
    However, the monk or mystic must remain calm at his core.
    Dispassionate. Unflappable. Serene.

    So, the two natures must be entwined into Strange’s make-up.
    He is the arrogant, haughty neuro-surgeon who LEARNED (or at least RE-learned) that he is not worthy to be served, but must instead serve others.

    To call upon the mystic enities to GRANT him additional power, (because, I can’t stress enough that he HAS NONE himself, only the ability to MOVE energies that flow all around him,) he must supplicate himself – remove all ego from the proceedings.
    But with the knowledge that he will most likely be granted what he seeks (usually as long as he does the spell correctly, and isn’t “on the outs” with that entity).

    An interesting storyline was when he was to be called forth for the “War of the Seven Spheres”. A storyline that was built up and then dropped in an unsatisfying end.
    He divorced himself from the major powers and principalities of the mystic powers via the (so ridiculously named it’s awesome) “Emancipation Incantation”.
    With that, he cut himself off from their powers and was unable to call upon them for aid (which forced the formation of the Secret Defenders).
    That’s like Spider-Man CONSTANTLY being out of web-fluid.

    But that scene ave a glimpse into the “divine” aspect of Strange’s “power-set”. He calls upon greater powers to grant him the power he needs to combat evil.
    Sometimes, a sacrifice of some sort is required.

    Several times, it has been noted that he will go into weeks of fasting and meditation to keep himself pure.

    One such occurrence, he was out of his body, unable to use it, and took possession of the body of his then-girlfriend; Morganna Blessing.
    He tried to have her use the Eye of Agamotto. but found that he body wasn’t pure enough to do so.
    It would take many days of fasting and prayer (and perhaps some kung-fu like exercise) to get it to that stage.
    Time he didn’t have, so they improvised a different spell (transmuting a butter knife into a flaming sword), which also eventually failed because she didn’t maintain the proper mind-frame and doubted that the spell would work.

    One of the best “gut feeling” examples of the priestly nature of the character was the JM DeMatteis-penned, Dan Green-painted original graphic novel; INTO SHAMBALLA”.
    (Which I just can’t praise highly enough.)

    Besides the whole work treating the character in that studious, arrogant westerner -vs- learned-dispassionate easterner conflict, also featured the monks that reside in the lamasery of the Ancient One. It gave a glimpse into that “Qui Chang Kaine” type of monk-like atmosphere both in Tibet as well as (briefly) in the Sanctum Sanctorum.
    Some of the preview art (used for the solicitations for the book months in advance) showed Strange kneeling in prayer before a statue, and in another him standing before a multi-faceted, brilliantly colored stained glass window (with light streaming down on him).

    One couldn’t help but get the sense of calm from those images.

    Other writers have touched upon this “priestly” nature that he should possess from time to time.
    But, sadly, the preponderance of the time, he is handled as a “super hero”, and as such, fails miserably.

    Sorry, for the rambling, off-topic blathering.
    Sadly, most of my comic-talk inexorably winds back to Strange (or Man-Thing).

    My fascination for a monk-like (or “priestly”) aspect to Strange MAY be because, in two separate instances in my life, I was seriously looking into becoming a Franciscan monk.
    Once, I went to a seminary for a retreat, and helped the monks with their duties, and another I traveled to Medjugorje (in the then Yugoslavia) to pursue the “calling”.

    Didn’t work out though.
    I had more questions than answers, was still to unsettled with myself, and I felt that I wouldn’t be a good candidate at the time.
    Well, I’m married now (almost 11 years) and a working professional.
    But, I still try to do right by my fellow man, and always strive to live in harmony with nature.
    Could be why a mystic and a clump of walking Earth are my two big comic loves (along with the “life of Job”-like Peter Parker).


  30. Further to Doctor Strange’s “priestly” aspect. P-Tor – right on.The FF respect the powers they encounter, great and small; but there are powers that Doc reveres.

    On the whole those powers are all the more convincing for being figures in a litany, unshown. What this does to the “show, not tell maxim” is a good question, isn’t it? The attempts to exhibit the Vishanti and the rest haven’t had the effect of deflating their mystery, but it’s interesting that all the writers have been tactful enough not to make them explicit – not to nail them down to mere agency. From which you can infer that they’ve known their business.

    But there is one power whom Doc reveres, who was on stage for years and years – the Ancient One. There has never been any doubt that Doc loves the man – for his goodness, for his wisdom, for his devotion to the safety of humankind, even while his own death draws near.

    One time I made up a classification of fantasy characters. The Child encounters the fantasy world as a parade of wonders, and only needs the verve to keep going forward. Say Dorothy in Oz, or John Carter of Mars. The Adult penetrates the mysteries, uncovers their logic, forces them to conform to rationality. Say Sheridan of Babylon 5. The Elder, however, is an initiate of the mysteries. He has gone so far into them that he has seen the Big Picture, and is part of it. He knows that there is more to it than can be described to an Adult, without the Adult being transcended, initiated in turn. Otherwise, the Elder is limited to speaking in riddles. But on the rare occasion when the Elder does speak or act, he does so with the force of Fate itself.

    In folklore and fantasy, the Elder is the Merlin figure. The supreme SF embodiment is Doctor Who. We get something like him in comics, in all the Scientists who invest the hero with exceptional powers he enjoys but cannot and need not comprehend, all the Erdels, and Zarkovs and Reinsteins. They usually depart the scene quickly, having done their work. It’s rarer for them to stay on as spiritual counselors, though we do get something of that in Highfather, and Old Man Shazam.

    Well that’s the Ancient One. He is one with the Quality of the Unknown. Because he is good, we are assured that Strange is called to be good, and can rely on the Unknown to vindicate goodness in the end.The Ancient One allows Strange to be priestly, himself wielding the authority of the Mystic, but in the next moment to be newly ordained, challenged, only determined to live up to the example of his master. This makes Strange an edgy, dual character from the outset, and this duality continues to inform him even when the Ancient One has passed on. The Ancient One is a brilliant conception, both present and remote, symbolizing mysticism in its entirety, while leaving mysticism as an open field, all potential, for his pupil to discover. The more so, since he comes on as a cliche – the Wise Old Lama on the Mountaintop, instantly recognizable.

    There’s an interesting possibility to speculate about, in this. In time to come, it may be that well-established characters with a high symbolic freight could work as Ancient One types, when their value as heroes has diminished. I’m thinking about Reed Richards and Steve Rogers in particular. We really can’t go on replaying WWII and Cold War for Cap, when the politics of violence in the real world are so dispersed, when America no longer has that unique Leader of the Free World role. And we can’t extrapolate a path for Reed, from where he’s been. The concept that he must progress to the Lenin-Gernsback Five-Year Plan has been tried a few times, and everyone can see it would pull Marvel away from the real world into an unsustainable fantasy.

    But Reed in retirement, whereabouts obscure, standing for all the dreamy Silver Age weirdscience, while supporting a new generation of adventurers in exploratory boldness, intellectual dedication, and that old Stan Lee anti-xenophobia – he could be what the Watcher is now. One who has looked all around the Big Picture, indeed is part of it; and knows it is too big to just exploit. Knows that you don’t enter into it without an initiation that transforms you. Reed Richards is symbolically potent enough, that he can certify new superhero origins.

    And likewise Cap. There are going to be questions about America in this generation, big ones. What does it mean, what is its moral standing? Is there any real continuity left with the Founders, the WWII generation, the Civil Rights movement? Anyone might say that anyone who serves their country claims that inheritance, but if it’s Captain America who says it, that carries weight.

    Nuff said for now. Thanks for spurring these reflections, P-Tor.

    (The All-Seeing Agamotto says: “Hey, Starlin! – I dare you!)

  31. Hmm, I’m not sure that would work for Reed, actually Jonathan…however it seems to me you’re giving an excellent description of Ted Knight! But then, Ted aged, and I’m not sure Reed can…

    …Yes, you heard it here first! The FF are immortal…

    On the Ancient One, this is an old fantasy pattern too, where the hero is doping out the structure of the universe, but can’t quite figure out what entity belongs to one certain abstract term…until he finds out it’s his own mentor, his own command structure if you will. A brilliant kind of play, for Dr. Strange! And again reminiscent of Englehart’s Silver Surfer, wherein the Surfer, wondering who Galactus’ opposite is, is told that it’s himself: because Galactus made him so.

    And then, brilliantly, Englehart takes the Ancient One right off the board.

    …Until Starlin beings him back, but as much as that spirit of reversibility always seemed (and still does seem) like a bad fit with Marvel, to me, I suppose the show must go on regardless…

    I could see this Elder thing being brought off with Captain America, actually, although I think it’d require an exceedingly light touch…

    Whoops! Third overtime in the hockey game! Gotta go!

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