Dorsal Portal Mega Mortal

POST!

And hello again.  If you were looking for the non-geeky version of Me, you just missed him…he went thataway.

If you hurry, you might still…!

Right, they’re gone.

So let’s try this again, a couple times.

So we’ve got the superpowers, and we’ve got the milieux…of course my little “Kinetic Lad” idea disconnects these a little bit, and plays with their diminished relation, which is (I note) not a mistake any of you on the last thread made, though it’s a big part of how modern superheroes are built, and I daresay a big part of how modern people fantasize about building them.  How do you fit a “cool” superpower into the worlds of Marvel or DC?  It’s a question Kirby never had to ask himself, or Ditko…both of whom I mention in this context because we can absolutely see that their ability to create a “superhero space” not only made Marvel’s universe in the first place, but also reached a point where it couldn’t mesh with it anymore.  The Eternals, or Speedball…I’m fond of saying that if Jack had introduced the Eternals in an issue of FF it would’ve all worked just fine (though the universe would’ve looked a little different by now!), and Speedball could’ve come out of 1963 and looked a lot less like it was riffing on Nova and Firestorm, but it didn’t.  The “pure” intent was there, no doubt!  But it was just that purity of intent that made these later creations by the original Marvel architects function as faultlines in their still-developing universe, faultlines that to this day have not quite been adequately addressed as the elements of world-building that they both are, and must be.

Although maybe Dragon Lord would be a better example of a Ditkovian faultline in Marvel’s “universeism”…

…And even though Kirby’s New Gods were explicitly made a part of Superman’s milieu, and still don’t work as community-property toys…!

But in any case, what these guys didn’t do, is just what every young fan of their creation did do…or does do, perhaps, even now?…and so you folks are either a bit advanced or a bit slow, I can’t tell which, but it’s certainly a different sort of design problem altogether you’re onto:  a character-design problem such as the kind Kirby and Ditko traditionally interested themselves in, whereas my “Kinetic Lad”, with his lame Nineties nickname, his ostentatiously “mutantish” power, and his reflection on Spider-Man, isn’t much of a character at all…but he is nevetheless something of a commentary, and these days that counts more…

…And now we will have a brief digression.

On the Spider-Man supporting character called Will-O-The-Wisp.  The mystery man, the one who moans about “what’s been done“…always attractive, but consider the placement:  what’s more alien to a supremely native New Yorker like Spider-Man, than a ghost of the pre-urban past?  Ghosts in general, Spider-Man’s antithetical to ’em — creatures of the deep past, or symbolically in touch with the deep past, of Manhattan Island, must freak him out.  Especially if they help him.  In a word:  there must be some logical explanation…!

But what if there isn’t?

This is how attraction gets formed, or used to in the Seventies.  Magic, outside the realm of Dr. Strange stories…after all, no comic-book explanations are “logical”, are they?  They’re all only pseudological.  Psychological?  Think of Luke Cage for a minute or two, and consider how strange it is for him to get together with the tattooed white boy in the pointy yellow shoes, from the different dimension, over the frozen bridge.  Two Marvel Universes clash together, here, and that was always what was supposed to be the appeal.  There he is, the kung-fu elf, sitting on your windowsill.  “Hi, Luke.  Need your help.”

Well, doesn’t everybody always need Luke Cage’s help?  Isn’t that the whole point of Luke Cage?

Sorry, I’m meandering, and besides that was the Eighties…but I think the point’s the same:  how do you create attraction in a superhero concept that is all about fitting into an arbitrary milieu instead of carving out new space?  Power Man and Iron Fist both had their respective days as “new space” creations before they were so cleverly collided into “new” new space, or is that new old space…well, it’s hard to tell which thing Marvel needed more, at that time…but there was never going to be a private raison d’etre for Will O’ The Wisp, just as there was never going to be one for the Rocket Racer, even though they were both quite functional original supercharacters of their day, and they did manage to mean something to their context at that time.  Something simple:  which was a virtue another of my Eighties superhero dreams didn’t have (that one I just called “Tap”, and his thing was that he could take advantage of distortions in “energy fields” other characters used for their superpowered effects, piggyback on their energy-sources/effects…I know, at this point “Darkblade” starts to look good), pretty expressly didn’t have since he was little more than a walking explanation of comic-book physics…and a virtue that another sorta-kinda character I liked actually did have, whose name was “Seven” and whose origins and powers were radically unspecified.  You see the difference, I guess:  it’s imposition, or perhaps more charitably puzzle-solving, versus integration of concept and setting instituted right from the get-go.  I mean, believe me I could supply more embarrassing examples…but these ones work reasonably well, don’t they?

How do you make a “Marvel” or “DC” superhero character?

How do you make a “standalone” superhero character?

How do you make Marvel or DC “good” again, without reference to one of the tired charcters they’ve already got?

Or…with that reference?

And how do you make a superhero character (or book concept) that resonates somehow with the times you’re in?  Well, that’s the tough question, really…because it is, as Matthew correctly points out Michael Chabon already said, the why.

“What is the why?”

Either the impositional approach or the integrated one will serve to produce a fair answer to this all-important question, if it’s done right.  But without a “why” it doesn’t matter what else you do right, the character — or the concept — is just not going to work.  Because the attraction will have been left out of it.

Thus the problem of “alternative superhero universes” — well, there’s a reason we think about them a lot more carefully these days, build in those universes to the background of the new superhero IPO.  You don’t like Marvel?  You don’t like DC?  Fine;  but just as the Marvel heroes, villains, costumes, origins, and what-have-you were composed of pretty much constant allusions to Superman, so too the “superhero universe” is practically mandatory, these days, in the placement of a new supercharacter.  And so even to practice the “integrated” technique is to do a little bit of “impositional” riffing, because there are no such things anymore as superhero contexts that grow organically together from different titles into a single macro-environment for serial storytelling.  And since whatever you’re doing you’re not doing that…

…Then everything you do that isn’t it, counts as a commentary on it.

And thus we come to Image Comics…but before we’re done we’re going to touch on something a bit stranger:  Jerry Siegel and Val Mayerik’s “The Starling”, the back-up feature to the Gerber/Kirby Destroyer Duck mag from Eclipse…

By going back to “Kinetic Lad” for a moment, and doing him differently.  Because…

…Say, who is he, anyway, if he’s not Marvel Comics commentary?  Or rather:  who could he be?

Here’s one possible answer.  He’s from a little town on the Colorado River.  He’s a lifeguard there.  He’s a really good lifeguard, because he’s a spare term in all physical equations, and therefore no matter how evil the swell, he simply cuts right through it:  he can get anybody back from anywhere, even from the edge of a waterfall.  It looks like “super-strong swimming”.  But of course it isn’t.  It isn’t anything like that.  If our boy was shot at, the bullets would bounce off his chest (though not very far!) and they’d call it “invulnerability”…but they’d be wrong about that too.  And maybe at some point somebody might realize what his superpower actually is (or at least:  how it behaves) and explain it by reference to an extradimensional transfer of energy, mass, whatever…

And they’d be even more wrong!

So let’s give him his super-name, in this “non-milieu” milieu:  it’s ZERO.  And here’s his origin, torn right from the incredibly wise “what is the why” mind of Jerry Siegel himself:

He’s the son of a single mother.  She was a guide in the Grand Canyon, when one night the meteor showers got so intense they felt like water raining down on her and her charges, light practically splashing off them, and they all fell asleep…except for her, and she saw the flying saucer come down.

Nine months later, the fatherless child is born, out in the wilderness.

So it’s basically “The Starling”, okay?

Which is to say:  it’s basically everything, that any of this stuff has ever been…from Moses to Superman to Invincible.

Right?

But now hold on, I’ve got a Ditko one…which is to say, a “Batman” one. Or, a Capt. Marvel one?  This one’s name is ALUMINUM…and it’s the story of a boy who discovers a blob of alien metal (somehow) and finds that he and it have a strange telepathic link.  The mysterious metal soon takes his shape, when he moves it moves, it’s a mimic.  It’s flexible, it’s extensible, it’s strong, it’s heat-resistant…and it gives him a strong biofeedback sensation.  Over time, he learns how to mould it into the shape of “guy wearing suit”…over time, he learns how to close his eyes and “inhabit” it by teleoperation.  It’s hollow but it’s powerful, and it’s stretchy too;  it’s just a tube shaped like a man, but he gives it life.

Shaped like a man…

Perhaps partly in response to his wishes, while he’s a gawky seventeen year-old it’s a husky twenty-five year-old.  And as time goes on it attracts the romantic attentions of a “girl reporter” who’s twenty-seven or so.  Though some sixth sense tells her to feel disquiet in the presence of the man-in-silver-suit she takes Aluminum to be.  So it’s screwy for her…and it’s screwy for him!  Because this is fantasy taken too far, this is an avatar too easy.  The toughest thing about it is that the writer’s not nearly as much on our boy’s side as Green Lantern’s writer is on his side…thinking of new shapes for his “body” is half the problem for our lad.  It’s a real learning curve…

…And there’s another problem, too.

Domino.

Wherever he goes, if he stays there long enough, people start putting on domino masks and behaving with coordinated mass violence towards him.  It just happens.  He can’t explain it.  It definitely seems weird.

Spider-Man to Iron Man to Batman to weird Japanese Robot stuff, to Son Of Satan to Thor to Alpha Flight’s “Box” and even Sasquatch, to Venom and Carnage…to the Metal Men and Cliff Steele and Mike Moran, and of course ultimately back to Billy Batson.  Sorry, I’m not claiming much for “Aluminum” here, I’m just drawing out lines as far as they’ll go…there’s the hidden hero, you see, and then there’s the transformed one.  There’s the thing where the costume matters, and the thing where it doesn’t.

And most importantly, there’s always the question now, whatever we do, of what the milieu is to be.  I’m sure you’ve noticed one important, very important, antecedent of “Aluminum”, and really that’s what his name’s supposed to remind you of…another Eighties effort, it’s Concrete of course.

And Aluminum’s supervillain is like a Concrete-ized Lex Luthor, obviously:  a creepy Ditko mad scientist.

(But he better have someone else super-powered to fight, too…hey, any ideas?)

You’ve gotta forgive me, Bloggers:  this big loose megaproject of mine has sort of run away with me a little bit.  Yeah, make up a superhero!  Exactly!  But what are “superheroes”?  Like irony, we may not know how to define them, but we know ’em when we see ’em…but seriously what are they?

They’re the powers.  But also they’re the world.  When you make up a superhero, it’s as though you wish to tweak the world slightly;  every superhero deforms the world they live in.  Every superhero’s existence corrects a minor injustice, right?

So what’s yours?

Stay with me here, this is going to get a bit wobbly:  I told you already that my Big Plan may not work.  Of course I hope that it will.  It is not just about having people participating who are capable of coming up with a character called “Dolphinex”, the advance scout of an alien invasion fleet who (like that other Captain Marvel) has been empowered to draw on mass, energy, telepathy, just as he pleases…

…But it’s about people who can answer the what is the why question, for their creations.

My two creations here have a huge “what is the why” debt, from their superpowers.  ZERO‘s “why” is retro in aspect:  can the world stand an actual superhero, like Superman?  I mean it is a question that must be asked:  what happens when he ceases to be a simple lifeguard?

Just as ALUMINUM’s power is not retro at all:  because the costume is all-important.  How will superpowers change an ordinary person, if they’re mysteriously given efficacy they haven’t earned, or couldn’t have earned?

O Readers, you have surely noticed:  ALUMINUM tries hard to be “relevant”.

And ZERO doesn’t.

And a lot of your superhero suggestions flow from a world that is already tweaked.

So…

Tell me what the tweak is!

What correction-of-minor-injustice is your own superperson a stand-in for, an advocate for?

And hopefully this will all pay off three posts from now.

But if it doesn’t…boy will I have some egg on my face.

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28 responses to “Dorsal Portal Mega Mortal

  1. there are no such things anymore as superhero contexts that grow organically together from different titles into a single macro-environment for serial storytelling

    I suppose not. Not that it couldn’t be done! You could totally do it. But it would be an odd editor-in-chief who could refuse to plan to that extent, and then start to plan later on. Why do that, when you could just set up your universe from first principles right at the start? Even though it’s not really the same.

    Maybe the closest we’ve had to it recently is the DCAU, as formed by the accretion of Batman: TAS, Superman: TAS, Batman Beyond, Static Shock (maybe/sort of), Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited.

    As for the main question, I’m going to have to think about it. Perhaps another example?

  2. Okay, I may be about to leak some thoughts all over the place here. Sorry about that, especially as I’ve not commented over here much before (if at all?) and feel vaguely as if I’m trespassing. But you’re giving me thoughts and I’ll go mad if I don’t put them somewhere. So sorry in advance!

    This stuff about universes, that’s the problem I’ve had when trying to write some sort of superhero novel/prose serial/thing. Because it always came back to the idea of the superhero universe. I’ve never been much of a fan of the big established universes, where there’s always a culture of superheroing (I’m talking about these universes that are crafted to BE this, rather than the big two, who got there somewhat organically. Though I have problems with them as well!).

    But the other way, when your emerging hero is the only one, always seems to lead to your question: “Can the world stand an actual superhero, like Superman?” But I don’t necessarily want to write THAT either.

    And don’t even get me started on genres (you didn’t, but I’ll take any excuse). Is ‘superhero’ even a genre any more. Or is it a set of ideas that you apply to other genres?

    Interestingly, your thing about domino masks is sort of similar to an idea I’ve been kicking around (although yours is so much better that I feel sort of embarrassed even bringing it up). It was supposed to be a sort of anthology, where each story focuses on a character who has a reasonably complex problem. Maybe one character is uncomfortable by how often a friend flirts with his wife. Maybe another suspects her boss of being involved in shady dealings. Little things, maybe, but somewhat realistic. Problems without easy answers, basically.

    Just when these people are at their lowest, their most confused, they get a package through the post: a single black domino mask. Maybe a costume, but that might be a little much. So they put this mask on, as you would, and things get…simpler. The friend wants to steal the wife for his intergalactic harem! The boss is in league with a spy with whips for fingers! These are pretty terrible examples, but the idea is that complex problems get boiled down to a single frantic fight scene, and when our heroes take the mask off (and they can’t ever seem to find it again, once they put it down), their lives are a little easier to bear.

    Okay, reading that back it sounds as if I’m a total lunatic, and like I’m taking the piss out of the whole superhero idea. It wasn’t my intention, honestly. Totally incoherent, and way too long. Sorry!

  3. Digital I: No, it seems really cool! I don’t know where you’d go with it, exactly, but it’d be really interesting! Sort of reminds me of the Stephen King book Needful Things, only not so destructively.

    But make another one up, in this mode!

    But I don’t really understand this mode!

    I mean, I sort of do, on the surface… What do I think the tweaks are for the two I’ve already made up? For Clouded Leopard, it’s a tweak not in our world but in a superheroic world: what if you’re just not as much of a superhero as you want to be? No matter how hard you try, you don’t get as far, and they don’t trust you, and you can’t join in the reindeer games. Is helping people enough? Can you help enough people?

    For Anthony Rowley, it’s not even a tweak; it’s a reminder. No matter what, you always have the option of tying a bedsheet to the headboard, opening the window, and climbing out. Not necessarily forever! But the rules are only rules as long as it’s worth it to you to follow them. (I’d like to mention here, by the way, the source of the elements of George Gamble’s superhero schtick: the various versions of the lyrics to “Froggy Went A-Courting”. “Anthony Rowley,” “heigh-ho,” the frog mask, “sword and pistol by his side,” et cetera. And George is, of course, quite aware of how the song ends.)

    But a new character who’s being made as such a tweaking of reality? Okay, how’s this.

    Redshift, aka Alejandro Almanzar.

    A childhood accident left Alex in a wheelchair for life. He’s got only one arm and basically nothing below the waist. He hasn’t let this hold him back, though; he’s got a Ph.D. in astronomy now and was on the verge of launching a big high-profile project for a major midwestern university when the governmental funding dried up and he was out on the street.

    Fortunately for him, a different government project was looking for people who were reasonably bright and missing large portions of their bodies. A couple of smart-but-shady scientists working for a think tank have come up with a super-power-suit that’s based around laser-activated super glass. It works great but there’s not a lot of room inside, but Alex fits into it just fine, and the cybernetic interface is just as smooth as pajamas. The thing is actually a lot of fun to fly around, and he gets the hang of it quickly.

    Then he finds out what they want to use it for, and he doesn’t like that so much. The think tank scientists see it as primarily a riot control device. They figure that the masses are rising and the hardworking billionaires need the Redshift suit to provide some security for them. Alex has no interest in this. But now he has a decision to make, and here are the factors:

    – he doesn’t mind so much using the suit to do crowd control and stuff at demonstrations; he’s confident that he can do that kind of thing without hurting anybody or violating his own conscience, no matter what kind of repressive orders he’s given
    – he may be wrong about that, though
    – the think tank is the only source of fuel for the suit
    – Alex is the best pilot for the suit that’s come along
    – but if he says no, they’ll be able to get someone else who’s adequate with no trouble
    – the suit has enough power to handle the goals of Alex’s canceled astronomy project: searching out and destroying or diverting asteroids that are headed for Earth’s atmosphere
    – there has been a significant increase in the number of such asteroids in the last eighteen months. No impacts yet, but a lot of close calls
    – the think tank guys are not at all interested in this problem
    – Alex did manage to head up to outer space as part of a couple of his test flights, and found some very disturbing things. Like, what are all those different kinds of aliens doing hanging around just outside Earth orbit?
    – Are some of them throwing rocks?
    – And that one alien, Srix… she may be capable, via her telepathy and other less-understood qualities, of forming a romantic relationship with him in a way that’s not physically possible for human women. Alex isn’t sure about that, but he sure likes her, anyway
    – As the regular operator of the Redshift suit (powers: flight, invulnerability, speed up to .95c in optimum conditions, enhanced strength, laser bolts, strobe-effect seizure field, ability to operate in space or underwater or wherever) Alex can expect to have to fight the odd villain as well as put the hammer down on honest citizens with grievances, but he would regard all activities performed within Earth’s atmosphere as a distraction from what he really wants and needs to do

    How to balance all that?

    The tweak, in this case, is this business of the asteroids threatening Earth. Is anyone, in real life, working on this? I hope so.

  4. Digital Imbecile: It’s kind of “100 Bullets” for superheroes, eh? (I don’t mean to be dismissive or reductive…I’m just giving you your elevator pitch!) That could actually be really interesting and have a lot to say if done right; the trickiest thing, I think, would be getting the tone right, kind of a narrative juggling act.

    Going back to my “Silencer” idea and applying it to the next step here…this idea, to be honest, DID have its origins in superhero commentary. Trying to do some sort of post-post-modernist superhero (whatever the hell that would actually mean), trying to construct a “new classic” – I personally still get excited by all the superhero archetypes, I just think they always get used in exactly the same way, so the trick was to target the first thing you think of when you hit the archetype and reverse it.

    In this case it was your “masked detective” superhero, and today your mind immediately goes to Rorschach and/or The Question. So I went for a female protagonist (this idea predates Renee Montoya as The Question, and so that novelty alone won’t sell it), giving her superpowers because most masked detectives don’t have them, yet her superpower (while defining her) is actually secondary to her superhero activity, because theoretically she could be a detective ANYWAY, the powers just HELP. There were similar archetype reversals in the pitch; the speedster-trickster figure was also the shrouded-in-mystery hero, but without all the sexy brooding that’s become cliche.

    But as for the “tweak” or the “why” (if I’m properly interpreting what’s being asked):

    It’s the idea that’s central to many superheroes (but not all!), that the superhero is something good that comes out of something bad. Krypton explodes, but the Earth gets Superman; the Waynes are killed but the world gets Batman; mutants are persecuted, but it gives the X-Men a reason for being. Not in a queasy predestination “Signs” kind of way, like the universe itself CONSPIRED to get the Waynes killed because Batman is somehow necessary to the Great Cosmic Order or anything. The tweak is rather that the superhero exists as an option, a positive consequence, a way to deal, following misfortune. Tragedy inspires.

    The Silencer idea partly is…not a commentary or homage, it was trying to be only itself, although I don’t know if it can be…how “Daredevil” was a name Matt Murdock’s classmates came up with to tease him, and then Murdock’s able to turn the name around and “own” it. Similarly (or at least, it’s what I was going for) the “girls are to be seen and not heard” thing become a positive attribute.

  5. Hey, Digital Imbecile, that’s a great idea! Like, one I would definitely read — to me it sounds a lot like a fruitful crossover of superhero stuff and fantasy-novel stuff, which if you think about it is a thing hardly anybody’s managed to get away with. Well, fantasies, particular juvies, do a pretty good job of this from the “fantasy end” as it were — the thought you being up about whether superhero stuff counts as a “genre”, I think some of the bloggers with decent academic credentials have addressed this a few times (Marc Singer, probably?), but then there’s never any reason the average joe can’t hammer away at it too — obviously all of your movie action heroes partake of the superhero, an alarming number of characters in cop shows and even medical dramas — I keep going back to Tom Disch’s book “The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of” just because the title encapsulates the whole matter pretty perfectly: these things do tend to escape from their genre boxes, to the point where a lot of analyses of Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” (just for example) suffer from their authors not knowing much of anything about genre fiction…it’s half a century on now, or something, and a lot of what Nabokov played with in “Pale Fire” has influenced genre fiction to a much more penetrating degree than it’s influenced mainstream fiction, and yet for myself at least I’m finding analyses of PF leaving that familiarity (what should be familiarity, anyway!) right out…

    So I don’t think we can say that the “superheroic mode”, or the conventions of superhero storytelling, or whatever you want to call it, is in any kind of a ghetto anymore. But what I like about your idea here particularly is that while we see lots of lucrative crossovers of content nowadays that don’t look a million miles removed from the Lee/Kirby mashups of early Marvel — romance and science-fiction is one such content-crossover that leaps immediately to mind — we rarely see fantasies of personal transformation that use the trappings of the superhero instead of the trappings of magical agencies, schools for wizards or disappearing shops or whatever. The domino mask coming in the mail takes me right back to a lot of juvie fantasies I read as a young idiot, only it pitches it onto adult life I think very charmingly…so I think that’s a good prose idea and a half, for real! Much like Matthew’s Clouded Leopard it’s got genuine novelistic possibilities.

    You should definitely pursue it!

    But I’m also thinking that maybe, without meaning to, I came off as a bit critical of the previous suggestions by everybody — not my intent, folks! It’s just that this installment ran a little off the rails towards the end there. Justin‘s Silencer, for example, has a superpower that’s as interesting as invisibility (“The Inaudible Girl”!) but seems more relevant for sure to the matter of “the times”…when “invisibility” is a non-physical issue too, an abstract matter of location or privacy or information. Well, so invisibility…you can still say things with it, but less and less analogically as time goes on. Being inaudible, though, has possibilities…in terms of superhero commentary, I think you could stretch out a little and say, well, it’s not just Sue Storm in play here, or Renee Montoya, but also Kitty Pryde and even Jessica Jones…ringing the changes on those famous “passive female superpowers” seems like something it might be time for, indeed! It’s hard not to notice the same action going on, though from two different angles, with both The Silencer and Clouded Leopard — that Danica loses her original sound-based power-set is pretty striking in this regard: women have a huge problem with “identity-loss” everywhere in the world, of course, and foregrounding it with the superhero metaphor (masks, etc.!), not just dealing with it through asides or minor character details or its place in some sort of larger group dynamic, just seems like a long-overdue approach. “Danica Dalh”, there’s not much about her that doesn’t seem to scream “I am embedded in a big patriarchal machine that only wants me as much as I can do something for it”…meanwhile in The Silencer you’ve got still more externalization going on, an evil cabal, a protagonist who should have died…a little like the Spirit, a little like the Question (masks!)…and again, a little like Alias, in which Jessica Jones becomes anonymous upon taking the mask off

    Not that I’m saying anything that hasn’t been thought of a thousand times before, but…well, then there’s Redshift, which seems to revisit something Grant Morrison revisited too, in his Aztek…the other sort of cabal, the “home-base cabal” if you will: the completely invisible and mysterious organization. Though, y’know…being able to accelerate to 95% of c is kind of overkill for crowd control, maybe! But then maybe that’s the point — the makers of Redshift‘s fuel look like their problem is that their tremendous technical skill is wedded to an extreme lack of imagination, compassion, etc…and so, yeah, there’s something reasonably primal working in this one’s symbolic depths, as Alejandro is in something of a war of ideals with his “benefactors”, a battle (of course I would see it this way!) over what “science” is, or should be. Of “the times”, maybe just a little bit? No; not just a little bit, a LOT. Clouded Leopard, my brain interprets that as prose…but this one’s a comic in the 1980s alternative mode, very “Concrete” indeed!

    So…

    Okay, this post was a bit sloppy, but the comments are definitely making up for it! The “superpower as correction of injustice”, as that in itself…and coupled with the relative importance of how the costume’s transformative ability either matters or doesn’t matter…yes, this is a good grab-bag of that stuff. Alejandro doesn’t even own his suit, he didn’t make it and can’t power it…and even though he’s the best pilot, somebody else could easily be the pilot instead of him. So what’s special about him? Matthew, as we know, likes his heroes goddamn heroic…and so it’s interesting to think that being given the Redshift suit is almost more of a stripping-away than an adding on (“faith and begorrah, education’s a drawing-out, not a putting-in”, oh great I’m becoming a self-parody), as much exposure as armouring. What’s special about Alejandro? The question’s not too big, until that suit goes on him…and then it’s absolutely critical.

    (By the way, Matthew, we are doing something about near-Earth asteroids — we’re charting them!)

    Meanwhile, way over yonder in the minor key…well, it’s interesting, Clouded Leopard is a story that’s all about powers-and-costumes (it seems to me), but it’s about them being in some sense unreliable: about them breaking down, or being broken down, and somewhere under there is whatever’s irreducible about the person they apply to…expressed in “superpower” form, of course! So the injustice that’s being corrected there is perhaps the injustice of “identity” — of being given one whether it fits you or not. Similar in form but not in content, then we have Justin and his Silencer…where the costume doesn’t matter at all, does it? If the power sort of is the costume: if the anonymity comes with the accident as a single piece. The injustice here is spelled out pretty well, I think: Annie gets to be the valuable, impersonal technology in exactly the same way Alejandro doesn’t…and as long as she is, the bad guys don’t get to have it, wield it, abuse it. Because she’s reappropriated it, of course…!

    But, wait a minute…damn it, these mushrooms aren’t gonna saute themselves…!

    More later, folks!

  6. One thing Digital Imbecile said:

    And don’t even get me started on genres (you didn’t, but I’ll take any excuse). Is ‘superhero’ even a genre any more. Or is it a set of ideas that you apply to other genres?

    reminded me of something. See, my wife reads a lot of romance novels, and as such she spent quite a bit of time reading a series by an author named Christine Feehan, and complaining about them to me. (I haven’t read any of these yet, although a couple of them are on my pending shelf.) They’re about, I don’t know, demons and demon hunters and gods and vampires and shifters and stuff. There’s a whole convoluted mythology that gets developed over a couple dozen books, and she gets more and more irritated with it as it goes on. One thing she doesn’t like is that the mythology keeps including more and more stuff. Like, you’ve got the Norse gods, but then you’ve also got the Greek gods, and then you’ve also got, I don’t know, aliens or something, and it’s just too much.

    None of which would bother any of us too much, because this is exactly the sort of thing we get in the DC universe and the Marvel universe. All different mythologies, some mutually contradictory, all thrown in there and tossed together with a light vinaigrette. And I mentioned this to her.

    But here’s the thing: when we encounter this stuff, it doesn’t matter that all of this is ridiculous, because it’s only there to serve the needs of the superhero genre. So I asked her, do all these centaurs and Atlanteans and dragons serve the needs of the romance genre in Feehan’s books? And, no they don’t, because it turns out the books aren’t really romances. If they were romances, that would be fine, because your love story would be the spine of the whole thing, and everything else would organize off of that. But no; they’re paranormal adventure suspense or some made-up noncategory like that, so they have to carry all their own weight. And it doesn’t work, because if the unicorns and werepanthers are the point of the story, then it actually matters if they make sense.

    So this is what the superhero genre does for us (among other things): it redeems its own extremely questionable subject matter. Which explains why the TV show Heroes didn’t work, in the end: they were trying to have the trappings of the superhero genre without telling superhero stories, and ended up where Christine Feehan ended up.

  7. Hell yeah, you’re absolutely right. And it seems like a simple thing, doesn’t it? “Well, I’m gonna have all these superheroes in it, but it’s a detective story.” Or: “I’m gonna have all this magic stuff in it, but it’s really a superhero story when you boil it down.” Kind of the essence of stirring things together, that you know what you intend to do with the mixture! And, of course, that you make it all so it works, so it’s a recipe that doesn’t come out wrong when you scale it up or down or add pecans or turn it into a salad or whatever. With superhero ingredients, you can kind of see what’s being cooked by, oh just for example, how much you have to care about the superpowers making sense…I mean they are never really going to make sense, no matter what you do, since they’re all about things that people can’t do, but sometimes you need a certain kind of rationale and other times you don’t.

    Although it’s funny to think of all the people at Marvel and DC who’re always going nuts trying to re-rationalize something that already makes the right kind of not-sense…

  8. What instances of genre fiction did you have in mind as being influenced by Pale Fire? I liked the book, admired its cleverness (even though Nabokov’s inferior poetry was a surprise, given his adaptness with prose), but its structure struck me as being a bit of a one-off. Unlike Nabokov’s prose style which has influenced about a billion people, including me. I wonder if some of the purply seventies Marvel stuff can be put down to Nabokov.

    If I was creating a superhero, I’d ramp their power way down (ability to jump quite far, maybe, or above-average strength, or they sort of have feelings about the future which sometimes come true). Not sure it matters too much what the power it, but I’d combine it with a strong drive. Desire for justice has been done to death, so maybe horrible anger. Or panic attacks, Or fear. Fear would be good. Something that has the MC by the throat and makes them dysfunctional but can be overcome.

    Then I’d keep them the hell away from any other member of Marvel-DC universe, because connection with them is basically a virus. Spider-Man becomes hero #113 when he joins the Avengers.

  9. Jump quite far is a great superpower…!

    I think the Pale Fire thing, the nested structure of unreliable (unsane?) accounts that forms a puzzle you think will render an image of reality if you can just pick up on all the clues, is something that’s been copied many, many, many times, especially in SF…like, used as a precedent, almost. What’s real, in PF? I’d argue only two things are real: the poem is real (well, we can see it, can’t we?), and the noises that distract Kinbote from his reverie are real…although I can see someone wanting to argue that, nevertheless to me the poem is the core and the commentary is the flesh, and the character is the skin. The poem is not very good in one sense, but in another it’s weighted for an awful lot of real meaning — it’s just that we don’t know how “real” the real meaning is. But then that’s natural, since the poem’s meant to destabilize us as much as orient us — “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain” is a fairly provocative double vu all about mixed orientations, insides and outsides and all that. Is it a whole lot different from Christopher Priest’s “The Affirmation”, or even D.M. Thomas’ “The White Hotel”? Okay, Thomas isn’t an SF writer, and not that you can’t find other mainstream PF influences — hey, there’s another one with a hotel in it, too! Findlay’s “Famous Last Words”! — how deep does this rabbit-hole go? — and maybe Priest is a bit off the beaten track, but how about Philip K. Dick? he doesn’t exactly have all the Shakespeare and the Pope littered about the thing working for him in his stories (much less King Charles’ oddly Tintin-like escape story), but as to the nested realities that bleed over onto one another, pretty much yeah. Though it’s hard for me to say exactly where this trope originates — but Nabokov certainly seems to give it unusually serious attention at least in terms of formal play, and people did read Pale Fire, so I think we get its influence anywhere you have different “worlds” yoked together by a mysterious causation, linked in dream or hallucination, and treated seriously…although I couldn’t swear that PF didn’t draw on genre work for its own inspiration, could you? The Wizard Of Oz, for example, is all about a similar blurring…and if you take it back to Wagner (which I love doing, obviously) and picture Freud sitting there in the audience beginning to believe in the subconscious — and then later, Jung seeing the archetypes — well there in the opera hall, psychology’s birthplace, you perhaps see the synthesis taking place, that creates the ground that nourishes the twentieth century’s fantastic literature. So at least in that view you get a trunk for this tree, but it seems faintly ridiculous to say the branches don’t intercommunicate after that point too. To replicate the mood of Kinbote and Shade in a mainstream novel would be a reasonably dicey proposition, I think (though crap emulations of Nabokov are certainly everywhere to be found worldwide, like crap replications of Salinger in the States!), but for SF and fantasy and just about anything with a voiceover that isn’t dumb as a rock, the opportunity to play with nested narrative uncertainties is like rain in the desert…of course maybe you don’t conceive of wanting to do it, until you see it done well. Watchmen’s stunningly like PF in its eventual structure, isn’t it? But we might so easily have had a world where every Prince And The Pauper story is just a story where everyone has a “real” identity…and the plot is a list of actual occurrences that no one doubts…

    But as nice as that Wagner bit is, there’s another antecedent of “psychodramatic” literature, and of course as Nabokov is at pains to indicate, it’s Shakespeare. Not only “Hamlet” (why people neglect the non-Timon Of Athens “pale fire” reference so is absolutely beyond me) where the play’s the thing to catch the conscience of the king, but none of the descriptions outside that play ever stand easy…but of course Freud again, who Bloom says takes everything he ever thought from Ol’ Shaky in the first place. Mentioning this to a psychologist friend of mine, I got a puzzled stare and a “no, it was all Greek and Roman myth, wasn’t it?”…and if we’re talking about the tree’s roots, then yeah…but if we’re talking about the synthesis of its trunk, then no.

    Uh…

    Wait, I didn’t adequately answer the question, did I?

  10. Thank you for reassuring me that I didn’t invent the worst super-hero name ever.

    (actually, I knew that because I didn’t call my character Cable. At least Tap’s name has something to do with his power)

    Anyway, what minor injustice does Darkblade correct? He’s a homeless man with schizophrenia. Except in the Other world, if it’s real. So his other-dimensional heroics are in the service of a just monarch (fairy-tale style, completely removed from the real world). In one sense, he’s preserving that which is Good, same as everyone from Superman to Wolverine. Of course, nobody in the real world, the one that counts, knows this. In fact, he is not believed, and therefore shunned and forgotten.

    But that’s not fair! He had a life before the schizophrenia got so bad. He had a job, friends and a family, the whole shebang. He knows this, too, but the voices and the sensations won’t let him be. Except in the Other World, if it’s there at all.

    He fights to be somebody. Not a crazy bum, but a real, whole, useful person. (even though it can’t take away reality, he’s not his whole self, and he’s not doing anything useful for his life in the real world). He fights because it’s not fair, and he won’t let this good world become the terrible place it would be without his intervention. His battle is internal against this thing that’s eaten his life. It’s not goddamn fair, and Darkblade exists to provide balance, to defeat despair, to be something undeniably Good.

    I hope that is at least close to what you’re talking about.

  11. First, I came along to scroll…and it looks delightful! My inner Geek is writing reviews and essays of Jack Kirby’s Machine Man…everytime I think of heroes as fringe personas oriented towards a center in society, I think of “Trout”. I did the same for, of all things, The Man Called Nova volume one.

    My Iron Man Ann. 3 is recovered from the vaults of time, so first that and then Ruth, the supporting character best tying together Man-Thing and Omega the Unknown will animate my fevered fingers, inspired by the awesome meme that is the Seven Soldiers of Steve!

  12. I’ll just throw a couple more prawns in the pot. The first one is supposed to dovetail exactly with Marvel history and expectations; the second is a hot potato (as prawns go).

    Picture Iodyne as a woman covered in op-art contours, the way they used to project moire patterns onto a model, or with infrared photography. It was cool then, and it can be cool again. If she has hair at all, it’s a Prince Valiant bob in microfine tungsten filaments. She has a nice smile you can see when the light is right, and clear human eyes, very often wide open in a Moment of Truth stare which she uses in inverse proportion to the number of words she’s speaking. If she has to use more than two sentences in a talk-bubble, she’ll look bored.

    This is all about Design. She is about Design in herself. Ideally an Iodyne story would be illustrated by a commercial graphics class who all want to be Jim Steranko.

    Iodyne performs strange alchemies with massive, clueless excess of force. Her keynote is inversion of the organic and the inorganic. It’s as if she doesn’t know her own strength; she does, but she doesn’t realize it’s inappropriate; as if she were a Bizarro, or Rima the Bird Girl Only From Space. It would be typical of her to extract every atom of lead from a landfill with the wave of a hand, and transmute it into beetles which subsequently will lay their eggs in car batteries. She likes to mess with the Hulk; she can flip him to Banner and back at a whim.

    Her basic moral polarity is Healthy / Sick. She heals conditions as she finds them, with about the same subtlety as the Spectre restores justice. Monica Rambeau will have the hell of a time persuading her that civilization isn’t a planet-destroying blight. She also understands combat at every level instinctively, being half Kree.

    Iodyne is the nascent lifeforce of the moon Io. The interesting one, with the sulphur geysers and the plasma tube connecting it to Jupiter’s magnetic dynamo.

    The idea of planetary lifeforce beings has popped up a few times with Marvel; there’s Ego of course, we have our own Gaia (fortunately not played up) and a couple of possibles. We will assume: (1) these beings are rare; (2) they usually take millions of years to have a thought; (3) they keep their heads down because they are exploitable and delicious. After all, Galactus isn’t going to get much more energy, as we know it, from Earth’s biomass than any other aggregate of elements; there must be something extra. Iodyne is here on Earth to appreciate our lifeforms, then go back and make her own.

    Fans will remember how Mar-Vell laid his first love, Medic Una, to rest on a small asteroid, with a tasteful headstone. Well it happened that the asteroid slipped into Jupiter’s gravity well, making several passes through the plasma tube. The slumbering life-being was stirred to interest, and before the rocky tomb flamed out in the Jovian atmosphere, she snatched the corpse and remade it cell by cell in cryogenic ion condensates. The result still has Una’s memories somewhere but she never has time to use them, what with being the Io-being’s new body. But she has a lot of Kree still in her makeup.

    For a start the newmade planetary avatar touches bases with the few human outposts scattered about the Solar System: Epsilon Red, the Starcore station, S.W.O.R.D., whoever; including Monica, who becomes her first counsel of sanity. Early in the piece Iodyne comes upon the Inhumans — ooh, Kree-type! — and decided to transplant them to Io. Black Bolt slaps her down in short order and locks her away deep under the Moon. While she’s there the Supreme Intelligence discovered her, and he’s been scheming ever since to acquire her as his own Herald, in the service of inscrutable million-year plans. Once again on the loose, Iodyne sweeps a trail of chaos across Earth until the goodies fight her to a truce.

    I’d want to make a point of pitting Iodyne against Marvel’s other cosmic females, techno-erotically. Carol Danvers wants to deal herself a major part in the Kree-Skrull conflict. Moondragon wants the lifeforce, to gain parity with Mantis. These are visual issues. The point is to present Ms Marvel in an endless superscience corridor; leotard, boots, gloves, tall and strategic and deadly serious, and on that account utterly fetishistic. And how ought a pitched battle between two psi goddesses look? Well, how would Jim Steranko do it? The writer gets extra points for providing spare, warped Barbarella lines at the right moment. Decrucify the angel, or I’ll melt your face.

    You’ll be thinking: How human can this creature possibly be? In Chabon’s word, Why? The Surfer has Belonging, Warlock has Salvation, even Man-Thing has something. Well, I deliberately resist giving Iodyne a plot-engine motivation. She has Design. Her values are structural, spatial. You can tell what she likes or believes only through what she brings to life, especially on the surface of her moon: which would tend to be op-art phantasmagoria, collages of electron microscopy, and what about those Mandelbulbs, eh? Organism made regular, regular form made organic.

    Because I want her to be obdurately mysterious. The writer does NOT get to tell you what she is; the artist does. What I’m trying for with Iodyne is the essence of Dan Adkins’ immortal two-page spread, which you must remember, of Doctor Strange facing Nebulos (what IS that???) on a rock-strewn plane with a vast Saturnian planet behind him.

    I want Iodyne to say just two things. First that just this graphic mystery is exactly what it’s all about. Second that we fully intend to keep telling stories of interstellar power struggles among superbeings, and we have a damn good cast of characters to play those stories out. We’re keeping the faith, true believers!

    Break! Just after I finished this part, I found Jog and Death to the Universe‘s Mark Seneca doing an enormous discussion of Kirby’s Treasury Size 2001 adaptation together with Steranko’s Outland. And I feel completely vindicated! Yes, you can generate a world strong enough that it’s a genre unto itself, pretty much through style alone.

  13. Now for the touchy one.

    1954: Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

    1968: Tet Offensive.

    1975: Evacuation from Saigon.

    1980: Chris Claremont introduces Marvel’s first Vietnamese hero, Karma; as far as I can recall, their only one.

    There are a lot of reasons why the Vietnam War has been a nearly blank space on the pop culture map. It’s unseemly to make light entertainment of a living tragedy. American and Australian families are still bearing the scars; nobody wants to present killers of one’s country’s soldiers other than in terms of raw hostility. Rambo is almost the only popular figure in the landscape, an icon of equal indomitability. There has been, in my experience, a consensus on amnesia.

    But it’s a gap, a taboo, almost a repressive neurosis, and that’s a pity. A whole nation is excluded from the pulp evolution, where there are good imaginary guys as well as bad, where a clear conscience is within the reach of innocents, and some kind of restoration is there even for the guilty and all the ones in over their heads. There’s something unbalanced when a whole era can’t support one good-and-evil pulp playground.

    Well, clap hands … here comes Charlie!

    I’m going to call him Que. Don’t know what it means in Vietnamese, it just has nice mean cross-cultural connotations.

    You can think of him as Mowgli for a start. An orphan boy, no shortage of them. At the time of Tet he’s about 12, and in the thick of it. For three years he has been fostered by NLF guerillas as a kind of Bucky Barnes, and been employed in forward scouting, smuggling, squirming through collapsing mud tunnels, and assassinations. It’s the only life he remembers. (“Riding round in helicopters and blowing shit up. I thought everybody lived like that.”)

    His unit are commandeered into the artillery duel of Khe Sanh and are killed when Marines overrun their trenches; they’ve shoved him in a hole. Days later he slips away, avoiding contact, stealing food, meeting violence and mercy at random. He’s in daze, but he knows the terrain, the NLF caches and all the tricks. In the general chaos, bit by bit, he starts to operate as a one-man show.

    I stipulate that Que’s comrades and mentors were all insane; the name and nature of the insanity was Civil War.

    An afternoon searching the web does NOT disclose a prolific literature of voices from inside the Viet Cong, translated and pored over by history students willing to brave the horrors of that time. I have three sources so far, and I’ve only read excerpts. Truong Nhu Tang’s is a soldier’s memoir, circumstantial and not revealing of the inner life. Dang Thuy Tram left a diary of three years as a VC field doctor, full of candid, direct declarations from the heart; it could be set to music: it would be opera. Le Ly Hayslip’s early passages in her book When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, in which her family are victimized by the VC, make you want to kill people.

    They’re the accessible points. Now Dang Thuy Tram’s diary was first published in Vietnam in 2005 (she died in combat in 1970), and has been a best-seller especially with young people who want to know what it was like. It’s as if the whole wartime generation resorted to merciful amnesia.

    For myself, I have no steady Vietnamese acquaintences, and the experience of the war rarely comes up. The most explicit statement I know goes just: During those years we all went crazy. And all this is an afternoon of fragile humanity next to the plain fact of a B-52, or the plain fact of a typewriter tapping out an execution order for a hundred ARVN prisoners. The unconditional Vietnamese demand for Unification, the unconditional U.S. demand for Victory: the forces that would crush the NLF like a moth.

    So I imagine Que coming out of a situation in which certainty of tomorrow and certainty of common humanity with any stranger have been Suspended for the Duration; and knowing no other. In addition he’s a walking showcase of post-traumatic stress disorder: typical symptoms are social withdrawal and bursts of rage or panic in situations the rest of us would find only mildly taxing.

    All Que possesses as a moral standard is these words, drilled into him over years:

    “Do not engage in military operations; that will lead to defeat. Do not take land from a peasant. Emphasize nationalism rather than communism. Do not antagonize anyone if you
    can avoid it. Be selective in your violence. If an assassination is necessary, use a knife, not a rifle or grenade. It is too easy to kill innocent bystanders with guns and bombs, and accidental killing of the innocent bystanders will alienate peasants from the revolution. Once an assassination has taken place, make sure peasants know why the killing occurred.”
    — Ho Chi Minh.

    We can fairly see this as a terrorist charter; equally we can see it as a shrewd instruction for assembling a Consent of the Governed from scratch. But forget these abstractions: only read the words, and assume Que has no other context. You can’t paint Que very much blacker than Ho’s injunction, and you can’t wash him very much whiter.

    So as Que wanders south through the Central Highlands and into Cambodia, he doesn’t form bonds or look for a home, but “peasants” and “innocent bystanders” are sacred to him and whoever threatens them is fair game.

    Obviously this makes him incipiently Robin Hood; but more than that, it makes him The NLF guerilla, epitomal. Keeping in hiding, living by scavenging the dead, he comes completely unheralded with the guerilla’s basic advantage, surprise. And then this fucking kid started up with an automatic from under the chicken shed.

    What have we got? This is the narrative basis, this is the givens. And if it’s like anything at all, it’s like Vaughn Bode’s cruel war-funnies with the little duck-lizards who get their brains blown out.

    How does this evolve?

    I’ve postulated that Que is not a well boy. Now I’m going to pile some extra psychosis on him.

    Que does not have a regular framework for analysing guilt. He doesn’t have the moral terms to accuse or excuse himself. Waves of atrocity wash over his head and leave him guiltless. But he hallucinates the ghosts of the slaughtered; and sometimes the ghosts talk back, and preternaturally direct him. Burying a toy with a child can be a magical act of restoration in his mind. And sometimes the advice of ghosts is an actual advantage.

    Further, he dreams in the folklore of his dead NLF mentors. This will be the images that schocked us all into registering the Vietnam War as a moral rupture, here in the West. Ngo Dinh Diem dwelling in wealth and corruption, ruling Saigon with his death squads. Madame Nhu, the Dragon Lady whose word is death — perhaps Que’s dominant image of the feminine. Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire in the name of an obscure ancestral purity — in Que’s mind, the equivalent of Christ Crucified. These appear to him, sleeping and then wakening, in garish exagerrated colours; living nightmares which can superimpose themselves on perception. At any time Que is brought into surroundings of opulent food and furnishings, the art (it’s a comic, right?) will proclaim him to be in the presence of demons. For him, evil is colonial, privileged, and French. While goodness is the peace of the rice paddies, the austerity of saffron robes.

    Healing is there for Que in any community of people who can demonstrate decency and consistency for a week, but there are not a lot of communities who can count on that. But as 1970 grinds on into 1975, the North Vietnamese Communist regime is factionalizing; and we’ll have it that there are plenty of generals and Party chiefs working to set themselves up in the South as Big Bosses, Little Diems. Taking on one of these tyrants, someone who may turn up repeatedly as Que’s arch-enemy, the life of sporadic individual hits turns into a campaign for Que and a Robin Hood outlaw band, with a supporting cast and some recognizably social voices at last. This is also the period in which the remants of the NLF, after they’d been largely used up in Tet, are hunted down and executed.

    Que will find his peaceful hamlets in the end, though he’ll have to make his way through the killing fields of Kampuchea first. But even when he finds them, a youth of 21, he’ll be a living fossil, the Last Viet Cong, full of illusions whose time is passing, among people making their necessary accommodations. He will never come to the dream land of his first comrades’ desires, where patriotic idealism and Buddhist serenity are the rightful ruling principles. But in getting to where he does, he will have wrought the whispered legend of the People’s Avenger.

    I started on this to try and answer your question, whether there’s anywhere we want to go that shared universes can take us; and with Que I was thinking: here’s a gap that Marvel could have filled if they’d had the nerve. Que as I’ve sketched him has nothing to do with Marvel, and it would be thematically senseless to match him to continuity. It would have to be a period piece anyway, everything that makes him worthwhile is specific to his time.

    But they still could have done it, they’re the people who touted “war comics for people who hate war”. I think I’ll cherish an odd little picture of the title, “Que” on an old Marvel comic with the little box up left.

  14. Okay, I’ve got a lot to say about both of those…but I may not make it tonight. The next fifteen minutes or so will tell the tale.

    And man, I better start working extra hard on the last one of these!

  15. Whoops, sorry Lue! Didn’t see you there! The Machine Man point is well-taken, I think…it’s such an obvious (some would say “pure”!) idea in so many obvious ways, and yet it’s always kind of begging to have the obvious done to it, eh? I’d read a Machine Man who was interested in his own problems in that way — well, I have, actually! — but what d’you think, is everybody just too cool for that these days?

  16. First off: Iodyne. Now this is 21st-century superhero thinking, we’ll take the old Marvel Universe continuity as a jumping-off point, and then do what we think’s interesting with it. And what do we think’s interesting? Well, you may call it “early-Nineties feminism”, but you’re missing the point bud: because “Literature of the Body” is what supercomics are really all about. The body, matter, subtlety, complexity, immediacy: force, and meaning, and not reclamation but liberation. What is the Why? It’s right in front of you; it’s staring you in the face. You shouldn’t need a Word to mediate it for you, or to you: it isn’t an abstraction.

    Jonathan, what can I say? I had a notional superhero all lined up to do half the points of Blue Box #3, but you’ve done me one better on it already. This one takes me back, really back, to the amateur explosions of the 1980s (and a lot of the pro efforts stretching over into the 1990s too), that road less taken…it’s a great evolutionary meta-meaning you make here, it’s Cosmic Marvel for sure…it’s great.

    I want to read it.

    BREAK!

    • Yep, that’s what I’m saying, Literature of the Body.

      Naturally I squirm a little at the mention of feminism. So that’s what you mean by it, this person says. A depersonalized fetish doll without a capability for self-declaration, who keeps her mouth shut except to decorate your space-opera. Well, we’d hoped for more, but we can’t say we expected it.

      Hey, hey, I say, stepping back, palms open in placation. This stuff is completely bi-gendered. You need to have seen Gil Kane’s full-pager of Mar-Vell taking on his second costume. You need to know that S.H.I.E.L.D. existed for years in order to be Nick Fury’s techno-fetish wardrobe. You simply must see HIM in his first Kirby panel, because then you’ll get why we’ve been dragging the goddam Cocoon from one character debut to the next. It’s because the first time Stan and Jack deployed it, with two issues of suspense in preparation, they established that image as the signifier of passing from the whole potential of anything we poor morks could put on a page, to the potential of the Utterly Unfathomable. In little trunks with blank eyes, so there.

      (It so happens that this post will be saved in a folder as plok.100. Happy centenary!)

  17. The planetary life-force thing also has the virtue of not having been done to death, and yet still having some odd precedents, from Ego and Gaia (as you say, though personally I’ve just about had it up to here with Gaia) even to Steven Grant’s dissatisfying revelation about James-Michael Starling. So why Io? I guess the first thing that popped into my head was “why not?”, but I usually don’t like that flip answer. So how about, instead, that Io’s interesting and violent, and what’s that old saying of Nietzsche’s? “I don’t want to be happy, I want to be alive and active“? One can’t help but think of the poor Cosmic Cubes, here: never getting to have much fun, they just sit around. Likewise the MU’s criminally-cluttered field of Cosmic Powers — they only sit around and watch, occasionally delegate, make convoluted family trees and stand for stuff. Bah. Surely there must be something out there with some sort of motivation!

    Io. It is interesting: all those tidal stresses, all that treasure-horde of rare elements, and no life at all. Enormous bubbles of radiation just smashing into it all the time, up from Jupiter’s ultimate mystery. So if robots can be mutants in the Marvel Universe, why can’t moons? Unstable, tumultuous, “the worst place in the Solar System”; Io makes Mercury look not very mercurial at all. Screw Gaia, she’s all handwavy and magical and full of excuses — Io’s a Kirby Type, something strange and special on the face of it, no excuses required. Pure crazy science. I’ve never read Marvel Boy (I know, I know!), but is there a whiff of that in this? Nothing beyond the universe, but of it. A new form of life. The mention of the Cocoon is apt — yeah, let’s get back to that.

    Really like this!

    • It’s five to midnight. I’m not going to be able to compose.

      But, I could just about put the Marvel Universe together, given only Alicia and Warlock.

      Consider: Warlock the Redeemer is wrong. Wrong. Warlock is the archangel Michael.

      Alicia the Redeemer. Annihilator of xenophobia. The simple common ground of human empathy, succouring all, conquering all.

      The linchpin of the whole legend.

      • Hmm, no, that was overstated. But I do think Alicia carries a major symbolic freight, and it’s too bad she’s been absent from the FF lately; e.g. from Franklin’s recent birthday, which is a disgrace. A Franklin-Artie-Leech escapade with Aunt Alicia would be a natural.

        Anyway, the Cocoon is a whammo piece of design, Kirby was well ahead of the pack there — and any number of third-generation fan writers understand that we all know it signifies El Beyondo.

  18. Okay, Que

    And on reflection, I don’t know if I’ve got anything to say about it you didn’t say already. It really hits home with me at the moment because I’m reading Archie Goodwin’s Blazing Combat, a big TPB just came out a while ago, and it’s fantastic stuff: you can see why they pulled it off the shelves. Nothing too shocking by today’s standards (except, you know: great war comics!), but there’s no question it would’ve touched that raw Vietnam nerve at the time. So, Jesus, imagine Que hitting the impressionable comics-reading youth of (say) 1975, like Kamandi crossed with the Manchurian Candidate, the hazy trip-out fog of Seventies Marvel…it’s Skull The Slayer and Killraven and Black Panther and Deathlok with the skin peeled off, it would’ve been a hell of a thud to the solar plexus, and if it ever got published it for sure would’ve been cancelled in very short order. I mean what is this, James-Michael Starling stars in Apocalypse Now, with an EC twist? Of course, today you could do it, in full period dress and all, and maybe some people would wonder why you were bothering but for others it’d be magnificently charged-up. War stories and SF and 70s retro, and a story never told at the time except under a crazy amount of cover. Yeah, I’d read this one too, I think it’d cut like a knife even today. Horrors of war.

    A remarkable idea.

    It’d be soooo cancelled, but then it’d also be in very good company if it were.

    So that’s two home runs for you, Jonathan!

  19. Pingback: Cosmic Deadlock, Psychic Shamrock, Golden Gamecock…Here Comes Ragnarok « A Trout In The Milk·

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