Principia Comicbookia: APPENDIX I

Or: “Of Tricksters And Tuning-Forks”

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Circumlocution, Bloggers!

That’s how you talk yourself around and around things, and into them and out of them, and no one sees you come and no one sees you go…

…Because you shouldn’t be able to move that way anyhow. Not everyone can do it!

But Loki can do it.

Because Loki is the Master of Idiom.

There are just a few things to revisit, from Principia Comicbookia: things I didn’t give myself enough space to go into at the time, and the matter of “Asgardian Magic” is chief among them. One wonders what’s so special about it?

Because we know it is special. The cult that emptied out Barbara Norriss’ mind needed Asgardian Magic as a raw ingredient for its veil-parting spell to the realm of the Undying Ones, and when Dr. Strange encountered Loki way back in Strange Tales he had no chance against him, and knew it. Against Dormammu he can contend with some success, if only for a little while, but against Loki — pfft! He’s toast in ten seconds.

And there’s something funny in that, don’t you think?

Of course it all goes back to Avengers #2, and the Space Phantom’s inability to steal Thor’s form — we will get to more about the ever-intriguing Space Phantom later, in Appendix II — but you could also say it’s a thing forever implicit in Thor’s own story anyway, as he whips up whatever effect seems to be required with his enchanted Uru mallet. Anti-force! Thermal blasts! He absorbs radiation! He opens dimensional portals! He creates impenetrable whirlwind-walls around himself, travels through time, performs cosmic dialysis on Galactus, and transmutes the Absorbing Man into helium gas! Tracks people like a bloodhound, soaks up magnetism from the ground, dispels illusions, and reads minds for all we know!

Okay, he probably can’t read minds. But in every other way he is, as I’ve said before, like Every Barbie All At Once: an intense concentration of rule-changing postmodern power who can make things up as he goes along. Of course, that isn’t him who’s doing all that, exactly…

…But it’s the hammer.

But can you really separate Thor from his hammer, anyway?

Let me just step back a moment. Because I admit it, this postmodernist power that occasionally intrudes into the hierarchies of Marvel comics seems a tiny bit like the product of my own overanalysis and nothing else — is “mutant energy” really just “context”? — but when we’re talking about the Norse Gods we are in fact already talking about a story whose main character is a “reader” of his own fate: Odin not only knows Ragnarok is coming, but he’s constantly trying to avert that predestined conclusion, to rewrite it, and except for one tiny success he can never accomplish this — but that doesn’t mean he isn’t trying, and in the trying is a sign of his status as a self-aware element within the story. However the Gods aren’t a bunch of powers, really, so much as they’re a bunch of attributes…and attributes are fixed qualities. How can you interfere with Fate, when you’re an emblem of Fate? Anyone can climb a ladder, but the ladder can’t climb itself, and bootstraps rarely pull themselves up by their wearers. So in Norse mythology, Odin is doomed because the door of freedom is too low for him to duck himself under…but he does manage to create creatures for whom it is not too low, and even though that’s the only success he gets to have it is still a mighty transcendence, even if it’s no good to him personally. Speciation is what it’s all about, in Norse mythology: the parent species can create new powers for the daughter species, but it can’t own those new possibilities itself.

Not that the Marvel version of the Aesir strictly follows the pattern of the originals. We never see Ask and Embla in Thor comics, anymore than we see Mangog in the Edda! But we do see Dr. Donald Blake and his long-suffering nurse Jane Foster, and if Blake is really a capsule for the insoulment of the Son of Odin, well…that’s just good old Jungian depth analysis, really. The gods are “within” us, after all, aren’t they?

So maybe the original myths aren’t really “about” evolution — though the book’s not exactly closed on that — but the Marvel myths are, and if we doubt this then we need only consult the rest of Jack Kirby’s oeuvre, to see it proven. And if Thor is a next step in the evolution of human consciousness, a next step toward the totalization of the Self that fuses all archetypes together with the ego-focus, then it may not be what’s in the Edda but it isn’t necessarily detached from it. “Ripened fruit on unsown ears”, and all that, as the world after Ragnarok is one in which the children of both gods and men find peace in an Elysian summer country…just like the land of the dead, except this time it may be inhabited by the living, too.

That’s to come, though; because evolution takes time. And not everyone is a candidate for it. Consider the Enchantress and the Executioner, so lost in this new pop world of heroes advertising their heroism: they just can’t get it right, somehow. They keep trying to break free, but they haven’t got the right attitude. Poor ciphers! In this new world, they just can’t adjust to circumstances fast enough, and so they’re left behind. Loki, on the other hand…

Well, he’s right at home regardless, isn’t he? Why, just look at his appearance in Avengers #1! His final move: “turning himself radioactive”. Turning himself “into radioactivity”? He’s certainly no slouch at adopting dominant metaphors, you have to give him that: ever the cuckoo, ever the chameleon, his “Asgardian Magic” isn’t a rough translation of an attribute of seduction, but the rough translation of an attribute of intelligence instead…and he slips and slides around definitional boundaries just for the fun of it. And in the MU, this kind of intelligence is a superpower and a half, because it isn’t just a scripted world but it’s a world patched together from a bunch of different scripts, that don’t all join neatly along their sides. Lots of gaps and dropped stitches, for a One-Man Limbo to hide himself in! And lots of narrative receptors for a higher-dimensional intelligence’s clever little fingers to bind to. So it’s “magic”, eh, with Dr. Strange? Well, how delightful! Loki can fit any costume, and play any role…so go on, Strange, make some weird hand-gestures at me, let me see how you mortals practise this game, what conventions you employ! Adopted son of Odin himself, Loki is firmly of the Central Regions of the MU, a vehicle of attribute rather than a possessor of “powers”…but his attribute is mutability, so he’s a bit of a cosmic skeleton key regardless. “Asgardian Magic”, what even is that? Heck, hardly anyone in Asgard even practises “magic” — Odin could, and Hela might, and Karnilla can, and the Enchantress does, but everybody else is just pure attribute, they just sort of are what they are. So there are only five sources of “Asgardian magic” anyway, but the first two don’t need to bother with it (for they have deeper powers) and the third knows most but does least, presumably because she knows its true value…and the fourth throws it around like it was going out of style and yet still is forever getting her butt whupped by non-entities like Hawkeye or whatever…

…But then there’s Number Five, and that’s Loki, and no one can ever predict what he’ll do next. No one can ever say what he’s capable of, and what he isn’t capable of. Because lock him up inside four walls and he’ll just find himself a fifth; say he’s just one thing, and he’ll rapidly become another. Loki the Transformer! Loki the Slippery Eel, the Oldest Salmon! Loki the dancing flame. Sure, he’s not very nice. But you have to admit he’s interesting

Too interesting, really, for his half-brother Thor to ever beat. And yet, who’s always winning, in that fight? An odd rock-scissors-paper game emerges in that old Strange Tales, where Dr. Strange knows perfectly well Loki’s magic overmasters his own. We could perhaps imagine Doc fighting Thor himself, and maybe even lasting a few rounds, but Loki’s just too nimble for the mortal sorceror to handle. Loki, on the other hand, knows damn well he can never beat Thor one-on-one, on Midgard or anywhere else…Thor’s attributes just match Loki’s intelligence too perfectly, and one of his attributes is that hammer. Which is sort of like postmodern higher-dimensional intelligence in a bottle, really — whatever context is needed, it can readily supply: it’s a context-engine. It’s a tuning fork, an Ultimate Weapon. It’s a pen, really, when you get right down to it…and Loki’s just a pencil. A sharp pencil, to be sure…!

But no more than that. “Magic” is all he’s got, and against Thor and his hammer this isn’t enough…for Mjolnir may be enchanted, but it was enchanted by Odin, and Odin doesn’t use “magic” but “the Odin-Power” — the power of divine genius if you’ll allow me to toss a little Latin at the problem (since I don’t know any Old Norse), which is inventive rather than merely recombinatory. So all Loki’s powers of circumlocution and translation, of skirting the issue and adopting the idiom, of changing the rules of the game, are matched by that hammer’s ability to pull new rabbits endlessly from Thor’s helmet…and Thor’s a much less messed-up person than Loki is, since being a hero (as I’ve said before) he finds it much easier to express himself honestly…and in a game of language expression is always going to beat circumlocution. A fact we should already have taken on board, since we’ve seen this kind of symbolic contest before! Since it’s both how Morpheus wins back his helm from Hell, and how Merlin beats Mad Madame Mim. And, true, sometimes Thor doesn’t have the hammer…

But he always gets it back, doesn’t he?

Because it’s awfully hard to separate a god from his attributes. Turn the board around and look at it from another angle, and Thor IS that hammer…

But let’s get back to what I was planning to talk about.

Doctor Who.

Yes, this connects; in part because it’s made to connect. You see, the Doctor Who I want to talk about is the universe of the Faction Paradox books, that sprang from the forehead of Lawrence Miles. Andrew gave me a few of these things to read, and though I’ve heard a lot of people have a lot of bad feelings about Lawrence Miles, not knowing the specific content of these bad feelings (he’s not a Nazi or anything, right?) I must say that FP is the only Doctor Who I need now, or for the foreseeable future. In it, a Time War between the Gallifreyans and the mysterious Enemy is constructed almost as a game of Nomic played out between the reader and the writer — because time machines change everything, right? And so although no part of Faction Paradox is “in continuity” with Doctor Who any longer, this “nomic nature” nevertheless requires that its existence is ineliminable even where it is also non-canonical…you know, as long as you read the books. So, what happens when you file the serial numbers off Doctor Who, in the context of such a Time War? Perhaps unsurprisingly, a context in which both history and identity are rendered essentially fluid means that filing off the serial numbers only draws the “copy” closer to the original instead of driving it further away…with the consequence that the original, without being at all different from the way it was “before”, nevertheless does not go unchanged.

And there’s a lot to say about that, but for our purposes here there’s a single overriding element — the conceit of “biodata”, or “Time DNA”, which is the complete record of an individual’s history, readable by time-active societies. A harmless little embroidery on the whole idea of time travel? Well, it would be, except that in the universe of FP things are so artfully inverted (and rotated!) that the embroidery itself can take the place of the fabric. For Time DNA can only be rewritten by a time machine, yet on the other hand who has any need of a time machine at all where the ability to rewrite biodata exists? Since to concede the idea that biodata might be rewritten, is as much as to concede that such rewriting would be all the time machine one would ever need. In Faction Paradox we never ever see the character known popularly as “The Doctor”, but we are meant to think of him, and think of what he does…what would be easier than to travel from place to place in spacetime by writing yourself out of one history, and into another? Saves all that mucking around with “engines”, you know? And it isn’t that the point is “aha, so this replaces the idea of the conventional time machine!”, but rather it’s that it’s a conceit made not incompatible with the standard time machine of convention, and thus it doesn’t do away with convention but merely gives it a sort of textual shadow that addresses the reader both somewhat wittily, and somewhat darkly, with its possible new contexts.

Which complication of expectations is quite the staple of science fiction, actually…not at all a concoction of young turks with mad ideas, but something one finds all about one in works from the Thirties and Forties too. The devices of SF stand metatextually for the devices of its readers and writers and even passersby as a matter of course in the early days of American SF, as perhaps we should expect them to do given that so many of SF’s early writers were academics with specialized technical interests, as well as being ordinary working people with everyday concerns into which their dream-lives couldn’t easily intrude, even if they were relevant — the classic example is perhaps Isaac Asimov, who wrote about the philosophy of science so slyly that hardly anyone noticed, for decades, that that’s what he was doing. Oh, sure, on the surface it may all look like the rocketships and rayguns and SCIENCE!! that thrilled John W. Campbell’s progress-loving soul…but you don’t have to scratch the surface even of Astounding more than lightly, to see the critique of modernity — the critique of the concept of modernity! — shining through. Does the future really represent progress?

Does the present?

It all depends on how you like to read such things, but the question remains whether you’re interested in the answer or you aren’t…so long as you are, indeed, talking about this particular strange little genre. Outside of it, maybe not: what might it have threatened in Asimov’s life as a biochemist, if he’d suddenly gone all Thomas Kuhn on all his fellow professors? So they didn’t need to know about it, and may never have suspected it, though they might’ve understood it better than anyone else. Science fiction is a subterranean enthusiasm, sometimes: the initiates, knowing the code, can’t believe no one else can read the message in that bottle; the popularizers, not knowing it, can extract the metaphors but not the meanings. But sometimes it’s the initiates who get the worst of that equation, you know, as once the so-clear message is fully understood there surely is no point adding onto it anymore? Between writer and reader the most important thing is the bridge, but perhaps the most important thing about the bridge is that writer and reader stand on its opposite ends squinting at one another…for without this enforcement of relationship, does it really even matter who they are, or even want to be? As Andrew is about to show in his Fifty Stories For Fifty Years, Doctor Who was frequently a show whose effect was created almost by accident, different talents and interests and dispositions clashing and even fusing, to create sometimes absolutely brilliant episodes of pure science fiction that nevertheless made no sense to speak of…paradoxical gems that when looked at along one angle might as well have been illiterate, such was their incoherence, yet when looked at along another one seemed nothing but perfectly, beautifully relevant in terms of the genre they belonged to. But now that the show is made only by the initiates, I confess I wonder what the point of watching it is, anymore…now that its message has been so very thoroughly decoded that it seems it can only be repeated over and over, like a sort of automated distress call.

Faction Paradox, thankfully, puts the bridge back in. We never see the mysterious Doctor and his magic sonic screwdriver, nor the gloating Master and his perfect intellect, perfect TARDIS, perfect regenerations, perfect beard…they’re somewhere else, doing battle in the sky. Over our heads, maybe. But we can see each other again, from a distance not too-close, and just by itself that’s marvellous; if that’s all there was then that would still be enough, at least for me.

But let’s get back to what I was planning to talk about.

Marvel Comics.

The link, I believe, is not illegitimate. Jack Kirby ate up science fiction and the roots of science fiction like it was all served to him on plates of gold (ho ho), so we shouldn’t be surprised if it all finds its way in there; is it not just a bit surprising that everyone repeats that stuff about “modern mythology”, but no one ever stops to think what it would mean for something to be “modern mythology”? Andrew will correct me if I get this wrong, I hope, because I think I learned it from him but possibly I wasn’t paying sufficient attention: Lawrence Miles claims Doctor Who to be his native religion. And possibly I’m letting you know a bit too late, but…

This isn’t just about fixing continuity problems.

“Of Tricksters And Tuning-Forks”, it’s not a bad subtitle for what I want to try getting at. Thor thrusts his, er, hammer into the Earth and births the storm with its fertilizing rain — Thor is a primal force of nature, not really very much of a person, when he begins. Who he is, is simply what he is, and part of what he is, is that hammer. He loses it sometimes in the myths, too, you know! But he always does get it back; as Odin well knows, at the time of the end of the world it is still in his hand. Now, notice how Kirby translates this! Mjolnir always returns when thrown, no matter the obstacle, but if it is out of Thor’s hands for sixty seconds he simply becomes Don Blake again…and if someone else picks it up then whoever they are, if they’re only worthy, then they’ll be just like Thor, too.

As well as, possibly, rightful King over all England.

So it’s all about the biodata, see? Thor isn’t Thor when he’s frail Dr. Donald Blake, and furthermore we know he isn’t. In later years this gets confused, but back at the beginning it’s plainly part of the line of Kings ending in Greg Feely — if the identity is detachable, it may not be what we think of as “identity” at all, and maybe it never was, or maybe there’s even a different answer, or a different question, entirely. From across the bridge, Kirby waves his arms. Shouts:

“This stuff is COOL!

But you do have to squint a little, to not just see the superheroes.

There is that thing that Mike Royer said, about Kirby’s drawings toying with the third dimension. Well, Loki and Thor are higher-dimensional beings already, and as readers of Grant Morrison know, when it’s war among the colours, the casus belli is just that one letter can never be another, and the other can’t be the one…our rings just make meaningless shapes, in this environment, where purposes and reasons are all but inaccessible. Your mortal mind could not fathom the wonders that lie within this place…all you see is an interpretation, Jane Foster: a translation, into terms you can understand. But you’re missing most of it. As they may also be missing most of you, in their turn. Loki is beaten by Ant-Man in Avengers #1 only because being the Master of Idiom doesn’t mean the same thing as “living inside all this shit as a daily reality”…he doesn’t foresee the lead-lined tank. And, didn’t you ever wonder why he can’t then get out?

Why he doesn’t stop being radioactive and turn into something else? Wish himself away? Magic himself out of there, and keep on fighting? Okay, well for one thing the comic only has so many pages in it, that’s perfectly true…but for the other, it seems as though Loki may be bound by the terms of what he’s bargained for, eh? I doubt if the Enchantress would know how to “become radioactive”, really…but maybe there’s a flip side to that, which is that the Enchantress also seems spectacularly unable to outsmart herself. Maybe it’s that mutability, d’you think? She doesn’t have it, and Loki does…but Loki, through skating over a wider pool of possibilities, can also be caught by their implications. Logic! ‘Twas ever the enemy of infinite capability: if Loki transits all possible definition-contexts, he can’t avoid the reality that there may be a context out there somewhere that makes mutability itself — intelligence itself! — his, excuse me, his Achilles’ heel. So to beat him, you only have to bring him to that context.

And this actually all has a lot to do, it occurs to me now, with my own recent idea of how to file the serial numbers off Marvel…

…But I think that can wait a while, don’t you? For while ever there is laundry, I will not have yon SPARE TIME to write down my idea of how to file serial numbers off the Marvel Universe, don’t you agree?

But…

Let’s get back to what I was planning to talk about!

Asgardian Magic.

I think it’s all connected; you see, it’s so special because it’s so rare! In the land of Attribute, the land where neither Thor’s form nor his hammer can be alienated from him, it does appear as though there is just not the kind of wiggle-room in reality that is enjoyed in Midgard, or the Astral Realms of Dr. Strange. Gods can just do stuff — Sif can travel to Midgard by “a Goddess’ right! or somesuch crazy thing…it’s a whole other vocabulary from that of superpowers, or even incantations and astral forms. I touched on this in my little hack-job Principia, previously…Asgard and Olympus and the other Godly Realms, being central regions of the little bubbles in Creation’s foam we call “worlds”, don’t have much Limbo in them — lack internal “borderlands”, lack phase transitions. No one ever even dies there, for heaven’s sake, unless they get their skulls split open by a troll or something! So there really isn’t much anyone can do, to scrape together enough Limbo between thumb and forefinger even to cast a spell. Thor can do shit with his hammer, and Heimdall with his sword, and Sif with her “Goddess’ right“, but a lot of these things are kinda the same things, and they seem to be fairly few in number. There’s energy there, but there doesn’t seem to be much entropy…they have to make machines to do most of the really impressive stuff, in Asgard. Or…

Somebody does.

Let’s take a closer look at Loki. He isn’t actually of the Aesir, is he? Bear with me just a moment while I rant on about the Edda, because I think it may actually be connected: I spoke a moment ago about the Norse myth being all about evolution, but that’s not really what one gets when one reads it. “Evolution” is just the meaning of the metaphor, you see! And the metaphor itself is…

Territory. That’s what all the different critters in the Nine Worlds are squabbling over and vying for. Identity has objects, see? Like Thor’s hammer. And the greatest of these is territory. You Bloggers have all read those Amber books by Roger Zelazny, I take it? In the Edda, the Aesir win territory in a great war against the Vanir, and to settle the war they do a little hostage-exchanging. Loki isn’t part of this; he comes in later. But anyway this battle for territory is quite in line with the battle for succession that you see in Greek myth, in that instead of killing/absorbing/imprisoning the Elder Race, the Aesir “just” take their land. But they can’t take it forever: the land’s only on a really long lease, and eventually (I simplify disgracefully) that’s why Ragnarok happens.

Got it?

Okay, so, then…Loki. He’s not an Aesir, and neither (it seems) is Karnilla…Hela, too, seems like she may be “out of the family”. You could paste the name “Vanir” on a lot of these characters if you so chose (though that wasn’t what Kirby chose), and it wouldn’t sit too badly…the Vanir of the Edda have the power of prophecy that the Aesir lack, and this seems like a good little parallel to the “magic” in Marvel, possibly. No one does magic in Asgard but two people, and none can do it but five! If “magic” was ever what Odin did, that is. So…

Magic. It may not be “magic” at all, in one way. Here’s a little notion I’ve been toying with, that Alan Moore might’ve got it wrong, and magic isn’t language…but instead language is magic’s twin, birthed alongside it. And, not to harp on the biodata thing too much, but isn’t the whole and entire meaning of someone being a twin, that they are bizarrely NOT the same person as that other person who came out of the same egg? Otherwise the word “twin” doesn’t really have a meaning…

I think this is Tagore: “Man and God are twins.” Hold on, don’t jump ahead, I’m not quite there yet…

So is magic the same thing as language? One could argue that it isn’t, anymore than dreaming is the same thing as thinking…“Hey, last night I dreamed you were a dragon” “WHAT? How could you think I was a dragon?” “No, no, of course I didn’t think you were a dragon…how could I have done that, when I wasn’t thinking at the time?”

In just this way might language and magic be distinguished, but then of course there’s the matter of their common parent, and that’s where things get interesting for me. Who invented magic? Where did it come from? Who had it first? Whoever first had it, the things they did with it might not have had anything to do with the Gods, just as the business of a priest and the business of a magician are different…yet there are powers of Creation that exist before the Gods do, too, and so maybe all our various mental or spiritual or linguistic activities once addressed these powers…before, that is, they broke up and became different things, as the things they addressed similarly broke up. In Faction Paradox, they call it the Anchoring Of The Thread: the creation of the thing called History, the creation of Order — the creation of Reality — out of whatever it was that came before, and which doesn’t come “before” any longer, but rather lies off to one side. Much as a shadow. In Greece it’s the pleroma of primal Chaos, in which the forces that will one day be Gods as yet lack their customary faces, and the most necessitous of these is Love…and in the Norse it’s the admixture of heat and cold from the poles of the world, that in the middle meet to cause a pattern of interference in Ginnungagap. Creating many things at first, that are not thought of much anymore: Audumla, for example, being the primeval cow whose milk fed the baby Ymir…has she been seen or heard of since? There may be many pasts, and many beings, that we no longer know of because they’ve fallen into the pit of forgetfulness. You might even be able to make some up, if you wished! Like lost faces floating in a delerium…people you used to be, but now never were…

Marvel already has some stuff like this, of course, but it isn’t a very good fit. Endless crap cosmic personifications don’t really help to delineate reality’s different species or districts or legal rationales for specialness, they just clutter the diagram of the concentric circles…and they sadly tend (in my view anyway) to spoil the Marvel Universe’s own specialness thereby. The Gods are “just” aliens, whose nature is “just” extradimensional — well, I guess that’s that explained, then — and there’s no dream of physics or cosmology anywhere inside anything that isn’t in perfect accord with the philosophical prescriptions of Timecop or Babylon 5…because there is a sense in which genre fans “know” how all the fantasy and SF elements in their four-colour fiction are “supposed” to work…some imbibed set of rationales for transactions that make the stuff familiar where it could still be strange, and at the same time make it weirdly, uh…

Comforting?

Just as Asimov’s psychohistory was (on the most obvious level) a figure for SF itself, and so a conceit the true fan could snuggle right into, so the first-person-caption superhero story where the protagonist travels back through time to his own origins is an oddly flattering conceit to its modern readers…because that’s you — that’s YOU, comics fan! — who’s undergoing the apotheosis and becoming the cause, the creator in your own person of the skein of consequence whose details you are in such fabulously geeky command of. It’s a romance no fan-turned pro can ever resist, it seems, and you wanna talk about clutter, why it’s practically become the collective noun for “origins”. Did I recently see something about Loki travelling back in time, in Asgard?

He shouldn’t be able to do that…

But we may be able to cut him a little bit of a break in this regard, even if I think it sucks as Marvel storytelling…for Loki really isn’t of the Aesir, and he may have more limbo and language and magic in him than Thor can hope to, or Odin for that matter. Kirby’s 3D seed produces another mythological flower, here: Odin is the oldest thing there is in the Nine Worlds, now that the Thread has been Anchored, so he can’t change much…there’s Wagner, here…can’t be changed by others, and can’t change himself for himself. But to his son Thor he gives a new, duplex identity, and a new and special tool to suit that identity’s needs. When does Thor ever need to do anything with Mjolnir but hit something, in Asgard? He never needs to do this; but Midgard is a realm more changeable, and Thor is not of it — in that he is not of anyplace but the Central Regions — so he needs a part of him that can make up for the lack in the rest of him.

Meanwhile, even as Thor is an adventurer in Midgard, Loki is an adventurer in Asgard, who — despite his no-doubt-transformative adoption by the Main Man — brings another nature to the inside of that otherwise-perfected space. In a way, the Aesir’s territory is already lost, because it is not the same now that Loki has come there…Loki can do magic standing by the Odinsword itself, which means that if something was once whole here, it’s fractured now: even if it is taking its sweet time coming apart. Cue Kirby’s bookshelf: many a troll and Dark Elf makes a pretty high-tech war machine to prop up Asgard, but only Loki’s power of invention can bring everything crashing down depite the skills of others. So, did Odin screw up when he adopted him? Look at those old Tales Of Asgard, but also consider the Edda’s tale of the creation of Ask and Embla: Odin makes something that is free of fate in a way he can never be, when he makes the human race…and in Kirby’s Asgard he does something much the same when he adopts Laufey’s child. He doesn’t have to do it!

But he does, and maybe that act of bringing the shadow of perplexity inside the Golden Realm is what makes it so the Enchantress can throw magic around like it’s going out of style…maybe? The Enchantress is actually quite important, here, because she is one of the Three Sources of Asgardian Magic in the world we call our own, and the most likely of them to leave some of it lying around where the rest of us can get at it. Loki doesn’t let anyone borrow his magic, because it’s inside him, much as Thor’s hammer can’t be permanently wrested from him for the purpose of mischief-making…Karnilla has put some magic into the world too, but it isn’t alienable from the spot where she put it…however the Enchantress is sloppier than that. She made a spell into a person, for heaven’s sake! Absurdly irresponsible. She clearly doesn’t understand the large-scale structure of spacetime; she clearly flunked shampoo. Just what does she think she’s doing, out there?

Has she even given it all a single thought?

But let’s get back to what I was planning to talk about…

Feminism.

You can hardly blame the Enchantress, really, for being what she is…because what she is, is a character who doesn’t want to be what she is. Well, would you? “Here, maybe you can sit around and be all Sexy and Venomous for us, there’s a good girl.” It doesn’t wash with her, and it doesn’t wash with me. There are a lot of intriguing faultlines in the comic-book Asgard, as I’ve mentioned before…it isn’t just the Ragnarok of Wolf and Snake that they all wish they could avoid, but it’s the personal Ragnarok of robe and role…of Attribute, that’s present in every moment. All the Asgardians are objectified to the last degree, without comfort or solace from their two-dimensional assignments: why, fate is even in the matter of Balder being Brave, as we can see when he sometimes chafes as his own moral perfection. It’s a situation of tremendous inequality and unfairness, and so far only Thor seems capable of making even the slightest headway against it. Yet one side of Thor is the individual sitting on top of a mountain of privilege that no one else can match, even as his other side is afire with the wish to refuse his role, so though even Thor doesn’t have it “easy” — not exactly — he also doesn’t have it especially hard, either. What does it mean, that the Enchantress and Executioner, two of Kirby’s characters without any obvious Edda-derived analogues (Karnilla’s is Gullveig the witch-woman, I think), are forever trying to get some kind of game going on Earth? Maybe it just means that there’s nothing for them in Asgard any longer: no joy, no hope, no chance of freedom. But on Earth they can’t make headway either; that’s for people with famous fathers, oh such very special people, who can fit into the new world and make some evolutionary progress. I mentioned Alberich already, didn’t I? Well, he isn’t the only operatic figure here: Loki may think it a good bargain to trade love for power, but the Enchantress just wants to get out, you know? And no matter what she does, she just can’t. And it makes her mean. Battling against one’s received nature isn’t easy, and if you can’t even just sometimes get a little reward or pat on the back for even trying — or at least a fucking apology from somebody, you know? — then you’re far more likely to sink than swim. There may be nothing wrong with the Enchantress, that escaping Patriarchy wouldn’t cure…but if you look closely, you will see her running into it everywhere, totally frustrated in every attempt to get away. They made that “Wicked” show, apparently some sort of iffy-ish feminist reading of the Wizard Of Oz? The Enchantress begs to point out that she’s been trying her whole life just to get to “wicked”, from “seductive”, and that you really oughtta give that a try if you think you’d like a laugh.

Still…

It seems she may, after all, have the last one of those. Loki may be the Master of Idiom, and the Enchantress most definitely isn’t, so it may be impossible for her to break her bonds…keep up…tread water, even…

Yet at the same time, Loki’s as doomed as Odin is, to that final Ragnarok, and the Enchantress may — just may! — be able to get away. Hela and Karnilla aren’t mentioned in the Edda either, you know? Like the Enchantress herself, they are new features in this mythic retelling, and can it really be an accident that they’re all three women?

Could there be a possibility for them, however slight, of Queering the Apocalypse?

Know ye further, or how?

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11 responses to “Principia Comicbookia: APPENDIX I

  1. So where ARE the Vanir in Marvel?

    If Karnilla is a Vanir are you suggesting she is Gullveig and if so how come Hela never refers to her as mother?

    Enchantress/ Amora (i.e. Love) is obviously Freyja, the goddess associated with love and sexuality (and Fandral is Freyr).

    And is Audumla Bova;)

  2. Kirby’s intention with the non-Aesir is interesting, I think — it isn’t just the Edda operating here, but the Ring. Odin is the Law just as Wotan is, as far as his inability to change himself goes: his moves constricted. The old Tales Of Asgard scene with him holding the infant Loki up to the skies is to me at once a scene of Wagnerian spear-breaking, and the creation of Ask and Embla’s new possibility. And the Wagner angle also somewhat suggests Karnilla as Erda — Queen of the Norns means Queen of the Fates, pretty uncomplicatedly, and is the Gaea of the Set Triad really necessary in the Marvel Asgard? — as well as the Enchantress being connected, as time goes by, with Brunhilde. But the female representations are all a bit muddled-up here, aren’t they? Sif already lacks her blonde hair…

    So, yeah, where are the Vanir, it’s interesting…at least, it was until someone recently did introduce Freyja? Frigga got stuck in there as well, I believe, but at the beginning of it all the goddesses are pretty darn thin on the ground whether Aesir or Vanir…of maternity there’s nothing, as everything is about paternity instead. THOR’S MOTHER IS COMPLETELY MISSING, at least his stepmother, but why we need to get bogged down by the myth’s, ah, continuity issues is something I can’t quite see in a world where Thor and Loki are both Odin’s sons, eh? We could call Odin’s wife Thor’s mother for symbolic purposes at least (although Thor being born of Gaea does help give him a duplex nature to match Loki’s), and think about just how bloody absent all the goddesses are from this story. Hmm, well it’s just the sort of thing that encourages daft readings like my own…the Aesir all warrior-gods, naturally, with one other “feminized” fellow in amongst them, and one “masculinized” woman (the scare quotes are there because I don’t really believe in the point of view they represent)…but everybody else is not a warrior-type representation, so maybe we could make the Aesir/Vanir divide just like that: male and female principles. I wouldn’t actually propose that straight-out, mind you…

    …But young Loki is bad at sports.

    Balder’s kind of interesting here, too, because he’s indisputably got a Galahad thing going on — the gayest of Arthur’s knights! — yet he starts getting some inner conflict piled on him about as soon as he gets introduced. Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa fa fa fa, he is the head boy at the school…

    Whoops, that wasn’t very coherent! Excuse me while I make another pot of tea…

  3. When my Long Service Leave is due and I have enough dollars I swear I am going on a holiday to watch Wagner’s Ring Cycle!

    Odin’s holding up the infant Loki also links with his later Highfather/ Orion adoption.

    Karnilla as Erda was something I was just thinking about yesterday, truth be told. Sheldrake at work!

    Ignoring the Gaea/Chthon/ Set Triad. Enchantress as Freyja makes much more sense than Brunhilde but then where does Skurge fit in?

    Sif lacks her blonde hair and Thor his red. Oddly enough, Thor’s hair is the same colour as that of Robert E. Howard’s Aesir tribe, so does that suggest the Asgardians are really descended from the Hyborian Age!? Now that would be cool!

    Wasn’t aware that Freyja was introduced! Where and when? If after early 90s I’m happy to ignore it!

    Frigga was introduced back as far back as Journey into Mystery #92.

    THOR’S MOTHER was revealed as Gaea (Jord being her avatar).

    As for Asgardian magic, we see something similar in Tolkien’s “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” when Bertilak exhibits the power to cause his head to return after being decapitated, a stunning example of the applications of time-reversal if ever there was one (i.e. that the rate of action in ‘backwards” kinetics can be many times that of the original forward progression of the event to be undone, obviously responsible too for resurrection and immortality), and one which carried with it connotations denoting the iconography of certain magickal herbs.

  4. Plok, have you ever considered throwing a book together? Because there is no way in hell I’ll have the patience to sit in front of a laptop reading all this wonderful stuff what with the sheer AMOUNT of it. Fantastic post, can’t wait for more.

  5. Very kind words, Cleofis! But who on Earth would read a book like this?!

    Appendix II is coming up in a few days, if the crick don’t rise…

  6. I did kind of hope to make this one a bit shorter, but the Principia thing just seems to demand length. It’s such a self-indulgent thing anyway, it seems a bit like…punishment fitting the crime, kinda?

    I’m gonna start aiming at a bigger shortness soon, I think.

  7. I did indeed finish it, and plan on binging the rest (as I have the rest of the blog over the past week or so). I’m surprised you didn’t touch on Journey Into Mystery directly, as it’s really kind of all about this, eh? Looking forward to the forthcoming posts!

  8. Aha, so it was you!

    I didn’t read the recent JiM, but I was conscious of them…seemed an interesting experiment! Unfortunately I’m way past paying money to Marvel anymore even for a good book, so amazingly efficient have they been at driving me away…

    If this jibes with that, though, I can only say I’m pleased!

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