TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Revolving Door. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Revolving Door. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Art of the Retcon 3: Time and Heroism in the Multiverse


Morrison's 18 Days retells the great Mahabharata in an animated CGI drama on Youtube (you can watch it here). 18 days is the length of the battle in the Mahabharata. Image Source: Broken Frontier.

The wavering fictional reality of DC Comics resembles theories from today's quantum physicists.  A comic book fantasy of multiple Earths and multi-dimensional universes aligns with contemporary scientific ideas of a fractured multiverse and mysterious dark matter.  It makes one wonder: if our physicists are right and the multiverse is real, what sort of creatures are we because of it, and how do we feel its effects?

Multiversity #1 (October 2014). "Every comic you ever read is real." – Grant Morrison. Behind the Panels review: "Morrison directly challenges the reader. 'Whose voice is speaking in your head anyway? Yours?' The same narration urges us to stop reading. That’s when things get beautifully weird."

Are we pawns of a larger order we will never perceive? Scottish writer Grant Morrison would say: yes. He is delivering his long-promised crossover, Multiversity, right now via DC Comics, and a glance at the multiversal map below shows that he is combining years of esoteric interests - mind expansion through drug dreams, a fascination with ancient Indian epics and religions, and a belief (expressed in 2012's Supergods) that modern superheroes are manifestations of ancient gods. More importantly, in Multiversity, the heroes exist along a metafictional continuity with our reality and time. They are part of humankind's long quest to define the line between creation and destruction, from which everything else follows in this world, and other worlds too.

DC's map of the Multiversity (August-September 2014; click to enlarge). Image Source: DC Entertainment.

From 2009 to 2013, Morrison worked with Dynamite Entertainment and Liquid Comics to produce 18 Days, a retelling of the Mahabharata, in which a classic Indian battle sees the age of gods give way to the age of men. Two of the founders of Liquid Comics are author Deepak Chopra and his son, Gotham Chopra. Deepak Chopra famously discussed these ideas with Morrison at several comics conventions; the Chopras also published a book about it, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes (2011). CBR reported on one such discussion in 2006 in San Diego:
Superheroes, in Chopra's view, are not external beings. "These are archetypal beings that stoke the fire of life and passion in our own souls. These are potentials that exist within us, and by creating these superheroes through our own collective imagination, we are in a way serving our deepest longings, our deepest aspirations, and our deepest desires to escape the world of the mundane and the ordinary and do things that are magical."
Morrison draws from Indian traditions to marry that consciousness to the cosmos of existence. Thoughts become physical substances in other dimensions. The great epic of the multiverse involves the genesis of values in that consciousness through dharma and karma, action and negative action, creation and destruction, good and evil. In our reality, mythical heroes are legendary archetypes. But Morrison insists that these paragons embody physical forms in other times and places.








18 Days concept art by Mukesh Singh. Images Sources: Decode Hindu Mythology, Comic Vine, Concept Art, Dynamite Comics, Planet Damage, Mukesh Singh.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 7: DC's Epic Fail with the Titans and their Heroines: Terra, Raven, Donna Troy, Starfire

Raven, drawn by Diego Latorre.  Hat tip: Titans Tower.

This post was originally supposed to be simply an introductory piece for a series of posts on the character Raven, similar to the series I did for Terra (here) - the second in a blog series on the Titans' heroines' continuities. But last week's releases made me expand the introductory post on the Raven continuity series, to make a general comment on DC's treatment of the main Titans women. To see my whole review of Raven's continuity as a study of how a horror character works, please continue reading here.

On 28 September, DC ended the first month of its reboot.  Last week's Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 marked a new low in the company's two-decade devaluation and dismemberment of one of its flagship franchises, the Titans. From one end of comics-related corners of the Internet to the other, fans are debating Starfire's transformation into a low grade, soft porn, amnesiac sex doll for the sexually and cerebrally challenged (for reviews, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here; and discussions here and here).  But like I say, this is just the latest in dozens of outrages inflicted on these characters. The bad treatment of the Titans stems from DC's enforcement of hierarchy associated with superhero generations, or legacies, which I've blogged about here

As far as the Titans are concerned, the record over the past decade especially proves it won't get better until the editors at DC change. The classic Titans are a special barometer for this because they are the original legacy characters, the second tier, who against all odds in the 1980s made it and became something different and better than their elders. If anything is going right or wrong in the DC universe, you'll see it in the Titans first, because DC is about legacies even more than it is about Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  DC is having trouble handling its legacies concept, and it really shows.

Sidekicks were originally introduced to humanize DC's stalwart A-list heroes; Robin debuted as a joke-cracking young doppelgänger of Bruce Wayne, who could lighten Batman up.  Over time, the Titans became the echo-A-listers who could do edgy, even Marvelesque, stories the A-listers couldn't.  That included being flawed, as with Speedy's drug addiction.  But it wasn't always a weakness: Gar Logan was the Doom Patroller who didn't go insane - or whose sanity, at least, was a given - despite his never-ending confrontation with death, typical of all DP characters.  The phenomenal success of the New Teen Titans proved that there was a huge area around the A-listers of potential story-telling that could never be done with the A-listers because the latter were too powerful or too perfect.  But the NTT was successful because it did not follow the Marvel formula all the way.  The Titans always reasserted a DC ethic of pure, true-blue heroism in the eleventh hour.  They made you want to stand up and cheer for them, because they were troubled, but they stood by each other and always found a way through the nightmare.  In a way, that was a greater heroic journey than anything Superman faced when he battled Luthor, or when Batman struggled against the Joker; those threats were externalized.  With the Titans, threats were always external and internal.  They struggled as much with the dark parts of A-list legacies as they did with external villains.

Tossing the classic Titans under the bus is problematic not just for their fans, but in the long run, for DC. I have to quote Dan from It's a Dan's World: "I'd put to the jury the Perez/Wolfman era of that franchise is as key to the compan[y's] success as Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns." He's right. Why? Because that era of the NTT solved the legacy problem, and removed glass ceilings that the powers that be are now so keen to maintain. The NTT established that characters could move laterally in interesting ways that allowed them to flourish beneath their absent mentors' shadows.

In the NTT, these characters could be flawed, over-burdened by impossibly huge legacies, and still triumph in different ways, based on their personalities and their individual characterizations.  It wasn't just 'about family' which has become the cloying cliché that DC's editors (even Wolfman, now) never tire of harping on about.  The Titans did and should demonstrate how DC's legacies could be a viable concept.  During the 90s, the Titans lost a lot of their drive, given that the writer Wolfman, who still had a fine ear for the characters, was exhausted and facing editorial mandates.  He also lost control of Dick Grayson to the Bat editors.  This is a critical problem for the Titans, because the Titans are Dick Grayson's gift to the rest of the DC Universe, separate from anything he ever did with Batman.  He is the first and best Titan.  In return, the Titans made Grayson, the first Robin, their ultimate leader, an individual and a respected hero.

The Titans, who overcame their derivative origins and became heroes that made it were broken down during the 1990s.  They had finally torturously been reset by Devin Grayson into something recognizable by 1998-1999 in the Technis Imperative.  Under the recent editorial régime of Dan Didio at DC, that picture changed.  Didio's entrance coincided with Geoff Johns's handling of the Titans in the 2003, which is considered a good run.  But in retrospect, Johns planted the seeds for the current mess. 

I don't know where and when Johns lost his grasp of the Titans, but I think we have to go back to this period to find it.  He supplanted the original Titans with weakened, watered-down, nth-level legacy characters (Young Justice).  Johns's vision dove-tailed well with Winick's kill off of the Titans' strongest members in Graduation Day (2003); these were characters who caused greatest static with the A-listers (Donna Troy) or who gave the Titans their claim to being a separate original and independent franchise in the DCU (Lilith) .  The Titans then showcased some really ugly concepts (Terror Titans, 2008). They became totally disposable (see: the long list of Titans' deaths from the 2000s).  They could commit murder and do Fountain-of-Youth drugs derived from the remains dead children (Roy Harper).  They could lose all dignity and previous characterizations that once showed why their superficial natures were never their internal realities (Gar Logan and Starfire).  They could lose their identities completely in their legacies (Dick Grayson).  Or they could be wordlessly and relentlessly sidelined until there was nothing left of them (Wally West).  This treatment of the classic Titans, but also the Young Justice characters (who are incredibly, getting preferential treatment from DC, although looking at them, you'd never know it) reveals that DC's top editors do not understand legacies or how they should function in this fictional universe.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the idiotic DCnU attempt to de-age the A-listers and force Titans' tropes onto them, but without the promise of final victory rooted in characterization, heart and camaraderie.  DC is trying to wipe the Titans off the map, and turn the A-listers into Titans. DCnU is the Titansverse writ large, but without the soul that made Titans stories work.  Ironic?

Speaking of loss of soul, Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 continued DC's treatment of heroes as non-heroes.  It's a post 9/11, ramped up Marvel feet-of-clay idea.  As far as I can tell from Co-Publisher Dan Didio's work on the Outsiders, this is his ideal approach: lots of action and sex - low on words and minimal characterization - with heroes so flawed that they're practically villains.  The moral vacuum is the new seat of virtue.  None of this works well with DC characters, who, once upon a time, offset their godlike status with complex characterization, stories - and yes, complicated legacies.  Once upon a time, DC was not the house of simplistic, wordless, internalized failure.  The degradation of Starfire took DC one step closer to that end.

This is mass entertainment that clearly states what kind of audience it thinks is out there: the lowest common denominator.  The book and its editors are insulting the readership with this expectation.  They are especially insulting fans who like the book.  Even the bait and switch typical of Didio-era story-telling is unlikely for DCnU's 52.  This is not a set-up for a better story.  Don't believe the lie: it's not going to be all right after all.  As Shirley MacLaine said: "Sometimes deep down, there is no deep down."

Todd explains that Kory can't remember her history with the Titans and can't distinguish between men she has sex with. Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 (Nov. 2011).

The problem with Red Hood and the Outlaws is that it is the title associated with any reassembly of the classic Titans in the DCnU.  And there is plenty wrong here - obviously deliberately introduced to build expectations about this new universe: the issue completely destroyed Starfire's character.  It also subtly transplanted Dick Grayson's dark, crazy doppelgänger, Jason Todd, as the new leader of Grayson's Titanic legacy.  I have some sympathy for Todd, but he's being used here as an instrument to turn the tables - to turn Nightwing's separate, non-Bat adventures upside down - to finally and completely undermine Grayson's accomplishment with a separate legacy franchise that at its best was stronger and better than the Justice League of America.  Before we even get to Kory's new airhead interest in mechanical anonymous sex, the first issue featured three former Titans cavalierly murdering people.  They are 'outlaws,' with standards to match.

Kory and her nU personality.  Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 (Nov. 2011).

It's ironic that Red Hood and the Outlaws came out last week.  On the same day, New Teen Titans: Games finally hit shops.  The worst thing about the uproar over Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 is that it has drowned out appreciation of Games, a graphic novel from the creators (Wolfman and Perez) who made the Titans world-famous; Games was over twenty years in the making, of the highest quality, and worth the wait.  This is typical of the malaise at DC.  The quality product goes to the bottom of the pile, while the intentionally worst reimagining possible of the same characters gets pushed to the fore by viral Internet marketing, propelled by bottom-of-the-barrel scandal-hype and cheap sensationalism. Maybe this is supposed to be the nU reality dystopia that would have existed in a world where Jason Todd stepped into Dick Grayson's shoes.  DC has also stated that the DCnU is an opportunity to do stories they could never normally have done had regular continuity stayed intact.

Whatever the rationale, the problems started long before the DCnU reboot.  DC's treatment of the Titans heroines has been one red flag after another on has gone wrong and why.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 6: Saluting the Dearly Departed Doom Patrol

This is what Millennial comics should do: DP fighting a sentient black hole in front of the Large Hadron Collider. Doom Patrol vol. 5 #2 (November 2009).

We who are about to die salute you!  That's the gladitorial rallying cry of DC's ill-fated superteam known as the Doom Patrol.  On Valentine's Day, DC Comics announced the cancellation of several titles.  Among these was the fifth incarnation of Doom Patrol, written by Keith Giffen and drawn by Matthew Clark.  This cancellation to 'free up' creative talent for production of the summer comics blockbuster Flashpoint has prompted outcry from the DP's fans (there is a petition asking DC to save the title here).  This series had poor sales but great reviews; it was considered by many to be the publisher's most sophisticated title.  Today, the last issue of the series hits comic shops.

Why?  What makes any comic, belonging to a genre known for its clichéed action and romance, its cheesy borrowings from the epics, mythology, pulps, mystery, horror, romance and science fiction even come close to having pretensions? 

Comics are sometimes one of the areas of pop culture where certain ideas are tested before they become mainstream.  This series of blog posts on the 'Revolving Door of Death' is about the use of death in comics as a means to finding new values of heroism - a new moral compass - in times that are rapidly changing.  That change involves pushing the boundaries of superheroism past the point of no return.  In that regard, the Doom Patrol fits right in - and the title is still unique. 

First, the Revolving Door of Death. Comic book creators, especially mainstream publishers Marvel and DC, have earned a lot of criticism over the past twenty-five years for cheapening death and rebirth when they used them repeatedly as sensational devices for making money. More surprisingly, post 9/11, the editors at DC Comics have killed off hundreds of heroes.  Then, in a bid to make comic book killings 'more serious,' they recently announced that their characters will no longer be reborn.  But the deaths of superheroes continue.  This trend suggests a high degree of confusion and ambivalence.  DC has continually worn down the moral stature of its heroes.  The company has made them ever more flawed and weak - while building up its villains.  DC is letting evil win.

Why?  Does this reflect a crisis in American culture? Last week, DC had Superman renounce his American citizenship in Action Comics #900, a move which won the editors a lot of criticism in comics forums and the mainstream media.  Does this chime with the intense, politicized commentary against American campaigns abroad?  Marvel Comics, echoing the 1960s' voice of social criticism, can jump on that train without any problems.  But DC, the classic American comics company, is in a strange, ambiguous place right now.  Like her exhausted troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's heroes in the DC Universe are being pushed to the breaking point.  The question is where DC will go with this existential crisis and soul searching.  Comic books thrive on taking their characters to the greatest extremes possible, within the current bounds of taste and story-telling.  The catharsis comes when the heroes triumph against all odds.  DC has yet to pull off that gigantic catharsis.  Its creators are still in the midst of dragging its characters down deeper and deeper.

The Nascar accident which almost kills Cliff Steele. Doom Patrol vol. 5 #21 (June 2011).

In this context, the Doom Patrol is unusual, because they are already ahead of all of DC's other heroes as far as being pushed past the limits goes.  They were always a team 'out there,' beyond the pale.  DP stories demonstrate how changes and challenges to our concepts of life and death are transforming our society, our consciousness and our moral attitudes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 4: New Heroes for a New Millennium

Wonder Woman cast outside her regular reality and possibly time stream. Wonder Woman #606 (February 2011; originally listed as variant cover for WW #604 December 2010).

In 2010, DC celebrated its 75th anniversary. DC has long been the premier American comics company that is devoted to the modern perpetuation of classic myths. Where Marvel set itself up in the 1960s as a platform for social commentary, DC dealt with eternal archetypes. For an entire generation, DC has explored the disintegration of heroism: those archetypes have been dismantled by the very company that is supposedly committed to preserving them.  What does this mean for American heroism?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 3: RIP Johnny Storm, Camelot Hero


Death of the Human Torch, in FF #587 released January 25, 2011. Fantastic Four vol. 3 #587.

I no longer read the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man regularly, but it looks like no one in the comic book industry is stepping back from the Revolving Door of Death any time soon. Both Marvel and DC have claimed they are shutting the door, that is, they will keep killing characters, but that resurrections of characters that have been killed off will stop. But death still sells, and money talks louder than integrity in story-telling. Editorial 'dead means dead' declarations are merely attempts to reinvest an overused trope with meaning. The whole point of using death as a narrative device is that it supposedly adds a tone of momentousness to a story. Yet with the recurrent use of the device, the emotional weight of death has diminished.  And no one seems to understand that when they kill off a hero, they kill the values he represents; they attack the ideals that his powers symbolize.

A death story like the one that appeared this week in Fantastic Four #587 sparks nostalgia over the dead character among those who have not followed that character for years. When I read the Fantastic Four decades ago, Johnny Storm was my favourite member of the FF. He's one of several young male heroes who debuted in the early-to-mid 1960s whose powers and behaviour were unconventional compared to the likes of Superman, Captain Marvel and Captain America. I've always had a soft spot for these characters from the late Silver Age: The Human Torch (1961), Spider-Man (1962), Cyclops and Iceman (1963), Ironman (1963), Daredevil (1964) and Beast Boy (The Changeling) (1965). They are all, in their own ways, fallible, yet they still have the gloss of confidence, a gutsy heroism.

In their origins, these are bridge characters, retaining some values from the preceding aftermath of World War II - but they anticipate the social upheavals of the late 1960s and 1970s. Thus, they reflect some of the moral absolutes of the war (arguably the source of their courage). But their brand of heroism equally incorporates the lingering ambiguities of the Korean War, as well as the rebellious attitudes of the Angry Young Men and the Beat Generation.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 2: The Death of the Postmodern Hero

Death of the Flash, COIE #8 (Nov. 1985)

In pulp fiction, character-driven stories, so beloved from the 1970s to the mid-1980s, are now a thing of the past. For many years, but especially since about 2003, DC's comics universe has been awash in death, legacy characters doing the rounds in their fourth versions, dying, and coming back in fifth versions (see my blog entry on this here). DC’s two big events in 2009-2010, Blackest Night and Brightest Day, epitomize the morbid fascination with death and resurrection. Yet the leading lights of the company proclaim that these events in fact will halt the tide of death and reinvest it with meaning, a message that was carried out of Blackest Night. In BN issue #8, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) announces that ‘dead is dead from here on out.’

While we wait for Brightest Day to deliver on writer Geoff Johns’s promise to give death meaning again, it’s obvious that DC and its competitor Marvel have a problem on their hands. During the Modern Age of Comics, which has run from the mid-1980s to the present, the mainstream comics companies painted themselves into a corner when they created the so-called ‘revolving door of death.’ Now, characters die so often in the name of ‘grim drama,’ that readers and critics cynically, or wearily, do body counts at the end of every crossover event. Why has DC killed off more than 650 (at latest fan count here at Legion World) of its characters since 2003? In all this overkill, the 2010 death of the young character Lian Harper aroused outrage at the company for gratuitously manipulating its readers, by taking excess to a new low. There is a deviantART site devoted to the topic here.  Yet DC mistakenly took this emotional response to mean that its creative team had created a dramatic story that moved its readers, rather than comprehending that their audience was expressing annoyance and genuine death trope exhaustion. Why is DC so tone deaf when it comes to hearing what fans are saying? A flood of gore cannot be used to revive the seriousness of already-overused death memes that once were sacrosanct.
 
X-Men #136 (Aug. 1980)

There’s more to this than a vicious circle of commercialism. Let’s go back. The death of a hero in any medium, let alone in comics, was once the height of drama. It grew out of older roots in epics, fairy tales, literature and religious sources. It was a narrative line that was almost never crossed. It carried weight. And because it was a powerful dramatic tool, it was invariably a commercially successful plot device. Practically every comics fan recognizes the famous X-men cover of Cyclops holding a half-dead Jean Grey. The cover foreshadowed her death in the next issue, when she sacrificed herself to save the universe in the Dark Phoenix Saga. According to Marvel wikia, issue #137 from September 1980 was “the first time that a major Marvel Comics super-hero [wa]s killed off on-panel.” Jean Grey’s death might be considered a harbinger of the Modern Age.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 1: Titanic Legacies for Generation X Superheroes

Cheshire mourns her daughter. Titans, vol. 2 #26 (Oct. 2010).

Open a mainstream comic these days, and chances are you'll find one main theme: death, death, death, death, death! After that, you can choose from gore, hyper-violence and the occasional resurrection.  This is what the Modern Age of comics has boiled down to, driven by company-wide crossover events.  Since the 1980s, events at DC and Marvel have pushed fans to buy more comics by tying their titles into events, thus ensuring annual best-selling series.  These events are characterized by their 'Where's Waldo?' group shots of heroes battling cosmic menaces.  But despite the fact that some planet-sized villain is coming to eat the planet, drama has declined.  Perhaps because the end of the world is happening so often, it's hard to take any of it seriously anymore.  This has prompted creative teams to use character deaths to add drama to big events as well as regular series.

But there's something more going on here.  The grim and gritty Modern Age, now winding down, became characterized by what's described in comics circles as the revolving door of death, where characters were and are regularly killed off, then brought back on a cyclical basis.  Marvel is ushering in the seemingly less dark Heroic Age - yet in its Second Coming storyline just killed off Nightcrawler, one of the most beloved members of the classic X-men.  Their old DC rivals, the Titans, have suffered a parade of death and violence over the past twenty years that is notable even by Modern Age standards - but in the past decade the Titans' deaths have been unremitting.  Despite the recent resurrections of Donna Troy and Young Justice favourites, Superboy and Kid Flash, the revolving door of death has not revolved that much for this beleagured team

Death of Duela DentTeen Titans, vol. 3 #47 (Jul. 2007). 

After DC's huge crossover event Blackest Night, where the drama revolved around the return of zombified dead characters (of which there is no shortage), as well as a few more deaths, and a few resurrections, the current event, Brightest Day, follows the resurrected and the reason for their troubling trip back from the dead.  Just like Marvel's Heroic Age, the Brightest Day title belies its purpose.  This series is not about things getting better in the DC Universe, but death is supposed to regain its meaning: the revolving door is closing.  DC's leading lights have declared that "dead means dead," in other words, if your favourite character is dead, forget it - no more resurrections. But that doesn't mean the deaths are stopping, as another hero, the Atom, was just killed off in Titans Villains for Hire.

Deathstroke takes over the Titans title: Death of the Atom. Titans VFH Special #1 (Jul. 2010).

Over at Legion World, a board devoted to discussion of DC's futuristic team, the Legion of Superheroes, fans are compiling a list of characters killed in the DC Universe in the past seven years, hereThese fans calculate that in the past seven years, DC has killed off over 600 characters in the name of 'rough and gritty drama.' Of these, about 50 characters long or recently dead have been resurrected within the same time period. Maybe DC is clearing out a backlog of unused characters, but there's something odd about the sheer volume of numbers in this macabre death march.