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.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 31: The Most Haunted House in England

Borley Rectory, rear view, Essex, England (n.d.). Image Source: Wiki.

This month, I am joining Countdown to Halloween for its annual blogathon.  My favourite Cryptkeeper last year was Gothtober: love their soundtrack! But there were other blogs that impressed me, notably Cinema Suicide and Distinctly Jamaican Sounds (horror reggae!). Please be sure to check out this year's participants listed at the Countdown to Halloween site. It's a lot of fun.

Here at Histories of Things to Come, I am contributing 31 posts on ghosts, mystics, hypnotists, poltergeists, haunted houses, unsettled locations, explorations gone wrong, sunken ships, unsolved mysteries and other strange and frightening phenomena - and attempts by investigators and researchers to debunk them or explain them in scientific terms.

Inviting the experts to debunk the unexplainable is the oldest trick in the horror screenplay book. In the movies, the skeptics always loose. All horror stories stand at the crossroads of intuition, emotion and instinct on the one hand - and empirical knowledge, investigative understanding and rationality on the other. Morality lies somewhere in the middle.  I once read that Stephen King said that horror tales are actually are moral stories; they concern violations of moral order and the journey back to moral equilibrium.

That overlap of sense and sensibility is one of the main themes of this blog. Let's see how the ghosties and ghoulies fare when they go up against the experts in real life cases. Pull up a chair, my friends, turn the lights down low, and be prepared each day this month for scary stories about incredibly creepy things and the people who face them head on.  Sometimes, they even get rich doing it.

Harry Price, famed British psychic and paranormal investigator, who had a taste for the theatrical. Image Souce: Wiki.

First up, Borley Rectory, near Sudbury in Essex. It was once described as the "most haunted house in England." In a country renowned for its haunts and ghosts, that's really saying something. The site is as famed for its paranormal activity and mysterious accidents as it is for establishing the reputation of one of the world's most famous ghosthunters, Harry Price (1881-1948).

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.

Curios: Nicholas Cage, Civil War Vampire

Image Source: I09.

This is the start a series of blog posts on weird historical objects that are available now in online auctions.  These are artifacts you could never normally find in the old days before the Internet, unless you knew great antique dealers, traveled a lot, and had a real gift for ferreting out rare and obscure collectables. It took dedication, knowledge, and blind luck.  Now, you can find a world supply of any given curio with three mouse clicks.  All the same, the online auction houses bring their own surprises.  If you look carefully enough, you can find incredible things.  For example, I recently saw an ancient Mayan cup in great condition up for sale online at Heritage Auctions with a reserve of about USD$4,000.  It's odd to see something you'd expect to find in a museum, available via a process akin to eBay - or Amazon.  Another example: there's an auction site devoted to original comic book art here.

Where these items get really interesting is when their virtual availability allows us to associate them with other objects, times or places that we normally wouldn't or couldn't.  We can take the Mayan cup out of its context, especially when it's being auctioned off next to cowboy paraphenalia from a different era.  You also see collectors building collections around the fact that they can find the elements of the collection online.  Availability inspires certain kinds of collections.

For a great example of temporal and cultural mash-up and spontaneous free association, have a look at the recent I09 article on this topic.  A collector, who collects images of dead people from the 1800s, found the above photo.  The subject looks just like Nick Cage, somehow the seller of the photo also brought vampires into the mix, and labeled it the ultimate eBay auction:
Are you an unhinged billionaire? Are you a sucker for impulse buys? Do you sit around wondering if the fellow née Nicolas Kim Coppola is an immortal Confederate soldier who feasts on human blood? Then have I got an eBay purchase for you, pilgrim! Behold this recent auction titled "Nicolas Cage is a Vampire / Photo from 1870 / Tennessee":

Original c.1870 carte de visite showing a man who looks exactly like Nick Cage. Personally, I believe it's him and that he is some sort of walking undead / vampire, et cetera, who quickens / reinvents himself once every 75 years or so. 150 years from now, he might be a politician, the leader of a cult, or a talk show host.

This is not a trick photo of any kind and has not been manipulated in Photoshop or any other graphics program. It's an original photo of a man who lived in Bristol, TN sometime around the Civil War.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Millennial Mysteries: Strange English-Speaking Boy Walks out of the German Forest

Image Source: Fallen Scoop.

The Guardian is reporting on a mysterious, 17-year old boy who has been living rough in the German woods with his father, whom he buried in a shallow grave in the forest two weeks ago. The boy told authorities that his father had taken him into the woods when his mother died five years ago. He claims he can't remember anything of his life before that.  He doesn't know who he is, or where he comes from.  (Hat tip: Ghost Theory.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Suppertime Sonnets: the Millennial Sequential Art Form

Congratulations to Kate Sherrod, for helping to turn blogging into the Millennial sequential art form it should be. Never before, perhaps never again in history have so many people been able to follow the up and down trials, dreams and passions of so many other people.

From 2009 to 2010, Sherrod wrote sonnets every day, and posted them on her blog (and she still does post new ones a few times a week).  It's quite a feat.  The best ones are now collected in paperback (here) entitled, Suppertime Sonnets.  Kudos and props, Kate. (Hat tip: PM Blues.)

A History of the World in 100 Objects

The Lewis Chessmen. Image © British Museum.

The BBC has a Web exhibition up right now (here and here) as well as a Radio 4 series, based on the book, A History of the World in 100 Objects by the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor.  Among the objects listed are the Lewis Chessmen (for my posts on Chess and its symbolic significance at the turn of the Millennium, go here, here and here). (Hat tip: -B.)  The Chessmen were included in the 2001 Harry Potter movie, which renewed their popularity.  They will be on exhibition at the Cloisters Museum in New York City from 15 November 2011 to 22 April 2012.  If you are anywhere near New York, go have a look at them.  A link to the other 99 objects is below the jump.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Laugh of the Day: The Winklevoss Twins Live Cautiously

The Winklevoss Twins. Image Source: indieWire.

Boy, I think we all need a laugh at this point. Below the jump, the Winklevoss Twins' ad for pistachios.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Time Lapses: Earth from the International Space Station

Image Source: NASA via Flickr.

See below the jump for a fantastic time lapse video of the Earth at night as seen from the International Space Station. (Hat tip: Lee Hamilton's blog.)