Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Horses and Warriors, After the Bombs

Robert Adams wrote from his personal pool of knowledge, based upon his career as a military man.  He also developed a political and world view as that, and his writing often provided him a platform to express himself regarding the world, politics, religious ideals, honor, liberty, and more.  The Horseclans is one of his works that would have to be regarded as his great legacy.  He imagined a world devastated by wars, and not those following the timeline we know.  In his world World War 3 followed relatively closely after World War 2.  So as a writer in the 80s, he was writing about a world that had been devastated by a clash of nuclear arms, and rivalries, that the real world had avoided.  This isn't meant to criticize his choice, simply to point out, he didn't feel obligated to pay heed to the actual timeline and present, in writing his work.


He wrote in a way that was able to express action well, but if there are flaws, there are critics who suggest that they could have done with less philosophizing and more character development.  However, there is no doubt that Adams world views added to the reality and context of the battles and depth of politics and tribal interactions found in his world.  The horseclans are filled with great personalities, but more great warriors.  At no point for a person interested in the raison d'etre of the interaction of two tribes is there anything that could be called boring.


One of the best aspects of the works are Adams' ability to embrace the role of Barbarism in the liberating the soul of humans.  Unlike the perceived goal for humans of many utopian writers, or other fantasists, high culture, great civilizations do not bring out the savage or warrior, but rather, society and civilizations subdue that in the human.  Therefore, the world is seen considerably different than the nuclear super powers that had taken the world to the nuclear brink.  The nuclear destruction of civilization as we know has instead liberated humanity to know its true nature.


Follow the world of the Horseclans and the new prints of the series at Mundania

The books in the US were graced with Ken Kelly covers.  They were rather brilliant.




Monday, March 23, 2015

Every year around this time, I get cabin fever


The best thing to solve cabin fever, is comics.  I have a fever, and the only thing that can solve it, is comics.

So light a nice toasty, safe, fire in the fireplace, heat up some cocoa, get a nice soft blanket, a big comfy chair, and turn off the phone, and lock the door.

It is time to read comics.


I greatly enjoyed Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.  It was a tale that was good, but familiar in art, somewhat a mix between Moebius and an excellent anime/manga
standard artist.  And the writing brought me in to the story and made me adore the main character. The story follows a similar path of post apocalyptic environmental destruction and the reorganization of society. However, the rebirth of society follows a different path than I expected. A warrior who flies over the crystalized forests after nuclear holocausts and communicates with the new life forms, and understands the new earth.


Slaine the Berserker is truly my eye candy.  Yes, I am not so deep that I buy comics only for the story.  Sometimes the barbarian in me needs to be released, sometimes I like pretty pictures.  Sometimes I like both.  In this case, the Simon Bisley art and violence of the comic rocked my world.


One aspect I never understood about Thor was why he spoke in ridiculous Olde English when he was Norse.  I was therefore AMAZED by the awesome raison d'etre, Thor discovers a lost village of wayward Vikings.  The story evolves into Thor versus Zombie Vikings and the Viking village is brought into the present.  It rocks beyond any other Thor I've read.


If you hate reboots of old characters into the present with new motives and you hate political motives placed upon previously non-politically motivated characters, you'll hate this.  Garth Ennis takes a character who had been an all American hero, taking down bastards who needed taking down.  He adds a brilliant backstory and new story of why and who and where for this character, and I was enthralled for hours.  Yes I read and reread it.


Jamie Delano and John Higgins tell a beautiful, raw, brutal story of six chapters, about the primacy of human lust, desire and interconnectivity. The story shows in mythological format, in luscious prose, and glorious color art, the epic circle that gender is.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The state of internet discussions

Disagreeing is one thing. Taking offense in another thing. Holding a grudge yet another. On the Interwebz blender everyone likes to make a smoothie out of it... and it tastes shitty bitter.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fake Importance, Real Importance

Should the light sabers of Star Wars have hilts?

Should Superman still have red trunks outside his blue suit?

Should women heroes wear tiny costumes to expose their bodies, especially compared to their well covered male counterparts? 

When will George R.R. Martin finish writing those damn books in Game of Thrones?

Shouldn't an actress who is Asian be playing the lead character in Ghost in the Shell instead of Scarlett Johansson?

Should Disney abandon the continuity created by George Lucas when it resumes the Star Wars films?

Just how large is Kim Kardashian's ass, anyway?

Is Kanye West's selfish focus upon himself so large that it would create an orbital pull and create its own gravity?

Popular culture seems destined to flood our senses with information, images, spectacle, and lurid event.  It asks questions that we have no answers for, and in the end, our attention is diverted from real news.  Whether we need to escape, or whether we choose escapism to avoid reality because it is easier to escape, many people in Western civilization and capitalist society choose to ignore the events outside of their reach, so much that they are ignorant to the world around them.

Many have not heard of, and if they've heard of, they do not care about:

ISIS 
 
The Syrian Civil War

The Ukraine conflict

Ebola

There are a number of issues that aren't agreed upon by people enough to act upon them*, but in the cases listed above, people are dying, and there are clear cut aggressors or enemies.  The people involved know the issues are important, but those who focus entirely upon pop culture often have no idea what is going on.

*Some of the issues where there is debate...

Are humans causing the current phase of Global Warming?

Is the Death Penalty cruel and unusual punishment?

Should Immigration standards allow people to come into the United States or the countries of the European Union from considerably less wealthy countries seeking financial benefit?

There are many more issues without cohesive answers, but many feel the need to solve the problems in pop culture before we assess and solve the hard issues in reality.  Why do we elect people and pay taxes, after all, if not to take care of these issues?  Our lives are hard enough, without such worries.

I am being facetious of course, but the truth is, I worry over the future, when people are more sad that an author or actor or character in a movie dies, than 213 people in a battle for a town in Syria.  But it does happen.  Every single day.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Power Couples


A couple years ago, a lot of DC fans were outraged when J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman, the creative team behind the popular BATWOMAN comic, were leaving the book because of editorial differences.  BATWOMAN was notable for having an openly gay heroine and her relationship with police officer Maggie Sawyer, formerly a supporting character from SUPERMAN, was a big part of the series.  Williams and Blackman had planned to have Batwoman and Maggie get married, but at the last minute, the editors at DC decided they would not permit it.

DC insisted that they have nothing against gays or gay characters, Co-publisher Dan Dido explained it this way:

Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, and Kathy Kane — it’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s also just as important that they put it aside as they know what they are accomplishing as the hero takes precedence over everything else. That is our mandate, that is our edict, that is our stand with our characters."

In other words, it isn’t that DC has a problem with Gay Marriage, but that DC has a problem with Marriage, Period.  Superman is allowed to date Wonder Woman in the New 52; and Batman can do the nasty on a rooftop with Catwoman; and Starfire, hoo-boy, Starfire; who can keep track? – but being a super-hero means that the job comes first and no other commitments are allowed.

You might argue that comics are chiefly written for an adolescent male audience which isn’t really interested in Domestic Bliss.  A big part of Superman’s original premise was the fantasy of “If only that girl I like knew that under my mild-mannered exterior I’m special”. In order to keep that character dynamic, Lois Lane has to remain clueless, and Clark Kent has to remain single.  Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Queseda felt that the core of SPIDER-MAN was the hard-luck hero who could never catch a break and that readers couldn’t identify with Peter Parker as such when Peter happened to be married to a super-model.  He wanted to break up Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage in the worst way; and that was exactly how he did it.

In this school of thought, particularly among comic book editors, that Super-Heroes and Marriage don’t go together;  that fighting crime is a single person’s game; that married people are boring.

But there have been super-heroes who have gotten married and made their marriages work.  Let’s take a look at a few.


One of the first, if not the first, married couples in the annals of comic book super-heroes was Hawkman and Hawkgirl.  The original Hawkman was Carter Hall, an archaeologist who learned that he was the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince named Khufu.  Carter discovered a material he called “Ninth Metal”, (later re-named “Nth Metal, because it sounded more scientific) with anti-gravity properties which he used to create a pair of wings with which he could fly.  Although most super-heroes followed the precedent set by Supernam of keeping the Secret Identity hidden from the Love Interest, Carter let his girlfriend, Shiera, in on the secret and made a pair of wings for her too so that she could fight crime with him as Hawkgirl.  After all, Shiera was the reincarnation of Khufu’s ancient lover; theirs was a love which had lasted millennia.. And Carter and Shiera also worked together at the museum, so it was only natural that they would fight crime together too.  They married, and became one of the more enduring super-couples of the Golden Age.

At the start of the Silver Age, when editor Julius Schwartz recast and updated several of the old Golden Age heroes, he had writer Gardner Fox, who had created the original Hawkman, to give the character a more science fiction spin.  In the revamp, Hawkgirl wasn’t just Hawkman’s girlfriend, Katar and Shayera Hol were a husband-and-wife team of police officers from the planet Thannagar, who come to Earth in pursuit of a criminal and decide to stick around.

After the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, (or Hawkwoman, as she called herself in later decades),  suffered waves of retcons as DC’s editors and writers tried to fix the inconsistencies created by each preceding fix.  As a result, by the ‘90s they found it easier to just separate the two characters rather than deal with them as a team.


BULLETMAN, published by Fawcett Comics, also featured a husband and wife team of crime-fighters.  Police ballistics expert Jim Barr invented a serum giving him enhanced strength and intelligence, and a bullet-shaped helmet which gave him control over gravity enabling him to deflect bullets and fly.  Like Carter Hall, he shared his discovery with his girlfriend, Susan Kent, so that they could fight crime together as Bulletman and Bulletgirl; and like the Hawks, the two eventually married.  Although fairly obscure today, Bulletman was for a time Fawcett’s second most popular character, next to Captain Marvel.

Another Golden Age character, even more obscure but worth mentioning, was Quality Comics’ DOLL MAN, a guy who could shrink down to six inches in height.  Like many other characters published by Quality during the Golden Age, Doll Man was acquired by DC Comics in the ‘70s and put in a group called the Freedom Fighters; but has been little used.  Still, he also is significant in that he went against the unwritten rule that Super-Heroes mustn’t let their loved ones know what they do in their off-hours.  Darrel Dane began his career by using his shrinking formula to save his girlfriend, Martha Roberts from kidnappers.  Martha makes his costume for him, and eventually gains shrinking powers herself so that she can join him as Doll Girl.


Early on in the FANTASTIC FOUR’s run, Reed Richard and Sue Storm tied the knot in a ceremony attended by many of the big names in Marvel Comics; (although not Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; as an in-joke they were shown being thrown out of the building as gate-crashers).  For the most part, their marriage has been a solid and stable one, and they are raising two fantastic children.

Other heroes of the Marvel Universe have gotten married as well.  Hank “Ant-Man” Pym and Janet “Wasp” Van Dyne have had a rocky relationship, buffeted chiefly by Hank’s emotional problems.  For a while, Scarlet Witch was married to her fellow Avenger, the Vision, and had to face a lot of prejudice, not, for a change, because Wanda is a mutant, but because the Vision is an android.  And then they had kids.  Um… how did that work?  John Byrne later explained it by saying that their twins were figments of Wanda’s imagination given physical substance by her powers… somehow.  Which makes sense, I guess.


I think the happiest marriage in all of comics, though would be that of Ralph and Sue Dibney.  Ralph, “The Elongated Man”, was a stretchable sleuth with a “nose for mystery”, who would travel around the world with his wealthy wife, solving baffling cases in eight pages or less as a back-up feature in THE FLASH.  Their relationship was modeled after Nick and Nora Charles from “The Thin Man” movies, (minus the copious amounts of alcohol William Powell and Myrna Loy seemed to drink in the films); united in a love for solving puzzles and for each other.  Every year, Sue would create a special mystery as a birthday present for her husband to solve.  For a while, Ralph was a member of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA by himself, but when he rejoined the team in JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL, he brought Sue with him and she became a valuable supporting character.  And dang it, they were so cute together.  Sadly, Sue was killed off in the IDENTITY CRISIS miniseries in order to provide the heroes with a nice tragic beginning..  Because nothing happy can last, I guess.


In “Anna Karenina”, Leo Tolstoy said that “Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Perhaps this is why comic writers are uncomfortable writing stable relationships and would rather give their heroes messy love-lives.  Which is a shame, because I don’t think it has to be that way. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Drugs, Freedom, Prison, and the Doobie

The United States is quickly changing.  With Gay marriage and LGBTI rights, with a variety of national first ever achievements by women and minorities, the US seems to have embraced the change that President Obama promised when he was campaigning back in 2008.  Obviously, not everything promised comes true.  And it was doubtful that in 2008 most people could have foreseen the green wave of marijuana legal use laws coming into power in various states and perhaps even the District of Columbia, the nation's capital.

 
But just because marijuana is being legalized doesn't mean America is going to hell.  There have been dystopias written about such a world system, and they are frightening, and not for the fact that I believe they can happen, but for the writing and true horror expressed in those stories.  If you count alcohol as a drug, and it is, and tobacco, we've had legal drug use for centuries.  And we should be honest about marijuana use as well, there has been a mostly don't get caught but just be discreet use of the product attitude for about 30 years.  

I've posted the covers of a number of books related to the topic, and I'll mention, in brief why you might find them of interest, with regard to this subject.

Narcopolis by Jamie Delano is a wild tale that is not a cautionary tale about drug use, but rather, it is a speculative look at how a society might use drugs to make their world a utopia, and how others might not agree with that world view. This clash leads to some dramatic dissonance between reality and the comfy place the drug world allowed the society to experience.

Kallocain by Karin Boye is about how fear, conformity and the use of and prevalence of a drug called Kallocain draw citizens into a web of distrust, rather than safety or comfort.  It is a fantastic look at how honesty and trust cannot come from force or from the use of truth serums.

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by the Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson is said by some to celebrate the world of drugs, and gambling and violence.  But what it really gets into is the desire to live free from laws and to exercise that freedom, regardless of the possible harm to one's body, or reputation.  Many mistake it for what it is not, which is, a road trip book.  It is an example of how we as a being chafe at authority and use whatever means available to escape it.

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr. is slightly similar to Fear and Loathing, in that it presents a world that is pumped with violence and drugs.  However, there is no way this book is misunderstood as anything other than what it is, a cautionary tell from the streets, about drugs, prostitution and violence.  There is a cycle on the street that people get hooked on drugs, then are forced to prostitute their bodies, and then are kept in line as prostitutes through violence.

The Filth is a comic book graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Chris Weston. Morrison gets at modernity's real issues, and drugs are both good and bad in that assessment.  Drugs are used to dull the minds of the genius in this world, they keep the minds of that group under mediation psychotropic drugs make sure they never stray.  Other medicines, perhaps like the ADHD medicine we hear about, keeps children who used to be thought over active but creative, from reaching their peaks of achievement.  But drugs open the minds of people, allow them to escape the drudgery of this existence, and by that, they can rise above the Filth of this existence. 

A Scanner Darkly by Phillip K. Dick demonstrates how wild drug use can be, as in this work both the protagonist and antagonist share a common foe, and share a common goal, despite being at odds.  I can't reveal more without revealing spoilers but... Drug use here is at the heart of the novel, it causes people to perceive the world differently, and causes effects such as paranoia and fear at degrees far higher than normal.

Kiss My Asbo by Alistair Fruish is a work that covers a society thoroughly infiltrated by drug use, crime, and the iron hand of the government.  Take the blue pill, and get out as fast as you can.

Confession of an English Opium Eater, Thomas De Quincey's autobiography, is an extraordinary work of power.  It shows the effects upon a life of Opium use, how it ravishes his life, but since it was not yet illegal, nor worried over, it was thought to be a means of examining life through a different medium.  It was seen by some artistic people as a clue that opium and other drugs opens the gateway to the subconscious as well as a direct corridor to the creative center.

William S. Burroughs was a JUNKY was the second book written by Burroughs, and it covers the sorrow filled existence of a heroin addict.  It was originally published under a pen name, it was considered a work of great controversy due to the direct and ugly world that was exposed.

Batman: Venom by Dennis O'Neil and many others, is a comic book tradepaperback (TPB) story that demonstrates the power and corruption, as well as the addiction that follows the use of the drug Venom.  This drug later is used to power Kane, a very dangerous opponent. 

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh  Whereas JUNKY by Burroughs was controversial in its time, Trainspotting told of a much larger tragedy, filled with immense amounts of human lives wasted by the addictions they had, mostly by heroin, but other addictive behaviors as well.  To ignore the heroin use and try to say the work is about anything else would be a joke.  The run down areas of Edinburgh and other areas, and abject poverty serve as a backdrop of the hopelessness that allows and encourages people to dispose of their lives, and not try very hard to get it back.  Some do, of course, but many get addicted again, and others get involved in other sorts of behaviors.

BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley is less a book about drug use as it is a book about a dystopia where drugs are used as part of the way humans are stripped of their individuality, made to sleep at various hours, for the state's benefit, and to gain better abilities at whatever society needed them to achieve.  The book is magnificent, easily one of the best of all time.  It isn't however, the best of the books regarding drug use.