Self-excoriation can get boring / let’s talk superhero mythology


Sorry for the lack of fun and exciting blog updates. I’ve started several, only to leave them unfinished due to lack of interest. Even I get tired of the theme of self-excoriation on occasion. What I have been very interested in lately is superhero mythology. As a child I was a ravenous collector of comic books. I lived in Cairo, Egypt for kindergarten and first grade. When my cousin came to visit us from the States and offered to buy us anything we wanted, I knew exactly what I wanted. I had her take me to a nearby shop with American toys and buy me a comic book. Upon returning to the States I began devouring comic books with a vengeance. I had my mom buy me any comic that looked cool at the supermarket, and followed her to garage sales every weekend hoping to find a stack of old comics for sale. My passion for comics continued unabated through high school. Up until I went to college I was convinced that there was no other path for me in life than to be a comic book writer/artist in the mold of Jack Kirby or Frank Miller. Almost as long-lived was the thought that I would actually wear a costume and battle crime as some sort of holy crusade. As a child I sincerely thought I was going to “keep it real” and don a costume to combat evil-doers. Since then my comic book enthusiasm has died off for a year or two at a time, only to come alive upon the discovery of some cool new creator or creators.

When I was a child there was no such thing as the internet. The only way to access superhero mythology was to read the comics themselves. I rarely had even two issues in a row of a comic, so I had to fill in an awful lot of blanks. Each issue would often end with a cliffhanger and I had no idea how a hero made it from one predicament to the next. Captain America is transformed to a weakly teenager at the end of this one, how did he get out of it? Nick Fury shot Black Widow in cold blood!?! What happens next? It was a mythology in fragments. There were no handbooks or guides. And as I said before, there was no internet. Now if I want to find out some character’s history I can just look on wikipedia, or many comic book-related sites. Decades of comic book history all spelled-out and condensed for rapid absorbtion. Want to know about the Phoenix? Google it. The white hot room? The M’kraan crystal? Google away. I have spent many, many hours piecing together vast temporal architectures of constantly-developing superhero mythology. I have spent many, many hours asking and answering my own questions related to the Marvel and DC comics universes, online. One thing I’ve learned is how hopelessly convoluted any long-term comic character’s mythology is. Characters die and are reborn over and over. Their powers are ratcheted up to godlike levels and then erased and then ratcheted back up over the years. Over the forty to sixty years these characters have existed all sorts of wacky, nonsensical, and just downright what-the-hell-were-they-thinking things have occured. Just like any other mythology!

I loved classical mythology as a child as well, and fantastical stories from any culture I came across, but it was superhero comic books that seemed to have the most vital and captivating myths. Of course these superhero myths are not frozen in time, but constantly revised, amended and overturned for a monthly audience. It was their very slipperiness and temporality that made them that much more enticing to me as a child. Back then there were no such things as trade paperback collections, and if you didn’t get a comic when it came out, then good luck hunting through the back issue bins trying to find it. The knowledge was rare and elusive. Only a comics archaeologist could really know the truth about these heroes and their histories.

I’ve been a massive fan of the comics writing of Grant Morrison since a clerk at Future Dreams tipped me off to his work on Doom Patrol back in 1991. One of the outgrowths of his massively influential Invisibles series was a community that started up at I’ve been vaguely aware of its existence for years but never spent much time there until recently. After having spent hours poring through posts by (mostly) erudite writers, artists, scientists, magicians, etc., micro-analyzing Grant Morrison’s work, I have a brand new appreciation for the man’s writing, and the intelligence and knowledge level of many of his other fans. I re-read the man’s work more than anyone else’s, and I am amazed at all the symbolism and symmetry in his work discussed in the barbelith forum that I often do not have the knowledge-base to spot. Parallels to spiral wave dynamics in the progression of villains? Who knew? The role the kabbalah plays in deciphering the color choices of the heroes’ costumes? Wow. Dense, dense stuff. While this might all seem like ludicrous over-analysis, Grant is well known to shove as much of his scientific, literary, pop culture, and magickal influences into works that operate on a number of symbolic levels.  No doubt soon the man will finally get a property made into a successful Hollywood blockbuser production and then become ubiquitous. I know he’s hoping for it, unlike someone like Alan Moore. Just because of how much insight I’ve gained already, I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot more time at in the future.


PS Oh yeah, and then I learned about a July 2006 comic book convention talk given by Deepak Chopra and Grant Morrison called “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes.” Apparently Deepak’s son, Gotham introduced his dad to Grant Morrison’s work. Deepak was quoted as saying, “everything I’ve been trying to say in my nonfiction work and in some of my fiction work had been so aptly, so beautifully and so imaginatively expressed in the work of Grant Morrison.” Who knew? I myself have never read any of Mr. Chopra’s books, but I did see a very interesting and provocative talk that he gave years ago, so I am not one to dismiss him outright, as I imagine many people are quick to do.

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