Category Archives: Comics

Our Lady of Themyscira

There are people out there who worship superheroes.

I am not one of them.

But after having watched the new Wonder Woman movie, twice, one could almost…,

Oh, I’ve heard all the rationalizations, the misapplied references to Jungian archetypes, the quotes lifted reverently from Joseph Campbell’s books, the endless suggestions that the gods are merely manifestations of the collective consciousness, and that the superheroes, having achieved iconic status within western culture are every bit as valid a target of our mental energies as any of the “old gods”…,

I’m not buying it.

But if that’s your gig, the writers and marketers are certainly happy to sell it to you.

No, the superheroes are not actual gods, but when handled correctly they do have the power to inspire us, to lift us up from our own troubles, and to free us from the limitations which society and gravity would impose upon us, if only for a little while.

And, for a long time now, Wonder Woman has been my favorite.

Oh sure, I started out pretty firmly in the Superman camp.

I mean, what little boy doesn’t want to discover that he has amazing powers due to his secret alien parentage?

But we grow up a bit, we become angsty, our worldview darkens, and we glom onto the Batman, reveling in his trauma induced war against a bizarre criminal underworld.

Or, anyway, that’s what happened with me.

And I still buy his books, along with those of the Green Lantern and a smattering of other titles.

But it gets expensive pretty quickly.

If you’re one of the popular superheroes, a Superman or a Batman, you’ve probably got a dozen titles with your name or image on the cover, including monthlies, crossovers, and one shots.

Wonder Woman really only has the one title.

They say it has to do with marketing decisions, and the difficulty in writing a female lead who will be interesting and popular among young boys.  And sadly, that’s probably a big part of it.

But it’s not just the woman in the title.

The gods are in there too.

And I think that scares the crap out of them.

I love Wonder Woman because, even before they revamped her origin and made her a child of the gods, she was a gift from the gods.  Sculpted from clay by her mother the Amazon queen, she was given life by the Olympian gods, and sent to the world of men as an ambassador of peace.

I have always been perplexed that, in a medium where literally ANYTHING is possible, comic book writers almost never treat the gods as actual gods.  They are invariably aliens with magic seeming technology, livings in some dimension, removed from our own.  Or they are creatures of limited power, created by human thought and belief, languishing in a universe that no longer prostrates itself before them.

The gods are almost never written as actual gods.

Except in Wonder Woman.

For a long time, I thought this must have something to do with the publishing houses not wanting to rankle a largely Christian audience.  But I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard any of my Christian friends complaining about the presence of Hera or Apollo in a Wonder Woman comic.

Mostly they just seem put off by the fact that she doesn’t wear pants.

“She’s dressed like a whore,” one of them told me, a few years back.

Yeah, you try to think the best about a person, and then they make an idiot remark like that.

But for a while there, the artists gave us a Wonder Woman in pants.  And it looked terrible.

Oh how this new movie must be making their heads spin!

So I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new movie, and for the most part it has exceeded my expectations.  But the revelation, in the first few minutes of the movie, that Ares has murdered all of the other gods of Olympus…,

It seems as if the bravery of the comic did not translate so completely to the silver screen.

If the gods are dead, we don’t have to write for them, we don’t have to explain them, we don’t have to be worried that people will be offended by their presence.

Maybe Ares was right, and we don’t deserve them.

But it’s not about what we deserve.

It’s about what we believe.

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Filed under Comics, Culture, Heroes, Modern Life, Religion, The Gods

A resurrection done right?

Oh my friends, John Constantine is back from the dead!

Constantine is Back

You may remember that it has been almost twenty months since they put him in the ground.  By my own count it has been one-year, seven-months, and seven-days, since I penned my own small tribute to the Hellblazer.  And suddenly here he is again, big as life on my TV screen, the dirt of the grave still clinging to the soles of his shoes…,

“Nay!” boom the voices of the cynics in the crowd, “It is well known that comic book characters cannot ever truly die.  Did not John’s adventures continue in the pages of ‘Constantine’ after the run of ‘Hellblazer’ had been brought to an end?”

I’ll grant you that folks in the hero-books never die.  However, John never really spent much time walking those circles, and characters in the more adult Vertigo imprint do not seem quite so robust in their immortality, as are the SuperFriends.

As for the aforementioned book, titled ‘Constantine’, well you can borrow a man’s name and his clothes, but without the body you’ve got nothing to hang them on.  Which is just my fancy way of saying that the disneyfied guy in that book is NOT John f@*king Constantine, so don’t even get me started!

A Banishing Spell

“Fine then, leaving aside the question of IF it counts as a resurrection,” comes the counterpoint, “it’s not really much of one, is it?  Over a year and a half go by before he crawls up out of his literary grave, and here you are crowing like it was the second coming!”

Oh sure, Odin only hung on the tree for nine days, and Jesus did his bit over a long weekend, but these are deities we’re talking about and shrugging off death is right there in the job description.

The character of John Constantine is a foul-mouthed, chain smoking, deviant, with highly questionable moral underpinnings, who traffics regularly with unclean spirits and the worst dregs of humanity, and has somehow made the leap from a little known comic book, into a prime-time network television series.  That alone might be miracle enough, but if the first couple episodes are any indication, he’s managed to retain most of his edge through the unlikely transition.

And as an added bonus, he’s not being played by Keanu Reeves!

“And that’s the problem,” cry the ever helpful doubters, “it’s network television, so they’ll screw it up.  He can’t possibly be the same bastard he was in the comics.  Have you noticed how most of his smoking is done off-camera, so as to be politically-correct?  You can’t really believe it’s the same Constantine you knew from ‘Hellblazer’ and not some sanitized pretender?!”

And maybe they’re right.  Maybe I’m hoping for too much.

It’s too early to tell, just yet.

Personally, I’m one to keep a real sharp eye on anyone or anything that comes back from the dead.  No one leaves the lands of the dead unchanged – fictional or otherwise – and such changes are not always for the better.  So, I’ll be watching, to see if he really is who he says he is, or if ‘something else’ is using his body to take a stroll.

Back From The Dead

I’ve missed my monthly dose of the Hellblazer.

I don’t think I’m the only one.

The writing, the casting, the look of the show, they all feel as if they were lifted right out of an old issue and projected onto the screen.  Even John’s little speech at the end of the first episode was pulled almost word for word from one of my favorite issues.  It is the same speech I quoted at the end of my little eulogy last year.

And so, as is always the case where John Constantine is concerned, there is a cautious species of hope arriving from the most unlikely and unlooked for of places.  And anyway, I really should have known better than to believe that the swindling bastard would stay in the grave one second longer than he had to.

The old place still smells the same, that’s the weirdest part.  Beneath the new carpets and the fancy wallpaper, the gloss paint and velvet drapes, the lingering taint of blood and sweat, piss and shit.  The tang of human fear.  Takes me right back, it does.  I never expected to come back.  Not after last time.  I thought I was done with this place.  Thought it was done with me…, But here I am again, back for one last ride on the merry-go-round.

Let Me Ask You

John Constantine: Hellblazer 1988 – 2013 / 2014 – ?

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Filed under Art, Comics, Culture, Heroes, Modern Life, Television

No Capes!

You walk into a room at a family gathering and you find uncle Elmo telling a joke so racist that you wonder if it’s not too late to have yourself adopted out of the family. Your boss is making sexist remarks at the company picnic and you start scanning the skies for the black helicopters which you are sure Human Resources must have dispatched by now. You’ve turned on the news only to hear another story about the Westboro Baptist Church picketing a funeral and you hope that in your next life you’ll perhaps be reincarnated as an otter.

One of the unavoidable truths about human kind is that eventually someone is going to say something that makes you cringe. It’s going to happen, the only requirement being that two or more people are communicating.

You have only to wait.

How long that wait lasts, well.., that’s directly proportional to the number of people in your sample population. The more folks who attend the party, the sooner you’ll feel that special flush of embarrassment that marks your search for the nearest exit.

So, last week, a lot of people within the pagan community (or at least the more vocal parts of the community) spent valuable time and energy debating the rightness or wrongness of worshiping superheroes.

It certainly wasn’t the first “cringe-worthy” moment I’ve experienced while watching paganism grow and change over the years. I have every expectation that more such moments are just waiting for their time to pounce.

Still, if ever there was a time that I didn’t want the rest of the world to be looking…,

Except, here I am talking about it. Why?

Because, however much you may want to leave the room when you catch uncle Elmo doing his normal shtick, if you just let it go unchallenged, you are condoning it with your silence. And I can’t bring myself to do that.

If you are worshiping superheroes, you are doing it wrong.

Now this is the point where someone jumps in and starts crying about how I’m being all mean and dogmatic and trying to trample their beliefs.

The problem with that argument is that I didn’t say jack about belief.

I said, “you are doing it wrong.”

This is not about orthodoxy. This is not about ‘Correct Belief’.

Wreck-It Ralph doesn't like orthodoxy, or the long lines at Dallas ComicCon.

Wreck-It Ralph doesn’t like orthodoxy, or the long lines at Dallas ComicCon.

For those outside the polytheistic sphere who may not know this: we pagans don’t really care for orthodoxy. ‘One Right Way’ is more of a monotheist state-of-mind.

Polytheists are typically more about orthopraxy – that is, ‘Correct Action’.

Worshiping superheroes is wrong, not because it is an incorrect belief, but because venerating fictional characters is denigrating to the actual gods and heroes that we DO worship. You know, the REAL ones, the ones that speak to us through the world around us and not from the pages of a comic book or the latest box-office reboot.

There is a difference between fandom and worship. If you don’t see that difference, if you don’t feel it, then once again, I suggest that you are doing it wrong. True worship (or adoration, or veneration, or whichever word you want to use) should run much deeper than any feeling we may muster for a character we know to be unreal. Children may worship the likes of Batman and Iron Man with the same passion they hold for Santa, but not adults. We know that it was our parents who consumed the milk and cookies while setting out our gifts. I do not believe we are able to feel that kind of depth of emotion for something we know to be false.

If you can’t experience that fervor for the gods whom you claim to honor…,

Doing. It. Wrong.

Riddle me this: When is Iron Man like a rock band? When he's an Iron-Maiden.

Riddle me this: When is Iron Man like a rock band?
When she’s an Iron-Maiden.

I spent this weekend at the Dallas ComicCon. There were thousands of people (far more than I am typically comfortable with), men, women and children, all come together with a single purpose: to celebrate the fantastic heroes and villains of comics and the silver screen. So many people with a shared purpose should have been able to raise some pretty damned impressive energy! Such an event should have vibrated with unchecked ecstatic power as the multitudes praised and deified their heroes.

It was a fun weekend, make no mistake about that, but it didn’t feel like a religious rite.

And why?

Because fandom is not worship.

Worship involves pouring energy outward to achieve a result.

Fandom, on the other hand, is about the self. It’s about satisfying a need that we feel, filling a hole that our modern society has forgotten how to satisfy.

Has no one ever read Campbell’s ‘The Power of Myth’?! Seriously folks.

Tony is trying to raise some energy here.  Hey, Pikachu, think you could give us a jump-start?

Tony is trying to raise some energy here. Hey, Pikachu, think you could give him a jump-start?

Superman and Skywalker and Katniss exist because we stopped telling the ancient stories, and when we do tell them, we are told at the outset that we should not believe them. We are a culture left without a mythology that we can believe in and heroes that we can accept as real. So we make stuff up to fill in the gaps left behind.

The superheroes are not a solution to our problems, they’re a symptom.

Their stories are grand.

Their stories are epic.

If we pay attention we may notice that their stories are ultimately about finding the humanity they have lost along the way.

Their story is our story.

The story of the superhero is not that of a god caring for mankind.

The story of the superhero is that of a people trying to find their way.

Do it right. Honor the gods. And remember, “No Capes!”

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Filed under Comics, Culture, Heroes, Modern Life, Movies, Mythology, Religion