Category Archives: Graphic Mythology

Graphic Mythology: Astro City Pantheon

Actually, I have described a partial pantheon of Astro City characters I cherry-picked for the purposes of my blog. Though I have praised this series in the past, I need to emphasize that this does not mean that I approve of everything it contains. Their are some characters and stories that I find objectionable due to my Christian orientation, but I this has not prevented me from reading them and at least learning how another writer thinks about various topics. Various people have various levels of tolerance when it comes to this sort of thing, and part of the reason I have read the graphic novels to which I am alluding in this series is that I want to know how a growing segment of our population thinks and what it likes. Anything should be read critically and with discernment as to quality of thought. Having said this, here is a visual review of the characters about whom I have posted:

Winged Victory

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The Crossbreed (Noah, Mary, Peter, Daniel, David, and Joshua)

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The Confessor

The Confessor and Altar Boy

The Hanged Man

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Hellsignor

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Cleopatra

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The Pale Horseman

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This list is far from complete, and further reading of the series fills in more back stories in bits and snatches. There are other prominent characters who have superpowers but who do not seem to fit the mythological theme of my blog. More next week…

Graphic Mythology: The Pale Horseman

This week’s entry from (or, as you will see, into) the Astro City universe is the Pale Horseman.

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He is a spectral character whose imagery is somewhat reminiscent of Ghost Rider from the Marvel universe, but their back stories are quite different.

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Like something out of the book of Revelation in the Bible, he comes riding through an interdimensional rift to invade Astro City in The Dark Age series. He rides on a skeletal horse surrounded by fire as they gallop through the air and up the sides of buildings.

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Invisible except for the hooded cloak he wears, the Pale Horseman seeks out transgressors and eradicates them in shafts of fire. His bent toward retribution is one more similarity he shares with the Ghost Rider. The main problem is that his judgment of sin is not tempered with mercy. He indiscriminately punishes the smallest offenses along with the greatest. There is no chance for rehabilitation of the offenders. There are no second chances.

I am intrigued by this character because he has the citizenry of Astro City questioning their own motives and actions. Everyone becomes paranoid and aware of his or her own faults until the inner beast is unleashed in all. Christians and philosophers alike can reflect on what this says about human nature and the fallibility of both saint and sinner. When it comes to assessing ourselves and others, where do we draw the line of distinction? Is it valid to draw it at all? My father used the term, “purity barriers” to describe the criteria by which we try to elevate ourselves above others, and Jesus warned against judging the faults of our neighbors while ignoring our own.

Let me conclude by quoting a common saying:

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

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Graphic Mythology: Cleopatra

Last week, I alluded to a superhero named Cleopatra.

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She is evidently a supernatural entity derived from the original Cleopatra. Her identity is transferred from one individual to another by means of something called the Gem of Thebis. This is independent of race. Her former incarnation was white, her present incarnation black. In the story arc of The Dark Age from the Astro City series, we see the passing of the mantle. In order to get the Gem of Thebis away from a villain named Hellsignor, a hero called the Point Man throws it around the neck of Sarah Brandeis, one of many innocent bystanders who have been taken captive. She becomes Cleopatra, confirming that her superhero identity resides in the artifact which she is wearing.

This character appears in several Astro City stories. She is somewhat similar to Winged Victory in that she transforms between her superhero and ordinary identities by means of what she wears around her neck. Also like Vic, she can fly and is abnormally strong. Her age and beauty are preserved, and she controls the weather (with, guess what, bursts of lightning) by means of an implement she wields which is known as the Sun-Staff of Ra. So writer Kurt Busiek has drawn loosely from Egyptian mythology in the creation of Cleopatra.

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As I have already said, there are a number of stories in which she appears, and I am still faithfully working my way through this excellent series. I still have a lot to learn about her, but she is another feminine superhero who is written and drawn from a more mature and dignified perspective.

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Cleopatra and Winged Victory appear together, sometimes as members of a superhero team dubbed the Honor Guard, so read up on their exploits.

Graphic Mythology: Hellsignor

Not all mythic characters can be heroes. For the sake of writing an interesting story, one must have villains, including those of the supernatural variety. Hellsignor is a good example of this in Part 2 of The Dark Age storyline from Astro City.

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I like the way that this character typifies evil. He’s a conceited blowhard whose power is wasted on his ego, and his appearance is appropriately brief. His accomplishments? Well, he enslaves some susceptible souls as his acolytes, takes innocent captives, and defeats various superheroes only to have one of them, the Point Man, foil his plans. During Hellsignor’s boastful proclamations and his preparations to receive the power of something called the Gem of Thebis, the Point Man swipes the stone and throws it around the neck of a captive bystander. She is transformed into the latest incarnation of Cleopatra, the superhero who immediately sends Hellsignor into another dimension.

This is satisfying. Threaten, conquer, boast, and – Poof! You’re gone. Even the most powerful dictator is a squashed bug on the windshield of history, a mere foil for something or someone more enduring and important. I fear that there is at least a trace of the egomaniac in all of us, and he needs to be vanquished accordingly.

Graphic Mythology: The Hanged Man

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This character is, for me, a close second to the Confessor. If I knew more of his back story, he might well be my favorite. I may be at odds with myself on this one, though, because a large part of his appeal is wrapped up in the mystery which surrounds him. He has a spirit-like quality and rather undefined powers. He requires no food or water and receives no bodily injuries. He can change size as he floats in mid-air.

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He is the guardian of Shadow Hill, an Astro City neighborhood beset by supernatural forces.

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He appears to those in need, communicating with them telepathically and comforting them in the process.

“I go where I am needed – and tonight, one of the places I am needed is here.”

The Hanged Man is centuries old. Sightings of him extend back into the Middle Ages. He makes significant cameo appearances in a number of stories, including Life in the Big CityConfession, and an award-winning short story titled The Nearness of You which is added to the end of the latter. Look him up. This good fellow knows how to take care of business.

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Graphic Mythology: The Confessor

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT for those who have not read Confession in the Astro City series. You might want to read the graphic novel first.

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The Confessor is my favorite character in the Astro City pantheon, but there are a number of volumes I have yet to read. So… who knows?

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The original Confessor is a nuanced, conflicted, and principled character. You see, he’s a former priest who was turned into… well, a vampire.

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This fact makes him an interesting personification of the struggle between the spirit and the flesh.

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He and his sidekick, Altar Boy,  hang out in the unfinished wing of a Cathedral which sprawls over 14 city blocks. Due to the complicated and extensive architecture, their hideout is immune from discovery. Everyone is either unaware or too afraid to inspect that part of the building.

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The Confessor has a number of interesting powers, including the ability to appear from (or disappear into) mist. What intrigued me most, however, was his ability to elicit the truth  from criminals who were disinclined to give it. His unflinching stare compels them to make the “confessions” from which his name is derived. Obviously, his name also makes reference to his former profession.

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Truthfully, this is one righteous dude, so read… and enjoy.

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Graphic Mythology: The Crossbreed

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The Crossbreed are a team of superheroes of Christian orientation within the pantheon of Astro City. Their names and powers are derived from biblical stories. Noah can control the weather. Mary has wings and can fly. Peter controls the ground. Daniel is a leonid man of violent principle. David is a giant. Joshua can emit a sonic scream.

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What I like about this bunch is that they are used sparingly, which makes them more effective (at least in the series, Confession). They intervene at strategic points in the plot.

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Otherwise, they seem to limit their influence to preaching on street corners.

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They intervene but do not interfere. They avoid coercion except when it comes to fighting villains to save others. Their self-restraint maintains a balance of human decision. These are characteristics which many Christians attribute to God.

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Another hero next week.

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Be there or else…

Graphic Mythology: A Goddess Of Sorts

Last week was the bait. I made mention of two characters (Wonder Woman and Thor) from the DC and Marvel comic book universes. Now for the switch. I decided not to look any further into those pantheons since I have already posted about some characters from the Disney Marvel cinematic universe. I have opted instead to enter the realm of Astro City by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, and Brent Anderson. My thanks to tomk74 at Gabbing Geek for his post about this series. The first character I will visit is Winged Victory. SPOILER ALERT for those who have not read the graphic novel titled Victory. You might want to do that before reading this.

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She is an interesting, feminist superhero with a good backstory. Her treatment by Busiek  is mature and nuanced. It can be seen from the above picture that the artwork is wonderful. Prior to her transformation, “Vic” is a weakened, subservient woman whose boyfriend cheats on her and turns her out.  After seeing the statue of Nike in the Louvre, she travels to  Samothrace and is visited by the Council of Nike, a collective of high-achieving women whose communal psyche empowers her to become a champion for other women. She wears a pendant that is associated with her ability to transform herself from an ordinary woman into a goddess-like superhero.

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Her power is derived from the feminist collective, and she must maintain their confidence in order to be connected to her source of power.

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In the course of telling a pretty good story, this series examines some of the problems faced by women in a manner that is inherent to the plot and that in no way detracts from it. It also utilizes some good dialectic as the heroine’s perspective develops. I found this character to be subtle and compelling. Check her out.

Graphic Mythology: Invasion

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. One of my uncles (Bud on my mother’s side) was actually there and survived to tell about it. That same month, American comic books were invaded by the gods (well, a demigod, anyway) when Wonder Woman debuted in an issue whose company would eventually merge with another to form DC.

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I must be out of my mind. One mistake, one vital piece of information missing, and veteran comic book fans will eat me alive. Cries of “Charlatan!” will resound through the blogosphere. Sins of omission will go unforgiven. To my future detractors, I resign myself to my fate and offer this acknowledgement of my inferiority: do your worst.

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Similar invasions have occurred since then. Thor first appeared with Marvel in August of 1962, and other gods have entered the graphic atmosphere like an ongoing meteor storm. Many of these gods are technologically or “scientifically” explained, but the best examples hark back to the roles played by gods in Greek and Norse mythology (hopefully minus some notorious examples of very bad behavior). I will make no effort at doing a comprehensive job of this. I have simply found that certain characters in certain comics have grabbed my attention, and I would like to put my own spin on them. Remember, you have entered MY universe. More next week.