Tag Archives: Captain Marvel

Graphic Mythology: Justice

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Although it was written by Jim Krueger and penciled by Doug Broithwaite, I purchased and read Justice (DC Comics), well, because it was painted by Alex Ross. Having said this, I can say that the artwork, as usual, is impressive. Since it is a Justice League story, it features a pantheon of superheroes including Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and many more.

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But there is an additional selling point to the story: the existence of an anti-Justice League of supervillains such as Lex Luthor, Joker, Brainiac, Cheetah, and Poison Ivy. There are more characters from the extensive history of DC Comics than I care to mention here lest it become tedious.

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The splash panels of fight scenes are profuse and typically busy, as would be expected given this cast. The story is intriguing but choppy in places. There were a number of developments that were not explained to my satisfaction (visually or in writing), which made for some awkward transitions. I had more trouble following the plot than would a veteran DC Comics fan, but overall, I was able to get the gist of it. I therefore think it is worth reading but perhaps not as much as Kingdom Come or The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, which I personally regard as more outstanding efforts. The tone of Justice is also noticeably darker.

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Some of the more interesting sequences for me involved Captain Marvel. He’s a character I’m interested in learning more about. I like the extensive use of mythology in his backstory. The same can be said for Aquaman, with whom I am less familiar.

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Two themes emerged which especially interested me. Owing to my Christian upbringing, I am well acquainted with the argument of why God doesn’t intervene more openly if he truly does exist. The first theme appears early in the story and it deals with the question of whether or not the intervention of powerful beings threatens to stunt the development of their intended beneficiaries.

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The next theme is minor but related to the first, and it involves the restraint that must be exercised by powerful beings when weaker beings turn against them. I can crush ants, but I can’t control them. The God in whom I believe could both control and crush us, but he exercises restraint in spite of our many transgressions. Rather than blaming God for not intervening when human beings commit atrocities, I see more good in requiring human beings to be accountable for their own behavior. Pardon the mini sermon. I couldn’t resist, and I recognize that this is my opinion and not necessarily that of the creators of this graphic novel. At any rate, I would have liked to see these two themes explored more fully in this medium (regardless of whether or not I would have agreed with the conclusions), but I was at least glad to see them included in the story.

If you’re looking for another graphic novel with plenty of pages of artwork by Alex Ross, this might be a gratifying read for you. All illustration credits go to DC Comics and the aforementioned artists.

 

 

Recovering Ideals (4)

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The third and fourth stories from DC Comics’ The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes have the most mythological themes. This week, we’ll take a look at Shazam! Power of Hope by Alex Ross and Paul Dini. This features a mistreated boy named Billy Batson who can transform to an adult superhero by pronouncing the name of a wizard.

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You want mythology? This story has it. The wizard’s name is Shazam, an acronym derived from the names of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. Billy becomes Captain Marvel, “earth’s mightiest mortal”, whenever he says this name. Since he exists alternately as a boy and a supernatural man, he has the characteristics of both. Even as an adult, Captain Marvel shows childlike sensitivity.

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There are plenty of action sequences, but what affected me the most was the theme of Captain Marvel interacting with children in a hospital. The captain is advised by Shazam, the wizard, before embarking on this mission.

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After he has been at the hospital for a while, there is a charming sequence showing the response given by the soul of a boy in the body of a man when he finds himself in a more adult situation: that of being affectionately thanked by the pediatric doctor of the children’s ward. It is innocently nuanced.

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Well, I might as well admit it. The following sequence made me tear up (that’s masculine for “cry a little”). My wife is a school nurse, and this reminded me of a story she told me about one of her students.

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The theme that I found the most powerful is that sometimes Captain Marvel isn’t enough, and it takes an ordinary boy like Billy to solve a serious problem.

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It takes a human being to reach other human beings. In this sense, the incarnation in Christian doctrine makes sense to me. One of our greatest superpowers is that of being a friend.

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Recovering Ideals (1)

I’d like to expound on the DC Comics Universe of my childhood. I realize that we all have different perspectives and that reality as any one of us sees it is not necessarily reality as it is. ¬†At the age of ten, my friends and I were idealistic. Police and soldiers were good people who protected us and only used violence when justified. Authority figures were also good and acted in our best interests. We read DC Comics, especially Superman but also Batman and Wonder Woman. Back then, heroes were heroes, and we believed in “truth, justice, and the American way.”

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We were children of the Silver Age of Comics. For capes, my friends and I wore towels either tucked into our tee shirts or carefully safety-pinned around our necks, and we argued about who got to be the real Superman. Well, yeah, sometimes we squabbled or even fought, but we were good kids. My best friend and I volunteered to be traffic safety crossing guards (the diagonal belt and badge were cool), and our group in general befriended and stuck up for the little guys and the outcasts. One of our friends was so overweight he looked round, but we never made fun of him. We defended him when others picked on him. We had empathy and conscience, and our pre-adolescent society was one of inclusion and safety.

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Then came junior high school, high school, and increasing social pressure with its trademark betrayals and altered values. We became overshadowed by an awareness of racism, riots, the protests against the war in Viet Nam, abuses of power by our government, and the Kent State shootings. Resistance to the status quo became the new coin of the social realm. Some of my friends’ parents started getting divorces. With this greater awareness and disillusionment, we lost a good many of our childhood ideals.

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Even now, society tends toward the sarcastic and the cynical. We’ve been let down so many times that our first reaction is often skepticism when we are confronted by something good. I have noticed a trend in which people discard ideals on the basis of other people failing to live up to them. Very recently, I have had to remind myself that the ideal society of my youth never really existed, but that isn’t the whole story. I knew people, including my own parents, who truly lived by their ideals, and there were enough of them that they made the world better. The value in an ideal is that when people reach for it, society is better off. When a good ideal is discarded, too many people stop trying.

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Getting back to my DC aspirations of the Silver Age, I recently purchased and read a graphic novel that brought all of it back. The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes by Paul Dini and Alex Ross does a masterful job of combining the historical ideals of perhaps the most iconic superheroes in comic book history with a modern awareness that the world we live in is indeed a very flawed place. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel are featured in narratives which apply their virtues to real world problems with understandably mixed results. What I like about these stories is that they use fictional characters to focus our attention on the potential hero within each of us and that they do this without being heavy-handed.

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This is one of my favorite graphic novels, right up there with Kingdom Come and Marvels (my opinion, of course). And guess who the illustrator for both of those was? The panels are visually satisfying, the writing for the most part substantial, and the stories entertaining. In upcoming posts, I will examine some of the individual stories in this impressive collection.

Oh, and fifty-three years later, my buddies and I are still close.

Graphic Mythology: Kingdom Come

I bought Kingdom Come (DC Comics) because I appreciate the artwork of Alex Ross and because of the concepts behind the plot. The story was written by Mark Waid. This effort was an interesting combination of superhero imagery with quotations and themes from the book of Revelation. The first person POV character, a minister named Norman McCay, makes the storytelling approach distinctive. He is based on Clark Norman Ross (the real life father of Alex Ross and a minister himself).

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Biblical accuracy is not the purpose of this story, but Ross did want to honor his father’s character and profession. I noticed nothing disrespectful or blasphemous as I read through it. Philosophical implications concerning the extent of human and divine responsibility add depth to the plot.

In a couple of posts four and five weeks ago, I questioned the validity of Wonder Woman as a feminist icon. Last week, I qualified that by saying that this depends on which version of her is being used. She is treated much more respectfully in this series. This time around, she and Superman are portrayed as an eternally young, middle-aged couple – an approach which I found refreshing.

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Even their arguments seem more mature…

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… and their relationship develops over time.

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Another character with mythical dimensions is Captain Marvel (whose name confused me because of the Marvel character by the same name). I looked up his origin and found that a boy named Billy Batson was endowed with the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury to become “Earth’s mightiest mortal.” His appearance in the story is connected with the coming of Armageddon.

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But the characters that impressed me the most were the Spectre and Norman McCay (who play the role of the two witnesses from Revelation). The Spectre’s origin is hard to describe because he went through several incarnations/revisions since first appearing in 1940. He is essentially the undead spirit of a murdered policeman named Jim Corrigan, but he takes on or enters physical form. He seems to be in between the states of human and angelic beings in Kingdom Come.

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One of my favorite panels shows a more human Jim Corrigan having lunch with Normal McCay as Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), Bruce Wayne (Batman), and Clark Kent (Superman) walk by.

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I couldn’t think of a better conclusion to this year’s series on graphic mythology.