Tag Archives: Kingdom Come

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.

Graphic Mythology: Comparing Feminist Superheroes

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It occurred to me that it might be interesting to compare feminist superheroes who also have some kind of connection to mythology. In saying this, I would like to emphasize that qualitative comparison need not equate to a ranking system. We are free to choose different favorites, and I think I have betrayed some of my preferences already. This post , then, is a kind of summary.

I made a lot of negative noise about Wonder Woman, and I really did little to nuance my statements. This was a deliberate attempt to stimulate discussion. What I must say now is that the validity of promoting or denouncing Wonder Woman as a feminist icon depends on which Wonder Woman you are talking about. My complaints centered mostly on certain aspects of her Golden Age portrayal by William Moulton Marston and H. G. Peter.

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Others have criticized her apparent domestication (i.e. adherence to more traditional female roles) in the Silver Age.

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More recent portrayals have often shown her as angrier and darker and have given her a more unreasonable body image.

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It should be noted that most of these representations are neither purely good nor purely bad. Critics can’t even reach a consensus on what good and bad actually are. Certain aspects of overall emphasis are what have drawn fire from different camps in different periods. In terms of her feminist record, this is a character with a checkered past. She even did a stint for a few years under the influence of Gloria Steinem. Like her or not, she is one of the most iconic images in comics.

Then, of course, there is her portrayal by Alex Ross and Mark Waid in Kingdom Come. I found nothing personally objectionable in this version, and I will write more about this next week. Of course, what satisfies me, might not satisfy someone else.

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I have already intimated that Winged Victory and Cleopatra from the Astro City series by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson strike me as more reasonable feminist characters, and I appreciate the balance and maturity of their portrayals.

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Two weeks ago, I cited Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki as another good example. Although she has her weaknesses, she is compassionate and gentle, and she has a spiritual connection to nature and the supernatural. She is also a capable warrior as well as an expert pilot.

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So now that you’ve seen four of them side by side, so to speak, do you have a favorite?