Tag Archives: Marvel

A Portrait Of Insanity

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Consider the following excerpts from Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton:

The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. 

Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable MARK of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction.

Such is the madman of experience; he is commonly a reasoner, frequently a successful reasoner. 

The madman is the man who has lost everything excepts his reason. 

Thanos, the brainchild of Jim Starlin in the Marvel comics and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the personification of these ideas about madness. He is a nuanced madman: cruel with a twisted sense of compassion, a logical thinker who reaches intellectually compelling yet abhorrent conclusions. He is not irrational; he is rational – make that super rational. This was demonstrated in Avengers: Infinity War (2018 from Disney Marvel, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo), and it was perhaps the aspect of the movie with which I was most impressed.

I have often heard the phrase, “that’s subjective,” stated to refute opinions and arguments. The simplistic implication of this is that objective thinking is right and that subjective thinking is wrong. This is misleading. Taken alone, each of them is wrong. Objectivity places some very necessary constraints on subjectivity while subjectivity informs objectivity. Objectivity relies on logic, and the potential weakness of logic is that it must be based on a premise. If the premise is wrong, logic, even perfect logic, built upon this foundation can produce atrocities.

Hitler and his minions demonstrated this with their Final Solution. The Holocaust was the creative, logical product of one of the most advanced scientific civilizations of its time. The destruction by Thanos of 50 percent of an interplanetary population is a final solution writ large. The justification: overpopulation, suffering, and ecological imbalance (solved very logically by mercy killing on an incomprehensible scale). A big picture which ignores individuals is the product of ignorant objectivity uninformed by a subjective understanding of the worth of an individual. Such numerical morality plagues policy making in real life as well as in fantasy.

Subjectivity informs the premise on which logic is based, and to ignore this is madness. I look forward to this week’s release of  Avengers: Endgame.

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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: 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.

The Modern Pantheon: Thor

Picture credit: Disney Marvel
Picture credit: Disney Marvel

As I said in last week’s post, Thor was a movie I tried not to like, but I just couldn’t do it – for several reasons. The following scene is one of them.

Thor offers his own life for those of his friends and, stripped of his godly power, is killed by a robotic sentry sent by Loki from Asgard. A tear trickles down from the eye of his comatose father, Odin, and the hammer is activated. As the weapon hurtles like a missile toward his lifeless form, Thor is revived and catches it. He is then restored to his former glory.

This is essentially a resurrection scene, and the parallels with Christian theology are hard to miss. Both in comics and in movies, the Marvel franchise has repeatedly done an effective job of combining concepts from different mythological traditions (in this case, Christianity and Norse mythology) and mixing in an appealing dose of science fiction. This stuff is just plain fun. That it has additional meaning and good character development makes it that much better. I must mention here that, despite my relative unfamiliarity with the MCU, I am aware that Marvel has a habit of killing and resurrecting multiple characters – repeatedly. So my previous comments must be taken with a grain of salt.