Tag Archives: The Dark Age

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.