Thursday, July 28, 2011

Our Secret Masters

Grant Morrison elaborates in "Supergods" on a theme that's been important in his work over the years: those moments when the 2D reality of the comic book and our 3D reality intersect. Way back in "Animal Man" he introduced himself onto the pages of the book -- Animal Man met his author. This of course was meant to make us wonder: our we being authored, too? Is there a writer scripting our lives from some higher dimension?

The weight of this idea didn't hit me until just now, when I realized that James Hillman's concept of the daimon, as elaborated in his "The Soul's Code", is a damn good description of what such a higher-dimensional author might appear like in our lives. Our soul wants what it wants, our egos be damned. The classical view is that the daimon is part of us, and yet is a separate being or personality. But what if it's not part of us -- but we're part of it? What if our lives are scripted entertainments (or, if we're lucky, art forms) authored by pulp writers from the 5th dimension?

Hillman speaks of our daimons as if they're singular -- that is, we each have one for our entire lives. But what if the ups and downs of our lives are due to the influence of multiple daimon/authors? One month we're being written by Len Wein, the next month by Steve Gerber. We're constantly getting retconned when a new author takes over the continuing series of our lives. There might be some editorial control from yet another daimon, ensuring that we stay true to some core idea despite the ups and downs written for us by the latest author, but even he could be subject to the demands of some 5th-dimensional audience and market of ideas.

I hope my continuing adventures continue to sell well in the higher-dimensions.

I do have a request from my daimon/author: How about writing me a super-power?

A Power Greater than Doctor Manhattan

I'm reading Grant Morrison's "Supergods" and it reminded me of something that bugs me about Alan Moore's "Watchmen". Doctor Manhattan was not the only superhuman. While the rest of the cast are all Golden Age hero types, just guys and gals in masks and tights who fight crime with their astonishing but still mundane skills, Doctor Manhattan was heralded as the first true superhuman, the game changer.

Nobody remembers the psychic.

Sure, he's dead and appears only as background info about a stolen head, but HE'S THE KEY TO OZYMANDIAS' PLAN. The only reason Ozymandias' cockamammie alien invasion incident is given any weight or reality in people's minds is the psychic resonance it carries. Ozymandias admits this. His genetic engineers took the dead psychic's brain and grew a psychic resonator from it -- McCluhan's statements that "The Bomb is an idea" made real.

The content of the bomb -- the giant squishy alien -- is practically irrelevant. Presumably, Ozymandias could have encoded just about any apocalyptic scenario into his bomb. He probably needed it to evoke fear, a deep, irrational reaction in the amygdalas of the human race, but this could have been done in any number of ways. Sure, the alien invasion scenario is the only one that would have united humanity against an outside threat and then spurred a new tech boom to take us to outer space to confront our enemies. It doesn't matter.

The real horror of "Watchmen" isn't the existence of Doctor Manhattan and the metaphysical and existential ramifications of that existence. The real horror is that psychic powers exist and can be manipulated to control the entire human race. We're all just buttons waiting to be pushed.

And that's the flaw of "Watchmen". Moore uses the psychic as a handwave, a MacGuffin to explain Ozymandias' plan, but ignores its implications. He's so enamored of Manhattan that he misses the landmine he's casually placed.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a re-reading of the work will reveal that he's aware of this secret thread and has taken pains to make it secret and yet implicit throughout. The work certainly does operate on many levels.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Super 8

I just saw Super 8 and I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on it while they’re still fresh in my mind.

WARNING: SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the movie, you might not want to read this yet.

In short, I loved it. Good movie-making.

This movie pressed a lot of personal buttons for me – hell, the main character is me. Well, no, not really, but Joe and me have a lot in common. We’re about the same age, we love movie monsters and filmmaking, and… we both lost our mothers at around the same age.

Joe’s father is the town deputy. Not the sheriff, but the deputy – the sheriff’s right-hand man. He’s the Good Right Arm of the Law. Joe, however, with his fascination with monsters, follows the “left-hand path” (i.e., the Dick Smith monster makeup course – I remember that!). His father, on the right-hand path, cannot understand his left-hand son. The mother was the mediating heart between the hands, making them one body; with her loss, the gulf between the two is exposed. The body is dead yet still animated.

The movie begins amidst the moving and smelting of heavy steel. This is what killed Joe’s mom – crushed her, as we overhear. She has gone underground, into the Underworld. The first shot of Joe is in winter, the bleak time when Persephone resides in the Underworld.

We learn that the monster is “subterranean”, although he’s trying to return home to the stars. He, like Joe’s mom, has gone underground, where he moves and smelts heavy steel to build his vehicle. Joe’s journey underground to rescue his true love is, mythically, a search for the lost mother – not in a Freudian icky sense, but as a search for his lost heart. Like the Tin Man in Oz, Joe’s only connection to his heart is his mother’s heart-shaped locket. The emotional life of his soul is bound into that locket, such that he clings to it and grips it as a source of strength amidst danger. His rescuing Alice is his path toward regaining his heart.

When Joe confronts the alien, he does so to protect his newfound heart. The alien is the part of Joe’s soul that entered the Underworld with his mother and was trapped there with no star – no love – to guide it. The very night that Alice joins the boys to make their movie, the creature bursts from its boxcar cage, where it had been held by the Law – not his father’s small-town law, but an inflated, military version of the Law his father represents: the right hand in its mythic form. As the Law hunts the Joe-creature, the Joe-creature tries to build its escape craft, desperately stealing people in a search for the heart it needs. (It also builds its craft from the engines of used cars – from the town’s used-up drives.)

Joe’s friend wants to blow up his train model, but Joe is clearly disturbed by this, and yet capitulates. Alice tells him not to let them blow it up. She senses that the boxcar is the container for Joe’s soul. It’s already been blown up, releasing the Joe-creature, but this is the model version, built by his hands and his love. To blow up his model is to destroy his escape craft before it can be completed.

Joe confrontation with his chthonic soul is what finally triggers the completion of his work. As soon as the Joe-creature drops Joe, the escape craft spins up, signaling his immanent return home – his escape from the Underworld to the transcendent world of spirit. This is the journey of the soul, from a Fall into earthly matter to an Ascent into spirit and light.

But as the Gnostics knew, this journey requires Sophia, loving wisdom. (Joe’s last name is Lamb.) The ship cannot take off until Joe has relinquished his old heart – his mother’s locket – and placed his left-hand in the right-hand of his new heart: Alice. As soon as he releases the locket, it takes its place in the heavenly chariot, crushing the steel water tower and releasing its waters -- the pent up tears.