Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Discuss: Gods, Demons, and Metaphysical Beings!


Doug:  This past Sunday, frequent commenter William Preston quipped that he thought our Discuss topic on the Big Guys would be a request to discourse on comic book gods.  Well, it was not, but today we can!  So thanks to Bill, and make it wide open -- certainly don't confine your comments to the images below, and if there are theological themes you've encountered within the four-color world bring 'em up.  This crowd is certainly close enough and mature enough to handle that -- I'm confident!


27 comments:

Matt Celis said...

I refer more grounded stories such as you'd usually find in Spider-Man. Usually these cosmic characters have such vaguely defined abilities and weaknesses that for me the stories just don't work. Things like the Ulimate Nullifier just feel like the writer couldn't figure out how to stop Galactus and just pulled the lever to lower his deus ex machina onto the stage rather than try to figure out how mere mortals could foil "god." And the philosophizin' by Silver Surfer and Warlock types always came off to me as the type of thing you'd hear from a high school student who just discovered Thoreau or Camus or some such. Eh...not for me. Give me Spider-Man versus the mob or Iron Man versus the Mandarin or Cap versus Red Skull.

William said...

I have to agree with Matt on this. I much prefer the more down to Earth stories and characters like Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock, Sandman, Electro, etc. to the out of this world cosmic or super natural stuff. That is why I never got into the solo comics of Thor or Dr. Strange or Silver Surfer and the like.

That being said, I do like characters like Galactus and Thanos when used as straight up villains, because they are the ultimate challenge for any hero or group of heroes. Those stories can be a lot of fun. I especially like John Byrne's Galactus story from his run on FF, and Marvel 2-in-1 Annual #2 with Spider-Man, Thing and the Avengers versus Thanos is one of my all-time favorite comics.

All-in-all I'd have to say that I prefer the classic Marvel Universe's more science fiction take on religion and mythology to the "real world" religions that so many people in the world actually believe in. Marvel's version is a lot more fun, and less people get oppressed.

Edo Bosnar said...

I'm in full agreement with William's last point.

I liked the fact that a number of deities and divinities from often conflicting theologies (Greek, Norse, Christian, etc) plus some new ones (like the Eternals) all coexisted and often interacted in both the Marvel and DC universes (although this seemed less pronounced in the latter).
And I liked the various god-like beings like Galactus, the Celestials, the Elders of the Universe and so forth all stomping around in the Marvel Universe, giving our heroes various headaches and sometimes even lending a helping hand.
Basically, I like the cosmic stories as much as the more 'grounded' ones.

david_b said...

Ok, busy day today, but after reading these prior posts, count ME in for agreement.

However, that's what always endeared me to the MU perhaps moreso than DC.. It was able to deliver in Lee's (later Thomas..)carnival-style bullpen rhetoric and style, ALL types of stories..

It allowed Spidey and DD in FF 243 acknowledge the heavy-weights going against the Big G and agree that 'this is out of our hands..':

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-iDWrco6ho-U/TdGi0Ob1DAI/AAAAAAAABwU/PBWKX9WbmDw/s1600/FF%2B243%2Bspidey%2Bdd.jpg

And yet, of all the types of heroes gathered, with varying degrees of 'groundedness' as Matt described, you have none other than ol' Doc Strange bringing Big G down with a single thought.

As for Galactus, Surfer, Ego and all the other Thor/FF/Strange characters of our Silver Age, it succeeded in bringing strange new aspects culled from ancient legends/lore, religion, mixed in with the surrealism of 'Pop Art' style, more than a casual dabbling of convenient pharmaceuticals and make it both seem new, and just palatable enough to excite readers.

Having said all that.., I did often found it strange (no pun..) when Spidey would guest star in Strange's mag.. To agree with Matt, I didn't think the 'two worlds' really meshed that comfortably.

Sort of like Spidey and Thanos in the above mentioned MTIO Annual 2. Classic story, don't get me wrong.., just seemed weird to have Spiderman involved. 'Course the entire Clone story arc seemed WAY TOO weird to be in Spidey's mag, which is why I stopped collecting ASM back in the day. Gwen should NEVER have been brought back.

Bruce said...

My favorite takes on religion & mythology in comics are Walt Simonson's Thor and George Perez's Wonder Woman. In both cases, they drew heavily on the Norse and Greek myths respectively to come up with interesting stories. It gave those two heroes a different identity and purpose than just being another super-powered crimefighter.

Matt Celis said...

Yeah, Spidey and Doc Strange teaming up just doesn't work for me. Thor and Cap work okay as long as they're on earth fighting villains but if Cap has to go to Asard and fight Surtur, it's just jarring how wrong it feels. Ii remember a brave & bold where batman teams up with Doc Fate and another with Zatanna and it just doesn't work--Batman's reality requires cause and effect, evidence and clues, and the scientific method, all of which are negated if we allow magic to be real: how can he solve a mystery if the villain simply says "ta-DA!" and things happen? I always feel they should just keep certain characters out of certain stories that don't suit their version of reality.

Pat Henry said...

There was that early run of Dr Strange, Vol. 2 (1974-1976), up until about issue 24 or so, where the steady stream of metaphysical foes was really working in that book.

These beings do not really work when they are used to clobber one another or as a thing to be clobbered. In the Strange books, they were remote manipulators and puppet masters. Worked.

Probably because the writer seems to have graduated in his understanding of esoterica beyond Decartes 101. You actually felt kinda smart, reading them.

david_b said...

Pat, I really got into Strange last year, especially the early Ditko/Colan Silver stories..; having immerse myself in those early tales, I didn't have as much interest in the Brunner stories. They seemed to be too 'monster of the month' to me.

The Vol. 2 art was spectacular, and it's great that 'Strange-heads' like me can have both early cerebral, proto-psychedelic Ditko weirdness AND lusher Brunner monster adventures.

david_b said...

Matt, regarding your stance on 'certain stories', I recall reading where readers up in arms about Starlin bringing Mar-Vell cosmic world into DD&BW (ish 105-107), resulting in Starlin getting booted off the title.

As a young kid just starting with DD&BW an issue or two before (and buying CM now because of the Avengers in CM 28, etc..), I thought it was way too cool to have Mar-Vell thread itself into other mags like DD. Early on, I frankly loved that aspect of MU.

Having delved more into Silver Age DD and some pre-Miller stories since then, I can see where folks would have certainly been peeved.

Garett said...

Trying to find a story I read where Savage Dragon meets God and the Devil, I came across this site:
http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/SavageDragon.html
If you click a link at the top, it takes you to a huge list of the religious beliefs of comic characters!

In the story, Savage Dragon meets God, but tells God he still doesn't believe in him. He finds out that what you believe in life comes true in the afterlife, and can be different for each person. It was an interesting theological detour from Dragon's usual action and humour--although I think God and the Devil get in a fistfight along the way!

Thor is probably my favorite god character, along with Hercules. Rich supporting cast. I'd like to see more comics based on Greek/Roman gods, and usually enjoy their appearance as guests in stories, like in Teen Titans 11 and 12. I don't think the Vikings made images of their gods--it'd be fun to give them a copy of Thor and see what they make of it! Back to Herc, I said before that I wish John Buscema had drawn a hundred issues of Hercules for Dell comics through the early '60s, as he was a natural with that character. Instead, only one great movie adaptation.

William Preston said...

Remember all the arguments you'd have about whether the Thing could take Thor, or Iron Man could fell the Hulk? Even though the comics were pretty inconsistent on these matters, you did have some general sense of strength, some particular events to go by. (I liked when Miller inserted the Kingpin into DD's world, then promptly had the Kingpin deck him with a single blow, making the point that a Spiderman villain was, necessarily, pretty strong.) Such discussions were a big part of the comics life.

Though I often enjoyed the cosmic, planet-straddling, or godlike beings, a problem with these folks was how hard it was to get a handle on their power levels. Additionally, as someone who didn't come to the Marvel universe until the mid-'70s, I was always learning that there was yet another godlike being. The Beyonder? The In-Betweener? What did all these folks do? Did their powers cross over? Did they interact? It was baffling.

When the Avengers invited Michael Korvac, I thought things had gone too far.

Karen said...

Personally the vast and strange assortment of godlike beings in the Marvel U is a delight. Incorporating not only mythological characters into stories but avatars of philosophical concepts is just so out there. I love the huge scope of these tales, particularly the cosmic stuff in the classic Lee/Kirby Thors. But I think that Thor himself was for me both his most mythological and yet his most relatable in Thor 301, when attempting to rekindle the Asgardians' life force.

He goes around to all the other pantheons and collects some of their energies. But when he gets to the Hindu gods, they refuse to help. He goes out of his mind in anger and desperation. The situation itself is absurd and completely beyond the realm of possibility; and yet, Thor's emotions were so very understandable. It harkens back to the old myths, where the Gods did things we couldn't understand, yet their basic character was ours writ large.

And anyway, it was just a really cool issue.

J.A. Morris said...

I like the various gods & cosmic beings in the MU. But I feel they should be used sparingly and only when appropriate.

For instance, Peter Parker making a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May was dumb. Spider-Man shouldn't be making deals with beings like Mephisto. That's something Thor or Silver Surfer should do, and only them.

Edo Bosnar said...

Interesting reading some of the comments; personally, I don't even mind it when 'ground level' meets cosmic and/or magical - at least not in the Marvel Universe. Thus, I rather liked the various times Spidey met Dr. Strange, esp. in MTU and in that Spider-man Annual (#14 I think).
In fact, one of the only instances where I didn't like 'worlds colliding' (so to speak) was when Claremont introduced Dracula and other vampires, and then Belasco, limbo and magic in general to the X-books. It was okay occasionally, like in that annual where they teamed up with Dr. Strange, but not as a fairly regular aspect of the stories.
Garett, that Savage Dragon story sounds interesting. Reminds me of the end of that Howard the Duck mini-series by Gerber from about 10 years ago, when Howard and God have this rather amusing discussion in a bar.

Matt Celis said...

Well, from my point of view heroes don't make deals with the devil or his copyrighted stand-in. Thor and Silver Surfer least of all, noble souls that they are. Maybe Thor and SS could have stories involving Mephisto, I think Spidey should be beneath Mephisto's notice.

Karen said...

I like the collision of street-level with cosmic if it is done right. For example, in Marvel Two-in-One Annual 2, when Spidey freaks out momentarily and takes off, it felt right, because the whole situation was way beyond what he usually dealt with. But of course, being the hero he is, he gets a grip and goes back and takes care of business.

I like some of the more abstract characters, like the Watcher, but they need to be used sparingly. After a while they are showing up everywhere and it takes away from their mystique. Same with Galactus. He lost a lot of his mojo when he kept coming back to Earth every couple of years.

Matt Celis said...

Doug and Karen, please delete this if it's inappropriate (I know very little of "blogospehere etiquette), but I just wanted to let all you nice folks know that I just launched a blog of my very own if anyone cares.

http://mattssuperheroes.blogspot.com/

It's nowhere near as good as Bronze Age Babies but it might be good for a few kicks.

david_b said...

William brings up a good point about strength quotients, which made me think of the powers the DC heroes had.., then didn't have.., then had again when reimaged, then (darn it..) disappeared.

Y'know, overall suspension of belief.

Sorry, I don't have specifics, but I recall stories where ol' Supes would be pushing planets, or spinning the world backwards (used in the first Reeves feature..) or racing Flash, who himself had some extraordinary superspeed for a few decades, then slowed down when Wally took over in the '80s..

(Or putting on a pair of glasses and suddenly no one recognizes Kent as Supes).

For as goofy as the MU got with 'taking it's liberties' with it's characters and rationales and 'not-quite-grounded' situations.., they maintained some sense of quasi-explanatory reasoning. As Karen explained above about Spidey in MTIO Annual 2, Marvel still kept characters grounded in 'how we'd expect them to react'.

Rip Jagger said...

Used to love the cosmic, and still do in reduced doses. But at some point it all got so big and abstract that the suspense disappeared. Big gaudy characters rambling around the universes can get boring if in the wrong hands. You have to have the human perspective to make the gods seem properly awesome.

That was Snapper Carr's job with the JLofA and Rick Jones too later. Later when the New Gods erupted at DC, the best stories have Orion and Lightray or the Forever People interacting with mere humans, with the humans often getting the spotlight.

Somewhere the cosmic overwhelmed that human quotient and all these gods became bland embodiments of ideas, not real characters.

I like grittier stories about mere humans or close to it these days. I say that knowing that E-Man is my favorite superhero. So there is a contradiction in there somewhere.

Rip Off

mr. oyola said...

This is kind of a tangent, but someone's comment on Spider-Man and Mephisto making deals made me think of it.

My problem with that kind of thing is that traditionally someone trying to make a deal with a cosmic entity was the kind of the thing superheroes tried to STOP. It was the kind of thing that was considered selfish and inevitably led to negative repercussions both for the person making a deal and other more innocent people.

It's like, sure I understand you are upset your Aunt May is dying, but you can't make the whole world change just for that, everyone has people they love die at some point. You could be forcing other people to suffer and die by making that choice - sometimes the responsibility that comes with power is the responsibility to know when NOT to use it.

But with things like BND - deals like that are made and we are just supposed to accept them b/c all of a sudden superheroes are exempt from the very (varying) codes they have tried to enforce in the past.

To bring this back to the topic at hand, I like the cosmic stuff when it is big and scary and unknowable and has consequences - but when it is used as an easy way to write a character out of some dead end plot (like the Beyonder just happening to cure Rick Jones of cancer in an issue of ROM) it stinks!

Pat Henry said...

Excellent point, Mr. Oyola. From the classics to Faust and onward, any time someone made a deal with the devil there was, literally, hell to pay. The deal itself was demonaic, and the effects were generally soul crushing.

So a deal Mephisto might offer Spidey in exchange for the life of Aunt May would end not only in total ruin and flames for Spidey, like the absolute spoilage and destruction of MJ, but would also end with the gruesome inevitable death of Aunt May in some exchange even more horrible. As Mephisto chuckles.

Using their gods as tools to boost sales or handwave stupid scripting is Marve's mortal sin.

Fred W. Hill said...

I can enjoy both the down to earth stories (let's face it, ya can't get more down to earth than Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, and I love that series) as well as big cosmic sagas with ridiculously powerful beings, as in Starlin's original Warlock tales and Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Of course, the caveat is as long as the stories are good and there is some consistant logic and sense of limitations. Something like Peter Parker making a deal with Mephisto doesn't really sit well with me because it seems entirely out of character for Peter to do something like that, even for the sake of his beloved aunt (it also seems utterly preposterous for Mephisto to offer such a deal).
Even with the god-like characters like Thor, Warlock or Sandman work for me, tho', is that each of these series had a good supporting cast. The first Silver Surfer series suffered, IMO, because it was so episodic and ol' Norrin spent too much time moping, with Mephisto every so often dangling Shalla Bal to dig the knife in deeper. I don't think having the Surfer go all savage and waging war on the world would really have helped the series all that much. As for mixing the cosmic and the more Earthly, well, I think it can work in small dosages, as in the MTIO Annual, but characters like Spider-Man & Daredevil don't belong really fit in extended cosmic epics, except maybe in relatively minor roles. Characters like Captain America & Hawkeye only fit in them as members of the Avengers and really only as support or strategy (in the case of Cap) for the heavy hitters. I really don't think the Kree-Skrull War would have worked in the Kooky Quartet era.

Fred W. Hill said...

Great points, Oyola & Pat. The deal between Spidey & Mephisto seems much more an editorial direction than something that seems natural for both characters. Maybe some time in the distant future another writer will deal with Mephisto's ulterior motive.
Also, I should add I really don't care for the sort of endings where after massive damage has been done, entire cities ravaged and scores of characters killed, a magic wand is waved and everything is restored just as it was and the "civilians" are made to forget everything. That was used a few times too many during the '70s in Marvel.

Karen said...

It's a sad statement on Marvel's current leadership that they felt it was more desirable to have Spidey make a deal with Mephisto rather than get a divorce to solve their perceived marriage problem.

Anonymous said...

Ahh of gods and men ....

Personally I loved to see the cosmic entities like Odin, Zeus, Galactus, Mephisto, the Celestials and others. Stan Lee was obviously heavily influenced by assorted mythologies, and it showed when he and subsequent writers included cosmic beings into their storylines.

I agree with some commentators when street level characters like Spidey or Daredevil usually don't mesh well with their cosmic counterparts. Somehow, though, I've always enjoyed encounters between Spidey and Doc Strange. In some instances, and with the right writer, it is possible to have a good blend of the mundane and the cosmic, e.g. I loved Jim Starlin's Warlock/Thanos storyline involving Spider-Man, the Thing and the Avengers in Marvel Two-in-one Anuual #2.

I don't usually buy new comics but I bought some Incredible Hercules comics a while back and found them to be enjoyable. Finally, they got the Prince of Power right! It's always amused me to observe that with all the awesome power wielded by godlike beings, their stories play out like mortals, with all the greed, jealousy and lust being on display. One just has to read any ancient Greek myths to see what I'm talking about.

As for Peter Parker making a deal with Mephisto, the less said about that, the better off we'll be. Until Odin trades in his Asgardian gear for a Santa Claus outfit, I'm outta here.



- Mike 'hey, Matt, you shoulda made a Jackalope comicbook!' from Trinidad $ Tobago.

Matt Celis said...

Ah, the world's only Jackalope fan! Thanks for checking it out. maybe when time allows I'll do a Hostess-style one-pager.

Edo Bosnar said...

Hmm, yeah, you're better off sticking with Jackalope, since someone beat you to the punch with Ratman:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat-Man_%28comics%29

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