I realized reading my last entry that I wrote in a really intellectual style. I don’t want people thinking that I think I’m all that, that I’m smarter than everyone else, the way Henry does, but I just wanted to share what I think. I don’t want to present it as truth, but just what I said it is: a life influence. It’s OK if you think I’m a fool, or totally disagree. It’s just influenced me, that’s all. Anyway, I’ll try to talk more like the dork I am and the way I really talk in real life. But I don’t know if I’ll succeed, because some of this stuff is out there, and I’d be forcing it if I tried to talk dorkfully.
After I wrote my last mymind, an article came out in the San Jose Mercury News on Saturday regarding Buddhism and Christianity. The article mentioned many interesting things, in particular, the Buddhist insight that life is suffering. As always, my thoughts represent the cutting edge. Anyway, the article is interesting, although I felt they put their emphasis in the wrong places.
This mymind is kind of about influences, but not like the previous one or ones I plan to write. It’s not like a Buddhist paean or some kind of life philosophy I have picked up, just something I was once into: comics.
Comics are great. Starting in elementary school and continuing for quite a long time, I was really really into comics. I started with G.I. Joe comics, of which I have quite a few. These were really quite good; you’d be surprised. If you liked the cartoon at all, you would love the comic book. It was great.
Anyway, I would often ride my bike to Comics Pendragon, which is a half hour bike ride down Branham. They were the best store around because their new comics were 10% off and they gave free plastic covers. Later on I got into some mail order companies. The biggest one when I was into it was New England Comics. Obviously, they were based in New England and they were growing by leaps and bounds during that time when I was into comics. Always opening up new stores, their newsletter getting bigger and bigger. Eventually, they even tried starting making their own comics. Their first one (maybe still their only one? I don’t know) was The Tick. I’m sure many of you guys know the cartoon. Well it started out as this kind of underground independent comic published by a comic store, New England Comics. FYI.
Anyway, I was really really into comics, in an unhealthy way. It was basically idolatry. My personal definition of idolatry is that you’re idolizing something if, were it taken away from you, it would devastate your world. That’s my working definition/test. So like, nowadays, I’m into things, but I keep a safe emotional distance, such that even if it was taken from me, it wouldn’t bother me too much. I’m into DVDs now, but now so much that it would kill me if it were taken. I’m not really into anything else. And not with comics anymore, although I once was.
Interestingly, this philosophy of mine, besides being Biblical, I think, ties in to that Buddhist life influence I mentioned. As I mentioned, the Buddhist solution to the recognition that life is suffering is trying to rid yourself of all desires. That’s a great idea, at least in terms of worldly things. So yeah, I really seek in my life, that my desires for worldly things not get too great, too great being defined by my test. Just that I not get too attached to worldly things. But anyway.
So I was seriously into comics. I did research and everything. When you’re a comic collector, you learn that light, heat, humidity and acid are the primary factors in comics being ruined. So you try to minimize all of those. of course you put them in plastic bags, but if you’re hard core, you use cardboard backing so no creases form in the spine (which dowgrades a comic from mint condition to good or worse), and more hardcore means using both acid free cardboard and mylar plastic covers. Because you’d always hear stories of some random guy who left Fantastic Four #1 in his refridgerator and found it years later in perfect condition and sold it for tens of thousands of dollars. Comics weren’t just entertainment – they were an investment.
Which by the way is ludicrous. The comic market is so fickle. The hot comics fizzle out really quick and become commons. For example, a really huge comic at one time was The ‘Nam. It was basically a comic book about the Vietnam War. This comic was incredibly popular in its time. But now, I think no one really cares about it at all (although I could be wrong). When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first came out it was also huge. People don’t realize it, but it really wasn’t as kiddie as it’s become. It was another underground, independent comic book, in black and white. Huge. The first issue, there were very very few in existence, because it was an independent. So they ended up printing it like 5 times. If you were fortunate to have a 1st edition #1, you could have sold it for hundreds of dollars, just a year after it came out. Most comic books take decades to appreciate that much.
There’s this one Simpsons where Bart and Milhouse combine to buy a comic, I can’t remember what it was, but like Atomic Man #1. This episode was hilarious if you were ever into comics, because it was so true. Like how they were ultra careful with it, turning the pages only with sterilized tweezers. If you ever saw me read comics, I mean, that’s just a minor exaggeration. And the comic itself in that episode was hilarious, because it got all the little characteristics of comics down. Anyway.
So the reason I loved comics so much were because I think they just reflected my high school emotional state. I had a great childhood, as did most of the people I know, I think, but it was characterized by a lot of angst. That’s pretty much the word for it. I just thought a lot in high school, just like now, and that’s always made me agonize over things that normal people don’t think about. I think also I used to be way more intense about things. Way more intense. Anyway, angst.
And that was the great things about Marvel comics heroes – they had a lot of internal conflict. It was great. I was strictly a Marvel person. No DC comics for me. For those who don’t know any better, DC = Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Justice League of America, The Flash, Aquaman, the Green Lantern, Swamp Thing (which became a movie with Heather Locklear or Thomas, and featured the most bizarre love scene ever, in which she eats a part of him and basically goes on a hallucinogenic voyage. Very strange. Worth renting for sure. The comic was for “Mature Audiences Only.”) and others. Marvel = Spiderman, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor, Silver Surfer, The Incredible Hulk, Silver Surfer, The Avengers, Alpha Force (a Canadian superhero group), The Punisher, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and in recent years, a bunch of mutant books. It used to be that there were a variety of comics, but now for the most part it’s all about “mutants” like X-Men.
There’s a really good article on salon.com today (8/17) on Stan Lee, pretty much the father of Marvel Comics. What it so insightfully points out is just what I mentioned; the difference between Marvel Comics and all other previous ones, like Superman, was that the heroes were complicated and conflicted, and weren’t just good for good’s sake. Because of that, they are so much more interesting.
So I’d like to tell you some of the stories behind comic book characters. Because a lot of them are really interesting, maybe even brilliant. First Spider Man. I love Spider Man. I’ve written before how Todd McFarlane revolutionized the art of Spider-Man and through it, comics in general, but I’ll stick with the story. So Spider Man became the way he was because Peter Parker, this nerdy student, went to some demonstration involving radiation of some sort or another. He’s a real nerd. Anyway, in the course of the demo, a spider descends from the ceiling and get blasted by the radiation. Before it dies, it bites Peter Parker. And that’s how he gets his powers.
Since he’s a nerd, he figures out how to make the webbing himself (it’s not a part of his power). And he becomes Spider Man.
Here’s the great part. It’s not like he’s all noble or something and decides, hey I’ve got super powers, so I’m gonna fight evil. No, he makes a costume and decides to make money. So he basically hits the circus/carnival circuit, using his powers as the Amazing Spider Man and raking it in. Anyway, after one of his shows, he’s in the hallway and this cop is chasing a criminal of some sort. And Spidey’s there, but he just lets him go. Because what does he care, right? I mean, he’s just out to make a buck. And the officer asks him why he didn’t intervene at all, and Peter basically blows him off.
Anyway, Peter is an orphan, and he lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. One day as he’s coming home, he sees a bunch of police officers, and finds out that his uncle was murdered after someone broke into their house. He finds the thief and discovers that yep, it’s the same guy who he had let go without doing anything before.
So this is why he fights crime. Because of this incredible guilt he feels. It’s such a great story! Such complex, real feelings. So it’s not like he’s this super noble guy from the start, but he’s this real, conflicted guy. A very classic classic story. And I’m sure you know this but his alter ego is a photographer for the Daily Bugle, and his bread and butter is action shots of Spidey fighting criminals. So it’s great; he’s this superhero that has to deal with all these mundane, real issues. Great.
The Incredible Hulk is another great story. His is the story parodied in the Simpsons. So Bruce Banner is a scientist, and they’re testing a neutron bomb, but he like sees a kid or a girl or something near the test site, so he runs out to warn him but doesn’t get back in time. So he bears the full impact of the neutron bomb. But instead of killing him, he becomes the Incredible Hulk. At first, he only became the Hulk at night. Later it changed so he became the Hulk when he became angry, day or night.
What a great story! Such conflict! This mild, brilliant scientist becomes this huge, dumb colossus. And how he needs to deal with that. The TV series and the TV movies were actually really good with this. I loved the TV movies, because there was so much pathos, the main character had no choice but to completely isolate himself from people. It was just so incredibly sad. Great story.
The Fastastic Four started as this space trip but they get bombarded with cosmic rays (there’s a lot of radiation action in Marvel Comics) and they all change into different things. Mr. Fantastic is all rubbery, his wife is the invisible Woman and has all these dope powers, and the others become the Human Torch and The Thing. The Thing is great, because his big conflict is that he’s a monster, this hideous looking thing, and he used to be hot stuff. It’s great conflict.
So like I said, most of the stories now center on mutants in the Marvel Universe. They didn’t become how they are, they just were born that way; they’re mutants. The stories are actually really interesting, because there’s this huge backlash against them, so they’re forced to hide themselves, in a way. Kind of like racial intolerance. It’s a really interesting storyline. Anyway, there are bad mutants, who want to rule the world, and good mutants, who just want to get along. But all the mutants have super dope powers. My favorite mutant is Longshot, who had the mutant power of luck.
There’s this graphic novel called the New Mutants, and it’s really quite good. Graphic novels, by the way, are kind of like higher quality comics, both in art and storyline, and are usually one shot deals, not serials. They usually have really interesting stories. For example, the first Marvel Graphic Novel was called the Death of Captain Marvel. Basically, a really big superhero dies of cancer, and it forces all the other superheroes who know him to consider their own mortality. Pretty deep for a comic.
Anyway, the New Mutants deals with these mutants, all kids, and shows how their powers manifested, how they were all shunned by society as freaks, and how each dealt with it. It’s actually really interesting stuff.
Another really interesting graphic novel is Emperor Doom. In it, Dr. Doom taps the mutant power of this guy called Purple Man. He was born purple, and he emits something that essentially allows him to control the minds of others in close proximity. Dr. Doom figures out how to attach him to an apparatus that allows him (Dr. Doom) to control the minds of everyone in the world.
Gosh, this story is just incredibly interesting. Because Dr. Doom, he’s evil because he wants to rule the world. He’s really into power. The thing is, once he gets absolute power, all wars cease, there is no famine, everything is great. There’s this great panel where every vote in the UN is passed unanimously, and you see a shot of Reagan and Thatcher expressing their support. And presumably, everyone is happy. But Dr. Doom is not. He’s bored. When a challenge comes (long story how that happens, but an interesting one) he finds that he’s more excited than he’s ever been while in power. In the end, he almost chooses to let them win, because his realization is that what he wanted wasn’t power itself, but the pursuit of power.
Dude! That is incredibly deep. And it’s true, in my view. What people want isn’t necessarily riches or success, but the pursuit of that success. I don’t think many people realize this. That’s probably why so many rich people are so depressed. They didn’t realize that what they wanted doesn’t make them happy. It’s almost better to never have what you want and keep going after it, because there’s more in the pursuit. Well, I’m not completely articulating how I feel but that’s part of it. Anyway, people have misinterpreted the Founding Fathers declaration that all men are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with the idea that each person is entitled to be happy. A big difference. But anyway, Dr. Doom realizes that he doesn’t want power, he wants to get power. Pretty deep.
The seconde really interesting idea in the story is that the heroes, including Captain America and Iron Man, almost don’t know whether they should save the world or not. Because under Dr. Doom, although everyone is a mind slave to him, there is no suffering! There is no famine, no conflict, everything is perfect. But no one is free. So they struggle with the question of whether it’s better to have no will and be happy, or free and suffer. In the end they go for it and defeat Dr. Doom. And the ending is really bittersweet. Everyone can suddenly think for themselves again. So the UN is back in turmoil, the war in Afghanistan resumes (you gotta remember when this was made), the whites in South Africa regain their senses and kick the blacks out of everything they had let them into, the rich countries take back all the resources that had been put into Ethiopia to deal with famine, and basically all the suffering in the world returns.
What a great ending. Because it’s a happy ending, but it’s not. So the question is, did the heroes do the right thing? What was the right thing? In terms of happiness, it seems like the real winner was Dr. Doom, as he learns what he really wants. In the end, Wonder Man realizes that for better or worse, because of him, everyone is free again, but the world possibly lost its one chance of becoming perfect, and that’s something he’ll just have to deal with.
Anyway, this brings up the question of whether it would have been better for God to have left us with no free wills so that we would never have rebelled against Him, or with truly free wills with the possibility of sin and therefore suffering and separation from God. My current belief is that the second is better (it’s obviously better, but my opinions on why it’s better changes) because it allows us the opportunity of greater joy. In fact, one might argue that without a free will, joy isn’t even possible. Anyway, free wills allows for the possibility of sin and suffering, but also of true joy, and that is a gift. Plus free will itself is a gift. And I think God is more glorified when we are given free wills to praise Him.
All the reformed Calvinists out there will have a fit with me using the phrase free will so much but come on, at some level you have to reconcile your ideas of predestination with some kind of free will; there’s just no way around that. If it’s even just a practical level, somewhere you have to deal with it. And that’s what I’m talking about, I guess.
Anyway, as you can see, these comic books deal with some pretty deep and interesting issues. More than you might have thought.
Wolverine is another great character. He’s a mutant, whose power is super rapid (ie nearly immediate) healing, and he first appeared in an issue of Incredible Hulk. He was a government test, codenamed Weapon X, and somewhere down the line, his skeleton was laced with adamantium, the strongest material known to man, and he was given adamantium claws which he could extend and retract from his forearms. It was his healing powers that uniquely allowed such an operation to take place.
So Wolverine’s conflict is between his humanity and his lower animal nature. He’s a popular character I think first of all because he’s got claws, and secondly because he’s really animalistic and pretty much goes berserk all the time. And, I mean, he can because he can just heal, so whatever.
A while ago there was this 4-part miniseries by Frank Miller, the same guy who made the Dark Knight Returns, a super highly influential Batman miniseries which essentially changed the conception of Batman forever. At any rate, the Wolverine miniseries is great first of all because there’s some great art, and secondly, a really interesting storyline. We find out that Wolverine has ties to Japan, and he goes there and essentially, the entire story deals with Wolverine dealing with that inner conflict between his raw animal nature and his higher level humanity. I think somewhere in his life he literally lived like an animal, and as Weapon X, the government (I believe Canadian) really cultivated that animal side.
Anyway, it’s really brilliant, because you know, the Japanese are this really ancient society with this real high notions of honor and cultivation. Having to have Wolverine deal with his ferocious animalism there, in Japan, is just a great idea. As always, that inner conflict is the great thing. I’ve always wanted someone to make a movie out of this series.
And Wolverine is a member of the X-Men, a bunch of mutants mostly ostracized from society, but yet committed to protecting them. Fascinating premise. Anyway, they’re making an X-Men movie, and it’s really exciting, because it looks to not be a scrub movie. The director is Bryan Singer, director of The Usual Suspects, and the writer of The Usual Suspects is co-writing X-Men. Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Jean-Luc Picard, is Professor Xavier. Ian McKellan, nominated for an Academy Award for Gods and Monsters, is Magneto. Halle Berry is Storm. Famke Janssen, the evil chick from Goldeneye, is Jean Grey. Ray Park, aka Darth Maul, is Toad. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is Mystique. And Oscar winner Anna Paquin (from The Piano) is Rogue. Dude, I am excited. It’s gonna be good stuffs.
Anyway, I used to really like comics. And I don’t know if I made it clear, but I kind of related. Not really, just I liked the conflict and angst. It’s like, if you take away their powers, their skintight uniforms, incredible muscle definition and uniform good looks, they’re just like me. Actually, that’s another thing. I don’t know if you can relate, but growing up, I always wanted to feel like I’m somehow special, that I was different from everyone else for a special reason. In a way I guess I was. I don’t know, this is why some people say that smart kids relate with Ender’s Game. My personal opinion is that only arrogant kids relate with Ender’s Game. And by the way, as you may have read on Marian’s home page, the 4th book in the Ender’s series is in stores August 31st.
Anyway, I wanted to feel special, and comics were like an escapist way of feeling that. It’s also the reason growing up that I liked Star Wars so much. I wanted to be Luke. You know, living a mundane life but realizing somewhere deep down that you’re different, you’re special, and eventually having everyone else realize that also. More than anything, that’s what Star Wars represented to me. Because, you know, that was my little fantasy. When they said, the Force is strong in this one, I was thinking: that’s me. The Force is strong in me.
So yeah, I wanted to be special. I probably still do, which is why mediocrity is such a scary thing. I don’t know if anyone can relate. I’d like to hear it.
Anyway, that’s a little too much indulgent self-awareness. As always, congratulations if you made it through the whole thing, through stuff only I care passionately about. Hope it was interesting. And if it wasn’t, read it again, because you missed the good stuff.