Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Week 12: What Drives Me to You Is What Drives Me Insane

Actually I probably should've saved that title for Week 16, but the song's been stuck in my head all day.

I'm glad to see the chapter titles return this issue, especially since this one is so polyvalent. "Mighty": one standard DCU context for that word is exactly what Adam is doing on this page. In the introduction to the Superman TV series, we're told that Superman can "change the course of mighty rivers." But the reference is more obviously to another TV show, and the words Andrea Thomas said to become the previous incarnation of Isis...

One thing a couple of 52 personnel have mentioned in the last few weeks is that they're not sure whether they're going to get to do the in-depth examination of religion in the DC Universe that they'd thought they might. This issue is the closest thing we've gotten so far, and perhaps as close as we're going to get. As Greg Rucka mentioned back at WonderCon, the DCU's religious culture has to be pretty different from ours, since gods manifest themselves all the time--Montoya's old partner the Spectre is the Judeo-Christian God's agent on Earth, Wonder Woman's got direct ties to the Greek gods, Shazam's got connections to the whole pantheistic pantheon, and so on. It makes sense, then, that popular new religions and cults would spring up all the time, based on all the signs and portents and wonders that people keep encountering. Still, I can't really think of many prominent DCU-only religions predating 52 other than the Kobra cult, unless the New Gods count.

(The one really good piece of modern fiction I can think of about the way human behavior would be changed if divine intervention were a constant, verifiable reality is Philip K. Dick's A Maze of Death, in which there's a popular book called How I Rose from the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You. Perhaps Devem's read that one too.)

Adam makes the distinction between political leader and religious authority on pg. 5, as he's done before, and insists that he's not a god--what is his religious affiliation, anyway? Does he have one? He's got the powers of Shu, Heru, Amon, Zehuti, Aton and Mehen, all ancient Egyptian gods. (Some of those are fairly minor gods, or variant names--Zehuti, for instance, is better known as Thoth.) And the existence of the Super-Shaykh suggests that Islam is a significant force in DCU Iran; is it in Kahndaq?

There's a nice suggestion of the Question's Zen Buddhist background in the opening scene, and let's not forget about the Seven Deadly Sins, which are basically a Christian concept--here's a little history of them. (Note: they are not to be confused with the "Seven Deadly Finns" (RealAudio link), a fine non-album single by Brian Eno.) What does it mean to crush the face of greed, anyway?

Most importantly for this issue, it's worth noting that Isis was the center of a religion--a mystery cult, actually, that was popular in Egypt and caught on in Rome, too, from about the first century BC to the fourth century AD. If you went through an initiation, you got personal salvation: a direct relationship with Isis. (Apuleius describes an initiation in The Golden Ass.) According to this page, it was mostly based on the story of Isis and her husband/brother god Osiris, and had "rituals similar to those of Dionysus," which were eventually condemned as "pornographic." Mmm.

And the "simple prayer" Adrianna mentions? It'd be good to know what it is. "I am Isis" isn't really a prayer, even though it seems to work on the lightning principle that no longer functions for the Shazamites. ("Oh mighty Isis" isn't quite a prayer either, but at least it's an invocation.) Now, if you wanted an Isis prayer, you could always go for this or this or this, and actually Ovid had a good one too.

An important thing about the Isis-Osiris cult is that it was also a resurrection cult--along the lines of the cult of Adonis, or in fact of Cassie's one-time hookup. (Odd, also, that the Connor cult was originally supposed to be a "humanist religion," built around someone so distinctly superhuman--actually, built around anyone. I have some experience with "humanist religion," having spent my formative years being taken to services at a humanist Jewish congregation where, for instance, "Avinu Malkeinu" was sung as "We look for the right thing to do...")

I suspect, though, that the crucial point in this scene is that Dev-Em (okay, fine, let's call him Devem for the moment) has "found a method in the holy texts by which to raise the dead"--that opens up a big question of what the "holy texts" are. Just to take a wild guess: Where are superheroes' deeds documented? Comic books! We study them almost Talmudically, we cite them chapter and verse, there are endless debates over what's canonical and what's not... I have no idea if that's the direction this is going, but it does seem like a rather Morrison-esque idea, doesn't it?

The Origin of Wonder Woman: So glad to see this! Nicely written, nicely drawn, straight to the point. I don't know about the trading-card bit at the end--is it really helpful to name "essential storylines"?--but I'm looking forward to the rest of these. The one really eyebrow-raising bit here is "a uniform decorated with symbols representing a legendary Amazon heroine"; do we know who that would be? And, although it was established long ago, when's the last time we saw Diana use her tiara as a boomerang?

More notes:

Pg. 1: New York has about 35,000 police, so this number looks about right for Gotham.

Pg. 2: "I.G. 36" and "I.G. 76"? It probably stands for "Intergang," but it doesn't look like the Question-Van has room for that many boxes; a storage space, maybe? Doctor Tyme, one of the missing mad scientists, first appeared here. And Montoya's got more than beer in her fridge now; perhaps Naked Zen Charlie's influence.

Pg. 3: Montoya's got a copy of "The Life Story of the Flash" on her bookshelf. I don't have my copy of the relevant issues of The Flash at hand; can anybody tell me if it's actually been published within the DC timeline yet, or if it's an artifact from the future? And Kahndaq isn't as specific a destination as Charlie might have mentioned; its capital city is Shiruta...

Pg. 6: "'Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation' yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation."

Pg. 7: I don't think we've heard of Super-Shaykh before, although I love the name. Dark Nemesis, on the other hand, appeared here. And it looks like DCU Iran has an active nuclear weapons facility...

Pg. 11: The phrase "Billy Batshit" comes to mind. Conspicuous by his absence from the list of Cap's adversaries: Mister Mind.

Pg. 13: The conjunction of "154" and "Where R U?" makes me think of the phrase you'll hear sung when you click here... and "Donna Prince"? That is indeed a pretty obvious alias.

Pg. 15: Ralph is no longer fidgeting with where the ring used to be, although he's good enough to avert his gaze as Cassie changes into what I'm guessing might be her cultist's robe. But why would Devem's cult want to revive Sue, as opposed to somebody whose personal effects would be easier to dig up? And the magic of "connective objects" is a standard magical trope, but the DC character most associated with it is one we've already seen on panel very briefly, at the beginning of Week 3: Josie Mac!

Pg. 16: Hatshepsut appears to have actually been a ruler in the Eighteenth Dynasty, but there are lots of things in the DCU that are different from our own world (on Earth-Prime, for instance, she didn't have Isis's powers). "You want to make me like you?" You mean like like?

Pg. 17: The return of the Keith Giffen nine-panel grid! How I've missed it! (I really have.)

Pg. 20: While I love the 52 solicitations simply being lines from the story, I suspect that the pull-quote from Week 23 already indicates where this particular plot is going.

Comments-wise, I'd be very curious to hear any thoughts y'all have on non-Earth-Prime religions in the DCU, in particular...

19 Comments:

At 4:33 AM, Blogger Steven said...

Quick answers to questions first:

Wonder Woman used her Boomerang Tiara as recently as "Sacrifice" to cut Superman's throat.

And Superman cult existed, and then exploded in popularity, after his death (in fact, the resurrection cult seems to be a sect of the original one).

The Life Story of the Flash has been published in the DCU (I think the idea was that when it was published in the real world it was published there at the same time). It does, however, name Barry Allen, Wally West, and Bart Allen, so I don't know how it lines up with the Spectre Mind-Wipe.

That "brother" might refer to Isis's brother Osiris, and not Adrianna's, is mighty interesting. It ties the Ralph plot to Black Adam's, and makes rebirth the running theme of the whole show.

 
At 8:25 AM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

is it really helpful to name "essential storylines"?
Helpful to teh MIGHTY bottomline, I suspect.

In Mark Waid's "Return of Barry Allen" didn't the Life Story of the Flash, by Iris Allen, play a pivotal as an artifact from the future?

If Steven's on the right track in his last paragraph, could we be in for a Ralph/Montoya/Question/Black Adam throwdown sooner rather than later?

 
At 9:47 AM, Blogger Brian Hibbs said...

>>>The one really eyebrow-raising bit here is "a uniform decorated with symbols representing a legendary Amazon heroine"; do we know who that would be?<<<

Sure -- Diana Tevor, Steve Trevor's mom, as detailed in Perez's run.

(Unless they've changed the origin, of course)

I beleive they mean "legendary heroine to the Amazons" rather than "legendary heroine who is Amazonian".

I was a little more distracted by juxtaposition between "continually impressed" and "natural choice", which skips over MY favorite part of WW's origin -- her hiding in a mask and beating all her sisters in the Olympics!

-B

 
At 10:17 AM, Blogger Neil said...

The Life Story of the Flash first appeared at the end of "The Return of Barry Allen," (Flash #74-79), when we learn that Eobard Thawne brought back a copy from the future. It was Wally's discovery of the book and it's copyright date that lead him to realize Iris wasn't dead.

After his battle with Savitar, Wally was lost in time due to the Speed Force. During this time (collected in the Flash: Race Against Time) TPB), Dr. Polaris and Abra Kadabra kidnapped Iris to force her to finish writing the book. They had found the copy and used the informatin in it to plan a new ice age for the world, but needed Iris to write it, so that it would exist in the future.

I think at the end of that story-arc Iris had completed it and went to publish it.

As Steven said, there has not been any clue as to how it has been changed since the Spectre's Mind-Wipe.

(Source: http://www.hyperborea.org/flash/lifestory.html)

 
At 3:08 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Good analysis on all counts. I particularly like Steven's idea that the brother might be Osiris.

Two quick thoughts:

I think Billy in all his madness was talking literally when he said he crushed the face of Greed. If you look at the statues, you'll notice that Greed's face is indeed destroyed.

Dark Nemesis originally appeared in the Dan Jurgen's Teen Titans series and were supposed to be the main villains opposing the TT.

 
At 4:04 PM, Blogger Batiduende said...

There is a 80 page giant, or one shot... or one of those things, called JLA Superpowers where someone forms a religion to worship the JLA. The cult stops when the issue ends.

That book and 'The Kingdom: Gog' are the only books I remember with a wacky non Earth Prime religion.

 
At 11:47 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

There's always the "Cleric" from the John Byrne "Man of Steel" run; I believe it referred to Kryptonian ideas as some form of religion (adopted by Argo Colony in "Superman/Aliens").

Anyone else notice that Cassie was supposed to be completely bare, but the "black t-shirt" was an obvious afterthought?

I'm surprised they didn't have Batwoman in this issue based on last week's "coming out party". A lot of bandwagon readers may be disappointed.

 
At 3:01 PM, Blogger Steven said...

ooh, forgot to mention.

Montoya "klinking" the naked Question on the back of her head with a beer bottle? Priceless.

 
At 5:23 PM, Blogger TheDancingCookie said...

There was a cult formed in the Peter David run of Supergirl (around Supergirl herself).

I wonder if Seraph (the Israelite hero who used to literally talk to God) also warrants a mention here. I mean, God used to talk back!

 
At 10:46 PM, Blogger Michael said...

"a uniform decorated with symbols representing a legendary Amazon heroine" -- I read that as a reference to Hippolyta in the JSA.

Production goofed and put the same word bubble in page 4 panels 1 and 2.

 
At 7:33 PM, Blogger zooberries said...

what comes out first? this blog or the wizard one? did they use the same ISIS pictures used on this post?

 
At 8:19 PM, Blogger Douglas Wolk said...

That's what happens when we both use Google.

 
At 11:21 PM, Blogger smurph said...

Re: DCU religions: The Church of Brother Blood seemed like a pretty big deal in the DCU back in the Judas contract era Titans. Blood was on TV talking about saving youth; there was a congressional investigation into his church (shades of Jonestown?) And who could forget Blood's right hand woman in a nun's habit: Mother Mayhem.

Oh, and speaking of the titans, there was also the cult of Azar, the oponents of the demon Trigon, and out in space the living Goddess Xhal.

 
At 10:03 PM, Blogger Ragnell said...

I beg to differ that "I am Isis" is not a prayer. To some neo-pagans, a statement like that is a prayer, a prayer of alignment.

It's really, really hard to explain a prayer of alignment to someone who's never used one, but I'll give it a shot. You say something like it to bring up qualities that are exemplified by the diety in question, it's not only directedat yourself, but directed at the diety you wish to align with. Only rather than ask for help, you pledging to act as the diety does. It's a step beyond emulating, because you're trying to get in focus with the Goddess's will.

With that in mind, I'll agree with the above commenter who proposes that she wants to find Osirus, not Adrianna's brother. This is Isis' will we'd be dealing with.

 
At 4:54 AM, Blogger abaoaqu said...

To me, the most surprising thing about the WW origin story was not the reference to the tiara/boomerang or to the Amazon's role model, whoever she is. It was the direct portrayal of DIANA AS WONDER GIRL! (See page 2, panel 1) Wonder Girl was not originally an autonomous character, but was Diana in a retro story. Later Wonder Girl was mistakenly incorporated into the Teen Titans by an editor who thought she was supposed to be Diana's teen sidekick.

The fact that the last 'History of the DC Universe' feature specifically points out that Donna has existed (and not existed) in various dimensions or worlds or whatever leads me to conclude that this panel means that Diana was now Wonder Girl in her youth, as she was supposed to have been. Or maybe at least in the continuity of the new All-Star WW?

 
At 11:18 AM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

Wasn't the original Wonder Girl not even Wonder Woman-as-a-girl, but A COMPUTER SIMULATION of what Wonder Woman WOULD HAVE been like as a girl?

 
At 1:56 PM, Blogger acespot said...

And here I come, late as usual, to give my two cents:

p.1 When did Maggie Sawyer get so hot? When did Montoya get so butch - she's still a wuss though.
p.4 When did these events occur?
p.6 When did Isis go to live in this remote village?
p.7 Super-Shaykh sounds like something to order at Baskin Robbins.
p.10 Billy's craaazy
And I really liked the Wonder Woman origin, although wouldn't her mother Hippolyta also have had super powers in order to be in the JSA (of course, she wasn't much more than a glorified secretary there, so...)
Not bad.

http://acespot1.blogspot.com

 
At 5:35 PM, Blogger Ragnell said...

abaoaqu -- No, that's just what she wore as a kid on Themiscyra since the Perez days. They never called her Wonder Girl, she didn't go superheroing.

 
At 10:50 PM, Blogger raphaeladidas said...

As far as the whole Hippolyta as WW thing goes...

I don't feel like looking it up, but I know that at some convention panel Dan Didio said that on "New Earth" there has only ever been one WW: Diana.

 

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