Thursday, September 07, 2006

Week 18: Magic Is Not Thermodynamics

Bizarre that we only seem to have gotten 19 pages of lead story this issue--I hope this won't be a continuing trend.

As I understand, the rules for the "Tenth Age of Magic" have been determined by a monograph written by Michael Moorcock for DC, and the gist of them is that you don't get something for nothing (or, as the Dr. Fate helmet explains to Ralph, "nothing comes without a price")--that there's a law of conservation of, I don't know, phlogiston or orgone energy or something. That would make some sense if we're talking about this guy, who gets in under the "any sufficiently advanced technology" rule, but somehow it doesn't quite ring true for me. Magic, it seems to me, is all about getting something for nothing, or at least redefining nothing so that it becomes something.

(In fact, it consists in great part in setting the rules by which things are perceived. My favorite magic character in the DCU is John Constantine, at least in his initial version, in which he was always making things happen but we never actually saw him doing anything in contravention of physical laws.)

Grant Morrison did a nice job of outlining the rules of magic--or at least its about-to-end Ninth Age in the DCU--in Seven Soldiers: Zatanna; I won't spoil the rules as he presents them there for those of you who haven't read it yet, except to say that the last one he proposes, "think yourself lucky," applies well beyond the borders of Earth-One. They weren't quite coherent enough to act as signposts for other writers, I suppose, but if you make the rules of magic coherent enough to involve axioms, reproducibility, etc., then what they're outlining isn't really magic any more, is it? I suspect the kind of magic that works for stories involves a certain amount of rulemaking but also some loosey-goosey stuff.

I see that Moorcock's Tenth Age seems to have something to do with tarot, too, following the example of Promethea, although honestly did Giffen & Barrows have to stick to the same old Rider-Waite designs? I like these much better. Or these.

Actually, here's a challenge for 52 Pickup's readers: design a card for a Rider-Waite-style tarot deck whose image is an unaltered panel, or fragment of a panel, from a DC comic.

Thanks again to Ragnell for filling in last week. At least J.G. Jones pays attention to light sources...

More notes:

Pg. 1: Since this is the House of Mystery, I think we can assume that the "Cain" to whom the suicide bomber dedicated her death a few issues back is this one. Stonehenge and Kaspar Hauser and Easter Island I knew about, Rennes I didn't. But it's curious that they're called the Croatoan Society, given the whole Croatoan business in Seven Soldiers: Klarion. And that picture is so not left-to-right.

I don't know who Edogawa Sangaku is, but Edogawa Rampo was the father of the Japanese detective story--his pseudonym is a transliteration of "Edgar Allan Poe"--and a sangaku is a kind of mathematical problem. Terri Thirteen's name is very much like Terry Thirteen, a.k.a. Dr. Thirteen, Ghostbreaker, who was killed in a magical accident at Baron Winters' rather House of Mystery-like house in Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #1; he had a daughter named Traci Thirteen, not Terri, who first appeared in this Geoff Johns-written issue... but I do like the suggestion that any mystical character who dies is promptly replaced by another version of the same entity.

Ralph we know. B.T. Chimp? B.T. stands for "Bobo The," it turns out, and he's wearing a "Grodd Is My Co-Pilot" T-shirt. Tim Trench was a minor Wonder Woman supporting character who appears to have appeared in two solo stories ever: one of them was here.

Pg. 2: The bald guy would have to be Edogawa, although he doesn't look a bit Asian.

Pg. 4: Curious that the crescent is the symbol of choice in what appears to be non-Muslim Kahndaq, given its historical association with Islam.

Pg. 6: Sports bra! Drink! At least Kahndaq doesn't appear to have a homosexuality taboo (that doesn't seem to be what Adam's upset about, anyway). Disconcertingly big grin on Charlie's face in panel 2.

Pg. 8: Montoya's still beating herself up over having killed the bomber, but really, a) she's shot to kill plenty of times before, and b) shooting someone who's two seconds away from blowing up herself, you, and several hundred innocents in her blast range is pretty much as far as you can get into "defensible violence" territory--which is to say that not shooting her would have done vastly, inarguably more harm than good. Not much of a moral conundrum there. I'm sure the Vic Sage of Mysterious Suspense would have mocked her for even having a twinge of remorse. Also, do we have any idea who the "pretty lass" of Shiruta is?

Pg. 10: Kind of hilarious that one of the lines of dialogue that appears to have been rewritten here is the one that was used for this issue's solicitation--it was originally "We found Shakespeare's GHOSTWRITER, we can find one of our own GUYS"... also, Holmes was indeed partly inspired by Joseph Bell, and the rest of the line is very funny. So who was it who gave Ralph help pulling himself back together? Possibly the woman from the cover, who might be the reporter from a few weeks ago? Or is the woman on the cover supposed to be Terri Thirteen? And what's up with the spying waiters?

Pg. 11: As people in the CBR forums have pointed out, Booster's pallbearers include the Blimp from Inferior 5, the Yellow Peri, Mind-Grabber Dude (with his outfit from Seven Soldiers: Zatanna--wow, that comic's coming up a lot this week--and still a desperate horn-dog), Beefeater II from JLE, some Abe Lincoln lookalike (can anyone identify him?), and best of all, the Odd Man--a Steve Ditko creation so obscure that he first appeared in one of the rarest DC comics ever (in a story later rewritten for inclusion in this issue, a follow-up to the story two issues earlier in which Kathy Kane/Batwoman was murdered, and now my head hurts). Love the "Herolist" thing, too.

Pg. 14: So we do have the Shadowpact active here. J.G. Jones' cover blog over at Wizard says he originally intended to use them on the cover, then wasn't able to because of continuity problems... wow, one hand really doesn't seem to know what the other one's doing, huh? As the cover puts it, "When is the Shadowpact?!?" is a good question, since the first issue of their series implies that they've sat out an entire year, but also that the year starts after Superman's return.

Pg. 15: Speaking of the Odd Man, the look of the Tenth Age looks rather Ditkovian, like a Photoshop upgrade of the Dark Dimension from Dr. Strange.

Pg. 16: Nice to see Atheist, Princess of Germworld put in an appearance, however briefly.

Pg. 19: The Emerald Eye, maybe?

The Origin of the Question: Again, it'd have been nice to have a little nod to Ditko here. Two little things Waid has dropped into the origin that I don't think were previously canon (correct me if I'm wrong): that Tot Rodor worked up pseudoderm from "the extract of the gingold plant"--this could be tied to Ralph's arc--and "from the notes of Gotham criminal Bart Magan," a.k.a. this guy.


At 5:13 PM, Blogger Michael Nicolai said...

When I read "nothing comes without a price" I thought of Fullmetal Alchemist's law of Equivilant Exchange. Creating something out of nothing makes a poor story element. Morpheus (the goth, not the hacker) had to play by the rules, and his actions had consequences. Dr. Strange has been ruined by lesser writers who just have him wave his hands and resolve the story. A character who can just do anything is... well, Superman and his comics are pretty boring. Magic doesn't need to have rules, but I think it would help the writers. (Where did you hear about that Michael Moorcock bit? I'm really curious...)

The gingold reference made my ears perk. I have a feeling this willl lead to Ralph getting his powers back, but I hope not. I'm actually starting to believe he's a detective. I noticed Charlie was questioning why Intergang would use a child. It could be minor detail to the larger plot. It could also be the writers covering their asses. The benefit of writing a weekly book is that the fans will catch the plot holes before they get too big.

At 1:26 AM, Blogger Filby said...

p.2-3: Does Mr. Sangaku have hair on one page and lose it on the next, or is it just the lighting? Anyway, I don't think he looks particularly un-Asian.

p.10: Regarding the waiters, I'm not sure if they're spying, or just staring at the talking ape with a deerstalker cap. Also, I'm pretty sure the lady on the cover is our new Doctor Thirteen.

p.11: I like the "Vertigo" sticker on Booster's coffin.

p.13: *Ping!* BWAHAHAHA

p.16: IIRC, the Tarot figures were used by Neil Gaiman in his Books of Magic miniseries; a connection, perhaps? Also, Atheist, Princess of Gemworld? Huh?

Actually, here's a challenge for 52 Pickup's readers: design a card for a Rider-Waite-style tarot deck whose image is an unaltered panel, or fragment of a panel, from a DC comic.

That I can't provide, but you my find this interesting.

At 4:08 AM, Blogger David C said...

On "nothing comes without a price," I thought of two things. One is the universal law of TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.)

The other is this bit from Neil Gaiman, which appeared in the 1990 edition of the DC Heroes Roleplaying Game as a little summary of magic in the DCU:

A) You can have power and ability and so forth, but it's not free. You
always pay for it; few of the people who step into the world of magic
come away happy.

B) You have a choice. But if you enter the world of magic, you can
never return to a scientific point of view. You're in a world which
looks like the one you knew but is more glamorous and more dangerous.

C) Magic is a lot of things. Reliable, it's not.

At 7:08 AM, Blogger Jamie Ott said...

A couple of things to note as well:

Orin? Becoming the creature he seems to be in Sword of Atlantis?

In regards to the Tarot cards, the choices are interesting.

The Hanged Man


Both interesting choices. Death is the threshold the Hanged Man must pass through to journey to the Underworld and be reborn....

Both have connections to Osiris and the Hanged Man in particular refers to a destruction of self to bring life to humanity. He is also a "solar hero".

I think that Douglas meant Amethyst.

And I think the revelation with Skeets will be incredibly interesting. It will be nice to see the blackboard make an appearance next week.

And I think the Tenth Age is going to resemble some of the elements from Lovecraft, where there is always a price. But that could just be the plot device used here for Ralph.

And did anyone make the connection that the helmet of Fate ended up in the House of Mystery? Cain and Abel were connected to the Endless and are servants of the son of the previous Fate, Hector Hall. I thought that was an interesting coencidence.


At 7:56 AM, Blogger Jamie Ott said...

Also, how do we know that Ralph is actually having a conversation with ANYONE let alone a chimp?

I suspect the waiters were staring because Ralph was basically talking to himself the whole time. If someone is messing with his view or reality, then he could be imagining the whole Shadowpact sequence. Could also explain the difference between Terri and Traci Thirteen.


At 10:05 AM, Blogger Douglas Wolk said...

N.b. I didn't write "Gemworld" either! "Atheist, Princess of Germworld" is a bit of an in-joke, I'm afraid...

David, thanks for posting the Gaiman quote--that's a good one.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Squashua said...

Jamie, nice suspicion. I'm going to go look at that and re-examine the panels. Your entire theory could be used to explain away Shadowpact's appearance when they're supposed to be trapped for a year.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Sandy said...

design a card for a Rider-Waite-style tarot deck whose image is an unaltered panel, or fragment of a panel, from a DC comic.

I don't have the design skills, but the first thing that came to mind is using the image of Superman with the weird flower stuck to him from 'What do you get for the man who has everything?' as The Hanged Man.

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Joel Priddy said...

Skeets' genealogical analysis of the Daniel Carter reminded me of this snippet from Gene Wolfe on his novel, Castleview:

...I was thinking of the old business about everybody being descendant from Charlemagne, you are and so am I. You know that if you look at the number of ancestors both of us have had to have we come up with some number by the time we get back to the time of Charlemagne it is something like eight times the actual population of Europe at that time. Europe only had something like 12 million people in Charlemagne's time and our number of grandparents and great grandparents double with every generation. It works out to an enormous number and so anybody who was living in Europe at that time and who did in fact have descendants and Charlemagne had something like 14 children is almost certainly (the almost is really a weasel word) is statistically certain to be descendent to Charlemagne.

Okay, it's Eurocentric, and the logic is hardly watertight, but it does illustrate the relative meaningless of "direct" descendency over a span of 500 years. Barring some odd bottlenecks in population growth in the intervening centuries, given 20 generations over 500 years Daniel would only be one of 1,048,576 people to contribute genetic material to poor ol' Booster. And Dan would, in turn, probably be an ancestor to half the Legion of Superheroes.

Or is my art-school math completely wonky on this?

Whatever. If this plot twist is getting us back to the Time Cave, then it's all for the good.

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Leee said...

Note the inverted Hanged Man, which is also part of Slothrop's tarot cards in Gravity's Rainbow.

At 6:40 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

The House Of Mystery is in continuity? Does this mean that, in the DC universe, Gil Kane is officially still trapped in one of his own comics?

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Douglas Wolk said...

The House of Mystery is totally in continuity--see Saga of the Swamp Thing #31, most famously, as well as DC Comics Presents #53, The Brave and the Bold #93, and didn't it turn up in Resurrection Man, too? Not to mention Sandman, which even though it's a Vertigo thing seems to be functionally DCU-canonical. Now, some of the stories Cain told aren't in continuity, but why would they be?

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Eric said...

They do list Mysterious Suspense in the essential storylines (Speaking of which, I've started a lengthy synopsis of Ditko's opus over at the site. Should be done with all three parts by Monday.). Note that, though they use the logo for the recent Veitch/Edwards miniseries, they essentially write it out of continuity here. Tot also looks nothing like any version of Tot we've seen before.

I'd say that, because of the wardrobe, Terri Thirteen is indeed the character on the cover.

I tried to make a tarot set for my wife when we started dating out of comic books, but someone pointed out that I was taking the cards at their face value, and I didn't feel like doing the requisite research. Maybe I'll try it again.

And over at Newsarama, Stephen Wacker says, "January 1st will be fatal." Which is unfortunate, because I just decided to make that my official opening day for the site, marking the year of the Q?'s 40th Anniversary. T'would suck if it was immediately a memorial.

Welcome back, Douglas!

At 10:17 PM, Blogger StocDred said...

Hey, although I love that you bothered to find images of comic covers relevant to the discussion, I kinda hate that you're making me click out to them every other paragraph. Ruins the flow of the read. Howzabout a little descriptor in there, so we can understand your allusion without having to open new browser windows to find out?

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Filby said...

Btw, Steven Wacker's latest interview says that the Lincoln lookalike at Booster's funeral is "Honest Abe," a new hero from Springfield, Illinois.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Hypersimulation said...

Great catch on Dr. No-Face, great notes on the issue as usual.

(Mind Grabber Dude was in Bulleteer 3 though, not Zatanna. Unless of course you caught something I missed. :>)

At 11:05 AM, Blogger jonni said...

Hyper - Mind Grabber was in both Zatanna and Bulleteer - he was in Zee's group therapy session.

So, did no-one else take up the DC Tarot challenge?[/self promotion]

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Matthew E said...

filby beat me to it on the Honest Abe thing. So he's not already a character? We all agree on that?

And I caught the 'Atheist, Princess of Germworld' thing first time. For those who don't know, it's from a joke letter in the letter column of the original Amethyst maxiseries, allegedly from Saturday Night Live character Emily Litella ("Never mind!"). DC needs to collect up all that Amethyst stuff; it was tremendous.

As far as magic goes... no, you don't want to quantify it too much, or, even worse, explain it too much, but it makes some sense to have a house style for the magic, with some guidelines. And 'no free power' is a good guideline.

At 12:34 PM, Blogger Dr Obvious said...

Well, as I blog as The Hermit, I figure I could at least do The Hermit. So here is a hermit made with a J'onn J'onzz from JLU #24. I couldn't find any pics of him with a staff or a light source that I liked, but hopefully the large black borders and closed eyes give the impression that he is receding into the darkness to find wisdom.

The other option I was going to look for was a pic of Batman sitting in his cave, with his batcomputer acting as a light source, but I found this first.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Dan Mishkin said...

Actually, I think the joke was ALLEREST, Princess of Germworld. Though my favorite variation on the name was Ambergris, Princess of Spermwhale.

As for the House of Mystery being in continuity, it was also the shortcut that Blue Devil used to get between his homes in Metropolis and LA (each home had a closet that entered into the House).

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Matthew E said...

Hey, cool, Dan Mishkin. No, it was 'atheist'; I happened to reread it a few weeks ago.

By the way, I was a big fan of not only Amethyst but also Blue Devil, and I thought he was a much cooler character when he was a guy mystically sealed into an F/X suit and not an actual demon.

At 12:51 AM, Blogger rev. phicus said...

Is it just me, or is placement of objects and people really weird on pp 2 and 3? Okay, panel 3 we have a guy seated behind a big ol' table with a tea service. Next panel the girl is standing in front of him, maybe a little to his left, about where table and tea service should be. Then she touches his shoulder and half a second later the girl is gone from the frame, the helm hasn't hit the floor, and there's a splash of water on the floor next to the chair. Not the chair where the man was, it's dry in the next panel too. End of page 3 shows a table with a pitcher and candlestick on it, next page we see a huge globe there instead (to match the cover?) and the girl is now behind the chair. I don't know why but these pages just really bugged me, anyone else notice that?


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