Monday, December 21, 2015

What Made Star Wars So Epic in 1977

[This article appeared in slightly edited form on PopCultHQ.com. ]
We bought it new and wore it 'til you could wear it no more.
It was our job to make it distressed.
Comic-book great Jim Steranko was once asked, “When was the Golden Age of Comics?”

“12,” he quipped.

Steranko was right. It's an age, not a year.

I was twelve when Star Wars came out in 1977. It was all golden, and while I have analyzed, memorized, and categorized George Lucas’ inimitable success, and was inspired by the creativity in it and The Empire Strikes Back, I have never experienced that same awe in a movie theater since.

Some have gotten close to a fanboy’s dream. I cite Joss Whedon’s Avengers as a prime example of awesome and follow up with Guardians of the Galaxy as probably the closest I have ever felt to the wonderment of those virgin days.

But I think I have recently realized what made Star Wars so special… It was ruthlessly creative. You were asked to believe before you had a chance to catch your breath.

The original Star Wars does not even have opening credits – and that got George Lucas into a lot of trouble with the Motion Picture Academy, which explicitly states the artists [writers, actors and directors] are to be shown in the first few minutes of the film.

Lucas even put the story before them – and man, it works. You suddenly aren’t watching a film. You are listening – and reading that long scrolling exposition fits – to a mythical tale. [Yeah, smart boy, I know where he got it from. Joseph Campbell, Buck Rogers, blahblahblah... Don’t interrupt.]

No, you were not asked your opinion of those events. You were shown the War. In the Stars. I swear, if the film had immediately ended there as the rebel blockade ship was captured, you could have walked out of the theater and said “As advertised. Short, yeah, but As Advertised!”

Everything AFTER that opening is gravy. Or even a better analogy: an Italian meal – and your momma loves you. “Eat! Eat! EAT!” she screams, filing your jaded little 70’s SF saucer with enough magic-filled Jedi pasta to sink the Millennium Falcon. Enough to fatten a Wookie, dangit. Enough special effects, sound effects, creatures, events and glorious music to kill every stormtrooper on the Death Star.

Which, in fact, they do.

Bought at K-Mart. Needed 2 "C" batteries.
I repeat. 2 "C" batteries. 'Cause it had a motor, that's why.
No, my poppets. You have been jaded by too much CGI and internet. You have to go far, far away to some country with a name ending in “-stan” for a decade to grok the power of walking nearly blind and naïve into a darkened air-conditioned theater in the summer of 1977 and getting mugged by a film that changed our culture overnight. Changed the industry. Changed kids. Started several empires of movie making.

For geeks, it was like reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time. Not seeing LOTR, reading it.

The speed of delivery was a key part. As I said, Italian Momma Speed.

See, I have thought of a little game for adults. Get a copy of the original Star Wars [yes, you can]. Sit and watch it with friends who are peers and say “Every time we see something on the screen that had never been seen before in a color theatrical release, we have to drink.”

You won’t make it to the Mos Eisley cantina. By then of course, you’d fit right in.



I’m running long, so let me end by showing you what Star Wars gave us – in color – in less than 30 minutes.

  • Opening Scroll of Epic Adventure [color, remember?]
  • Starship Battle, at blazing speed [not Star Trek speed]
  • C-3PO and R2-D2
  • Stormtroopers
  • Darth Vader
  • Escape pod to an alien planet 
  • Jawas
  • Sandcrawler
  • Second-hand Junked Robots
  • C-3PO's “oil bath” [while spouting "human/cyborg relations"]
  • Hologram of Leia
  • Blue Milk [hey, it’s true!]
  • Dual sunset of a Binary Star System
  • Landspeeder [used]
  • Sandpeople
  • Vader with Grand Moff Tarkin
  • Vader choking “unbelieving” admiral
  • Lightsaber [Ben’s hut]

I think I have more time to use, but you get the point, I hope? The first Star Wars simply did not wait on you, and we adored her for it.

We adored her for making us believe in what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We adore her still. I used the feminine pronoun there, didn’t I? Well, I had to.

Because really, who can ever forget their first love?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Joseph the Righteous, Pt. 2

"Mary - I, uh, had this, uh... dream and I was, uh..." "Yes?"
"Oh forget it. Is May 25th still good? You know how caters are."
"But Joseph, being a righteous man, and not willing to put her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly." 

That's how I remember Joseph. A good guy being nice to Mary, but we all knew she was a good girl so we expected him to be good to her - because he's a good guy, right?

Let me tell you something, good men get really angry at lies and betrayal.

Good men hate spending money on a ring that cannot be returned. Good men hate being cuckolded.

Good men hate being treated like chumps. That simple.

But Joseph was a righteous man - that is not just a moral man, but a man who lived rightly before God. He knew he sinned before God, so he want to temple with sacrifices, year after year.

He heard in the synagogue of the Fall of Man and how even the patriarchs and great saints of olden days sinned against God, yet God had mercy on them. He was of the line of David, and that meant he knew his forefather, King David was merciful to the apostate Saul when he'd gone mad with jealousy and tried to kill David for no good reason.

He knew mercy belonged in his heart to those who'd hurt him. By every appearance, Mary, his betrothed had cheated on him. He was not a fool. He was sick. He raged, He cried. He could not believe it. He wanted justice but if he demanded that, it would only harm the very girl he'd asked to be his bride.

He took the most expensive, most emotionally brave option to let Mary go quietly.

I am divorced after a very brief marriage. I have canned food that lasted longer. It is an ugly thing to see all your hopes disintegrate before your very eyes.

If you think believing in God is for sissies, you have it backwards. It takes guts.

Joseph had guts. He was good. He was merciful. He was sick and sad and was going to do the best thing he could do for Mary. He loved her dearly.

Then we read this from Matthew 1:20, 21:
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 
21 "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  
 I want you to note three things 1) the angel appeared to him in a dream, like many OT patriarchs had had, and even pagan kings like Nebuchadnezzar and Pharoah had experienced, 2) the angel called him by his ancestral honorific - clearly identifying him as man like David, his "father" and 3) he was being comforted and given a fabulous honor and duty - to raise the messiah.

When people call me "Mr. Carmon" they are looking at me as a man to be respected. When people call me "Justice" they are looking at me as a guy to appreciated.

When this angel says "Joseph, son of David" in his dream, he's being very appreciative and even respectful, Imagine him smiling as he identifies him. I am sure I am making a bit much of this - I get letters all the time with both names on them and it doesn't really move my heart.

But this is a special event - and the angel is not just giving him information; he's comforting him too.

"Don't be aftraid..." Don't worry, I would have said. I'm not. I'm angry as hell.

But anger is just fear with testosterone. You are afraid of being taken advantage of or of being humiliated. "Perfect love casts out fear," says John the Apostle. He's right.

So the angel is almost saying "Hey, Joe, don't you worry. Your fiance' didn't cheat on you. This is all coming from God. You've been chosen to foster a very special boy. Very special!"

Wow. One other thought occured to me.

Zecharaiah had the angel Gabriel appear before him in the holy of holies and did not believe him.

Mary had the angel Gabriel appear before her and she asked how it was going to happen but then submitted wonderfully.

Joseph hears from an angel - maybe it was Gabriel - in a dream and doesn't argue, disbelieve or ask any questions.

He just gets up and does what he was supposed to do: marry his pregnant fiance'.

That man is a mensch. That man was righteous. That man was awesome.

May we men of the cross be the same today.

Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Joseph the Righteous, Pt. 1

"Look at Mary carrying that gourd by herself...
...wait... that can't be a gourd..." :(
This past Sunday I had the privilege of teaching at the Brookdale Retirement Community. Given that these were mature men and women with various backgrounds, including Roman Catholic, I chose to focus on a lesser known, lesser imagined part of the events leading to the advent of Christ: the man who decided to obey God by marrying a pregnant virgin. I think it is high time we give some proper respect to Joseph, whom scripture calls "a righteous man."

Let's start with what the Bible says in Matthew 1:18-25:
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just [lit. "righteous"] man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, "God with us").  
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

If we simply take the text at face value and add the historical context, we find a level of breath-taking love in this simple account.

Joseph the Just
In verses 18 and 19, we hear that Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This is far beyond our typical modern engagement. Joseph did not give her a ring. His family and hers had met and made a legally binding agreement. Technically, Joseph and Mary were married before witnesses with money exchanged. A contract was signed, but the wedding proper and consummation would be a year or more afterwards [up to seven years in some cases].

So here's this man, happily looking forward to his bride, waiting for consummation but already making sure she has his name and property if anything happens to him - yes, think on that. It was so binding that if Joseph died, she would be a "widowed virgin" ; it was not unheard of.

And he finds out she is pregnant. There is no way on Earth that did not hurt him. What is remarkable is that he has so much character and mercy, he is going to divorce her "quietly."

This means he won't make a legal issue of it, shame her publicly, or keep her dowry [the money the bride brought to the marriage when the agreement was signed]. In fact, to do it quietly he would have to probably pay the family a "bride price", which was typical in divorces without cause. You see, he would owe the family not one red cent if he proved she'd been unfaithful, but if he accepted the blame and merely paid the bride price, no one would blame Mary. They'd assume he'd changed his mind, most likely. For that, he'd have to pay 50 shekels. Keep in mind a shekel was near a day's wage [or best as I can figure]. Not an insignificant sum of money.

Joseph was going to pay it, just to keep Mary's reputation - knowing she was pregnant from someone else.

That, dear reader, is a righteous man. With far more love and mercy than we initially credit him with.

Amen.

[part two]

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

From The Flash to Agents of SHIELD to Limitless: Heroes Don't Get Normal Lives

Oh  - Reverse-Flash, I mean, Dr. Harrison Wells,
I mean, Eobard Thawne, we hardly knew ye.
I sat down to watch the season premiere of The Flash and was stunned. I followed it up with an admirable Agents of SHIELD and ended my night by washing it all down with a sobering Limitless, before catching the liberal-bait that passes for TV news in Chicago. It all tied together, strangely.

O.K., so The Flash shows the final result of last season's finale, in which three people died to stop a time-traveling villain: our "Reverse Flash" a.k.a. Harrison Wells a.k.a. Eobard Thawne - who'd been our hero's trusted mentor. In a stunning classic example of time-travel causality, our bad guy is stopped by his grandfather - officer Eddie Thawne - shooting himself. With this self-inflicted gunshot wound, he stops Reverse-Flash and wipes him out of the timeline before our disbelieving eyes.

"That's all I ever wanted to be - your hero," says Eddie to Iris as he breathes his last.

In the feels, brah. In the feels.

Major Spoiler Alert!

Please Watch Episode First!

Did You Know It Was Really Cool?


O.K. - You Only Have Yourself to Blame...


Dr. Wells, THAT Was a Reversal
Now the corker: a lawyer shows up months later and tells Barry Allen that Dr. Harrison Wells, our bad guy mentor, left him a video will. Once he watches it, Barry will be granted all the wealth and property of STAR Labs. Barry wants nothing to do with it. He never wants to see Wells face again. He doesn't even want the team back together.

But after tackling the newest bad guy - Atom Smasher - on "Flash Appreciation Day" and nearly losing, Barry reconnects with his team and defeats him. He decides they will need STAR Labs if they are going to continue to fight the good fight.

That's when he hears what Wells gave up - 15 years of his life to mentor Barry, and now that he is dead, ["Bummer..."] he wants Barry to have what he built and even gives Barry what he desires most: justice for his father.



"We were never truly enemies, Barry; I'm not the thing you hate.... and so, I'm going to give you the thing you want most. It won't matter. You'll never be truly happy, Barry Allen! Trust me. I know you."

"Erase everything up to this point and give the following to the police: I, Harrison Wells, being of sound mind and body, freely confess to the murder of Nora Allen..."


[Mind = Blown]

This evidence sets Barry's dad free from prison. Once free, however, there is another gut punch: Barry's dad realizes he cannot come back and "restore his family" that time has passed. He too must leave.

So in one episode we got everything we wanted but the hero got nothing he wanted.

Blown away, I took a deep breath, and watched Agents of SHIELD, then Limitless.

Neither compared with the power of The Flash, but they were good stories, and this theme of heroic loss kept appearing: if you are the hero, you are not going to have the life you want.

You aren't going to be "happy" or "settled down." Not in the traditional sense.

In Agents of SHIELD, Agent May visits her elderly dad who ends up saying she cannot come home and settle down with him. She has "to get back up", like she always has.

In Limitless, our drug-enhanced super-genius realizes the girl he'd lost and has just won back cannot be near him, since a secret "handler" controls his life and will eliminate anyone who threatens to change it.

My dear landlady Nancy said aloud as the shows ended: "The hero doesn't get the life he wants."

I sat there, and thanked God for her.

Count the Cost
If you want to be a hero, you are going to have a life that is amazing and fraught with danger and mind-blowing and soul-wrenching drama, but there is no way you are ever going to live "happily ever after."
Luke 9:23,24
And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.…" 
That sounds selfless. That sounds heroic. That sounds sacrificial. That sounds radical. The man who said it changed the world. He saved the world, too, if you believe it - but he never minced words. He told us it was hard to be as heroic as him. He used a death by excruciating pain metaphor.

It costs us control and safety to be as heroic as Jesus. It hurts.

And that is what is damn annoying about the nightly news. It is typically about people who have become victims and are trusting comfortable people to make their lives better.

Really? You think that guy with a security detail, who sends his kids to a private school is going to make your life better?

Victims need heroes to help them, true. They need someone who hates evil and hates what it does and is perfectly willing to give up being happy and safe and normal to save lives.

But this duty does not - and never will be - owned by politicians or typical political leaders. They cannot do it. They have simply spent too much time, money and effort getting a consensus and being popular enough to get elected.

They have the problem of being good people with good money. They cannot be radicals nor heroic when called to service. As one man said "Good is the enemy of the Best." Mark that, kids.

Here is a good, moral, right-living, successful leader who just asked Jesus how to receive "eternal life." That is, how to please God enough that God will save his soul and grant him immortality in a new universe. [My Geek Standard Translation]
Mark 10:21-25
21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
23 And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them,“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
See, the problem is we like heroes, but we don't want to be heroes. We run for comfort and safety, me most of all.  But if I let God really rule my heart and die to my self-interest, I end up doing amazing things.

I have tasted the heroic life, and it is breathtaking.

This is one place where I depart from my more conservative views. Because the weak, the foolish, the ones who lack wisdom or power, will always need a generous hand to reach in and steady them.

So if you too feel you have been chosen by God to do great things...

...go do them. No matter the cost.You may not be the happiest person on the block, but you will know you've made a difference. God will be with you, giving you a special joy that the world cannot have. The world is not a good measure of what is right, either:
John 15:18,19
"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." 

Jesus did what God called him to do, as a man. But he had his eyes set on the prize in heaven: "For the joy set before him, He endured the cross and its shame."

If we are going to be heroes, and take the hits, keep in mind the joy of heaven coming. When your eyes - your spiritual focus - are fixed on Jesus, you can endure the trials the world will put you through.

Amen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ms. Marvel's Roguish Treatment, Finale

Ms. Marvel, like many other trendy comic characters, could have simply disappeared forever if Chris Claremont had not been so incensed with how she was handled in Avengers 200.

Carol A. Strickland wrote an eviscerating article that spat at the "rape culture" and trivialization of women she felt she witnessed in that story.

The irony is, when I read it, as a boy, I smelled a weird story - I could see they were just booting her out, she changed too fast at the end - but I did not think it was to rape her, molest her, destroy her or even treat her as some love doll.

It sounded too much like a funky Madonna story. I mean, Mary, mother of Jesus, Madonna, not the singer. She was pregnant supernaturally, right?

It had sort of Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty overtones - 'cause she's leaving with a man who risked everything he was to find her. They are supposed to go live "happily ever after" - and even say those exact words.

But now that I am an adult, would I write such a tale - and let our heroine go after a 60-second confession from a man-child supergenius on the basis of her feelings?

Oh Hail No.

But by addressing that foolish action - or inaction - of the Avengers, Chris Claremont actually ups the anty and does the REAL damage to her that ends up taking her powers and nearly her life. He has the blame landing on the Avengers and in fact, it is NOT the Avengers fault they let her go. Well, not all of them.

You see, when Carol says she's going with Marcus, there is only Thor, Iron Man and Hawkeye present.

That means a Thunder God, an alcoholic millionaire and a hot-head.

Hawkeye just blew up the only device that would've saved the day. He's in self-recrimination mode. He's not going to do anything unless he needs to.

Thor on the hand, is power-in-abeyance; he can access other dimensions or kill Marcus in one hit and so he takes a court bailiff's approach to the entire affair. "Let the mortals decide" is probably his mindset.

The only one really thinking - and even though he just found out her secret identity that day, he takes a real interest in hearing what she has to say - is the alcoholic millionaire Tony Stark, i.e. Iron Man.

And he doesn't think it is a good idea. He asks her directly if she wants to do this. He doesn't like it. [He's also wearing armor, so if our theory [or my theory anyway] about Marcus using Emotion Control via pheremones or something biochemical is correct, then it makes pretty decent sense he'd have a fighting chance to be clear-headed and save the day.

But then he does the worst thing a man can do when a woman is being led by her emotions: he listens to her

He does not judge her. He does not disagree with her. "That is JUST what we want!" says a lady reading this. "Men who listen without judging! Men who do not disagree with us! Men who hear our HEART!"

You don't want a man, honey. You want a dog.

Seriously, you don't want a man, not a real one. You don't want someone who challenges you. You don't want someone who leads, either.

This is a problem Iron Man has had often. Even Wanda busted him on it on one occasion, for lack of team leadership.

Iron Man failed Carol Danvers, not the Avengers by not doing his job.

You see, the worst thing a leader can do is allow foolish and unwise behavior to continue in a group.

To lead you must stand firm, stay on goal, be protective of your team, be proactive and never stop judging what is right and what is wrong.

Iron Man failed on each one of those. 

One last slam, and I am done. You know that common phrase, uttered in films all over our nation: "Follow your heart!" "Listen to your feelings, Luke!" etc.?

No. Your heart is deceitful. Your heart is a like a magnet in a world full of pig iron.

Your heart can really, truly deceive you. You must hear it without listening to it.

You see, your feelings are like a temperature gauge; they tell you when something is not right, but they are useless as a compass. Never trust your feelings, just know them. Know when you are angry, or sad, or confused - that's wise.

But to just follow your feelings as if they will lead you the right way?

Don't be stupid. "Stupid is as stupid does." You decide how to move, to act.

Iron Man, a.k.a., Tony Stark, did something really stupid. He let Carol Danvers go with the son of a known enemy after meeting him for a few seconds. He listened to her make an emotional decision that was missing all kinds of checkpoints.

To his credit, he did speak up - but he should have stepped up.

I know, I'm driving you crazy, right? First, I say Iron Man spoke up and so the Avengers were not as much at fault as we think. Now I am laying the blame on his shoulders.

Well, yeah. A quote attributed to Edmund Burke says "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good people to do nothing."

Three Avengers let Carol go. One was the leader.

He failed in his job. He thought he was being kind to Carol when he wasn't. He thought he was letting her go of her own free will, but she wasn't free.

If I could re-write that scene or just do an alternate time-line story, like "What If...Carol Danvers Had Not Left the Avengers?" it would have this dialogue:

IM: "Wha..? Ms. Marvel, are you sure?"
MM: "I think so, Iron Man. [et cetera].."
IM: "...no. No, Ms. Marvel, I don't think so. I'm not certain this is all in order. Before I let you go, we need to make sure it's safe. We'll get Marcus back to Limbo, and Thor here will make sure we know his location. You can join him -- after we verify everything and it all checks out."
MM: "Hey! You can't stop me! If I want to go..."
IM: "Ms. Marvel, as leader of the Avengers, I CAN stop you and I WILL. Thor - take Marcus out of here - Valhalla, Jotunheim, I don't care..." [Thor complies, and Marcus cries out his undying love for her as he is whisked away by the power of Mjolnir]
MM: "You BASTARD!"

IM: "I've been called worse. Now, are you going to listen to reason or.."

[Insert Knock-Down Drag Out Fight where Ms. Marvel nearly kills Iron Man, ends up being stopped by the Scarlet Witch and the Vision. Wanda: "Carol! This is not LOVE! This is HATE!" Vision [grabs Carol's arms using his ultimate density]: "Indeed. Rarely have I seen such rage, unless it was truly from an outside force."]
Of course, like all "What If..?" stories, it would be shown that Carol, not losing her powers and not being Binary  - and Rogue, never finding the danger of her powers - both lose out terribly. And this moment of salvation kept the Avengers from failing, yes - but they also did not get the humility smack they needed either.

Still, would love to see that scene, wouldn't you?

:D

I'm going to end these three blogposts on the Roguish Treatment of Ms. Marvel with a scripture verse. You thought you were going to get off the hook, didn't you? Well, I learn from my own writing, and as I have also taken a lot of emotional hits lately, I need this as much as you do.
Romans 8:28 [NKJV]
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Somethings in our lives are unavoidably horrible.

They are evil, and we wish they had never ever happened.

But if you know God and love Him, He can take that evil thing and use it for something good. It will not simply destroy you; it will become a lesson, a drive, a mission, an understanding that you get to use again and again to serve others.

It is the very essence of Batman's origin. It became part of Ms. Marvel's origin.

It became the shame of the Avengers  - and they never forgot it. They used it. They got wise from it. Later, Ms. Marvel did return to the Avengers - and had a personal problem they addressed wisely and respectfully.

I hate failing. I friggin' hate it.

But it is where I failed I learned the most. I even hate admitting that, but I am so cautious and protective, I learn less than I should. It takes failure and being out of control to show me where I need to change.

In the end, the story of Ms. Marvel works out. I have some suspicion that it was as important as the death of Gwen Stacey in Spider-man to bring us more nuanced, more realistic, less 'perfect' characters.

And the lesson has been learned in pop fiction, by the way. For no one will be able to convince me that not a single creative working on Disney's Frozen knew the fate of Ms. Marvel in Avengers 200 & Annual 10:



Ladies - there are no perfect men.

Except Jesus.

Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Avengers Annual 10: Ms. Marvel's Roguish Treatment, Pt. 2

The Cover the Avengers Deserved!
[So to speak.]
Ugly Cover, Great Story
O.K. kids. fanboys and slightly-peeved feminists, if you read my last blog and are still reading to find out why I think Rogue of the X-Men raped Ms. Marvel, and not Marcus, son of Immortus as was featured in Avengers 200, I'll do my best to make my case without too much chauvinistic self-defensive garbage.

But first, let us talk about how incredible this annual was as an effort. Even though I disagree with parts, I tip my hat to Chris Claremont for going in and firing away at our hero's flaws. I raise my glass to the awesome and jaw-dropping artwork of Michael Golden, who honestly should have been paid double and forced to never leave comics.

Be Careful What You Wish For
Chris Claremont's anger at Ms. Marvel's fate in Avengers 200 caused him to write this story. He however does something to her character that is even worse. I mean, on a scale of 1 to 100, this is a 99. He has her powers, her memories and mind are utterly removed from her before she is tossed off of the San Francisco bridge to her [almost] death. I mean, someone takes everything you are but leaves you alive, what is that?

Who did this to Ms. Marvel? The mutant Rogue, who later joins the X-Men, in her very first appearance.

She's older here, not the cute Southern waif we see later. Maybe sucking up someone's life rejuvenated her, don't know.

But she's a woman and Chris Claremont likes her, 'nuff said.

"By Friends -- Betrayed!"
The story starts like this: Spider-Woman swoops down and saves a woman tossed off the San Francisco bridge mere inches from hitting the water, and after swimming for hours, gets the unconscious "Jane Doe" to a hospital where a woman doctor talks to a woman police detective who tells her that the woman whom she just saved is fine physically but mentally is a goner. The police detective then pulls out a dossier on this woman and goes through a list of awesome resume' points that shows this "victim" is indeed the amazing, unmatchable, unbelievable, incredible, successful, talented Ms. Carol Danvers. 

If you have any problem with figuring out that this is going to be a fair and even minded representation of men in the next 32 pages you are out of your mind. Maybe Claremont is trying to balance the scales. Maybe I just don't like the thumb he's using to hold down the female side of the scales.

...and she had a baby too!
Well, that didn't really work out...

First, no men are allowed in this scene, this moment of pain and sensitivity: Carol was saved by a woman, diagnosed by a woman, and her identity is discovered by, you guessed it, a woman.

Let me tell you this is sort of cool in a egalitarian way - and highly biased.

Let us say 20-25% of the superheroes at this time were women. Let us say 30% of the doctors were women. Pretty good percentages, considering. Now how many homicide detectives are women? Less than 10%. I'm not saying this is impossible, but the odds of an all-woman crew solving the mystery of Ms. Danvers in a public hospital is going to be something under 1%.

I like awesome women, truly. I know some personally. But take one look at these panels and tell me if there is any possible doubt that this is going to be a book where women straighten everything out.

Only a Southern Belle could've hurt Cap like this!
[Not like I speak from experience, ya understan']

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned
Launching into his "Make the Loutish Avengers Pay" theme, Chris Claremont has the first Avenger, Captain America, getting his butt kicked - badly - by Rogue.


I guess Carol Danvers mind inside Rogue is doing some payback. I mean, Rogue absorbed so much of Carol's id, that she's probably beating Cap up by proxy.

Still cannot figure this one out. This guy has taken on the Hulk, armies and demi-gods. My only guess is she sucker-punched him.

Over the next 20 pages Chris Claremont has the X-Men's foes, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, escape prison to fight the Avengers. Strange, but I thought this was an Avengers annual. Why are we starting with X-Men, have X-Men foes and end with Wanda, a mutant and former member of BoEM, crying?

But all that really matters in the end is that the Avengers do find out Carol Danvers is alive and well at the X-Mansion under the matchless care of the telepathic and mind-controling mutant leader, Prof. Charles Xavier.

Charles Xavier has been able to restore much of Carol's mind and while he watches paternally with Spider-Woman from inside the luxurious mansion, we get the ugly showdown at poolside with her teammates.

They thought she had left of her own free will to go with Marcus. They were wrong, and it is a painful scene to read and see.

Wonder Man, you have no idea. When she's done, you'll want
to crawl inside the Quinjet's jet intake.

Now here's the come-uppence part everyone overlooks:

Marcus dies in days after his return to Limbo.

His gambit to escape and his unethical use of Ms. Marvel ended in a rather harsh act of justice. I imagine Chris Claremont did this to him out of love for the character of Ms. Marvel.

Once he was gone, Carol says she got her will back. She says she was freed of his "mind control." Now - I don't think that's quite accurate. Not the way it is presented here, no.

I submit that there is no way in Hades that Marcus ever used full blown "Mind Control" on Carol Danvers, who fought Modok, for Pete's sake, and is well-acquainted with fighting for her mind.

I submit that he used Emotion Control on her. This is her weakest area.

Before you go "Wha...?" let me explain why this matters. There is a big difference between controlling another's mind and controlling another's emotions. Mind Control is taxing and the one doing it usually can do aught else. In role-playing games and in comics, we see a huge cost in Mind Control as a power. You get full control of the target but man, they are fighting you, and it is clear to close friends they are not quite themselves.

But Emotion Control? Letting people say what they want, think what they want, just so long as they like you immensely? Oh that's charisma. That's politics. That's seduction. I mean some potent olfactory scents can do that.

Carol kept her mind with Marcus, I think. He instead subjugated her emotions. He made her "love" him. As soon as he was dead, she had no love for him. Thus, she speaks accurately in that: "I didn't love Marcus! I NEVER loved Marcus!"

But then we catch something nasty in Carol's pain: her shame and anger has turned to hatred of her friends. She got back safely home and refused to contact them.

"Wanda, I didn't want to have anything to do with you. I hated you."

This makes perfect sense; Claremont writes better than he means to.

Carol, in her anger, became a victim. Carol, in her rage, lost her powers.

You see, it is in this state of hate that she is attacked by Rogue. This fight gets so vicious - Rogue admits later it was brutal, life and death stuff - that Rogue forgot her training and began holding on tighter more and longer than she should.

In the violence of a betrayed woman being set upon by a power vampire, the real rape of Ms. Marvel occurred.

Ms. Marvel had been seduced by Marcus.

She felt betrayed by the Avengers [who, to their credit, may have also been emotionally controlled by Marcus], but her dignity, her mind, her powers, her life's cherished memories were all taken forcibly by Rogue. That was rape, no two ways about it.

It is a horrible thing to even talk about. Between my two posts on this subject, I have been watching Downton Abbey. And it just happened that these are the ones that show the rape of Anna Bates as well as the seduction of Tom Branson. They are utterly different in styles and outcomes. We all want the rapist of Anna Bates dead, dead, dead - and thankfully, the writer complies. The seductress of Tom Branson? Well, as long as she hits the road, we are O.K. with it.

The reverse happened here: the one who truly took everything that made her Ms. Marvel was allowed to live.

The foolish and isolated boy-man who seduced Ms. Marvel because of his desire for her was disintegrated.

I call that sexism in the highest degree - against men.

There are a few questions, however, and maybe some fanboy will answer them. Maybe a search on the internet will turn it up.
1) How did Rogue know where she was? Probably Mystique with her government contacts. But Avengers records would have had her as "In Limbo" - literally.

2) If Carol had not been so isolated as well as angry, would that lone assault have even  occurred? I mean what is your "situational awareness" when you are alone at night in a big city and pissed off at Earth's Mightiest Heroes? I bet it is nil.

3) Since Rogue's powers only work with skin-to-skin contact, she kisses Capt. America to get his, for instance, how did she get Carol Danvers' powers? As Ms. Marvel, she is covered head to toe except for small areas and face. In her civilian clothes, she's covered much the same as she is a professional woman. I mean, how did Rogue get so physically close... to Carol... in San Francisco... uh....

...guys, does anyone know if Carol Danvers has ever had a boyfriend?

She kissed Wonder Man? O.K. - move on...

4) What precisely did Immortus think about his only child mating and dying within a week? I mean, didn't his machines record what happened or have some failsafe when the boy was no more?

5) When Carol says "I figured out enough of Immortus's secrets to return home..." is she still a reliable narrator? Or did Immortus return and send her packing, using his machines, letting her 'remember' that his son had 'died' and how the Avengers had 'betrayed her'? He does want them to be stopped from effectiveness, you know.

Seriously. Once you open this can of worms, it gets ugly.

We Only Hurt the Ones We Love
What is notable about the failure of the Avengers to stop Carol Danvers from leaving with her seducer and her subsequent restoration as a superheroine, is that while they failed to resist and/or perceive the emotional control Marcus had over her, they loved her and wanted to do good for her.

The Avengers were not the "insensitive louts" Chris Claremont called them. They simply could not process what was going on and intervene to protect a self-described Kree warrior from seduction.

Perhaps that is the lesson we can learn from: not finding who is to blame, but how we can be hurt most by those who profess to love us. People who themselves may have no understanding of how to love or what it means sacrificially.

In this final scene, my heart did go out for Carol. How could it not? Golden's artwork with her clutching her robe as she screams at them just blows you away.

Carol, however, is not perfectly just in blaming the Avengers, but she has been the victim of two assaults and now, after years of status and power, is utterly vulnerable, powerless and humiliated.

Here is where her true heroism begins: in forgiving her friends, in accepting new adventures and rebuilding her life.

Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Avengers 200 & Ms. Marvel's Roguish Treatment, Pt. 1

Ms. Marvel? Could you look
a little more confident, please?
We have a surprise for you.
Great Cover, Not-So-Great Story
It was the Avengers' 200th issue and we were all excited about what kind of world-bending, mouth-dropping, senses-shattering experience these heroes would give us.

It would end up becoming one of the most controversial stories ever written at Marvel. So bad in fact, one year later, in their own annual, the Avengers were shown to be schmucks who had screwed up royally, betraying the trust of one of their very own; their lack of foresight and/or perception got a good woman abused and nearly killed.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
The Powers-that-Be at Marvel decided Ms. Marvel needed to leave and "go off into the sunset." Her book wasn't selling well. Many women-centric books from Wonder Woman to Dazzler were having a hard time in the 70's, mostly because boys did not buy them and the characterizations were barely keeping up with the changing role of women in America: no girl wanted "True Romance" and no boy wanted to see women heroes beat men. Part of the problem was compounded with the fact that having a woman superhero running around in thigh-high boots and opera gloves was indeed sexy even "hawt" but outside of that appeal... what exactly was her story?

She's one Carol Danvers, Air Force Officer chosen by the star-spanning Kree to have the powers of Captain Mar-vel; therefore she became Ms. Marvel.

I honestly remember nothing else. She referred to herself as a "Kree Warrior" and was superstrong, invulnerable and could fly - the exact same powers as Thor, Iron Man and Wonder Man [with a device or two]. She was intelligent and feisty, but beyond that...

Well, no one knew much. So you ended up with a character with no real cas de guerre, who spends a lot of time telling other heroes she needs no help. This results in the reader not being too fascinated.

Don't imagine I am being cruel: same thing happened to Nova and Dazzler and a host of other bright and shiny characters with little backstory or compelling motive. All characters go through this "Powers, check, Environment, check, Personality?... leave that box blank" stage in their development. There is a low point in development before a high.

For example, it was Frank Miller who truly brought Daredevil to life after it languished as a bi-monthly. It was Bob Layton and David Michelinie who made Invincible Iron Man a interesting mag with his bout with alcoholism and deeper relationships. Takes time to develop a character, it does.

In fact, the removal of Ms. Marvel for a season and the subsequent storyline made her character come to life with great pathos. I mean it - without this tragedy of irresponsibility from the Avengers, Ms. Marvel or rather, Carol Danvers, may never have been made into a fully fleshed-out dramatis personae.

So what happened to her?

Ms. Marvel - Carol Danvers - got abducted in a split-second of time and was then used by Marcus, the son of Immortus to be his surrogate mother so he could be born in our timeline. This event is often referred to as "The Rape of Ms. Marvel", it has become a rallying cry for women who feel comics glorify abuse to women.

However, I will not call this action her rape. I will not go into all the nuances of what constitutes rape. Rather I will agree Carol Danvers was raped - but after her abduction and her seduction, not from it.

And the culprit was not a man. It was a woman. A woman named Rogue.

Let me repeat that: Ms. Marvel was raped by Rogue of the X-Men.

In her first appearance.

But we love Rogue don't we? Can't call her a "reformed rapist", can we? Let's lay all the fault at the men of the Avengers, shall we? Those nasty men. They love rape and love abusing women and [insert 400 words of verbal abuse here].

*sigh*

If I'm going to be this chauvinist, I'll have to start at the beginning, won't I?

Avengers 200
You can read a synopsis here. The main points are:

Not the Wasp's finest moment, maybe,
but then what's she's supposed to say?
"Carol, do you want a late-term
abortion? Oh, fiddlesticks - too late!"?
1) The Avengers are getting strange calls about all sorts of weird happenings: pirates and dinosaurs and knights and biplanes are all appearing out of nowhere and disrupting life. We find out this is a temporal rift of some kind.

2) Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, who had kept her identity completely secret from the team, has shown up pregnant. It is the world's fastest pregnancy as she will give birth in hours, not months. Dr. Blake and the Avengers try to accept and put a bright face on it, but Carol says it is not her child, she has no idea where it came from and does not want anything to do with it.

3) As temporal anomalies increase, causing the Avengers to battle them - we are now at "seriously dangerous stuff level", the miraculously-born mystery child begins to mature rapidly, aging years in hours.

4) He begins building a machine of unknown power. Just as he completes it, Hawkeye decides it has to go and utterly destroys it, causing the now-adult young man scream at Hawkeye, saying "Kill me or I'll kill you!"

Man who'd been betrayed & killed tries to be sensitive
and protective. Woman checks herself in mirror
before calling her offspring a "thing."
5) The showdown gets stopped however by Iron Man and Thor who then demand the whole story. The miracle baby is Marcus, son of Immortus one of their ancient enemies - hence the secrecy. He is from Limbo, a timeless place, where his dad had fallen in love with and married an Earth woman who later vanished back into her time. Thus, Marcus was born but unable to leave. Dad also disappeared one day, so he thought if he could be born outside of Limbo, he could escape. So, like his father before him, he picked Ms. Marvel, wooed her for weeks with poetry and music from composers of all centuries, including Shakespeare and then "with a subtle boost from my father's machines - we became one." He had sex with her after weeks of effort and the use of a machine.

6) He put her back into the timestream, at the very moment she left, memories wiped. She then gave birth to his essence - but his very presence in our timestream upset all the various eras and they began dumping into New York City - thus the dinosaurs, biplanes, etc.

7) Story explained and all reasoned out, Carol announces she has powerful feelings for Marcus, who has to leave immediately or his continued presence will destroy our timestream - thanks to Hawkeye's overzealous intervention and blasting to bits the device he'd constructed.

8) Ms. Marvel decides to save Marcus from his loneliness by going with him, even as Iron Man asks if she really wants to do this. She says it will help her find her heart or something. As she fades away, Hawkeye confesses he feels bad about busting up the machine and Iron Man just hopes it will all work out.

9) So Avengers 200 ends up with the Avengers defeating the greatest foe in the world: reason and accountability.

That's sarcasm, if you didn't catch it.

But here's the problem: I still don't think they are the most culpable party.

"Honey -we need to talk about
[BOOM] our.. [KA-BLAM] our
commu -[THOOM] communication!"
They had no other choice but let her go.

They were silenced by service to Ms. Marvel's wishes. They were not in command, but reaction mode.

They believed Marcus because he was only a day old and had just been a little baby.

They believed Ms. Marvel was in no real danger because she was tough, smart, an Air Force officer and a Kree warrior, blast it.

In other words, they trusted her personal competence.

On top of that, it was a crazy environment. Think of running into raptors in a nightclub and pirates in the bathroom while you are calling 911 for help.

To possibly imagine, after a testosterone-filled street-destroying, block crunching brownstone battle that our heroes are going to be able to say "Hey, Carol, sweetie, I think you need to slow down a bit..." is a bit of stretch. The Avengers barely had time to breathe much less think about what was best for Miss-I-don't-know-my-own-feelings-Danvers.

And why?

Because Carol Danvers does her own thinking, thank you. She marches to her own drum and she does it with thigh-high boots and opera gloves. As I said, one sexy lady.

Nothing bad about that. Honestly - very attractive stuff.

But cautious? Wary? Given to self-introspection?

Oh Hail No.

So as awful as what happens to Carol is - and mark me, kiddos, it is bad - Carol Danvers was not in the "I like to have a Group consensus of how I should act" camp. What happened to her was wrong, but it was...

... crud, it was next-to-inevitable. Men know how to protect women who say help.

How do you watch out for a woman who says "I don't need your help." How do we gauge when to step in?

You see, men spend years learning which fights to pick and which ones we cannot win with other men. We fight. We compete. We fight in arenas to the cheer of the crowd. We don't do dress up to show how pretty we are - well, unless we are Bruce Jenner, of course.

But we live martially. Any woman who willingly joins this type of life is crazy. She can have no testosterone rush to make it better and, while I respect every woman who can fight, [thinking of Ronda Rousey], we men are the Natural Brutes who enjoy curb-stomping your face in while peeing on the gasoline we have laid on your dying body to slow down the burn so it lasts longer.

Cruel and vicious? Oh, yes. Hey, let me tell you: men are scared of men.

Carol, you ever hear the story of Oedipus?
We are not scared of women. Not physically, anyway.

We don't go "Hey, honey, will you walk me to my car? I just don't feel safe with all those women out there."

So when a woman declares herself a warrior and is superstrong and invulnerable - just like some of my characters are - they are prepped to kick male tail. They are prepped to kick female tail.

They are not prepped for male seduction.

A handsome man with kind words telling you how marvelous you are, that he needs you? You are his very life? [In Marcus's case, literally.]

Crud. That is catnip for any woman I know. In my experience, men want respect and women want adoration.

As for the Avenger's mindset?

The Avengers could not imagine she could be seduced. Not Ms. Marvel!

Finally, Carol Danvers shows some tenderness and love.
Iron Man is instantly confused and suspicious.
So when she said "I'll go with him" they utterly had no choice but to say as Iron Man did "Are you sure about this?"

Like every man with a daughter who wants to go out with the punk boy who's trying to get into her pants. Like every mother who is arguing with her baby girl who wants to travel Europe unsupervised.

How could they have stopped her?

Introspection, reflection, concern for Ms.Marvel's well-being
even while powerless to affect it. Insensitive louts!
The reason I ask this question is going to be clear later. You see, Chris Claremont rakes the Avengers over for their error in judgment and uses Carol Danvers to blast them. All-in-all I think something great came out of an ugly event. I credit Chris Claremont for making Carol Danvers a far more exciting character by bringing her back...

...after taking her powers, her memories and nearly her life.

Blame the Writers?
So if we "blame" the writers for abusing women in comics, keep in mind that as long as the abusers get their just deserts and the women are made stronger by what they have endured, you must also give credit to them for caring enough to work with the character for good and ill. That's drama, folks.

In the end, the "Fairy Tale" ending of Avengers 200 was the end of a character that was hard for us to empathize with.

Let's talk about my feelings,
shall we?
Avengers Annual 10 gave us the Carol Danvers any man or woman would be proud to know: a survivor.

She had Superman's origin - or Wonder Woman's, if you prefer - mighty alien from another culture trying to help us in ours - while looking stylish, of course.

Then she became Batman, de-powered and learning from ground zero. She became Binary, then Ms. Marvel again. Ultimately she even got a uniform that says "I am not here to party. I'm here to get the job done."

I wouldn't mess with that woman for all the tea in China.

That's my Ms. Marvel.

Amen.

p.s. In reading Carol Strickland's "The Rape of Ms. Marvel" she does what all whistle blowers do: she calls foul on the mis-characterization of women in a male-dominated arena.

But I doubt she is fair and just to the male characters who did show care, concern, worry for a woman who could pick up tanks, and who could have killed Marcus her abducter with one punch. Her concern is for the de-valuing of Ms. Marvel and though I disagree with her in specifics, in actual intent of the male characters, she got an advocate in Chris Claremont's writing of Avengers Annual 10. Her voice has been heard.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Powerless Ms. Marvel Slaps Thor

I feel ya, Thor. I feel ya. 
Too tough to write. Sorry, guys. I've had so many emotional rotten eggs thrown at me today by "Wounded Long Ago" women, I cannot share any insights.

Tomorrow, I lay into the controversial two-part story of Avengers 200 and  Avengers Annual #10 or "The Rape of Carol Danvers."

Save me, Jesus.

Amen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hand of God & Light Speed

"He's got the whole...uh...universe in his hands!
He's got the whole, wide universe in His hands..."


From Space.com,
"The Hand of God" [see pic] - but to me it seems more of the hand of Jesus, holding out his wounded hand, his crown of stars/thorns behind it.

Amazing phenomenon, isn't it?

The first ten words of the Bible are instructive and timeless:

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth."

We are told later: "The heavens declare the glory of God."

 I find many people have no idea how profound and centered on reality those words are.

Let me just smack one silly repeated phrase: "God made the Earth in six days."

That seems orthodox, doesn't it? And by clinging to it, many Creationists are made to look foolish by geologists and astronomers. We who believe are considered intellectually lost.

Pooh on them. We don't believe that. The Bible doesn't say that.

It says God created a UNIVERSE in six days.

Go chew on that while you re-consider that a Jewish troublemaker turned mystic turn revolutionary wrote this 3400 years ago:
Genesis 1:31
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
So when you want to think about the level of power and maybe that Einstein's theory of special relativity may have been hinted at in Genesis, you be sure to be a little kinder to believers.

I see I need to explain myself. Here's my logic:
  1. Einstein showed us that it is light, not space and time that is constant.
  2. So when you go near the speed of light, space and time alter, not light.
  3. Thus, you get the weird effect of accelerating and then decelerating from light speed causing time to pass very slowly for the Traveler, but many years or even millennia could pass for the static Observer on a planet.
We get six days of creation because God is showing him what He did. It is a special revelation, you know.

But inside the universe? That time frame could be long. Billions of years, even.

The first thing created was Light.

The boundary. The speed limit. The first constant.

Then everything fell into place like dominoes by the hand of God.

You think about that, before scoffing at the Bible, boyo.

Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Cards Against Humanity & Gotham - Choosing Honesty Over Happiness

You can always argue with a Dick, it seems.
I went on a three day jaunt with my gamer buds to Carbondale, IL this weekend and had a good time. Sleeping late, gaming, eating, soaking in a hot tub and eating M&Ms at whim has a way of de-stressing you. Such a fine time, I dared to play the wickedly anti-PC, socially insensitive, howlingly shameless Adult-level game of Cards Against Humanity.

While I did not win the most rounds, I placed very highly. O.K. - I was second. I suspect a modicum of ruthlessness on my part would have had me win in being the most debased human being at the table, and with our crew, that is saying something.

Like drinking heavily in church or running with scissors in a nudist colony, this exists to show just how tragic our choices can be as humans.

In the game, I was given ten cards to play; I would use them to fill in the blank on the Black Card that was a question or statement.

My white cards would say "African children" or "Women's Rights" or "Detroit, Michigan."

The black card would say "Because of [blank], the whole of Western Civilization has gone to pot in the 20th century."

Now, you put one of those cards down as the answer, and in moments, you either get laughter, outrage, or outrageous laughter. The point is, there may be a general consensus amongst wounded and not-so-sober people at two a.m.

That is the genius of this game. You are either acquitted by your words or horrify your listeners - while they are trying to not spit their drink on the table. You become a comedian competing with all the other comedians at the table. So as their answers are read, you get all the jokes fresh [minus yours, of course] as the "Card Czar" [i.e. Dealer] intones each inappropriate, job-firing, NSFW answer and chooses the best.

Since you are among friends, all is good. You might cut loose and let some  bullets fly, knowing all the casings go back into the box at the end.

One card was played similar to this: "I'm so devout, I gave up [blank] for Lent."

I laughed and played a card that said "God."

My crew was shocked. I snickered. "Well, my personal joke as a Bible teacher is 'I gave up Catholicism for Lent.' This'll do."

I think it won. I was pleased.

God Plays His Version of Cards Against Humanity
God must've thought it funny too.

The next day, with the kind and generous Joyce Wagner in tow, she and I visited a church in downtown Carbondale, letting the young men sleep in.

It looked good. It said "Disciples of Christ, a Christian Church" on the sign. I thought we'd scored. Oh, was I wrong.

Their "Sunday school" time consisted of watching a video about how humans need to get control of our genes so we can survive as a species and colonize other worlds after we have used this one up.

It was like listening to spiders quietly discussing where they could find more flies to suck the life out of.

It was encouraging these watchers to accept trans-humanism. A science-based social movement that wants to use science and tech to modify our condition and elevate humanity's abilities so they have no need of faith in God. To accomplish this lofty goal of spreading humanity across the cosmos, we must all "learn to use less and work together more" - not bad ideas in and of themselves - but it refused to accept the problem with humanity is not our flesh but our soul.

According to the Bible, we are separated from God. We must die to live again in a new universe with Christ. Most of all, we need God's Spirit to transform us.

I tried to communicate these things as winsomely as I could, not wanting to be an utterly anti-social visitor to this obviously "friendly" church.

"There's an old saying: God made Man in His image and Man's been trying to return the favor ever since," I said.

Many laughed. "I've never heard that before!"

One older gentleman to my immediate left spoke of us needing to be loving, kinder and having more self-control. He was certainly quoting from Paul's letter:
Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Upon hearing this reference, I said "But those are fruits of the Spirit. You need the Spirit of God to change you." I hoped he or another might affirm this.

Oh no.

"I don't think that," said he.

"Well, don't you believe in God?" I had to ask. I was smelling this for long minutes now, so I went direct.

"No, I don't," he affirmed. "I'm an ex-pastor. There is no God."

With a fierce smile, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "Well, I'm an ex-atheist [practically] and now I'm a pastor."

Oh, he did not like that.

He tried to tell me to think more, and to admit I was afraid of being wrong. He began talking about epistemology and presuppositions - and I said I knew what he was saying: I grew up reading atheists in sci-fi, and how there is plenty of evidence and reason to accept God.

"In fact, you say 'There is no God.' You cannot know that. You might not believe in Him, but you are a creature in a finite universe. You cannot make that assertion..."

He cut me off with a waved hand and the classic. "Well, that's good for you!" [subtext = shut up] He saw I was perfectly ready to challenge every false assumption he made.

He soon left happily with his smiling, still pretty yet mature wife. He was a man of scholarship, of intelligence, of social standing

- and an apostate.

Seeing that the entire class was on his side, and that this was no place for God's Word, I told my friend: "We. Are. Leaving."

In the car, she sympathized. I kept laughing and shaking my head.

He was happy. I was unhappy. He was certain of man. I was certain of God.

When we got back we told the crew. "Heh. Sounds like what you played last night in Cards Against Humanity, Justice."

"I know!"

Shaking my head, I realized something: God showed me that me being satisfied and happy in this world like that man was would make me want to preserve it beyond His expiration date, which He said would happen in the Bible. Being happy is good, but you can make it outweigh revelation and truth.

You can make being happy your god.

Wonder if he feels "called"? Nahhh--that's batty.
Affirmed by Batman, Of All Things
Tonight, while watching Gotham, I heard a strangely profound maxim from Bruce Wayne's father in a letter to his son. He'd had a hint of his impending death and so wrote a letter to be found by Bruce if he did not return.

After confessing his desire to be a better man, he ends with:
"[My only advice is this:] you can’t have both happiness and the truth. You have to choose. I beg of you, my son, please choose happiness. 
"Unless…unless you feel a calling. A true calling."
Sort of a strange dichotomy, ain't it? Not happiness vs. sadness. More like "fitting in" versus "fighting it."

Men who have callings don't feel happy. They feel possessed. They feel empowered and aimed. They feel fated and so sometimes curse the day they were born.

I have no idea why I was willing to be so vulgar and play this game. I have a suspicion I just wanted to have fun and be happy--and we did that, truly. I relaxed and let my hair down with friends.

Yet the next day, my happiness was thrown under a bus by a church that was not a church. If you are unwilling to hear anything about faith, you can accept they were traitors to the very Founder of their tax-exempt status.

They were meat-eating vegans. They were cigar-selling physicians.

They were happy, though. Lots of smiles.

But it reminded me that there is a war going on. Jesus was being honest when He said "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

He was pointing to the fact that liars and those who merely look good do just fine in this world. Truth tellers? Whistle-blowers? Prophets?

Not so much. Not by a long shot.

When I got home last night, I relayed all this to my landlady Nancy. She had a strange answer. Sort of took me aback. She replied, "'The Lord laughs.'"

It is from Psalm 2:1-4:
1 Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
     against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains
     and throw off their shackles.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
We live in a house of cards in our temporary universe. Scientists know this.

It would do us well to see the real "Card Czar" and make peace with Him before it becomes a game of 52 Card Pick-Up.

'Cause He laughs too.

"He who laughs last, laughs best."

Amen.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Micronauts & Leaving It All Behind

"Commander!" "Yes, Prince Acroyear?"
"If this is OUR comic, why is Baron
Karza in the upper left box?"
When Micronauts number one came out, I had no idea what to expect. Already disappointed with the cheap Cooper costumes sold at K-Mart, and loving the Micronauts eponymous toy line did not guarantee nor even suggest a great comic. Even at this young age I knew when I was being cheaply pandered to.

Someone did not tell Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden, however. After the blockbuster success of Star Wars, I suspect they decided to go for broke in telling an epic sci-fi tale, being inspired by everything from Gulliver's Travels to Led Zeppelin.

The Micronauts first twelve issues were so epic, so stunning, the entire series pales in comparison. Golden made every page flow with a film-like quality. You seriously could've used every panel as a shot plan for a cinematographer, it was that good.

The story is simple: Commander Arcturus Rann, having left Homeworld to explore the universe aboard the H.M.S. Endeavor in suspended animation, has returned after his thousand-year journey to find his former mentor has not only killed his parents but taken over Homeworld. Baron Karza offers its denizens a form of immortality with his "Body Banks" and to cap things off, he's used the recently discovered warp drive to go out and conquer every single world Rann had just befriended.

Talk about giving it all up for nothing and feeling less than useless.

But Rann's return sparks hope in the rebellion. Even as he is imprisoned in gladiator pits he makes staunch friends: Prince Acroyear and Master Thief "Bug", Princess Mari and her little Microtron. Together with his faithful roboid Biotron they begin fighting back as the Micronauts.

Everything from Firefly to Guardians of the Galaxy is in this comic from 1977, and thus, it rocks; it rocks very hard. Just because I'm a nice guy, let me show you page one by the inimitable Michael Golden:

Now three things blew me away: one, how amazingly the horses and figures are drawn. Two, that the little aerial figures up in the chapter title are recognizable to me as acroyears in flight [btw - they aren't acro-years, they are a-KROY-eers].

Thirdly, that they took the time and effort to layout "CHAPTER ONE" and "HOMEWORLD" in a futuristic font face. This showed me they were serious. I know that sounds weird, but how type is handled is usually an afterthought. It is not done so here. It is part of the art, the story, the visual marker that this, child, is a new SF series and needs your attention.

It was $.35, too. Dude - seriously - when are you EVER going to get goodness like that in your hands for $.35?

Clearly, Micronauts was going for broke. They were putting it all down on the page and you were captured. No one - no one sane - bought just issue one.

What my comparison is today for all you loveable Micro-fanatics out there is this: Rann left it all behind for something greater.

It looked bad when he came home. It looked really bad. All his work for naught, you know? He could have crawled up and died but he didn't - and then slowly, we see him find love again, he rescues a boy and his dad who are also science "explorers" [NASA on our Earth]. He even finds that his suspended animation had a bonus he did realize; he's created the very hero necessary to fight Karza.

Jesus said if we leave it all behind and follow him we too will have great glory.

Abram went out, "not knowing wither he went" and ended up fathering Israel and all believers.

The virgin Mary gave up her social standing but got fame instead of shame.

The apostle Paul said it succinctly like this, echoing this theme of sacrifice that looks dumb at first, but ends with joy and happiness:
Philippians 3:8-11
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Let me confess something to you: radical faith does not mean you become a great big sign-wielding jackass or fly into buildings to blow up infidels.

It means you give up things. You give up stuff you like for the god you love.

You will do this anyway, since we all feel the call to worship something, but if we humans are good at anything we tend to give up everything for the wrong god.

Money and power are easy to see as bad gods. We hate fascism, dictatorial rulers, greedy bastards and lying corporate heads.

But I am not talking about bad gods. I am talking about acceptable gods: being well-liked, having a family, friends, your own space, your homeland.

When we see those things sacrificed, we stop. We go "Whoa - that's radical!"

Yeah - and it is highly commended in fiction. When Luke loses everything and decides to "become a Jedi like my father" in Star Wars we are impressed, but really, what other choices did he have? His aunt and uncle were a smoldering husk and his home destroyed.

No, it is when someone has The Good Stuff and sacrifices it, we get awed.

Commander Rann left a loving mother and father to reach out to other worlds and offer them peace. He sacrificed all he knew and loved for others. No wonder he becomes the vessel for redemption. This type of story is so intuitive, so ingrained in the Christian psyche of our civilization we may take it for granted.

Loss may turn into gain, but a sacrifice? That turns into glory.

So I just want to leave you with that: remember that no sacrifice is in vain. If it is for the right God - and I mean that enigmatic force that grabbed you and had you read this entire blog.

He loves you. Sacrifice for Him and get glory.

A thousand thousand years from now, you'll be grateful and glad you did.

Amen.