Stare at it. Gaze at it. Marvel at it. Meditate on this cover. Do you smell it? Can you smell it, jabroni?
That’s Banshee, Gambit, Forge, Psylocke, Wolverine, Jubilee, and Storm. And behind them, that’s a masked Prof. X (who at this point was being impersonated by a Skrull) going by the name “Warlord.” They’re all very muscular and nots to be effed with.
See the Purple, Gray, and White margins? That’s Rogue, Magneto, and Zaladane. And that’s Lilandra, Gladiator, and Deathbird. Don’t know them? Neither did I. But that was about to change.
Stare at it. This spine-tingling-bust-yo’-ish-open cover was drawn by Jim Lee nearing the height of his early 90s power.
This is the cover of Uncanny X-Men #275. I was handed this treasure during my spring break in 1991 by my eldest brother, Mike. He was in college at the time and he thought it not robbery to share his love for comic books with me. And like he had done by introducing me to Run DMC 5 years prior, Mike continued to change my epistemological landscape by gingerly crashing through the walls, cutting through the floors, busting through ceilings, and knocking down the doors of how I came to know the world.
Oh how the mundane opens us to the extraordinary!!!
I had dabbled in comic books here or there. Amazing Spider-Man. The Dark Knight, Dark City run in Batman. But this. This. This!!! This issue changed my life. This issue gave ny allowance priorities.
Space travel. Mutants. Mutants traveling in space. Mutants traveling in space to fight shape-shifting aliens posing as superpowered aliens and mutants. The writing of Claremont. The pencil of Lee. The Savage Land. Nick Fury–back when Fury was white… Before the Sam Jackson effect. Magneto ominously warning Rogue of things to come… Months before X-Men #1. Shawtaaaaay!
This issue is precious to me.
It was here that I began to see the divergent mythologies of Marvel and DC. Marvel’s characters are thoroughly modern. DC’s characters are thoroughly premodern. Marvel’s primary heroes are examinations of humanity in a world stripped of the gods of Olympus and where religion is reduced to tepid moralism (by way of Kant). DC’s primary heroes are seated in the throne room of Olympus and beyond. Marvel’s characters are Promethean at best–the powers of the gods/cosmos are fragmented and demystified and given to human beings who wrestle with their moral consequence. Or “with great power comes great responsibility.” DC’s characters are Cosmic; they are the personifications of cosmic forces. Think about it. DC’s most well known character, Superman, is an extraterrestrial. Marvel’s is Spider-Man, a thoroughly nerdy, humorous, insecure human from New York City. ‘Nuff said.
Let’s use an example… A Green Example. Hulk and Green Lantern.
Green symbolizes life and creativity, vitality and energy. Let’s look at how DC and Marvel treat Green.
The Incredible Hulk symbolizes human ingenuity run amok in a nuclear age. More specifically, Bruce Banner/Hulk represents the human intellect and human rage that created the atom bomb. Bruce/Hulk also represents the generic dichotomy between intellect and emotion (which is seen as fickle and easily descends into violent aggression) in Western philosophical traditions. Hulk Smash. But so did the creators of the atom bomb. They smashed more than Hulk smashed. So the Incredible Hulk is actually the manifestation of the emotional side of Western Rationality, a rationality of ruthless aggression that is wildly insightful yet morally incapable of reconciling it’s worship of “either/or.” Poor David Banner is carrying the fallout of western epistemology, spirituality, science, and affectation on his gamma irradiated shoulders.
The Green Latern is the personification of the creative energy in the cosmos. The Green Latern Corp tap into Creation itself. This Creative Flow is too potent to be wielded by a single individual. That’s why there’s a collective. A community’s relationship to creative cosmic energy is a premodern theme. Notice how the ring is sacramental, it mediates the presence of the cosmic energy. The humanoid wielders of this creative energy cannot rely on personal intellect and emotion alone. They need the ring and the Creative Energy Flow.
In the (postmodern) modern world of physics, quantum theory, and biology–the Green Latern looks magical and fantastic, but from a premodern and holistic viewpoint, the Green Latern makes a lot of sense. The ability of creative energy to aggregate and create matter, gases, rocks, planets, and even life itself is a constitutive property of our universe. The ancients understood this. Conversely, our modern scientific worldview continues to break and fragment and examine the universe in to most atomic and cellular pieces in order to manipulate and innovate.
I think one of the reasons why DC movies (other than Batman) have been so terrible–and not just because Snyder is directing them–is because a postmodern director may not truly appreciate the premodern sensibilities and insights of the DC characters. Hence, they can only retrieve a character most like Marvel’s pantheon: Batman, the “Prometheus” of the DC universe. One of the reasons Marvel’s movies resonate so deeply and easily is because they are so modern. DC directors will/donot allow the premodern/cosmic to speak because they might be too (post)modern. That’s a shame because the insights of the ancients can help humanize us in a way (post)modernity cannot, just as contemporary insights can help humanize us in ways premodernity did not. The problem is that both premodern and postmodern epistemologies of the West are based upon looking at the world in “either/or” and rarely “both/and” and definitely not “neither/nor.” That way of experiencing the world can create technologies for the most specific of things, but it sucks at conversation. Don’t believe me? Read a Twitter or Facebook thread.
When I received #275–because there is only one comic that issued #275 in my reckoning–I didn’t care about all that. I just thought the pictures were cool and the stories were awesome. I mean, comics are cool to me. And it’s amazing what we can accept and/or tolerate around coolness. But as I continued to read and began to understand how artistic production shapes our visions of the cosmos (cosmovision), I became interested in and suspicious of the values and meanings of our narratives…
Even the coolest stories can be problematic as hell…
Faith, hope, and love…
©2016 M. J. Sales