Tuesday, 24 April 2012

James Blish Compared With Graphic Novelists

In Black Easter by James Blish: 

the three superior demons, Satan, Beelzebuth and the Sabbath Goat, never appear;
however, the powerful black magician, Theron Ware, accepts a commission to release forty eight other major demons without restraint;
the demons initiate World War III;
Ware fails to recall them;
the Sabbath Goat does appear, is unaffected by an attempted exorcism and states that Ware has initiated Armageddon;
further, he claims that the demons are winning because God is dead.

That was meant to be a final conclusion but

the Goat said only that the demons were winning, not that they had won;
he may have been mistaken or lying;
demonic conjurations may have been the magicians’ hallucinations, although I will argue further against this last idea (see here).

In the later conceived sequel, The Day After Judgement

the Goat fails to return, as promised, for the magicians;
the world starts to recover from the nuclear exchange;
the white magician sees prima facie evidence for God’s continued existence;
the demon fortress Dis appears in Death Valley;
the Strategic Air Command attacks Dis and is destroyed;
Satan calls the magicians to Pandemonium;
he announces that, since evil is only opposition to goodness, he is now God but does not want the role so offers it to Man;
mankind begins a long development towards Godhood;
Satan/God undoes the effects of the nuclear exchange;
during his speech in Miltonic verse, Satan speculated that God had withdrawn, not died. (1)

Some graphic novelists (adult comic strip writers) address similar themes. 

In Last Days Of The Justice Society of America by Roy Thomas:

the Spear of Destiny has magical powers because it pierced Christ’s side on the Cross;
Hitler in his Bunker uses the Spear to conjure Ragnarok;
World War II superheroes merge with the gods;
they prevent cosmic destruction by re-fighting Ragnarok endlessly;
Ragnarok replaces Valhalla as a cyclical conflict. (2)

In Justice League: Paradise Lost by Mark Millar:

an angel enters the Palace of the Presence to challenge God;
however, the Palace is empty because God is in all things, not in one place. (3)

In Swamp Thing by Alan Moore:

male witches want to destroy Heaven;
so they conjure the Original Darkness that was before the Creation;
a dark tower emerges from Chaos and advances through Hell, fomenting demonic civil war;
the tower is then seen to be the index finger of an immense hand;
however, a hand of Light descends to clasp the hand of Darkness;
the Taoist symbol of interpenetration appears in the eye of the psychic witness to the supernatural events;
light and darkness, life and death, are interdependent;
no part of this polarity is “evil”;
the title character, a plant elemental, asks, “Where is evil in all the wood?”;
this question enables the Darkness to accept and merge with the Light after sweeping aside powerful spirits resisting it as evil.(3)

In Swamp Thing by Mark Millar:

the plant elemental acquires the powers of all the elements;
his daughter reverses the sound of the Word, cancelling the divine agent;
thus, the elemental becomes powerful enough to displace God and destroy mankind;
however, he realises that he has become vast enough to incorporate us. (3)

In John Constantine, Hellblazer by Jamie Delano:

John Constantine, a powerful magician, sabotages the Resurrection Crusade's attempt to prepare the woman Zed to be the new Mary;
a Masonic magician raises the masculine "God of all Gods" to facilitate Masonic regime change in Britain;
however, Constantine, Zed and Marj raise the anima which counterbalances the GOAG. (3)

In John Constantine, Hellblazer by Garth Ennis:

Constantine defies the demonic triumvirate;
then he sells his soul to each in turn;
if he dies, they will fight for his soul, thus dividing Hell and allowing angelic victory;
to prevent this, they cure Constantine’s lung cancer.(3)

In Sandman by Neil Gaiman:

Lucifer Morningstar tires of presiding over pointless anguish;
so he expels the demons and damned from Hell and retires;
however, Hell is a necessary counterpart to Heaven;
so a higher authority returns its inhabitants to Hell;
two angels are appointed to preside over pain that will now be neither pointless nor punitive but purgative;
the Endless - Destiny, Death, Dream etc - are anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of consciousness;
Despair of the Endless persuaded the star god Rao to destroy a planet but to let one inhabitant survive...
gods begin in Dream's realm, become temporarily independent and end in Death's;
thus, the Norse Aesir, the Japanese ka
mi etc coexist with each other and with the Endless;
the cyclical Ragnarok (see above) is a simulation in a transparent sphere held by Odin;

Destruction of the Endless does not want to preside over nuclear war in yet another world;
so he abandons his realm;
however, he is the personification, not the process;
so the realm continues without him;
the Furies attack Dream's realm;
Dream enters Death's realm;
but ideas cannot be killed;
so Dream is replaced by another aspect of himself;
his death causes a reality storm affecting many times, realms and myths;
the storm strands travellers in the Inn of the Worlds' End.

In Lucifer by Mike Carey: 

dangerous primal gods are reactivated; 
the angelic host hires the retired Lucifer to destroy them; 
he is paid with a "letter of passage," an exit from God's universe;
the angel Meleos had created the Basanos, living tarot cards;
the Basanos warn Lucifer that his Gateway to the Void will close behind him, denying re-entry to the universe;
but he seals it open with the divine name;
an agent of the Basanos prevents the jin-en-mok, survivors from a previous universe, from seizing the Gate;
Lucifer's wings, cut off at his request by Dream, had remained in Hell and were traded for souls by Remiel and Duma, the angels now ruling Hell;
needing wings to navigate the Void, Lucifer regains them from the Japanese hereafter;
he places a monster in the Void;
it destroys angels who try to claim the Void for Heaven;
the angel Sandalphon had tried to breed a new host to attack Heaven, using the captured Michael's wounded body as an incubator; 
the new host includes Elaine Belloc, British schoolgirl, Michael's daughter, God's granddaughter, Lucifer's niece;
by releasing Michael's energy in the Void, Lucifer creates a new universe;
the angel Amenadiel of the Thrones adopts the talking serpent role in Lucifer's universe;
he advocates asceticism because Lucifer has merely told his creatures to enjoy;
Lucifer welcomes immigrants through multiple Gates but forbids worship;
Meleos and Elaine help Lucifer against the Basanos who try to kill him and rule his universe;
a jin-en-mok kills Elaine;
Lucifer annihilates a previously unknown realm of the hereafter by passing through it to rescue Elaine;
he lets Elaine and her dead friend become presiding spirits in his universe;
Elaine leads a team to expel immortals who have migrated to Lucifer's universe;
the demoness Lys takes damned Christopher Rudd as her lover;
Rudd rises in demonic society;
Lucifer and Amanadiel duel in Hell;
God leaves;
his universe will disintegrate without him; 

Lucifer helps the host against giants trying to replace God;
Fenris Wolf tries to hasten cosmic disintegration;
he induces Lucifer to shed fratricidal blood, Michael's, above Yggdrasil;
Elaine absorbs Michael's energy;
with Lucifer's advice, she creates a third universe;
Rudd preaches unity in Hell;
Remiel and Duma relinquish power to him;
Rudd stops the infliction of pain and plans an attack on Heaven;
old powers destroy the angelic Silver City to prevent God from returning;
Lucifer had persuaded Rudd to lead demons and damned in defense of the City;
Rudd fights Fenris on the steps of the Primum Mobile;
God lets Elaine and Lilith debate whether his universe should be uncreated;
at Lucifer's suggestion, God gives the decision to Elaine;
by combining the three universes, she prevents cosmic disintegration;
becoming God, she abolishes Hell;
by coupling with Lucifer, the Japanese goddess Izanami becomes the new Adversary;
Lucifer transfers his Lightbringer role to his former companion, Mazikeen of the Lilim;
Elaine hires fallen cherubim to neutralize Remiel, now resisting her from the remnants of former hereafters;
God and Lucifer meet and part unreconciled in the Void;
Lucifer flies into the Void. (3)

Because Milton believed that sin caused death, he personified Death as a shapeless monster, begotten on Sin by her parent, Satan.
Because Gaiman believes that death defines life, he personifies Death as a perpetually young woman created by the universe.
Like John Keats, Gaiman’s readers are “…half in love with easeful Death…” but with better reason. We have seen her.
Constantine helped the elemental and Dream.
An anti-material attack on the multiverse initiated the Ragnarok and Darkness conjurations and a revised superheroes history.
Decades of interconnected story lines approach real life in complexity.


Graphic novelists, as imaginative as prose fantasists, can end the world but continue the series, as Blish did in Black Easter and The Day After Judgement.

  1. James Blish, Black Easter and The Day After Judgement (London: Arrow Books, 1981).
  2. Roy Thomas, Last Days Of The Justice Society Of America (New York: DC Comics Inc, 1986).
  3. Swamp Thing, Justice League, Hellblazer, Sandman and Lucifer are or were monthly periodicals from DC Comics who also publish well-known superheroes and allow all their characters to interact. In Moore’s Swamp Thing: Gotham City Police, rounding up suspected prostitutes, arrest the elemental’s girl friend, then detain her because she had earlier been photographed embracing a humanoid vegetable and charged with “crimes against nature”; Swampy attacks the city and its vigilante; able to leave his body, grow another and accelerate plant growth, he seems indestructible so a covert Government agency consults Lex Luthor, an expert in the attempted killing of an indestructible being. Thus, the covert agency is unconcerned that an industrialist is trying to kill Superman. Characters familiar from childhood are presented anew from an adult perspective. They must have been like this all along but we did not realize it before. At Dream's Wake, we learn that Clark Kent and the Gotham City vigilante, though not a lesser known character, dream of being actors in TV versions of their lives. In case anyone does not know, the destroyed planet in the Rao system was Krypton and its survivor was Kal-El who has other names on Earth.
    DC has also collected Moore’s Swamp Thing, Gaiman’s Sandman, Carey's Lucifer and 
  5. the multi-authored John Constantine, Hellblazer as four series of graphic novels.

Email address: paulshackley@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. I have summarised a lot of DC supernatural story lines but there are others:
    the angel Gabriel fell in (Garth Ennis'?) Hellblazer;
    God was mad in The Spectre (?);
    Grant Morrison's Animal Man met his creator, Grant Morrison;