Just as nerds typically juggle several mythologies in their heads — Marvel, animean, Narnian, UFOlogical, to take this month’s four big filmic examples — any fantasy universe with multiple writers is likely to show many mythological influences. Grant Morrison went a step further with the first issue of the comic book Final Crisis, though, and seems to be very consciously (and subtly, given the usual jumbled tone of such comics) blending several major real-world mythologies along with the comic book ones (especially given what we know about plans to have all of Earth’s heroes face a choice in the middle of the series about whether to “Submit” or “Resist,” as two of the spin-off comics are titled). The following should all ring a bell for readers of issue #1 (and doesn’t really give away much explicitly for those who haven’t):
•Hopi: At a time of transition from the Fourth World to the Fifth World, after the skies have been rendered black and red, when a choice must be made between living in earthly time and living in a seductive time-beyond-time, the White Brother appears, transformed, before the Fire Clan, who recognize him from ancient symbols — but a blue figure (a living star) also appears, to naive children, and eventually removes his mask in a public plaza.
•Greek: Fire becomes the first weapon given to man that can be wielded against the gods (though it can also do terrible harm, as Martians and smokers know — Morrison’s point, not the Greeks’ — though I will note a dual meaning in the “God of War” title for issue #1 that he must have had in mind — with a little Spear of Destiny vibe thrown in, which leads us to…).
•Christian: The great seducer who fell from Heaven will finally demand that each of us choose whether to take the Mark of the Beast…
•Nietzschean: …which in this case means a choice between Life and Anti-Life.
•Norse (but also perhaps a famous, oft-drawn-upon, unpublished pitch from comics writer Alan Moore): All of this takes place during a Twilight of the Gods/Superheroes (the depressingly cyclical Ragnarok when the gods die and are born again in fire and ice) — and in DC mythos specifically, the Spear of Destiny has both Crucifixion and Ragnarok resonances, something DC may have gotten from the Nazis.
Then, too, invoking New Gods, Monitors, and the villain Libra in all this obviously means blending ideas from Jack Kirby, Marv Wolfman, and Len Wein (who also created Marvel’s Wolverine), respectively, but then comics do that six times before breakfast even on a normal day (and throwing in the Green Lantern Corps means drawing heavily upon the Lensmen novels of E.E. “Doc” Smith, but if we really started tracing every hack influence on comics, we’d be here all day, sort of like trying to list all of George Lucas’s influences, from Flash Gordon to Edgar Rice Burroughs).
And it’s not just my sick mind but Morrison’s as well (and detective Turpin’s in his line about “something sick and sad with whips and leather” perhaps going on in the S&M-like setting of Club Dark Side) that also foresees something sado-masochistic in the impending choice in Final Crisis about whether to resist or submit — to evil gods one of whom is named DeSaad, after all.
In this added layer of perverse allusion, Morrison (an admitted dabbler in cross-dressing) seems to be following in the footsteps of the Wachowski Siblings (who may have ripped off elements of his Invisibles comics for The Matrix, so it’s only fair), whose most brilliant achievement — for all Speed Racer’s, V’s, and lesbian gangster-fighters’ charms — remains the fact that the Matrix movies manage to be interpretable as emphatically Platonic, Christian, Gnostic/Estian, Buddhist, Asian-pop, computational, and, yes, S&M all at the same time. My media-professor friend Read Schuchardt notes the prevalence in the Matrix movies of characters like the white-clad and androgynous Morpheus associate named Switch, for instance, whose name suggests electronics and hacking but is also apparently slang for people willing to be either submissive or dominant in S&M. Similarly, Neo dies and is resurrected to save us all but also liberates everyone from life in the cave (as Plato hoped to) and does so through the Zen-like realization that “there is no spoon” — but enough about the Matrix.
If we want to know how Final Crisis is likely to end, I say average together the outcomes of Norse, Christian, Hopi, Greek, and DC legends and see what you get — combined with Morrison’s recurring hope that humanity will evolve together to the next level, overcoming dualities, however you interpret that. (I’d settle for a truce where we stop using force against each other and more fully embrace capitalism and science, but I don’t want to go all messianic on you.)
Given that Morrison, unlike some people, clearly prefers the chaos of a multiverse full of possibilities to the rigid order of a single, perfect fictional reality, I wouldn’t be surprised if all this ends with the Monitors, like the Linear Men before them, learning that no tidy system built around one universe (or even fifty-two) can encompass all our wondrous options — and that periodic Crises can only be overcome by embracing the megaverse of infinite possibilities (but also real time and real change).
And I doubt Dan Didio was joking when he said the 3D spin-off comic Final Crisis: Superman Beyond would involve Superman painting his eyes red and blue so that he, too, can see in 3D — that’s simply too Morrisonian an idea not to be real, and if the fourth dimension is time in our world, perhaps seeing in 3D if you’re a 2D being on a comics page means suddenly being able to perceive the whole multiverse, while also evoking the old Superman Red/Superman Blue doppelganger story (itself likely inspired by the mid-century split of NBC, at monopoly-fearing federal behest, into NBC Red and NBC Blue, later spawning NBC and ABC — ah, if only the feds would instead make political parties fission once in a while, then things would get interesting, but more on that later in the week, as the Dems try to settle the Clinton/Obama issue and our Debate at Lolita Bar settles the Barr/McCain issue).
One continuity quibble about the Wachowskis’ version of Speed Racer reality, by the way, though it doesn’t ultimately matter one bit given how much more important visuals are than plot in that beautiful film: it seems to take place in the near future, since Mr. Royalton recalls working with a Commodore 64 computer as a child, but one of the men who raced in the oft-invoked big race of 1943 appears to Speed in the locker room — and would have to be roughly a century old but sure doesn’t look it. Maybe the very near future will perfect plastic surgery, though. And after all, Susan Sarandon is holding up remarkably well over thirty years after The Rocky Horror Picture Show — and Christina Ricci still seems to have barely reached adulthood, something that might also be said of a lot of nerds, I suppose.
Perhaps the continuity glitch is a side effect of the movie being set partly in an alternate future-for-us and partly in an alternate future-for-1960s-Japanese-writers, who created the original animated series. The Wachowskis may have flat-out forgotten that the characters displayed nostalgia for the mid-twentieth century at one point, as a 1960s series set in the near future easily might, and implied a world circa 2020 at another. These things happen in movies with multiple script drafts, you know, even with millions of dollars at stake and lots of people paying attention.
Nonetheless, I think I will ultimately look back upon Speed Racer as the most important and visionary of the Month of the Nerd’s four big films, even while the Iron Man, Narnia, and Indiana Jones franchises go on to make billions of dollars.
UPDATE 6/2/08: Here’s an unexpected tie between Narnia and Speed Racer, by the way: Trixie (or rather, Christina Ricci) has an Aslan tattoo on her right shoulder (not that you see it in the film). I’m also told she once urinated on the floor of a restaurant while drunk, though, which is hardly good Christian behavior — maybe she was trying to bond with the creatures her pals at PETA claim to protect.
UPDATE 6/3/08: Speaking of odd connections, I certainly never expected a connection between the Wachowski lesbians-vs.-gangsters movie mentioned above and Hillary Clinton’s collapse as a prez candidate, but there are reports today that some HRC supporters were concerned about Bill Clinton romancing women on the campaign trail — and perhaps being involved with Gina Gershon, who played one of the Wachowski’s lesbian gangster-fighters in Bound.