Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I am not optimistic here.

Art and cover by DON KRAMER & JAY LEISTEN
1:10 Variant cover by ALEX GARNER
As Wonder Woman continues her quest to find out exactly what happened to her current reality and who is ultimately responsible, she encounters the first of the three most deadly gods known to man. Together, they comprise...the Morrigan!
Retailers please note: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the Previews Order Form for more information.
On sale NOVEMBER 24 * 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

Art and cover by DON KRAMER & JAY LEISTEN
1:10 Variant cover by ALEX GARNER
J. Michael Straczynski’s blockbuster re-imagining of the Amazon Princess continues with a vengeance! Deep beneath the city, Diana tracks the Morrigan to their lair. And what she finds there will astonish you!

I see DC is continuing the pagan outreach efforts they started back in War of the Gods when they killed Hecate and turned her into an evil power-eating possessing entity that wished to destroy the world. Okay, maybe this isn't going to be as horrible as that. But judging by the history it probably will be. Perez started the whole mess by establishing zero respect for the stories or the religion. Rucka did really well... until he killed off Hades (after making him evil) and gave us a self-loathing Athena talking of how much better Diana was than her gods in his last issue. Simone was doing rather well until she went and killed off a Hawaiian deity. (I actually liked her Zeus, and her Athena-not-really-dying, and Achilles being a cool guy. I'm actually pretty mad that this reboot wipes away the male equivalent of the Amazons that Zeus created... I mean, yay on using Zeus as an antagonist in a way that made sense but what the fuck is up with KILLING OFF GODS? They're GODS. Yeesh.)

Why is polytheism so hard for WW writers? It's Diana's religion, and you undermine her everytime you show the old pagan gods as nothing more than a souped up group of superhumans that are morally inferior to her. You don't have to have them as perfect, and sure you can have them as antagonists but a couple rules like... I don't know... don't make deities that aren't established as villains villains just because they're death gods? Don't kill immortals off without bringing them back in the same storyline, maybe? Some of these guys have living worshippers, y'know. I appreciate that with polytheists being after Asian people, black people, women, and gay people on the "Groups to Offend" list you still take the time to disrespect us, but it's shitting on your own hero when the character's a pagan herself AND it's sending extremely icky messages about cultural superiority when Zeus kills off Pele's dad or everyone turns out to be subordinate to the god of Abraham.

I've actually been wanting to see Wonder Woman venture into Celtic territory (I've wanted to see her interact with Scathach since I read her part of the Cuchullain cycle), but DC (and Marvel, don't think I'm not pissed off everytime I see Tarted Up and Evil Hela) has a really terrible record here. In all likelihood, this will turn into some lovefest for a higher single surpreme being (identified with the aforementioned Abrahamaic Sky Daddy) over all these gods, and then I'm going to have to find a way to be annoying. Forget constructive activism, I'm all for soothing my unrest by passing it on to other people. (Or just being annoying until they realize "Hey, there's people out there this might bug.") Maybe I can put together some Witch Tracts and hand them to the creators at conventions. Kalinara and I have come up with a few provisional titles:

"Just What Is This Halloween Thing About Anyway?"
"Have you experienced the Divine Light of Eos?"
"Tarot Cards and Ouija Boards: Not Necessarily To Summon Satan, Unless That Will Make You Go Away"
"Hekate: Not Just for the Wicked!"
"How the Morrigan Can Help YOU Accept the Harshness of Nature!"
"The Safe Great Rite"
"You Are NOT Going to Hell, Unless You Are a Pacifist Asatru and Spell It With One L"
"Cups, Swords and Rods: A Pagan's Guide to Feng Shui"
"Cups, Swords and Rods: A Pagan's Guide to Divination"
"Cups, Swords and Rods: A Pagan's Guide to Sex"
"Ragnarok: What You Need to Know About The Last Battle"
"Respect for Animal Sacrifice (Or Do You Want to be Like PETA?)"
"The Joy of Set" (This would need a guest writer.)
"The Threefold Rule and Why It Doesn't Necessarily Mean I'm a Pushover"
"Hindus: How Not To Piss Them Off" (Inside is just a single panel "Stop treating their gods like fictional characters")
"Valhalla: What Awaits You If You Fight That Mugger Rather Than Just Giving Him Your Wallet"
"Sabbat Etiquette"
"The Good and Bad of the Universe and the Divinity in Both"
"Night Gods: Not Such Bad Guys After All"
"Your Guide to Death Deities"
"That Blood Is Totally Symbolic"
"Drawing Down the Moon and Why It's Not Going to Destroy the World"
"Polytheism: The Mother of All Big Tent Parties"
"Aphrodite: She Can Get You Laid"
"No, I Did Not Curse You."
"Please Don't Pray For Me. It Kinda Fucks With My Life."
"What Not To Wear When Skyclad"

Come to think of it, if you toss out the joke proselytizing some of those might make for useful informational packets for landlords, bosses, and missionaries. I always feel bad when I have nothing to give in exchange for that Watchtower magazine.


  1. I'd pay you (or anyone equally smart and talented really, to be honest) to create some Witch Tracts and show 'em to people. They're loooooong overdue.

  2. Hell, I'm agnostic and I'd like to have some of those for the Jehovah's Witnesses. I have a little more confidence in JMS on handling the gods than you do; I feel like within the limits of established Marvel continuity, he did a pretty good job on the Asgardians – though admittedly that hamstrung him quite a bit. I felt like his pre-comics work treated religious topics with respect in genres where that wasn't the norm, and that he went out of his way to do so.

    I just wish I had any confidence in his handling of Diana.

    --Jack of Spades

  3. It would be nice if some of the writers would actually...READ some of the myths and cultures and stories that they are busy mining for charaters.

    And no, Death Gods and Goddesses aren't automatically evil.


  4. To be perfectly honest, comic book writers screw up Christian mythos as much as they do Pagan... and I actually pay it little attention, as I believe mythology is supposed to be told and retold and perverted and changed.

    A book of Greek mythology I have contains passages on how every minor and temple had its own version of a story and how the versions in the book are not definitively the stories the Greeks told themselves. It's all reconstruction.

    Ultimately, each writer tells a story of his own, using characters established in a global consciousness as pieces to be manipulated by him. I also hate the DEATH GOD=EVIL thing, but that's just flavour of the century in this culture of eternal youth.

  5. At least when they fuck up Christianity, they do it with a tad more respect. You don't tend to suddenly see Moses pulling out a weapon and trying to kill Superman.

    And you certainly don't tend to kill of Jesus without a resurrection at least implied (except maybe South Park.)

    It's easy to say it's "reconstruction" when it's not your religion. (If it is, well then, good for you, but not everyone feels the same way.)

    When comic book writers (or authors, or others) fuck up Christianity, people complain. They have every right to do so. Why not extend pagans the same courtesy?

  6. I would totally love to see Moses vs. Superman.

    -- Jack of Spades

  7. "It's Diana's religion, and you undermine her everytime you show the old pagan gods as nothing more than a souped up group of superhumans that are morally inferior to her."

    I'm with you on the importance of depicting Diana as a worshiper of the Greco-Roman pantheon, and I share your annoyance with writers conflating death god = evil god in all cases. However, within the context of the DCU and the WW mythos, I think it's entirely reasonable to view the Olympians as 'morally inferior' to Diana. For example:

    Zeus, Hades, and Hercules are rapists. That's not *all* they are -- but each of them has that on their resume.

    Ares and Hercules are multiple murderers -- and depending on one's definition of 'war crimes', you could argue that Athena is guilty of this as well (And even if you give her a pass on her machinations as a war goddess, what she did to Arachne was both petty and cruel).

    Aphrodite used her mojo on Helen to get her to fall for Paris, so she's a kind of rapist too. And while her constant cheating on Hephaestus isn't criminal, it is rather immoral.

    Hera was guilty of attempted infanticide on at least two occasions and her machinations against Hercules, and later the Trojans, resulted in many deaths.

    Now with the possible exception of Ares (who actually gets credit for a number of good deeds as Mars), these goods have all done good things as well. But they're all deeply flawed, ruthless, petty entities -- creatures driven almost solely by ID.

    Diana respects them, venerates them, and worships them -- but, regardless of that she *is* morally superior to the lot of them -- and not by a small margin.

  8. Why on earth would you hold GODS to human standards of moral superiority?

    I mean, I'm a lapsed Catholic, but when you read all the shit my god got up to in the old testament (mass murder, genocide, forced impregnation and so on), you can make the same argument.

    It's a flawed argument that clouds the reasons why the depiction of paganism might actually offend a real life practitioner. (Such as the person who runs this blog. You MIGHT consider keeping that in mind.)

  9. "I mean, I'm a lapsed Catholic, but when you read all the shit my god got up to in the old testament (mass murder, genocide, forced impregnation and so on), you can make the same argument."

    As Garth Ennis did, in Preacher -- which I, despite being a non-lapsed Christian myself, still think was a pretty great story. Do I think it's an accurate depiction of my faith? No, but I'm not bothered by its existence and I understand why Ennis made the creative choices he did. They were valid and made sense within the context of the story he was telling.

    "It's a flawed argument that clouds the reasons why the depiction of paganism might actually offend a real life practitioner."

    Where did you see me assert that it was unreasonable for Ragnell to be offended?

    My argument, to the extent that I'm making one, is this:

    If you look at the Olympians as literary figures, and if you look at WW as a modern-day riff on the classic greek hero (Perseus, Hercules, etc.) -- those heroes' tales generally play out with those heroes serving as interlocutors between the divine and mortal worlds. Sometimes they serve as the gods' agents (Ulysses doing Athena's bidding), sometimes they're the victims of godlike whim (Ulysses many travails at the hands of Poseidon), sometimes they defend normal humans from creatures born from divine machinations (Hercules, Perseus, etc.) -- but even (arguably, *especially*) the most loyal, wise, and pious Greek heroes recognize that their gods are temperamental and capricious creatures. They regard them with reverence and awe, but that reverence has a certain amount of (justifiable) fear at its core.

    It's not my business to tell anybody whether they have the right to be offended by how their religion is depicted in the media. Christians who are offended by Ennis' take on Christianity have the right to their opinion, Muslims have every right to be annoyed by how their faith is portrayed in Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, and Ragnell has every right to assert that TPTB at DC are not depicting the Olympians and/or The Morrigan in a manner she considers to be appropriate and correct.

    But I also happen to think that considering the Greco-Roman deities as literary figures and depicting them in a manner consistent with their characterization in the works of Homer, Ovid, Virgil, etc. is an equally valid approach -- and I think that their use in Wonder Woman is, barring some lapses (I agree with Ragnell that Hermes' characterization as a clueless naif was ill suited to the god of thieves/trickery), largely consistent with those literary antecedents.

    I'm not trying to say that Ragnell is 'wrong' w/r/t anything she believes, simply that there's another valid way of looking at the gods she's discussing here that is no less valid and/or 'right'.

  10. Are you seriously equating a book like Preacher (Vertigo-imprint, adult oriented, niche market) with a mainstream book like Wonder Woman?


  11. "Are you seriously equating a book like Preacher (Vertigo-imprint, adult oriented, niche market) with a mainstream book like Wonder Woman?"

    I'm certainly not saying they're targeted at the exact same audiences -- but what about the validity of depicting pagan gods in a way their modern worshipers find palatable vs. the validity of depicting them in a manner consistent with their portrayal in the literary canon depends on whether the work in which they appear is a Vertigo or a DCU title? Are you trying to make a 'think of the pagan children' argument?

    Referencing Preacher was simply the most obvious response to your point that one could make the same argument about the Judeo-Christian god -- since that's exactly what Garth Ennis did. It was more of a rejoinder to your glib comment than it was a core component of my assertions here.

    The bottom line for me is that there are two equally valid paradigms to choose from when it comes to portraying god(s) fiction:

    1)Seeing these god(s) as objects of modern-day worship and depicting them in a manner consistent with the current religious doctrine concerning them.

    2)Seeing these god(s) as characters with a long history of appearing in many and varied fictional works of both 'high' and 'low' popular culture and depicting them in a manner consistent with their use and characterization across those works.

    IMO, neither approach is any more or less valid than the other. From the outset, I've not argued that what Ragnell wants is somehow 'wrong', just that what Perez and co. did w/r/t the Olympians wasn't 'wrong' either -- and that in the specific case of WW and her mythos, I don't think it's unreasonable for her writers to opt for the second paradigm as opposed to the first one, as that approach better lends itself to high stakes escapist drama.

    That said, it might be interesting to see a comic that had a take on the Olympians and/or The Morrigan more in line with Ragnell's sensibilities, but I don't think that a 'pagan-approved' portrayal of that sort would work within the larger context of the DCU.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. The thing is, Ragnell NEVER argued that it wasn't okay to make the gods villains. In fact, I'm pretty sure if you READ HER POST, she said it was "cool".

    What she's against is KILLING THEM OFF. Or, you know, undermining the whole religion by showing gods as nothing more than super-powered beings with even ATHENA unworthy of worship.

    It's kind of amazing to me that you can write these pages long essays in her comment section without apparently reading her damn post.

  14. I read her post, in detail. I even agreed with some of it and said so. But I strongly disagreed (and still disagree) with the specific assertion she made here (emphasis mine):

    "It's Diana's religion, and you undermine her every time you show the old pagan gods as nothing more than a souped up group of superhumans that are morally inferior to her."

    That reads as absolutist statement with very little room for nuance or equivocation. The Greco-Roman gods are an intriguing lot, but I think you'd have a hard time arguing that any of them (even Athena) have more integrity, compassion, kindness/mercy, or capacity for love than Diana. IMHO, that makes a pretty good case for her 'moral superiority' to them. That superiority is not (and shouldn't be) too surprising really, and it's not even meant to be a terrible condemnation of the Olympians. Diana's is one of (if not *the*) best moral exemplar(s) in the entire DCU (even more so than Superman, in my view) -- she's morally superior to 99.999% of those she interacts with, gods and mortals alike.

    If you and/or Ragnell are using a different definition of 'morally inferior', then fine -- we're clearly talking past each other to some extent and our respective positions may not be as far apart as either of us may have imagined. But asserting 'the gods shouldn't be morally inferior to Diana' while simultaneously stating that 'it's okay to make the gods villains' strikes me as combining two incompatible premises. A villain is categorically 'morally inferior' to a hero of Diana's sort, they have to be. If the villain isn't morally inferior to the hero, than your hero is actually an anti-hero -- and no way is Diana an anti-hero.

    I'm all for using gods (of any and all religions) in a manner that is thoughtful and consistent with their portrayal in religious texts *or* literature but I take issue with the notion that there are hard and fast guidelines one should (or even could) adhere to that would insure that their depiction was appropriate.

    For example, I've really been loving the Hercules/Amadeus Cho sago that's been unfolding at Marvel over the last few years, and it flagrantly violates all the supposed 'rules' we're debating here. Pak and Van Lente have killed off gods, depicted them as seriously fallible and flawed characters, and had them get into splashy superhero fights with Avengers and Skrulls alike -- but they've written them in a way that is so consistent with (and explicitly alludes to) their appearances across mythology and literature that it manages to feel authentic while still integrating them into the Marvel U in an interesting way.

    All that said, I'm willing to agree to disagree and conclude this discussion if that's what you'd prefer. You and Ragnell have done a lot to foster interesting discourse in the comics blogosphere via WFA (which just hasn't been the same since you both left) and your respective personal blogs. I respect you both as writers and commentators, and truly wasn't looking to antagonize either one of you, just to engage on the issues and assertions in the post itself.

  15. Anon, honestly, the only thing that's kept me from laying into you in person thus far has been internet difficulties at this location, because some of this has offended the shit out of me.

    Nevertheless, you have a point. I spoke too broadly. I believe that Diana is regularly shown as morally superior not just to the war deities she is placed against such as Ares and Eris (btw, Ares being a Trickster deity is at complete odds with his literary depiction), and the symbols of old power such as Zeus (who is in literary/mythic character in Simone's run, and a rapist, but is WILDLY out of literary and mythic character when used as an antagonist in the Perez run as I addressed in the earlier post linked on the word "stories" above) but to her patron deities as well, which is very wrong.

    In the past we've been treated to Athena stating that they do not deserve her worship (which is out of literary charcter and undermines Diana's devotion to her) and Hermes not only expressing the same sentiment but also showing himself to be less clever, less adaptable, and less powerful than Diana. Athena is the personification of moral defensive warfare (if you think Athena's a murderer, then you think Diana is too), and Diana's peaceful outlook is baseed on philosophy. (The treatment of Arachne wasn't petty or cruel. In the most accepted version of events, Arachne mocked her father in the tapestry and won the contest. Athena destroyed the tapestry mocking her father, and then Arachne committed suicide in fear of the goddess. Athena turned her into a spider because she pitied her, hanging in the threads of the tapestry). Hermes is the god of communication, wit, and adaptability. Diana shows him up in these aspects, and regularly saves his ass. Oh, and use of Hermes as an out of touch with mortals deity who undergoes a Christian divinity made flesh exoerience and is killed without a hint of his Trickster nature is decidedly out of literary character.

    Oh, and the charge of Aphrodite being a rapist in the Illiad? Aphrodite is the goddess of love. All love and lust is attributable to her, and she has the power to inspire and direct genuine love--not mind control bulkshit. Nor does she overbear free will. Saying Helen was raped is like saying Lois git raoed by Aphrodite when she married Superman, it's fucking absurd and the absolute example of portraying tge gods as just powerful superhumans and not y'know... Gods. It's like saying Diana's virtues of honesty and justice are mind control because they stem from Athena and Hestia. That her desire to explore is mind control by Hermes. These are gods, for fuck's sake. She's not freaking Starfix with pheromones.

  16. Hi Ragnell,

    You may I missed me saying this earlier I'm totally with you on the Hermes' poor characterization. Portraying a the god of cunning and thievery as a wide-eyed naif was dumb. No argument there whatsoever.

    And I'm happy to concede the case of Athena vs. Arachne is less than cut and dried. Athena destroyed Arachne's tapestry and slashed Arachne's face with her shuttle, disfiguring her. Some accounts say she then committed suicide rather than bow to Athena, while others say it was because she finally realized how shameful her actions had been. Which *could* be read as Athena driving her to suicide by her actions or as Arachne's own hubris and pride doing her in. And Ovid does say Athena changed her to a spider out of pity, so there's that.

    But I have to question your assertion that Aphrodite ability to 'inspire and direct genuine love' doesn't 'overbear free will'. It seems unlikely that Pasiphae would have had sex with the Cretan Bull (the union which resulted in the birth of the Minotaur) of her own volition.

  17. Since Ragnell can't reply for work reasons at the moment, I get to chime in.

    As far as I understand the theology, the Greek Gods aren't just superpowered beings but living personifications of their concept. The reason why Aphrodite directing love isn't mind control is because ALL love comes from Aphrodite directing it. If it's genuine love, it's Aphrodite's work, period. (Likewise wisdom's Athena's gift. No mind-control involved.)

    As for Pasiphae. Beastiality's hardly an unrecognized kink. There are people out there who do animals without any sort of mind control involved.

  18. Gotcha. If that's indeed the way it works w/r/t pagan theology, then the internal logic Ragnell was alluding to in her reply makes sense in that context. I guess that's just another example of where the theological and literary paradigms. In Euripides' The Cretans, Pasiphae says (speaking to her husband):

    "There is nothing to gain now by deceiving you;
    what has happened is already too well known.

    But consider:
    If I had sold the gifts of Kypris,
    given my body in secret to some man,
    you would have every right to condemn me
    as a whore. But this was no act of the will;
    I am suffering from some madness brought on
    by a god.

    Literary depictions like that seem to directly contradict the way the gods function within the pagan theology you and Ragnell are referencing. Another example: One of my favorite parts of the Iliad, was the chapter in which Diomedes (one of the second string Greek heroes) was (with Athena's help) to battle both Aphrodite and Ares, a fight which is described in terms that would not be out of place in a DC or Marvel comic.

    That was one of the reasons why, when I was a kid, I discovered I really liked the Iliad once I was able to parse its language. More than anything else I had read by/was reading at that point, it reminded me of the first Secret Wars.

    My point is: Notwithstanding how they function vis a vis pagan theology, the tendency to depict the gods as superhuman beings that fight, mind-control, transmute, and otherwise menace humans in a manner not unlike superheroes/villains is a tradition that goes all the way back to Homer, Euripides, Hesiod, Ovid, and others. And if it was acceptable for them to write the Olympians in such a manner, why should George Perez doing the same thing be considered offensive?

    That's what I was objecting to in Ragnell's original post. OTOH, I think we're all agreed that, if a writer is going to depict pagan gods in the context of some sort of fantasy narrative, they should make the effort to characterize them in a manner consistent with their mythic status. Hermes (the god of cunning) shouldn't be written as a bumpkin, Athena shouldn't behave like a ditsy valley girl, etc.

  19. Y'know, I wrote this post in a way to poke some fun at that attitude, in the hopes that I could get a little commiserating humor and it won't seem so upsetting if DC does fuck with the Celtic pantheon too, but your attempts to discuss this as an academic matter rather than one of simple respect for beliefs have just made my irritation worse.

    Even so, I am trying at every point to give you the benefit of the doubt because there's the SEED of reason in your statement, but you EMBODY the very attitude that's pissing me off. (So much so that I might harvest the comment that got to my email but doesn't seem to have made it to the thread for a perfect example of this attitude.) What it comes down to is that gods are fundamental forces of nature, not nice people we want to emulate. They're symbolic, allegorical characters who even back then were written as morality plays to make a point. (Kind of how Golden and Silver Age WW writers liked to use Ares/Mars as the bad guy and Aprhodite as the major powerful patroness to demonstrate that War is Bad and Love is Good). They are not the Justice League (or Crime Syndicate) of Olympus like you seem to think they should be treated.
    Comparing Preacher--a subversive Vertigo work INTENDED to push boundaries--Wonder Woman--a mainstream work intended for general entertainment--was especially tone deaf and suggests to me you might just be sadly clueless. The proper comparison to Wonder Woman would be maybe the use of Zauriel and the Spectre. Of course, the Spectre's god is always surpreme, and Zauriel is never used (which is a shame, because even though he's usually there to demonstrate the supremicy of the single god as beyond all other pantheons he's still a character that's just about made of love and gentleness and therefore a delight to see) because even when he's used to poke fun at his lack of experience with humanity, no god involved at all, people get annoyed and complained. They're too chickenshit to properly use their Judeo-Christian characters in a mainstream comics, let alone actually bring their god into it.

    And honestly, after your dropping the statement without attribution, then going back and finding a scholarly work that backs me up on Athena and a quote that SEEMS to contradict Kalinara on Pasiphae (arguably just a poetic way of stating "Forgive me husband, I was out of my mind with passion and it overtook my good sense" rather than "I was raped by a god" especially since that's something that literally happens in other classical stories) makes it look like you're not trying to consider respecting faith at all, but are instead interested in some sort of pissing contest about classical knowledge. (I'm honestly not. The old classical writers contradicted each other just as much as neo-pagans do on the specific accounts of events, and for every Diomedes you can find someone mitigating his feat with divine heritage or the help of another deity... such as Athena, which you brought up in your example.) Or simply intellectual masturbation, which is quite unseemly to do in someone else's comments. I would strongly advise you to get your own blog.

    In the meantime, I'm tired of you and your dense refusal to treat my religion as legitimate rather than just a fandom I'm taking too seriously. Go away

  20. Damn, and I was looking forward to more helpful pamphlets:
    "Single at Beltane", and
    "Mom's Dianic, Dad's Gardnerian: Stress-Free Family Holidays".