Nov 20, 2016

The Importance of Pronunciation and Watchfulness in The Multiversity

Sound and Vision in Reading Comics:
The Importance of Pronunciation and Watchfulness in The Multiversity
Travis Hedge Coke

There is a line in the movie, Masked and Anonymous, co-written and starring our recent Nobel Laureate in Literature: “You have to look through your windshield, not at it,” that I think applies to comics in a way that is both painfully blatant and potentially revelatory. We can spend so much of our time looking at our comics, that we don’t really look at our comics. We can forget that these are, as are all stories or representations, breathing, functioning worlds. Little systems that operate within themselves. Words, in a comic, have both textual representation on the page, and pronunciation within the world of the comic.

1 The Kamera

The yellow fear demon, Parallax was created in Green Lantern: Rebirth, to explain why Hal Jordan went evil and became the reality-recreating and friend-murdering while wearing too many power rings to be reasonable, Parallax. Here, on a 30s/40s style adventure Earth entering a 50s-style horror period, it is called “the makara,” in the original single issue printing, a Hindu mythological water monster appropriately often used to bookend sculptural figures, just as here, fear is a major element of the first and last of the single issue stories. It is even redesigned, slightly, to resemble not so much a classic makara, as a Ambulocetus skeleton, a prehistoric aquatic mammal considered a possible inspiration for the mythic monster.

In the reprints/collections, Parallax is not “the makara,” but instead is referred to as “the kamera,” which I tried for months to make something to do with cameras, until I realized there is a kamara, in Jack Kirby’s The Demon series, which is, appropriately, a fear demon.

While Parallax is not one of the Gentry, Parallax does represent a primal anxiety just as they do and is a cosmic or ultra-cosmic monster who tries to use comics to escape and infect/attack other worlds. Other than the Gentry, it is the only creature seen to do so. I think that’s because it really is whatever the Gentry are, inasmuch as each world is faced with the Gentry and in the story which is about us and our reading a comic, the monster we are primarily fighting against is not the bluff of over-intellectualism or hungry mobs, but fear.

2 The Chandela

Another linguistic oddity, was “the chandela,” in the Mastermen chapter, referring to the people who prayed for a golem. Comics Alliance’s Dave Uzumeri, who did the best annotations we’ve had so far, said of this, “[T]he only chandela I can find refers to an Indian clan, which doesn’t fit much with the Jewish golem tradition or anything a Nazi radio broadcast would be trumpeting.”

Chandela is a homophone for Tschandala or the anglicized Chandala, which is derived from that Indian clan Uzumeri mentions, but in this context, comes from Nazi perversion of Nietzsche’s adaptation of another philosopher’s misapprehension of the original, and is used to represent an untouchable or undesirable class or breed of human beings, a perpetual underclass, by which he extrapolates Christianity and Judaism to be both anti-Aryan in character, based in part on the assumption that Judeo-Christian ethos is more misogynistic, antagonistic, and prone to perpetuating a stasis of class warfare.

The Nazi extension/perversion of this, is to make it specifically antisemitic, and by extension, non-Aryan as they understood “Aryan.” Inferior peoples.

3 The Shambler

That green monster with the big teeth and spidery limbs haunting the Bleed, beyond reality, that attacks one of the Gentry? It’s the Shambler, also from The Demon. In that 70s comic, it appears “where even the fiercest of occult creatures tread with caution… great caverns glisten fiery red and the very air boils.” Well, the Bleed is cavernous, inasmuch as it’s the veins and arteries of ultra-reality, and it is red. And, other than having more mouths and more limbs, this monster does look just the same and behaves almost identical.

The titular demon, Etrigan, is given a substantial supporting role and made Superman of a world in The Multiversity, but beyond even that, the comic, The Demon, begins to show under closer examination many connections to The Multiversity as a whole, just as it did Morrison’s earlier Seven Soldiers of Victory.

We begin, too, to see that there are homophonic and visual cues throughout this comic, and we should probably not be limiting ourselves to explicit textual statements or things easily sourced with five minutes on a search engine, which isn’t an indictment of other DC comics, it’s just rare.

4 The Doves

While the dove being a recurring motif in the Pax Americana issue escaped almost no one, I haven’t seen anyone mention that it’s mirrored in the Thunderworld chapter that comes right after, or that a primary difference in their use is that we see, in Pax, a dove in midair, set free, smack into the fourth wall. It appears to hit the inside plane of the surface of the page, leaving a bloody streak. Which, all in all, sums up the issue and its world pretty cleanly.

In Thunderworld, however, the doves soar free and readily, and instead of doves in a cage, it’s the old Wizard, who is, as well, set free.

The contrast requires a reader to be paying attention to parallels between issues, but the impact against the fourth wall is something else. It’s unnatural, or at least it is unexpected enough, that it seems to violate the nature of the seemingly “down to Earth” and “gritty” tone of the story and world. We’re not prepared for something that weird, perhaps because we are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of that world.

5 Comics or Worlds?

Several of the individual comics of The Multiversity represent windows into particular worlds, and seemingly, at least, with Pax, the comic is the world, with its fourth wall something to be peering out of or smacked dead against. And, Ultra Comics? The comic that represents our world is not a scene or story taking place in our world, set in our world, but the comic itself is addressing someone from our world; us. The comic is creating a story, or generating a story in our world, which is us, reading the comic, or us engaging with the comic. That is the story of our world, not so much the fiction on the pages, as us, engaging with that fiction and with the supervillain threat that is not solely threatening the hero of those pages, but the heroes the comic tells us exist in our world, which are all of us. We are facing the supervillain monsters. We are facing the Gentry. Indeed, we face some of them, or similar horrors, all the time.

So, while some comics are worlds, not all comics are worlds, and not all worlds are comics. True, too, outside of fiction, but sometimes hard, in our enthusiasm as in our ennui, to keep in mind.

The story in the comic’s pages does not even take place except in fiction, even within the fictional multiverse of The Multiversity. It is not a representation of a world or events, it is a representation of a fiction that exists in a fictional world, while the other issues are, ostensibly, representations of genuine events and worlds. The difference between these is inarguable, but what is arguable is the value of this difference.

We all get blinders on. In Ultra, the monster wearing a human guise as The Authority Figure, the father figure, the scientist explaining while wearing a good suit, has on red-shaded glasses. Ultra Comics (the superhero) has his eye go red after it’s damaged. And, just look, in that issue, what text is red and therefor illegible or hard to discern through red lenses? What we see on the cover is, Ultra Comics telling us “Only you can save the world! If you value your lives, you must not read this comic!” But, with red lenses or a red tint, “not” disappears. The explanation, in the comic, that this is a comic designed to bring us together, empower us to capture and dissect a “hostile independent thought-form,” such as the villain of the piece, is invisible through a red lens. The bad guy of the comic, who is simply pessimistic over-intellectualization and pleasure-shaming self-loathing given form, cannot see the text telling everyone else that this is a trap for him.

A trap that he, over-intellectualizing and being excessively pessimistic and serious, can no longer even tell is entirely fictional and, genuinely, just a comic.

Everyone has blinders on at some point. It is important not to get so used to our blinders that we forget they are there, that we forget that they can come off. To look, not at our windshield, but through it, or to know when it’s better to stick our head outside the car and look at things unobstructed and without any tint.

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