Oct 9, 2017

The Inherent Occult Angle of the Justice League of America

The embodiment of God's wrath is paralyzed in common matter, made a landscape for societies to grow and burn out upon, unaware of the holiness trapped in the dirt at their feet.

An eldritch and vastly unknowable Asteroidea colonizes Earth with mind control and cloning (or superposition?).

A descendant of Atlantis uses the I Ching and a ding, an offering cauldron, to divine the location of her magician father.

A fallen angel, embarrassed of perfectly normative lust, descends to Earth to become a hero and die to save us.

Occult in America:
The Inherent Occult Angle of the Justice League of America
Travis Hedge Coke

Four random Justice League of America stories, two written by Grant Morrison, two by Gardner Fox, who started it all. The second is the first JLA story anywhere; the third, Zatanna’s Search, might be the first multi-title crossover in comics. The other two, the Morrison two, come from the same run, that, largely, looked like simple, big time superhero adventure. Because simple, big time superhero adventure has been occultified since the 1960s and probably, honestly, long before then.

To be clear, I don't mean here that there is simply, “magic,’ in many superhero stories and therefore, many Justice League stories contain magician characters or acts of magic. Nor, do I mean any distinction between magic and magick or religion, spirituality, and science or parascience. My meaning here is quite etymologically rooted: hidden or secreted knowledge. Much of that knowledge may relate to magic, magick, religion, etc, but I’ve never got the feeling from either Fox or Morrison, for example, that they make too much of a distinction, even if their characters sometimes aggressively do.

Gardner Fox was a treasure trove of factoids, details, and lessons, and infused most of his work with as many shoutouts and extrapolations as he could from geography to coin collecting to spiritualism. Morrison is similarly eclectic and all-encompassing. Fox’s Justice League stories were often intentional introductions to more esoteric concepts and philosophies. Morrison’s run on the main JLA comic was in purposeful parallel to his ostensibly-headier, and personally owned, The Invisibles. When, Morrison embeds an aspect of God in humble matter, it’s not solely in-world relevant, but is a fictional literalizing of a basic Manichean, gnostic precept.

Whether or not Fox or Morrison believed in a gnostic anxiety of the flesh or cthuloid elder gods or Newtonian physics and the Bible, they’re things we can, as readers, know about. They weren’t proselytizing Manicheanism any more than they were promoting stamp collecting or Sex Pistols albums. But, they were presenting material, providing at least basic explanations and introductory terms for furthering education.

The Justice League of America has been a tool for slipping information into our unsuspecting, unguarded heads since forever. Fox did this on purpose, and from him on, many others. I would argue that it is at its best, and sells its best, when it goes all in on “secret lessons.” Those are the highlight runs, the high bar Justice League comics. When it’s merely social drama with capes or farce with punches, it’s fun, but it isn’t nearly the same in awe or reach, and it rarely makes the same impact on audience or sales.

We want Doctor Alchemy and heroic fallen angels. We want grail quests and long hair physics. Even new Justice League comics should smell delicately of hash and old books. Any iteration of the team should be able to link hands at a table and channel an entirely different reality. The comic should tell us things we can research, teach us books we can read, albums we can listen to, and metaphors we can apply to our own lives and walking moments.

Seriously, this is an occult comic:

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