"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
Come on, we’re moving on the second issues of the first round of mini-series! Keep up!
It’s time for the disclaimer: SPOILERS abound in these posts! And as we get more into the stories and meet more characters, I will make more and more connections with the future issues. Please believe me! I loves me some SPOILERS!
When last we left Sir Justin, he had dropped out of the sky into modern-day Los Angeles and was promptly arrested. He wasn’t carrying a concealed weapon on anything – his sword was right out there! Is that illegal? And the cops left Vanguard, Justin’s flying horse, just lying there on the street bleeding. That’s just not very nice!
The cops are arguing about whether Vanguard is a superhero horse or not. It’s kind of funny – this is the kind of argument people in the DCU would have, after all. The weird license plates in this issue continue – I didn’t mention it last issue, but the car of the boy who saw the Castle Revolving was bizarre, and the cop car’s is P955699. I doubt if they have any significance, but whoever was responsible for the license plates – either Morrison or Bianchi – wasn’t real clear on how American license plates work. I just thought I’d point it out. Anyway, Justin kicks the door off the car, and it flies off the hinges and into a passing car. This is with his hands cuffed behind his back and with absolutely nothing to brace himself against and no leverage, yet he kicks it a good, what, 5-10 feet? That’s power! He also manages to grab a gun while he’s getting out of the car. The cop stands off against him, and shoots him. But he’s wearing armor! Bwah-ha-ha-ha! Justin grabs the fender of another car (with another strange license plate) and bashes the cops, grabs his sword, and runs for it. Yay, Justin!
The narration kicks in, telling us about Justin entering the city of night and stars. It’s a place where “blue soldiers rode clockwork insects through the air, with eyes that lit up their prey.” All things considered, helicopters are kind of creepy. Justin believes the cops – men in blue – are Sheeda, which is why he freaks out a bit. We see a billboard for a movie, The Cup of Blood, starring Suli Stellamaris. The movie’s nameÂ is a reference to the Holy Grail, which was filled with Christ’s blood, and Stellamaris means “Star of the Sea.” Suli herself shows up in Bulleteer – she’s the mermaid Alix is guarding. And she’s a bitch! I’m not terribly sure why a mermaid is starring in a movie called The Cup of Blood, but there you have it. Justin is very confused about how long he spent in Castle Revolving. It’s a crapload longer than we think! On the next page, we learn that Vanguard is a scion of the line of Pegazeus. This is, of course, a melding of Pegasus and Zeus. The flying horses are yet another one of the treasures that include Caliburn and the Undry cauldron. The narration is interesting: “The Spoils of Unwhen,” which Morrison references here, is a play on “The Spoils of Annwn,” which is a Welsh poem from the 1300s. Read it here! According to Morrison’s version, Arthur also led a company of knights “by this same road” through Castle Revolving (to modern-day Los Angeles?), and they faced seven ordeals and only seven knights returned from “unwhen’s impossible dungeons.” But when they grew old, they spoke of a monster called Guilt. And hey presto! what’s that stalking Justin? It’s Guilt! Its a “Mood 7 Mind Destroyer,” and Justin’s sword cannot harm it, no one can see it (like Misty?), and it kills with words. “Killing me softly with his song,” as it were. Guilt is an interesting creature. It has eight eyes, which reminds us of spiders, and reminds me (and probably no one else) of the Fury, Alan Moore’s excellent villain from Captain Britain. It’s significant, too, that it’s a “Mood 7 Mind Destroyer” – would faerie folk have this kind of advanced technology? I don’t know about Morrison’s version of faeries, but we always hear about them using magic (or, hell, magick) and not really having a lot of tech. We’ve already seen them using lasers and riding machine spiders, and now they have this weird Guilt monster that seems to be some sort of technological miracle. It’s just another clue that the Sheeda are from the far future, and not faeries. But enough of that! We need to move on!
Guilt takes Justin around the city, whispering in his ear the whole time about the fall of Avalon. It’s interesting that he mentions where a “city of light” once stood, “a city of reeking iron walls and towers was raised.” Iron always gets a bad rap, I reckon. Writers often speak of iron as if it is somehow evil, or that people who use it automatically fashion it into weapons to kill everyone. It’s a weird theme that runs through a lot of fantasy writing. Anyway, after Avalon fell, Mordredd ruled for 500 years and pretty much destroyed everything. How did Mordredd manage to live for 500 years? Well, either he’s one of those Biblical dudes who lived a long time, or he took a dip in the cauldron, the Lazarus Pit of Seven Soldiers. I wonder … Guilt mentions that everyone Justin loved died in despair. Guilt is being a bit ironic here, as a crucial person that Justin loved did not, in fact, die, but is in some despair. He then tells Justin that he spent 10,000 years in Castle Revolving. This dates Avalon to 8,000 B.C. This is an interesting date. I should probably get back to it at some point.
Guilt then gives us a very crucial bit of information: “Did I tell you how Sheeda yeth-hounds dug your honored ancestors from their grave-mounds? How we made them undead slaves, toiling forever in the great mills that power the City of Despair in Last Country?” He then says the Queen of Terror rode an eight-legged mare across the “graveyard of Camelot.” Zatanna, of course, dreamed of Gloriana Tenebrae on an eight-legged mare, and that ties into Odin’s horse, which wasn’t a mare, by the way. It also hearkens back to spiders. But the first part is interesting. We have just finished reading Klarion #1, if we read these in the order in which they were published. So we have seen the creation of the Grundys and what they are used for. What Guilt is saying, therefore, is that the Sheeda create slaves in the same way as the inhabitants of Limbo Town. Exactly what is the connection between these two groups? Morrison is foreshadowing nicely again. The idea of a mill to create power is a ridiculously old theme, as well. It has to do with cosmology and the way ancient man viewed the heavens. Go read more about it, if you like. Morrison obviously has these ideas in mind. He’s too well-read not to. Anyway, Guilt makes Justin feel, well, guilty, for having run away. Justin is too consumed by the feelings of guilt that are already there to figure out that it didn’t exactly happen that way. But we’ll get back to him!
We shift to a palatial mansion near the Hollywood sign. A “godfather” – a big fat stereotypical Italian – is attended by his two goons, who are not your typical goons. The one who is talking to the don – Crazyface – has a face with one half pure white and the other half pitch black, and speaks of his “technologically advanced eyeballs.” The other doesn’t say anything, but he’s big, hulking, and has a dirt-brown face with matching clothing. Chinese characters adorn his clothing, but I’m not sure what they mean. He also looks vaguely Asian, but he also puts me in mind of the golem that we saw in The Manhattan Guardian #1. Considering what we learn about the don, it’s probably not a coincidence. Anyway, Crazyface has been telling the don about Vanguard, who is lying in the stable, looking perfectly healthy. The don is suitably impressed. He tells Vanguard – whom he calls “Horsefeathers” – that they found shards of material no one can identify and Justin’s helmet when they found him. The don also mentions that he’s disfigured – his neck has what looks like gills, and he also has three bullet holes around his heart. But that’s okay, because he’s Vincenzo, the “undying don.” Yet another reference to not dying – and the cauldron landed in this time, just like Justin did. Where could it be? Vincenzo, as we will learn, is another ex-member of the Newsboy Army. That makes three we’ve met so far – Ed, Larry, and Vincenzo. What do they know of the Sheeda?
Guilt, meanwhile, is trying to get Justin to kill himself. Justin is sitting on a park bench next to what looks like a disfigured man who happens to have a top hat next to him. A couple of punks, led by Guilt, show up and harass the man. They mock Justin and pour beer on him, which doesn’t sit well with our hero. This entire sequence reminds me of that scene in The Fisher King (goddamn, what a good movie!) when Robin Williams finishes his date with Amanda Plummer and then the Black Knight shows up and chases him under that bridge and the bad guys show up and beat him senseless, with the shadow of the Knight behind them. But Morrison wouldn’t rip off Terry Gilliam, would he????
Vincenzo is feeding Vanguard, and we learn that his other bodyguard is named Strato. Vincenzo says that he doesn’t want “the air-golem of the East raining on my shorts.” This presumably refers to Strato, as he is (as I mentioned) vaguely Asian-looking, and his clothes are very Japanese-like. Therefore, it’s perfectly reasonable for us to conclude that he is somehow related to Brutus, the “last” of the golems that Ed created for his crime-fighting team. Brutus was made of clay, meaning he was the “earth-golem.” So why doesn’t Strato (“stratosphere”?) have a mark on his forehead? And where are the other two golems, since Ed is obviously wrong when he says Brutus is the “last”? But that’s not the most important thing on this page! Vanguard decides to talk to Vincenzo, and he does. This makes Vincenzo quite put out. But he has no chance to process this information, because he is struck from behind by a venom-tipped spear and crumples over. He tells Crazyface not to let them near the cauldron. Ah ha! Vincenzo, obviously, knows a little something about the attackers, even though he hasn’t seen them. Out front, good old Neh-buh-loh is riding his spider machine and wreaking havoc. Morrison references the prophecies of Morrigu, the “carrion goddess of war,” who predicted that a dark age would come when the splendors of Camelot would be forgotten. It seems like we’ve reached that point, people! Morrigu often appears as a crow, and she is also known as the Queen of Terror. Oh dear, we know who that is, don’t we? She can also be linked to Lilith, the legendary first wife of Adam. Man, the more you delve into this, the more interesting it becomes, I swear. Anyway, let’s leave Neh-buh-loh on his rampage and return to Justin.
Justin has had enough of the bad guys, and he beats them but good. The narrator continues with Morrigu’s prophecies, but it’s all kind of dull – the standard stuff about how horrible our world is because Congress sucks. I swear that’s (sort of) what it says! Justin is having none of it, though, and he says that the greatness of men will endure as long as one knight of Camelot does. The full-page drawing of Justin on page 21 is beautiful but slightly creepy – Justin’s face looks fake, which makes me think it’s supposed to be a subtle hint about the “mask” that Justin is wearing. I could be wrong, I guess, but it’s still weird. He’s suddenly wearing a different shirt – or, I should say, some sort of tunic over his armor. It has a Chinese character on it that looks like the one on Strato’s shirt. I hate when people start flinging Chinese characters around, because they’re often very ambiguous on their own. So I’m not going into it. He asks the old man if he’s okay, and at that moment, the man coughs up some of Vanguard’s feathers. Interesting. He and Justin can understand each other, and the old man knows Justin’s name. He tells Justin that a dark age needs a shining knight, but he won’t have to fight alone. There are some nice touches on this page. First, Clark Kent shows up for a cameo and puts some change in the old man’s top hat. What he’s doing in Los Angeles is beyond me, but still, it’s a nice touch. And he’s wearing a Superman T-shirt, so that’s cool. The old man himself is Ali Ka-Zoom, who is also an ex-member of the Newsboy Army. They’re all over the place! In the penultimate panel of the book, we see a bus, which Ali Ka-Zoom is about to board so he can ride over to Zatanna’s book. Actually, it’s a bus that takes ghosts to their final resting place. So there’s that.
Obviously, Morrison is beginning to tie everything together, despite the fact that these are supposedly unconnected mini-series. Yeah, right! But what is interesting is that he really brings in the guilt in this issue, even though he’s touched on it before. Why guilt?
Guilt is a very powerful emotion that clouds people’s judgment. More than fear, it can cripple someone emotionally. After all, we have nothing to fear but fear itself (it’s Pearl Harbor day, so I thought I’d throw some FDR in there). Fear is also an external thing – we are scared of something. If we are confronted with fear, it is something that we can process. Guilt is much more insidious, stemming from our deepest insecurities. There is no reason for Justin to feel guilty. He went into Castle Revolving in order to fight the Sheeda, and tried his best, and really couldn’t have stopped the Sheeda anyway. He didn’t “escape,” he was accidentally removed from the time period. There was nothing he could have done. But tell that to someone who feels guilty. They know it on a conscious level, but guilt gets deep into the mind and gnaws away at you – if only I did something differently. We all feel guilty (except maybe O. J.), even though, logically, we know it’s silly. When my daughter was in the car accident that caused her traumatic brain injury, I was driving. Even though it was not my fault and there was no way I could have avoided it, I am still occasionally wracked by guilt, because I think stuff like “If only I hadn’t gone out that day.” This leads into a whole retroactive line of reasoning that makes no difference – we did what we did, and it’s over. But it’s human nature to revisit bad decisions or bad things that have happened to us and say, “What if …?” The Sheeda’s Mood 7 Mind Destroyer – there’s that number again; is guilt the “seventh” mood? – knows this and simply enhances those feelings. It is extremely difficult to overcome, especially when this big hulking thing is standing there reminding you of it over and over. Guilt, however, overplayed its hand. The thing you don’t want to do with someone who is overcome with guilt – no matter how empty that guilt really is – is give him something to distract him. Justin gets a fight, and he is able to snap out of it because someone pours beer on him. That would snap me out of it! He is a warrior, after all, and Guilt gives him someone to fight. It reminds him of who he is, and allows him to get past the guilt he feels. This is something that Zatanna and Jake have yet to do at this point in the saga. Zatanna has lost the ability to work magic, and Jake has not really had any opportunity to be a hero. But this motif, of guilt being assuaged by action, comes up again and again. Is Morrison saying that his heroes are too insecure to overcome their feelings by themselves, without external prodding? In each case, they are spurred to action. Justin defends Ali Ka-Zoom, Jake must rescue Carla (more than once), and Zatanna feels maternal toward Misty. Sure, we need action in a comic book, but in trying to be heroes, are these people ignoring deeper psychological problems?
What are we to make of the date of 8,000 B.C. for Avalon? After I got back from Egypt, I decided to re-read Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock, which postulates that an undiscovered civilization built the Pyramids and Sphinx well before the time of the Fourth Dynasty pharaohs to whom they are attributed. It’s a fascinating theory, and it traces the downfall of this civilization to the cataclysmic climate change that came at the end of the last Ice Age – which appears to have been rapid global warming which caused the flood legends that appear in almost every mythology you can mention. The last Ice Age, needless to say, appears to have ended about 8,000 B.C. I find it difficult to believe that Morrison doesn’t know about these theories, and the Sheeda therefore become the thing that destroys this high civilization and plunges humanity into a dark age deeper than the so-called one that lasted in Europe for a thousand years after the fall of Rome. This idea of the Sheeda as civilization-destroyers, which becomes more fully developed through the saga, leads us to consider the Sheeda-as-metaphor motif, which I might have to get into at some point. The Sheeda are from the far future, and they are far more technologically advanced than the civilizations they’re pillaging. Are the Sheeda “real”? Or are they something that Morrison is using as a metaphor for what we ourselves are doing as our civilization grows old?
So that’s Shining Knight #2. Lots to ponder. As a part of the whole mini-series, it works well, although it falls into the “second issue” syndrome, with less action than the first one and more exposition. But it does a nice job of getting us further into the entire mythology of the epic, and even though there are still plenty of questions about the connections between everyone, it’s neat to see the connections that do exist coming into play.
Check out the annotations here. You know you want to!
Next: So many connections in Manhattan Guardian #2, it may blow your mind!
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