Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Morning After Magicians

My good friends and regular D&D partners celebrated a birthday with a trip to an Indian reservation and a 12-hour peyote trip, which led to a mystical experience involving aliens, telepathy, and "rolling" states of altered consciousness which I cannot help but -- in at least a small way -- envy. For while I study and read and write about magic and magicians, and no doubt will continue to do so till the end of my life, I will never perform a magical working for the simple fact that I'm too square to do drugs. When I left home, and my Dad packed up all my belongings and drove me to my college in another state, he had only one piece of advice for me, and it was "Stay away from drugs." So I have. I'm that kind of guy.

But M's wonderfully artistic description of the event and L's later elaboration between rounds of initiative prompted me to say "You need to read the Invisibles" so often that I felt like a goddamn idiot. But it's true. And what I need to do is respect the magic that took place in that smoky chamber by taking a few minutes to write about magic in comics, specifically comics written by practicing magicians. Because it seems like it would be a real shame for this lovely, intelligent, outrageously funny couple to waste a perfectly good initiation experience by not following up on the pointers which arcane forces beyond our understanding have so graciously provided by means of a dozen peyote buttons.

There are three practicing magician comic creators that I know of, but I can only write effectively about two of them. Steve Moore, whose wikipedia entry is here, can justly brag about teaching Alan Moore how to write comics and is Alan's long time friend. Although he has written many stories for Britain's long-running magazine 2000AD, as well as books for Marvel UK, what is most interesting to me is that he was an editor for Fortean Times and Fortean Studies (its academic counterpart, 2994-2001), which is a topic I find endlessly fascinating. Lately he has more or less retired from comics, but considering how much of his work is in other forms, I don't think we should take that as anything less than a re-direction of his efforts and current interests. Besides, Alan has been taking nothing but curmudgeonly pot-shots at the comics industry for the last five years, and Steve has got to be tired of hearing it. So best to just let it go.

But the other two creators, and the ones I can talk about, are Alan himself and Grant Morrison. Since we've already mentioned Alan, let's go right to him.

Alan Moore's decision to become a practicing magician is a direct result of one of his most hard-to-read and literate comics, From Hell. In that book, William Gull, who is the serial killer and transformative mystic known to us now as Jack the Ripper, notes to his carriage driver that there's only one place we know that gods certainly exist, and that is in our minds. Moore was 40 years old at the time, and he decided that line out of From Hell was an inarguable truth. It was true, and if he was going to continue living an honest life he had better adjust to that truth. He started to think about the next step in his life and he decided he could either have a nervous breakdown or become a magician and he picked Door #2. At first he used psychedelic drugs but these days, I have it from a reliable source, Alan just relies on high quality Amsterdam hash. We shouldn't laugh, because magic has always involved drug use, and there's plenty of peyote-drinking medicine men over the centuries who could tell us more about that, I imagine. Anyway, Alan proceeded to try to answer the question, "Where do ideas come from?", which is a question we all laugh at but which Alan decided, after some thought, is the only question really worth asking. And all this led to his idea that things we imagine are just as real as things which tax us, kiss us, and hit us in the street. And, when you think about it, he has kind of a point. After all, the Big Red S is instantly recognized around the world. People tattoo it on their bodies, they mark their clothes with it, and they try to live up to it. That symbol influences people, and not just to buy comics. In fact, very few of them buy comics. As a merchandising tool, it's a failure. But as a force of nature, it's a goddamn hurricane. Moore gets into this more in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen when Prospero outlines the whole argument at the end of Vol2, but basically if, when you were growing up, you thought "I want to be like Captain Kirk or Sherlock Holmes or Spider-Man," then it's actually pretty bloody ungrateful to later decide those ideas aren't real when you have, by your own admission, allowed them to be your role models in your formative years.

Alan practices what he preaches, too, because his magic involves worship to Glycon, a Roman snake god, which everyone including Alan admits was a complete hoax at the time, basically a puppet snake which some Roman conman used to get drachma out of the rubes. But because Moore's philosophy insists that imaginary beings are still real, then Glycon, although a "Fake God" does exist. As an idea. And that idea has helped Alan write pretty much everything he has written for the last ten years.

No single book better illuminates Moore's attitude towards magic and creativity than Promethea, which went for precisely 32 issues from 1999-2005, because it just so happened that Alan's rising and inevitable disgust with comics collided with the fact that 32 is the Kaballah answer to the question, "How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man." Promethea was later collected in five paperback volumes. Now I have written about Promethea elsewhere, and I won't go into a serious plot summary here or anything, I'll just say that by the end of the first 12 issues the character of Promethea -- who is a living story, and whose tagline is "If she didn't exist, we would have had to invent her" -- goes on a tour of the mystical cosmos during which she walks the 32 paths of the Kabbalah on the way to becoming a magus. She learns tantric sex and she has a number of guides along the way (my favorite being a homage to Jaime Hernandez' brilliantly real Love & Rockets character, Maggie). Now, the book by this point had reached a point where most people had simply stopped reading, and I can't blame them, because it's not for ordinary joes any more. It is a book about magic; not wand and dragon magic, but real, honest to god, practicing magic in our real world, narrated by actual magicians famous and in-. Crowley makes an appearance, and in fact it is from one of these appearances that I got the name for my dissertation. Most of the meat of the magic chapters are, essentially, the main character asking questions and getting answers. It's a Socratic dialogue, if Socrates was drawn and colored by artists who, I am convinced, flew down from Heaven on pixie-dust and Xena DVDs.

Alan Moore is the most literate and high brow of comic writers. I suppose there might be a short list of people you could nominate for "The Shakespeare of Comics," but he sure fits the bill for me. (It can't be Eisner; he looked down on comics and always seemed to be slumming when he wrote one, and it can't be Kirby, who read Shakespeare and loved him but who had little interest in subtlety.) Until he and Steve Moore finish the Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, which is supposed to be a grimoire in comics format, this is the closest we are probably going to get to a how-to. It's not for the rubes. It's challenging and it's experimental. But it's calling.

Now if Alan Moore is the Shakespeare of comics, Grant Morrison is more like Kit Marlowe, if Marlowe had come after Shakespeare and not before. Like Marlowe, he's perpetually young, more handsome, and somehow far more hip than Shakespeare. He's sexier, not just in person but also in his language and his plots. Just as Shakespeare could never, ever, have written Edward II, so Alan Moore could never, ever, have written The Invisibles.

The Invisibles is a three-volume epic (it's packaged as 7 books, which is why Amazon says volumes 1-7, but it's really a three parter) which is widely considered Morrison's magnum opus, though I expect Grant himself is trying to break that conception with his current work on Batman, a character he has long identified with and wanted to write. It is a story of an occult conspiracy powered by drugs, guns, and rock and roll. Its characters undergo mystic initiations which allow them to see the truth of the world in a way impossible for the rest of us. Sometimes these initiations involve heavy quotation from King Lear and stepping off buildings. But other times they involve getting stoned on mountain tops or gray aliens who carry the Holy Grail. Morrison's conviction on things like the meta-textuality of the cosmos and his own certainty that he has been abducted by aliens, shown the true nature of the universe, and that this nature is, basically, "play and have fun," is unwavering, dizzying, and hypnotic.

Morrison also practices magic in his personal and daily life; he is, in many ways, a ten-year-younger version of Moore who hasn't alienated himself from the comics industry and who is responsible for far fewer movies that suck. He used magic to communicate with the evil entities he believes were responsible for his own near-fatal illness while writing the Invisibles, and he bargained for his own health and recovery by promising them that, if they would let him live, he would immortalize them forever in comics as the Baddest Shit Ever. And he did. You can see them for yourself. He used magic to cure Jill Thompson's cat of cancer. He used magic to save his own comic book from cancellation. (The Wankathon, as this magical act is known, is simply too awesome to share space with any other topic, and must wait for another time.) Needless to say, he did all of this while on some serious shit, and he has fully admitted that for parts of the Invisibles he was just taking pills and writing pages as fast as he could write them, basically letting whatever he was doing in his life dictate what went onto the page. Sort of like how Kevin Smith writes comics except, you know, not in a way that makes you want to stab your eyes out.

For a person who is, shall we say, "magic-curious," The Invisibles is perhaps a better place to go than Promethea because it is, frankly, a more exciting story. It's longer, and confusing as hell. Fortunately there are annotations to help us through; I recommend Anarchy for the Masses: The Disinformation Guide to the Invisibles. And the first volume is kind of shaky, too. The main story, the initiation, is quite good. And that's why it remains a great start for someone who might, say, have taken a 12-hour high and been rewarded with telepathy and who might want to know, "Hey, what's next?" But the subplots kind of wander and stumble around until Volume 2, when it becomes insanely good, and I'm not just saying that because King Mob throws his pistol into a lake in a pure-as-gold Arthurian moment. The later volumes of Invisibles get a lot more into how magic works as Morrison swaps out his kung fu me-characters for magical ones, and Morrison's own interviews in Anarchy for the Masses help here too. Magic, it turns out, is really a pretty simple idea of doing something to generate power, and then directing that power through effort. The trick is knowing what to ask for, and Grant will tell you through hard experience that we should always ask for what we NEED, not what we WANT. Because, let's face it, we're stupid men and we want things that are really very, very, bad for us.

If I were an aspiring magician -- and I never will be, thanks Dad -- I would read The Invisibles and Promethea, and see what I think of what their authors are saying. If nothing else, I'd be in for some of the best comics ever written, I shit you not. But they might also be on to something, something about creativity and human existence, about how we treat each other and what happens next, about things which are just out of earshot, and just beyond the corner of my eye.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"The Last Great Work of Alan Moore"

The last 24 hours have seen an outpouring of sympathy and, I imagine, scorn over the folding of Wildstorm's shutters. I don't have all that much to say about it, really. I mean, these were people getting paid to make comics, it's the best job in the world, they seemed to know that, and now those jobs are gone. That's about all that needs to be said about it.

But over at
Heidi McDonald's Comics Beat, buried near the tail end of a long tribute to Wildstorm by various creators and staff over the years, is this beauty by Rob Lefield.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen felt as important as Watchmen, a return to Alan Moore’s penchant of taking existing icons and pulling them together in a massive sprawling epic. It made it to screen, complete with condemnation from Moore, faster than any of his previous works. Had the film been and performed better, it’s legacy would be even more immense. For me, the last great work of Alan Moore.

Now, for many, the very fact that Rob Liefeld wants to critique Alan Moore is laughable on its face. We are forced to ask the question, "What, pray tell, is the last great work of Rob Liefeld?" But that's not really fair in this case. Liefeld isn't writing about Alan as a critic, or even as a peer in the comics industry, but rather as a fan. Reading the rest of Liefeld's comments, his love for these books, his enthusiasm, his sheer envy and fan-geekery, are unhidden. And that is a perfectly legit forum for Rob Liefeld to critique Alan Moore. As a guy who reads Alan's books, and who likes them, and who happens to think that everything after the first volume of League has been downhill.

It's certainly true that since Moore started ABC, artists and editors have been desperate for anything he has written, even going to the extent to publish old songs and poems he wrote years before. You get some amazing artist to illustrate Alan's text, which was never meant to be a comic, and people are bound to buy it because, well, it's Alan Frikkin' Moore. And most of the time it is still worth it, but no one would claim that something like "Another Suburban Romance" or "Hypothetical Lizard" are Great Comics.

So if we eliminate the obvious noncontenders, what are we left with? Well, there's everything else at ABC, including Top Ten, Tom Strong, and Promethea, and there's Lost Girls.

I love Top Ten. I've used it in the classroom, teaching it in a freshman composition & literature course where we could focus on textual analysis. It was the last book in the quarter, and it was there for a reason, because of all the comics we read it was the hardest for the students to understand. Gene Ha's art was just so damn busy, so damn rich, that the students were overwhelmed at first. The layouts made them seasick. It was awesome, but took some getting used to. They loved the characters, the sheer gutsiness of the book. When my students realized that Kemlo was a dog with a human girlfriend, and they were going home to have sex, I mean ... those moments are priceless. What other writer would DO that? And, while doing it, make it clear that this wasn't just done for shock value. It actually humanized the characters. We felt kind of sorry for her, because her previous guys had been such dicks to her, and Kemlo was basically a human being in a dog suit. He was a guy who happened to be a doberman, and he wore his Hawaiian shirts, and he was the complete opposite of, for example, the robot police officer who came around in volume 2, who didn't want to be human because, well, that would have been a step down.

Top Ten was a great comic. But it wasn't a Great Comic. It is tragically cut short by its conclusion at the end of volume 2, or "Season One," with many plot threads left unresolved and so much left to do or say. But, really, as a police procedural, could it really have ended any other way? It ended the same way Law & Order ended, with a sudden end-of-season cancellation and a couple of spin-off books which are decent, solid, but wholly unremarkable imitations of the original. Now I can't stop thinking of Sam Waterson as Smax. Think about it. It could have worked.

I was slow to warm up to Tom Strong. I didn't get it at first, when the various ABC titles were first being marketed and hyped. I didn't realize it was a Doc Savage/Tarzan/everything else mash-up which speculated, "What would superheroes be like if Superman had never been invented?" That's a brilliant concept, and it uses a bunch of wonderful titles I adore from the pulp era and before. The age of Victorian adventure fiction got new life in Tom Strong, and if his stories were wild fun and a little bit kooky and far-out, well, that was the point. It had a talking ape and a robot man who used wax cylinders for a voice box, it had Nazi super-vixens and an auto-gyro, and everything in that sentence is made of win. There's no question Tom Strong was fun. But where it started to get great, when it started to be real, were those moments when Tom came face to face with his father, his mother, and his attitude towards these people. Tom's father imprisoned his son in a gravity well for his entire childhood in order to make him into a superman. And every time Tom was forced to confront the fact that he loved his father, but also resented him, the book saw greatness. Tom was a father and a husband, and though his battles with colossal cybernetic snakes from an alternate dimension were never really in doubt, his real struggle was to be a better man, a better husband, and a better father than his own father. And he longed to reconnect with his mother who was gone, in a way that any reader of Maus can instantly recognize. If Art Spiegelman and Tom Strong sat down for lunch together, you know they would instantly recognize each other.

I don't claim to be a Lost Girls expert. There are some people who have written long and thoughtful pieces on the book, people like Kate Laity or Emily Mattingly and others. I've got it, I read it, and I thought it was interesting, but I've never opened it back up since I finished it the first time. I remember I didn't really know what I was getting when I bought it. I pretty much picked it up because:
  1. It was Alan Moore
  2. He had been working on it for years
  3. It had literary characters in it
  4. It was porn

This four-punch combo was irrestible to me. And there's no question that the time, the sheer number of man-and-woman hours involved, is clear on every page. Gebbie has created something unlike anything else that is out there. And I am sure there is plenty in the text that I would appreciate, if I were educated on it. Issues of gender, and race, and sexuality, and machines and technology, and all kinds of other important topics. But the simple fact is that Lost Girls does not turn me on. Which I was pretty surprised about, to be honest. No matter what else we might get out of Lost Girls, it is written to be porn. Really, really, high quality porn. Porn that costs you a hundred dollars in hardcover and which you keep for a lifetime. But if porn does not turn you on, it's a failure. For those who are turned on by Lost Girls, bully for you. Don't let Christine O'Donnell catch you.

And what are we left with? Well, there's the other League books and there's Promethea. Did Liefeld mean to include the second volume of League and the Black Dossier and the stalled Century when he praised League as Alan's last great work? I don't know for sure, but I tend to doubt it. None of these comics have been made into film, which seems to be one of the measures by which Liefeld makes his case, nor have they been printed at Wildstorm, which seems to be what Rob is talking about here. But, out of caution, I will not try to argue that League volume 2 is Great, or that the Black Dossier is Great, despite my true and sincere admiration for both these books, which I have written about extensively elsewhere.

And so, Promethea. She was an initial hit with readers, who saw in these pages an action-adventure comic with a strong female protagonist who didn't wear a thong. JH Williams III made this book into a transcendant masterpiece. The layouts, the gutter art, the design of the characters and everything else we saw told you that this, this, this was something worth reading. Something you would be talking about later. As the first story arc ended, people started to drift away from the book. Sophie started to wander the mystical universe, meeting a large cast of supporting characters drawn from history, occultism, and the imagination. She became a mouthpiece for exposition about how the cosmos was put together, how it worked. Or, rather, she asked all the questions, because she was the novice, the learner, and everyone else she encountered provided the answers. She was Dante and her guides were many. We began to learn what magic was. We learned its symbols and its voices. The book became impossibly dense. It experimented with art, with photo comics, with realism and cartoons. The book split into two different stories: Sophie continued her tour through the Sephiroth, walking the path of the magus, while her best friend became her rival back on Earth, kicking ass and taking names. But there wasn't enough ass-kicking for most readers, or for the comics media, who simply stopped reading. It became too high brow, even when the end came into sight and Alan suddenly reminded us that, oh yeah, Promethea looked like an Arab, which means she could be a Muslim terrorist, and the world we were living in, you and I, intruded into all that mystic mumbo-jumbo and reminded us that the cold equations are never far away.

Promethea is a Great Comic. It shoots higher than Tom Strong, than Top Ten, than Lost Girls. And it scores. It's not for everyone. It's never going to change the comic industry the way Watchmen did. And that means Rob Liefeld and the people like him are never going to love Promethea. That's because it does not speak to them. Those people are not its audience. Promethea speaks to the literati, to the student of history, of culture, to the magus and the aspiring magus. It reaches out to those of us who have read comics since we were six and it asks us, "Haven't you always thought there was something magical about comics?" And we quietly whisper, "Yes" where no one can hear us. Except Alan and Williams, who nod knowingly, pull back the curtain of the world, and usher us into the magnificant moon and serpent show of our dreams.

But even this, even this argument, is unfair. Because Alan Moore, despite his increasing grouchiness, is not yet done. I am not the first person to note that Moore has become increasingly ambivalent towards not only the comic industry, but even towards his fellow creators. I won't go into that here. But we know he has been working on a couple of major projects, and I for one am still hopeful that they will, someday, see the sun. One of those books is his novel, Jerusalem. Another is his grimoire in comic form. Will either of these two things be "Great"? I don't know, and maybe its just because I'm not a young man any more, but I would think twice before saying a creator like Alan Moore wrote his "last great work" over ten years ago, when the guy is still alive and still writing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Superhero Campaigns

I'm two-thirds of the way through my D&D4e campaign and everyone seems to be having a (mostly) good time, so it's not like I have any time to run anything else in the next, oh, year. But a casual remark by one of my players a month or so ago got me thinking that, if I were to run a new game, and if that game was a superhero game, what sort of game might I run?

This is a hard question, not an easy one, because despite my love for the superhero genre, and the man-years which I have spent enthusing over just this kind of question, I have already run so many of these games over the years that coming up with one which isn't a rehash of something I have already done is a real corker. Dark and gritty vigilantes? Done. Most powerful heroes in the world? Done. Play yourselves with super powers? Done. I have had to get fairly creative the last couple of times, and the result was my POTUS campaign (the heroes are secret service agents in the 2008 campaign) and a take on the "Kooky Quartet" in which every member of the World's Greatest Hero Team quits, and the only people left to stand up and fill the roster are little-known other guys who would have fit better in the Mystery Men than the Justice League.

Both games were fun, but what do I do now? I have a setting, one I call Worlds of Wonder, but that doesn't really tell me what sort of a game to run. My biggest regret is I never got to run my Tunguska 12 campaign idea, but it was always timed to the centennial of the Tunguska event and that has come and gone. But thinking about it, I now have two ideas, which is something at least.

I would like to do a "common origin" game, in which everyone gets their powers at more or less the same time, during the game, and this creates a bond between them that keeps them together even when they don't necessarily like each other all that much, or if one of them does something the others don't agree with. I've spent some time fiddling around with this in other games; Tunguska 12 would have accomplished this as well. But to make this work, you have to come up with an origin which doesn't restrict the players too much. I can't say, for example, "All right, you are all astronauts," because, well, what if you don't want to play an astronaut. Of course, none of the FF were astronauts and they all went into space on a rocket ship, but most players find that all pretty laughable. But I digress.

So my idea was to put all the players on jury duty together. I mean, if you have a driver's license, you can be called for jury duty. I suppose some people are exempt, but most of those people -- cops, government officials -- I could put in the courtroom anyway from their job. And jury duty is such a cross-section that is allows almost anyone. Also, if its 12 people plus other people in the court-room, then there's my cast of NPCs who recur throughout the series. That is, the guy who is on trial, he gets super powers too and becomes the villain of the series. Witnesses in the courtroom, the bailiff or court recorder, the lawyers, these all become recurring cast, because they all get powers too.

And heck, "The Jury" is even a pretty good name for a super team.

I have no idea what powers the Jury would get. I'd like to leave that up to the players. I don't know what suddenly causes them to develop super powers. It must have something to do with the case that is on trial. Maybe there's some high tech gizmo as Exhibit A. Maybe the defendant is the victim of a poison gas attack. Maybe terrorists try to blow up the court room. No idea. Aliens, maybe it's aliens! Nah.

The other idea came to me today as I was finally reading Morrison's "Black Glove" trade, in which the Batmen of Many Nations appear. I think it might be kind of neat to do a "Let's get the Band back together" story, in which the players have all been superheroes for ten years or so, and they used to be on a team, but the team broke up, and now they are all called back together. Maybe it's for a dopey reason like a reunion or a publicity pic. Maybe someone is making a movie or a new book is coming out, and its all for the press. Or maybe someone has called them all together in true 12 Little Indians style. But the point of this game would be that we would not know, when the game started, why the Band broke up. We would figure that out during the course of the campaign, maybe using flashbacks or parallel stories in which some clue from a current case reminds people of their Last Case way back in '99 or whatever, and it slowly gets spooled out a little thread at a time.

And, again, The Band isn't a bad name for a superhero group.

So those are the two superhero games I kind of want to run, right now. Or, rather, they're the two games I think have good possibility, and would be fun, and workable, if I had time to run a superhero game. Which I don't. But you know. I can't stop thinking.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Arthur Lives, Going Savage

So I have been spending my spare hours this week working on the Savage Worlds version of Arthur Lives. The two games are very different, not least because only one has classes and levels. True20 has a certain presumption of action-worthiness built into the system; your character cannot go up in level and be completely helpless, because your attack bonus, defense, and saves all go up with you. Yes, you could pick useless powers, and no doubt some players do that, put if you put a gun in the hand of a 16th level expert, even if that character has refused to acquire Firearm Proficiency, he'll still be practically invulnerable to low-level attackers and be able to shoot them dead.

Savage Worlds doesn't work like that. Instead of using rules to push your abilities higher, it relies on carrots and sticks. You want to improve your Fighting skill? You'll have to pay a penalty unless you also increase your Agility. And as soon as you do that, you've made yourself better at all kinds of things, not just Fighting.

True20 has long lists of feats, and characters accumulate a lot of them as they go up in level. Savage Worlds uses edges instead, but there are fewer of them and an individual character will have fewer of them on his sheet.

But the really big thing I am noticing is that Savage World's emphasis on what they call "Fast! Furious! Fun!" means that the only magic is combat magic, and the rules are very thin on anything that doesn't involve fighting. True20 lavishes effort on crafting, for example, so a character can make magical items, potions, explosives, and what have you. None of that exists in Savage Worlds. True20 has all these ways for characters with high Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma to hold their own in combat; in Savage Worlds, none of those alternate combat routes exist. Some of these mechanics I can let go, but others I have to create, because Arthur Lives is essentially a game of occult conspiracy. There's plenty of action. It's a cinematic game. But it also needs to have things like ritual magic, the creation of enchanted items, magic potions, and more.

At the same time, I'm glad to have a game system with rules for chases and vehicle combat. That will help out the knights in AL, who tend to have vehicle skills and who want to put those skills to use. Each system is different, and I certainly recognize that and am happy to work around it. But I do worry that Savage Worlds players are going to see this game, with all its ritual magic, its crafting, its non-combat spells like supernatural travel and faerie refuges, and they're going to accuse me of "not being Savage Worlds enough."

Time will tell, I suppose.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Strictly Non-Aryan

Sometimes I stumble across images that grab me and make me write about them. This is one. It's from Look Magazine's 1940 two-page comic, "What if Superman Ended the War?", which you can read in its entirety here.

There's a lot to think and talk about here; Corey Creekmur uses these two pages to bring up ethical issues concerning the ramifications of super powers. I don't know specifically where he goes with this, but I imagine it might start with something like, "Isn't Superman an American citizen? And if he is, and America isn't at war with Germany in 1940, then why is he invading that country?" Because in 1940, this was not yet our war.

But, of course, that was exactly what Siegel and Schuster -- two Jewish kids -- wanted to change. If I were using this story in class, I think I'd have less to say about the ethics of superpowers (interesting and geopolitical as they may be) and more to say about propaganda and the way that comics and popular culture are used to influence popular will. This comic, and many more like them, were a collective shout on the part of young Jewish men who were riding the crest of a new media wave. There were millions of people reading what these guys were writing, and these were guys who were not used to attention. When they spoke, they did not command the ears of the general multitude. But now, suddenly, what they wrote and what they drew were burning up the news stands, being passed around from hand to hand to hand, between both kids and their dads. So, naturally, these creators, heady with new audience and the electric power sparking from their fingertips, started to talk louder and louder, with more and more passion.

Still, one can't help but read the comic and wonder, "What if?" Superman ends World War II in two pages, before America is even drawn into it, before Pearl Harbor. We don't see him round up Mussolini and Hirohito, but presumably he could if they weren't smart enough to stop fighting on their own. He's sort of a one-man A-bomb, in the sense that he forces an end to the war through the fear of an overwhelming superior force. If we were making a new comic story about war today -- in Afghanistan perhaps -- we should not hold back or pull punches. We should not keep our hero out of that war. We should throw him in. With X-Ray Vision, Super Hearing, and Super-Speed our hero could round up Osama bin Laden with equal alacrity. But ... then what? Then what would happen?

I think we can all agree that the story that happened next would take more than two pages.