Showing posts with label Jung. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jung. Show all posts

Saturday, 30 March 2019

The Worlds of Men and Women

Peterson: See that also seems to me to be related to the postmodern emphasis on power because there’s something terrible underground going on there. And that is. . .

I think this is the sort of thing that was reflected in the Soviet Union, too. Especially in the 20s when there was this idea, a radical idea, that you could remake human beings entirely because they had no essential nature.

So, if your fundamental hypothesis is that nothing exists except power, and you believe
that, then that also gives you the right in some sense to exercise your power at the
creation of the kind of humanity that your utopian vision envisions. 

And that also seems
to me to justify the postmodern insistence that everything is only a linguistic construct.

It again goes down to the notion of power, which Derrida and Foucault and Lacan are
so bloody obsessed with.
It seems to me what they’re trying to do is to take all the potential power for the
creation of human beings to themselves without any bounding conditions whatsoever.
There’s no history, there’s no biology, and everything is a fluid culture that can be
manipulated at will.
In Canada there are terrible arguments right now about biological essentialism, let’s
say. And one of the things that happened, which was something I objected to precisely
a year ago, is that the social constructionist view of human identity has been built

now into  Canadian law. So there’s an insistence that biological sex, gender identity,
gender expression, and sexual proclivity vary independently with no causal relationship
between any of the levels.
And so that’s in the law, and not only is it in the law, it’s being taught everywhere. It’s
being taught in the Armed Forces, it’s being taught in the police, it’s being taught to the
elementary school kids, and the junior high school kids. And underneath it all I see this
terrible striving for arbitrary power that’s associated with this crazy utopianism.
But I still don’t exactly understand it. I don’t understand what seems to be the hatred
that motivates it that you see bubbling up, for example, in identity politics, and in the
desire to do nothing but, let’s say, demolish the patriarchy.
It kind of reminds me. . . And this is something else I wanted to talk to you about.

You’re an admirer of Erich Neumann and of Carl Jung. 

The Neumann connection is really interesting because I think he’s a bloody genius. 

I really like The Great Mother.

It’s a great book and really a great warning, that book. And also The Origins and History of Consciousness.

Paglia: One my most influential books.

Peterson: Yeah well that’s so interesting. I read an essay that you wrote. I don’t remember when it was.

Paglia: It was a lecture I gave on Neumann at NYU, yes.

Peterson: Yes, it’s always been staggering to me that that book hasn’t had the impact that it should have had. I mean Jung himself, in the preface to that book,
wrote that that was the book that he wished that he would have written. It’s very much associated with Jung’s Symbols of Transformation. 

And it was a major influence on my book, Maps of Meaning, which was an attempt to outline the universal archetypes that are portrayed in the kind of religious structures that you put forward.

But the thing that I really see happening. . . And you can tell me what you think about this. 

In Neumann’s book, consciousness - which is masculine, symbolically masculine for a variety of reasons - is viewed as rising up against the countervailing force of tragedy from an underlying feminine, symbolically feminine, unconsciousness. 

And it’s something that can always be pulled back into that unconsciousness.

The microcosm of that would be the Freudian Oedipal Mother familial dynamic where the mother is so overprotective and all-encompassing that she interferes with the development of the competence not only of her sons but also of her daughters, of her children in general. 

And it seems to me that that’s the dynamic that’s being played out in our society right now.

And it’s related in some way that I don’t understand to this insistence that all forms of masculine authority are nothing but tyrannical power. 

So the symbolic representation is Tyrannical Father with no appreciation for the Benevolent Father, and Benevolent Mother with no appreciation whatsoever for the Tyrannical Mother.

I thought of ideologies as fragmentary mythologies. 

That’s where they get their archetypal and psychological power. 

In a balanced representation you have the Terrible Mother and the Great Mother, as Neumann laid out so nicely. 

And you have the Terrible Father and the Great Father. 

So that’s the fact that culture mangles you have
to death while it’s also promoting you and developing you. 

You have to see that as balanced. 

Then you have the heroic and adversarial individual.

But in the postmodern world - and this seems to be something that’s increasingly seeping out into the culture at large - you have nothing but the Tyrannical Father, nothing but the destructive force of masculine consciousness, and nothing but the benevolent Great Mother.

It’s an appalling ideology, and it seems to me that it’s sucking the vitality - which is exactly what you’d expect symbolically - it’s sucking the vitality of our culture. 

You see that with the increasing demolition of young men, and not only young men, in terms
of their academic performance. 

They’re falling way behind in elementary school, way
behind in junior high, and bailing out of the universities like mad.

 Well the public school education has become completely permeated by this kind of anti-male propaganda. To me, public school is just a form of imprisonment.

They’re particularly destructive to young men, who have a lot of physical energy.
I identify as transgender myself, but I do not require the entire world to alter itself to fit my particular self-image. I do believe in the power of hormones. I believe that men exist and women exist, and are biologically different. I think there is no cure for the culture’s ills right now, except if men start standing up and demanding that they be respected as men again.

Okay, okay, so I’ve got a question about that.

We did a research project a year ago trying to figure out if there was such a thing as political correctness from a psychometric perspective, to find out if the loose aggregation of beliefs actually clump together statistically. And we actually found two factors, which I won’t go into. 

Then we looked at things that predicted adherence to that politically correct creed. There were a couple that were surprising.

One was - being female was a predictor. The personality attributes associated with femininity - so that would be agreeableness and higher levels of negative emotion - were also both independent predictors.

But so were symptoms of personality disorder, which I thought was really important.

Because part of what I see happening is that. . . I think that women whose relationship with men has been seriously pathologized cannot distinguish between Male Authority and Competence and Male Tyrannical Power. They fail to differentiate because all they see is The Oppressive Male.

And they may have had experiences that. . . Their experiences with men might have been rough enough so that differentiation never occurred. Because it has to occur. And you have to have a lot of experience with men - and good men, too - before that will occur.
But it seems to me that we’re also increasingly dominated by a view of masculinity that’s mostly characteristic of women who have terrible personality disorders, and who are unable to have healthy relationships with men. But here’s the problem.

This is something my wife has pointed out, too. She said, ‘Well men are going to have to stand up for themselves.’ But here’s the problem.

I know how to stand up to a man who’s unfairly trespassing against me. And the
reason I know that is because the parameters for my resistance are quite well defined, which is:

We talk, we argue, we push, and then it becomes physical.

If we move beyond the boundaries of civil discourse, we know what the next step is.

That’s forbidden in discourse with women. And so I don’t think that men can control crazy women. I really don’t believe it. I think they have to throw their hands up in. . . In what? It’s not even disbelief. It’s that the cultural. . . There’s no step forward that you can take under those circumstances, because if the man is offensive enough and crazy enough, the reaction becomes physical right away. Or at least the threat is there.

And when men are talking to each other in any serious manner, that underlying threat of physicality is always there, especially if it’s a real conversation. It keeps the thing civilised to some degree. If you’re talking to a man who wouldn’t fight with you under any circumstances whatsoever, then you’re talking to someone [for] whom you have absolutely no respect.

But I can’t see any way. . . For example there’s a woman in Toronto who’s been organising this movement, let’s say, against me and some other people who are going to do a free speech event. And she managed to organize quite effectively, and she’s
quite offensive, you might say. She compared us to Nazis, for example, publicly, using the Swastika, which wasn’t something I was all that fond of.

But I’m defenseless against that kind of female insanity, because the techniques that I would use against a man who was employing those tactics are forbidden to me. So I don’t know. . . It seems to me that it isn’t men who have to stand up and say, 

‘Enough of this.’ Even though that is what they should do, it seems to me that it’s sane women who have to stand up against their crazy sisters and say, 

‘Look, enough of that. Enough man-hating. Enough pathology. Enough bringing disgrace on us as a gender.’

But the problem there - and then I’ll stop my little tirade - is that most of the women I know who are sane are busy doing sane things. They have their career. 

They have their family. They’re quite occupied, and they don’t seem to have the time, or maybe even the interest, to go after their crazy, harpy sisters. And so I don’t see any regulating force for that terrible femininity. And it seems to me to be invading the
culture and undermining the masculine power of the culture in a way that’s, I think, fatal. I really do believe that.

Paglia: I, too, believe these are symptomatic of the decline of Western culture. And itwill just go down flat. I don’t think people realize that masculinity still exists in the world as a code among jihadists. And when you have passionate masculinity circling the borders like the Huns and the Vandals during the Roman Empire. . . That’s what I see. 

I see this culture rotting from within and disemboweling itself, literally.

Now I have an overview of why we’re having this problem, and it comes from the fact that I’m the product of an immigrant family. All four of my grandparents and my mother were born in Italy.

So I remember from my earliest years in this factory town in upstate New York, where my relatives came to work in the shoe factory.

I can remember, still, the life of the agrarian era - which was for most of human history - the agrarian era where there was The World of Men and The World of Women.

And the sexes had very little to do with each other. 

Each had power and status in its own realm. 

And they laughed at each other, in essence. 

The women had enormous power. 

In fact, the old women ruled, not the young beautiful women like today. 

But the older you were the more you had control over everyone, including the mating and marriage. 

There were no doctors, so the old women were like midwives and knew all the ins and outs and [had] inherited knowledge about pregnancy and all these other things.

I can remember this. And the joy that women had with each other all day long. Cooking with each other, being companions to each other, talking, conversing. 

My mother remembered, as a small child in Italy, when it was time to do the laundry they would take the laundry up the hill to the fountain and do it by hand. 

They would sing, they would picnic, and so on.

We get a glimpse of that in the Odyssey when Odysseus is thrown up naked on the shores of Phaeacia and he hears the sound of women, young women, laughing and singing. 

And it’s Nausicaa, The Princess, bringing the women to do the laundry. 

It’s exactly the same thing. So there was. . . 

Each gender had its own hierarchy, its own values, its own way of talking. 

And the sexes rarely intersected.

I can remember in my childhood in a holiday - it could be a Christmas, it could be a Thanksgiving, whatever - women would be cooking all day long, everyone would sit down to eat, and then after that the women would retire en masse to the kitchen. 

And the men would go. . . I would look at them through the window and see all the men.

The men would be all outside, usually gathered around the car - at a time when cars didn’t work as well as they do today - with the hood up. 

And the men would be standing with their hands on their hips like that. 

Everyone’s staring at the engine. 

That’s how I learned men were refreshing themselves by studying something technical and mechanical after being with the women during the dinner.

So all of these problems of today are the direct consequence of women’s emancipation and freedom from housework thanks to capitalism, which made it possible for women to have jobs outside the home for the very first time in the nineteenth century. No longer to be dependent on husband or father or brother.

So this great thing that’s happened to us, allowing us to be totally self-supporting,

independent agents has produced all this animosity between men and women,
because women feel unhappy.

Women today - wherever I go, whether it’s Italy or Brazil or England or America or Toronto - the upper-middle class professional women are unhappy, miserable.

And they don’t know why they’re unhappy. They want to blame it on men. The men must change. Men must become more like women. No. That is the wrong way to go.

It’s when men are men, and understand themselves as men, are secure as men - then you’re going to be happier.

Peterson: Well, there’s nothing more dangerous than a weak man.

Paglia: Absolutely. Especially all these quislings spouting feminist rhetoric. When I hear that it makes me sick. 

But here’s the point. Men and women have never worked side by side, ever. Maybe on the farms when you were like. . . Maybe one person is in the potato field and the other one is over here doing tomatoes, or whatever.

You had families working side by side, exhausted with each other. No time to have any clash of this. It was a collaborative effort on farms and so on. Never in all of human history have men and women been working side by side. And women are now. . . The pressure about Silicon Valley - they’re all so sexist, they don’t allow women in, and so on. Men are being men in Silicon Valley.

Peterson: Especially the engineers.

Paglia: And the women are demanding that. . . ‘Oh, this is terrible, you’re being sexist.’ Maybe the sexes have their own particular form of rhetoric, their own particular form of identity. Maybe we need to reexamine this business about. . . Maybe we have
to perhaps accept some degree of tension and conflict between the sexes in a work

I don’t mean harassment — I’m talking about women feeling disrespected. Somehow their opinions, when they express them, are not taken seriously. Even Hillary Clinton is complaining ‘When a woman writes something online she’s attacked immediately!!!’ —

Everyone is attacked online!

What are you talking about? 

The world is tough. The world is competitive. 

Identity is honed by conflict. The idea that there should be no conflict, that we have to be in this bath of approbation. . . It’s infantile.

Peterson: That’s right. It’s absolutely infantile. 

Sunday, 24 March 2019


You have failed, Doctor. 
Begin conversion. Phase one. 
Cleanse the brain of emotions. 

The Chin: 
No. Craig, fight it! 
They can't convert you if you fight back. 
You're strong. Don't give in to it. 

Help me! 
The Chin: 
Think of Sophie. 
Think of Alfie. 
Craig, don't let them take it all away. 
Make it stop. Please, make it stop! 

The Chin: 

Please, listen to me. 

I believe in you. I believe you can do this. 

I've always believed in all of you, all my life. 

I'm going die, Craig. 

Tomorrow, I'm going to die,
but I don't mind if you just prove me right. Craig! 
(A Cyberman helmet closes over Craig's face.) 

Begin full conversion.

[Ladies clothing]

(Alfie is crying.) 
Don't worry, it's just a little light going out.


(They are on the monitor.) 
Unknown soundwave detected. 
It is the sound of fear. 
It is irrelevant. 
We will remove all fear. 

The Chin: 
Alfie, I'm so sorry! 
Alfie, please, stop. 
I, I can't help him.

Emotions eradicated. 
Conversion complete. 


Emotional subsystems rebooting. 

This is impossible. 
The Chin : 
He can hear him. 
He can hear Alfie. 
Oh, please, just give me this. 

Craig, you wanted a chance to prove you're a Dad.
You are never going to get better one than this. 
What is happening? 
The Chin: 
What's happening, you metal moron? 
A baby is crying. 

And you'd better watch out, because guess what? 

Ha ha! Daddy's coming home! 
(The Cyberman helmet opens again, and Craig starts to break out of the conversion chamber.) 
Alfie! Alfie, I'm here! I'm coming for you!
The Chin: 
Yes, Craig. 
(The Doctor gets free of the confused Cyberman and grabs his sonic screwdriver.) 
Alfie needs you! 
Emergency. Emotional influx!
The Chin: 
You've triggered a feedback loop into their emotional inhibitors. 
All that stuff they cut out of themselves, now they're feeling it. 
Which means a very big explosion. 

Overload. Overload. Overload. 

Get it open! We need to get to Alfie! 

The Chin: 
They've sealed the ship! 

We've got to get out of here! 

The Chin: 
I know! 
(The Cybermen's heads start exploding.) 

The Chin: 
The teleport! 
(The Doctor sonicks the controls and they beam away just before the whole Cybership goes KaBOOM.)

[Ladies clothing]

How did you get in there? 

Here's your Daddy. 
(Val hands Alfie over. He gurgles.)
The Chin: 
That was another review. 
Ten out of Ten.
The Cybermen. 
They blew up.
 I blew them up with love. 

The Chin: 
No, that's impossible. 
And also grossly sentimental and over simplistic. 

You destroyed them because of the deeply ingrained hereditary human trait to protect one's own genes, which in turn triggered a, a, a. Yeah. 

Love. You blew them up with Love.

The World can be validly construed as forum for action, or as place of things. 

The former manner of interpretation – more primordial, and less clearly understood – finds its expression in the arts or humanities, in ritual, drama, literature, and mythology. The world as forum for  action is a place of value, a place where all things have meaning. This meaning, which is shaped as a 
consequence of social interaction, is implication for action, or – at a higher level of analysis – implication  for the configuration of the interpretive schema that produces or guides action. 

The latter manner of interpretation – The World as Place of Things – finds its formal expression in the Methods and Theories of Science.

Science allows for increasingly precise determination of the consensually- validatable properties of things, and for efficient utilization of precisely-determined things as tools (once the direction such use is to take has been determined, through application of more fundamental narrative  processes). 
No complete world-picture can be generated, without use of both modes of construal.

 They Think They Are Bears... 
They Want Us to Think That They are Bears -

Quickly  - How Do You Hunt a Bear ?

The fact that one  mode is generally set at odds with the other means only that the nature of their respective domains remains 
insufficiently discriminated. Adherents of the mythological world-view tend to regard the statements of their creeds as indistinguishable from empirical “fact,” even though such statements were generally formulated long before the notion of objective reality emerged.

Those who, by contrast, accept the scientific  perspective – who assume that it is, or might become, complete – forget that an impassable gulf currently
divides what is from what should be.
We need to know four things:
What There Is,
What to do about what there is,  

that there is a difference between knowing what there is, and knowing what to do about what there is 

what that difference is

To explore something, to “discover what it is” – that means most importantly to discover its significance  for motor output, within a particular social context, and only more particularly, to determine its precise  objective sensory or material nature. This is knowledge, in the most basic of senses – and often constitutes  sufficient knowledge. 
Imagine that a baby girl, toddling around in the course of her initial tentative investigations, reaches up  onto a counter-top to touch a fragile and expensive glass sculpture.

She observes its color, sees its shine,  feels that it is smooth and cold and heavy to the touch. Suddenly her mother interferes, grasps her hand,  tells her not to ever touch that object. The child has just learned a number of specifically consequential things about the sculpture – has identified its sensory properties, certainly.

More importantly, however, she 
has determined that approached in the wrong manner, the sculpture is dangerous (at least in the presence of Mother)
has discovered as well that the sculpture is regarded more highly, in its present unaltered configuration, than the exploratory tendency – at least (once again) by mother.

The baby girl has  simultaneously encountered an object, from the empirical perspective, and its socioculturally-determined  status.

The empirical object might be regarded as  
those sensory properties “intrinsic” to the object. 

The status of the object, by contrast, consists of its meaning –
consists of its implication for behavior.
Everything a child encounters has this dual nature, experienced by the child as part of a unified totality.
Everything is something, and means something
The distinction between essence and significance is not necessarily drawn. 
Stormy :
Mum - What Makes You Happy?

Stormy's Mum :
New Shoes, Comfortable Bra - I'm joking.
YOU Make Me Happy.

Stormy :
Me, why?

Stormy's Mum :

Because, you alphabetise all my books, aaand you tell me if I'm wearing too much make-up


aaaand you write the funniest birthday cards... 
Plus, you are really, really good at picking a ripe avocado; 
and you help me finish crosswords I have NO BUSINESS finishing, and -

Because -

You are The ONLY Thing in This World, 
I KNOW I Got Right...

Stormy :
Night, Mum.

Stormy's Mum :
Night, Sweetheart.
[ Hugs a Tree ]

“BUT WHY MUST we go for a walk with Ellen?” grumbled Michael, slamming the gate. “I don’t like her. Her nose is too red.” 

“Sh!” said Jane. “She’ll hear you.”

Ellen, who was wheeling the perambulator, turned round. 

“You’re a cruel, unkind boy, Master Michael! I’m only doing my duty, I’m sure. It’s no pleasure to me to be going for a walk in this heat –so there!”

 She blew her red nose on a green handkerchief. 

“Then why do you go?” Michael demanded. 

“Because Mary Poppins is busy. So come along, there’s a good boy, and I’ll buy you a penn’orth of peppermints.” 

“I don’t want peppermints,” muttered Michael. “I want Mary Poppins.” 

Plop-plop! Plop-plop! Ellen’s feet marched slowly and heavily along the Lane. 

“I can see a rainbow through every chink of my hat,” said Jane. 

“I can’t,” said Michael crossly. “I can only see my silk lining.” 

Ellen stopped at the corner, looking anxiously for traffic. 

“Want any help?” enquired the Policeman, sauntering up to her. 

“Well,” said Ellen, blushing, “if you could take us across the road, I’d be obliged. What with a bad cold, and four children to look after, I don’t know if I’m on my head or my feet.” 

She blew her nose again. 

“But you must know! You’ve only got to look!” said Michael, thinking how Perfectly Awful Ellen was. 

But the Policeman, apparently, thought differently, for he took tight hold of Ellen’s arm with one hand, and the handle of the perambulator with the other, and led her across the street as tenderly as though she were a bride. 

“Ever get a Day Off?” he enquired, looking interestedly into Ellen’s red face. 

“Well,” said Ellen. “Half-days, so to speak. Every second Saturday.” She blew her nose nervously. 

“Funny,” said the Policeman. “Those are my days too. And I’m usually just around here at two o’clock in the afternoon.” 

“Oh!” said Ellen, opening her mouth very wide indeed. 

“So!” said the Policeman, nodding at her politely. 

“Well, I’ll see,” said Ellen. 

“Goodbye.” And she went trudging on, looking back occasionally to see if the Policeman was still looking. 

And he always was. 

“Mary Poppins never needs a policeman,” complained Michael. 

“What can she be busy about?” 

“Something important is happening at home,” said Jane. “I’m sure of it.”

“How do you know?” 

“I’ve got an empty, waiting sort of feeling inside.” 

“Pooh!” said Michael. “I expect you’re hungry! Can’t we go faster, Ellen, and get it over?” 

“That boy,” said Ellen to the Park railing, “has a heart of stone. No, we can’t, Master Michael, because of my feet.” 

“What’s the matter with them?” 

“They will only go so fast and no faster.” 

“Oh, dear Mary Poppins!” said Michael bitterly. 

He went sighing after the perambulator. 

Jane walked beside him counting rainbows through her hat. 

Ellen’s slow feet tramped steadily onward. One-two. One-two. Plop-plop! Plop-plop! 

And away behind them in Cherry Tree Lane the important thing was happening. 

From the outside, Number Seventeen looked as peaceful and sleepy as all the other houses. 

But behind the drawn blinds there was such a stir and bustle that, if it hadn’t been Summer-time, a passer-by might have thought the people in the house were Spring-cleaning or getting ready for Christmas. 

But the House itself stood blinking in the sunshine, taking no notice. 

After all, it thought to itself, I have seen such bustlings often before and shall probably see them many times again, so why should I bother about it? 

And just then, the front door was flung open by Mrs Brill, and Doctor Simpson hurried out. 

Mrs Brill stood dancing on her toes as she watched him go down the garden path, swinging his little brown bag. 

Then she hurried to the Pantry and called excitedly: “Where are you, Robertson? Come along, if you’re coming!” 

She scuttled up the stairs two at a time with Robertson Ay, yawning and stretching, behind her. 

“Sh!” hissed Mrs Brill. “Sh!” 

She put her finger to her lips and tiptoed to Mrs Banks’ door. 

“Tch, tch! You can’t see nothing but the wardrobe,” she complained, as she bent to look through the key-hole. 

“The wardrobe and a bit of the winder.” 

But the next moment she started violently. 

“My Glory-goodness!” she shrieked, as the door burst open suddenly and she fell back against Robertson Ay. 

For there, framed against the light, stood Mary Poppins, looking very stern and suspicious. 

In her arms she carried, with great care, something that looked like a bundle of blankets. 

“Well!” said Mrs Brill breathlessly. 

“If it isn’t you! I was just polishing the door-knob, putting a shine on it, so to say, as you came out.” 

Mary Poppins looked at the door-knob. It was very dirty. 

“Polishing the key-hole is what I should have said!” she remarked tartly. 

But Mrs Brill took no notice. She was gazing tenderly at the bundle. 

With her large red hand she drew aside a fold of one of the blankets, and a satisfied smile spread over her face. 

“Ah!” she cooed. “Ah, the Lamb! Ah, the Duck! Ah, the Trinket! And as good as a week of Sundays, I’ll be bound!” 

Robertson Ay yawned again and stared at the bundle with his mouth slightly open. “Another pair of shoes to clean!” he said mournfully, leaning against the banisters for support. 

“Mind you don’t drop it, now!” said Mrs Brill anxiously, as Mary Poppins brushed past her. 

Mary Poppins glanced at them both contemptuously. 

“If I were some people,” she remarked acidly, “I’d mind my own business!” 
And she folded the blanket over the bundle again and went upstairs to the Nursery. . . 

“Excuse me, please! Excuse me!” Mr Banks came rushing up the stairs, nearly knocking Mrs Brill over as he hurried into Mrs Banks’ bedroom. 

“Well!” he said, sitting down at the foot of the bed. “This is all Very Awkward. Very Awkward indeed. I don’t know that I can afford it. I hadn’t bargained for five.” 

“I’m so sorry!” said Mrs Banks, smiling at him happily. 

“You’re not sorry, not a bit. In fact, you’re very pleased and conceited about it. And there’s no reason to be. It’s a very small one.” 

“I like them that way,” said Mrs Banks. “Besides, it will grow.” 

“Yes, unfortunately!” he replied bitterly. “And I shall have to buy it shoes and clothes and a tricycle. Yes, and send it to school and give it a Good Start in Life. A very expensive proceeding. And then, after all that, when I’m an old man sitting by the fire, it will go away and leave me. You hadn’t thought of that, I suppose?” 

“No,” said Mrs Banks, trying to look sorry, but not succeeding. “I hadn’t.” 

“I thought not. Well, there it is. But, I warn you! I shall not be able to afford to have the bathroom retiled.”

“Don’t worry about that,” said Mrs Banks comfortingly. “I really like the old tiles best.” 

“Then you’re a very stupid woman. That’s all I have to say.” 

And Mr Banks went away, muttering and blustering through the house. But when he got outside the front door, he flung back his shoulders, and pushed out his chest, and put a large cigar in his mouth. 

And, soon after that, he was heard telling Admiral Boom the news in a voice that was very loud and conceited and boastful. . . 

Mary Poppins stooped over the new cradle between John’s and Barbara’s cots and laid the bundle of blankets carefully in it. 

“Here you are at last! Bless my Beak and Tail-feathers –I thought you were never coming! Which is it?” cried a croaking voice from the window. 

Mary Poppins looked up. The Starling who lived on the top of the Chimney was hopping excitedly on the window-sill. 

“A girl. Annabel,” said Mary Poppins shortly. “And I’ll thank you to be a little quieter. Squawking and croaking there like a packet of magpies!” 

But the Starling was not listening. 

He was turning somersaults on the window-sill, clapping his wings wildly together each time his head came up. 

“What a treat!” he panted, when at last he stood up straight. “What a Treat!” Oh, I could sing!” 

“You couldn’t. Not if you tried till Doomsday!” scoffed Mary Poppins. 

But the Starling was too happy to care. 

“A girl!” he shrieked, dancing on his toes. “I’ve had three broods this season and –would you believe it? –every one of them boys. But Annabel will make up to me for that!” 

He hopped a little along the sill. 

“Annabel!” he burst out again. 

“That’s a nice name! I had an Aunt called Annabel. Used to live in Admiral Boom’s chimney, and died, poor thing, of eating green apples and grapes. I warned her! I warned her! But she wouldn’t believe me! So, of course—” 

“Will you be quiet!” demanded Mary Poppins, making a dive at him with her apron. 

“I will not!” he shouted, dodging neatly. “This is no time for silence. I’m going to spread the news.” 

He swooped out of the window. 

“Back in five minutes!” he screamed at her over his shoulder, as he darted away. Mary Poppins moved quietly about the Nursery, putting Annabel’s new clothes in a neat pile. 

The Sunlight, slipping in at the window, crept across the room and up to the cradle. 

“Open your eyes,” it said softly, “and I’ll put a shine on them!” 

The coverlet of the cradle trembled. Annabel opened her eyes. 

“Good girl!” said the Sunlight. “They’re blue, I see. My favourite colour! There! You won’t find a brighter pair of eyes anywhere!” 

It slipped lightly out of Annabel’s eyes and down the side of the cradle. 

“Thank you very much!” said Annabel politely. 

A warm Breeze stirred the muslin flounces at her head. 

“Curls or straight?” it whispered, dropping into the cradle beside her. 

“Oh, curls, please!” said Annabel softly. 

“It does save trouble, doesn’t it?” agreed the Breeze. 

And it moved over her head, carefully turning up the feathery edges of her hair, before it fluttered off across the room. 

“Here we are! Here we are!” A harsh voice shrilled from the window. The Starling had returned to the sill. And behind him, wobbling uncertainly as he alighted, came a very young bird. Mary Poppins moved towards them threateningly. “Now you be off!” she said angrily. “I’ll have no sparrers littering up this Nursery—” But the Starling, with the young one at his side, brushed haughtily past her. “Kindly remember, Mary Poppins,” he said icily, “that all my families are properly brought up. Littering, indeed!” He alighted neatly on the edge of the cradle and steadied the Fledgling beside him. The young bird stared about him with round, inquisitive eyes. The Starling hopped along to the pillow. “Annabel, dear,” he began, in a husky, wheedling voice, “I’m very partial to a nice, crisp, crunchy piece of Arrowroot Biscuit.” His eyes twinkled greedily. “You haven’t one about you, I suppose?” The curled head stirred on the pillow. “No? Well, you’re young yet for biscuits, perhaps. Your sister Barbara –nice girl, she was, very generous and pleasant –always remembered me. So if, in the future, you could spare the old fellow a crumb or two. . .” “Of course I will,” said Annabel, from the folds of the blanket. “That’s the girl!” croaked the Starling approvingly. He cocked his head on one side and gazed at her with his round, bright eye. “I hope,” he remarked politely, “you are not too tired after your journey.” Annabel shook her head. “Where has she come from –out of an egg?” cheeped the Fledgling suddenly. “Huh-huh!” scoffed Mary Poppins. “Do you think she’s a sparrer?” The Starling gave her a pained and haughty look. “Well, what is she, then? And where did she come from?” cried the Fledgling shrilly, flapping his short wings and staring down at the cradle. “You tell him, Annabel!” the Starling croaked. Annabel moved her hands inside the blanket. “I am earth and air and fire and water,” she said softly. “I come from the Dark where all things have their beginning.” “Ah, such dark!” said the Starling softly, bending his head to his breast. “It was dark in the egg too!” the Fledgling cheeped. “I come from the sea and its tides,” Annabel went on. “I come from the sky and its stars; I come from the sun and its brightness—” “Ah, so bright!” said the Starling, nodding. “And I come from the forests of earth.” As if in a dream, Mary Poppins rocked the cradle –to-and-fro, to-and-fro with a steady swinging movement. “Yes?” whispered the Fledgling. “Slowly I moved at first,” said Annabel, “always sleeping and dreaming. I remembered all I had been, and I thought of all I shall be. And when I had dreamed my dream, I awoke and came swiftly.” She paused for a moment, her blue eyes full of memories. “And then?” prompted the Fledgling. “I heard the stars singing as I came and I felt warm wings about me. I passed the beasts of the jungle and came through the dark, deep waters. It was a long journey.” Annabel was silent. The Fledgling stared at her with his bright inquisitive eyes. Mary Poppins’ hand lay quietly on the side of the cradle. She had stopped rocking. “A long journey, indeed!” said the Starling softly, lifting his head from his breast. “And, ah, so soon forgotten!” Annabel stirred under the quilt. “No!” she said confidently. “I’ll never forget.” “Stuff and Nonsense! Beaks and Claws! Of course you will. By the time the week’s out you won’t remember a word of it –what you are or where you came from!” Inside her flannel petticoat Annabel was kicking furiously. “I will! I will! How could I forget?” “Because they all do!” jeered the Starling harshly. “Every silly human, except–” he nodded his head at Mary Poppins –“her! She’s different, she’s the Oddity, she’s the Misfit—” “You Sparrer!” cried Mary Poppins, making a dart at him. But with a rude laugh he swept his Fledgling off the edge of the cradle and flew with him to the window-sill. “Tipped you last!” he said cheekily, as he brushed past Mary Poppins. “Hullo, what’s that?” There was a chorus of voices outside on the landing and a clatter of feet on the stairs. “I don’t believe you! I won’t believe you!” cried Annabel wildly. And at that moment Jane and Michael and the Twins burst into the room. “Mrs Brill says you’ve got something to show us!” said Jane, flinging off her hat. “What is it?” demanded Michael, gazing round the room. “Show me! Me too!” shrieked the Twins. Mary Poppins glared at them. “Is this a decent Nursery or the Zoological Gardens?” she enquired angrily. “Answer me that!” “The Zoo –er –I mean—” Michael broke off hurriedly, for he had caught Mary Poppins’ eye. “I mean a Nursery,” he said lamely. “Oh, look, Michael, look!” Jane cried excitedly. “I told you something important was happening! It’s a New Baby! Oh, Mary Poppins, can I have it to keep?” Mary Poppins, with a furious glance at them all, stooped and lifted Annabel out of the cradle and sat down with her in the armchair. “Gently, please, gently!” she warned, as they crowded about her. “This is a baby, not a battleship!” “A boy-baby?” asked Michael. “No, a girl –Annabel.” Michael and Annabel stared at each other. He put his finger into her hand and she clutched it tightly. “My doll!” said John, pushing up against Mary Poppins’ knee. “My rabbit!” said Barbara, tugging at Annabel’s shawl. “Oh!” breathed Jane, touching the hair that the wind had curled. “How very small and sweet! Like a star. Where did you come from, Annabel?” Very pleased to be asked, Annabel began her story again. “I came from the Dark. . .” she recited softly. Jane laughed. “Such funny little sounds!” she cried. “I wish she could talk and tell us.” Annabel stared. “But I am telling you!” she protested, kicking. “Ha-ha!” shrieked the Starling rudely from the window. “What did I say? Excuse me laughing!” The Fledgling giggled behind his wing. “Perhaps she came from a Toy Shop,” said Michael. Annabel, with a furious movement, flung his finger from her. “Don’t be silly!” said Jane. “Doctor Simpson must have brought her in his little brown bag!” “Was I right, or was I wrong?” The Starling’s old dark eyes gleamed tauntingly at Annabel. “Tell me that!” he jeered, flapping his wings in triumph. But for answer Annabel turned her face against Mary Poppins’ apron and wept. Her first cries, thin and lonely, rang piercingly through the house. “There! There!” said the Starling gruffly. “Don’t take on! It can’t be helped. You’re only a human child after all. But next time, perhaps, you’ll believe your Betters! Elders and Betters! Elders and Betters!” he screamed, prancing conceitedly up and down. “Michael, take my feather duster, please, and sweep those birds off the sill!” said Mary Poppins ominously. A squawk of amusement came from the Starling. “We can sweep ourselves off, Mary Poppins, thank you! We were just going, anyway! Come along, Boy!” And with a loud, clucking chuckle, he flicked the Fledgling over the sill and swooped with him through the window. . . In a very short time, Annabel settled down comfortably to life in Cherry Tree Lane. She enjoyed being the centre of attraction, and was always pleased when somebody leant over her cradle and said how pretty she was, or how good or sweet-tempered. “Do go on admiring me!” she would say, smiling. “I like it so much!” And then they would hasten to tell her how curly her hair was and how blue her eyes, and Annabel would smile in such a satisfied way that they would cry, “How intelligent she is! You would almost think she understood!” But that always annoyed her, and she would turn away in disgust at their foolishness. Which was silly, because when she was disgusted she looked so charming that they became more foolish than ever. She was a week old before the Starling returned. Mary Poppins, in the dim light of the nightlight, was gently rocking the cradle when he appeared. “Back again?” snapped Mary Poppins, watching him prance in. “You’re as bad as a bad penny!” She gave a long, disgusted sniff. “I’ve been busy!” said the Starling. “Have to keep my affairs in order. And this isn’t the only Nursery I have to look after, you know!” His beady, black eyes twinkled wickedly. “Humph!” she said shortly. “I’m sorry for the others!” He chuckled, and shook his head. “Nobody like her!” he remarked chirpily to the blind-tassel. 

“Nobody like her! She’s got an answer for everything!” 

He cocked his head towards the cradle. 

“Well, how are things? Annabel asleep?” 

“No thanks to you, if she is!” said Mary Poppins. 

The Starling ignored the remark. He hopped to the end of the sill. “I’ll keep watch,” he said, in a whisper. “You go down and get a cup of tea.” 

Mary Poppins stood up. 

“Mind and don’t wake her, then!” 

The Starling laughed pityingly. 

“My dear girl, I have in my time brought up at least twenty broods of fledglings. I don’t need to be told how to look after a mere baby.” 

“Humph!” Mary Poppins walked to the cupboard and very pointedly put the biscuit-tin under her arm before she went out and shut the door. 

The Starling marched up and down the window-sill, backwards and forwards, with his wing-tips under his tail-feathers. 

There was a small stir in the cradle. Annabel opened her eyes. 

“Hullo!” she said. “I was wanting to see you.” 

“Ha!” said the Starling, swooping across to her. 

“There’s something I wanted to remember,” said Annabel, frowning. “And I thought you might remind me.” 

He started. His dark eye glittered. “How does it go?” he said softly. “Like this?” 

And he began in a husky whisper: “I am earth and air and fire and water—” 

“No, no!” said Annabel impatiently. “Of course it doesn’t.” 

“Well,” said the Starling anxiously, “was it about your journey? You came from the sea and its tides, you came from the sky and—” 

“Oh, don’t be so silly!” cried Annabel. “The only journey I ever took was to the Park and back again this morning. No, no –it was something important. Something beginning with B.” 

She crowed suddenly. “I’ve got it!” she cried. “It’s Biscuit. Half an Arrowroot Biscuit on the mantelpiece. Michael left it there after tea!” 

“Is that all?” said the Starling sadly. 

“Yes, of course,” Annabel said fretfully. “Isn’t it enough? I thought you’d be glad of a nice piece of biscuit!” 

“So I am, so I am!” said the Starling hastily. “But. . .” 

She turned her head on the pillow and closed her eyes. “Don’t talk any more now, please!” she said. “I want to go to sleep.” 

The Starling glanced across at the mantelpiece, and down again at Annabel. 

“Biscuits!” he said, shaking his head. “Alas, Annabel, alas!” 

Mary Poppins came in quietly and closed the door. 

“Did she wake?” she said, in a whisper. The Starling nodded. 

“Only for a minute,” he said sadly. “But it was long enough.” 

Mary Poppins’ eyes questioned him. 

“She’s forgotten,” he said, with a catch in his croak. “She’s forgotten it all. I knew she would. But, ah, my dear, what a pity!” 

“Humph!” Mary Poppins moved quietly about the Nursery, putting the toys away. She glanced at the Starling. He was standing at the window-sill with his back to her, and his speckled shoulders were heaving. 

“Caught another cold?” she remarked sarcastically. He wheeled round. 

“Certainly not! It’s –ahem –the night air. Rather chilly, you know. Makes the eyes water. Well –I must be off!” 

He waddled unsteadily to the edge of the sill. 

“I’m getting old,” he croaked sadly. “That’s what it is. Not so young as we were. Eh, Mary Poppins?” 

“I don’t know about you–” Mary Poppins drew herself up haughtily –“but I’m quite as young as I was, thank you!” 

“Ah,” said the Starling, shaking his head, “you’re a wonder. An Absolute, Marvellous, Wonderful Wonder!” His round eye twinkled wickedly. 

“I don’t think!” he called back rudely, as he dived out of the window. 

“Impudent Sparrer!” she shouted after him, and shut the window with a bang. . .

Friday, 4 January 2019

The Fiction-Suit

“IT IS NOT TOO FAR-FETCHED TO PREDICT THAT SOME DAY OUR VERY OWN PLANET MAY BE PEOPLED ENTIRELY BY SUPERMEN!” Joe Shuster assured us back in 1938, but comic-book reality predicts developments in our own in many other ways. 

What we construct in our imaginations, we have a knack of building or discovering. We may not have flying men or invulnerable women racing among us, but we now have access to supertechnologies that once existed only in comic-book stories. “Mother Boxes,” empathic personal computers like the ones in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World story cycle, are already here in embryonic form. 

Is the soothing contact offered by the Mother Box so different from the instant connection that a cell phone provides? 

Twenty-four-hour access to friends, family, and the buzz of constant social exchange can make us feel cocooned and safe in a reportedly hostile world. 

In many cases, Mother herself can be summoned on the Box. 

Metron was Kirby’s avatar of ruthless, questing intellect, whose Mobius Chair twisted through time and space to make him the god of couch potatoes, surfing channels, gathering information, without ever leaving the comfort of his armchair. Metron’s magic furniture seems less a wonder of supertechnology than a fact of daily life. 

As Kirby tried to tell us in his book of the same name, we are the new gods, just as we are the old ones, too. There is already technology that allows people to drive remote-controlled cars with their minds. What’s to stop someone becoming Auto-Man, the Human Car? Secretly, he sits in his room, munching Maltesers at his computer screen, while he listlessly pilots his incredible RV supercar around town to save lives and fight the crime that ordinary police cars just aren’t fast enough to handle. In so many ways, we’re already superhuman. Being extraordinary is so much a part of our heritage as human beings that we often overlook what we’ve done and how very unique it all is. We have made machines to extend our physical reach and the reach of our senses, allowing us to peer into the depths of space and outer time. Our cameras and receivers allow us to see across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. We can slow down, freeze, and accelerate time on our screens. We can study and manipulate microscopic worlds, print our names on single atoms, analyze soil on Mars, and observe the rings of Saturn at close range. Our voices and our photographic records of everything we’ve seen are carried at the speed of light on an expanding bubble of radio, into the infinite. Television broadcasts of the first moon landing are still traveling, growing fainter as the waves spread out. If you had a powerful enough receiver and a TV on a planet forty light-years from here, you could watch Neil Armstrong take his first step on mankind’s behalf and hear our silly, hopeful summer 1969 songs. Our space machines are the remote physical tendrils of our species launched across gulfs of nothing to land on other worlds or to travel, gathering data until the signal fades, or until there’s no one left to listen. These ultimate extensions of human senses thread our awareness into the absolute freezing dark 10.518 billion miles from where you’re sitting. As I write, that’s how far Voyager 1, humanity’s farthest-reaching finger, has extended. Launched in 1977, it remains connected to its home world by radio and by the silver thread of its passage through time from launchpad to interstellar void. Individual humans are not super, but the organism of which we are all tiny cellular parts is most certainly that. The life-form that’s so big we forget it’s there, that turns minerals on its planet into tools to touch the infinite black gap between stars or probe the obliterating pressures at the bottom of the oceans. We are already part of a superbeing, a monster, a god, a living process that is so all encompassing that it is to an individual life what water is to fish. We are cells in the body of a singular three-billion-year-old life-form whose roots are in the Precambrian oceans and whose genetic wiring extends through the living structures of everything on the planet, connecting everything that has ever lived in one immense nervous system. The superheroes may have their greatest value in a future where real superhuman beings are searching for role models. When the superhumans of tomorrow step dripping from their tanks, they could do much worse than to look to Superman for guidance. Superhero comics may yet find a purpose all along as the social realist fiction of tomorrow. Superhero science has taught me this: Entire universes fit comfortably inside our skulls. Not just one or two but endless universes can be packed into that dark, wet, and bony hollow without breaking it open from the inside. The space in our heads will stretch to accommodate them all. The real doorway to the fifth dimension was always right here. Inside. That infinite interior space contains all the divine, the alien, and the unworldly we’ll ever need. To find out what higher dimensions might look like, all we have to do is study the relationship between our 3-D world and the 2-D comics. A 4-D creature could look “down” on us through our walls, our clothes, even our skeletons. Our world would be a Cubist X-ray, and perhaps even our thoughts might be laid bare to their gaze. As comics readers gazing down from a higher dimension perpendicular to the page surface, we can actually peer inside characters’ thoughts with balloons or captions that provide running commentary. We can also control time in a comics universe. We can stop on page 12 and look back to page 5 to check a story point we missed. The characters themselves continue to act out their own dramas in the same linear sequence, oblivious to our shifting perspective. They can go back in time only with the help of supermachines, like the Flash’s cosmic treadmill, but we can look at 1938 Superman next to 1999 Superman without colliding the two stories anywhere but in our heads. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby could send drawn versions of themselves into the created world of Fantastic Four, and those little drawings of Stan and Jack were like angels, UFOs, avatars from a higher universe, entering a world they’d made to interact with its inhabitants. 

They created, as I came to call them, “fiction suits,” like space suits for sending yourself into stories. 

The comics page depicted the flow of a different kind of digital time, expressed in discrete images, each of which captured a single visual moment and usually a snippet of audio time in the form of a balloon-dialogue exchange. The comics page, like the movie screen, took us through a story in a straight, linear progression from past read to present reading and future completion, but the comics page was a more personal and intimate interface than the cinema screen. It lacked the intimidating luster of the movies, and the images could be slowed down, rewound, fast-forwarded, and studied in detail. They could even be copied, traced, or improved upon, making this an ideal DIY medium for the imaginative and reasonably gifted. The pace of a film or television show was dictated by its director. The comics allowed its reader to direct his or her own experience of the story. And now there were two healthy universes living and growing inside our own. The DC universe was a series of islands separated for years, suddenly discovering one another and setting up trade routes. And there was Marvel’s beautifully orchestrated growth and development. Two living virtual worlds had been grown and nurtured inside conventional space-time. These were not like closed continua with beginnings, middles, and ends; the fictional “universe” ran on certain repeating rules but could essentially change and develop beyond the intention of its creators. It was an evolving, learning, cybernetic system that could reproduce itself into the future using new generations of creators who would be attracted like worker bees to serve and renew the universe. Just as generations of aboriginal artists have taken it upon themselves to repaint the totems, so too does the enchanted environment of the comic-book dreamtime replicate itself through time. A superhero universe will change in order to remain viable and stay alive. As long as the signs stay constant—the trademark S shields and spiderweb patterns, and the copyrighted hero names—everything else can bend and adapt to the tune of the times. These characters were like twelve-bar blues or other chord progressions. Given the basic parameters of Batman, different creators could play very different music. This meant interesting work could be done by writers and artists who knew what they were getting into and were happy to add their own little square to a vast patchwork quilt of stories that would outlast their lives. In return for higher page rates and royalties, of course. The parasitic relationship of universe to creator that saw the rebellions of people like Siegel and Shuster or Jack Kirby had become a little more symbiotic; following changes in the business in the eighties, creative people adding to the DC or Marvel universe would be ripped off with a little more reward on the back end. In this respect, a thriving fictional universe simulates the behavior of a “real” organism, but only as far as you wish to follow me down this path of conjecture. Nevertheless, human beings had built working parallel realities. Given market value as corporate trademarks, the inhabitants of these functioning microcosms could be self-sustaining and outlast their creators. New trademarks could be grown in the concept farms of fictional universes under the auspices of the corporate concerns that kept them under control, maintaining, trimming, and looking after their burgeoning gardens of newsprint and ink. Most important, they had acolytes: priests in the form of creative types such as artists who would grow up with a strange desire to draw Superman in motion and writers who would form early bonds that encouraged them to devote their talents to putting words in the mouths of characters they’d grown up with. These creative people would sustain the likes of Spider-Man, dripping their blood and sweat into the ink to give their lives to him. Batman could regularly feed on energy that kept him vital for another ten or fifteen years until the next transfusion of meaning. Emergence is a simple idea. The universe is the way it is because it grew that way. It emerged piece by piece, like a jigsaw solving itself over billions of years of trial and error. When atoms stuck together, they naturally formed molecules. Molecules naturally grouped into compounds. People naturally formed tribal associations that made them look much bigger to predators from a distance, and as a result of clumping together and swapping experiences, they naturally developed specialization and created a shared culture or collective higher intelligence. Everybody’s heard writers talk about a moment in the process of writing a novel or story when “it was as if the characters took over.” 

I can confirm from my own experience that immersion in stories and characters does reach a point where the fiction appears to take on a life of its own. 

When a character becomes sufficiently fleshed out and complex, he or she can often cause the author to abandon original well-laid plans in favor of new plotlines based on a better understanding of the character’s motivations. 

When I was halfway through the seven-year process of writing The Invisibles, I found several characters actively resisting directions I’d planned for them. 

It was a disorienting, fascinating experience, and I eventually had to give in and let the story lead me to places I might not have chosen to go. 

How could a story come to life? 

It seemed ridiculous, but it occurred to me that perhaps, like a beehive or a sponge colony, I’d put enough information into my model world to trigger emergent complexity. 

[ "Ray, the sponges migrated about a foot-and-a-half..." ]

I wondered if ficto-scientists of the future might finally locate this theoretical point where a story becomes sufficiently complex to begin its own form of calculation, and even to become in some way self-aware. 

[ There is Another Theory, 
Which States That ... ]

Perhaps that had already happened. 

If this was true of The Invisibles, then might it not apply more so to the truly epic, long-running superhero universes? 

Marvel and DC have roots that run seventy years deep. 

Could they actually have a kind of elementary awareness, a set of programs that define their rules and maintain their basic shapes while allowing for development, complexity, and, potentially, some kind of rudimentary consciousness? I imagined a sentient paper universe and decided I would try to contact it.


One of the biggest and most significant achievements of the Green Lantern/ Green Arrow series was its introduction of race issues into the comics in an unprecedented way. A heavily praised scene from 1970’ s Green Lantern/ Green Arrow no. 76, the provocative opening chapter of the O’Neil and Adams run, drew the blood of the times with razor precision and was often cited as an example of a fresh willingness to engage with real-world issues in serial superhero fiction. 

After rescuing the tenants of a tenement block from a fire orchestrated by the unscrupulous landlord, Green Lantern, and by extension the whole Silver Age of superheroes, was called to account in no uncertain terms by an elderly black man who turned out to be less than impressed with our hero’s showy antics and had this to say: 


(For the first time in DC superhero comics, black people actually looked black and not like the traditional white men colored brown or loose-lipped caricatures that were more common. Adams’s photographic accuracy left no doubt as to the ethnicity of his characters. Italians, Orientals, Native Americans—all were given respect, dignity, and convincing bone structures by Adams’s talent and sense of inclusion.) 

In any real world where the laws of physics and some interstellar immortal judiciary permitted his existence, Green Lantern’s response would be all our responses to the same accusation: “I’VE BEEN SAVING THE ENTIRE PLANET EARTH AND EVERY LIVING THING ON IT, REGARDLESS OF RACE, COLOR, POLITICAL AFFILIATION OR SPECIES, SINCE GREEN LANTERN ISSUE NUMBER 1!” 

Instead he hung his head in shame as O’Neil subverted believability to hammer home his powerful indictment of the superhero’s role as weapon of the status quo and the ruling elite. 

Green Lantern’s sudden awareness of people suffering below the poverty line may seem almost farcical, but we can also choose to view the Lantern as a representation of the typical white-middle-class young reader and to see in the politically engaged Green Arrow a “fiction suit” for mouthpiece for O’Neil, using his art to open a few young eyes to some important facts of life. 

Changing values have lent a hollow ring to O’Neil’s sermonizing, but in May 1970, when the only nonwhite face in a DC comic belonged to the “glowing silhouette” character Negative Man, this felt like a challenging and provocative call to arms—a timely demand for the paper universes of DC and Marvel to acknowledge the human diversity of the real world in which they continued to grow and develop. 

The following issue was no less controversial, as O’Neal-Adams introduced a new substitute Green Lantern in the form of “Square” John Stewart, a black, inner-city architect with a chip on his shoulder, whose first mission was to protect a racist presidential candidate. 

This led to some slightly predictable but always amusing fun at the expense of “whitey.” The potential for tokenism was there, but Stewart was a strong character and has survived to the present day as a popular Green Lantern Corps member. 

As the acting Green Lantern in the turn-of-the-century Justice League animated shows, he reached a wider audience, on television, than any of his predecessors. Stewart was DC’s first out-and-proud African American superhero. 

Marvel, ahead of the curve on most things, had already introduced its Black Panther character in 1966, and by 1973 he was starring in his own title. 

Jungle Action, written by the radical Don McGregor (more about him later), and drawn by Billy Graham, a talented young black artist, became infamous for a controversial 1976–79 extended story line, “The Panther vs. the Clan,” which landed McGregor in hot water with the right wing. 

The undeniable dignity and majesty of the Panther (T’Challa, the proud king of Wakanda, a wealthy, culturally rich, and technologically advanced Marvel universe African nation that was as far from the stereotypical image of mud huts and scrawny goatherds as could be imagined in the sixties), was only marginally compromised by his failure to represent; T’Challa wore a full black body suit with a hood that covered his entire face. 

The completely masked black-hero trick was copied and improved upon to gruesome effect and great success decades later in Todd McFarlane’s Spawn comic and its associated transmedia spin-offs, but without the taboo-smashing impact of the Black Panther and John Stewart. 

Aiming a wink in the direction of the Black Panther’s modesty, John Stewart made a show of ditching his Green Lantern Corps domino mask in the panel after he received it: “I WON’T WEAR ANY MASK! THIS BLACK MAN LETS IT ALL HANG OUT! I GOT NOTHING TO HIDE!” 

After architect Stewart tore down the barriers, Marvel revved up the relevance bandwagon with its own next-level take on the Green Lantern/ Green Arrow formula, teaming Captain America with a flying Harlem social worker who fought injustice as the Falcon.

 June 1972’ s Hero for Hire introduced blaxploitation hero Luke Cage, aka Power Man, whose dialogue bowdlerized urban argot into Marvel universe–friendly oaths like “SWEET CHRISTMAS!” “MOTHER!” and “JIVE TURKEY!” Cage was a rough-and-tumble enforcer with steel-hard skin and the semipermanent grimace of the framed and wrongly accused. 

He wore a length of chain around his waist to remind us of history’s cruelties but soon outgrew his origins to develop as a rich and enduring character, still central to the ongoing Marvel story decades past Shaft and Jim Kelly.


I’d already contrived to meet Animal Man in his own environment, creating with the help of artist Chaz Truog what I came to call a “fiction suit.” 

This was a way of “descending,” as I saw it, into the 2-D world, where I could interact directly with the inhabitants of the DC universe on their own terms, in the form of a drawing. 

I wanted to take that direct contact idea further, to explore the interface between fact and fiction in a more personally involving way. 

I wondered if I could arrange an exchange that would affect my life and real world as profoundly as it would the paper world.