Linkblogging and progress for 29/06/11

I’m too migrainey today to finish the Mister Miracle post for Seven Soldiers (though those new readers who are waiting can always read this, which is an earlier post I wrote on the same series). The plan is that I’ll get that up and posted tomorrow or Friday and the final part in the series done before Sunday, when I’ll also get proof copies of the book version to my beta-readers Illogical Volume, Original Eyeball, Plok and Holly. The book will have a cover, an introduction, an index, and a short appendix explaining about Alan Moore and Jack Kirby for people who don’t know who they are, but will otherwise be pretty much identical to the essays as published here. The book should be out on Saturday of next week.

To celebrate its release, I start my six-day blog tour on Saturday July 9 (not the middle of next week as originally planned), visiting:
Saturday – Deep Space Transmissions, who has interviewed me about Grant Morrison.
Sunday – Gavin Robinson who has interviewed me about self-publishing.
Monday – Plok, who will be interviewing me about something or other.
Tuesday Liberal England, where I’ll be doing a guest post about The Monkees
Wednesday Thagomizer where I’ll be doing a ‘beginner’s guide to comics’ post.
And Thursday The Mindless Ones who will be doing… something… with me.

Anyway, enough about me, here’s some links.

The Mindless Ones interview Grant Morrison!

Autistic people don’t have magical super-vision shocker.

Slacktivist on credit scoring

Charles Stross on the Bomb as obsolete existential threat

Plok on the future of SF now we’re living in the future

And Millennium Dome on the fallacy of the false dichotomy

Hello, New People!

Well, Bleeding Cool is certainly popular, isn’t it?
Just want to let the hundreds of you who’ve clicked through from there know that you’re very welcome here, that the Seven Soldiers posts will be becoming a book soon, that there’ll be another one up tomorrow, and that I do write about things other than comics (but do write a lot about comics). Please feel free to join in the comments.

Linkblogging For 27/06/11

Too hot to write. Somebody turn the heating off in the big blue room, please? And dim the light while you’re at it. Mister Miracle tomorrow if I don’t boil to death in my own sweat.


Colin Smith on the covers to several Flashpoint titles. “No conventionally conscientious and competent artist could produce work such as this, because it’d be obvious that they were mocking the audience, that they were deliberately moronisising their work in a desperate attempt to attract a rump of readers with the most incestuously-peculiar of tastes. But Mr Syaf ‘s work seems almost to suggest that of a man who draws like this all the time, even when he’s not managing to convince DC to pay him for covers such as these. On the back of bus tickets found in his jacket pockets, we might imagine, should our entirely-imaginary Mr Syaf ever actually leave the house, are drawings of tiny little bundles of lycra-covered muscles lovingly detailed with hatching, cross-hatching and yet unnamed species of hyper-hatching operating down to the quantum level.”

Plok offers another alternative 52 DC titles, all of which I would buy.

The Aporetic on Why Libertarians Love Slavery.

The brain is not made of soup, according to Neuroskeptic.

Gavin B on Gene Colan

Low-quality, spammy Kindle books are not a problem.

Millennium on Lords reform and the space race.

Low calorie, low-carb diets can reverse type two diabetes.

Chris Dillow on how Harold Shipman was typically middle-class

Rats that are addicted to drugs stop using them if given sufficient stimulation in their environment.

Also, I don’t know if I ever got round to mentioning it, but Teatime Brutality is back, now on Tumblr.

8: Bulleteer

This essay appears in a revised form in my book An Incomprehensible Condition: An Unauthorised Guide To Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers. Paperback, Hardback, Kindle (US), Kindle (UK), other ebook formats

We’re heading into the home stretch now, so hold tight.
Panel from Bulleteer. Alix Harrower saying "Have you any idea what it's like explaining to people that you're not a robot? A freak..."

“Fair was the woman’s face, and sweet
Her voice, and swift were her noiseless feet,
And kind her hands; but her husband knew
Full little of her the fair and true
To work when the dawn brake golden-fair;
At work when the stars of night shone there
Forewatcht, forwearied at night and worn,
Yet eager to meet his work at morn”

The Sculptor – Emily Hickey [FOOTNOTE No relation as far as I know, though this 19th century poet shares the name of my paternal grandmother.]

Over and over in this series of essays we have seen variations of the same story – the creator making something in the likeness of a human being, and that creature gaining life and sentience. Whether Frankenstein, or the golem, or the robot revolt, or Gwydion, over and over we’ve seen the creator/created conflict appear in Seven Soldiers.

Even the Snow White legend, which at first sight seems to be of a totally different type, fits into this pattern. Snow White’s mother wished for a beautiful daughter, but as soon as her daughter grew more beautiful than her, she tried to have her killed. (The Brothers Grimm only changed the mother to a step-mother fairly late on – in the original story it was the mother).

The myth of Pygmalion and Galatea (rhymes, more or less, with Bulleteer) is another story of this type. According to the classical poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses, the sculptor Pygmalion was not interested in women, because they were all whores (who says the ancient Greeks were misogynist?). So he decided to carve himself one out of ivory, because women made out of the teeth of dead elephants are somehow better than the kind made out of flesh. However, when he groped its breasts they weren’t soft, so he prayed to Venus, the godess of love, to turn his statue into a real woman. Rather than say “No, leave me alone you strange man” she granted his wish, and the next time he groped his statue’s breast she became human, and despite the fact that her very first experience of him, or indeed of life, was of him sexually assaulting her, the nameless statue (only given the name Galatea centuries later, when people realised that women mattered) agreed to marry him. Who says the ancient Greeks were misogynist?

This, incidentally, is another connection to the stories of both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, both of whom have to be awoken by a similar assault.

These days, this story is best known as the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, in which philologist Henry Higgins (whose self-description is “I do genuine scientific work in phonetics, and a little as a poet on Miltonic lines”) attempts to raise Cockney Eliza Doolittle out of the gutter and into polite society by teaching her to speak ‘correctly’. Doolittle, of course, rebels against him and asserts her own individuality, though during Shaw’s lifetime he had continuously to fight directors who wanted to bowdlerise his work and have her fall in love with her teacher.

Panel from Bulleteer. Lance, covered in superskin, says "I just wanted us to be superheroes. You and me, young forever. Can you call 911?"

Cyn: I would not have thee find another head
That seemed as fair to thee for all the world!
We’ll have no stranger models if you please,
I’ll be your model, sir, as heretofore,
So reproduce me at your will; and yet
It were sheer vanity in me to think
That this fair stone recalls Cynisca’s face!
PYG. Cynisca’s face in every line!
CYN. No, no!
Those outlines softened, angles smoothed away,
The eyebrows arched, the head more truly poised,
The forehead ten years smoother than my own
Tell rather of Cynisca as she was
When, in the silent groves of Artemis,
Pygmalion told his love ten years ago:
And then the placid brow, the sweet sad lips,
The gentle head down-bent resignedly,
Proclaim that this is not Pygmalion’s wife,
Who laughs and frowns, but knows no meed between.
I am no longer as that statue is!
PYG. Why here’s ingratitude, to slander Time,
Who in his hurried course has passed thee by!
Or is it that Cynisca won’t allow
That Time could pass her by, and never pause
To print a kiss upon so fair a face?

Pygmalion And Galatea by W.S. Gilbert

So why does this story of the creature rebelling against the creator have so much resonance? I suspect it’s to do with our old friend entropy.

As soon as we’re born, we’re destined to die, and once we’ve got past about the age of eighteen our bodies are slowly starting to crumble. Our mortality is a fact that hits us every time we see a new grey hair in our beard, or notice that we can no longer hear the very highest frequencies, or have to have a tooth extracted. Pretty much as soon as everything in our body has started working at its full functionality, bits of us stop working, until eventually we stop altogether.

This is something very few of us actually welcome. The idea that the very best-case scenario for me is to spend fifty to seventy more years in slowly-increasing amounts of pain and disability, before ceasing to exist forever, is not a cheery one. So we look for ways to avoid this. It’s no surprise that one of our very oldest pieces of literature, the Epic Of Gilgamesh, deals with an attempt to gain immortality. It’s also no surprise that legends of a Golden Age and a Fall have such potency – I remember how in my late teens I would go to my lectures on the eighteenth floor of the Maths department and take the stairs, and how my hair wasn’t receding, and wonder what went wrong (I forget that in my late teens I was desperately lonely, physically unattractive and reliant on others for financial support, of course. There was never a Golden Age, our memories have just yellowed with age).

The two ways in which people have usually attempted to gain at least a metaphorical immortality are through their children and through their artistic creations, so it’s natural that we’d have stories develop about children who *are* artistic creations. The problem is, though, that as a method of gaining immortality, having children is a decidedly ambiguous one. Yes, our children carry our genes and often resemble us a great deal. We can even hope that our children carry on the best of us while leaving the worst.

But children are also the worst reminders of our own mortality – not only are they a reminder that we’re grown up, and an additional responsibility, but they’re our replacement. Once Us Mk II exists, it’s only a matter of time before Mk I gets taken off the market.

There’s also, for men at least, the additional possibility that our child is not really our biological child at all – that it’s not ‘me’ becoming ‘immortal’ at all, but someone else. That’s not a problem when it’s our intellectual, rather than biological, child. And men can make those all by themselves, without any of those icky girls being involved.

But if a child being a parent’s ‘replacement’ is hard for the parent, it’s hard, too, for the child. The child, after all, loves and respects the parent (assuming even basic competence in parenting – which is sadly not an assumption one can make all that freely), but is an individual herself who cannot be expected to want the same things her parents do. There’s a reason that one of the first words learned by all babies, after ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ or their local equivalent, is ‘no’.

(It may be significant here that work on Seven Soldiers started shortly after Grant Morrison’s father, who seems to have been a genuinely great man, died. See for example the obituary of Walter Morrison at

Panel from Bulleteer. Sky-High Helligan saying "Stay with me. I know it's a lot of information, but that's the way I work. Everything at once. Next slide please."

Seen this way, Pygmalion becomes a myth of defeminizing, in which the artist/scientist would ensure the male final cause (through which version of the myth the single man attains the state of God the father) by seeking to control, through this bizarre form of recycling, original female energy. Natural birth (as well as natural death) is recast as a fantasy of perpetual motion. The female body, seen as the source of entropy, is turned into a machine to defeat entropy. The benefit of this process ensues only for the male who manipulates this force to his advantage – a possible infinite extension of his single-willed life.

In Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the twist on the myth is that it is not a statue that is brought to physical life, but rather a lower-class woman made into a socially acceptable being. Through diction lessons, another’s words are in a sense put in Eliza’s mouth, and by the same token her own organic life drawn out. It is necessary to turn the woman into a statue before the statue can be made to speak the proper way, made into a work of social art, and thus into a person a male artist can not just love but “wed” in civilized society. Shaw, it seems, is equating here the creation of a statue with an act of male vampirism.

George Slusser – Last Men And First Women: The Dynamics Of Life Extension In Shaw And Heinlein, in Shaw, vol 17, Shaw And Science Fiction (Milton T Woolf ed.)

Alix Harrower, like Eliza Doolittle, is an almost entirely passive figure until the very end of her comic. Her husband decides her destiny is to be a superhero, and turns her into one without her consent. The only reason she survives is because she (unlike him) keeps her wedding ring on. She then fulfills his ambitions for her after his death even though she doesn’t want to – she becomes a superhero during a suicide attempt she makes when she discovers his infidelity. Everything that happens to her in the entire story is initiated by someone else, usually for reasons Alix never fully knows. The only decision she makes in the four issues of her comic – the one that truly defines her as a character – is to walk away and stop being a superhero.

Even at the climax in Seven Soldiers #1, she makes no decisions even as she ends up saving the day. She’s ‘the spear never thrown’ because she chooses not to throw herself into events. Instead, events throw themselves at her. She refuses to accept the fate which the entire world, from her genetic ancestors, through to her manipulative husband, through to the supernatural forces manipulating everything behind the scenes, has planned for her.

(It’s rather depressing how she’s been used in comics since Seven Soldiers finished. Turned into a generic superhero, she’s depicted in crowd scenes, usually flying, even though she doesn’t fly. Even after her story’s completely over, her decisions and her very existence are disrespected and rendered unimportant – though so too are the opinions of her male creator, which is on one level an appropriate response).

Panel from Bulleteer. Alix holds a dying Helligan, who says "It's one big picture. Look."

The rest of the story need not be shown in action, and indeed, would hardly need telling if our imaginations were not so enfeebled by their lazy dependence on the ready-makes and reach-me-downs of the ragshop in which Romance keeps its stock of “happy endings” to misfit all stories. Now, the history of Eliza Doolittle, though called a romance because of the transfiguration it records seems exceedingly improbable, is common enough. Such transfigurations have been achieved by hundreds of resolutely ambitious young women since Nell Gwynne set them the example by playing queens and fascinating kings in the theatre in which she began by selling oranges. Nevertheless, people in all directions have assumed, for no other reason than that she became the heroine of a romance, that she must have married the hero of it. This is unbearable, not only because her little drama, if acted on such a thoughtless assumption, must be spoiled, but because the true sequel is patent to anyone with a sense of human nature in general, and of feminine instinct in particular.

George Bernard Shaw – Pygmalion (afterword)

Bulleteer has an odd position within the Seven Soldiers mega-story. The mini-series itself is one of the three (Shining Knight and The Manhattan Guardian being the other two) that provide the narrative throughline for the story, while the other four series flesh out the bigger picture, but the character’s own narrative ‘arc’ (I had hoped to get through this book without using that word, but it seems the only appropriate one) is almost entirely divorced from it. The rest of the characters in the story are concerned with superheroism, or with the Sheeda invasion, or with taking revenge on overbearing parents, but Alix herself is only after a quiet life. It’s notable that while the other characters are either born different, or become heroic when they gain their costume, the Alix before her accident is more confident, wittier, happier, and more secure than afterward. She’s also actually more heroic – she works with autistic children before the accident, while afterwards she works as a bodyguard for an unpleasant film star.

But like Jake Jordan, the other character who starts out the series as just a normal human being, her instincts are always good, even when she’s depressed and suicidal. She refuses to be a ‘hero’, but she takes the woman who tried to steal her husband and attempted to murder her to hospital without a second’s thought, because it’s the right thing to do.

Bernard Shaw eventually had to write a short ‘sequel’ to his Pygmalion (it’s a prose piece, printed as the afterword in most editions of the play now) giving Eliza Doolittle a happy ending, because the audience flat out refused to believe that the story ended with her walking away from Henry Higgins, and directors kept changing the ending to suit what they wanted. His sequel still wasn’t what the audience actually wanted – they’d been expecting a love story, and were angry that they didn’t get one – but it was an attempt to give them a sense of completion, of ‘closure’. Of course, after his death, it was turned into a musical and given a love-story ending (the same people also wrote Camelot, which had Arthur and Lancelot forgiving each other and surviving at the end, rather than going to war against each other as in their source material).

It may well be the fate of Bulleteer to continue appearing in crowd scenes, flying, and doing generic-superhero stuff for all eternity unless her creator gives her an ending that comes closer to the desires of the typical superhero comic reader than simply walking away and getting on with her life. There’s something sadly appropriate about that. The one decision Alix makes, her one bit of agency, is taken away from her by forces outside her control.

But it’s by fighting those narrative conventions all the way, by struggling to gain any kind of agency, that Alix fulfills her destiny and saves the world. Had she gone with the flow, had she been the superhero the entire universe seemed to be wanting to make of her, the world would have been lost.

Comic issues Bulleteer #1-4

Artists Yanick Paquette (pencils), Michael Bair (inks), Alex Sinclair (colours)

Other credits Phil Balsman (letters), Michael Siglain (asst editor), Peter Tomasi (editor)

Connected Morrison works The Filth is very, very, very different, but has some connections.

Look Out For Millions The Mystery Mutt’s secret

Still to come in Seven Soldiers The time of your life!

Linkblogging For 23/06/11

First, a little self-promotion – I have a new, low-traffic Twitter account devoted only to my books, and Amazon pages in the US and the UK

Jonathan at Liberal England sparked an interesting debate last week about the differences between Social Liberalism and Social Democracy. His most recent post links to much of the discussion.

Eddie Campbell on Batman artist Lew Schwartz, who died recently

DC cancelled a story where Superman teams up with a Muslim superhero. After Chris Sims brought this to comics fans’ attention (warning, avoid the comments which are full of white American male geeks), DC unofficially told unfunny P. Staines cartoon-writer Rich Johnston that they weren’t avoiding telling the story for fear of offending racist fuckwits who don’t even read the comics, but that the story had Superman rescuing a cat out of a tree, and they didn’t think that was appropriate. David Brothers has the best reaction to this.

In other Protracted-Painful-Suicide-Of-DC-Comics news, they have apparently stated that they’re going to aim all their comics at 18-34 year old males. Ragnell has her thoughts on this.

Charles Stross has three arguments against the Singularity

Via Tom Peyer, Georgia’s farming industry has been devastated by anti-immigration laws.

This has been going round the Lib Dem blogosphere

But only because it’s so great. And since I am too headachey to write tonight, I too will reproduce Paddy Ashdown’s wonderful speech on Lords reform in full. This kind of thing is why, despite everything, I still feel at home in the Lib Dems:

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon:
I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that in a democracy the minority is always right. That thought has given me much comfort over the years as a Liberal, and it appears that it will have to give me comfort in this debate as well. I spent an engaging hour and a half yesterday in the House of Lords Library, looking through opposition speeches made in December 1831 to the Great Reform Act 1832 and to the Reform Act 1867. Five arguments were put forward. The first was: there is no public call for such reform beyond those mad radicals of Manchester. The second was: we should not be wasting our time and money on these matters; there are more important things to discuss such as the Schleswig-Holstein problem, the repeal of the corn laws or the crisis in the City that caused Anthony Trollope to write his wonderful novel.

A noble Lord: Not in 1832.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: No, but in 1867.

The third argument, which was put so powerfully—indeed, in bloodcurdling terms—by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, was that if we were to embark on this constitutional terra incognita, the delicate balance of the constitution would collapse around us; mere anarchy would rule upon the world.

The fourth argument put forward in those debates was, “No, no, let us not disturb the quiet groves of wisdom within which we decide the future of the nation by letting in the rude representatives of an even ruder republic. God knows what damage we shall do if such a thing should happen”. The last and fifth argument was the argument actually used by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, just a moment ago: “if it ain’t broke, don’t mend it”.

Those are the arguments that were put forward against the 1832 Act, the 1867 Act, the 1911 Act—every single reform that we have ever had—and they are the arguments that are being put forward now. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. Perhaps I might explain before I come to the substance of the argument.

The first argument is that there is no public interest in this matter. Of course there is not; it is our business, not the public’s. The public have made it very clear that they do not trust our electoral system in its present form. Is there anyone in this Chamber who does not realise that the dangerous and growing gap between government and governed that is undermining the confidence in our democracy must be bridged? It must be bridged by the reform and modernisation of our democratic institutions, and we have a part to play in that too. This is not about what the public want, it is about us putting our House in order.

The second issue is that there are more important things to discuss. I do not think so. Frankly, we have been very fortunate to have lived through the period of the politics of contentment. The fragility of our democratic system has not been challenged because the business of government and democracy has been to redistribute increasing wealth. If we now come to the point at which we must redistribute retrenchment, difficult decisions, hard choices, I suspect it will come to something rather different, as we see on the streets of Greece today and as we saw on the streets of London not very long ago. This is very important.

The third is that we are embarking on a constitutional journey into terra incognita. Of course we are. We do not have a written constitution in this country. I wish we did, but we are told that the genius of our constitution is that it is unwritten, that it responds to events, that it develops, that it takes its challenges and moves forward. Oliver Cromwell did not have to say, “We will delay the Civil War until we have worked out the proper constitutional relationship between Parliament and the King”. In 1832 they did not say, “Let us hold this up until we have decided what proper constitutional balances would be achieved”. If you believe in the miracle of the unwritten constitution, you must believe that our constitution will adapt. You cannot argue that that is a good thing and then say that we cannot move forward unless we know precisely and in exact detail what will happen next. Of course this will change the balance between us and the other Chamber. It will not challenge the primacy of the other Chamber, but it will challenge the absolute supremacy of the other Chamber—that is called check and balance.

The fourth argument is that this will disturb the gentle climate of wisdom in this place. I have no doubt that there is unique wisdom here, although I have to say that I do not believe it is necessarily evenly distributed—maybe in some places it is, but not everywhere. However, I am not persuaded that there is less wisdom in the 61 second chambers that are elected, that there is less wisdom in the Senate of the United States, or the Sénat in France or the Bundesrat in Germany. I do not believe that the business of election will produce less wisdom than we have here now—rather the contrary. It is not wisdom that we lack; it is legitimacy. My old friend, Lord Conrad Russell—much missed—used to say, “I would happily exchange wisdom for legitimacy”, and I will tell your Lordships why.

This is where we come to the final point—the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd: “If it ain’t broke, let’s not fix it”. It is broke; it is broke in two fashions. First, our democracy now and our institutions of democracy in this country do not enjoy the confidence of our people in the way they did. That confidence is declining. We have to be part of the reform that reconnects politics with people in this country. If we do not, our democratic institutions will fall into atrophy and may suffer further in the decline of the confidence of the people of this country. If noble Lords do not realise that, they do not realise just how difficult the current situation is in Britain.

We in this Chamber cannot leave this to others to do. We must be part of that reform, modernisation, reconnection and democracy. It is said that this House does its job as a revising Chamber well. So it does. It is allowed to revise, change, amend legislation, but is it allowed to deal with the really big things? It does the small things well, but is it constructed in a way that would prevent a Government with an overwhelming majority in the other place taking this country to an unwise and, as we now know, probably illegal war? No, it would not because it did not. I cannot imagine that the decision to introduce the poll tax and the decision to take this country to war would have got through a Chamber elected on a different mandate and in a different period, or if there had been a different set of political weights in this Chamber from the one down the other end.

The truth of the matter is that we perform the function of a revising Chamber well, but that is not our only function. We are also part of the checks and balances in this country. The fact that we do not have democratic legitimacy undermines our capacity to act as a check and balance on the excessive power of the Executive backed by an excessive majority in the House of Commons. That is where we are deficient and what must be mended.

The case is very simple to argue. In a democracy, power should derive from the ballot box and nowhere else. Our democracy is diminished because this place does not derive its power from democracy and the ballot box but from political patronage—the patronage of the powerful. Is it acceptable in a democracy that the membership of this place depends on the patronage of the powerful at the time? We are diminished in two ways. We are diminished because we do not perform the function that we need to perform of acting as a check and a balance on the Government, and we do not do so because we are a creature of the Government’s patronage. I cannot believe that noble Lords find that acceptable in this Chamber .

A noble Lord: Time.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: Perhaps noble Lords will forgive me, I will finish now. I have already strained my time but I ask for patience. The Leader of the House is right. We have spent 100 years addressing reform in this House. It is time to understand why that is necessary—both to make our place in modern democracy and to fulfil our proper function to provide a check and balance on an Executive who may get too powerful. We turned our hand to this 100 years ago; it is time to finish it now.

Blog Tour?

This will sound both daft and egocentric in the extreme, but would anyone like to interview me?

I’ll explain.

I’m hoping to get the Seven Soldiers book finished this weekend, and get it published within a week or so of that. This book has taken an utterly ludicrous amount of work on my part, and I’d like it to have an audience, but it won’t have one. It’s a book about a six-year-old superhero comic, except it goes whole chapters barely mentioning the comic and talking about 17th century theologians or thermodynamics. This is not something that’s going to leap off the shelves.

But I think there are a small number of people who would *really* like it, and they’re the people I’ve been writing it for. I want them to be able to find it.

One of the ways all the people who write books on “How To Sell A Million Ebooks On How To Sell A Million Ebooks” say you should do is to do a ‘blog tour’ – go around a bunch of different blogs and do guest posts, and I think that might work. I think some of my friends might well have friends who would be interested in this book (or even my previous ones).

So what I’m thinking is, if people want to, I could answer a bunch of interview questions for different blogs and the interviews could be posted to coincide with the book coming out. Would anyone be interested in doing this?