Friday, February 27, 2009

WITHIN YOU - WITHOUT YOU

"...We were talking..."

As I had started pontificating in the comments section of THIS post (towards the end of THIS comment) the problem with Marvel's more recent handling of Doctor Strange is that most of the "modern" writers don't seem to understand mysticism.

It seems that only minds who have contemplated that plane of existence since the 1960's or 1970's - at the latest - seem to have any memory of magic - as if the "me-Generation"-years removed all knowledge and trace of magic from the collective consciousness/
subconscious/unconscious.

Why do we have need for the ephemeral, the contemplative, the spiritual, when the TANGIBLE, the MATERIAL, the "REAL" is HERE and easily obtained?
Why seek the Madonna (Celestial or Christian or Spiritual) when the "Material Girl" was all the rage?

Most of those old-school writers were sent out to pasture - or - seeing the blood on the walls, got the hell out of Dodge - for sunnier climes, leaving younger "Youngblood" writers as the new guard.

And somewhere along the years... (as Larry Nivin correctly surmised); "The Magic Goes Away".

As to the NATURE of magic...
I've ALWAYS been of the mind-set that magic has COSTS. It requires EFFORT.
It does NOT come easy and should NOT be used (or taken) lightly.

That's something that Marvel doesn't understand.
They see ALL "powers" as "point your finger and a beam comes out - as easy as shining a flashlight."

And THAT'S why they can't seem to stop Doctor Strange from being a Deus ex Machina who is too powerful for the room.

Quesada complains about that aspect - all. the. time.
Frankly, I think HE has a better understanding of the nature of mysticism than he lets on.
Brian Bendis, on the other hand, who is the architect of the new "Who Shall be the New Sorcerer Supreme" storyline, that will be starting in New Avengers # 51 (I addressed this event HERE and HERE)... Well... let's just say, I have my doubts.

Bendis isn't a "magic" writer.
He's not really even a SUPERHERO writer.
He does CRIME stories. And, supposedly, he does them well!

Some of his super-hero stuff is alright.

I just read New Avengers # 50, and it was split down the middle between heads TALKING and heads getting KICKED IN.
(Mind you... I enjoyed the issue. Quite a bit, actually!)

And ONE LINE in that whole book shone out as a BEACON of hope for his treatment of Doc.

When asked where Dr. Strange is, Bendis has Luke Cage (natch) say:

"Walking the Earth like Caine in Kung Fu".

F#@%-YEAH!

That's a story I'd like to see.
And a way of TREATING Doctor Strange that, while not completely original, is dire missed lo' these last 15 - 30 years. Doctor Strange as spiritualist and MYSTIC!

Contemplative and seeking.
Learning as well as learned.

The old 01970's TV show "Kung Fu" holds many points that can easily be transferred to characters like Doctor Strange. Heroes (or at least, individuals who seek to do good and right in the world) who stride the line between the real world and the mystical. Philosophy and wisdom are as important to their arsenal as their fists and abilities.
Instead of the Martial Arts being learned, (although he DID learn that as well) Strange was taught the Mystic Arts and that was the basis for his spiritual journey and enlightenment.

This respectful journey for the "inner-hero" has been addressed a few times in Dr. Strange's history.

- Of course, some of the later Steve Ditko issues of Strange Tales gave a glimpse into that world.

- The original Graphic novel "Into Shamballa" (by J.M. DeMatteis - a writer who is no stranger to the spiritual, and Dan Green).

- Much of the 2nd volume of Strange Tales (written by Peter Gillis)

Yet, sadly each of them was an all-too brief glimpse into that aspect of Strange's world.

And... one other important instance...in Marvel Premiere.
Issue number # 12 especially, had a sequence that I hold as one of the highest points of the entire history of the character and his treatment by the creative minds behind the title.

It's one of my all time FAVORITE bits of Doc goodness.
(And it's been something that I've been dying to "blog" about before the web even existed!)
After the "death" of the Ancient One, Doc is meditating in the Desert and gives this amazing credo about the Sanctity of Life and the responsibility of being its protector.

I present it to you here.

*click* images to make "Supreme-Sized"



Marvel Premiere # 12. Steve Englehart, Frank Brunner.


Awesome stuff.
Gets me in the gut each and every time.
That part with the lizard... as an animal lover, really speaks volumes to me.

Englehart, man.
He understood magic.
Not just the hocus-pocus of it, but the nature of life-forces in the Universe.

---
Allow me to type the soliloquy here, for the benefit of search engines:

"LIFE -- the OPPOSITE of life is not DEATH, but NON-EXISTENCE.
To DIE means HAVING LIVED -- but to NOT EXIST means being... NOTHING.
To LIVE means to INFLUENCE THE COSMOS. One's ACTIONS, one's PRESENCE -- changes every being he meets.

"The COSMOS is EVERYTHING! To affect any PART of the cosmos is to affect the TOTALITY!
LIFE is the most PRECIOUS GIFT the cosmos can BESTOW... and it is the lot of DOCTOR STRANGE to PRESERVE the gift."

"This lizard means EVERYTHING to me... just as ALL living things do! The lizard is SACRED in it's existence! For a few seconds, I held the life of a SACRED BEING in my hands. What an AWESOME responsibility!"

---

While a basic concept to anyone who thinks past their own needs and self, this is still mind-shattering if you take it to the logical conclusion.
EVERY life, every ONE is SACRED.
Strange understands that now... the life of EVERY person or thing affects everyone and everything else it touches.
ALL are ONE!
Doctor Strange as protector of the Earth dimension... suddenly, that isn't just a vague title.
It is a serious and detailed responsibility.
EVERYONE. EVERYWHERE. ARE. ONE.

Strange pulling a Quai Chang Caine (or a semi Christ-like) period meditating in the desert, sees the universe for what it is.
After all, he HAD recently seen the world re-created, met "god", and through the death of his master, been given a glimpse that the end truly isn't the end.

It is this touchstone that Strange needs to revisit on occasion.
Dark, brooding battles with Lovecraftian horrors are also a must... but when he is climbing back out from the darkness, he needs to know where the LIGHT can be found.

I first came upon this scene in the 01980 "Occult World of Doctor Strange" calendar (which I blogged about HERE). Long before I ever obtained the actual Marvel Premiere issue, I had the calendar, and so struck by the depth and truth of Strange's words, I photocopied it, hand cut and pasted it (this was long before photoshop and personal computers) and kept it hung on my wall to keep its positive message nearby.

1980 Marvel Calendar - the entirety dedicated to Doctor Strange.


I'm sure that my love for Strange is tied directly to my appreciation for the worlds of philosophy, faith and pursuit of higher understanding.

Such subjects always interest me, and I firmly believe that a touch of true mysticism and spirituality would be well suited (at least on occasion) to the mythos of the world of Doctor Strange.

However, what is NEEDED is a writer who understands and appreciates such things.
Strange doesn't (and has yet to) work as a "super-hero".

Strange should be a mixture of monk, guru, student, teacher, warrior, king, master, servant, priest, healer, guardian - mystic.
A western man steeped in Eastern traditions (as well as other-worldly knowledge).
One who understands the nature of the cosmos and the complexity of the human spirit.

While I also like a touch of the dispassionate mystic, who is aloof and distant... (and with a touch of his old arrogance - as his Hamartia; his "fatal flaw") he'd still be a hero who fights for us, protects us, and (as a Doctor, of sorts) heals us for he knows the preciousness of life, the sacred aspect of life, that it is a gift and that it must be preserved.

For to live means to have affected the world around you... and when you've passed away, what you've touched touches others in turn - on and on again and again... for...

"... life flows on within you and without you."




George Harrison's philosophical entry to The BEATLES album;
Sgt. Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club Band

(I'd like to think that George would have been a Dr. Strange fan.)


"Tamam Shud!"
~P~

5 comments:

plok said...

Oh, I'm certain he WAS!

So here's an aspect of faith that everyone has to deal with sometime or another...filtered through the way I've been thinking of it lately...

So an old girlfriend asked me if I believe in an afterlife...and my response was that I figured it would be follish of me to hold the opinion that there was one, but dishonest of me to say I didn't believe in one. Because there's no evidence for it, of course...but whose ego-focus can imagine its own non-existence? If I didn't believe, it would have to be by a massive effort of will...and then I guess I would be forced to conclude that, there being no "me" of any sort that would survive death, that "I" wouldn't care anything about anything that had happened or not happened, because there would be no "I"! And it would be as though I had been unmade.

Okay, that's not actually as depressing a prospect as it sounds. Because anyone who believes that, must also believe that all of us will one day be "unmade"...that everyone will eventually be "unmade"...and so you can throw fear out the window: it will have no payoff that anybody's "I" can regard with sadness or regret -- at the very moment that the very worst happens, it literally will not matter. And this will come to everyone in time. So there's no reason to fear: in a larger sense, from a larger perspective...none of us are real anyway.

So fear flees the mind of a person who manages (somehow) to hold such a belief...of course what you choose to fill up that empty space with is up to you, n'est-ce pas?

But that's not why it isn't as depressing a prospect as it sounds, or at least not entirely why: the complete reason it isn't as depressing as it sounds is that if that arduous belief is not successfully held by you...well then, you believe in an afterlife. Ipso facto.

And so once again, fear flees the mind.

Heavy stuff, for a comic book! And yet it's all there, isn't it? Amazing that it would have been placed there. And so economically, too!

I want that Dr. Strange comic book back. This philosophy stuff isn't as good, if it's not contained in a story. One misses the drama, and the characters. The example, perhaps?

Damn right, the example.

Now do a big Jennifer Kale thing -- I never read anything about her past Man-Thing v.2 (I assume that means the Claremont version; bless 'im, he meant well) -- I'm out of the loop.

Not to get all DeMatteis on you, but...

Put me back in it!

(Hmm...might be worthwhile discussing DeMatteis' philosophical ideas as contrasted with Englehart's and Gerber's, you think? I mean J.M. definitely cut his own path, didn't he? Peter Gillis is a part of that "spirit motor" of Big Two comics too, I reckon, though he doesn't get the press...just like Messner-Loebs on Dr. Fate, no one remembers.

So that's two big huge post-series I'm asking you for, P! One on the writers behind the establishment of superheroic "magic" ideas -- how fascinating! why don't you make a blogaround about it, email people and hand them out writers' names to scribble about! JEEZUS if you don't do it I will! -- and one on how Jennifer Kale is the thinking man's Kitty Pryde...)

Okay, more beer required! Cheers! Let's talk about all this stuff some more!

~P~ said...

OK... ok... I'll address this in a reply later today / tonight.

I just thought that I'd mention that I edited (i.e. ADDED) stuff to this post and it might be worth a re-read.

I'll get to addressing comments later.

I LOVE this type of stuff.

plok said...

CERTAINLY worth a second read!

I'll have more to say shortly, no doubt.

~P~ said...

Cool.

Sadly, I'm physically exhausted from the past week or so of "real-life", and it'll take me a few days to get my head back on straight.

PLUS, I have a thousand other blog-topics on the back-burner... all with their claws scratching away at the inside of my eyelids, looking for a way out.

I'll get back to this with you soon.

Feel free to post YOUR thoughts (ANYONE reading this, really), and that'll help rejuvenate me.

Tony said...

It really irritated me, after Englehart left, that Marv Wolfman clearly didn't "get" what Englehart had been trying to do, and set about to undo it all so it "didn't happen."

What does it mean to be Sorcerer Supreme? Few people (especially at Marvel) seem to understand.

It doesn't mean you're the supremely powerful sorcerer, necessarily. It doesn't mean you're omnipotent or unbeatable.

It doesn't mean you're the most knowlegeable sorcerer, either. I mean, Dakimh the Enchanter had about a 20,000 year head start on Doc Strange AND the Ancient One. The sheer amount of mystical knowledge he could amass in that time dwarfs what the Ancient One could do in only 500-some years. And Sorcerer Supreme Stephen Strange has been at it less than a century (any way you slice it).

Sorcerer Supreme is more about RESPONSIBILITY. Doctor Strange is supreme is his responsibility for what goes down in this dimension. The buck stops with him.

As the Doctor (of 'Doctor Who')recently said, "If you want to take it up with a higher authority -- there isn't one!"

When mystical / magical badness happens, it's up to the Sorcerer Supreme to clean up the mess. That's his job.

Being Sorcerer Supreme is more of a burden than a boon. It's not a free ticket to absolute power. It's accepting absolute responsibility.

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