Friday, October 31, 2008

Samhain Blessings!

In Druidic tradition, Samhain is the time of the dead, when the veil between the worlds thins and spirits may walk with us in the land of the living. It is the feast of death and rebirth, and begins the New Year of the Celtic calendar with the falling of the last leaves, in the heart of the Autumn, the beginning of the Darkened Days, and the Quiet Time to listen to the Wisdom of the Crone. At this time we celebrate and commemorate our ancestors and elders who have passed into the Otherworld. But, fear naught, for the Sun will be born anew, and Light and Life will return to the world!

Solemn Blessings to You All; hold fast to the seed of Hope, and dream of Better days!

(and, in the Spirit of Hope:)

Thursday, October 30, 2008


“The Last Days of Krypton” by Kevin J. Anderson, Harper Books, 304 pages

Krypton, of course, was the doomed homeworld from which Kal-El – better known to Earth as Superman – was sent, its last surviving son. That great planet first appeared in the first issue of Superman in 1939 but has undergone numerous revisions, “re-imaginings,” and “retcons” since then. The “Golden and Silver Ages” presented us with Buck Rogers-like imagery, with sky-cars and the Fire Falls, the Scarlet Jungle, and the Jeweled Mountains. Richard Donner’s 1978 movie “Superman” and its sequels gave us a cold, sterile, and crystalline world orbiting a baleful giant red star. After the “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the high civilization of a new Krypton was convulsed by the Clone Wars, the Black Zero movement, and given a death sentence by the “Eradicator.”

Which incarnation were you raised on, which left its images in your memory? They blur in my mind, and I have long since abandoned any real interest in continuity and accept their dissonance. I enjoy the various elements for what they are, and have my own favourites. Thus, when “The Last Days of Krypton” was published in 2007, I put it on my Christmas list, interested in reading what sort of amalgamated history might be presented therein. Santa delivered.

I have been an avid reader since my youngest years, thanks to the regularity with which my parents read to, and enriched me. The number of books that I have begun, but were unable to finish, count in the single digits.

“The Last Days of Krypton” is the most recent addition to that small list.

I did not immediately recognize the author’s name, but eventually realized that he was the co-writer of the expansion and completion of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” cycle, co-author with Herbert’s son Brian. Anderson has also written a space opera series known as “The Saga of Seven Suns,” including a graphic novel, “Veiled Alliances,” the one story in that series which I read. While struggling with “The Last Days” I recognize storytelling elements from “Dune” and “Alliances” that had… bothered me. Some writers tend to repeat words and phrases in many of their tales. They may reuse stereotypical situations, presenting contrived images for cheap emotional reactions. Their characters, bearing different names, may be simple reworkings of each other. This may be deliberate, if the author is interested in examining a particular theme, but I suspect that more often it is a matter of limited imagination.

One of these elements is cheap brutality. Another is the repeated stupidity of characters who are supposed to be intelligent. Then there is an almost morbid fascination with tawdry decadence. I suspect that the repeated references to “torture racks” upon which writhe countless hapless (and faceless) people in the “Dune” books is one of Anderson’s devices, as are the pages describing the attempts to drown a public relations agent in a sewerage tank. Perhaps I’m wrong. In “Veiled Alliances” characters perform vile acts that they anticipate will result in unwanted side effects; but they do them obediently anyway, complaining when the blowback ultimately occurs.

In the “Last Days,” most of the Kryptonian setting is culled from the Gold and Silver ages including that civilization’s exotic architecture, references to the destruction of one of Krypton’s moons, and various notable geographic highlights. Some of the elements incorporated from later tellings include the xenophobia-inducing contact with an alien, Donodon, and the miniaturization and abduction of the city of Kandor by the cybernetic Brainiac, as well as the trio of cruel, megalomaniac villains who were the main protagonists from the movie “Superman II.” I found the characters generally stilted, and some of their backgrounds seemed facile, including Superman’s father Jor-El, who has always baffled me; lauded as one of the superior Kryptonian intellects and statesmen, he has been notoriously ineffective in convincing his people to open their eyes and seek a higher path in nearly every incarnation. This may speak to the degree of decadence that had overtaken the Kryptonian civilization, but I find myself unable to suspend my disbelief. Only Jor-El’s wife-to-be, Lara, has any vibrancy, as an artist who seeks to awaken her patron-to-become husband from his declining lineage to the dangers that power-mongers and mob fear poses.

I found the description of the aristocratic decadence annoyingly pedestrian, almost latter-day Roman in its paralysis and willful ignorance. These people fly sky-cars and study advanced physics? but their Council cannot make any decisions other than “requiring further study” or concluding that any innovation or investigations must be halted. They entertain themselves with giant-lizard drawn chariot races! And yet, the disgruntled Zod, and his two embittered allies set up a military dictatorship because of unexamined, xenophobic fears. Perhaps this is meant as some sort of analogy to America on September 12th, 2001; if so, it is obscure, and fails as a cautionary caricature.

I managed to read one hundred and twenty pages, and then began to skip forward, reading a page here, a paragraph there, hoping to find a gem, some inspiration to resume reading until this superior segment. Alas! It was wooden and two-dimensional as some of the earliest comics. I read those in my childhood, and despite the nostalgia, my impressions are better left unsullied by the banal reality.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tales from the Tavern
This is not a new tale, nor a unique tale, but it is mine own. It is not particularly significant, just one more leaf fallen from the Tree of Humanity. But such a compost those leaves have produced...

Last Saturday, as I do nearly every other week, I bundled up the recyclables, emptied the trash, and went on a dump run. Autumn has fully taken hold of the Hudson Valley, and it was pleasant to be out and about. On the way home, as is my wont, I stopped off at a favourite tavern for a pint and some wings. The Beertender and waitstaff know me as a regular, and other Locals nodded in recognition. I don't know their names, nor they mine, but we occasionally share wry commentary and small chit-chat.

I have been frequenting this establishment since I began college, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, or, as the Green Man reckons it, September 12th, 1971. Some of the fellows seated at the bar might have been seniors when I was a freshman; some might have been freshman when I was a senior. Some might be recent arrivals, local vendors and service providers. Presence, recognition, and casual exchanges, some of the lubricants that help society to function.

Hoisting the pint in my hand, I considered that other lubricant as well. Fermented beverage. Yeast-shit. As best archaeology can tell us, around 9000 years olde, produced in every culture other than arctic. A mixed blessing; I remember nights so intoxicated that, no, I really don't remember them at all. Under its influence, relationships may be severed. A number of my compatriots have been pulled from their vehicles, and failing to recite the alphabet, backwards, standing on one foot and alternating nose-touches, joined that expensive club of those driven under the influence.

But alcoholic drink has also facilitated the sharing of tragedy and complication, of celebration and entertainment, and has sometime strengthened the bonds of companionship. As best the tales tell, from antiquity to modernity, it has ever been thus. Having myself tended bar, I understand the admixture of personalities and the beverage imbibed. I have heard tales of days gone by; of the secret underground conduits before Repeal; of the extended living-room on every corner, first to offer radio, and then, television, to gather after long weary weeks of manual labour and be entertained by Fibber McGee and Molly; to cheer, or jeer, events in the House that Ruth Built; to hear a President's Call to Arms as the American fleet burned at Oahu. My father recollected being sent as a child to the corner to fetch a pail of beer; my Ur-aunt told of the gathering place where recent immigrants of foreign tongue could have their documents translated while nursing a ouiskey and cigar. I have visited taverns where Patriots quaffed brandy and rum, and plotted revolution; so it has been, whether it was Roman pub or German brauhaus, or earlier, rude village huts with bitter and clotted brews.

If one day man is settled on Luna, a flask will accompany. NASA prohibits alcohol in orbit, but are the cosmonauts so Puritan?

As I write, an aromatic amber fluid glimmers beside me in a very small glass. Sip, and revise. Reminisce, sip, and consider. One of the most mixed of Blessings; a tasty treat, a lethal draught. Stop, when good sense reminds you. Buy a round when your pocket is full. But always attend to your companions; the dates may change, but the human patterns remain.

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Monday, October 27, 2008


I was surfing the Net last night and ran across a bit of nostalgia dating back to when I was Eleven years olde and attending Parochial school. My grandparents were Polish immigrants, and the Catholic Church was a brooding presence in my life, even though I only attended Kindergarten and First Grade at that school. There was an Awareness that you were always being Watched, you were always being Judged, and all the angels forfend if you were to die with a blemish on your soul!
You could burn forever!!

There were fearsome nuns to insure that the children didn't step out of line, there was the sharp sting of the pointer-stick -- suffering is noble-- , there was attendance at Mass among the images of the Tortured Christ, and, of course, there was the public humiliations before your peers if you weren't sufficiently obedient and might dare to Question Authority. However!
There were the comic-books!

WHAT!? say you? In a Catholic School?? Strange as it sounds... yes. This was a particular double-bind for me. The reason that I had so much friction with Sister Leticia was that I apparently "acted above myself;" I was quite literate in First Grade, far beyond the Dick and Jane primers the rest of my classmates were just learning. The reason? Well, not only did my parents read to me regularly, but when a neighbor's mother bought him his (weekly) comics, she bought two: one for her to read to him, and one for him to look at the pictures. Every week they gave me one set of those comics. Action Comics. Batman. Superman. World's Finest. Wonder Woman. Justice League of America.

A side-effect of reading these fantastic titles was that I picked up factoids that widened my horizons. Nuclear fission. The Age of Dinosaurs. The Golden Age of Greece. Apparently, not things that an eight-year old is supposed to know about. So, I was punished. Intelligence is bad. But as I mentioned, however...

There was a comic book produced exclusively for parochial schools, and it was called Treasure Chest : Fun and Facts. It was a Catholic-oriented publication for children, and all-American, anti-Communist besides. You could read visual biographies of the Popes, and the Saints; it would illustrate Catholic dogma (the difference between mortal and venial sins is that the former could see you burning in Hell); it had mildly amusing, non-sequitar, pun-oriented strips told in six panels; and it carried biographies of sports heroes. One of the most interesting aspects of the magazine, though, was that it was relatively egalitarian in its presentation of the heroes and icons, although their race and ethnicities were not ignored. Jessie Owens and Jackie Robinson, and Hispanic missionaries rising to advance their people and raise their communities up despite humble beginnings and prejudice. In America, with Faith, and Hard Work, anything was possible.

Although I left Catholic School after First Grade (in a controversy that is another tale) and my family moved to another state, my relatives continued to send me the monthly issues of Treasure Chest for years. And in 1964, a story ran across several issues explaining the process by which our President is selected by postulating the campaign of 1976. I did not really remember that series until the initial nostalgic link beginning this diary reminded me, but then, oh how it came rushing back! It was quite progressive for its day, and its theme concerned social justice and the American Dream. It was preaching to the children of 1964 who would be voting in 1976, and it was clearly a challenge and a call to justice.

That was thirty-two years ago, so its arrival may be late, but this parochial comic book did try to be on the right side of history. So, however it came about, in the spirit of Hope and Change, may I just say : "GOD BLESS AMERICA!"

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