Random Musings: Crisis on Infinite Earths— a 30 year retrospective


Crisis on Infinite Earths #1

In 1985, DC Comics commemorated its 50th anniversary by publishing the 12-issue maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which not only changed the DC Universe, but comics in general.

The house ads proclaimed “world will live, worlds will die and the DC Universe will never be the same.” They weren’t kidding. Crisis, written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by George Perez, “rebooted” the DC multiverse into a single universe. This multiverse consisted of the following Earths (among others I might have overlooked):

Earth 1 (home of the then-“modern-day” versions of DC’s heroes and villains).

Earth 2 (home of the “golden age” (1930s and 40s) versions of same).

Earth 3 (where analogues of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman were villains known as the Crime Syndicate and Lex Luthor was the world’s sole hero).

Earth 4 (home of characters originally published by Charlton Comics, including the Blue Beetle, the Question and Captain Atom).

Earth S (for Shazam. Home of the characters originally published by Fawcett Comics, including Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel and other members of the “Marvel family.”).

Earth X (home of characters originally published by Quality Comics, including Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters).

The idea of the multiverse began with Flash #123 (Sept. 1961), when the “modern day” Flash, Barry Allen, accidentally crossed into another universe and met Jay Garrick, who’d operated as the Flash in the 1940s.

Barry Allen meets Jay Garrick.

Barry Allen meets Jay Garrick.

Jay debuted in Flash Comics #1 in 1940. Barry kicked off the “silver age” of comics with his debut in Showcase #4 in Oct. 1956.

In a letter to readers in Crisis #1, Wolfman wrote that DC mythology had become convoluted, with all those multiple Earths causing confusion among writers and editors because they couldn’t always keep straight “who lived where and when.”

He had some valid points, though I never had any trouble understanding the difference between a story set on Earth 1 and one set on Earth 2 (the two Earths most often seen in DC Comics at the time). My first exposure to the multiverse came in 1979 when I bought Adventure Comics #462, which featured the death of the Earth 2 Batman.

Adventure Comics #462

No, he never got better. He didn’t need to; his “modern day” Earth 1 counterpart was still alive and well.

For years, team-ups between Earth 1’s Justice League of America and Earth 2’s Justice Society of America were a regular occurrence, including this issue of Justice League of America.

The Justice League and Justice Society team up.

The Justice League and Justice Society team up.

In Crisis #1, a wave of anti-matter destroys Earth 3. In a parallel to Superman’s departure from Krypton in Action Comics #1, Lex Luthor and his wife, Lois Lane, send their son, Alexander, to Earth 1.

Alexander Luthor is sent to safety.

Alexander Luthor is sent to safety.

An individual called the Monitor, who’d been a shadowy background figure in Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans, is “recruiting” various heroes and villains from the past, present and future of different Earths to band together to halt the anti-matter destroying universe after universe.

The Monitor explains himself.

The Monitor explains himself.

The Monitor is opposed by his anti-matter opposite, the Anti-Monitor, who seeks to destroy all positive matter.

As part of his plan to save the five remaining universes, the Monitor arranges to have the partially-merged Earths 1 and 2 placed in a “netherverse” in issue #5, removing them from immediate danger. However, past, present and future intersect.

Lois Lane and Tomahawk

People on one Earth can see events on the other, as if through a glass door. In one scene, a distraught elderly couple on Earth 2 glimpse their late daughter’s Earth 1 counterpart.

Eventually, Earths 4, X and S join with Earths 1 and 2 in the netherverse. But they continue to merge and still face annihilation.

A contingent of heroes cross into the anti-matter universe to battle the Anti-Monitor in Crisis #7. They won that battle, but at a great cost.

The death of Supergirl.

The death of Supergirl.

Kara Zor-El’s death was hardly a surprise, given that it was advertised on the cover.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #7

It’s a cover image that’s been the subject of several homages over the years, including this one:

Supergirl #79

Supergirl wasn’t the only hero to fall in battle. In issue #8, Barry Allen died destroying the Anti-Monitor’s anti-matter cannon.

The death of the Flash.

The death of the Flash.

In his introduction to the slip-cased hardcover edition of Crisis, published in 1998, Wolfman wrote that while he’s one of those who misses Kara, her death was a consequence of the decision to reboot Superman as Krypton’s sole survivor.

Elsewhere, he said he expected DC to eventually recreate a Supergirl character.

As to the Flash (whose death had been editorial fiat), Wolfman said he left a way to bring him back. In brief: Because the Flash was moving back in time as he was dying (he made fleeting appearances in early issues of Crisis), Wolfman reasoned that he might emerge from the time stream at some point, never knowing when it might close in on him again. Thus, he’d be living on borrowed time.

Other heroes who died in Crisis include Dove of Hawk and Dove; Lori Lemaris; Aquagirl; Kole of the Teen Titans and the Earth 2 Green Arrow, Robin and Huntress.

Some villains shuffled off this mortal coil, too.

Death of Alexi Luthor.

The death of Alexi Luthor.

The “final battle” took place on two “fronts.” Most of the heroes fought the Anti-Monitor at the dawn of time, where he planned to destroy all positive matter; while a group of villains traveled back a mere 10 billion years, seeking to prevent the accidental creation of both the multiverse and the anti-matter universe.

It was an interesting division of forces, given that when the multiverse was rebooted as a single universe in issue #11, only those who’d been at the dawn of time remembered that there had ever been a multiverse.

And some found themselves anachronisms in the rebooted universe.

The Earth 2 Helena Wayne and Dick Grayson realize the world no longer remembers them.

The Earth 2 Helena Wayne and Dick Grayson realize the world no longer remembers them.

Within the next few years, however, almost everyone forgot the multiverse (at least it stopped being mentioned in the books I was reading). I always imagined it as the result of a post-Crisis “aftershock” washing over the new DC Universe.

The “rebooted” universe combined elements of Earths 1, 2, 4, X and S. Jay Garrick still inspired Barry Allen, but they lived in twin cities rather than different universes.

It would have been easy for Crisis to have eliminated all that was old at DC, but to its credit the company didn’t do that. Except for those characters who had “present day” counterparts with the same “civilian names”, like Superman and Green Arrow, the “golden age” characters were more or less unchanged from their pre-Crisis versions.

Especially in the post-Crisis universe, DC has been good about creating “legacy” heroes, those who carry on in the name of those who have gone before. In Crisis #12, we see one example. Wally West, Kid Flash, steps into his mentor’s role.

Kid Flash becomes the Flash.

Kid Flash becomes the Flash.

He would go on to star in a long-running Flash series.

As to the original Superman, he and the original Lois lane went into a “paradise dimension” with Alex Luthor and the Superboy of Earth Prime (AKA “our” Earth. Yes, we all died in the Crisis, too; bummer).

Superman goes into a paradise dimension

In addition to a new Flash series (among others), the post-Crisis universe saw major changes to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

Wolfman, who has said he wanted the heroes to have been in the own eras and not at the dawn of time when the universe rebooted (but was overruled), had suggested that every title restart with #1, which might have better illustrated that DC was starting fresh. It did happen in more recent years with DC’s latest “reboot”, known as the New 52 (I can’t say much about that since I’m not reading any of those titles).

Ironically, the multiverse has returned. In fact, a storyline in the Flash TV series involves Jay Garrick crossing over from Earth 2 and meeting Barry Allen. A scene in one episode emulates the cover of Flash #123.

Barry and Jay

Crisis was the first major “event” series published by either DC or its main rival, Marvel Comics. Both companies would subsequently publish “event” titles, usually starting in the summer, on a regular basis.

In his introduction to the hardcover edition, Wolfman wrote that Crisis existed in its pure form “only to bring DC back to an easy-to-read beginning before endless continuity took over. The idea was not to make comics accessible only to longtime fans, but to everyone.”

Crisis didn’t just breathe new life into certain corners of the DC universe in 1985; in my opinion, it’s the best of DC’s “event” titles.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Flying high with Supergirl


Supergirl #1
Tonight Supergirl debuts on CBS. It marks the first time the character has ever had her own network TV series.

The character of Supergirl has appeared in different incarnations over the decades. She was introduced in Action Comics #252 (1959) as Kara Zor-El, Superman’s teenage cousin. Overjoyed to find that a family member had also survived the destruction of Krypton, Superman immediately put her in an orphanage and had her wear an unnecessary brown wig. Since he was keeping her existence as Supergirl a secret, why would anyone care about her hair color? It’s not like she needed a secret identity. In fact, she remained his “secret weapon” until Action Comics #285.

As both a character and a title, Supergirl never seemed to have a clearly-defined purpose until Peter David’s 80 issue run from 1996 to 2003. It was also the longest run any incarnation of the character has had.

To set the scene for David’s run on Supergirl, I need to provide a brief recap of DC Comics history. In 1985, DC commemorated its 50th anniversary by publishing the 12 issue maxi series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which (unnecessarily, in my opinion) merged the “multiverse” of several alternate Earths (created to explain, among other things, why characters like Superman and Batman, who’d been around since the 30s were still young) into one Earth, with a single history. Kara died during the Crisis and Superman’s origin was reset so that he was the only survivor of Krypton (as he had been in 1938).

In the years that followed, various aspects of the “Superman family” were reintroduced, though in different ways. Writer John Byrne established that Supergirl had been created in a pocket universe out of shape shifting protoplasm. She later came to the main DC universe, but had no direct connection— biological or otherwise— to Superman. This version, known as Matrix (Mae for short), appeared in various titles over the next few years. But when David began his run, he had the Matrix Supergirl merge with a dying girl named Linda Danvers.

Supergirl merges with Linda Danvers.

Supergirl merges with Linda Danvers.

In an interview in Wizard #63, he explained why:

“I had trouble connecting, on an emotional and creative level, with a character who is essentially a blob of protoplasm that coincidentally is in the shape of a human female… I felt I would he able to connect better with the character if she had some sort of personal stake in humanity…”

This merging— which may not have been a conscious decision on Supergirl’s part— led to all sorts of complications for both women. Linda had been the intended sacrifice in a cult ritual, but it turned out she wasn’t just some random, hapless victim. She’d been a member of that same cult and participated (or at the very least had been an accomplice) in a number of atrocities, including at least two murders. In short, she was as far removed from the naive, innocent Kara Zor-El as you could get.

Supergirl became more human through her merger with Linda, while Linda began to rebuild her life and make amends for her past and reconnect with her parents. This incarnation of Supergirl was, according to David, an earth-born angel (a reference to Kara’s vow to act as a guardian angel at the orphanage and the surrounding town) because the Matrix Supergirl sacrificed herself to save Linda, who was beyond saving.

In Supergirl #50, Linda and Matrix are separated, but Linda retains some super powers. Specifically those Superman had when he was introduced in 1938. She can’t fly, but she can leap 1/8 a mile, for instance. Later, Linda would regain her powers of flight and telekinesis.

In Supergirl #75, David began a popular storyline which ran through the end of the book (though it was hoped at the time that it would serve to revitalize the title; he goes into detail in his introduction to the trade paperback “Many Happy Returns.”) That story line has Linda meeting a pre-Crisis Kara Zor-El prior to her landing on Earth One.

Linda Danvers meets Kara Zor-El.

Linda Danvers meets Kara Zor-El.

In the original comics, Kara took the name Linda Lee and was later adopted by a family named Danvers. David set his series in a small town named Leesburg and named Supergirl’s human half Linda Danvers as nods to the original. What’s more, in his last storyline he established that Kara’s decision to call herself Linda Lee came from vague recollections of her encounter with Linda Danvers in Leesburg before being sent back to her proper timeline.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that more recent incarnations of Supergirl, including her appearances in Smallville and the new series, has her using “Kara” as her “civilian name. Since it’s a common enough name and doesn’t sound the least bit Kryptonian, there’s no reason why she couldn’t use it.

Peter David’s run on Supergirl was more than a superhero book. It also explored themes of forgiveness and redemption and showed how anyone, under the right circumstances, could be a hero. The entire run should be collected in trade paperback. It’s a travesty that DC has only collected the first nine and the last six issues. Still, the back issues are well worth seeking out.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Traveling the back roads of America with the Ghost Rider


Essential Ghost Rider

In the early 1980s, one of my favorite comicbook series was Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider, which centered around itinerant motorcycle stuntman Johnny Blaze, a man cursed to share his body with a demon he could barely control.

Johnny Blaze first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #5 (Aug. 1972) and subsequently spun off into his own 81-issue series, which ran from 1972-1983. I first learned about the series when I saw #58 on a spinner rack at Perry Drugs. I opened up the first page and read the “Stan Lee presents…” caption and thought it was “cute” that this flaming skull character was called Johnny Blaze.

Ghost Rider #58, the issue that, for me, started it all.

Ghost Rider #58, the issue that, for me, started it all.

I bought the issue and every one after that until the series ended. I really liked how— especially as the series grew closer to the end— Ghost Rider developed into a metaphor of a man dealing with his personal demons. The more often Johnny Blaze became Ghost Rider, the more the demon within him— Zarathos— was able to gain independent control when he was Ghost Ridering. As a result, the Ghost Rider went from being an extension of Johnny’s personality to someone Johnny had to fight in order to keep the demon from getting too far out of control. Zarathos was Johnny Blaze’s personal demon on both a literal and metaphorical level. Like the alcoholic seeking “just one drink”, Johnny was often tempted to give in to the desire to become Ghost Rider because it was an “emergency.”

In issue #68, while sitting in a confessional, Johnny admitted that he sometimes wanted the Ghost Rider to get out, to “give the guilty what they deserve.”

Ghost Rider#68-1

Ghost Rider #68. Johnny gives Zarathos free reign.

Ghost Rider #68. Johnny gives Zarathos free rein.

I eventually bought all the back issues and I have to say what ended as a great book had a less-than-great beginning. Or rather, certain elements of the early stories could have been better. in Marvel Spotlight #5, Johnny sold his soul to “Satan” (later retconned as the Marvel Comics’ character Mephisto) to save his stepfather, motorcycle stuntman “Crash” Simpson, from cancer. The bargain was struck, but Johnny forgot to say anything about Crash not dying in a fiery motorcycle accident later that same day.

Here’s one less-than-stellar part about the early issues: Later that night, “Satan” comes to collect Johnny’s soul, but is prevented from doing so by Roxanne Simpson because she’s “pure in heart.” So he gives Johnny the Ghost Rider curse instead. Right. The idea that Roxanne’s “purity” could keep “Satan” from taking Johnny— more than once— makes no sense. If her purity is so powerful that it protected Johnny even when she wasn’t actually around, why didn’t it, say, prevent “Satan” from striking a deal with Johnny in the first place?

It’s also obvious that in the early days Ghost Rider was just a way to cash in on the then-popularity of both motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel and The Exorcist. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, but the later internal battle between Johnny and Zarathos made for better stories than those about a supernatural “superhero.”

Late in the run, we learned that hundreds of thousands of years ago, Zarathos was powerful and feared, until Mephisto made the demon his slave. From time to time, he’d merge Zarathos with the soul of a human. Johnny Blaze was the latest to receive this “gift”, though in many ways it was an “up yours” to Johnny in retaliation for Johnny having gotten free of his contract.

In the end, Johnny was freed of Zarathos and got a happy ending.

Ghost Rider

That wouldn’t last, of course. When Marvel launched a revised Ghost Rider series centering around teenager Dan Ketch in the 1990s, Johnny Blaze soon showed up. Dan wasn’t hosting Zarathos, but he and Johnny did have a connection. Eventually, a somewhat complex mythology involving a centuries-old Ghost Rider lineage would develop, most of which I only know about from reading a book called Ghost Rider the Visual Guide by Andrew Darling (I stopped reading the Dan Ketch series after 24 issues).

Johnny has since returned in several miniseries, some of which I’ve read and some of which I haven’t, as well as an ongoing series that ran from 2006-2009. I read and liked the first storyline in that series, but I prefer how Johnny’s original series ended. He defeated both his literal and metaphorical demons and got to go on with his life. Why saddle him with the Ghost Rider curse again?

Maybe Johnny Blaze had an impact on later writers, to the extent that they opted to use him again rather than just stick with Dan or introduce some new character.

By the way, I’m not the only one who felt that the internal struggle gave both the title and the characters a certain appeal. The final issue of the 1972-1983 run of Ghost Rider contains an essay by writer J. M. DeMatteis called “Travels with Zarathos or Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye.” In that essay, DeMatteis, who came on board as writer with issue #74, wrote that one thing that drew him to Johnny and Zarathos is that the latter was, “the personification of man’s eternal grappling with the evil within.”

Exactly. Johnny’s internal struggle is one thing that made Ghost Rider great in its last several months.

DeMatteis also pondered where the series might have gone had it continued. He pointed out that Zarathos, personifying Evil, was the catalyst in Blaze’s transformation from self doubt to certainty and self awareness, perhaps even self assurance.

A movie version of Ghost Rider starring Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze and Eva Mendes as Roxanne Simpson appeared in 2007. It conflated elements of both the Johnny Blaze and Dan Ketch series. It also made the non-supernatural Western Ghost Rider character, who pre-dated Johnny Blaze, a part of the same mythos. In the comics, school teacher Carter Slade (originally Marshal Rex Fury in a 1950s Ghost Rider series published by Magazine Enterprises before Marvel published its western version in 1967) used theatricality to give the impression he had supernatural powers. In the film, Slade was the same type of Ghost Rider as Johnny Blaze.

Western Ghost Rider

The Carter Slade Ghost Rider in the comics.

And in the film.

And in the film.

In the movie, Johnny’s father, Barton Blaze (Brett Cullen), is dying of cancer, not Crash Simpson. And Johnny— a teenager at the time (Matt Long)— doesn’t summon the “Devil”/Mephisto. Instead, Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) comes to him. What’s more, Johnny never actually agrees to the deal. He’s just looking at the contract (which is in Latin) when it cuts him and spills his blood on it. He should have hired a lawyer. Given how the legal system works, the case would have been tied up for millennia.

Also, in the film, Johnny first becomes the Ghost Rider decades later, not the night he makes the deal.

The movie had both good and bad points and a sequel, Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance, was released in 2012.

When the 2007 film came out, I expressed a hope that a sequel would show at least something of the internal conflict between Johnny and the demon within him. I finally got around to watching Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance earlier this month (for the record, it’s not as good). While it established that the demon within Johnny was Zarathos, it didn’t address an internal struggle between the two. It did, however, state that Zarathos had originally been an angel of justice who was tricked, captured, brought down into Hell, corrupted and driven insane.

It’s implied that by the end of the movie the “spirit of justice” aspect of Zarathos has been reawakened. If there’s ever a third film, Zarathos’ definition of justice might not match with Johnny’s, leading to conflict between the two.

If there’s ever another Ghost Rider film— whether a third in this series or a reboot— I’d hope it would address the internal conflict between Johnny Blaze and Zarathos on top of whatever external foes he/they face. It’d be a more interesting than if he just fought bad guys.

Johnny Blaze’s original adventures can be read in The Essential Ghost Rider Vols. 1-4. The stories are reprinted in black and white, but the volumes are affordably priced.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Graphic novel reviews, Laika and The Arrival



On November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2 into orbit with a single passenger on board— a small dog called Laika. She was the first living creature to venture into space.

Laika was also the first astronaut (or cosmonaut, to use the Russian term) to die in space. She died several hours after the launch, though this fact wasn’t made public until 2002. To meet Khrushchev’s goal of launching Sputnik 2 in time for the 40th anniversary of the 1917 October revolution (Nov. 7, by the Gregorian calendar), less than a month after Sputnik 1 launched on Oct. 4, shortcuts had to be taken; there wasn’t time to allow for the satellite’s safe return to Earth.

The graphic novel Laika by Nick Abadzis (2007) tells the story of this unwitting space pioneer— originally named Kudryavka (for her curly tail)— through the eyes of members of the space program, including Chief Designer Sergei Korolev, a former political prisoner; Dr. Oleg Gazenko, who trained Laika; Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky, who allows Laika a day to play with his children like an ordinary dog before her fatal mission and Yelena Dubrovsky, who cares for the dogs in the program and forms a particular attachment to Kudryavka/Laika.

Abadzis also introduces us to the two families with whom Kudryavka interacted before she was caught by dogcatchers while roaming loose the streets and sent to the Soviet Air Force. One family wanted her, but couldn’t keep her; the other didn’t and put her out on the streets.

We also get a sense of Laika’s point of view as well. Though often this is through other characters’ interpretations of her thoughts and feelings.

Unfortunately, given the current cultural mindset that disregards anything more than a few years old, most people probably don’t remember Laika. Through his words and drawings, Abadzis gives us the facts of the mission as well as an engaging story.

As to the actual Laika, Oleg Gazenko had this to say in 1998: “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”

He was right.


One of the strengths of the comics industry is that the marriage of text and artwork allows for almost infinite possibilities in story telling. As with film or TV, the “camera” can change angles for dramatic effect, shifting from a wide panoramic “shot” to an extreme close up as we go from one panel to the next. And, as with traditional literature, stories can (and do) touch on all aspects of the human condition.

The graphic novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2006) tells the story— entirely in pictures— of a man who emigrates to a strange— even surreal— new country, finds a place to live, finds work, makes friends and finally sends for his wife and daughter. Depending on the mood Tan is trying to set, each page has anywhere from one to dozens of panels. One double-page spread that comes after our nameless main character boards a steamship has 60 thumbnail-sized panels of various cloud formations. A visual indication that it’s a long trip, perhaps?

After the man has found a place to live and hung a photo of his family on the wall, we have a page broken into six small panels at the top and one large one at the bottom (the pages aren’t numbered, unfortunately). Reading from left to right, the three upper panels show a close-up of his wife in the photo; his daughter in the photo and a flashback to his holding his daughter’s hands as he gets ready to leave. Below that, the next three panels show the man looking at the photo on the wall as the “camera” pulls away, until, in the large bottom panel, his is just one of 28 windows along that wall of the building. Is this meant to convey that he’s just another face in the crowd, part of the teeming millions of the city?

That’s up to the individual reader to decide. With no words in The Arrival, what a particular scene might mean is left open to interpretation.

Like I said, the medium of comics and graphic novels— and it is a medium, not a genre— allows writers and artists to touch on all aspects of the human condition. The Arrival, like Laika, is an excellent example of that strength.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: A look at some kick-ass girls and women in folklore


Fearless girls

Think about fables and folktales for a moment. Most of the ones that come to mind (usually filtered through the point of view of Walt Disney and the company that bears his name) feature girls and women not at all; as evil step-mothers and/or witches or as helpless idiots in need of rescue because they can’t handle the particular situation alone.

But there are a lot of folktales out there in which girls and women hold their own as well (if not better) than boys or men would in comparable situations. More than 100 of such fables from all over the world are collected in Kathleen Ragan’s 1998 book Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World.

And some of them seem rather familiar. Remember “Rumplestiltskin”? As Ragan points out, that story has “a female protagonist (who) gets bumped around from one obnoxious man to another.” These being her father, the king and Rumplestiltskin himself. And in that story, she’s saved by happenstance, not by her own actions. Ragan asks why in “Rumplestiltskin” the woman wouldn’t tell the king the truth about spinning straw into gold. Or why she’d agree to give away her child. This woman’s a bit of a moron, isn’t she?

Not so the woman in the very similar tale from Scotland called “Whuppity Stoorie.” This woman, whose husband ran off and left her with a young child and little to live on (and who receives no help from anyone else in the community), discovers one day that a sow soon to farrow is lying on her back, “grunting and groaning, and ready to die.”

This comes as a blow to the woman, who’d hoped for a “fine litter of pigs”, and she sits down and cries. An old woman comes up the hillside and— somehow knowing the sow is sick— asks what the woman will give in exchange for curing the animal.

“Anything”, says the woman, whom the text describes as stupid. And in a way she is stupid, because the “anything” turns out to be her child. But she’s not as stupid as the nitwit in “Rumplestiltskin”, because she gets herself out of the situation, without any outside help. As in “Rumplestiltskin”, the woman can keep her child if she guesses the trickster’s name. In “Whuppity Stoorie”, the woman later hears the old woman singing and sneaks up to investigate. And she hears the old woman state her name: Whuppity Stoorie.

Now armed with this information, the woman succeeds in keeping her baby when Whuppity Stoorie returns, demanding “payment.” And again, she handled her situation without help from anyone else (in “Rumplestiltskin” someone else hears Rumplestiltskin say his name and is nice enough to tell the woman in that story what it is). And as Ragan points out, because she’s preoccupied by the fact that the sow (likely her only source of income) might die, the woman is tricked into a bad bargain.

A story out of England called “Molly Whuppie” involves three sisters, the youngest children of a family that abandoned them in the woods because they felt they’d too many mouths to feed.

The girls come to a house and ask for something to eat. The woman there urges them to go away before her husband, a giant, returns. He’d kill them when he returns, she warns.

The girls say they’ll leave before he comes home and the giant’s wife relents.

But they don’t leave before then and the giant arrives, proclaiming…

Well, you know.

Instead of killing the girls, the giant orders them to stay the night and to sleep in the same bed with his three daughters. The youngest of the abandoned girls, the eponymous Molly Whuppie, notes that the giant had put straw ropes on her neck and those of her sisters and gold chains around his own daughters’ necks. So she waits until the other girls are all asleep and switches the necklaces. The giant comes in the dark room later, feels for the straw and takes and kills his own daughters.

Molly and her sisters then slip out of the house and soon reach another house, the King’s. He gives her three challenges in succession, each involving going back and facing the giant. The reward is that each of her sisters and herself will have one of his sons to marry.

So Molly goes back and in turn gets from the giant a sword, a purse from beneath his pillow and the ring he wears on his finger. On that last expedition, she’s captured and put in a sack. But she tricks the giant’s wife into letting her out and putting herself into the sack.

And she successfully completes her final task.

“Molly Whuppie” is very similar to stories about Jack and his exploits in fighting a giant. But in this case, it’s a clever girl who wins out.

And those are just two of the stories in this book. Even those stories we’re familiar with, like “Cinderella” and “Little Red Riding Hood”, have older variations in which the female characters are capable of handling things on their own. In the introduction to the book, for example, Jane Yolen points out that more than 500 European variants of “Cinderella” have her winning a share of a kingdom on her own.

And in early versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”, the girl and her grandmother handle things on their own, without need of rescue by a woodsman. And in one version, Red Riding Hood meets and defeats a second wolf.

If you like folktales and/or want to give your daughters, nieces and/or young cousins access to more than just Disneyfied damsels in distress, Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters is worth a look.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Supernatural is one of the best shows on TV


Supernatural season 11

On Oct. 7, Supernatural will begin its 11th season. Not many TV series have such longevity. What’s Supernaturals secret?

To begin with, it’s one of the best shows on TV. It’s also, at its heart, about family.

On its surface, the show is about brothers Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) hunting various things “that go bump in the night.” However, the emphasis is on the fact these are brothers who watch out for each other as much as they save people while hunting things. Each has done things and “made deals” on behalf of the other, which haven’t always worked out for the best.

For example, when Sam was killed near the end of season two, Dean sold his soul to bring him back. He was consigned to Hell a year later and spent forty subjective years there (about four months on Earth) before the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) rescued him. Dean’s time in Hell set in motion a series of events that culminated with Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) escaping from his cage.

At the end of season five, Sam put Lucifer back in his cage, but a lot of bad things occurred in the interim. And would subsequently happen via a civil war in Heaven and other unintended consequences.

Dean understandably didn’t want to lose his brother, but didn’t consider the long term consequences of his decision.

In season eight, Sam undertook a series of trials to close the gates of Hell. When Dean learned the trials were fatal to the person undertaking them, he stopped Sam just as he was about to finish the final one, curing the self-proclaimed King of Hell, the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard). But Sam was still on the verge of death; so, in season nine, Dean tricked him into saying yes to being possessed by an angel (Tahmoh Penikett), who would heal him from within (unlike demons, angels must have permission to use humans as vessels).

This angel presented himself as Ezekiel, a friend of Castiel’s, but was really Gadreel, who’d failed to keep Lucifer from a certain garden and had been imprisoned for millennia.

Yes, Gadreel kept his promise and healed Sam, but he also smote the prophet Kevin Tran (Osric Chau), an ally of the Winchesters.

Gadreel smites Kevin.

Gadreel smites Kevin.

Sam eventually drove Gadreel out, but was incensed that Dean— once again— took matters into his own hands. They had a confrontation in the season nine episode “Sharp Teeth.”

Sam: “I can’t trust you.”

Dean: “We are family.”

Sam: “You say that like it’s some kind of cure-all, like it can change the fact that everything that has ever gone wrong has been because we’re family.”

In the following episode, “The Purge”, the conversation continued:

Dean: “I may not think things all the way through, but what I do, I do because it’s the right thing. I’d do it again.”

Sam said that’s the problem and that Dean thinks he’s doing more good than bad. He pointed out that Kevin is dead, Crowley is in the wind and they’re no closer to resolving the current crisis

Sam: “Please tell me, what is the up side is of me being alive?”

Sam, who said he was ready to die, added that Dean saved him for himself, because he didn’t want to be alone.

Dean not thinking things through caused major problems in seasons nine and ten. In season nine, he took on the mark of Cain in order to kill the powerful demon Abaddon (Alaina Huffman), but was too impatient to listen to Cain (Timothy Omundson) when he tried to warn him about the consequences.

Dean kills Abaddon.

Dean kills Abaddon.

Those consequences include being resurrected as a demon if you’re killed (which Dean was at the end of season nine) and the mark (combined with the first blade) making its wearer want to kill. Even Cain, who resisted the mark’s influence for centuries, succumbed. And that was after he’d transferred the mark to Dean.

Dean was eventually cured of being a demon, but throughout season ten, he still did many monstrous things.

Castiel and demon Dean.

Castiel and demon Dean.

Cain received the mark from Lucifer, who’d been talking to Abel. Cain offered a deal: Abel’s soul in Heaven for his own in Hell. Lucifer accepted.

In season ten, Dean— who got rid of the mark in the season finale— learned that it acts as a lock of sorts, to keep out the Darkness that existed before the dawn of time and that God first gave it to Lucifer. It’s implied that the mark’s influence played a role in Lucifer’s rebellion.

Supernatural also explores other family dynamics, including the mother-daughter hunter team of hunters Ellen and Jo Harvelle (Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal); Crowley and his mother, Rowena (Ruth Connell) and the sibling archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Lucifer.

In the season 10 episode “Inside Man”, Dean talked to Crowley about family:

Dean: “Why do you let Mommy Dearest tie you into knots?”

Crowley: “Because we’re family; we’re blood.”

Dean: “That’s not the same thing. A wise man [the boys’ surrogate father, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver)] once told me family don’t end in blood. But it doesn’t start there, either. Family cares about you, not what you can do for them. Family’s there, for the good, the bad, all of it. They’ve got your back. Even when it hurts. That’s family. That sound like your mother?

Dean and Crowley talk family.

Dean and Crowley talk about family.

In season five, Lucifer worked to bring about the apocalypse via a confrontation with Michael that would lay waste to the world. In “Hammer of the Gods”, Gabriel (Richard Speight, Jr.), who so hated the infighting among his brothers that he ran away and hid for millennia, decided to take a stand on behalf of humanity. He confronted Lucifer.

Gabriel: “Boo hoo. Daddy was mean to me, so I’m going to smash up all his toys.”

Lucifer: “Watch your tone.”

Gabriel: “Play the victim all you want, but you and me? We know the truth. Dad loved you best. More than Michael. More than me. Then he brought the new baby home and you couldn’t handle it. So all this is just a great big temper tantrum. Time to grow up.”

Lucifer and Gabriel.

Lucifer and Gabriel.

Sam and Dean, the angels argue, are the true vessels for Lucifer and Michael, respectively. Sam said “yes” to Lucifer as part of a dangerous gamble to get him back in his cage, but Dean refused to say yes to Michael, forcing the archangel to use the boys’ half-brother, Adam (Jake Abel) as a substitute.

In the season five finale, “Swan Song”, Lucifer and Michael faced off, with Lucifer saying he can’t see the point of their fighting.

Lucifer: “We’re going to kill each other. And for what? One of Dad’s tests. We don’t even know the answer.”

He then suggests that they “walk off the chessboard.

Michael refuses, saying he’s a good son.

Michael: “You haven’t changed a bit, little brother. Always blaming everybody but yourself. We were together. We were happy. But you betrayed me- all of us. And you made our father leave.”

Lucifer: “Nobody makes Dad do anything. He is doing this to us.”

Michael vs. Lucifer.

Michael vs. Lucifer.

Supernatural also asks such questions as why a supposedly loving God doesn’t do anything.

In the season four episode “Are You There, God? It’s me, Dean Winchester”, the demon Lilith forced the ghosts of people Sam, Dean and Bobby failed to save to try to kill them. Dean said incidents like that are why he “can’t get behind God.”

Dean: “If he doesn’t exist, fine. Bad crap happens to good people. That’s how it is. No rhyme or reason. Just random, horrible evil. I get it. Okay. I can roll with that. But if he is out there, what’s wrong with him? Where the hell is he while all these decent people are getting torn to shreds? How does he live with himself, you know? Why doesn’t he help?”

Bobby: “I ain’t touching this one with a 10 foot pole.”

Even some of the angels have given up on God. In the season five episode “Free to be You and Me”, Dean and Castiel confronted Raphael (Demore Barnes) regarding God. Castiel asked where God is and Raphael replied that he’s dead.

In response to Castiel’s contention that Raphael is lying, the other angel reminded him of the 20th century.

Raphael: “Think the 21st is going any better? Do you think God would have let any of that happen if he were alive?”

When Dean made a wisecrack and Raphael responded with “Careful. That’s my father you’re talking about, boy”, Dean had a retort of his own:

Dean: “Yeah, who would be so proud to know that his sons started the frigging apocalypse.”

Raphael: “Who ran off and disappeared. Who left no instructions. And a world to run.”

Raphael said Dean’s living in a Godless universe.

Dean: “And? What? You and the other kids just decided to throw an apocalypse while he’s gone?”

Raphael replied that they’re tired and that they just want paradise.

Castiel and Dean confront Raphael.

Castiel and Dean confront Raphael.

Raphael smote Castiel at the end of season four. When Castiel asked who brought him back if God is dead, Raphael suggested that Lucifer raised him, as he needs all the rebellious angels he can find. Castiel’s response was an emphatic “no.”

God’s refusal to directly intervene reminds me of a storyline in Fallen Angel by Peter David. In issue 5 of the IDW run of that series, the titular character, Liandra, a former angel, tells her son Jude, a priest, that God, having created his crowning achievement, wants to end his existence. But he can’t, because humanity won’t let him go. They keeps praying to him and asking for things, “like adult children hitting Dad up for money.”

It’s strongly implied that the prophet Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), is actually God, though Sam and Dean are not aware of this and believe Chuck to be dead.

Chuck Shurley. Or is that God?

Chuck Shurley. Or is that God?

One of the ghosts sent after Sam and Dean was Meg Masters (Nicki Aycox), who was possessed by a demon in season one. She confronted Dean:

Meg: “Nice to finally talk to you when I’m not, you know, choking on my own blood.”

She describes herself as just a college girl— “Sorry. Was”— who became a prisoner in her own head.

Meg: “I was trapped in there, screaming at you, ‘just help me, please.’ You’re supposed to help people, Dean. Why didn’t you help me?”

As she starts beating him, Meg’s ghost asks, “did you ever think there was a girl in here? No. You just charged in, slashing and burning.”

She also blames Dean for her sister’s subsequent suicide.

Meg: “Fifty words of Latin a little sooner and I’d still be alive. My baby sister would still be alive. That blood is on your hands, Dean.”

Meg's ghost confronts Dean.

Meg’s ghost confronts Dean.

The “Meg” demon returned once in season two— possessing Sam and going on a killing spree— before being exorcised again. She returned in season five in a new meat suit (Rachel Miner) and caused the deaths of Ellen and Jo Harvelle. Despite these facts, Sam and Dean allied themselves with “Meg” in seasons six (against Crowley), seven (against the Leviathan) and eight (against Crowley, again).

Theirs was an uneasy alliance, as indicated by this exchange in the season eight episode “Goodbye Stranger”:

“Meg”: “I took how many bullets for you guys and you didn’t even look for me?”

Sam: “No disrespect, but you haven’t exactly been the most trustworthy person in our lives, Meg.”

In that same episode, “Meg” sacrificed herself for the Winchesters.

“Meg” battles Crowley.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the brothers’ alliances with “Meg.” I’d liked to have seen her fate somehow left to the ghost of Meg Masters. That would have been justice of a sort.

It’s not all doom and gloom in Supernatural, however. The show has its lighter moments. In the season six episode “The French Mistake”, Castiel sent Sam and Dean to another dimension to protect them from Raphael. In this other dimension (AKA our universe) they were known as Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, actors who played characters named Sam and Dean Winchester. Dean’s reaction at seeing a clip of Jensen Ackles in a soap opera was, as they say, worth the price of admission.

A confused Sam and Dean find themselves on a soundstage.

A confused Sam and Dean find themselves on a sound stage.

In the season nine episode “First Born”, Crowley crosses himself when he sees Cain’s mark.

“Really? Now?” Dean asks.

One of the most enjoyable bits of Supernatural-related fun is a YouTube parody done by the Hillywood Show— produced by sisters Hilly and Hannah Hindi— this past spring. You’ve probably seen it— it’s had more than six million views— but in the unlikely event that you haven’t, you can watch it here:


The parody, with Hilly playing Dean and Hannah (who also directed) playing Castiel, focuses mostly on events of seasons nine and ten, but references events throughout the series.

It also features cameos by members of the actual cast.

The sisters have done other parodies, including a Doctor Who one with Hilly as the (tenth) Doctor. In fact, in a Q & A session they posted on YouTube earlier this summer, they addressed whether they’d want to have the TARDIS or Sam and Dean’s 1967 Impala.

The correct answer, of course, is The TARDIS. Then just fix the chameleon circuit so that it looks like the Impala. That way, you get two for the price of one.

Supernatural airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on the CW.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Deadman Lives



Boston Brand was an arrogant and (self-proclaimed) self-centered circus aerialist who worked without a net at the struggling Hills Circus. His “gimmick” was that he performed as “Deadman”, dressed in a red costume and wearing a white full-head mask that suggested a bloodless corpse.

Because of his nightly flirtations with death high above the ring, Brand was the biggest attraction at the circus.

Until the bullet from a high powered rifle sent him plunging to the sawdust far below.

And that’s when Boston Brand’s story really began.

Now a ghost, Boston Brand is granted the power by the spirit Rama Kushna to “walk among men until you have found the one who killed you.”

Later, that mandate would be altered at Brand’s request to his remaining as he is to strike a balance between good and evil.

Deadman soon discovers that he can posses the bodies of the living and he begins the hunt for his killer. His only clue: the man wore a hook in place of one of his hands.

Co-created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino, Deadman was a DC comics character who first appeared in Strange Adventures #205, cover-dated Oct. 1967. His hunt for “the Hook” and those behind him continued through Strange Adventures #216 and was also addressed in The Brave & The Bold #s 79 & 86.

And that latter issue was where the storyline of Boston Brand’s quest for answers ended. According to Andy Helfer, the writer of a 1986 Deadman miniseries, the storyline had been truncated due to the cancellation of the Deadman storyline in Strange Adventures. The story in The Brave & The Bold #86 was thrown together to give readers some kind of conclusion, but more had been planned.

I first encountered Deadman as a back-up feature in Adventure Comics in 1979; but it wasn’t until a 1985 seven issue Deadman miniseries that reprinted those Strange Adventures and Brave & The Bold tales that I learned how Boston Brand’s story began.

The 1986 miniseries picked up from the events of Brave & Bold #86/Deadman #7 (necessarily ignoring some tales published in the interim) and answered some of the lingering questions, such as why Deadman couldn’t possess the body of The Sensei, leader of the Society of Assassins.

In the original storyline, Boston Brand ultimately finds the Hook and learns why he’d been killed:

Hook and the Sensei

According to editor Dick Giordano, interviewed in issue #6 of the reprint series, that had always been the intention, because A) Deadman had been conceived as a limited series with Boston Brand finally confronting his killer (“but we liked the character so much we tried to keep him running for as long as we could.”); and B) they realized that after a year of Deadman almost finding “the Hook”, readers would become tired of the device.

As Giordano put it, “even the Fugitive finally caught up with the one-armed man.”

The truncated storyline revolved around Boston Brand’s investigation into the Society of Assassins and the Sensei’s plans to destroy the mystical land of Nanda Parbat. Like I said, that thread wouldn’t be picked up until 1986; but in the interim, Deadman continued to make appearances in various DC titles over the years as he strove to carry on his mission of striking a balance between good and evil.

In at least some of those stories— such as those in Adventures Comics in 1979— his “base of operations” is the circus, where his twin brother, Cleveland, is now a performer.

Why did Mr. and Mrs. Brand name their twin boys after cities thousands of miles apart? Was this a family tradition? Did they have a sister named Piscataway? An uncle named Albuquerque? An explanation was given in issue #5 of a 2002 Deadman series. The boys were conceived while the Brands were en route from one city to the other. As Boston told another ghost, it was their parents’ way of giving them roots.

Boston Brand’s ability to possess (just about) anyone makes him pretty powerful, but he’s not infallible. Sometimes he almost gets the people he’s possessing killed. During his hunt for the Hook, Deadman takes control of a circus hand named Pete to investigate whether a rival aerialist, the Eagle, had been responsible for his murder. In the process, he learns the Eagle was responsible for some robberies, which, in turn, gets the possessed Pete discovered. Deadman-as-Pete climbs to the top of the Ferris Wheel with a murderous Eagle in pursuit. A fight then ensues.

Why didn’t Deadman take control of Eagle’s body before he reached Pete? Probably because he didn’t think of it.

And, from the points of view of writer Jack Miller and artist Neal Adams, it’d have made for a shorter and less visually exciting story.

While he does feel some understandable angst at his situation, Deadman isn’t above having a little fun now and again. In one instance, he takes control of a con artist named Madam Pegeen, who “reports herself” to the police:

Deadman having fun

An amusing sequence near the end of a 12-issue storyline in Action Comics Weekly in 1988 had Deadman and an entity who claimed he was the Devil face off at a diplomatic function in Washington, D.C. “The Devil” and Deadman took control of, respectively, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan and then Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev.

The 1986 mini series concluded with Deadman having a new raison d’être above and beyond the general “balancing of good and evil” bit. This was addressed in passing in Action Comics Weekly, but was very much the focus of the 2002 series, which, unfortunately, only lasted nine issues.

That series was itself preceded by a five issue 2001 miniseries called Deadman: Dead Again.

Deadman was also the focus of a 1989 two-issue miniseries called Deadman: Love After Death, which concerned his star-crossed romance with another ghost; and a 1992 two-issue mini series called Deadman: Exorcism, in which an insane Boston Brand causes all manner of trouble. Frankly, I could take or leave those two stories.

The character has made various other appearances over the years, including a 2011 “alternate history” miniseries called Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons.

Deadman was and is a unique character and his initial adventures have been collected in trade paperback form in Deadman Vols. 1 & 2. If you’re interested in mysteries and/or tales concerning the supernatural, Boston Brand’s story is worth checking out.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating