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James Blish Compared With Graphic Novelists

Dr. Paul Shackley

In Black Easter by James Blish:

the three superior demons, Satan, Beelzebuth and the Sabbath Goat, never appear;
however, the powerful black magician, Theron Ware, accepts a commission to release forty eight other major demons without restraint;
the demons initiate World War III;
Ware fails to recall them;
the Sabbath Goat does appear, is unaffected by an attempted exorcism and states that Ware has initiated Armageddon;
further, he claims that the demons are winning because God is dead.

That was meant to be a final conclusion but:

the Goat said only that the demons were winning, not that they had won;
he may have been mistaken or lying;
demonic conjurations may have been the magicians’ hallucinations, although I will argue further against this last idea (see here).

In the later conceived sequel, The Day After Judgement:

the Goat fails to return, as promised, for the magicians;
the world starts to recover from the nuclear exchange;
the white magician sees prima facie evidence for God’s continued existence;
the demon fortress Dis appears in Death Valley;
the Strategic Air Command attacks Dis and is destroyed;
Satan calls the magicians to Pandemonium;
he announces that, since evil is only opposition to goodness, he is now God but does not want the role so offers it to Man;
mankind begins a long development towards Godhood;
Satan/God undoes the effects of the nuclear exchange;
during his speech in Miltonic verse, Satan speculated that God had withdrawn, not died. (1)

Some graphic novelists (adult comic strip writers) address similar themes. 

In Last Days Of The Justice Society of America by Roy Thomas:

the Spear of Destiny has magical powers because it pierced Christ’s side on the Cross;
Hitler in his Bunker uses the Spear to conjure Ragnarok;
World War II superheroes merge with the gods;
they prevent cosmic destruction by re-fighting Ragnarok endlessly;
Ragnarok replaces Valhalla as a cyclical conflict. (2)

In Justice League: Paradise Lost by Mark Millar:

an angel enters the Palace of the Presence to challenge God;
however, the Palace is empty because God is in all things, not in one place. (3)

In Swamp Thing by Alan Moore:

male witches want to destroy Heaven;
so they conjure the Original Darkness that was before the Creation;
a dark tower emerges from Chaos and advances through Hell, fomenting demonic civil war;
the tower is then seen to be the index finger of an immense hand;
however, a hand of Light descends to clasp the hand of Darkness;
the Taoist symbol of interpenetration appears in the eye of the psychic witness to the supernatural events;
light and darkness, life and death, are interdependent;
no part of this polarity is “evil”;
the title character, a plant elemental, asks, “Where is evil in all the wood?”;
this question enables the Darkness to accept and merge with the Light after sweeping aside powerful spirits resisting it as evil.(3)

In Swamp Thing by Mark Millar:

the plant elemental acquires the powers of all the elements;
his daughter reverses the sound of the Word, cancelling the divine agent;
thus, the elemental becomes powerful enough to displace God and destroy mankind;
however, he realises that he has become vast enough to incorporate us. (3)

In John Constantine, Hellblazer by Jamie Delano:

John Constantine, a powerful magician, sabotages the Resurrection Crusade's attempt to prepare the woman Zed to be the new Mary;
a Masonic magician raises the masculine "God of all Gods" to facilitate Masonic regime change in Britain;
however, Constantine, Zed and Marj raise the anima which counterbalances the GOAG. (3)

In John Constantine, Hellblazer by Garth Ennis:

Constantine defies the demonic triumvirate;
then he sells his soul to each in turn;
if he dies, they will fight for his soul, thus dividing Hell and allowing angelic victory;
to prevent this, they cure Constantine’s lung cancer.(3)

In Sandman by Neil Gaiman:

Lucifer Morningstar tires of presiding over pointless anguish;
so he expels the demons and damned from Hell and retires;
however, Hell is a necessary counterpart to Heaven;
so a higher authority returns its inhabitants to Hell;
two angels are appointed to preside over pain that will now be neither pointless nor punitive but purgative;
 
meanwhile, the Endless - Destiny, Death, Dream etc - are anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of consciousness;
Despair of the Endless persuaded the star god Rao to destroy a planet but to let one inhabitant survive... 
gods begin in Dream's realm, become temporarily independent and end in Death's realm;
thus, the Norse Aesir, the  Japanese kami etc coexist with each other and with the Endless;
the cyclical Ragnarok (see above) is a simulation inside a transparent sphere held in one hand by the Odin who converses with Dream;

Destruction of the Endless does not want to preside over nuclear war in yet another world;
so he abandons his realm;
however, he is the personification, not the process;
so the realm continues without him;

the Furies attack Dream's realm;
consequently, Dream enters Death's realm;
but he is replaced by another aspect of himself because ideas cannot be killed;
Dream's death causes a reality storm;
the storm strands travellers from many times and realms in the Inn of the Worlds' End.

In Lucifer by Mike Carey:

everything gets seriously weird and complicated - any attempted summary is incomplete;
primal gods become active and dangerous;
the angelic host hires the retired Lucifer (see above) to destroy them;
Lucifer's payment is a "letter of passage", an exit from God's universe;
the angel Meleos had created the Basanos, living tarot cards;
the Basanos inform Lucifer that his letter of passage is designed to close behind him, permanently excluding him from this universe;
instead of departing, Lucifer opens a Gateway to the Void;
the Gateway attracts unwelcome attention for example from the shape-changing jin-en-mok, survivors from a previous universe now wanting to leave this one;
needing a means to navigate the Void, Lucifer regains from the Japanese hereafter his wings which had been cut off at his request by Dream and traded for souls by Remiel and Duma, the angels now ruling Hell;
angels entering the Void are destroyed by a monster placed there by Lucifer;
using the captured Michael's wounded body as an incubator, the angel Sandalphon had tried to breed a new angelic host to attack Heaven;
one of Sandalphon's experiments, the British schoolgirl Elaine Belloc is Michael's daughter, thus God's granddaughter and Lucifer's niece;
by releasing Michael's energy in the Void, Lucifer creates a new universe;
the angel Amenadiel of the Thrones tries to sabotage Lucifer's universe by adopting the talking serpent role;
to do this, he must advocate asceticism because Lucifer has merely told his creatures to enjoy;
Lucifer welcomes immigrants from God's universe but forbids them to worship;
the Basanos try to kill Lucifer and take over his universe but he is helped by Meleos and Elaine;
a jin-en-mok kills Elaine;
Lucifer casually annihilates a previously unknown region of the hereafter, the Mansions of the Silence, by passing through it to rescue Elaine;
Elaine and her also dead friend become presiding spirits in Lucifer's universe despite his distaste for the idea;
Elaine leads a team to expel all the immortals who have entered Lucifer's universe;
the damned soul Christopher Rudd rises in demonic society;
Lucifer and Amenadiel fight a duel in Hell;
God retires and leaves his universe, which will decay and disintegrate without him;
Lucifer helps the angelic host to resist two giants trying to usurp the vacated divine position;
Fenris Wolf from Norse mythology tries to hasten cosmic disintegration;
to this end, he induces Lucifer to kill Michael above Yggdrasil where fratricidal blood has a negative effect;
with Lucifer's advice, Elaine, who now has Michael's energy, creates a third universe;
Remiel and Duma relinquish power to Christopher Rudd who has shown that he is worthy to rule;
Rudd stops the infliction of pain and plans an attack on Heaven;
an alliance of old powers (Lilim, Sandalphon, jin-en-mok and the Silk Man) attacks and destroys the angelic abode, the Silver City, in order to prevent God from returning;
Lucifer had persuaded Rudd to defend the City in order to counteract cosmic dissolution;
Rudd fights Fenris on the steps to the Primum Mobile;
God lets Elaine and Lilith debate whether his universe should be retroactively un-created;
at Lucifer's suggestion, God gives the decision to Elaine;
by folding three universes together, Elaine succeeds God, thus averting cosmic dissolution;
her new universe has no Hell;
only Rudd's former lover, the demoness Lys, now lives in the former Hell;
by having sex with Lucifer before he departs, the Japanese goddess Izanami somehow transforms herself into the new Adversary;
before leaving, Lucifer transfers his Lightbringer role to his former companion, Mazikeen of the Lilim;
Elaine hires two fallen cherubim to neutralise Remiel, now her opponent hiding among the remnants of former hereafters;
God and Lucifer meet and part unreconciled in the Void between the universes;
Lucifer either imposes himself on the emptiness or becomes it.
(3)
 

Because Milton believed that sin caused death, he personified Death as a shapeless monster, begotten on Sin by her parent, Satan.
Because Gaiman believes that death defines life, he personifies Death as a perpetually young woman created by the universe.
Like John Keats, Gaiman’s readers are “…half in love with easeful Death…” but with better reason. We have seen her.

Constantine helped the elemental and Dream.
An anti-material attack on the multiverse initiated the Ragnarok and Darkness conjurations and a revised superheroes history.
Decades of interconnected story lines approach real life in complexity.

Conclusion

Graphic novelists, as imaginative as prose fantasists, can end the world but continue the series, as Blish did in Black Easter and The Day After Judgement.

  1. James Blish, Black Easter and The Day After Judgement (London: Arrow Books, 1981).
  2. Roy Thomas, Last Days Of The Justice Society Of America (New York: DC Comics Inc, 1986).
  3. Swamp Thing, Justice League, Hellblazer, Sandman and Lucifer are or were monthly periodicals from DC Comics who also publish well-known superheroes and allow all their characters to interact. In Moore’s Swamp Thing: Gotham City Police, rounding up suspected prostitutes, arrest the elemental’s girl friend, then detain her because she had earlier been photographed embracing a humanoid vegetable and charged with “crimes against nature”; Swampy attacks the city and its vigilante; able to leave his body, grow another and accelerate plant growth, he seems indestructible so a covert Government agency consults Lex Luthor, an expert in the attempted killing of an indestructible being. Thus, the covert agency is unconcerned that an industrialist is trying to kill Superman. Characters familiar from childhood are presented anew from an adult perspective. They must have been like this all along but we did not realise it before. At Dream's Wake, we learn that Clark Kent and the Gotham City vigilante, though not a lesser known character, dream of being actors in TV versions of their lives. In case anyone does not know, the destroyed planet in the Rao system was Krypton and its survivor was Kal-El who has other names on Earth.
    DC has also collected Moore’s Swamp Thing, Gaiman’s Sandman, Carey's Lucifer and the multi-authored John Constantine, Hellblazer as four series of graphic novels.
 

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Email address: paulshackley@gmail.com