Discover more from Xanaduum
4/6 OPEN HOUSE
We may be little more than a curated half-notion, a forbidding, architecturally mangled floating metaphor in the form of a fragmentary haunted mansion/museum, but here at Xanaduum, we surely know how to party!
We’re back after the holidays and the post-Salon clean-up with some freshly half-baked comic book annotations and thoughts in a Pride state of mind…
BY SEVEN LIGHTS THIS OATH I SWEAR!
This week saw the release of the 2023 DC PRIDE anthology. 100 pages of queer DC characters interacting, plus a brilliant Phil Jimenez firebrand intro and a touching tribute to Rachel Pollack with contributions from her friends and admirers.
I have a story in there entitled Love’s Lightning Heart with lovely psychedelic art by Hayden Sherman and colourist Marisa Louise. Just feel it! Drink the colours!
Then avoid the rest of this if you hate peeking at the messy, knotted and convoluted wiring beneath the page!
And if you haven’t read the story: SPOILERS obviously.
For those who remain, and in the spirit of Red Racer, we offer some exhaustive comics nerd annotations and author musings for Love’s Lightning Heart!
The story is simple, like a Border ballad; superhero accomplishes several seemingly impossible tasks to re-unite with his lost love for a climactic kiss. Or the Byrds version of John Riley, one of the great romantic songs. The narrative arc is that of a firework ascending then detonating in the image of the kiss. That simplicity of framework gave us leeway to go more ornate in the details.
This is the one I talked about where a vague notion of mashing comic book language and Metaphysical poetry seized its chance when editor Jessica Chen asked me to contribute to the Pride book (the list of impossible tasks from Donne’s Go and Catch A Falling Star… planted the seed for Flashlight’s ‘Three Times Nothing’ quest), musical background by the Incredible String Band doing Ducks On A Pond with its visionary imagery and gnomic shifts in tone and rhythm.
There’s the Welsh legend Culwch and Olwen where King Arthur and his knights undertake an epic hunt for a monster boar. The objective is clear from the beginning, but the goal recedes again and again as a series of new steps must be taken in order to get to the finish line!
In Culwch and Olwen the Round Table knights have been tasked to retrieve the only comb and scissors capable of cutting the hair of the giant Ysbaddaden, who holds Culwch’s lover Olwen captive!
Unfortunately for their romance, the comb and scissors are tangled in the monster boar’s deadly bristles. To catch the horror, they must first locate the only hound capable of hunting the beast, and before that they must find the only leash that can hold him and before that the man strong enough to hold the leash (Gwyn ap Nudd the King of Hell) and so on.
With 12 pages I had to reduce the task list to a fairytalish three, but that structure can be seen in miniature in Love’s Lightning Heart, where to rescue Red Racer, Flashlight must defeat the unbeatable Inframan. The only way to do this is to set loose his mortal enemy, the terrible Un-Beast. The only way to pacify and manoeuvre the Un-Beast into position is to secure the hypnotic Roboflora of Illysium… etc…
Earth-36 where this is set is one of the parallel Earths in the ‘Local Multiverse’ bubble comprised of 52 universes arranged by the Monitor race for an ultimate purpose as yet unrevealed!
Earth-36 was one of the ‘analogue’ or equivalent worlds on the Multiverse map; these were universes based on other companies’ versions of DC characters! Copies of copies.
In this case, we were creating our own variant on the Big Bang Comics universe, itself inspired by Golden and Silver Age DC characters. The Big Bang version of the Green Lantern archetype is the Beacon, and their Flash expy is the Blitz, for instance, here reverse engineered as Flashlight and Red Racer.
The Flash used to keep his costume compressed inside a ring he wore. Here we see that Red Racer has figured out how to fold his costume only so far into a watch! The watch, of course, sets up themes of time while prefiguring the story’s solution and resolution.
The crack across the watch face resembles the lightning bolt emblem of the Flash but in reverse to suggest a backwards flow of time.
Hank Hallmark, Flashlight Terra of the Rainbow Patrol appeared in The Multiversity #1 before scoring a bigger speaking role in The Green Lantern season 1, issues #10 -11.
His oath was composed by GM for inclusion in The Green Lantern #11.
The Flashlight is the equivalent of Green Lantern’s ring and is also reminiscent of the ‘Ko-Dan power crystals’ used by Big Bang Comics Beacon, which have three different colours/faculties. The Flashlight is cheekily powered by a ‘Kan-Do’ lens and has seven colour settings, each with a different function. This rainbow spectrum effect means that Flashlight is match-ready for any Pride celebration!
Optiman’s dialogue is referring to events in the 2017 Multiplicity storyline from Superman #14-16, during which Red Racer appeared to sacrifice himself to save the Multiverse.
The Justice 9 (Justice League/Round Table) members seen here are Optiman (Superman/Ultiman), who first appeared in Final Crisis #7 as one of the multiversal legion of Supermen. The Iron Knight (Batman/Knight Watchman), who, long before I thought he’d be great for Justice 9, debuted as a potential alter ego for Batman in a short quirky piece entitled If Bruce Wayne Had Not Become the Batman from 1974’s Batman #256 written by Martin Pasko and drawn by Pat Broderick, Bowboy (Green Arrow) and Blackbird (Black Canary/Bluebird). The latter two were chosen as a reminder of Green Lantern’s close friendship with Green Arrow and Black Canary in the regular DC Universe.
Cherenkov Radiation is emitted by faster than light processes – errmm sort of… Red Racer’s power to accelerate past light speed violates Special Relativity so the science here is pure bullshit professor of comic bookology stuff but goes like this: Red Racer survived his apparent death by exceeding c the speed of light, at which point his physical form disintegrated, converting to superluminal (faster than light) information.
FTL information travels backwards in time, hence ‘anti-entropic’. By travelling back in time, Red Racer reverses entropy, so that instead of dispersing, disorganising, and cooling down, he becomes increasingly more organised, more energetic and literally, poetically hotter. He’s basically pulling himself together from an idea/ghost of himself as he travels backward through time.
As he does so, he’s captured by Inframan, who traps him mid-process. Inframan taps the anti-entropic effect as a means of boosting himself to supreme power with this pure energy source. ‘Cherenkov Radiation’ in its primal form as comic book metaphor is, however, emitted in such high concentrations it can be detected by Optiman’s optisenses! The backwards running watch Red Racer left as a clue already told Hank to scan for faster than light emissions!
When Flashlight unleashes the Un-Beast and Inframan is defeated, Red Racer is freed up to consolidate his return. His personal ‘big bang’, his aimed-for super-coordinated moment of maximum organisation and coherence manifests as a reappearance in conventional spacetime restored to his physical form as it was before his death! Using some last of the pixie dust, he’s able to reinstate Flashlight’s lost youth. In fact, he makes them both younger! Romantic comic book science! Don’t use it to boil an egg!
The last time we saw Optiman was in The Multiversity #2, where he appeared as a zombie version of himself battling his Justice 9 team-mates (having been killed by the monster Superdoom in Action Comics #9). Here we move that background story along a little by revealing how Optiman was restored by the ‘Black Lens’ which hints at an unseen Blackest Night style event in Earth-36 continuity, which clearly mirrors DC more than it does Big Bang!
On page 3, Flashlight fills us in with the rest of ‘what went before’. I like and support continuity! Notice on this page how Hayden uses the layout around the watch on Flashlight’s wrist to create a backwards moving effect where we read the next two panels right to left!
The Custodians of the Cosmos are the Earth-36 or, at this scale, Universe-36 versions of the Guardians of the Universe from the Green Lantern stories. The three Custodians are all that remains of their ancient race, but they contain within them the entire history, the memories, the knowledge and experiences of those who are gone.
As Custodians, they’re tasked with keeping the Universe in good order until the alleged return of a mysterious ‘Great Fabricator’ (tying into hinted-at backstory from The Multiversity Guidebook concerning the true ‘fabricated’ nature of the linked trio of ‘analogue worlds’ Earth-34, Earth-35 and Earth-36).
The former Flashlight, now frozen at the moment of her awful death at the hands of Inframan is Zoe Fox, analogous to Big Bang’s Dr. Julia Gardner (both named for Flash creator Gardner Fox).
These events occurred during an imagined Earth-36 take on Green Lantern’s Emerald Twilight storyline in the ‘90s where Green Lantern broke bad as the villainous Parallax. Zoe too went rogue, driven by vengeance, betrayed and murdered by Inframan, then frozen at the moment of her death as Prisoner X.
As Kyle Rayner replaced Hal Jordan as Green Lantern so did Hank Hallmark replaces Zoe Fox as Flashlight Terra when she went bad. That’s why he’s number 2 on her shit list…
And it’s why Flashlight goes through his own scaled-down version of Emerald Twilight when he defeats his fellow Patrollers and goes grey at the temples!
Which digression only goes to demonstrate how there’s a whole backstory for these characters and hundreds more churning away in a nebulous out of focus corner of my mind where entire comic book universes accumulate bits of continuity that keep them alive until I check back in to see how they’re doing. Sometimes – as with this story – they’re given a chance to bob to the surface, anxious to cram as much of their history into every word balloon and caption as they can before submerging again!
Hayden’s design and drawing gives Prisoner X the weight and power she deserves. And she gets her revenge on Inframan at the end! Her inevitable redemption arc is already set-up!
Flashlight is lost in a happy perfumed fantasy as the Roboflora devour his youth. This is a call back to a similar Lotus Eaters/Garden of Klingsor riff with Kyle Rayner in JLA: Rock of Ages.
I suggested Hayden design Inframan as an Image Comics or ‘90s X-Men character where the straps and pouches that were popular costume adornments in those halcyon days had proliferated to become nothing more than repeated design elements lacking in function. The result was this brilliantly grotesque parody of uncomfortable ‘90s costume design, featuring garter rings of thigh pouches, rows of meaningless arm straps, restricting loops and garlands of pipe and tubing…
As Flashlight explains, Inframan was once a formidable cosmic villain before a run in with the invisible Un-Beast resulted in the creature devouring chunks of the Man Below’s ‘complexity’. This left a ‘ONE-DIMENSIONAL VILLAIN WITH BRUTALLY SIMPLISTIC OUTDATED MOTIVATIONS.’ With generic cringing minions. And a tendency to spout cliches.
The Un-Beast was all but impossible to draw by its very nature, but Hayden and Marissa Louise came through with an invisible monster that’s barely glimpsed but comes supplied with multiple limbs and pincers and arms and legs so we’re never sure what kind of Nothing it is! The name Un-Beast appears in an old Scottish charm against sickness.
The ’ULTRABEING PROPHECY’ mentioned by the hapless minion is not, as it might sound, something like The Bourne Sanction or even The DaVinci Code. The villain of the aforementioned Multiplicity was actually called Prophecy (his mum hoped the name would encourage him to go into showbusiness instead of cosmic tyranny…) and he was the ultrabeing ultimately responsible for Red Racer’s apparent death.
Well, the Racer’s back now! We don’t do sacrifice! What makes the world go round? Nothing but love…
Except for all the trouble they’re in with the Rainbow Patrol!..
Anyway! My personal favourite in the Pride book is the raunchy Ghost-Maker/Catman team-up that ends with the two anti-heroes sprawled naked in bed!
That’s how to end a superhero story!
To play us out in the summer sunshine Sunday spirit of Pride, I suggest we look to Pufnstuf the 1970 movie version, by Syd and Marty Krofft, of their demented, openly druggy and psychedelic kids TV hit H.R. Pufnstuf (if you’re unfamiliar, it’s about a kid punished for ‘tripping’ who ends up on a living island populated by mad puppets, witches and a stoned dragon… it’s super surreal, imaginative and very original in design).
My choice for essential Pride singalong comes from Pufnstuf, and features another epic vocal performance from ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot as Witch Hazel, singing Different…
You know I never link to anything. Look it up on YouTube, you’ll be glad you did…
Xanaduum is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.