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Batman #33

Things I consider headcanonical:
  • Bruce is about five years more emotionally mature around Selina than anywhere else, so that enabled him to do something normal like trying to carve a proper space for an adult relationship in his life (that's specifically a marriage isn't the important thing to me; I'm here for the Bruce Wayne can be happish and saneish without losing his memory and growing a beard stuff)
Things I feel very uncomfortable about:
  • Where Bruce's going, or rather some ideas as to what for. Why does everything have to be so dramatic, Bruce? Isn't the bat-themed everything enough drama? (No)
Things I consider not at all headcanonical but funny enough that I'm willing to accept them as professionally published fluffy fanfic:
  • The scenes with Alfred, Ace, and the boys (minus Tim and Cass; I choose to believe they are in some mall eating too many candies instead of buying the Halloween gifts they were planning to — the Potatoverse is my Earth-0 as far as those two are concerned) are not how I'd write them, at all, but funny on their own.

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Historically, medieval fairs (and thus the re-birth of intensive urban commerce in Europe) took place during religious feasts, and under the protection not only of ecclesiastic authorities, but also, and explicitly, of relics and saints, who were considered to own the lands and assets donated to each religious organization. What if this was literally true, and — in a purely Christian version of The Black Monday Murders — the invisible hand of the market was in fact a miraculous one? (instead of transubstantiation, the miracle being utility-maximizing market clearing)

In an alternate universe like this, a legal person would not only be a theological travesty (I have to side with Harold Bloom on Americans (really, Republicans) being not so much lousy Christians as belonging to a completely different religion), but also a commercial dead end. So saints, as effectively immortal and financially efficient entities, would end up owning most of the economy. Establishing a new saint would be like setting up a start-up (or getting a taxi medallion, with the Church very tightly regulating this). In a world where relics have even more of a financial impact than they did — in the real world, a "good" relic, by attracting pilgrims and donations, could save a struggling congregation, or even make it rich — the concept of "furta sacra", or sacred theft, becomes doubly meaningful. You'd notice your city's main relic was stolen because the next day the damned (pun intended) market would crash.

The financial/metaphysical Renaissance conundrum about usury would take a whole different look. Charging high interest rates would, in fact, lead you to bankruptcy, so you either go through the Jews (whose economy seems to obey different rules, in a very theologically problematic way), or figure out workarounds by trial and error (what they actually did, through wonderful and very Wall Street-like contortions with bills of exchange and other financial esoterica).

Throws a whole different light on the Protestant Reformation, by the way. Slightly facetiously (in an already very facetious post), it's something like the contemporary cryptocurrency libertarian thing... Saints and so on are paper money/government oppression, in a truly free market you interact directly with Him/It, etc. (Makes you wonder what the schism with the Orthodox Church was really about, and makes the way the European economy ended up being dominant after the massive theft from Constantinople of pretty much every relic in 1204 more of a cause-and-effect sort of thing.)


Making the later US economic dominance depend on some sort of unholy pact within a different religious framework would be the logical continuation. Note that the Pilgrims were escaping religious persecution (slash onerous taxes, like how Apple and Google are, theologically and legally speaking, Irish companies), and that, as a matter of historical fact, they did sign an honest-to-goodness contract with God, promising rigorous, saintly behavior in exchange for prosperity. Early Puritan America was a drab, brutal theocracy where God's favor was measured by how well you and your community were doing, financially speaking.

Er... Crap.

It's kind of frustrating when you start rambling about a nicely horrifying take on alternate history, and it turns out it's pretty much what they were actually doing.

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Books! (Empire is a Verb Edition)

Dialogues with the Dead: Egyptology in British Culture and Religion, 1822-1922 (David Gange, 2017/#75): The past is indeed a foreign country: 19th century Britain was so stepped in Biblical culture than for a very, very long while Egyptology was about finding information about Joseph, the Exodus, etc (mirroring how Schliemann was believed to have found not only Troy, but basically the entire settings and props of the very literally accurate Homeric epic). Sometimes it was about pre-Christian prefigurations of Christianity (both occultists of the "Western school" and very traditional Christians believed this). Not a lot of attention was given to Champollion's work for a very long time. When it ceased to be about the Bible, it was because it began to be about eugenics and the entire psychosocial freakout about race. Yay.

The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture and the Medieval Concept of Order (Otto Georg Von Simson, 2017/#76): I'm not sure how canonical (pun not intended, but not regreted either) is noawadays this interpretation, but even if a creative misreading in the Bloomian sense, this is a fascinating view of Gothic architecture (in the Medieval original, not post-Medieval interpretation). The basic idea is that, mostly via St Augustine, the Neoplatonists, and a certain St. Dennis that conflated both a medieval local saint and the nearly Apostolic Pseudo-Dionysius, the basic structure of the cosmos was geometrical (in the sense of ratios), which meant musico-mathematical (in the Pythagorean sense), which meant in a way architectonical (in the Augustinan sense in which music and architecture aren't spiritual because they transmit beauty, the transmit beauty because they are spiritual); God was the Architect, His cosmos theologically transparent, the first self-revelation, before the Incarnation. In that sense, a building guided by divine proportions of geometrical nature (1:1, 1:2, 2:3, the "true measure" of the square root of two, the Golden Ratio, etc) wasn't, unlike the Romanesque case, an *image* of the trascendental (which, in the Medieval metaphysics, was the only real), but rather a *model*, and in that sense, sharing, in a way both anagogical and literal, the trascendent. Abbot Suger, whom the author grants a lot of control on the design, is told to have built theology, a phrase I like very much, where light — the least "physical" of the physical phenomena — and proportion were, well, transparently the point. By the way, Solomon's Temple was held to have been the first of the divinely inspired buildings (its measurements, as described by the Bible, of critical architectural-metaphysical (less of a distinction for them) importance). The book doesn't mention this, but *now* I get why the Freemasons traced their origins to the builders of Solomon's temple, through the Medieval ones (this is, before it got mixed with the pre-Champollion pseudo-Egyptian strain of occultism), and why they chose the compass and the angle as symbols. If you grant all of the above metaphysics (in whatever diluted or mostly-forgotten format), then the builders of Solomon's Temple had direct access to metaphysically central secrets about the true structure of the universe, some of which they could conceivably have transmitted through (anachronistic for most of the period) guilds. My impression is that by the time of the Masonic order, they had forgotten the actual theology behind the architectural metaphor, so they used whatever version of the Hermetic Misunderstanding they had at hand (I mean, the idea of macro-micro correspondences is indeed Neoplatonic, but they focused on, as it were, ideographic or linguistic similitudes rather than geometrical (in the contextual sense) anagogical relationships. Even disregarding the Pagan content, I suspect neither Sugernor Augustine would have approved of a God that were less a Musician/Architect than an Edward Nygma. It wasn't how things sounded or looked like, but how they embodied, always imperfectly, metaphysical truths (of course, this is one interpretation of one intellectual strand in one place and time; it could even not be enough to be a good partial description — but it's certainly an interesting description of a fascinating worldview, and that's enough to recommend the book).

Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan's Greatest General (Richard A. Gabriel, 2017/#77): A bit hagiographical, and somewhat repetitive, but it's not uninteresting, and it's inarguable that Subotain was one of the greats. It's interesting how, to a larger degree than I thought, the Mongol conquests sort of happened (e.g., the thing with the caravan which ended up with the conquest of the Khwarezmid Empire, a brutal and strategically brilliant campaign). Another thing this book reinforced for me is how, for most of history and for most political organizations, paying tribute/bribes/lunch money to each other was one of those things, and didn't seem to feel like a mortal disgrace to anybody. Plenty of ways to save face, anyway. (I do wonder if democracies are somewhat less rational in that sense.) The author claims that the Mongol operational art ended up influencing WWII Germany through the ideas they picked up from the Soviets before the war, which they learned, surprisingly or perhaps not, not from their painful history with the Mongols, but from historical research of the steppe people in their territory (which the conveniently forgot when Stalin did one of his purges). It's a somewhat tenous link, depending on the influence of specific people at specific moments, but I find it believable enough.

A Tale of Two Monasteries: Westminster and Saint-Denis in the Thirteenth Century (William Chester Jordan, 2017/#78): What the title says. Those two monasteries, playing no small role in the political and religious (not that the difference was that clear at the time) lives of England and sort-of-France, are an interesting point of view to look at those countries at that moment in time, specially because the kings of France and England at the time (two each) were devout in ways closely related to those monasteries.

The Manchu Way (Mark Elliott, 2017/#79): Elliott's thesis is that the root of the Quin dynasty's Eight Banners was ultimately ethnic: by separating physically, culturally, and economically (manchus in the banners system, i.e., manchus, were forbidden from doing anything else except official positions), they attempted to keep a separate identity that guaranteed the survival of the dynasty (initially through old-fashioned intimidation, but, as the reputation of the banners quickly went from being fearsome warriors to being lazy, corrupt, and incompetent, mostly through the fact of separation itself). It was fiscally ruinous, and to the extent that it worked it did so in a circular way: it didn't prevent Manchus from losing not only their traditional martial skills, but also even their ability to speak their original language, but eventually pertencence to the banners, and the corresponding lifestyle characteristics (none of them martial, and mostly based around the fact that their "ate the Emperor's rice"), came to define manchuness. Paraphrasing the author, ethnicity is a characteristic of how an interaction is read, rather than of a population — regardless of which the court's eventual, and futile, attempts to reduce the expenses involved went always along the lines of priviledging "blood" Manchus bannermen over Mongols, but mainly over the Chinese bannermen. All in all, a very interesting look at an aspect of Chinese history I hadn't had the slightlest knowledge of.

Spain in Italy: Politics, Society, and Religion 1500-1700 (Ed. Thomas Dandelet, John Marino, 2017/#80): A quite interesing, if diverse, set of essays about the ways Spain (or the crown of Castile, and/or Charles V/Philip II/Philip III, and/or etc) ruled over, influeced, or failed to different parts and aspects of Italy. It was all very Habsburg even to begin with: they had very different claims over Milan, Naples, and Sicily (and types and levels of influence; Cosimo I's marriage with the daughter of the Toledo viceroy was, apparently, huge at a number of levels), different rights vis a vis the Church, a complex sets of relationships with the (very varied) local societies, etc. A fun factoid: the Spanish — both the crown and the people — paid for a lot of St. Peter's as we know it. Somehow and unsurprisingly Italian tourist guides don't quite mention it.

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Mister Miracle #3 is still fantastic, even when you see things coming. It's not about the surprise, it's about the walls closing in. Sometimes you see them close in, sometimes you suddenly feel a wall against your back that wasn't there a second ago. Sometimes you fail to forget you're already entombed. It's the kind of mood Dark Metal #3 tries and epically fails to conjure.

The other better-than-Dark-Metal-at-its-own-game comic from this week I wanted to mention is Michael Cray #1, which gives you the skin-crawling worst-fear-about-yourself version of a mainstay DC hero Dark Metal tries and epically fails to come up with

As both trigger warning and compliment, neither is recommended if you aren't feeling very well spoons-wise yourself (unless it sounds like it could be therapeutic)(but, really, Mister Miracle #1 *begins* with the suicide attempt of Scott Free, so keep that in mind).

The Final Deduction

I might be missing somebody, but by my count three people in the DC Universe know that it's fictional: Animal Man, because Morrison's grasp of other realities is better than his grasp of his own, Joker, because he's, by definition, insane enough (and also because Morrison), and Batman, because he's too much a detective, and his life makes far too little sense, for him not to notice.

Joker thinks this is the joke. What can possibly, in any way, matter? It's a universe explicitly build for amusement, so he might as well amuse himself.

To Batman it makes no ethical difference. "Fictional" people suffer just as much, and they matter just as much. Philosophical implications aren't a priority.

It does have tactical implications, though. He always tries to win, always thinks there's a way to win, and he even tells you, us, why: He's Batman.

We just all misunderstand what he means by that (but not the Joker, not him, Joker knows Batman knows they both know).

It's also why he feels personally guilty about every tragedy. It's his book. One way or another, Jason died *because of him*, his parents died *so he would survive them*. Joker or not, tragedy stalks him because that's the nature of the fictional world, that's the nature of Gotham as she's written, but what else can he do? He has to keep trying, save as many as he can whenever he can, plan for the fantastic because that's the kind of world he lives in, take the guilt and the pain because then, maybe, the others will be spared some of it.

Endure the nightmares, the darkness, the endless pain, the insanity, the horror of a battle he knows he'll never be able to win, because that's probably the price of Gotham's existence.
...Voyager led to that one episode where Tuvok did a mind-meld with a not-insane-just-kills-for-no-reason guy. Which led to the following short and random ranking of Star Fleet Security officers:

  1. Odo: One third Maigret, one third Far West sheriff, one third old school spymaster. One of the classics.

  2. Tasha Yar: She understood and embodied the role of a Security Officer in an exploration ship: it's not keeping them away from danger, but being the one who knows how to survive and keep others alive when things go dirty.

  3. Malcom Reed: Didn't do the best of jobs, but in those pre-Federation times there was a lot of catch-up to do in terms of technology and operational doctrine, not to mention all the time travel stuff. Outclassed but scrappy.

  4. Worf: My god, no. He was paranoid about the wrong things, and ran on too much adrenaline and an easily slighted sense of honor to be an effective security officer. I don't believe in speciest stereotypes, but Worf spent his life trying to out-Klingon every other Klingons, and Klingons' feeling about security officers matches the Ferengi's about tax collectors.

  5. Tuvok: (The trigger for this post.) I have no idea how he got the post. Systems security, sure, he could be your guy. But his understanding of individual psychology and group dynamics is awful, and I'm not entirely certain about his tactical sense, either.



I'm informed by the Internet that Chekov was, at times, security officer on the Enterprise.That's news to me, and I have enough memories of Alfred Bester to see how that could work (Chekov's We Russians invented the paranoid omnipresent security agency wouldn't have been historically accurate, but not without a point). But, nah. I think the security officer at the original Enterprise was whoever the Federation's (Section 31) equivalent of Amanda Waller was most pissed off about at any given time.

An special mention goes to Ellen Landry, security officer on the USS Discovery. I only have a few scenes and one specific phrase to base this assessment on, but not very spoilery, but just in caseCollapse )

Of course, Discovery being at least a partially Fuller show, there'll be layers, reveals, plot twists and what not.

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This is a reminder that around 2001 it was released a music video that began, unexpectedly, with Christopher Walken sitting in an empty hotel room.

Then a song came up gradually, Walken stood up, and, suddenly, he began to dance. Expansively, all over that huge hotel lobby.

And then, the song lyrics began to reference Dune. We were seeing, without any warning, Christopher Walken dancing in an empty hotel room to a song that went If you walk without rhythm//it wont//attract//the worm....

By the time he jumped out of an inner balcony and just danced in the air, some part of our brains evolved to feel surprised had just overloaded and shrugged it as par for the course.

I still don't know what it was, but I know it was a masterful, minimalistic example of whatever the heck it was.

The thing itself

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Blade Runner 2049

A much edited, short, unspoilery review: As a movie asking the eternal Philip K. Dick question of "what makes a person real?", it's mediocre at best. But. There are parts of it when, whether it intents to or not, it asks instead "what do we think makes a woman real? what's necessary, and what's sufficient?" and gives horrifyingly direct and honest answers to it.

It's not that those are true in the moral universe of the movie — that'd make it unwatchable. It's simply the moral universe of that universe's society, and to a large degree ours — that's what makes some scenes deeply uncomfortable.

In a somewhat dreadfully hilarious way (and I feel it cannot not be doing this on purpose, but I also fear this is just me being naive) it doesn't seem to know or notice this. It's a bit like the opening of Shawn of the Dead: terrifying things are going on, but neither the protagonist nor the camera notice them.

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  • The silent moments between Selina and Bruce, her kindness and the way he accepts it, are very realistic and nicely done. You seldom see that kind of unspoken tenderness in superhero comics.

  • This story sets up Nygma as Joker-level crazy. Not just Joker-level capable, but Joker-level insane, far beyond his usual compulsions.

  • In a heartless way, it's nice to see Bruce, for once, traumatized by something sensible that has nothing to do with Crime Alley or Jason. One aspect of maturity is the ability to feel good or bad about more than one or two things.



And the spoilery one...Collapse )
A lot of Hickman's writing (varying by title, but overall quite a bit) consists of visually, conceptually, and linguistically dense world-building infodumps. The term is generally used disparagingly, but for him — I should say, for him, with me — it works, because
  • Hickman's world-building is fantastic; his settings are more interesting than most people's plots.
  • Properly used, comics are a great medium for infodumps. You're forced to use relatively short amounts of text, which makes you concise, while the visuals are great both for emotional tone and for the kind of open-ended suggestive-but-not-explained detail that makes you feel certain that the world is real outside the panels and before and after the story itself.

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