Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

People go to the beach on Memorial Day. People have barbecues with family and friends on Memorial Day. People mow their lawns and wash their cars on Memorial Day. What is Memorial Day? The day when Americans get to goof off? Yes and no.

Memorial Day is when we take time out from our usual activities to remember our fallen heroes. I don't mean our fallen superheroes, although they represent the real ones who have fallen in battle to save the rest of us. Memorial Day is a day set aside so that we can remember and honor those men and women in our Armed Forces who have died so that the rest of us can live in freedom.

When I say that Memorial Day is a day to "goof off", I only mean that we can enjoy the freedom of being able to go to the beach, have barbecues, and all of the other leisure activities in which we engage because of the people we remember on this day. Comic books (and their writers and artists) serve as another reminder of what we must always cherish and never forget: the price of freedom.

As we remember our fallen heroes in uniform, let us also remember the innocent who have fallen because of those who hate the freedom we celebrate on this day. We must never forget.

Memorial Day.


Afterword: Sources of some of the images posted here include,, and


Note: Click on any of the embedded images to see a larger version.

I was reading an online copy of the first Atom comic book, published in 1961 and drawn by the fantastic Gil Kane. I'd read the story before, but something struck me as peculiar this time around.

In the origin story, scientist Ray Palmer is trying to discover how to shrink objects in size and return them to normal. The idea is that you could ship tons of food and other goods much more inexpensively if you could reduce their size for transport first, then grow them back to original size at the destination. Unfortunately, everything he shrinks explodes. Work isn't going so well.

His girlfriend, Jean Loring, is an attorney and Ray remarks that she's so smart, she "breezed through law school in two years." Ray seems to be experiencing a bit of an inferiority complex where Jean's intellect is concerned, but he's determined to "prove himself" as a research scientist and thus be worthy of marrying her.

The interesting catch is, even though Jean is so smart and has, so far, successfully established herself in a legal career, she refuses to marry Ray because she wants to prove herself as an attorney before giving up her legal career and settling down to marry Ray!"

The story was written in 1961 when women were still primarily objects to be rescued in the comic books and in other forms of entertainment. It never occurred to the writers or probably to the prepubescent male readers of the book, that a woman could be married and maintain a successful career.

Before you accuse DC comics of being raw-meat-eating sexists, remember, this is 1961 and the comic book was merely a reflection of the prevailing attitudes of society at the time (though I don't doubt that individual, real-life women chaffed at that attitude).

Comic books, like films, television, novels, and any other art form or entertainment venue, are mirrors of the attitudes and perspectives of the age in which they are created. That's why a comic book created in 1961 seems so archaic to us now, especially compared to the themes expressed in modern comics.

Just jump ahead to 1971 and the now famous Green Lantern/Green Arrow tale: Snowbirds Don't Fly. Green Arrow's (Oliver Queen's) former sidekick Speedy is discovered to be a heroin addict. Drug abuse and addiction had almost never been explored in comic books before (Spider-Man explored pill addiction a few months earlier and lost their Comics Code Authority Seal for those issues as a result), since it was deemed inappropriate for children.

Yet the stage was set for comic books to be more than entertainment and, read now more commonly by high school and college age audiences, was a platform for education. Of course, comic books had always educated the people who read them, relative to the societal norms of the time, hence Jean's reluctance to get married, since, in 1961, it automatically meant she'd have to give up her career, regardless of her intelligence and success.

Since that time, many other social issues have made their way into the comic books. Northstar of Alpha Flight (showcased in the X-Men) became the world's first openly gay comic book character. I found an example of comic characters who are HIV positive at It seems that, in the early 21st century, there are few, if any topics that comic book's won't address as "obscene" or "inappropriate" for readers.

Once the barrier was broken, the flood waters rushed in. While nudity and "sexual situations" are still (barely) avoided in mainstream comics, comic books are at least approximating the events we can read about in the mainstream media (including the blogosphere). Comics are reflections of our times and right now, our norms include a fairly free flow of information, even to younger audiences (and what would a reader of Wonder Woman in the 1960s think of her now?).

Before leaving this topic, I wanted to present the modern world's most famous example of a successful career woman married to a superhero. I'm sure you all know who I'm talking about. With no powers of her own, she still manages to be an equal in just about every way to her husband Clark, and his cape wearing alter ego.


Sunday, May 30, 2010


I've been part of a small conversation on twitter about DC vs Marvel superheroes. I guess some folks can feel really impassioned and loyal to one group over the other. I've never seen it that way. I've enjoyed the stories of Superman, Batman, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man equally well. They all have something to say in their own particular ways and I think they're room in the universe for each one of them.

Another way to look at the superhero comic genre is as our modern mythic heroes. All you have to do is travel back in time a few decades to encounter another set of modern myths: The Lord of the Rings. Although based on much older mythic race types (elves, dwarves, dragons), JRR Tolkien tells a unique saga of heroism and the struggle against an ultimate evil, mirroring the post-World War II period in which he wrote his stories.

Go back much further, and you'll encounter heroes you truly recognize as classic myths, from the King Arthur legend all the way back to Greek and Roman heroes such as Heracles. Admittedly, I'm skipping over a large body of other, similar legendary characters, but this is a blog, not a dissertation.

Do Superman and the Hulk represent mythic heroes in the way Arthur and Heracles do? Probably only time will tell, since a legend or a classic is measured only by the test of time. True, Superman has been around since 1938 and Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the Hulk since the early 1960s (when Marvel shifted from producing horror and science fiction anthologies to serial superhero stories), but the legends I'm talking about have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Is one pantheon of "gods" better than another? I suppose if you were a pagan worshiper of one sort or another, you would answer "yes", however we don't (I hope) actually worship comic book superheroes. With that in mind, is one comic book publisher's heroes better than another's? Do we favor DC over Marvel or Marvel over DC for any true qualitative reasons?

It seems to come down to a matter of opinion. There are people who dynamically support one over the other and will fight (argue) to the end their viewpoint or position. That makes me the odd man out (my usual role), since I've found enjoyment in many different characters created by different publishers. I even enjoy some that many DC and Marvel fans have never heard of and would probably consider irrelevant (and such heroes will probably never have movies made about them).

If we don't "worship" these heroes, what do they do for us? On the most obvious level, they entertain us. They take us into a world that can't possibly exist (you have to suspend certain facts about reality to believe a man can fly) so that, for awhile, we can forget about the world that does exist. That's what fantasy entertainment is all about.

Then too, there's the telling of a story that touches us in some sensitive part of our humanity. The Dark Knight (2008) tells a story that is tragic and heroic, of a man, driven to be a hero by night, longing for release from his self-imposed purgatory. A white knight enters the arena and we all put our hopes on him, especially Batman, who seeks to be released from the mantle of the bat. Alas, the white knight falls in battle, and to save his reputation and the people he serves, Batman not only must defeat the villain but do something harder...he must become the villain and shun the light and salvation.

Put in those terms, Batman transcends the level of the costumed comic book hero and becomes something much greater, on the level of our historic mythic epics. As I said, though...only time will tell whether Batman or any of his kind will truly enter history in that fashion.

Some of you reading this will probably think I'm overstating the case. Popular entertainment comes and popular entertainment goes. Does anyone ever think of the Lone Ranger anymore? Does anyone consider the Shadow? How many other fictional heroes, once loved by millions, now lie abandoned in the dust of the past? Will we one day too abandon Batman and Spider-Man for someone or something else that seems more timely?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Girl 2

I couldn't resist trying to draw the girl's face. She turned out older than I wanted, plus the colored pencils don't translate well when scanned and then posted to the web, but this is what I have so far. She'll be more challenging then "the Mystery" since, by definition, she's less real and more "cartoony" to begin with. Still practicing.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Girl

This is the first draft. Like all first drafts, it's crude and incomplete. This is probably not exactly how she'll end up appearing, but this is the feeling she is to convey. She's scared but just a little hopeful. She clutches her stuffed toy, like most kids do at her age when she's insecure. Life is very insecure for the girl. That's why she needs a friend. She's about to get one, but in a most unusual way.

Our friend with the rather unusual eyes and the indistinct face is going to pay her a visit...whether he wants to or not.

The Moon a Phantom Rose

It was one of those nights. It's been one of those mornings. The world could be full of people, but I'll always feel alone. As ephemeral as my own shadow, though I stand in the light, I'm always in darkness. I once heard it said that there's a time in every man's life when he finds he's too old to fall in love again. Is there a time when no one can fall in love with him?

I've been listening to the Judy Collins rendition of Jimmy Webb's song The Moon's a Harsh Mistress (1974). It's been recorded by most major vocal artists over the past several decades but never more beautifully; more hauntingly, than by the amazing Judy Collins. The recording is best known from her 1975 album Judith.

It's a song that, once heard, particularly as rendered by Collins, you don't soon forget. If you have a soul filled with demons of emptyness, loneliness, or a love that's been lost, the song will speak to you in whispers in the darkness. Though Collins is better known for such signature pieces as Send in the Clowns and Amazing Grace, The Moon's a Harsh Mistress remains closest to my heart, especially today.

See her as she flies
Golden sails across the sky
Close enough to touch
But careful if you try
Though she looks as warm as gold
The moon's a harsh mistress
The moon can be so cold

Once the sun did shine
And lord it felt so fine
The moon a phantom rose
Through the mountains and the pine
And then the darkness fell
The moon's a harsh mistress
It's hard to love her well

I fell out of her eyes
I fell out of her heart
I fell down on my face, yes I did
And I tripped and I missed my star
And I fell and fell alone
The moon's a harsh mistress
The sky is made of stone

The moon's a harsh mistress
She's hard to call your own

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Mankind isn't the only species on Earth, we just act like it -Bumper Sticker

Why do we act the way we do? I don't mean individuals necessarily, but why do people act as we do as a collective? I mean, why do we act like we don't care about the people or planet around us? I guess I shouldn't lay this at the feet of all humanity. I tend to view the world from my culture here in "western civilization". Not everyone sees things the same way.

Think seven generations ahead before every important decision – Native American saying

Manifest Destiny and every similar rationalization that came before it, exists to justify the "right" of a larger and stronger people to take away resources from a smaller and weaker one. It's why bullies pick on kids smaller than they are on the playground. It's why adults sexually and physically abuse children. It's why the party most dominant in politics will rush to grab and hold onto as much power as it can. It's why we can hunt a species to extinction and not bat an eye (anyone seen a dodo bird lately?).

As our understanding goes, the species we call dinosaurs were once dominant on this planet. We suppose that some sort of significant planetary event occurred about 65 million years ago to change all that. Slowly, the dinosaurs left the ecosystem, leaving space for smaller, more fragile creatures to rise. Eventually, one type of mammal climbed to the top of the heap: man.

When you're at the top of the food chain, you fear no predators. There are creatures on this planet that are faster and have bigger teeth and claws, but we invented gunpowder. Bang! You're dead.

As with everything else I write, I can see how we should know better but don't behave as if we do. Our fiction says we know better. Consider the remake of the television series V. The "visitors" say they come in peace, but of course, they're lying. They've come to take over, but not with armies or weapons. They've come to take over a piece at a time.

Most people don't realize it, but the current series and the 1983 original mini-series are based on a novel published in 1935 written by Sinclair Lewis called It Can't Happen Here about how a fascist regime came to power in the United States and by subterfuge, established a dictatorship, taking over the country. By the time anyone realizes what's happened, it's too late...or almost.

Similar stories, including various films and television shows in the 1950s and 60s were created along a the same theme, usually with Communism being the big threat. The Science Fiction film classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers contains this underlying plot, but to more current audiences, it probably isn't obvious. The short story To Serve Man could very easily have been the basis for the current V series and has been made and re-made endless times (hint: "To Serve Man" is a cookbook).

The common thread in all of these stories is a race, species, or group who has more power arrive to take resources, including lives, from a group that has less power. Only in the case of these science fiction stories, the group who is always being victimized is humanity.

Now here's the kicker. As humans, we justify our exploitive behavior by telling ourselves that we're the dominant species. As the biggest, baddest, and most powerful, we take what we want because no one can stop us (yeah, I know...cynical, but it explains most of the events we've recorded in human history). We write stories about beings superior to us in intellect, technology, and sometimes in sheer numbers, who come to dominate us the way we have dominated everything else on the planet. If we believe "might makes right", when a bigger force comes against us, why do we fight back?

If we accept "the natural order of things", why won't we take our appropriate place in that order (at least in fiction) when alien reptiles or pod creatures come to dominate us?

We always fight back. In fiction, we usually win, which I guess means we're superior after all, but wait a minute. What if we haven't won?

Depending on your point of view about climate change we may be changing our environment so that it eventually won't sustain us. Not that we'd probably destroy the earth, but we might end up introducing a set of conditions that will restore at least some balance to the environment over the long span of future history.

In the film The Matrix, Agent Smith tells Morpheus that people are like a virus. We move to an area, consume all of the available resources to exhaustion and then move on, leaving nothing behind. Then we proceed to another area and do the same thing. Assuming a closed environment, we'll eventually run out of room and resources (food, water, air). That's in some sense, how the machines took over as the dominant "species" (and notice that humans were still fighting back).

What's the answer? All we have to do is continue to do as we're doing and eventually, we'll consume everything there is to consume and, without the necessities of life, large numbers of us will stop living. Will we damage the ecosystem beyond repair? Maybe. Maybe not. If there aren't nearly as many of us around and if our existence isn't dependant on large, resource consuming economies, then like many other living things, the planet will start to heal. After that, who knows? I'm already way too deep into the realm of speculation to be speaking with a great deal of accuracy.

I'm not trying to spread doom and gloom, but I do wonder how we can write so clearly and accurately in our fantasy and fiction about the dangers of our lifestyle and then not do a damn thing about it.

Maybe we are Borg. Just a thought.


Different than the Sum of Our Programming

I've been spending a little time blogging about how mechanization and cybernetics have been affecting human beings. In Misfit, I suggest that two "robotic" DC comic characters Cyborg (from the Teen Titans) and the Doom Patrol's Robotman, although enabled as "superheroes" by their prosthetic bodies, are also alienated from the humanity they seek to serve. In my more recent blog A Human Heart and Courage, I point to the fact that, regardless of how much of our bodies are made up of artificial parts; our humanity transcends our physicalness and inhabits perhaps a more ethereal space. We are more or at least different than the sum of our parts.

Edward Page Mitchell's short story The Ablest Man in the World was published in 1879 and recounts the tale of a man who has a computer implanted in his head, causing him to become a genius. If we can tie into every other body part and organ with cybernetics, will we one day really be able to augment the human brain with computer chips?

That's pretty far out, but consider that in some ways, people are already "programmed" with a set of instructions that determines our perceptions, responses, and behavior. These instructions vary from person to person, based on how they were raised, their experiences, and how that input was encoded and given "meaning" for the person. I was about to say that, as we develop, we begin to think independently, but anyone who has been around a two year old, realizes that people are very independent at the beginning and that our programming provides the framework for complying (to one degree or another) with society's behavioral expectations and the expectations of our particular family, peer, and associative groups.

In science fiction, we often attempt to impose how people learn onto robotic and computer programming. Consider the Star Trek original series episode The Ultimate Computer. Written by Laurence Wolf and D.C. Fontana, the story relates how the Enterprise is reduced to a skeleton crew and has a revolutionary computer device called the M5 installed in engineering for testing, as ordered by Star Fleet. The M5 is supposed to be able to perform most of the functions that normally require a human(oid) crew aboard a starship. Kirk argues that the one thing it can't do is make value judgments. The M5 can't actually "think"...or can it?

It's creator, Dr. Richard Daystrom, the scientist who originally invented the computer systems currently used aboard Federation starships, says that he has developed a "whole new approach" which solves the "thinking" problem, by imprinting his own memory engrams on the computer circuits, giving the M5 what amounts to a personality.

This is a very, very old story in science fiction with an old conclusion. Turns out that Daystrom is an unstable personality and that mental instability was transferred to the M5. When the computer mistakes a series of war game exercises as a real attack and begins destroying starships and killing people, both Daystrom and the M5 are "unplugged" by Kirk, "proving" that people are ultimately superior to machines.

Comic book lore of the same era addresses the same issue of over dependence on machines at the cost of human liberty and autonomy. Magnus, Robot Fighter: 4000 AD is the story of a man, raised in a hidden base under the Antarctic by a benign and wise Robot named 1A to become the guardian for humanity, both philosophically and physically, and to defend against Robot overdependence among humanity and any physical robotic threats against mankind. Magnus becomes the ultimate man and role model, trained to mental and physical perfection...almost a Messiah-like figure who can beat up robots with his bare hands and who continually warns the people around him that they'll lose their uniqueness as people if they keep letting robots "take care" of them (think WALL-E). Jack Williamson's novel The Humanoids conveys the same essential message.

Are people superior to machines in our "programming"? Do we behave better or more "morally" than a robot would if we could program a robot to a human level of complexity? Isaac Asimov asked that question in one of his short stories in the I Robot collection called Evidence. At some future date, Attorney Stephen Byerley is running for the office of Mayor of New York. His opponent Francis Quinn levels a rather odd accusation against him. Quinn says that Byerley is a robot created in human form, with an outer shell of human flesh, much like a Terminator. Think about it.

Asimov's classic three laws of robots state:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

If you tweak the wording of the laws just a little bit (and they have been so you don't have to reinvent the wheel), the three laws describe the behavior of a reasonably moral human being. If people were "programmed" with the three laws, how would our behavior be different? In Asimov's story, Byerley manages to prove he's a human being be punching a heckler during a speech, something a robot would not be able to do, but to the end of the story, it's always uncertain whether Byerley is really human or a cleverly disguised robot (Byerley could have arranged for the heckler to be another humanoid robot, enabling him to hit the heckler without breaking the first law).

I'm not suggesting that we program human beings as we would machines. That story too has been told in another Star Trek original series story What Are Little Girls Made Of?, written by Robert Bloch. Another, "free will humans are better than programmable humanoid android" story. Yet, what if we would choose to structure our lives around something like "the three laws"?

I seem to be focusing a lot of the works of Gene Roddenberry because one obvious example of a "machine who would be man" leading the way to more "human" behavior is Lt. Commander Data from the Star Trek the Next Generation series. More than once in STTNG episodes, Data refers to himself as having been programmed with the three laws and that his basic functioning depends on those laws.

Data is actually based on a failed TV pilot written by Roddenberry called The Questor Tapes (1974). Robert Foxworth plays the android Questor, designed and built by a brilliant scientist named Vaslovik. Vaslovik has disappeared, but a team of scientists, including Vaslovik's protégé Jerry Robinson (played by Mike Farrell, best known as B.J. Hunnicut on TV's M*A*S*H series), attempt to finish Vaslovik's work by programming Questor.

The Vaslovik programming tapes were damaged when project head Geoffrey Darrow (John Vernon) attempted to have them analyzed so when Questor eventually is activated (after everyone else has gone home for the night), he has all of his intellectual capacities but, like Data, has no emotional awareness. Like Data, Questor also has a compelling drive to understand the people and world around him and a need to help human beings. Although unstated, it's likely that Questor is "three-laws" compliant based on his actions.

Questor, Vaslovik, and a long series of androids before them, as the audience discovers during the film, were placed on Earth by an alien race to help guide humanity into maturity and prepare us to join the interstellar community of intelligent races. Vaslovik had to take himself out of service before activating Questor to replace him, due to exposure to contaminants produced by modern technology. Questor is to be the last in the series, with a "lifespan" of 200 years. Since he is without the emotions he was intended to possess, Robinson joins Questor as his "emotional mentor" on his mission to covertly guide selected people to become teachers and other leaders, gently shepherding human society into a more peaceful existence.

In real life, we probably can't depend on some wise alien species coming to Earth and either overtly or secretly giving us a hand and helping us not to be jerks on a planetary scale. However, our science fiction and fantasy stories do possess the hint of an answer to all of the problems people seem to create.

While people can't be programmed the way machines can, we have the ability to learn from our experiences and to make a few right decisions. If we don't know what those decisions should be, we could potentially point to the Asimov three laws as a foundation. Rather than saying that human beings are somehow better than our fictional robots, maybe we should let them be our guides, at least metaphorically. If we acted like the robotic guides in our fantasies, maybe reality and humanity would be a bit more livable.

The thing is, unlike a computer, or a person with plug-ins such as Neo in The Matrix, we can't depend on some outside force inserting a device into our heads and instantaneously giving us what we need to know, including the will to obey the instructions provided. We also can't depend on blindly obeying what others have taught us "robotic-like", but rather, must exceed our "programming". We have to think and decide for ourselves what do to and then have the courage to do it.

Epilogue: I got the last image from the blog. Seemed a fitting description of how human beings act in real life.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Who am I? First Full Figure

Thought I'd share this one: The mystery. Still need to work on the woman and the girl.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Human Heart and Courage

A cyborg is a cybernetic organism (i.e. an organism that has both artificial and natural systems). The term was coined in 1960 when Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline used it in an article about the advantages of self-regulating human-machine systems in outer space. -Wikipedia

Cyborgs, or people who have had some portion of their body replaced with an electronic or mechanical device, have long been the delegated to the realm of science fiction. When most of you think of such a thing, the image of Borgs from Star Trek probably is the first thing you consider. However, just a few days ago, I read the news story Man goes home with 'Total Artificial Heart'. I'm certainly not comparing 43-year-old Charles Okeke to Borgs by any means, but we seem to have come to the point where we can extend the life and abilities of human beings using cybernetic methods.

A quick run through of the history of Cyborgs in fiction reveals that the concept has been with us for a long time. Edward Page Mitchell's short story The Ablest Man in the World was published in 1879 and recounts the tale of a man who has a computer implanted into this head, turning him into a genius.

Prior to the Borgs, the most famous television cyborg was probably the polyester-wearing Six Million Dollar Man, a series launched in the early 1970s with Lee Majors in the starring role of a man with bionic limbs and an artifical eye (based on the somewhat more "realistic" novel Cyborg written by aeronautics and aviation expert Martin Caidin).

Cyborgs in science fiction novels are very plentiful and one of my favorite stories was written by Frederik Pohl in 1976 and called Man Plus. The story is about a man named Roger Torraway who, in order to be better enabled to explore Mars and prepare for human colonization, has his human body systematically replaced with with a completely artificial body. The novel is primarily an illustration of Torraway's struggle and journey from man to machine as he watches his "humanity" seem to disappear. What horror would a person go through as his living flesh is replaced by metal, wires, and circuits?

I've previously blogged about a couple of comic book cyborgs, namely the Doom Patrol's Robotman and the Teen Titan's Cyborg who both had major parts of their entire bodies replaced by machine parts, with, in Cliff Steele's case, only the human brain remaining (a la Donovan's Brain).

Lest we forget, the science fiction/horror film genre has produced four Terminator movies, thanks to environmentalist film maker James Cameron (now best known for the current hit movie Avatar). While the Arnold Schwarzenegger terminator is the most "bionic" of the cyborgs in the first three films, the character Marcus Wright in the fourth film Terminator Salvation (2009) is the only one who started out as a human being and was turned into a cyborg, with his human heart still intact, by Cyberdyne, programmed without his awareness to hunt down John Connor's father Kyle Reese while Reese was still in his teens. Although Wright was a convicted murder, executed for his crimes in 2003 (in fiction) just before Judgment Day, he develops a conscience and discovers his humanity at the same time he is struggling with the realization that he is a cyborg. Is he machine or is he still a person? The film's climax provides the answer.

That brings us back to the real world and the present time and how the field of prosthetics has entered into the world of bionics. A man, confined to a hospital bed for years, now goes home with an entirely synthetic heart. Reports from Popular Mechanics, ubergizmo and (and many other print and online publications) detail artificial arms and hands that not only extend a person's strength and mobility, but tactile senses as well. Even beyond the replacement of damaged or missing limbs and organs, the military has actively pursued the development of a wearable exoskeleton to enhance the strength and mobility of soldiers in the field.

Are Cyborgs and Iron Man suits really that far out anymore?

What does this mean for our humanity? While no one will question that the person with an artificial limb or pacemaker is still completely human, will we ever reach a point in our cybernetic organism technology where a person will physically be more machine than living flesh and blood? Even if that becomes the case, is our humanity really at risk?

Having no personal experience with having prosthetic limbs, I can't speak with authority, but having a lot of experience being human, I have to say that a person is more than flesh, blood, and skin. What makes us human, for better or for worse, is that thing we can't really tie to our physicalness: personality, spirit, and dare I say it, "the soul". Sure, all that can potentially be tied into manifestations of the brain, we still can't escape the dilemna of the ghost in the machine; the sense of ourselves we can't directly tie into any function we can map in the human brain. That's the shadow realm where our humanity; our personhood resides.

When I was reading Charles Okeke's story, I imagined the fear I'd feel, walking out of the hospital and going home, trusting my life to a machine implanted in my chest that's powered by a device I'm wearing like a backpack. Yet I take my human heart for granted all the time and never worry about a sudden heart attack. If I had an artificial heart and two bionic legs, would I still feel human? Note, I didn't ask "would I still be human?" because I know in abstract, I would be.

How I'd feel, on the other hand, is what has been explored in fiction from Caidin's Steve Austin to Pohl's Roger Torraway. At the end of both novels, both men realize they are still men, and it's not their mechanical parts that defines them. Even the best of us tend to turn away or at least find it necessary to suppress the urge, when we see a person with a missing limb or some other form of disfigurement. Yet these people are...people, regardless if there is naked space where an arm used to be or a bionic replacement.

The people who should question their humanity aren't the ones with mechanical body parts but those of us who cringe or shudder, even subconsciously, when we see someone who has such replacements. I'm not nobel. I'm writing this because it's an issue I have, but at least I recognize it as a fault that is my own. If we can advance our technology to the level where we can return mobility and even life to people who have suffered catastrophic illnesses and accidents, we indeeed need to do so. Just because someone doesn't look like us, doesn't mean they're not the same as us. No more prejudice and bigotry, please.

One of my favorite quotes was written by the late Archie Goodwin in issue number 2 of the 1968 Iron Man comic book series titled "Enter the Demolisher". A rival industrialist named Cord, who was driven to bankruptcy by Stark, builds a robot called the Demolisher to defeat Stark's greatest creation: Iron Man. Cord wants to have the Demolisher defeat Iron Man, and bring him to Cord's factory, where Cord can then film how his own creation has defeated Stark's much vaunted super-armor.

While the robot does indeed bring a near-helpless Iron Man to it's programmed destination, Cord doesn't count on his daughter showing up, trying to convince her father to abandon his mad plan, or the fact that the robot, damaged in the fight, has gone out of Cord's control and is running on an internal program that includes killing Iron Man at all costs, even if it has to go through Cord's daughter to do it.

In the final moments of the fight, Tony shields the young girl's body with his own armored form as the robot fires a heat beam at her. Iron Man is helpless to fight back, since making any move will expose Cord's daughter to the deadly beam, killing her instantly. As the back of Tony's armor begins to melt, Cord himself, realizing that the only thing standing between his daughter and death is the man he had hoped to destroy, hits a vulnerable spot on the damaged Destroyer with a metal rod, distracting it just long enough for Iron Man to turn and strike back. Tony risks a fatal heart attack as his power levels continue to plummet, by attacking the robot with all his remaining strength, defeating his mechanical opponent, saving the life of Cord's daughter as well as his own.

Although he saves the girl's life, Cord himself is fatally injured. As he looks up at his daughter and the man in armor, his final words reflect his realization that no machine can replace or enhance Iron Man's essential powers; the abilities that count for more in this world than what any machine can produce:
..a human heart...and courage.

Thank you, Mr. Goodwin for the reminder that it's not the armor or the mechanics that matter's our humanity.

Addendum: Oh crap! When I wrote this yesterday, I didn't think about the danger from software corruption and computer viruses to humans with advanced prosthetic devices. Mark Gasson, senior research fellow at the University of Reading's School of Systems Engineering has. Outlined in the article Scientist infects himself with computer virus. Hackers will someday soon literally be able to cripple and kill human beings with a computer virus.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Metamorphing 2

Wasn't satisfied with the drawing I did last night. Lots wrong with it, but particularly the face. I don't want the eyes to look too much like goggles, although that's what they're designed on. Decided a more shadowed and indistinct impression of how they "attached" to the rest of the face was in order.

Also, the "mouth" should rarely be seen, which is why I have shadowed the nose/mouth area. He should appear more "blank". This morning's effort (and what am I doing up so early?) is more like it. Still need to think of how to change the body. I have the hands and feet clearly in my mind, but not really the rest of him.

Oh, and I'm conceptualizing his female "counterpart" as well, but that's for a later time.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Just a short message. Did some work tonight. Still very rough. Getting closer.

Oh, his hands are manacled. As I develop the image, he'll be in chains. Once I start developing the story, you won't know why right away. If it develops as I plan, you may not understand the chains for quite awhile.

The form isn't quite right either. Needs to be less specific...more vague. His body probably needs to be more symmetrical, but at the same time, the "deformed" presentation is deliberate. He isn't an easy character to pin down. His origin is a mystery...even to him.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Premature Duel

Today is the 30th Anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back. The film is also the lynch pin in the original Star Wars trilogy whereby the fate of the major characters are suspended between life and death and between good and evil.

Star Wars (1977), now referred to as "Episode IV: The New Hope" was the beginning of a legend and a fabulously successful franchise. Of course in the Summer of 1977, no one knew that yet, probably including George Lucas. But a collection of virtually unknown actors created, through the magic of Lucas' writing and direction (though he's never been a gifted director) a group of beloved characters who would lead us through a fantastic journey into immortal saga.

The original Star Wars film ended on an upnote. The good guys had won. The terrible Death Star had been destroyed by an idealistic young boy with a help of a few good friends. However, the evil Darth Vader had escaped, possibly to plague our heroic band of rebels another day. The Empire Strikes Back (directed by Irvin Kershner) was that day, and we all looked eagerly forward to its dawning.

Even as Luke was slowly developing his Force powers on his own, his journey to a critical decision point was growing nearer. Perhaps sensing that, the spirit of his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to Luke in a vision, telling him to travel to the Degobah system and learn the ways of the Force under Jedi Master Yoda.

While much of the film toggles back and forth between Luke's training and the adventures of Han, Leia, Chewie, and the droids as they attempt to escape the Empire's would-be assassins, the story of Luke, Yoda, and Vader is the key element. Luke isn't just developing his raw skill at manipulating the Force, he's making a decision about which path to take, towards good, or the dark side of the Force.

A critical scene, at least in term's of Luke's story, is when Yoda tells him to enter a cave that he tells Luke is "strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is." What follows is very revealing:

Luke: What's in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.

At this stage of the film, we can only guess that Vader faced a similar test and ultimately failed some time ago, but it's not until the premature duel between Luke and Vader that we see just how close Luke is to following in his father's footsteps. Even at the end of the film, the audience of 1980 was never completely sure Vader was telling the truth when he admitted to being Luke's father. Luke obviously was, but deception is the way of the Sith.

The journey of Luke Skywalker is, in some way, the journey we all take. Star Wars gave us a hopeful, fresh, diamond-in-the-rough Luke, all dressed in white, innocent of the true nature of the universe and his own origins. Dressed in muted grey in "Empire", Luke proceeds down the road of an innocence lost, and along the way, losing his hand. In accepting a mechanical replacement for his hand, Luke not only began to take on a small physical resemblance to his father, but also some of the spiritual characteristics.

At the end of the film, though Luke is restored to his friends, his future is uncertain. The premature duel, the one he had been tricked into by Vader or perhaps the dark side itself, ended in a stalemate. Luke didn't really accomplish his mission and in fact, Leia, Lando, and Chewie were the ones to save Luke from a fatal fall. Even Han's destiny entered a dark area, encased in carbonite and taken by the bounty hunter Boba Fett as a prize for Jabba the Hutt.

Unlike the ending of the previous film, everyone's circumstances were left suspended, demanding another sequel to resolve (hopefully in a good way) the fate of our heroes. Would there be rescue and salvation, or would evil triumph?

The Empire Strikes Back is a fabulous tale of adventure, fantasy, and suspense. More than science fiction, like Star Trek and other franchises, it becomes its own entity, transcending any one genre. It is also the journey of one young, talented boy, who is on the cusp of choosing which road in life to take: darkness or light, life or death. Like Luke, it's a decision we make every day.

Congratulations Lucas, Hamill, Ford, Fisher and the rest of the cast and crew. Happy 30th Anniversary, Empire Strikes Back.