Thursday, November 18, 2010

Death Waits

Yeah, I get dark and moody sometimes, probably more often than my tweets and my blogging would suggest. Sometimes I consider all of the difficulties of living my life, the difficulties other people have living their lives, and the general course of world events (and "progressives" seem to think things are getting better and better all the time). There is one thing I take comfort in, though. Death.

I found myself thinking of how we personify death; that is, how we turn death into a person or a character in a story. I did a Google image search on "death" and came up with a complete mixed bag of graphics. Then I searched for "death personified" and among the results, came a scene from one of my favorite movies: The Seventh Seal (1957) directed by Ingmar Bergman. The summary of the film from follows:

A Knight and his squire are home from the crusades. Black Death is sweeping their country. As they approach home, Death appears to the knight and tells him it is his time. The knight challenges Death to a chess game for his life. The Knight and Death play as the cultural turmoil envelopes the people around them as they try, in different ways, to deal with the upheaval the plague has caused.

The classic scene from the film is the knight (portrayed by Max von Sydow) playing chess with death, literally with the knight's life hanging in the balance. Throughout the film, the knight sees the devastating effects of the plague on the people of his country and how terribly they're suffering. By the end of the film, the knight loses (of course) his chess game and he, along with the other people he's met on his journey, are claimed by death and find a complete release from their suffering. The final scene of the film shows everyone dancing and following death to...where ever one goes at that point.

The same personification is approached from the opposite direction in Death Takes a Holiday (1934). This film has been remade a number of times, but the summary of the original goes like this:

Death decides to take a holiday from his usual business to see what it is like to be a mortal. Posing as Prince Sirki, he spends 3 days with Duke Lambert and his guests at his dukal estate. Several of the women are attracted to the mysterious prince, but shy away from him when they sense his true nature. But Grazia, the beautiful young woman whom the Duke thought was to marry his son, loves him even when she knows who he is.

The problem is, while death, in the guise of Prince Sirki (and played by Fredric March) studies the "human condition", largely through his affair with Grazia, no one can die. People suffer horribly. Diseases, wounds, and injuries that would normally kill a person only result in those people existing in unending agony, unable to find release from their torment in death. Ultimately, others see him for who he really is and beg him to return to his duties. Reluctantly, the identity of Prince Sirki is surrendered and death once again roams the earth, giving final comfort and peace.

In both of these films, death isn't something to be feared but rather, a comforting companion to cause all pain to end once a person's body is too old, too sick, or in too much pain to endure. Of course, if we're enjoying life, we usually prefer that death not pay us a visit any time soon, but then again, we don't always have much of a choice in the matter.

It seems most of the time, death is depicted as a man, but why couldn't death be a woman? In older Thor comic books, death was a female character. The folks at Marvel adapted the norse myth of Hel (Hela), the goddess of death. According to

Hela is the daughter of Loki and the giantess Angrboda. When Hela came of age, she was appointed Ruler and Goddess of the northernmost kingdom of the dead, allowing her to rule in the realms of Hel and Niffleheim. Although her dominion was only over those who did not die as heroes, as Odin was the ruler of these in Valhalla. Still, Hela often sought to expand her kingdom by conquering Valhalla as well which often brought Hela into direct conflict with both Odin and his son Thor. On one occasion, Hela attempted to persuade Thor into entering Valhalla when he was on the verge of death, although he eventually refused. Hela also entered into an uneasy alliance with the other Death Gods of Earth.

A vaguely similar comic book character is Lady Death who, depending on the version, is an outright villain, a mortal woman transformed to a supernatural being by a spell and destined to fight and overthrow Lucifer, or a somewhat more noble character, also under a spell and who battles darkness in a medieval-like world (one where she's not always in a bikini).

None of those images are my ideal female "death", and I imagine a personified death to be a supernatural and final lover; someone who embraces you, not in lust, but in intimacy (and what's more intimate than death) in your final hour. I suppose we all want death to appear in a pleasing shape, but the fact that we personify death at all means we want it on our terms.

Death isn't something we can have our way. It's not a person or a just is...and it waits...for everyone.

Afterword: I realized after I published this blog post that, if I could pick any actress to play death in a film, it would be Angelina Jolie. Ironic that her now husband Brad Pitt played death in the movie Meet Joe Black. Jolie would have done a much better job and have brought the true "presence" of death to the screen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Smallville: The Dating Show

I sometimes forget that Smallville is a science fiction/adventure show about a young visitor from another planet who, through numerous life experiences, is progressing his way towards becoming the world's greatest hero. If I blink and miss the superpowered part, I'd probably assume I'm watching a teenage romance show. When I see some of tweets Smallville fans post on twitter, I'm sure of it.

It seems like there's some sort of obsession about which characters should hook up with which characters among the fans. While the relationship between Clark (our resident alien) and Lois is classic within the Superman mythos, many other relationships have suggested themselves and in fact, have played out over the years. I want to put all that aside for one moment and have a little fun. What about the relationships that were never mentioned? Why haven't we gotten more adventurous? Is there an underlying or hidden subplot we've been missing all this time?

Clark and Lex

You have to admit, it seems sort of obvious. They had a tight friendship from the very beginning, and keep in mind, when they first met, Lex was in his early 20s and Clark was 15 years old. I can see it now. Older, wealthy, charsimatic man entices young, naive high school student into his posh love nest. Admit it. This has crossed your mind, too.

Clark and Ollie

I know that both of the characters and the actors who play them are straight, but some of these photos make it look otherwise. Ollie is about Lex's age, so the same age dynamic fits, but they met later in life, when Clark was a bit more mature (and had already made his way through Lana). Of course, while money can't buy happiness, it can buy plenty of pleasure and I'm sure Ollie knows how to show a boy a good time. After all. There must be some reason all of Ollie's (cute name) relationships with women go south.

Lois and Tess

When I saw Lois and Tess rolling around on top of each other while on the floor of the basement of the Daily Planet (right before Lois was transported to the future at the end of Season 8), I said to myself, "Things could really get interesting, here". Unfortunately, Lois had the bad sense to put on the time-travelling Legion flight ring and ruin my fantasy, but back to the analysis.

Both Tess and Lois are dynamic, strong personalities so it would be a contest to see who would be able to dominate who. Tess is older and more devious, but did you check out that dominatrix outfit Lois was sporting when she took on Darkseid (and lost) earlier this season? Wow! She fit the role a little too well.


Speaking of dominatrix, remember the outfit Clark's cousin was wearing in the Phantom Zone? It just screams "spank me" leather. I know Clark and Kara are cousins but seriously...I'd hit that.

While I was searching for the appropriate images for my blog post, I came across this "Girls of Smallville" graphic at that I couldn't resist inserting. Can you guess who's who?

I hope Smallville doesn't get too mired in the whole romance/sex subplots on their way to turning Clark Kent into Superman. I know there are more than few fans who watch the show especially for its romantic (and shirtless) elements and frankly, I like seeing Lois in a tight dress too, but this is a show about Superman. Say it with me: "Superman". When he's called the "Man of Steel", that's not an invitation to look at Clark's crotch. Up, up, and away.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Dark Dreams of the Sandman

I've been spending some time reading a series of graphic novels that collectively are called Sandman Mystery Theatre. This is a darker, detective noir version of the original DC Comics Sandman who is generally associated with the Justice Society of America. The original "theatre" series ran for 70 issues between 1993 and 1999 and targets an adult audience (due to themes such as extreme violence and sexual sequences among others). I wasn't aware of the series during the original run but am consumed with it now.

First off, I'm kind of a sucker both for the genre and for the period (1930s). OK, America just coming out of the depression and about to go into World War II was no bed of roses, but there is a certain romance, at least in the fictionalized version of the period, that is very attractive. If you don't believe me, go watch Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) again.

Wesley Dodds (the Sandman's alter ego) has been reshaped into a more reclusive, slightly portly image of the original hero. While he still wears a World War I vintage gas mask, he traded in his costume for a trench coat and more resembles the H.G. Wells version of The Invisible Man (film 1933). While Dodds is friendly, if a bit odd, the Sandman is down right mysterious and a little scary.

His relationship with Dian Belmont, daughter of the New York City District Attorney is (according to Wikipedia, anyway) reminiscent of the relationship between Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man films. Actually, I don't find their relationship to have the same sort of bantering humor as Nick and Nora have in the Thin Man movie series. For one thing, Wesley is always plagued by the dreams that drive him to wear the mask and pursue some of the most gruesome murders in the annals of fiction. Also, Dian is at once a flighty socialite and a pissy wench, the latter due to her not quite understanding why Wesley has to be the Sandman.

Reading Sandman Mystery Theatre is definitely a way to pursue your darker side and on that level, I'm thoroughly enjoying this series. Of course, if you tend to be the brooding type anyway, you might find yourself feeling a little too dark. The separation between 1939 and now helps to keep the reader from becoming completely sucked in, but topics such as cannibalism, rape, racism, Nazis and lots and lots of murder can prey on the mind.

On the one hand, I could see this being done as a great mystery/noir/period movie, but on the other hand, done badly, it would end up as just another flop in the vein of The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom (1996).

A more conventional and modernized version of the Sandman was briefly seen in the Smallville Season 9 episode Absolute Justice but it only offered the audience a brief taste of the character (although Hawkman and Dr. Fate were well portrayed). I thought that Absolute Justice was one of the finest Smallville episodes ever aired which, to my way of thinking, indicates that the Sandman and his JSA companions could have a future on television. I'd like the Sandman Mystery Theatre rendition to end up in a TV show or film, but I may have to settle (maybe) for a JSA TV show instead.

In the meantime, I've got a few more "novels" to read in the series and perhaps some evening after putting down the book and turning out the light, I'll have my own "dark dreams".