Archive | November 17, 2007

We Apologise for A More Stressful Than Intended Marooning Experience

Currently in DC Comics’ Salvation Run event, which is part of its bigger Countdown to Final Crisis event, a secret government agency is rounding up supervillains without trial and relocating them on what the agency mistakenly believes is a safe and pleasant planet. (The agency has been duped by two figures we’ve only seen in shadow, though they look like Darkseid and Desaad to me.) In fact the planet is a hellish place where the supervillains have to fight a constant battle for survival. I’m betting that at some point they come back to Earth a trifle peeved.

Jules Verne - The Mysterious Island It’s rather odd timing for DC to be running this story, since it looks like a blatant rip-off of Marvel’s recent Planet Hulk story (with a dash of Civil War for the secret-supervillain-prison element). In Planet Hulk, a secret group of superheroes decides the Hulk is too dangerous to be allowed to roam the Earth freely, so they kidnap him and send him to what they mistakenly believe will be a safe and pleasant planet. Through some sort of glitch, the Hulk instead arrives on a hellish world where he has to fight a constant battle for survival. Plus he gets married, only to lose his wife to an explosion for which the superheroes who exiled him are made to appear responsible. Needless to say, the Hulk eventually makes it back to Earth a trifle peeved. (Of course the Hulk’s angry return, chronicled in World War Hulk, came just shortly after DC’s Black Adam’s angry rampage, likewise over a slain wife, in World War III; both were announced well ahead of time so I’m not sure who’s copying whom on that one.)

But both these stories are arguably drawing on an earlier Star Trek storyline, one that began in the original series episode “Space Seed” and was later continued in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Captain Kirk exiles genetically enhanced supervillain Khan Noonian Singh and his followers (veterans of the Eugenics Wars, which were initially supposed to be conventional wars in the late 20th century, then were retconned into being conventional wars in the 22nd century, only to be re-retconned into being covert struggles in the late 20th century ….) to what he mistakenly believes to be a safe and pleasant planet. Shortly after Kirk departs, an unforeseen astronomical catastrophe transforms the planet into a hellish place where Khan and his people have to fight a constant battle for survival. Khan even loses his wife, and when he finally gets off the planet he’s a trifle wrathful.

But maybe Jules Verne got there first. At the end of The Children of Captain Grant (better known to American audiences as In Search of the Castways), the novel’s chief villain, Thomas Ayrton, is exiled on a desert island. We meet him again later in The Mysterious Island (which serves as a sequel both to Children and to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), where we find that those who marooned him have underestimated, not the physical harshness of the island, but its psychological harshness; Ayrton has gone cuckoo from isolation. Once rescued and reassimilated into society, however, Ayrton turns out to be reformed rather than revengeful – so the parallel’s not especially close.

Ice Ice Beowulf

Beowulf Animated Epic I’m looking forward to the new Beowulf (which I’ll have a chance to see locally in 3-D), but I still have an unquenchable fondness for this beautiful 1998 animated version. Admittedly it’s just half an hour long and massively overpriced, but it’s more faithful to the original in both letter and spirit than any other version has been, and clearly more so than the new one will be. The new one is Robert E. Howard’s Beowulf, as it were, but the 1998 version is Tolkien’s Beowulf. (Or to put it another way, the new movie – with its “I am ripper, tearer, slasher, I am the teeth in the darkness, I am Beowulf!” business, has the roaring, swaggering feel of an Irish saga like Táin Bó Cúailnge, while the older version has the grimmer, more somber character of an Icelandic saga. An Icelandic hero wouldn’t say “I am ripper, tearer, slasher!”; he’d say something more understated, like “you’ll receive small thanks here.”)

In related news: for an mp3 of Tolkien reading his poem “The Hoard,” inspired by the Beowulf story, go to this page and choose the third file.

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