Defeating Fascism, a Refresher Course in The Multiversity
by Travis Hedge Coke
You need to be worried about where we are going. I am going to speak, most directly, to American concerns, a relative microcosm of our global, and for you non-Americans, reflective of your local concerns, because I am an American citizen sitting in America and watching it burn. In California, I am surrounded literally by the burning land, but we have also set afire justice, society, and our minds.
I am beyond the capacity for patience, as more than half a year a pandemic is plagued with superhero fanboys don’t want to wear masks and insist their local comic shops open up, that in person sales, that in person signings and events should take place right now, despite all reasonable health concerns, because they want it.
John Ostrander, writer of The Kents, Grimjack, and a beloved run on Suicide Squad, reposted a racist meme recently. It will not hurt him or his career a bit, and in a year, we will all remember him for his talent and the general good way in which he comports himself.
We all have the chance to be helpful, to save lives, and right now, to wear masks, and so many of us, born to, weaned on, raised by superhero stories, have chosen to hurt people, or to allow people to be hurt because it benefits us to do so. We made people collateral.
It is embarrassing even before it is demoralizing.
My mind turns to The Multiversity (Grant Morrison, et al), because my mind pretty much always turns to comics.
The splendour falls chapter of The Multiversity, also called, Mastermen (drawn by Jim Lee, and inked, colored, lettered by divers hands), deals in an explicitly fascist United States, conquered in 1938 and maintaining a Nazi government through 2016. The central conceits of The Multiversity – capital, bigotry, toleration – come together in splendour falls around a Superman who helped the Nazis conquer the world, and a Nazi America which reflects and catalyzes our own.
This splendour falls Superman is given a birth year of 1918, the traditional, if unspoken, birth year of the original, or Golden Age Superman, with whom he also shares the Kal-L birthname. 1918 is also the year, in which James Montgomery Flagg’s Uncle Sam posters get the height of their popularity, having been designed a year or two earlier, codifying the visual caricature that we carry today under that name. And, 1918 is the year, William Roscoe Thayer’s The Collapse of the Superman was published by Houghton Mifflin, only a few years before Thayer’s death.
In the story of splendour falls, this regretful Nazi Superman is opposed by an Uncle Sam whose powers are light and force, who is attempting, by terrorist means, to liberate America, and by politic practicality, to help German Nazis re-establish a nostalgia-fueled Nazi Germany.
Promotional icon, turned to fascist politics, versus promotional icon, turn to fascist politics.
Thayer’s book, dealing with the promotional myth of the German people as a race and culture superior to all others and unified in a strong singular voice and hand, is both insightful and fraught, harried, with condescending, propagandistic American exceptionalism. Where the satire is in this, depends on where you think the satire is in this. Or, where Thayer did.
Thayer’s The Collapse of the Superman is, in its imprecision, as damaging as it is helpful, a nonfiction tract apparently designed not only to combat the notion of cultural or genetic supremacy, but to promote and instate a white, Anglo American supremacy.
The Collapse of the Superman is, taken straight, pro colonialism, pro ethnic cleansing, mythologizing pioneers and colonizers. The equative position, serious or satirical, makes things too slippery.
When fascism comes to America, it will be several hands signing the Declaration of Independence. It was.
In Morrison and Lee’s splendour falls, Uncle Sam enlists soldiers from oppressed minorities, giving over to the hands of Nazi scientists, but not those Nazis, our Nazis.
“‘Once the Rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department,’ says Wernher von Braun.”
What we see in splendour falls is late-stage capitalism, the smoggy twilight of nationalism, the endgame of proto-fascism and fascism.
Two things that reflect our current American situation: When DC Comics reuses parts of The Multiversity that deal with Uncle Sam and his forces, they redact or rephrase anything that calls their actions terrorism. Second, Uncle Sam, in splendour falls, is probably Superman in disguise.
What saves the day, saves lives, save souls, saves worlds in The Multiversity, is that all text is subject to analysis, to criticism, and that everything is text.
Our worlds, they are promoted to us, described for us, are intersecting, overlapping, interlaced text. What we get out of them was seeking them; capital. What we miss or misinterpret; bias or bigotry. What we dislike but accept to glean the comforts of capital and bigotry; toleration.
The American failure to handle any aspect of the pandemic, from covid-19 to police state abuses and fermenting electoral complications are a failure to read the room, a failure to read completely, to read for comprehension, to read in a timely fashion, and in short, to read.
The Multiversity tells us to remember everything is a text subject to analysis and criticism. The Multiversity reminds us we overlook or excuse to favor our bias, even if unintentional, we have not failed to know, we have erased what we know. To see all white America, knowing that at no time history has this ever been true, even if it does not bother us at first, or register consciously, we know the untruth of it.
I recently read Deanne Stillman’s essay, Is America Going Down Like Custer?, an anti-selfishness polemic, focusing on the quintessential American character. Stillman, educated essayist and historian, posits that the American character play acting the myth of the Wild West outlaw, the nationalist individualist, the Billy the Kid, the Judge Roy Bean, the Lee Harvey Oswald and the Lieutenant Colonel Custer with whom, she suggest America has a mimicking relationship that is a ” complicated thing.”
In her essay, no ethnic minorities, except Native Americans, are mentioned, and not once, in the past or when she speaks of the present day, are Native Americans, American. Her well-intended, articulate essay, is a lengthy effort of erasure and othering, in line with a habit of erasure and othering.
Stillman has expressed antagonism to criticism she cannot control, including the perception of agenda and narrative.
splendour falls, the comic, takes its title from a poem, or sub-poem in Alfred Tennyson’s The Princess. Published in 1847, Tennyson revised The Princess in 1950, concurrent with becoming the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, adding the shorter poems or songs, including The splendour falls, as, “I thought that the poem would explain itself, but the public did not see the drift.”
The Princess both about women at university, and women’s society apart from men and the dominant society that is, as well, men’s society, was published, both times, before the UK had a university-level women’s college. It’s conservative ending and the original version’s male focus and male viewpoint have been at conflict with more positive readings of the pursuit and honoring of women’s education and women’s existence as genuine, for over one hundred and fifty years.
Within The Princess, The splendour falls, the poem song, is itself as slippery as water midstream.
“The splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.”
Describing the visual effect of light on water, of the wet in a waterfall leaping, bugle and echo, and echoes of dying, The splendour falls, like the larger poem surrounding it, and like its namesake comic in The Multiversity. A lot to be said for reading for comprehension, there is something unknowable, there is always uncertainty.
With The Multiversity, many readers were surprised that a man with ears the color of a Black man’s, his face behind a golden mask, was, in fact, Black. Not a shining moment for us, as comics readers, but to laugh too loud does a disservice to how these blindspots develop broadly across all kinds of audiences, all kinds of people. We omit from register what we do not expect to see.
In the fourth of nine chapters of The Multiversity, we are clued in between the twelfth and thirteenth pages of every chapter, the monsters come in. The monsters, in this case, Hostile Independent Thought-forms, metaphors for anxious, traumatic idea-complexes. Corrosive ennui. The condescending know-it-all. Fear of instability. Fear of the masses.
We could, knowing this, prepare each successive chapter, to identify – even to isolate or pre-combat – the HIT as it manifests between pages twelve and thirteen, because we were told this and we know it. More than likely, on the first read, on the fifth read, we did not mark it out, we did not prepare, we may not even have identified. We let the monster come right in.
While much coverage of the comic has been which reality is Earth Genderflip (Earth 11) and which is Earth Ditko (Earth 4, with its hawk and dove motif and Blue Beetle and the Question running about) what The Multiversity suggests to us, is active critical engagement that is not sensorial or emotional disconnection. A kind of lucid dreaming to engage waking life.
A lucid dream, is a dream in which the dreamer is aware that they are in a dream. With this awareness, the dreamer may have some conscious power to alter the dream, but even without, the cognizance, alone, can provide emotional and psychological protection, removing urgency or valorization, and thereby, threat.
Treating life as a lucid dream, may not allow us to leap over our problems in 40-foot arcs, or to render engagement null and consequences. It can give us enough distance to gain perspective. It can encourage us to take a more readerly and critical perspective.
Normative dreams, and the normative reading habits, encourage our pretend ignorance to the point we feel trapped and pushed along. Treating life as a lucid dream, can invigorate in us a compassion, motivate us as participants.
Remember, remind yourself to remember that capital, bias, and toleration are not the sum or total of our world or our reach. Remind yourself of what you have left out. We need the invigoration. We need the compassion.
Defeating Fascism, a Refresher Course in The Multiversity
User Review( votes)