Monday, 22 December 2008

Thoughts about the gospel

On the way to work yesterday a couple of fantastic things struck me, related to the gospel. First I was reminded of God’s goodness. Secondly I began to think a bit about a Christian song in which the singers commit to “hail God as King” and what that really means.

So why did I get thinking about God’s goodness? Well, I take the Gosport ferry to Portsmouth each day (yes, even some Sundays) and en route yesterday, surrounded by early-bird Christmas shoppers, I spent a few minutes contemplating Isaiah chapter 1. This important prophet spoke words from God to the nation God had chosen to be his own children, the nation of Israel. First, let’s get some context – and then you will see why God’s words are so fantastic here.

At this point in Israel's history, corruption was rife in Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel) and it's clear that the people, and notably their leaders, had forgotten the awesome holiness of God - because they had started appropriating ideas from other nations about how to worship. They must have come to the point where they thought the old rules of temple worship "couldn't really be all that important", when of course they were actually designed to provide atonement for them and remind them of God's power and their relationship with him.

In short, these people were forgetting God, even putting their trust in other gods and worshipping them. So God has called Isaiah to bring them a wake-up call.

What struck me was the mixture of sober warning (we all need this more often than we like to admit) and promises of reward that are in this opening chapter. Isaiah clearly shows how Israel's disobedience hurts God ("the LORD has spoken: 'Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.'" Israel does not even "know" God any more - v2-3). Despite causing the God of the universe anguish by the choices they have made, they are even continuing to do wrong (v5).

As we read on, God shows them their arrogance in assuming a few religious gestures will satisfy him when they come into his holy presence (v12-15). The message is clear: they must turn from wrong and live the right way (v16-17). And as this Israeli stop sign suggests, stopping is an urgent matter!

But here's the staggering thing: despite the enormity of the problem between them and God, God invites them to come back to him, and tells them he will wash them clean - in fact totally spotless and free from sin! (v18) No matter how they have taken for granted his gifts, ignored the ways he wants them to live, and started to worship idols – he still is ready to give them total righteousness before him! How generous is God!

Isn’t this our situation, too? God has worked in history to bring us a Saviour and to make known the blessing we can have in him. Furthermore, he has worked in my life to give me access to the Bible, and to teaching about him, and to churches and Christians of all kinds who have helped me along. He created me and my family and he has brought me up to know him. And yet, how often do I pay him back by ignoring what he wants me to do, or treasuring other things in life more than him, such as my reputation or material things I want to get hold of? The things I do offend him, and my arrogance before him can be appalling (thinking that I am good and worth helping). I know I must stop these wrong ways, although I know I can never make up for all the wrong I've already done.

And yet what is God’s response to all this?
For starters, the gift of righteousness to all who turn to follow him and believe in Jesus. A total removal of my past sin and guilt, because of Jesus. An eternal future, with promises of Jesus continuing to pour out his riches on us, so that our joy will be full. Our God is a breathtaking God, with a heart of the biggest love you will ever find.

So there you have it. A brief look at the gospel from Isaiah. It’s there laid out for us to read and marvel at, and isn't it wonderful? Isn't God wonderful?

And what was my other thought on the way to work? I started thinking about a song we sing at church very occasionally called “I will worship”. To me it seems the perfect “response” song, once we have all had a reading or song or talk highlighting just what Jesus has done on the cross – perfect because it outlines the ways we all must worship: trusting God “alone” (ie. above all others) for the way forward, following and honouring him “as King”, giving to him, praising him (ie showing our thankfulness to him), longing to be more worshipful (recognising our weaknesses) and “bowing” to him (submitting to his ways). Challenging stuff – but then again, what else can we do when faced with such a mighty yet loving, totally wonderful, God?

The future

“Tortured feet break away from threadbare shoes”
- that’s all.
Yellow-parched skin, now brushing against the wind.

Hard-lined mouths which put lives into cruel focus -
Frustrated by answers, and unexpected new managers.

Watery eyes, wistful through the entirety of generation Y -
Find hope to relate again, drawing out vitality through sockets of gold,
Creative minds and legs which bend and reach and go.

Babies stand their personalities up-right, and shine.
Mother’s wisdom cares for them, without strain.
Shout it out: “A family is well again!”

Aching remembered, we cry “Worth it, all worth it!”
Music climbing, broad sounds filling out our clothes,
Activity unhindered, progress never unmade
- people purposed, concentrating, thinking, relaxing;

Rushing of air, as solid trees walk towards one another
- as if, at first.
Hopes that return, from the crown laden down.

The mission of our lives

Mission control, it’s mission control
It’s inward and boxed-up for an age
It’s opinion and advice and working with limits
It’s life or death for the computer screen man

Lift-off, it’s lift-off
It’s a miracle of colour and prestige and dignitaries
It’s a chance for feet to float in a steel womb
Away from earth

Dead space, it’s dead space
It’s the way forward, it’s a rush
Spot a world (far bigger than the feat)
Already there to be used

Landing, it’s touchdown,
Look at that! Those swallowing waves!
It’s a journey as yet barely made;
Human ingenuity does not swerve.


It had wise eyes
Creeping softly
Treading carefully on my chin
Lining up ideas and weighing out feelings

It studied and scrutinised and pinned down my skin
And walled it up in long sheets – or allowed it to flow out a little,
Listening to its shape
With those –eyes.

What was it that it wanted?

Triumphant I flicked away its dreamed presence,
Discarded the hungered look
And moved on.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Our report

Vacancy and poetry:
Ten times the employment rate of brainpower;
Five times held back by the statistics of strangers.

Hunger and management:
A gaping hole without open borders;
A regretful set of administrative errors.

Efficient armageddon:
Doomsayers which stand back and watch the system fail
Say nothing more from their computers

Thus, in conclusion, the action stops.

The above poem is borne from my feelings of frustration over certain politic and social problems I sometimes end up thinking about. Soon, I will be posting some more poems, including one that questions the what kind of progress our society is making (it's always assumed that we are so much better now than we used to be, isn't it?) and another which should clearly let you see where I think hope really lies. Hope you enjoy them and have a happy Christmas!

Fullmetal Alchemist

Ever since watching the movie-like episodes of Batman: the Animated Series on a Saturday morning as a kid, I have been excited about the stories animation can tell (I guess maybe Disney films like The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, Aladdin, The Sword in the Stone, and Toy Story probably helped.) But watching this popular Japanese anime series was something different. It is a 51 episode series, telling one complete story aside from a few unrelated quests and some episodes more based on developing characters. The whole thing has a varied tone, and is (broadly) a fun adventure story – but it really made me laugh, and certain scenes are creepy, incredibly so, for such a colourful story. It deals with some big issues like the loss of family members, the dangers of all-consuming obsessions, and the difficulty of coping with death in general, as well as a background theme of the damage caused by military oppression and racism.

The strong friendship of teenage brothers Ed and Al is a staple element of the formula, and together they leave home (Odyssey-like) to discover the secrets of alchemy, so that they can un-do a past catastrophe which left Al’s soul body-less and grafted to a giant suit of armour. Being essentially a walking ghost with an imposing outer shell makes life difficult for Al (unsurprisingly) and the friendship of the brothers is put to the test in extraordinary ways throughout this fantastic journey. The military characters are also very well-realised and a highlight of the series.

Mostly you will be carried along by the compelling, often tense story into a mix of emotions. Through the main two characters we are encouraged to explore the right and just thing to do when faced with monsters and criminals, outlawed civilians and even those we have brought up or influenced (think Frankenstein’s monster). As you can probably tell, the rich plotlines and interesting themes set this totally apart for me from any other series I’ve seen. And for those who have already seen it, I hear that a new series based on the characters is in the works! Magic!

The movie [pictured above] is a fun follow-up to the series, but only for fans, and even then it's nothing to write home about.

Seven Soldiers of Victory

What strikes you first about this daring project is the art, which is fantastic. As there are different artists working on each of the stories (each one following a different “soldier”), the art varies wildly from huge scenes of bustling energy and detail in overrun Camelot to crime chases in modern New York (think testosterone, grey subways and brute force), to eerie deep blue and turquoise frames which portray a lost village of witches from the Puritan era. I know, it's bizarre.

Once the art has intrigued and impressed you, then you will (probably) be strangely fascinated by the wealth of unusual and horrific ideas in each issue – and its presentation, particularly as it's told through dialogue which flirts with brilliance and yet can be totally bewildering. This latter point leads me to a warning: this four-volume series is clearly not for everyone.

It is an exciting and ambitious read though and Scottish scribe Grant Morrison is clearly pushing the envelope of the comic book medium to see what kind of mature, imaginative and multi-layered stories comics can tell. He takes locations as disparate as the dusty surface of Mars, a billionaire's mansion and a forgotten pirate culture deep underground and uses them to great effect – creating atmospheres of desolation or mayhem, and then injecting into each one confrontations between some of the oddest characters you are likely to find in comics: Big Ed/“Baby Brain” and the Newsboy Army, Gloriana the Queen of Sorrow and Mother of Monsters, and her servant Neh-Buh-Loh the huntsman (a wicked fantasy being who embodies a universe and also happens to look very cool), the former “new gods”, who appear to masquerade as the disabled and homeless, the ghost of a wizard, and a particularly brutal interpretation of Frankenstein (these books are not for the faint-hearted). Highly recommended fun.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

My thoughts on Heroes, volume 3

As one of my favourite programmes, Heroes, presses on into the second half of its third season on BBC2, my thoughts towards the series are contradictory ones. After a great first season and a mixed second one, I can’t quite make my mind up about the new season, which is full of cool moments and some great episodes, but which gives the impression of being without a clear sense of direction.

At some level we know what to expect. We can look forward to more new powers and power-swapping taking place between the main characters, more shocking betrayals and – as a natural result in a series where everyone seems to be as closely related as one giant dysfunctional family – more highly-strung confrontations between our emotional heroes and villains. Hopefully the time-stopping antics of Hiro and Ando will continue as well, because I can’t resist laughing at the pair as they try to be tough and “do the right thing” – no matter how much of a pain the “right thing” is going to be for Ando.

What else can we see coming though? At this point, I wouldn’t mind betting on more visions of the future, which will hopefully clear up how exactly the world is going to be threatened again. But there are some things you can never predict about this series. Will Mr Petrelli survive and just what is he after? And will his sons follow him or not? What will they be able to do to prevent the future disaster and the future murders of Hiro and Peter?

And then there is Sylar. Who knows where his loyalties will lie after most of the cast has tried to kill him, or at least to use him! Will the influence of his newfound family or his friend and lover, Elle, bring out the best in him, as we are beginning to hope, or the worst? Surely one of the best characters (and best-acted), at first I was really unhappy about the direction they took his character at the beginning of this series – but by the time I got to the excellent tenth episode, I was sold. Elle and Sylar’s confrontation shows how far he has come and how willing he is to help those in his position. His voluntary and manly acceptance of her, when she needed acceptance; his powerful demonstration of how he will endure the pain and choose not to kill; his refusal to listen to her pleas for death, because he knows that redemption is possible – this added up to a surprisingly hope-filled and cathartic moment – a chance for the two to reach peace in the midst of the latest chaotic and uncaring plot that surrounds them both. I hope Sylar survives the series!

Of course one thing we all know we are in for more of is Dr Mohinder Suresh’s strange brand of philosophising (or even moralising) about the human experience. His voiceover mainly functions to provide links between the multiple stories going on, and to give the viewer a sense of how characters are feeling and perhaps where the series is heading next. But it is tiring at times, and he does come up with some odd phrases. Armchair wisdom is mixed with evolutionary theory and psychology, and at times we feel with pride we are beginning to grasp something profound. My “Addicted to heroes” Facebook application shows me one quote in which he connects humanity together in some kind of Buddhist-lite divine understanding of the world. What on earth is this series trying to say about people? Other than the obvious assumption: That we have lots of potential as individuals and should work together to make the right choices for a better future.

[Writing that last sentence was unnerving – not only does it sound like every other whole-hearted American message about the way forward for the world, but bare-faced as it stands it is far too simple a view of what will make a good future. Perhaps that’s where the randomness of the way things happen in the series helps to make things less about one ultimate goal, but more about possible options.]

This idea of wielding miraculous powers, naturally given us or passed on through science, is alluring. But the series has shown how power has changed the identity of the characters, through their forced exile or through the things they have done. How can individuals use the abilities or opportunities we have positively, without letting them become obsessions or serving our own ends at the expense of others (see Noah or Suresh)? How will we be safe? The dangers in heroism are clear.

Despite this, we can easily aspire to be like the Heroes, whether this is to be good, or strong, attractive or assertive, successful or honourable, or all of the above. What implications does this have for us? What is praiseworthy about these characters and our desires to be like them, and what is wrong about it?

Positively, we love to follow the story of evil’s defeat and hope for the Heroes to be able to live on. There is a challenge in their good actions that we, too, should not compromise and let evil have its way; a challenge, perhaps, to take hard decisions to fight wrong behaviour or the wrong thoughts in our hearts, and ultimately to find strength in a relationship with God so we are able to give evil no ground in our lives. (Notice the “in the Lord” in Ephesians 6: 10-11 and the God-dependence of King David in Psalm 139:24.) Furthermore, as Nathan and Peter need discernment about how far to trust each other and their parents, we must seek God’s discernment about which advice to follow and which course to take. Who will we be influenced by in the choices we make? More negatively, in our aspiration to be like a “hero” we are selfish and would love to be in the spotlight, or merely to be able to get what we want. We become the centre of our own universe, and those we come into contact with suffer the consequences.

Finally, as the cast of Heroes are often defined by what they do, or, in some episodes, how they feel about what they do, I guess the question is for us: What should define us?

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Bulgaria summer camp reunion - and spreading the gospel [the news of Jesus]

Recently I caught up with the team I was part of that went out from the UK to Bulgaria in July. There’s something about shared experiences that can bring you together, isn’t there? Jim and I felt it was only about two weeks since we were together there playing cards and Mafia with the Bulgarians, learning to hurry our hops and steps to keep in time with the dances, eating soups and Shopska salad and bread and noodles, attempting to teach English through the use of animal noises, trying to emphasise the importance of the idea of sin and the fact that Jesus is the only Saviour in the Bible study times, chatting the Americans about Little Britain, and wandering around the mountainous landscape surrounding our hotel on someone’s misguided idea of a “hike”.

For those reading this who pray, do pray for more freedom for Bulgarian students to speak about God on their campuses. The Christian student groups are unable to hold their events in the university or even advertise on campus, which means they really can only reach those they are close to. Having seen the situation first-hand, I would love to see the gospel explode across the country, bringing light to all those who are following dead religion – superstitious ideas not based on the historical gospel – or to those caught in poverty there. Also, the movement would benefit from having a staff worker in the South, where there are no student groups.

Life has moved on for me since the trip. But the students we met are continuing in their journey of deciding where to put their trust. It is great to hear that most students from the camp are now attending churches in their cities in the North. Almost all are still in touch with the Christian student groups. May our generous God do what he has done for me and bring them
all from spiritual death, through his cross of forgiveness, to true and everlasting life!

In the UK, of course the challenge continues to keep on doing the uncomfortable thing and reaching out, and, together with that, to fight complacency in our own hearts and resist the pursuit of comfort that is such a big cause of stress here (just try asking a middle-aged mum whether she is ready for Christmas!) Isn’t it funny how unimportant things can take over without us ever noticing? While we pray for the Bulgarians we should also pray that the church here continues to find ways of getting the gospel out there to non-Christians, and doesn’t settle for merely supporting those within the church. Let’s not lose our sense of mission and the pull on our hearts of Jesus’ command to go to all the world with the gospel (including our work colleagues and old school or uni friends)!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

How to see other people

After two and a half months of unemployment, I have a job :) - and a new set of people around me. Such a change has helped me to see again what God's instruction to love and serve others will actually mean in practice, and, after last month's overdose of posts on comic books (I guess I have had some time on my hands) I have decided it will be worthwhile to post on some of the lessons I have been learning. I hope it's helpful!

It struck me this morning that being dismissive of someone (ie. a family member or someone at work) is usually just a concealed form of hating them. Or at least the two are linked. It says to them “I would rather you were out of my way”. It suggests that the person not worth your attention is repulsive, someone you can abuse and treat without any compassion or grace whatsoever.

But impatience and hate are not God’s way.

The way of hate forgets that God has given us his powerful Spirit in order to love the unlovable, and to care about others in times of stress and suffering when we wouldn’t naturally do it. I think we would all do well to study Jesus’ words during his time of suffering, in the Garden and on the cross. Not only did he pray for his followers when he was in agonising fear, on the cross he chose to forgive the crowds mocking him. Giving people our love can be tough and costly, but it shows grace.

There’s one more thing that being dismissive of others shows up in us. It shows we have forgotten that every person on the earth was made in the image of God, whether or not they are becoming more like him or less. As such, we should honour that God-given dignity and beauty.

Last year I read something from CS Lewis that said that every person we meet is an eternal person, with an eternal destiny. All our friends and family, and those on our streets and in our offices and schools; every one will have one of the two eternal homes to go to. They will either be in a place of great honour for ever in the renewed world God will rule, enjoying the enormous blessings of knowing our generous God, or they will be cast out, far from love and life, suffering for ever in a place where God punishes their sin. These sobering truths remind us that we are far more than animals – we are responsible creatures, whose decisions have profound effects. We will be held accountable.

And what else can we see from the Bible about other people? They were all designed to find the most joy in life in knowing God in a relationship, and in reflecting his goodness in the world by being like him: loving others and loving the Father, making a positive impact on the society and the world, making the right moral decisions, etc. And they were all designed to rely on God in prayer; some days, when I really know the blessing of talking to God and asking him to for help and strength for every situation, I wonder how I could possibly live without this amazing gift.

In the gospel these things – a relationship with God, reliance on him, joy, changed behaviour – can come to anyone. And they bring real hope and fullness of life, whether that is to a business-obsessed young professional, a struggling council estate family or your most awkward work colleague! All the blessings that God has for believers can come to any one of the people you know through the double-punch package of the gospel and God’s Spirit. Happy days!

So next time you are tempted to sidestep that whining adolescent or talkative pensioner who you don’t think is worth your time – think again about the God who created them to reflect his glory. Think about their eternal destiny. And, perhaps most of all, think about the love shown by Jesus on the cross.

Pic above right: Some Bulgarian students helping a (quite poor) town by renovating the park. I was there and got involved by visiting an inspiring old lady who was ill and lonely and loved the company. These are some examples of how we can love the overlooked in our society. Pray for those pictured to become Christians and for their friends in a country where there has been official opposition to Christian groups.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Batman hots up

The caped detective/crime-fighter Batman has gained much attention recently for the break-through crime drama film, The Dark Knight, and so I want to take the chance to post on some of the exciting Bat-stories I have had the chance to read. So many of the industry's top writers have worked on the character over the decades that it has proved hard for new writers to stay true to the character and provide something new – but I think DC recently had a stroke of genius in putting Grant Morrison on the book (starting from the story “Batman and Son” which began in Batman #655).

Known both for strong characterisation and for his penchant for wacky and ambitious stories, Grant Morrison has now brought his unique brand of energetic and inventive adventure story writing to the Dark Knight in an incredibly fresh take on the character. Since he began his run he has been examining Batman's approach to crime and whether crime can be stopped: In one humorous interchange between Gordon and our hero, the Police Commissioner asks him why he was foolish enough to declare war on an enemy as big as crime itself. The reply? “I thought I could take him”.

In some action-packed and fast-paced stories, Batman has been confronted by his legacy in more ways than one. It has been revealed that he has a son through a former love, the deadly Talia Al Ghul, daughter of Ra's, who clearly wants to use the boy Damian against his father. The rebellious Damian on the other hand wastes no time in infuriating his father by using his ninja skills (learned from Talia's bodyguard) to surprise and seriously wound Robin. It's been great to see how this has started to pick away at the Batman/Robin relationship.

On top of the family matter it seems Batman has inspired other wannabe heroes to take up the mantle of Batman, many of whom are suddenly and sarcastically murdered by a new (don't quote me on that) mysterious villain – and I haven't yet mentioned the three nightmare Batmen Bruce Wayne has begun to see in his dreams and encounter in Gotham. Add to this the possibility that Batman is losing his mind altogether, and seeing the past merging with the present – and I just don't know what's going to happen next! One more thing: I don't want to say too much but in recent issues we also have discovered a conspiracy within the Gotham Police Department that corruption-fighter Gordon was not aware of. And just what is Damian's future connection to the devil, as seen in Batman #666?

These shocking storylines, which seem to be leading to something far bigger, have been accompanied by strong art by the likes of Andy Kubert and Tony Daniel, who manage to show Bruce as a vulnerable and fearful man and a strong powerful hero at once. Comic fans might want to note that following Morrison's run there is going to be a special Batman issue by writer Neil Gaiman and superstar artist Jim Lee!

Grant Morrison is also behind the recent short series All-Star Superman series, as well as DC's current and unusual Final Crisis storyline, and he was a collaborator on “52” - more on that last one another time. However, next time I want to focus on his marvellously complex Seven Soldiers of Victory narrative.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Spiderman - why it's good and what to read

OK, as I have already spotlighted the Origin of Venom from 1984 way back in my July post (there’s even a pic of his first appearance) you might be wondering what’s new and interesting in Amazing Spiderman since then. We all know how since the 80s many of the battles between Spiderman and his villains (including Venom) were rehashed again and again and the Spiderman formula was pounded into an action-heavy, tiring and unfunny mess. But in 1999 Marvel recruited former Babylon 5 writer J Michael Straczynski to work on the comic book, and he began his landmark run with a strong series of tales which really pushed the hero into unexplored territory.

The best thing is – the collected stories can be found on Amazon second-hand for around £2 per volume, so it’s easy to get started. You’ll want to start with Volume 1: Coming Home, which introduces a new mystical villain, Morlun, and an intriguing new character who is at first shrouded in secrecy and goes by the name of Ezekiel. He meets Spiderman on the side of a building, and proves that he shares the same powers as Peter – a mystery that is only resolved after several more Ezekiel appearances, leading to a shocking finale in a kind of team-up story in Volume 6 (The Book of Ezekiel).

Straczynski not only had some creative ideas to bring to shake up Peter Parker’s life, he also keeps things fresh, peppering the book with new characters Spiderman encounters around New York, pop culture references and a good dose of humour. My personal favourite Spiderman story is in Volume 4: Unintended Consequences, in which Mary Jane and Peter finally re-unite, and the commanding and evil dictator Doctor Doom has to be protected from terrorists in the subway because of his political immunity at that time. Also I think the insight we get into Aunt May’s feelings in later issues provides a brilliant and grounded counter-balance to all the fantasy and conflict going on in Peter’s life – we really see through her eyes, and learn what is important to her.

A note of warning here: If you plan to buy the paperback collections, bear in mind that the same stories are published in different collections here in the UK than those in the US – but confusingly they have similar names! For instance the US volume called The Book of Ezekiel is Volume 7. So your options are: getting the ones produced by the UK publisher Panini or those from Marvel US. At the time of writing has the UK ones in stock. You might also want to check out Spiderman: Reign - a short but satisfying dystopian future tale in which a cranky Jonah Jameson attempts to get an aging Peter Parker to change his whole right-wing, oppressive, anti-mutant society. It also overlays this with some ideas about how fairy tales are meant to frighten you or warn you about the dark and very real dangers of the world.

Sad Clown

The song “Sad Clown” by the US band Jars of Clay seems to pick up on some of the themes and ideas in my recent book review of When People Are Big and God is Small. It highlights how we feel we have to perform for others and how we think we deserve other people’s attention and care because of that. The singer cries mournfully, “I put on this hat, I wore all this paint -just for you.”

As the song progresses it is clear that the character in the song knows someone who sees through his performance (singing “you break me open”), some person or love who exposes him uncomfortably to his own self-centredness. He is being controlled by thoughts about this Someone or about others, wondering: “Do I preoccupy you – with my wit – to cover this lie? Are you mesmerised? Do you think me faithful? Do you think I’m a clown?” Why is he paranoid about his faithfulness? Is he afraid he will not measure up to the standard?

I think the implication in the repeated refrain that “you break me open” is that God is the one who ultimately exposes him, because he sees him through and through, past every pretence. But perhaps, at the end of the day, the singer is inviting God to “stumble inside” with him. Some have suggested that the singer poses the question of what God thinks of our performance – He thinks we are being clowns when we strive to do religious things as if these things are pleasing or entertaining to Him. Could the song be hinting at the crushing truth that God is not impressed with our efforts? And that we need to see the shallowness of our performance, and accept how we can not earn God’s favour? Where is the answer? Can we come bare and empty to God to know and experience His passionate love for us? Is this in fact the only honest and true way to come to God at all?

The lyrics for many of the songs are left vague (perhaps too vague) and I don’t presume to know if this is the intended meaning, but I think it’s heading in the right direction.

If you don’t know the band, I’d invite you to get hold of the album “Sad Clown” is from: If I Left The Zoo. It’s not their best – that accolade probably goes to their funky and varied 2006 rock/pop album Good Monsters or their self-titled first album (from 1995), which has a more experimental folk rock feel. Having said all this If I Left The Zoo does have some great tracks including the hit “Crazy Times”, a personal favourite. Their sound is quite varied but it usually combines thoughtful and poetic lyrics with guitar-led music, which can produce anything from upbeat jangly pop (“Grace” or “Work”), to more raw and sombre songs (“Needful Hands” or “Oh My God”). I look forward to checking out their next projects.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Book Review: "When People are Big and God is Small"

In this comprehensive study book on the fear of man and fear of God in the world and in the Bible, Prof. Edward Welch provides a devastating critique of the way our generation treats relationships, and how we make other people into idols. We tend to believe that we can not do without certain individuals or groups of people, and that we need to serve them or do things their way, desiring to please them or win their approval. In this way Welch reveals how we often fear people more than God - and allow other people to be the controlling force over the way we work, drive, day-dream, organise our time and provide for others (etc).

Because we have allowed our feelings about how we are perceived to assume monstrous proportions in our lives, we can feel anxious or proud (or just plain awful) through comparing ourselves to others, or we may encounter recurring feelings of hurtful shame about things we have done in the past – feelings that we then try to cover up and sort out on our own. This all inhibits our worship of God, our creator, and leaves us focused on man instead. By making a god out of “self”, we become controlled by others, afraid of our real appearance, and so we create false identities to hide behind. Being afraid of exposure, we allow the fear of man to dominate our thoughts. And we end up with a self-centred desire to be needed or accepted by others, rather than actually loving them, and being centred on their needs.

Not only does Welch make us aware of how our culture can reinforce our desire to be controlled by people, he also brings home the challenge to our hearts and encourages us to take steps to learn more about the greatness of God. If we grow in our fear of God we will see our false ideas about what life is about for what they are: sinful illusions. As we grow in the fear of Him we should leave fear of people behind, like a dad who discards a pet project because it was keeping him from spending time serving others in the church; our attentions must be focused on the King.

Leading us through passages from the Psalms and Isaiah, and some of the teaching from both Bible Testaments, the latter chapters of the book encourage us, in a clear and helpful way, to dwell on God’s bigness and “otherness”, and to see how he is far above us in both love and justice. It really puts self-centred thinking in its place, and shows up our sin. As I read the book I found the words pressing in on the hidden desires of my heart: I know that all too often I have made life all about pleasing those around me, trying to manage my responsibilities in a way that makes me look good (and being stung by failure), instead of being honest about my sin in front of others and trusting God. Thanks to this book and the advice of friends I know I need to forget my plans to “be the best” and place our gracious, patient Saviour God in centre place. He is the one who has qualified believers to be in his kingdom of perfection and light (Colossians 1:12-14), and it is his astonishingly BIG plan for his glory in the universe (see Ephesians 1) that should be my focus for life. Let’s be thankful that if we are followers of Jesus, God has not only secured an incredible future for us in the gospel, he has promised us that there is power in living a life of service to him, even when it makes us appear weak and foolish in the eyes of others.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

V for Vendetta

This engrossing graphic novel is still shocking today, and totally compelling. Why shocking? Mainly because the people who star in this book do despicable things: it is a world where self and brutality reigns. Sex is shown to have become merely a blatant power game, and true affection, which is longed for by everyone from widows to important government types, is often only shown by V – the (probably brain-damaged) extremist assassin who wants to bring in a reign of anarchy in the hope that freedom will follow.

Why is the book compelling? This is partly due to the careful blend of ideas and influences, from the obvious (Guy Fawkes and 1984) to the musical and literary (Alice in Wonderland) and theatrical (from Shakespeare to vaudeville), which conspire to make V a wonderful character to follow. (He even includes a reference to a real Yale university social experiment, albeit in an exaggerated form.) Add to this the interesting symbolism present in the way he operates: His first acts include silencing the voice of “Fate” (an hourly and seemingly inevitable government radio programme) and leaving a bomb at the feet of London's Madam Justice statue, treating her as if she has spurned him and “bedded another”.

All this makes for fascinating reading, as do the interludes in which we follow the schemes and private lives of the dissatisfied and power-hungry, or others who are struggling to cope and retain their individual freedoms in this oppressive state. In fact, it all made me wish the recent film adaptation had taken time to build up a better picture of this depressed and de-motivated society and had moved more slowly and carefully through this often subtle and character-driven story.

More on Moore

Alan Moore seems to suggest much more through his work than is actually written. For instance the beautiful sequence in which Finch relives V's hellish escape from captivity ends in a panel of naked ecstasy for Finch, strongly referencing V's original escape. This seems to suggest that re-enacting someone else's experience can bring you to a similar mindset as him or her, or at least it can in this story. Of course method actors try to do the same in real life. But is it possible to go further and even assume someone else's motivations and thought patterns through going through similar trauma? Are people really that malleable?

If so this boils down to suggesting that criminals like V are to be excused for the things they do because the crimes inflicted against them have led to behave in this way. I agree humanity must bear responsibility for how we treat our fellow man, but what we do can never totally relieve another of his or her own responsibility – and we feel this with V. Despite the nature of the way he has been treated by the government, his methods are uncomfortable to us because they are so merciless and cruel.

As the plot plays out, Finch's painful and terrifying journey brings him to a point of enlightenment just like V's, but I am doubtful that his experience of failing at his job, seeing the deaths of his colleagues, and finally taking LSD and becoming entirely paranoid would bring him to the same ideas as someone with V's background and intelligent spirit. Elsewhere in the book, Evey is famously put through a similar experience to V and offered a new philosophy as a ray of light in her situation: That above all else she must never sell out and lose her integrity – she must stand for what she knows to be right, and not let her captors take that away from her. This is surely a noble and helpful idea, that each individual in society must live for what is good, and not give any room to evil, no matter the personal cost. But would everyone make a similar choice based on the reading of Valerie's letters? Isn't this experience more a form of brainwashing, presenting her with hope in only one direction, so that she makes the right decision, and so that she hates the government?

Perhaps you will understand my point if you read this book and engage with its utterly compelling world (this is one experience you do want to share). Of course you might disagree with me altogether...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

When You Were Young

This week the new Killers song “Human” has been blaring out of the radio: “Are we human or are we dancers?” Recently I have been enjoying their 2006 album, Sam’s Town, which I have been listening to in between things like Newton Faulkner, the Editors and Stuart Townsend. So why do I like the Killers and their signature noisy mix of pop and rock?

For one thing, I enjoy the strange and sing-able lyrics, which often, on a basic level, question some aspect of who we are as people, or lament the loss of something, be it a particular friend, companionship, our feelings, or even our senses (eg “For Reasons Unknown”). The aforementioned album is impressive, and I find Brandon Flowers’ voice and the reverberating guitars together tend to evoke the feeling you get when life is slightly out of control - when you are struggling, but still see hope; when you have that feeling that “the sun is beating down my neck” but you’re still going to “make it out” somehow (see “Bling (Confessions of a King)”).

It’s hard to tell how serious their lyrics should to be taken – for instance one cover track from the Sawdust album (“Shadowplay”) states that “In a room without a window in the corner I found truth” without really indicating what that truth is (relationship? Understanding of oneself? Is “truth” really to be understood as something one can only get at in enclosed spaces?) I’d guess that some of the songs are about playing with ideas, and there is no particular coherent way of understanding them.

Others however seem to make useful observations of the ambitions and hopes of the young in the West. The track “When You Were Young” seems particularly relevant in today’s climate where pursuing a relationship is, for some, the reason for living. It resonates with me partly because of its music video, which sketches out a love story for us. At first, a beautiful girl is shown waiting by a large wooden cross, and remembering in brief flashbacks the relationship we are about to see unfold in the rest of the video. We next see her as she was, praying earnestly in an old church – and according to the lyrics longing for “a beautiful boy/ to save you from your old ways”. When she emerges a man (in a cowboy hat) appears over the ridge and takes her by the hand, while Brandon sings “Watch him now, here he comes!” Their relationship quickly becomes one of passionate love and sex, but in the space of a few seconds of play-time, we watch her discover him in bed with another woman. Totally distraught, she leaves and is pictured walking the streets alone. The resolution however is telling: She appears to make the decision to return to him, despite the fact that Brandon and his band seem to sing the following words of the song right at her: “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus – but he talks like a gentlemen, as you imagined when you were young”.

Not only does the song create the real uncertainties and hopes that accompany a new relationship (“Can we climb this mountain? I don’t know”), it also seemingly addresses us (the whole piece uses direct second-person pronouns), showing up a common desire in us and our generation for that “perfect” relationship. It is as if we are all waiting our whole lives for a person of our imagination to turn up. But the contrast of reality, as shown in the video, is that the one we long for, while appearing to be perfect, the “gentleman” of childhood dreams, turns out to be less than we hoped for; we are still not saved.

How is this resolved for us? Do we have to strike out on our own, cut off ties from others and assert ourselves on our own, or do we merely accept the partner who hurts us for who he or she is and lower our expectations? Or perhaps neither of these alternatives show the most helpful attitudes to relationships, which we tend to charge with holding more promise and security and hope for us than they actually do. I certainly know of one guy my age who keeps getting into passionate relationships in the hope that they will “sort out” his life in some indefinable way – he seems to revel in riding the rollercoaster of emotions that each problematic relationship brings; that’s what life is about for him.

Of course we would all hope for a relationship that brings mutual encouragement and support, and a high view of faithfulness would seem right. But it is unsurprising to find ourselves unsaved by a relationship from “old ways” that we wanted to leave behind. And life is about more than youthful dreams of love – we don’t want to be paralysed and unable to face the future, waiting passively to be saved by a loving relationship, and looking for perfection in imperfect beings.

The story behind the song definitely highlights the gap between fairy-tale thoughts and shocking reality. I think we need to be somewhere in between – hopeful realists. What do you think? Do you agree with my reading of the music video? And can you see people you know naively falling for the lie that life is all about waiting for perfection to come in the form of “the right one”?

Well, this is a somewhat unique post for me – hopefully this blog is big enough for reflective and challenging prose as well as attempts at poetry and other issues and books I’m interested in. Next: a hybrid review/analysis of the wickedly brilliant graphic novel V for Vendetta.

Though the above image is subject to copyright, its use is covered by the U.S. fair use laws because:
# It illustrates an article about the album from which the cover illustration was taken.
# The image is used as the primary means of visual identification of the article topic.
# The use of the cover will not affect the value of the original work or limit the copyright holder's rights or ability to distribute the original. In particular, copies of the image could not be used to make illegal copies of the album artwork on another CD.
# It is a low resolution image.
# The image is only a small portion of the commercial product.
# It is not replaceable with an uncopyrighted or freely copyrighted image of comparable educational value.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Spotlighting Marvel must-reads

Presenting a few more Marvel series that should grab your attention...

Iron Man: Extremis (2005-6) – an unmissable addition to the Iron Man canon, the lifelike art and gritty story of Extremis has been acclaimed for bringing the character up to date for a new generation. What is Tony Stark’s response going to be to a new generation of weapons technology? What is his attitude to his own tech, and what is his responsibility as a hero? Here we see the moral lines blurring for Iron Man as he tries to mix pioneering technology and big business with the intention of benefiting the world. The villain of the piece is surprising too – it’s not often that an ordinary US citizen is shown to hate his country for good reasons. Writer Warren Ellis elevates this one till it becomes an analysis of what Iron Man is doing with his life and how he hopes to help society through using dangerous technology.

House of M (2005) – This story stunned Marvel fans as it opened up a wealth of unpleasant possibilities for the future of the whole Marvel universe, by seriously affecting the tense mutant/human relationship. The Xmen, New Avengers, and others try to find a way to face the Avenger who turned bad – a powerful witch, who is now bordering on complete mental breakdown. Unfortunately she wields the power to alter reality, and successfully alters the memories of all but one of the heroes, and even the entire history of the world, as a form of self-protection. Interestingly, the story becomes a quest for truth and for revenge as heroes like the Xmen and Spiderman are not content with the new reality they have been given, and want the world changed back to how it naturally was, the one they have worked for and have families in. What struck me most about this eight-issue series was the huge potential it had to alter relationships between characters and the whole Marvel world, and write Bendis really knows how to pile up the shocks. My only criticism would be that occasionally the art layouts on the page need re-thinking as they actually get in the way of the story – oh yes, and I don't like how everyone looks mean and nasty all the time. The pencils and inks are pretty snazzy in places though; look at Cloak or Luke Cage and you’ll see what I mean. One final word on it: the main House of M series was accompanied by some fun connected miniseries, the best of which was Spiderman: House of M (beautifully painted), followed by the almost-manga-style Iron Man one.

Captain America (Jan 2005-present) – Another of Marvel’s “big guns”, this World War II hero stranded in our time has become interesting again in this action-packed series from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. It is hard to resist the way the series examines its characters and their motivations, while providing an ongoing big-budget-movie espionage plotline, which takes our characters from Eastern Europe to Paris to the southern states of the US as the try to get ahead of businessman and terrorist Lukin, and the enemies and plans left behind by the deceased Nazi criminal the Red Skull. Here’s a snippet of Brubaker’s own thoughts on the character of Captain America and whether he is relevant today: “Captain America isn't some partisan tool. His history as a character since the mid-'60s shows that. He can call a lie a lie, and he doesn't care which side the liar is on. I think the United States really needs an icon without those partisan blinders on right now, more than ever.” (from - you can check out his new noir Marvel project there too.)

Fantastic Four: The End – Brit superstar artist Alan Davis both wrote and pencilled this brilliant mini-epic in 2007 and it quickly became one of my favourite stories of the year. Incredibly in such an explosive and colourful six issues it manages to get to heart of what made the Four such a likeable team and family in the old Jack Kirby and Stan Lee stories from the sixties (which by the way, are interesting both as comics history and as well-crafted and charming stories in their own right). In fact you really might want to check out the first 10 or 15 or more issues of Fantastic Four before you read it, as a lot of classic villains and other Marvel characters turn up. The plot is roughly as follows: In the future the Fantastic Four have split up after a battle with their nemesis Dr Doom, in which Reed and Sue’s children are killed. The lives they now lead are wildly different, as the universe is different, owing to Reed’s political power and his latest inventions, including something called the Methuselah treatment, which has given humanity long life. Johnny (the Human Torch) is now leader of the Avengers, having finally grown up enough to take the role, while Reed (Mr Fantastic) is now an obsessive worker, and neglects his former friends and estranged wife Sue. The story revolves around the way they have treated one another and dealt with their past traumas and where hope for the future can be found when new threats arise from alien races from the Fantastic Four’s history.

On reflection, it is interesting how youth is idolised here, amidst all the fantasy –children again and again are the ones to live and provide for, and, in this optimistic view, humanity will be saved by them. I guess this is refreshingly different from the UK’s culture of general pessimism and anxiety about our youth – but a similar feelings can be seen here in child-obsessed mums and overworked dads who live to provide for their children and to keep them safe. How are we to answer this culture? Right now, I don’t pretend to know!

That's a wrap for today - before long I will be posting on projects by some of my favourite comic writers, including JM Straczynski, Alan Moore and that utterly crazy Scotsman Grant Morrison. Oh and look out for some non-comic-related posts too! For now, enjoy some more great Marvel cover art, and feel free to leave comments on my very opinionated posts.

Friday, 3 October 2008

All types of Avengers

Young Avengers (Volume 1: Sidekicks) - In my opinion, this accessible and punchy 6-part series from a few years back typifies why Marvel is so much fun at the moment. Fantastic, sharp art throughout is combined with a modern and smart take on the role of new teenage heroes and their relationship to older Marvel heroes. The “young avengers” themselves are great new characters, having a streak of sarcastic humour and a daring spirit of “let’s-try-this-because-it-could-be-fun” when it comes to using their weird abilities, like being able to stop projectiles or fly by sheer will-power, or using Hulk-like strength to break through walls. Also long-time Marvel fans will get a kick out of seeing who the first major villain is that the team face – these teens are in way over their heads.

This gives me an excuse to talk about the classic Marvel super-team, the Avengers, which I became interested in maybe a couple of years before going to university. Led at various times by heroes like Iron Man, the Wasp, Captain America or Dr Henry Pym (Ant-man/Giant-man/Yellowjacket/Goliath), the team has been around since the ’60s (apart from a brief period when Marvel sold some of its characters due to near bankrupcy!) Looking back at that last sentence, it surprises me that founding memeber Thor has never got to lead the team, as far as I know - perhaps due to his unpredictable temper? Early on in its history the team dealt with a lot of dangerous threats unleashed by science (read: robots and reality-altering machines) as well as bids for world domination from sorcerers, mythical gods and even old Nazi commanders.

Some of the early stories, notably the Kree-Skrull War, are great adventures to read today – I especially enjoyed the early appearances of the brooding android called the Vision as printed in the late 60s and early 70s, as he wrestles with his own nature and with emotions which he calculates robots have no right to feel. Interestingly there’s a great deal of optimism about the worth and future of humanity in these stories, which is totally different to today’s darker ones – and the George Pérez art on some of the tales is stunning and full of vibrant detail.

The material from the late ’90s and early ’00s is also worth a look. For instance the epic Kang War saga is well-told and shocking - as are the following stories, as the team deals with problems with different team members and face a biological terrorist attack from an unknown enemy in "Red Zone". There was also a fun story where the Avengers came up against a team of apparently reformed criminals, the Thunderbolts, and different team members showed their true colours by choosing to support them and oppose the distrustful Captain America and others on their own team. Finally I can’t move on without mentioning the JLA/Avengers crossover which Marvel and DC ran in 2004 – the icing on the cake was that Pérez returned to draw a huge volume of heroes and cosmic beings in this epic (even damaging his hand in the process of pencilling one of the insanely detailed wrap-around covers [pictured above right])!

The brutal day the team was finally broken up is chronicled in a story called Avengers Disassembled (with incredibly dark, arresting artwork by David Finch). What an outcry this comic event caused! Fans asked how could writer Brian Michael Bendis kill off both Hawkeye and the Vision? Before long however he made it up to us by creating the New Avengers, an ongoing title in which classic Marvel heroes (and some new ones) seem to be taking a more hard-line approach in rounding up their enemies, and are once again involved in political wrangles with powerful government outfit SHIELD.

In the next few days I'll be putting up some more on some of the obvious highlights in Marvel's current output, including looking at the recent success of Iron Man and another dystopian future epic starring most of the Marvel Universe, called "Fantastic Four: The End". Until then, enjoy the beautiful New Avengers artwork I found on the web. Here's another one of mysterious new team member, Ronin:

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Pausing for thought on how I come across to others

This week I began the second narrative in The Moonstone, the intricately-plotted mystery novel by Wilkie Collins – first published 1868 – which is an enjoyable read. This second part is written from the point of view of a stereotype, Miss Clack. You find in Collins that he uses stereotypes (often mildly eccentric ones) as a source of amusement and as a way of making his various narrators distinctive.
Miss Clack is clearly the “religious hypocrite” stereotype. Fervent in her support of charities and women’s groups, she is a nuisance to everyone else. Always willing to condemn and disapprove, and unsympathetic towards anyone else’s situation, she sees her mission in life to “improve” others with a mixture of religious tracts and books. While she knows some theology, she does not allow truly Christian principles to affect her. Even in a few pages, we see her preoccupation with money and with self – even finding “evil” done to her in what is perfectly ordinary treatment (p.198)! But it was the following passage which struck me most. Miss Clack, disapproving of the “insolent silence” of the hand-maid who answered the door, attempts to give this “young castaway” a tract called “A Word with you on your Cap-ribbons” (stick with me, I’m actually going somewhere with this).

“She looked at the title. ‘Is it written by a man or a woman, Miss? If it’s written by a woman, I had rather not read it on that account. If it’s written by a man, I beg to inform him that he knows nothing about it.’ She handed me back the tract, and opened the door. We must sow the good seed somehow. I waited until the door was shut on me, and slipped the tract into the letter-box. When I had dropped another tract through the area railings, I felt relieved, in some small degree, of a heavy responsibility towards others.” (p.198)

How utterly ridiculous of Miss Clack! If she had a responsibility towards this household, she has failed in it! She has not acted in their interests at all by supplying them with tracts that they are not interested in reading – and the manner in which she has offered them suggests both her poor view of the household and her high view of her utterly pointless actions (she thinks she has sown “the good seed”). It is clear she has become obsessed with outward signs to justify herself. Miss Clack may have fooled herself into thinking she has the moral superiority, but her whole manner shows that she does not in the least care for these people (members of her family, no less!); she simply wants to be able to point out how they need to be more like her.

What’s my point?
Well, it’s interesting to think about how Collins plays with this stereotype to discredit his narrator altogether (especially when compared with the previous narrative, written from the point of view of Mr Betteredge – a highly caring individual Clack dares to refer to as a “heathen”, p.198). Because of her character, it is easy for everyone to dismiss what Miss Clack says, including the reader. How does this work today? Stereotypes in the 21st century also often suggest that fervently religious characters should not be trusted. The difference today is that in modern films and pop culture religious characters often turn out to be more than harmless social nuisances or hypocrites – they are more often deceivers or evil cultists, extremists or paedophiles. I guess this is partly understandable, in light of the weight of condemnation and militant force coming from Muslim extremists – many suspicions of religion seem to have been confirmed by terror attacks.

But also I would suggest that it is easy to distrust someone who suggests you should change your life – especially if they claim to be “spiritual” in a way that distinguishes you from them, or if they claim to be living the correct way. Both of these betray arrogance – thankfully something that the Lord Jesus (who I follow) showed none of. His call to change your life is not asking you to be “better” but it is an invitation to a loving relationship with God, and the happiness and gifts that come with that. If we are followers of him, let us distinguish ourselves from proud Clacks, who distance themselves from even from their own families, and become more like our humble, helpful, kind Lord, offering life to those who need it as we also have need of it.

Finally, Miss Clack mentions that she must “try to be worldly” (p.200) in giving her account of the facts of the case of the moonstone. She finds it restrictive not to be able to spiritualise everything and find a moral in everything. She prides herself on living “very much out of the world” (p.220), and even avoids newspapers (p.199), so she does not know what is going on in her area. We can see that her view of “faith” and religion is effectively divorced from her view of the “world” – which is looked down upon. The writer Steve Turner recently challenged me once again to see that the day to day things of life are important and spiritual. Having clarified how Christians should not be worldly in the negative sense of following antichristian methods, goals or ideologies, he talks about the way we are to be positive about human culture in general:

“The world is all that God made and came to redeem. This includes human culture…music, songs, stories, paintings, games, rituals, decorations, clothes, languages and hairstyles…
Christians should be worldly in this positive sense. They should be lovers of life because God is the giver of life. No one is more worldly than God-he made the world, upholds the world and sent his Son to die for the world. Christianity doesn’t teach that the world is an illusion that will trap us or a hell that prevents us from attaining our true purpose.” (Imagine, IVP, p.44)

In fact Jesus was an earthy man, and concerned with the totality of life, not just religious activity. “He lived alongside ordinary people, went for walks, ate and drank with sinners, built furniture, slept, wept, relaxed, cared for his mother, sailed in boats and attended social functions.” (Imagine, p.60.)

So let’s be more earthy, real-life Christians! Any reader of The Moonstone can appreciate the folly and insensitivity of the genuinely amusing Clack – may we avoid her dry disapproval of her culture! May we, like Jesus, prize humility, and aim for truly godly lives that get involved in serving and loving our peers and those around us.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Review of Starman: Night and Day

Although I had never heard of the characters before, plunging into this, the second volume in the ten-volume series, was as refreshing as it was rewarding. The writing is incredibly sharp. Within the opening pages the internal monologue of the young antique dealer and self-confessed geek Jack Knight (aka Starman) includes the moody description of the “copper sea” of fields which surround Opal City, interspersed with Jack’s own slightly paranoid obsessions about some of the people who live there. Then suddenly the genre turns to mystery and dark fantasy simultaneously as Jack reluctantly (and partially out of guilt) takes the role of hero, freeing some freakish people he meets from their oppressors. Jack’s emotions soar, and, as often happens in the 212-page volume, we see that Jack has been forced to grow through his experience, to get rid of false prejudice and take action to help the needy – and in all this, we realise he is not the typical DC superhero, whose moral compass we can trust to always face north. This young punk from the big city lives for what he can get, and the difference is fascinating. Even the action is a little quirky, and brilliant scrappy fun. The only downside of this volume is some extreme and probably unnecessarily brutal violence near the end.

I recently discovered that the excellent writer, James Robinson (about to finally return to work for DC on a new Justice League project), is well known for penning the whole ten-year lifespan of the comic (and bringing it to a great conclusion), and if the two volumes I have read so far are any measure of its quality I can not wait for more – especially as I’ve discovered there is a 2-part Batman/Starman/Hellboy crossover as well! Finally I think it is worth noting the unusual themes of Starman – one of the most striking is the idea of the “generation gap”, shown not only in Jack’s obsession with the past and with Opal City, but foremost in his relationship with his father. The way their worldviews jar is particularly well realised, Jack continually being surprised by the experiences and knowledge of his father, and often guessing him wrong. It is brilliant because it highlights how often in the busy western lifestyle, the younger generations are out of touch with what is important to their elders – who would have thought that idea would be shown up in a comic book?

If you can get hold of Starman you are in for a treat. Apparently, DC are about to reprint the entire run in some giant hardcover editions, so look out for that!

Made of leaves

Padded leaves layer up
And lean down under delicate weight.
Tight structures, spreading abroad.

Downy green, downy in the light,
No matter how you turn it.
Experimental twists, growing.

Patchwork sunshine does not
Carpet, but pauses lightly there.
Light made up of leaves.

What texture? To touch it would
Transform it to something solid;
And lines would slant away.

That frozen grain in the wood
Shows you – the shape of use.
Away! Planes and lines! Away!

Closely clustered, in pairs
And larger statements:
Form evolves, happily!