Jack Kirby was an American comic book artist who is widely regarded as one of the most influential creators in the medium. He created (or co-created) many of the super-heroes who are experiencing success on the big screen today such as Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and so many more. In his biography of Jack Kirby in his book Kirby: King of Comics, Mark Evanier writes, “Jack Kirby didn’t invent the comic book. It just seems that way…He was, in fact, a storyteller and innovator, first and foremost. A modern-day Aesop, creating myths and fables for the generations to come. After over fifty years in the field, he never ceased creating, nor did he show any signs of running out of ideas.”
Last night I had a dream about a walking giant made entirely of mud. It was crudely formed, kind of a cross between Clayface from Batman and the Thing from The Fantastic Four. It shambled around here and there, with blank eye sockets and a cavernous mouth. Strangely enough no sound came from it. Then the dream shifted to a flat plateau in which I was looking up at the Tree of Life (from the Kabbalah) rising up from the earth into the cosmos. Each sephiroth shone brightly in between the branches. Then I saw an image of Jack Kirby as if he were travelling around like Doctor Strange in astral form. He said the word “golem” and then vanished.
I woke up with that word emblazoned on my mind. A golem, according to Jewish folklore, is an animated anthropomorphic being created by magic. The word “golem” in Hebrew means “shapeless mass.” Some legends say that a golem is made out of clay, formed into a shape of a human, and then brought to life by a magic alphabet and the secret name of God. Adam from the Bible stories is called a golem for the first twelve hours of his existence because golem can also translate to “body without a soul.”
My favorite comic book series of all time is Promethea (sorry, X-Men). I know that is quite a bold statement to make. However, this delightful story written by Alan Moore and drawn by JH Williams III is not only an engaging story about a college student who discovers she can transform into a goddess from her imagination, it is also a magickal treatise which can teach one about the Kabbalah
In his amazing book Mutants & Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal, Jeffrey J. Kripal summarizes Promethea thusly:
…the series advances through the adventures of college student Sophie Bangs, a young feminist who discovers through a college writing assignment that she has slipped through into the Immateria (a kind of astral plane of the Imagination that is self-existent and accesible to every individual) and become the subject of her term paper, the ancient warrior-wisdom goddess Promethea. The message is clear enough: be careful what you write about. Or as Barbara, the previous human vessel of Promethea, tells Sophie in the first issue: “Listen kid, you take my advice. You don’t wanna go looking for folklore. And you especially don’t want folklore to come looking for you.”
The Qabalah is a theosophical system stemming from Jewish mystical inner teachings. It contains great knowledge for those who wish to study it, yet it holds even greater relevance for those seeking a psychic quest or spiritual adventure.
Qabalah is not composed of fixed ideas. Instead, it trains the student in new ways to think. The word Qabalah is from the root word, Qabal, which means “to receive.” Qabalah means “the reception.” The student must be open to receive the concepts via symbols.
Qabalah teaches us there is only one great being, a self who is the entirety of the universe. This One Being is all that was, is or will be. There is no obsession with simple dichotomies of “good versus evil” that limit overall awareness. There is one, with no secondary attribution. There is no “other.”
The Qabalistic method consists of a series of related symbols upon which the student reflects. As an inner relationship between the symbols becomes clear, the student taps into energy the symbol represents and encounters a deep awakening. Through this process, the awareness shifts from a personal search for meaning to that of the One Being, currently enjoying being a human in time.
In Theodore Sturgeon’s celebrated science fiction novel More Than Human, six unique individuals with uncanny abilities use their powers in combination and create a new organism. Their unified whole becomes much stronger than they were separately. This combination of many parts into a new whole is known as a gestalt and led to the furthering of the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In psychology, this idea is applied to the mind and its behavior as a whole. Gestalt psychologists operate under “the theory or doctrine that physiological or psychological phenomena do not occur through the summation of individual elements, as reflexes or sensations, but through gestalts functioning separately or interrelatedly.” Sound familiar?
In regards to the X-Men, this kind of thinking makes a lot of sense to me. How many classic X-Men comics open with the Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, et al, honing their powers in the Danger Room? Besides helping out new readers by identifying characters by their powers (which used to be pretty easy to do by codenames alone, but we seem to have run out that kind of simplicity these days. Vulcan, anyone?), this tried and true staple of X-lore shows how potentially dangerous each mutant can be and how important it is that they practice using their powers. More importantly, as Professor X and Cyclops repeatedly remind them, the X-Men stand and fall as a group. Teamwork is the goal. And since mutants are social outcasts, they have to learn to work together if they are ever to help turn the tide of prejudice against them in the world at large. A large goal to be sure, but when one is working for peace between two seemingly disparate forces as homo sapiens and so-called homo superior, survival is paramount. In Sturgeon’s More Than Human, the Homo Gestalt has a moral responsibility to protect Homo Sapiens as they are his precursors. Sound familiar?
Marvel Comics dynamically reinvented the team archetype when they created the All-New, All-Different international team of X-Men. Chris Claremont and John Byrne took the team concept further during the Phoenix Saga by introducing elements of the Kabbalah to the narrative. Certain team members were delineated to particular spheres on the Tree of Life/Sephiroth (I remember the 90s X-Men cartoon showing this as well). Claremont uses this device again in the X-Men The End mini-series. Jason Powell has some notes on this that I found interesting and UncannyXmen.Net has a summary/definition of the X-Men Tree of Life that is used in X-Men The End including which characters are on which sphere (you’ll have to scroll down their page). Storm is Nezah, representing eternity, endurance and victory through God’s active grace in the material world.
So, if today’s post has taught you anything, you must go read More Than Human (or track down the Heavy Metal illustrated version), study the Kabbalah (or at least read all the volumes of Promethea by Alan Moore and J.H. Wiliams III), and reread the Dark Phoenix Saga. Then play the X-Men Gestalt game and place the characters in the spheres that you think they belong. Is Xavier the Crown or Jean? Is Rachel Majesty or Storm? Or you can simplify things and think of each X-Man as parts of the human operating system. If Xavier is the brains and Colossus is the heart, then who is the conscience? Or if you think Cyclops is the eyes and Storm is the heart, then what role do Nightcrawler and Emma Frost play? Whose role is indispensable and whose can be filled by others? This exercise is fun if you are writing about your own team of characters, superheroes or otherwise.
A great review of More Than Human.