Monday, February 10, 2014

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter vs....Evil Christians?

Ah, Turok. I've been a fan of this all my life. If you're not familiar with the original concept, this was a comic series that began in the early 1950s and lasted all the way until the early 80s. The comic was published by Dell, and which later become Gold Key. At the time of its inception, back when Life ran their famous World We Live In issue, with sprawling prehistoric murals by paleo-artist Rudolph Zallinger, dinosaurs were all the rage, as were American Indians (now called Native Americans). So this comic combined the tow to great effect. The story had Turok and his younger and more foolish brother Andar discovering a huge cavern whose roof had collapsed ages ago, filled with prehistoric life. The two fought their way through menacing dinosaurs and cave tribes always searching for a way out, but never apparently finding it.

 I missed the earliest, and perhaps best issues of the original series in the 50s and 60s, but I certainly loved them in the seventies, had a great time finding the the previous issues at comic conventions. Younger folks may be familiar with Turok primarily because of the game, or the 90s Valiant comic series that took him out of Lost Valley and into a future where he fought cybernetic dinosaur called "bionosaurs." Later, the series returned Turok and Andar to Lost Valley, no slightly renamed "lost land," which was now revealed to exist in a dimensional nexus where beings and creatures form all times could show up. This may have been necessary for an update, as a genuine undiscovered region filled with dinosaurs had become starkly implausible by then. This series did, however, attempt to connect with original, as it followed from Turok's appearacne in a crossover issue of Magnus: Robot Fighter (another Gold Key Revival). More recently, Dark Horse acquired the rights to the Gold Key line of characters, including Turok, Magnus, and Mighty Samson. At least in the case of Turok, the series was a complete reboot this time, the stories written by one-time Marvel Comics editor Jim Shooter. The story had Turok saving Andar (now a boy from another tribe) from becoming a blood-sacrifice for a band of Aztec warriors, then fleeing said warriors into the lost land. This series was looking good, and future issues were to involve Amazon warriors with trained velociraptors, among other cool stuff. It had a lot of potential, by the way, that did not have to do with the whole dinosaur concept, and you might have had an engaging series with the two braves finding adventure in ancient America; I remember one interview with the writer where mentioned that Turok possessed a steel knife he a gotten by trade from a Viking settlement in the north, and perhaps a future flashback would explore that story in detail. Unfortunately, the series only lasted a total of four issues. Two covers exist from issues 5 and 6, but he stories within, sadly, will likely never see the light of day.

Now Dynamite comics has acquired the rights to the Gold Key lineup. Once again, it's an entire reboot, but not nearly as promising, in my opinion. This time around, Turok himself is ostracized from his own tribe, though technically he still lives with them. He wears his hair differently, and has a strong kinship with nature, which marks him as "weird" to the other young members of his tribe. Andar, strangely enough, is here cast as one of the teens that bullies Turok. How did that happen? Also, we learn form a flashback that Turok's parents were killed. I can't very well argue that these new comics have more depth to their characters than the old Turok did; but what I'd really like to see would be a new comic virtually indistinguishable form the old Gold Key series, complete with painted covers and the same style of artwork, only with new species of dinosaurs and new adventures. But that's just me.

Still, this new comic has a couple of innovations that I really just can't swallow. One is is total absence of a lost land. Sure, this series promises loads of dinosaur action and will no doubt deliver in the months ahead. But there is no prehistoric enclave, either in a secluded valley or another dimension. Instead, the dinosaurs just start starting showing up out of nowhere. It's a dinosaur invasion not a prehistoric world. The author of the series, Greg Pak, alludes to world building, but it's world-building of a different sort. There is nothing of Skartaris, Pellucidar, Pal-ul-don, or the numerous other lost worlds in fiction, complete with with primeval flora, topograpy, and their own unique races here. No--what he's talking about is alternative history, something I'm a bit of a fan of, but not in a series like this. It's probably a good enough story, just not the direction I'd have wanted  to take.

But the real issue with the new Turok is this:

Much has been made in reviews and interviews of the "big twist," at the end of the first issue. I encountered it first hand the other day when I took a loom at the first issue in a local store. I did not buy the issue, but "real evil" mentioned in one of the issues turned out to be (stop reading if you don't want to know).....

Displaced crusadars in 12th century Manhattan. Now, originally Turok belonged to one of the plains tribes, and the Valiant series precisely identified him as a Kiowa.

But what matters here is, of course the depiction of religion. The author takes pains to avoid making stereotypes of the Native American characters, even the more positive stereotypes like the "wise shaman", as one of the interviews I read showed. But the Crusaders? They speak in stereotypical Medieval dialect, and are shown putting the thumbscrews on some poor victim while quoting the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, that shadowy figure at left in the picture above is the series' true villain.

That's the thing about Political Correctness. It's goal is not to offend certain groups, and yet it goes out of its way to tar certain others--specifically those that perceived of as powerful and/or privileged, even though Christianity in the West is on the decline these days. 

Anti-Christian propaganda? In Turok, of all places?

But is this truly what it appeared to me at first glance? I don't know who Pak is, and he could be not criticizing the Christian faith per se, but showing the hypocrisy of supposed "Christians" during a dark time in the history of the faith. There have been lots of people who like our Christ, but not our Christianity. To admit my own bias, when the previous Turok series made villains of the Aztecs, I didn't give that much thought--and they, too, were religious fanatics, just not of a faith that is relevant to today.  It's easy to jump to conclusions after reading a lot of the attacks on faith by secularists these days.

So is the author attempting to shed the light on a dark past so we don't repeat it, or is he indeed attacking Christianity itself , using the evils perpetuated long ago in order to influence the way readers regard the Christian faith today?

Only time will tell.

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett

This is an interesting little book that I happened to read the Christmas before last at the local library, essentially in one sitting. A lot of people probably wonder why Dickens didn't delve deeper into the personal history of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's ill-fated partner in Carol, especially since he was so central to the story. Unlike his more famous business partner,we learn nothing of Marley's childhood or younger years, only that he lived much of his life as a ruthless business man.
      Just who was Jacob Marley? What made him into the sort of man he became, and how did he and Scrooge meet? The answers to those questions and others come to light in R. William Bennett's small novella. There have been a number of pastiches of A Christmas Carol over the years, two of the most memorable for me, being God Bless Us Everyone, a book detailing the years following Scrooge's conversion, and Christmas Carol II, The Sequel, a spoofy version that finds Scrooge going too far in the other direction, hosted by George Burns back in 1986. No pastiche is or should be considered canonical; however Beenet's tale is not only better than most, it fills out what the life of Marley may well have been like. One almost wishes for Dickens' stamp of approval--though what the author's opinion would be is anyone's guess.

      One more thing: the author does deal with the issue of Marley's salvation. When we meet in the story, it appears that Marley is a lost soul, doomed to an eternity of hopeless wandering. Not tom divulge the ending, but the author comes up with a scenario in which this might not necessarily be the case, and he does without altering anything that Dickens wrote in the original. I've also read that the author happens to be a Mormon; as I'm only marginally familiar with the Mormon concept of an afterlife, so I can't say for certain to what degree that might have shaped his writing.

But Jacob T. Marley is a worthy "sequel", and one well-worth picking up. 

The Faith of Charles Dickens

In God and Charles Dickens, Christian author Gary L. College argues that Dickens was an important Christian voice, and the messages of faith that his stories are rife with are seldom discussed or appreciated. Some have argued that Dickens was only nominally a Christian, and even that his works were overtly anti-religious. While it is very true that the author was very critical of how the tenants of the Christian faith were abused or preached hypocritically by those in power, a closer reading of his text reveals that Dickens was NOT condemning Christianity itself--far from it. As I've argued elsewhere, citing hypocrisy among Christians (or those who identify themselves as such)is a very poor way of finding fault with the faith itself. In fact, as College argues, it was the Christian faith of Charles Dickens that lead him to attack hypocrisy he identified in the religious as he sought to change it. The subject of Victorian religious hypocrisy brings almost immediately to my mind the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Bumble in Oliver Twist, the gross, hypocritical Mr. Bumble in particular famous for preaching Christian charity with wallowing in gluttony in front of the starving poor. A line from the 1982 movie stands out in particular, spoken by the future Mrs. Bumble: "Forgive these children their sins; their sinners every one of them; they wouldn't be here is they wasn't. Help me make them better Christians, Lord." Also of particular not note is the incident in the book where Mr. Bumble deliberately lies to Mr. Brownlow about Oliver's good nature.
      College spends time discussing a little-known work of the author, The Life of Our Lord, in which he expounds on the life and acts of Jesus Christ, and their relevance to his present world. This work is little known precisely because it was never intended to be sold to the public; it was a private work intended as a guide to Christian living for his children, and only brought to light years after his death. But even a casual reading of Dickens reveals what amounts to an essentially Christian world-view. While A Christmas Carol is sometimes criticized by the religious as almost entirely secular, Tiny Tim Crachit's enduring phrase God Bless Us, Everyone!, and Bob Crachit's observation of Tim's wish that people would see he was a cripple so that they should remember "Who made lame men walk and blind men see," speak volumes, as do the final pages of Oliver Twist, which reference God and heaven and speak of the narrator's belief that the shade of Agnes Fleming (Oliver's deceased mother) will visit her gravesite. College goes further, pointing out the good characters in Dickens' novels exemplify Christian values, while his villains demonstrate their antithesis.
   One thing that struck me in particular while reading this was how much emphasis Dickens placed on human charity and working for the common good, and how this so contrasts with today's evangelism, in which "good works" are continually downplayed, sometimes to the point of vilification, while "faith" is exulted. Often (though not always) such evangelists recognize that a saving faith will produce works, though it does not always come across that way. Dickens, however, put the importance of charity and defense of the weak, poor, and disenfranchised at the forefront of Christian living. Nor did he confine such philanthropy to his fiction; as College shows, Dickens own life shows much evidence of personal charity.
    So different from the culture-war oriented evangelism of today that often dumbs down faith to a "get out of hell free card." Not that Dickens disbelieved in or disregarded hell's existence: he did not. College provides passages where Dickens strongly suggests that certain non-repentant characters, such as Fagin and Sikes in Oliver Twist, and Rigaud in Little Dorrit were beyond moral redemption at the time of their deaths.
      Curiously, however, College neglects to mention a very powerful presentation of a damned soul, perhaps the most powerful in literature: Jacob Marley. However, as I'll discuss in my next post, it is possible that Marley was not as beyond moral redemption as one might have thought--although I'll say right now that that is according to a different author's interpretation.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Two Dark Christmas Fables

Two short supernatural stories I wrote around Christmas time are out now. One I wrote this holiday season and other last; I had one edition available on Kindle in January. This is the print edition (to which I recently added a new cover) a new blurb and couple of interior illustrations:

Check it out!