Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Comics (Special Mention): Judge Anderson (1980)

 

 

FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF COMICS (SPECIAL MENTION): JUDGE ANDERSON (1980)

 

Judge Anderson – or Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson – is Judge Dredd’s (and anthology publication 2000 AD’s) most iconic and enduring female character, something which may be related to her status as the comic’s primary pinup girl. (A status that may also be in the actual narrative or ‘in-universe’ in the comic as well, depending on how seriously we take the advertisements with her as model for Yess Trousers, the contractor for those judicial leather uniforms).

 

 

She was introduced, along with the comic’s most iconic and enduring supervillain, in the Judge Death story arc, as the primary female character in Judge Dredd – in both senses of the first major female character (discounting the fleeting childhood appearance of Dredd’s niece Vienna, as she was only substantially re-introduced as an adult two decades later) and the most substantial major female character, even spinning off in storylines in her own name.

 

 

She also served as the introduction to Mega-City One Justice Department’s ‘psychic’ judges against such supernatural threats as the titular Judge Death, although they use the characteristically science fiction nomenclature of ‘psi’ for the Psi-Division or Psi-Judges. Anderson is introduced as Psi Division’s leading telepath (and precognitive), with her appearance originally modelled on contemporary singer Debbie Harry.

 

Well I suppose when you put it like that…

 

She was also introduced as something of a foil to Dredd, albeit not in the same villainous way as Judge Death – as opposed to Dredd’s laconic and taciturn expression, she has a cheery disposition (regarded by Dredd as flippant), which lends itself to cracking jokes, often at Dredd’s expense. Then again, this is part of her nature as a Psi-Judge, as they all tend towards eccentric personalities by Justice Department standards (and tolerated as part of their useful abilities). In Anderson’s case, her ability earned her the enduring trust of Dredd – and she remains one of the few people who regularly calls him by his first name Joe or that he trusts enough for his most important missions. It wasn’t just her ability that earned his trust, but her strength of character and courage, however hidden under her ‘flippant’ disposition – demonstrated in her introductory story arc by her heroic self-sacrifice to save the city, sealing herself and the villainous Judge Death within a protective encasement Mega-City One’s ‘miracle’ plastic boing.

 

 

Of course, both she and Judge Death were far too interesting and popular characters to remain wrapped in plastic…

 

 

 

 

Such was her iconic popularity that she featured in the 2012 Dredd movie, portrayed by Olivia Thirlby, as Dredd’s rookie in a somewhat non-canonical narrative departure, although otherwise reasonably faithful to the character.

 

 

Much to my surprise, given her low profile outside of Judge Dredd or 2000 AD fandom, there’s even cosplay of her

 

 

Although I’m not entirely sure her cosplay decolletage is Justice Department regulation uniform…

Mega-City Law: Judge Death (Complete Case Files Volume 3: Progs 149-151) – Part 2

 

 

MEGA-CITY LAW: JUDGE DEATH (COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 3: PROGS 149-151) – PART 2

 

And here we are at Judge Death’s debut, decked out in the finest art by one of my favorite 2000 AD artists, Brian Bolland.

 

A petty criminal – a ‘tap’ in the Mega-City One vernacular for a mugger – has narrowly escaped apprehension by the Judges, only to find himself facing much darker ‘justice’. At first, he mistakes the silhouette for yet another Judge, understandably given the resemblance. Well, he’s half right – it IS a judge, just not one from Mega-City One. Or this world. Or living. The light reveals Judge Death’s cadaverous visage, his uniform a dark inversion of the Mega-City One uniform – same black leather appearance with pads and helmet, but with a bat-like thing instead of an eagle on the shoulder and other macabre twists on the theme, with a distinctive portcullis ‘visor’ to the helmet.

 

 

It’s too late though for the unimaginatively named Tiny the Tap, as Judge Death ‘ghosts’ (or phases) his hand through Tiny’s chest and heart, killing the unfortunate tap – “My name is Death. I have come to judge you!” (said with suitable sibilance for evil effect). Judge Dredd is called soon after Judges find Tiny’s corpse – Judge Death’s hand left no mark as it phased through Tiny’s chest but it did leave some of his centuries-old decayed skin, much to the puzzlement of the forensic ‘tech’ Judge (varied to the more phonetic new-school Tek-Judges in subsequent issues)

 

In the meantime, Judge Death has been drawn by the offensive sound of, you know, life to a Mega-City One club – the Rabbit Hutch, suggestive of contemporary Playboy Bunny clubs at the time of publication. Although perhaps he just didn’t like the music, as he targets the disc jockey first – particularly as it looks like he had to pass a few patrons first. Anyway, once again he phases his hand through the DJ’s chest – “Do not be afraid. Dying is good. Dying is easy…I just stick my hand in and…SQUEEZE!”

 

You see, this is why Judge Death is so ineffective a villain in terms of body count despite being an omnicidal maniac – he does all his killing literally by hand. Anyway, Judge Dredd is soon at the scene – and he and his fellow Judges have guns. However, their bullets have little effect – “You cannot kill what does not live!”

 

 

Well no, but you can destroy it with fire – as Dredd promptly switches to incendiary fire (one of the standard settings on their Lawgivers). However, as is common with eldritch abominations, it only succeeds in destroying the physical body – Judge Death’s foul spirit ghosts from the body, declaring his intention to ‘cleanse’ the city.

 

And so we are introduced to Psi-Division, Justice Department’s division of “Judges specifically trained for their psychic power” (although thankfully they generally use the SF terminology of psi rather than psychic), typically for deployment against just such supernatural threats. Judge Death would seem to be the most potent supernatural threat, so we are also introduced to Judge Anderson in particular, “our best operator” (although we are not yet introduced to her first name Cassandra). And what a breath of fresh air she is – with the usual idiosyncratic personality of a Psi-Judge, which in her case is her “flippant” sense of humor, much to Dredd’s distaste. She interrupts Dredd as he is about to brief her – “Save your breath. I’ve already read you. Can’t hide your guilty secrets from a telepath, you know!” Dredd gruffly (but accurately) responds “I have no guilty secrets”.

 

She then brings her powers to bear on ‘reading’ Judge Death’s ‘body’ (already in skeletal form) to locate his spirit – and she reads him loud and clear as he channels himself through her to explain his insane troll logic. “Long ago, the judges on my world saw that all crime was committed by the living. Therefore life itself was made illegal! We judged our people – all of them! We wiped the curse of life from our world! Now I have come to judge yours! The sentence is death! It will be carried out!”

 

 

Anderson then returns to her apartment, drained by her “heavy psi-session”, but unfortunately her contact with Judge Death has given him a point of access. His ghost-form, ah, haunts the apartment and he possesses her body, despite her strong (and continuing resistance) – although curiously he needs her to open the window for his ghost-form, like a vampire. It does seem that his ghost-form is still physical, as it is described elsewhere to be like smoke (and can be seen), so perhaps it is a mist of particulate matter formed from his body.

 

 

The unfortunate Anderson then becomes his body-puppet to retrieve his actual body from the Justice Department ‘morgue”. (An old-fashioned touch, perhaps for forensic investigation only – as subsequent episodes reveal that Mega-City One most recycles the bodies of its dead citizens at Resyk for their useful ‘components’. Soylent Green perhaps?). However, she does continue to resist him, crashing the ambulance morgue en route to his planned resurrection and telepathically sending out one word repeatedly – ‘boing’, Mega-City One’s miracle plastic in a spray can.

 

Now that’s telepathy!

 

Dredd understands the message (but does not explain it at this point) as he races to intercept the Death-possessed Anderson. He’s just in time too, as Judge Death has almost succeeded resurrecting his body, having Anderson use some mysterious equipment and their equally mysterious “death fluids”. Dredd thwarts Death by destroying the equipment with an explosive shot, although Death declares it only as a temporary setback – “Again you defy me! It is useless! I can create another body!”

 

In the meantime, he regains his possession of Anderson, but she resists him enough to implore Dredd to use the boing – “Now, Dredd! Do it – the boing tin!”. Dredd sprays her, encasing her in boing and trapping Death inside her – the supreme sacrifice, placed in a position of honor in the Justice Department Hall of Heroes. “Anderson can never come out of there…and she knew it. Her bravery will be remembered…The menace of Judge Death would never again be let loose on the Mega-City”.

 

Although of course we all knew that both Judge Death and Judge Anderson were too good as characters to be left like that. After all, they’re only wrapped in plastic…

 

TO BE CONTINUED – THE BLOOD OF SATANUS!

Mega-City Law: Judge Death (Complete Case Files Volume 3: Progs 149-151)

 

MEGA-CITY LAW: JUDGE DEATH (COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 3: PROGS 149-151)

 

Judge Death.

 

Need I say more? Well, yes – this is a story arc of three episodes, which is not exactly up there with the Judge Dredd epic storylines so far (The Cursed Earth or The Day the Law Died). However, while it is not epic in length, it was epic in impact – introducing not just one but two of Judge Dredd’s (and for that matter its anthology publication 2000 AD’s) most iconic and enduring characters, eclipsed only by Dredd himself. Firstly, the titular villain – who is THE most iconic and enduring antagonist for Dredd, the Chaos to Dredd’s Law or the Joker to Dredd’s Batman. Secondly, Psi-Judge (Cassandra) Anderson – the primary female character in both Judge Dredd and 2000 AD, in both senses of the first major female character (well, apart from Dredd’s niece Vienna, but she effectively vanishes for two decades or so before resurfacing as an adult in the Dredd storyline) and the most substantial major character.

 

Clearly the writers of Judge Dredd identified a problem in that Dredd lacked antagonists of substance, but particularly recurring antagonists of substance. After all, Dredd’s antagonists were typically criminals or perps, who by their nature tended to be less formidable than Dredd himself, and in any event tended to be incarcerated or killed by Dredd in their storylines. Ironically, Dredd’s most substantial antagonists have been other Judges, generally as an inversion or dark version of Dredd himself. In rough order of ascending villainy, we start with other Judges from Mega-City One, typically representing the corruption of power within the city, of whom the most iconic (and most dangerous threat to the city) remains Judge Cal. Then there are the Judges of other mega-cities, with the Soviet or Sov Judges as the most iconic – and the ones that have been the most effective in their actual destruction of Mega-City One, destroying half of it in the Apocalypse War and coming very close to destroying the other half in the Day of Chaos. (Given that the Soviet Union fell after their introduction, they are perhaps more accurately neo-Soviet Judges). But the most villainous are the Judges from another dimension, such as Judge Death – although again ironically they haven’t been as effective as human Judges in actually bringing destruction to Mega-City One, namely because Judge Death typically seems to insist on killing people by hand (literally) while human Judges have used weapons of mass destruction. (At one point he took an interest in weapons of mass destruction, but I think he just enjoys the personal touch too much).

 

 

 

That distinction from human Judges may tip off the secret to Judge Death as a recurring character – although he was human in origin, he is a supernatural adversary, effectively an undead corpse in a dark fantasy inversion of a Mega-City One Judge’s uniform. Indeed, Judge Death is a dark fantasy insertion into what is predominantly science fiction, although the Judge Dredd comic is something of a fantasy kitchen sink, throwing in everything from science fiction through fantasy to horror. For me, however, Judge Death seems somewhat less jarring than other fantasy elements in the comic, perhaps because he seems to straddle fantasy and science fiction as an extradimensional being (or an “alien superfiend” as he is sometime styled), not unlike the Cthulhu Mythos – indeed, in some ways Judge Death is akin to Cthulhu in a uniform. And because he’s just too damn cool. Anyway, his supernatural or extradimensional nature means that he is much more hardy than Dredd’s human antagonists – as he himself says, “you cannot kill what does not live”. His ‘body’ can be destroyed with enough firepower, but he then ‘ghosts’ out to jump to another suitable corpse-like body or possess suitable minds while in transit between bodies. (He also typically kills his victims by ‘ghosting’ or phasing his hand into their body to grip their heart).

 

And while he may have been exceeded in villainous scale (by the Sov-Judges for example), he is second to none in villainous scope – quite simply, he is an omnicidal maniac, with his goal as the destruction of all life, due to the insane troll logic that all crime is committed by the living so that life itself is a crime. Hence his catchphrase – “The crime is life. The sentence is death”. Although that would seem to be directed more at all human life, he carried out that sentence on his world of origin and it does seem to be devoid of all life. Of course, setting aside the insanity of the logic, that premise would still seem to be flawed, as his ‘unlife’ seems equally capable of committing crimes. (He also does make exceptions, usually for temporary expediency towards his ultimate goal, but has identified at one notable exception to his otherwise universal death sentence, the elderly Mrs Gunderson). Consistent with the insane troll logic of his catchphrase, Judge Death tends to be played for black comedy, but always has a touch of horror about him and quite often is played for genuine horror effect. Part of his appeal (and effect) as Dredd’s most iconic adversary was that he is the ultimate dark inversion of Dredd (and the Law).

 

This story arc also introduced Justice Department’s ‘psychic’ judges against such supernatural threats, although they use the characteristically science fiction nomenclature of ‘psi’ (or psi powers) for the Psi-Division or Psi-Judges. Psi Division was introduced in the person of the aforementioned Psi-Judge Anderson, Psi Division’s leading telepath, originally modelled on blonde 1980’s singer Debbie Harry (and enduring as Judge Dredd’s or 2000 AD’s recurring pin-up girl). She was also introduced as something of a foil to Dredd, albeit not in the same villainous way as Judge Death – as opposed to Dredd’s laconic and taciturn expression, she has a cheery disposition which lends itself to cracking jokes, often at Dredd’s expense. Then again, this is part of her nature as a Psi-Judge, as they all tend towards eccentric personalities by Justice Department standards (and tolerated as part of their useful abilities). In Anderson’s case, her ability and reliability has earned her the enduring trust of Dredd – and she remains one of the few people who regularly calls him by his first name Joe.

 

TO BE CONTINUED – JUDGE DEATH PART 1

 

 

 

Top 10 Girls of Comics & Honorable Mentions

 

TOP 10 GIRLS OF COMICS AND HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

With my Fantasy Girl entry for Black Canary, I’ve revamped my Top 10 Girls of Comics and Honorable Mentions, which you can find linked through the page menu:

(10) Black Cat (I’ve promoted her from honorable mention, particularly with the potential Silver & Black film on the way with her and Silver Sable. She replaces Empowered – the latter is now a special mention)

(9) Harley Quinn

(8) Black Widow

(7) X-men – Emma Frost (Mystique & Psylocke)

(6) Witchblade (Angelus)

(5) Lady Death (Purgatori)

(4) Vampirella (Pantha & Blood-Red Queen of Hearts)

(3) Red Sonja

(2) Catwoman

(1) Wonder Woman

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

 

DC COMICS

Black Canary

Zatanna

Poison Ivy

Starfire

 

MARVEL COMICS

Fantastic Four – Susan Storm / Invisible Woman

Ms Marvel / Captain Marvel

Elektra

 

IMAGE COMICS & OTHER

Gen 13 – Caitlin Fairchild

Aphrodite IX

Aspen Matthews

Danger Girl – Abbey Chase & Sydney Savage

Cassie Hack

Sin City – Nancy Callahan

Shi

 

Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Comics (Honorable Mention): Black Canary (1947)

 

FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF COMICS (HONORABLE MENTION): BLACK CANARY (1947)

 

The Canary Cry! Um, chirp – I guess?

 

It is a little hard to take a superpower by the name of Canary Cry seriously – or for that matter a superheroine by the name of Black Canary, particularly when she’s part of a superhero team by the name of the Birds of Prey. Has someone told DC Comics that canaries aren’t in fact raptors or birds of prey? I mean, canaries aren’t known for their fierceness – when I think of canaries, my first thought is of the proverbial canary in the coal mine, which is known for, you know, dying.

 

However, you should take the Black Canary seriously (well, as seriously, as you take any comics character). For one thing, she is one of DC Comics earliest superheroines, with her debut in Flash Comics in 1947 – although not only did she not appear in her own title, she appeared as a backup character to a backup character, Johnny Thunder. Of course, she proved a lot more durable than Johnny Thunder. Who’s Johnny Thunder? Exactly.

 

 

From there, her history is convoluted – as it is for any long-standing DC Comics character, with its multiverse (Earth-1? Earth-2?) and its reboots (Crisis in Infinite Earths?! New 52?! DC Rebirth?!) I mean, it’s enough to drive anyone mad. Black Canary’s history is so convoluted that the character was effectively split between mother and daughter, Dinah Lance nee Drake and Dinah Laurel Lance respectively (although I think even those names might change), with the emphasis on the latter for modern comics.

 

Actually, that’s not too convoluted compared to her television incarnation in Arrow and the wider Arrowverse – where the character is split between Dinah Laurel Lance, her sister Sara Lance (who dies but is resurrected as the White Canary), an evil doppelganger from Earth-2 known as Black Siren and another Black Canary entirely by the alter ego of Dinah Drake.

 

Speaking of Arrow, it’s fairly consistent that the modern Black Canary is professionally and romantically involved with one of DC’s most useless superheroes, Green Arrow. (I’m not a fan of archer superheroes. A bow is not a superpower! It’s not even Batman levels of badass!).

 

 

Another consistency is her costume – you’ve got to admire a superhero who fights crime in a leotard and fishnet stockings, although she usually accessorizes with a jacket and occasionally has variant costumes.

 

 

Of course, fighting crime in a leotard and fishnets is a little easier when you are a “prodigious hand-to-hand combatant”, as the modern Black Canary has been portrayed.

 

It’s all about the kicks

 

In addition to her martial arts skills, she has also been detected “as an expert motorcyclist, gymnast, covert operative, and investigator” as well as “excellent leader and tactician”. So like the avian-themed female version of Batman? Unlike Green Arrow or Batman for that matter, she also has an actual superpower, the so-called Canary Cry – a high-powered sonic scream which can severely damage both inorganic and organic objects, with people being the most obvious example of the latter.

 

 

The origins of the Canary Cry have varied over the years – from outright magic, literally “a wizard did it” through the metahuman gene to alien genes.

 

 

Black Canary has also been adapted into various media, including video games as well as animated and live-action television series (such as the aforementioned Arrow)

Cult & Pulp: James Tiptree Jr – The Screwfly Solution (1977)

 

CULT & PULP: JAMES TIPTREE JR – THE SCREWFLY SOLUTION (1977)

 

James Tiptree Jr was actually the pen name for Alice Bradley Sheldon, one of my favorite writers of science fiction stories.

 

She rivals Harlan Ellison for the most evocative titles for short stories in science fiction and exceeds him for the most lyrical:

  • And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side (although technically she borrowed her title from John Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci) – one of my favorite Tiptree stories about aliens so s€xy that they turn humanity into hopeless groupies. That’s not quite it as it’s more about how screwed up humanity is but I just like saying it that way – now there’s an alien invasion scenario I’d like to see
  • Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light! – another one of my favorite Tiptree stories about a female courier wandering an apparently gynocratic post-apocalyptic world of Sisters and Mothers. Or is she?
  • Houston, Houston, Do You Read? – one of the most classic Tiptree stories about male astronauts returning through a space-time wormhole to a post-apocalyptic Earth populated by women

 

However, the title of my Tiptree story is not so lyrical – with its prosaic title of The Screwfly Solution – but is as evocative and haunting as any of her more lyrically titled stories. (John Clute of the SF Encyclopedia noted that “it is very rarely that a James Tiptree story does not both deal directly with a death and end with a death of the spirit, or of all hope, or of the race”).

 

Its subject is also not so lyrical, that recurring SF trope of alien invasion. As I have said elsewhere, SF is still all Morlocks and Martians to me, with the latter evidenced by my soft spot for alien invasion stories. Of course, in the most realistic alien invasion stories, spacefaring aliens would have such technological advantages over us that they would wipe the floor with us, metaphorically speaking – to such extent that we may not even perceive the invasion, as in this story.

 

The title references the sterile insect technique, a technique of eradicating the population of screwflies by the release of sterilized males that compete with fertile males to reduce the population – a reference made clearer by one of its characters, Alan, a scientist working on parasite eradication. However, in this story, we’re the screwflies, but with a much more violent distortion of human sexuality – as an epidemic of murderous male violence against women starts to spread across the globe. Some scientists suspect a biological cause, but their voices are not heard amidst political inaction, or worse, elaborate misogynistic rationalizations for the violence. One such rationalization is a new religious movement that is spreading along with the murders – the Sons of Adam, who believe that all women are evil and that removing them will return the world to paradise, when angels shall return to earth.

 

Alan realizes that the epidemic causes male sexual impulses to instead become violent homicidal impulses and he too is infected. His wife Anne flees to the Canadian wilderness where, in the end, pursued by an entire society bent on femicide, she sees one of the ‘angels’ that will inherit the Earth.

 

The effect of the story is quite chilling – indeed, I’m not sure that we’ll even need an alien invasion for it, as the Sons of Adam look positively tame compared to some of the misogyny on the internet.

 

There is also an annual James Tiptree Jr Award for works of fantasy or science fiction in a similar vein to her stories.

Cult & Pulp: Omni Magazine (1978 – 1998 and beyond!)

 

CULT & PULP: OMNI MAGAZINE (1978 – 1998 AND BEYOND!)

 

Ah Omni – the iconic magazine of science and science fiction!

 

Omni was founded by Kathy Keeton and her partner Bob Guccione, better known as the publisher of Penthouse magazine, in 1978. Unfortunately, it foundered with Keeton’s death in 1997 and wound up in 1998, having ceased print in 1995 but continued online.

 

I was introduced to Omni magazine when a spring-cleaning neighbor gave me their old collection of magazines, which also included an anthology Best of Omni Science Fiction – and in turn it introduced my adolescent self (although I am perpetually adolescent) to a variety of SF writers, including a number of writers in my Top 10 SF lists (Robert Silverberg! Robert Sheckley! George R.R. Martin! Thomas Disch!) In its halcyon days, it obviously paid writers well as it was a leading light of SF stories, including genre classics. Its impact wasn’t limited to stories – it also featured leading genre artists (Giger! Foss!) as well as feature articles on science and other recurring features. One of the latter, its Partly Baked Ideas, was the inspiration for my own Bare-Assed and Half-Baked Ideas. (For some reason, I’ve always remembered the one Partly Baked Idea for plant flight. Take certain plants that open and close their leaves with the alternation of day and night, combine them with gradually decreasing artificial light from the natural day cycle to strobe frequency, and you may just have plants that flap their leaves enough to fly…)

 

Anyway, the magazine proved too good for this world and didn’t last, although I continue to explore it online both past (the whole magazine run is presently available on Amazon) and present (a new version was recently revived online).

Cult & Pulp: George R. R. Martin – Sandkings (1979)

 

 

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN – SANDKINGS (1979)

 

Some may have pondered that George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the literary source of a television adaptation which you may know as Game of Thrones, is conspicuously absent from my Top 10 Fantasy Books.

 

Don’t get me wrong – I avidly read the books (as well as other stories set in the same world). However…it presently remains something of an unfinished symphony, and not coincidentally, has been eclipsed by its television adaptation (in which Martin also played a hand).

 

More fundamentally, my true love remains where I first encountered Martin, in his short stories. There are his body horror stories (horror in the sense that Eraserhead is horror, disturbing rather than terrifying) – The Pear-Shaped Man and The Monkey Treatment for example. Although it is probably not too surprising to Song of Ice and Fire readers or Game of Thrones fans that Martin is a deft hand at horror. There is also the ongoing shared universe of the Wild Cards series – in which he is editor, influence and occasional writer. If you love comics, you’ll love the Wild Cards – an alternate Earth in which an alien virus gives humanity superpowers. Well, some of humanity, as only some people are infected – of those, 90% die (horribly), 9% mutate (mostly horribly) as so-called Jokers and the lucky 1% become superpowered Aces. (The virus is dubbed the Wild Card virus as it affects every person differently, within those broad parameters).

 

However, my ultimate true love is his first story I read, the Hugo and Nebula Award winning Sandkings, first published in Omni magazine (and indeed I read it in an old Omni magazine anthology collection of short stories).

 

It somewhat belies its SF setting, which is surprisingly suburban as well as again tending towards horror, and indeed could very well be adapted into a suburban horror story. (The story was apparently inspired by just such a suburban setting, with piranhas as pets). The premise of the story involves a planetary playboy with a thing for exotic alien pets, who acquires the titular Sandkings – social ‘insects’ in colonies by color who fight intricate wars with each other. Of course, the protagonist has no patience for that – starving them into fighting each other or pitting them in gladiatorial matches against other animals for the amusement of his party guests. Needless to say, it does not end too well for him.

 

Indeed, Sandkings is a proto-Game of Thrones in metafictional miniature, with the protagonist substituting for Martin himself and the Sandkings for his fictional creations – the Whites as House Lannister with its mad, wounded queen and the Oranges as poor, beleaguered House Stark

Cult & Pulp: David Brin – Thor Meets Captain America (1986)

 

CULT & PULP: DAVID BRIN – THOR MEETS CAPTAIN AMERICA (1986)

 

No – it’s not a comic or film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although the title obviously references the Marvel characters.

 

I fell in love with David Brin’s short story Thor Meets Captain America when I read it in Hitler Victorious, an anthology of alternate history short stories that obviously involved, well, Hitler being victorious – a Nazi German victory in the Second World War.  In his author’s note for the story, Brin noted that he was invited by the collator, Gregory Benford,  to write a story of Nazi victory – but voiced the opinion that he could not conceive of a single event which, if altered, would have let Nazi Germany win the war, particularly as they had required a number of lucky breaks to get as far as they did. (An opinion which coincides with my own, as well as my pet peeve of the myth of German military excellence – as I’ve stated elsewhere, paraphrasing my favorite Second World War history, Germany was very good at fighting but not very good at war.)

 

And so Brin fell back on what is jokingly known in alternate history circles as ‘alien space bats’ – that is, some fantastic or implausible plot device that provides the difference (or what is known as the point of divergence), although typically not actual alien space bats as such. In this case, Nazi Germany essentially won the Second World War because they were able to summon the Norse gods to fight on their side. The fantastic implausibility of the premise is the point – as he noted, this was the most (or only) plausible scenario that Brin could think of that involved Nazi victory, and in fairness, it probably was more plausible than the actual Nazi strategy (and their increasingly desperate ‘wunderwaffen’ or wonder weapons). It also gives some actual strategic sense to the Holocaust (which, in history, was as strategically pointless as it was monstrous) – the murder of millions as part of a mass human sacrifice or necromantic ritual intended to bring the Norse gods into being, which it does in 1944, just in time for D-day. Of course, most of this alternate history is told as backstory to the last desperate Allied attempt years later to destroy the new Valhalla. (And by Allied, we mean American, with a little help from a renegade Loki, since Europe has long been overwhelmed).

 

What’s not to love? Alternate history of the Second World War and Nazi Germany, the Norse gods and comic book superheroes. Actually, the Norse gods in their Nazi guise are distinctly unlovely – just as they needed mass human sacrifice to create them, they also need it to sustain them. God is a hole in the heart of the world and he’s hungry – omnipotent, omniscient, omnivorous. And as for those comic book superheroes – well, that’s also part of the point of the story, as the protagonist dreads what dark and terrible gods the Americans would create with Nazi necromancy…

 

Brin subsequently adapted and expanded the story into comic form as The Life-Eaters, which added some interesting points, but to me lacked quite the same concise purity of the original story.

 

Brin also scores bonus points for his other stories and works, as well as their humanistic ethos – the latter on best display in his critique of the latent tendency to mystical fascism in fantasy and science fiction, most notably in those two towering modern mythic works, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. (I tend to agree with his critique, at least in part, although I would trace this mystical fascism back further to Plato and his Republic, from the Force to the Forms as it were – and that we’re still fighting the Peloponnesian War against Plato’s Spartanism).

 

Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Anime (Revised)

 

FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF ANIME (REVISED)

 

I’ve revised my Top 10 Girls of Anime and added it to my page menu – mostly reshuffling, but I’ve promoted Rei Ayanami from special mention to second place as well as adding new entries for Boa Hancock (although Nami and Nico Robin still feature as One Piece honorable mentions) and Blue Rose. As usual, you can see the longer version through the link or page menu, but here’s the TL;DR version:

 

(10) Yuno Gasai – Future Diary

(9) Blue Rose – Tiger & Bunny

(8) Saeko Busujima – Highschool of the Dead

(7) Revy – Black Lagoon

(6) Lucy Heartfilia (Erza Scarlet) – Fairy Tail

(5) Boa Hancock (Nami & Nico Robin) – One Piece

(4) Motoko Kusanagi – Ghost in the Shell

(3) Yoko Littner – Tenga Toppen Gurren Lagann

(2) Rei Asanami – Neon Genesis Evangelion

(1) Sailor Moon