Thursday, July 28, 2011


    “Do you remember,” the old woman said gravely, “what Rajah Merogji told Prince Imaginalis, at the end of Flight From Forever?  That he had to defeat Pralaya, but do it without violence?  Without vengeance?”
    “Yes,” Mehera said.  “How could I forget?  That’s my favorite scene in all the books.  I even did a report on it for my English class and—”
    “Don’t interrupt,” Morice-Gilland snapped. 
    “Sorry,” Mehera said, meekly.  Facing down Pralaya was one thing, Mrs. Morice-Gilland was quite another.
    “By restoring Pralaya,” the old woman went on, “you did precisely what the Rajah of the Swan instructed.  Brought down the enemy with compassion, not brutality.  I had no idea how that could happen...I was terrified that I’d written myself into a corner...but you...”  She shook her head in amazement.  “You did it.”
    “I didn’t do anything,” Mehera said.  “It was the Silver Queen.”
    “Did it even occur to you,” Morice-Gilland said, “that what you thought was the Silver Queen was just the deeper, the better, the truer part of yourself?  That your unconscious mind just manufactured the image of the Silver Queen as a way to do something that is the very essence of Imaginalis?”  Mehera looked at the old woman blankly.  “You pushed past your limits,” Mrs. Morice-Gilland continued.  “You aimed for the impossible and hit the target, dead-center.”.
    “Are you saying.” the lion growled softly, with evident displeasure, “that our Silver Queen—isn’t real?  That the tales about her are lies?”
    “Not at all,” Morice-Gilland replied.  “I’m just saying that the line between Silver Queens and little girls, between gods and men, between who we think we are and who we really are is thinner than we can imagine.”
    The lion nodded his shaggy head, apparently satisfied.  Mehera, on the other hand, didn’t understand the explanation at all and Mrs. Morice-Gilland read the bafflement on her face.  “Let’s just say,” the old woman offered, “that you helped create a new kind of story today...”

My novel Imaginalis is a fantasy about the interface between life and fiction, imagination and reality, the manifestation of our highest dreams and—as evidenced by the above sequence—the need for a new kind of story.  I love—and love might be too small a word—working in the fields of pop culture, but I also think that much of what we do boils the richness and complexity of life down to violent confrontation.  No matter how hard we try to disguise it with psychology and philosophy, social commentary and humor, popular stories of fantasy, science-fiction and adventure too-often come down to characters beating the hell out of each other while bombs explode, phasers shoot, magic spells crackle, entire cities collapse.  In the end, the villain lies dead and the hero rises from the rubble while the audience, primed by years of devouring similar tales, reflexively cheers.  We’ve seen this same story play out, on page and screen, again and again and again; and it’s become clear that we’re stuck in a narrative feedback loop, endlessly regurgitating old myths.  With the world at a point where it seems that every choice we make could lead us to either a golden age or an incredibly dark one, perhaps it’s time to widen our imaginations and create new myths, new stories, new solutions.  As writers—and as human beings sharing the planet—we need to dream new dreams and feed the broader culture in a more nourishing way.

I know there are those who say that it’s not a writer's business to nurture, that we live in a violent, perhaps even evil, world and we have to tell tales that reflect what we see in the dark heart of what I call the CNN Reality.  I also understand that the classic good versus evil scenario is therapeutic:  a way for us to deal with the primal fears brought on by life’s often hideous uncertainties; and, as my wife recently reminded me, these battles often echo, in ways that are healing to both psyche and soul, the various battles being waged inside ourselves.  So, yes, I know the value—and, let’s be honest—the sheer fun of these stories.  (I’ve written many a super hero slugfest and had a fine old time doing it.  I’m intimately familiar with the child-like awe and joy that can be derived from writing a scene where Captain Marvel drops an entire building on Superman’s head, where Spider-Man knocks Venom across half the city.)  But I think that, after a certain point, the personal mirror we hold up to the world mirror becomes a kind of a negative reinforcement, each vision feeding the other; and those stories that reduce human beings to simple-minded cliches—they’re bad, we’re good, kick their asses—and celebrate the idea that complex problems can be solved through violence just keep gaining more power in the consensus reality.  Someone recently said to me that it’s simply the way of the world:  there are no new stories, just a set of myths that we, as humans, have been recycling since the dawn of time.  And there’s truth in that:  Yes. we've been repeating one set of primal tales; but aren’t there other myths kicking around in the collective unconscious, waiting to be reinvented?  New paradigms for drama that can feed new paradigms for life?  As a writer, I’m in complete control of the paradigm:  characters punch and shoot and kill only if I say they do.  So why keep saying it?

These thoughts aren’t new, of course.  Anyone who’s followed my work knows that I’ve been wrestling with these issues, on the page and in my heart, for as long as I’ve been writing.  I’ve created numerous stories over the years—most recently Imaginalis and The Life and Times of Savior 28—that have attempted to upend expectations, shift perspectives; tell exciting, challenging stories of fantasy and adventure in unexpected ways.  Some have been successful, some have failed miserably.  I’m certainly not alone in this endeavor:  one look at the fictional landscape reveals many other like-minded dreamers offering up their unique visions of the new paradigm.  (Why, some might ask, even bother telling tales of myth and fantasy?  Why not use more “mature” narrative forms?  For me, myth and fantasy reflect the interior landscape, the spiritual and psychological worlds, far better than allegedly realistic fiction.  And not just the interior:  it’s been my experience that, when we look that Real World square in the eye, it’s far more fantastic, mystical and surreal than anything you could ever find in the pages of a comic book.)

What’s interesting to me is that I’ve sometimes been criticized—both in my mainstream and more personal work—for being too spiritual, too preachy.  I’ve also heard the complaint that I’ve written one-too many stories that resolve conflict through the power of love.  Fair enough:  I have no problem with sincere, intelligent criticism—the best of it has contributed to my creative growth—but here’s the interesting part:  I don’t ever recall anyone criticizing any story of mine for sending out the message—as superhero tales inevitably do—that a fist is in the face is a viable solution.  No one has ever accused me of preaching violence.  Love, God, compassion:  these are the issues that seem to set people off.  (Which, in the end, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)
All of this was swirling in my head when I saw the most recent Harry Potter film.  I’m rereading the first Potter right now and I’d forgotten how light, how playful and charming, that book is.  (The back cover copy, very rightly, evokes the spirits of  Roald Dahl and P.L. Travers.)  By the end of the saga, the story has turned very grim; in its transition to film, almost unbearably so.  (Call it Dark Knight syndrome.)  This is a problem when you lose the author’s voice; and also, when you’re translating prose to a primarily visual medium.  The tendency in film is, understandably, to go for the spectacle‚—which is why I was so disappointed to see Deathly Hallows Part Two, however beautifully-crafted, reduced to yet another fantasy-fueled war movie.      

I had a similar feeling a few years back when the first of the Narnia films came out:  in both cases, it was almost as if I was watching an Army recruitment film—a sure-fire guarantee that we’ll have piles of warm bodies to fight our ever-increasing number of wars.  Look, kids, grab your wands, put on your armor, and head off into battle!  There’s an evil White Witch out there and we’ve got to stop her!  Lord Voldemort’s on the loose—he’s bad, kids, bad—and we can’t stop till he and his minions are all annihilated!  Substitute the names of those literary villains with the names of Our Latest Enemies—they seem to change with alarming regularity—and you can see how easily those images can root in the unconscious, filling young, impressionable minds with the idea that war is a given, a solution not to be rejected, but to be embraced.  (One of the things I love most about the final Potter book, and it’s the highlight of the movie for me, is the revelation that Snape—exquisitely played by the great Alan Rickman—the hissing snake of a man we’ve been loathing for years, is, in actuality, the true hero of the series.  Rowling upends the readers’ expectations beautifully and forces them to reassess their idea of what an enemy really is.)

In the end, the “realists” may be right:  maybe human nature will never change, maybe war will always be with us, maybe the violent solution is sometimes the best one.  But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all decided to laugh in reality’s face and not accept that?  If we focus exclusively on the way things have always been, if we lock ourselves into the vision of a world where hideous violence is accepted as the way things are, then that’s the world we’re going to be living in.  

I believe that there’s a deeper, a truer, reality beneath the skin of the world, one that has the potential to transform both the individual soul and the entire planet.  The microcosm, as they say, is the macrocosm:  The smallest acts of kindness and compassion can act as a bridge between those inner and outer universes, rippling out and transforming the world.  The old model—the one that clings to the concept of war as just and necessary—can collapse in the time it takes us to change our minds.  To change our dreams.  To change our stories.

Ten or so years ago, when I was writing The Spectre for DC Comics, I gave the main character, Hal Jordon, the following monologue:

It could be that I’m wrong.  Heaven knows I’ve been wrong before.  But what if I’m not?  What if we aren’t standing on the threshold of extinction—as so many doomsayers so desperately want us to believe—but on the edge of a glorious new world?  

And if I
am wrong...?  There are worse things than focusing my energy and will, my passion and faith and love, on a dream of hope.  On your redemption...and mine.

Those words were written from the very core of my heart.  Time has only deepened those convictions. 

Understand:  I’m not saying that we need to destroy the old template; as noted, I’m incredibly fond of it, both as a writer and a member of the audience.  (Yesterday I saw the new Captain America movie—how could I not?—and walked out of the theater with a grin on my face:  the creative team told Cap’s story with such intelligence, style, wit and, most important, heart, that the old myth felt brand new again.  The recent X-Men and Thor films were equally enjoyable.  And if you think I wouldn’t have been delighted to contribute to any of them, think again.)  What I am saying is that the time has long-since come to seed the collective consciousness with as many new dreams, new myths, new paradigms as we can imagine.  Who knows?  They might eventually sprout from the fertile ground of our imaginations and forever alter this shared dream we call the world.

©copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis


  1. I KNEW you'd love the Cap movie! Marvel is doing something so amazingly right in their self-produced translations-- more than we could've ever imagined back when Stan started talking about big-screen projects - over 35 years ago! I only wish they wouldn't have the need to do villians who are such "opposite numbers"-- Iron Man vs Iron Monger, Hulk vs Abomination, Cap vs (SPOILER)

    a Super Soldierized Red Skull...

    But that's a minor complaint when one thinks of the near-perfect actors they've chosen and the 21st century effects we can Marvel at.

    Speaking of Marvel-- looks like you have a story in the all-ages Spider-Man book in the new solicitations. Will this be something we'll see often?

  2. I've written a couple of shorts for the Marvel Adventures line: one teaming Spidey and the Surfer, one teaming Captain American and Doctor Strange. More? Only Marvel knows!

  3. I can't say I totally agree with your vision of violence in fiction, but I find your argument very interesting... even atractive.

    I remember the first time I'd read The Sandman, especially the first issues, like when he goes to hell to get his helmet back from Lucifer's hands. It ends with a battle of wits, a war with words and dreams an imagination. I still don't know how Gaiman achieved it, but it was enthralling, intense and every bit as exciting as any big-fight-big-explosions-big-climax finish.

    Conflict is the heart of drama. It's the fuel of every story, mainly because it's the fuel of our every-day lives. Inner and exterior conflicts. But we don't solve it with violence. We resort to wits, and dreams, and words... and imagination. I like violence in my stories as a metaphor, as a catalist for the theme (just as I like my singing and dancing in my musicals), but it shouldn't- it MUSTN'T- be the heart of it.

    At least that's my 2 cents, anyways. Thank you, sir.

    Francisco Espinosa.

  4. And it's a damn good 2 cents, Francisco. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  5. What you describe in this post is precisely the reason I love Savior 28. I also enjoyed Imaginalis quite a bit, but in Savior 28 you dealt with this problem more directly and therefore got me to think about it.

    I think the people that think the world is a dark place are not entirely correct. While the world is not as good as it could be, I see improvement everywhere. The percentage of people without food keeps decreasing, the percentage of lands in war keeps decreasing, the health of the population keeps increasing, more people live in houses, more countries are coming out of a violent past into a democratic prosperous future. Every day there are wonderful things going on in the world; people experiencing new exciting things, scientists discovering something, babies being born and many other wonderful things. For some reason, news outlets focus on the bad things, but the world is healthier than at any time in the past (well, maybe last year was better, but if you judge by decades, it can be easily shown that the world is a better place).
    I recommend checking out the book "Progress Paradox" by Gregg Easterbrook. In the book, he details how the world is a much better place in many ways and tries to understand how people can remain unhappy while the conditions of everybody keep improving. It is an inspiring read.

    I have faith in the good in people's hearts. I believe that the world will keep improving, there's always a group of people fighting hard to help the people that need help.

    In summary, I agree that more stories should have a positive feel. I dislike it when people label something "preachy" when it is just trying to show a non-violent perspective.

    I'll hope to see you at the Baltimore Comic Con.

  6. First of all, in response to the last response of mine I like to think that a nice polite greeting is never truly meaningless.

    As for this new jazz, I believe Stan Lee said it best,"I am against violence, but I do think there is a difference between violence and action." Or some such version, but following that quote, let's look at his work. The Fantastic Four is considered the crowning jewel of not only all his stories, but also the totality of the Silver age itself. Now think about those stories, how many of those classic conflicts were one not using brute force, but rather some interesting plan, or trick a lot sir, a lot. And in the end this is also the man who (along with Jack Kirby, John Romita, and Mr. Ditko) is responsible for anyone past the age of 10 reading comics.

    And Also I will say that your point of losing the writer's voice, one of the best things about the recent Tolkien films was that it captured the point of the books, the reflection of the author's mental issues by way of the fist world war. Okay, so by changing that ending up it wasn't as powerful, but hey it's hollywood they never capture thing right... or not as often as they should.

    However, the reverse is that people are naturally drawn to darkness and violence, especially as our society becomes further removed from it in the average citizen's day to day life. This is hard to argue when shows like Dexter and Law and order: SVU are so popular. And for that matter think on this, who was the first modern mystery man in the comic book style? Superman right? Wrong the Shadow, a guy who makes Dexter look like a frightened kid, and the Punisher's kill stats like that of a girl scout. Not to mention he would laugh as he does it.

    And in the end how much reworking do we really have to do? After all one of the oldest most beloved tales is that of Aladdin, a character known for using his wits to escape traps and defeat people? And continuing from there, there is a cartoon from a few years ago called "Avatar the last Airbender" which I obviously discovered as an adult, and was blown away by, and this character often would only fight as a last resort, and genuinely fears the possibility that he may have to take a life. So perhaps you aren't the only holding this belief.

    Don't be shy now, discuss, and I have plenty more to say on this, but I'm also tired.

    Wishing you nothing, but goodwill and hipness from here to the stars,

  7. Beautifully, powerfully said, Quique. Looks like I'll have to get my hands on that book, sounds like it's right up my alley.

    See you in Baltimore!

  8. "Love is the answer / And you know that for sure." :)

  9. Hmmmm. That sounds SO FAMILIAR, Tim, but I just can't place it! Oh, well: make love, not war!

  10. And now a moment of silence for the Nutopian National Anthem...

  11. Are you playing Mind Games with me, Jeff?

  12. Aisumasen, Marcosan

  13. We could do this forever, Jeff...but let's not! :)

  14. Sorry it took a few days for that last comment of yours to post, Jack: it was stuck in the spam folder!

    This is a subject we could talk about endlessly and I think the heart and soul of what I feel is there in the above post. As noted, I'm not in any way invalidating stories that reflect the old model, just saying that there's a new model to be explore, too.

    Re: classic old Marvel stories, Stan's Silver Surfer series is an interesting case. That 60's run was all about the value of compassion -- pretty revolutionary for its day -- but every issue SS was forced into beating the cosmic crap out of somebody! It's like Stan was trying to write his way out of the old paradigm, but couldn't figure out how.

  15. Master of Kung Fu is another great example of the same thing-- Shang Chi hated the "games of deceit and death" and couldn't manage to avoid them most of the time...

  16. Then there's TERMINATOR 2 -- a movie I love, just to be clear -- where John Connor is teaching the Terminator not to kill. So, showing restraint!, he goes around shooting people in the legs with machine guns and blowing up cars and helicopters, leaving destruction, and most certainly death, in his wake.

  17. Great post, JMD. You make a valid point. One of the fascinating things about the Green Lantern Corps, for instance, is that they have the power to bring anything they can dream to life, and yet they pretty much just manifest their weapons of choice: boxing glove, sniper rifle, etc.


  18. Well said, JM. Not only in this post, but in IMAGINALIS and THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAVIOR 28 as well.

    Something I've experienced personally when confronted with the difference between a message of 'beat-up baddy to bring a better world' and 'compassion can cleanse corruption and transcend current comprehension' is the difference in personal responsibility I feel at the bottom of the message.

    If super-powers are required to beat-up the externally personified 'bad guy', then it's easy for me to sit back and tell myself that the solution is simply beyond my power to bring about. Then I stick around at the surface layers of anger and frustration at my apparent powerlessness, and the lack of 'getting it done' by those to whom I attribute this power.

    On the other hand, I can't honestly tell myself that I am powerless to choose compassion. That's a reality that fits into my world. That's a level beneath and more fundamental than the anger, fear and frustration.

    It's hard for me to face, and often quite terrifying to think I have the power to forgive. Myself as much as some imagined bad guy 'out there'.

    In my journey, I feel as if I've moved closer to this realm, and often try to stop myself once I notice the 'us versus them' thinking that comes up. And that makes it no easier to realize my own power to forgive, to love, to accept, to honestly question, and remain open, amidst my hurts, my anger, my pain, and my fear.

    It's much easier to dash those early hopes against the rocks of some stated 'real world' (CNN Reality, as you say) and attack the message and messenger as too simple, too naive, too unrealistic, or whatever else allows me to reflect back the surface issues without digging into the depths of what's really going on within.

    So once again, I thank you for your voices that challenge the norm, in a way that much like the message itself, is not simply a fist to the face attack. But rather an inclusion, a conversation, an adaptation, perhaps even a respectful transcendence.

    I also very much enjoyed that Mrs. Morice-Gilland was unable to see the solution, and it took Mehera to show her how. That those differing aspects are all part of the whole, including Pralaya - both the dark and the light - and when I begin by owning, accepting, having compassion, and forgiving the sides of myself that are reflected outwards in these 'big baddies' I heal myself, and so the world.

  19. Very true, David. That's one of the goofy suspensions of disbelief you have to buy into with these stories. "I have the power to manifest anything I can imagine. Peace on earth? No. An end to poverty and hunger? Nah. A giant boxing glove? HELL, YEAH!!!!"

  20. Your point about the power versus powerlessness dilemma is pretty brilliant, Tim. I never saw it that way but it's right on the are the rest of your powerfully, and beautifully, composed thoughts.

    Thanks so much for sharing that. Very much appreciated.

  21. Yeah, and don't get me wrong, because I enjoy the Green Lantern mythology. I dig the 'cops in space' premise.

    One thing I really enjoy about your work is that you have one foot in both paradigms, and you move between them pain-gracefully. If it wasn't a word, it is now, because it's that glorious tension between the paradigms that elevates your mainstream and independent work. That hint of transcendence that pushes the limits of the old template without breaking it. Or as John Mellencamp would say, "It hurts so good."

    There's a religious dimension to that transition from the 'old' template to the 'new.' One of the things I find so beautiful (and yes, troubling, but wonderfully so) is that holy struggle to transcend the limits of human language. And it's a language that's naturally burdened by violent imagery, even when the inspired authors are clearly trying to break that mold.

    It's confusion about those language barriers that leads to people thinking God revels in war or human suffering. But when you take it in AS A WHOLE, you see the bigger picture--a God whose love is written in a language no man has ever read, and yet one we all intutitively understand.


  22. I've said it before, David, and I'll say it again: one of the things I love about Creation Point is the fact that there's such intelligent discourse from the folks who visit here: people who are comfortable talking about Green Lantern, God and everything in between...and doing it with great heart and wisdom.

    I love what you say about the limits of language. Also about seeing the picture as a WHOLE. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis's statement (and I'm paraphrasing from memory): There seems no center because it's all center, there seems no plan because it's all plan.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  23. That's a great quote, JMD, and one I wasn't familiar with--so thanks!

    And put me down as someone who would love to see you write a Marvel movie script, or a DC one for that matter.


  24. As my mother used to say, David: "From your mouth to God's ear"!

  25. Stuck in the spam folder, I figured as much, but isn't that just an example for my life.

    Anyway, the point I was trying to make is less about the old paradigm (which I love) but rather that this "new " paradigm already exists it just is less acknowledged, or maybe it just has a little too much dust on them for some to remember. After all didn't Bilbo refuse to fight in the war of 5 armies? But in the end I'm not sure that is so much correct either. In the desire to create well rounded characters don't you almost have to identify all points o the character's personality? And don't all of us at least moderately decent people, have a desire to avoid violence, as well as a concept of possible necessity? If that is true than it all bleeds together. But in the end all I'm really saying is that I don't think this idea of yours is so far out of our collective vision.

    And as for my view of violence drawing people... well I still believe that. The fact is most people in this country don't really have a threat of violence stalking them everyday. I don't mean maybe getting mugged on your way home from work, or jumped in the street, or getting beat up at school, I mean true, legitimate, keep-your wits-about-you-or-you'll-be-a-corpse violence, and that is a very good thing, but at the same time that draws us to the darkness as an interesting thing. Just look at the History Channel, how much of there programming is dedicated to Nazis? Here it is a real life evil, more than that, the most evil group to ever stalk the Earth and we as a society seemingly can't stop hearing about them. This is not because we condone it, or wish we were there, but rather because it intrigues us. In essence we love the dark because despite how much shade we're in most still live in the light.

    Wishing you nothing, but goodwill and hipness from here to the stars,

  26. Good points, Jack. I think that unfamiliarity with violence -- or perhaps the unwillingness to really admit the fullness of it into our consciousness -- is one of the reasons people find it so easy to sit back and let hundreds of thousands of our young people get sent off to vaguely justified wars. Back in the Viet Nam era, when there was a draft and every young man had to face the possibility of being dropped into the middle of an insane war (and perhaps never coming back), there was certainly more of an outcry and more of an examination of WHY we were at war.

    You mention Lord of the Rings -- but look at the movies that came out of those books. To me, they were war films layered over with fantasy. Battle after battle after battle. I loved the books, but bailed on the movies early.

  27. Lord of the Rings was odd. As I said, Tolkien wrote those tales to deal with his own nightmarish visions of world war 1. The movies seemed to be following that at times, to me anyway, however I fully admit that since I had read the books, I may have been combining the two in my head. I'd probably have top watch them again aware of this possibility to know for sure, and who has that kind of time? However I will defend tooth and claw the accuracy and theme of the animated Hobbit film from the 70's. Of course I always liked the Hobbit more than LOTR so I may have been more aware of the Hobbits interpretations. Ad as far as bailing on the movies, I remember seeing "Return of the King" 2 months later so I clearly saw some flaw in the films, though I'm pretty sure it was just a preference to reading them than viewing, and that leads top another point, that when you read the stories more of the inner workings of the characters shine through, which just lends to my putting together in my head theory.

    Anyway the point is the world needs another ongoing mainstream Dematteis comic.

    Wishing you nothing, but goodwill and hipness from here to the stars,

  28. Right back at you, Jack.

    Y'know, I read LOTR when I was 15 and I loved it so much that I've been reluctant to reread it ever since. I'm afraid it won't live up to my memories.

    An ongoing mainstream DeMatteis comic? Not at the moment, but I'm always open to the possibilities.

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  30. Fantastic blog J.M.

    I also wonder about the skilful Means by which spiritual theme and the Heroic myth can be told with savvy to entertain the Masses only with a positive uplifted message of the endearing human spirit.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Harish. "Told with savvy" is an important point. You want to tell these stories skillfully, smartly, and, most important, entertainingly. Nobody wants to feel as if a writer is imparting a lesson!